Bringing Up Baby

Many have written to express an opinion about the News update article "Growing Criticism" (Feb. 9) concerning Growing Families International and their Preparation for Parenthood Program. A large number have taken CT to task, citing positive personal experience with the GFI program and suggesting the information we published was biased and even "misleading" to those unfamiliar with Preparation for Parenthood. Expressing a sentiment echoed by many, one parent who is also a nurse wrote, "I have been tremendously blessed and helped by the Ezzos' materials."

At the same time, however, others have applauded CT for, in the words of one, "having the courage to publish a follow-up story on the program that is currently sweeping the nation." A marriage and family therapist, observing families using GFI materials who "join the chorus of how well it's 'working,' " expressed dismay that the "definition of 'working' seems to be limited to the parents' convenience." "I've never heard these parents discuss their children's emotional well-being or how much they enjoy the relationships with them," she says. "I find that grievous."

Randy Frame, who wrote CT's article, suggests that friends of GFI gain access to GFI's "alleged list of supporting physicians. … If they can't, perhaps they, like Grace Community Church, will begin asking some of the same questions critics have been asking."

One Who Has Fallen

I want to thank you for your article on Jimmy Swaggart ["Still Wrestling with the Devil," Mar. 2]. It was refreshing to see a more gracious approach toward one who has fallen rather than a critical attack. Randall Balmer made a great point we should remember, that, like Swaggart, we are all human and daily need the grace and forgiveness of God. May God help us to practice Galatians 6:1: "looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted."

Pastor Joseph Pjecha
Tionesta Alliance Church
Tionesta, Pa.

Randall Balmer's story on Jimmy Swaggart was one of the saddest I have read in a long time. I had hoped to discover some insight from Swaggart, some deeper understanding of what happened to him, and what true religion really is. But there lingers about him a hint of a victim practicing a type of confession that avoids consequences by convincingly delivering sentimental intensity, not unlike another famous evangelical now making tabloid headlines (President Clinton).

Trey Bane
Marietta, Ga.

Thank you for the article on Jimmy Swaggart. I agreed with the church on discipline; however, he did at times cause me to pull my truck off the road and have church.

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George Moizman
Orting, Wash.

When I conducted my first evangelistic meeting after finishing Southwestern Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas (now Southwestern Assemblies of God University), in June 1949 at Ferriday, Louisiana, a young teenager attended regularly. His name was Jimmy Swaggart. I had no idea his ministry in tv evangelism would be so far-reaching over the world in the years ahead.

As I have traveled over the world, I have seen the productive work of Jimmy in many countries, where he spent millions helping orphans, building Bible schools, and helping churches during his heyday in evangelism.

I have kept in touch with Jimmy and fully believe that God has used him mightily in years past. I believe he still has a heart of gold.

Talmadge Ford McNabb
Browns Mills, N.J.

Mercy, Not Justice
* Ronald J. Sider and Fred Clark properly defend government as a God-ordained necessity, but their understanding of justice as going beyond unbiased courts is unconvincing ["Should We Give Up on Government?" March 2]. When God makes the poor in spirit rich in Christ, it is an act of mercy, not justice. Similarly, when individuals, churches, and governments decide to give aid to the poor beyond fair treatment, they are being more than just; they are being merciful. The issue with which many Christians wrestle is not government and the justice it should provide; the issue is how merciful the state should be.

Mark Heijerman
Fairfield, N.J.

I'm not sure Sider and Clark get the point about libertarian principles. Though there are varieties of libertarians, the main theme I am hearing from them is that government is not necessarily evil, it just can't do some things very well. They do not want to eliminate government, though they would like to greatly reduce its size and remove many of its unproductive restrictions. The title of the book by Harry Browne, the Libertarian party's 1996 candidate for president, says it concisely: Why Government Doesn't Work.

Libertarians are not giving up on government, but they are provoking the question as to what government should be doing and if there are not better ways to accomplish desirable ends other than having a government program for it.

Edward Y. Hopkins
Lynchburg, Va.

The Relevance of King's Dream
* Thanks to Edward Gilbreath's recent cover story, "Catching Up with a Dream" (Mar. 2), my confidence in the dream and its relevance in the body of Christ has been renewed.

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Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen
Sacramento, Calif.

* I was very saddened to read of Spencer Perkins's death and thought the articles devoted to racism and Martin Luther King timely in that light.

My memories of growing up in a white, Virginia suburb during the era of Selma and Birmingham and Watts and that "I Have A Dream" speech are still vivid. The pastor of my parents' church was dismissed due to his participation in a civil-rights march, and everyone around me buzzed with contempt and fear of King. Now there are voices on both sides of the racial divide judging him through politically correct lenses that annihilate the historic perspective, while at the same time viewing PK's growing emphases on racial reconciliation (and similar attempts) as mere "hugfests."

Why not get the big picture? The so-called hugfest creates an opportunity to move from dialogue to strategy, with whites and blacks arm in arm; isn't this the substance of "I Have A Dream"? Let's not lose the opportunity!

Pastor Drew Mountcastle
New Middletown, Ohio

Reclaiming the Hospice Vision
* [With regard to the Special News Report "Hospice Hijacked?" Mar. 2], as a hospice chaplain, I fear that more and more of the patients who worry about being a burden will consider assisted suicide as a way of easing the financial hardship on family and society. Of the various factors that may lead a hospice patient to seek assisted suicide, the most disturbing is the desire to save money. I am alarmed at the number of terminally ill patients who are aware of the high cost of health care and are increasingly inclined to make decisions based on financial considerations.

As an ordained minister, I am further alarmed by the tacit admission of the church that caring for the dying is not often considered an efficient use of resources. How can the original vision of hospice care be reclaimed unless the church returns to its First Love and stops viewing people primarily as economic potentials?

Rev. Larry David Hoxey
Henderson, Nev.

Truth Worse Than Our Fears
* L. Gregory Jones has given us a marvelous look at the possibilities of forgiveness ["How Much Truth Can We Take?" Feb. 9]. I lived in South Africa from 1972-77 and 1985-93. I preached love and forgiveness. I taught Bible college students from every tribe. I saw the anger, fear, hatred, and horrors of apartheid up close and personal. I wept with my black colleagues and often argued with my white friends. I'm certain I could have and should have done much more. For the sake of a work visa I sometimes remained silent. Please forgive me.

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I've been in and out of South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work. The truth is actually worse than our worst fears. That forgiveness from victims is being given is testimony to the cry for freedom that lives in every heart. The resistance to forgiveness in some is testimony that we are often bound by our sinful natures. That even one victim can forgive in South Africa's story of hate is proof that God's grace is still greater than all our sin.

Jim Grams
Springfield, Mo.

Let the Prisoners Compete
I agree on the need for providing training and teaching prisoners real-life skills. However, let me fill you in on the negative impact of prison labor on small businesses ["Let the Prisoners Work," Editorial, Feb. 9]. We have laws prohibiting the importation of products made by prison or slave labor abroad. Yet U.S. companies have to compete against home-grown "slave" labor. A drapery manufacturer in my district is totally shut out of any U.S. government contract to make draperies for federal office buildings because Federal Prison Industries (FPI) has this market all to itself. He is not even allowed to bid on federal government contracts.

In fact, FPI has unilaterally seized all federal government contracts in over 85 different industries, ranging from manufacturers of rocket launchers to furniture makers. In several hearings before the Small Business Committee of the House of Representatives, I have seen ample evidence of FPI displacing U.S. jobs.

The legislation you alluded to came about because the business community's very existence was threatened by this competition from very low-wage prison labor. This bill will promote full, fair, and open competition for all federal contracts by allowing every firm the opportunity to bid. This legislation is simply a matter of balancing training and working of prisoners with the free-market system.

Rep. Donald A. Manzullo (R-Ill.)
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

Brief letters are welcome. They may be edited for space and clarity and must include the writer's name and address if intended for publication. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot respond personally to individual letters. Write to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; fax: 630/260-0114. E-mail: ( * ).

An Open Letter About "The Gift of Salvation"
Because of dialogue with some of their critics, and in the interest of evangelical unity, the evangelical team who helped to draft "The Gift of Salvation" (CT, Dec. 8, 1997, p. 34) decided to explain publicly, in the letter printed below, what their purposes and understanding were as they put together this second Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. Since its publication in December 1997, "The Gift of Salvation," of which we along with other evangelical and Roman Catholic theologians were signatories, has garnered much attention on both sides of this historic confessional divide. We are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace lest the body of Christ be further fractured through careless conduct or willful disregard on our part. We are thus pleased to respond to various comments and questions concerning the purpose and intended meaning of "The Gift of Salvation."

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"The Gift of Salvation" is not an official accord between the Roman Catholic Church and any evangelical church or denomination. It is a good faith effort on the part of some Roman Catholics and some evangelicals to say, with as much clarity as possible, how they understand God's gracious gift of salvation on the basis of the Word of God. We evangelicals who signed "The Gift of Salvation" do not claim a unity of faith with the church of Rome. What we do acknowledge is a unity in Christ with Roman Catholic believers who, no less than we ourselves, have been saved by God's grace and justified by faith alone. Despite our doctrinal differences, we who by faith know, love, trust, and hope in Christ the Mediator are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

We believe that "The Gift of Salvation" is a significant first step in the right direction, but we do not claim that we have reached a complete common agreement on the doctrine of salvation as expressed in the official teachings of our respective communities. As Timothy George wrote in his introduction to "The Gift of Salvation" in the December 1997 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, "We rejoice that our Roman Catholic interlocutors have been able to agree with us that the doctrine of justification set forth in this document agrees with what the Reformers meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide). … [But] this still does not resolve all the differences between our two traditions on this crucial matter."

Likewise, Cardinal Edward Cassidy declared: "This does not mean that evangelicals and Catholics have overcome all their doctrinal differences or that their understanding of the gospel and of the Christian message has suddenly become identical. We will surely continue to evangelize according to our beliefs." Yet what we have affirmed together in this document, we believe, is of fundamental importance.

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When "The Gift of Salvation" speaks of "needlessly divisive disputes" between Roman Catholics and evangelicals, it does not refer to the many weighty theological matters on which we still conscientiously disagree, such as sacramental theology, Marian devotion, purgatory, and so forth. "The Gift of Salvation" takes note of these matters, referring to them as "serious and persistent differences" which are "necessarily interrelated" with the affirmations we have made in common, and are thus future agenda items for us. The fact that these issues are "on the table" does not mean that they are "up for grabs," but rather that they must be pursued with rigor and honesty in our continuing dialogue. By "needlessly divisive disputes" we mean the kind of mutual recrimination and uncharitable taunting that has resulted in Protestant-bashing and Catholic-baiting in the past and that still persists today.

Our methodology in crafting "The Gift of Salvation" was to study the Bible together and to formulate a statement on salvation derived from and based upon the evidence of Holy Scripture alone. In doing so we were in line with the historic evangelical insistence on the sufficiency of Scripture and the recent Roman Catholic renaissance in biblical studies.

Based on our common study of the Bible, we were able to agree that the work of redemption has been accomplished (a word that means done, completed) by Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. "The Gift of Salvation" affirms a declaratory, forensic justification on the sole ground of the righteousness of Christ alone, a standing before God not earned by any good works or merits on our own. It states that in justification, here and now, God graciously constitutes us his forgiven friends, and that is how henceforth we stand in relation to him. In these terms, we intended to affirm nothing less than "justification by grace alone because of Christ alone through faith alone," which is the biblical gospel.

The word imputation (not used in the body of the document) refers to God's crediting of righteousness to us because of what Christ has done for us: which means, God's accounting of Christ's righteousness to all those who are united with him through faith. As evangelicals, we saw this teaching as implicit in the doctrine of justification by faith alone and tried to express it in biblical terms. Our discussion was also informed by the superb biblical scholarship of Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer, whose recent Commentary on Romans illuminates the Pauline meaning of justification:

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When, then, Paul in Romans says that Christ Jesus "justified" human beings "by his blood" (3:25; cf. 5:9), he means that by what Christ suffered in his passion and death he has brought it about that sinful human beings can stand before God's tribunal acquitted or innocent, with the judgment not based on observance of the Mosaic Law. … Paul insists on the utter gratuity of this justification because "all alike have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). Consequently, this uprightness does not belong to human beings (10:3), and it is not something that they have produced or merited; it is an alien uprightness, one belonging rightly to another (to Christ) and attributed to them because of what that other has done for them. So Paul understands God "justifying the godless" (4:5) or "crediting uprightness" to human beings quite "apart from deeds."

As we have said before, we do not seek Christian unity at the expense of Christian truth. We are engaged in an ecumenism of conviction, not an ecumenism of accommodation. That commitment to unity in truth alone is held with equal firmness by both the evangelical and Roman Catholic theologians in this ongoing process. We see our statement as expressing, not indeed unity in every aspect of the gospel, but unity in its basic dimension, with hope of that unity being extended through further discussions.

In the sixteenth century, Calvin, Bucer, and Melanchthon, among others, met with Roman Catholic theologians to discuss the central doctrines of the Reformation. We, with them, stand in that same tradition, committed to the principle of ecclesia semper reformanda (the church always reforming), and we believe that both doctrinal reformation and Christian unity flow from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. For this we pray and beg the prayers of all God's people.

Timothy George, Thomas C. Oden, J. I. Packer

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