Thursday, September 11, 2014

Saving the Pre-Born in a Secular World

By Devorah Gilman

He wasn't the kind of person most people would expect to be open to the pro-life message. He was secular, gay and voted liberal. It seemed that in most aspects, he and I had very different worldviews. However, when I began to talk to this young man in Toronto a short while ago, it became clear we had something in common.

I met him while doing a project we call "Choice" Chain, where we go on Canadian streets and talk to people about abortion. We show pictures of pre-born humans in the womb as well as pictures of what abortion does to them. Our pictures clearly show a harsh truth that our volunteers handle in a sensitive and compassionate way. We never yell or are rude, but focus on dialoguing with people, making sure we ask thoughtful questions in a kind manner, and that's where my conversation happened with this young man.

I asked him key questions: "Do you believe in human rights?" "Yes," he told me. "That's great, I do too," I said. Then I asked him, "If two human beings reproduce, what species will their offspring be?" "Human, obviously," he replied. "We both believe in human rights," I said, "and we know the basic science that species reproduce after their own kind. Knowing this, doesn't it logically follow that this"—I pointed to a picture of an aborted child—"is a human rights violation?" He thought for a moment and then his eyes lit up. "It is a human rights violation!" he said. A while later, he left our conversation promising to do all he could to prevent human rights from being violated through abortion. "Thank you," he said. "What you're doing is powerful."

Though we started the conversation as two people with seemingly great differences we ended in agreement on one important issue. We had both come into the discussion agreeing on our stance on human rights. We both left the discussion with the correct understanding that all humans, including the pre-born, deserved these rights, and as human beings ourselves we would do what we could to protect them. As this gentleman continued on his way, I knew that the world had just become a little safer for pre-born human beings.

Some Christians have expressed skepticism that non-believers can see that abortion is wrong, therefore making it impossible to end abortion. Yet I regularly see men and women who have no faith in God, like this Toronto man, change their opinions on abortion. They don't need to become Christians first before they see that abortion is wrong.

Why is that? Well, people turn to abortion for a variety of reasons. Often, it is the difficult circumstances that they are in and can't see their way out of. Yet, the same people wouldn't choose to kill a born child because they were in the same difficult circumstances. This means we need to show them that killing a pre-born child is just as wrong as killing a born child. The problem is not that they have the wrong morality—they know killing a human being is wrong. The problem is that they have the wrong biology—they don't know that killing a pre-born child is killing a human being.

Shortly after I spoke with the young man, I encountered a young woman, not too far from my previous conversation. This young woman was walking down the street when I offered her a brochure and asked her, "What do you think about abortion?" She opened the brochure and her eyes fell upon a picture of a pre-born child that had been aborted during the first trimester. "It kills a baby," she said. "It's horrible." She went on to share about how terrible and unjust abortion was. Near the end of the conversation, as I wondered whether or not our interaction that day had affected her seemingly firm pro-life conviction, I asked her, "Did seeing this picture change the way you thought of abortion?" "Yes," she said. "I was pro-choice." And then she explained how she had been pro-abortion up to the moment she had seen the picture I showed her. This young lady needed to see what the young man from my first story came to realize as well: pre-born human beings are just that, human beings. As I asked this young woman if she was now 100% against abortion she hesitated, "Well, you may need abortion for rape or if the family is in poverty . . ." Her voice trailed off and then came back strongly against what she had just been saying. "No. You just can't kill a baby." And then in answer to the original question: "Yeah, what can I do to stop abortion?" This woman went from accepting abortion to being 100% against it in minutes. What changed for this young woman is the same thing that changed for the young man in the previous conversation. They came to see that the pre-born are, like you and me, human beings.

What needs to change?

For years many in the pro-life movement have proclaimed truths such as "abortion stops a beating heart," and "life is sacred." Though these statements are true, all they provide is a conclusion and not the compelling evidence that leads to the conclusion in the first place. Furthermore, many argue for the pro-life stance assuming people understand objective truth without trying to prove it to an increasingly relativistic world. We can change hearts and minds in regard to abortion, but we need to be able to reach people where they are at, build common ground, share the truth, and provide evidence in a loving and winsome way.

The reason people aren't embracing the pro-life view isn't because they aren't Christians. It seems people aren't embracing the pro-life view because we aren't communicating that view clearly to them.

We need to communicate the truth of who the pre-born are and what abortion does to them. We need to provide evidence and engage people, scientifically and philosophically. I've shared two anecdotes with you, but they are not isolated incidents. In fact, they are part of an ever-increasing societal transformation that is taking place.

If we seem unable to end abortion, if we're not sure how to communicate the truth, then we need to change our approach, not pack our bags. Let us remember to provide evidence in a compelling manner, reaching people where they're presently at. As we engage the culture in a loving, truthful way, we can rescue many of our pre-born neighbours.

The truth is powerful, and God is glorified when truth is spread and effort is made to save lives. I would argue that, for all pre-born children, whether their lives are in the hands of believers or those who don't believe, we must do what we can to save them, and it is, indeed, possible to save them.

You can learn how to make a compelling pro-life case by visiting CCBR's Pro-Life Classroom. CCBR can also teach you how to communicate with a friend considering an abortion.

Pro-Life speaker Devorah Gilman has spoken to many audiences: educating, inspiring, and equipping them to effectively engage the culture on the abortion issue. She has helped organize and lead teams of people to do life-saving pro-life outreach across Canada and the United States. She is the Community Liaison for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, an educational pro-life organization that is transforming the culture and currently employs over 20 young people as staff. For more information, please see Devorah's profile. To support Devorah's life-saving work, you can donate at CCBR's donation page, and write her name in the comment section of the donation process.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Four Back to School Tips for Youth Leaders

by Jojo Ruba

I remember my first day at grade one. My brother and I woke up expecting another relaxing day around the house. But around breakfast, my dad checked the school schedule and realized that school had started two days earlier!

We quickly drove the few minutes to my elementary school, where all the students were already in class. My dad brought me to a classroom where all the students looked up at me in my old house shirt and pants. I think I tried to hide behind him. But the teacher pulled me away from him and made me sit at a table near the back. As my dad left me for the day, I felt completely lost. I even had to borrow a pencil, because we still hadn't gotten our school supplies.

I can't help but remember that day as I think about all the church kids going back to school this month. I watch my friends with kids do everything they can to prepare them with the right school supplies, the right lunches, and even the right attitude, to survive the next year.

But I worry that many of these young people aren't spiritually prepared to face a culture hostile to their faith. My colleague Jennifer wrote a great piece already on this, from her perspective as a parent.

As a youth pastor and as someone who speaks across Canada regularly, I meet young people all the time who are hungry for leaders who are willing to be the following:

1. Leaders who teach them how to think, not just what to think about.

Access to information has always been a way to save lives. For example, it's hard to imagine what happened to George Price could happen today. Price was a Canadian soldier in World War I. He was part of a small patrol looking for a sniper who had been shooting at them. After searching some abandoned buildings, Price stepped onto the sidewalk, only to be fatally shot—two minutes before the war officially ended. Price became the last Commonwealth soldier to die in that war. [1]

Of course, if he had had a smartphone. he would have known that the Germans had already surrendered days before, and were supposed to lay down their arms within minutes of their search.

The problem youth workers have today is not the lack of information, but the volume of information. Young people are bombarded with messages from all kinds of worldviews. You can find testimonies of former Christians who are now atheists, Muslims, or abortion advocates, doing everything they can to convince Christians that our worldview is wrong.

In other words, we can't equip our young people to answer every question out there. But what youth leaders can do is train their youth to think about the claims they are hearing, and evaluate them. There are three simple questions that can help.

First, I encourage my youth whenever they hear an idea, to ask if that view is true. In other words, does it match the reality that they live in?

Second, I teach them how to discern false and true ideas. For example, for my youth group, I take out a supermarket gossip tabloid and a geography textbook and ask them what the difference is between the two. Each provides answers, but only one is trying to say something about the real world.

Finally, it's not enough today to know what is true and how to determine what is true. Youth also need to be taught why it matters if something is true. It's too easy to say that one's view of Jesus or the Bible "works for you"—meaning it helps you cope with life or makes you feel better. It's a lot harder to say that my belief in Jesus as the only Son of God compels me to behave in ways that are painful or unpopular.

In the same way that knowing the truth of when the ceasefire took place would have likely changed George Price's behaviour, knowing the truth of who God is and what He wants from us, should change our behaviour too. Youth need to know it matters if something is true, because their feelings or experience don't change the truth—rather, the truth changes their feelings or experience.

2. Leaders that tackle everything with a biblical worldview.

When I was a speaker for a pro-life group, I often met resistance from youth leaders. They didn't want their teens to look at abortion, or even talk about the topic. One of the first questions I asked resistant leaders was, "Have you already talked about it with your group?" More often than not the answer was "No." Worse, when I asked, "When will you talk about the issue?" very few could give me any kind of idea when it would fit into their teaching schedule.

The problem is that issues like abortion and homosexuality are no longer reserved for adult conversations in child-free establishments. Our teens will be talking about those topics with someone. The question I ask these leaders is, "Would you prefer to have that person be someone who shares your values, or someone who is trying to destroy them?"

Some argue that these aren't "gospel" issues, but the problem is that these very issues often prevent people from coming to faith. When I meet with youth, even Christian youth, their first complaint against the church is a variant of, "Why are we against gay people?" These issues are preventing the gospel from being understood.

Of course, as Jennifer pointed out, parents are key to providing this kind of integrated learning. But as youth pastors, we have to be there to support those parents and, sometimes, provide a model of how they can talk about these issues with their children.

3. Leaders that integrate the biblical worldview into their worldview.

My first year as a youth pastor, I didn't open the Bible with my youth. Instead, I taught them how to think about the Bible as something that is part of their reality.

I taught them how to discern truth, how to read a text in context, and then how to understand that spiritual truths are just as true as those found in our physical universe. Only then did we begin to study the Bible, and we always did it using real-world illustrations. We flew kites to learn about the power of the Holy Spirit and ate Neapolitan ice cream and talked about the Trinity. I even made the youth go around our neighbourhood on a hot summer day without water or a break to illustrate what we mean by "hell"—to this day, it is a lesson they remember!

But each of these lessons helped show something important about the Christian worldview: The Bible's claims are testable. It isn't just a book based on wishful thinking. Rather, it can be tested and shown to be relevant to their lives.

4. Leaders that show Jesus really does change everything.

A friend recently commented that many articles that talk about why youth leave the church miss the most important reason: because they have never been transformed by the gospel—they aren't Christians!

But the same challenge should be for us who lead those youth groups. Do we really live a life transformed by Christ? As youth pastors, do we act as if there is a God who is in charge of every situation? Do we obey Him, believing that He knows best for us? Because if we can't model that change in our lives when facing personal tragedy, financial ruin, or slander, then how can we expect our youth to face them?

This means we go out of our way to help the poor, but it also means we go out of our way to help our enemy. It also means we say things about marriage that aren't popular. Why? Because God's love compels us to always point them back to the truth of who Jesus is and how much He cares for our everyday lives. And in doing so, we remind our youth that the good news about Jesus is not good because we like it; the good news is good because it is true.

[i] "George Lawrence Price," Wikipedia, <>, accessed 3 September 2014.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Blind Monks and the Elephant: a Christian Interpretation

by Justin Wishart

Eastern religious and philosophical ideas are often expressed in parables. This can lead to various interpretations of any individual parable. One famous Eastern parable is the tale of the blind monks and the elephant. Craig Hazen, Professor of Comparative Religion at the Biblical Institute of Los Angeles University, sums up the folktale:

There is a very old and famous fable—of either Buddhist or Jain origin—that has been used through the centuries to illustrate what is thought to be a fundamental truth about the religions of mankind. Several blind men [or monks] were lead into a rajah’s (king’s) courtyard, where they encountered an elephant. One felt a tusk and concluded that an elephant is like a spear. Another touched a leg and thought an elephant was like a tree. Yet another bumped into the side of the beast and thought that it is like a wall. And so on. The rajah heard the activity, came out on his balcony, and told the blind men that they were each encountering only one small part of the magnificent whole.[i]

This parable is often used to express the idea that all people’s truth claims are true, in their own way, and are simply aspects of the larger ultimate truth. That bickering over doctrinal claims, as this interpretation goes, is really a failure to understand the true reality of things. One should, instead, look to learn from other views to get a more complete idea of the whole.

There is one question which rises to the surface regarding this interpretation: is this not a truth claim itself? The person who uses this parable with this interpretation is claiming to be the rajah. It is he who is able to look down at all these disagreements and state the true reality to those below. Far from being pluralistic, he is making an assertion about what the elephant actually is. He is making a dogmatic claim about why one should not be dogmatic. He is not playing by his own rules.

Since this understanding is self-referentially incoherent, a new interpretation should be proposed, one that possesses internal consistency. Some major tenants of Christianity provide a solid interpretive key to this parable. However, before this parable is unlocked with a Christian understanding, identification of each major character is needed.

The elephant represents the world as it actually is. As the largest land animal, it represents the transcendent, all-encompassing truth. The blind monks represent all people. They denote that humanity only sees a little sliver of reality, and, if left to their limited view, people cannot discover ultimate truth. Humanity is effectively blind. The rajah represents one who can see the truth of things transcendently. He is up on his balcony, with full vision, able to see the truth in its completeness. The rajah doesn’t suffer the same limitations as the blind monks arguing down below.  

The Bible also agrees with these ideas. For example, Jesus corrects Pilate’s erroneous view of the situation before them:

So Pilate said to him, "You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin" (John 19:10-11).[ii]

Just like the elephant has a total description of its existence (as is known by the rajah), so does reality have a total description. Pilate thought he understood the actuality of things, but Jesus corrects him and shows the true nature of the situation. Pilate, like a blind monk, saw only a small sliver of things. Jesus showed that his view was wrong because Pilate could not see the whole elephant.

Likewise, the Bible affirms that we only see things dimly. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul is clear that while humans are alive on this earth they have a very limited view of reality. People are blind monks who cannot see the elephant very well.

Lastly, God is the all-knowing rajah who sees reality as it actually is. As the Psalmist writes, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:5). Paul gives a similar expression: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Romans 11:33). Scripture is clear that God knows the elephant “beyond measure,” even if humans are not able to.

If one examines the relationship between the elephant and the blind monks without the rajah, he would find a hopeless situation. Humans could never have assurance of reality; people’s mind would be filled with partial-truths and partial-lies. There is no mechanism in place to decipher fact from fiction, and knowledge becomes reduced to subjective uncertainty. One person says, “truth is (x),” while another insists, “truth is (y).” Yet, there is no way of knowing if truth is (x), (y), or something else entirely. Left to themselves, humans have no epistemic warrant to have any assurance of their truth claims. As T. Z. Lavine asks, “What, then, can be done about philosophers and the philosophy which they have produced, now that philosophy is seen to be a history of confusion?”[iii]

Even the rajah in the parable, on his own, cannot solve this seemingly desperate situation. He is separated from the blind monks, on his own balcony, knowing reality as it truly is. However, this does not help humans very much. The rajah must express the truth to the blind monks. Therefore, certain knowledge must be revealed knowledge. God must condescend to humanity and reveal the elephant for what it truly is if humanity is going to know reality as it is. Without this step, certain knowledge is not possible, and we are still hopelessly blind.

It seems that this parable does a good job at diagnosing the human condition. It aptly shows man’s inability to know truth by his own faculties. Unfortunately, the standard proposed remedy doesn’t do justice to the parable as a whole. By concluding that humanity should not bicker over doctrine because every view contains truth makes the person the rajah. One would need to know the truth as it actually is to be able to say that every view contains truth. Yet, the person using the parable in this manner is not the rajah but is necessarily a blind monk.

Additionally, this interpretation does not deal with the obvious contradictions in the blind monks’ conclusions of the elephant. Is the elephant a spear, tree, wall, or something else? They cannot all be true.

The Christian interpretation provides a much better remedy and also makes better use of the parable’s elements. After understanding the state of humanity, about which both interpretations agree, the Christian interpretation’s focus shifts to the rajah and his words. In them the blind monks find truth. The standard interpretation does not have a knowable rajah and is simply a blind monk talking to blink monks. The traditional conclusion entails that reality remains ultimately unknowable. In opposition, the Christian interpretation shows that a knowable rajah needs to communicate to humanity the truth of the elephant if knowledge is to be actualized. That knowledge of reality is only possible if truth is revealed. This is exactly what Christianity claims God has done.

 [i] Craig J. Hazen, “Aren’t All Religions Basically the Same” in The Apologetics Study Bible, ed. Ted Cabal (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), p. 566.
 [ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.  
 [iii] T. Z. Lavine, From Socrates to Sartre: the Philosophic Quest (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1984), p. 407.