When Jesus Says, “Mind Your Own Beeswax”

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” How true. How often does our contentment vanish when we see (what we perceive to be) the superior condition of another person. We lack nothing until that catalog arrives in the mail, and suddenly we are awakened to all the items we are missing. We experience a heart of gratitude until the Instagram reel informs us that we are, in fact, deprived of something.

This principle can extend to the lot in life that God has ordained for us. In the last chapter of the Gospel of John we see Peter struggling with the different paths that Jesus laid out for him and John. Peter and Jesus are walking down the beach after Jesus has just asked Peter three times if he loved him. Jesus cryptically informs Peter that he will be martyred for his faith and exhorts him one more time to “Follow me.” 

Peter must have been troubled at the prospect. At the same time, he turns and sees John walking behind them. He then asks the question we all tend to ask when faced with a difficult future: will others share this fate with us, or will we walk that path alone? The wording in John 21:21 is interesting. Peter doesn’t ask, “What about John?” but “What about this man?” It is not as though Peter doesn’t know John; after all, they had fished together on the sea of Galilee long before they met Jesus.

Why “this man” and not “John?” Comparison tends to depersonalize. The one who is my brother or sister, with whom I ought to rejoice over their success, prosperity, and happiness becomes a rival—“that one.” We become like petty children consumed with sibling rivalry, sulking at our sister’s birthday party because she is getting all the presents. Our close kin become objects of resentment.

It is interesting that verse 20 refers to John as “the one who had been reclining at table close to him” right after Jesus gives Peter a chance to retract his threefold denial of Jesus with a threefold affirmation of his love. We could easily surmise that Peter the Denier is going to suffer martyrdom while John the Beloved will escape such a fate, and each will do so based on their faithlessness or faithfulness. Yet, there is no hint in the text that this is so. Their differing fates were the result of the good pleasure of God—“if it is my will.” 

When I was young it was common to tell nosey people to “mind your own beeswax” instead of “business.” I don’t know why, but it seemed cleverer. This is essentially what Jesus tells Peter. John’s fate was not Peter’s concern. Jesus was not bound to explain this any more than he was bound to be “fair” in how their lives panned out. Peter simply needed to obey the call of Jesus to follow him.

What motivated Peter’s question? We don’t know for sure, but it was probably more than simply curiosity. It could very well have been rooted in covetousness. Peter certainly wasn’t happy at Jesus’ prediction and perhaps wanted someone to share his misery. Perhaps he felt that if the Beloved Disciple was going to share his fate that it wouldn’t be so bad and he wouldn’t feel so singled out.

John Piper shares his own struggle with comparison. “That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.”[1]

“To love is to stop comparing.” Hmmm. Jesus has just asked Peter three times if Peter loves him. Yet, here Peter is, comparing his fate with John’s.

None of us like to suffer alone, and it is doubly vexing when you are suffering and others around you are living carefree lives. You can be drowning in difficult trials and overwhelmed with pain and grief, while all around you, others are enjoying the good things in life. It is difficult in times like that to not be overcome with envy. Nothing can be more disheartening than when you are denied the blithe sunshine and rainbows that others seem to experience in uninterrupted succession. After a while you feel singled out. You feel rooked, cheated, targeted. 

John Calvin said, “We have in Peter an instance of our curiosity, which is not only superfluous, but even hurtful, when we are drawn aside from our duty by looking at others; for it is almost natural to us to examine the way in which other people live, instead of examining our own, and to attempt to find in them idle excuses.[2]

And then you realize how entitlement and ingratitude have snuck into your heart. You have forgotten that God does not owe you the same life that he gives others. This is understandable. Suffering can wear you down and make you resentful if you are not careful. You can begin to think like Job who grew to view his suffering as a culpable oversight on God’s part (Job 23). Job, too, struggled not to resent those who were free from suffering.

This is not even a case of envying the wicked, as the Psalmist does in Psalm 73. This is simply wondering why God ordains suffering for some and not for others, or at least great suffering for some and minimal suffering for others. But Jesus’ words bring us up short: “What is that to you?”

In other words, stop focusing on what others have or get, and live faithfully in the path that God has laid out for you. Don’t worry about what others are doing or whether you feel you deserve what they receive, follow Christ faithfully in the life he has given you. Piper again: “Jesus’ blunt words—’None of your business, follow me’—are sweet to my ears. They are liberating from the depressing bondage of fatal comparing.”

This is difficult. This requires fixing our eyes on Jesus. This demands a heart with no attachments to comfort or possessions, but only one that desires to please Christ. This calls us to kill covetousness and refuse to desire what others have. This is taking up your cross and following Jesus. Jesus sets the example by fixing his eyes on the joy of accomplishing redemption (Heb. 12:2-3), not on the release of Barabbas or the injustice of his accusers. So who was Peter to lose his focus?

Calvin exhorts, “As there are various kinds of Christian warfare, let every man learn to keep his own station, and let us not make inquiries like busybodies about this or that person, when the heavenly Captain addresses each of us, to whose authority we ought to be so submissive as to forget everything else.[3]

So, are you struggling with the difference between your lot in life and someone else’s? First, remember all that God has done for you in cleansing you from sin (2 Pet. 1:9). Second, accept your path as specially chosen for you, and that it will be different than that of others. Embrace God’s will for your life and take to heart the admonition to refuse to concern yourself with what God lays out for others. This is tough love, but it is exactly what we need. Piper concludes: “O the liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough!”

[1] John Piper, “What Is That to You? You Follow Me! Freed from Comparing by Blunt Words”; https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-that-to-you-you-follow-me

[2] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 2, p. 296). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Ibid.

My Top 10 Reads of 2020

2020 was perhaps the best year of reading I can remember since 1980 when I was fourteen and read twenty Louis L’Amour books and the Hobbit for the first time. Not all these books were released in 2020, but these were my favorites (in no particular order).

Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis by Craig Carter (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018)

Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of  Premodern Exegesis: Carter, Craig A.: 9780801098727: Amazon.com: Books

If I could beckon every one of my seminary classmates (and former students) to read a book in 2021, it would be this one. Carter’s book is an expose of how much the Enlightenment influenced the field of biblical interpretation over the last 150 years. In other words, many of our interpretations are more influenced by the modern scientific method than the history of faithful Christian interpretation of Scripture, as if no one got it right until the 1870’s.

“The inter-disciplinary practice of biblical studies as found in academic settings today is an agent of secularization in the church and needs to be reformed so that it becomes a servant of Christian theology and spirituality rather than a confusing amalgam of history, philology, archaeology, literary theory, sociological theory, and philosophy operating with unacknowledged metaphysical assumptions and without any material center.”

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher (NY: Sentinel, 2020)

Live Not by Lies by Rod Dreher | Audiobook | Audible.com

Rod Dreher gives a blunt and eloquent description of the new fascists of the political left and their growing power. These elites are profoundly anti-Christian and militant, and they intend to take unprecedented control of society by force through technology. The second half of the book is a manual for Christians of how to survive in such an environment by drawing on the wisdom of those Eastern Bloc Christians who outlasted Communism in the 20th century. I have written a brief piece about this book here

“Elites and elite institutions are abandoning old-fashioned liberalism, based in defending the rights of the individual , and replacing it with a progressive creed that regards justice in terms of groups. It encourages people to identify with groups—ethnic, sexual, and otherwise—and to think of Good and Evil as a matter of power dynamics among the groups…Further, these utopian progressives are constantly changing the standards of thought, speech, and behavior. You can never be sure when those in power will come after you as a villain for having said or done something that was perfectly fine the day before. And the consequences for violating the new taboos are extreme, including losing your livelihood and having your reputation ruined forever.”

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Trueman (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020)

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive  Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution: Trueman, Carl R., Dreher,  Rod: 9781433556333: Amazon.com: Books

This book is a roadmap through Enlightenment philosophy, art, and literature into a world where a person’s concept of himself becomes the center of the world. This book isn’t primarily about the sexual revolution but focuses on the way people have been steadily conceiving themselves as consisting of their desires. It is not an easy read, but essential to understanding how our world has come to the place where the statement, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is not only intelligible, but normal to most people. See my short essay on this book here.

“Once harm and oppression are regarded as being primarily psychological categories, freedom of speech also becomes part of the problem, not the solution, because words become potential weapons.”

Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age by Josh Chatraw (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020)

Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age: Chatraw,  Josh: 0025986108632: Amazon.com: Books

This is the best apologetics book published in 2020. Chatraw explains that people are guided less by conscious worldviews than they are by narratives that provide them an identity and explanation for their experiences. As a result, an effective apologist needs to understand the narratives popular in the West and be able to counter them with the true narrative of the gospel. 

“Once viewed as a tool to win debates, apologetics is now becoming more focused on generating productive conversations that open doors for people to consider the gospel…Many apologists are emphasizing the need for Christians to become better listeners who seek to understand the person they are speaking with before making appeals. This enables us to meet people where they are and find points to affirm before finding points to challenge.”

Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything by Robert C. Reilly (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2014)

Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing  Everything: Reilly, Robert R.: 9781621640868: Amazon.com: Books

I took more notes on this book than any other this year, and I could barely put it down. Reilly traces the rise of Rousseau’s views about human nature through the biological, legal and moral developments that led to the acceptance of homosexuality in the West. He exposes the stunning health hazard that homosexuality poses for those who practice the behaviors, as well as the march of the LGBT agenda through education, science, the Boy Scouts, and the military. This is one of the best three books available on the impact of homosexuality, and easily one of the most readable.

“Sex is so important that its misuse has become the principal means for dismantling our culture and political order…But if we want to replace God with our own definition of ourselves, we must lie to ourselves, deceive ourselves, about what we are. We must seek ourselves independently of what we ought to be. If we succeed in this endeavor, we will make ourselves into monsters and oddities.”

The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat by Peter Jones (Bellingham, WA: Kirkdale Press, 2015)

The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity's Greatest Threat: Jones, Peter:  9781577996224: Amazon.com: Books

Peter Jones is one of the few experts on Eastern religion among conservative Reformed thinkers, and his ability to perceive all the ways it is infiltrating our culture is invaluable to the church. He contrasts the “One-ism” of the Eastern view that sees no distinction between God and creation with the Christian “Two-ism” of the Creator-Creature distinction. Jones traces the infiltration through psychologist Carl Jung (the primary influence on Jordan Peterson), through contemporary spirituality and the spiritual formation movement so popular among Christians today. He also sees Oneism in the new paganism, the LGBT movement, mindfulness, and progressive Christians, such as Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, and Ken Wilber.

“The death of God is not the victory of secular, atheistic humanism but the return of spiritual paganism; not the death of any notion of divinity, but the death of the specific transcendent God of biblical Twoism…At the death of God we will see the rebirth of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome.”

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2020)

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race,  Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody: Pluckrose, Helen,  Lindsay, James: 9781634312028: Amazon.com: Books

All I can say is, “wow!” Pluckrose and Lindsay, two humanist philosophers, explain as clearly as is possible, the confusing and twisted world of postmodern Critical Theory in all its varieties. They show the presuppositions and core values of everything from post-colonialism, queer theory, and Critical Race Theory to disability and fat studies, concluding with social justice scholarship. Even though their critique fails to provide a Christian solution, it exposes the underlying irrationality of Critical Theory in a way that equips Christians to dismantle it in all its forms. Not an easy read, but essential.

“Throughout postmodern Theory runs the overtly left-wing idea that oppressive power structures constrain humanity and are to be deplored. This results in an ethical imperative to deconstruct, challenge, problematize (find and exaggerate the problems within), and resist all ways of thinking that support oppressive structures of power…”

The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race, and Identity by Douglas Murray (NY: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2019)

The Madness of Crowds eBook by Mr Douglas Murray - 9781635579994 | Rakuten  Kobo United States

Douglas Murray has found incredible success in recent years critiquing the insanity of applied postmodernism in the West, including his best-seller, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. In The Madness of Crowds Murray documents the insanity that has become embraced by a significant portion of the western world in regard to radical feminism, race, and the LGBT movement, especially the transgender community. He shows clearly that it has not been reasoned arguments that has won the day, but emotional and political pressure that has coerced mass capitulation to these agendas.

“Intersectionality is the invitation to spend the rest of our lives attempting to work out each and every identity and vulnerability claim in ourselves and others and then organize along whichever system of justice emerges from the perpetually moving hierarchy which we uncover. It is a system that is not just unworkable but dementing, making demands that are impossible towards ends that are unachievable.”

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert A. J. Gagnon (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001)

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics: Robert A. J.  Gagnon: 9780687022793: Amazon.com: Books

It has been twenty years since Robert Gagnon wrote the definitive book on what the Bible says about homosexual practice, but it took me until this year to read it. Even some of the foremost scholars supporting homosexuality admit that Gagnon’s book clearly shows in 500 pages that the Bible and early Judaism unmistakably condemn homosexuality. This volume is a tremendous resource for answering the avalanche of books and articles that claim the Bible is unclear on this issue.

“While antihomosexual violence deserves to be vigorously denounced, it does nobody any good to ignore the dangerous way in which isolated and relatively rare incidents of violence against homosexuals have been exploited to stifle freedom of speech and coerce societal endorsement of homosexual practice.”

Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church by Diane Langberg (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2020)

Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church: Diane  Langberg: 9781587434389: Amazon.com: Books

Although this book comes toward the end of this list, it is probably the most important book that Christians could read this year, especially pastors. Langberg is a certified expert on abuse, especially in the Christian community. Her book will unsettle many readers with the truth that abuse of power is quite common in the church. Langberg fearlessly exposes and rebukes the tendency for pastors and other leaders to exhibit blindness to abuses of power. The sad result is that many have suffered silently, as recourse is hard to come by when those in leadership are the problem.

“People with specialized knowledge can wield great power, speaking authoritatively and expecting what they say to be accepted because they “know.” Positions of authority confer power…Depending on my position and the way it is understood, I may use that power to justify many wrong things and overreach extensively, particularly if I’m a respected authority figure.”

The Appalachian Trail: A Biography by Philip D’Anieri (NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021).

The Appalachian Trail: A Biography | HMH Books

I have loved the AT since my first hike on the Presidential Trail in the White Mountains when I was twelve years old with my best friend and our fathers. This iconic trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine holds many fascinating stories, from the hilarious hijinks of Bill Bryson, in his book, A Walk in the Woods, to the intriguing tales of through-hikers. D’Anieri’s book traces the history of the conception of the idea of the AT in the 19th century to its finalization as recently as the 1990’s. I couldn’t put this one down!

“Entering the wilderness was not just an unusual thing to do in early America—economically useless, physically dangerous—it was morally suspect as well. Popular thinking held that the farther away people traveled from Christian civilization, the more they opened their inner selves to the heathen nature of the dark woods. It made no sense at all to plunge into the wild on its own terms; there was nothing to gain, and everything to lose.”


Am I Just My Brain? By Sharon Dirckx (The Good Book Company, 2019)

Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey (Baker, 2018)

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (Penguin, 2013)

“We Knew Mordor Was Real”: What It Takes for Christians to Survive under Totalitarianism

Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, includes many stories of Christians who survived life under the communist regime of the Soviet Union. One of those families, the Bendas, who lived in the Czech half of the communist Czechoslovakia, modeled Christian resistance through family unity, radical hospitality, and by placing a higher value on faithfulness than their own political freedom. 

One of the things the mother, Kamila Benda, did, in addition to her role of teaching at a nearby university, was to read to her six children several hours every day (yes, several hours!). One of their favorite books was J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, because, as she recounts, “we knew Mordor was real. We felt that their story”—that of the hobbits and others resisting the evil Sauron—“was our story too. Tolkien’s dragons are more realistic than a lot of things we have in this world.”

For those who are not familiar with the storyline of the Lord of the Rings, Mordor is the land of Sauron, the embodiment of evil trying to take over and dominate Middle Earth. Tolkien drew from the evil and destruction of communism and fascism to imagine a force that sought to bring everything into subjection to its control. In the novels, therefore, Mordor represents the enemy of dignity, freedom, and life. 

Live Not By Lies is a warning to the West and a call to Christians. It warns that many of the social and political trends in the West that increasingly curtail freedoms also happened under communism in the Soviet Union. Dreher interviews many older Eastern Europeans who are genuinely alarmed at the changes in America and Europe. More importantly, the book is a call to Christians to understand that individualism, big-box churches, and “my house is my castle” lifestyle will not sustain believers under totalitarianism.

We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who suffered under genuine oppression and persecution in the Soviet system, something I began to learn more than twenty years ago during my first teaching trip to Ukraine. To survive the persecution coming from increased surveillance, the LGBT+ lobby, intolerance, and secularism, we will have to change our way of life. We will need communities of Christians to share life together, strengthen one another, and perpetuate our faith to the next generation, as we stand in opposition to the ideology forced upon us.

The church can and will survive under any amount of pressure, but only if believers faithfully teach and live courageously. Live Not By Lies may very well become the manual for Christian dissidents within the next decade.

How Did It Come to This?: How our world got to the place where the statement, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” makes sense

Moments before his seemingly impregnable fortress is overrun by dark forces, Theoden, King of Rohan, in shock at the brutality and swift advance of the enemy, murmurs to himself, “Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. The days have come down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?”

How did it come to this?

Many Christians are murmuring to themselves, “How did it come to this?” How, in the span of just a few decades, have the moral foundations of western society crumbled to dust, such that gender is divorced from biological sex, public libraries host drag queen story time, children are chemically and surgically castrated and rendered sterile because of momentary confusion, and opposition to any of this is now considered menacing to the public good?

In Carl Trueman’s latest book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, he traces the philosophical, cultural, and psychological progression of the internal moral rot of the West. This is one of those books that gets down into the details of how, little by little, people in the West began to give up the biblical understanding of man as made in God’s image for the purpose of glorifying him. As Romans 1 reminds us, those who suppress the knowledge of God exchange the truth of God for a lie. 

Trueman tells his readers plainly, “At the heart of this book lies a basic conviction: the so-called sexual revolution of the last sixty years, culminating in its latest triumph—the normalization of transgenderism—cannot be properly understood until it is set within a much broader transformation in how society understands the nature of human selfhood.”

The body of the book is an explanation of the progression, beginning with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Romanticism through Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Wilhelm Reich up to the impact of the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision to legalize gay marriage and the triumph of transgenderism. It is a tour de force of insight into the erosion of a biblical idea of human nature and selfhood into what philosophers of the modern condition call expressive individualism. He expands on the works of Charles Taylor, Philip Rieff, and Alasdair MacIntyre and their concepts of the triumph of the therapeutic, psychological man, the anticulture, and deathworks. 

Although these concepts are not familiar to most, they describe the inward turn of people to consider their feelings and sense of happiness to be their true, authentic selves, even if it means the destruction of morals, society, institutions, and anything else that would limit the expression of their desires. 

Nietzsche and Marx taught that “the history of society is a history of power and oppression and that even notions such as human nature are constructs designed to reinforce and perpetuate” that oppression. With Darwin, they dealt a blow to the idea that human beings have any special significance or essence that determines how they ought to behave or were created with an end in mind. Morality, then, becomes a matter of mere taste and manipulative power games. From Freud we learn that humans, “from infancy onward, are at core sexual beings.” Our sexual desires determine who we are. The New Left has taught us that oppression is fundamentally psychological and any attempt to limit sexual expression is oppressive, dehumanizing, and dangerous.

In a word, Trueman shows us, step by step, how we got to the place we are today where something as nonsensical half a century ago, like the statement, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” can be coherent. By doing so, we see that the task of shining the light of truth on this dark world is more complicated and necessary than we might think. As he has said in interviews, this book is an attempt to explain the world in which we live now to the church. If Christians don’t understand the world as it is, we will miss the mark in our attempts to serve as salt and light. 

This book is critical to our understanding of how it came to this, and even more, where we go from here.

Roe v. Wade Was Decided (Partly) on Science Denial

In the Netflix documentary, Reversing Roe, at around the 28:00 mark, Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court in 1973, recounts that during the case a justice asked her when she believed a human life begins. She responded, “Your Honor, we did not try to say exactly what moment that was. There is no one answer to that. Different religions have different answers to that question. There is no legal standard that says, ‘At this point the fetus becomes a human.’ So, the question is, who gets to make that decision? Is it the woman or is it the government? And my position has always been it’s not the government.”

This is a classic case of a false dilemma (or trilemma). Why are these the only options? Weddington confuses the issue by pretending that the humanity of the unborn is either a religious issue, a decision to be made by old white men (the Supreme Court in 1973), or the woman carrying the baby.

None of these things are true. The humanity of the baby in the womb is a scientific fact from the moment of conception. Any attempt to confuse this issue is ignorance at best and malignant ideology at worst.

Consider for example these statements from widely used textbooks:

“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” [Carlson, Bruce M. Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

In other words, there is no question scientifically when a human life begins. To deny this is to deny science.

But there is trickery afoot in Weddington’s comments in Reversing Roe. I’m sure she knew at the time that human life begins at conception. The real question that needs answering is, “At what point does a human fetus become a person.” This may sound like an inconsequential distinction, but it is actually the crux of the matter.

Pro-Choice thinkers have succeeded in separating the issues of human life and personhood. The personhood of an individual is now what provides dignity and protection under the law. So, while it is clearly unscientific to deny that an embryo is human from the moment of conception, the way to deny the baby in the womb protection is to say it is not a person. The question, however, is who gets to say when a human becomes a person? That leads to the next essay, “Dolphins and Computers are Persons While Babies in the Womb Are Not.”

See the previous essay, “Let’s Not Forget What Abortion Really Is.”

Mark Farnham is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach (Kregel, 2021).

Let’s Not Forget What Abortion Really Is

The issue of abortion has never been more contentious among Christians. I’m not referring to debates between Christians and non-Christians, but among those who profess to be followers of Jesus.

So, let’s get back to the basics of what abortion is. A straightforward scientific definition of abortion is “the termination of a pregnancy by the death of the embryo or fetus.” Pro-Choice advocates have recently sought to minimize any sense of the personhood of the baby in the womb by redefining abortion as “inducing fetal demise” or “removing the pregnancy.” In addition, abortion is now being cast as a basic human right and “reproductive justice.” On the Planned Parenthood website any reference to the baby in the womb is avoided. It is a “pregnancy” being removed, not a baby.

I ask my progressive friends, however, will you admit what the act of abortion really is? Will you look at the medical description of abortion without blinking, and can you say afterward that this shouldn’t be a major consideration in how you vote? In reality, abortion is the single issue that determines the votes of people on both sides of the issue. 

[In this article I will use the terms embryo and fetus interchangeably for the baby in the womb. Embryo is usually used for the first 9-11 weeks of life, while fetus can be used at any stage of development. When referring to humans the etymology of the terms simply mean human “young one” or “offspring.”]

There are several methods of abortion that are used in the first, and sometimes second, trimester of pregnancy. A medical abortion uses powerful drugs to cause the embryo to be expelled within a few days. Clinical (surgical) abortions are more graphic in their methods. First, in a Dilation and Curettage (D&C) the mother’s cervix is dilated, and the surgeon inserts an instrument (curette) to scrape the wall of the uterus, cutting the human embryo to pieces and removing the placenta from its place in the uterine wall. 

Second, vacuum curettage (aspiration), or suction, is often used in combination with a D&C. The abortionist uses suction with a force 28 times that of a vacuum cleaner to tear both the embryo and placenta from the uterus into a jar. (The Planned Parenthood website calls this “gentle suction to empty your uterus”). The doctor then reassembles all the pieces of the embryo to ensure that nothing is left behind in the uterus. More than 85% of abortions take place in the first trimester.

Third, in the saline method a needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the amniotic sac, and some of the fluid is removed and replaced with a solution of concentrated salt. The baby breathes in and swallows the salt and is poisoned. The outer layer of skin is burned off and the brain hemorrhages. It takes the baby about one hour to die. The next day the mother goes into labor and delivers the dead baby.

As horrific as these procedures are, abortion performed in the third trimester is worse. Dilation and Extraction (D&X) and Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) are methods used in what is sometimes called “partial birth abortions.” These procedures are also used in the unfortunate case of miscarriage, but in an abortion they are used on an intact baby, or one that would survive outside the womb if given care. The intact baby is delivered feet first until all but the head is outside the womb. A doctor then punctures the skull and scrambles the brains. Alternately, the mother’s cervix is dilated, and the doctor pulls the viable baby apart piece by piece. The baby cannot be vacuumed out because it is too large.

Although late-term abortions are rare, any act of destroying an embryo or fetus in the womb is essentially the same scientifically. It is the destruction of a unique individual that is genetically human. This leads me to my next article, coming soon: “Roe v. Wade Was Decided (Partly) on Science Denial.”

Mark Farnham is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach (Kregel, 2021).

The Image is All We Need Anymore

Rational discourse is out. The process of justice that has anchored the Western world is out. Even waiting to get the whole story or see the official report is out. All we need is a video, carefully cropped by the Controllers (as C. S. Lewis called them), and we roll out the guillotines (now literally). If you think this is somehow helping to confront racism, corruption, or any other type of injustice, you owe it to yourself to read about the way Fascist and Communist revolutions begin. Are racism, political corruption, and other forms of injustice a problem? Absolutely. But justice by video clip will usher in only one thing. Mass death. Why? The image tells the only story we want to hear.

Only the Christian Worldview Can Consistently Argue that Lives Matter

It’s strange isn’t it? The same people that teach children in school that they are nothing more than the products of blind time and chance reverse course and speak of dignity, rights, and justice when it’s convenient. 

The materialist view that is foisted upon us at every turn—in popular culture, in education, and in jurisprudence—is conveniently set aside when a sufficiently concerning social ill needs to be addressed. This is not to criticize those who reject God and fight for justice, but rather to point out that their sensitivities are rather arbitrary.

It is nothing short of negligent inconsistency at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst.

The atheistic, materialistic view of human beings has no grounds for talking about dehumanization or dignity, justice or injustice. Why? Because of its views on both man and all metaphysical values, such as morality and ethics. Look at its leading spokesmen.

Bertrand Russell, a giant in atheistic philosophy in the early 20th century reminds us of the implications of a world without God: “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (A Free Man’s Worship)

Think about that. In a materialistic world there is no design or purpose and all beliefs are accidents of nature. All noble efforts and genius will be snuffed out. Only when we embrace despair can we live. 

Richard Dawkins gives us no more hope. “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (River out of Eden)

Physicist Sean Carroll: “We humans are blobs are organized mud, which through the impersonal workings of nature’s patterns have developed the capacity to contemplate and cherish and engage with the intimidating complexity of the world around us…The meaning we find in life is not transcendent.” (The Big Picture)

Genomist Tomàs Marquès-Bonet: “Natural selection will always be there, with greater or less force…Selection is a blind process in which mutations are generated and those individuals that are most adapted are the ones that most disseminate their mutations…No matter how clever we are, humans will disappear. We are just a minor accident in the great evolutionary scale of the Earth.”

Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of DNA: “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll might have phrased it, ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons’.” (The Astonishing Hypothesis)

And finally, an anonymous Facebook post informs human beings, “You’re a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust.”

This is the message of the Western, “scientific” mind. I won’t take the time to explore the Eastern mindset here but suffice it to say that in most of its expressions the body is a prison and the goal is to escape the body, which is essentially evil. Therefore the body is inconsequential. Everything is part of the divine, including evil, racists, and injustice, so how do we condemn what is divine on any more of a basis than that we don’t prefer those things? The Eastern mindset has no more rational basis for promoting dignity and justice than does the West.

For anyone arguing for justice in this present time of national agony over race, taking a Western view undermines any rational basis. How can lives matter if we are accidents of nature, mudballs, the sum total of our DNA, an assembly of nerve cells and molecules, and meat skeletons? A bigger question is, “Why care?” If all these things are true, why not go with the flow of natural selection and practice cruelty and aggression instead of empathy and kindness? The former are working out quite well for many people all around the world, as they always have.

Only the Christian third way with its belief in the inherent dignity of man and woman made in the image of God provides a consistent basis for saying that any life matters. At the same time, it acknowledges that we live in a world under the curse of sin and manifesting brokenness in a trillion different ways. Only the Christian worldview sees man as possessing both dignity and depravity in a way that explains the world the way it is. 

Some may object, “What about the failure of the Church and Christians to live up to this standard of dignity and to defend and protect it for all people?” Sadly, that is a legitimate observation. But it poses no real objection against Christianity because it represents a clear violation of the teachings of Jesus. To be cruel and aggressive and to prefer my own kind is the heart and soul of natural selection. When it is done in the name of Christ it is clearly a departure. Christians who practice injustice and fail to care about such heinous sins as racism betray their name. And even the best intentions and efforts of Christians will fall short because we are never promised perfection in this life. The problem is so great in our world that only a Messiah can fix it. And he will.

Only Christianity has the God-man entering our existence and showing us what perfect obedience to God’s law looks like, then dying for our failure to live as we should. Jesus offers us forgiveness and redemption through his perfect sacrifice. The Holy Spirit transforms us progressively throughout life by means of the Word of God to make us more like Christ. Part of that is to develop the heart of the heavenly Father, to grieve what He grieves, to hate what He hates, and to love what He loves.

Christians and the Church at large will never be perfect in promoting justice and righteousness in the many, many issues that we encounter in this life, but at least we have a consistent basis, a perfect example, and an empowerment from on high.

So, the questions is, “Are we doing what we can to promote real justice in our world?”

If I am Guilty for Who I Am, the Gospel Is of No Benefit

This post is not going to go the way you think it will, so please read to the end.

If I am guilty of something merely because I am white, there is no redemption for me. I cannot stop being white. 

White Guilt

Now, I know that those who use the phrase “white guilt” often mean not just (or not primarily) the color of my skin, but the privilege that goes with it (something to be addressed in a future post). But the heart of white guilt is the idea that if I am white, then I must have sinned in some way connected to my skin color, most likely (say some) in a racist way against a black person. And while technically my guilt arises out of privilege, many people are getting the less nuanced message that it arises out if skin color.

This fits well the narrative promoted by those who subscribe to Critical Race Theory and intersectionality (also to be addressed in a future post). It does not, however, fit the Christian narrative. I will say this many times over subsequent posts: This present national crisis is going to reveal how many professing Christians have either drifted into a Marxist worldview on the left or Individualistic worldview on the right. And it should challenge us to seek out a distinctly Christian worldview as a third way between the other two.

An article in the New York Times asks, “How Can I Cure My White Guilt?” The authors seek to answer an inquirer who writes:

I’m riddled with shame. White shame. This isn’t helpful to me or to anyone, especially people of color. I feel like there is no “me” outside of my white/upper middle class/cisgender identity. I feel like my literal existence hurts people, like I’m always taking up space that should belong to someone else…I’m curled up in a ball of shame.

Their answer to this tormented soul? “Every white person should be ashamed of that injustice [the privilege whiteness afforded]. Which is different than being ashamed of being white.” The solutions given are various works of penance: becoming an ally, expressing anguish, relinquishing privilege. In other words, law.

This is what we might call ontological guilt, culpability and shame for your very nature. It is distinctly not a Christian view of guilt. God declared his creation of man and woman to be ‘very good’ because they were made in his image. The image of God is what gives us our inherent dignity. Ontological guilt, then, is not Christian. There is no redemption for ontological guilt. There is no good news.

Biblical Guilt

In the Bible guilt is always connected to thoughts, words, or actions. This is what we call moral guilt. I am guilty when I do something I should not do or fail to do something I should do. Guilt is primarily in relation to God, and only secondarily in relation to others (Psa. 51:4). I become guilty when I break God’s law or erect idols in my heart. The gospel is the good news that because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. By repentance my moral transgressions can be forgiven, and I can be made clean.

So, if I am not guilty because of my whiteness, am I still automatically guilty of racism because I am white? Automatically? No, but I should not dismiss the notion that I have committed an act or thought of racism just because none comes to mind in a quick review of my sins. David asked God to search his heart to see if there was any wickedness in him (Psa. 139:23-4) because sins can remain hidden (Psa. 19:12). 

Perhaps every white Christian should ask God to search his heart for hidden preference, favor, hatred, or injustice toward people based on ethnic differences. So should every black, Asian, Latino, and other believer regardless of his ethnicity. We should also do this based on economic status (James 2:1-13), class, education, or any other difference. No discrimination is acceptable to God. He hates unjust treatment of others (Prov. 20:23). We should ask ourselves hard questions like:

Am I friendlier to people of certain ethnicities than to others when I encounter them?

Am I more willing to help people of certain ethnicities than others?

Do I care about the injustices experienced by people of certain ethnicities more than others?

Do I pray for and work to minister to people in need regardless of their ethnicity?

Do I care about the well-being of people of other ethnicities as much as I do those who look like me?

These are just a few of the many questions we can ask God to search our hearts. We may find after doing this that God reveals some prejudices. If so, we should experience shame and grief for our sin that leads us to repentance. And if we have sinned against another person as a result of these heart attitudes we should seek out their forgiveness.

Black Guilt

It would be awful to be guilty simply because of my skin color. It would be anguish to know that there is nothing I could do to escape condemnation simply for who I am and not for anything I have done. 

This is exactly the position in which many black people find themselves. It is hard for me to understand that until I listen to their stories. Because many white people are insulated from close relationships with black people they may not be aware of this. I presently live in the whitest place I have ever lived. I have never known what it is like to be pulled over by a policeman for no apparent reason. I don’t know what it is like to be called names for my melanin. I have never been afraid to walk through a nice neighborhood because I am white. 

A black friend from the West Coast told me yesterday that he was harassed for his ethnicity this week. One of his sons is a mechanical engineer in his 20’s and has been pulled over a dozen times in the last year on his way home from work. Many other compelling and heartbreaking stories have been told. Are we listening?

I am well aware as a theologian that the root problem is sin in the heart. You cannot legislate or educate hatred out of the heart. Most African American spokespeople do not assume we can. This raises the issue to be addressed later of what can be done, not just in human hearts, but in police training, the justice system, and other realms.

But before we go there, I ask myself and my white friends, are we willing to listen to the stories of those who have been harassed and mistreated merely for who they are? Will we weep with those who weep and resist evil when we see it?

Here’s who I am presently listening to: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/george-floyd-and-me/

Next: Human dignity and equality are only consistent in a Christian worldview.

I invite comments, corrections, suggestions, and questions.

Discerning between Injustice and Ideology: The Christian Third Way

The last few weeks have been a time of national agony. Agony for all who saw the video of the last eight minutes of George Floyd’s life and found themselves short of breath in sympathetic response. Agony for African Americans in seeing another brother needlessly killed. Agony for whites who have been told they bear guilt for being who they are. I have heard all three expressed.

The challenge of this national agony is that ideological groups are parasitically attaching themselves to a genuine act of injustice. This partially explains the angst that many feel about the situation. Protests were overshadowed by rioting in the first week after the incident. Genuine efforts at righting injustice were hijacked by Antifa and other radical organizations pushing a more sinister agenda. Constructive attempts to change problematic structures and institutions were drowned out by unrealistic and extreme solutions more fit for a full-scale revolution.

Left and Right are quickly drawing up lines and digging in. For Christians, however, this ought to be a time where a distinctly Christian third way is proclaimed. We dare not fall into uncritical acceptance of political or ideological answers from either side. 

As theologian Denny Burk states so well,

The error from the right will be a refusal to acknowledge any racial disparities in encounters with police and how those disparities shape a community’s despairing attitudes toward law enforcement. If we aren’t guarding ourselves from errors on the right, we might gaslight some of our brothers and sisters and not be able to commiserate with them like the Bible commands, “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). They will not feel like we are hearing them, which will in turn lead to alienation from them. It will also keep us blind to injustices that the Bible says we ought to expose: “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

The error from the left includes ideologies like Critical Race Theory and intersectionality that are at odds with the gospel and that frame many people’s thinking about these events. These ideologies reflect materialistic worldviews that view all of life through the prism of racial identity and power relations. They tend to produce blanket condemnations of law enforcement that are not fair to the vast majority of officers that are serving our communities well and that abhor police misconduct as much as we do. Some people use such ideologies to justify the rioting and looting that have undermined the aims of peaceful protestors around the country.

In the coming days I hope to untangle the issue of injustice from the barnacle-like parasites that have attached themselves to this critical issue and present a Christian third way that gleans the wisdom from left and right while avoiding their errors. 

Next up tomorrow: If I Am Guilty for Who I Am, the Gospel Is of No Benefit.