By / Jun 19

Southern Baptists affirm that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception, and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God – including the unborn – and his knowledge of the unborn even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13).

Southern Baptists affirm that every human is created in the image of God. As stated in a 2021 resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Bible “clearly and unequivocally affirms the sanctity of every human life made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 9:6), a truth to which Christians in every century have testified and are called to bear witness in every age and in every sphere of life; and Further, the Convention’s Baptist Faith & Message affirms that “children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord” and calls us to “speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2023 removes all restrictions and limits on abortion, provides federal protection for pharmaceutical abortion, and allows for abortion up to the point of birth. Additionally, this bill removes all pro-life protections at the federal and state levels and eliminates a state’s ability to legislate on abortion by preventing government officials from interfering with any person providing or receiving abortion services. This bill also fails to protect American consciences and would force taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions.

Abortion is not healthcare. If human dignity is given to each person when created in the womb, then abortion is not only an assault on the image of God but also irreparable harm on a vulnerable life. We believe abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection, and therefore cannot be considered as healthcare.

The ERLC strongly opposed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2023. This is one of the most pro-abortion bills to ever be considered, and we urge Congress to reject this harmful bill. It would put thousands of vulnerable, preborn lives at risk and steamroll over the consciences of millions of Americans who do not wish to be compelled to provide or pay for abortions.

By / May 9

Southern Baptists affirm that every life is worthy of protection, beginning with the unborn. We believe life begins at conception and that abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection. Scripture is clear that every person is made in the image of God — including the unborn — and his knowledge of the unborn even precedes the creative act of conception (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13).

Southern Baptists affirm that every human is created in the image of God. As stated in a 2021 resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Bible “clearly and unequivocally affirms the sanctity of every human life made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 9:6), a truth to which Christians in every century have testified and are called to bear witness in every age and in every sphere of life; and Further, the Convention’s Baptist Faith & Message affirms that “children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord” and calls us to “speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 removes all restrictions and limits on abortion and allows for abortion up to the point of birth. Additionally, this bill removes all pro-life protections at the federal and state levels and eliminates a state’s ability to legislate on abortion. This bill also fails to protect the consciences of American taxpayers and would force taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions.

Abortion is not healthcare. If human dignity is given to each person when created in the womb, then abortion is not only an assault on the image of God but also irreparable harm on a vulnerable life. We believe abortion denies precious human lives both personhood and protection, and therefore cannot be considered as healthcare.

The ERLC strongly opposed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022. This is one of the most pro-abortion bills to ever pass the U.S. House of Representatives, and we urge the Senate not to pass this harmful bill. It would put thousands of vulnerable, preborn lives at risk and steamroll over the the consciences of millions of Americans who do not wish to pay for or be compelled to provide abortions.

By / Mar 1

We live in an age that values productivity. There is an entire cottage industry of books and resources to help us manage our time, organize our lives, and squeeze every last second out of the day. As a proponent of time management processes (though not always the best adherent), I find these useful tools. However, in our pursuit of doing more, we are often saying with our lives a lie that we would likely never utter with our lips: “I am god, and I am unlimited.” 

However, as theologian and author Kelly Kapic reminds us in his new book, You’re Only Human, our limits and dependencies are a good gift from God, not the result of the brokenness of the world. He was kind enough to join us for an interview to discuss the reality of our limits, our need for rest and humility, and why we struggle to see all of this as an essential and good part of our nature as created image-bearers.  

Alex Ward: Our limitations and finitude are something that you say we often run into through our encounter with the harsher parts of reality — a child’s sickness, an overwhelmed schedule, the loss of a job late in life — rather than an idea and concept that we meditate on as a comfort. Why is it that so often it takes these harsh moments for us to realize our limits?

Kelly Kapic: None of us would call ourselves ‘god,’ but when we start to explore our deepest assumptions and how we approach life, what we often find betrays hidden beliefs: we assume we are or at least should be in control. And that is how we try to conduct our lives. Until there is a serious problem, we tend to assume the problem is something we can solve, and so we just try harder, get more organized, and then we assume the challenge can be overcome.  

But often it is only when things start to fall apart that we realize we can’t make everything all right. As the curtain is lifted, if we have the courage, we start to realize how little we were ‘in control of’ in the first place. And it is during those times we finally start to consider our finitude.

AW: Especially in our current American context where we can have almost anything easily and quickly, why are limits a good thing? How do they help us see God better and our relationship to him? 

KK: Limits are a good thing because God created human creatures, and to be a creature is, by design, to have limits. Finitude doesn’t necessarily imply talk about death: it is just a fancy term that means we are limited by space, time, knowledge, power, etc. In my book, when I am talking about ‘finitude,’ I am talking about these limits. We have a particular body, a particular brain, we come from this family and not that one, we live here and not there, we have these neighbors and not those. All of those particulars situate us, both opening up opportunities for us but also making claims on us, inevitably limiting us in various ways.  

One of my concerns is that Christians have too often confused finitude with sin, and so we start to believe we must overcome all our limits. We feel guilty about our limits, treating them like sins that should be resisted and overcome.  

Without realizing it, this confusion often breeds unhealthy guilt among God’s people when we constantly feel that we should be doing more. Do we allow ourselves to go to bed at night knowing that in our smallness God has been honored and that he delights in us even in our small world? Put differently, does faithfulness require that we sign up for every legitimate volunteer opportunity, or attend every meeting, or give to every noble cause?  

Here is the big surprise: God created us as finite, which means we are made to be dependent.  Healthy dependence or interdependence is part of the good of God’s creation, not the fall. What sin does is distort and undermine healthy dependence, but it did not create it. The fact that we think of the word ‘dependence’ in purely negative terms says a lot about us as a culture and as individuals.  

AW” It’s not uncommon for people to create new schedules or plans at the beginning of the year to try and squeeze more time out of their day, whether that’s because they want to read more, workout more, or just spend more time with family. So how should Christians approach these productivity hacks and attempts to redeem their time? Is it ultimately just a futile quest?

KK: Personally, I love ‘to-do’ lists and ‘time management’ suggestions, but I also think they are dangerously seductive. And I think we need to be asking a different set of questions.

I am arguing that ultimately we are not dealing with a time management problem, but with a theological one. We have misunderstood God, how he created the world, and what he expects of us. Until we deal with this underlying problem, we will always feel exhausted, defeated, guilty, and frustrated. Sadly, the Church often tries to deal with these feelings in the same way as the world, through better “time management.”  

Even the language of ‘managing time’ or ‘organizing time’ often gives us a false sense of control. We can make plans, but actually time is not something we can control or manage. It is not within our power. This is why we — including me — get so easily angry when our perfectly planned productive days go sideways. Part of what happened is we imagined we had more control than we actually did, and until we are more honest about how these assumptions affect us, we won’t address the anger, frustration, and despair that so easily starts to permeate our lives because we are not ‘getting everything done.’

Without launching into a much larger discussion here, I will just give one suggestion: be more realistic. I know, for example, that my ‘to-do’ list for Monday is really not a to-do list for the day but will likely take me a week. When I don’t realize that, it easily produces what one writer calls ‘productivity shame.’ We set ourselves up for failure.  

As Christians, we don’t need to feel guilty about our limits, but we need to have the courage to be more honest about them. And that includes how much time is required by the relationships that God puts into our lives. We can’t do everything, nor does God call us to.  

Similarly, we should ask, in this particular season of life and in this particular place with my particular gifts and limits, what does faithfulness look like for me here and now? Try to be honest with yourself. It will take courage to allow yourself to do less.  

When we add too many things to our schedule and we are driven by productivity as our highest good, then we end up with little margin. And experience tells me that love takes place in those margins. Therefore, as Christians we need to slow down in order that you can be present and able to really love others as God gives opportunity. A test case: love inevitably makes demands, so when opportunities to love arise in our days, do we find ourselves getting bitter and angry inside, or grateful for a chance to care for another person?

AW: We live in a society that prizes individuality and the ability to present the best version of yourself, whether in business or social media or just personal interactions. But you remind us that humility should be central to how Christians interact in the world. Why do we need a theology of humility, especially now?

KK: I believe humility is central to a Christian vision and life. But, as I discuss in the book, I worry that we have too often built our understanding of humility on the foundation of sin, on the idea that we should be humble because we are sinners. While I think our sin does add weight to the call for us to be humble, I don’t think that is a good foundation for humility. And when we build humility on this as the foundation, we shouldn’t be surprised when we get so many unhealthy views of humility.

But biblically, we should be humble simply because this is a realistic recognition that we are limited creatures. Humility is the joyful affirmation of reality, the reality that as creatures we were always made to be dependent upon God, others, and the Earth. Even if there were no sin and fall, humans were to be humble. Humility both fosters worship of our Creator God, and it liberates people to delight in others without always having to compete with them. Humility doesn’t just say “I’m sorry,” but “how should I do this?” and “what do you think?” At its best, humility comes out in sincere questions and gratitude, not self-loathing.

AW: One element of our finitude that seems to create such tension is how we relate to time and the demands of our life. You note a helpful distinction between stress and anxiety. Especially with all the recent studies and reports about the overwhelming sense of anxiety that have been produced by the pandemic and our isolation, how should we think about these concepts? How should we respond to stresses in our lives?

KK: That is a great question. Since I can’t unpack this like I do in the book, I will just say that I think anxiety is often a distorted relationship to time. And so in order to address some of the deeper problems, we have to explore things like expectations. As I explore in the chapter on this topic, I came to believe that the way to navigate this high level of stress and anxiety is through a renewed appreciation for the ancient Hebrew understanding of the “fear of the Lord.” I will just say here, I think at its root this points us to the idea of learning to recognize God’s presence in our lives and in his world. He is always present, but do we recognize him? And I would connect learning to be present with God with learning to be more present with others — and I strongly think one of the reasons we have a rise in anxiety is related to our inability to be truly present with each other, even when we are physically together.

AW: In previous generations, if I wanted to learn something it might have taken weeks or months to get the right books and go through the right coursework, whereas now I can just google an answer. Similarly, I might have needed weeks for a package to arrive and now can have it in a matter of hours if I’m close enough to an Amazon hub. How has this distorted our understanding of the progressive and long-term process of God’s work in our lives?

KK: I think what you describe above is real and it does affect us. And when you put into that situation a Christian who recognizes the sins and weaknesses in our lives, we end up with a potent question: why doesn’t God just instantly change us, since he doesn’t want us to sin?  Behind these questions and concerns is often our sense that God wants us to be perfect immediately. And yet even in the creation narrative, God takes his time. He values process.  One day to the next, things unfold, build upon each other, grow and develop. God has always been comfortable with process, and we need to rediscover the good of process. This can significantly transform our Christian lives and give us a renewed sense of hope and courage. It really is true, he who began a good work in us will continue it to completion. And if he is okay with not instantaneously completing his work in us, then we should not lose heart that our growth often takes time.  

AW: If I’m looking to develop this proper theology of my limits, what are some practical steps that I can take? What is a good place to start? What practices can I build into my life to help with that? 

KK: In the last chapter I suggest four perspectives that can help us return to a healthier relationship with our limits: rhythm, vulnerability, gratitude, and rest. Obviously it takes me a long chapter to unpack these four, but let me just give a sentence or two for each.  

We would do well to learn to honor different seasons of life and adjust our expectations about what faithfulness looks like as we live within the rhythm of each season of life as we go through it. Being 18 is different from being 58, and having a newborn is different from being an empty nester; appreciating the rhythm of decades, years, months, and days can give us a healthier view of opportunities and limits.   

Cultivating an awareness of our vulnerability (which in the book I explain is different from being ‘fragile’) can help us learn to appreciate the healthiness of our dependence upon God, neighbor, and the earth. This helps us grow more comfortable in our relationships, admitting our needs as well as being more ready to offer our gifts for the good of others.

I believe we need to learn both lament and gratitude as expressions of our experience of the world and of our dependence on God in it. We can’t control everything, and so when tragedy, pain, and suffering happen, we should lament. But we can also learn to be grateful, not for evil, but for God’s presence and care which are always active. Rather than pick between lament and gratitude, we need both, sometimes simultaneously. And when we practice them, I think we end up with a healthier relationship to our own finitude and to God.  

Finally, rest. It was fun to talk about a theology of sleep in the book, and why sleeping can be an act of faith. Simply put, we can sleep because God never does. That can be especially hard for us when anxiety swirls all around us. It’s hard for me. I also encourage us to rediscover the joy of a regular day of rest, which is set aside for worship, a different pace, and a release from doing our normal labor. It has become radically countercultural to set aside one day in seven for this kind of rest, but this is fundamental to how God made us. This is not about unthinking conformity to a legal code; instead, God uses our worship and rest to root us more deeply in human flourishing and to give us a vision for life much greater than an endless list of to-dos.

By / Sep 28

When news from the Middle East and Near East regions of the world begin to fill my screen, there’s one reporter that I want to read: Mindy Belz. 

I’ve known about her work as an editor and war correspondent with WORLD magazine for over 15 years, but her 2016 book, They Say We Are Infidels, was instrumental in shaping the way I understand this part of the world, revealing its rich Christian history. Her relationships with international churches and believers have provided her decades of insight into these predominantly Muslim parts of the world. 

As Christians in the West consider today’s international crises, as well as reflect on the impact of 9/11 20 years ago, Belz shines a light on both the histories and cultures of these far-off nations, shares her reasons for going into hard places, and points us to the eternal things that should guide our lives.

Jill Waggoner: Can you help us zoom out and understand the cultural landscape of the Middle East and the significance of Afghanistan?

Mindy Belz: Afghanistan commonly gets lumped into the Middle East because of the wars after 9/11, but it’s technically considered part of the wider Near East or Central Asia. That’s important, because Afghanistan is somewhat of a bridge. It has a lot of the Islamic elements that have bedeviled the United States and the Middle East (in Lebanon with Hamas and Iraq with al-Qaida and ISIS). But it also has this history of being under the thumb of the Soviet Union. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent occupation set the stage for the American engagement there. It began as a Cold War engagement, and then it moved into what we know today, an engagement over terrorism that had its base in Afghanistan. That history is significant to how it came onto the American radar, but of course, 9/11 propelled it there to stay. 

I traveled to Sudan in 1998, 1999, and in June of 2001. Sudan was engaged in this war that pitted Christians in the South versus Muslims in the North. It was a precursor to what we would see after 9/11. Christians have been like a footnote in these conflicts, and yet, to me, they were an important piece because what Christians experience is often a precursor to what the entire population is going to face. When we look at the war that was happening in Sudan in the 1990s, we see this dramatic and atrocious conflict between a jihadist government in the North and the Christian population in the South. That set a pattern for what we saw repeated in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where this concept of “conquering infidels” came into play with really deadly force. 

JW: How did 9/11 change U.S. engagement in this region of the world?

MB: It had been a Cold War engagement up until that point, very much based on our national interests in keeping dominance over the Soviet Union, Russia, and its breakaway republics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11 changed it dramatically because then it became about U.S. survival. It was an attack on the U.S. homeland. Nothing like that had happened in modern memory. It was no longer war at a remove; it was war up close. 

Significantly, that moment built on the Cold War alliances. NATO, within days after 9/11, invoked Article 5. This was the first time in its history, putting NATO on a war footing in support of the United States. Among the victims of 9/11, there were more than 90 nations represented. We had tremendous international support for our response to it.  

JW: How would you help a younger audience think about 9/11?

MB: 9/11 is possibly the largest event of the century and certainly one of the landmark moments in U.S. history. 

It is important to go beyond the headlines and the 10-minute recap you see on the news. You can visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum site or go to the museum and see the names. It’s such a powerful reminder of the ordinariness of the people who died. They had no intention of stepping into a war zone when they were going to work that day. I would encourage anyone to read some of the original sources on the 9/11 Museum site. Find the 911 calls on YouTube. Not everyone wants to go down that road, but I think it’s valuable to get a real sense of what people went through.

It is also important to generally appreciate what the terrorists’ goals were. I’ve had the 9/11 Commission Report on my shelf at the ready for years. It is a thick book, but mine is so well thumbed now. Parts of it read like a novel. It helps you understand all the players and what was happening from the FBI, CIA, and military standpoint. You understand what was happening in Washington and New York. It describes what ​​al-Qaida was planning and the hijackers’ stories leading up to that day. Original sources are what we have to rely on, especially as we see misinformation surface. 

I’ve [also] really enjoyed reading about the millennials whose whole generation has been shaped by how our country changed after 9/11. I have much encouragement and hope as I see how many of my children’s peers committed themselves to military service or aide or nongovernmental organizations. When I covered the refugee crisis, I saw many 20- and 30-somethings that dropped everything to help these refugees coming across the Mediterranean. That defines the generation to me. I have great hope because of how this generation has been shaped by really sobering, hard events. 

JW: How would you encourage the Western church to think about and understand the Christian church in the Middle and Near Eastern parts of the world?

MB: I went to Iraq to cover the war early on and discovered the Christians along the way. There was this rich history there outside of what many think of as the Holy Land. I was going in churches that were built in the 300s. Their liturgy was in Aramaic. They were holding on to traditions because they were precious to them, not because they were following rote tradition. Everywhere I went, I was having my own presuppositions exploded. 

I met people whose resilience drew me to them. They had a patience about the Christian conflict with Islam and a determination about it that seemed to be lacking in the American public. The U.S. eventually wanted to turn away from the conflict and commitments in Iraq, as we are seeing now in Afghanistan. One of the reasons these wars have ended in such disarray and with such tragic consequences is that we never engaged them on the terms in which we said we were. We failed to understand that this is an age-old conflict. We failed to look at the really good examples of how people from outside of Islam have engaged with Islam.

On my journeys, I [saw] great examples of people coexisting and also being great witnesses, and in some cases being martyrs. The Old English definition of a martyr is a witness. They were being martyrs on a daily basis, and sometimes with their own lives, in order to stand and to give testimony to the Muslims that they lived alongside. 

JW: Recently, my 10 year-old son got in my car as I was listening to the news. He asked what it was, and I told him. As I turned it off he said, ‘Why are you listening to that? Aren’t bad things happening?’ I wondered how you would answer that question. In a world where ‘bad things’ are happening, why should we pay attention?

MB: Because the love of Christ compels us to. We can all have a sense of discouragement and helplessness in the face of any days’ bad news, but we know Christ came to enter into bad news, bringing life and the good news of the gospel. 

Our life in the United States gives us so much material comfort and grace that we lose sight of the consummation of all things. We might be tempted to think that the consummation is like our day to day: the sun shining, peace with our neighbors, a grocery store nearby. Our current reality dulls our sense that there is a future — where Christ is reigning and has reconciled all things under his feet — that is beyond what we can imagine right now. We can be tempted to lose sight of that chapter of the gospel narrative. I have a sense that the Christians who went before me had a much clearer view of what is to come that compelled them through the hard things of any day. 

JW: Many people have had trauma in the last two years. I imagine that your journeys have allowed you to see things that I’ve never seen, creating difficulties for you on a personal level that might extend beyond the experience. Do you have a personal word for those who are dealing with trauma? 

MB: It is definitely a real thing and something that I’ve struggled with from time to time. I have faced life and death moments. Because I’m still here after those moments, I can say they propel us to the feet of Christ and into the arms of God. 

Sometimes I dread going into a place where there’s a lot that’s unknown. There also have been times where I felt like I knew the situation, but when I was walking down the street, I could feel the tension and feel how much things had changed. This happened to me in 2019 in Syria, and I knew I was not in a safe place. Within 30 minutes, a bomb went off right across the street from me. I’ve been in moments where all I know to do is pray and trust that God has me where he wants me. That might be a place of death or a place of witness — seeing something that’s really, really hard. 

I come back to this fraternity that we have with Jesus. In those moments, we see in a new way what he endured, and what he was willing to endure, for us. We also see our own weaknesses and shortcomings. We’re brought face to face with the fact that we’re not Jesus. We quake and have fear and sometimes we run away, and that’s okay to do. 

The only way I know to process those things is in community. The community that I have with my husband, first of all, is the only reason that I have been able to continue this work — his support, patience, and willingness to hear the things [I’ve experienced]. Also, I process with my church community, pastors, and friends who are good counselors. We have to process these things in community, but we also have to process them as a way of recognizing our weakness and the profound sacrifice that Jesus made. 

By / Jul 22

Every person reading this is a human being. But what does that actually mean? “Human dignity” is a term used by Christians (and non-Christians) in policy conversations about a vast array of topics including poverty alleviation, humanitarian aid, abortion, and euthanasia. As Christians, we believe that God creating humankind in his image means that every person possesses an inherent and inalienable dignity. In other words, every human life is precious because every life belongs to a person who bears God’s image. Because of the value and preciousness of each life, it is vital that we develop a clear biblical understanding of what a human is and what the image of God implies. 

What is a human?

Our culture has wrongfully placed the responsibility of defining personhood onto individuals instead of our Creator, who, as “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13), has the rightful authority to define our being. Claiming false authority over personhood has led to broken families, distorted views of sexuality, and heinous acts such as abortion in our society. Thankfully, through the creation account, the Bible helps us understand specific ways human beings are set apart from the rest of creation. Though faithful scholars differ in certain respects about exactly what it means to be made in God’s image, below you’ll find three characteristics about humanity that are clearly implied by the opening section of Genesis. 

1. Humans are relational

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26)

When God created mankind, he did so as a Trinity of three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God created us to live in community with him and with one another, reflecting his relational nature. As one God in three persons, God is relational by nature. Similarly, humans are made to operate in relationships. This is precisely what God emphasizes when he creates Eve to live in union with Adam and says, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). 

Through the blood of Jesus, God invites us into fellowship with the divine Trinity. John writes in 1 John 1:3, “Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” God’s heart for relationships is further revealed in the New Testament when he establishes the familial nature of the church, encouraging believers throughout the New Testament to “devote themselves to fellowship,” to “have one heart and one mind,” to “bear one another’s burdens,” and to “love one another with brotherly affection” (Acts 2:42; 4:32; Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:10).

2. Humans are distinct/unique

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). 

In creating us, God not only gave us the ability to love and enjoy companionship with one another and himself, but he also made us distinct in two ways. First, as mentioned above, mankind is made in God’s image. And from Genesis, we learn that human beings are distinct because we are the only part of God’s creation that he specifically made in his image. 

Second, God made us distinct in terms of biology. As Genesis 1:27 tells us, God designed us as either male and female. These distinctions in biological sex are apparent in many ways, including our DNA and external features. Each sex is unique, and various aspects of God’s nature are displayed in both men and women. Ultimately, these distinctions are an important part of the mystery of the gospel, particularly when they are on display in a one flesh union between a husband and a wife. 

As the New Testament explains, the male and female marriage relationship is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. Paul writes of the mysterious, holy complexity of the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:32: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church.” Long before Christ’s incarnation, God purposefully created humanity as male and female and designed the marriage union to display truths about himself. 

Biological sex in every individual is one aspect of God’s design that proclaims his creativity and gives us a clearer picture of his image. The distinct features each human bears remind us that no life is ever interchangeable, replaceable, or worthless.

3. Humans are commissioned

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). 

Every person has a designated role as a steward and cultivator over the earth. God gave Adam a job: to have children, to subdue the ground, and to rule over the other living creatures. Each of us can subdue, or tame, the earth through all kinds of vocations, but this command reveals that God has designed a place and a purpose for each of us (Eph. 2:10). God has included in our makeup the ability to procreate, desires and determination to care for and protect our families — with specific callings designed for husband and wife — to produce things that are good and useful, and to assert leadership in various settings. In order to preserve ourselves and care for loved ones, we employ different gifts and talents that add value to the world and subsequently seek the good of our neighbors. 

God sets his image-bearers above creation and other created beings in giving us vocations. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is widely taught and accepted, observing the phenomenon of trade as an obvious outlier from the way animals relate. Smith is merely observing what has been woven into creation — God has uniquely commissioned his image-bearers to work and care for his good creation, and even the marketplace puts his creative design on display.

Conclusion

The special care God took in setting humans apart from other created beings is why a Christian understanding of human dignity is important when considering issues of justice. Slavery, genocide, abortion, and exploitation of all kinds are tragic displays of treating other humans as utilities. But God’s unmistakable genius in each of our bodies, minds, hearts, and personalities denies any attempt to devalue a human’s worth. These practices are considered “inhumane” because they treat people as a means to an end, more like subordinate animals than respected brothers and sisters.

As Christians, we must defend the vulnerable on the grounds that humans are image-bearers; there is no amount of privilege or power that makes a man or woman more or less valuable. Physical distinctions are often a barrier to relationships and an excuse for sinful and exploitative uses of authority, but the Bible makes no distinction when it comes to a person’s value; every person bears the imago Dei, and every person matters.

When God finished creating heaven, earth, and us, he called his masterpiece “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Long ago, God defined our worth so sinful humans wouldn’t be responsible for determining the value of a life. From conception to death, humans have dignity, eminence, and significance because we are the only creatures God made in his image. We may not understand the full picture of the imago Dei until we are face to face with God in heaven, but we do see God’s image reflected in how humans are relational, distinct, and commissioned.

By / Jun 14

The study of Christian ethics is an underdeveloped area within the evangelical tradition, as many of the resources on biblical ethics come from the Roman Catholic moral tradition. While this is an area that has seen a recent surge of interest in the last few decades, there are several older works that the church would do well to pick up and read with a discerning mind. One of these volumes, written in the 1950s, is Principles of Conduct by theologian John Murray. 

It may seem odd to look back at a past work on biblical ethics given the rapidly shifting culture all around the church today. But many of these works are not only prescient in their insights but remind today’s believers that the core of the Christian moral tradition remains unchanged from generation to generation. This is because the biblical witness and the metaphysical realities do not fluctuate with the passing winds of society.

John Murray spent nearly his entire teaching career at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he taught systematic theology from 1930 to 1966. He began his teaching career at Princeton Theological Seminary, studying under J. Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos. He left Princeton after one year to help found Westminster Seminary. He is the author of numerous works, including Redemption: Accomplished and Applied and an exposition of Romans in the New International Commentary on the New Testament. 

Although the present volume is one of his only primary works on ethics, originally delivered as the 1955 Payton Lectures at Fuller Theological Seminary, Murray serves as a seasoned and experienced model of Christian ethics, offering readers a robust biblical ethic that is refreshingly grounded in God’s Word and focused on the “goodness, purity, and holiness” that flows from a life lived in pursuit of godliness (11). 

The biblical ethic

Murray’s work is primarily organized around the creation ordinances of marriage (the sexual union) and labor before shifting to the sanctity of life (focusing primarily on the death penalty, warfare, and seeking justice as a society) and truth-telling (lying, social order, and Jesus as the Truth). These topics are followed by chapters on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the relationship of law and grace, and the dynamic of the biblical ethic and the fear of God. The 1957 volume also contains four appendices on various scriptural questions and two essays on slavery in the Presbyterian Church in the USA and antinomianism. 

One of the most striking features of the book comes at the outset. The subtitle of the book is Aspect of Biblical Ethics. But almost immediately, Murray states that his goal is “to show the basic unity and continuity of the biblical ethic” (7, emphasis mine). This shift from the plural to the singular biblical ethic is strategic because he is focused on showing readers that there is a single ethic that arises from the biblical text, not multiple truths or conflicting accounts. This ethic not only considers the individual, but he states that there is a “corporate responsibility and there is corporate action” (13). This action flows from Scripture, which does not solely focus on the individual’s heart or relationship with God, but also on the corporate nature of the church and society.

This work was heavily influenced by Geerhardus Vos and the biblical theology movement. Vos’ 1954 work, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, significantly shaped Murray, as well as his approach to ethics. His stated goal is to apply the biblico-theological methods to the ethic of Scripture (7). Murray agrees with Vos that biblical theology is the “process of self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.” Vos is highlighted throughout the volume as Murray dissects various themes and passages in Scripture, building this biblical ethic. For Murray, the Bible has an organic unity of divine revelation “of which the Bible itself is the depository” (9). The sum of this revelation is found in the greatest commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Murray states at the beginning that the people of God are commanded to love God and love neighbor, which speaks to the deontological focus of Murray’s understanding of the biblical ethic. This theme is reiterated throughout the volume and featured prominently again near the end where Murray reminds readers that these commands have often “been used (we should say abused) as vague generalizations to conceal antipathy to the particulars of divine demand which these commandments require us to fulfill” (227). This two-fold emphasis on the actual text of Scripture and the pursuit of godliness is foundational to Murray’s entire work and serves as one of the primary strengths of the volume.

While Murray does not touch on some of the moral modern moral issues we have become accustomed to seeing in books on ethics, the principles he articulates are directly applicable to today’s complexities. For example, his emphasis on truth in chapter 6 is directly applicable today given the rise of conspiracy theories and misinformation with the ubiquity of social media and digital communication today. The church would do well to heed the biblical ethic charted by Murray as we seek to apply the timeless truths of Christianity to the important matters of today.

Foundational truths

One of Murray’s primary concerns for the church and her moral witness is shown in how he models a robust, biblical, and theological foundation especially in regard to the relationships of law and grace, epitomized in how many pit the Old and New Testaments against one another in some formulations of Christian ethics. Murray sees this move as a misunderstanding springing from a misinterpretation of Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14, which may lead some to create a false division between the Mosaic economy and covenant in relation to the new covenant found in the New Testament. (195) Murray focused this debate over law and grace on the fulfillment of the law in Christ, as well as on the constant call toward a life of godliness for the believer and by extension the entire church. He brilliantly states, “the fear of God is the soul of godliness,” which encapsulates the biblical ethic he models of seeing God as the center of the Christian life and the Scriptures as divine revelation calling God’s people to live in light of the gospel in every aspect of their lives. (229) Grace doesn’t free us from obligation, but nor does duty bring about salvation.

While this robust and thoroughly biblical volume is a testament to Murray’s own teaching career, one area of weakness is that the volume lacks a substantive discussion of the imago Dei and its implications on the biblical ethic, even though the concept of human dignity is prevalent throughout the work. Opening the book with the biblical ordinances would have been even more forceful had he set a foundation of the value of each human being as created in God’s image. As mentioned, human dignity is touched on numerous times in the work, but Murray doesn’t delve into the doctrine or show how it functions within the biblico-theological storyline. Though this omission could be based on how Murray seeks to stick to the biblical theological thread since the Bible does not spend considerable amounts of time on the doctrine even though, based on creation, it undergirds the entirety of the biblical ethic.

Overall, Murray’s volume on the biblical ethic is a classic text within the Reformed moral and ethical tradition for good reason. While he doesn’t address every particular issue of Christian ethics, he lays a solid foundation, grounded in God’s unchanging word and a deep knowledge of the Scriptures unlike many modern treatments of Christian ethics which tend to be organized around issues but lack an in-depth exposition of the Scriptures themselves. He does not simply apply Scripture to ethical debates but rather walks through the text showing their ethical value and calling upon God’s people to pursue a life of godliness. Murray’s ultimate vision for Christians ethics is that “the ethics of the bible reflect the character of God,” thus God’s people are to seek to become more like God as his unique image bearers as they follow him. (202)

By / May 3

If you’ve not heard the word “neurodiversity” yet, you might soon — and I trust your life will be richer for it. Neurodiversity identifies people whose brains and bodies process information differently than much of the population. 

The fall of mankind means that we live in a world where our bodies and brains don’t function perfectly. Even though that is the case, the dignity of all humans as image-bearers of our triune God should still be affirmed and celebrated within the body of Christ. So why does it feel like many of us have been waiting too long to hear the church speak to these issues in a meaningful way?

We’ve been trained to see diagnoses like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or sensory processing disorder as purely deficit-based, measuring people negatively against a set of normal brain functions. But advocacy on the part of neurodiverse people themselves is beginning to flip the script. And fortunately, our society is beginning to see the value of people with neurological variations instead of seeing those people as problems. For Christians, this is welcomed news. We, of all people, should be able to see the beautiful way that God uses us in the midst of our challenges, difficulties, and sufferings.

Looking for love in unfamiliar places

Author, hip hop artist, Christian, and autism advocate Sho Baraka raps in a verse of Propaganda’s “I Ain’t Got An Answer” and captures the tension of life in a neurodiverse household as a parent of two sons diagnosed with autism:

It’s apparent sometimes I think I’ve failed as a parent. 
And my son having autism is rough.
But maybe he don’t speak cuz words don’t say much.

Maybe he don’t need words to communicate his love.
And sometimes his silence causes me to stumble.
It’s possible he’s a version of me that’s more humble.
And I think my child finds more joy in playin with my phone,Than playin’ on his own.
Will he shed a tear when I’m gone?
I’m wrestling with the shame of an outsider view of me,
Cause life is the spotlight on my own insecurities.
But I know his laugh, it lights up a thousand rooms.
And when he speaks to me it just like a flower blooms.

Baraka has shared publicly about how initially he didn’t want to disclose his boys’ diagnosis, wrestling with the world’s expectations of his boys and of him as a parent. Once he used his platform to share his family’s story, though, he said he received hundreds of notes from others saying he made their family feel represented.

Similarly, in his new book, Disability and the Church, Atlanta pastor Lamar Hardwick recalls a dual reaction when he shared his diagnosis and changed his Facebook page to “The Autism Pastor.” Being honest about his autism with his congregation opened the door for many families who — seeing the label — felt comfortable going to his church because they knew they would be cared for and prayed over, and that their worth would be acknowledged by “having a seat at the table.” While Hardwick says he respects people’s right to disclose or not disclose their diagnosis, he has been hurt by other Christians who indicated it would be better for him as a leader not to identify so freely as someone with autism.

Hardwick knows firsthand that “families and individuals with special needs don’t need us to rush them through the valley. They need us to walk with them slowly and deliberately . . . . Good shepherds go at a pace that works best for their flock.” 

I can attest from my own experience that the pastors who best understand my sister (who is neurodiverse) are the ones who themselves have children with disabilities. The level of patience and kindness they demonstrate is always from a place of knowing. I’ve also seen too often that such empathy is a rare commodity in the church. 

What can you do? 

If families with special needs are the most underrepresented demographic in the church, how can churches reach out to, get to know better, or shepherd neurodiverse families? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Don’t pathologize — Do some research

Neurodiversity is not one-size-fits-all and doesn’t necessarily always come with an official diagnosis. Spend time listening to neurodiverse people and reading some books on the subject.  You may be surprised to find out just how inaccurate and hurtful some ideas you have about ADHD (“That just means he’s hyper all the time”), autism (“Oh, he’s like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, right?”), dyslexia (“She’s just a slow reader”) are — let alone the pain that comes with dismissal (“Those aren’t real problems; it’s all overdiagnosed”). 

If you have a friend who has been diagnosed (or perhaps their child or a relative has), ask if they are comfortable sharing. If so, ask what things they enjoy about themselves and about neurodiversity in everyday life. Read websites from autistic people, people with ADHD, or dyslexia, and you will see that every story is unique.  

Several churches in my hometown of Chattanooga have “buddy programs” or “parents’ night out” to help make care and love for special needs families part of the regular ministry of the church. They want to be known as families who open their arms to serve others who otherwise might be overlooked, and then retain them as valued members. If Christians take the time to think through their social networks (school, neighborhood, workplace, sports leagues, etc.), they might recognize that they actually know several neurodiverse people. Are we seeking out them out for community within the body of Christ, or do we see them as an inconvenience or “high-maintenance” relationships to be avoided?

2. Support and accept them like Jesus would

When I think back to some of the trauma my sister endured in public schools in the early 1990s because of her neurodiversity and other special needs, the church was often one place my family could count on to go and have people support them. Thankfully, my sister’s behavior was not always a barrier for inclusion. Yes, she might talk your ear off about snakes, medical news, or whatever she had just learned about, and her volume might be louder than you anticipated for a conversation, but everyone knew how much she loved coming to spend time with the body of Christ every week. 

To this day, people from the churches my family has been part of still take my sister to run errands or to her various volunteering jobs because she cannot drive. Neighbors ask her to dogsit. She has tutored children at the local elementary school. She longs for a reason to get up in the morning, and Christian community is one of the few places where her dignity is actively being restored.   

3. Advocate for neurodiversity in your church 

If a member of your church is chronically misunderstood because of their behavior, don’t let others ridicule them or make jokes at their expense. If someone has an nontraditional idea or suggestion about ministry and shares it with church leadership, leaders should pause and ask themselves why they are uncomfortable with the out-of-the-box thinking or inconvenience before they say no. 

Neurodiverse people are very aware of power dynamics because too many are used to having their actions misinterpreted by those in authority. Youth leaders need to be especially vigilant and proactive about advocating for inclusion where possible by educating parents and children on issues of disability and acceptance. 

The easiest way to advocate for neurodiversity is to encounter it from an asset-based approach — ask what strengths the person brings to the church body before asking what they may lack.

Three years ago, my husband and I joined a new church to be closer to home. One of the big draws there was the wide range of neurodiversity represented in the congregation. Parents were open about their children and diagnoses, including our pastor’s son. It has been a major encouragement to see our daughter, who is diagnosed with ADHD, feel represented and understood by other parents and peers when she comes to church. This gives me hope that others will see that kind of inclusion as foundational to the church’s mission, and I pray that the Lord will give us his heart for those the world often leaves out.

By / Mar 30

At the very core of who we are exists a deep desire and fundamental need for connection, belonging, and security found only within relationships. This eternal truth can be traced back to the very beginning of time.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

God’s design for connection

The community between the Father, Son, and Spirit is imprinted on the human soul—we bear the imago Dei, “image of God.” As the creation narrative unfolds, God reflects on his creation of Adam, remarking, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God’s response to Adam’s solitude is the creation of Eve, Adam’s partner. The height of joy and depth of trust experienced through loving relationships and secure attachment are fundamentally God’s idea and God’s design. 

More than 2,000 years later, we take our place in history longing for connection—remembering this foundational truth and holding onto this eternal hope for ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and perhaps most importantly for our children. Yes, God created us to be in relationship—at peace with him, with others, and in our hearts. And yet, with the fall of mankind into sin, we now experience the pain of broken relationships and the vulnerability of isolation. This is the painful reality for many of the children Show Hope seeks to serve—children who have been orphaned. 

It is not uncommon for children who come home through adoption and foster care to have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, trauma, loss, and/or neglect. As these children enter our families and our stories intertwine with theirs, tensions may surface. We must ask ourselves, How do we effectively communicate the truth of the gospel—an invitation into a forever relationship with Christ—to our children who may carry attachment injuries and associate belonging and connection with fear?

As scientific research expounds, our understanding of the human brain is only beginning to grasp the fullness and complexities of God’s design. And as only God could design, the human brain is pliable and can be rewired. Developmental psychologist and advocate for children Dr. Karyn Purvis once said, “Our children were harmed in relationship, and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” When we step into the journey of caring for children who have been affected by early loss and trauma, an incredible invitation is extended. We have the opportunity to help rewrite the narrative—to help lead our children to places of emotional, physical, and neurological healing by being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Furthermore, by choosing to love children from difficult beginnings, we are afforded a front-row seat as God’s miraculous work unfolds. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the sacredness, beauty, and peace of imago Dei is reimagined and reaffirmed as our children become at home with our love. 

Surely, no one person could do this work alone or without the encouragement and support of a wider community. This is why Show Hope’s Pre+Post Adoption Support exists. We understand—as many of you do—that the adoption journey doesn’t end the day a child is welcomed home. Because of the difficult beginnings many of our children have experienced, we must work diligently to help them reimagine home and experience belonging and connection.  

Learn how to build trust and connection with vulnerable children

Families affected by adoption and/or foster care can benefit from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU, which exists to bring attachment and connection in families. TBRI “is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.” At its core, TBRI works to promote trust and connection between caregivers and children by addressing physical and emotional needs while also disarming fear-based behavior. 

And, so, while TBRI may be perceived as clinical in nature as it involves the complexities of science, at Show Hope, we believe that at its core, TBRI is an expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, with Michael and Amy Monroe, wrote, 

The longing of the human heart is to connect and belong. We long to connect with our Creator, in whose image we have been made, and by God’s grace such a connection is possible. As relational beings, we also have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human conditions is undoubtedly between a parent and child.

Build a community of support

Another practical step in serving and equipping families and caregivers is launching a support or small group for individuals and parents affected by adoption and/or foster care within your church or faith community. Perhaps you can begin meeting weekly or monthly in prayer, study, and conversation. A great resource to walk through is Created to Connect. This study guide sheds light and goes deeper into the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and interventions detailed in The Connected Child by Drs. Purvis and Cross. 

As part of that support or small group, recruit volunteers who can be on-call to help meet the everyday needs of adoptive and/or foster care families. It can be as simple as setting up a meal train for heavy, busy seasons of life or offering childcare for parents to have a night out for reconnecting. The adoption and/or foster care journey is not meant to be traveled alone. As a local church or individuals, we have the opportunity to come alongside children and families in service and support. 

Find hope for the journey

Show Hope’s new Hope for the Journey Conference will premiere on Friday, April 9, with a broadcast period through Mon., May 31. The conference includes training in TBRI, a new teaching component called The Gospel + TBRI, and Practical Perspectives videos featuring the voices of adult adoptees and foster youth alumni as well as adoptive and foster families. The conference targets parents and caregivers meeting the everyday needs of children impacted by adoption and/or foster care, and remains a resource for churches, agencies, and other organizations as they support and equip the families, caregivers, and the communities they serve. It can be a great opportunity to educate volunteers on the needs of children and families affected by adoption and/or foster care. 

Will you join with us in showing up and showing hope?

By / Mar 24

[Note: In light of the subject matter of this post, I feel obligated to warn that the content and language is intended for a mature audience. My goal is not to offend, but only to edify, encourage, and proclaim the sometimes-all-too-frank biblical truth. Though I acknowledge the ever-growing porn addiction among women, I will be speaking as a man to other men simply because the problem of porn runs all the more rampant among men.]

The problem of porn has been crippling churches for years. I’m not here to pick up my stones and throw them. In the vein of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, I couldn’t begin to lob the first one. This article is for myself, my best friends, the pastors in my life, my mentors, and you, because what we’re seeing in the porn industry is unprecedented. I am writing in hopes the Spirit might prick the heart of a calloused generation and extend grace to the wounded and weary sinner. I am writing so that broken men might see the reasons why their habits will break others. I am writing because the problem of porn has led so many men astray from the assurance of God’s love.

Let’s begin with some statistics on porn. At the time of writing, Covenant Eyes reports that over 90% of teens and young adults are “either encouraging, accepting, or neutral” when they talk about porn with their friends. Of adults 25 and older, only 55% have a moral concern with the use of pornography. Even more dire are the numbers inside the church: Covenant Eyes also reports that one in five youth pastors and one in seven senior pastors use porn on a regular basis. Sixty-four percent of Christian men watch porn monthly, while 15% of Christian women do the same. 

There’s no sugar-coating it—these numbers are unnerving. What we are facing is no longer just a struggle with holiness; we are in the midst of a cultural crisis. We are in the middle of an age where secularism and church culture are often indistinguishable. Sin is seeping into our congregations, and it poses a future-shattering question that we need to address before it’s too late: “What does an entire generation of fathers and pastors raised on porn look like?”

The Church needs to face this new reality head on. Humankind has contended with the sins of adultery and lust ever since the Fall, but Paul never had to urge Timothy to stay off of PornHub or give up his smartphone. We’ve never had this kind of access before. And it is precisely because this is such a new problem that we cannot fail to consider what the long-term effects may be. I want to share three with you.

1. The sterilization of the faculties of love and imagination

C.S. Lewis lived 33 years before the internet, and he still foresaw the effects of the porn culture. In a 1956 letter written to Keith Masson, Lewis discusses the “harem of imaginary brides” in the mind of the man who seeks to selfishly satisfy his lust.1This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. This harem “is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival.” Today, this harem has become digital. 

The man who habitually looks to porn for his affirmation, satisfaction, or fulfillment commits severe offenses against God and violates the imago Dei. In his pleasure-seeking, man takes his portion of love and wastes it on his own selfishness. 

According to James 4:4, taking heed to the passions that are at war within us turns us into a spiritually “adulterous people.” Pornography not only ruins a man’s ability to love well; it beckons toward the formation of an adulterous heart. Like an artist with clay, over time porn has the capability of repurposing the very form of our love.

Romans 1:28–31 talks about the man who sees his vain self-pleasure as preferable to God. Paul says that these people have a “debased mind.” We ruin the mind with our sinful pursuits. Like a drug, pornography rewires the mind, turning it into a machine seeking pleasure no matter the cost.2For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).

In order to fight porn, we must understand and believe the fundamental doctrine of the imago Dei, because regular porn consumption reorients the male posture toward a diminished view of women’s dignity. In consuming pornography, we take one of God’s creations and sinfully abuse it. Matt Chandler reminds us of this in a sermon on the image of God:

“Pornography is the degradation of the performers as not having souls, as not having any real value, and it is consuming their emptiness and despair for our own pleasure. It is deplorable and wicked. No little girl dreams of that growing up. If we had any idea of the horrific backgrounds we were dealing with, there’s no way we would watch and be aroused. We would be heartbroken. We’d be devastated at the molestation, at the rape, at the horrific abuse so many have endured. This is an imago Dei issue.”3From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw

These girls are often slaves by vocation, underpaid and forced into their circumstances.4See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005). The effects the industry has on women reaches as far as PTSD.5Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78. It endangers them. If you want to protect women, look inward: rid yourself of your porn addiction, no matter what it may take. Confess to your spouse, your pastor, or your brother. Put safeguards in place to aid you in moments of weakness or temptation. Reinforce the walls of your heart that are about to cave in on themselves. For the honor of God’s creation, for the celebration of the justice he so ferociously seeks, and for the sake of the vulnerable, we should be fighting vigilantly against the problem of porn.

2. The capitulation to hyper-sexualism

Pornography chips away at the conscience. There are a whole host of tangential sins related to porn use—something I have referred to in private conversations and counsel as a breed of “hyper-sexualism.”

University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus analyzed the results of the Relationships in America survey in this article titled, “Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Future.” From this survey, we can track a trajectory for the Church as it decides how to handle the problem of porn, and it doesn’t look pretty. The survey compares trends in sexuality, comparing varying views on same-sex marriage (SSM). 

When it comes to pornography, there is a significant difference between Christians who oppose SSM and Christians who support SSM — a whopping 28.8% increase in support for pornography among Christians who affirm SSM. Additionally, an increase in affirmation of porn correlates with a decrease in faithful marriage. Churchgoing Christians who oppose SSM are 2.3 times more likely to stay together when married with kids than those who affirm SSM. And they are almost 11 times less likely to take part in what the survey calls “marital infidelity.” In other words, one’s approval of porn use tells a story about one’s larger moral system; this has major implications when it comes to marriage and one’s sexual behavior. 

Personally, I have often found that among people with persistent sexual sins of all kinds (porn use, marital infidelity, homosexuality, masturbatory habits, regular sex outside of the marriage covenant, etc.), the root of their sin is not merely an attraction to a certain person or the thrill of a specific pleasure; rather, it’s a commitment to hyper-sexualism—a desire for sexual pleasure that trumps other concerns or moral commitments. 

Regular porn consumption is a dangerous game, and it cultivates a dangerous heart.

3. The cheapening of grace

More than anything else, the problem of porn cheapens the grace of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace the “justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.” By the biblical definition, this “cheap grace” cannot exist. God’s grace is costly: It required the death of a perfect man—a man whose submission to the will of his Father was greater than the sorrows of his human nature; a man who didn’t deserve anything but the greatest glorification for his perfect righteousness. God’s grace is expensive, and using it to excuse the sins you commit while surfing porn websites is wicked.

When we abuse the grace of God, we not only mock the work of Jesus on the cross but hinder our communion with him as well. To abuse God’s grace is to misunderstand it. If I have a misconstrued view of grace, I can’t rightly be joined to the Church, or grasp the significance of my baptism, or appreciate the conscience-checking boundary of the communion table. 

It’s impossible for us to understand what God wants from us if we misconstrue what Christ did for us. If we are truly Christians, we can’t cheapen the grace of God. To do so is contrary to both the character of his disciples and the purpose for the grace he gave to us. Grace does more than save us from hell; grace is a means of God’s everlasting arms reaching out to embrace us, rescuing us from our captivity to sin, and reminding us to find our identity in him.

Grace exists for the porn addict. Grace exists for sinful men. And grace alone can save us. But it is absolutely costly. We should refuse to mock it. Christian men must combat the problem of porn until its spark can no longer light the kindle of our sinful hearts.

The redeeming hope of the cross

God didn’t leave us to fight this battle on our own. He sent his Son for our sake. The Creator of the universe cares about the problem of porn. Sinning against God — whether contemplating murder or lustfully clicking our way to a porn site — is an act of what R.C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason.” Even still, he gives us grace for even our most shameful, despicable sins. The redeeming hope of the cross is that we can’t sin our way out of God’s love. There is forgiveness in the man Jesus Christ—and his forgiveness sets us free.

John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you,” and he couldn’t have been more right. The problem of porn will not go away on its own. We have to fight it. We have to put on the whole armor of God. We have to mortify our sin. 

This article was originally published on April 6, 2015.

  • 1
    This letter is found in volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis.
  • 2
    For more on this, see Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, especially pp. 102–104. See also Steven Pace, “Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users,” M/C Journal, 17(1).
  • 3
    From “A Beautiful Design (Part 2) – In His Image,” available here: https://youtu.be/2NOjzdPkefw
  • 4
    See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Pornography as Trafficking, 26 Michigan Journal of International Law, 993 (2005).
  • 5
    Corita R. Grudzen, Ryan, G., Margold, W., Torres, J., & Gelberg, L., “Pathways to health risk exposure in adult film performers.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:1 (2009), 67–78.
By / Mar 15

Often when the secular world speaks of evangelicals, these Christians are caricatured as lacking education, social and historical awareness, and even a realistic understanding of the way the world actually works. In 1957, the esteemed theologian Carl F.H. Henry wrote Christian Personal Ethics to equip the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and to engage the apparent hostility demonstrated by elites toward evangelical thought. Henry wrote this comprehensive account of Christian personal ethics in a period some have called a revival of fundamentalist scholarship. Henry’s treatise on Christian ethics was written as an introductory text for seminaries, colleges, and those desiring to be equipped to engage the debates surrounding philosophy, epistemology, and especially the role of the Bible in ethics. Henry’s aim was to expose the “severance of ethics from fixed values and standards” in modern culture, and show the ways that a Christian ethic must be rooted in the Word of God (13).

Henry was the founding editor of Christianity Today and served as a professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. He authored the influential six-volume work, God, Revelation, and Authority, which he completed in 1983. He also wrote a number of other works including a companion volume to the present work called Aspects of Christian Social Ethics. The present volume was designed to address the personal aspects of Christian ethics. In the book, Henry walks the reader through a host of alternative ethical systems, showing readers the inherent faults of these systems in light of the moral revelation of Christianity. For Henry, “ethics is the incisive and universal requisite for survival,” meaning that ethics is essential to human existence (13).

Defining a Christian Ethic

In this work, Henry describes and analyzes the contours of a variety of ethical formulations and then lays out what he describes as a neo-evangelical ethic based on the presuppositions of Reformed theology. In the first section, which he describes as speculative philosophy, he walks the reader through an examination of naturalistic, idealistic, and existential ethics. Under each ethical system, he engages with many of the great ancient Greek philosophers as well as many modern figures such as Machiavelli, Spinoza, Kant, and Heidegger. While his critiques of these ethical systems are pointed at times, Henry’s wisdom and thoughtfulness is evident as he points out aspects of their thought that align with Christian revelation. Henry is quick to give credit to these various thinkers when they pick up a thread of truth. For example, he writes that the “world did not need to wait for Utilitarianism to assert that benevolence is good, that whatever imperiled the public good was not virtuous, that true morality tends to the welfare of the social whole. The revealed morality of the Bible had affirmed all of this” (41). Throughout the work, Henry reiterates the role of God’s revelation that shapes and produces a distinctly Christian ethic.

The second section of the book sets out Henry’s vision for Christian ethics, which is grounded in God’s revealed Word and in the life of the local church. A key aspect of Henry’s vision for Christian ethics is tied to the role of the imago Dei, which sets man apart from the rest of creation as one with reason and morality. Being image bearers, no human being can “escape ethical responsibility” (151). Henry speaks of the uniqueness of the Christian ethic based in love as the summation of the law and prophets referencing the double love command of Matthew 22:37-39 (221). He then shifts to walk through the Christian ethic as seen in the Old Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, and the larger New Testament canon. He ultimately argues that Jesus is the ideal of Christian ethics and that Christ’s humility is the hallmark of ethics, which “stands over against the high-mindedness and pride which speculative ethics approved” (417). He ends on an interesting note for a work of Christian ethics, speaking to the role of prayer in the life of the believer. Prayer is not just “the individual’s acknowledgement of creaturely dependence, but the whole souled confession that his true hope is in the supernatural world” (573). This conclusion reiterates the uniqueness of Christian ethics in a world that has been deluded with selfish ambition, pride, and haughty individualism.

The Role of Revelation

Henry speaks of Christian ethics as a revealed ethic given by God to his people, who are sinful and in rebellion. Henry states that, “Biblically-revealed ethics dismiss as shallow all evaluations of the ethical situation which hesitate to view sin, death, and Satan as determinative categories” (172). Henry’s emphasis on the role of revelation, specifically special revelation, is central to the work along with his emphasis on the fallen nature of humanity. The moral revelation of Scripture is key to defining a Christian ethic because it grounds the believer in God’s truth as he lives in the created world. “Christianity stresses the unity of Truth, and the universal validity of the Good and Right, and the universality of rational norms, along with its emphasis on special revelation, because it sets special revelation against the background of general revelation” (149). This interplay between general and special revelation is one of the most striking aspects of Henry’s Christian ethic because of the firm stance he takes regarding the role of natural law in Christian ethics, which he stridently opposes but interestingly leans upon at various points in the work.

Henry points out that an ethic of natural morality is inherently flawed and “ruled out” given the fallen state of humanity (159), but also speaks of the “implanted moral law” in humanity (154). He points out how the ethics of special revelation are not a straight-line continuity with the Thomistic tradition of confident rationalism (156), which seems to be his biggest point of concern with natural law ethics. He argues that the Thomistic tradition fails to deal realistically with the fact of a fallen human nature (196), especially as some who hold to natural law speak of the disordered will and desires of humanity, but do not emphasize the same effect of the fall on human reason. He goes on to state that, “Because Christian ethics is the ethics of special and not of universal revelation, it is not immanently accessible to all men on the basis of creation” (203).

Another of Henry’s critique of natural law ethics similarly flows from his high view of sin that extends to all of nature. He states that nature itself is sinful and split, which cannot lead one to conformity to God’s will (196). This is a consistent message throughout the work, especially as Henry rightfully exposes the flaws and dangers of naturalistic ethics earlier. While he is consistent with his emphasis on the fullness of the fall’s effects upon nature and humanity, this conflation of natural law ethics and naturalism seems a bit stretched in his critique of the Thomistic tradition. It seems that Henry actually holds to a similar understanding of natural law ethics, even if he does not use the same terminology or understand it to be salvific in any way.  This is clear as he argues, “The good and true may come through distorted and stretched. And men everywhere, who are also stamped with the image, acknowledge as good and true what reflects that image, even if sometimes in a crude way” (477).  To his credit, Henry is seeking to emphasize the particularity of the Christian ethic throughout this work, and his critique of natural law seems to be focused on defining this particularly rather than a blanket statement on the role of natural revelation in the Christian life. 

Overall, Christian Personal Ethics provides a wealth of knowledge for readers as it takes a broad approach to defining a distinctly Christian ethic in light of the multitude of ethical systems available. Henry’s engagement with these non-Christian ethics is accessible and trustworthy as he defines Christian ethics with an emphasis on the role of special revelation and the transformed life of the individual. Henry’s ending to the work on the role of prayer in a Christian ethics is laudable as well given the utter dependence of the believer on God for all things, including an understanding of morality in the first place.