More Than Images of Cruelty Needed

The foreword for Frederick Douglas’ autobiography includes these words from Wendell Phillips in 1845:

A man must be disposed to judge of emancipation by other tests than whether it has increased the produce of sugar,–and to hate slavery for other reasons than because it starves men and whips women,–before he is ready to lay the first stone of his anti-slavery life.

What these “other tests” may be, I’m not sure. My guess is I’ll know by the time I’m done with Douglas’ book. My guess is it has to do with the dignity of a man, not just the pain of a man. My guess is hearing the voice of Douglas and his thoughts and his aspirations will do more, and create greater righteous indignation against slavery than does merely hearing of brutality. Certainly, the brutality is important in the discussion, but perhaps what Phillips is hinting at is until there is the image of the human life, the human struggle, core convictions won’t change.

Disgust alone won’t turn long-held opinions. Not when they are central to our well-being (so we think). A greater love for something that is contrary to those opinions must be born. Only then, in the light of that greater love, will the opinions lose their grip and be let go.

For the readers of 1845, that meant seeing Douglas as a person, more than a sympathy case. It meant knowing the man in all his God-given dignity. Then and only then, would love for slavery be seen as evil.
PRO-LIFE

Would that we could learn this lesson in the struggle against abortion. It’s not enough to demonstrate the brutality of abortion. People may flinch, people may weep, people may be disgusted at the thought of what happens, but until there is a greater love for human dignity, few will truly see the great horror of it.

Pro-life has to be persuasive. It has to cover the full spectrum of human dignity. It has to be a vision that is demonstratable to the lives that are easy to see – those outside the womb. It has to sear into the consciousness that imperfect lives are valuable and holy, so much so, that the only viable pro-choice outcome is to care for them and love them. This has to be done for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, the disabled, the aged. Only then, when people live in a constant heightened alert of life’s dignity, God’s imago dei, will people be willing to elevate the value of the unborn. This is, as Phillips said, getting people “ready to lay the first stone” of a pro-life world.

Stories and images of brutality alone will not do it.

 

Part 1: Guns, People, The Bible

What do Christians have to say in the debate on gun control, at least from a biblical perspective? What I often read are statements similar to this one:

Guns are not the problem. People are. Evil is in people.

The conclusion is then:

Gun control misses the point.

This is articulated well by the Kentucky governor Matt Bevin:

 

Does this logic fit within a biblical framework?

 

OUR SINFUL STATE

In the fourth century, the bishop Pelagius promoted the idea that humans are ultimately good; the original sin of Adam did not taint our ability to do good on our own, outside of divine aid. Against that, stood another bishop, Augustine, who taught that sin pervades and corrupts every aspect of the human life. Without divine grace, we are unable to exercise any saving faith in Christ. In the end, the church affirmed Augustine was correct and Pelagius a heretic. The human life is one that is wholly tainted by sin.

In the talks on gun control, many Christians speak from this angle. They rightly recognize the root issue in mass shootings, any shootings, has to do with the state of the human heart. Hatred, anger, murder. These find their root in our corrupt nature. As Jesus says,

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”” (Matthew 15:19–20, ESV)

 

GOD’S LAW AS A RESPONSE

How does God respond to the depravity of the human heart? Scripture declares that there is none righteous, none seek after God, and each goes their own way (Romans 3). Does that then lead God to conclude:

No laws will be passed. The issue is the human heart. Laws would miss the point.

More specifically, in the area of anger, hatred, murder, does God conclude that practical means (ie laws that forbid it) are pointless because we’ll break them anyways?

As we look at scripture, the easy answer is easily discerned

“Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

Though killing had been going on before the giving of the Law and would continue to happen after, God still establishes this prohibition.

Jesus then comes on the scene and takes it one step further.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21–22)

Paul then takes these words and uses them as a prescription, a requirement, for those that will lead the church:

Therefore an overseer must be a.. not violent but gentle” (1 Timothy 3:2–3)

This is but a very a small sampling to demonstrate a very simple point. The response of God toward the state of the sinful heart is NOT to conclude laws have no worth. On the contrary, laws are in fact one way God addresses the sinful state of humanity:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3–4)

 

PREPARED FOR THE GOSPEL

The law of course cannot save a person; that’s not God’s intention. The law cannot change a person; that’s not God’s intention. The law, however, does provide a means in which the righteousness of God is declared, known, and established. He does so, that all may be found guilty for the sin they have. Without the law, the sinful state of the heart is not seen. With the law, the truth of our depravity is clear and we are held accountable to God. It is in this accountability to God that we are prepped then to receive the good news of God’s saving grace in His son, Jesus Christ:

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:19–25)

 

CONCLUSION

What is the conclusion?

First, it is a biblically faithful stand to acknowledge that all sin, including murder by guns, is due to our sinful nature. Truly the problem resides within, and no law without can finally change that. Only the grace of God can do that. We should continue to affirm this.

Second, while the diagnosis of the human state is correct, the statement often used to quickly dismiss any talks of gun control works in a framework FOREIGN TO SCRIPTURE:

Guns is not the problem. Evil is inside. Therefore, gun control is pointless.

That sentiment does NOT HANDLE the sin within us the way God does. God gives us laws regardless if we will obey them or not. The issue is God’s declaration of righteousness through the laws, that holds us accountable, and by the grace of God, and preps us for the gospel. This does not mean ALL laws in relation to guns are a wise and prudent thing. But it is to say that when we nakedly dismiss any talks of gun control, in response to the killing of the innocent, and we use the biblical framework of human sin to justify it, we actually work CONTRARY THE PATTERN OF GOD.

With all this said, my response to the governor of Kentucky in the above video would be to ask:

If it is true that the morals of our society are so far off from where it was 100 years ago, would that not be the VERY REASON we should consider more gun control?

A Right View Of Sin, Ryle Style

So on the suggestion of a blog post from Kevin DeYoung, I started to read J.C. Ryle’s book “Holiness”. It’s a relatively short book, but like books of old, each page is pack full. I’m not done with it yet but I thought it would be worth capturing some of the thoughts as I work through it. So here’s some highlights from chapter 2 of the book, from the pen of an old-time Anglican pastor.

First, his general thesis of the book is laid out.

Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption… The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are ‘words and names’ which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when He makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart and show him that he is a guilty sinner. (p 11)

I love the balance in which he writes on this topic of sin. He’s straight forward but always with the intent to bring us to Christ.

Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46). Nothing, I am convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never till the hour when Christ comes the second time shall we fully realize the ‘sinfulness of sin’. Well might George Whitefield say, ‘The anthem in heaven will be: What hath God wrought!’ (p 15)

The bulk of this chapter is dedicated to how a right view of sin works out in the believer’s life. Amazing that these words were penned over 125 years ago. How they feel like it was written for today!

a. I say, then, in the first place, that a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age … It is a Christianity in which there is undeniably ‘something about Christ and something about grace and something about faith and something about repentance and something about holiness’, but it is not the real ‘thing as it is’ in the Bible. (p 18)

b. In the next place, a scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time … Everything, forsooth, is true and nothing is false! Everybody is right and nobody is wrong! Everybody is likely to be saved and nobody is to be lost! The atonement and substitution of Christ, the personality of the devil, the miraculous element in Scripture, the reality and eternity of future punishment, all these mighty foundation-stones are coolly tossed overboard, like lumber, in order to lighten the ship of Christianity … (p 18)

c. In the next place, a right view of sin is the best antidote to that sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity, which has swept over England like a flood in the last twenty-five years, and carried away so many before it. (p 19)

d. In the next place, a right view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the overstrained theories of perfection of which we hear so much in these times. (p 19)

e. In the last place, a scriptural view of sin will prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the church … We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing His will. We must then try to realize that it is terribly possible to live a careless, easygoing, half-worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people! Once let us see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely to us than we supposed, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. (p 20)

Some final words from this chapter:

What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth or conversion! What a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord’! (Hebrews 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). (p 16)

I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.  (p 22)

 

 

 

 

The Brilliance of CS Lewis

Lately I’ve been looking for a single author to be my somewhat life study. I’ve considered John Piper, whom has greatly shaped my life. I’ve also considered Abraham Kuyper. From all I’ve read in biographies about Kuyper, I’m intrigued by his blending of Calvinism into public life. As an aside, Kuyper may be, at least for me, one that is best read in biographies rather than in his actual writings, as I’ve tried twice now to give his books a shot, and twice I have put them down.
So who to give my reading attention to?
Well today, I’m giving CS Lewis a try. I’ve dabbed in Lewis for his books on suffering and enjoyed them, and I know Tim Keller (who I deeply love) is greatly shaped by Lewis, so I decided to  try another Lewis work, perhaps one of lesser known works. I picked The Abolition of Man.

After sitting and sharing every page I just read with Julee, because I’m amazed at Lewis’ ability to see the deeper issues, I thought I should record two bits of his brilliance.
(Below, Gaius and Titius are pseudonyms of authors who Lewis is critiquing)

ON UNCONSCIOUS SHAPING

The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.

Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 6-7). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The sum of it: Inconsequential ideas still have consequences, for they tread paths in our way-of-thinking that future (and perhaps much bigger) issues travel down.

ON DEFENDING AGAINST FALSE SENTIMENTS

I think Gaius and Titius [who Lewis is critiquing] may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda— they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental— and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 14-15).

The sum of it:  Protection against false loves is not done best by removing love altogether, but by being filled with right loves.

Truth Matters When It Comes To Planned Parenthood

 

This may be the generation that ends abortion. Partly because people are waking up to the reality of it, partly because of the efforts of the church, partly because God in His providence has placed an apparently pro-life President in office, and partly because of creative investigative videos that have come out.

Facts really matter in this debate.

This is especially true as more and more Christians become sympathetic to organizations like Planned Parenthood. While they fundamentally stand against abortion, they support such organizations because of the good they do for women who otherwise have no option.

But is that true?  Either of those things? Is Planned Parenthood the only option and do they do good for women?

Here are just two data points.

The truth of that was analyzed here by the Washington Post.

Here’s data point number two: Planned Parenthood and prenatal care to help women plan for parenthood:

 

BTW, following this video, some of the Planned Parenthood websites removed “prenatal care” from their websites. At least the truth is now being told.

Full analysis here: http://liveactionnews.org/planned-parenthood-purges-prenatal-from-websites-after-live-action-investigation/)

The Reordering of Our Loves

Long ago, Augustine made this insightful analysis of how our lives work. Namely, that right living always comes from right loving; and that where unholy and unjust actions exists, there exists a heart needing to reorder its “loves.” This ultimately is the gospel that saves: the message that seeks to enthrone Jesus alone as supreme in our loves.

The eminent question in life is not “what will we do,” but “what shall we love?”

“But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine)