Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are Ultrasounds Enough?: The Centeredness of the Sanctity of Life in the Abortion Debate

Big news out of Kentucky: the state Senate just passed a bill requiring doctors to show each abortion candidate an ultrasound image of their infant before an abortion can be performed. This is a major step forward for pro-lifers and similar measures have been presented in a number of states. Statistics show that women who see images of their child are more likely not to have an abortion, and thus many pro-life proponents are pushing for similar legislation. Though this is a major step forward for the right of the unborn in Kentucky, there remain many hurdles before the bill becomes law including passing the State House of Representatives and ultimately being signed by the governor himself whose views on abortion seem mixed (though he has said he supports Roe vs. Wade).

I have had the opportunity to visit several crisis pregnancy ministries and I support their efforts whole heartily. Their work to minister to pregnant women who are in the process of making a difficult decision of life and death is imperative and should be supported by all Christians. One common theme in virtually all such centers are free ultrasounds to pregnant women and several collages of previous ultrasound pictures hanging on the wall throughout the center clearly showing the presence of life. Part of the strategy is to show the mothers that the infant inside of them is a real, breathing life. To terminate a pregnancy, then, is to take an innocent life.

But though this strategy has had some real success, are ultrasounds enough?

Certainly the effort to require doctors to perform ultrasounds before performing an abortion is a major step forward it is important that we ask if they enough? We can assume that if similar bills are passed throughout the United Stats that the number of abortions performed each year would drop dramatically. As technology advances, persons are beginning to realize that life begins at conception, not at birth. And if life begins at conception, then the infant has rights should be protected.

But are ultrasounds enough? The question is not raised to challenge the strategy of pro-life supporters, rather, the point is to raise the issue of the worldview behind abortion. Are ultrasounds enough to redirect our culture into a right understanding of life? Ultrasounds show us that there is life present in the womb, but what they don't show us is the value and unique dignity and sanctity of that life.

The point is to remind Christians and pro-life proponents that the fight to defend the unborn will not end with legislation or abortion reduction, but with a universal understanding of the dignity of human life. A secular culture will never possess such an understanding of life. Apart from a clear belief in God who is both Creator and Sustainer of all life, it is virtually impossible to see each and every human life as unique and special.

Ultrasounds are a major step forward, but what is needed is the gospel. Only in a worldview centered on the value of life can abortion be overturned. Dignity cannot be seen on a screen because dignity is written on the heart of every human being by their Creator. Though ultrasounds remind us of life, without the unique value and dignity of human life abortion will remain a central sacrament of secularism. Abortion is a theological issue, not a political one. Ultrasounds (though a valuable asset in the fight to defend the unborn) are a political solution, not a theological one.

Secularism does not question that the unborn are living beings. There is no doubt about that. The argument has moved from questions of life to matters of choice, economics, and the quality of life. To most pro-abortionists, questions of the quality of life (is it handicap or will it be born into poverty) and the woman's right to choose trump images of infants having their limbs ripped apart because though the unborn are living beings, they do not have inherent and unique value.

This is why secularism's lust for blood does not end with abortion. The rise of euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, plus the number of frozen embryos that will likely be destroyed shows that secularism is not content with just abortion. If the knowledge of life was enough to prevent murder, then we would not be debating these other issues. Euthanasia is the killing of life outside of the womb. Embryonic stem-cell research and the destruction of frozen embryo's is the taking of lives outside of the womb. The presence of life is not enough to prevent the destruction of human lives. The presence of life is a scientific issue, not a theological one. Secularism is a theology, not a science.

Secularism is built on evolution which implies that all of life is a biological accident with no inherent dignity. Humans have no more value than a dog, a lizard, a fish, or a rat because we all have evolved from common ancestors. Naturalism is an assault on human dignity. It forces persons to devalue life. Thus, questions of economics, race, and quality of life are debated. If it is OK to neuter a dog or euthanize stray animals, then why is it wrong to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? In a world built on the theology of evolution, there is not difference between the abortion clinic and the dog pound.

The Christian worldview is different. Rooted in the fundamental belief in God who makes man in His own image, we see all of life as precious and dignified. Whether it be the lives frozen embryos in labs or even the handicap, every life is precious in God's eyes and are the handiwork of God's creative hands at work. An ultrasound cannot capture such a doctrine. God has already given everyone dignity by virtue of life itself. Life is precious because the Author of life said so.

So though we applaud the efforts throughout America to require doctors to take an ultrasound prior to performing an abortion, we must not be satisfied with such measures. Only the gospel explains why life is worth defending and why all of life, all of it, has value and should be protected. Are ultrasounds enough? No. But they are a step in the right direction. In the process let us not just work on changing the law, let us also change hearts. The changing of laws is a major part of living out the Christian worldview, but laws are not enough. Unless everyone bows down before the Savior who died because His Creation was worth it, we will never stem the tide of abortion and the murder of innocent life in America. The issue of the ultrasound should remind us that the debate over life is not primarily a religious or scientific one, but a theological one. Unless Christians are prepared for the theological aspect, millions more will continue to die on our watch.

For more:
World Magazine Blog - Kentucky Senate Passes Ultrasound Bill
Courier Journal - Senate Passes Ultrasound Abortion Bill
Albert Mohler - NewsNote: Mugged by Ultrasound

The above picture is of my son at a crisis pregnancy center. My wife and I were not contemplating abortion but were given access to the center to experience the ministry that goes on there. For that, we are very grateful.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Accommodationism Breeds Irrelevancy: Why Liberalism Fails and the Transcendent Gospel Triumphs

In search for cultural relevancy, many churches have fundamentally abandoned the gospel. In hopes of getting the culture to like them for the purpose of “reaching” them with the “gospel,” many Christians have sold their soul. Debates over contextualization, as a result, have taken preeminence over fidelity to sound doctrine. Issues like music, dress codes (or lack there-of), language in the pulpit, youth ministry budgets for ski trips and pizza parties, shorter sermons, and chairs instead of pews have taken a front seat in debate. In an attempt to be faithful to the gospel, many have stripped the gospel of its offense and replaced it with a message of self-help and self-fulfillment.

And as a result, liberal churches and denominations are dead.

Relevancy kills and thus makes churches irrelevant.

In an attempt to accommodate, mainstream Christianity alienates. Throughout the history of Christianity, many have tried to model their understanding of the gospel and the local church after trends in the culture. Each and every attempt has failed. Ecumenical liberalism empties chairs and turns a thriving church into an anemic congregation.

The past decade has only added to the already compiled evidence that liberalism kills. According to reports, denominations like Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodist, and other liberal-leaning denominations made up of 40% of American Protestantism in the 1960s. As of June 2006, however, the percentage has dropped to just 12% (17 million out of 135 million). Since 1965, Episcopalians have gone from 3.4 million adherents to just 2.3 million. Presbyterians during that same time period, dropped from 4.3 million to just 2.5 million members. And the numbers continue to fall.*

Liberal Christianity gets a lot of press, but has very little real influence in the lives of everyday people. As one author put it, liberal Christians “have assumed a kind of reverse mission: instead of being the church’s missionaries to the world, they have become the world’s missionaries to the church.”** In search of relevancy, mainstream congregations drop the biblical mandate to reach the lost with the exclusive gospel and have replaced it with a message of, “see, we’re just like you.” And so rather than being a beckon of hope, they are just another social club and humanitarian organization.

There are a number of reasons why such a message simply does not work. First, to base one’s foundation on an ever-changing message inherently implies that in a matter of time it will become irrelevant again. This is true no matter how often a church or denomination updates its message or chases the winds of the culture. To always be changing based on opinion polls and the fickle wishes of society is to never be grounded in something more solid. Fickle theology never gives congregants the assurance and certainty needed especially in times of trouble and uncertainty. To always be changing one’s beliefs based on current trends is to actually have no beliefs in the first place.

Secondly, by seeking to be relevant (by surrendering fidelity to Scripture and forever changing one’s beliefs) one becomes irrelevant. Relevancy is not defined by how up to date one is or how popular their new tattoo is, but on how time-tested one’s convictions are. Transcendence is more relevant than accommodation. A transcendent theology is a time-tested theology that understands the issues before they arise. A couple struggling in their marriage need time-tested, transcendent answers that work, not marritable tips that may change the next day. A mother who loses her young son in a car accident needs a time-tested, transcendent message that brings comfort and hope, not words that sound like they came out of a parenting magazine. The drug addict, the legalistic father, and the abandoned orphan need a message that is grounded in something much deeper than cultural trends and the waves of society. What they need is a message of reconciliation and hope, not a message of tells them to be like the rest of the fallen world.

Many have fooled themselves into thinking that hairstyle and music makes them relevant when in fact it only makes them trendy. When Christians, especially pastors and youth ministers, participate in this game, it shows that they spend more time watching MTV for fashion tips and Dr. Phil for counseling advice than they do studying God’s Word and proclaiming the gospel. This does not mean one cannot be engaged in the culture, but to let the culture define one’s ministry and beliefs is to confuse relevancy with trendiness.

Thirdly, when secularism is the dominate cultural worldview and the church accommodates it, birth rates become a serious issue. Secularism undermines marriage and the family. With secularism comes a decrease in couples getting married and the lack of desire for children. Thus, where there is secularism, birth rates will drop.

This affects denominations and churches in that much of congregational growth is based on birth rates. When couples in a congregation (let alone an entire denomination) cease having children, the numbers will invariably drop. Religions, especially Christianity, have always grown based on reproduction rates and proselytizing. Christians are called to be ambassadors of the gospel to both the world and our children. By mimicking the deportation of children in the home, liberal Christianity is signing its own death warrant.

Furthermore, an updated gospel foolishly believes that man is the answer to our problems, rather than God. It is therefore a-theistic. The gospel begins with and ends with God. Justification by faith alone affirms God’s exclusive work in salvation. To insert man and his opinions (driven by his depravity) is take God out of the equation. Liberalism’s gospel fails in both its transcendence and its anthropological assumptions. Scripture is clear that apart from the intervening from God, man will forever rebel and sink deeper into the lust of their own depravity. By allowing the culture to shape one’s faith and call it Christianity is a contradiction to the gospel itself. The gospel calls on men everywhere to repent and to be saved out of the generation, not to it.

Finally, a culturally-driven message is an attack on the doctrine of God. If the message changes, then the One who first gave the message changes with it. An ever change message implies that God keeps changing His mind. To update the gospel is about more than styles of music or holes and rust stains in the youth pastors jeans, it is primarily about God. If God changes with the culture, then He is no longer God. A right understanding of God implies transcendence. God is not limited to the wiles and fickleness of man. Rather man is under the sovereignty and providential authority of God. Liberal Christianity, by changing and undermining the gospel, are guilty of dethroning God and placing the culture in His place.

Rather than cave to the wishes of culture, the Church must stand apart from it (Acts 2:40). What separates liberal Christianity and orthodox Christianity is not doctrine, but transcendence. The “Old Old Story,” does not need an update because it is not limited to time, geography, or opinion polls. Orthodoxy was shaped, not by a culture, but by God Himself before the foundation of the world. The gospel is transcendent and reaches everyone everywhere regardless of their present circumstance, language, race, nationality, or culture. The promise of redemption to those enslaved to sin is not limited to the will of the people, but is of the will of God.

The gospel is transcendent first because it begins with God. If God is immutable, then so are His decrees. An immutable God reveals an immutable message and in Scripture that immutable message is repeatedly declared. Persons are reconciled with God, not by chasing fads, but by humbly repenting of their rebellion against Him. To attack the transcendence of the gospel is first of all a direct attack against God.

Secondly, the gospel is transcendent because the need for it is. Genesis 3 records the fall of man which affects everyone. By inheriting the same sinful nature, the solution to overcoming and being redeemed from sin is also the same. Through one man (Adam) sin entered the world. Likewise, through one man (Jesus Christ) sin can be defeated (Romans 5:12-21).

Christian liberals are all too often more willing to place the blame of man’s plight on something other than human depravity. They do so by blaming systemic sin, environmental catastrophe, political corruption, socio-economic upbringing, or poverty than to identify sin as the source of man’s problem. Scripture is clear that all have sinned, all are guilty, and all have inherited this sinful nature. Sin, therefore, is transcendent and is apparent in all nations, peoples, tribes, languages, families, and individuals. Since sin is transcendent, then so is salvation through Jesus Christ.

And salvation always came through substitutionary atonement. Immediately following the fall in Genesis 3 and the curses God placed on humanity, God revealed the gospel through the shedding of innocent blood. Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame by putting together fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Fig leaves were a temporary solution to a permanent problem. God, however, covered their shame by giving them animal skin to wear (Genesis 3:21). Animal skin involves the death of an innocent animal and is a more permanent solution to their shame.
It is this theme of sacrifice and atonement that runs through the Bible and climaxes at the cross. The day of atonement (Leviticus 16) was the day that the sin of Israel was forgiven based on the sacrifice of an innocent animal. That sacrifice, however, had to be repeated every year by the priests. It was all a foretaste of what Christ would accomplish on the cross. There, Christ served as the innocent sacrifice in place of guilty mankind.

The point of all of this is simply to show that atonement has always been the universal solution to the universal problem of sin. Immediately after sin entered the world, atonement for sin was made by God. That has never changed. If sin is transcendent, then so is substitutionary atonement. When sin entered the world, so did the gospel foundationally seen in substitutionary atonement.

Furthermore, the gospel is transcendent, and thus in no need for an update, because the universal call for repentance is transcendent. Both John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus (Matthew 4:17) called on people to repent. Following the ministries of John the Baptist and Christ, the apostles picked up the mantle of repentance. They took the gospel to various cultures, languages, and socio-economic situations throughout the Roman Empire. At every stop and in every culture the apostles proclaimed the same message of repentance (see Acts 2:38; 3:19; 11:18; 19:4; and 20:21 for example). Though every new city was a challenge, the apostles never changed the message because the message was in no need of change.

Finally, the gospel is transcendent because the fruits of repentance are transcendent. Is it not interesting that everyone speaks highly of love? It does not matter what culture or nation one finds themself in, love is considered the highest of virtues. Love, then, is transcendent. A brief look at some of the fruits of repentance found in Scripture are just as transcendent and universal such as joy, peace, patience, goodness, humility, gentleness, and self-control. This would only make sense if the gospel itself, grounded in repentance on the basis of the substitutionary work of Christ, was transcendent. If the gospel was not transcendent, then what it means to walk in the gospel would look different. Rather than live by transcendent values like love and patience, one would be forced to come up with various values based on their current location.

Perhaps no other issue is under greater assault today than the transcendence of the gospel. When one complains about the exclusive claims of Christ and fights for a more inclusive gospel, it is really the transcendence of the gospel that is at stake. The foul of exclusively is rooted in postmodernity and our obsession with tolerance. Transcendence is under attack. When one doubts the necessity or the historicity of the resurrection based on the impossibility of miracles, it is really the transcendence of the gospel that is at stake. A fundamental rejection of miracles is rooted in a scientific worldview developed over the past few centuries. Transcendence is under attack. When one claims that homosexuals can be just as good Christians are monogamous heterosexual Christians, it is really the transcendence of the gospel that is at stake. The rejection of homosexuality as a sin is grounded in a postmodern, sexually confused society. Transcendence is under attack.

Transcendence, then, is true relevancy. A fickle gospel helps no one and is thus irrelevant. So long as churches are chasing fads and updating what they believe to fit with the ever-changing times, it will remain irrelevant and empty. Let the declining numbers of American mainstream Christianity be a message to all who are tempted to “keep up” with the culture. The search for relevancy enhances irrelevancy. Remaining grounded in Scripture, faithful to the gospel, and unconcerned for the trends of the culture, however, will breed the sort of relevancy and power every church seeks. The power of the gospel is that it saves and turns wretched souls into holy saints. The gospel does not need an update.

*These numbers are based on an article from the Los Angeles Times. Charlotte Allen, “Liberal Christianity is Paying for its Sins.” The numbers were taken from the Hartford Institute for Religious Research. Dinesh D’Souza records similar numbers in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity?, 4. His numbers comes from the Institute on Religion and Democracy in 2005. He adds that the United Church of Christ went from 2.2 million members to just 1.3 million members. Both sources site the growth of the Southern Baptist Convention during this time period from 8.7 million to now 16.4 million.

**D'Souza, What's So Great About Christianity?, 3.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again: Prop 8 Goes To Trial and What That Could Mean For the Rest of America

Its like Deja Vu all over again, only this time the right of the people and the defense of marriage is at stake. 1973 was the year that gave us Roe vs. Wade and perhaps 2010 could be the year that gives us a national redefinition of marriage. A California court in San Francisco are now hearing arguments from a number of homosexuals who say they are made to feel like second-class citizens after the passing of Proposition 8 which defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Though many courts have heard similar arguments from gay activists, this one is different. Many believe that if Proposition 8 is overturned via judicial fiat the case will almost certainly be taken up by the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the homosexual movement rather than the people of California (and the rest of Americans who have clearly cast their vote in favor of traditional marriage every time it has been voted on), this case could be this generations Roe vs. Wade. By judicial fiat, the right for homosexuals to marry would be made legal for the entire nation.

This is simply amazing. So far over thirty states have voted to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. Those states that currently recognize same-sex marriage and unions have done so through legislation and judicial decree. If this case plays out as many fear that it will, nine justices (actually, perhaps only 5 or 6) will override the will of 60% of the states!

This becomes even more troublesome for traditional marriage advocates considering that President Barack Obama may have the opportunity to select yet another Supreme Court justice to the bench. Many believe that Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 89, may retire soon. Though Stevens is oftentimes considered a more liberal leaning judge, any appointment by a President is significant. Most justices remain on the court for several decades. Stevens himself has served for over three decades.

This case certainly means that 2010 could be a signature year for our nation. If same-sex marriage is legalized (apart from the will of the people) as many fear, then expect one major difference between Roe vs. Wade and this case. Though the assault on human life has continued relentlessly, there have been significant grounds made by pro-life supporters. However, if same-sex marriage is legalized without clear boundaries established, then the slippery slope will take affect almost immediately.

The difference between abortion and cloning are legally two different issues. One, in the eyes of the law, has to do with a woman's right to choose. The other has nothing to do with such a standard. Same-sex marriage and other forms of marriage are not as distinct. As many have suggested before, the arguments made for same-sex marriage can equally be applied to bigamy and polygamy (which is why the amendments voted on in the various states clarified marriage as between one man and one woman), polyamory (especially regarding civil unions), incest, and eventually the lowering of the age of consent, pederasty, and even bestiality.

If homosexuals can make the argument of feeling like second-class citizens and denied their rights to marry the ones they love and that government should stay out of the bedroom, then the same exact arguments could be applied to other forms of marriage. In a diverse population like ours, it is not a stretch to believe that some would begin the push for polygamy and other forms of marriage once same-sex marriage is nationally legalized. The history of Mormons and Islam in America would seem to be immediate candidates to push such a mandate.

2010 could be a very significant year for American morality and law. Though it is too early to sound the alarm, Christians and advocates of traditional marriage should not overlook what is happening in San Francisco. Many have concern that the will of the majority of Americans could be overturned by a handful of judges. But as we have learned regarding abortion, one court case does not change the attitudes and convictions of Americans. Though abortion remains legal in America and millions of children are being slaughtered each year, millions more Americans continue to fight for the right of the unborn to live. Likewise, regardless of what may happen in California or in Washington DC, Americans will remain steadfast in their convictions.

At the end of the day, the one thing we can conclude is: this debate is far from over and it might just get a little more heated.

For more:
World Magazine - Marriage on Trial
The Next Step: Is Polyamory the Next Sexual Movement?

Where Does The Madness End? The Dire Destination Of The Homosexual Agenda - Part 1
Colson: Same-Sex 'Marriage' Today...Polygamy Tomorrow
Where Did I Really Come From?: Human Sexuality For Two-Year-Olds
Update: "Let's Talk About Sex Baby" - Barack Obama and Sex Education
Polygamy on the Rise: See, I Told You So
Pro-Marriage and Un-American: The Logic of the Left
Olbermann, Proposition 8, and the Left
1st Graders At a Lesbian Wedding: The Secular Indoctrination of Our Children
Obsess Much?: Understanding Our Cultures Obsession With Sex
Mohler: From the Bible to "Intimacy Kits" -- Goodbye to the Gideons?
An Oversexed Culture Coming to a Middle School Near You
A Seven Year Itch? Recovering Marriage in a Culture That Took It Out of It's Vocabulary - Part 1
D'Souza: The Equal Protection Hoax
A Day of "See, I Told You So's"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Utopian Myth: Pandora and the Avatar Blues

I have not seen Avatar. Apparently I am among the few in the world who haven't. When it is released on DVD perhaps I will take the time to watch the film. But I'm in no hurry. I have nothing against the film, the director, the actors, or anything, I just haven't gotten caught up in the Avatar praise. Millions have seen it and it has grossed more than a billion dollars. A movie with such a vast appeal should be considered carefully. Having not seen it, I can only comment on people's reactions to the movie, not the movie itself.

CNN have reported on a trend among many who have seen the film that should surprise us at first, and yet be expected. Many have left the film depressed. The depression is based, not on the films appeal or let down for most have really enjoyed the film, but because of the Utopian world director James Cameron created made up of the nature-loving alien race. The depression is not in the movie itself, but in the reality that the world so brilliantly depicted on screen may never be realized.

The depression is centered on the confusion over reality and fantasy. Those suffering from "Avatar Blues" wish that the world depicted on film was actual reality. I must confess, though having not seen the film, that I too wish for such a world. Don't we all? A world of pristine nature populated by a race of beings intelligent and living in peace with one another. Families remain unified, crime and natural disasters never enter our vocabulary, and our Utopian hopes are realized.

Man has always craved such a world. Though Pandora is the creation of writers and movie directors and producers, the ideal-world they created is not. Utopia is the dream of everyone born in this world. We all know that things are not as they should be. Crime, injustice, suffering, natural disaster, war, poverty, famine, death, destruction, hatred, violence, bigotry, lust, rape, inequality, cowardice, brokenness, betrayal, hardships, dirty politics, broken promises, loneliness, illiteracy, discontentment, depression, anxiety, and disease. This world is a mess and we wish it weren't.

Discontentment in such a broken world has led to countless attempts to bring about such an Utopia. Various kingdoms in the ancient world tried to conquer their way to Utopia. The belief in racial and national superiority (not to mention the lust for power and wealth) led many political and military leaders to conquer, pillage, and wipe out inferior nations believing that if they were in complete control, there would be peace, tranquility, and Utopia. Peace through dominance was their mantra, and it failed.

Then came philosophy and Western ideals. The rise of the Greeks and Romans with the belief that they were superior to those uneducated and uncivilized. But rather than solutions and Utopia, it brought about more death, destruction, chaos.

Then came religion. Christianity ceased being about repentance once it became the official religion of the world. Religion breeds legalism and tyranny. But Christianity was not alone. The rise of Islam (600's) and other faiths thrived on the eve and through the Middle Ages. Instead of Utopia, forced conversions and heresy trials brought about continued death, disease, and the cry for a better world. Utopia remained far off.

Then came the Enlightenment and secularism. Many saw imperfection and sought to remedy it by running from faith. Many believed that the new world of scientific investigation and breakthroughs along with medical advancement would rid the need for war over endless theological debates and bring about a Utopian world free of disease and war. Instead, we discovered that for every disease cured, a thousand replace it. As science advanced, so did the necessity to push the limits. Science, and the Darwinian worldview that replaced it, led to the practice of eugenics, population control, and racial superiority which led to more death, more violence, more disease, and more war.

Secularism also gave rise to economic theories like Marxism that promised Utopia once everyone was equal and everyone (was forced) to share their wealth. Instead of Utopia, the 20th century proved that communism breeds tyranny, death, corrupt power, and economic disaster.

In less socialistic, secular society's the failed experiment of religion was countered with a cry to break from tradition. The rise of the sexual revolution, radical feminism, and racial dominance became the new voices of Utopia. "If only we would break from old traditions and be liberated and free," the logic went, "would we have peace, love, freedom, and Utopia." The hippie's wanted Utopia and sought it in experimental drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and peace rallies. Instead of Utopia, it brought about broken homes, a less free government as the result of an emboldened government, STD's, unwanted pregnancies, and the deaths of millions through abortions. Instead of Utopia we got more chaos. And now many born in such a world roam the halls of Congress.

Now we've moved on to postmodernism. Modernism failed and so we look for more Utopian promises. They too have and will fail. The cry for tolerance and the demonization of those who affirm doctrines without apology or fear promises to bring about peace and tranquility. Labeling criminals as victims and belief as bigotry has only encouraged added bigotry and crime rather than remedy it. Utopia remains far off.

No wonder people see a world so real on the screen become depressed when they watch the evening news.

The cry for an Utopian world is part of our makeup. As Christians we understand better than anyone why this is: we were once there.

The Bible begins with God who created the world in which we live, but not as we see it today. After creation, God declared the work of His hand as "very good." He day of rest was not the result of exhaustion, but of self-gratification for the glorious work of His hands. All that He had done and created was in fact "very good." A part of this creation was man who alone could enjoy the creation of God in a unique way. Man for a period of time (we do not for sure how long, but likely a very short time) enjoyed the Utopian, perfect world that God created: no crime, no natural disasters, no poverty, no inequality, no despair, no depression, no broken homes, no disease, and no death. Pandora was the handiwork of God.

And then it happened. Rather than God celebrated and worshipped as Creator, man sought to be the center of control. Out of open disobedience and rebellion, man sought to be the center of the universe by dethroning their Maker. Utopia was destroyed.

The story of the Fall (Genesis 3) helps us understand why we long for such a world. Paradise was lost and we want it back. At the same time, it also tells us why we, on our own, will never create it. First, we never created paradise in the first place. Scripture is clear, only God creates perfection. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to duplicate the handiwork of God. The Garden of Paradise in both the beginning (Genesis 1-2) and ending (Revelation 21-22) of Scripture are the results of God's handiwork. Secondly, so long as man remains self-centered, paradise will forever remain lost. The spark that led to this chaotic world was the belief that God can be ignored and we can be worshipped. By rebelling against God, our first parents decided to live for themselves and for their own pleasures. Pride and self-centeredness created and sustains our fallen, depraved, pathetic world.

The Old Testament is a rather sad, yet familiar story. Every page reveals how man continues to seek peace and Utopia and yet fail under their own ignorance and self-centeredness. Genesis reveals how man turns to himself, seeks answers in himself, and fails miserably. The giving of the Law created a people of legalists who believed they were perfect enough, but in reality remained just as depraved. Judges and Ruth reveal the utter chaos that liberty and anarchy create. Samuel through Esther show how power and corruption inherent in politics destroy lives and any hope of Utopia. The poetic literature cry for peace and the end of injustice. The prophets warn of coming doom as the result of man's actions.

It is a pathetic story that we all know too well. We, like those of old, have sought for Utopia in the same ways as they with the same results. Politics, unchecked liberty, legalism, tyranny, war, and cries for peace have all failed. We continue to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

If the Old Testament was the story of the failure of man, the New Testament tells the story of the triumph of Christ. The Gospels tells of the triumph of the cross and how on account of His death, man finally has hope, if only they would give up their self-centeredness and repent. Acts shows the triumph of the cross-centered Church where love, real love, was central and unifying. The Epistles show us how to live such a cross-centered life. And Revelation returns us to Paradise. Paradise was lost, but it will be regained.

The central character of the Old Testament, one could argue, isn't God, but man. The central character of the New Testament isn't man, but Christ. The Old Testament is a book of man's failure in his attempt to create paradise. The New Testament is the hope of Christ triumph to bring about Paradise once again. Man failed, but Christ has triumphed.

Stories about "Avatar Blues," though at first surprising and almost laughable, shouldn't be so shocking after all. The world created by the film makers is a world we have all craved and the depression that we are so far from creating such world remains. Yet only Christianity explains why we all feel this way, and provides the answers on how a world like Pandora can be created.

Utopia will never be the product of man because of his self-centeredness and rebellion against God. A being bent on rebellion will never create peace. Paradise is solely within the creative hand of God. He must, and has, intervene. He must, and will, recreate Paradise if it is to ever become a reality. Our hope is in God and His gospel. Repentance shreds us of any self-reliance and self-centeredness. We cannot, but God does and will. Hope is not found in man, but in God alone. Will we continue the same failed cycle of turning to politics and politicians, unchecked liberty and promiscuity, legalism and tyranny, economics and science? Or will we turn to the place we refuse to go: our Creator who gave us Paradise in the first place? Only time will tell.

For more:
Psychology Today - Avatar Blues
Russell Moore - Avatar: Rambo in Reverse

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Disbelief in Belief: Brit Hume Commits Secularism's Unforgivable Sin

At the end of every year, a list gets spread around regarding words that have been banned. At the close of 2009, we saw the banning of words like "bromance," "shovel-ready," "czar," "chillaxed" and anything with "Obama" as the prefix (like "Obamacare"). Perhaps another word should be added to that list: repent. In light of the unnecessary firestorm directed at semi-retired Fox News analysis Brit Hume, it would seem that his call for Tiger Woods to embrace Christianity was the worst thing ever uttered on national TV.

On Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Hume said:

Tiger Woods will recover as a golfer. Whether or not he can recover as a person I think is a very open question, and its a tragic situation for him. I think he's lost his family, it's not clear to me if he'll be able to have a relationship with his children, but the Tiger Woods that emerges once the news value dies out of this scandal - the extent to which he can recover - seems to me to depend upon his faith. He's said to be a Buddhist; I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, "Tiger turn to the Christian faith and you make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

The response was immediate. Keith Olbermann on MSNBC immediately compared Hume's proselytizing as radical as Islamic extremist and then interviewed Dan Salvage who ridiculed Christianity and particularly "fundamentalist" Christians who have hijacked the faith who are nothing but a bunch of morons and dangerous radicals. John Stewart on Comedy Central wasn't far behind. In addition, countless columnist, bloggers, reporters, and others have openly rebuked Hume's apparent attempt to proselytize calling him names and labeling him as an intolerant bigot. They are in shock to think that a Christian, in this day and age, would suggest that their faith might offer something other religions, like Buddhism, does not.

Of course a Christian would logically believe that their theology is superior than another theology. Otherwise, why would they be Christian? That is no different than what a Muslim, Jew, atheist, agnostic, Mormon, or tree-hugger believes. Why believe and surrender oneself to Christ, Mohamed, Charles Darwin, or Mother Earth unless they believed that their ideas, teachings, etc. were superior?

But to Hume' credit, he has not backed down. He has only added fuel to the fire by appearing on Billy O'Reily's show defending his words and then doing an interview for Christianity Today. Most in his position would back down from the media and cultural firestorm and apologize to the media and secular elite for being so inconsiderate of Tiger Woods and the Buddhist faith.

As the days drag on, the smoke is beginning to clear. Hume has been ferociously attacked for his apparent intolerance and bigotry. Such an accusation has been made in terms that can only be labeled as more intolerant and more bigoted. Hume was asked to give his opinion and gave it. Shouldn't tolerance allow his viewpoint? Why wasn't Dan Savage, David Shuster (who called Hume "truly embarrassing"), Andrew Sullivan (referred to Hume as "pure sectarianism"), or Tom Shales (calling Hume a "sanctimonious busybody" that tells "people what religious beliefs they ought to have") reprimanded for their intolerance and bigotry against Brit Hume? Does intolerance and bigotry only work one way? Does it only apply to Hume?

It would seem that it does. The double standard of secular intolerance is becoming more apparent everyday. Every new attack against Hume uncovers the secular mask of open mindedness. It is apparent that the only sectarianism allowed is secularism. What the religion of secularism says goes, and to go against the laws of secularism leads to being publicly reprimanded and labeled a bigot similar to that of Islamic Jihadism.

Such bigots have failed to understand what democracy is. Without the freedom of ideas, speech, religion, and the press democracy is nothing more than an ideal. Without freedom to say and believe whatever you want and encourage others to join your ideology, faith, or worldview, with or without cameras rolling, democracy is a figment of our imagination. The minute Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or atheist, or Buddhist for that matter) start apologizing for affirming publicly their faith or even (heaven forbid!) calling on others to embrace their faith, is the minute democracy dies.

I applaud Brit Hume for sharing his faith and not backing down from it. As a Christian I firmly agree with Hume's encouragement to Tiger Woods to repent of his sins and embrace the cross of Jesus Christ. This in no way suggest that Tiger Woods is the only sinner in need of repentance. I would and have said the same thing to hundreds of people before. Yes, Christianity is superior to all other faiths. The way of the cross is the only hope for mankind, whether they be Tiger Woods or Brit Hume.

As Christians we must cease from taking advice from others, especially the secular culture. The minute we start obeying their every command is the minute we deny Christ and rob God of His glory. Furthermore, both Christians and non-Christians must realize that intolerance works both ways. Christianity has always been intolerant and has never been afraid of the label. Repentance demands intolerance and hurt feelings. Secularist continue to fool only themselves that they are beyond divisive doctrines and intolerant ideologies. They too, in their many rants, proselytize their readers and viewers to embrace their ideology and secular faith. And one of their many evangelistic tools is to demean and ridicule others unlike them.

Who are the real bigots now?

For more:
Christianity Today - Q & A: Brit Hume
Denny Burk - Hume Ups the Ante
Baptist Press - Brit Hume Was Right

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The "Personhood" of Animals: The Argument is Made . . . Again

Should animals have rights? According to a recent article, perhaps they do. Some scientists are arguing that some animals, namely ones like dolphins, should have rights as "non-human persons." Though the particular article does not mention him, Dr. Peter Singer is perhaps the biggest proponent of such an idea. Though he may not have coined the phrase, he has certainly popularized it. His deep belief in evolution has led to his radical defense of animal rights over his more radical defense of abortion, euthanasia, and even infanticide.

It works this way: evolution explains everything. Evolution implies some life is worth living and some aren't. Those who are stronger thrive, while the weak die out. How do you determine the difference between those worth life and those unworthy of it? Singer suggests that we should separate human from personhood. Those declared persons should be given rights that should be protected. To kill a person is murder. To kill a non-person is not. Not all humans are persons and not all persons are humans. Dolphins, in Singer's and others like him minds, are persons because they are "intelligent," and are conscience. An unborn (or even a born) human, however, does not (especially if they are handicapped). To kill an infant (born or not yet born) with Down Syndrome is not murder because the child is not a person, just merely a human. However, to kill a dolphin intentionally (or unintentionally for that matter) is an act of murder because a person (a non-human person) has been killed.

This clearly means that under such a worldview (a theology if you will), some animals have more dignity than the children of those who make such an argument. It is a frightening worldview to say the least. However, one must admit that if evolution is true, then Singer and company are on to something. Evolution implies, and Singer correctly adopts, that humans and animals are not different from one another. Common ancestry clearly means that monkey is a goat is a human is a pig. We are all animals.

In his book, Practical Ethics, Singer writes about the unethical protection of an infant born with Down Syndrome, even against the mother's wishes:

In this case a human being was kept alive, against the wishes of her mother, and at a cost of thousands of dollars, despite the fact that she would never be able to live an independent life, or to think and talk as normal humans do. Contrast this with the casual way in which we take the lives of stray dogs, experimental monkeys and beef cattle. What justifies the difference? -Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 73

Here, Singer compares a handicap child to a stray dog, experimental monkeys, and cattle born with the purpose of being turned into a McDonald's burger. If we are mere animals, then what we do to some in the animal kingdom can and should be practiced against weak humans like Down Syndrome babies.

But not every human or animal should be relegated to becoming a Big Mac. Those given the status of personhood ought to be protected by the State (run by only human-persons of course). If some animals are also persons, then this means that humans have committed atrocities that have gone unpunished. Singer himself wonders, "Are we turning persons into bacon?" -Practical Ethics, 98-99

This is exactly the sort of theology that led Hitler on a rampage against Jews, the handicap, non-Germans, and many other "humans" that he deemed unworthy of life. Grounded in an evolutionary worldview, Hitler rightly determined that the strong will survive while the weak will die out. The evolutionary Utopia could be realized once the weak are removed and the only the strong reproduce without their genes being tainted with non-persons like the Jews and the unwanted.

History seems to be repeating itself.

Contrast this with the Christian worldview. Evolution is a theology of death while Christianity is a theology of life. Only the gospel can explain why the face of a child with Tricomy is more beautiful than the airbrushed photo of the model on the front of Cosmopolitan magazine. Christianity see beauty in all of life because all life originates with God. Dignity does not exist in the Naturalists vocabulary.

As for the dolphins I remain perplexed as to why the obvious will not be admitted. If dolphins should be considered as persons, then perhaps they form a union, march on Washington, sing "We Shall Overcome," and lobby Congress for their rights. The very fact that only human-persons are having this conversation proves that God has made us unique. This does not mean that dolphins and other animals should be mistreated or abused, for God also created them for His glory. What it does mean is that humans, all humans, have dignity unique to that of the animal kingdom. And until animals hire a lawyer and lobby for their rights, let us treat them like animals. We shouldn't loose sleep over the fear that we have turned the image of God into bacon.

For More:

Monday, January 4, 2010

We Are All Theologians: The Root of Everything We Are and Do

Everyone is a theologian. Whether your the fundamentalist Mormon who believes polygamy should be legal or an ardent atheists that thinks religion should be banned, everyone is a theologian. Every belief, every moral, every worldview, every conviction, every action, every spoken word, and every thought, is based on one's theology. Everyone is a theologian.

That is the essence of a worldview. When we speak of worldviews, we are really speak of theology. All of the cultural wars, political debates, disagreements, convictions, opinions and shouting matches are the outworkings of a theology. Though most refuse to call it that, it is theology nonetheless.

For example, a man lobbies his local Congressman to support a bill that would ban the spanking of children by their parents or any other adult out of the conviction that it is wrong and abusive. Where does such a conviction come from? According to statistics, it is likely that this individual was spanked himself as most Americans were at some point in their lives. So where does this conviction to ban spanking come from? Dr. Phil? Watching too much Nanny 911? Reading a popular parenting magazine or book? From his own experience as a parent?

No. It is the result of his personal theological convictions.

Our imaginary friend believes that no child under any circumstance should be spanked. This conviction could be rooted in a number of places, but all of them begin with theology. Theology answers big questions with practical implications like who is God (if He is real)? Where did we come from? What is wrong with this world? Why is there so much evil and suffering? What is the solution to this problem? What will the end (if there will be one) be like? What happens when we die? To most Westerners theology is not practical. To them, it is an academic exercise whereby a group of people sit in an ivory tower and debate over ancient documents that have no relevancy for today. But that is not theology.

Our anti-spanking friend is living out his theology. For example, he likely believes that everybody is born inherently good and thus disciple should not be about breaking our evil nature, but encouraging the good that is in us. That is called anthropology. He also likely believes that it is just inherently wrong to strike anyone, especially a child, for any reason. To do so is a type of sin, or harmitology. Right and wrong originate with God. If there is a God, then there must be a right and wrong and He determines what is right and wrong. God is a God of love, not vindictive anger and abuse, our friend likely believes. Therefore, to strike a child, even in the name of disciple, goes against His character.

Everyone is a theologian, whether we want to admit it or not. This implies three things. First, theology is central to truth. It is pointless to debate issues like marriage, war, poverty, global warming, government, policies, and politicians without an understanding that what is being debated is primarily theology. To put theology on the shelf as if it doesn't matter is nonsense. It is always in the forefront.

One of the major disagreements between liberals and conservatives regards anthropology, or the doctrine of man. Liberals understand human nature as inherently good while most conservatives understand human nature as inherently bad. This has immense implications regarding every walk of life: discipline, justice, punishment, growth and size of government, the power of a single or group of politicians, diplomacy and war.

This leads to the second point: theology is relevant. Everything in life is a reflection of our theological assumptions and convictions. I am pro-life because of my convictions on God (theology), man (anthropology), and sin (harmitology). I believe that the solution to the problems of the world (my soteriology) aren't found in politics, policy, environmental activism, sexual liberation, social reformation, or national diplomacy, but in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ is God wrapped in the mystery of the Trinity. That is theology and to think contrary is just as theological. Theology is relevant as it shapes the worldviews in which we live, vote, and raise our children by.

Thirdly, theology is practical. As a pastor, I regularly experience a collective sigh when theology is presented. That is unfortunate and typical of our culture today. What we all want is answers, but by ignoring theology, we are given band-aids rather than cures for our ills. The problem isn't self-esteem, but sin. The problem isn't the need to communicate, but sin. The answer isn't therapy, but repentance. So long as we treat the symptoms, we will never be cured of our disease. But once we embrace the practicality of theology, we can overcome any obstacle.

Theology is ore than an academic exercise for those with a lot of degrees, but is something we all do everyday whether at the grocery store or at the abortion clinic. Everybody is a theologian and everybody has a theology. What does yours say about your God?
For more: