Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Epaphroditus, Sickness, and Healing

Epaphroditus is mentioned in Philippians 2.25-30 and he is sometimes brought up in discussions of sickness and healing.  The specific verses in the discussion are verses 26-27:
...because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.  For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.
Sometimes extravagant claims are generated from this small section of Scripture.  For example, John MacArthur writes:
 In Philippians 2:25-27 Paul mentioned his good friend Epaphroditus, who had been very sick.  Paul had previously displayed the gift of healing.  Why did he not simply heal Epaphroditus?  Perhaps the gift was no longer operational.  Or perhaps Paul simply refused to pervert the gift by using it for his own ends.  Either way, healing Epaphroditus was beyond the purpose of the gift of healing.  The gift was not given to keep Christians healthy.  It was to be a sign to unbelievers to convince them that the gospel was divine truth.
                      --John MacArthur Charismatic Chaos (Zondervan, 1992), p. 264

This statement is riddled with error.  Pastor MacArthur has brought a number of erroneous assumptions to the text and then reads into the text that which is not there to begin with.  This is the faulty kind of hermeneutics that MacArthur himself warns about:
It is possible, of course, to substantiate almost any idea or teaching with Scripture--if one employs proof texts apart from their intended meaning.  This is precisely how most of the cults use Scripture to buttress their false doctrines.
The task of hermeneutics is to discover the meaning of the text in its proper setting; to draw meaning from Scripture rather than reading one's presuppositions into it.
The importance of careful biblical interpretation can hardly be overstated.  Misinterpreting the Bible is ultimately no better than disbelieving it.  What good does it do to agree that the Bible is God's final and complete revelation and then misinterpret it?  The result is the same: one misses God's truth.  Interpreting Scripture to make it say what it was never intended to say is a sure road to division, error, heresy, and apostasy.  Charismatic Chaos, p. 103
Let's consider Pastor MacArthur's comments on Philippians 2.25-27.

1.  Paul had previously displayed the gift of healing.  Why did he not simply heal Epaphroditus?

Why does he assume that Paul didn't manifest the gift of healing and heal Epaphroditus?  The text simply says that he recovered ("God had mercy on him").  It doesn't specify how or by what means this recovery was brought about.  Pastor MacArthur has engaged in an argument from silence.  Someone might object: But if Paul had healed him wouldn't he have mentioned that?  The simple answer is: No.  If Paul had been the one through whom God brought "supernatural" healing to Epaphroditus there is no reason to think that Paul would see himself as the primary person who healed him.  He would speak of God as being the One who healed Epaphroditus.  Paul wouldn't be drawing attention to himself but, rather, exalting the power of God.  This is especially relevant given the context of Philippians chapter two and its focus on humility (see 2.3-8).  Consider the words of New Testament scholar John Christopher Thomas:
Despite Epaphroditus’s dire condition, God mercifully intervened!  This contrast is brought out in part by the use of alla.  Unfortunately, Paul is ambiguous in describing Epaphroditus’s recovery as he was in discussing his illness, choosing simply to observe that ‘God had mercy on him’.  Some scholars have interpreted this somewhat ambiguous phrase to mean that Paul did not or could not use the gift of healing to facilitate Epaphroditus’s recovery.  But such a conclusion is too simplistic at worst or too premature at best.  For one thing, it fails to pay careful enough attention to the way mercy is used in connection with the recovery of health in the New Testament.  While it is true that Paul does not normally use eleeo to describe physical healings, preferring to reserve the term to describe salvation either for Israel and Gentiles (Rom. 9.15-16, 18; 11.30-32) or Paul himself (1 Cor. 7.25; 2 Cor. 4.1), the term does occur in the Synoptics in contexts where individuals cry out to Jesus for healing (Lk. 17.13; 18.38-39 and parallels).  Paul’s point, of course, is that Epaphroditus recovered physically.  That he had been at the point of death and now was well enough to travel suggests a supernatural restoration of health.  To argue that such language excludes the healing of Epaphroditus at the hands of Paul or others appears to outdistance the text.  For there can really be little doubt that Paul and any other Christians with him would have offered earnest prayer on Epaphroditus’s behalf.  Such a scenario is ‘quite possible, and not unlikely’.  In point of fact, such actions can be taken more or less for granted.  However, the primary point for Paul is that Epaphroditus recovered, not how he recovered.
--John Christopher Thomas The Devil, Disease and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought (Sheffield, 1998), pp. 80-81

2.  Perhaps the gift was no longer operational.

Let us grant, merely for the sake of argument, that Paul didn't "heal" Epaphroditus.  Why would this justify even surmising that the gift of healing was no longer operational?  This is simply a logical non sequitur.  Furthermore, what in the text warrants this type of thinking?  Beware of playing the "perhaps" game with the text of Scripture!  Here are a few other "perhaps" questions that can be generated from idle speculation:
"Perhaps Epaphroditus lacked faith to be healed."
"Perhaps Paul sinned in refusing to pray and exercise his gift of healing."
"Perhaps someone who was traveling with Epaphroditus prayed for him on the way to see Paul so that by the time he got to where Paul was he was already healed."
"Perhaps God had sovereign purposes for not supernaturally healing Epaphroditus with the gift of healing but still the gift is operative." 
With sufficient imagination one can generate all sorts of conclusions--some wild-- that are not found in the text of Scripture.

3.   Or, perhaps Paul simply refused to pervert the gift by using it for his own ends. 

Here is another "perhaps" statement that is liable to all the criticisms above.  Beyond that why would it be "perverting the gift" to heal Epaphroditus?  This makes no sense whatsoever?  The healing of Epaphroditus would not merely serve Paul's "own ends."  It would also bless Epaphroditus and the Philippians.  This is clearly in the text.  Epaphoditus is given "mercy" and the Philippian church is to "rejoice" in the safe return of Epaphroditus (vv. 27-29).  Where is the "perversion" in this?  Honestly, this statement by Pastor MacArthur just comes out of "left field" without any textual basis whatsoever.

4.  Either way, healing Epaphroditus was beyond the purpose of the gift of healing.

This is mere statement without any foundation.  There is no reason in the text to think that this statement is anywhere near the realm of being true.  Pastor MacArthur does attempt to justify this assertion with his next statement listed below but, as will be seen, this statement is patently unbiblical.

5.  The gift [of healing-rjk] was not given to keep Christians healthy.  It was to be a sign to unbelievers to convince them that the gospel was divine truth.

The first problem with this statement is that it is a false disjunction.  Pastor MacArthur gives two options as if they are the only two available.  Why can't the gift be for healing some Christians?  This brings up the second, and more serious, problem.  Pastor MacArthur states that the gift of healing is a sign to unbelievers.  But when we go to the text of Scripture to see where the phrase "gifts of healings" is used we find that Pastor MacArthur is not correct.  The phrase "gifts of healings" (both words are in the plural in the Greek) is found in 1 Corinthians 12.9, 28.  The context of 1 Corinthians 12 is the church setting as is evident from 1 Corinthians 12.7: “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  The “common good” is contextually seen to be the edification of the church.  Consider also 1 Corinthians 12.28 in which Paul explicitly states, “And God has appointed in the church…gifts of healings…”  Where in the text that is most relevant to defining "gifts of healing" is there any mention of these gifts being for the unbeliever?  Granted, they can be for the unbeliever's edification--both in physical healing and attestation to the power of God.  But if we are faithful to the contextual clues in the text of 1 Corinthians 12 the primary emphasis is on the Christian congregation.  

Pastor John MacArthur is a great man of God who has been used to edify Christ's body for years.  He is a faithful expositor of God's word but something other than clear headed exegesis is happening in his comments on Philippians 2.25-27.  Too many logical fallacies and extra-Scriptrual ideas are imposed upon the text for this to be considered a faithful and true interpretation of Scripture.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

In Defense of Timothy: Why He Is Not "Spineless"

I'm preaching through Philippians and in coming to 2.19-24 I was reminded of some of the comments that are made about Timothy.  Many have seen Paul's admonitions to Timothy like the following:
For God has not given us a power of love and discipline.  Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God  2 Timothy 1.7-8
In light of passages like the above some have said some very harsh things about Timothy.  Here is a sampling:
He appears to have been a very shy and sensitive creature, to whom responsibility was an onerous burden.  John Stott Guard the Gospel: The Message of 2 Timothy, p. 30
He was no doubt timid and fearful.  Thus Paul had to encourage him with these words (2 Tim 1:7)...There was no reason for Timothy to be timid and fearful.  Yet he was!  And throughout his life he needed encouragement to live boldly for God.  Some feel his stomach problems referred to in 1 Timothy 5:23 were the result of emotional difficulties; that is, his fearful and timid personality.  Gene Getz The Measure of a Woman, pp. 85-86
Gordon Fee, in his commentary on Philippians (NICNT, p. 263) quotes Jean-Francois Collange as speaking of Timothy's "somewhat spineless character."

I have never been impressed with these kinds of comments.  They are, at best, woefully inadequate and, at worst, wildly off-mark.  They betray a certain kind of "pyschologizing" of the text that goes beyond the evidence and off into unhelpful speculation.  By looking at a fuller range of evidence--within the text of Scripture itself--we can begin to form a more accurate portrait of Timothy.

The foundations of Timothy's relationship are found in Acts 16.1-3
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra.  And a disciple was there named, Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.  Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
From this point Timothy is seen to be with Paul on the second and third missionary journeys.  At times Timothy is part of a group that stays behind in certain cities to help establish the church while Paul moves on (Acts 17.14) and other times he is sent ahead while Paul stays behind (Acts 19.22).  Something of Timothy's connection to Paul is seen in the introductions of Paul's epistles.  In six of these letters Timothy is mentioned as being part of the sending of the letter.  For example, here is the beginning of 2 Corinthians (1.1): "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,.."--see also the introductions to 1-2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians.  Timothy is mentioned in Romans (16.21) and 1 Corinthians (4.17; 16.10-11).  He is also the recipient of two of Paul's letters (1-2 Timothy).

Something of Timothy's abilities can be seen from the fact that Paul gave him various assignments to specific churches.  He sends Timothy to check on the churches at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3.1-10), Corinth (1 Corinthians 4.16-17), and Philippi (Philippians 2.19-24).  Furthermore, Timothy is left in Ephesus to lead and refute false teachers (1 Timothy 1.2-4).  In light of this Gordon Fee writes:
But a person of his youthfulness who could carry out (apparently alone) the earlier missions to Thessalonica and Corinth was probably not totally lacking in courage.  1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (NIBC), p. 2
More importantly, listen to the commendation by Paul:
For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church.  1 Corinthians 4.17
But I have no one else of kindred spirit who genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.  But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. Philippians 2.20-22
The portrait Paul paints is not of a spineless and timid person with emotional difficulties.  But what of Paul's exhortations in 2 Timothy about not being timid or ashamed of the gospel (2 Timothy 1.7-8)--don't these imply that Timothy was a shy and timid soul who found responsibility onerous?  I don't think so.  When one considers both the weight of the Word and the weight of the world these exhortations make sense.  It is a weighty thing to preach the gospel.  Consider Paul's words from 2 Corinthians 2.14-16:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.  And who is adequate for these things?
Paul knows that he is not adequate in and of himself for this ministry of the gospel.  He says just a few verses later that "our adequacy if from God" (2 Corinthians 3.5).  Paul knows what it is like to feel the fear and weakness of it all.  He tells the Corinthians of his cross centered preaching to them.  He forthrightly declares his weaknesses:
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2.3-5
Paul admits to "fear and much trembling" and yet no one thinks of Paul as "spineless!"  Paul knows the weight of the Word.  It must be preached in the power of the Spirit.  His adequacy must come from God.

Paul also knows the weight of the world's opposition.  Again, to the Corinthian church he opens up his soul:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1.8-9
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.  But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.  2 Corinthians 7.5-6
Notice the language: "affliction," "despair,", "conflicts," "fears," and "depressed."  Paul knows at a deep existential level the pain and cost involved in standing for the gospel.  He knows Timothy is slotted for such things as well.  This is why he spends the time in 1 and 2 Timothy exhorting him unto faithfulness and courage.  This will be especially needed once Timothy's father in the faith, Paul, passes from the scene (2 Timothy 4.6).  Timothy will be taking the focal point of abuse and pain.  He has seen Paul in the amidst of the suffering (2 Timothy 3.10-11) and is told that this will also be his lot in ministry (2 Timothy 3.12).  Hardship will have to be endured (2 Timothy 4.5) and the conscious choice to preach the gospel in such a hostile setting will be a conscious choice to place oneself in the path of suffering (2 Timothy 1.8; 2.3).  The exhortations are given due to the weight of the Word and the world's opposition.  They ought not to be read as indicative of massive character flaws on the part of Timothy.  Timothy is not "spineless."  He deserves to be remembered with more respect than that.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What About Roe v. Wade?

Over at The American Spectator Daniel Allott has an interesting article entitled "Does Roe Still Matter?"  Allott argues that the infamous 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, even if overturned, would not significantly affect the number of abortions that are happening.

Roe dominates America's abortion debate. If you had asked any of the scores of thousands of pro-lifers who poured into Washington, D.C., on Monday for the annual March for Life to name their most urgent priority, most would have said overturning Roe.
Abortion advocates, meanwhile, talk about Roe as if it were the only thing standing between women and a new era of back alley abortions. As NARAL Pro-Choice America states on its website, "We believe that women should have the option to choose abortion. Today they can, thanks to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wadedecision in 1973."
But Roe may matter less than many people realize -- or perhaps matter for different reasons that commonly thought. Many people mistakenly believe that legal abortion hinges on Roe -- that withoutRoe abortion would be illegal everywhere in America. But that's not true. If Roe goes, abortion law would revert to the states to decide.
Allott looks at two states--South Dakota and California--and assesses how the demise of Roe would affect them.  The overall impact on numbers of abortions might not be significant.  Nonetheless, overturning Roe would still have tremendous value:
 Michael New, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn who studies abortion trends, conceded that Roe's reversal wouldn't significantly change the legal status of abortion in many states.
But because "the law is a powerful teacher," he thinks overturningRoe "would be an important first step for the pro-life movement.… For the first time in nearly 40 years it would result in a meaningful national debate about what sort of legal protection unborn children deserve." 
Allott's article is worth pondering.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pro-Life Cause and ADF

Over at the Alliance Defense Fund website there is an amazing story of Canadian collegiate who stood for her pro-life convictions and was arrested on her campus.  The story was beautifully written by Chris Potts and describes the journey of Ruth Lobo.  Ruth was arrested in October 2010 for speaking out at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.  Here are a few pieces from the article but be sure to go to the link and the read the whole story.
The trouble with tyranny is that it always comes clothed as legitimate authority.
No one ever said, in their time, that Nero wasn't truly Caesar, George III wasn't really king, Bull Connor wasn't within his legal rights turning on the fire hoses in Montgomery. They all had legitimate authority – they were just wrong. Wrong in a way no one with clear eye and keen conscience could fail to see … and stand against.
Looking back, it's easy to understand that, and to recognize the heroism of those who challenged their brutal decrees. Rebellion looks wise and appropriate and courageous, a few years after the fact. Especially when the rebel writes like the Apostle Paul, speaks like Patrick Henry, radiates simple righteousness as clearly as Rosa Parks.
It's harder to know tyrants when they stand right before us in our own age, our own communities – wielding not lions or swords or police dogs, but regulations, closed-door meetings, clipboards.
Harder, too, to recognize heroes, especially when they're young, and still finding their eloquence. When the voice of their protest, like the voice of their conscience, is a little louder than we'd like ... when the rebellion takes a form we might not have chosen ... when the confrontations make us nervous, uncomfortable. Most of us, after all, were raised to respect authority. And from a distance, the line between legitimate authority and tyranny can sometimes look awfully thin.
This is a story of some young people who met tyranny up close – and recognized it when they saw it. For each of them, it was simple faith in God – not some innate, restless teenage defiance – that urged them to face that tyranny. Conscience, more than courage, drove them to stand.
Standing, though, they learned that tyrants have weapons, as well as agendas ... and that they're willing to use them.
Ruth Lobo asked permission to set up a display from the Genocide Awareness Project but this was not allowed.
Lifeline asked permission to set up the display on Tory Quad, a large plaza and the busy center of student activities. Officials refused, saying some might find the vivid photos "offensive" and "disturbing." Instead, they offered Lifeline space in the Carleton equivalent of Outer Mongolia. Polizogopoulos interceded on Lifeline's behalf, but university administrators were unyielding.
"I was very nervous," Ruth says. "We talked a lot about the possibility of arrest, and we were pretty convicted that that would not be an option … that the university would not go that far to silence their students." Nevertheless, she began doing her homework, studying the university's policies with regard to student speech.
"I did a lot of research, so I could be well-equipped and know: Are we breaking some kind of policy? Doing something wrong? What does respecting the university mean in this situation?"
In the end, it wasn't just Carleton's ambivalence toward the taking of human life that convinced Lifeline members they needed to go through with the demonstration. It was the realization that other universities across Canada and the U.S. were clamping down in similar ways on other pro-life student groups, denying their right to speak hard truths about these life-and-death issues on campus.
"This has been epidemic across Canada," Ruth says. (And just as common across the U.S.) "We felt very convicted this was something we had to do. So, on October 4, we informed the university that we were going to go ahead and do the GAP in protest of universities that try to censor their pro-life students."
That morning, the Lifeline students met and prayed together. Word was that local police and Carleton security officers were waiting for them in force. They loaded their materials and drove to campus, with James ominously aware he was driving "into a very hostile environment."
The students were barely in sight of the quad when campus security officials blocked their path. Lifeline was ordered to leave at once. Affirming her rights as a student, Ruth began reading from Carleton's own official policy declaring student freedoms to speak and demonstrate peacefully.
A guard interrupted. The protest was over, he said. Lifeline needed to go. Ruth said no.
"Okay," the guard said, signaling the other officers. "You can take this lady first."
Five students were arrested. The charge was trespassing … on their own campus walkways.
"A scary feeling," Nicholas acknowledges, but "a few in the crowd spoke up for us, including one of the professors, who went to the head of security, asked what he was doing, and said, 'How can you be arresting them for merely stating and showing what their point of view is?'
"Part of confronting people and exposing injustice is taking the persecution that will inevitably result," Nicholas says. "From Martin Luther King to William Wilberforce, no one was able to end an injustice without accepting the persecution that came from that."
"Standing there with handcuffs on, there's nothing you can do," James says. "Nothing I can say that would change it. It's a little frightening, because you never know what is going to happen. What are they going to charge us with? What's going to happen with my university degree?
"But, at the same time," he says, "I felt that that was the right thing to do. It was the right way to go about it. A lot of anxiety, but – at the end of the day – a lot of peace."
There is more to the story so be sure to go to the Alliance Defense Fund website and read the full story.  Courage should be remembered and honored.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Atheists and Reason

In an article entitled Atheists Don't Own Reason Tom Gilson takes issue with the "new atheists" accusing them of being unreasonable--all the while they claim to operate under the banner of reason.  Gilson begins his article with these words:
The new atheists--participants in the contemporary anti-religion movement led by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens, among others--are working overtime to tell the world that reason favors atheism, and atheism alone. Richard Dawkins leads his Foundation for Reason and Science. Sam Harris is founder and chair of Project Reason. The upcoming March 24 Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. is the new atheists’ latest and most visible attempt to send the message that reason belongs to the atheists.
For years, though, knowledgeable critics have been calling attention to new atheist’ rational fallacies, emotionally loaded rhetoric, and illegitimate, selective use of evidence. It’s time now to add that up together and recognize what it means: the new atheists have no business proclaiming themselves the defenders of reason, simply because they don’t practice it competently.
Gilson ends with these words:
Failures in the practice of rational reasoning such as these are all too common among the New Atheists. They charge Christianity with being unreasoning or unreasonable, but too often they do so as they have done with slavery: use incomplete evidence or demonstrably invalid reasoning.
From my observations, it adds up to this: the new atheists’ difficulty with valid, responsible reasoning is widespread and systemic. Far from being the defenders of reason, they are among the chief offenders against it. It’s time we called them on that.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"After-birth Abortion": Interview with Author, Francesca Minerva

Francesca Minerva, one of the authors of the controversial article dealing with infanticide--"After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?"--was interviewed on a New Zealand radio program.  The download for this interview can be found over at the blog M and M.  This is the site of Matthew and Madeline Flannagan.  Matthew Flannagan, a Christian theologian and ethicist, was also then interviewed by the same host.  Both interviews are just over eleven minutes each.

Minerva's position seems to boil down to this: "This is an academic debate and everybody else should just stay out of it."  She seemed hesitant at one point when asked if this article was just an exercise in logic or if it also represented her views.  She seemed to shift ground quickly at this point.  Definitely worth listening to in order to see the thought pattern of one of the author's of this article.

Dehydration and PVS

Over at The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network Wesley Smith has an excellent update on withdrawing hydration from those patients diagnosed as to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).  Here are the first few paragraphs but be sure to go and see the whole story.
Bioethics exploded into the headlines over the last few weeks after the Journal of Medical Ethicspublished an article promoting “after-birth abortion,” that is, the right of parents to have infants killed if the child’s presence in life did not serve their (or society’s) interests.
But hidden by the sturm und drang over infanticide, Bioethics published another radical proposal that received virtually no attention—but which, if adopted, could result in thousands of persistent vegetative state (PVS) patients being dehydrated to death.
The question concerns whether or not to provide such patients with food and water. Tube-supplied sustenance—called artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH)—is considered a form of medical treatment that can be withdrawn or withheld like any other medical care, such as antibiotics, chemotherapy, and indeed, aspirin. Of course, unlike withdrawing other treatments, ceasing to provide ANH results in the patient’s death in every case—usually over a 10-14 day period.
(Withdrawing such medically efficacious sustenance should not be confused with situations in which a patient’s body is actively shutting down during the dying process and the body can’t assimilate food or water. In such cases, ANH is medically inappropriate. The patient dies of their disease, not dehydration.)
Currently, in the absence of an advance directive to the contrary, benefit is given to life in PVS and other catastrophic brain injury cases—with surrogate decision makers able to order that such treatment cease if they think it is in the patient’s best interests. But that would change if Catherine Constable, the author of the Bioethics article, gets her way.
She argues for a policy in which ANH must be withdrawn once a patient is diagnosed to be permanently unconscious unless the family orders otherwise. In other words, dehydration would become the default position for patients diagnosed in PVS.
Christians need to be aware of what is being put forward in today's ethical journals.  This is not mere ivory tower reasoning.  The proposals put forward today become the policies of tomorrow.

40 Arabic Words

New video from Alpha and Omega Ministries about Islam and the cross of Christ Jesus...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Evolution and Infanticide--The Deep Connection

Infanticide is back in the news.  Of course, the trendy new oxymoron for this practice is "after-birth abortion."  It is important to see the philosophical presuppositions that lie underneath the ethics that allow for infanticide.  Back in 1983 philosopher Peter Singer published an article "Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life? in Pediatrics (July, 1983) in which he speaks of the erosion of the "sanctity-of-life view."  His words are almost 30 years old and they have set the course for a certain trajectory of bioethical thinking.  Here is a portion of his essay that lays out his philosophical understanding:
Whatever the future holds, it is likely to prove impossible to restore in full the sanctity-of-life view.  The philosophical foundations of this view have been knocked asunder.  We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul. Our better understanding of our own nature has bridged the gulf that was once thought to lie between ourselves and other species, so why should we believe that the mere fact that a being is a member of the species Homo Sapiens endows it life with some unique, almost infinite value?
Singer clearly sees the connection between the belief in creation in God's image and the sanctity of life.  He furthers argues that since we now know that this has been "knocked asunder" because there is no morally significant gap between us as humans and other species.  All of this must be predicated upon a foundation of naturalistic evolutionism.  Consider the words of Douglas Futuyma:
Perhaps most importantly, if the world and its creatures developed purely by material, physical forces, it could not have been designed and has no purpose or goal...Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere material mechanisms--but this seems to be the message of evolution.  Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution (Pantheon, 1983), pp. 12-13
Naturalistic evolutionism militates against design, teleology, and purpose.  All that is left is the material world that can be acted upon by the forces of physics, chemistry, and biology.  Under such a materialistic conception the very notion of "human nature" becomes problematic.  J. P. Moreland, in his critical discussion of naturalistic versions of evolutionary psychology writes:
[T]here most likely is no such thing as human nature understood as the essentialist claim that there is some range of properties that all and only humans share and that grounds their membership in the natural kind "being human."  Darwin's theory of evolution has made belief in, for instance, human substances with human natures, though logically possible, nevertheless, quite implausible.   
Moreland goes on to quote evolutionary philosopher David Hull:
The implications of moving species from the metaphysical category that can appropriately be characterized in terms of 'natures' to a category for which such characterizations are inappropriate are extensive and fundamental.  If species evolve in anything like the way that Darwin thought they did, then they cannot possibly have the sort of natures that traditional philosophers claimed they did.  If species in general lack natures, then so does Homo Sapiens as a biological species.  If Homo Sapiens lacks a nature, then no reference to biology can be made to support one's claim about 'human nature.'  Perhaps all people are 'persons,' share the same 'personhood,' etc., but such claims must be explicated and defended with no reference to biology.  Because so many moral, ethical, and political theories depend on some notion or other of human nature, Darwin's theory brought into question all these theories.  The implications are not entailments.  One can always dissociate 'Homo Sapiens' from 'human being,' but the result is a much less plausible position.  J. P. Moreland "Intelligent Design and Evolutionary Psychology as Research Programs: A Comparison of Their Most Plausible Specifications" in Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue, edited by Robert B. Stewart (Fortress, 2007), pp. 129-130.
It is such ideas that underly the disjunction between being a member of the class Homo Sapiens (being a "human being") and the concept of "personhood."  A recent article discussing infanticide is dependent upon precisely this disjunction.  The authors of this article simply state the disjunction in the following manner:
Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a 'person' in the sense of 'subject of a moral right to life.'  Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva "After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" Journal of Medical Ethics (2012), p. 2.
This disjunction between "human life" and "human personhood" is sometimes difficult to understand for those new to the discussion.  It is important to see the deep underlying connection between evolutionary theory and the disappearance of human value.  Once evolutionary presuppositions are held then the ontological status of the human being changes.  Evolutionary assumptions allow only for naturalistic materialism.  The human being is a creature of matter only.  There are no immaterial aspects (i.e., spirit, soul, or substantive mind) only matter which is continually evolving.  Furthermore, the underlying matter which makes up the human constitution is simply the same material base (albeit reconfigured) that the rest of the animal kingdom participates in.  "Personhood" is, then, not a function of being created in the image of God.  Rather, it is becomes an arbitrary set point defined by what other humans deem appropriate.  In the current intellectual climate "functionalist" categories become the deciding factor for what determines "personhood."  The authors above arguing for the moral acceptability of infanticide offer their definition of "personhood" with following words:
We take 'person' to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.  (Ibid.)
Without this ability then there is no "personhood."  Without "personhood" then the interests of these "potential persons" is morally nil.  Without the grounding of "personhood" in the transcendent Creator who made us then there is no hinderance to treating people less than animals.  Coming back to Peter Singer, he writes in the above mentioned Pediatrics article:
Once the religious mumbo-jumbo surrounding the term "human" has been stripped away, we may continue to see normal members of our species as possessing greater capacities or rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and so on, than members of any other species; but we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be. If we compare a severely defective human infant with a nonhuman animal, a dog or a pig, for example, we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities, both actual and potential, for rationality, self-consciousness, communication, and anything else that can be plausibly be considered morally significant.  Only the fact that the defective infant is a member of the species Homo Sapiens leads it to be treated differently from the dog or pig.  Species membership alone, however, is not morally relevant.  Humans who bestow superior value on the lives of all human beings, solely because they are members of own species, are judging along the lines strikingly similar to those used by white racists who bestow superior value on the lives of other whites, merely because they are members of their own race.
In denying the reality of the living God as our Creator we have simultaneously diminished humanity.  If mankind is nothing more than the resultant by-product of matter, time, and chance--an ever evolving conglomeration of matter burped up in a sea of chance--then there can be no transcendent value.  Without God we do not bear the image of God.  And, as Singer rightly reasons, without the image of God there is no sanctity of life.

"After-Birth Abortion" Article Continues to Cause Uproar

Alberto Giubilini and Fransceca Minerva recently published an article "After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?" which has caused quite a fire storm of protest.  I wrote about the issue HERE.  Now the authors of the controversial article have released an open letter attempting to clarify their intentions.  They begin with the following words:
"When we decided to write this article about after-birth abortion we had no idea that our paper would raise such a heated debate.
“Why not? You should have known!” people keep on repeating everywhere on the web.  The answer is very simple: the article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments.  Indeed, as Professor Savulescu explains in his editorial, this debate has been going on for 40 years.
We started from the definition of person introduced by Michael Tooley in 1975 and we tried to draw the logical conclusions deriving from this premise.  It was meant to be a pure exercise of logic: if X, then Y."
According to Giubilini and Minerva their paper was to be an exercise in logic and not a call for policy action enacted by legal statute.  Wesley J. Smith has written a response to their "open letter" that is brilliant.  Part of what he says accurately puts their words in perspective.
"But that is precisely why it was important that the public sit up and take notice. Bioethics is no mere debating society in which participants debate the propriety of infanticide today and oppose it tomorrow. Rather, the field is — and has been since its inception — about changing the values and public policies of society. As USC bioethics professor Alexander M. Capron once noted, “Bioethical analysis has been linked to action.” Bioethics historian Albert R. Jonsen has called bioethics a “social movement.” None other than Daniel Callahan, one of the movement’s founding fathers, wrote that “the emergence ideologically of a form of bioethics that dovetailed nicely with the reigning political liberalism of the educated classes in America” accounted for much of the movement’s influence and clout.
Bioethicists haven’t discoursed about infanticide for 40 years because they enjoy exploring novel concepts, but rather, because it isn’t easy to convince people — not even bioethicists — that killing babies is acceptable. Giubilini and Minerva pretend they are not part of that process of persuasion:
[W]e never meant to suggest that after-birth abortion should become legal. This was not made clear enough in the paper. Laws are not just about rational ethical arguments, because there are many practical, emotional, social aspects that are relevant in policy making (such as respecting the plurality of ethical views, people’s emotional reactions. etc.). But we are not policy makers, we are philosophers, and we deal with concepts, not with legal policy.
But gaining the philosophical high ground is precisely how radical bioethical ideas have historically been implemented. Here is the pattern: In the 1960s, the propriety of abortion was actively promoted in professional journals, leading directly to the great denouement of Roe v. Wade. Similarly, in the 1970s, bioethicists argued that it should be acceptable to withdraw feeding tubes from people with severe brain damage, an idea that was once beyond the pale. After a general bioethical consensus toward that end was achieved, the “concept” soon became public policy. Now, people who are unconscious and minimally conscious are dehydrated to death in all 50 states as a matter of medical routine."
Giubilini and Minerva seem blissfully ignorant and totally shocked at the public outcry of their ideas.  They wanted to serenely debate the merits of infanticide in an ivory tower (why they put their thoughts on the "world wide web" is a question to ponder) with other academics--"perhaps a spot of Earl Grey to enhance the ambience as we discuss killing newborn babies!"  The old adage is profoundly true: Ideas have consequences.  Killing whole segments of humanity is not an abstraction.  This has been done in our past.  Can you imagine an article written in 1935 which raised the logic of exterminating the Jewish race and then attempted to justify this by speaking of it merely as an exercise in logic?  It is a good thing that there was and is an outcry against the idea of infanticide.  It shows that although our cultural moral compass may be defective it is not completely destroyed.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tattoos and the Christian

Our men's study recently looked at Lorne Zelyck's article "Under the Needle: An Ethical Evaluation of Tattoos and Body Piercings."  Originally the article appeared in the Christian Research Journal vol. 28, number 6 (2005) but can be accessed HERE.  I'm hopeful of engaging this issue here in some blog posts but until then here are a few items...

1.  Here is an article on a Lenten tattoos.  Inking for Jesus.

2.  Christian philosopher Timothy Dalrymple has a very insightful article entitled "The Flesh Made Word" which looks at the current evangelical youth craze of putting Bible verses or phrases on one's body.  Here are some of his comments:
More common in general is the practice of tattooing Chinese characters, and more common in Christian circles is the practice of tattooing Bible verses or biblical or theological phrases.  This is especially interesting in the light of the theology of the LOGOS and the incarnation.  In the incarnation, the LOGOS, the eternal Word, became flesh.  The LOGOS transcended the world and its changefulness, representing the eternal truth and the power by which all things were called into Creation.  But when a Christian tattoos a Bible verse or a faith-phrase upon her body, she makes her body into a text.  She reverses the incarnation of Christ; in her de-incarnation she is making the body, what is prone to messiness and effluvia and decay, into a true and eternal Word.  They are turning themselves into the Bible, or a part thereof.
There’s something laudable in this: stating that these truths are the ultimate and unchanging truths of who I am.  Yet I also wonder if they represent a running away from our carnality, a running away from the things that Christ affirmed in the incarnation.  I wonder too whether tattoos like these — and all tattoos — might sometimes work like frosting upon a store window — presenting a surface that seeks not to externalize but to conceal what lies within.  Does the person who stamps “God’s Son” upon his skin really believe it?
3.  HERE is a story about a racist "skin head" who had his tattoos removed when he changed his heart.  

"If the World Hates You..."

John 14-16 is a continual feast for the soul.  John 15.18-19 stood out today...
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
There is an enmity and antithesis with the world.  So often I can be lulled into thinking that living for Christ means everything is going to be nice and everybody is going to appreciate that and respond with kindness. Jesus here talks of a hatred that can and does come from the world.  This is a hatred because of Christ.  Our allegiance to Jesus brings us into a realm of those who hate that allegiance.  Jesus points us to his own experience.  He knows the hatred of the world.  Its hatred put him to death.  This we know and this knowledge should wake us up to the fact that we too as his followers can expect the same treatment.  As the antithesis in our culture becomes more pronounced and explicit we can expect to see more and more overt hatred for the things of Christ and those who claim him as their Lord and Savior.  As the vestiges of Christendom (or what Francis Schaeffer called the "Christian consensus") are dismantled in our country there will be less and less resistance to impede direct hatred for Christ and his people.  The words of our Lord may take on renewed significance for us in such a context.

40 Days for Life Update--148 Babies Saved!

It is day 13 of  the current 40 Days for Life campaign.  Here is a selection from the daily update.

Happy Monday!

OK, many people dread Mondays. But if you follow these
updates, you know Mondays always bring wonderful news
to start the week.

Thus far during this 40 Days for Life campaign, we know
of at least ...

... 148 babies spared from abortion!

Praise God!

Here are a few of the stories, starting with a save at
one of the most hostile abortion centers in America.


One of the volunteers in Reno headed to the 40 Days for
Life vigil -- just barely remembering to bring her
"I regret my abortion" sign.

"I was praying specifically that God would stir a heart
within the building," she said. There were plenty of
distractions. This is the abortion center that blasts
foul music over an outdoor sound system, and posts
"anti-protester" signs on the fence around the property.

She soon noticed an SUV pulling out of the driveway
with a young couple in the front seat. The woman,
sitting in the passenger’s seat, was in tears.

The young man driving stopped and rolled down his
window. "She didn't do it," he said. He told the
volunteer, "She saw your sign -- and didn't want to
do it."

"They were both so grateful that we were there praying
and sharing our personal hurt," she said. "I'm so
grateful that God can make beauty from ashes." And,
she said, grateful that two first-time vigil
participants got to experience God's saving power
through prayer.


One of the prayer volunteers at the 40 Days for Life
vigil in Washington watched as a young couple walked
into Planned Parenthood. He quickly tried to say a
few words as the door was closing.

The young woman seemed interested in what the volunteer
was saying, and she glanced back at him -- through
Planned Parenthood's glass front doors -- several
times. But then they disappeared inside.

"A couple of hours later, they came out," he said.
The young woman "told me she changed her mind about
having an abortion and will keep her baby."

A Planned Parenthood escort tried to discourage the
couple from talking to him, but finally gave up when
it was obvious the young man and woman wanted to take
his pro-life information.


Patricia, an Austin prayer volunteer, met a young
couple who were seeking an abortion. They told her they
really did not want the abortion, but due to their
financial situation they felt they had no other choice.

Patricia was able to share information about positive
community resources. The couple found one of the
recommended heath care providers and made an appointment
right away. They were determined that if there was an
alternative, they were going to find it.

The couple also picked out a pregnancy resource center
and said they would go there immediately after their
appointment at the healthcare clinic. They thanked
Patricia and drove out of the parking lot.

They chose life!