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.



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.

Time and Eternity

Time is the measure of things not lasting. Its endurance distinguishes it from those things it measures. Yet time is not. It is always coming or going. As soon as time is here it is gone.

Time is the measure of things that cannot last. It is the measure of our inability to be anywhere now.

It is the measure of youth lost; age sought. It is the admission of discontentment.

When remembered it is as something no longer. Existence now is only in nonexistence.

To be timeless. To be neither coming, nor going. To be here, until there is not until.

Eternity is what we look forward to because there will be nothing to look forward to. Nothing better on the horizon. Nothing lost and mourned.

Christ is eternity.

Eternity is not the absence of time. Eternity is not because time is not: it is.

Time, my great enemy. Know that when you finally defeat me I will have already conquered you.

You say its my birthday…

Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, “A man is conceived.” Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night–let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it.

Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.

What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water!

“Dominion and fear are with God; he makes peace in his high heaven. Is there any number to his armies? Upon whom does his light not arise? How then can man be in the right before God? How can he who is born of woman be pure? Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!”

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. “As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety. He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night. But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth and from the hand of the mighty. So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth. “Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.

Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.

Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you. I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day. Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her. The LORD records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.”

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Job 3:3-7; 14:1-2; 15:14-16; 25:2-6; 5:6-18; Psalm 22:9-11; 71:6-9; 87:5-7; Galatians 4:26-31

Praying to find the joy of redemption on-what is increasingly- a day I wish was shrouded in darkness.

Sunday: Am I a Bearer of the Cross?

The call to follow Christ is all-inclusive.  The followers of Christ must have no reluctance and reservations; they must abide with him and thus share in his salvation, dwell in his light, profess his truth, and draw on his life.  Though the threat of opposition and even violent death mat cast its shadow on such crossbearing, the faithful know that no one will snatch them out of the hand of the master.  Believers no longer have the right to dispose of their lives as they see fit.  Hence they take up the cross of self-denial and join the Man of Sorrows.  As partakers of grace they yield to death their old lives– vast complexes of sinful reactions– and make also their suffering conformable to the example of Christ.  For to be a cross-bearer is to have rendered all authority to Christ.  The life of the cross-bearer is not one of austere imitation but rather one of conformity rooted in reconciliation.

G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics, “Faith and Sanctification” (p. 139, 143)

I pray that one day the life that I live might be the life of Christ living in me.  But I need more practice dying.

The Sting of Death–On the mixed blessing of modern medicine.

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

I am 35 years old and relatively sting-free from that old nemesis, Death. Had I been born even 20 years earlier this would probably not be so.

At the age of 3 months our first daughter developed Pyloric Stenosis. While a relatively common ailment, and now relatively quick to remedy, had she not had the needed surgery she would have starved to death.

Our second daughter was born 7 weeks early and unable to breathe on her own. Without NICU treatment she would have suffocated herself.

Last year my dad had a heart attack caused by a 90% blockage in one of his arteries. He was treated at the cardiac center and had the artery cleared.

Last week my father-in-law was in a serious accident that led to a large blood clot in the brain that required immediate surgical attention. He (and we) are now in the very lengthy process of recovery from such an injury. An injury that the neurosurgeon told us ended the life of 40% of those who have it.

I am 35 years old and relatively untouched by the sting of death.

But I cannot help but wonder what might have been. What if I had been born in 1954 instead of 1974? I would be 35 years old and would have already “lost” to death two daughters, my father, and father-in-law. I cannot help but wonder what these stings might have done in my life. Would they have embittered me toward the Lord and giver of life? Or would they have opened up grand vistas of God’s goodness I could not otherwise have known?

At a recent conference Carl Trueman remarked that he is often asked what age of history he could live in if he had his choice. He gave a very practical answer: this one. Can you imagine living in a day when catching a cold could be fatal? When epidemics actually killed millions instead of just scaring them? Dying from an infection from a splinter?

We indeed live in blessed times. But I pray that somehow I never forget that it is Christ that has removed death’s sting. Not the anesthesiologist.

Glory be to God.

The Victory of the Cross

From one point of view the Cross was simply the product of the variegated turpitude of men: the bigotry of fanatics, the opportunism of corrupt priests, the moral astigmatism of lying witnesses, the vindictiveness of a nationalist mob demanding that an innocent man suffer the death penalty for a crime precisely because he had refused to commit it for them, the vacillation of a governor yielding against his judgment to popular frenzy, the treachery of one disciple, the denial of another, the cowardice of the rest, the taunts of callous bystanders.  But because Jesus was content to accept the role of the Lamb assigned to him by his Father, he was able to transform all this into the signal triumph of divine love.  He did not merely defeat the powers of evil; he made them agents of his own victory.

G.B. Caird, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Am I content to accept whatever role the Father has for me?