“Devoid of Content”

Stanley Fish, dean emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Stanley Fish has contributed an opinion editorial in today’s New York Times titled “Devoid of Content.” As a professor who teaches Greek and hermeneutics to undergraduate students and who has graded many papers, I have observed the same thing that that Fish has. Too many students are “utterly unable to write a clear and coherent English sentence . . . Students can’t write clean English sentences because they are not being taught what sentences are.” Though I am in substantial disagreement with Fish over hermeneutical theory (he is a reader-response critic), his analysis of the literacy crisis and the remedy in his pedagogy are brilliant. For the few language buffs and teachers who read this blog, I recommend that you read “Devoid of Content.”

Source: Stanley Fish, “Devoid of Content,” The New York Times, May 31, 2005.


From the Halls of the M.A.S.H. Unit to Shores of the Abortion Clinic

The opinion editors of The New York Times have struck again. In one of today’s editorials, an attempt to be patriotic on Memorial Day weekend appears to be just one more cynical tip-of-the-hat to the culture of death. With a manipulative appeal to the compassion that Americans have for victims of rape and incest, the editors urge that our patriotic duty includes financing abortions for military women serving overseas who might not have access to affordable “healthcare” (In case you didn’t know, “healthcare” has become one of the left’s euphemisms for abortion).

Here is one more example of why the abortion debate in America remains stifled. The piece contains no serious engagement of pro-life arguments, just the same old hackneyed accusation that pro-lifers don’t care about victims of abuse. I guess the editors think that supporting the right of military women to have tax-payer financed abortions is the same thing as supporting the military. If they think they can use this ploy to trick pro-military conservatives into being pro-abortion, they have another thing coming.

Disrespecting Women Soldiers,” The New York Times, May 29, 2005.
California Democrats try to allow abortions for troops overseas,” Associated Press, May 25, 2005

D. A. Carson Slams the Emergent Church

Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. 250pp. $14.99.

If you were wondering whether D. A. Carson had an opinion on the so-called “emergent church” movement, wonder no more. In his new book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications, Carson delivers a biblical and theological wallop against a movement that he argues has been animated by the values of postmodernity. Carson saves what is perhaps his severest denunciation for the very last page of the book, and it packs quite a rhetorical punch against emergent thought: “Damn all the false antitheses to hell, for they generate false gods, they perpetuate idols, they twist and distort our souls, they launch the church into violent pendulum swings whose oscillations succeed only in dividing brothers and sisters in Christ” (p. 234).

The book does not begin with the same stark censure that it ends with, but rather builds to its acerbic conclusion. The early chapters of the book are largely taken up with a description of the emergent church movement, while the latter chapters build into a crescendo of rather pointed critiques of the same. In chapter one, Carson gives a brief profile of the emergent movement. In chapter two, Carson outlines the emergent church’s “strengths in reading the times” (p. 45). In chapter three, Carson discusses what he sees as weaknesses in the emerging church’s analysis of contemporary culture. In chapter four, Carson evaluates “postmodernism’s contributions and challenges” (p. 87) in what is principally a rehashing of material from his earlier work The Gagging of God. In chapter five, Carson argues that the emergent church has not adequately critiqued postmodernism. In chapter six, Carson points out weaknesses in the movement by critiquing two significant books, one written by a prominent American leader in the movement (Brian McLaren) and one by a British leader (Steve Chalke). In chapter seven, Carson evaluates the emergent movement in light of the scriptures (p. 188). In chapter eight, the concluding chapter, Carson offers a “meditation” on the relationship of objective truth and subjective experience in the life of the Christian.

If The Gagging of God is Carson’s critique of the ideology of postmodernism, then Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church is his critique of the practice of postmodernism as it is being carried out in emergent church. Thus, those who disliked Carson’s earlier analysis of postmodernity in The Gagging of God might still be dissatisfied with Becoming Conversant inasmuch as it builds upon the former work (click here for one such critique).

That being said, there is much more to commend in this little book than there is to critique. Carson tackles the difficult task of describing a movement that is far from monolithic. Yet he is able to capture some characteristics which appear to be common among those in the movement. One characteristic that reoccurs in the writings of emergent writers is a “manipulative antithesis” (p. 104) that is often used to force modernists into the epistemological mold of postmodernity: “This antithesis is rarely argued in the literature, but it is almost everywhere assumed by postmodern writers . . . In effect, the antithesis demands that we be God, with all of God’s omniscience, or else be forever condemned to knowing nothing objective for sure” (p. 105). In other words, postmodern theologians and their emergent offspring often allege that if we cannot know anything omnisciently, then it is not possible to know objective truth at all. Carson shows throughout this book that this is in fact a false antithesis that is not born out by reason or scripture. He counters that “critical realism” offers a way for us to acknowledge that while we cannot know anything omnisciently, we can know some things adequately (p. 110).

Carson’s training is that of a New Testament scholar, and more than anything else he brings the scripture to bear upon the ideology of the emergent church (and make no mistake, there is an ideology to postmodernism!). Though he provides scriptural reflections throughout, chapters six and seven in particular contain important material on what the Bible claims about the nature of truth—claims which often stand in stark contrast to that painted by emergent writers. The contrast is often so pronounced that Carson concludes that two of the most significant emergent ministers, “both [Steve] Chalke and [Brian] McLaren have largely abandoned the Gospel” (p. 186).

This book is short, but its length should not be mistaken for a lack of biblical depth and theological insight. It is not only a handy primer on the emergent church, its leaders, and its literature; but it is also a faithful critique of a movement that, taken to seed, undermines evangelical faith.

See my previous post: “Mohler Blasts McLaren and the ‘Emergent’ Church.”

Pro-Choice Groups: “No Comment” on Killing Infants Born Alive

President George W. Bush signs the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 in Pittsburgh, Pa., Monday, Aug. 5, 2002.

In April, President George W. Bush issued a directive instructing doctors to make every effort to save the lives of premature babies born after failed abortions. The new measure is a step towards enforcing the 2002 law known as the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. Under this law, an infant that survives an abortion procedure is no longer a fetus, but a person entitled to emergency medical care and protection against child abuse and neglect.

This law was aimed at preventing situations created by botched abortions, where the baby survives the abortion procedure but is nonetheless left to die. Hearings in Congress on this topic produced disturbing testimony about failed abortions. One medical worker testified concerning one baby who survived an abortion: “the child was breathing, the heart was beating and the child continued to live for several hours” before finally dying.

According to the New York Times, Naral Pro-Choice America and the Center for Reproductive Rights were asked to comment on the new enforcement measure. Their response was a “no comment.”

I think it is remarkable that Naral and the CRR cannot recognize the absolute atrocity of letting a little baby die on the operating table. I know that Naral and the CRR are clear about their support for legalizing the killing of unborn babies. But why can’t they be just as clear in condemning the killing of babies born alive?

Maybe it’s because these pro-choice advocates would have to admit that there is no morally significant difference between the baby inside the birth canal and the baby outside the birth canal. If the baby is treated as a human person immediately after birth, why is not treated as such immediately before birth? Does the baby go through some magical transformation from non-person to person in the inches that separate the pre-born form the born?

I think the pro-choicers know that if life is treated as precious just outside the womb, then there is no reason not to treat it as precious just inside the womb. And they don’t want to go there. This is why the pro-choice group had “no comment.” Truly there is no sane comment that could justify their morally indefensible position.

Source: “New Attention for 2002 Law on Survivors of Abortions” – New York Times

Exploding the Myths of Pro-Choice Arguments

The results of a new study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology say that women who have an abortion are 1.7 times more likely to give birth prematurely in a later pregnancy. This finding has the potential to explode some of the myths of pro-choice advocates who do not want to admit that any adverse consequences result from abortion. The only way to keep this bomb shell from going off is to keep it buried and out of public view. Let’s see if we hear anything about this story in the news in the coming weeks. Don’t hold your breath.

Revealed: how an abortion puts the next baby at risk,” by Michael Day, The London Daily Telegraph, May 15, 2005.
Previous induced abortions and the risk of very preterm delivery: results of the EPIPAGE study,” by Caroline Moreaua, et al., BJOG (April 2005).