What Most Historians Have Gotten Wrong about the History of Pro-Life Activism

Historian Daniel K. Williams, in Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade (Oxford University Press, 2016): Most histories of postwar American politics say almost nothing about the millions of Americans who opposed abortion before Roe v. Wade. They do not mention the African Americans in Detroit, the Lutheran wheat farmers in rural North Dakota, or the Catholics in Midwestern parishes who mobilized on behalf of the unborn at the beginning of the 1970s. They do not discuss the pro-life movement’s success in defeating abortion liberalization proposals in dozens of state legislatures and ballot initiatives in 1971 and 1972. Nor do they include much information about the pro-life movement’s failures in the late 1960s—or its quiet successes a few years earlier. Williams explains what most histories of postwar American politics do instead: [They] treat the pro-life movement—if they mention it at all—only as a reaction against Roe v. Wade, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, and the growth of federal power. . . . This consensus has largely been established by historians of abortion rights activism, and the activists they study have almost invariably understood the motives of their opponents. As a result, historians have mischaracterized both the chronology of the pro-life movement and its ideological origins. Williams shows why this is wrong: Pro-life activism actually began decades before Roe v. Wade or the formation of the National Organization for Women. And it originated not as a conservative backlash against individual rights, but as a defense of human rights for the unborn. Williams goes on to look at the consequences of getting the history wrong: Because historians have misunderstood the pro-life movement’s origins, they have been unable to explain why it remains a potent political force today, long after other socially conservative, religiously inspired causes, from Prohibition to… Read More

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Why and How John Piper Does Biography

Historian John Coffey, in an insightful, critical analysis of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s use of history, noted: Few pastors have displayed such a sustained interest in both reading and promoting church history, though a similar emphasis can be seen in the writings of the contemporary American Reformed pastor John Piper, who shares many of the same passions as Lloyd-Jones. One accomplished historian at an evangelical seminary does an opening lecture for his PhD seminar on historiography entitled, “Is John Piper a historian?” Looking at Piper’s approach to and use of history can be instructive. I will attempt to summarize and evaluate Piper’s use of history as a means of edification for the Christian life. Piper’s Attraction to Biography Piper’s relationship to biography can be analyzed in accordance with his use of biographies for his own spiritual nourishment and his production of biographies for the edification of others. “Biographies,” Piper writes, “have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity.” Upon becoming pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in 1980, Piper sought out biographies in order to charge his “pastoral batteries” and to give him both guidance and encouragement. There was a season in his pastorate when Warren Wiersbe’s Walking with the Giants and Listening to the Giants greatly encouraged him in his work. “The main reason these collections of mini-biographies have been helpful is that they showed diversity of pastoral styles God has chosen to bless. There have been great and fruitful pastors whose preaching patterns, visitation habits, and personalities were so different that all of us may take courage.” Piper recognizes that “many of the most faithful and fruitful missionaries are almost completely unknown, except in the all-important books of heaven. But the lives of some have been recorded on earth.” Piper expresses gratitude for… Read More

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Ben Franklin and George Whitefield Debate the Purpose of Education

Ben Franklin and George Whitefield were a true odd couple in the history of 18th-century friendships. Whitefield was the greatest evangelical preacher of the era, while Franklin called himself a deist and doubted basic points of Christian orthodoxy. As I show in my new religious biography of Franklin, Whitefield routinely pressed Franklin about his need to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. “He used indeed sometimes to pray for my conversion,” Franklin recalled, “but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard.” Franklin and Whitefield’s clashing ideas about faith also became an issue in the founding of the Academy of Philadelphia, a predecessor of the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin’s hyperactive mind was always planning new ways to do good. By the early 1740s, he had begun to toy with the concept of an academy for Philadelphia. After some failed earlier attempts, in 1749 he published a note in the Pennsylvania Gazette explaining the need for a school where the colony’s youths could receive a “polite and learned education.” Evangelical Presbyterians, allies of Whitefield, had founded the College of New Jersey (what became Princeton) in 1746, but it was originally located some 80 miles from Philadelphia. Franklin hardly envisioned the academy as a sectarian seminary, anyway. Statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall. Matthew Marcucci, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. Drawing on John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Franklin’s Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749) laid out plans for the academy, with educational goals of virtue and practical service. Theology and ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Latin) were de-emphasized. English grammar was a primary emphasis, because it was more useful than “foreign and dead languages,” Locke had written. Historical studies, however, remained at the center of the curriculum. History, unlike Greek and Latin, inculcated practical values.… Read More

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On This Day in 1926: The Scandalous Disappearance of Preacher Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson (1890–1944) was a flamboyant, controversial, immensely popular preacher who the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel—a Pentecostal denomination which still exists today (with 1,600 churches and a quarter of a million members and adherents in the U.S.; and 75,000 churches with 8.7 million members and adherents in 136 countries). Ten years ago, Matthew Avery Sutton, the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor and Graduate Studies Director at Washington State University, produced a fascinating study entitled Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Harvard University Press, 2007). More than a standard biography—like Edith Blumhofer’s Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister or Daniel Mark Epstein’s Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson—Sutton’s work not only tells the story of Sister Aimee but also explores her theology, culture, influence, and legacy. It is a fascinating work that I highly recommend. The PBS documentary series American Experience based their Sister Aimee on Sutton’s book. He kindly answered a few questions about this enigmatic figure of fundamentalist-evangelical-Pentecostal history. I keep thinking of the tag line for the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series that begins, “What if I told you. . . .” If they did one for Aimee Semple McPherson, perhaps they’d say, “What if I told you that one of the most famous fundamentalist preachers of the 1920s and 30s was not a man but a woman, and not just any woman, but one who went through two divorces and who became something of a sex symbol.” So how did something like that happen in that day and age? It happened precisely because of the day and age. McPherson represented so many trends of the era. She helped drive the rise of a new mass media, celebrity culture. She launched her career on the heels of the first wave of feminism and the coming of woman suffrage. And she embodied—in every way—the… Read More

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Should Donald Trump Be Removed from Office?

In light of the revelations about Donald Trump ostensibly revealing classified intelligence to Russian officials, and asking James Comey to back off the Michael Flynn investigation, some conservatives (not to mention liberals) are raising the possibility of having Trump removed from office. The New York Times’s Ross Douthat has provocatively floated what he calls the “25th amendment option,” instead of impeachment. A president, Douthat argues, must possess “a reasonable level of intellectual curiosity, a certain seriousness of purpose, a basic level of managerial competence, a decent attention span, a functional moral compass, a measure of restraint and self-control. And if a president is deficient in one or more of them, you can be sure it will be exposed. Trump is seemingly deficient in them all.” David Brooks similarly argues that Trump is fundamentally childish. Douthat notes, “A child cannot be president. I love my children; they cannot have the nuclear codes.” For Douthat, these deep deficiencies rise to the level of a need for removal. He advocates employing the 25th amendment, which offers a scenario where a president can be deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Others have called such talk dangerous and elitist. What should Christian readers think about the possibility of removing Trump from office? Obviously, we should work and pray for a government that functions as well as possible, while also being realistic about the limitations of any human institution. Whatever we think about President Trump, we should certainly be praying for him and his administration in these troubled times. Anyone who has followed my writing knows that I was in the #NeverTrump camp in the fall, and Trump’s presidency has given me little reason to re-think my opposition to him as the Republican nominee. Aside from some impressive appointments, including what… Read More

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The Ultimate Imperative

Introduction Having spent quite some time thinking about the New Testament’s use of the imperative mood, and after exposing what a wide range of meanings it is used for, from requests to military-style commands, my thoughts turned to what could be called the ultimate imperative. Which is, of course,God’s own use of the command. The proclamation which does not ask for obedience because His word in and of itself has power to achieve what it declares. For example, the creation word which begins the whole Bible, and the book of Genesis – the book of ‘beginnings’. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”(Genesis ch 1 vs 3) That’s some imperative. Literally, it says “LIGHT – BE!” We just don’t have the tense flexibility to represent it properly. When you think about it, this is command at a level which is not possible for humans at all. Only God’s word can accomplish what He sends it forth to do – without agency. When we humans issue commands, we are completely dependent upon someone else receiving our command and executing it – an ‘agent’. Even if it is just the dog! Another living being has to be the recipient of the command and decide, whether coerced or not, to fulfill it. Without which, it doesn’t get done. But God doesn’t have that restriction at all. The Faith Factor  In fact, the whole essence of faith is the realisation that everything depends on this invisible word of the Almighty. Hebrews tells us: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (ch 11vs 3) That can only be ‘seen’ by faith. It’s a tacit realisation that this is the way things work. Mind-blowing, isn’t… Read More

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John’s use of ‘anomos’ in 1 John 3

Introduction Various ‘agendas’ make some want 1 John 3 vs 4 to read as the KJV and other translations have it: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” The trouble is that the original Greek does not have the words ‘transgress’, ‘transgression’ – these were added by the translators, and place a specific interpretation upon the text. The ESV is the preferred translation: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (vs 4) Literally, John says: “Everyone who is doing the sin is also doing the lawlessness and the sin is the lawlessness” I have argued that this is indicating precisely the adverse – ‘transgression’ requires the law to be present, whilst ‘lawlessness’ indicates that there is no law in play. That said, some will still insist on arguing that ‘anomia’, the root word for ‘lawlessness’ means the breaking of law rather than the lack of it – and it can! So the matter must be decided upon other grounds, and, as always, context is prime. John’s Argument The issue, then, is not what we would like it to say in order to support some over-riding doctrinal persuasion from elsewhere. What is John’s point? Lawlessness vs righteousness Prominent and obvious is his use of a parallel expression by contrast: “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” (vs 7) Or literally, “Whoever is doing the righteousness is righteous.” We can see that the sentence structure is identical. The point being that it is the ‘doers doing’ that indicates the nature of the ‘doer’. Plain and simple. The Argument Following John’s line or argument from the beginning of the chapter, we can see him saying: 1. That we are called the children of God demonstrates His great… Read More

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Imperative Imposters?

Introduction Some New Covenant Theology adherents want to insist that even in the new covenant, whilst expounding vigorously that believers are not under the old covenant Law, nevertheless they ARE under a new kind of law. They would call this ‘the Law of Christ’, using Paul’s phrase from Galatians 6. When asked how we are supposed to discover what, precisely, this law contains, various answers are given. A common one is to assert that ‘the Law of Christ’ is made up of all of the ‘imperatives’ of the New Testament – the command-style statements made through those writings. And that these are the new-law ‘commandments’ which we are supposed to be obeying. However, on closer examination, this definition proves to be woefully inadequate on various counts. And one problem is the Greek use of the imperative ‘mood’. Here is a quick survey of Greek verbs: “Ancient Greek verbs have four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative), three voices (active, middle and passive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). In the indicative mood there are seven tenses: present, imperfect, future, aorist (the equivalent of past simple), perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect. (The last two, especially the future perfect, are rarely used). In the subjunctive and imperative mood, however, there are only three tenses (present, aorist, and perfect). The optative mood, infinitives and participles are found in four tenses (present, aorist, perfect, and future) and all three voices. The distinction of the “tenses” in moods other than the indicative is predominantly one of aspect rather than time.” Greek, then, is much more precise than English, and sometimes our translators have struggled to adequately represent what is being said. They do a valiant job. Just, sometimes, we need to know a little more… Read More

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Paul’s Use of “Ennomos” in 1 Corinthians 9

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes this intriguing statement: “ To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” (vs 21) Elsewhere, he repeatedly and pointedly states that believers are not ‘under law’. It might seem, therefore, that he contradicts himself. But if we have a consistent view of God’s word, we know that this cannot be so. It is the Holy Spirit who is the author behind the author of every written part of our Bible, and it is inconceivable that He argues against himself. So, we who take this view must seek to understand what is going on here. Some have taken this verse and, standing it alongside Galatians 6 vs 2, which speaks of believers ‘fulfilling the law of Christ’, have constructed a kind of ‘believers’ law’ which stands in the new covenant where the Law of Moses stood in the old. But what of Paul’s emphatic insistence that those who are in Christ are NOT under law? Countering this argument, others have noted that the actual words used in 1 Corinthians 9 are not ‘hupo nomos’ – ‘under law’, but ‘ennomos’, which, strictly translated, means ‘in-lawed’ to Christ. Their opponents argue back that this is splitting Greek hairs, and that the two terms are virtually synonymous. I have considered this discussion for some time, and have recently come across something which may well throw all the light on it that we will ever need! But before I reveal this enlightenment, let me explain why I am not happy that this verse speaks of believers being ‘under law’. The Perspicuity of Paul Historically, Protestants have argued for a doctrine known as ‘the perspicuity(clarity) of Scripture’. This states… Read More

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Denominations and Differences – Design or Disaster?

It is not uncommon to hear Christians voicing deep concern and regret about today’s world-wide church scene. The proliferation of denominations is seen as a gross indication of the failure of Christianity to maintain her unity through the ages. One parody of a well-known hymn, which I heard in the late sixties went like this: Like a mighty tortoiseMoves the church of God.Brothers, we are treadingWhere we’ve always trod.We are all divided,Many bodies, we,Strong in faith and doctrine,Weak in charity! Critical and mournful statements galore abound. In the view of those who speak thus, the church has fragmented and splintered, and has moved away from the original intention of the Saviour. They cite His prayer in John17 – “… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17 vs 21)If you heed the doomsayers, since the New Testament church, it has and is all going devastatingly wrong, with so many denominations arguing with each other and not enough emphasis being placed on ditching the differences and pitching in to evangelising the world. So what the world sees when it looks at ‘the church’ is a feuding, squabbling collection of argumentative factions, all convinced that their group is ‘most right’ and all the others are wrong. Some go further and say that this will only be remedied when ‘the church’ discovers its unity once more and stops messing about!I don’t buy it!And the major reason I will not accept that that is the conclusion we ought to reach is that I wholely believe that God knows what he is doing. Are we really to accept that the history of the church, through the centuries, has completely run away from Him, and become something He never intended? Or do we believe… Read More

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“This is That” – A quick look at Acts 2 and the ‘family’ gift of prophecy

Prophecy – the gift of the new covenant It is generally stated that what happened on the day of Pentecost, as described in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first disciples, was that as an immediate result of the outpouring, they all ‘spoke in(with) tongues’. Certainly, this phenomena was what struck the gathered crowd so forcibly. But I think we need to look again at the text. I think that this first evidenced gift was not only ‘tongues’, but, more importantly, it was prophecy. And I think that prophecy today is misunderstood within the churches – that it should regain its rightful place as THE ‘family’ gift of all believers.  Let’s see. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.” The Promise This, of course, is in fulfilment of the promise of Jesus. If we flick back one chapter, we will see that during the forty days He was with them after the resurrection, He ‘spoke to them about the kingdom of God’. And it was in one of these sessions, during a shared meal, that He commanded them to wait in Jerusalem for ‘the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about’ – which Jesus calls ‘the baptism with the Holy Spirit’. This special dispensing of the Spirit would give them power and was to be essential and fundamental in their being His witnesses… Read More

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The Law of Christ – the debate continues – a look at 1 Corinthians 9

“Free from everyone, slave to all” “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  (1 Corinthians 9 vs 19) Introduction One of the passages which is used by some to support their view that believers are under a new covenant ‘system’ of law, which they want to label ‘The Law of Christ’ is 1 Corinthians 9. This, even though that actual phrase does not appear in the passage, any more than the actual teaching that those in Christ are said to be ‘under law’ appears anywhere at all in the New Testament. Indeed, Paul’s use of the phrase in Galatians 6 states boldly that believers live to FULFIL the law of Christ, rather than live ‘under’ it. This passage in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth does say that he – Paul – is ‘in-lawed to Christ’. We will see what he means by this strange term, used nowhere else in the New Testament, in its context. Although I greatly respect my brothers and sisters in Christ who affirm this, I must confess to a feeling of frustration. It seems to be a degree of almost desperation which takes one phrase from one verse – the only verse where it actually occurs in its ‘virgin’ form, marries it to a similar, though not exact, phrase from another verse, taken from a different letter entirely, and then constructs a complete view of how believers are to live in the new covenant.And it appears to me that this is done to support the presupposed assertion that ‘all men are under law’ in some form or other. By ‘presupposed’, I mean that it has been determined, somehow, before the passage is considered and thus a preconceived meaning… Read More

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Storming the Kingdom of Heaven

The ‘interface’ between the old and new covenants In the UK, our met office recently began giving storms names – similar to what the US do with hurricanes. As I write, we’ve just had Henry, Imogen and Jake. The idea, I believe, is to make the threatened public more aware of the ‘character’ – and thus the danger – these storms pose to us. This begs the question ‘what qualifies as a storm’. One dictionary definition is ‘a violent disturbance in weather’. This gave rise to another use – some soldiers or warriors who displayed great ferocity in battle being described as ‘stormers’ – Star Wars has borrowed the term from elsewhere, and it has become ‘storm troopers’. And when a city or castle was besieged in a fierce, fast onslaught designed to quickly overwhelm – that was ‘storming’. Jesus spoke of the ‘storming’ of the kingdom of heaven.As recorded in Matthew 11, He had just received a deputation from the imprisoned John the Baptist, asking was He really the Christ, or was it to be someone else they should look for. Whether John asks for himself, for reassurance, or whether he was seeking to establish truth for his disciples is unclear. Jesus’ response is to send them back with the witness of their own eyes – the signs of the Messiah: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11 vs 4 – 6) Mostly referring to Isaiah 35 and 61, Jesus simply lists what the prophet said would be the indications that Messiah had… Read More

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