The issue of “abortion rights,” and the ethical questions it poses, is again at the forefront of national news. Following an election period in which pundits assured us that the economy was the overriding issue for the majority of Americans, social issues (primarily gay marriage and abortion) have dominated headlines for the last several weeks across the country. The horrors revealed in the Gosnell trial have turned heads and stomachs across the country, in particular with conservative bloggers and authors wondering where the outrage from the media is to be found since the trial has been so scantly covered.
For many, abortion is seen as a religious issue, and it certainly is. Many, perhaps a majority, of those who oppose it in any form, or nearly any form (with exceptions perhaps in the case of the endangerment of the life of the mother), do so grounded in their belief that humans are a special creation of God and that human life is precious and should be protected. This desire to protect human life is most deeply valued for those who cannot protect themselves, and infants and the unborn are perhaps, if not clearly, the most fragile of all human persons. What seems to be ignored in the debate, however, is the logic of the issue. I do not dispute the legitimacy of arguing against the horrors of abortion on religious grounds, but the philosophical issues which undergird the debate are much more revealing of just how horrific the cultural acceptance of abortion truly is.
My desire here is to extend the principles which undergird the defense of abortion and show how untenable they truly are. Most would vehemently dispute the logical outcomes, but yet many of those who would dispute these outcomes still defend the practice of abortion, and clearly do so in fundamental philosophical conflict. So on what grounds is abortion typically defended?
One of the most frequent, if not the most frequent, justifications given for the right of a woman to have an abortion is that it is “her body,” and she has the right to do what she wants with it. This assumes that the fetus is not a separate organism from the mother, which clearly is not the case. What makes this especially fallacious is that, once the fetus is delivered and separated from the mother, its personhood is apparently seen as changed, though little has changed beyond the spatial location of the child. What is changed is the physiological dependence of the child to the mother via the umbilical cord. The child is, however, no less dependent upon the mother for survival after birth than before, as any new mother can attest. If the principle used here to defend abortion is dependence, then what prevents one from extending this beyond the womb? Children are dependent upon their mother/parents for long after they are born. So why do we not advocate for the right to parents to terminate the life of their children based on their dependence to them? Or furthermore, what about the right of caregivers to terminate the life of the terminally ill, elderly, or those with severe disabilities, since they too are dependent upon their caregivers? If dependence is the issue, then by principle the death of these individuals should also be justified, though few argue for such a precedent.
Another line of argument used to justify abortion is that the fetus in early development is not yet fully human because it lacks certain parts or capacities, or the actualization of certain capacities. Again, by principle of extension, this would assume that if such parts or capacities were missing from grown children, persons with severe disabilities, or the elderly, that their caregivers should have the option to terminate their life as well. Another angle on this argument is that because the developing fetus is not able to feel pain in its early developmental stages, an abortion causes them no harm. By extending the principle, however, the same argument could be made, for example, to justify the murder of an individual born with a neuropathological disease, such as CIPA, which prevents the person from feeling sensations of temperature or pain. In fact, this line of reasoning has been extended by Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University, who argues that caregivers should have the right to terminate the life of the human fetus, child, or dependent person (such as the elderly or those with severe disabilities) based on the preference of the caregiver. Because these persons lack certain capacities or the ability to experience certain sensations, Singer argues that their caregivers are morally justified to end their life. His position has been met with much outrage, but is philosophically consistent with those who would support abortion on these grounds.
Another common defense of abortion is that the child may be unwanted, and causes undo stress, because of emotional, financial, or physical reasons, to the mother. It is assumed that the relief of burden to the mother justifies the killing of the child. Again, by extending this principle, one sees that parents of grown children, such as school-aged children, may experience the same stresses or hardships, but certainly we would not see justification in the parents ending the life of their children simply because it causes undesired stress or hardships for them. Again, the same principle may be extended to those who care for their elderly parents, or adults who are dependent on others, which is equally as burdensome emotionally, financially, and/or physically. Yet who would argue for the justified murder of these individuals?
What each of these arguments assumes is that personhood is somehow defined by level of dependence, individual parts or capacities/actualization of capacities, or the level of hardship generated. Clearly when these principles are extended beyond the case of the fetus, the immorality and lack of justification for death is displayed. So what prevents us from seeing the lack of justification for abortion in the life of the fetus? Logically, nothing. ONLY if the fetus is viewed as less than a human person, which advances in medical technology are constantly rebutting, is such a view possibly justified. Murder of any innocent person is unjustifiable, no matter what “benefits” this may entail. On philosophical grounds, I do not believe abortion can be justified by any line of argument. For those whose lives and families have been affected by this tragedy which our culture has disturbingly accepted, the issue is far more than a philosophical argument, but a personal, and often very painful, experience. I believe fully that there is healing and forgiveness in Jesus Christ for the victims of this cultural stain. The Church has a duty to love and nurture those who have been wounded, while also maintaining its prophetic posture against this ongoing tragedy.
- A. Chadwick Thornhill,
Chair of Theological Studies, Instructor of Religion
Any discussion of the topic of marriage and homosexuality in the New Testament must be done against the backgrounds of several areas predominant to the writers of the New Testament in the first century: the Jewish Scripture, first century Judaism, Greek culture, and Roman practices. This short article can hardly do justice to all of these areas, but an attempt will be offered to give a brief overview of these topics as depicted in the writings about Jesus and the letters of Paul. The New Testament records do not include treatises by Jesus or Paul on the issue of marriage per se, but there are materials in the NT that indicate a concern for the issue. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks about marriage (or the related event, divorce) in six passages (Matthew 19:1-12; 22:23-28; Mark 10:2-12; 12:18-27; Luke 16:18; 20:27-40). These passages represent two events in the life of Christ: 1) a time when Jesus addresses the issue of divorce; and 2) a question from some Jewish rulers about Levirate marriage laws. In both cases the foundation of the discussion is that marriage is something that involves a man and a woman. Jesus’ makes this emphatic in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:5-9 when he goes back to the creation of humans (Genesis 1:27; 2:24) to describe God’s intention for marriage as involving “male and female” as the agents of a biblical marriage. Jesus reaffirms here the ideal for marriage laid down from the beginning, indeed, an ideal that was supported even by much of Greco-Roman culture (For more on this issue, see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 70-76). That ideal was a view of a monogamous marriage of a man and a woman until death.
Paul likewise affirms this view in his various dealings with the subject of marriage and divorce. In Ephesians 5:15-32 Paul addresses the issue of relationships in marriage and uses the exclusive language of male and female as the primary agents of what constitutes a marriage. Paul even quotes Genesis 2:24 (like Jesus) in discussing this relationship. Paul, like Jesus, viewed marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman. In the Pastoral epistles (certainly of Pauline influence) even the characteristics of certain leadership positions within the church include the call to be “the husband of one wife” (literally mias gynaikos andra, 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6; cf. 1 Timothy 5:9. Alternative translations emphasize the exclusivity of the genders here with words like “married to one wife only” or “a man faithful to his own wife” or even “one woman man”). At the very least, when Paul deals with issues of marriage, the focus is on the relationship between a man and a woman. No reference is given anywhere in the NT to a marriage as consisting of a committed relationship between individuals of the same gender.
If marriage in the New Testament is characterized as one man and one woman in a monogamous relationship, then homosexuality is presented as a rejection or even a corruption of a proper knowledge of God. Although Jesus never directly addresses the issue of homosexuality, Paul mentions the issue several times in his letters (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). The last two references primarily name “homosexuality” as one of many sins in a list of what is considered unrighteous, while in Romans Paul lumps homosexual relations in with a host of “unnatural” errors that humans embrace when they cease to acknowledge God and his righteousness. Paul here lists male and female homosexual activities as an exchange of the natural passions for that which God considers unnatural (Rom. 1:26-27). The point Paul seems to make is that homosexual sin is one of many ways that humans tend to exchange God’s natural order for an idolatrous unnatural expression of their own humanity. In other words, Paul sees sexual sin in general (including sins like fornication and adultery) as a rejection of God’s natural intentions. In other words, to reject God’s purpose is to exchange God’s nature for selfish human desires.
What is the point then of this short investigation? The point is that marriage and sex are presented in the New Testament as having a particularly godly function. Marriage is not a means of satisfying an individual’s personal cravings for attention or for adulation, and sex is not created purely for the sake of human pleasure. This brief article does not allow room to explore the Old Testament views of sex and related issues, but suffice it to say that the goal of these relationships focuses not on human pleasure but rather on the nature and intentions of God. That humans are created for relationships is evident in the whole of the Bible, but that those relationships are created solely for selfish pleasure is not at all apparent. The goal of human relationships is to reflect the image of God; that is, to give little glimpses of God’s character. To relegate these relationships solely to the area of personal preference or even personal pleasure is in essence to deny that human beings resemble the Creator in any way. This denial damages human relationships in general and will eventually degenerate into a treatment of other people as merely a means to a rather selfish end. The recognition that God has a purpose for sex and marriage is not a magic wand to cure all relationship problems, but this recognition requires us to investigate fully how our relationships reflect God’s purposes and designs. If they do not, they must be changed.
- Leo Percer, PhD
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
The Great Commission, the parting command of Jesus to His first disciples, is stated in a number of New Testament passages (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:46-49; Jn. 20:21; Acts 1:8). The passage most commonly quoted is the one in Matthew's Gospel:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
At the heart of this assignment is the command to make disciples. Maturing disciples of Jesus are committed to obeying everything Jesus commanded. They are transformed into His likeness as they apply the truth of His Word to their daily lives, and they intentionally influence others to do the same. The ultimate goal of this disciplemaking process is the multiplication of disciples who can make other disciples, so that the Gospel message effectively penetrates every people group in every region of the world.
How close are we to completing the task? God is moving mightily in the hearts of many of His people in various places around the world, empowering them to plant new churches and make disciples among unreached people groups. However, many more are needed who will step up to the challenge of becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ and leading others to do the same. There are still thousands of people groups with little or no access to the Gospel in the modern world, and Christianity seems to be losing ground in America and other places where it was once much stronger.
What is the most effective way to make disciples? One of the most exciting developments in the effort to make disciples in contemporary America is called "relational discipleship." This is not really a new approach at all but the very method that Jesus used to train the twelve apostles.
Jesus invited them to follow Him. He took them with Him wherever He went. They observed His behavior and interactions with other people, they heard His teachings, they watched Him perform miracles, and they asked Him questions. Later on, He began to delegate His authority to them by giving them assignments. He sent them out to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and extend His healing ministry, then He asked them afterward what they thought about the ways God had worked through them. He provided rebuke and correction when they needed it. He poured His life into them and trained them in the context of close, personal relationships. His training was even more intense with a select group of three within the twelve.
The book of Acts reveals a similar relational training pattern used by the apostles following Jesus' ascension to heaven:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
The relational dimension of this disciplemaking process for new converts can be seen in such phrases as "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" and "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house." Unlike contemporary America, when it is often unusual for Christians to spend time with other Christians outside of scheduled church services, these first century believers spent a lot of time together.
This method of training new converts was immensely effective because those early Christians were accused of turning the world "upside down" with their teachings (Acts 17:6). This means that in addition to the individual transformation resulting from the relational discipleship process in which they were engaged, they were impacting the very society in which they lived.
So the question must be asked, is something missing in the modern church when it comes to making disciples? Is disciplemaking even at or near the top of our list of priorities?
A true revolution is taking place in ministries where disciplemaking has been put on the front burner. It is called Relational Discipleship! It may be a new term, but this is the way reproducing disciples of Jesus have always been developed.
What does Relational Discipleship look like? The essential elements of this approach to making disciples are an intentional leader, a relational environment, and a reproducible process (see Lisa Sells, "Discipleship Revolution: Avery Willis' Last Dream," Mission Frontiers (January-February 2011), p. 8). The intentional leader is the person who commits to making disciples who can also make disciples by investing his life in this all-important work. The relational environment is small group Bible study. The reproducible process is the "road map" developed by such churches as Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho (see Jim Putman, Avery T. Willis, Jr., Brandon Guindon, and Bill Krause, Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010); see also Jim Putman, Church Is A Team Sport: A Championship Strategy for Doing Ministry Together (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008)).
Any disciple of Jesus Christ or local church willing to step out in obedience to make reproducing disciples will find that the power of the Holy Spirit is available to make it happen (Acts 1:8).
- Peter C. Hamilton, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Old Testament
Nearly three months have passed since the school shooting in Sandy Hook. We have experienced in that event what would be blasphemy to call it anything other than "evil". A man entered an elementary school, and began a massacre that shattered the lives of 20 families and ended the lives of 20 children, who he executed with a high-powered rifle at close range and killing adults who tried to stop the carnage. Then he took his own life.
If what this man did is just a social construct or an evolutionary bi-product of genes and environment, it does not do justice to call it just "evil." I mean objective evil, evil beyond the opinion and critics of conservatives or liberals. If this life is all there is, then I can say categorically that he did get away with murder!! He got what he wanted.
But if the atheists are wrong, then his life is just beginning and as Kant argued, justice is waiting.
This event drew me to tears and anger.
The question for me is, is this really evil--I mean really evil that transcends cultures? If so, then on what ground can I call this evil, was it just a "going against humanity" or "from our genes?" Or is it something more profound? It does not make me question the existence of God, because to assume an absolute evil, is to assume an absolute. I have read and researched the atheistic and other views of evil and they are so empty of existential and logical impact.
C.S. Lewis in his masterpiece, Mere Christianity wrote:
"Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe is a price worth paying for free will—[then] . . . it is worth paying."
In one of the greatest works of Russian literature, Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, the atheist, Ivan argues with his priest brother Alyosha, about God and evil, and ends his debate with the following challenge:
"One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”
“No, I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly....
Most scholars end the quote there. But lets keep reading....context is everything in books.
"Tell me, and tell the truth."
"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.
And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?"
"No, I can't admit it. Brother," said Alyosha suddenly, with flashing eyes, "you said just now, is there a being in the whole world who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? But there is a Being and He can forgive everything, all and for all, because He gave His innocent blood for all and everything. You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice, and it is to Him they cry aloud, 'Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed!'
"Ah! the One without sin and His blood! No, I have not forgotten Him; on the contrary I've been wondering all the time how it was you did not bring Him in before, for usually all arguments on your side put Him in the foreground."
Alyosha’s answer to suffering is the man from Nazareth, Jesus—the God man. Ivan asks, "that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?" ...On this edifice the Architect, God the Father is building all history...that child, that innocent one who suffers so all of history and heaven can be built upon it, who is that innocent one? "You have forgotten Him, and on Him is built the edifice . . ." This Him, is the God man, the one who had flies buzzing over his bleeding brow, the one who wept at his friend’s tomb, the one who holds the stars in his nail pierced hands, that is Jesus.
Ivan concludes with poetically profound thoughts that many theists today can learn from :
"I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened."
Continue to pray for the dear families that lost their precious children. I write this with a deep sense of loss for I have two little ones--but with a hope that their tears will be avenged and their pain will vanish like a pitiful mirage in the light of His glory and grace.
- Khaldoun Aziz Sweis, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Apologetics
Prosperity gospel preacher, Eddie Long, is wearing a different kind of suit these days—a lawsuit by former members of his church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. Apparently, Eddie Long encouraged parishioners to invest money with his friend’s company. Unfortunately, they lost all of their money because the friend, Mr. Taylor, was allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme. In this case, the shepherd, Eddie Long, allowed his friend to fleece the flock.
In reaction to this news, Marc Lamont Hill of HuffPost Live, in his broadcast Pay to Pray, asked whether Eddie Long’s church was simply a case of another charlatan preying on the sheep, or if the prosperity gospel is at the root of the problem? He wondered whether the teaching that God grants health and wealth to those who sow seeds of faith contributed to the problem.
The answer is, simply, yes. The prosperity gospel teaches people to pursue wealth because this is what God desires for believers, and even promises them. With just enough faith, health and wealth is possible. With this teaching, it should not be surprising that church members might be more susceptible to get-rich-quick schemes. After all, God is in it, right?
Not so fast. The prosperity gospel is full of erroneous teaching that can be placed into five general categories of errors:
1) The prosperity gospel teaches a distorted view of God.
Many believers in the prosperity gospel do not realize that several prominent prosperity gospel teachers deny the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. These teachers reject the orthodox view that God is one in essence and yet also three in persons, co- equal and co-eternal. Instead, many advocates of the prosperity gospel believe that God is one in person and that He appears at various times in different modes as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. In other words, such a belief holds that God is not simultaneously the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. This view of the Trinity is the ancient heresy known as modalism.
2) The prosperity gospel elevates mind over matter.
For the prosperity gospel faithful, words are a force and possess the power to create—mind over matter. Until believers visualize, speak, and believe in their words, God cannot act on their behalf. The “spiritual laws” of success that God established must be obeyed. Sadly, though, with such teachings the prosperity teachers denigrate God and turn Him into a cosmic bell-hop who exists to serve man once the right words are spoken.
3) The prosperity gospel presents an exalted view of man.
Prosperity theology inverts the relationship between the Creator and the creature. Man is now at the center of the universe and, therefore, God simply exists in order to meet all of man’s needs, including good relationships, sound health, and financial gains, among other desires. This gospel is man-centered and, thus, egotistical.
4) The prosperity gospel focuses on material health and wealth.
While advocates of the prosperity gospel preach and teach on a wide variety of subjects, the core of their message is material prosperity. One of the most striking characteristics of prosperity teachers is their seeming fixation with the act of giving. The driving force behind this emphasis on giving is referred to as the “Law of Compensation.” According to this law, Christians need to give generously because when they do, God gives back more in return. This supposedly, in turn, leads to a cycle of ever-increasing prosperity. The unbiblical message is that you give to receive.
5) The prosperity gospel offers an unorthodox view of salvation.
While some prosperity preachers do appear to articulate an orthodox doctrine of salvation, an important question is, “From what does Jesus save people?” Of course, the biblical answer is sin; yet, to listen to some advocates of the prosperity gospel one might conclude that Jesus saves mankind from a non-prosperous life. The point, then, is this: while many prosperity teachers offer the plan of salvation, they undermine the gospel with their teaching. The focus of the prosperity gospel is not God, but man. The prosperity gospel, then, is little more than a self-help program designed to aid man in his pursuit of material success.
How does the message of the biblical gospel compare to that of the prosperity gospel? As has been mentioned, there are several errors in the prosperity gospel. Advocates of the prosperity gospel tend to marginalize key components of the biblical gospel, such as Jesus, the cross, God’s judgment, and the sinful estate of man. If Jesus is left out of the gospel, then there is no gospel. If you leave the cross out of the gospel, then you do not have the gospel. If you leave God’s judgment against sin out of the gospel, then you do not have the gospel. If you leave man’s sin out of the gospel, then you do not have the gospel.
In the end, similar to Eddie Long’s parishioners who were deceived, the prosperity gospel leaves people spiritually bankrupt and empty.
- Russell S. Woodbridge, PhD
Adjunct Professor of Church History
Russell S. Woodbridge lives in Kiev, Ukraine and is co-author of the book Health, Wealth & Happiness: Has the prosperity gospel overshadowed the gospel of Christ?