Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
The Grace and Truth Paradox
by Randy Alcorn Multnomah Books 2003 / 92 pages I was just chatting with a friend, and we discovered we've both been handing out Randy Alcorn boo...
Pro-life - Abortion
Does the birth control pill cause abortions?
Our Father knits us together in our mothers’ wombs in a very unique way that has never been duplicated in all of history. A new human being is created when the sperm fertilizes the egg and after this combination of the male’s and female’s separate chromosomes there are no major additions. The sperm and the egg cannot exist or develop on their own, but once joined this new human will simply require the right environment and the right nourishment to grow and continue to develop through varying degrees of dependency and independence onward through their lifespan. God has created and guides this wonderful process, and so another person is made in His image, for His purpose and to live to His pleasure and glory. What this article is not about When God puts this privilege in our lives we also must act responsibly with it. Many Christians have used the birth control pill with the intentions of planning their family under God’s guidance. Their intentions were and are to please God with their family and to live responsibly in His kingdom. There have been many controversies about many types of contraceptives and some have questioned the use of any contraceptives, wondering if they are being used in an improper attempt to “play God.” But that isn’t a topic that will be dealt with in the scope of this article. Instead, the birth control pill will be examined closely to determine whether or not there are any other reasons Christians should question this particular contraceptive's use in family planning. Abortifacient or contraceptive? It is now being suggested that the pill is an abortifacient and not a contraceptive. The difference is significant: abortifacients actually take the life of a preborn child at some stage between the instant of fertilization and birth, whereas contraceptives prevent the sperm from actually meeting the egg and fertilizing it. The birth control pill has changed over the years. Initially it was produced as a “progesterone-only pill” (POP). This was a high-level dose of progesterone which would alter the cervical mucus and also interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb. These are now widely known as abortifacient pills because they interfere with the implantation of any fertilized ovum and thus directly result in the termination of the life of that zygote stage human. They are now rarely used because of the dangerous side effects to women. They are in fact now marketed as the “morning-after pill” because this high dose of progesterone serves to prevent the newly formed human from receiving its vital nutritive connection from the mother through the endometrium (the tissue lining the uterus). Today the vast majority of birth control pills prescribed are the “combination oral contraceptives” (COP) which are a combination of progesterone and estrogen. Although these are safer for the women using them, they are less effective at preventing ovulation, and thus preventing fertilization, because they are a lower dose. Therefore COP’s work on three levels (as stated by the Physicians Desk Reference from the Food and Drug Administration): inhibiting ovulation (the primary mechanism) thickening the cervical mucus and thereby making it more difficult for the sperm to meet the egg thinning the endometrial lining so that the fertilized egg is less able or unable to implant in the womb. It is at this third level that the pill’s effect is abortifacient. But does this third level happen? This has been hotly debated by non-Christian and Christians in the medical world. Some say that because the chance for this last method to occur is so infinitesimally small it is not significant. Some have contended that if ovulation and then fertilization occurs in a person using the pill the subsequent hormone production in the mother’s body will rejuvenate the endometrium, thus allowing implantation and no unintended abortion will occur. They also have stated that there is not enough medical evidence to prove that the endometrium will actually be hostile to an implanting fertilized egg because there is a seven-day span between when conception occurs and implantation occurs, enough time for the endometrium to recover. They state that this is the reason some women have still been able to become pregnant while using the pill. It has been countered that there is no medical evidence available to suggest that the endometrium recovers. In fact, studies done on the use of the pill and breakthrough ovulation suggest the opposite, that the endometrium is still indeed thin and unable to support life. It is also noted that medical studies have clearly shown the endometrial lining is as little as 1.1 mm in thickness with women on the pill, whereas 5-13 mm thickness is necessary for sustaining a pregnancy. Normally it takes women a number of regular cycles while not taking the pill for the endometrial lining to restore to full thickness. Alternatives There have also been those who say that because the women using the pill are not intending to cause an abortion they cannot be held at fault. However Christian ethicists have suggested that intentions would indeed make this valid only if there were no other viable options for family planning (assuming also that family planning is in accord with God’s will). There are indeed other family planning options available for Christians who, knowing that the pill could be abortifacient, will not take it. There are natural family planning techniques available, such as the NaPro’ method and the Billings Ovulation Method. Studies have proven these to actually be more effective than the birth control pill at planning pregnancies, and also have been shown to improve the quality of the husband and wife relationship through qualitative studies. More research is needed on the abortifacient effects of the birth control pill because at this point one can not quantitatively argue that the birth control pill will cause “x” number of abortions. It is unlikely, however, that these studies will necessarily occur because the pharmaceutical companies would be unlikely to fund them. Also, they could quickly become unethical as would any study that involves the life of a child and involves trying to control and imitate the causes of death in the life of that child. Conclusion As always, prayerful consideration should be made in this matter. We cannot be ignorant of the facts surrounding the birth control pill and although many of us would rather not be faced with this we must as God’s children sanctify the life that he has given us and to all others around us. For more information and for the sources of this article please see the following sources: Randy Alcorn’s book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? which can be downloaded for free here Dr. Walter Larimore’s article The Growing Debate About the Abortifacient Effect of the Birth Control Pill and the Principle of the Double Effect The Canadian Physicians for Life ProLife Physicians’ A Declaration of Life A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here. ...
Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction
Devilish correspondence: Lord Foulgrin’s and Screwtape’s letters
THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS200 pages / 1942by C. S. Lewis &LORD FOULGRIN'S LETTERS208 pages / 2001by Randy Alcorn Some 75 years ago, as C. S. Lewis reports it, he intercepted correspondence between two devils, the one a senior demon and the other his student being taught how best to tempt and attack Man. While Lewis refused to share how he’d come by these letters, the published correspondence was eye-opening, giving insight into how the Devil can twist not only our weaknesses, but even our strengths, to his devilish ends. So, for example, we get to listen in as the experienced tempter Screwtape teaches his charge, Wormwood to sidetrack prayer, either by making it perfunctory – perhaps done regularly, but with little to no thought – or by making it feelings, rather than God, focused. Either diversion will do. While Lewis wrote (or discovered) The Screwtape Letters during World War II, it remains as insightful and as helpful as ever. But it was also a book worthy of imitation, and nearly 60 years later Randy Alcorn did just that, with his Lord Foulgrin’s Letters. However, while Lewis stuck strictly to devilish correspondence, Alcorn alternates between letters and story chapters – it is half mail, and half narrative. The narrative sections make Alcorn’s book a little more accessible for a teen audience, while, on the other hand, Lewis’ is the more insightful, which also makes it the most satisfying of the two for adults. But both are excellent. One caution: both books have an Arminian flavor, and, as my brother Jeff points out, “whether this Arminian tendency is simply the devil’s mistaken understanding is not clear, but Lewis at least seemed to be Arminian in his other writing.” That means, while both books can serve as a warning of the devil’s many means of attack, there’s at least a few that Lewis and Alcorn overlook. I understand that some might find the devilish focus of both books disturbing. It might seem wrong since Christians don’t normally want their children reading books about demons. What makes Alcorn’s and Lewis’ books different from the devilish taint that exists in so much of today’s entertainment (Hellboy, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, DC Legends of Tomorrow, etc.) is that Lewis and Alcorn expose, but don’t celebrate, the darkness. They are equipping readers to be aware of the Devil, not asking them to join him. That’s quite the difference indeed. Below is a 8 minute adaptation/preview of Lewis's "The Screwtape letters." ...
Adult non-fiction, Theology
Heaven: what can we know?
A summary review of Randy Alcorn's Heaven **** Christians don't seem to speak about Heaven as much as in the past. There is more interest in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth than in preparing for the afterlife. SLOPPY THINKING When Christians do think about Heaven, they seem disconnected from the Scriptures. According to popular thought, where Christians go when they die is the same place they will spend eternity. Even contemporary believers base their thinking on Heaven more on sloppy, syrupy, sentimental television programs than on any clear teaching of Scripture. There is a hint in our attitude toward Heaven that it will be "angelic," that we will end up playing harps on a misty cloud in the "heavens." We will be wearing long white robes, and talking pious talk forever and ever. Some even picture Heaven as a boring place. But these conventional caricatures of Heaven do a terrible disservice to God and adversely affect our relationship with Him. Heaven is not a sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever. Hell will be deadly boring. Heaven is exciting! Everything good, enjoyable, refreshing, fascinating, and interesting is derived from God. When we have an infinity of newness to explore, we can never be bored. THINKING ABOUT HEAVEN 560 pages / 2004 So why think about Heaven? Because the Scriptures remind us to think on things above. Doing so gives us insight into the brevity of our time on Earth and the value of life eternal. The doctrine of Heaven, then, should not be marginalized by the church. Rather, it should be preached, taught, studied, and loved. In calling us to this end, theologian/novelist Randy Alcorn, prolific author, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, has made a beautifully written contribution with his book Heaven. Is Heaven a real place? It's as real as a morning cup of coffee. Ah, but will we drink coffee in Heaven? Alcorn asks, "Can you think of any persuasive reason why coffee trees and coffee drinking wouldn't be part of the resurrected Earth?" His answer? "No." Despite biblical references that this Heaven and Earth will pass away, Alcorn strongly argues – from Scripture, word studies, and historical theology – that the "destruction" of the current Heaven and Earth will be temporary and partial. He firmly believes in the literal fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies about the Messiah's second coming and the New Earth because Isaiah's detailed prophecies regarding the Messiah's first coming were literally fulfilled. The ultimate fulfillment of hosts of Old Testament prophecies will be on the New Earth, where the people of God will "possess the land forever" (Isaiah 60:21). Alcorn states, therefore, that God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus. THE RESURRECTION The key to understanding the New Earth is the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus' resurrected body on Earth was physical, and that this same physical Jesus ascended to Heaven, from which he will one day return to Earth (Acts 1:11). Alcorn states that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption – both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ's resurrection and what it means – an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth – there is no Christianity. Because we know that Christ's resurrected body is physical and that our resurrected bodies will be like his, there isn't a compelling reason to assume that other physical depictions of the New Earth must be figurative. Consequently, the predominant belief that the ultimate Heaven that God prepares for us will be unearthly could not be more unbiblical. Earth was made for people to live on, and people were made to live on Earth. Alcorn also believes that Christ's redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe. "The power of Christ's resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe – mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies." THE INTERMEDIATE STATE Christians often think about Heaven as their final destination. However, this belief is not based on Scripture. Alcorn explains the difference between the present (or intermediate) Heaven, where Christians go when they die, and the ultimate, eternal Heaven, where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth. When we die in Christ we will not go to Heaven where we'll live forever. Instead, we'll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we'll wait for the time of Christ's return to Earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth. The intermediate Heaven, then, is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth. In the intermediate Heaven, being with God and seeing His face is its central joy and the source of all other joys. We will be fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other. We will know what is happening on Earth. We will be distinct individuals, living in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God's promises. We will be reunited with believing friends and family. We will be one big family. We will be aware of the passing of time. But we will never be all that God has intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in the resurrection. CHRISTOPLATONISM Why do we find it so difficult to grasp that the intermediate Heaven is not our final destination? Alcorn rightly blames the influence of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that material things, including the human body and the Earth, are evil, while immaterial things, such as the soul and Heaven, are good. He asserted that the spirit's highest destiny is to be forever free from the body. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism, came to embrace the "spiritual" view that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is, therefore, a disembodied state. From a christoplatonic perspective, therefore, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally – or even ideally – live in a disembodied state. Christoplatonism has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth. The Bible, however, contradicts Christoplatonism from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. It says that God is the Creator of body and spirit; both were marred by sin, and both were redeemed by Christ. THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH The New Heaven and Earth is a real, tangible place. The New Earth has dirt, water, rocks, trees, flowers, animals, people, rain, snow, wind, and a variety of natural wonders. An Earth without these would not be Earth. Alcorn believes there will be animals from various nations. He believes these animals have souls, though not the same type as humans. Alcorn firmly believes that we will be eating and drinking in the New Earth. However, there won't be marriages. Alcorn notes that the institution of marriage will have fulfilled its purpose. The only marriage will be between Christ and His bride – and we'll be part of it. The city at the centre of the New Earth is called the New Jerusalem. The ground level of the city will be nearly two million miles. Alcorn suggests that we will walk on streets of real gold. The New Jerusalem will be a place of extravagant beauty and natural wonders. It will be a vast Eden, integrated with the best of human culture, under the reign of Christ. More wealth than has been accumulated in all human history will be spread freely across this immense city. We will also have our own homes. In this New Earth we will also enjoy periods of rest. Alcorn says that God prescribed rest for sinless Adam and Eve, and He prescribed it for those under the curse of sin. Hence, regular rest will be part of the life to come in the new universe. Alcorn argues that there will be a government on the New Earth. The need of government didn't come about as a result of sin. God governed the universe before Satan fell. Likewise, He created mankind as his image-bearers, with the capacity for ruling, and before Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically commanded them to rule the Earth. On the New Earth there will be no sin. Therefore, all ruling will be just and benevolent, devoid of abuse, corruption, or lust for power. As co-rulers with Christ, we'll share in the glory of the sovereign ruler himself. We will become the stewards, the managers of the world's wealth and accomplishments. Alcorn believes in the transformation of the entire universe. If the new creation is indeed a resurrected version of the old, then there will be a New Venus, after all. In the same way that the New Earth will be refashioned and still be a true Earth, with continuity to the old, the new cosmic heavens will likewise be the old renewed. It will provide unimaginable territories for us to explore and establish dominion over them to God's glory. And if Christ expands His rule by creating new worlds, whom will He send to govern them on his behalf? His redeemed people. Some may rule over towns, some cities, some planets, some solar systems or galaxies. Alcorn comments, "Sound far-fetched? Not if we understand Scripture and science." CULTURE Alcorn notes that Scripture is clear that in some form, at least, what's done on Earth to Christ's glory will survive. But he also argues that cultural products of once pagan nations will be brought in by its people "proclaiming the praise of the Lord" (Isaiah 60:6). Treasures that were once linked to idolatry and rebellion will be gathered into the city and put to God-glorifying use. Alcorn believes that Isaiah and Revelation indicate that these products of human culture will play an important role on the New Earth. But the idea of bringing into the New Heaven and Earth cultural products is also a much-disputed idea. Will we still want these treasures when our whole environment will be different? He says that there will be technology, machinery, business, and commerce. There will be music, dancing, storytelling, art, entertainment, drama, and books. We will design crafts, technology, and new modes of travel. We will not only work in the New Earth, we will keep on learning. Alcorn looks forward to reading nonfiction books that depict the character of God and the wonders of his universe. "I'm eager to read new biographies and fiction that tell powerful redemptive stories, moving our hearts to worship God." Interestingly, he also believes that the Bible will be in Heaven. "Presumably, we will read, study, contemplate, and discuss God's Word." But why would there be a Bible in Heaven? The Bible serves God's people in this world as a guide for their lives and to strengthen their faith. In Heaven there is no need for the Bible. We see then God face to face. We witness then the fulfillment of His promises. ETERNAL REWARDS Alcorn argues that God will hand out different rewards and positions. He says that our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our rewards. The rewards hinge on specific acts of faithfulness on Earth that survive the believer's judgment and are brought into Heaven with us. Alcorn believes that the position of authority and the treasures we're granted in Heaven will perpetually remind us of our life on Earth, because what we do on Earth will earn us those rewards. IMAGINATION AND SPECULATION Alcorn asserts that God expects us to use our imagination in describing Heaven, even as we recognize its limitations and flaws. He states that because the Bible gives a clear picture of the resurrection and of earthly civilization in the eternal state, he is walking through a door of imagination that Scripture itself opens. He writes: "If God didn't want us to imagine what Heaven will be like, he wouldn't have told us as much about it as he has." But at times his imagination gets the best of him. He repeatedly uses the words "perhaps" and "speculation." For example, he claims that perhaps intermediate bodies in the intermediate Heaven – or at least a physical form of some sort – serve as bridges between our present bodies and our resurrected bodies. He suggests that our guardian angels or loved ones already in Heaven will be assigned to tutor us. We could also discuss ministry ideas with Luis Palau, Billy Graham, or Chuck Colson. He also argues that we will explore space. He suggests that to view the new heavens, we might travel to the far side of the moon and other places where stargazing is unhindered by light and atmospheric distortions. HEAVENLY MINDED. EARTHLY GOOD. Thinking about Heaven should impact the way we live on Earth. Alcorn comments that understanding Heaven doesn't just tell us what to do, but why. It is an incentive for righteous living to the glory of God. Anticipating our homecoming will motivate us to live spotless lives here and now. In other words, what God tells us about our future lives enables us to interpret our past and serve Him in our present life. EVALUATION Alcorn quotes frequently from the writings of many Reformed authors, including Francis Schaeffer, Al Wolters, Anthony Hoekema, Herman Ridderbos, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Cornelis Venema, Paul Marshall and Richard Mouw. He is also greatly indebted to the writings of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer. His work clearly shows the impact these scholars made on him. But Alcorn also adds his own perspectives on the life to come. He writes: "I will try to make the case carefully and biblically. There is plenty in this book for everyone to disagree with." I have already stated a few of my disagreements, so let me now state a few more. Alcorn overly quotes from his own writings. His "works equal rewards" theology is questionable. I can't find any Biblical support for his suggestion that God might create new beings for us to rule over in the afterlife. The rich concept of Sabbath rest gets short thrift – rest is not something physical; it is spiritual. It is not negative, what we do or not do, but positive, something we have. This rest is a gift from God, something we enjoy in close association with Him. I suggest that Alcorn thinks about Heaven too much from an egocentric viewpoint – focusing in on what interests us the most. With all the discussions of what we may do in Heaven, we easily forget that Heaven is the place of habitation of the Triune God. I also have questions about the purpose of Alcorn's speculations. We must not say more than Scripture. God has not revealed to us what the new cosmos will be like. We don't know anything about extra-territorial space travel. We easily forget that the apostle Paul says: "No eye has seen no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9,10). But my critical observations don't take away the appreciation I have for Alcorn's work. He gives new insights, and makes you think about the best that is yet to come for God's people. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This article first appeared in the 2005 July/August issue....