Interview with Today's Preacher: Randy Alcorn on Sanctity of Life
Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM). Prior to this he served as a pastor for fourteen years. He has spoken around the world and has taught on the adjunct faculties of Multnomah Bible College and Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.
Randy is the best-selling author of twenty books (over one and a half million in print), including the novels Deadline, Dominion, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters and the Gold Medallion winner Safely Home. His fourteen nonfiction works include Money, Possessions and Eternity, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments, In Light of Eternity, The Treasure Principle, The Grace & Truth Paradox, The Purity Principle, The Law of Rewards, Why ProLife? and Heaven.
Randy has written for many magazines and produces the popular periodical Eternal Perspectives. He’s been a guest on over 500 radio and television programs including Focus on the Family, The Bible Answer Man, Family Life Today, Revive Our Hearts, Truths that Transform and Faith Under Fire.
The father of two married daughters, Randy lives in Gresham, Oregon, with his wife and best friend, Nanci. He is the proud grandparent of two grandsons, Jacob and Matthew. He enjoys hanging out with his family, biking, tennis, research and reading.
TP: I believe that it is important to preach on cultural issues. We see this fact attested to throughout God’s Word. That being said, how do you call for action without appearing to be an activist or are we, by our calling, to be activists?
Because faith without works is dead, preachers should be activists. This doesn’t mean everyone should be political activists, but we should take significant action in light of the truths of the Bible we believe and teach.
Pastors are shepherds, and that means they walk ahead of the sheep, not behind them. We can’t expect our people to live lives of obedience and be willing to swim against the current of culture unless we lead the way in doing so.
In my opinion, as evangelicals in general, and as pastors, we’ve forgotten our heritage of activism. Let me give examples involving a missionary and some prominent preachers:
While serving in India, William Carey took infants into his home, after they’d been left outside to die. He gave medical care to the abandoned sick and lepers. He fought against ‘sati’, the custom of burning widows alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres. As a result of Carey’s efforts, and those of his fellow missionaries, each of these evil practices was curtailed and ultimately made illegal. Today Carey is called “the Father of Modern Missions,” but few know his impact on the morals and practices of the surrounding culture. He saw preaching the gospel to be completely consistent with, and even a mandate for, seeking to reform and improve culture.
John Wesley’s belief in the Scriptures prompted him not only to travel on horseback preaching the gospel, but to oppose slavery, and encourage mine workers to unite in order to resist inhuman treatment by their employers.
Charles Finney had a major role in the illegal Underground Railroad, breaking laws to gain freedom and save the lives of many slaves. (In 1835 there was a meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Two thirds of the delegates were Christian ministers.)
D. L. Moody opened homes for underprivileged girls, rescuing them from exploitation.
Charles Spurgeon built seventeen homes to help care for elderly women and homes for orphans in London, rescuing them from starvation and vice on the streets.
Each of these men are known as preachers and evangelists. But they lived out the Scripture that they preached. There is no conflict between the gospel, social concern and personal intervention for the needy. In fact, there is a direct connection between them.
TP: What do you believe is the preacher’s responsibility in dealing with hot topics?
I think we should bring these topics up in the pulpit. We must realize that our people are incessantly hearing the world’s viewpoint in television, movies, newspapers, education and everyday life. If we don’t teach them the principles and precepts of God’s Word, and help apply them to today’s hot topics, who will?
In I Corinthians Paul addressed conflict, pride, divisiveness, sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, what people ate and drank, and all kinds of personal and moral issues. Can’t you just hear people say, “It’s none of your business?”
Pastors, prophets and apostles are always intruding on the lives of their people. They should do it with kindness and grace, but they should do it nonetheless.
As Christian leaders, we must realize that we will be held accountable, both in this life and in eternity, for how we deal with this issue. We must take deliberate and significant measures to stop the killing, to minister to our hurting women, and to make a difference in our community. The desire to be popular and avoid people’s disapproval is a common reason for church leaders to hold back both in preaching on abortion and involvement in prolife efforts. But for every reason we have, we must be ready to answer a question on the last day: “Was that reason more important than the lives of all those children I created in my image?”
Martin Luther’s words are something I think pastors can relate to. He said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proven, and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
TP: In order to justify preaching on a subject we often do audience analysis to determine how big the need is. How much has abortion made its way into our churches?
Studies show that two out of every three women getting an abortion identify themselves as either Protestants or Catholics. Obviously, not all of these are Christians or from truly Christian families or churches. However, a full 18 percent of women getting abortions identify themselves as “evangelical” or “born again” Christians.
Pregnancy Resource Center counselors confirm that many Christian girls seriously consider getting abortions, and many have been encouraged to do so by parents who profess to be Christians. Since nearly one out of five women getting an abortion identify themselves as evangelical, this means that with 1.3 million surgical abortions in a year, 234,000 are performed on people who are for the most part connected with Bible-believing churches, some of them attending infrequently but many very regularly.
Our congregations are filled with single girls and boys, young couples, parents, grandparents, sympathetic friends, and even pastors, elders, and deacons who, through their counsel or lack of counsel, have innocent blood on their hands.
Sometimes we assume that our primary job is to convince the world of what we already know to be true about the unborn. In fact, the church has failed to educate its own people about abortion. If the church is to stop the killing in society, it must start by stopping the killing in its own midst. “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). If the church does not stand up for the unborn, surely the world never will.
Both my new small book Why ProLife? and my large book ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments address what science, psychology and the Bible tell us about what abortion really is and what it does to individuals, churches and society. While I hope these books touch non-Christians and the unchurched, first and foremost they are written for believers in local churches, under the guidance of pastors.
TP: The subjects of abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia are all tender subjects in our society today. How do you “lay open” the Scriptures to compassionately deal with these topics?
We are dealing in our churches with people whose minds have been conformed to the world. It is our job to help transform the church’s thinking according to God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2). We must address the pervasive prochoice arguments that daily bombard Christians. This is exactly what Why ProLife? deals with.
We must not hold back from speaking the truth just because there is no consensus about abortion in our church. It is our job, given to us by God, to teach and minister in such a way as to create that consensus. But if consensus never comes—and it may come only with great difficulty—our job is still to teach the truth.
We must not stay away from preaching on this subject for fear of “laying a guilt trip” on women in our churches who have had abortions. On the contrary, we must address it for their sake. There can be no healing without forgiveness, no forgiveness without confession and repentance, and no confession and repentance until abortion is clearly seen to be sin. If we don’t speak out, our people will continue to suffer—and continue to kill their babies—without knowing the forgiveness and healing of Christ. The sorrow that comes in facing the reality of abortion is not to be avoided. It is a “godly sorrow” that leads to forgiveness and “leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Without it, there can be no healing and wholeness.
We’re told that Jesus came full of grace and truth, and to represent Jesus accurately we must be filled with the same. Some churches are strong on truth but weak on grace. Some are strong on grace but weak on truth. Truth is not complete without grace and grace is not complete without truth. Grace without truth deceives people. Truth without grace crushes people. Our preaching, teaching, pastoring and counseling should be full of grace and truth.
I was a pastor for fourteen years, several of my closest friends are pastors, and I have the greatest respect for pastoral ministry. But I find it extremely ironic when pastors tell me they don’t feel like they should preach on abortion because “so many of our women have had abortions.”
If our churches are full of adulterers, is that a good reason to avoid preaching about adultery? If we have many greedy people and gossiping people, should we stay away from the topics of greed and gossip? Shouldn’t we view it exactly the opposite way? Isn’t the fact that our churches are full of people either getting abortions, advising abortions or looking the other way when family, friends and fellow church members are getting abortions the most compelling reason we should preach on the subject? How else can we offer forgiveness and deliverance to the guilty, and offer an alternative to the world’s “prochoice” propaganda, and an opportunity to avoid the sin of abortion and avoid the lifelong trauma it creates?
TP: As pastors consider how to address this issue in their churches, what kind of spiritual warfare might it entail?
When it comes to abortion, we are not talking about a topic that is just hotter than any other. It’s a force of darkness that will bitterly resist every effort to combat it, and which requires earnest and sustained prayer and alertness to the spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20). The abortion battle is fought in the realm of thoughts and ideas. Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
As I develop in my novel Lord Foulgrin’s Letters, there are demonic forces behind child-killing. Abortion is Satan’s attempt to kill God in effigy by destroying the little ones created in God’s image. We are not dealing here with “one more social issue,” but a unique and focused evil in which Satan has deeply vested interests.
Jesus said of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning...when he lies he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). It is no accident that Jesus speaks about Satan’s murders and his lies in the same breath. Lies are the wheels that turn every holocaust. To pull off his murders, Satan tells us lies. He is so eloquent, so persuasive in his lies, and we are so gullible, that we fall for his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), calling right wrong and wrong right, making us think—as many prochoicers do—that they are taking the moral high ground even as they defend something unspeakably immoral.
We must help our people see that if some of the prochoice arguments cloud and eclipse what they know or should know to be right, it is simply because the devil is behind the persuasive rhetoric of the prochoice movement. He is fluent in the language of lies and uses the prevailing assumptions of culture, education and media to draw us away from God’s thoughts about children and abortion, and toward his.
TP: What else can we do about abortion in our churches?
We must resist the notion that “I’m just one person, we’re just one small church, we can’t make a difference.” You can’t eliminate need, but you can be used of God to meet needs in exciting ways. How do you help millions of needy people? One at a time.
We should teach on sexual purity. My book The Purity Principle addresses this. The best way to do this is through small groups.
A pastor friend’s church developed a beautiful rose garden memorial for the unborn, right on their church property. When I visited there I was overwhelmed with the impact of this rose garden.
We can promote the work of pregnancy centers in our community. Our people can open their homes to help a pregnant girl or welcome an “unwanted” child for foster care or adoption. Or devote one day a week to watching the children of single mothers. They can volunteer their time, talents, and services.
They can talk to friends, neighbors, and co-workers, graciously challenging them to rethink their assumptions. They can give them a copy of Why ProLife? and ask them to read part or all of it then discuss it with them.
TP: Your website has a lot of information for those of us who preach messages on the sanctity of human life. What do you consider to be the most startling fact regarding our current cultural understanding of these issues?
Many articles and resources are listed on my website. Information on my books can also be found there along with many other great prolife resources. I’ve listed many films and visual resources in an appendix in my book ProLife Answers.
There’s a sermon I preached in my home church, along with a testimony of a woman who had two abortions. She shared her story in the middle of my message. This particular woman, now 40 years old, lived with us when she was a pregnant teenager, and came to Christ in our home. I also talk about the powerful rose ceremony we did in that service to draw attention to abortion and its far-reaching effects.
For a bulletin insert, I wrote a one page front and back, concise statement on abortion, including references to science, Scripture and church history. Any pastor is free to use it as is for his own church. You can also read a message I’ve preached called ProLife Issues: Distraction from the Great Commission, or Part of It? or listen to an audio file of me preaching on abortion in 2004 at John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church.
In fact, I will gladly provide, at no charge, either the small book Why ProLife? or the larger ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments to any pastor wanting to preach on the subject or develop a greater prolife emphasis in his church. Just email me or call us at 503-668-5200. Ask and you shall receive!
TP: It is often difficult to preach an expository message for a topical issue such as sanctity of life. With this in mind, how do you approach the task?
John Piper and many other pastors have preached on abortion using biblical texts, and their messages are available online, easily findable through a search engine.
I’ve made a list of Scriptures related to various aspects of the abortion issue, including the nature and value of unborn children, God as creator and owner of all people, God’s exclusive prerogatives over life and death, the shedding of innocent blood, God’s forgiveness, the impact of unconfessed sin among Christians, bearing one another’s burdens and defending the rights of the poor and helpless.
There are biblical texts here for dozens of messages connected with the abortion issue. Any one of these passages I’ve compiled can be used as a primary text for an expository message, with others as secondary texts to supplement it. Also, the whole can be printed and used as a handout. As is true of everything at our website, by all means feel free to use it as you wish. You don’t need to ask my permission.—or if you insist on asking, here’s my answer: Yes.
TP: Thank you for providing me with a copy of your Heaven DVD for pastors and church leaders. As I watched and listened I went back in my mind over some recent preaching series and realized that I had not preached specifically on the subject of heaven. It is one of those topics that you mention in other messages but often fail to pay close attention to otherwise. What brought you to write your new book on the subject and how can preachers give it due emphasis from the pulpit?
Any pastor who wants that DVD, in which I speak to pastors about Heaven, can request a Heaven kit for pastors, and we’ll send it at no charge.
In the book Heaven, I deal with the intermediate state, but I emphasize the eternal state, when we’ll live on the New Earth. This is something many of us learned almost nothing about in Bible college and seminary. (I attended and have taught at both.) Weeks in eschatology classes can be spent discussing the tribulation and the millennium without ever addressing the climax of God’s eternal plan: the New Heavens and New Earth.
Second Peter 3:13 tells us we’re supposed to be “looking forward to a New Heavens and New Earth.” But in fact most of us aren’t looking forward to them, and we should ask ourselves why not. I think it’s due largely to our misconceptions about Heaven as a nonmaterial realm where we’ll live in a disembodied state. Just as we can’t develop an appetite for gravel, we can’t develop a desire for what God never intended us to be. We can’t want to live where God never intended us to live.
Who wants to be a ghost? Who wants to float around endlessly in some vague ‘spiritual state’? No wonder we don’t talk about Heaven, and no wonder we and our children have no interest in going there. As bad as things get on earth, what we really want isn’t an unearthly realm, but an earth without sin and death and suffering. In other words, we want to live on an Earth like the one God made.
Not only did God make Adam and Eve for such a place, it’s exactly what the Bible says we’ll experience for eternity. Somehow we’ve failed to grasp this clear biblical teaching, and our view of eternal life has been distorted and impoverished. As a pastor, go around polling your people and ask them what they think Heaven will be like. If you can get them to be honest, you’ll be appalled at what many of them think!
In my book Heaven, I use a number of illustrations about how Heaven has fallen off our radar screens. Consider Louis Berkhof’s classic Systematic Theology. It devotes thirty-eight pages to creation, forty pages to baptism and communion, and fifteen pages to the intermediate state. Yet it contains only two pages on Hell and one page on the eternal state.
When all that’s said about the place we’ll live in forever with our Lord and with each other, as resurrected beings, is limited to page 737 of a 737-page systematic theology, it raises a question: Does Scripture really have so little to say? Are there so few theological implications to this subject? The biblical answer, I believe, is an emphatic no!
Peter preached that Christ “must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). We’re told that a time is coming when God will restore everything. This is an inclusive promise. It encompasses far more than God merely restoring disembodied people to fellowship in a spirit realm. Since living in a spirit realm is not what humans were made for and once enjoyed, it would not qualify as ‘restoring’. It is God restoring mankind to what we once were, what he designed us to be—fully embodied, righteous beings. And restoring the entire physical universe to what it once was.
Where will the restoration that Peter preached about be realized? The answer, he tells us, is found in the promises given “long ago through [God’s] holy prophets.” Read the prophets and the answer becomes clear—God will restore everything on Earth. The prophets are never concerned about some far-off realm of disembodied spirits. They are concerned about the land, the inheritance, the city of Jerusalem, and the earth they walked on. Messiah will come from Heaven to Earth, not to take us away from Earth to Heaven, but to restore Earth to what he intended so he can live with us here forever.
Did Peter invent the notion of all things being restored? No—he not only learned it from the prophets, he heard it directly from Christ. When Peter, hoping for commendation or reward, pointed out to Jesus that the disciples had left everything to follow him, the Lord didn’t rebuke him. Instead, he said, “At the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:27-28).
Note Christ’s word choice. He did not say “after the destruction of all things” or “after the abandonment of all things” but “at the renewal of all things.”
The present, intermediate Heaven is in the angelic realm, distinctly separate from Earth. By contrast, the future Heaven will be in the human realm, on Earth. The dwelling place of God will be the dwelling place of humanity, in a resurrected universe: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . . I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’“ (Revelation 21:1-3). Heaven, God’s dwelling place, will one day be on the New Earth.
Notice that the New Jerusalem, which was in Heaven, will come down out of Heaven from God. Where does it go? To the New Earth. From that time on, “the dwelling of God” will be with redeemed mankind on Earth.
That God would come down to the New Earth to live with us fits perfectly with his original plan. God could have taken Adam and Eve up to Heaven to visit with him in his world. Instead, he came down to walk with them in their world (Genesis 3:8). Jesus says of anyone who would be his disciple, “My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). This is a picture of God’s ultimate plan—not to take us up to live in a realm made for him, but to come down and live with us in the realm he made for us.
Most views of Heaven are anti-incarnational. They fail to grasp that Heaven will be Jesus; the resurrected and ever-incarnate second member of the triune God, dwelling with us—resurrected people—on the resurrected Earth. The Incarnation is about God inhabiting space and time as a human being—the new heavens and New Earth are about God making space and time his eternal home. As Jesus is God incarnate, so the New Earth will be Heaven incarnate. Think of what Revelation 21:3 tells us—God will relocate his people and come down from Heaven to the New Earth to live with them: “God himself will be with them.” Rather than our going up to live in God’s home forever, God will come down to live in our home forever.
This is a biblical view of Heaven, and a very exciting one. You can check out the table of contents to see what the book deals with.
And by all means request that Heaven DVD for pastors. I think you’ll find it helpful for yourself, or you can play it for your staff or leaders or use it at your church however you wish.