Monthly Archives: August 2011

NY Times: Readers Register Discomfort Over “Pregnancy Reduction”

Those who read about the New York Times magazine story on “pregnancy reductions” (a euphemism for the abortion of one or more gestating babies) on this and other blogs might find this graphic from the NYT interesting.

It’s a bit hard to make out (click here for the link to the graphic), but it shows that a majority of commenters on the Times‘s website found the story hard to bear.  The commenters are undoubtedly from a wide range of backgrounds, but the range of responses recorded to the left show a profound discomfort with the practice of “reducing” twins from a mother’s womb.  This response is heartening.  Part of comprehending the world aright is being unsettled by ghastly things.

Also worth noting: 21 people responded by noting that they are twins and “couldn’t imagine life without their twin.”  I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to bear the continual memory of a child aborted in the womb, let alone to be visibly reminded of this abortion on a daily basis by the presence of the living twin.  In the smile, the childish ebullience, the sleeping face of one’s child, one would always see the frail image of another, departed brother or sister.  This sounds like the subject material of a particularly dark work of fiction, but it is not.  It is the reality for a growing numbers of dads and moms.

Ghosts are not real, but they can almost be real.

I am reminded of the chilling scene from The Pianist when, awaiting deportation to Treblinka, a mother wails, for hours and hours, “Why did I do it?”  She had smothered her baby to avoid being discovered by Nazi guards and was haunted to the point of insanity by her decision.  I think modern parents choosing “pregnancy reduction” may face such realities.  May Christians be vigilant to peacefully and prayerfully oppose their efforts, and to offer the hope of Christ when the weight of guilt comes crashing down and the ghost of a twin flits through an ordinary morning.

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Paige Patterson on the Need for Personal Ministry Training

I saw this link a while back on Al Mohler’s Twitter feed and found it helpful.  It’s from the Southern Baptist Texan and written by Tammi Ledbetter.  The article, entitled “Patterson: Preparation for Ministry Requires Sacrifice,” includes the following helpful commentary from Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson:

“Pastoral ministry, evangelism, missions, counseling and music are all, by the nature of the disciplines, incarnational, not mechanical,” Patterson added. To think otherwise is as ludicrous as believing the Navy SEALS who took down Osama bin Laden had received all of their training online, he observed.

“There’s never going to be a day when we train special ops or the common soldier without taking him to a base, out of his comfort zone, and instilling certain disciplines that can never be instilled online.”

Read the whole story.

There is much that one could write about this subject.  Many of us are thankful for the way that online education allows people who would not otherwise be able to study from faithful teachers to do so.  But I think that Patterson has an important point here.  I like his linkage of ministry training to Navy SEAL preparation.  If we take military training so seriously that we require future SEALs to effectively give up their former lives to qualify as elite soldiers to serve their country, why would we take spiritual training in service of our Savior less seriously?

We should in fact take it more seriously.  There is nothing that more bears upon the health of the church of Jesus Christ than the preparation of its ministers.  The seminary is far more important than we might think.  The instruction that one receives from real, live professors who model what they teach, meet students outside of class for discipleship, and generally exude a Christlike spirit cannot be calculated in value.  It costs us, yes, to enter into such a course of study, but isn’t that the point?  What are we doing in ministry but taking up our cross to follow Christ–in order that others might do the same?

Should such an act be light, weightless, easy, convenient?  One might argue that it should not.  We are not gluttons for unnecessary punishment, but the minister of the cross should be more than willing to bear hard burdens in order to steward heavenly realities.

The seminary fills a vital role; the costs it requires are vital costs.

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Notable Books: Help! I Can’t Get Motivated

My friend Adam Embry, an assistant pastor at Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, has just published a helpful booklet with DayOne Publications.  It’s called Help! I Can’t Get Motivated (DayOne, 2011) and it tackles the widespread problem of sloth (to use a medieval term).  This pamphlet is one of many in the Help! series from the publisher.

Here’s a selection that shows the strength of this text:

The gospel of salvation in Jesus reverses the curse of sin.  The sorrow and sin that our laziness brings is defeated and reversed.  No more will thorns infest the grounds of believers’ hearts.  We are also no longer fools, because Jesus Christ is ours.  Because of the power of the gospel we are transformed and motivated to love God and our neighbors by working to please Jesus. (37)

Pick up this theologically rich booklet, and pass it along to someone struggling with the all-too-common problem of laziness and passivity.  Adam has done good work here, and look for more from him in the future.  (Also, he once could throw some serious heat–about 90 miles per hour.  So let that factor in as well.)

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Lonely Love: Seeking Marriage Through the Internet

Is it right for Christians to find a spouse through the Internet?

A recent story in the New Yorker leads to questions like this for committed evangelicals. “Looking for Someone” by Nick Paumgarten paces through the recent explosion of online dating, a phenomenon that has led to real-life marriage for many couples. One selection from the piece shows the complexity of the new romantic landscape:

[T]he fastest-growing online-dating demographic is people over fifty—a function perhaps of expanding computer literacy and diminished opportunity. I recently got to know a woman I’ll call Mary Taft, who is seventy-six, has a doctorate in education, and has been married and divorced twice. She lives outside Boston. As a single mother, in her forties, she gave up men for a while….In 2000, she put an ad in Harvard Magazine. “This seemed horrible to me, but I got all kinds of responses. A nice guy from Vermont drove all the way down to see me.” And then, when she was almost seventy, she discovered Internet dating, and the frequency and variety of her assignations intensified.

The essay traces new developments in romance, but the broader reality behind the piece is ages-old: how to find someone to spend the rest of one’s life with. Civilizations and societies have offered different answers to this quandary with varying results. Whatever one thinks about arranged marriage, for example, it certainly offered a straightforward solution to the question of whom to marry. Though many choice-driven westerners would balk at such an arrangement, we cannot conclude that it does not offer a solution.

This is a matter that requires the attention of pastors and churches. How are we to help singles find spouses in our day? Do we leave them to the wilds of the Internet? I might suggest that the church take an active role in caring for its single members by stressing the essential goodness of the community of Christ. Online dating may not be wrong–it may well led to marriage in some cases–but it seems deficient in comparison to the real-life interaction and experience that the congregation creates and allows.

We might also suggest that the elders and pastors of evangelical churches take note of developments like online dating and shepherd, in even a basic way, the romantic culture of their churches. Is clear from books like 1 Corinthians that church leaders like Paul involved themselves in questions of marriage and romance (chapter seven, for example). Paumgarten’s piece helps us to see that ours is simultaneously a sex-crazed but intimacy-lacking world. Can we form a culture of purity that is also a culture of meaningful connection?

Our churches have an opportunity to show the world a better way to marriage. Perhaps, in an isolary, lonely world, we can image, however imperfectly, a greater union, the covenant of love shared between Christ the pursuer and his radiant bride, the church (Ephesians 5).

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This is a post from the blog Thesis.

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Shame on Us if We Ever Neglect the Unborn

The NYT has just released a heart-rending story about “pregnancy reduction,” a euphemism for selective abortion.  Read the whole story here.  This is a snatch from the article, which made me sick to my stomach:

As Jenny lay on the obstetrician’s examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn’t want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny’s abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.

Here is the whole piece, entitled “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy,” written by Ruth Padawer (HT: Denny Burk).

Much has been made of the so-called “culture wars” in our day, the fight over social matters that divide America roughly in half.  The media decries battles over abortion, gay rights, euthanasia, and other issues, and some evangelicals have joined the chorus, opting to focus primarily on causes that share universal approbation, like fighting sex trafficking.  I am all for working to end that heinous practice, but I find the championing of popular cultural causes (and ignoring unpopular ones) a devil’s bargain.  Shame on us if we ever turn away from the cause of the unborn.  Shame on us if we ever lose the will to stop fighting for the weak and marginalized.

Right now, there are needles “aiming at” helpless, innocent, life-exhibiting fetuses.  Shame on us if we turn away from the “shadows floating inside” expectant mothers.  In hope borne of trust in a great God, may we work with all our strength in peaceable ways to overturn this great evil.   In the process, we seek to extol the glory of Christ, who saves a fallen humanity even as it turns the knife on itself, killing offspring bearing God’s image in order to save money and steward time.  Our aims are twofold: to save human lives (the fetus) and to save human souls–the fathers and mothers, lost just like we once were, who opt to kill their children rather than love them.

As powerful as evil seems to be, after all, God’s grace is stronger still.

(Image: Katherine Wolkoff for the NYT)

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One of the Most Helpful Books You’ll Find: Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology

Having recently begun reading and using Southern Seminary theology professor Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Zondervan, 2011), I can say that it is easily one of the most helpful books on my shelf.  If you are a pastor, a theologian, a Bible teacher, Sunday School teacher, care group leader, or interested layperson, this book will directly benefit you.

I don’t know of any resource quite like Allison’s text, now published after a decade of continual research and writing.  If you want to consider how various eminent figures have handled, say, the doctrine of the image of God, you simply find the relevant chapter and then begin reading.  Allison has made a great deal of research in history and theology a great deal easier for many of us.

Clearly written, warmly evangelical, and with excellent source-work (very helpful for papers and other writing projects), Historical Theology is a must-buy for those who are serious about their faith and the Christian past.  The companion to the best modern systematic theology, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Historical Theology is one of those books that you find yourself wishing was written–and now is.

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Mohler v. Wallis October 2011: Is Social Justice the Church’s Mission?

I don’t know if you’ve seen word of this, but this debate, sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, looks great.  It’s between Al Mohler and Jim Wallis and will cover the role of social justice in the mission of the church.  The debate will be held on October 27, 2011 at TEDS.

Here’s the description of an event that will surely attract a good deal of attention, and should.

North American Evangelicals, long focused on sharing the gospel as the essential mission of the church, have recently become very interested in issues of social justice. A growing sentiment among some today is that Jesus, when he lived on Earth, was indeed among the poor and marginalized, and this fact has, or at least should have, implications for the church’s self-understanding and mission.

Rightly or wrongly, this interest in social justice is being transformed into a blueprint for a new vision of ecclesial ministry. For those holding this position, social justice is not only a burning concern as we seek to embody a pure and faultless religion, but also an essential part of the mission of the church. For others, this new blueprint conjures up concerns about liberal Christianity and a watering down of the gospel, not unlike what took place in Europe in the 20th century. The defining mission of the church, for them, continues to be the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ to all nations, generations, and social classes. The issue of social justice, though important, is not to be considered as an essential part of the mission of the church. A basic question at the heart of the debate is this: Is social justice an essential part of the mission of the church?

The Henry Center for Theological Understanding, in its Trinity Debates forum, is pleased to provide a public venue for addressing this question by hosting two prominent voices from competing perspectives. Jim Wallis will answer “Yes” and R. Albert Mohler will answer “No.”

I look forward to watching this debate, which most likely will be webcasted.  The Henry Center continues to produce events that are of great importance to the faith and practice of the evangelical church, and is definitely a center worth following (on Twitter, for example).

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