December 2006


Dennis Prager argues against this silly notion that “we should not judge” by pointing out that if we cannot make judgments, then not only are we prohibited from declaring certain people to be evil/immoral, we are also prohibited from declaring certain people to be good. Both require that we judge the merits of a person. People often miss this because they think of “judgment” only in terms of bad.


 

Furthermore, it would be meaningless to say someone is good unless they are being compared against someone else we have judged not good. In other words, you can’t say someone is good unless you can say someone is bad.

Georgetown University philosopher, Alexander Pruss, made an insightful comment over at Right Reason about abortion. He argues that not only is the act of abortion immoral, but even the contemplation of the act is immoral:

 

In weighing whether or not to abort, one is weighing the life of a particular child against other considerations. In engaging in such weighing, one is acting as if this particular child’s life had the kind of value that can be weighed and compared against other considerations (Kant calls this “market value”). Suppose that through the weighing of pros and cons, one chooses not to abort. In that case, one’s later relationship with the child causally depends on one’s having judged that the child’s life outweighs the values implicit in the considerations one had in favor of abortion. This suggests a certain kind of conditionality in the relationship: one’s having engaged in weighing implies that one accepted the possibility that something else at least might be more valuable to one than the life of the child.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

 

Very interesting argument!

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Alexander Pruss, “A Miscellany of Pro-Life Arguments; II: Unconditionality in Parent-Child Relationships”; available from http://rightreason.ektopos.com/archives/2006/09/a_miscellany_of.html; Internet; accessed 28 September 2006.

Recently I was listening to a scientist discuss the Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design debate. He passed on some advice that one of his professors passed on to him: try to disprove your point of view, both privately and publicly. Speaking of the scientific realm, he said a good scientist should always be looking for those things that do not support his theory, rigorously explore them, and even report on them. Why? For several reasons. First, it keeps one intellectually honest about the data. Second, it helps one see the issue from other perspectives. Third, it shows your opponents your openness to alternate interpretations. Fourth, your view may be wrong.

I found this advice to be helpful for all areas of study, not just science. As theologians (whether lay or professional) we should be open to the possibility that we could be mistaken. We should seek to discover the best arguments against our view, and interact with them. We should be public about the debate. When making our case, we should not only report on the evidence for our position, but also on the evidence against our position. I think we would all be better thinkers for doing so, and have a much better chance at obtaining more truth.

In the beginning of John’s Gospel John says no one has seen God, but the unique Son has unveiled him and shown the world who he is (1:18). The literary fulfillment of this powerful passage in John’s prologue is not unveiled until the end of John’s Gospel–John 20:28. While the great confession of the synoptics is Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, in John’s Gospel the great confession is that of Thomas: “My lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).


 

While we focus on Thomas’ doubt upon hearing reports of Jesus’ resurrection, he is the hero of John’s gospel. Thomas recognized Jesus as the Word in the beginning. He properly saw Jesus for who He was: God manifest in human existence. It was Thomas who recognizes the unveiled God, and yet all we seem to recognize is Thomas’ initial doubt. Poor Thomas. He got a bad rap.

In Matthew 2 we find the story of the wise men from the East coming to worship the newborn king of the Jews. The text says “the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was” (Mt 2:9b)

 

Was this star a natural or supernatural phenomenon? Both interpretations seem to be problematic. If it was a natural phenomenon, how could it be that the star stood specifically over Bethlehem? A natural celestial star would have naturally stood over every location in Israel, not just a tiny little town five miles from Jerusalem! That lends to the idea that the star was a supernatural phenomenon. But if it were supernatural, how is it that only the wise men picked up on it? Why weren’t the locals fascinated with this star? Why wasn’t anyone else drawn to the birthplace of Jesus through this star? Surely someone besides the wise men would have been drawn to a star that stood over a very specific location.

 

Does anyone have any suggestions for resolving this dilemma?

It’s said that a lie told over and over eventually becomes the truth. That couldn’t be more true than it is in the abortion debate. Since at least the days of Roe v. Wade it has been popular to inject the “nobody knows when life begins” slogan into the abortion debate. Of course, anyone who knows a thing about embryology knows this common knowledge is really just common ignorance. When human life begins is a biological certainty.

In 2005 the South Dakota legislature passed a law requiring abortion doctors to inform mothers seeking an abortion that abortions “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” That was too much for federal district court judge, Karen Scheier, to handle. She slapped a preliminary injunction on the law in June 2005 because “unlike the truthful, non-misleading medical and legal information doctors were required to disclose, the South Dakota statute requires abortion doctors to enunciate the state’s viewpoint on an unsettled medical, philosophical, theological and scientific issue — that is, whether a fetus is a human being.” Nice try. Common ignorance strikes again, resulting in the death of more innocent human beings. Very sad.

Awhile back a blog dedicated to Biblical theology was discussing what it meant for Jesus’ baptism to “fulfill all righteousness.” One of the commentators brought up Broughton Knox’s take on the passage. Know writes:
In other words, Jesus said that it was right for him to identify with John’s messianic movement, for John’s baptism was “from God” (Matt 21:25) and Jesus would not stand aloof from it but ‘while all the people were being baptized’ (Lk 3:21) it was suitable that Jesus too should be baptized. It was the ‘right thing to do’. It was right for John, who was sent from God to baptize with water (John 1:33) to baptize Jesus and so include him in the movement along with all other God-fearing Jews who were awaiting the kingdom, and it was right for Jesus to accept John as the God-sent leader at that time and so accept baptism at his hands. In this way it was appropriate for both of them that John should baptize Jesus and that Jesus should identify with John’s message in the way that God had ordained, i.e., by being baptized by him in water, for God had sent him to baptize with water (John 1:33). That is, the baptism of Jesus was a baptism of discipleship, for at that time John was the leader. When the providence of God removed John from the leadership through Herod shutting him up in prison, then Jesus took over the leadership, preaching the same gospel. However, it would seem that he dropped the rite of baptizing with water, though his disciples revived it on the day of Pentecost.
What do you think of this interpretation? What is your interpretation of this intriguing and perplexing passage?

What did Paul mean when he said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (I Cor 1:17)? Here is the full context:
Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” 1:13 Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptized in the name of Paul? 1:14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name! 1:16 (I also baptized the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptized anyone else.) 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless. (I Cor 1:11-17)

 

This passage poses a challenge to those of us who understand the Bible to teach that baptism is essential to salvation. It’s one thing to say, “I did not baptize many of you,” but it is an entirely other matter to say, “Christ did not send me to baptize.” The first is an incidental fact of history and circumstance, but the latter appears to speak of purpose. Paul seems to be saying that baptizing people is not part of His ministerial call. It seems strange that Paul, a minister of the Gospel, would not be sent to baptize when baptism is a proper response to the Gospel message. And it’s not as if Paul’s type of ministry would not have required him to baptize much. A teacher may not be required to baptize much because his ministerial function is primarily to believers, but Paul was an apostle. It would seem strange that someone whose job was to make converts for Christ would not be sent to baptize, if baptism was essential to their conversion. Taken at face value, this appears to diminish the importance of baptism, calling into question whether it is indeed necessary for regeneration. So how do we understand Paul, then?

One possibility is that Paul is employing a Hebraism. Hebrews used a “not this, but this” construction to communicate the idea of “not only this, but also and especially this other.” It is a way of emphasizing what’s named second over what’s named first. For example, when Jesus said “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains unto everlasting life” (Jn 6:27). Clearly He did not mean we should not work so that we can buy food, but rather that we need to do more than that. We need to work to obtain food that is more important: food that will last forever.

The problem with this explanation is that it still doesn’t fit with our understanding of the importance of baptism. If baptism is necessary to salvation, how could preaching the Gospel be said to be of more importance? It would seem to me that both would be equally important. Without the preaching of the Gospel one could not have faith; without baptism one could not properly exercise their faith to be born again. So while this explanation seems plausible at first, it ends up just recycling the problem. In the end the role of baptism is denigrated.

What are your thoughts on this passage? How would you explain it in light of other Biblical passages?

 

 

All I have ever heard in my Pentecostal life is that the purpose of baptism is the forgiveness of sins. I do not doubt that baptism involves the forgiveness of sins, but I think it is more proper to understand forgiveness as the consequence of the primary purpose of baptism: to unify us with Christ. Romans 6:1-6 and Galatians 3:27 are key texts: 

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 6:2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 6:3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. 6:5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. 6:6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom 6:1-6) 

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:27) 

According to Paul, when we are baptized in Jesus’ name we are clothed with Christ. We are baptized into Him, not merely unto Him. This union Paul describes appears to be a legal union. When we are baptized into Christ we join ourselves to Him so that what He accomplished spiritually on our behalf can be legally credited to us as if we had done it ourselves. When we are baptized into Christ we die to sin just as He died to sin; when we are baptized into Christ our old man is buried with Him; when we are baptized into Christ we are raised with Christ to newness of resurrection life (Notice how baptism is connected with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is in contradistinction to our normal way of explaining salvation wherein we die at repentance, are buried by baptism, and rise to new life in Spirit baptism. According to Paul baptism does all three.) Baptism allows for Christ’s victory over sin to be accounted to us as if it were our own. Understood in such a fashion it is obvious why Scripture says baptism if for the forgiveness of sins. It is the natural byproduct of this spiritual-legal transaction. To be dead to sin and experience new life in Christ is to be forgiven. So while forgiveness is definitely a purpose of baptism, it seems to be secondary in effect. It is a consequence of our union with Christ. 

As a side point, is anyone willing to take a stab at explaining the relationship between the forgiveness we receive when we repent of our sins, and the forgiveness we receive when we are united to Christ through baptism?

That’s the question Hugh Hewitt is asking in light of Mitt Romney’s almost certain bid for the White House in 2008. Many conservatives are answering in the negative (many liberals do too). Hewitt argues that the reasons some conservatives argue we should not elect a Mormon for President are both wrong-headed, and will ultimately come back to bite us in our own rear. Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason wrote a great blog post summarizing Hewitt’s argument:


 

Hugh Hewitt gave a presentation last week at the ETS conference about the wisdom Christians need to use to engage issues and question in the media forum. The example he gave is Mitt Romney’s upcoming presidential campaign and the issue of his Mormonism. As Hug [sic] has gauged Christian reaction to his candidacy, the reactions are often very strong and negative and he’s tried to understand the nature of the objections. He’s writing a book on the general subject due out next year.


The primary appeal he made to the audience is not to confuse the question of Romney’s suitability for presidential office with the question of the validity and truth of Mormonism. He believes that much of the strong negative reaction is a confusion of these two separate questions – both legitimate. But the former belongs in the media spotlight of politics; the second does not because it will be used against Christians in the future.


If Christians respond to Romney’s candidacy by discussing Mormonism, it will be interpreted by secular media as a religious test for the office. Secular media, for the most part, doesn’t know how to distinguish between Christianity, Mormonism, or Islam in any pertinent detail. Hugh warned, and I think he’s absolutely right, that assaults on Romney’s religion will trigger inquiries about Christianity. If we question whether he wears strange underwear, the next evangelical that runs will be asked if he really believes the Bible, and the next Catholic will be asked if he goes to confession. It will open the door to biased tests against religion for candidates.


Secular media doesn’t want religion, especially those who take it seriously and believe its true, n the public square because they think we’re ignorant and uneducated. They think our viewpoint is illegitimate for public debate. If we introduce the weapons against Romney, we will end up arming those who will use them against the next Christian who walks into the public square.


I’m not for or against Romney or any other candidate at this early date Boosterism is irrelevant to the legitimate concern over this warning. Hugh was speaking to an audience of professionals who care deeply about the important distinctions of theology and authority in religion. The validity of Mormonism is an important discussion to have, but the arena of a presidential campaign isn’t the right venue for it. In the media and campaign, Hugh said that it’s the candidates [sic] values that matter, not the doctrine the values flow from.


Let’s have the right discussion in the right venue and avoid lending legitimacy to religious tests that will come back to haunt us.[1]


 

Pro-life apologist, Scott Klusendorf, has some insightful comments as well:


 

Most religious conservatives that I know don’t want a theologian for Prez, but they do want a more just nation, one where no human being regardless of gender, size, level of development, location, or dependency is denied basic human rights. They also want judges who respect the rule of law rather than legislate from the bench. Given a choice between a “Christian” President like Jimmy Carter who worked against basic justice for the unborn or a Mormon one who promotes basic human rights for all, including the unborn, religious conservatives will opt in mass (I hope) for the Mormon. In other words, it’s the worldview of the candidate, not his religion per se, that should drive religious conservative to the polls.[2]


I agree wholeheartedly.


[1]Melinda Penner, “The Right Battle on the Right Battlefield”; available from http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2006/11/the_right_battl.html; Internet; accessed 22 November 2006.

[2]Scott Klusendorf, http://lti-blog.blogspot.com/2006/11/more-goofy-than-mormon-theology-sk.html; Internet; accessed 22 November 2006.

 

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, spoke about Britain’s rising abortion rates. She pointed out that many women obtain abortions to avoid being a poor parent. That’s true. But what concerned me is the language she uses to describe this. Here is what she said: “The idea of just drifting into unplanned motherhood is seen not to be a good thing and you could argue that among many groups of people in society abortion is seen as a more responsible response to being a victim of uncontrolled fertility.”

 

A “victim of uncontrolled fertility”? She acts as though a crime has been committed against these women. Hello! The purpose of our sexual organs is to procreate. How, when procreation results, can we call the new mother a victim? It sickens me to hear of children being spoken of this way. The child is being spoken of as a perpetrator of a crime, not as a blessing. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised given the West’s increasing anti-children attitudes.

 

Later in the article the author, Celia Hall, summarized another statement of Furedi in which she spoke of unplanned pregnancies as an “uninvited pregnancy.” Uninvited? Sex makes babies. Every time someone has sex they invite the possibility of a child. A child is never uninvited. It may not be wanted, but it is always invited. Furthermore, by calling the baby “uninvited” it makes the baby sound like an intruder. Furedi is demonizing the children who didn’t ask to be created, rather than the parents. That makes no sense.

 

The article ended with a sound statement from a pro-life organization called Life: “Society must respect the right to life of all human beings, even those who are small and vulnerable and possibly inconvenient.” Exactly.

Sarcasm alert: Of course a nativity scene is improper for a Christmas festival. What were those idiots thinking?! (end sarcasm)R

ead about it here.

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