The North Carolina Marriage Amendment

A friend of mine who lives in North Carolina posted the following message on his Facebook page after voting on the marriage amendment Tuesday. I thought it was insightful and summarized a lot of my own thinking on the topic.

Why I Voted For The Marriage Amendment

  1. I believe that marriage was intended to produce life, and the perpetuation of the human race and thus societies. This only happens between a male and female. I realize this still happens outside marriage, but that does not change the main purpose of marriage.
  2. In the same vein, marriage laws exist primarily to protect children. They do not exist to give certain rights or entitlements based on the gender of the couple.
  3. One of the main reasons I voted for it is because I firmly believe that homosexuals and heterosexuals who cohabit will still have equal protection under the law. All people deserve that protection, regardless of their identity. If I believed the amendment limited those protections, I would have voted against it.
  4. The family, two parents producing children, is the basic unit of society. It is not built on the government or whatever rights it may allow. Without stable families, there would be no society or government. Everyone that exists was brought into the world through this family relationship. Marriage offered further stability to the family. There is a moral restraint in marriage (or at least there used to be) to keep couples from breaking apart and undermining this stability.
  5. I also believe in tradition. The reason traditions get established is largely because people realized that living one way works and other ways did not. The ancients found that marriage between male and female offered stability for their societies, and not other relationships.
  6. I believe in revelation. God does communicate his will to us, both in general and special revelation. Nature (or biology, if you will) shows that the only life-producing relationship is between male and female. Special revelation, God’s direct communication, tells us that He created male and female, and that the male was intended to take female as a wife.

I think there is some hypocrisy when we as Christians talk about protecting marriage. The problem lies in the fact that the divorce rate among Christians is as high as it is among non-Christians. Since the onset of “no fault” divorce in the late sixties, divorce rates skyrocketed, and that lies at our door. We need to repent and begin standing up for traditional marriage. This is a step in the right direction.

The Beauty of Personhood

As I sit here watching my 2 year old daughter marvel over the play-doh “snake” that I just made for her, I am struck at the amazing, complex, and beautiful nature of human personhood.

I am Sean Scribner. I am the same person I was yesterday, two weeks ago, and 10 years ago. And yet I’m not. What has changed? The change in my life is not just a matter of history. I am not different today simply because I am further along a linear path of time that now has a greater amount of history than any time before it. I was Sean Scribner in the past, and I will be Sean Scribner even after I die. Even if I change my name I will still be the same unique individual I have always been. Nothing can change that fact.

Yet as I look at my daughter in light of who I am I realize that, while I am the same person as I was before I met her (i.e. a concrete and unique individual who is completely non duplicable), I am not the same person I was before. She has forever changed who I am, i.e. my personhood. This change is not simply abstract, but real, something, dare I say, mystical. The same can be said in regards to my wife. She has forever altered my personhood. She has not made me into a different person (as in the sense of someone else altogether), yet she has forever altered my personhood in a real, unique, and permanent way. That is amazing to me.

I don’t purport to exhaustively know everything there is to know about the human person. You can only know so much about such a mysterious thing from reading a book. Truth is, you have to be a person to begin to really know what a person is. And since in every moment of every day, in every situation, and especially in every relationship you have, your personhood is constantly being redefined, live life with a continued sense of wonder, awe, and appreciation of the fact that you are a human being, created in the image of God, who is forever three Persons in perfect loving union. Won’t that make life that much more meaningful and exciting?

Funny Lessons From a Funny Girl

I’ll never cease to be amazed by how many lessons I have learned from my (now 8 month old) daughter, Savannah Grace. It’s funny, because here I’m supposed to be the one training her. Yet I find myself nearly every day learning from her some new truth about what it means to be a person pleasing in God’s sight.

Lately my family has been dealing with a bit of cold. Runny noses, stuffy heads, and sore throats have made their rounds in the Scribner home. Poor Savannah. She got so stopped up the other night that she could barely breathe. She couldn’t fall asleep, and then she got so tired that she couldn’t stay awake. It became a vicious and frustrating cycle for her. She was essentially caught between two powerful impulses at war with one another due to the alien presence of overwhelming sinus drainage. And while that in itself could be a vivid object lesson, the point of this post is quite different altogether.

The lesson I learned the other night was what it means to be pure in heart like a child. Yes, I do believe in inherited sin. I do believe in absolute depravity. But I also believe in the simplicity and innocence of a baby. There is quite a difference between an inherited disposition that blossoms into a full-fledged self-centeredness with the development of the human will and the inherent innocence of a baby due to the absence of a history of personal sin. Savannah simply has not acquired depravity like you or I have as adults. She is simple. She is innocent. And this simple innocence is something beautiful.

As Savannah struggled the other night with simultaneously wanting to sleep and not being able to breath, something amazing in her surfaced before my very eyes. This poor little baby, so tired, sick, and frustrated, looked at me and smiled. Through her red, teary eyes she saw her daddy’s face, and it filled her with glee. In the midst of bodily chaos and turmoil, the pure love of a child emerged.

Jesus teaches us to have the faith of a child. But is it a stretch to suggest that this includes the type of simple, innocent attitude of love evidenced the other night by Savannah? In the midst of our world-weary lives, as we struggle from day to day with all the agitations and annoyances of life, could Jesus be asking us to resist the temptation to grumble and wallow in self-pity and focus on the Father instead? Can we peer up at His face through our tired, blurry eyes and somehow manage a smile? That smile will speak volumes of the character and inner content of your heart. That smile might just mean more than all our eloquent words and fancy speech.

This is my challenge to you and to myself this day: love God simply, innocently, and purely. Keep your eyes fixed upon His face. David prayed for one thing: “to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Take a cue from the funny face of my funny little girl, who loves her daddy with all that she is capable of and never wallows in self-pity.

Some Thoughts on Infant Baptism

If by seeing the title of this post you are expecting a formal treatise on infant baptism, you are mistaken. That has been done elsewhere by much smarter people than I. All I’m interested in is providing a basic starting rationale for why, as a Wesleyan, I like infant baptism.

Becca and I will be having Savannah baptized in just a few weeks. It has been quite a journey for me to agree with infant baptism. The idea of it sounded ludicrous to me just a few years ago, but that was because I only understood it in the Roman Catholic sense. Traditionally Catholic theology of the sacrament asserts that unbaptized babies either go to Hell or “limbo”. As a Protestant, this is one issue that I simply don’t agree with the RCs on, but did you know that all the Protestant Reformers including Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin held to infant baptism, as did John Wesley? Did you know that infant baptism, properly understood, has been the practice of the historic Christian church since the Apostolic period? In other words, as long as the church has existed Christian parents have baptized their infant babies, a practice given to the Church by the apostles themselves.

The evidence is there in both Scripture and in church history. In fact, baptism, as the sign of the New Covenant, is the New Testament equivalent to the sign of the Old Covenant, circumcision, in the Old Testament, which, as you know, was offered to every baby boy in Israel on day 8, not as a result of their personal faith, but as a sign of God’s covenant of grace with Israel. But more on that in a bit. My point here is that infant baptism is not some obscure practice observed by Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox alone, but rather a deeply celebrated sacrament of Christ and His Church universally observed from the very beginning.

But what about “dedication”? Infant dedication, while a practice allowed by all Protestant evangelical bodies, does not have a celebrated history. It is a recent practice that springs from reactionism to the concept of infant baptism in the Catholic church. Besides, Becca and I don’t like dedication because it seems to be more about what we do as parents than what God has done in Christ, which is what baptism is all about.

In my own estimation, there are two factors at work in the general Protestant opposition to infant baptism: 1. Hatred of Catholicism, and 2. The influence of Baptist theology. Because so many Protestants hate Catholicism (mainly baby boomers and their parents), and because Baptist theology has influenced all Protestant denominations in some way, the general thing to do is react to infant baptism so strongly that we want to do away with it altogether. I was once there. But as I have learned more about what baptism is I can see now that “believers baptism”, while a perfectly valid option, is not the only way.

God has extended His life to all people in the world — white, black, red, yellow, male, female, Republicans (and Democrats), old, AND young. The benefits of this extension of His life do not begin in Heaven, but here and now in the life of His Church. While it is true that adults who are able to make a profession of faith are baptized after the fact, God has made a provision for those who are unable to have faith for themselves to experience the full benefits of life in Him and His Body. It is this life in the Church, or “ecclesial life”, that is Life in Christ. There is no life apart from Him in His Church.

John Wesley himself points out that there is no biblical mandate forbidding the baptism of children or infants. On the contrary, since God directed circumcision for eight day old infants (Gen. 17), and baptism was given in place of circumcision, scripture allows it. Consider also Christ’s command to his disciples that they not refrain from bringing children and infants to Him (Luke 18:15-16). Consider also that all of Israel entered into the covenant with God, not just the ones who were mature enough to enter into it on their own volition (Deut. 29:10-11). Furthermore, the blood on the doors of Jewish families that first Passover (Exodus 12) saved the children inside. God’s saving grace was given to children (who could not make decisions for themselves) based on the faith of their parents! Wesley also points out that on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), when thousands believed and were baptized, it is reasonable to think that the Jews would have brought their entire households, including infants, to be baptized. Plus, it was their manner to include their entire households in the salvation experience (Acts 16). So for us we take serious the words of Joshua 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Infant baptism does not negate the need for personal faith in Christ. Savannah will arrive at that point in her life as she grows up. In that day, and through confirmation, she will choose whether or not to live up to her baptism in Christ, just like Jewish men chose to assume the mantle of the covenant when they reached the appropriate age.

Historically and theologically there is room to think about infant baptism. We usually have either a hyper-Catholicism which removes all personal decision about salvation, or the other side that says it’s all about our belief that saves us. If you are living in the fullness of what the Church of Christ in the Spirit is, that is salvation. Contrary to modern self-centered American spirituality, it is never just “me and Jesus”. Your experience never makes you a Christian, it’s your life in Christ and Christ in you that saves you. His life saves me, and that life is always communal. We tend to only ever focus on the will. But what is a baby and it’s place in the church? Are babies only important when they can make a decision? Why can’t they be a constant symbol of all our lives in Christ? Of never being able to do anything on our own? Life in Christ is not “I believe without anybody else’s help!” but rather, “I believe,” but only in the context of someone blessing me with grace before I ever knew.

Perhaps if we posed the question a different way we’ll arrive at a better understanding. The question isn’t “can a baby will” but “can a baby receive“. Baptism is NOT about “my decision” but about God’s grace in Christ freely offered to all to receive. I wholeheartedly believe that Savannah, in her own unique way as a baby, can receive the life of Christ now, just as she receives her physical life from Rebecca. We don’t force food down her throat, she freely receives it. Something in her body, call it hunger, prompts her to swallow. One day she may choose to not eat, but right now the hunger in her body yearns for sustenance and she gladly receives what is freely offered. If her body hungers so much, how much more does her young spirit? And if Becca is capable of meeting her bodily need, how much more can Jesus meet her spiritual need? I believe that Jesus offers himself to her in his fullness now and will feed and nourish her spirit, even before she can ever “have faith”. She may one day choose to reject him, but so could an adult.

There are many, many more reasons (theological, doctrinal, practical, ect.) to support infant baptism, but I’ve said enough for now. I have offered you biblical, historical, theological, and practical reasons for the practice as an orthodox Wesleyan evangelical. I’ll leave you now with some links to a couple great articles on the topic. Please take the time to read these. Once you are done reading and thinking about what you’ve read, I am open for dialogue.

-Keith Drury has a piece on his blog titled “Why We Baptize Babies”. It’s a nice short defense of infant baptism by a Wesleyan scholar in laymen’s terms.

-Steve Blakemore has a much more technical piece titled “By the Spirit Through the Water: John Wesley’s ‘Evangelical’ Theology of Infant Baptism“.

-For a previous discussion on fetal personhood, see my previous blog topic, “Is a Fetus a Person?“.

Humans will wed robots?

Updated. Originally posted on 10/12/07.

From Breitbart:

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands, Oct. 11 (UPI) — The University of Maastricht in the Netherlands is awarding a doctorate to a researcher who wrote a paper on marriages between humans and robots.

David Levy, a British artificial intelligence researcher at the college, wrote in his thesis, “Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners,” that trends in robotics and shifting attitudes on marriage are likely to result in sophisticated robots that will eventually be seen as suitable marriage partners.

Read.

This is further proof that today more than ever we need to be firm on God’s intentions for human relationships. This report is but a chilling example of the nihilistic end to Western individualism. Now, more than ever before, we must be able to accurately articulate who God is. He is three persons who in a communion of self-giving love are one. If you start with monadic oneness you end with monadic oneness…and people trying to marry robots.

For those of you interested, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw was the lecturer for the 2007 Chamberlain Holiness Lectures here at Wesley Biblical Seminary last week. The topic was “Human Sexuality and the Holy.” CDs and DVDs of the lectures, including the 2007 Academic Convocation address by Dr. John Oswalt on “Human Sexuality in the Old Testament,” are available to be purchased from the seminary’s website. You would benefit greatly from purchasing copies of these lectures. They were exceptional.

God save us.

Is a Fetus a Person?

Recently I had a discussion with some friends of mine concerning fetuses and personhood. Since then I have given a lot of thought to the topic, and I thought I’d make a sandbox post here for you and me to throw some ideas around.

Before I dive in, however, I would like to make something clear. At no point am I debating when or whether or not a fetus is a human being. I believe that fetuses are as human as you or I, and that it is so at the moment of conception, and as far as I am concerned there is no room for debate here. I fundamentally oppose abortion, and the question of personhood in this context has nothing to do with wavering doubts about my position. Let it be known from the onset that I am interested in personhood from a theological point of view, not biological. So the question I am pondering here is not, “Is a fetus a human?” but rather, “Is a fetus a person?” Please do not badger me on whether or not I believe in the sanctity and full humanity of the unborn. I am interested in a theological (philosophical) notion of personhood.

As my astute readers already know, the theological concept of ‘person’ owes its origin to the early discussions on the nature of the Trinity during the first four centuries of church history. The questions that emerged had to do with just exactly “what” or “who” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are, how they relate to one another, and how can they at once be both distinct yet one. Enter the notion of “personhood.” The final analysis asserted that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God in three distinct persons – one in their divinity, three in their person-ality. The Father is the Son and Holy Spirit in every way except He is the person of the Father and not the person of the Son nor the Holy Spirit, and vice versa (2x). Using these categories to describe the nature of humanity, sin, and salvation means that humans were created for relationship, sin is the individualization (de-personalization) of humans, and salvation is the personalization of individuals. So, within this context, what can we say about fetuses? Are they persons too, or are they just individuals? Let me offer the following VERY rudimentary thoughts…

-At first I found myself wanting to say that fetuses are not persons, but rather individuals. After all, they cannot willfully relate to another, nor can they necessarily love another outside of themselves. They’re just sort of floating around in amniotic isolation. Their world is dark, relatively quiet, and generally devoid of thought or reason.

-But then I got to thinking about some things. I had to ask myself, “Isn’t there more to personhood than simply awareness, reason, or will? Does personhood hinge on these things alone? I realized that my answers to these questions fundamentally altered my whole point of view. I concluded that I absolutely believe that there is more to personhood than reason and will. I believe that personhood is just as much about relationality, life-to-life transference, and finding one’s identity in another as awareness, reason, and will. The fetal condition, then, could very well be one of beautiful personhood.

-As for relationality, does human life get more intimate (physically) than in pregnancy? Whenever else do we ever live completely in another person? When else do our lives ever fully exist in someone else who is not us? Granted, the fetus may not immediately be aware of this relationality all along the way, nor is the awareness the same as the mother who feels life growing within her. But is this not also true of our relationship to God? He is aware of us long before we are of Him, and in much more depth as well. That does not make us any less persons, does it? Therefore awareness cannot be the sole determining factor of personhood.

-The fetus is absolutely dependent on the mother for nourishment. The umbilical connection is one of supreme perichoretic significance. The persons of the Divine Family share life interpenetrably, one in the other – always connected, always sharing life, never apart. Where else in human reality (aside from sexual intercourse, perhaps) do we see this image of Divine Reality? The life of mother and child is so intricately connected that it is hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins, and yet never are we unable to distinguish mother from child. There is oneness and distinctiveness all at once – a beautiful picture of personhood.

-Each person of the Trinity finds their identity in the other two persons. The Father is the Father because of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the other way around. Each person’s true individuality is found in another. That, by definition, is what makes them persons. Now think about a pregnant woman. Her identity is forever changed due to the life that is in her. The fetus’ identity is bound up intricately with the mother’s (and father’s). There is no birth certificate that suggests otherwise. Once again, even though the fetus may not be able to acknowledge and ponder this reality doesn’t make it any less true or real.

-One of the most personalizing moments in redemption for a human being is when he or she comes to the realization that they are fully 100% dependent upon God. Is there is a relationship on earth any more dependent than that of mother and fetus?

But there are several objections I would like to raise at this point. For starters, doesn’t a person both receive and give? And isn’t the fetal condition one of supreme isolation?

-First let us consider the issue of receiving and giving? Is the fetus in this relationship only ever receiving, which is the essence of individualism, of a life centered solely on self? The answer, in my mind, is no. First of all, the relationship of mother to child is one of dependence (on the part of the fetus) by nature (and if you think about it, all human beings derive their “being” from God who IS Being. But that exclusively dependent relationship doesn’t diminish our personhood. Personhood is lost as persons begin to willfully become oriented around themselves, which is not the case with fetuses), so it’s not as though the fetus is somehow choosing to be centered on the self, it is only receiving life by necessity. Furthermore, it would be incorrect to assume that the fetus isn’t giving anything in return. Whether the unborn child is aware of it or not, it has much to give to it’s mother, father, and many others, in terms of joy, pleasure, pride, satisfaction, meaning, purpose, etc. Once again, awareness is not the only factor of personhood.

-And what about isolation? Is the isolation of the womb truly an isolation? Not when the fetus can hear every beat of the mother’s heart, feel every vibration of voice, experience every moment of the mother’s life from the inside-out. God does not exist in personal isolation. He has always existed as persons in communion. At no point does a fetus exist in isolation, but rather always in deep, intimate, personal communion. Dependent? Yes. Willful? Maybe not. But that doesn’t necessarily diminish personhood.

Obviously there is much more to say than this. There are other factors of true personhood that I have not mentioned. While I take the opinion that fetuses are persons, perhaps they are persons in a unique sort of way. After all, God alone is Person(al). All other personhood is derived from, images, and/or participates in the Divine Archetype. A married couple images God’s personhood in a different way than a single. The issue is whether or not we can ascribe any kind of personhood at all to the unborn, and I think the answer is a resounding YES.

(There are many other issues that spring from this discussion, not the least of which is at what point does a fetus/newborn/child become depersonalized by sin, etc. That, for the sake of simplicity, is for another day and time, as are all the many implications this topic may have for other issues.)

I know that there are probably more holes in my logic than a block of Swiss. I’m sure you could scrutinize every jot and tittle of what I have been saying. Perhaps I am wrong altogether. That is where you, my beloved reader, come in. What do you think? Have I missed anything, stressed the wrong things, said too much, not said enough? What say you? Feel free to contribute what you want. Like I said, this is a sandbox topic, at least for me. I have not worked it all out. Perhaps together we can arrive at an answer.

Activists Want Chimp Declared a ‘Person’

I find this incredibly hard to believe, and yet I don’t. I can almost not even bring myself to type such an absurdity.

Check it out for yourself here.

Can a chimp be a “person”? If the answer to this question is yes, then what makes me not a chimp? This is nothing more than the inverted logic of Darwinism. The natural end of Darwinian evolution is that I am nothing more than an animal. Apparently the flip side to this is that animals are persons. Either way you look at it, there is nothing unique to human kind. The result is that you have chimps watching television and elementary kids committing suicide.

Oh God save us!

Second "Life"?

Got a sin to confess? Do it online.

Are you kidding me?

Now some of you might recoil at one aspect of this idea, and some of you might recoil at another. The first group hears the word “confession” and immediately thinks “Catholic.” Of course! Only Catholics do confession, right? And if Catholics do it, it’s gotta be wrong, right? WRONG. In fact, I would like to say that at least Catholics do something in regards to confession! I mean, the Protestant version of confession is nothing more than to whisper a quick “sorry” to God (if anything at all) and trust that we’ve been forgiven. That’s stupid.

I think I fit with the second group, the one that hears “online” and is horrified. The World Wide Web is a glorious thing. I love it. I spend hours and hours on it. I have even become somewhat dependent on it (for news, keeping in touch with distant friends, entertainment, etc.). But there is one aspect of the Web that scares the living be-daylights out of me — virtual life.

It started with chat rooms. Then it moved to IM, blogs (like the incredible one you’re visiting right now), message boards, etc. — anywhere that you can “interact” with other people under a virtual name. Now we’re seeing the introduction of what’s called “Web 3.0” – a 3D virtual world where you can be someone totally different than who you really are.

Take Second Life, for instance. The name says it all. You can live a completely other life than what is real. It is mass escapism to the extreme!

What does this have to do with online confessions? Simply this: The Web is not reality. It can never, and I repeat NEVER, be the real world. Online confessions? How depersonalizing is that? So what if the world reads it? What bearing does that have on you personally? The truth is, it doesn’t. You cannot fully be a person on the Internet.

The world wants to know what it means to be a person. Is the church answering this fundamental question, or is the Web?

Your thoughts?