Category Archives: polemics?

Some [Scattered & Disjointed] Thoughts on the ‘Problem’ of Preaching

Ever so often, perhaps every generation, a new paradigm for preaching emerges — the new aim of homiletics, so to speak. More likely than not, this is grossly understated. One could probably make the case that this sort of shift is a phenomenon evidenced every few years, really.

In their course of study, ministerial students learn, debate, & ramble on about sterile terms like ‘exegetical’ interpretation & the dastardly ‘eisegetical’ interpretation, expository preaching & topical preaching, etc. No criticism here, folks… I’ve taken all of the responsible classes myself, & now I teach them to others. 

In the pastorate, there is a real dilemma in keeping a properly measured balance between the philosophical & the pragmatic.

Let’s face it: Many folks nowadays just want to be told what to do… They long for a sort of dumbed-down utilitarianism. To be sure, not everyone in the pew wants this, but certainly many of them do. You’ve heard their questions; in fact, you’ve even asked some of them yourself. I know that I have.

There’s a tension in the pulpit. In proclaiming the Gospel, we must call unbelievers to repentance & faith, while also calling believers to righteousness & faithfulness.

Pastors have the hard task of lifting the name of & celebrating the presence of Christ, encouraging heavy & weary hearts, challenging disbelief, confronting unfaithfulness, & much more.

What’s a preacher to do? [Ironic, I know.]

Perhaps, our models should be broad but simple. For example: wrestling with broad but simple questions like What must we know? & What must we now do?.

Behavior not bound up in & grounded upon Truth isn’t redemptive. Truth which does not substantiate itself in behavior, likewise, isn’t redemptive.

So, it seems that our preaching must both share & invite, proclaim & call, declare & demand.

Within & throughout this simple, 2-fold structure, of course, we ought to weave story, humor, narrative, illustration, experience, perhaps even some sarcasm, satire, or self-deprecation.

But, if we aren’t helping people think & live biblically, are we actually proclaiming the Scriptures?

 

* I recorded these thoughts while driving down the road almost 13 months ago. That being said… (1) I was voicetexting on my phone’s notepad, so it was safe! Relatively-speaking. (2) Hopefully, this explains the scatteredness & disjointedness. (3) I then emailed the note to myself & lost it in my inbox, so this has been a long time coming.

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Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.

WARNING: This post is intended for a certain audience… Christian believers.  More specifically, Christian believers who consider themselves ‘Evangelical’ (whatever that now means).  If you do not fall within this category, please feel free to eavesdrop a bit, but please know that my thoughts are directed toward those folks (typically within the Western Church) who pride themselves in “Bible-believing” and “Gospel-preaching” — which is to insinuate absolutely nothing about those who do not consider themselves to be ‘Evangelical’.  Seriously.  Put plainly in another way, this is not directed toward ‘Mainline Protestant’ folks, ‘Roman Catholic’ folks, or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ folks… or, for that matter, any hybrids of these branches of our great Tree.  Furthermore, if you’re easily offended, please do not read what follows.  Seriously.  You probably will be offended… not because I’m aiming to be offensive or hoping to offend anyone but simply because I think this desperately needs to be said, and we often don’t like to hear things that need to be said.  Case in point, “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re dying.”  How many of us have the gall to say such a thing to a home-going loved-one?  How many of us want to one day be told this by a loved one?  Some things, though hard to both say and hear, need to be said.  And in light of the subject matter which follows, how many of us think that Ash Wednesday is silly ritualism?  “To dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”  [But I digress, so without further hesitation, please consider yourself warned.]

Easter is not about Jesus’ death on the Cross.  That’s Good Friday.  That’s right: there is such a thing as Good Friday.  Most of us have all but forgotten about this remarkable Holy Day in the life of the Church, but nonetheless, it’s still there.  Yep, Good Friday.  It hasn’t gone away.  Though we’ve neglected it, profaned it, and nearly lost it in our culture, it’s still there.  It hasn’t left us, though we’ve treated it quite poorly, perhaps most poorly by simply ignoring it.  [Be honest, you HATE to be ignored.  Other sins you can bear within yourself, but to be plainly ignored…?  That hurts.]

It was on Friday that Jesus died upon the Cross.  It was on Sunday that He rose from the grave.  Aha!  Hopefully, now we’re starting to see the importance of Easter.  Friday: the death of Jesus.  Sunday: His resurrection.

Why does this ever-so-important distinction even matter?  Well, for a number of reasons…

For starters, truth matters.  Amen?  If I went to Kroger rather than Publix, I went to Kroger, not Publix.  There is a difference.  The simple fact that there is truth to the matter (and the potential for falsehood) should suggest –or scream– to us that the truth does indeed matter.  What happened?  When did it happen?  These are not mere “details” as if they were on the periphery of the greater subject at hand (i.e., that Jesus died for us); they are the reality of what God has done in Christ to redeem us.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Come on, man.  No one’s saying that the events of Friday actually happened on Sunday or that the events of Sunday actually happened on Friday.  Neither is anyone saying that Sunday didn’t come or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.”  I concede that this may well be the case.  However, I’m concerned that our sloppy approach to proclamation & theology unveils in us a lax approach to worship & love.  Could it be that we’ve betrayed ourselves?  If we’ll be candid & honest with one another for but a moment, I think most of us would confess a nagging doubt we’ve found within our hearts and minds from time to time: “What does it really matter?  Does it really matter?”

I know… I know… I’m losing you.  Hang with me.

Why does Christmas matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God is with us.  Why does Jesus’ death matter?  Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about?  God has rescued us.  […not in some sick, depraved, the-Father-taking-His-frustration-with-us-out-on-His-innocent-Son-in-divinely-gleeful-rage sort of way, but perhaps that’ll be the subject of another post at some other time.]  With the acknowledgement that I may now be crossing a liturgical line, I’ll tread lightly…  Why does the Ascension matter?  Why does Pentecost matter?  Is this annual proclamation & celebration perhaps just vain repetition?  Are we any better than Celtic pagans?

The difference: The Good News of the Church is the story of what God has actually done in history, real time & space, to rescue humanity.  History, ergo time, necessitates sequence.  This happened; then, that happened.  What the Church for centuries, even [Now I’m stretching it.] millennia, has done is summarize the Gospel into an annual pattern of proclamation & celebration, which creates for Itself a rhythm of life & worship into which It invites It’s members & those who drop eaves to participate & dance.

The fact is that there is a lot to the Gospel.  While it might can be summarized in tracts [though I prefer creeds], It really demands more than just a few lines.  It demands a life.  It demands much more than we all-too-often regrettably offer it.

Okay, but what about the whole Friday-death-Sunday-ressurrection distinction?  Here’s the sum of it… We live our lives far too fast-paced for our own good.  We have instant oatmeal, instant Jello, instant pudding, and instant RICE for crying out loud!  IT ONLY TAKES 15 MINUTES TO MAKE PLAIN, OLD-SCHOOL RICE!!!  WHY DO WE NEED INSTANT RICE?!  We love our fast food options.  We expect things now, and even when we pray for patience [if we pray at all], we ask for God to give it without delay.  This is not good.  This is not healthy.  This does not build character.  This does not shape a virtuous life.

We like our Gospel like we like our preaching on Sunday mornings.  We like it hard and fast.  While we’ll take being preached to, we’d much more prefer being preached at.  We want sweat dripping & spit slinging.  We want to front row, “real-big” Christians to be nasty by the time it’s all over.  We want a huge black Bible being thumped, even pounded against the top of a big oak pulpit.  Composite leather, please.  Hopefully, you’ve noticed my use of pronouns here…  We.  The world, of course, doesn’t like this, but we do.  The “others” outside of ‘Evangelicalism’ might be turned off by this sort of Gospel, but it sends a chill up our legs.  This chill is sometimes vocalized with a shout of “Amen!”  Why?  “Because people need to hear this!  They need the Gospel!  This church ought to be packed on Sunday mornings, because someone’s missing out.”  Yep, betrayed again.  We like our ‘Evangelicalism’ like we like our termites.  Though they fascinate us, we’d rather them “abide” in someone else’s house.

The Gospel offers us good (in exchange for our bad).  It offers us health (in order to purge our dis-ease).  It seeks to build character within us (having given us a fresh start).  It seeks to shape our lives through virtue (as we follow our victorious Lord).  Yes, it saves, but salvation is full not partial.  It doesn’t offer a quick fix.  It doesn’t offer a free ticket for eternity.  It offers us redemption… real redemption… complete redemption.  It is the story of how the one true God has fully embraced our humanity, taken it into Himself, and rescued it through participation.  We, now, are called to embrace Him (the incarnate One), invite Him into ourselves (our lives, our families, our relationships), and participate in His plan for rescue.

In making Easter Sunday into just a bigger Good Friday, we risk making the Gospel only about the forgiveness of sins, neglecting that it is also about the resurrection of the body.  The Creed, anyone?  When we reduce the Gospel to a mere tag-phrase (e.g., Jesus died for you.), we suspiciously offer only a fresh start, not a new life.  Easter is about the shocking, other-wise impossible miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Friday: the Crucifixion.  Sunday: the Resurrection.  Friday: the blood-stained Cross.  Sunday: the chillingly-empty Tomb.  The Man was dead.  His body was laid “to rest” in a tomb.  [By whom?  If I were a betting man, I’d be putting a heap of cash on you not having any clue.]  As the Apostle Paul would have us believe, though, while His death affords us forgiveness of sins, His resurrection raises us to new life [victorious life!] through faith.

It’s obvious… While we’ve perhaps made the Gospel too complicated for others, we’ve surely made it far too simple for ourselves.  Holy Week which has [Alas!] already passed us, invites us to walk carefully, slowly, intentionally, prayerfully.

Easter is not about Jesus dying for you.  What’s crazy: today is Easter Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Easter Sunday.  The season of Easter actually goes on for a few more weeks.  [Ha!  You’ve been snookered, haven’t you?  It’s only just begun, my friend.  Karen Carpenter?  Hmm.]

Indeed.

Indeed.

Most of us are far too busy to worry with Good Friday… and don’t even think about Maundy Thursday!  We’ll make time on Holy Saturday for our Easter egg hunts, and we’ll talk about nothing but Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins on Easter Sunday morning, when we should be proclaiming, “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!!!”  Most of our churches are far too big to worry with the distinction.  After all, we need a Friday evening service, a few on Saturday, and a couple on Sunday, and we can just say that they’re each our “Easter” celebration, right?  Logistics, really.

This is no criticism against working on Good Friday.  This is no criticism against being busy.  This is no criticism against large congregations.  I swear it.  This is simply an anecdotal observation of what we’ve become in the Western world of ‘Evangelicalism’.  My suggestion is that we slow down and walk carefully and intentionally.  The liturgical calendar could help in this regard, but that might not be your sort of thing.

[I’ll probably need to clarify a few things in subsequent posts.  We’ll see…]


Considering Hormonal “Birth-Control” from a Christian Ethic…

a sight all-too-familiar to most "evangelical" Christians

a sight all-too-familiar to most “evangelical” Christians

I’ve considered doing so for quite some time — years, really.  Of late, I’ve grown more concerned: “I should, but what might the reaction be?”  Upon listening to a BreakPoint commentary yesterday (from the previous day), I was struck by the title: “The Epidemic of not Looking” [sic].

Please note well:

  • I am not (nor have I ever claimed to be) a medical/scientific professional.
  • I wrote this paper over six years ago, so I concede that some of the research could probably use some updating.
  • I haven’t read it since the night I submitted it for grading.

My overall concern is that most of us would generally just prefer not to know the details of matters which might call for serious change in behavior or priorities — especially those of us who call ourselves Christians.  With that concern in mind, here’s a paper I wrote a few years back.  Conjuring C. S. Lewis, let me simply say, “They asked for a paper.” Conjuring Headmaster Dumbledore, let me simply add, “Let the feast begin.”

—  —  —

AN ETHICAL LOOK AT BIRTH CONTROL

It is quite plainly obvious that a larger bulk of American society generally accepts birth control as a viable option for females – typically of all applicable ages – who wish to avoid pregnancy. This rather widespread acceptance is unquestionably evident in society in general, but it is likewise quite present in the minds and practice of those who openly consider themselves to be part of the Church in America. In fact, when the issue of birth control is brought into question within ethical debate, passionate reactions are rarely found to be lacking. Correspondingly, such responses are far from uncommon within the context of Christian thought and debate. Such an observation certainly could often be made of quite a few – if not most – ethical issues, for ethical debate seems to spark and ignite something deep within the human heart, something that is often found in the garb of passionate expression. Ethical issues are deeply personal and, when coupled with the evident and not so evident consequences of thought, trigger deeply passionate responses.

But even still, matters regarding the bringing of human life into the world undoubtedly ought to be appropriately welcomed within the thought life of the thinking Church, and, therefore, ethical debate should always find a home for serious reflection and discourse especially amongst Christians. In fact, it should be rather unarguably understood that the Church has even a moral responsibility to think seriously about all matters, especially those that are evidently quite serious in nature and consequentially carry with themselves rather serious implications.

That being said, the present writer is under the conviction that birth control is, in fact, such a matter – not only one that is quite serious in and of itself but also one that is accompanied by rather serious implications. Such being the case, the facts surrounding birth control and its consequential implications should be fairly and adequately considered when one – particularly here, a thinking Christian – seeks to raise and offer a reflective response to the question of whether or not birth control should be seen as an ethically viable option in the avoidance of pregnancy. Therefore, the purpose of the present paper is to offer a synopsis of how birth control is designed to work, give an observation of both the possible benefits and detriments of its use, look at some of its apparent and assumed implications, note the possibilities in play when it is used, hear from what the Church has had to say about the matter, and finally offer some brief personally reflective conclusions concerning the issue at hand.

The Methods of Effectiveness

Though there are admittedly several different kinds of what might be understood to be birth control per se, the present concern is directed to what is most often considered by the general public to be such – i.e., that which is commonly known in the medical field as “hormonal contraceptives” or, more specifically, “oral contraceptives” and commonly known outside the medical field simply as “the pill”. Oral contraceptives find their effectiveness in the hormones1 they distribute to the female body, which in turn are expected to provide a defense against pregnancy or its advancement by producing several resulting mechanisms, the first being openly acknowledged as the most directly intended. It should be noted, however, that these mechanisms are only logically ordered, for they necessarily occur neither prior to nor subsequent to one another.

By Hindering Ovulation

The first – and again, most purposed – line of defense against pregnancy or its advancement built into the effects of oral contraception is established by attempting to stop ovulation, or the process by which the female’s ovaries discharge an ovum – or egg – into the uterus – or womb – so that it might then be potentially fertilized by a male’s sperm. Ovulation, which is often said to mark the beginning of the menstrual cycle, typically occurs fourteen days before the period of bleeding and is naturally consequential to the maturity of follicles, which is intended by oral contraception to be inhibited by an increase in hormone levels, therefore, expecting to prevent the release of ova altogether.

By Hindering Conception

If, however, ovulation goes unavoided, the effects of oral contraception present a second line of defense. Due to the increased hormone levels, the female’s cervical mucus is thickened, which in turn makes it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. This thickened mucus also presents less suitable conditions for the sperm, having hypothetically reached the egg, to actually penetrate, which would, of course, result in conception were it to occur.

By Hindering Implantation

There are, still, admittedly rare cases in which these first two lines of defense inhibit neither ovulation nor conception. At this point, though, oral contraception provides yet a third line of defense. The natural mechanisms of the menstrual cycle cause the mucous membrane lining of the uterus – or endometrium – to mature and, hence, thicken, providing the opportune circumstances for adequate and proper implantation of the egg. The raised hormone levels caused by oral contraception, however, prevent the maturity of the endometrium, therefore, making the womb inhospitable for a hypothetically fertilized egg, even if both ovulation and conception were to occur.

The Potential Goods

There are, unquestionably, certain “goods” related to the argument in the defense of birth control as a viable means of avoiding pregnancy, and such benefits should certainly have a fair hearing by anyone wishing to take seriously the subject at hand. Two such benefits are most obvious to all and are commonly expressed by advocates of preventative birth control.

The Convenience of Timing

One such benefit to birth control is related to timing. Though many things in life are clearly out of the personal control of those affected by them, some things undoubtedly lie within the reach of human control. The timing of when one has or avoids having children is in many cases one of those things within the grasping distance of modern Man. Further, timing is unarguably an issue related to convenience. There are some things that a person might not mind happening just so long as they occur at the right – or, at least, a somewhat bearable – time. Today, the convenience of timing when having or not having children is considered by many to be a convenience offering adequate justification for the use of birth control.

The Convenience of Limiting

Another matter considered by many to be a benefit to birth control is that of limiting the amount of children born to a couple. It seems that even most married couples in America see limiting the number of children born into their household as a potential good and would, therefore, see birth control as a viable option in bringing about such ends. The popular assumption is that one child is enough and two are plenty. If one happens to be a boy and the other happens to be a girl, it is often considered that a family is just what it ought to be and that the only thing lacking is a nice house and a cuddly pet. The rhetorical question must be raised, however: Are all assumptions necessarily true? And, likewise, are conveniences always – or even ever – the best determining factors in moral decision-making?

The Potential Bads

Though birth control certainly offers a share of “goods” to its advocates, it also often carries with itself a share of undeniable and consequential “bads”. At least three such unquestionable detriments should be considered if one wishes to take seriously the possible results of birth control.

Later Infertility

Even today, it is a common assumption among the general public that people can typically have children whenever they want. However, the passing of time and the advancement of medical understanding is progressively challenging such an assumption. The fact is that having children is not quite as simple as it is often thought to be.

Not only are there natural conditions related to the human body – both male and female – which prevent pregnancy and childbirth even when the timing is seemingly right, but there are also other conditions which have a negative effect on pregnancy and childbirth. Simply based upon the numbers, conception is not the rule but, rather, the rule’s exception; even more so is uninhibited delivery. Quite frankly, it is usually the case that people have sex much more than they get pregnant and much, much more than they are actually able to carry a baby to realized viability. In fact, it is beyond dispute that, as time passes, a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant begin to quickly diminish as she steadily approaches her time of infertility.

Birth control, however, causes still more hindrances to pregnancy, even beyond its immediate use. Even after the discontinued use of birth control, its consequences can be sustained for some time. Certainly, there are many cases in which the effects of birth control quickly – almost immediately – subside and the potential for pregnancy is immediately resumed, but there are also many cases in which its effects remain long after its use. In such cases, the female is often hindered from conception for several months – if not years. In a few of these cases, based on the duration of use and the consequential effects of birth control, the female finds that she will never again have the opportunity to conceive and bear children.

Consequential Miscarriage

Though infertility may not be the most consciously understood or feared result of the use – especially the prolonged use – of birth control, there is yet another result that is often more sobering. It is considerably common for a female to discontinue the use of birth control and later conceive – sometimes relatively soon, sometimes relatively not so soon – only to miscarriage shortly into the pregnancy.

Such miscarriages are often caused by the lingering effects of the birth control she previously used. In many cases, though conception occurred without fault, proper implantation was yet hindered, later causing dire complications and inevitable death to the once living and growing embryo. When such occurs, the mother is often devastated by the miscarriage, which often goes unacknowledged as the result of the birth control previously taken.

Chemical Abortion

There are still yet other detriments related to the use of birth control, one in particular that is directly connected to its simultaneous and continued use. Though they are certainly rare in occurrence, there are indeed times as noted above, when both ovulation and conception occurs but the fertilized egg is hindered from implantation, an occurrence referred to by some as a “chemical abortion”. Due to its nature, chemical abortion could also be seen as including those miscarriages which occur consequential to the use of birth control even after its use is discontinued.2

The Seeming Implications

Having seen some of the goods as well as some of the bads related to the use of birth control, another less direct avenue of thinking ought to be explored. One wishing to think seriously about the viability of its use should take into consideration what seems to be some implications inherent in the use of birth control to avoid pregnancy.

The Inconvenience of Children

The first – and, personally, the most easily inferred – implication is the idea that children are really an inconvenience. Such thinking seems to be increasingly common in the general public. Oftentimes and among other things, children are seen as a barrier to freedom – i.e., personal freedom, financial freedom, marital freedom, etc. This is seen very clearly in the common assumption that people should travel or “live a little” before they even consider having children. Even within the context of family, children are sometimes spoken of as being mistakes, plainly indicating the presence of the idea that they are often seen as inconveniences, or results that must be borne.

The Assumption of Promiscuity

Another – though probably not as easily inferred – implication seems to be an assumption of promiscuity. Often, parents are encouraged to get their daughters birth control under what is mindlessly considered to be the inevitability of promiscuity. This is especially encouraged as teenage girls approach their advancement into their college years. In many cases, seemingly birth control becomes viewed as simply one of the necessities of living a “normal” life in “the real world”.

The Possible Ramifications

Putting aside – even if just for a moment – the potential benefits and detriments of birth control in avoiding pregnancy, one should weigh the possibilities of birth control’s results when its methods of prevention are indeed effective. Might its potential ramifications play a significant role in judging the ethical viability of its use?

If there exists – which there indisputably does – the known possibility that conception might occur, and at times does occur and is then aborted by various factors knowingly caused by birth control, the question then becomes inevitability linked to whether or not conception marks the beginning of human life for a person. Once this question is answered, it would seem that the most logical step would then be toward addressing the question of moral acceptability in regards to knowingly ending such life which would most certainly be innocent and, likewise, indefensible.

A Skeptical Approach

Simply looking at what might be considered a skeptical approach3 to the possibility of human life at conception, some significant light could be shed on the subject at hand.4 There are logically only two definitive positions one might take in regards to whether human life is formed at conception: either that it is or that it isn’t. Likewise, there are only two possibilities regarding the relationship of one’s position to the reality of the matter: either one is right or one is wrong. Consequently, there are really only four possible alternatives in the whole matter: one believes that a human person is formed at conception and is right, one believes that it is and is wrong, one believes that it isn’t and is right, or finally one believes that it isn’t and is wrong. In either case, when one intelligibly and deliberately5 decides to use birth control, understanding its methods of preventing conception or the advancement of pregnancy, one is running the risk of falling into line with all four of these possible alternatives.

The Consequential Risks

In the case of the first alternative, one such person would run the risk of what might be considered by some to be murder – the deliberate killing of innocent and indefensible human life. Even supposing this risk were not directly intended, if it were intelligible and deliberate, it would nevertheless be liable. In the case of the second alternative, the risk would be more related to negligence, based upon one’s belief that harm might have been done coupled with one’s neglectful indifference to avoid such harm. In the case of the third alternative, there is no real risk, and so “no harm, no foul”. However, in the case of the fourth alternative, the risk is closely connected to what could be considered manslaughter – for though one would have quite honestly thought there to be no harm involved, one’s carelessness would have been the cause of great harm and could consequently be seen as quite liable.

The Voice of the Church

Before drawing some personal conclusions, it might be wise to hear and consider what the Church has had to say in connection to the use of birth control. Undeniably, many – if not most – who readily acknowledge themselves to be Christians in America unabashedly believe birth control to be a viable option in the prevention of pregnancy. In fact, many openly consider birth control to be a wise and responsible option, often believing “nay-sayers” to be either far too closed-minded, far too radical, or far too unrealistic. However, authoritative voices within the Church have at times offered very clear and direct judgments concerning the use of contraception.

Even in 1930 – clearly prior to the most modern advancements in the area of pregnancy and childbirth – the Anglican Church offered a stance on contraception through the collaborative voice of Its bishops. Though it made allowance for the responsible use of contraception, it was quite clear that it must only be used when there is “a clearly felt moral obligation” and never for the sake of “selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience”. Even upon setting such standards, the Anglican Church still saw the need to demand that – even in such seemingly rare cases – contraception should only be used “in the light of… Christian principles”, standing hard against all forms of abortion and promiscuity and further calling for “definite restrictions” regarding both the advertisement and sale of contraception even within the context of marriage.6

The voice of Roman Catholicism has been plain and steady throughout the history of medical contraception. In the same year that the Anglican Church offered Its parameters for the allowance of contraception, Rome offered a counter response, pronouncing no allowance whatsoever for any intentional form of contraception. This judgment was later reaffirmed in 1968 even amidst a rapidly growing population throughout the world and ever increasing sexual promiscuity, declaring “all direct interruption” to procreation as a natural result of sexual intercourse to be “absolutely excluded as lawful means of controlling the birth of children”, including any and all acts “specifically intended to prevent procreation”.7 Though many throughout the years have considered this judgment to be too hard, and have either outright rejected it or rather ignored it, the fact remains that Rome has spoken clearly and unabashedly.

Conclusions

And so, the question: Considering all that is known about birth control, does it stand as an ethically viable option for the prevention of pregnancy and childbirth? Please, let it be known that the present writer’s opinion is in no way meant to cast condemnation upon those who have chosen to use birth control; nor is it meant to stand as either unchallengeable or even uncorrectable. Nevertheless, it seems most reasonably appropriate to deny hormonal birth control herein described as being ethically acceptable.

Though many certainly see there to be nothing inherently wrong with birth control and still many honestly have no known reason to believe otherwise, it seems quite obvious that, when the facts and the possibilities are known, there can be no escaping the reasonable conclusion that birth control is not a morally neutral option. Rather, it seems quite plain that it should never be intelligibly and deliberately pursued as a means to avoid pregnancy.

But what, one might ask, about the goods offered by birth control? First, it should be noted that conveniences should never be simply assumed as justifications in and of themselves. In fact, conveniences often end up serving as snares to freedom. It is often the case that in Man’s attempts to control his circumstances, he finds himself, consequently, being controlled by his circumstances.8 Second, it should be noted that love often calls for inconvenience. Undoubtedly, love often brings its share of intrusions, for love is always directed toward the other, making the lover vulnerable even to the inconveniences of the beloved. Love always imposes to some extent, and so convenience at any cost is never an ethical option.9 And, third, it seems to be quite plain that in connection to birth control, the “bads” far exceed the “goods” and, further, the potential ramifications certainly shed a poor light on any possible “goods” related to the matter at hand.

On another note, it should be mentioned that there are at least three natural ends in relationship to sexual intercourse: pleasure, intimacy, and procreation. Even when real pleasure is lacking and true intimacy could be considered suspect, procreation is an undeniably natural end to sexual relations.10 When all circumstances are right, procreation generally happens, and so it seems that the Roman Catholic Church should at least be given a fair hearing when It calls for no intentional interruption of the natural consequences of sexual intercourse.

There still are, however, other alternatives in avoiding pregnancy. The possibility that the easiest option might not be an ethically appropriate option does not deny that there still remain others – i.e., abstinence, natural family planning, etc. In the end, the fact remains that if one wishes to take seriously the call to ethical living and decision-making, one must be honest, fair, and consistent in one’s approach to and reflection on the issues as they present themselves, and it is the present writer’s hope that he has done just that.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bettenson, Henry and Chris Maunder, ed. Documents of the Christian Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Boulton, Wayne G. et al., ed. From Christ to the World. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

“Christian Ethics.” Wesley Biblical Seminary – PM 712. (class notes)

“Contraception.” http://www.rockforlife.org/know_contraception.php

“Harms of Contraception, The.” http://www.omsoul.com/contraception-problems.php

Kreeft, Peter. “Pro-Life Logic”. http://www.peterkreeft.com

_____. “Pro-Life Philosophy”. http://www.peterkreeft.com

Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man. San Francisco: HarperCollins Pushlishers, 2001.

Lowdermilk, Deitra Leonard et al., ed. Maternity & Women’s Health Care. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 2000.

Neuhaus, Richard John. The Eternal Pity. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.

“Pill – How It Works and Fails, The.” http://www.pfli.org/faq_oc.html

“Some Church Teachings about Natural Family Planning.” http://ccli.org/nfp/morality/churchteaching.php

FOOTNOTES OF THE ORIGINAL TEXT

1either a combination of estrogen and progestin (more common) or progestin only (less common)

2NOTE: Miscarriages in general are also termed “spontaneous abortions”.

3Such an approach is illustrative of the Roe v. Wade court ruling (i.e., “the mystery of human life”).

4It should be noted that most biologists today no longer argue that human life does not begin at conception and that most advocates for the “pro-choice” position today argue simply from the perspective that it remains a woman’s right to choose, whether or not human life has, in fact, been conceived.

5Intelligibility and deliberateness are here key.

6Bettenson, 442-443.

7Ibid., 443-444.

8See especially the basis of Lewis’s argument in The Abolition of Man.

9Neuhaus, 116-120. (“I Want to Burden My Loved Ones” by Gilbert Meilaender)

10“Christian Ethics”, class notes.


Jesus > Religion?

Please let me, first, offer a simple explanation of my misplaced responses. It had just arrived at a youth meeting (Bible study, prayer, fellowship) when I noticed that things were getting “heated up”. As I waited for folks to show up, I decided to read some of the comments that were being posted and began commenting as I was reading. Consequently, I found myself unable to keep up as folks were chiming in; each time I posted, Facebook would then notify me of several other comments that had actually been posted prior to mine. Please bear with me as things certainly came across inappropriately and my comments seemed out of place and – perhaps – crass.

Please let me, second, make it clear that opposing viewpoints are certainly allowed and are even appreciated. It should be duly noted that I gave the guy on the video the benefit of doubt: suggesting that he is either a liar, a lunatic, or an idiot. My suspicions are that he is sincere and is not lying, is sane an not crazy, and mistaken and far too loose with his words, ideas, and the communication of both. Perhaps ‘idiot’ is too strong of a word for the faint at heart, but – to be sure – I was using the term etymologically… He seems oblivious of his relationship to the outside world and, thereby, proudly proclaims a Gospel lacking either biblical substance or theological coherence.

Please let me, third, clarify a few thoughts that have come to my mind regarding the contents of the video and the discussion that has ensued:

  1. As has been noted, he fails to define his terms, which is the first step of reasonable debate. He doesn’t seem to care to dialogue; he seems to simply care to make a cool video that can go viral. He seems to be confusing scriptural religion with false religion and should take note of James 1:26-27 among other passages which acknowledge true Christian faith to be indeed religious in character and expression. God gave religion to the Hebrew people as a means by which He would reveal Himself to the people with whom He graciously entered a covenantal relationship. The word of Scripture is that He instituted Hebrew religion, even establishing the rituals and festivals by which they would rightly worship Him and through which they would reliably know Him. Jesus was – perhaps – the most religious person who ever lived. He knew the Law and the Prophets and followed them faithfully. He even warned His followers that their “righteousness” must necessarily exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees if they are to ever hope of knowing and loving Him and, thereby, having spiritual life.

  2. I’m sure some are wondering why we call can’t just call it quits and stop debating the doctrine within the Church. After all, what about the “friendly fire” of Christian theological conversation? We should heed the exhortations of Jude, Paul to the Galatians, and the epistles of John certainly among other writings in the Christian Scriptures. Who Christ indeed is and what Christ indeed instituted is of utmost importance. Many will say unto Him, “Lord, Lord!” Truth matters, for He who is the Truth is Himself and not another. It is incumbent upon us as His people to speak of Him and His Church in great care and with great passion.

  3. What we have done in the modern evangelical church of the West is amazing. We live in a largely post-Christian culture, one which – for the most part – has forgotten all Christian memory, and what have we done? We have addressed the problem, which is – in large part – biblically illiteracy and theologically ineptness with a pathetically anemic pop-Christian solution; namely, wholesale biblical ignorance and discount bumper sticker theology. And now, after decades of “cheap grace” and “keep it simple” sermonizing, how better off are we? How changed is the world? How wealthy are the poor? How incarnate is the Body?

  4. Those stepping up to the mic to call our folks and inflict wounds on the “Church” and “Christianity as a religion” would do wisely to choose their targets well and to, then, aim accurately. In slamming “religion”, he’s shooting at everyone! What’s with all of this “we” business? About whom is he talking? Most of the contemporary Christian music on the radio is guilty of the same fault: dogging out “us religious folks”. I find myself constantly wanting to yell back, “Who? What church? My church?! Yours?!” Meanwhile, we (i.e., we who have a “relationship” with Jesus and are proudly “non-religious”) drive along, nod our heads, raise a hand in agreement, and mutter, “Amen,” never doing a thing to change the world and – all the while – being convinced that it’s everybody else’s (i.e., those “religious” folks’) problem that the poor are poor and the world remains untouched by the Body of Christ.

  5. In regards to Jesus’ statement that the Kingdom is “within you”, Jesus’ intent is, in fact, lost in translation in most instances. The Greek phrase, ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν, should be translated, “For, behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst [or, among you].” Yes, the Jesus taught a present Kingdom, one established among His disciples here and now at this time and in this space, but He was not teaching them to search for pseudo-gnostic spiritism that they can find in themselves if they would just look diligently. He was declaring Himself to them, incarnate, and proclaimed – elsewhere – them to be His presence in the world likewise.

  6. The message of the New Testament is that of the Old. What the Old “majors” on, the New “minors” on; meanwhile, what the Old “minors” on, the New “majors” on. What’s more: we as the people of God should take note and boldly proclaim the message of both the Old and New Testaments, both concerning unequivocally the salvation of the world, the grace of God, and love for God and neighbor leading to faithful obedience to God and self-giving service to one’s neighbor. No one in the Old was ever saved by adherence to the law, just as no one in the New or since has ever been saved while neglecting it. In regards to the intent of the commands… They were, in many cases, object lessons, given to teach God’s people about who He is, who they are, and how they are to approach Him and relate to one another. They were, in – perhaps – all cases, teaching simple obedience. If God commands, we must obey. Hence, the old covenant (i.e., external law on stone) was made obsolete by the new (i.e., internal law of flesh) and the subsequent indwelling presence of God the Father and Christ the Son by means of the Holy Spirit.

  7. As far as “the message of Christ”… Where do you find it other than in the reliable testimony of the Scriptures and in the remembering life of the Church?

  8. The Gospel is – indeed and by its very nature – subversive, but it is not only subversive to political loyalties and “God in the dock” ritualism but is also – on the same token – subversive to heavenly escapism and “nothing is sacred”, iconoclastic pop-evangelicalism.

What the world needs is the presence of Christ. What the Church offers is the presence of Christ in its faithful, incarnate, gracious, sacramental life as it embraces the Lord and His world, uniting heaven and earth in its worship to God and self-giving to His world.

If the guy in the video hasn’t found this kind of “church” or “religion”, he should keep looking… After all, for such Christ died and to such Christ has given Himself.


>The Goodness of God and the Suffering of the Faithful

>

How do we reconcile the love of God with the suffering of the Church? How do we reconcile the idea that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose” with the fact that most Christians throughout the world are afflicted and –what’s worse– forgotten?

Need some answers? Here’s an attempt…

The only way a deaf and blind world can hear and see the gospel message is by seeing it in our lives. The only way the life of Christ can reach the nations is by us following his incarnation, submitting to God’s will, and presenting ourselves in all of our vulnerability.


Read more here.

>A Refreshingly-Unadulterated Swing of the Axe at the Very Root of the Problem:

>

Thursday, July 02, 2009

SEX: GOOD, BABIES: BAD
By Kortney Blythe

This mindset seems to be the theme in this week’s news from the frontlines of the pro-death camp.

Take for instance, this quote by Elisabeth Garber-Paul in an article on the rise in sexual activity during this economic recession: “So join the rest of America in this exciting new trend. Save money, stay in, have sex—just don’t make a baby.”

That’s right, Elisabeth, throw respect for yourself out the window and spit in the face of God by removing one of his intentions for intercourse. More babies will just make the economy worse, right? Wrong. In fact, one of the reasons we are even in this recession is because of the plummeting birthrate. There simply aren’t enough people to replace the retiring population in the workplace and pay for social security or to stimulate the economy.

Not that you’ll hear about that from the anti-human, overpopulation zealots. But, do your research. Watch Demographic Winter and Demographic Bomb, two documentaries which debunk the overpopulation myth and ask the very important question: IS IT POSSIBLE WE HAVE BEEN FAILED BY THE VERY IDEAS WE THOUGHT COULD SAVE US?

It goes without saying that abortion advocates think saving sex for marriage is ludicrous and archaic. ….Just check out the title of a book just released by radical feminist Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women.

In an interview on RH Reality Check, the author, Valenti, purports that teaching and honoring purity is just as dangerous as the media’s “pressure on sexuality and the hypersexualization of women.” Oh really? So, protecting young people from the heartbreak and emptiness of pre-marital sex, not to mention a load of sexually transmitted diseases, is akin to the objectification of women, the result of which has been a generation of depressed, confused girls with eating disorders?

She goes on to say, “The purity myth is so embedded in our culture and our psyches…You don’t have to be forcing your daughter to take a virginity pledge in order for the fiction of virginity to affect your life.” Really? Then, why does every Hollywood film end (or begin) with a couple jumping in bed together? If it’s so “embedded” in our culture then why are abortion, STD and teen pregnancy rates so high? (I’m not going to even legitimize her term “fiction of virginity” with a response).

As if that isn’t enough, in Greensboro, NC a new program is paying high school girls to not get pregnant. That’s right. For every day they stay baby-free, $1 is deposited into an account to be used for college. According to WXII12 news, the group was founded by Hazel Brown, a maternity nurse who thought too many teens were having babies. Ms. Brown, how about seeing the root of the problem – too many teens are having pre-marital sex. The problem is NOT the presence of a baby, but the actions of his mother, which resulted in his existence.

The three goals of this program, called College-Bound Sisters, are for the girls to “avoid pregnancy, graduate from high school and enroll in college,” Brown said. Oh, what lofty goals we have for our young people!….
Teenagers rise to the expectations that are set for them. If all we ask is that they avoid pregnancy (and bonus! we’ll pay you for it), what are we teaching girls about sex, relationships, the value of children or personal responsibility, for that matter?

Instead of urging purity and self-control and demonstrating the joys of a quiver full of children (Psalm 127:4-5) within marriage, this program bribes young girls. If those same girls were taught basic biblical morality they wouldn’t be having sex, and thus, there would be no chance of pregnancy.

The message of this program in a nutshell: Go ahead and sin against God by having damaging pre-marital sex, but just make sure you avoid one of the outcomes – babies.

If only young people knew the joy and blessings they are missing out on when they use sex for purely physical and selfish reasons! Then, and only then, they would cherish chastity as it should be.

To my unmarried friends reading this, please flee from this deadly mentality of me-first, pleasure seeking, sex without consequences. Seek righteousness, pursue holiness and practice chastity.

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”
-2 Timothy 3:1-5


>an update on Rush’s "Brief Sermon"

>[click the title.]

among all other things that might be said about him, one thing is for sure… rush doesn’t back down. i applaud him on many issues, but this is great. major dittos!


>"A Brief Sermon for the Archbishop of Canterbury" [link]

>profound thoughts and words from the mind and mouth of el rushbo himself…

http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_122007/content/01125110.guest.html


>a call to arms –

>
For some time now, I have thought about the most recent front against the Christian Faith. To be quite honest, these attackers speak of being against faith in general (i.e., any theistic belief whatsoever); however, their attacks do seem to be quite intently targetted against the Church.

Personally, the most frustrating thing about these attackers is their snide tone and demeaning comments against those who proudly carry the banner of Jesus.

They present themselves as being the only ones in the debate who think rationally and speak intellectually, but often their efforts only consist mere cheap shots that are filled with anger. For instance – a simple look at the debate sponsored by – if my memory serves me well – “Dateline” only a few months back. When all the fluff was picked out, the front against the Faith was essentially an assumption that Christians must be ignorant and that – if there really is a divine One – He’s just a big meanie.

Just this evening, I read a post on a discussion forum sponsored by Decapolis.com [see links]; in it, a guy [I’m assuming the male sex.] exasperatedly wrote about a friend falling away from the Faith after being first exposed to this great onslaught.

[I find it pretty funny that all afternoon long – and you can ask my wife – I have been walking around the homestead singing a quite fitting though all-too-simplistic hymn. Just a taste: “The devil tried to tell that the Bible was a lie, that Jesus didn’t love me, and that I was doomed to die…”]

Below are my comments on Decapolis.com…

— — —

voice,

i too have noticed a relatively recent onslaught. of course, in the scholarly world this onslaught is quite aged – historically, culture has always followed the pattern of the scholarly world only a few generations later.

now, the long-coming attack has finally hit the streets. this could quite possibly have something to do with the chaff among the wheat; nevertheless, the church must not remain silent and simply fold our hands in contempt. rather, christianity must answer its attackers, and unless we do so with profound coherence and internal consistency we are doomed to be laughed into oblivion.

i, for one, am quite annoyed by the vehement debunking, yet i know that i must not respond merely in anger.

still, the church today finds itself in great need to a polemic front that is sensible and well-developed. for the most part, though, it seems that most of the debunkers are what i personally call “angry atheists” – people who quite honestly are more mad at god than they are genuine disbelievers. they would probably not look too kindly at that characterization, though, but you can hear it in the tone of their words (both, spoken and written) – quite frankly, they are as mad as the anger of hell itself.

pray, we must. fight, we must. love, we must.


>recently on decapolis…

>Just a few days ago, I expectantly joined a forum for discussion on a site I enjoy checking every once in a while. As I had hoped, I stepped in on some interesting thoughts. Here is my latest input concerning the inescapability of theological thinking (i.e., dogma, doctrine, etc.)…

— — —


so, basically, all you have said is that feeling and doubt are the basis of any knowledge, but – even there – any potential knowledge is merely some vague hope grounded upon nothing but subjective experience.

further, you speak of good and evil (i.e., pain and suffering) which tells me that – whether you like it or not – you do operate from some dogma.

i’ll be honest in noting that i’m not familiar with momma t’s writings. i suppose the same gutt-wrenching fears, doubts (?), and questions could be said of bonhoeffer – or even john the baptist for that matter. what about jeremiah or habakkuk? christ on the cross? i would assume that all of mankind – at some point or another – have experienced some form of dark night (st. john of the cross). that dark night, though, as in the case of each of these examples, never gives ground to remove all knowledge – real, genuine, subjectively objective knowledge – hard, attainable truth.

you are right in having a heart for the hurting, but why? because of dogma – like it or not. you may not want some nicely worked and worded systematic theology, but you cannot escape being a theologian of some sorts.

“tremendous liberty… in a spiritual fog of ambiguity and doubt”? sounds like transcendentalism.

and as for who is out there… he has made himself personally known. i suggest you start with jesus.

religion – the bible’s term, not mine. but what do you call prayer, if not religious? scripture, if not religious? church – oh, that dreaded bore? to reject religion (true religion, that is) always leads to antinominanism and inherent hell – whether literal and eternal or subjective and still unmistakenly real. in fact, i would make the case that being left with nothing but my feelings, doubts, wishful thinking, and all-to-wanting kindnesses would be quite an unbearable hell itself.

my fear is going too far in rejecting what is known and can be known (true christian religion) merely for the sake of some fleeting thoughts.