Friday, January 30, 2009

Some Good Stuff to Ponder [SK]

John Piper does what most pastors won't do: confront the President of the United States during a Sunday morning sermon. That's courage, and we need more leadership like John's if we are to turn things around.



Professor Micah Watson of Union University has a piece entitled, Obama, Abortion and the Promise of Racial Equality:

Sadly, though, that hope for a better future is not available to all young black human beings. This promise is undercut by the ugly truth that the youngest blacks in America first have to survive the harrowing gauntlet that is their first 40 weeks of existence. The latest data portray a stunning picture of gross racial inequality when it comes to the lives taken through abortions.

J.P. Moreland (Talbot School of Theology) explains why evangelicals and their pastors shoud engage the political process, not retreat from it:

I think that Christians believe the Bible has something to say about everything. The Bible has something to say about science, it has something to say about sex in marriage, it has something to say about money. Well why wouldn’t the Bible has something to say about the state? It doesn’t make any sense to me that the Bible would be silent about this one topic when it has something to say about virtually everything else including art, history and so on. So I think what pastors have to do is to simply teach their congregations and lead by example about what the Bible says about the role of the state in public life. I think it’s more important to teach a general political theology than it is to get involved in specific issues from the beginning, because it’s going to be your political philosophy that informs those issues. And so if I were a pastor, I would begin to develop a theology about what the Bible says about the role of the state.

Melinda Penner writes of the tolerance bargin.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

LTI Podcast Episode 1 is up! [Serge]

Life Training Institute is now available on the go. You can listen right here or download the file here. It should be available in Itunes in a couple days, or you can copy/paste the RSS feed into your MP3 player here.



Show Notes and links:

Scott and Serge discuss the Obama presidency and its impact on pro-life advocacy. Is it time to give up on politics and accept our defeat or become even more politically involved?

Links: Father Euteneuer's advice for pro-lifers in 2009.

Staying Alive: Pro-Life Advocacy in the Obama Era
http://theologica.blogspot.com/2008/11/stayin-alive-pro-life-advocacy-in-obama.html

In Defense of Both/And: My Reply to Phil Johnson
http://lti-blog.blogspot.com/2009/01/in-defense-of-bothand-my-reply-to-phil.html


Serge takes on an article claiming that abstinence pledges are ineffective.

Dr. Rosembaum's article in Pediatrics in full.

Update: the podcast can now be subscribed to via ITunes at http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=303709975

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Links and Stuff [SK]

Steve Hays reviews David Boonin's defense of abortion and finds it wanting.

Trevin Wax interviews Russell More on the role of pro-life Christians (HT: Justin Taylor):

We should gladly join hands with atheist pro-lifers such as the Village Voice journalist Nat Hentoff or with Mormon or Hindu pro-life citizens. We also should articulate that we believe this is so important precisely because we serve a King who has told us that we will be judged on the basis on how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

My presentation on genetic engineering and ESCR this last Sunday at First Family Church can be viewed for one week here. The presentation is not technical, but covers general concerns.
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Is Hope Going Away for Pro-life Obama Supporters? [Serge]

In an answer to Scott's question, a beliefnet blogger already sees through the rhetoric of the Obama presidency. All Obama has offered for those who value human life are words and hope, and he's already begun to backtrack even on that:

Today, as promised, he is expected to repeal the "Mexico City policy" a.k.a. the "gag rule" -- the policy that prevented overseas family planning groups from mentioning abortion as an option if they receive U.S. money. He earned some praise from pro-life supporters by delaying the order by a day so it wouldn't coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which many pro-life people view as a day of grief.

But I think the real signficance -- and the reason pro-life Obama supporters ought to be disappointed -- is the combination of the gag rule repeal (which was expected) and the language he used in his Roe v. Wade statement yesterday.

He did mention the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies. But keep in mind that pro-life Obama supporters believed that their big victory during the fights over the Democratic Party platform was not the language about reducing unintended pregnancies -- but rather the language about helping women carry babies to term, if that was their choice.

That thought was absent from yesterday's statement.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is Hope Enough? [SK]

I'm amazed at a few friends (who I know to be more pro-life than not) and their unqualified praise for President Obama. They laud him for the "hope" he allegedly brings to the human family, but ignore completely his refusal to answer the fundamental question of WHO belongs to that family in the first place. That is, does that family include embryos and fetuses?

Indeed, hasn't the man already told us that precise question is "above his pay grade?" Nevertheless, he has no problem using our tax dollars to kill those same entities he's not sure are subjects with rights or something else.

That's what's wrong with liberalism. While it pretends not to preach, it quietly decides who lives and dies.

SK

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Media Idiocy of the Week Part 3 [Serge]

98% of this article is actually quite good, especially this quote from an adult stem cell researcher comparing the funding of ESCR with that prior to the sub-prime mortgage crisis:

"The scramble to fund human embryonic stem cell experiments looks like the scientific equivalent of sub-prime mortgages," says Raisman. "One wonders how long the large sums of money and hype can go on chasing such a distant goal before the bubble bursts."
That's good stuff, but I still can't let the author get away with this statement, which is just a complete, blatant falsehood:

Under George W Bush, federal funding of ­human embryonic stem cell work was banned in the United States for religious reasons.
:sigh: Here we go again. Bush did not ban federal funding for ESCR - in fact he funded ESCR for the first time in American history. He limited funding to the human embryonic stem cell lines to those that were already existing, enabling continued research in ESCR without the additional federally funded death of human embryos.

Second, I don't recall Bush quoting Scripture or relying on Sacred dictum to make his decision. I realize that in Brave New Britain in may be difficult to imagine that one can still use secular reasoning to defend the intrinsic value of human life, but here in the states we still seem to be able to.

For Those Tempted to Give Up [SK]

Consider this from Abraham Lincoln, who wrote in July of 1858:

I have never professed an indifference to the honors of official station; and were I to do so now, I should only make myself ridiculous. Yet I have never failed – do not now fail – to remember that in the republican cause there is a higher aim than that of mere office – I have not allowed myself to forget that the abolition of the Slave-trade by Great Brittain [sic], was agitated a hundred years before it was a final success; that the measure had it’s open fire-eating opponents; it’s stealthy “don’t care” opponents; it’s dollars and cent opponents; it’s inferior race opponents; it’s negro equality opponents; and it’s religion and good order opponents; that all these opponents got offices, and their adversaries got none – But I have also remembered that [inserted: though] they blazed, like tallow-candles for a century, at last they flickered in the socket, died out, stank in the dark for a brief season, and were remembered no more, even by the smell – School-boys know that Wilbe[r]force, and Granville Sharpe, helped that cause forward; but who can now name a single man who labored to retard it? Remembering these things I can not but regard it as possible that the higher object of this contest may not be completely attained within [2] the term of my [inserted: natural] life. But I can not doubt either that it will come in due time. Even in this view, I am proud, in my passing speck of time, to contribute an humble mite to that glorious consummation, which my own poor eyes may [struck: never] [inserted: not] last to see –


Thanks to Fletcher Armstrong for alerting me to the highlights of this quote.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

LTI on Facebook! [Jay]

Life Training Institute is now on Facebook! Just look us up on your Facebook search and join up. We will be posting news and events as well as future podcasts. Invite your friends as well. It is an easy way to keep up with what Scott and this ministry are doing. This promises to be an exciting year for LTI!

If you do not have a Facebook account yet, just go to www.facebook.com and open one up.

Monday, January 19, 2009

To Pray or Not to Pray? [SK]

Dan Phillips at Team Pyro has posted a very good question for discussion regarding whether Christians should agree to give the prayer at the Obama swearing-in ceremony. John Frame, among others, weighs in.

What are your thoughts?

Pro-Life Sermon On-Line [SK]

My title was "In His Image: A Biblical Case for Human Value." Presented yesterday at Severns Valley Baptist Church, Elizabethtown, KY.

View it here. (It takes a moment to load.)

Some of the main points I covered can be found in this presentation to pastors. (Kalamazoo, 2007)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Churches Spending Too Much Time on Abortion? [SK]

R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries, April 2007 “Message of the Month”:

Of the books that I’ve written, over fifty, the one that went out of print the fastest was the book I wrote [titled] The Case Against Abortion. … [Y]ou couldn’t give it away. And we would ask pastors, why won’t you use this series? And we heard the same answer again and again …. ‘We can’t do that. It will divide our church.’ Because our churches are as divided on this question as the nation is.
Cited in Gregg Cunningham, Institutional Church and Genocide.

Supreme Court: You Can't Censor the Pictures [SK]

From an email from The Center for Bioethical Reform:

The U.S. Supreme Court this week upheld the rights of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) to display graphic abortion photos in public.

In July 2008, a panel of California judges ruled that pro-life activists could not show their graphic signs depicting aborted babies in a location adjacent to a middle school. (In California, school officials can take a middle school child for an abortion without the parents' consent or knowledge.) The case involved a 75-minute police detention of two staff members of CBR who had been driving a box-bodied truck that displays large photos of first-term aborted babies on its sides and back.

The Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, brought the case on behalf of CBR. "This is a tremendous victory for the First Amendment and the pro-life movement," said Robert Musie, trial counsel for CBR’s case.

Why is this important? Because CBR is setting precedent in the US for future generations to lawfully display abortion images in the public square.

For stories on the ruling, go here and here and here.

Don't Worry, the Government Will Fix It [Serge]

This morning, the outside temperature gauge in my big SUV read fourteen degrees below zero on the way to my office. I then fired up my computer and read that Rep. Waxman of California promises "quick action" on this global warming problem.

Consider me thrilled.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Unstringing Boonin's Violinist [Serge]

A commenter asked about a response to David Boonin's "A Defense of Abortion". Scott's forthcoming book takes it down beautifully, and Frank Beckwith's latest also has an excellent response to the bodily autonomy argument. I just found out that my article in the Christian Research Journal dealing with the same topic is available online here. I can't figure out how to do the linky thing in the comments, so I decided to link to it here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"We Shall Not Weary, We Shall Not Rest" [SK]

Read this moving speech and be reminded why Fr. Richard John Neuhaus will be missed by pro-lifers in the difficult days ahead.

Here is one of my favorite parts of the speech:

The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed. I expect many of us here, perhaps most of us here, can remember when we were first encountered by the idea. For me, it was in the 1960s when I was pastor of a very poor, very black, inner city parish in Brooklyn, New York. I had read that week an article by Ashley Montagu of Princeton University on what he called “A Life Worth Living.” He listed the qualifications for a life worth living: good health, a stable family, economic security, educational opportunity, the prospect of a satisfying career to realize the fullness of one’s potential. These were among the measures of what was called “a life worth living.”

And I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, looking out the next Sunday morning at the congregation of St. John the Evangelist and seeing all those older faces creased by hardship endured and injustice afflicted, and yet radiating hope undimmed and love unconquered. And I saw that day the younger faces of children deprived of most, if not all, of those qualifications on Prof. Montagu’s list. And it struck me then, like a bolt of lightning, a bolt of lightning that illuminated our moral and cultural moment, that Prof. Montagu and those of like mind believed that the people of St. John the Evangelist—people whom I knew and had come to love as people of faith and kindness and endurance and, by the grace of God, hope unvanquished—it struck me then that, by the criteria of the privileged and enlightened, none of these my people had a life worth living. In that moment, I knew that a great evil was afoot. The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed.

In that moment, I knew that I had been recruited to the cause of the culture of life. To be recruited to the cause of the culture of life is to be recruited for the duration; and there is no end in sight, except to the eyes of faith.

Perhaps you, too, can specify such a moment when you knew you were recruited. At that moment you could have said, “Yes, it’s terrible that in this country alone 4,000innocent children are killed every day, but then so many terrible things are happening in the world. Am I my infant brother’s keeper? Am I my infant sister’s keeper?” You could have said that, but you didn’t. You could have said, “Yes, the nation that I love is betraying its founding principles—that every human being is endowed by God with inalienable rights, including, and most foundationally, the right to life. But,” you could have said, “the Supreme Court has spoken and its word is the law of the land. What can I do about it?” You could have said that, but you didn’t. That horror, that betrayal, would not let you go. You knew, you knew there and then, that you were recruited to contend for the culture of life, and that you were recruited for the duration.
My own recruitment happened here.

HT: Doug Groothuis

Monday, January 12, 2009

Media Idiocy of the Week Part 2 [Serge]

This comes from the Columbia Journalism Review, which critiques other media outlets. Author Katia Bachko critiques a piece in the Wall Street Journal which discusses this article. On a side note, I've already commented on this article in a recent new project (more about that later). Here is what Bachko has to say (emphasis mine):

The takeaway for parents, Healy says, is to pursue a holistic approach, not a one-time shot deal: “The focus should be on cultivating the teenager’s ongoing home and social environment, rather than on eliciting a one-time, easily forgotten promise.”

The Wall Street Journal is right to call foul on the press for oversimplifying the story and playing down the substantial differences between the religious teens in the study and the rest. But McGurn fails to mention one of the study’s key conclusions: that teenagers from conservatively religious backgrounds tend to forego birth control when they do have sex, leading to greater incidence of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The study does no such thing. In fact, the two groups studied were chosen specifically to match in their religious characteristics - so it would be impossible to show that teens from religiously conservative backgrounds lead to greater teen pregnancy and STDs (which also goes against all other research in this area.)

Even worse, the Pediatric study did compare the two groups in regards to their STD status, and I quote from the abstract:

Pledgers and matched nonpledgers did not differ in premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases,
Now maybe expecting a journalist to read all twelve pages of the study, which is available for free online, might be asking too much, but she should at least of read the abstract. Clearly she did not. However, this does not stop her from making this far-reaching conclusion:

In the precede to the study, the researchers note that “the US government spends more than $200 million annually on abstinence-promotion programs, including virginity pledges.” The goal of these programs matches that of comprehensive sex ed approaches: to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs. The problem is, as the study’s findings strongly suggest, only one method works. It’s too bad that the WSJ chose to side with a moralistic, ineffective approach, instead of a science-supported, value-neutral one. Teens may be teens, but journalists should know better
And journalistic critics? The author has no idea what this article even tries to prove, let alone if her conclusion is supported by the evidence.

Journalists will be journalists, and it is very sad that they seem more clueless than the average teen. Actually, I'm sorry about that last sentence - it was unfair. I owe an apology to teens everywhere.

Friday, January 9, 2009

In Defense of Both/And: My Reply to Phil Johnson [SK]

Due to my exceptionally heavy Fall speaking schedule and subsequent rush to complete revisions on my forthcoming book, I’m late replying to Phil Johnson’s multi-point critique of my pro-life work. Johnson (not to be confused with Phillip E. Johnson, the intelligent design advocate) shares many of my own concerns regarding the emerging church and the general state of evangelical preaching today. More often than not, I consider him one of the good guys. However, his cumulative case against me suffers from what Anthony Flew once described as the “leaky buckets” syndrome: You can’t just string a bunch of bad arguments together in hopes that your overall case holds water.

Here’s the paragraph from my interview with Justin Taylor that set Johnson off:

By the way, Obama won’t be the only one telling pro-lifers to surrender politically. Voices within Christendom will assert that evangelicals have spent too much time on politics, with little to show for it. What’s really needed, so the claim will go, is more time preaching the gospel. Well, I’m all for preaching the gospel, but why should anyone suppose that political efforts aimed at protecting human life detract from the biblical command to go make disciples? Why can’t pro-life Christians do both? Simply put, the answer to a lack of evangelical fervor for the gospel is not to withdraw our political advocacy for the weak and vulnerable; it’s to encourage Christians to do a better job presenting the gospel. We don’t have to stop advocating protections for the innocent to do that. At the same time, it’s unfair to say that because we have not achieved everything we set out to politically accomplish in the last 28 years, we have wasted our time on political distractions. Wilberforce and Lincoln suffered crushing political setbacks before their respective nations finally did away with slavery, yet no one suggests they wasted time that should have been devoted to preaching or evangelizing. Truth is, pro-lifers are simply outnumbered and underpowered. But this in no way justifies political silence in the face of evil, the likes of which we are about to witness at a whole new level. As for the claim evangelicals spend too much time on politics, I say prove it. I think Joe Carter is right:

"Contrary to what many secularists claim--and many Christians believe--we evangelicals are not all that politically involved. Sure, like most Americans we talk a lot about politics, especially in an election season. But the claim that we are involved in actual political activities--lobbying, organizing, campaigning, etc.--would be difficult to support with actual evidence."

In short, the true solution to our current political defeat is to equip more pro-lifers to engage the culture, not shrink back in defeat. Quitting now is simply not an option
Johnson’s primary claim is that the both/and approach I advocate above is practically unworkable or, at best, not so simple as I imagine it to be. Here is my summary of the main reasons (in no particular order) that he lists for saying so:

1) Klusendorf is blinded by starry-eyed naivete if he really thinks efforts to harness the church’s political clout have done nothing to damage our collective witness or mute the gospel message we’ve communicated to the culture. Klusendorf’s own website is not exactly a sterling example of both/and.
2) On one hand, Klusendorf argues that both/and is reasonable, on the other, he insists pro-life organizations should not be held responsible for preaching the gospel because they are principally about cultural reform, and cultural reform efforts require broad ecumenical coalitions. Klusendorf also argues that stopping abortion must be a priority over evangelism in crisis pregnancy centers
3) Klusendorf implies that to invest more energy and resources into gospel ministry is to “shrink back” in defeat.
Let me begin with an observation. Suppose, for the sake or argument, that each of Phil’s points above is true. What follows? One thing that clearly doesn’t follow is that a both/and approach is either unreasonable or unworkable. At best, what follows is that I’m doing a lousy job applying my own stated position. That’s certainly worth discussing and I’m open to correction, but let’s not pretend it refutes my central claim that pro-lifers can, in principle, both share the gospel and work politically to protect the unborn. Perhaps others do it better than me.

Of course, I don’t think Phil is correct. His thinking is careless on a number of points.

First, Phil’s claim that my own website is not a good example of both/and shows that Phil simply didn’t look very carefully at my site. Right there on the LTI homepage—smack in the middle of it—is a link which reads "The Pro-Life Pastor." The article which follows outlines four tasks for pro-life clergy, which include, among other things, equipping believers to defend pro-life views and preaching a cross-centered gospel to those wounded by abortion. Desiring God’s blog didn’t have any trouble finding that link and directing its readers to it, but Phil somehow missed it. Also on the LTI homepage is a link to The Case for Life, our simplified website for those new to the abortion issue. Right on the frontpage of that site is the link after abortion, which again contains a summary of the gospel. Nevertheless, I don’t think for a moment that Phil meant to mislead anyone. He just didn’t look closely enough at my site.

Second, Phil poisons the well with this claim: “Specifically, I think [Klusendorf] (like most evangelicals) is blinded by starry-eyed naïveté if he really believes the three-decades-long effort to harness the church's political clout has done nothing to damage our collective testimony as the church of Christ or mute the gospel in the message we have communicated to our culture.”

Which efforts, Phil? Notice Phil does not explain what he means, but vaguely attempts to discredit me personally. But again, his ad-hominem won’t work. Let’s be clear on the claim Phil must defend: Evangelicals spend too much time on politics. Really? How does he know this? That’s exactly the point Joe Carter raised in his own critique of Phil's position.

And while we are at it, what, exactly, distinguishes permissible political involvement from non-permissible involvement? For example, are believers who vote or donate money to a political campaign guilty of trying to “harness the church’s political clout” and thus responsible for damaging the collective witness of the church? How about evangelical pro-lifers who lobby congress to prevent passage of a devastating piece of legislation like FOCA—are they guilty too? If I spend time walking a precinct or organize a get-out-the vote drive, am I damaging the cause of Christ? If so, how?

Phil leaves all these questions unexplained. Here’s what I wish Phil had said: “Certain high profile evangelicals make certain political statements that give evangelicals a bad name and thus damage our collective witness.” Pow! I agree completely. The answer to that problem, however, is 1) recruit better spokespersons (like Al Mohler) and 2) equip Christian leaders in general to graciously communicate their views—not discourage rank and file believers from participating in their own government.

To cite a Parallel example, suppose I said: “Phil Johnson is blinded by starry-eyed naïveté if he really believes the three-decades-long effort by televangelists and radio preachers to harness the financial clout of the local church has done nothing to damage our collective testimony as the church of Christ or mute the gospel in the message we have communicated to our culture.” Suppose I went on to argue that we should scale back John MacArthur’s radio ministry because of the damage done by other preachers. Phil would rightly reply that my proposed solution doesn’t follow from the problem I’ve identified. I’m certain he’d say we need to promote better preachers like John MacArthur (agreed) who faithfully teach the Bible rather than discourage evangelical involvement in broadcast media. But if that’s true for preachers, why is it not true for pro-life evangelicals who engage the political process?

Moreover, pro-life evangelicals are generally not out to “harness the political clout of the local church.” They’re out to promote justice for the weak and vulnerable and that requires, among other things, political effort. In other words, they’re doing their jobs as citizens and they want other Christians to do the same. What’s wrong with that? Remember, we are a government of the people by the people, which means we all bear a measure of responsibility for the unjust actions that government takes.

I agree that some Christians in political circles damage our witness, especially on abortion. But what evidence does Phil have that most do? One guy who has studied the issue is Jon A. Shields, political science professor, Claremont Mckenna College. Jon’s new book, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, states that although religious conservatives are frequently accused of threatening democratic values, they have in fact dramatically increased and improved democratic participation and they are far more civil and reasonable than is commonly believed. Unlike Johnson who lumps politically motivated believers into one undesirable camp, Shields is careful to distinguish between those believers who are “deliberative,” “disjointed,” and “radical.” At the moment, thoughtful (deliberative) pro-lifers are engaging the cultural and political arenas in a winsome manner that’s drawing the attention of academic professionals. Professor Paul J. Quirk, Phil Lind Chair in U.S. Politics and Representation at the University of British Columbia, writes: “Shields shows that antiabortion activists—far more than their pro-choice counterparts—bend over backwards to engage respectfully with opponents and promote high standards of democratic discourse. They do so both as an obligation of Christian love and as a matter of hardheaded political strategy. Liberal academics and commentators will resist his thesis but it will stand up to rigorous scrutiny."

I don’t know about you, but “bending over backwards to engage respectfully with opponents” sounds like a good Christian witness, not a bad one.

Third, Phil’s claim that I’m talking out both sides of my mouth is odd, at best. He contends that on one hand I’m arguing that both/and is reasonable, while on the other, I say that pro-life organizations should not be held responsible for preaching the gospel because they are principally about cultural reform, and cultural reform efforts require broad ecumenical coalitions. Phil is also troubled by my concern that stopping abortion must be a primary activity in crisis pregnancy centers.

To be clear, I never said pro-life organizations must both preach the gospel and reform culture. Rather, I said a given pro-life organization can do both activities, and the degree to which it does both will depend on its stated purpose. In other words, engaging the culture, in principle, does not conflict with sharing the gospel. Nevertheless, crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) with a clearly defined mission to save unborn children should primarily be evaluated by how well they do just that. There’s nothing wrong with a CPC sharing the gospel and I’m grateful many do. But an organization’s stated purpose matters, especially when lives are at stake. In short, I’m okay if a pregnancy center makes evangelism an overarching goal provided its primary and immediate activity is saving babies here and now. Let’s not forget: CPCs have only moments to save a child’s life, but days and weeks to address those deeper structural changes that bring about a transformed life.

True, CPCs committed to evangelism must expose women to the reality of their own sin. But in crisis situations, we should first make the sin of abortion real to the client before talking about sin in the abstract, theological sense. As my colleague Gregg Cunningham puts it, “if a woman is not more horrified of abortion than she is terrified of a crisis pregnancy, her baby will die.”

Beyond that, there’s no reason to suppose that making the sin of abortion real (indeed, that is the specific sin she contemplates, right?) will stop us from presenting the full gospel when the time is right, perhaps at that exact moment or later. In short, there’s no reason CPCs can’t devote resources to doing both.

As for pro-life organizations in general, Phil is right: I do say they are primarily about cultural reform. I also contend that believers can serve in those organizations even if presenting the gospel is not part of the group’s stated purpose. Again, I’m not sure why this is even controversial. No one, for example, complains when Christians work for an organization selling insurance (provided it’s sold ethically), even when that organization has no ties to the gospel whatsoever. If it’s okay for Christians to work selling insurance in organizations where the gospel is not officially presented, why can’t they work with organizations where the primary mission is saving lives right now?

Phil, again, wrongly sets up an either/or where none exists. It’s seldom the case that Christians must choose between gospel and cultural reform. For example, Stand to Reason, Life Training Institute, and Justice for All (to name a few) all combine pro-life apologetics with defenses of the Christian faith in general and, when called for, the gospel in particular. They also share the gospel on campus with thousands of students each year.

In my own work with LTI, I speak in high school assemblies at Catholic and evangelical schools across the United States. In each case, I present the gospel as part of my pro-life presentation. I do the same when I speak at pregnancy center fundraising banquets. Funny thing is, not one school—Catholic or Protestant—has ever complained. Nor has any banquet host, Catholic or Protestant. True, I don’t tell non-evangelicals specifically why I think their theology is mistaken. But I do share the gospel—including the bad news of our sinfulness and the righteousness that is found in Christ alone. In short, I have no problem doing both/and. Indeed, far from distracting me from presenting the gospel, my pro-life advocacy is precisely the thing that gives me an opportunity to speak of it. (Just out of curiosity, I wonder how many Catholic students Phil presents the gospel to each year? My guess is that he’s seldom invited to those schools while my pro-life, cultural reform efforts get me invited regularly to share my pro-life views, which includes the gospel.) But again, I don’t fault Phil for malicious intent. He’s just ignorant of my work.

Finally, Phil writes: “Notice how Klusendorf implies that to invest more energy and resources in gospel ministry is to ‘shrink back in defeat.’ A suggestion like that ought to jar our evangelical sensibilities. The fact that we take such comments in stride says a lot about evangelicals' lack of confidence in the power of the gospel. Preaching the gospel more boldly and earnestly than ever is hardly a form of "retreat." The popularity of such an opinion highlights how urgently evangelicals need to get back to being evangelical.”

Once again, Phil did not read carefully. I absolutely did not say or imply that investing more money in gospel ministry is to “shrink back in defeat.” Rather, I said just the opposite: “Simply put, the answer to a lack of evangelical fervor for the gospel is not to withdraw our political advocacy for the weak and vulnerable; it’s to encourage Christians to do a better job presenting the gospel. We don’t have to stop advocating protections for the innocent to do that.” Later in that same section, I stated that the true solution to our current political defeat is to equip more pro-lifers to engage the culture, not shrink back in defeat. My point was that quitting now politically or culturally is simply not an option, not that investing more energy in the gospel constitutes defeat. Any careful reader can see that, but again, Phil was not reading carefully.

No doubt, Phil disagrees with my larger views on Christians and their role in the political process. He said as much in his piece. And though I don’t share his views, I’m glad he’s part of the conversation and appreciate the important contribution he makes.

But in this case, I must say that I expected better from a guy whose insights on other topics are usually spot-on. When it comes to gospel and cultural engagement, all of us together in the church are to perform all of these functions and duties in aggregate. Each is equipped for the individual work to do in the Body and the world for the Kingdom. Phil’s criticism strikes me as the finger criticizing the knee for not being a finger. Truth is, any one Christian can perform his duties as a Christian over time and in different settings. A CPC worker may not evangelize every day at work, but she might be heavily involved in evangelizing elsewhere. Because a Christian might not do something at one moment, doesn't mean she’s not doing it at another.

Media Idiocy of the Week [Serge]

This may be a recurring theme, for there seems to be no shortage of material.

A recent study showed that there was a 3% increase in teen births nationwide in 2006, unfortunately ending a fifteen year trend of decreasing birth rates. No one really knows the reasons for this slight increase, and it may be a data aberration, but the media has a good idea what is causing this problem:

Some advocates also wonder whether the rise is tied to a growing depiction of young girls giving birth as acceptable in fictional and real-life dramas.

Bristol Palin, the 18-year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, got pregnant out of wedlock and recently gave birth to a boy.
Now the conception of new human life is truly a miracle, but it seems Bristol's child has power we had never dreamed of. This child has the power to turn back time and effect the sexual behavior of teens two years before he was conceived! That little guy is powerful!

Meanwhile, in the nationwide press (USA Today) we have a similar retroactive explanation. One of the reasons for the uptick in teen births could be a lower abortion rate. Not so says an "expert" in preventing teen pregnancy:

Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, says she is less inclined to believe abortion is driving higher teen birth rates and suggests that increases in high-profile unmarried births in Hollywood, movies and even politics is a significant factor for impressionable teens.
Her evidence for this assertion? You guessed it:

"In the last couple of years, we had Jamie Lynn Spears. We had Juno and we had Bristol Palin. Those three were in 2007 and 2008 and not in 2005 to 2006, but they point to that phenomenon," she says.
Wow. She even realizes that the years don't add up but she can't help herself. This seems more like something that should run through your head before you actually say something and not a quote given to a nationwide newspaper. I'm sure the teens who became pregnant in 2006 were thinking that maybe an Alaska governor's daughter will become pregnant in the future. Just brilliant.

Next up: Goodfellas and the Sopranos must have influenced the crimes of Al Capone.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jivin J Flexes His Apologetics Muscles [SK]

I somehow missed Jivin J's excellent take down of an abortion-choicer from the Huffington post. If you take pro-life apologetics seriously, read this. It's a clinic in clear thinking.

A Great Conference [SK]

Making Men Moral: The Public Square and the Role of Moral Judgment is the title of an excellent conference coming up February 25-27 at Union University (Jackson, TN).

From the conference website:

Times change, but the challenge of applying moral principles to contemporary politics remains. Join several prominent thinkers as we wrestle with how to promote a healthy moral ecology in an uncertain age.
Speakers include Robert P. George, Christopher Tollefsen, Russell D. Moore, and David Novak, to name a few.

Regrettably, one of the invited speakers, Richard John Neuhaus, passed away today. His contribution to the role of religion in the public square was stellar and he will be greatly missed in the difficult days ahead.

Update: Professor Micah Watson of Union University has a helpful review of RJN's accomplishments here.

Prudent Pro-Lifers [SK]

Clarke Forsythe has written a thoughtful piece on pro-life policy making. Here's a teaser:

Some political commentators argue that "any proposal permitting or tolerating abortion" -- what some have called imperfect or incremental legislation -- is "intrinsically unjust."1 This claim disregards the long tradition of classical prudence developed by Aristotle and continued in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Edmund Burke, among others. Classical prudence takes account of limitations in a world of constraints and strives to achieve that greatest measure of justice possible under the particular circumstances. It is not possible to say that "any proposal permitting or tolerating abortion is intrinsically unjust" without considering specific intent of the legislators, the particular language of the law and -- perhaps most importantly -- the existing institutional, legal, social, and political constraints. While it is not possible to say, in the abstract, that any law permitting abortion is intrinsically unjust, such a law may be prudent or imprudent in the particular circumstances.
Forsythe concludes his piece with this challenge, which seems right to me:
It is not immoral to be prudent. A political leader or activist must have a healthy respect for constraints in the fallen world and an acute insight into their nature and effect. Even if a prudential framework is accepted for political decision-making -- and assuming no cooperation in an evil act is involved -- difficult strategic and tactical questions remain as a challenge to the conscientious statesman. He/she must evaluate the four questions posed by Jaffa: worthy goals, wise judgment as to what is possible, choosing effective means, and avoiding future preclusion of improvements. Political leaders must guard against being lured into cooperation and must keep the goal in mind and not get lost in the details of the means. Prudent political leaders must pursue a vision of complete justice -- of complete legal protection for all human life. But, in the democratic process, they must pursue the ideal in such a way that progress is made and with the willingness to accept something when all is not achievable due to social, legal, or political obstacles beyond their control.
For more on material vs. formal cooperation with evil, see here.

For discussions of incrementalism on this blog, go here and here and here. Earlier posts are here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Important Book for the New Year [SK]

Jon A. Shields (political science professor, Claremont Mckenna College)has just published his book, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.

(Disclosure: I know Jon and he interviewed me during his initial research into this topic.)

This title, along with Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, may be the two most important books for understanding the larger political and cultural trends confronting pro-lifers.

Shield's primary thesis (as summarized by the publisher, Princeton University Press) is that although The Christian Right is frequently accused of threatening democratic values, religious conservatives have in fact dramatically increased and improved democratic participation and they are far more civil and reasonable than is commonly believed.

You can read a longer review of Shield's book at First Things. In that review, Richard John Neuhaus points readers to an important distinction raised by Shields:

Shields says there are three categories of pro-life politics: deliberative, disjointed, and radical. Representative of the “deliberative” are Justice for All (JFA) and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), which have trained thousands of young people to engage in nonconfrontational pro-life persuasion on college campuses. The “disjointed” politics includes innumerable and loosely organized activities such as sidewalk counseling, prayer vigils, marches, demonstrations, and counter-demonstrations. The “radical” includes what he calls “the broken remnants of the rescue movement,” focusing on civil disobedience and the closing of abortion clinics. “In many respects [the radical] is the exact opposite of deliberative politics, except for the fact that it too is highly coordinated and organized.”
He cites striking instances of the campus efforts of groups such as JFA and CBR meeting with frequently vicious hostility, often led by faculty members. The truth is that such hostility reflects vehement opposition to civil deliberation and argument about abortion. Pro-life students eager to engage others in serious discussion find this very frustrating, but it is not entirely surprising. Shields writes: “Such frustration is fueled by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, whose leaders discourage their campus affiliates from debating or even talking to pro-life students. NARAL’s ‘Campus Kit for Pro-Choice Organizers,’ for example, gives this categorical instruction: ‘Don’t waste time talking to anti-choice people.’” The campus organizer for Planned Parenthood told Shields that she “discourages direct debate.” Feminists for Life has had more success on campuses, mainly because its members shake up conventional notions on the “woman question.” As leaders of the organization put it, the goal is not to “fit into a man’s world on men’s terms,” which means above all not “troubling employers with their fertility problems.” As they repeatedly assert, “Women deserve better than abortion.”
Neuhaus then cites Shields on the intolerance of many so-called "pro-choice" activists:

But pro-abortion intolerance of discussion or debate is sometimes given dramatic expression. In San Francisco, the city and county board of supervisors unanimously declared January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, “Stand Up for Choice Day” and officially declared San Francisco a pro-choice city. Supervisor Bevan Duffy declared that pro-lifers were “not welcome in San Francisco.” Supervisor Tom Ammiano complained about the audacity of pro-life activists who “think that they can come to our fair city and demonstrate.” The head of the Golden Gate chapter of Planned Parenthood was outraged that activists “have been so emboldened that they believe that their message will be tolerated here.” The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the mid-1960s has come to this.
Endorsements for Sheild's book:

"Jon Shields manages to take the moral claims of pro-life activists seriously while subjecting their movement and organizations to rigorous social scientific analysis. While hardly neglecting the media-based opportunists and zealous, sometimes violent extremists, Shields also shows how mainstream pro-life leaders have developed non-confrontational tactics and non-religious arguments to more effectively challenge pro-choice policies. He then demonstrates how such deliberative tendencies reflect the interplay of Christian values and the organizational incentives facing pro-life activists in a variety of settings. This book will certainly not please everyone, but it should remind all of us of the tensions between reason and passion that any responsible political actor must inevitably negotiate."--Peter Skerry, Boston College

"This is among the best books on the practice of deliberation in American politics, and for many readers it will also be one of the most surprising. Shields shows that antiabortion activists--far more than their pro-choice counterparts--bend over backwards to engage respectfully with opponents and promote high standards of democratic discourse. They do so both as an obligation of Christian love and as a matter of hardheaded political strategy. Liberal academics and commentators will resist his thesis but it will stand up to rigorous scrutiny."--Paul J. Quirk, University of British Columbia

$29.95

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Hope for Post-Abortion Women and Men [SK]

I’ve been asked more than once to write a booklet on this question: How can men and women wounded by abortion find healing?

Usually, the person asking the question was involved in an abortion-related decision—perhaps a woman who felt she had no other choice or a man who encouraged her to do so. I grieve for these hurting souls. I encounter them often at speaking events and make it a priority to hear their stories whenever possible. (To get some sense of the pain many of them feel, go to www.abortionchangesyou.com and read some of the posts there.) And, in my upcoming book, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture, I devote a chapter to the topic of post-abortion healing. (You can read a sample of the ideas I present in that chapter here.)

I’ve yet to write that booklet, but last week in my Sunday-School class, I taught on the subject “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself: Replacing False Beliefs with Truthful Ones.” The outline was designed for believers and contains 22 Scripture passages I encouraged them to commit to memory in the new year. Though not addressed expressly to post-abortion men and women, there’s no doubt that were I to ever write a bible study for Christians struggling with the issue, the skeletal outline I provided the class would be the foundation for that study.

Here’s my concern. In public settings, many (though by no means, all) post-abortion testimonies I hear focus more on the pain of abortion—a pain that never seems resolved—than on the transforming power of the gospel. I don’t think this is biblical. The apostle Paul was a blasphemer and encouraged the torture of early Christians. Yet upon conversion, his focus was fixed upon the new man he became in Christ. His mood was triumphant, not depressed. That’s why I’ve never liked seeing pro-life women holding signs which read, “I regret my abortion.” I can only imagine bystanders saying, “Gee, who wants to live a life of regret and misery? If that’s the pro-life message, count me out.” I much prefer signs which say something like, “I’ve been forgiven of my abortion—ask me how.”

I hope what I’m about to say does not come off insensitive. Please know I do not mean it that way. Nevertheless, I’ve met some perpetually depressed post-abortion men and women who tell their painful stories, but there’s little in the way of resolution. Most troubling, they refuse to be comforted by the very gospel that can save them. They elevate their sin over the transforming work of Christ.

This should not be. Perhaps the outline I presented to my class will help remedy that for Christians convinced God has yet to cover their sins. I apologize in advance for the length of the post.

Preaching the Gospel to Yourself: Replacing False Beliefs with Truthful Ones

Theme Text--Psalm 42:5 –“Why art thou cast down, O my soul. Why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

“The Devil’s one object is to so depress god’s people that he can to the man of the world and say: ‘There are God’s people—Do you want to be like that?’”

The sin of sloth (one of the 7 Deadly Sins):
Not mere laziness, but consistent “sadness in the face of spiritual good” (Thomas Aquinas). It includes elements of sin, demonic affliction, and illness. The ultimate cause of spiritual depression is unbelief—unbelief in God’s incredible grace extended to us in Christ.

The Remedy: Talk, don’t listen to yourself. Monitor your internal speech. Preach the Gospel to yourself, daily. Lloyd-Jones writes:

The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man's treatment [in Psalm 42] was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, 'Why art thou cast down, O my soul?' he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: 'Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you'. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: 'Why art thou cast down'--what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: 'Hope thou in God'--instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: 'I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.' (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cures, Eerdman’s, 1965, pp. 20-21.)

Preaching the Gospel to Yourself:

1) The gospel of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. We not only do bad things, we are bad—by nature. Outside of Christ, we are spiritually dead and justly deserve God’s wrath. If we never realize our guilt before God, we will never experience joy in Christ.

Romans 3: 10-12:
Ephesians 2: 1-3:
John 3: 19
Isaiah 53: 5-6
John 3: 36

Example: Lisa Beamer, when asked by Newsweek how she felt about God allowing her husband Todd to perish in the terrible events of September 11: “You think you deserve a happy life and get angry when it doesn’t always happen like that. In fact, you are a sinner and deserve only death. The fact that God has offered you hope of eternal life is amazing! You should be overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Lisa is right. Our dilemma should not be why God allows evil. Instead, we should wonder why he would pay such an incredible price to rescue us when we have rebelled so completely against Him. When that reality grips our hearts, we will get down on our knees and ask forgiveness instead of criticizing God for not doing enough to stop bad things.

Clint Eastwood quote (Unforgiven): “We all have it coming.”

2) The gospel of God’s work of salvation. Though we were hopelessly lost (dead) in our sins, God made the first move and reconciled us to Himself through Christ’s atoning death and sacrifice. Thus, we are declared righteous in virtue of Christ’s righteousness, not our own.

Romans 5: 6-8
Romans 5: 1
2 Corinthians 5: 21
Titus 3: 4
Ephesians 2: 1-5
1 John 4: 10

As a result of Christ’s sin bearing work, we have hope. Our past, present, and future sins are covered and will never be charged against us. True, God disciplines us as “sons” so that we might become more like Him (Hebrews 12: 5-7, 10), but no longer are we under his wrath. Thus, we ask God to forgive our sins not so He can justify us again, but so that we can experience restored fellowship with our loving father.

1 Thessalonians 5: 9-10
Romans 5: 9-10
Lamentations 3: 21-26
Micah 7: 8-10
Micah 7:18-19
Ephesians 5: 1

3) The gospel of adoption: We are no longer God’s enemies, but dearly loved members of God’s own family.

Galatians 4: 4-7
John 1: 10-12
Romans 8: 14-17
1 John 3: 1-3

William Hendrickson: “In justifying the sinner, God may be viewed as the Judge who presides over a law court. The prisoner is standing in the dock. The Judge acquits the prisoner, pronouncing him ‘not guilty but righteous.’ The former prisoner is now a free man. But the story does not end here. The Judge now turns to that free man and adopts him as His son, and even imparts his own Spirit to him.”

CH Spurgeon: “Once I knew a good woman who was the subject of many doubts and when I got to the bottom of her doubt it was this: she knew she loved Christ but she was afraid He did not love her. Oh, I said that is a doubt that will never trouble me, never by any possibility because I am sure of this: that the heart is so corrupt naturally that love to God never did get there without God putting it there. You may rest quite certain that if you love God it is a fruit and not a root. It is the fruit of God’s love to you and it did not get there by the force of any goodness in you. You may therefore conclude with absolute certainty that God loves you if you love God.”

Five Hymns (as examples of preaching gospel to yourself) to commit to memory:

Crown Him with Many Crowns (“awake my soul and sing of Him who died for thee”)
It is Well with My Soul (“Let this blessed assurance control. That Christ has regarded my helpless estate…”)
When I survey the Wondrous Cross
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Suggested Resources:

1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965)
2. William Backus, What Your Counselor Never Told You (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2000)
3. C.J. Mahaney, "God as Father: Understanding the Doctrine of Adoption," Resolved Conference, 2008. Audio available (free, w/ registration) here.
4. John Piper, “Faith Alone,” World Magazine, August 31, 2002.
5. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003)
6. Greg Koukl, No Man Did This

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