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There is simply no way to take the Bible seriously and be pro-choice

14 Aug

Sexual identity, marriage and other issues have dominated the discussion of social topics and the Christian for the last several years. But the recent scandal of Planned Parenthood has brought the topic of abortion back into more focus. I’m praying that this will lead to more lives being spared.

To help build on this momentum, Christians need to become well trained in the topic of abortion. I know of no better organization for this than the Life Training Institute. So if you find that you need more information on the topic, check their resources. They have fantastic material which offers a number of arguments that are not religious, so you can engage with an atheistic culture using their material. Check it out, and make a difference. But if you’re not sure of your view, or if you’re a Christian and pro-choice, before going to their website, please read on.

I have trouble understanding why anyone, even non-believers would be pro-choice. I mean, we’re all humans, even a tiny fetus. Why would you ever want to kill a human growing inside you? But for the remainder of this post, I want to concentrate on the Christian who believes that abortion is acceptable. And let me warn you in advance, you are on very dangerous ground.

Here is a key question for you:

Are you 100% sure that a human baby before birth does not have a soul endowed by God?

If you think you are, I’d encourage you to consider these Biblical passages. I’ve also written about ensoulment in more detail here. The Bible contains these and several more passages that clearly demonstrate that there is a soul present in the womb. There is no way to arrive at any other conclusion. So now, if you’re not 100% sure that it’s just a blob of tissue, how can you be anything but pro-life?


Consider a criminal case where a person was on trial for murder. This would essentially be the equivalent defense: “my client was 90% sure this wasn’t murder, so they should be found not guilty.” Imagine the judge’s reaction. “So your client thought there was a chance that what they were doing was murder, and they did it anyway? What kind of a defense is that? Guilty!”

Most Christians I know believe life (soul and body) begins at conception. Certainly from the standpoint of biology, it’s a human from the moment the sperm and egg combine. Still, there are some people who believe that the soul enters the body at some point later (and as I noted, I discuss those views here). While I believe the strongest Biblical arguments are for conception, I don’t feel 100% convinced. I am somewhat open to a couple of the very early events as well. (But as I stated above, birth is absolutely ruled out by an examination of the whole of the Biblical text.) Some Christians I know are sometimes afraid to admit that they don’t have 100% confidence in the conception view, for fear of giving ground to the other side. But I don’t see it as a problem, for the reason I noted above. If we’re not certain, we shouldn’t be messing with life! Do we really want to take a chance that we’re MURDERING a person made by God? No way. And it’s not even like the court example I noted above, because the preponderance of evidence points to conception.

As followers of Christ, we believe in the sanctity of life. We have been made in God’s image. We should strive to protect life, especially the lives of those that have little protection or are valued less by the world. So learn the issue. Engage the culture. Save some lives. Change the world for Christ.

A Short Post on Poor Reasoning

22 Dec

I am shocked at the number of times I’ve read or heard someone use these words in the last few days:

Jesus never said _______ was wrong.

The statement is followed by an assertion that if Jesus never said it was wrong, then it must be okay. Folks, this is just stupid! Sorry to be so frank, but I just get so tired of bad logic. Jesus never said rape was wrong either. That doesn’t mean He thought it was okay!!! There are alot of actions Jesus didn’t address, but that doesn’t mean He condones them. Please stop using this absurd argument.

Cults in Texas and other ramblings

19 Dec

Last night I joined about 20 other men praying over a brother whose son has run off and joined what appears to be a Christian cult.

I arrived at the meeting only knowing that we were going to pray for a brother and his family. When I first heard about the situation, my mind like it normally does, went into inquisitive mode. The initial things I heard were that this brother’s son had left his life behind in the middle of the night, taken his wife and young child and joined a small religious group in Texas. At this point many of us think of David Koresh, as did I. But I am always careful not to allow my worldly experience goggles cloud my thinking, so I asked more about the group.

They were described as living away from the world on a rural ranch because the members believe that environment allows them to set themselves apart and focus on Christ. They advocate that other Christians are all caught up in the world so much and that many people falsely believe that they are actually saved. The church leadership calls for a demonstration of more fruit in the life of the believer.

On the surface, these things don’t really seem too far off to me. I mean, the first one sounds similar to living a Nazirite life, which is echoed in Paul’s words to the Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  I think all of us at times feel like we’re not living the way Christ would want us to. As for the second, there is no doubt that there are people who falsely believe that they are saved. Jesus talks about such people in Matthew 7:21-23. “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” And for the third, who doesn’t think they couldn’t show more fruit in their life?

But these things need to be balanced on the whole of Scripture.

Not balancing these issues has at times even caused me to question my salvation. Do I do enough? Am I a good enough father? A good enough husband? A good enough friend? A good enough witness? Are my sins too great and is my soul too lost? Am I unworthy of God’s grace?

But that’s simply just a complete misunderstanding of the exhaustive nature of His Grace! It’s placing an over emphasis on these passages and ignoring countless others such as Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Perhaps that is what is going on with this group? God loving people who have a misunderstanding of Scripture. The sad thing is that they appear to have so many things right, but they are so intently focused on those errors, (as well as reports of false prophecy) that one has to question whether they are inside orthodoxy any more. (Here is an excellent post about this particular group.)

The main question that came to my mind as I was driving home was: what draws people to these kind of groups? What’s the appeal? The answer is probably different for different groups, and perhaps demonic activity should also be considered. But they all share one thing in common. They contain pieces of truth. I think Lewis used this as a point in The Screwtape Letters. Its the little bit of truth that’s in there which captures and pulls you in.

Even more so however, I’ve noticed that its not just truth per se. It’s specific truths which the modern church is often questioning itself on. In other words, these groups often have a ring of truth where the modern church is perhaps drifting from its core truths. Let me explain. In the case of this group, it is the holiness of the believer that seems to be most in question. I’ve recently been reading an outstanding book called The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. He and many other recent authors have pointed out that perhaps the modern believer has become too lukewarm.

After reading his book, I certainly acknowledge that I often don’t live in accord with 1 Peter 2:11, as a stranger in this land. But the answer is not swing the pendulum the other way as this group has done. (DeYoung certainly does not advocate that.) Instead we need to pray to God, to search the Scriptures, to find the truth, and to live by it.  Or to paraphrase DeYoung on the issue of holiness, God wants us to be holy, through faith he counts us as holy, and by sanctification he intends to make us holy.

For me, this means that I took inventory of myself today, and once again I find myself lacking. I will try to do better. But I know that I am secured by His grace, and I am destined for eternity with our Savior.

Finally, returning to this particular group, I ask readers of this post to please join me in praying for the family, as well as for this group of people in Texas. May God comfort those in pain, and bring truth to those who are wandering.

When does “Nephesh” begin?

7 Oct

Nephesh is the Hebrew word for soul, or life. In this second post on abortion, I want to ask “When does human tissue become ‘nephesh?'”

There are various views on when exactly a person becomes “a person.” The question is much simpler if we ask when does “humanhood” begin. There’s no question that the moment a sperm meets and egg, its a new human. Some pro-lifer’s seeing this obvious scientific fact argue against abortion from that angle. And its a good argument. Can humanity really be divided into two groups? Is it possible for human beings to not be persons? Those are great questions that the pro-choice advocate needs to offer a good answer for before they can use the “personhood” argument.

In this post though, I want to specifically address the theist who bases their pro-choice argument on “ensoulment.” When does the soul join with the flesh?

At birth?

President Clinton said that he was pro-choice because he was advised by his Southern Baptist pastor that life begins at birth, not conception. The attempted connection some argue for is that when a baby begins breathing on its own, it’s like God breathing the breath of life into Adam when he became a living person (Gen 2:7), so therefore life must begin at first breath. This is a poor argument. First, it is not true in a biological sense that the unborn does not breathe – the process is there from conception. Only the mode of oxygen transfer to the baby is changed upon birth. Second, it’s a bad analogy. Adam was inanimate matter that became life; a baby is alive before birth. Additionally, Adam is an adult when he is created, not a newborn.

Some also try to use Exodus 21:22-25, which discusses a lessor penalty than death for causing a miscarriage, as proof that the Bible treats the premature unborn as less important. This article explains why that reasoning doesn’t work. John Calvin commenting on this passage wrote “The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being (homo), and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”

To suggest that the Bible teaches that ensoulment begins at birth is just a bad theological position. In not only misrepresents these two passages, it completely ignores all the others which teach otherwise.

Here are just a few clear examples that ensoulment occurs before birth (several more are below):
Genesis 22:25a – “The babies jostled each other within her” (Jacob and Esau)
Luke 1:41a – “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb”
Psalm 139:13 – “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

What about other significant events before birth? Below are other points along the developmental process that will be looked at in regressive order.

At Viability?

This occurs sometime between 22 and 26 weeks. Historically, most major court decisions use viability in their determination of “personhood.” Viability refers to the ability of a fetus to survive outside, independent of the womb (though not necessarily on its own). One problem with using viability as the moment of ensoulment is that as medical technology advances, viability is getting lower. This position is just a moving target based on the state of medical progress. Its completely arbitrary and has no biblical support.

At the Quickening?

Sorry to fans of the Highlander movies, but this isn’t referring to super awesome victory lightening after winning a battle. The quickening in pregnancy is when the mother becomes aware of the baby. Its the first time she feels him inside. The timing varies from about 14 weeks at the earliest to about 24 weeks at the latest. Most are around 17 to 20 weeks.

This development point doesn’t work either because the mother’s perception has nothing to do with the essence of the baby. My wife’s friend was pregnant at the same time my wife was. Her friend’s baby, Eric, is only 10 days older than our son, yet my wife felt our son 2 months before her friend felt Eric. Did that mean Eric was not a person and our son was? No, of course not.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. – Luke 1:41-44

I have heard someone trying to use this passage, Luke 1:41-44, to argue that the quickening is when ensoulment occurs. But Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant when this happened! That is far past the normal timing of the quickening. Some who argue using the Exodus 21 passage noted above also suggest the quickening as the ensoulment time saying that the Exodus passage is talking about a fetus before the quickening. But again, there is simply not justification for this. The Bible does not say anything about a soul entering at this point. There is just no biblical support for the quickening being the process of ensoulment.

On the other hand, we can learn a couple significant things from Luke 1:41. First off, Luke uses the same word to refer to the unborn in Luke 1:41 that he uses to refer to to infants in Luke 2:12 (the passage about Jesus in the manger). Luke saw them as one in the same! The other point is that the baby is leaping in the womb because it recognizes the presence of Jesus. This means that ensoulment must be before the quickening because Mary was less than 3 months pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:26). John (in the womb) recognized Jesus (in the womb) was there. So it must be at least before 3 months. What earlier options are there?

At Sentience or at brain activity?

There is debate about when sentience occurs, but the bottom line is still that the nature of the unborn does not change just because it can begin to feel things (specifically pain). And there really isn’t a biblical argument for either of these moments. There are no passages that I’m aware of that can be used to refer to these moments as the timing of ensoulment. Sentience and brain activity do come up alot in the personhood arguments, but since the focus of this post is “ensoulment,” and the Bible does not address these points (and this post is getting way too long), I’m going to skip the philosophical arguments.

At blood development?

“For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life.” –  Lev 17:14
“But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” – Gen 9:4
“Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh.” – Deut. 12:23

Some assert that ensoulment occurs at this point. Blood cells do not develop until about 20 days after conception. Proponents of this view use these passages to argue from the Bible. While this is really the first point that may seem to have some more reasonable biblical support, it is not without its issues.

First, the later two passages are referring to other mammals, not necessarily humans. This makes their application to human ensoulment a bit more problematic. On one hand, the context of  Leviticus passage is also discussing other mammals, so it could be a broader statement, and thus potentially be related to ensoulment. But it is not clearly speaking of humans. Furthermore on the pro side, it is interesting to note that in this passage, the word translated “life” is the word nephesh, which is the same word commonly used for soul.

However, a different concern potentially rules out the Leviticus passage though. All of these passages, including the Leviticus passage, refer to adults who need blood for their survival (not a baby in the womb). Their contexts are talking about taking it away, not it being added for life. This would make it seem a bit of a stretch to be confident that blood development is when ensoulment occurs.

Still, there is clearly some connection to nephesh and blood.

At implantation?

This event occurs about a week or two after conception when the embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus. This is another point that often comes up in the “personhood” debate, but which the Bible says nothing. The major concern  many theistic people have with life beginning prior to implantation is the number of developing human embryos that do not implant. Some research shows its over 50%! That would mean that over 50% of people never make it to be born. What happens to them? That’s a good question. Still, should we base our answer to the ensoulment question on something that we don’t understand? Perhaps all those that don’t implant are people that just go straight to Heaven? We just don’t know, but it is clear that there is no direct biblical support for this position.

At conception?

There does seem to be a number of passages where the Bible is teaching that ensoulment happens with conception. Here are a couple:

Judges 13:2-7.

A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. The angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will become pregnant and have a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from the womb until the day of his death.’”

She was not yet pregnant and told to stop drinking before her pregnancy, implying that if she had drank after conception the Nazirite vow would not be lifelong. This suggests that the soul of her future son would be present from conception.

Psalm 51:5.

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

David wrote this about himself. The important point is that the “me” is not really “me” if his soul wasn’t there. It wouldn’t be him. So it appears that David believed that ensoulment occurred at conception.

What are you willing to risk?

Let’s say after reading this you’re still fairly convinced that life begins at birth, or at some point in the womb. Are you so confident that you’d be willing to take the risk? What if you’re wrong? It’s not like guessing the wrong answer on Jeopardy. It’s a life, or rather a whole lot of them if you happen to argue for it. If you were in charge of a demolition crew, would you order the dismantling of a building if you were 90% sure the building was empty? 95%? 99%? It seems to me that its just too significant an issue to take a risk that you could be wrong. If that means no birth control pills that prevent implantation, then that’s what it means. If it means the doctor gives you news you don’t want to hear about your unborn and you have a life of challenges ahead, then that’s what it means.

It’s your call. You have to answer to God. But as for me and my house, we won’t be taking that risk.

The SLED test

3 Oct

In the coming days, I’m going to be posting a political commentary on abortion, so here’s the first of what may be a couple posts leading up to it.

The SLED test is a great tactic to remember for defending the unborn. It is based on refuting the major arguments for abortion.

One argument pro-choicers use is that a fetus is really small, so small that it’s not really a human person. How can you call something the size of a period at the end of a sentence a human being they might ask. Well, are large people more of a person than small people? Are men more persons than women? Did Shaq deserve more rights than Spud Web? (Maybe he deserved more money? But not more humanness.) Do adults posses more humanness than children? No. So why would you apply that standard to the embryo?

Level of Development
Pro-choicers often argue that the unborn is less developed than a newborn, so they are not fully human. A 14 year old is more developed than a four year old, does that mean he’s more of a person too? What about mentally handicapped people? Are they lessor human persons in any way? No. So why would you apply that standard to the embryo?

Why is environment relevant? Does a simple change in location transform the nature of a fetus? Does where you are determine what you are? How does 7 inches down the birth canal transform a tissue blow into a human life we ought to protect and respect? No. So why would you apply that standard to the embryo?

Degree of Dependency
Since an unborn is dependent on the mother, should that make a difference? If being dependent was what counts, then why not turn off all pacemakers? Should Steven Hawking and anyone with ALS be euthanized just because they rely on other people to take care of them? No. So why would you apply that standard to the embryo?

For a bit more detail, but still a simple approach, see this article at Life Training Institute.

New Gospel Discovered?

20 Sep

Peter asked, How can you say not [to] me? My mother gave to me little help, and my wife scouted for me, but I’m the one who picked most of the players!”  The disciples said to Jesus, “Who should get the money from last weekend’s fantasy football game?” “We cannot deny. Mary is worthy of it. She had the most points without any help” Jesus said to them, “My wife, scouted for me? You all know this is not allowed.  Peter, how could you do that? You had your wife cheat.  She will be able to be my disciple, but she can’t help you anymore. Now about the Raiders. Let wicked people swell up as I watch them play on my out of date television. As for me, I dwell with her in order to keep from buying a new overpriced plasma. At least I can still get an image. Go Tebow!”

What is the above text you ask? Its the newly discovered complete manuscript of the document being called “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife“. The parts in bold italics are page one of what was translated in the report released a few days ago. The report appeared in such reputable media as the New York Times and The Daily Mail. What appears above is the complete version that was discovered today, reported first here!

Ok. Seriously though, you may hear a big deal about this in the media, or it may fizzle, because there has even been some scholars suggesting that its not authentic. But even if it is, let me just offer you a few points we know for CERTAIN.

  1. This thing dates way past the Gospels.
  2. The missing parts are MISSING. We don’t know what they said. It’s speculation.
  3. There is no other ancient document that suggest Jesus was married despite what you may have read in The Da Vinci Code.

Bottom line. This thing is really no big deal.

See this link for more detailed information.

Test everything; hold fast what is good.

UPDATE 9/26/12: It’s a fake!

Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young

1 Aug

From an older post I did on another site:

the-shack1It is with the desire that we all grow closer to God that I write this review. I recently read The Shack, and let me just begin by saying that I was moved.  I laughed at some good healthy humor in the writing. I cried at the tragedy that occurs and is repeatedly dealt with throughout the story. I felt the peace from redemption and reconciliation of the characters. It was an emotional experience.

However, mostly, as I read The Shack, particularly as it went on, I felt uncomfortable. So before I get into the review, if you haven’t read it and you don’t want any plot spoilers, please skip to the last paragraph.

As a work of fiction, I thought the book was good. It starts off a little choppy, and the last chapter is a bit abrupt, but overall, it was easy to read. I found myself drawn to characters, especially Mack. It was also hard for me to get through the first few chapters. The story of the abducted girl was tearing me up. As a parent, there’s always a fear of loosing one of your children, but this was really getting to me. I couldn’t help but think about my daughter and how awful that would be. I even had to pause a couple times to get through it. Then, as the story moved on, I found myself unable to put it down, and when I did, I immediately wanted to go back to it. That, of course, is a sign of a good book.

But as I continued to read, I noticed two things. One, I began to really start thinking a lot about God. That’s a good thing, and fiction works that are able to do that are rare. Young helped remind me how much I love the Trinity, and how much God loves us. I thankfully prayed for how He comforts us. However, the second thing was that I was beginning to feel a little out of sorts. I don’t mean physically sick or anything like that, but something just was off and got worse as I continued through the pages. As I mentioned above, a good word to describe it was uncomfortable. Let me try to explain the feeling better to you. It’s like the feeling you get when you’re watching a television show, and they say something that is cliché about Christians, such as we’re all ignorant of science. There is a sense of defensive anger, a righteous anger, that is there, and remains there in the background of the show as you finish it, even if you like the show. That’s how I felt as the book began to introduce and the describe God, or rather, god, as William Young sees him.

Instead of really dragging this out in to a 50 page paper, let me just highlight a few things that I think are very significant.

One big problem is that Young downplays Scripture and theological training, and replaces it with personal experience. Several times, Mack suggests that his time in seminary was nearly useless and the Bible is just God’s voice “reduced to paper.” First of all, this is completely contradictory to Scripture! The Bible never downplays itself, nor implies that it is just “paper” as Young writes. The Bible teaches just the opposite! It is a Treasure! What makes this such a problem for us is that we are a narcissistic culture. We want it to be about us as an individual, so we easily succumb to this false teaching. It makes our private communication with God more significant than His word. But that is unbiblical. Plus, it helps us be lazy about God and think we are doing what’s right, instead of taking the time to study the word, as Scripture clearly lays out is the correct way. (2 Tim 2:15, 2 Pet 3:16, 2 Tim 1:13-14, Luke 10:25-28, etc.). Friends, this can be dangerous, and lead us away from God’s truth and we begin to make God be what we want Him to be, not what He says He is.

Young’s treatment of the Trinity is also very problematic. For one, Mack is able to sit down and have a conversation with the Father. While we may like this picture, and desire it in our present state, it’s not near what the Bible teaches it’s like to encounter the Father – just ask Moses who had to hide his face, or Isaiah who cried out “Woe is me.” Instead of something like those biblical accounts, we find Mack cussing in the presence of the Father. Perhaps we should consider Paul’s words to the Romans here, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” Another problem is the treatment of the members of the Trinity. Papa at one point says “we became human.” There is no “we” about it. The Bible teaches that Jesus, the Word, became flesh. This really is a big deal. It affects all kinds of doctrines, and if you start exploring them, you’ll see. It blurs the clear and important distinctions of our God as the Holy Trinity, with separate roles in our salvation.

There are a few unorthodox things Young characterizes about God which are worthy of some consideration.1 For example, one repeated theme he discusses is the idea that there is no hierarchy within the Trinity. This contradicts many years of understanding by the church. However, it is a doctrine that has been questioned by some throughout that history, and recently people have made some pretty good arguments that at the very least are worth looking at (see The Trinity & Subordinationism by Giles). The concern that I have though, is that this is not a theology text, but instead a literary device that is filled with rhetoric. Why is that a big deal? Because rhetoric can make you want to believe something. If the style is good enough, it persuades you by gripping your emotions to the text in a way that you think its right because it seems so good. It lacks the merits of a good argument based on research and careful thinking, and instead fools the reader by creating an emotional tie to the point. Let me use an example from the book to help clarify this. Mack discovers that Papa too shares the wounds of Jesus on her wrists. This gets dangerously close to a Christian heresy of the early church called Patripassionism (which means Father suffers). Now here’s an honest question. Do you think that most people would read Young’s characterization of Papa here and know that history, and why the church condemned it as heresy based on biblical teaching? I don’t either. I think most people would be captured by the rhetoric and think that they have just learned a deeper understanding of God, when in reality, they have just had their ears tickled with false doctrine (see 2 Tim 4:3).

There are some very good things about this book, but they seem to always be countered by questionable teaching. For example, the love of God abounds in this book, but the justice of God is notably absent. Young also does an excellent job of showing how God uses bad events for good, but is inconsistent on how God accomplishes this. He also emphasizes how our relationship with God is much more important than following rules, but as I mentioned above, he ignores the reverence we should have of God.

There is much more I could offer, such as Young’s several references to teachings of Unitarian Universalism (God is a verb, aspects of modalism, pluralistic ideas, etc.) and other ideas of God that are considered by most heretical, but this would really be a long review, and others have already put together excellent detailed analysis’s of this work.

So, in conclusion, there is a lot of good in this book, but there is enough bad to make it something we should probably skip on. There are better ways to spend our time with God. I don’t think I would take time reading this book if my goal was to learn about God, or grow closer to him. If you really want to read it to get you “thinking” about God and explore other ideas, then I would proceed cautiously. As I mentioned above, rhetoric is a powerful tool, and it is easy to find oneself falling into its grip. Therefore, read it with a watchful eye, and a prayerful heart, and check out the “new things” that you think you are learning about God.

Finally then, let me make a few recommendations. If you’re wanting to know about the Trinity, may I suggest The Forgotten Trinity by White. If you’re looking for Christian fiction, that is written in a similar genre of this book, you cannot go wrong with Pilgrims Progress by Bunyan, Five Sacred Crossings by Hazen, or many books by C.S. Lewis, including the Space Trilogy, the Narnia books, or The Screwtape Letters. (An important point also to make is that the books like Narnia are meant to clearly to be illustrations of some characteristics of God, recognizing that they are indeed just characterizations, while Young’s book is meant to be an exact representation of God. This makes his tome much more of a theological treatise, rather than just a fictional allegory.). If you just want to grow closer to God, again, don’t bother with this book, just pick up the one you already own, and turn to John. Its a good place to start, especially if you haven’t been there for a while.

1 These are not worthy because Young brings them up, but worthy because theologians have been debating them for years. On the issue of the Trinity (and many others places he offers an unorthodox view of God), there is no debate. It is crystal clear. Many have even refereed to Young’s ideas as heresy.

notitia, assensus, fiducia

24 Jun

I watched her shaking and listened to her crying, with empathetic compassion. I wanted to get up and go talk to her, to console her, but I couldn’t. The seat belt sign was illuminated, and we were just taking off. It appeared to be a full blown panic attack.

I knew the fear she was experiencing. I’d been there many times before. Judging by her age and from what I heard her say as they were getting on board, this was her first time she’d ever been really scared on a plane. It was a small prop plane, and I think it was the lack of experience with such a tiny aircraft that thrust what had been a normally suppressed fear of dying to the forefront of her mind.

The flight was only 20 minutes, the seat belt sign remained on and her tears continued. For that 20 minutes I prayed for her. Not so much that she be comforted on that flight, but that she would learn quickly, and not have to suffer for years to find a truth which took me so long to discover – that true faith in God is not complete until you have notitia, assensus and fiducia. Knowledge. Assent. Trust.

To avoid any confusion, I want to be clear here that I’m not talking about this in terms of saving faith. Though these terms most often are used to discuss what constitutes saving faith, I want to avoid the free grace/lordship debate here and just discuss how they apply to practically living out your life.

So, let me offer an illustration. Suppose a friend tells you that there’s a man walking on a tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls. You now have knowledge of it. Next, your friend takes you to Niagara Falls and you watch the man go across with the wheelbarrow, several times! Your friend asks if you think he can do it again, and you reply, “Yes!”. You are agreeing to something you believe to be true. This is assent. Now the hard part. Suppose the man pushing the wheelbarrow overheard your conversation, and he invites you to get in while he pushes it across. If you do, then that’s trust.

For many years, I struggled to “get in the wheelbarrow” with God in certain areas of my life. I had no problem with the first two once I became convinced of His reality primarily through apologetics. I even did pretty good with the trust thing in most areas: my finances, my career, where I lived, etc. Yet, certain areas, really anything that I was ultimately afraid of losing (primarily my health, my safety and my family), I had a theoretical belief that God was in control of them, but not a practical one.

Perhaps I’ll write more details of it another time, but ultimately by the grace of God I began to trust Him in more areas of my life. And in many areas the fear is no more. Sure, fear often tries to get a foothold and the initial thoughts come pouring in, but through Christ I can take them captive and He can defeat them. Indeed, I have gone through long phases where I am trusting in Christ, and I essentially live free from the fears that plagued me.

But sometimes, I do still struggle with fear in a couple contexts. While I hope someday to be able to have them completely conquered, these areas remind me that I need Him, so in that sense they keep me moving toward Christ. Still, looking back over my experiences, there is one truth that is absolutely clear: when I trust Him, the fear is not present.

My prayer for the girl on the plane, and for anyone else struggling with fear or anxiety is that you recognize this before it leads you down years and years of pain, and even the potential of destruction. In Matthew chapter 6 when Jesus says “Do not worry”, He wasn’t giving us a command; He was telling us we don’t have to worry because He is there for us if we would only just “get in the wheelbarrow”.

P.S. By the way. There really was a guy who pushed a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls! Crazy!

Summer reading – books for diving deeper

24 May

While summer won’t officially be here for another few weeks, many of us are already in vacation mode, especially with the 3 day weekend upon us. So, here’s my Top 10 list of recommended theology reading for this summer.

First, let me be clear, this is not my top 10 favorite books. That list would certainly include more books by C.S. Lewis and Alexandre Dumas, and less books that make my head hurt. Instead, this list is for the person who wants to dig deeper into theology. All these books are a bit challenging, but none of them are too difficult to work through. Each one has been extremely beneficial to me and I encourage you to read them all if you are interested in the topic they cover. In my opinion, these are all just about as close as you can get to must reads for any student of Christian theology. Not that I agree with everything in all of them, I don’t; but they do help you get your mind around the issues they discuss. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen

2. Should the Church Teach Tithing? by Russell Earl Kelly

3. Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

4. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views edited by James K. Beilby & Paul R. Eddy

5. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Fee & Stewart

6. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Beckwith & Koukl

7. Heaven by Randy Alcorn

8. Science & Faith by C. John Collins

9. Love God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland

10. The Forgotten Trinity by White

11. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright

Ok, it goes to 11, but that just makes it 1 better.

Intellectual Dishonesty

21 Apr

There’s a phrase that I’ve really come to dislike when I hear it, particularly from Christians. The simple phrase that literally causes a tense pain to run down my back is: “I’ve studied both sides”.

It seems like I hear this phrase often when I’m in discussion with people about everything from theological to political issues. The person often appears to be trying to communicate something like this: “You can trust me as an authority on this issue because I am open minded and have come to a conclusion based on a balanced approach to the issue, carefully researching all the arguments”. If that’s the truth, then great! I want to talk with you more, and learn from you any knowledge you may have to share to help me be more discerning about the topic. Iron sharpens iron. (Proverbs 27:17)

However, what I’ve found that it actually means is more along the lines of either:
(a) “I’m insecure about my knowledge of this issue, so I’m throwing this statement out hoping you will just believe me” or
(b) “I really believe that I’ve studied both sides because I’ve read authors that support my position and they quote from the opposing views, and then demonstrate why those views are wrong, so I must be educated on the opposite position too”.

The first one doesn’t really concern me near as much. For one, I certainly understand motivation that is derived from personal insecurity, as I struggled with it for many years. And two, that person really doesn’t actually believe what they’re saying, so hopefully they can learn from the experience of being challenged, and study the issue further (and also hopefully eventually apologize for lying).

Its the second one that really makes my skin crawl. When someone says to me “I’ve studied both sides” I admit, I get very frustrated because of my past experience with this phrase. I still always try to be gentle and kind, as Christ would want me to be, but I usually (though not always) try to challenge them. Not to win the argument, but to point out the intellectual dishonesty. It’s a simple challenge, I just ask “What authors have you read on the subject?” Rarely does someone recall them. I get all kinds of excuses usually around them not remembering the names because its been so long, or they weren’t paying attention, etc. So then, I typically offer a way out and ask “How many books or papers promoting the opposite subject have you read?” If I take it to that question, I have almost always discovered that, just as I noted in the second motivation above, the person has only read what advocates of their view have written criticizing the opposing view. (By the way, I try not to feel a sense of satisfaction as I listen to the person stumbling over their words. God is still helping me work on that one.) Once in a while, I get someone who then admits that they’ve read very little of the other side. This is at least a step in the right direction.

“Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.” (Proverbs 10:14, NIV)
The reason I get so frustrated is that its just a big fat lie. And as a result of that lie, a number of things could happen. Here’s one example: The person we say it to may trust us on the issue, perhaps because we have been trustworthy and knowledgeable about other subjects as well. The person then becomes an advocate for the issue. Then time goes by and the person begins reading more about the subject and dialoging with us; then they learn that we lied. And what if this person also just so happens to be on the fence about becoming a Christian, and we have been the main witness in their life. Ouch. This is a pretty extreme example, but as often as people use the phrase or some variance of it, no doubt this situation has occurred.
Take perhaps the other extreme, maybe the person is even right about the position they are arguing for. Does that make the harm done any less? No because that still doesn’t make the lie ok. The fact is they don’t know that they’re right, but they are making a false statement and not speaking the truth when they say they’ve studied both sides.

There’s probably one other motivation going on as well. It always gives us more confidence in something we believe in, but maybe have hidden doubts, when it is believed by others. We probably (though fallaciously) think that the more people that believe it, the more trustworthy it can be. But that still doesn’t make it right.

Not only are we attempting to fool others when we use this phrase in this way, but we are also fooling ourselves if we actually believe that we’ve studied an opposing point of view by solely reading criticisms of it. The only way to really understand both sides of an issue is to study both sides of the issue! In fact, if I know I’m heading into a debate, I often try to make sure I know the other side as good, or even better than I know my own view.

I’m not saying we need to study every little issue, because some views are just intuitively stupid. If someone came to you today advocating that the earth was flat, you don’t need to spend any time reading their arguments. But Paul said to “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess 5:21, NKJV). He meant that we should put to the test what we see and hear by examining it, and when we find truth, we should hold on to it. How can we really test things if we only come at them from one side?

Finally, I should note that I probably use the phrase myself. I know I have in the past, most likely for the first motivation I mentioned, but probably at some point for the second as well. Yet, now if I do ever use it, I would hope that I only do when I mean it. I try to follow the Bible’s advice “The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15 NKJV)

The bottom line is we can’t be effective lights of truth if we can’t even be honest amongst ourselves. So the next time you think about saying “I’ve studied both sides” please only say it if you really mean it.