Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Democrats, Abortion, and Evangelical Pandering

Some evangelicals are hopeful about the Democratic Party given some new language in the party platform about abortion.

Christianity Today records the optimism of Wesley Theological Seminary's Shaun Casey. From an August 26 blog post:


It’s something that evangelicals ought to take quite seriously that the Democratic Party has made a commitment to reducing the number of abortions without reverting to criminalization. Based on my conversations with evangelicals, I think that resonates, I think a lot of evangelicals find that attractive, they find that helpful and hopeful, and it’s a reflection of who Sen. Obama is.


Ehhhh, not so much, Shaun. CT also gives its readers a look at the new abortion language and it really doesn't change anything of substance (emphasis mine):

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education, which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

"Any and all efforts to weaken or undermine" abortion are opposed by the Dem party platform and a right to abortion "regardless of ability to pay" means the Democratic Party opposes any ban on taxpayer financing of abortion. I fail to see how those strictures will result in less abortions.

What's more, given the Democratic Party's historic support from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, you can wager that the "age-appropriate sex education" will not adequately demonstrate the negative psychological and physical repercussions of abortion and will result in taxpayer dollars being funneled in greater measure towards abortion-providing firms.

No effort is or will be made to support 24-hour waiting periods, informed consent, parental notification, or any bans on procedures such as partial-birth abortion. The reduction in abortion foreseen by the Democratic platform has nothing to do with common sense restrictions or regulations of the procedure but in funneling more money towards liberal Democrat-friendly constituencies, something surely not desirable to evangelicals.

Simply put, the two paragraphs about pre- and neo-natal care are window dressing designed to distract from the party's fundamental commitment to abortion-on-demand.

Jesus is not a Democrat or a Republican, but we as Christ's flock are called to be gentle as doves but wise as serpents in a world full of ravenous wolves (Matt. 10:16).

Let's go into this election refusing to be co-opted by either political party and being wary not to be deceived with empty words.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Donald Miller's DNC Prayer Misrepresents Man's Goodness, Christ's Atoning Work

Christian author Donald Miller gave the closing benediction for the opening night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

He prayed some things I wholeheartedly agree with and believe are scriptural, although I believe it is more appropriately the work of the church (in additional to evangelizing the lost):

Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left.

Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them.

Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions.

Where I think he went awry theologically, however, were in two regards: his view of the inherent goodness of man (or of the American people) and his view of the atoning sacrifice of Christ (emphases mine):

A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American.

[...]

Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans.

I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.

Let Him be our example.

Amen.
The heart of the average American is bent on evil, just like the heart of the average person, period. Scripture is very clear about that.

As far as Jesus, he gave his life up willingly into the hands of sinful men who crucified Him unjustly, yes. And yes, Christ's love serves as an example for all who trust in Him. But Christ's death was not merely a death by government oppression or an example to be commended and followed or co-opted for a political program.

Christ died as the propitiation of God's just wrath against sin, and it's a poor treatment of the Gospel to isolate for political purposes the atonement to Christus examplar. What's more, citing Christ as example and asking God to Christianize our good works is to strive in vain for righteousness by works, something Scripture tells us just doesn't cut it with Jesus (emphasis mine):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. [Rom. 3:21-27]

On Judgment Day the boasting of Democrats and Republicans, Obama and McCain won't matter. Wars won, budgets balanced, taxes cut, taxes waged, welfare rolls reduced, the sick nursed by government health care, etc., won't matter a whit to Christ in terms of earning brownie points with him.

Yes, we are to be faithful stewards of God's creation. Yes we are to be stewards of His grace and mercy and show the same to those around us, particularly the orphan and widow, the gravely ill and the destitute. But let's not confuse the political will to tackle these issues with gracious outflowing of care for these issues that stems from the changed heart of those who put their trust in Christ and in Christ alone for salvation.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Heart: A Pathological Liar

Meditating on a verse from Jeremiah, I came to the realization that, in effect, the Bible teaches us that there's a pathological liar beating in every human breast:

The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? [Jer. 17:9]
There's nothing filled with more deception than the heart, and because the heart informs the totality of a man, man is constantly being deceived and misled by the desires of his heart.

The heart is "desperately sick": The illness is chronic, the cancer of deceitful pervasive. "Who can understand it?", there's no human medicine or treatment to cure it.

Solomon concurs in Ecclesiastes, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Sprit:
3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. [Ecclesiastes 9:3]
And who better than the Great Physician to list some symptoms of an evil heart:
20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” [Mark 7:20-23]
The prognosis isn't good at all: Your heart dreams up evil, you do that evil, then you die and face God's wrath against that evil. What's needed is a heart transplant, something only God can perform:
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. [Ezekiel 36: 24-27]
A changed heart sealed with the Holy Spirit is what fuels the Christian life of obedience to Christ. It's a heart changed and changing by the preaching of the Gospel and the inward working of the Holy Spirit that produces godly fruit in the Christian life.:
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, [4] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. [Gal. 5:16-24]
Any attempt on our part to trust in our own perceived goodness or righteousness or to boil down the Christian life to mere moralism is to listen to the insane, chronically ill pathological liar within.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Good News Is Never Old News

I've been pondering lately the nature of the church and her mission in today's world, nearing two millennia after Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and glorious ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Ours is a time when many talk of a "new kind of Christian" and of "dialogue" with the culture, implicitly arguing that there's an "old kind" of Christian that can not properly relate to today's culture. That's a concept I reject, but it's a notion that is symptomatic of a greater ill: finding the preaching of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ to be, well, old news.

Now, the Good News is seldom, if ever, dismissed in any Christian community as old news, at least not in a straightforward polemic. But I fear that many times the way we engage worship and preaching treats the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as a stale narrative or as background noise, rather than the heart of our being and mission of the church.

In a post-Christian America, it's easy to presume that all Americans are familiar with the Gospel but reject it nonetheless. As such, it's become fashionable to think that the New Testament model of preaching, preaching, and more preaching is bound to fail. Dialogue and interactive (rather than didactic or expository) preaching are held up as more successful tools of ministry.

But the proper public ministry of the Gospel has always been and always will be centered around preaching Christ and Him crucified, as it's the preaching of the Gospel that God blesses as the instrumental means for calling men and women to new life in Christ and sustaining them in growth in godly character.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, [5] as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” [Rom. 1:16-17]

[...]

11
For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? [3] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. [Rom. 10:11-17]

That preaching the Gospel can seem ineffective to critics is for one of two reasons: Christ isn't being properly preached from the pulpit and/or the seeming lack of conversion and obedience to Christ is held forth as evidence that preaching fails more often than it has measurable success.

But as Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote to the church in Corinth, Christ crucified will always be foolish to the vast majority of people:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, [2] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being [3] might boast in the presence of God. [I Cor. 1:18-29]

"The word of the cross" is and ever will be folly to those who are perishing, but to those that God has raised to new life in the Son, it's the sweetest, dearest word of all. The spotless, sinless Son of God took on human flesh, lived the sinless life we sinners from birth could never live, died the wrathful death we deserved, taking our place for our sins, and rose again physically from the dead to everlasting life as testimony of and firstfruits of the glorious resurrection God promises all who trust in His Son Jesus.

That's good news now just as much as it was 2,000 years ago and even well before that, for this is what centuries of Hebrew prophets eagerly yearned for but did not see. (Matt. 13:16-17; I Peter 1:10-12;)

Let's never let the Good News seem like old news to us. But with Paul, let's rejoice in the gospel and how it reveals the "depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God." (Rom. 11:33)

And as ambassadors of Christ, let's continually, ceaselessly and passionately make our appeal to a lost and dying world to be reconciled to Christ. Let's preach the good news. Let's preach the unconditional surrender to God's sovereign rule that He is calling us to faithfully preach:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. [2] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling [3] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [II Cor. 5:16-21]


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Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Engaged...

...to be married to a very lovely and gracious woman. Her faith, her care, her prayers, her tenderness, and her love all point to God's grace in our lives, and I'm excited that the Lord has brought us together, and anxious to be married and for us to glorify God in our union.

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." Prov. 18:22 (ESV)

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