Thursday, 26 October 2017

Abortion contravenes the very values our society cherishes most

This Friday marks fifty years since the abortion act. During that time 8.7 million abortions have taken place within the UK – around 200,000 a year. To get some perspective, if all those babies had lived, that’s the equivalent to the combined population of Scotland and Wales.

Of course whether or not a woman can have an abortion is deeply significant for her. It’s her future that will be impacted if a baby is born. The choice to abort is therefore seen as critical to gender equality – to the woman maintaining her rights over her own body and her freedom to fulfil her potential. Moreover, if she is unable to have an abortion legally, she may seek out an illegal and potential dangerous one.

But when one considers it, this defence of abortion is filled with tragic irony.

Abortion undermines equality.
It is profoundly discriminatory. Many still baulk at the sex-selective abortion, but you cannot consistently deny the woman’s right to abort according to the gender of the child if you have just affirmed her rights over her body and her freedom to fulfil her potential as she wishes. Yet sex-selective abortion usually is one that discriminates against girls and so against women.

However, abortion doesn’t only discriminate according to gender. Abortion discriminates against those with disability, downs syndrome and even a cleft palate, as babies with these conditions are aborted and so unable to contribute to society.

Abortion breaches rights.
A free society is one that always has to balance what it calls "rights," with some curtailed so that others are upheld. Yet abortion is deeply individualistic, disregarding the communal aspects of having children. The rights of wider society to benefit from the child even if he or she suffers from a disability is rarely considered. But many have experienced how enriching it can be to learn how to accept and care for those who struggle because of disability. And what of the rights of wider family to the child that has been conceived?

Of course the major right to be considered is the right of the baby itself - it’s right to life and to protection from harm. It is not simply a part of the women’s body. Whether one is ready to accept the foetus as a person or not, it is certainly an individual entity being readied for independent life and personhood. From conception it has its full 46 chromosomes and entire genetic makeup. Its sex is therefore determined, as is its future growth to some extent. The mother may not want a baby, and the pregnancy may even have arisen from abuse, but the fact is that from the beginning this developing individual is at his or her most vulnerable, entirely dependent on the mother for protection. There is nothing “pro-women” in a woman’s choice to abort such dependents. Pregnancy brings responsibility. And where a mother chooses to continue the pregnancy despite the potential harm or difficulty it might bring her, she is doing something extremely noble. To love is to give up one’s rights for the good of others, especially those in need.

Abortion does harm.
One in three women will have an abortion during their lifetime. Yet many who have, speak of profound regret, guilt and despair at what they’ve done. We might also consider the harm the acceptance of abortion does to our cultural mindset – to how we view children or life, and to how it encourages sexual promiscuity with all the psychological and emotional fallout that can accompany it. But the greatest harm is surely done to the babies themselves. By eight weeks they can respond to touch, implying sensitivity and possibly pain. At twenty weeks they can experience pain more intensely than adults as their pain system is established but its modifying component isn’t. It is in the light of this that we must consider how exactly abortions are carried out.

Medication is used for those early in pregnancy. Pills are taken to end the life of the baby and cause the uterus to expel it. However, 90% of abortions of up to twelve weeks into the pregnancy are not conducted in this way. Rather, they involve a suction tube that may be used to first kill and dismember the baby, before sucking its various parts out for disposal. And what of the 42,000 babies aborted each year after twelve weeks? They can’t come out as easily, and so have to be crushed to death and broken apart with medical tools in order to be extracted. If still later in the pregnancy, contractions have to be induced to expel the baby which will either die in the process or be given a drug to ensure it does. Sometimes it is extracted by surgery.

Pro-abortion websites sanitise all this. They speak of the “pregnancy” being removed not the “baby,” and with little detail about what that involves. But the facts speak for themselves. Abortion wreaks great harm at every level.

A better way.
Debates will no doubt continue as to the appropriateness of abortion when the mother’s life is in danger or the baby could end up severely handicapped. These are currently the only legal grounds for abortion beyond 24 weeks in the UK, although there is much controversy over how these requirements are interpreted. Nevertheless, the vast majority of abortions are not carried out for those reasons. And so even before one considers biblical wisdom on specific cases, we can see that abortion in general is harmful, discriminatory and oppressive.

The sexual revolution is not delivering on its promises. Unrestrained sexual freedom is leading us down a dark path. We need a better way. We need to acknowledge that the inconsistency of our society over abortion reveals just how wanting the secular worldview is. If God is removed and the individual is the final arbiter of right and wrong, there is no ultimate restraint on the strong over the weak. And whilst the strong may self-righteously affirm their opposition to inequality, oppression and the denial of rights, they are quite prepared to turn a blind eye to such things when their personal comfort and freedom is in jeopardy.

Jesus displayed real outrage at this sort of hypocrisy, at those who thought themselves moral whilst trampling on the weak. And the apostle Paul's words are particularly apt: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2v1).

This is serious indeed. Though state-sponsored and generally accepted, abortion is something our society’s own standards judge is wrong. Yet it could be argued that there is more legal protection and anger over the destruction of property and wildflowers in our culture than there is over this mass destruction of human life.

One cannot but think that history will judge our generation terribly for its complacency over abortion. But we must remember the greater judge, turning to him in Christ for his mercy.

_____

[ This article has not been written to address the sensitivities surrounding abortion. If you have had an abortion or been party to one, please be assured that if you seek God’s forgiveness in Christ you have it – and with it peace and healing with respect to the past. Know too that within his church you will find welcome, acceptance and support as you seek to live the new life he calls us into. ]

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Friday, 8 September 2017

Scientific facts about Homosexuality and Gender Dismorphia

I have been doing some study on transgender issues and been pointed to an edition of “The New Atlantis” journal, which outlines some of the scientific conclusions to date on both  gender and sexuality. It is a non-partisan and non-religious journal that seeks to make public up-to-date research so that people are properly informed.

Because there is so much misunderstanding fed to us through media and social media, I’ve included the entire executive summary below. It only takes a few minutes to read, but is important for us to be aware of for when our views as Christians are challenged, or when we have to talk about these things with our children.

Obviously the issues themselves are incredibly complex and should be handled with extreme compassion, but whilst acknowledging things aren’t always as cut and dried as below, the science is important.

You will note that the three great myths on these issues are without basis:

1)    The first myth is that people are born with a homosexual orientation or gender disconnect. This is often given as a reason why such feelings should be accepted and embraced, but this assumption is “not supported by scientific evidence.” (That's not to say there aren't elements of non-biological causation that might influence someone's development from an early age).

2)    The second myth is that people’s feelings in these areas are fixed. This is also given as a reason why such feelings should be seen as defining and embraced. Otherwise, we are told, people will never be able to experience intimate relationships or be their true self. In truth, both experiences are to some degree fluid, with many (I should stress not all) children growing out of them as they get older. This means that the way many children in particular are encouraged to act on such feelings is deeply concerning. Ironically, it is that which could work against their proper development and identity.

3)    The third myth is that those experiencing homosexual orientation or gender dysmorphia will only be fulfilled if they embrace their sense of who they are. The fact is that both groups are far more likely to experience mental health issues, depression and suicide. So this is not necessarily the case at all. Again, this shows how serious it is when children are encouraged to make these things so defining.

The Executive Summary
Some key findings:
Part One: Sexual Orientation
● The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings — the idea that people are “born that way” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
● While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation. While minor differences in the brain structures and brain activity between homosexual and heterosexual individuals have been identified by researchers, such neurobiological findings do not demonstrate whether these differences are innate or are the result of environmental and psychological factors.
● Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artifacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).
● Compared to heterosexuals, non-heterosexuals are about two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
Part Two: Sexuality, Mental Health Outcomes, and Social Stress
● Compared to the general population, non-heterosexual subpopulations are at an elevated risk for a variety of adverse health and mental health outcomes.
● Members of the non-heterosexual population are estimated to have about 1.5 times higher risk of experiencing anxiety disorders than members of the heterosexual population, as well as roughly double the risk of depression, 1.5 times the risk of substance abuse, and nearly 2.5 times the risk of suicide.
● Members of the transgender population are also at higher risk of a variety of mental health problems compared to members of the non-transgender population. Especially alarmingly, the rate of lifetime suicide attempts across all ages of transgender individuals is estimated at 41%, compared to under 5% in the overall U.S. population.
● There is evidence, albeit limited, that social stressors such as discrimination and stigma contribute to the elevated risk of poor mental health outcomes for non-heterosexual and transgender populations. More high-quality longitudinal studies are necessary for the “social stress model” to be a useful tool for understanding public health concerns.
Part Three: Gender Identity
● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.
● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.
● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.
● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.
● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

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Thursday, 6 July 2017

To the praise of his glorious grace

Loving seeing this as God's great goal in studying Ephesians in a 1:1. Some brief notes below:

It structures chapter 1v3-14:

v3 every spiritual blessing

1) v4-6 chosen and adopted in Christ for the praise of God's glorious grace
2) v7-12 redeemed and predestined in Christ for the praise of his glory
3) v13-14 included and secured in Christ for the praise of his glory

It dominates Paul's prayer in 1v15-23

1) v14-16 thanking God for how the Ephesians are already being to God's glory as a new humanity living in faith and love
2) v17 praying that they would know God and so know how glorious and gracious he is
3) v18-21 praying that they would know the immensity of his grace in their future inheritance and God's mighty power that is sufficient to overcome death and evil

v22-23 all because Christ is over all things so that the church would be for God's glory as it has begun to be through Christ filling it with his power, life and rule just as he is in the process of filling everything with those same things

It lies behind the whole book

1) 2v1-10: This power has been expressed in the transition of believers from death to life that in this age and the age to come God's grace in Christ might be expressed by their living as new creations
2) 2v11-3v13: By this means humanity are united in Christ that God would be glorified for his wisdom even before evil rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms
3) 3v14-21: For this reason Paul prays that by Christ's power believers would know and display Christ's love so that God would be glorified in the Church as it is filled with his fullness

4v1-6v23 then details what this should look like as they put on Christ whether in individual acts or as spiritual armour




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Thursday, 15 June 2017

Basic booklist for those serving in the local church

These are intended to be middle-level introductory books rather than more academic ones - and so for church workers, trainees and elders rather than the minister who should be reading to a greater depth too. They are not provided to put pressure that they must all be read within a couple of years, but more to highlight key books it would be good to read at some time and that can be accessed when needed to help in ministry.

Conviction:
1 Reformed theology - What is reformed theology - Sproul
2 Biblical theology - God's big picture, Roberts
3 OT theology book by book - The Faith of Israel, Dumbrell
4 NT theology book by book - New Testament Theology, Morris
5 Systematic theology – Systematic theology, Grudem
6 Church - Centre Church, Keller
7 Culture - Mission of God, Boot
8 Ethics - New Issues facing Christians today, Stott
9 Work - Every good endeavour, Keller
10 Suffering - How long O Lord, Carson
11 Independency - Independency, ed. Stevens
12 Church history - Church history in plain language, Shelley

Character:
13 Commitment - Don't waste your life, Piper
14 Disciplines - Spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, Whitney
15 Prayer - A praying life, Miller
16 Godliness - The practice of Godliness, Bridges
17 Bonhoeffer (biography), Eric Metaxas
18 A chance to die (a biography of Amy Charmichael), Elizabeth Elliot

Competence:
19 Time management - Time for everything, Fuller
20 Eldership – The shepherd leader, Witmer
21 Ministry - The trellis and the vine, Marshall and Payne
22 Preaching - Speaking God's words, Adam
23 Leading worship - Worship in Spirit and Truth, Frame
24 Pastoral Care - Instruments in the redeemer hands, Tripp
25 Tackling sin - You can change, Chester
26 Leadership - Wisdom in leadership, Hamilton
27 Evangelism - Everyday church, Timmis and Chester
28 Apologetics - The reason for God, Keller
29 Bible study - Growth Groups, Marshall
30 One to one - One to one, DeWitt
31 Youth - Gospel centred youth ministry, Cole and Nelson
32 Women - Word-Filled Women's Ministry, Furman and Nielson
33 Parenting - Parenting against the tide, Benton
34 Family - Gospel centred family, Chester and Moll
35 Marriage - Married for God, Ash

Computer software:
1 The one I use is Logos bible software. You can have it on your PC, tablet and phone, and the amount of resources it can access means you can do a lot of cross-referencing within it. You can download the basic software for free and then pay to add modern Bible translations (I predominantly use the NIV and the NASB as a more literal version – Greek too if you are up to it), and reference books (there are an innumerable amount and the various IVP dictionaries in particular are worth looking at, but key would be the New Bible Commentary and the New Bible Dictionary).

2 E-Sword is an extremely good and free Bible software package that you can have on your PC or as an app on tablet or phone.

Some more historical reading:
A theology reader, Ed. Alistair McGrath
Early Christian writings: The apostolic fathers, ed. Louth
Confessions (autobiography), Augustine
Ecclesiastical history of the English People, Bede
Calvin's Institutes, John Calvin
Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Brooks
Concerning the end for which God created the World, Jonathan Edwards
Lectures to my students, CH Spurgeon
The inspiration and authority of the Bible, BB Warfield
The cost of discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Essentials: A liberal-evangelical dialogue, Edwards and Stott
Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, ed. Packer and Stamoolis
Roman Catholic Theology and Practice, Gregg Allison
The kingdom of the cults, Walter Martin
Amazing Grace (a biography of William Wilberforce), Eric Metaxas
Susanna Wesley (biography), Arnold Dallimore
The Apocrypha


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Sunday, 11 June 2017

About the Trinity

It's Trinity Sunday. Here's an attempt at a summary of the section of the Athanasian Creed on the Trinity. 

This is one of the so called "ecumenical creeds" held to by the worldwide church as defining the true faith. It's been said since the 6th century but is is so wordy that it's not really used today. Even this summary would seem too much, but it's hard to get it any simpler if it is to still say what it says.

Great truth though. And worth turning praise.

A summary of part one of the Athanasian Creed
This is the faith of the church throughout history
that must be held to above all if we are to be saved:

We worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence.
For each is a distinct person but their divinity is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.
What quality one has, so have the others,
each being uncreated, immeasurable and eternal,
yet not three such beings, but one;
each to be confessed individually as almighty, Lord and God.
yet not as three mighty lords or gods, but as one.
Yet there is only one Father, not begotten nor proceeding from anyone.
There is only one Son, begotten from the Father alone.
There is only one Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
But not one of these is before or after the others,
not one is greater or smaller;
in their entirety the three are coeternal and coequal,
the one true and living God.

In everything we worship their trinity in their unity
and their unity in their trinity.

This is the faith we have received.

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