October 31, 2008

Jim Wallis, Abortion, and the Prophetic Voice

Christianity Today published an interview with Jim Wallis in May of this year discussing a number of his views on issues like abortion, marriage, and poverty. When asked about his position on abortion Wallis answered, "The abortion debate has really gotten very stale. It's a symbolic battle that takes place mostly only in election years...But the abortion question is real. It's a moral issue. The number of unborn lives that are lost every year is alarming. It's a moral tragedy..." (53). It's good to hear Wallis concerned about the abortion question. However, the interviewer goes on to ask about Wallis' advocating of a prophetic voice on social issues such as abortion comparing it to Wilberforce's battle against slavery(54). Wallis answers, "I don't think that abortion is the moral equivalent issue to slavery that Wilberforce dealt with. I think that poverty is the new slavery. Poverty and global inequality are the fundamental moral issues of our time. That's my judgment. People make the mistake of defining prophetic by politically left and right categories, and that the further left or right you are, the more prophetic you are. They're not biblically prophetic; they're politically ideological" (54).

Now, I agree that poverty is an important issue. Clearly Jesus spent a lot of time with poor people and those on the fringes of society. However, I can't imagine how anyone can think that the outright slaughter of innocent babes is not the moral equivalent of slavery. If Wallis wants to talk about the prophetic voice, how about this? If you were to do a word study on the idea of hell in the gospels, you would find that one of the words rendered as hell is Gehenna (e.g. Mark 9:43). If you find that interesting enough to track down the meaning of Gehenna, you would find that Gehenna was the valley south of Jerusalem where two Judean kings, Ahaz and Manasseh, burned sacrifices to a false god. They even burned their own sons as sacrifices to Molech (2 Chron 28:3, 33:6). Because of this, the valley was cursed and became the Jerusalem garbage dump. It was a place where the flames never went out and the stench of burning garbage never ceased. This was Jesus' image for hell. His image for eternal destruction was the burning pile of garbage on land that was cursed because Judean kings sacrificed their children there. How's that for the prophetic voice? Sometimes I think we are so calloused that I wonder if we would know the prophetic voice if it were shouting in our faces? The slaughter of defenseless children is most clearly the subject that the prophetic voice is concerned with. That is not to say that poverty is not an important issue. It is to say that poverty is not a bigger issue than abortion. The wholesale slaughter of 50 million unborn children in last 25 years is the precise subject and content of the prophetic voice. It's the sort of thing that Jesus would use as a metaphor for judgment and destruction.

October 25, 2008

Justification and Hebrew Syntax

Genesis 15:6 is a central text for the Christian doctrine of Justification. When Paul developed his understanding of Justification in Romans 4 and Galatians 3, he appealed to Genesis 15:6, "Then he (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness." This verse seems straight forward enough. However, the proper interpretation of this verse and Paul's use of it have been hotly debated. An important element of the debate lies in the meaning of "it," which in the Hebrew is attached to the verb as a third feminine singular suffix. John Piper has argued in detail that in Paul's use of this verse in Romans 4 the "it" refers to God's own righteousness which is external to the individual and which is received by faith (Counted Righteous in Christ, 69). Piper's exegesis is nuanced and is worth considering. He does deal primarily with Paul only mentioning Genesis 15:6 in passing. The other side of the debate suggests that the "it" refers to Abraham's act of believing. Abraham believed God and God credited that act of believing as righteousness. This seems like the most natural way to read Genesis 15:6 to me. The nearest antecedent to "it" in the text certainly appears to be Abraham's act of believing. Genesis 15 is not really concerned with God's righteousness. Rather, Genesis 15 seems concerned with finding a righteous person. Regardless of one's conclusions though, it is the case that the doctrine of Justification turns on the meaning of a third feminine singular Hebrew pronomial suffix. I have a professor who says that preaching is in the syntax. Genesis 15:6 demonstrates that doctrine is in the syntax also.