St. Augustine and ISIS

botticelli-st-augustineEach week brings news of fresh horrors in the Middle East as ISIS extends its stunningly evil sway in the region. Through rapes and beheadings and countless indignities, these barbarians have brutalized and tormented essentially anyone who’s not ISIS, including Christians. Those of us in safety marvel at the courage and grace that believers have shown, whether by simply abiding in the land, or reciting Scripture at the moment of their execution.

This past week, while reading again the opening chapter of Augustine’s City of God, I was struck by its pertinence to this current situation. Rome was collapsing under its own decadence and “barbarian” invasion, and this great empire, which had slaughtered not only our Savior on Calvary, but also His followers in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus, was blaming its troubles on the Christians. Augustine set out to demonstrate that this was nonsense, and in the course of his argument, he spoke of the character, thinking, and deeds of believers who had undergone great persecution. In so doing, he appealed to Scripture:

  1. To those dismayed that God made “his sun rise on the good and on the bad, and sends rain alike on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45), he explained that a system which blesses believers only misleads and corrupts all concerned. As for sufferings, it depends on what you make of them, and what they make of you, for “the fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw and clears the grain.”
  2. To those who muzzled themselves lest their words offend and provoke retaliation, he said that a believer may be blameworthy if, as a “watchman” (Ezekiel 33:6), “he recognizes, but ignores, opportunities of warning and admonishing those with whom the exigencies of this life force him to associate.” (It may be that “he evades this duty for fear of offending them, because he is concerned for those worldly advantages, which are not in themselves discreditable, but to which he is unduly attached.”)
  3. To those mourning the loss of security and material goods, he reminded them, “We know that God makes all things co-operate for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28), and that, though impoverished, they may be “rich in the sight of God” (Luke 12:21). Besides, hunger can teach Christians “to live more frugally and to fast more extensively.” And should they be killed, “Christians know that the death of a poor religious man, licked by the tongues of dogs, is far better than the death of a godless rich man, dressed in purple and linen” (Luke 16:19ff.)
  4. If they lacked a decent burial, they found themselves in the good company of those pictured in Psalm 79:2: “They have set out the mortal parts of thy servants as food for the birds of the sky; and the flesh of thy saints as food for the beasts of the earth.” If they landed in prison, they shared the fate of Daniel (Daniel 1:6).
  5. Since some had found themselves impressed with a culture that glamorized suicide as a way to escape torture or to “keep oneself pure” from rape or moral compromise, he urged that they submit to Exodus 20:13 (“Thou shall not kill”), which forbids “self-slaughter.” Society at large may honor such figures as Cato and Lucretia for murdering themselves to avoid humiliation, but Christians must not follow suit.

Augustine concluded the chapter by noting that as horrible as their persecutors may be, the people of the “City of Christ the King,” must “bear in mind that among these very enemies are hidden her future citizens.” Indeed, the Saul is a striking case in point: Once an accessory to murder, he became the Church’s leading missionary and theologian. And who knows but what an ISIS foot soldier could one day find the Lord and preach the gospel fearlessly at great peril.

Protecting the Victims of Rape

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

Deuteronomy 24:16 (NIV)

In the United States, the death penalty is not enforced for rape—at least for the rapist.1 Sadly, a baby conceived from rape is often in greater danger than is his criminal father. In the midst of the legitimate desire to comfort a woman who has suffered the pain of a terrible crime, some may unwittingly heap tragedy on top of tragedy. In the name of compassion, an unborn baby is handed a death sentence for his father’s sin.

infant-holding-mothers-hand-bwThis law from Deuteronomy falls in the middle of an entire chapter dedicated to protecting the weak. As God’s covenant people, Israel was to be different, not living in the same self-absorbed, greedy manner as her neighbors. God intended them to take special care of the most vulnerable people among them—aliens, widows, orphans, and especially the poor. Verse 16 continues this theme. Law codes in the ancient Near East commonly allowed for an offender’s children to be executed alongside him. Establishing a basic principle of justice for His people, God rejected that precedent and commanded His people to exact punishment only on the guilty. The innocent should not be compelled to suffer.

This principle applies clearly to the child conceived in rape. The infant is not culpable in this horrible crime, which has already victimized the woman. To make the unborn a second victim cannot be God’s desire.

Many women understand this. A majority of those who find themselves pregnant from rape choose to bring the baby to term.2 Since abortion advocates repeatedly raise the case of rape, it is important to note that conception from this crime is very rare in the West.3 Equally rare in Western contemporary culture is the level of moral heroism the victimized mother shows in sustaining rather than ending the life of the child.4 The Church brings honor to God when it honors her.

Honor, though, is not enough. The people of God are also called to surround both mother and child with care, including the basics of life, the blessings of friendship, and, if needed, provisions for adoption. Through this, the Church helps turn the mother’s eyes from a bitter past to a grace-filled future, both for the child and herself.

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Endnotes

1 Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Montana have laws that allow the death penalty for certain categories of rape (i.e., rape of a minor), however, these laws have not been enforced since 1964.

2 David C. Reardon, Julie Makimaa, Amy Sobie, eds. Victims and Victors: Speaking Out about Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2000). See also, Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. David Mall and Walter F. Watts (New York: University Publications of America, Inc., 1979).

3 Mark H. Beers and Robert Berkow, “The Medical Examination of a Rape Victim,” in The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy (Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck, 1999), http://www.merck.com/mrkshared/mmanual/section18/chapter244/244a.jsp. See, Section 18, Chapter 244.

4 Tragically in war torn regions of the world, women suffer the double trauma of rape as a deliberate act of humiliation and degradation by an enemy.

Evil in the Name of Good

Believers may imagine that all proponents of unrighteous causes set out to do evil. Yet, according to the Bible, that is often not how sin works. Many times, those who advocate and commit great evils believe they are advancing a righteous cause. That’s not to say all intentions are good. In some instances, people do set out to sin, as in the case of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20). Other times, motivations that seem positive or neutral on the surface are driven by deep-seated selfishness, idolatry or other vices. Still, the intentions of believers’ cultural opponents often are not purely evil. Scripture bears this out.

contradictoryConsider the Apostle Paul. Before his conversion to faith in Christ, he persecuted Christians, imprisoning them, attempting to make them blaspheme, and even holding the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen. But he was not doing all this out of spite for the Lord. Rather, he thought he was serving God. “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” Paul told King Agrippa in Acts 26:9. Similarly, he told the Philippians his persecution of Christians was motivated by religious zeal (Philippians 3:6).

Sin still works this deceptive way. Indeed, with minimal Internet searching, it’s possible to find champions of gay marriage, abortion, and Islamic terrorism who believe they are advancing a righteous cause. Consider the following:

— When the Supreme Court announced its nationwide legalization of gay marriage, the Interfaith Alliance issued a statement calling same-sex unions consistent with Christianity: “This is a victory for marriage; this is a victory for families and children; this a victory for the love that is preached by the prophets and spiritual leaders of every faith tradition. Today’s decision is, without question, one of the most important civil rights decisions in a generation.”[1] The statement was reminiscent of a 2005 United Church of Christ resolution that “affirm[ed] equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender” based on the supposed fact that “the Bible affirms and celebrates human expressions of love and partnership.”[2]

— When news broke that Planned Parenthood may have sold the body parts of aborted children, former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson wrote an open letter to a current Planned Parenthood executive seen in an undercover video discussing the harvesting of fetal parts. Johnson, who is now a prolife advocate, recounted her own experience of harvesting fetal body parts and said she formally did not view it as evil.

“After a grueling abortion day, we would all go out for margaritas and Mexican food,” Johnson wrote. “We would talk about the day and specific abortion cases. It wasn’t gross to us. We honestly didn’t think anything about it. We would plainly talk about harvesting fetal parts as if we were talking about harvesting a field of corn. That was our normal . . . and we were proud to live in it.”[3]

— Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the so-called Islamic State, said in a 2014 sermon that he viewed ISIS terrorism as a moral duty. “Allah commanded us to fight His enemies and to wage Jihad for His sake, in order to achieve this purpose and to establish His religion,” he said. “. . .  Oh people, the religion of Allah will not be established, and the purpose for which Allah created us will not be achieved, unless the law of Allah is instated and observed.”[4]

Evil acts are not justified because their perpetrators think they are doing good. And surely the LGBT activist, the abortionist, and the terrorist are driven by some evil intentions. But realizing the deceived mindset of many cultural and political opponents can help believers in several ways. First, it leads us to pray, because such individuals often need supernatural intervention to change their mindsets. Second, it leads us to argue rigorously and logically for Judeo-Christian principles, for only well-crafted arguments tend to sway minds entrenched in deception. Finally, it leads us to hope, because the greatest Christian missionary the world has ever known was also once deceived by evil.

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Endnotes

[1] Lauren Maroke, “Righteous or Repugnant? Religious Responses to the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision,” June 26, 2015, Religion News Service, http://www.religionnews.com/2015/06/26/religious-responses-to-the-supreme-courts-gay-marriage-decision/ (accessed July 16, 2015).

[2] United Church of Christ, “Equal Marriage Rights for All,” July 4, 2005,  United Church of Christ Website, http://uccfiles.com/pdf/2005-EQUAL-MARRIAGE-RIGHTS-FOR-ALL.pdf (accessed July 16, 2015).

[3] Abby Johnson, “Dear Dr. Nucatola: I Used to Harvest Fetal Tissue for Planned Parenthood Just Like You,” July 14, 2015, LifeSiteNews, https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/dear-dr.-nucatola-i-used-to-harvest-fetal-tissue-for-planned-parenthood-too (accessed July 16, 2015).

[4] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, “ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Calls on Muslims to Wage Jihad, Says: Becoming a Caliph Is a Heavy Responsibility,” July 4, 2014, Middle East Media Research Institute Website, http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/4335.htm (accessed July 16, 2015).

BibleMesh Launches Mounce Greek Courses

HAMILTON, Bermuda—Bill Mounce’s best-selling Greek textbook The Basics of Biblical Greek is the foundation for two new online courses launched by Mounce and BibleMesh.

mounce-logo-straplineDivided into 36 lessons on Greek grammar, vocabulary and translation technique, The Basics of Biblical Greek online courses combine classic textbook content with Cerego technologies to enhance grammar and vocabulary retention. Easily adapted into the standard two-semester format of learning biblical Greek, the courses are available in either a stand-alone format or with an academic support bundle.

With the academic support bundle, students can retain permanent access to their grades and receive academic credit at partner institutions of higher education.

The Basics of Biblical Greek textbook is used in colleges and seminaries across the world and has helped more than 200,000 students learn to read the New Testament in the original Greek.

“I am delighted that we are able to partner with Bill Mounce on this important project, enabling people to read God’s Word in the original language,” said BibleMesh publisher Emmanuel Kampouris. “Our global team has long sought to help people know and love the Bible. We strongly believe that this new collaboration honors this purpose.”

The courses include Greek audio recordings, vocabulary tutorials and teaching videos featuring Mounce, president of BiblicalTraining.org.

Mounce said the online courses are “not merely an eBook” but “a truly interactive, learning experience.”

“There is so much that we can do electronically to help the student learn biblical Greek, making the process much less painful than a traditional paper textbook,” said Mounce. “That is why I am delighted to be working hand in hand with BibleMesh, using their expertise to accomplish this goal. From the presentation of the written material, to the inclusion of the videos, to the interactive testing, we are well on our way to a new type of learning experience. And for teachers, the embedded administrative tools from Cerego will make teaching a class of any size a rewarding experience.”

In the coming months, BibleMesh will release other Mounce courses based on content from BiblicalTraining.org, which offers resources for discipleship in the local church.

BibleMesh is an internationally known source for theological content that promotes biblical understanding and Christian discipleship. It launched in 2010 to offer high-quality courses in a cutting-edge online learning environment.

Kampouris and his wife Camille began BibleMesh to address biblical illiteracy worldwide. Emmanuel Kampouris is the retired chairman, CEO, and president of American Standard Companies, Inc. Camille Kampouris is an educator and performer most known for her work with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street.

For more information about BibleMesh, visit biblemesh.com.

 

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New BibleMesh Course Explores Biblical Gender Roles

ProfilePicMAKost.smallHAMILTON, Bermuda—BibleMesh is pleased to announce the launch of God’s Design for Man & Woman, an online course from Andreas and Margaret Kӧstenberger explaining the Bible’s teaching about gender roles and applying it to the modern world. In 10 instructional units with more than 30 videos, students will learn that God created man and woman with equally significant yet distinct and complementary roles in the church and the family.

The Kӧstenbergers have been married for 25 years and are the parents of four children. He serves as senior research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where Margaret is adjunct professor of women’s studies.

“Our culture is in great ferment on the issue of gender identities and roles,” Andreas Kӧstenberger said. “As a result, there is an acute need to equip this generation with the clear teaching of Scripture on this subject. In God’s Design for Man & Woman, we show how God’s original pattern was established at creation, subverted at the fall, and is now being restored in Christ for believers. Lasting fulfillment for men and women comes not through political action, legislative initiative, or judicial decree, but only by spiritual transformation.”

Among the features of God’s Design for Man & Woman are:

  • A survey of Scripture’s teaching on gender from Genesis to Revelation rather than a focus only on debated passages.
  • Instructional videos featuring the Kӧstenbergers’ discussing key issues from their perspectives as a husband and wife.
  • Opportunities for reflection, interaction with the material, and assessment.
  • A church curriculum that can be used in conferences or small groups with a facilitator, video component, and discussion questions.

Available at www.BibleMesh.com and www.biblicalfoundations.org, God’s Design for Man & Woman is based on the Kӧstenbergers’ book of the same title published by Crossway.

GDMW“In a world awash in confusion about God’s plan for men and women, BibleMesh has gladly partnered with Andreas and Margaret Kӧstenberger in this important project,” said BibleMesh publisher Emmanuel Kampouris. “Their instruction in this course helps bring the clarity of God’s Word to bear on the subject of gender.”

Kampouris and his wife Camille began BibleMesh to address biblical illiteracy worldwide. Emmanuel Kampouris is the retired chairman, CEO, and president of American Standard Companies, Inc. Camille Kampouris is an educator and performer most known for her work with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street.

BibleMesh is an internationally known source for theological content that promotes biblical understanding and Christian discipleship. It launched in 2010 to offer high-quality courses in a cutting-edge online learning environment.

 

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Discipleship Explored Launched by BibleMesh and Christianity Explored Ministries

HAMILTON, Bermuda—BibleMesh and Christianity Explored Ministries have partnered to launch an online course explaining the basics of living a joyful Christian life.

Discipleship Explored is based on the course of the same name published by The Good Book Company and takes students on an eight-stage inductive journey through the book of Philippians. The course answers questions such as: How can we be confident of our salvation? Who is the Holy Spirit and what does He do? Why is church so important? Why read the Bible? What is righteousness and how do we get it? How can we know Jesus better? What difference does prayer make? And how can we be content in all circumstances, even when suffering?

ChristExplo

“Though a church-based course is ideal, we recognize that they’re not always practical, and for various reasons: erratic schedules, personal health factors, not to mention the difficulties faced by isolated believers living in countries where churches are being shut down or driven underground,” said Barry Cooper, author of Discipleship Explored and director of product development at Christianity Explored Ministries. “That’s why Discipleship Explored Online has been developed.

“This is more than a simple ‘port’ of Discipleship Explored,” Cooper continued. “There are many things we can do online that would be impossible in an offline course. So this is a hugely exciting moment for us. We are thrilled to be partnering with BibleMesh and are grateful for their dedication and vision. We’re looking forward to seeing how the Lord will use Discipleship Explored Online.”

Each of the eight stages of Discipleship Explored features an introductory Bible study, a 10-­15 minute video, targeted questions to help students apply what they have learned, and follow-­up studies that explore other biblical passages on the same theme.

Christianity Explored Ministries was founded by Rico Tice and Barry Cooper under the ministry of John Stott at All Souls Church, Langham Place in Central London.

BibleMesh is an internationally known source for theological content that promotes biblical understanding and Christian discipleship. It launched in 2010 to offer high-quality courses in a cutting-edge online learning environment.

Emmanuel and Camille Kampouris began BibleMesh to address biblical illiteracy worldwide. Emmanuel Kampouris is the retired chairman, CEO, and president of American Standard Companies, Inc. Camille Kampouris is an educator and performer most known for her work with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street.

“It’s a pleasure to partner with Christianity Explored Ministries to offer tried and true Christian resources in an online format,” said Emmanuel Kampouris. “From the very beginning, our global team has sought to provide a fresh, faithful introduction to the Bible and to bring its teachings to bear on everyday life. We strongly believe that this new collaboration honors that purpose.”

For more information about BibleMesh or Christianity Explored Ministries, visit biblemesh.com.

 

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