Fearfully and wonderfully made
This commentary first appeared in February, 2001.
A few days ago, more than a hundred people crowded in a Capitol Hill meeting room to announce the creation of new congressional caucus. Now, there are many bipartisan caucuses in Congress, but this is one that deserves both our attention and our support.
The new caucus is the Congressional Autism Caucus. Autism, a developmental disability that has been described as a sort of "mind blindness," afflicts one in every 500 children in America. It's more common than Down Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, or Cystic Fibrosis.
Autism often robs children of their ability to communicate and interact with the outside world. And caring for children with autism can be stressful for their parents. I know this from personal experiences, since my grandson, Max, is autistic. It's a challenge for my daughter Emily, but, I hasten to add, a real blessing from God.
The Congressional Autism Caucus cited the "neglect" of autism by "federal health, medical and scientific research programs." And it told the media what parents of autistic children already know, that "there are no diagnostic laboratory tests for autism, and there are no [FDA] approved treatments for its symptoms."
That's why Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, along with several colleagues, formed the Caucus. The goal is to raise the profile of this issue and see what can be done for autistic children and their parents. As Smith's letter to the Caucus put it, the idea is to become "a voice for the voiceless." And if you're familiar with Chris Smith's record, then you'll understanding how fitting that formulation is.
Representative Smith has made a career of being a "voice for the voiceless." The Washington Post called him "incorruptible, principled [and] concerned for the underdog."
Those underdogs include the unborn. Smith's tenacity on behalf of the unborn is legendary. He won't hesitate to bring Capitol Hill to a grinding halt, if that's what it takes. When President Bush recently reversed the Clinton administration's policy on federal money for organizations that promote abortion overseas, it was mostly Smith's doing.
Smith's concern for the voiceless also extends to those already born. It includes victims of religious persecution in China and persecuted people in Tibet. And, this concern led him to support an international ban on land mines.
If all Smith were bringing to the fight against autism were his energy and determination, I would be happy. But he brings -- or I should say, he embodies -- something else.
That's the understanding that fighting against autism comes out of the same moral convictions as protecting the unborn: both the child in the womb and the autistic child (who may not understand what you're saying) are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by God.
But they are vulnerable, which is why God calls his people to pay special attention to protecting them. That's why I'm grateful to Congressman Smith for what he's trying to do.
You can help too. Get your congressperson or senator to sign up as part of Chris Smith's caucus. It's a great way to help a great bunch of kids and their families and to remind Christians and non-Christians alike what it really means to be "pro-life."
For more insight to this subject, get the book, Dancing with Max, by Emily Colson, from our online store. Or read the article, “Davey’s Song: The Divine Music of an Autistic Son,” by Anthony Esolen.
This commentary was first published in July, 2004, and matters have only heated up and become more urgent. Now is the time to begin speaking out about the true nature of marriage.
In De-Lovely, the new film about songwriter Cole Porter's life, Porter tells his wife, Linda, about his homosexuality. Linda, who is the inspiration behind his genius, tells him that his music comes from his talent not from his destructive behavior. But she does beg Porter to give up his scandalous behavior so as "not to put us at jeopardy," a promise Porter isn't prepared to make.
The prospect of a marriage where children, permanence, and fidelity are in doubt is supposed to make us pity Linda Porter, even if she was complicit in her own plight. After all, who would opt for such an arrangement? Well, according to one scholar, many Americans have. And understanding how and why this is the case is crucial to understanding the push for same-sex "marriages."
According to Bryce Christensen of Southern Utah University, homosexuals don't want marriage, at least not marriage as understood for most of the past two millennia. They want what "marriage has become" as a result of cultural changes and bad policy choices.
Historically speaking, marriage was an institution "defined by religious doctrine, moral tradition, home-centered commitments to child rearing, and gender complementarity . . . " Today, it is a "highly individualistic and egalitarian institution." Marriage no longer "[implies] commitment to home, to Church, to childbearing, to traditional gender duties, or even (permanently) to spouse," so writes Christensen.
Traditionally, the "husband-wife bond" was defined by "mutual sacrifice and cooperative labor." But that has been replaced by "dual-careerist vistas of self-fulfillment and consumer satisfaction."
According to Christensen, no one should be surprised that homosexuals want "the strange new thing marriage has become." After all, "contemporary marriage . . . certifies a certain legitimacy in the mainstream of American culture." In addition, it "delivers tax, insurance, life-style, and governmental benefits."
And, best of all, from the homosexual's perspective, it does all of these things "without imposing any of the obligations of traditional marriage." If childbearing, sexual fidelity, and permanence are no longer central to our culture's understanding of marriage, but the benefits are the same, why not agitate for marriage?
Christensen says that it would be a mockery to issue marriage license to couples who, by definition, "can never have children," "will not resist the temptations to extramarital affairs, and will not preserve their union for a lifetime."
But, as he reminds us, this mockery of wedlock started "decades ago." It started when hundreds of thousands of heterosexual couples started "buying basset hounds rather than bassinets; started indulging in extramarital affairs; and started fulfilling divorce attorneys' dreams of avarice." The result was marriages that more closely resembled the one depicted in De-Lovely than the traditional model.
This doesn't mean that we shouldn't fight the attempt to extend the marriage franchise to same-sex couples. It's still a mockery of a sacred institution. But it does mean that our efforts should be part of what Christensen calls a "broader effort to restore moral and religious integrity to marriage as a heterosexual institution."
Until that happens, marriage, regardless of who gets a marriage license, will remain an institution in jeopardy.
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For more insight to this topic, get the book, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than Make Us Happy? by Gary L. Thomas, from our online store. Or read the article, “The Dangers of Same-Sex Marriage: What’s Wrong with That?” by Regis Nicoll.
The Legacy of Luther
This commentary, published November 10, 1997, on the occasion of the 514th birthday of Martin Luther, is as relevant today as ever.
Many Christians know little about Luther beyond the fact that he nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door and set off the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s insights, including his insistence on justification by faith alone—sola fide—divided the church for centuries. But today these same insights are making it possible for Protestants and Catholics to join forces to preserve the civilization Luther helped create.
Luther was, in many respects, the father of the German nation. When he translated the Bible into German, Luther standardized that language for the first time. He rallied German princes in his struggle against the corrupt Borgia papacy, and helped Germans to see themselves, for the first time, as part of a larger nation instead of a collection of petty principalities.
But Luther’s cultural significance went far beyond Germany’s borders. When he stood before the Diet of Worms and refused to recant his position on justification by faith, he uttered the famous words "Here I stand… I can do no other."
These words had profound theological significance—and they also created the foundation for the modern world: the idea of individuality, the individual standing before God.
Prior to Luther, identity was derived largely from membership in a group. Following Luther, the individual conscience reigned supreme. As historian Ken Jowitt writes, "one can hardly find a more poignant, courageous, blunt statement of individualism than ‘here I stand… I can do no other.’ "
But Luther’s most important contribution was his re-discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith—as Luther put it, that "faith alone makes righteous and fulfills the law." This "chief part of the gospel," Luther wrote, had been obscured by a penitential system that emphasized human effort at the expense of faith.
For nearly five centuries, the gulf between Catholics and Protestants has centered around the question, how are we justified before God? During the last 20 years or so, Catholic scholars, such as Peter Kreeft of Boston College, have begun to say, "Luther is right: We are justified by faith."
Four hundred and eighty years after he helped split the church, Luther’s insight into justification by faith is helping bring Christians back together. In 1994 some 40 evangelical and Catholic leaders, myself included, signed a statement called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." The document calls on all Christians to work as allies against a common enemy.
Just this week, the signers of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" are releasing a new statement that affirms what the Reformers meant by Sola Fide—justification by faith alone. The document is called "The Gift of Salvation," and it will surprise many.
Luther would have been proud to sign it. He has, in a sense, been vindicated. And he would be thrilled, five hundred years later, to see the church rally behind this bedrock Christian truth.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, Through the Year with Luther, by Martin Luther, from our online store. Or read the article, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Gift of Salvation.”
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Absolutes without absolutism
It’s not as hard as you might think to stand for absolute truth with those who deny it. This BreakPoint commentary first appeared in June, 2001.
Have you ever tried to debate moral principles with someone who doesn't believe they exist? If you have, you know it's an exercise in frustration. In our anything-goes society, even mentioning that there might be such a thing as a moral absolute truth is a good way to get branded intolerant, anachronistic, and a killjoy. And the more frustrated we get with this state of affairs, the more likely we are to turn the stereotype into a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, our frustration can easily turn into anger, and our anger can begin to look very much like the arrogance that we're already accused of harboring.
The goal that Christians need to strive for, argues scholar Art Lindsley of the C. S. Lewis Institute, is "absolutes without absolutism." In his excellent new book, True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World, Lindsley writes, "Just as a need to relate truth to all areas of life does not make us relativists, so believing that there are some moral absolutes does not make us absolutists. . . . Absolutism might be defined as being synonymous with a cluster of characteristics: arrogance, close-mindedness, intolerance, self-righteousness, bigotry, and the like." These are characteristics that many people already associate with Christianity, unfairly. And so these are the very characteristics that Christians need to work especially hard to avoid. After all, as Lindsley reminds us, the most fundamental doctrines of our faith -- our fallen state and our desperate need for a Savior -- are doctrines that make for humility, not pride.
But at the same time, we still need to be able to talk about absolutes. An explanation of the Christian worldview makes no sense without them. So how do we do it? Well, first remember that we can believe that there are absolutes -- that is, moral truth binding on us -- without being absolutists -- that is, closing our minds to other propositions.
And Lindsley suggests that one of the best ways is to turn the tables on relativists. For instance, we can point out the absolutism in their own thinking. As Lindsley writes, "Relativists consistently stand guilty of the philosophical sin of making exceptions to their own absolute rules." They claim that Christianity is a religion of intolerance, that Christians have committed abuses in the name of their faith, that Christians shouldn't impose their values on others, but leave them free to choose their own value systems. But where did they get their ideas of tolerance and justice -- of right and wrong in general -- if they genuinely don't believe in moral absolutes? Without such ideas, how can anyone formulate a meaningful system of values?
This kind of argument was effective with as brilliant a thinker as C. S. Lewis. Many years after his conversion, he wrote of his days as an atheist: "How had I got this idea of just and unjust? . . . A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line."
If we're patient and persistent, it's not as hard as it might seem to make a relativist begin to see the truth about the "straight line." But we must never forget exactly who and what we're defending. Jesus was the embodiment of absolute truth, but never an absolutist. And so as Art Lindsley puts it: "The defense of the Gospel is most effective when combined with the demeanor of Christ."
For more insight to this topic, get Art Lindsley’s book, True Truth, from our online store. Or read the article, “The Shape of Unbelief,” by T. M. Moore.
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Living Faith in Society
In spite of the complaints and criticisms of many, Christianity has long been a force for good in human society. This BreakPoint commentary first appeared in September, 1992.
A few years ago, the Smithsonian museum put up a new display with Archie Bunker's overstuffed armchair, from the famous television sitcom. A symbol, perhaps, of the narrow-minded, reactionary viewpoint Archie Bunker was supposed to represent.
A lot of people think of Christianity in the same terms--as narrow and reactionary--and they wish they could relegate it to a display in the museum of human history.
But what people fail to see is that the Church, for all its faults, has been a highly positive force in society. Jesus's command to love the world has inspired a great outpouring of social and philanthropic work.
Take education. Many Ivy League universities, including Princeton and Harvard, were founded by Christians who believed in nurturing the life of the mind.
The earliest opponents of slavery in the United States were Quakers, who operated an underground railroad to Canada.
During the Civil War, the Christian Sanitation Commission cut the death rate in hospitals in half, by providing bandages and nursing care to the wounded.
The record of Christian charity is so impressive that even John Dewey, one of the founders of modern humanism, praised believers for their social conscience.
We still see the same thing today. A recent Gallup study called The Saints Among Us found that people who are just church-goers don't differ much from the rest of the population.
But people who are deeply and personally committed to Christian faith are, as the study puts it, "a breed apart." The statistics show that they are happier, more charitable, more ethical, more tolerant, and more likely to help the needy.
So despite what the secular elites may say, Christianity has been, and still is, a powerful force for good in Western culture.
And Bblical truth still provides the answers to our most vexing problems. Let me give one example. Government officials often come to us here at Prison Fellowship with questions about criminal-justice policies. One of our recommendations is that costly prison space be saved for truly dangerous offenders. Non-violent offenders ought to be sentenced to supervised work programs, using their salary to pay restitution to their victims. Compared to just throwing everyone behind bars, restitution is clearly cheaper and more effective in curbing repeat offenders.
I love it when the officials ask me where the idea came from. I usually ask them, do you have a Bible? Dust it off, I suggest, and read what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai. The concept of restitution comes straight out of Scripture.
So don't let anyone make you feel like your faith belongs in a museum, alongside Archie Bunker's chair. Christian love and Christian truth are an essential underpinning of society in modern America just as much as they ever were.
So keep that in mind over the next few months, when everyone's thoughts are turned to politics. Christians do have a civic duty to live out their faith in the public square. And the public square desperately needs the influence of biblical truth.
For a better understanding of the true nature of Christian faith, order the book, The Faith, by Charles Colson, from our online store. Or read the article, “Near Christianity,” by T. M. Moore
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Why do liberal scholars continue to get it wrong about Jesus? Because they refuse to accept the best source for information about Him. This BreakPoint commentary first appeared June 26, 2001.
Getting it wrong
Eight years ago, a former nun named Karen Armstrong wrote an unlikely bestseller called, A History of God. The book purported to tell readers how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have "shaped and altered the conception of God." Now that book has been turned into a television show -- one that, like the book, manages to get some very important questions very wrong.
The Arts & Entertainment network's presentation of "A History of God" didn't feature a single evangelical or conservative Catholic scholar. Instead, viewers got the story of Christianity from people famous for their rejection of Christian orthodoxy -- people like Princeton's Elaine Pagels.
Viewers were told that the Christian belief in the divinity of Christ was something essentially invented by the fourth-century church. Viewers were assured that "Jesus never claimed to be God." Nor, for that matter, did St. Paul believe in Jesus' divinity.
This is not only contrary to traditional Christian teaching, it also runs contrary to a lot of contemporary scholarship -- especially the kind that approaches the subject matter with an open mind.
Take the statement "Jesus never claimed to be God." Even liberal scholars agree that Jesus called himself the "Son of Man." The phrase comes from Daniel 7 in which the prophet describes one come down from heaven, and who is given "authority, glory and sovereign power." His is an "everlasting dominion that will not pass away . . . " [7:14].
As scholars note, by the first century, the phrase had messianic, divine connotations -- overtones that Jesus would have been aware of when he used that expression. But Armstrong disregards this usage, and turns Jesus' use of the phrase into an expression of his own mortality.
This kind of disregard for the straightforward and the obvious is also at work in her claim that St. Paul didn't teach Jesus' divinity. In at least three of his epistles, Paul refers to what scholars call the "cosmic Christ." Scholars agree that the most famous of these passages, found in Philippians 2, is based on an ancient hymn -- one that predates the letter to the Philippians.
In other words, less than two decades after Jesus' resurrection, Christians all over the known world were already singing hymns about his divinity -- contrary to what the A&E TV viewers were told.
The exact definition of Jesus' relationship to the Father wasn't finalized until the fourth and fifth centuries. But this was simply a refinement of -- and not a departure from -- what the first-century Church believed about Jesus.
The best source
What programs like "A History of God" don't acknowledge is that the Scriptures remain the very best source for information about Jesus and the early church. Archeology and other scholarship haven't discredited this essential text; on the contrary, each new discovery has helped confirm its trustworthiness.
It's those who posit a Christianity other than what we read in the New Testament who are ignoring the evidence, and not the believers.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, The Faith, by Charles Colson, from our online store. Or read the article, “Imaging God,” by Patrick Henry Reardon.