Half Your Duty
Last month Desiring God released a short, free ebook from John Piper titled, Exposing the Dark Work of Abortion. The book's content was taken from three of his past sermons on abortion (he's preached more than 20 in his lifetime) and is cause to thank God again for Pastor John's continued commitment both to combatting abortion and to making so many Desiring God resources freely available. On my weekend flight to Portland, I finally had opportunity to read the new book in its entirety.
The first portion of the book was preached 20 years ago, in January of 1992. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and it would be six more years before I would hear of John Piper or give more than passing thought to the issue of abortion. But by the time that year finished (1998), my life had been completely reoriented through reading Desiring God (along with Future Grace, The Pleasures of God and A Hunger for God) and coming face to face with the atrocity of abortion. The timing of Piper's entrance into my life and his unwavering, public condemnation of abortion was nothing short of providential. Abort73 would not exist apart from the preaching and writing ministry of John Piper.
Returning to the book, the first message came from Ephesians 5 and is anchored on verse 11: Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. According to Pastor John, this text teaches us that, "Christians who walk in the light should be involved in exposing the dark and fruitless work of abortion." We are called to shine the light of truth, justice and love into dark places so as to show evil for what it really is. He further elaborates:
I hope you hear the force of this. It is radically different from the passivity and moral withdrawal of many Christians. Many believers have a passive avoidance ethic and that is all. In other words they think: if I avoid the works of darkness, and don’t do them myself, then I am doing my Christian duty. I’m clean. I’m in the light. But that is not what verse 11 says. It says you are only doing half your duty. “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness”—that’s an avoidance ethic. That’s half your duty. But it goes on, and in fact puts stress on the next phrase because it is easily overlooked and because it can be very costly: “Rather even expose them!” Don’t just avoid the works of darkness, expose them. This is not avoidance. This is action.
When this message was first preached in 1992, a "passive avoidance ethic" dominated most evangelicals. That is not nearly as true today as it was twenty years ago–as evidenced by my experience this weekend at The Justice Conference. Conferences like this didn't exist 10 years ago, let alone 20. Evangelicals are leaving the passive avoidance ethic in droves and are pouring out massive amounts of focused, creative energy towards the elimination of global injustices–except when it comes to abortion. There were close to 150 exhibitors at The Justice Conference, and Abort73 was the only one taking on the injustice of abortion. There were nine general sessions and though I didn't attend all of them, I don't believe abortion was even mentioned. Numerous visitors to our table asked how a mostly-Christian conference on justice could leave out abortion, which they described as the defining social justice issue in the world today. That's a good question. Aside from Scott Rae's excellent pre-conference break-out session, nothing was said about the injustice of abortion. At the general sessions which I did attend, prominent attention was given to the injustice of not honoring other religions, the injustice of not doing more to free wrongfully-convicted prisoners through DNA testing, and the injustice of U.S. military spending. I'm certainly not suggesting that a conference like this should be all or even mostly about abortion, but to leave it out altogether is troubling.
John Piper's 1992 sermon has something to say about this omission. The reason Christians are so prone to do only "half [their] duty," he says, is because exposing the dark work of abortion "can be very costly." And the cost he references is primarily a social one. I do not think it's a coincidence that the justice issues getting the most attention at the conference are the same justice issues getting the most attention in the world. Christians are increasingly condemning the injustices the world condemns but remaining largely silent about the injustice of abortion, which much of the world supports and celebrates. There is almost no social cost to combatting politically-correct justice issues, but there are huge social costs to combatting abortion. So how do we find the courage to stand up when the world tells us to sit down? The second section of Piper's new book, which was first preached in 1991, has something to say about the root of courage:
One thing I have learned from following the educational route as far as it goes in my field and then reading what the most educated write: there is nothing in advanced education that makes a person a courageous and clear spokesman for the truth. I believe in education. I believe some of our brightest young people should make scholarship a career for the glory of God. But let us get the idea out of our head that scholarship makes a man or a woman bold, courageous, straightforward, and clear. There is no positive correlation between advanced education and courageous clarity… boldness and clarity come from spending time with Jesus. Jesus is the truth we need to see, and Jesus is good—radically good. The more you have real dealings with him, the more confident you become in the truth, and the more good you become in not wanting to exalt yourself or protect yourself with impressive words… people who bank their hopes on Jesus and spend time with Jesus and obey Jesus—should stand up in public and tell God’s truth as they see it without worrying that secular listeners may not even agree with our most basic assumptions.
In other words, it may not be a lack of education that is holding our tongue. It may well be a lack of meaningful fellowship with Christ. The primary text for this message was Acts 4:13-22, where the religious leaders marvel at the courage and authority of Peter and John. They may have been uneducated, but they spent time with Jesus, and that gave them courage and conviction well beyond their schooling. Education is important, but it can only take us so far. Apart from the love and wisdom that comes from Christ, education can just as easily be a tool of cruelty and vice. For me, the highlight of The Justice Conference was John Perkins' address. When asked what the most pressing justice need in the world today is, he immediately responded that it's discipleship. Growing, maturing disciples of Jesus Christ can discern things that the world cannot and that, he believes, is what's most needed.
The final section of John Piper's ebook, which was preached just last year, offers a fitting conclusion for those of us who want to be hearers and doers–for those of us who want to abandon a passive avoidance ethic without abandoning Christ. He writes:
Let’s not be among the sophisticated Christians who resist talking about eternal suffering, and the horrors of hell. And let’s not be among the isolated Christians who resist working against the untold sufferings of this world… Let’s be like Jesus. In every social issue from abortion to alcoholism, from AIDS to unemployment, from hunger to homelessness, let’s give the help that we would like to receive if it were us. And at every moment in that love, let us feel an even greater urgency to pray and speak and work to rescue people from everlasting suffering through the gospel of Jesus. And to that end, may we rest and rejoice that we have a Father in heaven who hears our cry and will get us home.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.