This week, a full-edition program featuring author Tim denBok, talking about his newly-published book “Where is the Evangelical Church?” The book is subtitled: “A Plea to the Evangelical Church to Respond to the Plight of the Preborn.”
LN: Tim, what prompted you to write this book? In the preface, you talk about the notion that there is an “egregious indifference” to the issue of abortion in the broader evangelical church. Is that where this whole thing started?
TdB: Well probably my main motivation for writing the book was my own personal experience of seeing the apathy and indifference of evangelical Christians. Until recently, I’d attended a local Pentecostal church; I’d been going there for 48 years, and I was constantly taken aback – shocked might be a better word – by the lack of concern of Christians there for the plight of the pre-born. In fact, when I left I was sent a letter by the four pastors there, saying they disagreed with me that speaking out against abortion should be a matter of high priority. And I’ve also witnessed this apathy at pro-life events. I was at a pro-life convention a couple of years ago when Jim Hughes, the long-time president of (the) Campaign Life (Coalition) got up and asked how many priests or pastors were at the convention and incredibly not a single person raised his or her hand. And at that Hughes said “this is the problem, all across Canada.”
LN: So where does this “egregious indifference” come from, do you think?
TdB: Well I think there’s at least a couple of reasons for this. The first is that much of the evangelical church I think has been infected by what is called “pietism”. “Piety”, of course, is a good thing; it’s the practice of the spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study, and so on. “Pietism”, on the other hand, is the belief that that’s all that the Christian needs to do. And this of course flies in the face of the example set by Jesus. For him, righteousness wasn’t simply private, but social. Jesus of course practiced the spiritual disciplines, but it says in Acts that he also “healed the sick and went about doing good.”
And I think a second reason for the church’s apathy is pessimism about the future. Many evangelicals believe that – because we’re living in the end times – the world is just going to continue to get worse until Christ returns. And so, fighting against social evils like abortion would, in their view, be just like polishing the brass on the Titanic. Why bother doing it? We’d do better spending our time evangelizing. Sharing the good news of the Gospel. However, as Acts 2 teaches, the end times began in the first century, but that didn’t stop the first-century Christians from engaging in social action. The New Testament teaches that the first-century church sold their goods and shared the money with each other and with the poor in their community.
And I would also agree with Francis Schaeffer who, in his book “The Great Evangelical Disaster” – a book that he literally wrote on his deathbed – said that the church has been “too conformed to society to take a strong stand against social evils.”
LN: You made two major points in the book. First, you make the case that “there is warrant for the claim that the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action by the church.” Let’s talk about that one first.
TdB: OK. In support of my contention that the plight of the pre-born is an emergency that calls for extraordinary action, I appeal to three lines of evidence: Scripture, church tradition, and the testimony of contemporary evangelical leaders.
Scripture, I think, makes it abundantly clear that the mass shedding of innocent blood – such as is the case with abortion in Canada – is something with which every Christian should be concerned. For example, the parable of the good Samaritan teaches implicitly that our neighbour is anyone in need. And since 1969, almost 4 million pre-born children have been brutally put to death in Canada. And as such, the pre-born, I think, is clearly our neighbour, or someone who’s in need.
The parable also teaches that it’s not enough to just have “pity” for our neighbour. We have to translate that pity into action. Many, if not most evangelicals – I would hazard a guess – would “pity” the pre-born, but they never translate that into action. And as such, they’re like the priest and the Levite who pass the wounded man by on the other side of the road. And the parable also teaches that emergencies sometimes arise that require immediate action. And as such, to fail to respond to this action is a sin. It’s the sin of omission. As such, in my opinion, the church is guilty of the sin of omission for failing to respond to the plight of the pre-born.
And also Proverbs 31 commands us to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves; for the plight of all who are destitute. Since the pre-born obviously cannot speak for themselves, I would argue that we as Christians have an obligation to do this for them.
With regard to church tradition, the New Testament scholar Michael Gorman, in his book “Abortion and the Early Church” argues that from its very beginning, the church has always opposed abortion. For example, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, which date from the early second century, and likely used information from a first-century source; both condemned abortion. As well, early Christian leaders who opposed abortion include Jerome, Augustine, Tertullian, Ambrose, and so on.
With regard to the testimony of contemporary evangelical leaders, in the book I quote such prominent leaders as Francis Schaeffer, Billy Graham, John Stott, Charles Colson, to the effect that we must make the pro-life issue a priority. For example, just a couple of years ago, Billy Graham – in a prayer letter to America – talked about the time when his late wife Ruth was reading through the manuscript of a book that he’d just written, talking about America’s moral decadence. And suddenly she said “If God doesn’t judge America, He would have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah”. And Graham then said: “What would Ruth think now? For since her death, America has killed millions of pre-born children without seeming to even care.”
So by drawing upon these three lines of evidence – Scripture, church tradition, and the testimony of contemporary evangelical leaders – I think that a good case can be made that the “plight of the pre-born is an emergency that requires extraordinary action by the church.”
LN: The second point is sort of the corollary to the first one, and that’s the notion that “there is no warrant for the claim that plight of the unborn is not an emergency.” Why is it even necessary to include that?
TdB: Well, you wouldn’t think it would be necessary. I think that it should be obvious to Christians of all stripes that the mass shedding of innocent blood – whether in Canada, in Nazi Germany, or Rwanda – is an emergency that we have an obligation to respond to. But sadly this isn’t the case. In my book I respond to a dozen arguments that the church should not make responding to the plight of the pre-born a matter of priority. And every single one of those arguments I’ve heard at one time or another from evangelicals, especially pastors.
For example, some evangelicals argue that since Jesus never spoke out against abortion – even though it was practiced by pagans – we shouldn’t either. And one of the problems with this argument is that the Bible says Jesus was sent to the “lost tribe of Israel”, and that as Gorman says in “Abortion and the Early Church”, first-century Jews didn’t practice abortion. As such, it’s not at all surprising that Jesus didn’t condemn abortion. However, as Gorman says, it wasn’t long after Jesus’ ascension that the church began to condemn abortion.
LN: One of the chapter subheadings talks about the notion that “social concern is part of the church’s mission.” I don’t think anyone would disagree with that in some sense, but for the most part, the evangelical church today has interpreted the “social concern” to mean things like women’s and minority rights, action on the environment, (and) a general emphasis on what we’d call “social justice” issues. But the abortion piece is conspicuously absent from the list of “injustices” that many of these churches want to talk about. Why is that?
TdB: Well, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard evangelical pastors define the church’s mission as simply “evangelism” or “sharing the good news of the Gospel.” So I think many evangelicals would disagree with the notion that social concern is part of the church’s action. Nonetheless, many evangelical churches are involved in social issues such as helping the poor in foreign countries, disaster relief. But as you say, the issue of abortion is conspicuously absent from most churches’ list of social concerns.
I think one of the main reasons for this is that, compared with these other issues, abortion is a controversial and sensitive issue. And the church is simply afraid of offending people.
Especially women who have had abortions. After all, to be opposed to abortion today is, in the minds of many Canadians, the same as being opposed to women’s rights. And who wants to be opposed to women’s rights? No one’s going to be offended by the fact that the church is sending disaster relief money to help people in Africa, or those who’ve been affected by the recent hurricanes. But some will be offended if a pastor calls abortion “homicide”, or promotes a Life Chain or a March for Life event.
However, I think the church would do well to remember that as Stott points out in his book “Christ the Controversialist”, Jesus didn’t shy away from controversy. On the contrary, He was surrounded by controversy every day. He was constantly quarreling with the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. And interestingly, He often took the fight to them. He didn’t wait for the fight to come to Him. Clearly, when the choice was between not offending someone or speaking the truth, Jesus spoke the truth, albeit in love. And I think we should do the same with regard to the abortion issue.
LN: Part of the book – and you’ve already talked about this – is a list of contemporary Christian leaders who’ve spoken out on this. Billy Graham, John Stott, RC Sproul, Chuck Colson. I honestly didn’t realize these men had spoken out as forcefully as they had on this, but just the very list – and the fact that it exists – kind of begs the question: “If people like this haven’t been able to motivate the church on this, what will it take?”
TdB: Well, I’m certainly under no illusions that my book in itself will do the trick. I believe that this change will only come about through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and I’ve been praying that God will use my book as an instrument in His hands to awaken the evangelical church from its apathy with regard to the abortion issue.
However, it should be mentioned that the book and the film series “Whatever Happened to the Human Race” by Frances Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop is largely credited with awakening the evangelical church of America to the plight of the pre-born.
LN: In your biography on the back (cover) of the book, you talk about your church membership being in the Nazarene Church. (But) with a last name like denBok, I can only assume that at some point in your life, you had some exposure to a Reformed Christian worldview; Kuyperianism, call it whatever you want. Is that an element that’s gone missing in broader evangelicalism today in terms of worldview?
TdB: Well, my dad’s family came over the Netherlands in 1949. He attended the Christian Reformed Church here in Collingwood but for some reason – I’m not sure why – I, along with my five siblings, attended my mother’s Pentecostal church. And although I did occasionally attend my dad’s Reformed church, I’m afraid I’m not very knowledgeable about the theology of Abraham Kuyper. I do know, however, that he emphasized the Lordship of Christ over all of creation, and I certainly think that this teaching is missing in much of evangelicalism today, in which there seems to be an unbiblical sacred/secular dichotomy. This is (similar to) the distinction I made earlier between social righteousness and personal righteousness. The Bible requires both. And it was Kuyper who said that Satan points to every inch of God’s creation and says “it’s mine”, and God responds by saying “No! It’s Mine!”
LN: I find the phrase somewhat flippant – almost blasphemous – but we’re increasingly hearing the term “fire insurance” as a descriptor for the Christian faith. That’s sort of rooted in the notion that “If I have a relationship with Jesus, I get ‘insurance’ from the fires of hell.” For many evangelicals today, the criticism is that their Christian ‘faith’ doesn’t extend much beyond that. I guess first of all, is that too strong an indictment, and second, might that be part of the problem? The idea that Christianity is all about “me and Jesus,” with no thought to any broader implications?
TdB: I don’t think it’s too strong an indictment. As I mentioned earlier, much of the evangelical church today is infected with pietism. The view that “all the Christian has to do is practice piety.” But this view, as I said, ignores the fact that righteousness in the Biblical sense of the term isn’t merely personal, but social. The parable of the sheep and the goats for example makes it clear that we’ll be judged – at least in part – on whether or not we have shown love to our neighbour. As Jesus said “even as you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto Me, and even as you have not done it unto the least of these you have not done it unto Me.” So yes, I do think that pietism – the view that it’s “me and Jesus” – is a big problem in the evangelical church today.
LN: So who needs to read this book?
TdB: Well, as I say in my book, it’s a book written by an evangelical to evangelicals. And more precisely, it’s written by a Canadian evangelical to Canadian evangelicals. With God’s help I hope, through it, to awaken the the evangelical church of Canada to the plight of the pre-born. However, judging from the response that it’s gotten from both Catholics and those who are Reformed, I think that Christians of all stripes will find it of interest.
LN: And finally, a chance for you to plug the book. What does it cost? Where can folks get it? That kind of thing.
TdB: It can be ordered through Amazon, Google Books, and Westbow Press. The listed price on Amazon is about 12 dollars, and those who wish to find out more about the organization that I co-founded called “A Voice for the Pre-Born” can go to my website: www.avoiceforthepreborn.com. And those who wish to contact me can do so (by email) at firstname.lastname@example.org.