St. Augustine on, “When does life begin?”

Was St. Augustine a time traveler? Maybe. How else do explain him asking “Just when does human life begin to exist in the womb?” some 1,600 years ago? Or maybe great minds are always consumed with deep matters.

Augustine addresses the question at the beginning of his discussion of the resurrection in Faith, Hope, and Charity (The Enchiridion). He only spends one paragraph on the subject-24.86-but how remarkable to hear one of the great doctors of the church speak so explicitly to contemporary ethical dilemmas.

Without the aid of science and knowledge so readily available to us, Augustine does not please the pro-life constituency by simply answering the question “at conception.” Nevertheless, he struggles his way in that direction.

Just when does human life begin? Augustine begins with agnosticism, “I do not know whether man can find the answer at all.” Without ultrasound, x-ray, and microscopes, his uncertainty is justifiable. Yet he reasons toward an answer…

What of stillborn infants? A little more grotesquely, what about infants who die in the womb and are not delivered? Doctors in Augustine’s day were apparently able to perform surgery to remove such infants from the womb. Following Augustine’s reasoning- there is a way to tell infants in the womb have perished; there is a way to remove those bodies so they do not cause harm to the mother. From this, it is apparent to Augustine that life does not begin at birth. It is “all too rash presumption” to deny such infants were not alive yet.

If not at birth, when does life begin? “Certainly, once a man begins to live, from that moment also it is possible for him to die.” In a rather backwards manner, Augustine arrives at a position many pro-lifers do. Life begins when death is possible. Separately, the human egg and sperm certainly live, but neither will ever live to become a human on their own. Together, human egg and sperm will only grow and live into one thing: another human. To end the existence of a human egg fertilize with human sperm is death. Where there is death, there must have been life.



On the meaning of Proverbs 25:28

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

It seems I heard this verse quoted countless times in college and seminary. It was frequently mentioned in classes and chapel messages. The speakers and teachers did not interpret or explain the verse, but seemed to assume the meaning was evident. It is just another one of those blunt-force weapons of Proverbial counseling.

Maybe the meaning is evident, and I have just been missing it for lo these many years. Sometimes the Spirit works slowly, sometimes with mighty gusts. This past weekend I seemed to realize a meaning of it.

When a man has no self control, when he is quick to anger; he is a city without walls. In other words, he is ripe for the picking.

The woman with no control of her emotions is seen by her adversaries. The man quick to anger is recognized by his opponents. The shrewd enemy notes this character flaw and files it away for future use. You have no walls- at any time you can be attacked and conquered.

You have one direction you would like to see the group go, your opponent has another one. There is a meeting to plan the future. Your opponent knows you have no walls. He waits, bides his time, and then casually drops the match in just the right spot. The only thing left for him to do is sit back and watch the fireworks. And then lead in the direction he wants to go. After all, who wants to follow a lunatic anywhere?

When you lack self control you are at the absolute mercy of your enemies. They can strike and defeat you whenever they please. If they are wise, they will do it when it best suits their interests. You think the absence of a wall does not matter. I have gone this long in safety. Who would want to attack me? Do not be deceived. Your lack of self control is seen by all. It will be taken advantage of at the convenience of your foes.

Now, this all seems like a very base interpretation of Proverbs 25:28. Surely Solomon would not be this Machiavellian. All this talk of enemies, opponents, foes… We are Christians surely such things are not true among us. Well, as a dread pirate once said…

Are there better reasons to seek self-control than just the threat of being made a fool of? Certainly. But sometimes pride can work for a man’s ultimate good.

Christian Word Games

Pastors face a temptation of preaching to the specks. Every pastor knows certain things that will rattle the cages and rally the troops. They are cards kept up the sleeve to be pulled out when an “amen!” or “‘atta boy” are needed. I tried to avoid those when I was pastoring. When the text I was preaching did mention the speck I tried to draw attention to the beam. Getting to the point: when the Bible spoke against homosexuality, I also tried to remind them what else was included in such a prohibition. And what was to be embraced in its stead.

Conservative Christians have done much to muzzle and belittle the authority of God’s word. On The Gospel Coalition Thomas Kidd has written that Christians “be charitable to those in the church (and outside the church) with whom we disagree on [the] most contentious topic [of the 6 days of creation].” The article follows what has become the standard conservative evangelical argument for not taking the days of Genesis 1 literally. Geology, silence of Scripture, no uniform church tradition, etc. all give reason to allow that the days of Genesis 1 are not 24 hour days.

No doubt, the same website will sooner or later post or link to an article about homosexuality and/or marriage and/or gender issues and quote Genesis 1:27 and 2:24:

 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The argument will made having already surrendered any linguistic, logical, or exegetical high ground. If “there was evening and there was morning, the first day…there was evening and there was morning, the second day…there was evening and there was morning, the third day…there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day…there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day…there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day…” does not mean 6 24-hour days, how can you dogmatically argue that “male” and “female” refer to a human born with certain X and Y chromosomes?

If we have already surrendered the meaning of words to each other; on what grounds can we fight for their meaning against unbelievers?

The Spirit of Power

“Without the Holy Spirit there is no life, no motion, no being, The Spirit is the power supply for all these things. . . The Holy Spirit is the power of life itself.” (R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, 74, 75)

Sproul notes the apostles frequently couple the Spirit with power (Greek- dunamis) in the New Testament. A quick search turned up these results:

  • Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
  • Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.
  • Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
  • Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
  • Romans 1:4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
  • Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
  • Romans 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;
  • 1 Corinthians 2:4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
  • Galatians 3:5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles [powers] among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
  • Ephesians 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
  • Hebrews 2:4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles [powers] and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The Holy Spirit is a person of power. If you are lacking vigor and vitality in your spiritual life, you are not walking in the power of the Spirit’s fullness. Your failings demonstrate where you still walk in the flesh.

Names of the Holy Spirit in the Bible

In June I will be teaching a course on Pneumatology at Ambassador International University in Zambia.

I have just begun digging into the subject. In the attached file you will find an organized list of all the verses in Scripture (that I have found so far!) that refer to the Holy Spirit by name. There are some references with brackets around them: that indicates I am not yet sure if they actually refer to the Holy Spirit.

Some summary observations: there are 31 names, or titles, of the Holy Spirit. He is mentioned in every NT book except Philemon, James, 2-3 John. The book with the most references to the Spirit is Acts. Acts has nearly double the references (57) as the book with the next highest number: Romans (30). The single place you should probably go to get the most “bang for your buck” is Romans 8. In Romans 8 the Spirit is mentioned by name 20 times and 7 different names for Him are used. 

If you want to study what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit, the attached file would be a good place to help you begin the journey.


January 2016 Books read

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Mark A. Knoll (begun in 2015)

  • Great premise- all of man’s intellectual endeavors should be centered and motivated by Jesus Christ: the Christ presented in Scripture and the great ecumenical creeds.
  • Some poor execution- the church is absent. To be intellectually acceptable you must jettison young-earth, creation-science, etc.


Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa, Osadolor Imasogie

  • Poor handling of church history.
  • Helpful, if now pretty standard, survey of some of the key components of an African worldview.
  • Confirmed something I have thought about as I have been working in Africa and studying it: the traditional African worldview is, in many respects, close to the medieval European worldview. I need to read more medieval history and theology.
  • A bit redundant, and didn’t devote as much space to the actual guidelines he proposed:
    • Appreciation of the efficacy of Christ’s power over evil forces
    • Emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit and the present mediatory efficacy of the Living Christ
    • Emphasis on the omnipresence of God and the consequent sacramental nature of the universe


Preparing for Jesus’ Return: Daily live the Blessed Hope, A.W. Tozer

  • This is the best book on prophecy most people will never read. Evangelicals will not be satisfied due to a lack of commitment to the pretrib rapture. Reformed will look at it and dismiss it as yet another flight of fancy by a delusional dispensationalist.Both would be poorer for their neglect of this title. In A.W. Tozer, Revelation finds just the right kind of interpreter. Someone who believes Revelation speaks to us today because Revelation speaks to us about Christ.

    If you love Christ and love His return, you will love this book. If, on the other hand, you love “prophetic” speculation, you will not.


A Reader in African Christian Theology, John Parratt

  • A collection of essays on The Theological Method, Aspects of Doctrine, and The Church and the World considered from an African perspective.
  • Dated, but still helpful in suggesting ways to advance the African church in an African way.
  • Most challenging article was “The Church’s Role in Society,” by Julius Nyerere. A brief summary of poverty along the lines of that offered in When Helping Hurts. How far should the church go in advocating for the disenfranchised?
  • Parratt offers a helpful summary comparing and contrasting some of the main divisions and agreements.


Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice, Edward W Klink III and   Darian R. Lockett

  • So what exactly is biblical theology? Well it turns out it depends on who you ask. In a manner of speaking, there is no biblical theology. Only biblical theologies.
    Klink and Lockett helpfully divide the field of biblical theology into five distinct approaches. They summarize each approach then offer an extended summary and interaction with a leading representative of each approach.
    This would be an ideal textbook in an introductory course on biblical theology. Pastors interested in the field would benefit from it as well.
    Understanding Biblical Theology is a helpful resource to map and engage with the various versions of biblical theology.


A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament, Alec Motyer

  • An absolute gem of a little book. This book is pregnant with meaning and truth and would be an excellent basis for a course on introducing the Old Testament. Those who have done more extensive study in the O.T. should find it an invaluable aid in teaching others. If I ever have occasion to teach such a course, this will almost certainly be the book I use.
  • I love the question Motyer asks in chapter 3, “…is there such a thing as the Old Testament.” In very important ways, the answer is no. This no answer is taken in directions that I heartily agree and disagree with.
    • In the positive direction, Motyer certainly has the witness of Scripture on his side when he writes, “The Old Testament does not belong– let me say it to you sensitively– does not belong to the Jewish people. The Old Testament is our [Christian’s] book, and the things that happened in the Old testament are our prehistory, yours and mine because we belong to Jesus.” Amen.
    • In the negative direction, this leads to Motyer embracing the standard reformed teaching that God has only made One Covenant with His people. All the covenants in the “Old” and “New” Testaments are just different administrations of this one covenant. (If that sounds like Dispensationalism with the terms switched around a little, well…) Such teaching is thoroughly contradicted by Hebrews…and Jeremiah and Psalms.

Sunday Evening Service: In remembrance and protest.

I grew up as one of those “when the church doors are open…” kids. I can’t really say I remember a lot about Wednesday’s other than playing chess with Russ, but I am pretty sure I was in church nearly every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.

In 2010, I became pastor of a church in rural Indiana about 45 minutes south of Fort Wayne. One of the things that stuck out as strange was the absence of a Sunday evening service. Soon I found out it wasn’t so strange. Hardly any church in a 20-mile radius had an evening service. On Sunday evenings we had youth group; or we just went to one of the strange churches with an evening service; or we just did what we normally did Monday through Saturday: watch PBS.

In August the wife and kids, and even I, moved back to northern Indiana. In the intervening five years, it seems churches in the area caught up with their brethren to the south-east. Most of the churches we have visited do not have a Sunday evening service. We visited one church that had over 200 in the morning service, and less than 20 in the evening service. The pastor of one church said they just liked it better to have family time Sunday nights. I guess if the pastor doesn’t want a Sunday evening service, there isn’t much point in having one.

All that to say, over the past five years I, we, have gotten out of the rhythm of Sunday morning and Sunday evening church.

Last night we set out to go to a church that I thought had an evening service. We got there and it was dark. We went by a couple of other places: dark. My wife reminded me of a church that had an evening service at 7. We had been driving around since 5:40 and we had five kids and a daddy who had not eaten since noon…but we made the trek. From Goshen, to Elkhart, to Goshen, to Wakarusa.

There, on a Sunday night, a missionary couple was speaking. There, on a Sunday night, were almost 200 people gathered to hear a missionary speaking: not bad for a town of less than 2,000. During the testimony and presentation of the missionaries, it hit me: what if tonight was the night? What if tonight was the night the Holy Spirit decided to call out one of my children to salvation or to missionary service? What if tonight was the night he wanted to open one of their heart’s to Christ or Great Commission service?

And we were at home. Reading a book. Surfing the web. Playing Small World. Watching Despicable Me: in Spanish now since we’ve seen it so many times in English.

The Spirit would just work some other time. Would He? “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

In all our evening driving, a question came to mind, “Does our forsaking of the Sunday evening service stand against our culture’s increasing ungodliness or simply mirror it?”

I am familiar with arguments. I know Scripture does not command us to have a Sunday morning and Sunday evening service. I will do you one better and acknowledge that Scripture does not even command we have a Sunday morning or Sunday evening service. The Word of God has given us freedom on when we meet, but how have we used it? We have forsaken a tradition of meeting together. Hebrews commands us to meet together “all the more’’ as we see the Day of Christ’s return approaching. Apparently Jesus has told quite a few of us that we don’t need to worry about that anytime soon.

But you have “life groups.” Oh yes. Where twenty-somethings, or home-school families, or gluten-free people all gather with other twenty-somethings, or home-school families, or gluten-free people to reinforce their peculiarities. Because, after all, what need does the eye have for the ear?

Maybe the way we did Sunday evening church was broken. Maybe it needed to be changed. Maybe it still does. But after 5-plus years of going without it, I am not convinced that simply going without it is the best remedy. Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. I think, if I have the opportunity, I should try to spend another 60-90 minutes a week with her. Christ has promised to bless the gathering of his people and the preaching of His Word. Why would I reject a blessing from such a One?

The Great City and the Holy

John is a binary thinker. The apostle thinks and writes in contrasts. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). No lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1 John 3:7-8). By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). John habitually expresses himself in contrasts of light and darkness; love and hate; life and death; sin and righteousness.

In Revelation, contrast gives way to conflict. The Apocalypse is an unveiling of a conflict stretching from when the morning stars sang for joy until that great day when night will be no more. The Dragon savages a Lamb only to find a Lion. The Lamb who roars and Dragon who spews are each fighting for girl. The Lamb protects his bride; the Dragon pimps his harlot. They each battle for their kingdom. In John’s terminology, they each have their city.

The Dragon has a Great City. The Great City is strong in power. All other kingdoms of earth bow to its authority (Rev. 17:18). The Great City is rich in possessions. The only thing approaching the power of its strength is the intoxication of its wealth. The City controls so much wealth that it controls the very souls of mankind (Rev. 18:12-13). The City is so wealthy, that it has the freedom to determine who else will be wealthy and who will be poor (Rev. 18:19). The City of the Dragon is the incomparable pride of the earth (Rev. 18:18). Whether it is London yesterday; or Washington D.C. today; or Beijing tomorrow, its name is one: Babylon the Great. The power will be overpowered. The luxury will be spoiled. The light will be extinguished. The Great City building itself on oppression and painting itself with blood will be “no more” (Rev. 18:21-24).

The Lamb has a Holy City. The Holy City is rich for what it does not have: no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain, nothing unclean or detestable, nothing false (Revelation 21:2-4, 27). Forever. The Holy City is glorious in splendor not for what is there, but for who is there. God dwells with man (Rev. 21:3). We will see his face (Rev. 22:3-4). After the former things have passed away, the Holy City will stand forever and ever (21:4; 22:5).

The resolution of this conflict awaits its great cataclysmic ending. But the conflict is ongoing. It is the conflict I acutely feel as a pilgrim in America. Which city will I yield my allegiance to? Which city will I orient my life toward? The Great?

Or the Holy?

Thoughts on Psalm 32

Last week’s prayer meeting was an exercise in praying through Psalm 32. Psalm 32 begins with a statement of fact: true blessing is found in a relationship with the Lord unhindered by sin. Psalm 32 ends with the worshiper’s personal enjoyment of that fact.

Some things that stuck out to me:

To enjoy fellowship with the Lord you must have your sins covered (1). But to have your sins covered, you must uncover them before the Lord (5). God does not put away what you do not give to Him.

When you uncover your sins before the Lord only to have Him cover them again (through the forgiveness in His Son), you enjoy the freedom to hide in Him (7).

What a tender thought: the Lord plays hide and seek.

Every day you have a choice: “Where will I find my security?” Every day you can wrap yourself up in the clutches of sin: seeking to shield yourself from God, others, and even yourself. Living life hidden behind a fig leaf.

Or you can tell God what he already knows anyway (5). You can uncover yourself before Him and be clothed in the righteousness of His Lamb. You can seek; and find; and hide (6-7).

Stop hiding from God.

Hide in Him.