The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

The Virgin Birth Proves Personhood at Conception

by Adam McIntosh

In just a few days Christians all over the world will gather with their families, friends and churches to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord. The eternal Word becoming flesh is a fundamental fact of the Christian faith; we would not be able to receive salvation apart from it (Gal. 4:4-5). One important aspect of Christ’s incarnation is his birth from Mary, a virgin. We re-tell this historic event each year, though I’m sure many of us neglect its significance. Why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? There are numerous, legitimate answers to that question. As we’ll see, one answer is particularly relevant to the abortion debate.

Jesus had to be born of a virgin because he is not a human person. Kallistos Ware summarizes the traditional doctrine:

…Christ’s birth from a virgin underlines that the Incarnation did not involve the coming into being of a new person. When a child is born from two human parents in the usual fashion, a new person begins to exist. But the person of the incarnate Christ is none other than the second person of the Holy Trinity. At Christ’s birth, therefore, no new person came into existence, but the pre-existent person of the Son of God now began to live according to a human as well as a divine mode of being. So the Virgin Birth reflects Christ’s eternal pre-existence.” – The Orthodox Way, pg. 76-77

Christ’s personhood is divine and eternal. When he assumed human flesh he did not become a human person. Jesus Christ is a divine person who exists in a divine nature and a human nature simultaneously. The natures are never mixed and his divine personhood is never altered. In this context it would be improper to call Jesus a human person, for that would deny his deity. It would also be improper to call Jesus a divine-human person, for that implies a mixture of two persons. There is only one person of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and it was that divine person who existed in the womb of Mary.

All of this proves that personhood begins at conception. If a fertilized egg merely created human nature void of personality, then there would have been no need for the virgin birth. Mary and Joseph could have had sexual relations and Christ could have assumed the flesh conceived from that union. But this is not how God ordained history. He has precise, logical reasons for his actions. Since Jesus is a divine person from all eternity, a human person could not be created – which is exactly what happens at conception.

Ironically, many Christians who celebrate the virgin birth deny the personhood of the unborn. The Bible doesn’t give us a scientific timeline of human development; there is no verse that says, “A zygote is a human person made in the image of God.” Thus, pro-choice Christians maintain that the unborn is not a person until a specific point in its development and that a woman, therefore, can choose to have an abortion. But if the virgin birth is true, the unborn is a person from conception. To abort it is to kill an innocent human being, which is a sin and a crime according to the Bible.

It’s contradictory to deny the personhood of the unborn and to affirm the virgin birth at the same time. The two beliefs are incompatible at every angle. Christians must choose one or the other. As we celebrate Christmas this year and years to come, how faithful will you be to the story?

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Killing The Inconvenient

by Adam McIntosh

Readers of Kuyperian Commentary may have noticed an abortion theme in my articles over the last few weeks. With the celebration of Christ’s incarnation upon us, there is no better time to talk about pregnancy, birth, life and abortion. My original motivation for this trend, however, was from conversations I’ve recently had with pro-choice acquaintances (some being Christians). Here is a summary of how these conversations usually go:

Acquaintance: I believe in a woman’s right to choose.

Me: Oh, really? Why’s that?

Acquaintance: Because a woman should have the right to do whatever she wants with her body.

Me: What about the unborn fetus? Is it not a person with rights itself?

Acquaintance: Nope, it’s not a person until it can survive outside its mother’s womb.

Me: Ok, but premature babies born at only 21 weeks have survived outside of their mother’s womb. Should a woman be limited after 21 weeks from doing whatever she wants with her body?

Acquaintance: No, I still think she has the right to choose until birth. If she doesn’t want something growing inside of her, she shouldn’t be forced to keep it.

Me: But if the fetus is a human person, then abortion would be murder, right? There’s only four scientific differences between the born and unborn: size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency. None of these differences are relevant to determining personhood because they also exist between infants, teenagers, adults and the elderly. To avoid the charge of murder you have to prove that the fetus isn’t a person.

Acquaintance: So, what if a teenage girl is raped and gets pregnant? What if the mother’s health or life is at risk? What if the baby has birth defects from incest? What if she can’t afford to raise the child? You’re saying she should be forced to have it?!

At that point the topic turns to morality and whether or not killing innocent life is ever justified. From my experience, the abortion advocate always returns to the emotional and circumstantial arguments mentioned above. They may use scientific rhetoric to justify abortion (e.g. denying personhood) but their fundamental reason for being pro-choice is a matter of inconvenience – not science or morality.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree that rape, health risks, birth defects and poverty are horrible circumstances. My heart goes out to any family that has to carry the weight of such tragedy. I believe churches should take a more prominent role in providing counsel, healthcare and safety for women in those situations. But to use the inconvenience of an unwanted pregnancy as reason for abortion only begs the question.

Children are always inconvenient, even when parents love them dearly. Children change your entire life, interrupting and altering your normal routines. They constantly depend on you for food, shelter, clothing, education and entertainment (which can be emotionally and financially stressful). They get sick or injured at the worst possible times and you take extra precautions to protect them from harm. The inconveniences of having a child obviously do not stop after birth.

So, is killing a person for the sake of convenience permissible? In the case of the born child, pro-choicers say “absolutely not!” In the case of the unborn child, they say “absolutely,” without providing any significant distinction between the two. This position is as arbitrary as it is immoral; a classic case of being illogical and inconsistent. Perhaps doing otherwise is just too inconvenient.

The Myth of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

by Adam McIntosh

In 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. It was hailed as a pro-life victory across the nation:

Today’s signing of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is truly an historic moment… This is an achievement for life, a great victory for women, for unborn children and for all Americans.”

“We are thrilled that this historic legislation has finally completed its journey through the legislative process… we are celebrating this milestone protecting the unborn.”

“…it’s a major victory for prolife Americans… This is the first time in 30 years that we’ve seen reflected in public policy the cultural shift that has been taking place, and that is back toward respecting life… We have come with our toes to the line of crossing over into barbarism and we’ve said we’re not going to go there.”

Politicians have used their support of the ban as pro-life street cred ever since. The bill’s author, former presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum, used the ban as proof that there was not a stronger pro-life leader in Congress than himself. (Ignoring, of course, the fact that he never once introduced or cosponsored legislation to outlaw abortion or repeal Roe v. Wade – unlike another member of Congress.)

But does the hype match reality? Would the ban outlaw partial-birth abortions from that point on? Technically, yes. In all actuality, not at all. Let me explain.

The partial-birth abortion procedure is commonly described as pulling the baby out of its mother’s womb backwards, up to its neck. While the baby’s head is still inside the birth canal, the doctor then crushes its skull with a medical utensil, instantly killing the child. Prohibiting this procedure would certainly be a noble goal even if we could not outlaw abortion entirely. But notice carefully how the ban defines the procedure and what it prohibits:

The term ‘partial-birth abortion’ means an abortion in which the person performing the abortion, deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus.”

According to the official text, as long as the breech baby isn’t pulled out past its navel it can still be murdered by the physician. The baby can be outside its mother from the hips down – with wiggling legs and toes – and it is lawful to kill it. Similarly, in a head-first presentation, the skull can still be crushed or punctured as long as the entire head hasn’t exited the mother. If only part of the head has exited, the doctor is free to kill. I don’t know about you, but that still sounds like a partial-birth abortion to me. We are supposed to praise this legislation as a monumental victory; yet there is no reason to believe that it would save the life of one child. Rather than outlawing the procedure, it merely limited how far the baby can be pulled out.

By defining terms so narrowly, victory was perceived without any true accomplishment. If intentional, this is an example of political manipulation. If unintentional, it’s an example of poor lawmaking. No doubt, well-intentioned activists and legislators supported the ban, including Congressman Ron Paul (though not without a disclaimer). But the pro-life movement should carefully consider the legislation it rallies behind. We shouldn’t be so quick to accept every bill that has the appearance of pro-life principles. In our attempt to outlaw a gruesome abortion procedure, we actually legalized it. The fight against partial-birth abortion is far from over; sifting through political word games is just the first step.

Political Education and the Future of the Republican Party

Pink Floyd’s monumental contribution to the world is found in this statement: “We don’t need no education!” Despite the political and psychedelic observation, our country needs a lot more education of the right kind. One of my greatest desires over the years has been to educate–imperfectly–friends and family on the virtues of the American view. I am under no compulsion to defend the perfection of the U.S. Constitution. I happen to believe that Patrick Henry’s skepticism is now well justified. At the same time, I am committed to the fact that we must use the tools that we have to fight the present intellectual war.

At this stage in American history, Christians have an important duty to educate the public by inculcating a form of transcendent morality. Politicians will not take this to be their main tasks. By and large they are concerned about their constituents’ response to their decisions and votes. This adds an immense amount of burden to politicians. They need greater burdens, but not the temptation to act even more unwisely. Naturally, I find this to be at least one reason for the vast inconsistencies we find in most of their voting records. Term limits, anyone?

As Republicans re-group, they are beginning to re-fill their savings for 2014. After suffering a loss of two seats in the Senate and a handful in the House, they are wondering what to do to restore those seats.

Is Constitutional education part of this reformation process in their minds? It is certainly not.

Out of the many tools, I believe the labors of the Institute on the Constitution could add tremendously to the general knowledge.

Christians need to be more strategic in their giving. After the tithe, where will our gifts be best used? According to The American Conservative, “Republicans spent $776 million this cycle…while the Super PAC’s put in another $296.5 million.” This is well over a billion dollars, which went mostly to Karl Rove and the “brotherhood of campaign consultants.”

Democrats are ideological in nature. They are seeking and proposing strategies that will genuinely change the make-up of the country–for the worse, we might add. But on the other hand, ideological Republicans are ridiculed. The reason for this–as Steve Deace observes–is that Republicans are seeking to control the party and not the country. When politicians propose tough transformations to the play-book, they are viewed as radicals.

While the GOP seeks to restore the White House to the next Republican candidate in 2017, will she seek this by more compromises or will she seek it through genuine education? We can’t promise immigrants more gifts as a way to secure their votes in the next election. We can’t promise welfare recipients more gifts as way to secure their votes in the next election. The Democrats have already won that fight. But we can go through the arduous task of educating a society. As Joel McDurmon states: “One County at a time.”

What role will Christians have in these next four years? Will we continue to seek another moderate candidate? Are Republican talking heads correct when they assert that we need an even more moderate leaning Republican candidate to reach the independent groups? Or will we pursue to train and participate in local elections and conversations, and thus influence the grassroots? Will we tap into this gigantic Tea Party and Constitutional storm that is brewing?

One thing is certain: Our political investments need to be in education, not enriching political consultants.

Bishop Tutu has a conscience: This confuses Evangelicals

Archbishop Tutu’s Moral Meltdown.

In my opinion, Tutu said some obvious truths:

Although admitting Saddam Hussein was a “despotic and murderous leader,” Tutu avoids elaborating and offers no alternatives to his removal by Western force. He cites 110,000 Iraqis killed in war but not the many more Saddam killed during supposed peace.

Wow, you mean Hussein killed more than 120,000 of his own people? Did he like, have a big long kill list or something? How many more? Did he, say, I don’t know… maybe…. Kill a half million Iraqi children and then say it was all worth it on national television? I seem to remember something like that…

Oh wait.

OK, forget about our mass murder of Iraqi children in the 90s. Let’s move on. What can make the above paragraph make any sense at all? Consider the logic: Was there any evidence that Hussein was going to kill even half as many again as we killed?

No. He was a toothless dictator.

So because Hussein allegedly killed more, we somehow got the moral authority to make up lies about him to go and replace a horrible secular dictatorship with a horrible radical Shiite dictatorship while killing 120k in the process? I’ll grant the body count is not yet nearly as high, but Iraq has the same secret prisons, the same secret police, and the same torture as before. Only now, we are the trainers and aiders (so I guess this puts us back into “early Saddam” era), and the Christian church in Iraq no longer has protection, and Iran has a new ally in the region. Oh, and it is now also a haven for Al Qaeda. Aside from the Iraqi civilians we killed, we spent American lives to bring about this result.

Yes Saddam committed crimes, but they weren’t our crimes. We’ve ignored and even now ignore massacres and genocides all over the planet. It was never our job to police Iraq. We know this is true because Bush would not have needed to make up lies about WMD.

And then this from Blair:

…and that of the Iran-Iraq war where casualties numbered up to a million including many killed by chemical weapons….

Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld shake hands

Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld shake hands

Those were US-provided weapons in a US-sponsored proxy war against Iran. The fact that Blair admits that this was a crime deserving of destruction makes me wonder if the Holy Spirit was moving him to prophesy against the Western world.

The article calls Tutu a liberal, which is true and a shameful thing. Sometimes the word of God comes to us on foreign lips and we refuse to listen. I doubt Blair is any less liberal.

Final paragraph:

As to the Iraq War’s morality, it’s still unexplained by critics like Tutu what viable alternatives were available in 2003 regarding a mass murdering dictator who had started 2 wars and joined the Taliban regime in publicly endorsing 9-11. Although Tutu is now over age 80, his claim that the Iraq War has destabilized the world more than any conflict in history indicates he has no memory prior to 2003.

The “viable alternative” was to not lie about Hussein to make him into a threat and to allow the toothless dictator to rot in his country. I have no idea how much the Iraq war destabilized the world compared to Napoleon, but it was certainly a horrible and destabilizing act that was directly against the national interest even though it served to enhance the power of the US Federal Government.

One final note: the picture I included in this post, is not an Iraqi child, but an Afghan or Pakistani girl.

(Originally posted at Christendom Unbound)

Culture-Changing Christians

By Kuyperian Commentary Special Contributing Scholar, Dr. Thomas Kidd

Many disappointed Romney supporters have suggested that his defeat spoke to an American culture in decline. For politics to change, they say, culture must change. Glenn Beck, for example, tweeted that “the time for politics is over. I’m doubling down on my efforts to shift the culture.”

Evangelical Christians are especially attuned to talk of changing culture. But what culture is, and just how it changes, is often less clear. Books such as Andy Crouch’s Culture Making and James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World should be required reading for any Christian making plans to change culture. Both books show that culture, or “what human beings make of the world,” in Crouch’s words, is extraordinarily complex, and not susceptible to quick change, especially through politics.

We can certainly point to Christian politicians who have helped change culture in explicitly Christian ways. The great abolitionist William Wilberforce is an excellent example. But think over the past century: many of the culture-changing Christians that jump immediately to mind have not been directly engaged with politics. For example:

C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor whose greatest influence came through writing children’s books.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian martyred for his resistance against Nazi tyranny.

Mother Teresa, the Albanian-born nun who devoted her life to caring for lepers and AIDS patients, who testified to the dignity of all human life, including the outcast and unborn.

Each of these heroes had things to say of political consequence, but they did not see politics as their method of Christian witness or culture change.

So before we plunge headlong into changing the culture before the 2016 election, let’s think about a few principles for how evangelicals can influence culture.

1) James Davison Hunter argues that culture is shaped most by institutions that have great “symbolic capital,” including universities such as Harvard and Yale, and newspapers such as the New York Times. Popular Christian books may sell millions of copies, but they do not have the symbolic capital or cultural influence of a Pulitzer Prize winner. Christians not only need to engage with institutions of high symbolic capital, but we need Christian voices to be present in those institutions, as professors, journalists, and artists. Christian parents and teachers need to cast a winsome vision of Christian cultural engagement for children and students.

2) Christians should worry as much about preserving orthodox Christian culture as they do about changing secular culture. Indeed, preserving traditional Christian culture is an essential precondition to any wholesome changes in the broader culture. If American Christian culture is infected by theological vacuousness and historical ignorance, by shallow consumerism, or by ethical corruption, then on what basis can we hope to transform the broader culture? As Christopher Dawson’s classic Religion and the Rise of Western Culture demonstrates, Christians have often found themselves having to preserve the heritage of biblical Christianity from a hostile surrounding culture. There’s nothing especially new in our situation today.

3) While some Christians may be called vocationally to institutions of high symbolic capital, all of us can take responsibility for the mini-cultures of our family, church, and neighborhood. I’m afraid that I can’t do much about the voting patterns of Ohio, but I can sure do something about the culture of my dinner table. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she was reportedly asked what we can do to promote world peace. She answered “Go home and love your family.”

Evangelicals can certainly participate in politics, but we should remember that politics tends simply to reflect culture. And culture is not easy to change, especially at the broadest levels. Christians can (and must) do more to bring a witness into institutions of high symbolic capital, but we should never underestimate the sanguine influence we can have, by God’s grace and prayer, on the little cultural spheres we inhabit on a daily basis.

(Article first published at Patheos)

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