The church today needs to recover a simple priority. In theology, it is called the priority of the Father–Son relation over the Creator–creature relation [1]. Simply put, it is the proposition that before God was creator he was Father. It’s one of those starting points of theological reflection. The basic claim is that while God was always Father, God was not always Creator for there was a time when God was, but creation was not. Equally, While God was always Son, the Son was not always incarnate. The eternal logos is the Son in relation to the Father from eternity. The Father is for the Son as the Son is for the Father, within their perichoretic relation. The perichoresis [2] of the Father and the Son is a relation realized through God, the Spirit. In this way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being by virtue of their perichoretic relations. God is one in essence but also has a oneness in God’s perichoretic relation [3]. Thus the unity of the Godhead is bound up in God. God’s oneness is from God, through God, to God.

The world and God are in no sense co-eternal. The Trinity was first. Such an order allows us to maintain a distinction without separation of the immanent and economic Trinity, [4] so that any attempt to historicize the being of the Son with the idea that history somehow constitutes him as the second person of the Trinity, (as Arian did) is a destructive idea. This kind of thinking we now see in process theology. Such thinking allows history and not God to determine who God is. God as Father is not an anthropomorphism but a divine revelation of the relation in the imminent Trinity. A referent of God (name) to be true of God is an example of God acting in divine condescension accommodating human experience in an analogical way. The analogical thinking moves in only one direction. This means that true knowledge of God can only occur through God.

Important Implications
The idea that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before God was Creator is not some piece of abstract doctrine. The priority of the Father–Son relation before the Creator–creature relation has two powerful implications. God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit is a central component of Christian theology, spirituality and even Christian ethics.

1.) Father, Son and Spirit: God reveals the names we are to name him.

God in relation to himself from eternity is fundamental to who God is. In the uniques of his interrelation of his being, God is Father, Son, and Spirit. It is worth noting from God’s Triune reality, one can argue that God's Fatherhood is utterly unique and not at all defined by our experience of human fatherhood; it is not defined at all by our prior experience or knowledge. For that reason no gender can be read into God with the suggestion that we might think of God as mother in order to think more inclusively about God. Since gender is a part of being human and care part of human experience, we simply can-not read that back into God with the imperative that we ‘must’ think of God as mother and not just as Father. It is not a matter of what we think about God but about what God has revealed of himself in his Son, through his Spirit. In the same way, no one is excluded from the love of God revealed in Christ, through his Spirit. So it would be extremely misguided to think that for women to have equality in the church, we need to reconceptualize God as mother or use the pronoun ‘she' when we pray.

The question is who defines who God is. Who defines God? And the answer is only God, the eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit, define God. God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit is a foundational truth of the doctrine of God.

When we confess that from eternity, God has revealed the names by which He wants to be named. We are stating, these are not optional terms that we use from our experiences to refer symbolically to God. Rather, it is our terms and our categories that must be transformed by an encounter with God, and in Christ enable us to think of him with thoughts worthy of him. Through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to name him as he wants be named.

2.) We may not think of God as having gender but we still must name him by his names.

In one sense, God is incomprehensible in his being. The imminent Trinity dwells in unapproachable light (I Tim 6:16). The eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is knowable only as far as he makes himself known. Thus only God reveals God, this is the meaning of the incarnation. The knowledge of God can only be revealed from God, the Father, through God, the Son, by God, the Spirit.

That does not mean human language about God as meaningless quite the contrary. Human language about God is put in proper theological perspective. We don’t abandon our creaturely images and concepts, words and phrases. Yet we should seek to relate to them rightly. Such created images are means given by God to help us think of God through them in a “see through” fashion. We see in part and the same is true of such created images. As we see though them we do so without the intrusion of creaturely forms or sensual images interjected into God. Thus, we may not think of God as having gender. In the same way, we don’t think of the Father as begetting the Son or of the Son as begotten as if they are giving birth. An all-to-human concept we are familiar with as creaturely beings. We never take the metaphor to far nor draw the line of analogy beyond the lines of scripture to do so is to flirt with error.

The first principle then is that our images and concepts, words and phrases, must be transformed through union with Christ to point beyond themselves to God as he exists in an utterly unique way as Father, Son and Spirit. As said above, this analogical thinking moves in only one direction, from God to humanity. Then we in Christ can “see through” those human shadows and return to the referent from which it refers. Thus, God’s revelation of himself in his written word has preeminent importance as where God names his name.

Christain analogical thinking moves in only one direction, and exit from God in revelation and a return to him in praise. Thus our thinking is in keeping with the end for which God created the world, the glory of God.

[1] This principle goes by many names. (1.) God's self-identification as Father, Son, and Spirit. (2.) The priority of immanent Trinity. (3.) God naming himself from eternity. (4.) The Father–Son relation over the Creator–creature relation. Different theologians use different terms and for your amusement and like frustration I use them all {Reader be warned}.

[2] the doctrine of Perichoresis can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration. The concepts, “allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a 'community of being,' in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Blackwell, 2001), p. 325.

[3] in this formulation, Both ontology and teleology become the foundational categories for describing God’s unity. God is one in essence (ontology) and ultimate goal (teleology). Thus, God’s ontological reality is distinct and different for everything else for God is holy. God’s teleological reality is a movement for God’s glory a glory that makes much of God in a joyous display of self giving love. Thus God’s life overflows in a movement of self-giving love to such degree that each member literally indwell one-another. This means the perichoresis of God’s divine life is expressed in self-giving joy and love. From the overflow of divine life in the Trinity, God loves the world into existence. Since God is holy, absolutely unique in every way, God remains different and distinct from creation but not distant. For even in creation in its fallen condition, the Father, Son and Spirit work all thing for the good and sustaining, redeeming and guiding the world towards the end for which it was created, the glory of God.

[4] Immanent Trinity is understood as God in himself from eternity (as an endless duration of time) outside of history and Economic Trinity is God in relation to his creation, through his redemptive action within history.



 During the month of August 1739 in Bristol England, John Wesley had three separate interviews with Bishop Joseph Butler. Butler a towering intellect and presiding bishop. Wesley an upstart preacher of a burgeoning movement. The first interview lasted about 15 minutes, the second about 30 minutes, and the final one approximately one hour. [1] Wesley who was making waves through his proclamation of justification and grace in open fields, was hopeful Butler would be open to his work.

In this meeting, the younger Wesley was perhaps a little too aggressive with the Good Bishop. Despite Wesley’s admiration of Butler’s masterful denunciation of Deism, it was perhaps too bold for him to expect that the Bishop would receive a minister the enthusiastism and manifestations that were accompanying their open-field preaching. [2]

First they talked about the nature of faith in its justifying sense, but the conversation quickly turned to what was probably irritating Butler the most about the preacher. It appeared that Wesley and the flourishing Methodist movement assumed that God was doing something special in their faith and ministry that was isolated from other believers who did not embrace their cause.

To Wesley, Butler sternly snots: “Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing.” [3] Wesley’s response to Butler was the eighteenth century version of "epic" clap back. He candidly responded, “I pretend to no extraordinary revelations or gifts of the Holy Ghost—none but what every Christian may receive, and ought to expect and pray for.” [4]

The conversation that ensued between the two Anglicans must have been a civil but heated one because a few moments later Bishop Butler forbade Wesley from preaching in his diocese, and Wesley, for his part, refused to abide by Bulter’s prohibition. Wesley’s justification was his own ordination credentials in the Church of England to preach to the church universal. [5]

What he meant by his “epic" clap back was not a denial of the miraculous but an affirmation of the universality of the Sprit’s work through all believers. Within the exchange, there is an important feature of Wesley’s understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit and his conception of the experience of the supernatural among believers.

Scholars, particularly Robert Webster, have argued persuasively that John Wesley both believed in demonstrative manifestations of the supernatural and that he collected various accounts of such experiences among the Methodists in a rhetorical defense of the supernatural. [6]

John Wesley was not only committed to the idea of the Holy Spirit’s movement and manifestations but he also elevated that idea to prominence in his rhetoric of the supernatural. Because of his acceptance of supernatural occurrences, John Wesley often found himself combating charges of enthusiasm (the eighteenth century term similar to hyper-charismatics) . Regardless of various oppositions, Wesley consistently contended that the movements and gifts of the Holy Spirit that were active in the first century were also active in the eighteenth.

Wesley held an understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for all people not just a select few. At the foundation of Wesley’s argument was the idea that the charismata operative in the first century had not died out with apostolic Christianity and emerged in every generation since then. Though Wesley agreed that the primary assurance was an inward one where love, peace, and joy are realized with an incremental advancement towards spiritual maturity, it was also the case that, just as in the first century so in Wesley’s own day, believers could judge the true sense of faith working by love, which often appeared in miraculous ways. 

Two Simple Examples

Scattered throughout Wesley’s journals were a variety of stories that Wesley had collected and edited for edification; stories of healing, dreams and visions, exorcisms, and an assortment of preternatural occurrences. Here are just two of those stories.

On April 6, 1756, Wesley approvingly wrote the story of a lady who had fallen and sprained her ankle several years prior. On her way home from a preaching service, she stumbled and fell on the ankle again. Her injury was recorded by Wesley in the journal: “I thought, O Lord, I shall not be able to hear thy word again for many weeks. Immediately a voice went through my heart, Name the name of Christ and thou shalt stand. I leaped up and stretched out my foot and said, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, I name thy name; let me stand.’ And my pain ceased. And I stood up. And my foot was as strong as ever.”[7]

Another is the case of an exorcism, Wesley recounts for an entry on October 25, 1739, how he was sent to see a young girl in Bristol. After some reluctance, Wesley entered into conversation with the demons that possessed the young girl. In the midst of the exorcism, Charles Wesley walked into the room and the demon-possessed girl screamed out: “Preacher! Field preacher! I don’t love field preaching.”[8] After two more hours of intense prayer, Wesley recorded the results: “And now it was that God showed he heareth the prayer. All her pangs ceased in a moment. She was filled with peace, and knew that the son of wickedness was departed from her.”[9]

These stories and many more like them, can be found in Wesley’s journals.



1. Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Joseph Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal 16th to 24th August 1739,” Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society 42 (1980): 93–100. The essence of the interview between Bishop Butler and John Wesley is found in Wesley’s journal as well. See Nehemiah Curnock (ed.), The Journal of John Wesley (London: Epworth Press, 1938), 2:256–57 and W. R. Ward (ed.), “Appendix B: Wesley’s Interview with Bishop Butler, August 16 and 18, 1739,” in The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), 19:471–74.

2. See Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion, Introduction by Ernest C. Mossner (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1961). For Wesley’s complimentary remarks on Butler’s Analogy of Religion see John Wesley’s journal entries for January 1, 1746 and May 20, 1768 in The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, 20:112 and 22:134 respectively.

3. “Wesley’s Interview with Bishop Butler,” The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990) 19:471.

4. Ibid., 471.

5. Ibid., 472.

6. Robert Webster, Methodism and the Miraculous: John Wesley’s Idea of the Supernatural and the Identification of Methodists in the Eighteenth Century (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2013).

7.  John Wesley, April 6, 1756, The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990) 21:49. 

8.  John Wesley, October 25–27, 1739, The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990) 19:110–11. 

9. Ibid., 19:111.


Throughout his life, John Wesley held to an orthodox view of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead. It was his trinitarian understanding of the God that informed his view of the Spirit's role in the Christian life. So adamant was Wesley’s conviction of this doctrine that he noted at the conclusion of his homily on the Trinity:

But I know not how anyone can be a Christian believer till “he hath” (as John speaks) “the witness in himself”; till “the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit that he is a child of God”—that is, in effect, till God the Holy Ghost witnesses that God the Father has accepted him through the merits of God the Son—and having this witness he honours the Son and the blessed Spirit “even as he honours the Father. . . . Therefore I do not see how it is possible for any to have vital religion who denies that these three are one.[1]

In Wesley's view, one can not have an authentic "inner witness" of the Spirit without an equally orthodox view of the Trinity. Non-trinitarians beware. Wesley's words remind us that no experience of the Spirit whether it be in vision, spiritual gift or personal encounter is deemed authentic if one denounces a trinitarian understanding of God. The gracious would say such manifestations are heterodox. The honest call it hersey. Wesley would surely support the proposition that without an orthodox view of the Trinity one cannot claim an authentic experience of the Spirit.

1. John Wesley, “On the Trinity,” The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, ed. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), 2:385–86.


A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton of his intention. Newton replied in a letter that has now become famous, called Letter 19 - on controversy. The letter is one Calvinist writing to another Calvinist. In light of this, John Newton may sound a bit opinionated but He was sincere and wise man.

The former slave trader turned pastor and author of the hymn Amazing Grace, gives us insight into a problem we still deal with today. Newton explains that self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works. He describes how men of his day, on both sides of a debate, can find their identity in such doctrines and feed on those doctrines to their moral detriment. Newton believed doctrine was important, yet without humility operative in our life we can grow sick. Humility keeping our spiritual immune system strong. Without it we quickly succumb to the intellectual and moral sickness of self-righteousness [with accompanying Covid like symptoms]. Consider for yourself his advice:

“There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only shewing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.  I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from, and are nourished by, the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse was always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.

I think I have known some Arminians—that is, persons who, for want of clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace—who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord. And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIX: On Controversy,” The Works of John Newton, Volume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 1: 272-273.

I am sure there are more, yet here are the principles I gleaned:

    1. Consistent tendency towards comparison promotes self-righteousness in the heart. 
    2. A quickness to express contempt is the evidence of a self-righteous heart.
    3. Controversies can indulge a desire to despise those who differ from us. We should be on guard, especially online where controversy is common, and contempt get likes.



1. “Some well-organized business enterprise?”

“We tend to think of Christ building his invisible church, and our building the visible church. We tend to think in this kind of dichotomy. So our building of the visible church becomes much like any natural business function, using natural means and natural motives. How many times do we find that in doing the business of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is a rapid opening of prayer, a rapid closing prayer after half the people have left, but in between there is no difference between doing the Lord’s business and the business of some well-organized business enterprise? Instead of that, we should always look to Him, and always wait and pray for His leading, moment by moment. This is a different world.”

–Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1971/2001), p. 152.

2. “The simple tragic fact”

“The church’s or Christian group’s methods are as important as its message. It is to deal consciously with the reality of the supernatural. Anything that exhibits unfaith is a mistake, or may even be a corporate sin. The liberal theologians get rid of the supernatural in their teaching, but the unfaith of the evangelical can in practice get rid of the supernatural.
May I put it like this? If I woke up tomorrow morning and found that all that the Bible teaches concerning prayer and the Holy Spirit were removed (not as a liberal would remove it, by misinterpretation, but really removed) what difference would it make in practice from the way we are functioning today? The simple tragic fact is that in much of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ – the evangelical Church – there would be no difference whatsoever.
We function as though the supernatural were not there. If the Church does not show forth the supernatural in our generation, what will? The Lord’s work done in the Lord’s way does not relate only to its message, it relates also to the method. There must be something the world cannot explain away by the world’s methods, or by applied psychology.”

–Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1971/2001), pp. 150-51.

3. “The central problem of our age”

“Christians must humble themselves to know the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. To the extent that we do not humble ourselves, there will be no power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Lord’s work in the Lord’s way is the Lord’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in the power of the flesh.

The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat.

The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

–Francis Schaeffer, No Little People(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1974/2003), 66.

4. “The church is something beautiful”

“One cannot explain the explosive power of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: the orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see.
By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community. But the exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.

We have, then, two sets of parallel couplets: (1) the principle of the purity of the visible church, and yet the practice of observable love among all true Christians; and (2) the practice of orthodoxy of doctrine and observable orthodoxy of community in the visible church. The heart of these sets of principles is to show forth the love of God and the holiness of God simultaneously. If we show either of these without the other, we exhibit not the character, but a caricature of God for the world to see. If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise. But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty. And it is important to show forth beauty before a lost world and a lost generation. All too often people have not been wrong in saying that the church is ugly. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are called upon to show a watching world and to our own young people that the church is something beautiful.

Several years ago I wrestled with the question of what was wrong with much of the church that stood for purity. I came to the conclusion that in the flesh we can stress purity without love or we can stress the love of God without purity, but that in the flesh we cannot stress both simultaneously. In order to exhibit both simultaneously, we must look moment by moment to the work of Christ, to the work of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality begins to have real meaning in our moment-by-moment lives as we begin to exhibit simultaneously the holiness of God and the love of God.”

–Francis Schaeffer, “The Church Before the Watching World” in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume Four, A Christian View of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1982), 152.

5. “What Christians are to wear”

“First, Christians are called upon to love all men as neighbors, loving them as ourselves. Second, we are to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may observe.
This means showing love to our brothers in the midst of our differences– great or small– loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving them in a way the world can see.
In short, we are to practice and exhibit the holiness of God and the love of God, for without this we grieve the Holy Spirit.

Love -and the unity it attests to– is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.” (John 13:34-35; 17:21)

–Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, Volume Four, A Christian View of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1982), 204.



I recently over-heard a coffee house patron clam that ancient people could not practice ‘abortion’ like we do today. Ancient people did not even understand the female biology. Likely this ignorance was a case of chronological snobbery. The speaker assumed people in and around Jesus day had just learned about fire how could they even know about things like biology, let alone, how to kill a baby in the womb.

If that’s you, buckle up this will be eye opening. The practice of abortion was known in the first century. Many of the cultures around them performed abortions or gave abortifacient drugs with breathtaking frequency. (1) Abortions were performed by binding a woman around the abdomen until the baby was expelled; using a copper needle or spike; or by the use of a circular blade. Writing the middle of the Second century Tertullian describes this method and tools used in vivid detailed.

Accordingly, among surgeons' tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it.. the name of ἐμβρυοσφάκτης, the slayer of the infant..(2)

Clearly Late term abortion were practiced. We also have evidence that chemical abortions were possible using pessaries—oral drugs or poisons—that would cause miscarriages. Eubius, a first-century B.C. poet, even put abortion formulas to verse so they could be more easily remembered. Infanticide also practiced, exposure being the most common method. All these methods were commonly practiced in the first century.

What would lead them to allow such a practice.
The Greek culture was the first in the Ancient Near East to permit, and in some cases require, abortion. In The Republic, for example, Plato (427-347 B.C.) opines that in his idealized polis (greek for city-state), women over 40 years old would be required to have an abortion.

A woman, I said, at twenty years of age may begin to bear children to the State, and continue to bear them until forty . . . And we grant all this, accompanying the permission with strict orders to prevent any [subsequent] embryo which may come into being from seeing the light; and if any force a way to the birth, the parents must understand that the offspring of such an union cannot be maintained, and arrange accordingly.(3)

Similarly, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) thought the state should not bear the burden of disabled or too many children. He said,

Let there be a law that no deformed child shall be reared; but on the ground of the number of children, if the regular customs hinder any of those born being exposed, there must be a limit fixed to the procreation of offspring, and if any people have a child as a result of intercourse in contravention of these regulations, abortion must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life; for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive (Politics 7.14.10).(4)

While Plato and Aristotle have many good ideas, it is clear their ethic of human life was deficient. In each of these cases the same perspective is at work. Rather than considering the moral value of the unborn as the deciding factor, the philosophers considered the well-being of the polis to be paramount. This view amounts to a form of political utilitarianism that sees each person’s value only in terms of the good of the state. (An egregious assumption that persists to this very day in the halls of academia as well as among the political philosophies of many cosmopolitan elite.)

The grim conclusions of these philosophers demonstrate the perils of thinking ethically apart from Scripture. Scripture revealing God as the first principle, the point from which all moral and ethical reflection must begin. God not humanity is the standard of all morality, Apart from this theocentric perspective a person’s ethical reflection can rise no higher than the political good. Yet the good of the state does not provide a vantage point from which to make a judgment about something so lofty as human life.

The Christian tradition, however, viewed the sacredness of every individual human life in theocentric, not political, terms. Since all individuals, including unborn children, were made in the image of the living God, their lives would be respected and were worth preserving. The moral status of a human being was not grounded in what persons could do for the state, but in how persons were related to the God who made them, a relation rooted in being made in God’s image.

While today the argument may not center around the political or social good, but the personal good. Talk of personal right have given way to an idolatry of the Self. We are a culture of entitled children crying “I deserve this” - “I have the right to do this” -even if ‘this’ is the killing of the unborn. The moral status of the unborn is not grounded in whether or not the unborn is a blessing or burden to the parent, but again, grounded in the intrinsic worth of the unborn as an image bearer of God.

In today’s culture, although the center has shifted to individual right, the same moral logic applies. Only a theocentric vision of life leads to an ethic that respects life, everything else (utilitarian, or progressive), inevitably produces a culture of death.




  1. The following is gleaned from the important work by Michael J. Gorman, Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982).
  2. Tertullian De Anima(On the Soul) 25.5 - 6
  3. Quoted in Michael J. Gorman, Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, p.21
  4. Ibid., 22


Christians in the coming years will be asked questions like, why is the New Testament is silent about abortion? if abortion is so important, Why did Jesus not speak about the subject? If Paul loved the unborn - Why is there no clear prohibition in Paul’s writings? Many biblically literate in the pro-choice camp will point to the biblical text and ask, ‘where is the “thou shalt not abort.”?’ In reality, all these questions are a form of moral posturing, a way to show up those stupid Christians. It is a way to insinuate Christian’s don’t know what’s in the bible. Most do not expect an answer nor care to hear one. Yet in case someone wants an answer below is an simple answer to the question, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”

In his essay, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?”(1) New Testament professor Michael Gorman helpfully points out that the fact that the New Testament is silent about an issue is not evidence that early Christians did not have a settled position on the matter. In fact, quite the opposite.

That the New Testament never directly addresses abortion (or exposure or infanticide) does not mean that the first-century churches were ignorant of this practice or that they believed it to be a matter of “individual conscience.” On the contrary, the silence simply tells us that abortion was not an issue in need of resolution. The silence indicates that there was little or no deviation from Judaism.(2)

In addition to what the Old Testament says about the sanctity of human life and about abortion itself, Second temple literature (considered extra-canonical Jewish literature) is clear on the topic. The Jewish wisdom literature, Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides (c. 50 B.C.-50 A.D.), directs that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and vultures as a prey.”(3) Included among the “wicked” in the apocalyptic Sibylline Oracles were women who “produce abortions and unlawfully cast their offspring away” and sorcerers who dispense abortion-causing drugs.(4) Similarly, the apocryphal book 1 Enoch (first or second-century B.C.) declares that an evil angel taught humans how to “smash the embryo in the womb.” (5) Finally, the Jewish historian, Josephus, maintained that “The Law orders all offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to make away with the fetus.” Observes Gorman, “No contradictory early Jewish texts . . . have been discovered, thus suggesting that a Jewish anti-abortion consensus did exist in the first century.”(6)

Similarly, the non-canonical literature of the early Church reveals an consensus of ethical opinion. The teaching of the early church in the Didache (50-120 A.D.), for instance, was uncompromising: “Love your neighbor as yourself . . . You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (7) The Epistle of Barnabas (80-120 A.D.) commands the Christian: “You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” (8)

Granted, these books were not received into the New Testament canon. But they do reveal accurately the mind-set and attitudes of the early Christian community. In fact, the historian Eusebius notes that these books were “publicly read by many in most churches.”(9) Simply put they were not part of the authoritative canon but were on the shelf at the church’s book store.

Furthermore, as seen in the early church’s teachings from Didache and Barnabas, the prohibitions against abortion are rooted in the doctrine of neighbor love. Such a connection indicates that early Christians viewed the unborn as members of the community worthy of love and protection. So, in a real sense, the New Testament’s silence on abortion shouts like a megaphone. From the birth of the Church and throughout her first several centuries, no serious Christian found abortion to be an acceptable practice.




1. Michael J. Gorman, “Why Is the New Testament Silent about Abortion?” Christianity Today, January 11, 1993, 27-29.
2. Ibid. 28
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. ibid.
7. Ibid. 29
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.



This is the third blog in a three part series on the modern attitude towards healing.

Many people today may say that God “can” heal but those same people often have a negative attitude towards miraculous healing. Such a negative attitude is expressed in suspicious looks, cynical reasoning, dismissive conversations often ripe with bumper sticker talking points. All these marks express a negative view towards healing. Yet some of these arguments remain salient in various communities of faith making the attitudes all the more suspicious, dismissive, and cynical.

As we have seen in previous blogs. Morton T. Kelsey, studied how the church’s teaching on ‘why God does not heal’ has formed over time a negative often unconscious attitude towards healing in the church today.

It is important to remind the reader that Kelsey builds on a principle in social psychology.
The principle states, in any given group a commonly repeated public arguments (like from the pulpit) against something will over time form a negative attitude towards that thing. Once formed those attitudes will endure, even after the argument is disproved or no longer held by the group. While the two arguments in the last blog are no longer taught in the church but are still found in lingering social attitudes, the two in this blog still remain in many segments of Christianity, thus exert an even stronger tendency to cultivate a lack of openness towards healing.

We come to the last two of Kelsey's list. These arguments are still taught in two vastly different sections of Christianity.

  • Biblical Cessationism
  • Anti-supernatural materialism

Argument from Biblical Cessationism

This view makes an exegetical argument that the more miraculous gifts died out in the first century. It is prevalent among groups that cherish the truthfulness of the New Testament and believe healings did happen in biblical times but such things as healing miracles do not happen today. It first became prevalent during the reformation. The reformers adopted what came to be known as a cessationist approach to miracles. Due to the catholic claims of miracles as proof that God approved of their doctrine and practices. The Reformers concluded that the gift of healing in the New Testament served only a temporary purpose. From this perspective, the minister’s only role is expound scripture to prepare the sick for suffering and pastor those who are enduring sickness with care and compassion.

The cessationist view is still alive in some segment of Christianity but is slowly dying the death of a thousand biblical observations. While It is beyond the scope of this blog to refute the clams of cessationists. Eminent New Testament scholar David Garland in his commentary on the gospel of Mark explains the problem with the cessationist argument:

“The problem with the cessationist’s approach is that it can be interpreted negatively as a kind of bait-and-switch tactic on God’s part. The church got started through the power of miracles, but it was withdrawn later. If one does believe that God wills our physical and spiritual wholeness and that God’s power remains available to us and can intervene directly in our lives, then one must allow for Christian healing today. Christians and Christian communities can be instruments of that power and love. It does not necessarily follow that because many persons today have not witnessed New Testament quality miracles, they therefore are no longer possible. We do not understand the vast world of microorganisms, let alone how God works in our world. It is best, therefore, not to place limits on God regarding healing.” [1]

The reason for cessationism’s incredible resilience is due in large part to the attitude about healing promoted in most cessationist churches. For many cessationist churches healing is not only less prominent, but has virtually disappeared from the discussion except for when they’re speaking abstractly about the Bible stories. In this way, nostalgia is confused with reverence. Yet the cessationist’s explanation for the modern miracle shortage is the evidence that God has withdrawn such sign gifts. The lack of healings and other such works of God’s power in their own experience seems to confirm what they believe. Yet in the final analysis, a lack of experience should not confirm their belief the narrative world of the Bible and the experience it describes should shape Christian experience.

Argument from Anti-supernatural materialism

The last view rejects the biblical worldview entirely. It assumes that the idea that supernatural beings can intervene in the natural order of things is a fiction and such stories are properly filed under the heading of ‘myth’. Modern, educated people now “come of age” have progressed beyond such archaic ways of thinking. This view regards healing miracles to be impossible because they violate the laws of nature. The New Testament miracle accounts are dismissed as legends aimed at magnifying Jesus.

This view is rooted in the post-enlightenment materialism. From this perspective science is understood to give us the truest view of reality. Religion is an important for its humanistic way of creating meaning and purpose from the barren wasteland of our material monastic existence. The minister role is to help facilitate meaning making through rituals and the retelling of sacred myths. Outside of that the minister functions as a secular social worker in a clerical collar.

When a church becomes an Eco-chamber.

In these communities, the arguments remain entrenched in their respective segments of Christianity regardless of the full weight of biblical scholarship that has dismantled them on a scholarly level.

Socially speaking, the arguments described above social legitimizes the negative attitude, sanctifying and masking suspicious, dismissive, and cynical attitudes as “cautious”. The process is simple enough to follow. The teaching bounces around a group’s eco chamber until it mutates into a negative attitude, eventually becoming the ‘in-group’ disposition towards healing. This way of thinking and feeling about healing is exclusionary; affirming the groups view as inherently biblical and placing counter evidence and other legitimate interpretations of scripture outside the realm of consideration. Such a process of ‘group think’ is evident no matter if the group is liberal or fundamentalist, Reformed or Unitarian Universalist.

In short, these arguments remain relevant given the ability to passively explain away the group’s lack of experience. They redefine and reframe experience in such a way to push healing outside the ‘Overton window’ into areas deemed unacceptable for respectable dignified and upstanding Christians. Ministers no longer approach the issue by way of biblical analysis and logical assessment. In the pulpit the negative attitude leads many to teach oddly contradictory ideas and ‘unreal’ interpretations of scripture prompted more by the negative attitudes that permeate the church than relevant academic and biblical arguments.

Moving Forward Wisely
At the level of the Christian community, Openness and discernment are not opposite to one another yet discretion and wisdom should always be employed. Being open to the power and work of the Spirit is important while a valid concern remains over charlatans and wolves in the flock.

It is the responsibility of all Christian’s to discern the spirits yet Pastors are undoubtedly responsible to guard against shamanism and religious quackery in the larger community. It may seem counter intuitive but the best way to sharpen Christian discernment is good old fashioned common sense. David Garland [2] helps in this regard with some qualification and helpful advice to keep us wise and open to the things of God. I have added bullet points for accessibility:

  • We should suspect automatically any promise of an instant cure by a self-appointed miracle worker who couples it with an appeal for money.
  • We should distrust anyone who performs miracles in a show-like atmosphere, exalts his or her own power to heal anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, or makes outrageous claims.
  • We should reject all those who blame the victim’s lack of faith for any failure to heal.
  • We should be leery of those who would have us ignore medical treatment entirely or longstanding remedies (1 Tim. 5:23).
  • We should also exercise caution, since a community may become divided over the exercise of the gift of healing. Unity in the bond of love is our witness as defined by Jesus.
  • We should take intercessory prayer more seriously than we perhaps do if we confess a belief in divine healing.




[1] David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.) 91

[2] David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.) 92



In a previous blog we looked at Kelsey’s four historical arguments about divine healing to answer the question; "why people lack an openness to Divine Healing?" He observed that many Christians today react emotionally when talking about divine healing and don't even entertain the concept of healing in their own lives, while intellectually claiming God can heal someone. Kelsey concluded the hindrance seems to be a negative affective attitude about divine healing and not just a doctrinal one. The historical teachings have formed something of a social construct in the church shaping people's unconscious attitude over the issue.

To my knowledge, the first two arguments are not taught anymore in the church. Yet still exerts a powerful influence over the attitudes of many

In this blog we will look at the first two arguments in greater detain and give a brief rebuttal. Even though no one formally holds these views the attitude still persists in the social DNA of many churches. Today, people can give mental ascent in healing but hold a negative attitude due to the lingering influence of these arguments.

The approach taken by Kelsey is helpful in understanding a common paradox many see in ministry. The Paradox of people affirming healing in theory while denying its power in their personal life. Such are not hypocrites, in the moral or biblical sense, for they are unaware of all of the assumptions about healing that they hold.

In thinking thought these ideas I have come up with what I see as the root assumption at the bottom of each argument.

  • Philosophical dualism
  • Theological rationalism

First, The Argument from Philosophical dualism

The first view began as a practical argument based on the common Greek division of reality into the material and spiritual. The argument holds that there is a fundamental divide between the secular and the sacred parts of life. It asserts that Medicine is deals with the physical world and religion is secluded to the spiritual with the two spheres not overlapping. Religion is seen as otherworldly, primary concerned with saving souls for Heaven. Thus religion has nothing to do with someone’s physical health. On the other side, there are those who believe that only scientific medical means can affect significant healing. Based on this (false) dichotomy, it is reasoned that sense Medicine is for the body; religion is for the soul, it is best to keep them separate but equal. Any attempt to mix the two ends of in failure. The mixing of the two only breeds superstition and fraud. In this a view, the minister role is to maintain the separation and teach the wisdom of staying far away from such people and practices. Kelsey keenly observes the illogical nature of christian practices in this area. Highlighting how our negative attitude can place some behaviors outside the Overton window while legitimizing others.

“By some quirk of logic, it was legitimate for suffering Christians to go to the doctor for relief; it was even good for the church to build hospitals to minister to the sick. But neither the individual Christian nor the church was to bring the direct power of God to bear upon getting rid of the sickness.” [1]

In our day it is easy to see the practical angle of this argument. Although religious fakes and fraud have always been with us the access to exposure and ability to build a platform is much easier today than in previous generations. Exposure to the quacks and frauds makes many cynical if not combative, leading to those in the church defaulting to the secular sacred division of labor. They would rather keep the religious and medical worlds separated rather than dealing with the mess.

A few rebuttals to this idea.

  • The view that “religion deals exclusively with the soul” is more gnostic than Christian. When we think religion is other worldly and etherial and it only deals with what science and medicine can’t fix we are more secular than Christain.
  • The strong division between the realm of religion and medicine is a false dichotomy. Both deal with the whole person and are not in competition. Human innovation and medical knowledge are common graces from God. Modern medicine rose out of the Christian worldview.
  • The pragmatism of suspicion is not honorable. The fraud argument assumes a consequentialist logic that has no grounding in biblical truth, only in possible outcomes.
  • It is not a sound method to base the validity of something on its worst examples. It is just an overreaction to say because of a few bad actors we should deny a clear focus of the New Testament teaching.

Helping someone get out from under such assumptions begins by "bring heaven and earth together" that is discussing the assumption they likely hold about the secular sacred divide. Central to this is a set of metaphysical assumptions about reality as well as the role of religion in human experience. Another notable area of exploration would be their assumptions about the kingdom of God in general, as well as the individual's "locos of control" and how they relate that to Christ's lordship.


Two, Argument from Theological rationalism

The second view holds that God is sovereign and sickness is his tool. Since God controls all sickness and sends it as a strong rebuke for sin. Sick persons ought to learn from their infirmities. The minister only role is to exhort confession of sin or help the individual to grow in faith through the suffering.

A little background will be helpful to make sense of how Christian’s could have such a view of God. The theological method used at that time was known as “scholasticism”
Scholasticism is a deductive theological method that arose in the Middle Ages Particularly the work of Thomas Aquinas. It was the marriage of Aristotelian philosophical analysis and Christian reflection. Yet Scholasticism moved beyond the synthesis of Aquinas and into hyper rationalism.

Scholastic theological discussion centered on dogmatics (doctrinal propositions) and not exegesis (textual analysis). The scholastic method was deductive in it’s approach. Beginning with a General theological statement, implications were deduced, without much nuance or qualifications given to the primary proposition. The result was a set of blanket conclusions that were more rational than real. By the 1600’s the rigid English scholasticism reasoned in a very absolutist fashion. Adherence defended the view with appeals to a greater good argument of character formation as Kelsey notes:

“It came to be believed that the suffering caused by illness had a real value in developing good Christian character. According to this belief, some illness (if not all of it) is sent by God for a reason, and one of the great Christian virtues is the courageous bearing of such sickness. Obviously, what God has sent for man's good the church should not presume to take away.”[2]

Kelsey gives an interesting example showing how morbid the logic became:

“This attitude is magnificently expressed in the English Prayer Book. The service “the Office of Visitation of the Sick” written in 1661, has to be read to be believed. It states quite clearly that God sends most illness upon us as punishment for sin. The crowning touch (which has been dropped from the American version) is the idea that healthy people are bastards, to use the Prayer Book word. Since they have not received God's fatherly correction in the form of sickness, they cannot be real sons because, as anyone can see, God chastens those whom he loves with divine chastisements like physical illness. Modern Protestantism has taken no official action to countermand this basic idea, and it still represents pretty well the popular, unconscious attitude, although we moderns are not quite so frank as they were in the 1600s.”[3]

A Quick rebuttal

  • The theological method used lacked the precision necessary for the issue.
    The reflection on God’s sovereign to the exclusion of secondary causes is short sighted.
  • The lack of nuance given to the scriptural shape of the nature of God’s sovereignty is to problematic.
  • God controls all sickness. Such a primary proposition is more of a straw man when compared to the biblical evidence.
  • It is a categorical error to imply that a Christian’s courageous bearing sickness is incompatible with a Christian praying for divine healing. Given faith in the Christian God implies such help is within his ability and nature, thus healing is always an implicit possibility.
  • The Christian posture in suffering must be hopeful for it to be virtue shaping. Passive resignation in suffering may dull the pain but it does not purify faith. Biblical hope looks to the God who brakes into our reality as well as the one who is our eternal rest. As Paul describes it, christian hope is a hope against Hope. He did not mean a temporal hope in opposition to an eternal hope but a hope in this life pressed together and made stronger by a hope that assures us of a life to come.  In this life the posture of the Christian hope is an expectation for a foretaste of kingdom matched back to back with a joyful eternal hope is the God of our salvation, the king who defeated death.

Helping someone likely will involve mining a persons assumptions about how someone develops christian character, the nature and role of suffering and especially the implication of the resurrection on the embodied life in the new creation. Central in this project will be understanding the locus of hope in the person. 



[1] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106

[2] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106

[3] Morton T. Kelsey, The Healing Ministry within the Church, Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Apr., 1970), pp. 106



Writing in the 90’s, Garland’s word choice is oddly poignant for today. Commenting on chapter one of Mark He notes the particular way Jesus healed a leper. He touched him then heal him. Jesus was willing to touch the leper as a show of his compassion before he displayed his power. Such compassion should encouraging the church to embody the same courageous virtue in our world. Garland writes:

“Humans are psychosomatic beings, and healing involves mind, body, emotions, and spirit. These first miracles reveal that Jesus embodies God’s mercy and purpose to take away the diseases, infirmities, and sins of the people. The leper pleads: “If you are willing, you can make me clean” (1:40). Reaching out to touch one who was branded untouchable by religion and society dispels any doubts about Jesus’ willingness. The leper does not have to convince him that he is even worth the effort. This man with his disease does not horrify Jesus. His “power to cleanse is thus demonstrably greater than the power of the leprosy to contaminate.” But touching, hands-on contact, makes us vulnerable. In Jesus’ day, the concern was impurity; in our day, the concern is contagion.(p.87)

The miracles in this section also reveal that Jesus is not someone who is aloof, inaccessible, or detached. Our culture does not touch, and many people live in isolation from others. We seal ourselves off from one another with our privacy fences and retreat to the inner sanctum of the family room. The church is sometimes in danger of doing the same by retreating to its members-only, fully equipped Family Life Center, which becomes a safe cocoon from contact with the harsh realities of a disease-ridden, sin-sick world. We want others quarantined from us so that they will not infect us. But those who bear the name of Christ need to minister in the name of their Lord to those who are the untouchables in our society.”(p.88)

 Ask yourself what act of compassion is God calling you too?


All quotes from David E. Garland, Mark. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Page number after the quote.


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