Outside the Heavenly City

8 February 2009

I know nothing about Dr. Steven W. Waterhouse, except that he’s written Outside the Heavenly City: Abortion in Rome and the Early Church’s Response.  But I’d really like to meet him.

It’s a fascinating little booklet.

In certain quarters of the church today, abortion has actually become controversial.  Far more often than not, this is simply because the church’s guttering lamp has been overwhelmed by the surrounding culture’s s love of autonomy and irresponsibility, and its consequent hatred for children.  Creeping liberalism and syncretism, in other words; the salt losing its savor and the lamp hiding out under a basket with all the cool kids.  Of course, this is not always the case: there are rock-ribbed conservatives who believe that abortion is permissible, and their reasoning tends to be more conscientous and less…heedless…than the liberal variety.  I acknowledge the distinction, although I’m not all that impressed with the difference between them.  Call me crazy, but my sympathies are with the kid, who winds up just as dead no matter how solid mommy’s conservative credentials might be.

But I’m addressing the liberals today.  One of the common excuses bandied about by the liberal variety of waffler is “Hey, these are difficult, complicated choices, and although I may be personally opposed to abortion, who am I to say that it’s not the right choice for someone else in their unique circumstances?”  In other words, these matters are hopelessly muddy, and it’s not possible to take a clear stance on the issue.

The early church, as Waterhouse demonstrates, didn’t agree.  Of course this doesn’t mean they were right — “The early church believed it” isn’t some sort of magic solvent that dissolves every objection — but it is a point of interest in the continuing discussion.  At the very least, the early church’s clear pro-child, anti-infanticide stance demonstrates that murk and confusion is not inevitable.  These days, that’s important in itself.

Westcliff Press , which publishes the book, looks to be a small operation (can handle credit cards, cannot do so online), so ordering will have to be done the old-fashioned way — by phone or mail.  However, at $2 each ($1 if you buy 3 or more), it’s not as though cost is a hardship.  Buy one for yourself and a few to pass around.  You won’t regret it.

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If You Confess Your Sins, You Should Pick Up Litter, Too

7 December 2008

One of the enjoyable sidelines I’ve tried to develop here at Full Contact Christianity is a ferocious intolerance for theological inconsistencies.  It’s one thing to just be wrong; it’s quite another, much more irresponsible thing to believe (1) A, and (2) Not-A — and loudly declaim on both topics.  Granted, the two proclamations don’t usually take place at the same time.

I’d like to address a doozy this week — the idea that one can be so taken with “spiritual” matters like relationship with God or sharing the gospel with the lost that one simply has no time for “peripheral” concerns like caring for the world we live in.  After all, it’s all going up in flames anyhow, and then God recreates it, so why worry about it?  Where’s the contradiction, you ask?  Just watch.  Much as I would enjoy an opportunity to do some first-hand mocking,  N. T. Wright said it better than ever I could, so with no further ado, here he is:

I’ve spoken about God’s ultimate intention, that through the renewed human beings in Christ, the cosmos itself would be renewed.  This strikes very hard at those of us who grew up within some kind or other of a pietistic tradition which actually had a low social concern because it said that was just oiling the wheels of a machine which was going to go over the cliff:  What’s the point in tinkering with the structures of society?  What’s the point in worrying about global warming, or whatever it is, because we know that the world is going to be jettisoned, and that we the saved will go off to be with God elsewhere.

Romans 8 ought long ago to have given the lie to any such idea.  God loves the world that He’s made and wants to renew it.  He sees it groaning in travail, and the answer to something groaning in travail is that the new is going to be born out of the womb of the old, not that the groaning person or world is going to be left to groan forever until it dies — No!

Where does that then leave us at the moment?  There are many people who will see this picture and then will say “That’s great; we’re going to get that renewal one day when the Messiah comes back.  When God renews everything then it’ll happen, but there’s nothing we can do about it at the moment.”

Now listen, many of you are pastors – probably the majority of you are pastors, that’s why you’re here.  [Suppose] somebody came to you and said, “I’m having a real trouble with holiness, with this sin problem.  I just find I sin all the time, and I see well there is this thing called holiness, but there’s really no point in me trying very hard after it, because after all, one day, God will raise me from the dead and give me a beautiful new life in which I will never sin again.  That’s going to happen, so why should I worry about it now?”

I hope that if somebody came to you like that, you would hit them with a fairly heavy dose of inaugurated eschatology.  You mightn’t express it quite like that, but what you would say is, “God wants you right now in the present, to live as nearly as you can in the power of the spirit to that lovely fully human creature that you’re going to be one day.  Of course you will constantly be saying ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’  But He has given you His Spirit so that you can anticipate in the present what you should be in the future.  “

Now, should we not say the same about our responsibility for creation, for the world which God made and which He loves so much?  Of course we should.  And if we get our soteriology right, we can go to that task without any of those snide remarks that this is a derogation from our gospel duty.  It is part of our gospel duty.”

(This is from Session 6 of the 2005 Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference, available for $1.99 here, at about the 57:30 mark.)

An additional note for those of you who are interested in (or furious about) Wright’s position vis-a-vis the New Perspective on Paul.  In this particular conference, Wright is addressing an audience entirely conservative, and mainly composed, from what I gather, of Presbyterian pastors.  If you’ve read some of the caterwauling about how Wright is striking at the vitals of the Christian religion, this is a good place to see what he has to say for himself to a group of people who will share your concerns.  He delivers five lectures (Richard Gaffin does the other five) and participates in three Q&A/discussion sessions, so there’s quite a bit of material, and some good interaction as well.


Theological Science Fiction and the Fall of Satan

28 September 2008

Theologians love to speculate.  The problem arises when they begin to think of their speculations as fact — and especially when they begin to convince laymen that their speculations are fact.  Then the bare fact that the speculation comes attached to the name of a famous theologian or pastor makes it authoritative — until somebody starts asking for biblical backing.

Sadly, many people don’t bother to ask.

When that happens, the speculation takes on a life of its own, and before you know it, it’s one of those things that “everybody knows,” and questioning it becomes literally unthinkable.  That way lies ruin; it is exactly in that way that tradition becomes more authoritative than God’s Word.

Case in point: there’s a particular bit of speculation going around that God created man in order to prove to Satan that His judgment of Satan Read the rest of this entry »


Liturgy, Part 2: Unity and Music

21 September 2008

The second in a series of papers on liturgical matters, Unity and Music: Five Hills to Die On addresses five specific areas of concern as our church tries to find its way, musically speaking. It starts out like this…

One of the worst things about Christians is our tendency to feel that because everything is a matter of principle, everything is equally important. Consequently, we often waste time and resources fighting over trivial things when there are really serious issues in play. Nowhere is this more true than in church music. I have, to my considerable shame, been a combatant in some really stupid arguments over Read the rest of this entry »


NEWS: Orange County 1 John Class

28 August 2008

In 1915, Robert Frost wrote a famous poem titled “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

For most Christians, the study of Greek is a road not taken, but usually there’s no clear point of decision.  It’s one of those things that flits Read the rest of this entry »


Liturgy, Part 1: Against Liturgy-Bashing

24 August 2008

The first of several planned papers on liturgical matters, “Against Liturgy-Bashing” attempts to clear away the nonsense that plagues our thinking in many American churches. To bring it closer to home: our local church is in desperate need of liturgical reform, and we cannot even begin to build a God-honoring liturgy until we have cleared away the underbrush of the pagan ideas that harden our necks and soften our heads. To that end, this paper addresses several common objections to liturgical worship. Two excerpts:

Does the leading of the Spirit require spontaneity rather than planning? Again, we can return to the commands to sing in order to see the fallacy here. Imagine if we all just got together, and on the count of three, all began to sing whatever words happened to pop into our heads, set to Read the rest of this entry »