Archive for February, 2009

Abortion and the Image of God

Today, I read an article about abortion in the Log Cabin Democrat online.  I was a bit taken aback by the pithy but hollow arguments, from both sides in both the article and the comments that followed, regarding such a weighty matter.

The article, which you can read here, asked the following question, “How many potential Mother Theresas, Dr. Martin Luther Kings, Beethovens or Michael Jordans have been snuffed out?”  Further, the article included statistics showing that the majority of people in the USA do not support abortion.

I am not sure this article is very helpful. The problem is not that we might be killing the next Mother Theresa, Dr. King, Beethoven, or Jordan. What if someone isn’t going to be “great?” Are the people who aren’t all that benevolent or who won’t fight injustice at the cost of their own life or whose name you will never know or won’t make millions approved to be aborted?  What if someone will grow up to be homeless and die penniless, are they approved for abortion?

Neither is the problem the fact that the will-of-the-majority might not be carried out.  I realize we are in the USA, and the majority supposedly rules.  However, in the grand scheme that is a relatively minor contextual point that implies the majority not only rules but also decides morality.  If abortion were put to popular vote tomorrow, and every person voted in favor of it, the immorality of abortion would remain.  We would just be in agreement with each other in our approval and practice of it.

The problem with abortion is that we are both rejecting the cultural mandate that God has given (Genesis 1.28), that we are destroying the image of God by terminating the life of one who bears His image (Genesis 1.26-27, Genesis 4, Genesis 9.6) and that we exalt ourselves, the creature, over the creator (Romans 1.18-32), which is why we feel the freedom to abort our children. When we steal God’s glory by terminating or even simply degrading those made in His image, we sin against the almighty Creator and Judge.  Abortion is an atrocity that we should fight, but we forget that hating other people, as I think we do when we degrade our opponents in the debate, is also called murder in the Bible (Matthew 5.21-22, James 3.9).  Surely we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).  There is no distinction, we all deserve death, but in His grace, Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, took our sin upon Himself and died that we might become the righteousness of God (Romans 6.23, 2 Corinthians 5.21). 

As we enter into such discussion and debate, let us put the pithy, degrading, and emotionally driven arguments aside and dare to lovingly (which is different than feebly or naively) ask and answer honest questions while proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.  After all, abortion will not cease apart from hearts being changed by the gospel.

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Speak the Gospel Clearly

This post may well be more for myself than anyone else who might read it.  Nonetheless, I feel compelled to encourage us in the plain presentation of the gospel as we seek to see sinners saved by the grace of God.

“Some religious groups use a quite distinctive religious vocabulary, and they may even employ distinctive syntactic constructions.  The more a religious group attempts to be ‘separated from the world,’ the more likely they are to develop a highly specialized ‘other world’ vocabulary, and to use such expressions as brothers and sisters, true to the faith, saved by the blood, washed in the blood, saved to serve, born-again, and filled with the Spirit.  Unfortunately it sometimes happens that a religious group develops such a distinctive ‘holy ghetto language’ that they cut themselves off from effective communication will all but their own in-group.”* Nida and Louw, two top-shelf biblical scholars, made the above statement in their book dealing with the Greek New Testament.  They were writing to deal with a much more academic and specific issue than sharing the gospel with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, yet their statement has profound impact on how we talk about the gospel, sin, Jesus Christ, salvation, and everything else within Christianity to those who are not part of our “in-group.” 

When we share the gospel with someone it is very easy to assume that person knows all the same things we do.  For instance, when we use the name Jesus, there is a whole lot packed into that name.  He is the Word.  He is the Son of God.  He is God.  He created all things.  He is the bread of life.  He is Lord.  He is the alpha and omega.  We could go on.  However, when we say the name Jesus to someone who is not part of a church and/or has not read the Bible, all of this truth might not convey to him or her in the way we want or expect it to convey.  The same point may be true if we are having a conversation with a new believer and we throw out a word like propitiation (the satisfying of God’s wrath against sin).  Both Jesus and propitiation are biblical words, and we should not shy away from them.  Similarly, both Jesus and propitiation are biblical words that have a particular content and meaning, so we had better make sure we are clear about what they mean. 

Nida and Louw’s statement applies on another level as well.  As we grow in our understanding of theology and Christian culture generally, we often develop a vocabulary that is not derived from Scripture (as Jesus and propitiation are).  Trinity is a great example.  When we use the word trinity in the theological sense there are literally centuries of discussion, several historic creeds and confessions, and volumes upon volumes of attempted explanation that are behind this word that is not found in Scripture but summarizes the biblical teaching on who God is.  We might have a working knowledge of this word and its depth of content, but not everyone else does.

We could hardly expect a person on the street to get what we are talking about with no further explanation when we are using such theologically and culturally conditioned words, nor should we work to strip away all the technical and “holy ghetto language” of Christianity.  Rather, we should be considerate of and patient with those who do not know our God or the vocabulary we use to talk about Him.  We should work to communicate the things of God clearly and in the vernacular of our audience (whether the audience is 1 or 1,000).**  We must remember that there is a big difference between knowing the vocabulary of Christians and being known by the Lord of Christians.  May we work hard to rightly understand and clearly proclaim the wonders of our God to all who will listen.  The vocab can come later.  If someone is going to stumble over the gospel, we would do good to insure, as far as we can, that they are stumbling over the stumbling stone and not our description of it.

 


* Eugene A. Nida and Johannes P. Louw, Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament, vol. 25, Society of Biblical Literature: Resources for Biblical Study (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), 32.

 

** Of course, there are some words that are necessary in order to rightly proclaim the gospel.  However, our problem is rarely using to simple of language.  Whether theologically liberal or theologically conservative we have a love affair with sounding smart when we talk about the gospel.  If our audience does not know the difference I am not sure a technical word well defined is any better than a technical word that has been hijacked.

 

 

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Do You Measure Up?

Let me begin by giving credit where credit is due.  Almost all of what follows is from a conversation I had a few months ago with buddy of mine named Lance, and most of it was his side of the conversation.  I found it very helpful in understanding certain aspects of the gospel.

Our whole lives we are measured.  From beginning to end, front to back, top to bottom we are measured.  We measure ourselves, and to keep us honest everyone around us measures us also.  When a baby is conceived, or thought to be, the mom measures various hormone levels to see if she is actually pregnant.  Doctor’s are so anxious to start measuring the baby that they have developed all kinds of machines that magically look through the mom’s belly to see and hear the baby.  A technician of some sort immediately starts taking all kinds of measurements of what appears to be a grey cloud on a television.  The doctor listens to the heartbeat to make sure it is up to snuff.  These pre-measurements continue for nine months. 

When the baby arrives nurses almost immediately whisk him off and start a whole new set of measurements, head size, length, weight, hearing, etc.  The child spends the first three or four years of his life being measured by parents, grandparents, and friends in comparison to all the other kids approximately the same age.  It sounds innocent, but it is a measurement. 

Mom 1 – “When did Johnny start crawling?”
Mom 2 – “At about nine months, I guess.”
Mom 1 – “Really, Suzie started crawling at 6 months, and she was walking by 9 months.  This weekend she is running the Boston Marathon.”
Mom 2 – “Oh.”

This parental measurement continues for the rest of his life, but after a few years the child goes to school where every conceivable facet of his life is measured in every conceivable way by his teachers, administrators, and most harshly by his friends on the playground.  School continues for 13 years for most, and some who “measure up” get to add on another 4 years (even more for those who keep measuring up) of this educational measurement. 

After school the measuring doesn’t stop, it just changes.  We measure each others salaries, tax returns, toys, families, success, waistline, hairline, retirement fund, investments, resumes and anything else we can quantify in some way.  When these life measurements end we are dead, but the measuring continues to make sure our suit and casket fit right.

God measures us also.  He is not so much concerned with height, weight, or benefit package.  God is concerned with holiness (Hebrews 12.14; Revelation 21.27).  When God holds up his plumb line, it is to see if we are righteous.  If we stand on our own, we are found to be unrighteous, sinful (Romans 3.23).  We are found to have a heart of stone.  We are found to be dead in sin (Ephesians 2.1-3).

But, if we stand before God, united to Christ by faith, it is Christ who is measured.  The plumb line is held up to Christ then God declares us righteous (Romans 3.24-25, 5.9; Colossians 2.13-14; 2 Corinthians 5.21).  I think this is why the gospel is so sweet on one hand, and such a stumbling block for us on the other hand.  We spend our whole lives being measured, but in the end our ability to stand in the judgment depends on Christ measuring up in our place.  We would do good to let the reality of how foreign that is to us sink in a bit.  A person’s salvation does not depend on them being measured and found acceptable.  If we are measured by God we will always be found wanting.  A person’s salvation depends on Christ being measured and found acceptable.  Salvation depends on the work of Christ.  If you are counted as righteous, it is not because you are, it is because Christ is and his righteousness was imputed to you.  What’s more is that when Christ was measured at the cross it was actually the sin of his people that was measured.  Jesus Christ took our sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21).

 

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