Sloth In Our Day by Michael Horton

White Horse Inn Commentary © 1995, White Horse Media

If you ask Thomas Aquinas, it’s one of The Seven Deadly Sins. I’m not talking about adultery, intemperance, or other vices that readily come to mind. Although it is increasingly tolerated even by the most precise moralists of our age, it is intoxicating in its very essence. The sin is “sloth.”

John Calvin had the temerity to insult Cardinal Sadoleto with the charge that the cleric had an indolent, or lazy, theology, because in spite of his great learning the Cardinal had never really struggled personally with his own sin and need for an “alien righteousness.” Today, much the same is true of all of us.

Many who are inclined to bring criticism upon the church for not properly teaching the people of God raise the concern of anti-intellectualism. Our age, as preoccupied with the flickering images on the screen as any medieval peasant, has given itself willingly to the enterprise of “dumbing down.” But losing our grip on what really matters goes deeper than lazy thinking. It is not merely that we are “intellectualists” who want to make know-it-alls out of plumbers; it is the whole person that is involved in this sloth.

It is not only that we do not think enough; we do not love enough and–more importantly, we do not love the right things. C. S. Lewis writes, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The church, we are told, has to satisfy the needs of the people; it cannot simply ignore the questions that people are asking today. Of course, that’s true. It isn’t enough for the church to simply educate; it must address itself to the whole person in the whole context of that person’s life. We must make the connection between the text of Scripture and the experience of men and women living today. But the problem is the one expressed here by C. S. Lewis. Our felt needs are trivial. It’s not only that they are human-centered, but that the pleasures of such religion fall so far short of the everlasting peace that comes from a sound understanding of The Faith. We’re so wrapped up in tips for living, relationships and success in life we miss the grander scheme of redemption from God’s wrath. We are like children making mud-pies in the slums when we could be enjoying a holiday at the sea.

You see, it’s not just an “intellectual” thing, though it is certainly that. We are not only failing to love God with our minds, but also with our “hearts, souls, and strength.” The doctrines that we champion on the White Horse Inn are not merely there to fill our minds with wonderful thoughts, but to revive are souls, cheer our hearts, and animate our hands. We are loving someone or something with our minds and hearts, but is it God or is it ourselves?

Whenever people clamor for the practical and prefer to speak about the horizontal dimension–for instance, relationships and success–they are saying that they love God less than they love themselves. They are more interested in using God as a means to their own selfish ends than in glorifying God and enjoying him forever. And yet, there are others who so pride themselves on knowing all the correct doctrines that the doctrines become the object of their worship rather than the divine person these doctrines are meant to describe. Both settle for less and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Some take doctrine, others take life, we are told. But that is quite impossible. Show me a person who is content with a merely intellectual religion and I will show you an unfulfilled and pitiful man or woman. Equally, if I should meet a person who is quite happy to be occupied only with happy, joyful, pleasant feelings or energetic and zealous activities, it is easy to predict that such a person will end up resenting those feelings and despising those activities in due time. Both the “dry” intellectualist and the “wet” sentimentalist are lazy; both fail to love God well. You see, even if God did heal everybody and make everybody rich, this kind of religion would still be wrong–not because people would be demanding too much, but because they would be settling for too little! God wants to open the heavens of his spiritual riches in Christ and give us our inheritance as his children. He wants to tell us who he is and how he saved us from his wrath, and there we are asking him if he’s got any candy in his pockets!

One of the great culprits in this whole enterprise is anti-intellectualism. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter points out that the Reformed Faith built America’s only intigenous intellectual tradition, and as Puritanism degenerated into revivalism, the nation lost its intellectual balance. While the Reformed evangelists of the Great Awakening were also presidents of Princeton and Yale, evangelists ever since Charles Finney have actually boasted in their lack of education. Evangelicalism has a legacy of anti-intellectualism that has not only crippled its witness to the watching world, but has opened the church itself up to the most remarkable reaches of stupidity and incredulity.

But anti-intellectualism is not humble. It is humble to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll have to look into that.” But it’s pride that leads us to say, “I don’t know and that’s OK.” It’s arrogant, first, because it makes oneself the center of the universe. Reading a particularly obscure piece of philosophy, a friend pronounced, “What a stupid debate!” It was a “stupid debate” because Bob does not understand it, much like the child in the math class might conclude of a complicated problem. Imagine one saying of the highly sophisticated formulas that were used to put a man on the moon, “What a stupid set of formulas!”, even after the success is captured on television. To conclude that things which are beyond my reach of knowledge, insight or experience are not worth knowing is the height of arrogance. It makes oneself the measure of all values, all truths, and all meaning in the universe. Second, anti-intellectualism is arrogant in its plea for balance. Ignorant people always cry for balance whenever they do not want to take the time to think through their own position. Holding some so-called “middle position” saves the person from the hassle of having to actually employ critical skills. Circumventing thought processes, it is a mere act of will that picks up the slack. This doesn’t however, keep the person from claiming moral superiority for having the grace, moderation and sophisticated detachment to stand above and outside the debate. A third way in which anti-intellectualism is arrogant is in its intellectual egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is the spirit of our age that insists on everybody being equal. I don’t mean being equal before the law, but equal in abilities, skills, and authority. One person’s views are just as valid as another’s, no matter how stupid, because all ideas, like all people, are created equal. Anti-intellectualism makes egalitarianism possible by leveling the playing field. While in past ages, consulting wise elders and the books of the great thinkers was considered an act of humility, in our day it is considered elitist. In such a time, the church should be standing apart from such worldly arrogance, but instead she is often found at the helm of this ship of fools.

“Orthodoxy” is one of the most pejorative words in the contemporary vocabulary, but it is also the most often misunderstood. It is not about merely a matter of sorting out the intellectual paper-work, but of finding good wood for the fire. One doesn’t build a fire in the middle of the living room or wherever one happens to “feel” like enjoying its warmth; but neither does one build a fire, stack the wood ever-so-neatly, only to stare at it through the cold winter’s night. If it is done correctly, orthodoxy builds us a fire that will drive out the darkness and warm the body and soul even in the most gloomy weather. When our hopes are frozen and our hearts are hard, the Good Shepherd never fails to lead us to shelter. He himself gathers the wood (“Sanctify them by the truth–Thy Word is truth”), and makes us dwell in safety.

Take the doctrine from me, and my fire will consume me; keep the doctrine from catching fire and it will remain distant, cold, and useless.

So let’s stop being lazy. Instead of settling for too little–the trivial things that we call “practical” and “relevant,” let us “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” making every effort to study the Scriptures, gathering the kindling of truth from its sacred pages, and then let us fan the flame until its brilliant glow can be seen from distant places by the homeless souls seeking warmth and light on a cold winter’s night.

One More Before We Get Back to Timothy

Here is an excellent article by Richard Gaffin, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia that appeared in Modern Reformation magazine. I am an unabashed Cessationist and found this article in this weeks White Horse Inn e-mail quite good.

Defense of Cessationism

by Richard Gaffin

“Cessationism is a term that carries a lot of baggage. By itself it’s negative, suggesting what no longer exists or, in current debate about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, what one is against. So at the outset, certain misconceptions about the “cessationist” viewpoint need to be addressed.

It’s not that today God’s Spirit is no longer at work in dynamic and dramatic ways. What, for instance, could be more powerful and impressive, even miraculous, than the 180-degree reversal in walk that occurs when the Spirit transforms those dead in their sins into those alive for good works? This, Paul says, involves nothing less than a work of resurrection, of (re-) creation (Eph. 2:1-10). Awesome indeed!

Nor is the point that all spiritual gifts have ceased and are no longer present in the Church today. As will become clear, at issue is the cessation of a limited number of such gifts; the continuation of the large remainder is not in dispute…”

Read the rest on the Modern Reformation website.

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“It is an error to identify the gospel with any particular system or culture, that has been my own danger.” –Billy Graham.

R. C. Sproul tells of the story of his letter to the best selling author of Lords of Discipline commending him on his style. The trend setting novelist replied from his flat in Rome informing Sproul that he had been the first Christian to compliment him on the novel. Raised in a fundamentalist home, this author told Sproul that the familiar circle from which he was raised now denounces him and proudly brands his literature satanic. The only time it seems that evangelicals get involved in main stream society is to register some complaint, some degree of hostility. And when our bright, energetic, talented thinkers, artists and workers go out into the world to fulfill their calling as a calling, they are often gunned down by the brethren for selling out to the world.

Fundamentalists have always been hostile to the outside world, but now they are highly politicized. Their anti-worldly stance which was once kept within the four walls of the church building is now seen in mass rallies in public places. U.S. Senate chaplain Richard Halverson, an evangelical himself, recently said, “All evangelicals care about is their own agenda. They will keep all the phone lines in Washington busy and many of the callers are downright nasty, yet when it comes to hundreds of other issues Congress faces, they never hear from Evangelicals.” The only time we get involved in education is to protest public education. The only time, it seems, we get involved in the arts is to protest the public funding of obscene art. While pro-life leaders often confuse the issue of abortion with getting little red riding hood taken out of the public libraries.

Before, we were hostile to the world but we were separated from it. Now we are still hostile, but very much involved. That’s why our involvement is so harsh, so strident, and often so very negative. Until we see our role in this world in a positive light we will continue to come off as those who can only judge instead of contribute. We engage in discussions of politics as a disgruntled minority demanding its rights, its piece of the pie, while very often we know little and care less about the deeper philosophical and cultural issues of our time.

Culture wars–that is what this situation is being called as American society polarizes into two camps, each employing the language of the battle field poised, to gain control of the nation’s public institutions. In this issue we will walk you through the culture wars debate, with some additional essays on evangelism and apologetics. You might ask what all this has to do with evangelism and apologetics? Everything! Ask the average person on the street what an evangelical is and you are likely to get stereotypical images, or portraits of TV evangelists, or particular political or ideological positions, but how likely are you to hear the “evangel,” the gospel as the singular proclamation of the evangelicals.

Christianity Is Not A Culture

The first problem with the church being identified with the culture wars is a pretty basic one: Christianity is not a culture. It is a faith wrapped around a person who had a real life, a life of significance because he was God incarnate and rose from the dead as he promised. It is a system of truth claims. The gospel has succeeded in a variety of cultures and has thrived among groups maintaining vastly different values and mores, and has been just as good at reconciling socialists to God as capitalists. This past January in the wake of the inaugural festivities President Clinton gathered a group of Southern Baptists ministers to pray with him in Little Rock They assured the evangelical community and the secular media as well that President Clinton was a sound, solid, Bible believing evangelical. Why? How did they know that? They said because he even cried during the singing of some of the hymns. While all this was going on I did an interview with a Christian station in the Bible Belt and Clinton’s Christian convictions seemed to be the chief interest of the callers. One caller said, “Isn’t that amazing! Can you believe all that? Did you hear that just the other day Jerry Falwell responded–and good for him–he responded, ‘You can’t tell whether a person is a Christian or not just because he cries at the hymns. I want to know what is his position on abortion!'” I replied to the caller, “No, you are both wrong. The question is what is his view of Christ. Who does he say he is?” Neither group seemed to get the point. One group is influenced by pietistic sentiment, the other by political ideology. Now one might argue that one’s position on abortion must be consistent with his profession of faith, and I do believe that every Christian ought to seek the end of this worldwide holocaust, but abortion is not in the Apostle’s Creed! It is not an article of Christian faith!

What we’ve done is we have substituted the gospel for moral, political, and sentimental tests. That’s why Pat Robertson can’t be called into question, in spite of his serious doctrinal errors, while Tony Campolo, who is a little left of center politically, can be put on a heresy trail for his political views by a group of parachurch ministries whose supposed purpose of existence is evangelism. Today the basis of unity is ideology, not doctrine. What defines us politically is one thing, what defines us as Christians is a totally different set of questions. It is not to say that public policy issues shouldn’t be important to a Christian. Quite the contrary, every Christian ought to be interested in public policy issues, but as citizens, not as the church making stands on what the gospel is. Yet to often in the past twenty years we have equated the gospel with a particular cultural agenda. Surely no one would say that the late Francis Schaffer shied away from public issues, but he warned, “Equating any other loyalty, whether it is political, national, or ethnic, with our loyalty to God is sin, and we better get our priorities straight now.” He says,

There is a tremendous pressure to lose the Reformation memory as the years pass and our first task is not to align our message with the middle class establishment only to have our children rebel against our faith because of our politics, but to recover the lost truth of our Reformation heritage.

This is why we must recover the biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms as Luther and Calvin did so clearly four and a half centuries ago. There are two kings and two kingdoms, each ruling a distinct sphere. I remember one of the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (N.A.E.) when Clinton was elected said, “Now what is to become of the kingdom of God” as though Clinton had anything whatsoever to do with the kingdom of God, that is, as a public official. In the kingdom of culture, what Augustine called “the city of man,” there are rulers, there are laws, there are customs which are regulated by human wisdom. In the kingdom of Christ, or “the city of God,” there is one ruler, our Lord Jesus Christ, and he advances his kingdom, not through marketing, not through legislation or police force, but by the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of his holy sacraments. If we confuse these two kingdoms–and we have–we will no doubt confuse evangelism with cultural, moral, and political programs.

A Grand Obstruction

And that brings me to my second point: it is a grand obstruction for the people out there. What happens when we confuse evangelism with a particular social or political agenda? Well, we’ve seen it in history, haven’t we, in the crusades when evangelistic texts like “Go ye into the world and preach the gospel making disciples of all the nations…” was used as a justification for political expansion and the building up of an empire. When this confusion occurs it is very difficult to convince the South African victim of apartheid, or the Jewish victim of the holocaust, or those who suffered under the pro Czar Russian orthodox church, that Christianity is not a source of political oppression. And whether or not it is true or an unfair caricature by the secular press (I tend to think it is both), evangelical Christianity is now being widely perceived as one more dying gasp of one more ally of the status quo of middle American, white, middle class culture, unwilling to let go of its power. The issue is whether we confused culture values with the gospel, not whether those values are right or wrong. Billy Graham said,

It is an error to identify the gospel with any particular system or culture, that has been my own danger. When I go to preach the gospel I go as an ambassador for the Kingdom of God, not America. To tie the gospel to any political system, secular program, or society is wrong and will only serve to divert the gospel.

We have to ask ourselves whether the Gospel really is our main preoccupation these days. Just over a decade ago Jerry Falwell said, “The sad fact that is today the United States could only kill three to five percent of the Soviets.” That’s a great pro-life movement! That will really get the world out there to stand up and take notice of what the gospel can do. Meanwhile the same leader said, “We have to stay away from helping the poor because it is a complex issue.” The poor and unemployed had no reason to listen to our gospel with Falwell calling them “that lazy trifling bunch lined up in unemployment offices who would not work in a pie shop eating the holes out of doughnuts.” This same religious leader with argued during the 50’s that Christians ought not to stand up for the civil rights of the blacks. How can the gospel be advanced when it is perceived as a radical political and social agenda, when it always sides with a particular segment of society predictably, whether it is Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson?

I have always wondered why any homosexual would listen to us the way we talk about AIDS as the judgment of God. I have often reflected that it is a good thing that God does not hand out judgments for gossip and slander and greed and self-centeredness and self-righteousness or many of our evangelical churches would be empty. But there are other reaches of alienation. Gallup tells us that white evangelicals are more likely than any other group to object to having black or hispanic neighbors. Boy, that’s a gospel concern, isn’t it. That will sure help push the gospel along. Evangelicals just simply aren’t concerned about the gospel, the “evangel,” anymore. It’s about a culture. It’s about preserving traditional values for a certain segment of society. Francis Schaeffer was worried that evangelicalism would become so aligned with conservative middle class Americanism that any rejection of the establishment would entail a rejection of Christ, and that is exactly what happened in the sixties. God–all be it the unknown God of the pagans–fit in when Ike was president. After all, Eisenhower declared that “there can be no good government without religion, and I don’t care what religion it is.” But with the rejection of that particular cultural expression, and the growing diversity of the American population, there was not enough room for God. Why? Because we helped define God as a public mascot of society. As Os Guinness says, “He who marries the spirit of the age soon becomes a widower.” But the Holy Spirit will not honor any other gospel.

We have become the rock of offense rather than Christ. The irony is we have taken the offense out of the gospel–we don’t preach sin and grace anymore–and have taken it over for ourselves. We’re offensive for all the wrong reasons while we leave the gospel itself devoid of its power. The minorities, the feminists, the gays, and others who practice immoral lifestyles–people with whom we may not agree–will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. Not because we have preached the gospel and called them to repentance and they don’t like that, but because we have framed our communication with them in terms of a war for social, political, and cultural control. Contrary to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was the friend of sinners. Prostitutes turned from their prostitution because, as Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much loves much.” The Holy Spirit will not convert a single soul through moral crusades. He will not convert a prostitute through Senate bill 242, or change the direction of the homosexual by prime-time denunciation from moralistic preachers. Yes, we are called to preach the good news and to call men and women to repentance, but that is not a political issue, that is not ultimate a moral issue, that is a gospel issue. Repentance can no more be coerced by the state than faith; both are the gracious gifts of God.

A Grand Offense

And finally it is a grand offense to God. At this year’s National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention in Los Angeles, the star of Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury, was asked to address the delegates, but the planners were going to cancel her appearance at the convention because in an upcoming movie she was to play a prostitute. That morning, the hosts of Good Morning America could not keep from making there comment, “Wow if that is not an irony! A convention of televangelists barring someone from their convention for playing immoral roles.” Recently I was asked to appear on a secular talk show with an ACLU lawyer to discuss the so-called “culture wars.” The host admitted I was her second pick since the pastor/church leader she had previously chosen had just been arrested for embezzlement. I also happen to know right now prominent Christian leaders who were writing books about traditional values while one left his wife for another woman, another one was having an affair, and another (a pro-life activist) was counseling his daughter to have an abortion. As we look across the Christian landscape right now I don’t know how we have the gall to muster together out of our hypocritical selves the fire in our belly to attack the world for being worldly! Gallup and Barna hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general. The statistics are about neck and neck. That is why pollster Lou Harris reports, “After ten years of piety and ideology the American people have about had it with the approach of religious types.” When are we going to realize that God is looking in our direction with his charge, “Because of you my name is blasphemed among the gentiles.” How many evangelists will we have to see disgraced on national television for their own moral bankruptcy before we can say with the apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.”

At the end of the day the culture wars are not only misguided theologically and biblically but even strategically. It is simply an illusion to think that there is any possibility of putting the lion back in the cage. Secularism is here for awhile and will only be turned back with better ideas. Secularism is the result of a vacuum which we created. Tim LaHaye and his battle for the mind asserted that secular humanism is moral, not theological, but that’s the root of the problem. That people like Tim LaHaye have thought that the problem is ultimately moral and not deeper, not theological. If you believe that our society’s greatest problem or any individual’s greatest problem is behavioral, you have a weak view of sin, and the consequent weak view of grace. If you view sin in terms of actions and not primarily in terms of conditions, you will see the answer primarily in the terms of moral reform, not in terms of throwing yourself on the mercy of God. That is why Charles Finney, who said, “A revival is the work of man not God; it’s simply the right use of means,” was also the father of the temperance movement. You don’t need a cross in this scenario, you need a kit to help you put your life back together or a law or a rule to govern your behavior so you don’t get out of hand. No, I must insist secular humanism is a theological issue and when we put it in its natural theological habitat a strange thing happens; we realize that we ourselves are the secular humanists. LaHaye observes that the chief mark of secular humanism is to place man at the center of existence. But that is exactly what I see being done in churches across America. Aren’t our testimonies designed to show people how God made me happy, how he satisfied me, how he worked for me? Aren’t our worship services for our tastes very often and not for God’s? Don’t we tell people that once they become Christians they too will experience the abundant life? What we should be telling people is that salvation isn’t a matter of God making sure we are happy with him, but his making sure he is happy with us, and that is why we have the cross at the middle of it all. But churches don’t center anymore on the old rugged cross, where God saved us from himself by putting his own son in our place to bear the wrath justly meant for us. No, that would make us unhappy, to talk about wrath and hell. More often church services center on us as if our happiness was the goal of the universe. But, Tim LaHaye, this is exactly what you call secular humanism. I am not the first to see this irony. Historians Hatch, Nolan & Marston write,

Humanism or faith in humanity has been mixed with virtually every American religious heritage including evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Most commonly, since the 19th Century many Americans, including many evangelical Christian Americans, have tended to believe in the essential goodness of humanity and the importance of believing in oneself, in self-help and the ability of a free people to solve their own problems.

Sounds like a litany of an average Christian book store these days. Further, the same people who protest the erosion of moral absolutes are often quite willing to accept the erosion of doctrinal absolutes. It is an amazing irony! I can be absolutely certain that God has a published position on the Panama Canal treaty but remain basically unsure about justification and election! If we are as apathetic about moral issues as we are about doctrinal issues, then we are really in trouble, then we are put in the dog house.


We propose a two-fold strategy. First, we will have to clear up this confusion about the gospel and cultural values. Being pro-choice I believe is morally wrong, but it is not heretical. God will never be anyone’s mascot and will never allow himself to be worshipped in either the carved image of the donkey or the elephant. We cannot impose our will on the American electorate anymore and we will have to stop it. We’ll have to stop shaking our fists at our neighbors. We must call the church to a cease-fire with the world over gays in the military and engage in spiritual warfare for their hearts and minds for the first time perhaps in forty years. Second, we’ll not only have to recover gospel proclamation, but we’ll have to learn how to interact positively again with our culture. When the church was facing a really hostile culture in the first century–a lot more hostile than ours–Paul instructed the early Christians to “Make it your ambition to lead a quite life to work well with your hands so that you may win the respect of outsiders and have enough to give those in need.”

In God’s charges against Israel recorded in Hosea, the moral breakdown is credited to the fact that God’s people had grown ignorant of the God they worshipped. Truth again lies slain in the streets, slain not by villainous secular humanists, but by self-congratulatory believers. A people without understanding will always come to ruin. Not a people without enough laws, not a people without enough police, not a people without enough rules, not a people without enough moral values, for ultimately a people’s morality is an expression of deeper convictions. But a people without understanding! T. S. Elliot once observed,

To justify Christianity because it provides a foundation of morality for the general culture, instead of showing the necessity of Christian morality from the truth of Christianity, is a very dangerous inversion. It is not enthusiasm but dogma that differentiates a Christian from a pagan society.

For those who will tear down the cardboard and tin shacks and go for the quality materials, building on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, there is hope for the future. For those who will lodge their anchor on this rock and know no other message than Christ and Him crucified, there is the promise, “I will go on building my church and not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.” “For what does it profit a man,” our Lord asked, “if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of The White Horse Inn national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of several books, including Power Religion, A Better Way, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker, 2006), and Too Good to be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype (Zondervan, 2006).

Just How Pro-Life Are You Really?

This is an excellent article I recently found by Michael Horton. The man is beyond measure in his genius among modern theologians.

Just How Pro-Life Are You Really?
Michael S. Horton, D.Phil.
(First published in Modern Reformation, July/Aug 1992 issue)

This essay first appeared in the July/August1992 issue of Modern Reformation magazine, when it was under the auspices of CURE (Christians United for Reformation), the predecessor to White Horse Media.

Readers familiar with CURE know that we are a group committed to recovering the essence of the Christian message. That means that what you see and hear from us will usually be in the form of doctrinal discussions, issues, and debates written with the thinking layperson in mind.

Nevertheless, there are some practical issues that walk that razor’s edge between faith and practice, to the point where it is difficult to tell whether one who engages in a certain practice is actually denying a certain essential doctrine by doing so. If, for instance, one were to cast one’s gaze on an attractive body at the beach for more than passing appreciation (it’s not difficult to figure out in which part of the country I live), that would be a sin (lust, since many of us have forgotten), but it would not involve a matter of doctrine. I can and, in fact, do engage in sins that do not affect my faith in God, in Christ, or my convictions about the way in which I am saved. While sin tolerated can often undermine confidence in any doctrine that fails to flatter our own indulgences, most of our daily failures to conform to God’s revealed will are of a practical rather than doctrinal sort.

But, as I say, there are exceptions. Abortion is one such exception. In order to engage in this serious sin, a Christian must actually deny a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. He or she must deny that God is the Sovereign author of life who alone has the power and right to give and take away human breath, and we also deny the creature we destroy his or her dignity as an image-bearer of God himself. In Christian belief, the significance of human beings over all other species of animal life resides in the image of God (imago Dei) stamped on each person, as an artist signs his masterpieces. Although God created all things, only humans bear his likeness, and they bear it from conception. As Calvin put it, “Though the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and the heart, or in the soul and its powers, there was no part even of the body in which some rays of glory did not shine” (Institutes 1:15.3). Bavinck, the great Reformed dogmatist, argued that “as long as Man remains Man, he bears the image of God,” however tarnished and effaced.

If this doctrine is lacking in the church, surely it will be lacking in society. Before the late Francis Schaeffer, a Reformation thinker, reminded the evangelical and fundamentalist world of this biblical doctrine, there was virtually no response from the evangelical church to the atrocity of abortion. Roman Catholics, of course, had a theological impetus behind their opposition, but it was obscured by their inclusion of birth control as well as abortion.

And now, thanks to the efforts of the Schaeffers and their many co-laborers, a wide cross section of the evangelical movement supports the protection of human life in its most vulnerable phase. Clearly, humanity is determined by the imago Dei, not by concepts such as “viability.” Nevertheless, because we evangelicals over the last two centuries have been given to feverish activity without much theological reflection (“Don’t bother with all that ‘head stuff’ – let’s just get out there and get it done!”), we are single-issue people. We can only handle one issue at a time. As important as the abortion debate is, the anger that people such as Francis Schaeffer felt in response to it was motivated by a theological conviction–the same well-spring that produced anger at the pollution of the environment (cf. his freshly released Pollution & the Death of Man), outrage at the racism rampant in evangelical circles (cf. Two Contents, Two Realities), and frustration over the injustices of the powerful over the weak.

The abortion debate has been led, like the abolitionist and civil rights movements, as a protest against the oppression of the weak by the strong, picking up on the rich biblical language. “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak” (Psalm 41:1); God “will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (Psalm 72:12-14). And yet, while many evangelicals oppose abortion, there is a curious silence on nearly every other issue where the pro-life ethic, commanded by Scripture, is at risk. One cursory glance at a concordance will reveal how concerned God is about the treatment of the homeless, the poor, the weak, the minorities (“aliens and strangers”), and others too often marginalized.

Words like “oppress,” and pejorative barbs from God about “you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, ‘Bring us some drinks!'” (Amos 4:1). “‘1 will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished,’ declares the Lord” (Amos 3:15). The people of God are entrusted with a special obligation to social justice: “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy” (Psalm 82:3-4). God hates oppression with the same intensity with which he hates abortion, but are we as consistent in our righteous indignation?

Like abortion, apartheid is a theological as well as an ethical question. To deny life and justice to the unborn or to the un-white is not only a serious sin (such as selfishness or racism), but a deliberate system, complete with biblical proof-texts twisted beyond recognition. While those committed to being faithful to the Christian creeds and Reformation confessions declared apartheid in South Africa a heresy, evangelicals here at home have shown more ambivalence. While Jerry Falwell and other leaders of the Christian Right courageously defended the human rights of the unborn, Falwell returned from his trip to South Africa declaring that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose pleas for a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy have kept south Africa from bloodshed thus far, was “a phony” and urged Christians to support the racist government of P.W. Botha. In the meantime, Jessie Jackson expressed outrage at Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton’s criticisms of a rap song encouraging black violence against whites. When will “reverends” transcend pagan party lines?

Think of our other issues involving the doctrine of the image of God. It is the motivation behind our concern for the victim of a savage murder; our horror at seeing children searching for food in garbage bins behind a restaurant while their mothers hold up signs that read, “Will Work for Food and Diapers.” It is that conviction that breaks our heart when we see a prostitute selling her body to keep alive, while others (including those who participate in the same industry through pornography and other forms of sexual entertainment) pour shame and contempt on her. It is that conviction, that religious belief, that binds us to our neighbors and to their interests, regardless of whether they are believers or share our same values or our ethnic, cultural, or linguistic heritage. Not long ago, a friend and I went through the drive-through window at a fast food spot. The fact that the server had a thick foreign accent, characteristic of fast food franchises in Southern California, and that my friend never shied away from making his racism a matter of public record, made me cringe as I prepared for the inevitable. Sure enough, this friend made some typically racist remark. The sad thing is, he’s a pastor. The odd thing is, he’s a rabid opponent of abortion. But is he consistently pro-life?

Evangelicals raise no qualms when the United States commits millions to Israel or spends millions on a military campaign to free a tiny, but wealthy, oil state with no regard for democracy, but when it comes to talking about the emergency in Somalia, Africa, with hundreds dying every day from starvation, the sentiment seems to be, “We have our own problems here at home.” Evangelicals rightly protest the murder of the unborn and decry the silence of those who refuse to defend those who have no voice to defend themselves. Nevertheless, that same silence hovers secretly over the same impassioned group when children die senselessly after they are born. Shouldn’t there be an outrage of equal proportions? Isn’t life life? Or are we just caught up in the glitz and glamour of political debates? Are we really pro-life?

Until Christians put their theology first, their activism will be little more rationally motivated than that of Hare Krishnas passing out flowers in airports. We will be moved along, one issue at a time, by charismatic and energetic leaders and our internal contradictions (such as calling ourselves “pro-life” when in truth we rarely speak up for the poor and oppressed after they’re born) will not win for evangelicalism respect in the eyes of the world for having the courage of its convictions. What convictions? Activism, agendas, and practical involvement are not convictions. Indeed, these things mean nothing without convictions, and convictions come from deeply held beliefs about God and ourselves. And folks, that’s theology.

The Pelagian Captivity of the Church

How fitting that R.C. Sproul’s lovely article on the Pelagian Captivity of the Church appears this month on the White Horse Inn website. This message that Sproul presents is a mandatory read for all who wonder about the status of our Reformed faith in today’s world. Sproul spells out exactly what has infected this era-the same thing that has always infected the church-the devaluation of the Grace of God and the promotion of the personal ability of man. Even during the dark days of Reformation the Romanists and the Reformers could agree on at least one doctrine-that of Original Sin. We find our church today infiltrated by the disciples of Pelagius who seek to elevate the person to a status that we neither deserve to attain nor are we able to receive without the purposeful sacrifice of the lamb on Calvary and deny the worthiness of Christ’s sacrifice by tossing the need for the sacrifice out the window. If we could be saved by perfect obedience to the law there is no need for the sacrifice. If we can work off our own death what is the need for the atonement?

What Kind of Judge is the Father?

My most recent issue of Modern Reformation magazine-if you do not subscribe to this thought-provoking magazine you should-had an essay written by Korey Maas (who is an assistant professor of theology and church history at Concordia University in Irvine, Calif.) that dealt with an issue that is at the forefront of a discussion going on at Classical Presbyterian’s blog-which you can access from this website-dealing with who gets to be married at a Christian Church. One side of the argument says that there must be standards and those standards should be enforced. The other challenges with the viewpoint that if we tell the sinful couple no that they will driven away from the church and that we should accept them into the church and hope that they see the error of their ways by being in the body. As is with most arguments it stems from two basic premises:

1) What is Holy Scripture and how authoritative is it?
2) What kind of judge is the Father?

The First question-I believe-can be answered by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and can be found here:

The Second question is answered by Korey Maas and can be found here:

More News on the Emergent Conversation

Since I am exceedingly bored and curious I have been doing a more in depth investigation of the Emergent Conversation. I have found things I like andI agree with the editorial board at Modern Reformation,

Most of us here at Modern Reformation like the Emergent Church folks. Frankly, it’s a bit of a relief to have someone within Evangelicalism making the same points we’ve been trying to make for the past fourteen years. We also like their interest in liturgy, in church history (prior to 1972), and in engaging with Scripture in ways that take it beyond the “handbook for living” genre that so many of our own churches have adopted. And, truth be told, we were always the nerdy kids in the youth group, so now that the cool kids with their cool hair, tats, and body piercings are saying much the same thing we do we can’t help but look around with some appreciation.
But the appreciation is a nervous one. As much as we are warmed by their insightful criticism of Evangelicalism, we just can’t shake the sense that these children of the megachurch are taking their postmodern angst and marketing it to the urban jungles just like their chino-wearing, cool hair dads did in middle America. That, of course, leads us to wonder if Emergent will really offer anything substantially different than what they are critiquing.

I also am energized by their passion and foresight; though I am not one for a coffee-shop mentality and a passive-type Christianity. I really get the feeling that the Emergent Conversation is an attempt to marriage the worship-style and context of “Wal-Mart Church” and the theological impulses of the Reformed movement. Here is another article for your perusal from a special edition of Modern Reformation magazine.
I have noticed from my research that the blogs frequented by “Emergers” are not to fond of D.A. Carson’s take on their Conversation. Look for yourself-I did-and you might just agree with his article.