Monday, August 17, 2015

Abortion, Francis Bacon, and the Abolition of Man

The Mechanical Governess, 
attr. to Vichy et Fils, circa 1880

It is not often that people across both the country and the media are shocked and sickened by the practices of a liberal darling organization like Planned Parenthood. Nonetheless, Cecile Richards who leads the group was defiant and many stood by the nation’s largest abortion provider including the White House and the Democratic 2016 presidential frontrunner. Their practice of harvesting the intact body parts of aborted babies and selling them is not an unfortunate departure from the modern world’s march of progress. It’s what happens when scientific civilization divorces Christian civilization and becomes a technologically empowered cult of selfish autonomy.

Modern people expect to control the world. It’s what modern means. The world out there is a chaotic and dangerous place in need of taming to make it predictable and safe. Modern science promises and provides that. Ancient and medieval inventions improved life, but they were few and haphazard. Modern inventions have flowed like a river with an ever wider and stronger current. This was no accident of time. The distinctly modern understanding of reason as calculating and production-oriented directed the efforts of the mechanically ambitious through a disciplined method toward the conquest of nature for the relief of our estate.

But the blessing has been mixed. The information revolution of the internet has given us easy access to vast reservoirs of information and rapid email communication, but also a deluge of pornography and shattered spans of attention. Infant mortality rates have plummeted, but abortion technology has made pre-natal infanticide “safe,” clinical, and somewhat respectable. And so on.

The problem is not just the technology that appears equally open to good or evil uses, but the view of creation both human and non-human that technology assumes. God commanded us to “take dominion” of the earth (Genesis 1:26), which modern technology helps us to do. But that requires that we see ourselves as God’s image bearers in God’s world under God’s authority for God’s purposes. Without that understanding, we are left with tyrannical domination over the universe—including the human, even the soul, the psyche—with no moral guidance except our selfish desires. Whatever we can do we should (e.g., human cloning, designer babies), because mastery must extend as far as possible so that my autonomy may be as wide as possible.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis warned that man’s control of the universe through an atheistic science necessarily becomes the power of some people over most people. And because reason is no longer also for hearing and understanding God but now only for conquering and calculating, we are left only with the passions for guiding our use of that power, most often the selfish ones.

Sir Francis Bacon, the early 17th century author of the modern scientific project to make us masters of the universe, tried to calm people’s fears (notice, there were fears even then) that this greater power over nature would bring even greater evils upon us. The products of the new science, he assured us in New Organon I.129, would be governed by “sound reason and true religion” (recta ratio et sana religio). But he knew that both of these are historically rare and that his new science would undermine both. He expected this modern empire of man to be pagan and dangerous though peaceful and comfortable, and, as Christian restraints are falling away, that is precisely what it is showing itself to be.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama defended abortion rights as necessary to "ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities [control] as our sons to fulfill their dreams [selfish desires].” For women to share equally with men in modern personal autonomy—unconstrained by God, morality, or nature—they must have free access to abortion, even, if necessary, as the baby is being born.

It is this morally and spiritually unrestrained drive to conquer the world technologically for the sake of comfort and convenience that underlies not only the horror of selling fetal body parts but the horror of abortion itself. Employees at Planned Parenthood can discuss the enterprise over salad and wine and haggle over the price list as though she were selling old housewares at a yard sale simply because they’re consistently modern people. They believe the world exists to be transformed and conformed to my desires.

The prophet Daniel confessed that the sins of his people were his own sins too (Daniel 9:4-11). The sobering truth is that modern Christians share in this morally and spiritually unrestrained drive to conquer the world technologically for our comfort and convenience. Until we properly distinguish the uniquely modern from the Christian, a form of distinguishing Christ from the world, we will continue to be complicit in these horrors.

[Portions of this post first appeared in my column, August 10, 2015, "Abortion and the Modern People We Are."]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Christ in the Charleston Massacre

Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Emanuel AME, Charleston SC
In his sermon on the mount, our Lord Jesus exhorted his weak little flock of disciples, saying, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16 KJV). Last week, the relatives of the slain in the Charleston Massacre embodied, with stunning humility and love, the character of Christ as they addressed the killer, 

Dylann Roof, face to face in the courtroom. One after another, tearfully, they forgave him, prayed for God’s mercy on him, and called him to repent. In effect, they called the killer to become their bother. The life of God in the souls of men, the overcoming love of Christ before the powers of hell, was movingly on display before a watching world.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, descended from the slaves of the signer of Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was clearly a great pastor. The response of his church to his murderer shows that Jesus is a great Savior. Here is the testimony.

Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance: “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You’ve hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you."

Anthony Thompson spoke for the family of Myra Thompson: "I forgive him. My family forgive you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you'll be okay. Do that! And you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

Felicia Sanders, mother of young Tywanza Sanders: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifullest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero! But as we say in the Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”

Alana Simmons, granddaughter of 74-year old Rev. Daniel Simmons: "Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof—everyone’s plea for your soul is proof—that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won't win."

The sister of DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, admitted, "For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry.” But she remembered her sister teaching her, “We are the family that love built! We have no room for hate so we have to forgive. And I pray God on your soul. And I thank God that I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him. May God bless you.”

The late Christopher Hitchens, a notorious atheist, claimed that "religion poisons everything." These people are evidently not poisoned. Indeed, just the opposite. They are being perfected in love. Ask yourself: Is my church and my personal discipleship in Christ helping me (and my children!) grow to become more like these people?

In his diabolical ignorance and confusion, this miserable young man wanted to provoke a race war. Instead, he got deeper sympathy and understanding between black and white Americans than we've seen in a long time, perhaps when we need it the most.

When times are darkest, Christ shines the most brightly. Consider the cross itself. Satan's death blow was the triumph of Christ. What Roof meant for evil, God is using for good. So ask, “How can I be part of this good?”

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Anchoring in the Basics of the Christian Faith

Jules-Alexis Muenier - La Leçon de Catéchisme (1890) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
For a thousand years, we have lived in Christendom, the Christian West, in which the truths of the Christian faith have been taken for granted societally. This is no longer so. Mothers can be denied custody of their children for being "religious extremists," i.e., biblically serious Christians. The cultural elite increasingly sees biblical Christianity as an appalling religion on par with the Taliban. Consider the Google homepage, a kind of town square. It offers well wishes to all sorts of groups for their special days and seasons, but at Christmas there are no holiday felicitations to Christians for the celebration of their Savior's birth. There is just a secular "Tis the Season" banner. They cannot even recognize the existence of what they obviously view as a dangerous presence among us. 

This shows how strange and even abhorrent biblical Christianity has become to many people. Now, just as in pagan Rome, Christians need a strong centering in the fundamental teachings of the Bible to be able to answer the scoffing, accusations, and distortions that come from the ungospelled world around us.

When the Apostle Paul was answering objections from his Jewish opponents in the first century, he made repeated reference back to the basics of the faith, the fundamental principles that are clear in the Bible and on which believers of good faith would never disagree. When you nail down the basics, you have the clear teachings in light of which you can navigate your way through the more complex truths of the faith. You are better equipped through the more clear passages and teaching to interpret the less clear. And you are less likely to be taken in by the seductive tends of the culture that pass themselves off as wisdom and goodness, less likely to be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14).

We find these biblical basics in the ecumenical creeds, like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.  These are good as far as they go, but they address fourth century issues (still important issues). They do not address issues of the twenty-first century like the inerrancy of Scripture and the way of salvation. Catechisms like the Westminster catechisms and the Heidelberg catechism collect and systematize these biblical basics so as to equip people of every age to believe and live in way properly glorifying to God. That's what a catechism does.

More than ever, Christians need to anchor themselves in the fundamentals of their faith, the biblical basics, even such starting points as creation, fall, and redemption...the garden, the curse, and the cross. 

Let me offer these 12 "biblical basics" from which you may launch into the wider fundamentals and the deeper truths of God's Word.

1. God is Sovereign – he created all things and governs all things.

2. God is Righteous – this includes that he is good, true, faithful, and just.

3. God is Trinity in unity – one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

4. God alone deserves glory  Ps. 115:1. The universe & even God himself are God-centered!

5. Christ is fully God and fully man – if you deviate from either one of these, you’re a heretic.

6. Christ is Savior – he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

7. Christ is Lord – he’s the boss; not me.

8. The Bible is the word of God  it is true in all that it teaches.

9. The Bible is the only rule of faith & life – what we’re to believe regarding God, love, and sin.

10. Man is created in the image of God – this should affect how you think of others.

11. Man sins in all he thinks, says, and does – this should affect how you think of yourself.

12. Salvation from that sin is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

Hold fast to what is true! You can have peace, and bring peace to others, when you clear away confusion and noise and focus on the fundamental truths of the Bible.

Look for the sermon on this topic delivered at Trinity Church (OPC) on Long Island (December 28, 2014) through SermonAudio.