With God’s help, however, we can reach a point whereby we do live without sinning. At least, we do not sin intentionally. Wesley called this Christian perfection or entire sanctification. Wesley did not mean that we become perfect in the sense that we are free from error, mental or physical disabilities, or temptation. Rather, he simply meant that the Holy Spirit can work within us to such an extent that we no longer willfully sin (78, italics original).
I believe that God has made all people in his image and they are, therefore, persons of sacred worth, and nothing they can do can strip them of the divine image they bear. They may mar and profane that image, but the image remains. God desires that all people come into a saving relationship with him, a relationship of life-giving love. The conditions of entrance into this relationship are repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our sins and raised bodily from the dead that we might be justified in God’s sight. I also believe in hell. And when a person dies an unnatural and premature death, no matter how evil their acts, my heart cringes as the possibility that they might not enjoy forever the fullness of the presence of God in the new creation. I want people to get every possible chance to be found by Christ, to be joined to him in his death in order that they might also share his life. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, “Die before you die; there is no chance after.”
Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.
If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.
Abortion and infanticide are two stops on a single road, and the road has a downhill slope. Make no mistake. The current situation in which abortion practitioners are engaging in infanticide is the result of our desensitization by the decades long effort to devalue and destroy the lives of the preborn. Sin and death always look for new territory to conquer, and having eradicated the safety of the womb, they now proceed to do violence against the newly born. They will not stop until infanticide is canonized as a basic constitutional right of free choice. Then they will move on to wreak havoc and destruction elsewhere.
Don’t believe me? It’s already happening. As I’ve indicated above, a representative of Planned Parenthood has argued that ending the life of a child born after a botched abortion should be a decision left to the woman and her doctor. Sound familiar? The exact same language that was used to normalize abortion-on-demand is now being applied to infanticide. In 2011, two bioethicists argued in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics that ending the life of a newborn, which they nonsensically call “after-birth abortion”, is moral and should be permitted under law. Sure, there is outrage now, but give it a little time. Congressional testimony and the scholarly opinions of allegedly respected ethicists are significant steps down the path to what will one day be horrifically called safe, legal, and rare infanticide. It would take only a single lawsuit heard by the Supreme Court in which the petitioner claims an undue burden in maintaining the life of a newborn baby to change the law of the land. We aren’t there yet, but we are closer than we think.
“Love your enemies” thus had the connotation of “Love your non-compatriots.” What would this have meant in teaching directed to Israel in the late twenties of the first century? It had an inescapable and identifiable political implication: the non-Jewish enemy was, above all, Rome. To say “Love your enemy” would have meant, “Love the Romans; do not join the resistance movement,” whatever other implications it might have had. That it would carry this meaning in a milieu of political conflict is illustrated by what the saying would be understood to mean when uttered in a modern situation of conflict, whether in Northern Ireland or Central America or elsewhere. To say “Love your enemies” would have a concrete as opposed to generalized meaning. It would not simply inculcate a discarnate attitude of benevolence, but would meant to eschew acts of terrorism and revenge” (Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus, 142).
How do we appropriate this for the church today? Borg’s book was originally published in 1984; so his references to modern day conflict are somewhat dated. But if you want to feel the force of Jesus’ command, pause for a moment to consider it in light of ongoing world conflicts. Then read Matthew 5:46-48 and ask yourself (if you dare): Who are my enemies? Who are the people who seek to do me harm? Do I love them? Do I pray for them? Do I believe Jesus? Am I obeying him? Am I holy?
All the chapters are practical and full of important tips. Especially helpful were the chapters on analyzing questions, how and what to read, advice on quoting, and different types of argumentation. Read and re-read the chapter on how to treat your opponents. The book is bound together in that all of the chapters are working to help you move beyond summary work to engaging in the higher learning skills of evaluating, synthesizing, and analyzing, which are essential to balanced and critical thought.
This book will only help you learn to communicate more effectively and elegantly. It is a witty and humorous read that you will want to keep around for consultation. You will not be disappointed.
What has been your experience with paper writing in seminary? Do you feel well-prepared or under-prepared for the task? If you have finished seminary, what do you think about as you look back at paper writing? Did you find it important? If so, why? If not, do you think more instruction on writing a good paper would have made the exercise more productive?
C. S. Lewis once cautioned against the blindness inherent in every age. Like others in our day, he warned, we are “specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.” For Lewis, the solution was reading old books. New books share the presuppositions of our time; old books challenge our generational narrow-mindedness. The same warning could be issued with regard to theological tradition. If we read only those who share our basic framework and agree with us on most things, then we nurture devotional and theological nearsightedness. To counteract this tendency, we ought to be disciplined in reading other traditions and perspectives, not just to critique them but also to discover what we can take in from them. We may be surprised to find how much we have to learn.
I’m a United Methodist pastor, but I’ve learned a lot from reading Reformed authors and listening to Reformed preachers. While we certainly disagree on some important matters, we also stand together in the broad stream of Protestant orthodoxy. I’ve learned there is great wisdom and insight to be gained from Reformed voices both past and present. Here are three ways in particular that I’ve benefited from the Reformed tradition.
Click through to find out what those three things are.