Abortion, Steve Jobs and the Choices of Life

I'm only just catching up on some news back in November: Steve Jobs, originally an unwanted pregnancy and adopted at birth, himself remained constantly grateful to his birth mother that he "didn't end up as an abortion."
The new authoritative biography of Jobs, biographer Walter Isaacson reveals how Jobs set out to find his birth mother in the early 80s, even hiring a private detective for the task.
While his first efforts to find his mother failed, Jobs persisted, particularly after his adoptive mother passed away in the mid 80s.
Jobs explained to Isaacson why he was so determined to find his biological mother:
“I wanted to meet [her] mostly to see if she was OK and to thank her, because I’m glad I didn’t end up as an abortion,” he said.

I read about this the other day in a newsletter we subscribe to from The Choices of Life. In the same edition I was interested to read that at a recent Presbyterian Youth Camp (NSW I assume), after the speaker Bruce Coleman presented on the issue of abortion, Coleman surveyed the students, aiming to test how significantly their thinking might have changed as a result of the pro-life presentation and hearing personal experiences of abortion.

Coleman used the following question: "What do you think is a good reason why a woman should be able to have an abortion?" Students and leaders were given 7 options to consider:
  • Rape;
  • Mum's life at risk;
  • Disability of the baby;
  • It's a woman's choice;
  • The woman is too young;
  • Other; and
  • No good reason.

The tallied results indicated significant numbers of changed minds after listening to the presentation:

  • Rape: Before 98; After 18.
  • Mum's life at risk: Before 112; After 37.
  • Disability of the baby: Before 2; After 1.
  • It's a woman's choice: Before 3; After 0.
  • The woman is too young: Before 5; After 2.
  • Other: Before 7; After 6.
  • No good reason: 192; After 351.

I found it striking that one presentation to this large group of young people could so signifiantly and positively effect their thinking on this issue, particularly on those very questions that are considered to be the exceptional circumstances: that of rape and when a mother's life is at risk. 

Asking about Abortion

Do you have strong views about abortion? Have you done all the thinking you should about this important question? Have you asked all the questions? Are your views open to questioning?

Would you read this if it only asked questions? Would you at least think about them; perhaps even try to answer them?

Where do we begin?

It's a question of life: When does human life begin?

Is it that a life doesn't become human until a certain stage of development? When it gets to a certain size? Age? Physical location? Level of independence from the mother? Could it be that until a certain time, a life - be it a zygote, embryo, fetus - is a different kind of organism, other than human?

Is a 20 year old adult a different kind of organism to a 2 month old child, who is less developed and more dependent? Is a new born fundamentally different in kind to a newly conceived? Does a baby in utero aquire personhood the moment it is born, or when the cord is cut?

Or is it that from the moment of conception a human life lives?

What do we give?

It's a question of value: What value do we give a life?

What determines the value of a human life? Is a larger human more valuable than a smaller one? Are older people worth more than younger people? Does quality of life give one more value?

Is the life of a 30 year old man, who is bigger than a 12 year old child, worth more? Is a happy person more precious than a sad person?  What about health? The sicker the person the worse we can treat them?  Does the level of dependence affect value? Are children of less worth because they are more dependent on their parents than adults?

Would it be ethical to kill mentally and physically disabled children who have already passed down a birth canal at some point in their life? Can we discriminate between people based on the circumstances of their conception? Is a child conceived during a ‘one night stand’ some how less valuble than a child born from a loving stable relationship?

Or is it that all human life, irrespectively, has equal value?

What do we care?

It's a question of right: Do people have rights? Is there such a thing as the right to life? If so, which people have it?

Is it okay to harm certain people in certain ways just because they are different? Is it naive to think that killing innocent people is wrong? Or is it merely disadvantageous or undesirable or inappropriate to do such things, sometimes?

Could killing innocent children actually be right in some situations - or rather, advantageous? Or is living without an umbilical cord a criterion before we have the right to safety and care, even protection?

Or is it a case of competing rights? Is upholding the right not to be pregnant a greater good than the right not to be killed? Or is it the lesser of two evils? Do the tragic situations into which children are born make it more evil to protect them than to kill them?

Or is it that sometimes killing really is completely wrong? Such as when it's murder; Like when it is a violent personal assault on an innocent, unprotected, indefensible victim?

Apart from the fact that murder is unlawful, is it actually wrong to murder people, always?

What does it matter?

It's a question of law: Does the law always get it right? Does our legal system always maintain justice and protect people as it should? Or does it fail in places?

What about the treatment of Indigenous Australians by a previous generation? Was the slaughter of thousands right simply because it was endorsed by the government and their laws at that time?

What about unborn children in our time? Why does our law condemn a person as guilty of murder if they kill a baby by injuring a pregnant mother, but then fail to recognise the situations in which abortion would also be murder?

Why will a mother be prosecuted if after giving birth she discards her baby in a rubbish bin, while another who carries out the same act but with the assistance of medical staff in a professional setting, be treated differently?

Should all parents be given the freedom to kill their children at any stage? Or do only mothers have this unconditional right, and for just a limited time?

Or is it that, regardless of the law and irrespective of one's relationship to the child, the question about abortion is one of murder?

What do you think?

It's a question of reason: Are there exceptional circumstances? Are there cases when we should be more distressed about a child's live birth than its abortion?

Is it a different question when, for example, abortion concerns a child conceived as a result of rape? Do we think the abortion of these babies is justified because they were forced upon us? Does the brutality of the first act mean the second is less brutal?

What about the abortion of seriously deformed children? Why do we think that this is any different to condoning the killing of all incapacitated children? Is it because a person born with brain damage is less human than one born with lung damage?

Are there even more serious situations than these, where abortion should be acceptable? What about the situation where the mother's life is in danger? Is a mother at liberty to 'let her child go' in order to save her own life? Is 'pulling the plug' on the life of a viable baby in utero in order to save oneself any different to 'putting down' a child whose life one can only uphold at the expense of one's own life?

If the killing of one life in order to save another is the only option, which life should be saved? The one more needed? In other words, the one of more value? But can one human life really be of more value than another? Which life is truely of more value? What really determines the value of a human life?

Does our full circle to the same question asked earlier show you that this reasoning misses the real question: Though all killing is tragic, is all killing murder?

Or is it just that in all situations where abortion is murder, it remains just as wrong as any other murder?

What do you know?

It's a question of conscience: Have you known this all along? Or have you forced yourself to ask these questions for the first time?

After thinking through these issues, will you think differently? Or regardless of what you truly know - whether you're prepared to admit these things or not - will you retain the same attitude and behaviour towards abortion as you always have had in the past?

What does this show you about yourself?

And are Christians, who may believe abortion is wrong, actually any better? Are they any more righteous than anyone else? Or for that matter, are they more righteous in any part of their lives ?

If not, what's the point of all this talk about right and wrong?

Does anyone have the ability to do what they know is right anyway? Is there anything anybody can do that is perfectly right? Could you do what is right, from this point on?

"As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
(Romans 3:10-12, 23-24)

The Big Listen

We’re really excited to be hosting a small group this year at our house – after a few years of missing them completely. But there’s another big reason we’re so excited about it. This year at my church we’re totally changing the way we do ‘small groups’. After decades probably of bible ‘studies’ that follow the preaching program, we’re departing from tradition. No more sitting with our heads buried in a sheet of questions. Rather, we’re trying to get back to properly reading the Bible, or should I say 'listening' to the Bible. We want not only to get back to reading the books of the bible as books, but also listening to the authors as they meant for us to listen.

It’s of course as ancient as it comes; after all the books of the bible were each originally written as a unit to be read, not section by section, but in their entirety. Also they were written to groups of people, to be read to groups of people, out loud. Today, we’ve largely lost the focus on public reading, and much less the art of corporate listening.

But it follows that what may be most needed for us today, is to cultivate a new love of listening direct from the Bible; listening right through the text of God’s word itself.

So this year at my church we’re going to begin the year by just spending a couple of months reading through (one of) Romans, Hebrews, or Mark’s Gospel, every week. We’re just opening it up and read it aloud to one another, in as big-a-slabs as we can manage; then we just see what discussion comes up. We’ve calling it the ‘big read’, after Pete Woodcock’s inspiration from this briefing article, The Big Read:
“I think our practice of reading a minimal bit of the Bible in a service, that the preacher will then preach on, is weird and probably wrong,” he says.

“We’re supposed to read it as books. When Paul wrote a letter and encouraged the people he was writing to read it as a whole church, do you think they said: “We’re going to read verses 1-4 today—come back next week for a bit more”, and that was it? I imagine they read the whole letter. That’s how the Bible’s written to be read—in big chunks, out loud, together.

“And I think we’ve lost that idea. Somewhere, we’ve forgotten about it.”

“We’re Bible illiterate. I assume 100 years ago people knew the Scriptures more—but now they just don’t. And the great thing about the Bible is most of it is narrative. People love stories, and the Bible’s got stories. So let’s use them!”

That’s exactly what they’re doing. Based on an idea Pete got from Steve Levy, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea, Cornerstone have embarked on ‘The Big Read’.

“It’s not exactly revolutionary!” Pete says. “It’s just reading big chunks of Scripture, out loud, together. It’s reading the Bible as it was written to be read. So each month, we’ll read a book of the Bible in our midweek small groups. So far we’ve done Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and then we did Luke and Acts. Then we tackled Hebrews, which just comes alive if you’ve already read the Pentateuch.

The ‘big read’ is a great idea. But only one person does the reading. The focus is really on the listener. It’s actually about practicing the old art of corporate [Bible] listening. We should actually call it the ‘big listen’, I reckon. Because as Christians, we are principally those who listen to God’s word, and listening of course is much more than reading; it’s about ‘hearing’ what God has said, what God is saying.

I hope it catches on; would be great to see a new culture spread around the globe of a return of the large Bible read to our church meetings, big and small.

How about tomorrow?

Dear suffering Christian brother,

I am so sorry that I have not visited you for some years and that as your friends we have collectively let you suffer alone, largely, over the past five years. I realise now how much we have neglected you and I suddenly feel how much we’ve truly missed you as a church while you’ve been battling with chronic fatigue syndrome. We can’t begin to imagine, but it sounds like such a horrible sickness, and so crippling. And it saddens me even more to hear that your chronic condition has not improved, and may have even worsened.

We just wish that by God’s mercy you’d recover; and I do pray that none of us would give up praying to that end. But saving that, and while we wait, it is a gross failure on our part that we have allowed your prolonged absence from our church to go on for so long without regularly visiting you as your mates. You are our dear brother; our family. And so it must be all the more painful for you that we have not expressed that in our weekly church life; with common friendship and loyalty.

But we have been praying for you. We’ve been praying that God our Father would restore your health and give you back to us. And we’re thanking our Father in heaven that your faith has not failed; but your love for Christ has not wavered. We pray that by God’s power, Christ would fill you with his Spirit all the more through your suffering, so that your faith grows all the more, giving you the ability to rejoice and overflow with thankfulness, to the praise of his grace. You know that what might seem impossible to our minds is nonetheless possible for God, who loves to show his power in weakness.

We read Romans 5 in our small group last week, which as you know describes suffering as the soil of our Christian experience, producing the growth of the gospel in our lives, yielding the fruit of hope. And we pray that God would pour out into your heart his love by his Spirit, whom he has given you.

Brother, while we’ll never understand what you’ve been through, and what you continue to go through, it is so encouraging to us to hear how you have been hanging in there through such an awful long stint of sickness.

One thing you can do mate, like not many others I know, is add to your Christian resume, “outstanding demonstration of patience in long-suffering”.

We love you mate, and I can’t wait to visit you again soon. How about tomorrow?

Ps. And dear suffering sister and wife of my brother in Christ,

We’ve also all been so encouraged to see you at church each week, persevering through the last five years and pressing on in your faith. We can’t imagine what it must be like. But you are a great example to us all, and for that we thank you so much.

Our words above to your husband and our dear brother, and our prayers, are for you too. You’ve of course been suffering as a couple, as a family; and we pray also that God would pour out his love, now more than ever, into your heart too by the power of his Holy Spirit. And if by his mercy you have the strength and grace to forgive us, we will have all the more to thank God for.

We love you too, and thanks for taking such good care of our beloved brother.

The Book Light

I've invested in a portable book light, and not just for travel. As a single, my primary spot for daily Bible reading was last thing in bed before lights out. That all went out the window when I got married, as did the audio Bible which was set to go off with the alarm clock in the morning.

I've found that technology used wisely can be hugely beneficial for my 'devotional' discipline. Breakthroughs such as the audio ESV for the iPhone, and, have improved and increased my access to the Bible in day-to-day life no end.

However nothing beats pouring over the pages of the text itself, and that's something that's suffered in my day for sometime.

But Book Light to the rescue. Again technology is helping me out, but this time it's taking me get back to the basics, the book (the Book).

Fyi. Here is a product description, and the website of the an Australian company importing the product from the manufacturer in the US: Arnotts Gadget Man - MightyBright PocketFlex LED Booklight, A compact, multi function booklight with a flex arm that provides great page coverage for the LED light. Perfect for the book reading husband of a TV watcher who likes to dim the lighting.

Btw. For locals, Fullers in Town are re-selling them and for only $18.95 it's cheaper than you could get online.

Creationist or Evolutionist; Do we need to be either?

Tonight I was asked by my cousin for the very short version of what I believe about creationism and evolution; in a few sentences, what do I think about the differences between the creationist position and evolutionism? I might have said, 'I am neither a Creationist nor an Evolutionist', but most people would assume by that I meant that I am a theistic evolutionist; which I'm not.

Behind the question I think was the assumption that since I've studied quite significantly both science and the Bible, surely I must have this one 'figured out' [at least for myself]. I can understand that assumption; but the one about my ability to put my position into a few sentences?

I don't pretend to have arrived at a complete and comprehensive [or final] position on this topic, but I have given it a lot of thought over the years, and have continued to read on this subject. I used to be a subscriber to Creation ex Nihilo magazine and would have called myself a creationist as a college student over 15 years ago. My position has developed considerably since then, and I'd no longer identify myself with creationism. Recently I have been going through Denis Alexander's Creation or Evolution - Do we have to choose? However unlike Alexander, I am loathed as an evangelical christian to accept the extensions of the modern theory of evolution and try to maintain at the same time its compatibility with the basic tenants of the Bible's doctrine of creation. Theistic evolutionists believe in both creation and the theory of evolution at the same time; they are Christian evolutionists. I list below three brief reasons why the Bible's account of our world's historical development - which is the basis for its theology - is at odds with evolutionism if we accept that theory holus-bolus.

Creationists and evolutionists are alike if only for one reason: Neither will concede any ground to the other; both are equally as 'absolute'. Alexander asks, 'do we need to decide?' [he argues we can believe both in the bible's doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution without necessary contradiction].  But I'd ask, 'can we need to be either?' [I'd argue that neither creationism (proper) nor to the theory of evolution (proper) are acceptable to the Bible's doctrine of creation.]

3 things about creation

In a 'few words', here is what I believe the Bible categorically affirms about Creation, historically:

1.1. Adam was a real person, and the singular, historical father of all humanity, according to NT author's reading of the OT [and Eve the literal mother of all people past and present other than Adam]. God in the beginning created only two people, Adam and Eve, according to Jesus and the Apostles interpretation of Genesis' account. While he filled the sea with fish, the sky with birds and the land with animals, he did not do so with people. When he created people, he made in the first instance one man and one woman, and told them to go and fill the earth themselves. All people came from these two people by direct descent.
He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, (Jesus, Matthew 19:4) 
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, ... (38) the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:23-38)

Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1Corinthians 15:45)
For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  (1Timothy 2:13)

1.2. The fall was a real and historical event exclusively involving Adam and Eve, according to NT author's reading of the Genesis account. To Jesus and the Apostles, this is the basis of gospel (Romans 5:12). Prior to the fall, the world was a perfect place in the sense that it was declared good by God, and in these sense that not only did people exist then without sin or death, but also the world existed without sin and death prior to the fall [although death by our definition was at least present if only for plant life, which was not given the 'breath of life' as were animals and people]. Sin and death entered the world through the first sin of Adam. And because all people came from Adam, sin and with it death spread to all people to fill the world.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-- (Romans 5:12)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:22)
1.3. The flood was a historical and literal re-beginning for humanity and a worldwide event, according to the NT author's understanding of Genesis' account. To Jesus and the Apostles, the worldwide flood is gospel (Luke 17:26-27, 2 Peter 2:5, 9). All living land creatures and people died at that time, except the 8 people who entered the Ark and two of each 'kind' of animal selected by God to go with them. From Noah and these seven others, and the animals with them who came out of the Ark, has come all life that has walked on the earth since then; that is, every land creature today including all people are directly descendant from that subset of life that emerged from the Ark.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. (27) They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Jesus, Luke 17:26-27)

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
...when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (1Peter 3:20)

...if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly... (9) then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment... (2Peter 2:5,9)

3 more things about creation

In a 'few more words', here is what I believe is evident about evolution within God's creation, whether by observation, or extension directly from the Bible's account of creation:

2.1. Evolution of species does occur in God's creation. With God's selection of two of each kind of animal when they entered the Ark, the effect of evolution is unavoidably apparent in that today we do see millions of 'species' of immense variation [by science's definition of 'species'], all of which must have arose from the small subset of species which came out of the ark. We see evolution for example in the many different species of bear around the world today, from polar to panda, from black to brown to grizzly, all of which could not possibly have been present and represented identically on the Ark, but only by their original 'kind' . But we can also make evolution happen artificially, with breeding and inter-breeding, which is essentially 'unnatural' selection [if you like].

2.2.  The world and the universe may well be much much older than the Bible's account of humanity. I can see no reason theologically or historically to insist that Genesis 1-2 must be read as a 6-day creation account. And reading the 'days' of Genesis 1 and 2 as literal 24-hour periods leads to many problems that are internally inconsistent with those texts. It is also not externally inconsistent with the Bible's account to accept the long periods from the 'big bang' right up to the creation of Adam and Eve.

2.3. The theory of evolution is something different to the process of evolution. The 'theory' of evolution teaches 'macro-evolution'; the day-to-day process of evolution involves only 'micro-evolution'. As explained, the reality of evolution as a process we see around us is obvious from what we see of the world and history, and produces what we all know as the variation in species, and the adaptation of new species from pre-existing species, such as 'Darwin's finches' [geographical isolation highlights how rapidly micro-evolution does in reality occur]. What I am calling micro-evolution is essentially variation and adaptation within God's creation as a result of genetic diversity and natural selection, and is a creative force for good that God has used to sustain the creation [for without it, extinction would have been much more prolific and devastating for the world by now].

But the theory of evolution of course maintains something much more, a theory of absolute origins: species have originated continually all the way back to the first place when stars gave birth to carbon, and carbon to amino-acids, and then to proteins, and from them micro-organisms, and from them all the macro-organisms of our past and present. This is what may be called 'macro-evolution';  it maintains not only that fish have diversified [micro-evolution], but that they gave rise to reptiles; and reptiles gave rise to birds, and so forth. Having looked at the evidence for macro-evolution, I'm much less than convinced. And as a Christian, I don't have a big need to believe in it as do atheists and agnostics.

I don't believe it follows from what scientists 'know' about the age of the biological world that the theory of evolution is necessarily true [stellar evolution and cosmology is a different thing entirely to what I'm talking about by the way, which is strictly biological evolution]; in other worlds, it is not necessarily the case that because we know that micro-evolution occurs between populations and that this has been occuring for a very long time that we can deduce backwards in time towards a common singular origin of all living things. There is no reason why this extension should not lead us back to a discrete and finite set of original species; in other words, we could just as easily arrive back at 2 of every 'kind' of animal that was present on the Ark. And prior to that; we could arrive back at the original set of kinds of animals that God had in the beginning created ex Nihilo [out of nothing], simply by speaking words empowered by his Spirit.

So having said all that, I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. My first 3 initial statements about creation (1.1 - 1.3) require me to reject the theory of evolution in so far as it teaches macro-evolution as the process of origination for the worlds flora and fauna, including people, and contradicts what I see the Bible categorically affirming about God's act and process of creation, both theologically and historically. However my 3 additional statements about creation (2.1 - 2.3) are in part at odds with what 6-day creationists teach [I'm perfectly happy with an old-earth/ancient-universe and a creation that is evolving all around me], although putting 2.3 next to  1.1 - 1.3, it's clear that I do have quite a bit in common with them. However, 2.1 and 2.2 give me some things in common with evolutionists too.

I'm going to keep reading Denis Alexander's book, and as time allows I'd like to give it a proper review. It's definitely got some helpful points to make [as well as its fair share of problems too]. But for now, there's my answer in three words or less.

Patience is essential

Selection criteria, 1. Is patient.

I was reading the story of David to my daughter this morning and it stuck me how long he had to wait for God's promise to come true of this ascent to glory. After his anointing by Samuel as a shepherd boy, after his amazing defeat of Goliath before all Israel, and then after years of long suffering that he endured as a fugitive under king Saul, he was still waiting.

After Saul's death his own house Judah crowned him their king, but the northern tribes in Israel all rejected him. He was still at war, both against his neighbours at home and his neighbours beyond (the Philistines).

When finally God did bring all Israel under his rule, and he hoped to now give the Ark of the Covenant (God's throne) a permanent place in his kingdom (the Temple), God said "no, you need to die for that".

David's hands had shed too much blood, and his son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. David must be content to do the preparations for the building project, and then die in waiting. Only in his death would all of God's promises to him come true.

I'm reminded here of the principle role that patience plays in the Christian life. We also do not yet have most of what we have been promised. And one distinguishing sign of genuine faith is that we wait all our lives, patiently persevering, thankfully suffering, prayerfully enduring, until at last we go -- in our death -- to the glory for which we have been waiting...

Unless of course Christ cuts our time short, breaking in for those who have:

"... turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to *wait* for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

What a great crash-test that would be!

Humble yourself

When I was a young Christian my one constant prayer was for wisdom. I got that from Solomon, among other sources. But although God granted Solomon wisdom, his wisdom led to riches, riches led to fame, his fame to many women, and his many wives to the idolatry of the world around him.

I noticed later in my Christian walk that the one thing I should have been praying for was self-control: Titus 2:6. Apparently I had wisdom beyond my years as an early and late teen, but I was nonetheless godless in my impatience and lack of discipline. I needed one big holy dose of Spirit-led self-moderation.

I still need self-control, but I've grown in that area too. I've now grown up in many ways. I've now got a beautiful and large family and a nice home, a great job and quite a descent salary, and lots of commitment, responsibility and 'importance'. Now my real and ever present threat is pride. And the danger of going backwards in godliness because of apathy and spiritual lethargy.

What I need is humility. And so for a long time that's the one thing I've been praying for. I need God to humble me, right? It's a scary thought, and a scary prayer.

But this morning I noticed something significant in Matthew. Matthew 23:12 says, "those who humble themselves will be exalted".

I've been praying that God would humble me. What God says is that I should humble myself. It's a subtle but significant difference.

Actually, what I need to do is actively make that step myself. I need to get on with it myself, and get down to it - with his enabling of course. I need to start serving more. I need to role up my sleeves, and start taking more of a role in 'washing the feet' of those around me.

As Paul said of Christ, who 'humbled himself' (Philippians 2:5), I need to follow his example of self-domotion. And for that I need even more help because I've got to do it, a proud apathetic, self-reliant, lazy and contented sinner such as me!

Wisdom, self-control, humility. My one constant prayer today is that God would help me to humble myself.

Is the Bible true?

I’ll never forget Hills Leadership College classes in Evangelism with John Cannone. His ‘Every Believer Evangelism’ seminar manual was entitled ‘The Confidence Builder’, and had a landmark session for me on ‘The Bible as a sound basis for faith’.

While affirming that the Bible speaks for itself, Cannone outlined seven external ‘witnesses’ that together counteract the accusations launched by our contemporary era against the Bible’s reliability as a source of truth. I’ve still got the lecture notes. He moves from the witness of the Bible’s uniqueness to the witness of the Biblical manuscripts themselves. He follows with sections on the witness of archeology, science, prophecy, mathematics and then finally, the witness of the Bible’s survival.

I remembered all this one day late last year when my son Elijah came to me and asked a quite unforgettable question: ‘how do we know the Bible's not tricking us’? And with this question came a whole heap of other questions for my 6 year-old-boy: Who wrote the Bible? Has the story been changed over time?

After my initial surprise [I don’t think I asked too many questions as a 6 year old?] I began recalling to mind a whole heap of stuff I first got from Cannone. But I hadn’t revisited his material since as a 17 year old his lecture first filled me with emboldened evangelical zeal. So going back over the notes, now more than 15 years later, I must say I was quite disappointed. They were brief, lacking key details and didn’t even include references!

I thought I’d better do a bit better than that with my boy. Perhaps a trip to the State Library together might be in order.

Elijah loves ‘research’ [he first got that from Steve Irwin, would you believe it?] So we agreed together to begin looking into where the Bible came from and then work from there. At the Library we found and began reading through some kids' books about the ancient world, which languages they spoke and what they wrote on. Elijah is pretty kinesthetic, so he automatically went to trying to create lookalike ancient writing tablets and that sort of thing. In the end we made a whole heap of fun ‘replicas’ of archeological finds such as our own miniature stone tablet, an ancient parchment scroll, some carved Hebrew script on a clay [wood] tablet, and a ‘rare’ pottery fragment that had the name ‘Jesus’ visible inscribed on it in faint ancient Greek.

We had a lot of fun. But our quest wasn't over. We headed back to the library where Elijah discovered some more great kids' books that helped laying a great foundation for approaching this subject, and I found in the adult's section one book on his very original question.

Jeffery Sheler’s Is the Bible true? describes how modern debates and discoveries affirm the essence of the Scriptures. Sheler is a journalist [religion correspondent] who employs his craft to siphon through the ‘claims and counterclaims’ of contemporary arguments, and manages to separate Bible history from Bible ‘hysteria’. This book, just sitting on the shelf at our own state library, has this to say about it in its extended info:

Description (full):

Can the Bible still be regarded as an authentic and credible historical document? In this "excellent overview" (Booklist), Jeffery L. Sheler separates Bible history from Bible hysteria, shattering myths on both sides of the religious divide. His authoritative investigation touches on hot-button issues including: dramatic archaeological finds that both verify and challenge the Bible's history; ancient texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls that profoundly influence our understanding of the Bible; and the modern quest to discover the truth about Jesus' life and teachings. This fascinating account of scandal and scholarship, debate and discovery affirms the Bible's reliability as a historical witness and a testimony of timeless faith.

Author info:

Jeffery L. Sheler is an award-winning journalist and has been a religion writer at U.S. News & World Report for some years. He is a correspondent for PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and lives in Washington, D.C.

Suffice it to say I recommend this as a really good read for anyone who hasn’t yet dug beneath the surface of our assumptions about archeological ‘proof’ of the Bible’s truth. I’m thankful for the confidence I got from Cannone in my late teens, I really am. But interestingly, it wasn’t enough.

I’m glad I knew about the discovery of the Ebla tablets in my early Christian life, and what controversies they finished forever. They had recorded the 5 cities cited in Genesis 14, confirming the Bible’s account as historically reliable, confirming that writing and a judicial system existed before Moses. Archeology had ‘proven’ certain biblical subjects to be correct: Genesis’ ancestry of Israel derived from Mesopotamia; the building of the Tower of Babel; the existence of the Patriarchs; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the fall of the walls of Jericho; King Solomon’s building projects; the geography of the NT, and much more.

But somehow I think I might have subconsciously inferred that archeology had ‘proven the Bible’ itself to be true. Has archeology established proof for the Israelites slavery in Egypt? What about their great Exit from Egypt? What about their desert wandering through the desert? Archeological digs have unearthed no hard proof of any of these pivotal claims of the biblical narrative. And even if they had, what evidence might we find for the cloud that led them by day, or the pillar of fire that accompanied them by night? What can archeology do to ‘prove’ the miracles of Moses or of those of Jesus for that matter?

So is the Bible true, and how can we know either way? Why Jeffery Sheler’s book is helpful for beginning to approach this question, is that it educates us about the role of archeology in establishing the elements of historical record in the first place, while at the same time distinguishing for us what can be known from these sources from what can reliably be trusted as ‘truth’. In the end, we should not expect ‘truth’ to necessarily be ‘provable’ as such. [Can you prove today even what took place yesterday in your life in its entirety? Nonetheless, does this lack of evidence make your best account of yesterday untrue of itself?]

But while clinically balanced, Sheler does convincingly, and remarkably, show that modern debates and discoveries do in fact affirm [give weight, or support] the essence of what the Scriptures say throughout. This is confidence building; this is the encouragement we need as modern [or postmodern?] Christians.

Our quest still isn’t over. Now I’ve got to work out how on earth I summarise what I’ve learned for Elijah. And maybe then I need to dig up some of that old-time Josh MacDowell and see if I can fill in a few of those details that I’ve apparently been missing for some time.

Neglecting the Trinity

My good friend Mikey Lynch gave me a book 1 year ago and I'm still going on it [terrible sign of the times]. But what's worse, it's the greatest of books on one of the grandest of all subjects that I have ironically neglected all my life, and in all my Christianity: The Trinity. Robert Letham's The Holy Trinity is the book I've been missing, in every way.
"God-centred worship (can worship be anything else?) must, by definition, give center stage to what is distinctive of Christianity, the high-water mark of God's self-revelation in the Bible. Yet... In the West, the Trinity has in practice been relegated to such an extent that most Christians are little more than practical modalists. As Laats comments, "Instead of being in the centre of christian worship and thinking it has been marginalised"... 
J. I. Packer's best-seller Knowing God (1973) has only seven pages out of 254 on the Trinity. He recognizes that for most Christians it is an esoteric mystery to which lip service may be paid once a year on Trinity Sunday. However, after this chapter is over, he carries on as if nothing has happened...
After his first section on biblical foundations and his lengthy sections on historical development and modern discussion, Letham finishes the book with a section covering four critical issues: The Trinity and the Incarnation; The Trinity, Worship and Prayer; The Trinity, Creation and Missions; and The Trinity and Persons.

Most striking and significant for me personally is Letham's chapter on the importance of understanding the Trinity for our right response to God in true Christian worship and prayer. Apart from the fact that there would be no true Christian experience without a knowledge of the Trinity, Letham quickly and convincingly shows that authentically Christian worship and prayer is distinctively trinitarian.
"Our communion with God "consists in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him... flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him... 
The worship of the church is the communion of the Holy Trinity with us his people... it is first and foremost something the triune God does, our actions initiated and encompassed by his... 
The worship of the church is thus not only grounded in the mediation of Christ, but takes place in union with him and through his mediatorial work and continued intercession... 
We worship the three with one undivided act of worship...

I need to stop neglecting the New Testament's unique and insistent focus on God as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and how my knowledge of that Union is to shape my whole response to him.

I need a greater focus on the persons of the Trinity; that is, I need to be more Christ-ian!