Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Facebook and Abortion: How Then Shall We Post?

Not long ago I linked to an article about abortion on Facebook and offered no comment. A Facebook "friend" whom I haven't known for decades wrote me a personal message of disgust that I would link to such an article. For him, the pro-choice position is a slam dunk and it was offensive to even see a link to an article that talked about a different position. In the course of his reply he told me that he unfriended me because he did not want to see anything like this pop up on his feed again, he scoffed at me and my religious peers for holding to (and being public about) our pro-life position, he warned that society is not going to go backwards on this issue (or any other), and he questioned the lack of love it would take for a person like me to implicitly judge others by linking to this article. After this rocky start, we actually ended up having a very amicable back-and-forth and we left off our correspondence in disagreement, and even continuing to be offended by each other's views, but at least we did so having heard one another out. With his permission, here is a copy/paste of my initial reply to him:
Hi -------,

Please read this response as though I were speaking in an gentle (and not an angry) tone. It would be my hope that issues such as this could be discussed in such a loving manner.

I guess the crux of the whole issue is whether life begins at conception or not. If it does not (which pro choice people contend), then an argument can be made for a woman's right to choose. But if it does, then anyone who opposes murder and oppression will oppose abortion, regardless of their religious views. My belief in the Bible does three things to my views on this entire issue:
1) It increases my view of the value of every single human life, unborn or born, poor or rich, disabled or elite athlete, because all people are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
2) It emphasizes that life not only begins at conception, but that the God who created all things knits people together in their mother's womb (Psalm 139:13), and therefore, when a person has an abortion they are tearing apart a life that God is in the process of knitting together.
3) It humbles me because I am a sinner who is undeserving of the favour of God and it emboldens me to look other sinners in the eyes (including those who have had abortions) and to declare that Jesus died for that very sin and that there is hope for them! The good news of Jesus Christ says to all people that they are more sinful and flawed than they ever dared to believe and that they are more loved in Jesus Christ than they ever dared to hope. In light of this, there is no one who is beyond hope.
As for your argument about progress, I would suggest that if life does begin at conception, legalized and widespread abortion is not progress, but it is legalized genocide. And this is not the first time in history (in the west) that arguments have been made that real, precious, beautiful humans are not at all human and therefore, it is o.k. to oppress, use, and murder them. See this little cartoon for an explanation: http://adam4d.com/slavery/

In the case of African slavery and slave trade, I praise God that Wilberforce raised awareness and was instrumental in having it all abolished (in England).

As for the planned parenthood videos, I think that their main function is to raise awareness about what goes on in abortion clinics, what aborted babies look like, etc. If you've seen the Hollywood movie "Amazing Grace" about Wilberforce, you might remember him touring a group of rich people around a slave ship. He tells them to stop plugging their noses because they need to smell the smell of death that they are wanting to escape, because they need to know what is happening so they can make informed decisions.

Those are my responses to your note. But I'll add that the article I linked to was certainly incomplete, because if a person (whether Christian or not) is anti-abortion, they had better be pro life, which will mean that they spend money and time and energy and tears caring for and supporting those who choose to have babies instead of aborting because they want to give a beautiful child a chance to live. It means that they will foster, adopt, assist in adoption processes, and provide counsel and support for those who are in these situations. This is what needs to be said beyond what the article had mentioned.


Back to my blog post again, I want to offer two more thoughts about abortion, hot-button issues, and Facebook before I close off:

Beware of insider posts and links

I would suggest that if you are doing anything other than linking to cute pics of your kids, and jubilant remarks about the superiority of the Toronto Blue Jays, that you should have three groups in mind as you post: 1) People who radically disagree with you; 2) People who radically agree with you; 3) People who are either undecided, or who have not yet formed their own opinion, but whose convictions on a given issue are the result of following the group with whom they identify (e.g. their church or the popular culture, etc). If you, say, are a Christian who only has group #2 in mind when you post, you will likely come across with an air of superiority to group #1, and you will tend to foster pride with those in group #3 who agree with you as their default position. It's the old Puritan principle, and we see it modeled so well in the ministry of Tim Keller: anticipate objections in your hearers (or readers) and speak to them. If you are a Christian with a whole lot of enemies, is it possible that the reason people hate you is not only because the gospel you treasure is so offensive, but because you hold your position in a prideful, brash, and abrasive manner, or at least are perceived as such by group #1 because of the insider attitude of your posts? In the end, people will still hold to views that offend others, but if we avoid insider language perhaps we could win more of a hearing. I'm certainly guilty of failing in this regard, but I also constantly work to grow in this.

Feel free (and even compelled) to link to thoughtful articles on difficult topics:

In other words, do not be a coward as you seek to be winsome. Anyone who operates with conviction will have views that offend some. Link to articles and offer your perspective but don't do so with a select few of your readers in mind. Think through the broad spectrum of your readership, including the question of how certain real-life individuals would hear what you are saying, and then post away.


The weird world of social media has provided a platform that can be used effectively, but it should be used thoughtfully, winsomely and wisely.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to Become a Preacher -- Advice for Students and Other Aspiring Preachers

I have thought a lot about how to become a preacher and how to grow as a preacher. Since a student-friend of mine just asked me this very question, and since my answer to him came at a time of particular clarity about my own thinking in this regard, I thought I'd share what I wrote to him on this sorely neglected blog of mine. So, here is my best advice on how to become a preacher who has a practical edge:

- Think about normal, non-academics at church and ask them to go out for coffee. And listen. Get to know them. Become friends. I mean people who are older and who you wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards. These are the people who will be on your heart and mind when you are doing exegesis for sermon prep in the future. And you will quickly learn that none of them will come to church wondering who wrote Ecclesiastes and when. They will come to church wanting hope. The authorship and date of Ecclesiastes’ composition may come into play in your preaching, but it will be a passing comment or the foundation of the real work of exposition and application you will do.

- In time, ask these people if you can share with them what you are learning at school. Then, in your own words and without prep, explain to them  a passage you wrote an essay on — not the content of the essay, but what the passage means and how it applies to you two personally. If they give you a blank stare, apologize and listen. A preacher’s job is to hold the interest of his people and to always be so urgent and loving and interesting that the people want to listen.

- Choose your essay topics wisely. Don’t write essays on minutiae but on texts and topics of utmost importance. Write on Exodus 1, 2, 14, 19, 20; Deut 17:14-20; a prophet like Moses, etc. Do real exegesis and theological wrestling.

- When you write an essay, wrestle and do a ton of notes on the text on your own before reading commentaries. Don’t let commentaries set the agenda for how you approach a passage. Commentaries should be supplemental, but when used this way, they are very helpful. If you don’t know the original language, use the ESV as your base text, but also compare the NIV and the NLT and likely also the NET (reading the NET notes as well). And write a ton of your own reflections on the passage. A ton. I wrote 100 pages of exegetical notes from the Hebrew text of Isaiah before beginning reading secondary sources on this book in prep for my last comprehensive exam.

- Read conservative scholars who are very academic. And also read broadly.

- After you do all of the exegetical work and after your write your essay (and maybe even take someone from church out to explain the passage to them), listen to a variety of sermons on that same passage. The most ideal people I know of for this purpose are Mark Dever, Tim Keller, D.A. Carson and John Mahaffey, but there are certainly others I could mention and still others I haven’t heard much. These preachers are expository, they preach on large chunks of text, they are extremely evangelistic and illustrative and theological and practical and they build a hearer’s ability to read the Word of God. Since you have done the depth-work on the text at hand already, it will be helpful to hear how some seasoned preachers have approached your same text. Soak this in. Don’t listen to only one preacher. Let a variety of approaches soak in. If you only listen to one you will not find your own voice; you will become a lesser mini-replica who doesn’t do nearly as well as the master.

- Continue to be mentored in the context of your local church and let the preaching at church shape who you are and who you are becoming!

- Take Greek and Hebrew and focus here in your studies. Do as much of this as you can and live in the Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible.

- As your local church gives you opportunities to use your emerging Word-gifts, take them and serve people. You learn by doing more than by practicing without real people on your heart and mind and in your prayers!

- Focus also on Biblical Theology. Read lots of it. See how the Bible fits together and begin to develop an instinct to read every passage in light of the whole and with Christ as the focal point of salvation-history.

- Do your own personal devotions in a variety of places in the Bible. I currently have five bookmarks in my Bible and I read one chapter from each place per day if at all possible. Currently I’m in Exodus, Leviticus, Psalms, Matthew, and James. When you do this you will see connections every day that you would not have seen otherwise. After you read, praise God for the various expressions of his character you see in each of the chapters, before you move to pray for other things — yourself and others. Other alternatives to my more freestyle method are the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan or, even better, Grant Horner’s method. I like my approach because it allows me to cluster things if I want to (e.g. two books of Torah right now), and because it is manageable — I may even cut it down to four chapters so I can read more reflectively; we’ll see.

- So some foundational work in systematic theology — read especially Grudem (as an intro) and Calvin’s Institutes and others. Take classes in systematic and historical theology (especially Calvin) if at all possible.

- Listen to John Piper’s biographies from the desiringgod.org web site. Augustine, Tyndale, Luther, Edwards, and Piper are especially good, but they are all really helpful. Let these be introductions that lead you into reading the works of these pastor-scholars.

So those are some random thoughts, my two cents. I hope they are helpful!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Music Video for Dads: You'll Find Your Way

I'm glad that JT and Challies both posted the following video. I cuddled up with my seven year old and four year old and watched this afternoon...and it was powerful to do so!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Free Lectures on Romans by Douglas Moo

Douglas Moo's commentary on Romans ranks up there in my mind as one of the best commentaries I've ever read cover-to-cover (along with Bruce Waltke on Genesis). It combines simple presentation with scholarly interaction, Christian conviction with wide scholarly engagement, exegetical rigour with practical application, all the while letting Paul's letter lead him rather than touting a particular party-line. When I worked through the book of Romans a few years ago on my own, it was a delight to devour Moo's commentary cover-to-cover when I was done my own work. So I was thrilled to see on Justin Taylor's Blog, that Moo's lectures on Romans are free on biblicaltraining.org. That site also boasts some other excellent lectures that are well worth listening to (especially Miles Van Pelt on OT Biblical Theology!!). Create a free account and download free lectures here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tim Keller on Reading Calvin's Institutes in a Year

When Challies linked to Keller's reflections I was interested to read. A few years back, in honour of Calvin's 500th birthday, I read through a similar plan as Keller, and evidently, had similar appreciations. Read Keller's thoughts here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dane Ortland on The Psychology of Resentment

I really appreciated this article by Dane Ortland. It begins this way:
You need not experience extraordinary suffering or be wronged in an unusually grievous way to feel the strong, seemingly unstoppable pull toward resentment. All you need to do is live a little in this fallen world. Before long you're given a good solid reason to resent someone. Often someone quite close to you. Family member, spouse, parent, long-time friend, etc. It feels impossible to love that person.
What causes such bitterness? Why are our hearts so immovably deadened toward that person? 
Well, they wronged you, so you resent them. They hurt you. They did what they should never have done. Or didn’t do what they should have done. And you bear the wounds. 
Yes—but what’s the reason beneath the reason? 
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

All People are Worshippers!!!

‎"Exalting is part of existence. It is so much a part of it, that when one has ceased to exalt God, something else must be exalted. Then God can be displaced by a man, an institution, an idea. Exalting remains a function of existence...Not everywhere where God is no longer truly praised will men of necessity fall into the extremity of the deification of man. But they must surely exalt, admire, honor something. There is no real, full existence that does not in some way honor, admire, look up to something...If the praise of God, as the Psalms express it, belongs to existence, then the directing of this praise to a man, an idea, or an institution must disturb and finally destroy life itself. The Psalms say that only where God is praised is there life" (Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, 160-161).

As I read Westermann's book today, that quote stuck out to me. I've been reading a ton of academic commentary on the Psalms lately, and it struck me that along with a few of those commentators, Westermann knew the God he wrote about. Then I read this by Brueggemann: "Westermann developed his ideas on the lament psalms while he was a prisoner of war in a Russian camp where he had no books except the Bible. I take it as important that he was able to see, precisely while he was in prison, that the psalms of lament move from what he calls plea (lament or petition) to praise. The lament psalms characteristically culminate in joy, praise, well-being, and an offering. For Westermann, this was not a literary matter but a profoundly theological matter in which the world of the speaker is decisively changed" (quoted from 'The Friday Voice of Faith,' 13). That explains it!