“Devoid of Content”


Stanley Fish, dean emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Stanley Fish has contributed an opinion editorial in today’s New York Times titled “Devoid of Content.” As a professor who teaches Greek and hermeneutics to undergraduate students and who has graded many papers, I have observed the same thing that that Fish has. Too many students are “utterly unable to write a clear and coherent English sentence . . . Students can’t write clean English sentences because they are not being taught what sentences are.” Though I am in substantial disagreement with Fish over hermeneutical theory (he is a reader-response critic), his analysis of the literacy crisis and the remedy in his pedagogy are brilliant. For the few language buffs and teachers who read this blog, I recommend that you read “Devoid of Content.”

Source: Stanley Fish, “Devoid of Content,” The New York Times, May 31, 2005.

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From the Halls of the M.A.S.H. Unit to Shores of the Abortion Clinic

The opinion editors of The New York Times have struck again. In one of today’s editorials, an attempt to be patriotic on Memorial Day weekend appears to be just one more cynical tip-of-the-hat to the culture of death. With a manipulative appeal to the compassion that Americans have for victims of rape and incest, the editors urge that our patriotic duty includes financing abortions for military women serving overseas who might not have access to affordable “healthcare” (In case you didn’t know, “healthcare” has become one of the left’s euphemisms for abortion).

Here is one more example of why the abortion debate in America remains stifled. The piece contains no serious engagement of pro-life arguments, just the same old hackneyed accusation that pro-lifers don’t care about victims of abuse. I guess the editors think that supporting the right of military women to have tax-payer financed abortions is the same thing as supporting the military. If they think they can use this ploy to trick pro-military conservatives into being pro-abortion, they have another thing coming.

Sources:
“Disrespecting Women Soldiers,” The New York Times, May 29, 2005.
“
California Democrats try to allow abortions for troops overseas,” Associated Press, May 25, 2005

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D. A. Carson Slams the Emergent Church

Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 250pp. $14.99.

If you were wondering whether D. A. Carson had an opinion on the so-called “emergent church” movement, wonder no more. In his new book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications, Carson delivers a biblical and theological wallop against a movement that he argues has been animated by the values of postmodernity. Carson saves what is perhaps his severest denunciation for the very last page of the book, and it packs quite a rhetorical punch against emergent thought: “Damn all the false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ” (p. 234). Continue Reading →

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Pro-Choice Groups: “No Comment” on Killing Infants Born Alive


President George W. Bush signs the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 in Pittsburgh, Pa., Monday, Aug. 5, 2002.

In April, President George W. Bush issued a directive instructing doctors to make every effort to save the lives of premature babies born after failed abortions. The new measure is a step towards enforcing the 2002 law known as the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Under this law, an infant that survives an abortion procedure is no longer a fetus, but a person entitled to emergency medical care and protection against child abuse and neglect.

This law was aimed at preventing situations created by botched abortions, where the baby survives the abortion procedure but is nonetheless left to die. Hearings in Congress on this topic produced disturbing testimony about failed abortions. One medical worker testified concerning one baby who survived an abortion: “the child was breathing, the heart was beating and the child continued to live for several hours” before finally dying.

According to the New York Times, Naral Pro-Choice America and the Center for Reproductive Rights were asked to comment on the new enforcement measure. Their response was a “no comment.”

I think it is remarkable that Naral and the CRR cannot recognize the absolute atrocity of letting a little baby die on the operating table. I know that Naral and the CRR are clear about their support for legalizing the killing of unborn babies. But why can’t they be just as clear in condemning the killing of babies born alive?

Maybe it’s because these pro-choice advocates would have to admit that there is no morally significant difference between the baby inside the birth canal and the baby outside the birth canal. If the baby is treated as a human person immediately after birth, why is not treated as such immediately before birth? Does the baby go through some magical transformation from non-person to person in the inches that separate the pre-born form the born?

I think the pro-choicers know that if life is treated as precious just outside the womb, then there is no reason not to treat it as precious just inside the womb. And they don’t want to go there. This is why the pro-choice group had “no comment.” Truly there is no sane comment that could justify their morally indefensible position.

Source: “New Attention for 2002 Law on Survivors of Abortions” – New York Times

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Exploding the Myths of Pro-Choice Arguments

The results of a new study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology say that women who have an abortion are 1.7 times more likely to give birth prematurely in a later pregnancy. This finding has the potential to explode some of the myths of pro-choice advocates who do not want to admit that any adverse consequences result from abortion. The only way to keep this bomb shell from going off is to keep it buried and out of public view. Let’s see if we hear anything about this story in the news in the coming weeks. Don’t hold your breath.

Sources:
“
Revealed: how an abortion puts the next baby at risk,” by Michael Day, The London Daily Telegraph, May 15, 2005.
“
Previous induced abortions and the risk of very preterm delivery: results of the EPIPAGE study,” by Caroline Moreaua, et al., BJOG (April 2005).

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Counseling Shake-up at SBTS

Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), is taking some hits in the local and national media for his shake-up of SBTS’s counseling program. Moore comments about the hubbub on his blog.

The Louisville Courier-Journal (here) and the Associated Press (here) portrayed the changes in a negative light. The editorial in the Courier-Journal (here) was particularly critical. The editors said that the changes represented a “retreat from the mainstream of American life.” I suppose that’s supposed to be a derogatory remark, but it sounds awfully good to me. The last thing that we need is a Christian counseling program taking its cues from the dysfunctional “mainstream of American life.”

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Pope Bendedict XVI: A Co-belligerent Pope

Several years ago, I attended a conservative Presbyterian church as an associate member. This was a bit of a strange fit, since I was still a Baptist in my ecclesiological convictions. In my interview with the elders to become an associate of the church, they asked me if I took any exceptions with the Westminster Confession of Faith, the doctrinal standard of the Presbyterian Church in America. I had read through the confession in preparation for the interview and had come up with two things.

First, I told them that I did not believe in infant baptism but held to believer’s baptism. Surprisingly, that was okay with them! Second, I told them that I could not agree with the Confession’s statement that the Pope is the antichrist (WCF 25.6). To my mind then and now, that aspect of the Confession seemed a bit over-the-top and not born out by history or the Bible in any clear way. It certainly was not a hill that I was willing to die on, so I cited it as an objection. Surprisingly, again, this exception was okay with them too. It turned out that the Presbyterian Church in America had excised this portion of the Confession from the one that they were using at that time.

We Protestant evangelicals would all do well to excise this kind of blanket dismissal from our statements about the Pope. I think that Francis Schaeffer’s principle of “co-belligerency” still provides a useful model for how we as evangelicals relate to Roman Catholics in general and to the Pope in particular. Co-belligerence means that we evangelicals can stand together with Roman Catholics in our fight against the pervasive secularism that is overtaking western culture. We are united in our belligerence.

But unity in belligerence does not mean unity in confession. The historic theological differences that divide Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants still exist. Even though we Protestants still do not agree with Roman Catholics about issues such as the Apostolic succession of the Pope, the meaning of the sacraments, and the doctrine of Justification, this fact should not keep us from standing together against evils such as abortion and gay “marriage.”

A good example of this kind of co-belligerence occurred this week in a televised discussion about the senate filibustering of President Bush’s judicial appointments. Al Mohler appeared on the news program Scarborough Country on MSNBC and went to bat for a Catholic judge whose nomination is being filibustered because he is pro-life. Al Mohler is a reformed and Baptist in his theology and hardly sympathetic to Roman Catholicism on a number of issues (click here). Yet during the debate, he announced: “I‘m an evangelical Christian, but I‘m going to speak up on behalf of that man, who is a Roman Catholic, who holds to his church‘s teachings on abortion” (click here for transcript).

The posture that Francis Schaeffer, Al Mohler, and others advocate is not an ecumenism that ignores, minimizes, or compromises on the fundamental doctrines of Evangelical faith. Rather, it is what Timothy George called “an ecumenism of the trenches.”[1] That is, a united fight against the cultural onslaught. Al Mohler writes:

“Given the cultural disaster we face, and what is at stake, it simply makes sense for men and women who share basic worldview concerns to gather strength from each other, join hands and hearts, and enter the cultural fray. On this point, all but the most extreme separatists among us would agree.”[2]

Evangelicals should welcome the new Pope with a spirit of co-belligerence. While not compromising the “solas” of the Reformation, we can be thankful that there will be another voice in the public square opposing the downgrade of western culture. Pope Benedict XVI has taken public and outspoken stances against stem-cell research, abortion, homosexuality, relativism and more.[3] While we are not united with the Pope in our confession, we can stand with him in our belligerence.

For more on this controversial topic, I recommend the following article: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Standing Together, Standing Apart: Cultural Co-belligerence Without Theological Compromise.”

_____________________
[1]Quoted in R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Standing Together, Standing Apart: Cultural Co-belligerence Without Theological Compromise,” Touchstone July/August (2003).
[2]Ibid.
[3]For these reasons, his election has frustrated liberal Roman Catholics around the world (Ian Fisher, “German Cardinal Is Chosen as Pope,” New York Times, April 20, 2005).

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Does God care about filibusters?

Sometimes I read things that are so pitifully erroneous that I feel compelled to set the record straight. This is one instance.

Recently Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D.-Ill., complained about Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist’s participation in a simulcast to religious conservatives. The simulcast will include pro-family leaders — such as James Dobson — who have portrayed Democrats as being “against people of faith” for blocking President Bush’s judicial nominations.

Durbin was not at all happy that Frist was participating in such an event. Durbin groused: “I cannot imagine that God — with everything he has or she[1] has to worry about — is going to take the time to debate the filibuster in heaven.”[2]

I will not deny the rhetorical effectiveness of Durbin’s statement. It appeals to peoples’ common sense that a transcendent God would hardly stoop to concern Himself with the mundane details of human existence — much less the jaded world of power politics. After all, isn’t God above all that? Aren’t there more important things in the universe than what happens in one small city located on the galactic speck known as planet earth? The reasoning goes something like this: “God doesn’t care about petty things such as politics, so why should we care what He thinks about our public policies?”

I think Durbin’s statement merely reflects another cynical attempt to remove God from the public square — in this case, from the give and take of political discourse. But the main problem with Durbin’s ill-informed words is that nearly every phrase is chocked full of biblical and theological error. In one fell swoop of misinformation, Durbin manages to turn the biblical portrait of God’s providence on its head. God’s Providence refers to His constant care and control over every aspect of His creation (Ephesians 1:11). And Sen. Durbin misses it.

For starters, Durbin’s “I-cannot-imagine” appeal to common sense gets his listeners off on the wrong foot in their reflections about God — as if what one “imagines” matters one whit in the determination of reality. We shouldn’t be surprised by kooky theological reflection when the source of it is the mere musing of a misguided muckraker. What really matters is not the god of Durbin’s or anyone else’s imagination, but the God who has revealed Himself in the written canon of Scripture. And it is to the Scriptures that we will have to look if we want to know what God thinks about anything.

Jesus taught about the Father’s stooping to be involved in the affairs of men: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). In other words, God is very much involved in the day-to-day mundane events of our lives.

When Jesus refers to falling “sparrows” and numbered “hairs,” He teaches that God’s providential concern extends to the smallest details of our existence, to what in our terms would be the molecular level of existence.[3] In other words, there is no aspect of our lives that is beneath God. All of life belongs to Him and only finds its proper meaning and purpose in relation to Him. This truth would of course include the mundane world of politics.

Durbin intimates that God has more important things to do than to “worry” about our politics. Yet God’s Providence in Scripture is not depicted as something that stresses God out. As if He can’t have anything else added to His plate because He’s already got too much to do (like preventing the universe from imploding). God’s meticulous providence does not cause Him worry. On the contrary, biblically speaking, our worry is relieved by our knowledge of His providence. In Matthew 10:30, it is this truth that is to be a comfort to disciples who suffer at the hands of evil governments. If God’s care over His creation extends even to the smallest animal, then it certainly extends to His people.

For Durbin to suggest that God doesn’t care about the judiciary that will decide whether abortion-on-demand will remain legal is to make a grave error indeed. If God cares about the sparrows, you can be sure He cares about the babies. Their justice will not tarry long as God Himself eventually will call to account their oppressors (Psalm 82:3, 8; 146:9), a fact I’m sure many pro-abortionists would like to ignore. And the pro-abortionists will cause many others to ignore this truth so long as God and our accountability to Him are banned from the public consciousness.

So let us not keep silent when dinky theology is substituted for substantive, sound statements about God. Remarks like Sen. Durbin’s may be clever, but they are not true.
______________________
[1]A critique of Durbin’s dithering on the gender of God will have to wait for another time, but this issue in itself is important nonetheless.
[2]David D. Kirkpatrick and Carl Hulse, “Frist Accused of Exploiting Religion Issue,” New York Times, April 16, 2005. Accessed Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/16/politics/16judges.html.
[3]John Piper used this phrase in connection with this text, that the Lord’s Providence extends to the “molecular” level. He used it in a radio interview concerning the tsunami disaster.
______________________
This article appeared in the Baptist Press on August 20, 2005.
http://www.bpnews.net/bpfeature.asp?ID=1803

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The Veggie Tale Gospel vs. Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

I used to do the strangest thing during church services when I was a kid growing up in my home church of DeRidder, Louisiana. I made a regular habit of taking out the pew Bible during the sermon and reading the Old Testament stories that I thought were “cool.” I was fascinated by the biblical stories and their often stark portrayals of war, violence, and intrigue. I can remember reading about Amnon’s treachery against his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13) and the 200 Philistine foreskins that David paid Saul so that he could become the king’s son-in-law (1 Samuel 18). Stories like these became my friends when I couldn’t get my little preteen brain to focus on the preacher’s sermon.

A conversation today with Dr. Russell D. Moore, guest lecturer at the Criswell College, reminded me of my childhood fascination with these stories. Dr. Moore explained how he thought the evangelical church in America tends to water down the blood and guts of the biblical story line. It’s not just the Veggie Tales who have transformed the blood-thirsty Ninevites into cute little creatures whose only sin is to slap each other around with cute little fish, but this kind of non-violent biblical revisionism happens every Sunday morning in children’s Sunday school classes in conservative churches all across America. As a result, most young boys grow up envisioning Jesus not as the warrior-King of the Gospels, but as the feminine looking “bearded lady” of the flannel graph. Dr. Moore argued that this trend reflects a feminization of the biblical story line that ultimately causes young boys to lose interest in the Gospel.

Dr. Moore has written a short essay on this topic titled, “Children’s Sunday School and the Battle for the Bible.” Dr. Moore is one of my favorite writers, and I regularly read his blog at http://www.henryinstitute.com/. Visit the website. Read it often. I’m certain he’ll become one of your favorites too.

“Children’s Sunday School and the Battle for the Bible” – by Dr. Russell D. Moore

Dr. Russell D. Moore is the Dean of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky. He also serves as executive director of The Henry Institute, a think-tank named after Carl F. H. Henry that is devoted to equipping churches and church leaders to engage the culture from a biblical worldview perspective.

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