Don’t Be Afraid of Bad Disciples


Have you ever sacrificed your time and your energy to invest in other people? You probably spent time with them in discipleship, building them up in God’s Word, only to have them go astray and turn away from all you taught them. It hurts, doesn’t it? It seems like a life-investment with no return.

Christ definition disciple what is disciple christianThe founders of Southern Seminary in Louisville learned early in the life of that great institution the pain of a life investment lost.  One of the first and brightest students to come through Southern Seminary was Crawford H. Toy.  By all accounts, he was a brilliant student and became an early faculty member at Southern.  But then he went astray.

Basil Manly said that Toy “breathed an atmosphere of doubt” until it became his “ritual air.” Toy abandoned his position on the reliability of Scripture.  He left Southern and became a professor at Harvard, where he would later become a Unitarian.  This move crushed the founders of Southern Seminary, men who had invested greatly in Toy.  James P. Boyce, upon leaving Toy at the train station for his departure from Southern Seminary (and biblical orthodoxy), famously cried out—with his right arm held high: “Oh, Toy, I would freely give that arm to be cut off if you could be where you were five years ago, and stay there.”

What pastor or serious man of God would not freely offer himself as Boyce did to preserve the soul of a young man in whom he has made a life investment? Sadly, Christian history—beginning with Judas—is riddled with men who have been as close to the truth as darkness is to the light that shines into it, and yet have turned away in the end.  Such a turn from truth is grievous for a teacher to see.

Today is Reformation Day, October 31st.  As you celebrate the freedoms of the Protestant Reformation, remember that good and faithful pastors have paved the way for you to receive God’s Word. For those of us who speak English, remember William Tyndale, the father of the English Reformation.

William Tyndale was the first man to translate and publish the Bible in English.  For his translation and publishing efforts, he was killed—strangled, then burned at the stake.  And yet, his work remains.  Indeed, when the King James (authorized) translation was produced, the committee retained about 84% of Tyndale’s interpretations. Tyndale studied, labored, and died so we could have access to Scripture in our own language.

You may have heard the story of William Tyndale. But you probably haven’t heard much about Henry Phillips. Henry Phillips was something of a drifter, a castaway.  He was a gambler whose situation had become so desperate that he stole money from his own father to pay his debts. And yet, William Tyndale took him in.

Tyndale shared his meals with Phillips.  Tyndale made a life investment in Phillips, sharing with him the glorious joy of justification by faith alone.  Tyndale showed Phillips all his latest manuscripts and shared with him the plans he had for Bible publication in England.  Few people were given such privileged access by this great Reformer.

And in May of 1535, the life investment Tyndale made in Henry Phillips paid its diabolical Reformation Tyndale english persecutiondividend.  Phillips turned on Tyndale, leading him into a trap in which soldiers easily subdued the wily wordsmith.  Tyndale was led away to a dungeon in Vilvoorde Castle.  From there, he was taken to his death.  Henry Phillips was able to pay a few more debts with his blood money.

As we consider our own life-investments lost, let us be mindful of William Tyndale, whose great work still remains nearly 500 years after his death. He may regret the investment he made in Henry Phillips, but William Tyndale—I am sure—has no regrets about investing his own life in the work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, the life investments we make are for the gospel. Thus, they are never in vain.

Happy Reformation Day! And keep up the good work.

Follow Me: A Simple So Difficult Command


Chaos usually ensues after our worship service concludes. It isn’t the chaos of a charismatic explosion, filled with dancing or laughing or strange verbal utterances. It isn’t chaos of any negative sort. Rather, it’s the delightful chaos of slightly uncontrolled children rushing around in search of candy, suckers, and places to run.

My children are at least as crazy as the others, probably much more so. As is the case with any form of chaos, so it is true with Children-chaos; there is an urgent need for order. I am glad to provide such an ordering for my children. I am their father. Ordering them is part of what I’m called to do.

Christ Command Follow MeSo yesterday after our services ended and the chaotic running routine had run its course, I called my youngest two sons out of the crowded horde of kids.  Kids were scurrying around like ants whose mound had been destroyed.  Out of the mass, I called my two sons and offered a simple, stern, and clear command of two little words: “Follow me.”  What happened next was both illustrative of individual personality and of ordinary Christian practice.

As personality goes, these two little people demonstrated much in the carrying out of my simple command. Both of the boys “sort of” obeyed dad’s directive. The older of the two always wants to be out front. He wants to know everything. He wants to do everything. He is naturally an “in-charge” kind of kid. He “obeyed” by first realizing that I was heading to our van. Then, he summarily stopped following and started leading. He ran out in front of me toward the van, confident of his leadership role, even though he had little knowledge of where the van was actually parked.

The younger is much less concerned to learn or know. He, being three, is concerned about being free and having fun. Little else—including obedience—is of much interest to him. Yet, he, too, “sort of” obeyed the command. He has learned through painful experience that it pays to honor dad’s commands, but he also has retained his strong-willed, free-spirited sense of autonomy. So, he obeyed by moving toward me in large, circular patterns, patterns which would allow him to make runs into his group of friends, take time to swing around a parking lot sign, and find a moment to skip or even climb a few steps. He meandered along a gigantic looping path that, technically, was in the direction I was headed and, thus, technically, followed my command.

My first thought upon seeing these semi-obedient sons was to get frustrated that they are unable to obey even the simplest of my commands. The second thought was to laugh at the fact that this one episode had exposed their personalities so clearly. The third thought was somewhat more profound.

I realized I was observing more than my semi-(dis)obedient sons. I was actually watching my own semi-(dis)obedient life behind my Savior’s simple command: Follow Me.  Repeatedly, our Lord commanded His followers—Follow Me. He said that if we were His sheep, we would hear His voice and obey it (John 10). He said that if we desired to serve Him, we must follow Him. We must leave the dead to bury the dead while we follow the creator and sustainer of life. We must recognize the broad way of destruction, while we follow our king through the narrow way of abundant life. We must follow Jesus as He makes us fishers of men.

And yet, we often follow like my younger son, in broad, meandering circles seeking worldly amusements to accompany faithful service. Countless Luke 9:62 Christ Command Obedience Discipleshipdistractions bend our otherwise obedient walk. When we take our eyes off Jesus, or when our love is not burning hotly toward Him, our circular path of distracted service grows larger with worldly influence and smaller with the clarity and focus of faithful obedience.

Even when our zeal burns hot, we are in danger of running ahead of the Lord, just as my older son ran ahead of me. And like that older son, we run ahead with confidence without content. We run like Paul said the Jews were running (Romans 10:1-3) with zeal, but not in accordance with knowledge. There is a fine line between self-confidence and bold faith. One is obedient; the other is not quite right.

So I realized from my little after-church adventure that I shared the folly I found in my own sons. My hoped-for correction is to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, laying aside more and more of the distractions and encumbrances which dilute my obedience.  My further hope is to keep in step with the Spirit, not running ahead in fleshly arrogance or vain confidence.

May the Lord grant us all to keep both hands on the plow to work the earthly row we’ve been given. Let us not look back, to the left or to the right. But straight ahead, fixed on Christ, the Resurrection and the life. Our Savior has called us from the chaotic crowd. Let us hear His voice and follow Him.

Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

Christ’s Heart for the Persecuted: A Simple Explanation with Current Illustrations


I know a woman whose life was very hard through no fault of her own. She and her husband had 8 children together when he was murdered, leaving her a widow with very little means to survive. Family members offered to take the younger children so she could try to survive with the older ones. She told them they might as well have asked for her arms, or legs, or her very heart. She could not part with any of her children.

Christ love persecuted churchHer children remained poor, but they were loved. This simple, widowed mother was asked one time which child she loved the best. That question would shock some of us, as we might wrestle within ourselves with guilt over the tension and frustration we feel toward some of our own kids. I mean, I could see wrestling with the question and having to ask myself, “Oh, no! Is there a chance I love one child more than another?” –I don’t, mind you, but my emotional weakness would cause me a little anxiety.

But the question did not cause this woman even the slightest angst. She was not flummoxed by it a bit. Her answer was simple and to the point. When asked which child she loved the most, she quickly and calmly replied, “Whichever one is hurt.” The child who is hurting is the one most in need of a mother’s love and, thus, the one to whom her love must be directed. It’s a simple, profoundly true concept.

I know it is not appropriate to take our own illustrations and project them upward, onto God. Yet, the truth of love and its direction toward the needy must correlate to some extent. It might be better to say it this way. The reason a mother (or father) knows instinctively to love the child in need is that we have a heavenly Father whose heart is toward the needy, the suffering, and, especially, the persecuted–those who suffer explicitly because they belong to Him.

When Christ’s martyr Stephen was stoned, Christ was standing there to receive him (Acts 7). When Christians are called on by governors and authorities to answer for their faith in Christ, they are instructed by Him not to prepare what to say because His very Spirit would speak through them in that hour:

they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13“It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14“So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. (Luke 21:12-15, NASB)

We could continue on–Christ identifies Himself as the object of persecution when He calls Saul to account (Acts 9). He takes it personally: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  And, Christ is pictured in Revelation as holding all time at bay until the full number of his saints are martyred, then the reckoning will follow, and his angels of vengeance will reap full justice on the earth (Revelation 6…). The principle seems sound to me. Christ is particularly present with his saints who are suffering on account of Him.

So, below, I have listed a few examples of Christians who may be the objects of Christ’s particular love and affections–where He may be particularly present in this hour of need. Let us, too, draw near to Him and offer prayers for these suffering saints since we ourselves are in the body.

From Back to JerusalemMuslims in Syria recently crucified two Christian teenagers for refusing to convert to Islam. The story was crosses persecution Christian syriareported on a Croatian Catholic website by Sister Raghida, former head nun at the Christian School in Damascus who witnessed the atrocity.  (This story is graphic. Villages were stormed and Christians killed mercilessly. Some were beheaded, and the killers “played soccer” with their heads).

Lela Gilbert reminds us of the plight of Asia Bibi: Nonetheless, since 2009, this falsely accused woman has been on death row in a filthy prison cell, wondering if and when her death sentence will enforced. She longs for husband and five children. Day and night, in squalid surroundings, she fights off her fears, endures physical illness and prays.

And from Nigeria: Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said. 

May the Lord indeed be present with His people in their darkest hours, as we help them through our prayers (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-11).

Stop Chronological Snobbery


The lure of chronological snobbery is an almost invincible force which overwhelms us all. Each of us hopes to excel our own pasts and, thus, to excel the generations which gave us birth. So, it is understandable that we are tempted by chronological snobbery.  As a term, chronological snobbery was first utilized by C. S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy.[1] In that work, Lewis described how he had been guilty of making fallacious arguments as a result of his own chronological snobbery:

 

…”chronological snobbery,” [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

Chronological SnobberyThe 20th Century was birthed in chronological snobbery, as the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century brought unparalleled prosperity to the western world, making it possible to be affluent and comfortable without necessarily being moral. Progress was the century’s theme, and progress meant affluence. In other words, economy trumped morality. The old vestiges of Christian virtue were discarded as out of fashion. In the same manner that we threw out bell-bottom jeans in the 1980’s, so, too, Americans threw out chastity in the 20th Century. Now, our chronological snobbery declares that the prudish sensibilities of our sexual past are forever positively usurped.

But notice the two-part definition from C.S. Lewis. In the first part, he mentions that old truths are dismissed as out of date. In the second, he notes that in the place of the old, a new set of “widespread assumptions” arise which are never even questioned. So, the common sense of our age has dismissed the old and blindly adopted the new.  We mock a “puritanical sexual morality,” while, at the same time, we applaud the supposed right of women to kill unwanted babies in the womb. Our chronological snobbery blinds us to the gruesome reality of our own age and robs us of truth which lies embedded in the wisdom of ages past.

As an antidote to the mind-numbing effects of chronological snobbery, the Bible encourages two alarmingly sober lessons. First, the Bible is plain that what has happened in the past is supposed to be remembered for our instruction. Paul says this very thing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10:11), urging them to learn from Israel’s mistakes:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  

The Bible is clear that past generations made mistakes. In that way, the Bible sounds faintly similar to a central concept of chronological snobbery. But the similarity ends there, for the Bible assumes further that the present generation is every bit as capable of making the same mistake as the prior generation. Thus, the present generation is always in need of learning from the mistakes of the prior generation. Otherwise, as George Santayana said, ““Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[2] Learn from the past so that you do not repeat the mistakes from it. This is the first biblical antidote to chronological snobbery.

The second biblical antidote to chronological snobbery is much simpler and, thus, even more profound: Don’t think too highly of yourself.  Paul says in Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” 

The reason we must be taught this is that we all tend to hold ourselves in high esteem, while holding others in contempt. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. This principle applies to each person in particular, as well as to humankind in general. Because such thinking is inherent in every person, it is also indicative of all of us. All of us are prone to think that we are advanced and enlightened in ways unfamiliar to the past. But it really is not so. The writer of Ecclesiastes got it right when he said (more than 25 centuries ago) that there is nothing new under the sun. Human nature has not changed.

Let us learn from the past in humility, realizing that the very mistakes which tripped up our predecessors are the same mistakes which threaten us. Let us also in humility humble ourselves, esteeming others as more honorable than ourselves. This means we esteem Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Bunyan, Edwards, and Spurgeon, as though they were actually more intelligent than we (which they were). They each made mistakes from which we can learn, but such learning should be humble and should correct us, conforming our thoughts more to the thoughts of Christ.

Rather than falling prey to Chronological Snobbery, we can learn from the past and be humble. These are the two simple, biblical strategies necessary to combat the error of Chronological Snobbery.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, pp. 207-208.

[2] George Santayana, The Life of Reason.

 

From Conversation to Revelation


Deutsch: Apokalypse aus Lutherbibelexemplar in...

Deutsch: Apokalypse aus Lutherbibelexemplar in Schweden (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Several years ago, when I was first contemplating a Ph.D., I did what most judicious students would do. I visited different seminaries and universities and thought through all my options. On one of my visits, I ran across an older, seasoned sage of academic endeavors. Our conversation turned out to be most refreshing.

 

The school I was visiting was not known for its biblical and theological acumen. Rather, it was well known for its program in Christian leadership. This professor, however, had a remarkable thirst for Scripture. He told me of his habit of choosing a book of the Bible and reading that book every day for a month. If one were to pick Jude, Philemon, or Habakkuk, that would be an easy task. But this professor was picking “real” books like Luke, John, and Revelation. It was, in fact, to Revelation that our conversation turned.

 

He had just finished reading the book of Revelation 30 times (day after day for a month). I asked him if he had figured it out. Surprisingly, he said, “Yes! The entire book opened up for me when I realized this was written to and for persecuted Christians in the first century.” Realizing the context of the book (first century) and the focus of the book (perseverance through suffering persecution) changed everything for this professor.

 

His testimony leaves us with a couple of helpful principles pertaining to Revelation in particular and to all of Scripture more generally.  First, context is significant. It is important to know as much about the original author and the original audience as possible. This information is gathered primarily from the text itself. John says in Rev 1:1 that he received a vision from Christ, and he was sharing it with the bond-servants of Christ so they would know what to expect in the near future.

 

John wrote the book to communicate to living Christians what God had shown him. Reading the book of Revelation with the idea that it is supposed to encourage Christians who are suffering persecution leads to strong words of encouragement for any suffering Christian. It also eliminates the need of deciphering cryptic codes to divine a road map for end times apocalyptic events. Jesus already told us no one knows the day or the hour. Revelation is not about that as much as it is about strengthening suffering saints. Knowing the context from the text makes the meaning of the text more clear.

 

A second principle easily deduced from this doctor’s discovery is that persecution is a significant theme in the New Testament. In fact, every writer (with the possible exception of Jude) touches on the subject. Almost every New Testament book contains instructions for believers about why they will suffer persecution and how they can respond well to it. Reading the New Testament on its own terms and using its own language and its own expectations—rather than injecting into it our 21st Century expectations and formulating truncated doctrines to support our conclusions—is really a refreshing way to explore God’s Word.

 

I am thankful for the simple, yet profound, conversation I was able to have with this aging academic. He was pious and genuine in his zeal and sound in his approach to the Bible and his consequent interpretation of it. These are but two of the helpful implications of that one conversation. Consider speaking to others about your Bible reading (and theirs) and see if similarly profound results do not occur.

 

Christians Should Be Politically Active


English: Portrait of a Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce)

English: Portrait of a Gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the wake of the Kermit Gosnell “Slaughter-gate” trial (and the appalling disinterest of many), there is a need for Christians to be reminded of our function as a pillar and support of the truth–a reminder of our calling to be salt and light in an otherwise dead and listless world.  The post below is a little lengthy for a typical blog post, but it is of vital importance for Christians seeking to answer the question of whether we ought to be “politically” active. Issues of human life transcend political parties.

 

The following principles are derived from Romans 13. The debt of love the Christian owes to others necessitates a level of involvement with the government.  There are at least four ways this obligation to love directs the Christian toward some involvement with government.

 

First, above all else, the Christian is obligated (and delighted) to love God (Matt 22:38).  If our hearts are given to love God, will we not wish for His goodness to be on display?  Will we not long to see men give him the honor due him?  If we are instructed to pay honor to those ordained by God to serve in authority, how much more do we pay honor to Him from whom their authority is derived?  The Christian longs to see God honored by all men, including men and women in positions of governance instituted by, bound to, and established ultimately for the glory of God.  Our love for God will include a longing to see Him exalted in all aspects of civil life: art, music, education, science, and government.  He is worthy of such exaltation by all men.  Though the pagan unbelievers will refuse to exalt Him, the church will surely so purely love Him that she will not fail to seek His glory in all the earth (including in the practice of government).

 

Second, the Christian is obligated to express his debt of love to governing authorities.  Love for God and love for neighbors means that the Christian loves those in positions of authority over him.  This love may take different forms in varying contexts, but it will always mean loving in the biblical sense of the word.  Biblical love is a love that honors God above all else and seeks the good of others.  It seems to me, in relation to governing authorities, that this love for God and for others will mean confronting governing authorities in areas which they are rebelling against God.  Governing authorities are put in place by God.  God has a certain standard by which all men (even kings) will be judged.

 

Christians, in their on-going devotion to God, ought to remind leaders of such things—seeking to see God glorified by all men (remember this is why John the Baptist lost his head).  In so doing, Christians are loving those in authority.  How loving would it be to remain silent while men set themselves on the destructive path of opposing God’s purposes?  Rulers in authority are not final authorities.  They will answer to God.  Pure love will not shrink back from declaring this reality, even as Christ did not shrink from declaring it to his earthly judge, Pilate: You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above, Jn 19:11.

 

Proper love expressed to those in authority may take either of two forms: humble service or humble disobedience.  The former example can be found in Paul’s admonition to Timothy, 1 Tim 2:1-2,

 

First of all then I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

The latter finds expression in the actions of Peter and John as recorded by Luke in Acts 4.  In this chapter, Peter and John obey the laws of the land and seek to live a godly life.  A part of living that godly life meant to them that they had to share the good news with others.  When this sharing of the good news was ordered out of bounds by the powers that be, Peter and John had to resolve a dilemma: Should they do what the legitimate authorities demanded, or should they do what God has called them to do?  The resolution was no small matter.  Two proper authorities were calling for their allegiance.  Given such a reality, the two men—for the sake of conscience and in a thorough form of love—determined they could not stop speaking the good news they had seen and heard:

 

“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you     rather than to God, you be the judge.”  For their part, Peter and John (just as for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego before them) chose to pay homage to God rather than to man when pushed to choose between the two.  Love for God must always come first.  In expressing such a devotion to the Living God, the men were, to be sure, loving those in authority as well.

 

This brings us to the third obligation of love bearing upon participation in government.  Namely, Christians owe their fellow man a debt of love.  This, I believe, is incredibly important.  Primarily, this obligation concerns the right handling of the word of God.  The Christian must be serious about proclaiming the gospel to the uttermost regions of the earth, including to the neighbor next door as occasions permit.  Gospel penetration is the means by which God is glorified and His laws are kept.  This obligation of preaching the gospel is primary and fundamental for the faithful Christian; this fact, however, is no final proof that the matter ought to end there for the Christian.  Christians love their fellow men and must not wish harm to come to them.  Christians—as the pillar and support of truth—must seek good for all men.  The best good, of course, is Christ Himself (hence our preaching).  But are there not other legitimate goods for which Christians ought to work very hard?

 

In a former generation of English Christians, William Wilberforce gave his life to see slavery end in England.  With a firm conviction that the glory of God was at stake in the practice of enslaving humans as chattel property, Wilberforce with John Newton and others devoted their energy to ending such an evil practice, a practice that denied slaves their status as being created in the image of God and insisted, instead, that they were more nearly related to the beasts of the jungle than to the Living God.  Should Wilberforce have sought election to parliament?  Ought he—under the debt of love—to have been so politically active?  In seeking to see slaves free, did Wilberforce and Newton subject the gospel to enslavement by a political movement?  No, they did not.  Rather, because of the gospel, they began a political movement and stayed with it to the end that men were set free to the glory of God.  Slavery was ended in England, and the movement was fueled for its fight in America.

 

And what about William Carey?  Should William Carey have simply stuck to his task of   preaching the gospel in India while the evils of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia abounded to the destruction of countless souls?  It was Carey’s sincere Christian conviction that the debt of love he owed had something to say to these things.  As Timothy George records it,

 

“Carey admonished would-be missionaries that they should ‘take every opportunity of doing…good’ to the people among whom they intended to serve.  As we have seen, Carey never forgot that his primary mission was to proclaim God’s redemptive message of salvation to lost sinners.  This did not mean, however, that he lived out his ministry in a ‘gospel ghetto’ sequestered from the real hurts of humanity or the structural evils of Indian society.  Quite to the contrary. [sic] Carey and the Serampore missionaries threw themselves into social reform activities precisely because their commitment to Jesus Christ compelled them to do so,” (George, Faithful Witness, 149).

 

Carey found that his conscience would not allow him to remain silent while human beings were being slaughtered needlessly.  God’s image bearers were cast out, destroyed, and discarded with little regard.  This disregard for humanity was particularly acute in India in the practice of sati, a ritual in which a new widow would be burned alive with the body of her deceased husband in an effort to assure the blessings of the gods over the family.  Rather than shrinking back from this gruesome culture, Carey investigated the Hindu scriptures and showed the governing authorities that such practices were not mandated.  He publicized and spoke out against all of the cruel practices because of his debt of love.  What ought he to have done?

 

What about us?  Like Carey, we must maintain the priority of the preaching of the gospel.  About that, there can be no doubt.  Did Jesus Himself not do more than preach the gospel?  Did He not also live it?  Did he not challenge authority where it was putting burdens on people too hard for them to bear, as in Matthew 23:4?  Biblically speaking, love—along with the biblical imperative to do good before the government—calls the Christian to speak the truth, challenging authorities when they oppose the will of God and taking up the cause of the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, the elderly, the unborn.  We might wish to think it more sanitary and acceptable to God not to intermingle the gospel with government, but government is God’s idea.  And I wonder what our silence might say?  When, as the people of God, we say nothing to the world as they slaughter infants and quietly murder the elderly, what are we saying?  It is often said that silence is golden.  Might it not also be deadly?

 

Finally, the fourth debt of love taken from Romans 16 is the love we owe to ourselves.  Love, by its nature, is given over to another.  Yet, as when Jesus gives the greatest commandments to love (Matthew 22:37-39), the commandment to love is predicated upon the reality of self love.  Self love does not have to be nurtured as does love for God and love for others. Self-love simply needs to be transformed and enlarged.  We have love for ourselves from the beginning of our lives.  What we need to learn is how our love for ourselves involves others and, more importantly, God.

 

Can we understand the joy of love if we fail to express it to the watching world?  The practical rewards of loving others are not to be overlooked.  Showing love to women seeking abortions makes a better life for us.  When we exercise the above mentioned “loves” properly, we are properly loving ourselves and gaining a better life for ourselves (and for our neighbors).

 

As John Jefferson Davis puts it, “Civil laws that are consistent with the teachings of Scripture point society to a higher standard of righteousness, which is fulfilled only in Jesus Christ.  Such laws remain a worthy object of Christian concern and social action,” (Evangelical Ethics, 26).

 

For these reasons, which I believe are biblical, I cannot imagine that we can withdraw from the political process entirely.  I do not think that would pay proper honor to God’s established authorities over us, and I do not think that it would at all honor God.  Rather, I think the work before us is to determine what shape our involvement with those in authority will take.  What are the best ways for us to be involved?

 

We are in a position in which we must help our people think through these issues and understand them biblically.  Silence is not an option.  Neither is withdrawal.  I understand that we must be careful to preserve the primacy and supremacy of the gospel.  Indeed, I believe the message of Jesus Christ—the gospel—has everything to say to culture in disarray. In all things, I know that we must exalt Christ and glorify the living God.  So, my prayer is that we will work together to do just that—to do good and to fulfill our debt of love.

 

 

Whose Story Is Adoption?


Most of the time when I read a theological article with which I disagree, I assume that I am in error and need to be corrected.  After further reflection, I often realize the author was more nuanced than I had originally suspected. So, I end up rethinking my own position in light of Scripture and reconciling the inward tension between my own beliefs and those espoused by the writer I happen to be reading at the time.

After reading “Not Your Story to Tell: A Gentle Plea to Parents Who Have Adopted,” I felt uneasy. I felt like the actors and Adoption Story to Tellactresses must have felt in The Truman Show, a movie whose premise was to prop up a false version of reality for the entertainment value it provided the audience. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Megan Hill’s article from the Her.meneutics Blog  was intentionally misleading anyone. I don’t think that is the case, and I certainly don’t believe the article was written for mere entertainment value. It was obviously meant to be a sincere plea for discretion by parents who have adopted children. To the extent that prudence and love are the aim of the article, I heartily agree.

Nonetheless, I personally felt uneasy after reading the article. I felt that I could not approve of the vision of adoption it presented. It was emphatically endorsed on Justin Taylor’s almost always reliable blog. So—because I am a parent who has twice adopted—I expected to be challenged and informed. Instead, I felt berated and diminished by this article which assumed (but never proved) that my children exist in a self-contained story- bubble to which I apparently have no right of access.

The basic thrust of Hill’s article is that “adoptive parents are increasingly, permanently, and publicly telling stories that are not theirs to tell.”  Hill has in view the blogs and Facebook updates which include details about a child’s past.  Hill rightly notes,

…my child is not simply my possession or an extension of myself. He is a human being, made in the image of God, with a soul that will never die. And his story does not belong to me.

But Hill seems to take the last line a bit too far. Since when does my child’s story not belong at least partially to me? How can one so neatly compartmentalize my story from my child’s story? Where exactly is the dividing line between my son’s life, my daughter’s life, and my life? It seems to me that these lives are inextricably linked. And when people ask me about any of my 7 children (5 biological and 2 adopted), I see no reason why I ought to accuse them of “nosiness” and act as though they are violating a sacred tale. I tell background stories on all 7 of my children, and I hope my telling of those stories is not for vain purposes (as Hill asserts).  No doubt, there is some degree of pride in the stories, but, hopefully, God will continue to purge this pride from my heart so my story-telling really is redemptive.

Hill argues for keeping an adopted child’s story secret until the child can decide for himself or herself what he or she desires to be known. I think I disagree with such a closed-minded, self-encapsulated view of a human life. The Apostle Paul tells Christians, “You are not your own. You have been bought with a price,” indicating that individuals exist in unity in the body of Christ. Thus, your actions inherently impact others.  No one is an island.

Likewise, our stories are not exactly our own possessions either—at least not exclusively so. While I agree with Hill that we owe our own children basic, Christian love and, thus, must respect their stories, I also believe—and perhaps more importantly know—that their stories are not their own.  They belong ultimately to God.  Any way that I can see redemption in their stories, I am not only free to share those hope-filled flashes of insights with others, but I am actually obligated to share openly where I see God’s hand at work.  This is a thoroughly biblical notion—that parents and others ought to help children see the redemptive hand of God at work in their lives. How else can we be sure our children will understand themselves in relation to redemption?

All through the Bible, the stories of children and babies are told—seemingly without their consent. Details are shared from Moses’s abandonment by his parents (and God’s subsequent redemption of him). How about the origins of Isaac? Why was he even named Isaac? Was telling his story a violation of his right to privacy? What about Jacob and Esau? Were their stories only shared after they gave their consent?

In the New Testament, the child of Elizabeth leaped in the womb when he heard that Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, also had a child in her womb.  Should Mary and Elizabeth have kept this detail private until John the Baptist and Jesus could decide for themselves what ought to be told?

It seems to me that Megan Hill offers a good caution to parents that they must be discrete. Yet, her overall assumption paints the picture too narrowly and proves to be unfeasible in the end. If her instincts are correct, then the entire book of Ruth is misplaced.  The climax of the book is Naomi caring for the child Obed, who became the progenitor of Jessie and, of course, King David.  The content of the book is a re-telling of the unlikely providence which led to Ruth giving birth to a son fathered by Boaz, her kinsman redeemer. As with other significant figures (including Christ Himself), the child Obed had some questionable occurrences intermingled with an otherwise divinely-directed lineage. Ruth herself was a Moabitess, which, of course, meant that her family line harkened back to an incestuous encounter Lot had with his daughters.

The truth is, no one’s story is perfect. The difference between an adopted child’s background and a biological child’s background is not that one contains fantastic and dramatic themes which arouse emotions, while the other is squeaky clean.  The difference is designed by God only to illustrate how great is His redemptive power to move heaven and earth in order to accomplish His divine will and highlight His great love toward His children.

It seems to me that neighbor love actually demands that we—the parents—shape the redemptive narrative for our children—whether they are adopted or biological. What matters is that they see how God has brought them into a home where the peace of Christ rules, a home in which redemption is both understood and unashamedly on display.

I think a more helpful way to get the point across would have been for Hill to help parents know how to tell stories in a redemptive way, rather than in a way which highlights only the “juicy” details. Adopting parents have a story to tell, too. And their stories invariably involve the children they adopt. Acting as though the child has an adoption story apart from his parents is to deny the full, redemptive glory of adoption. In other words, to frame the issue as though the story belongs either to the child or to the parents misses the real point that our stories are not our own. They belong to God. Therefore, glorify God with your stories.

Are Christians Extinct in the Middle East?


Western Asia in most contexts. Possible extens...

Middle East (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Violently (yet relatively quietly) Christians are dying out in Bible lands. In the place where Paul was converted and in the location of the church that first sent an offering to help needy Christians—in these ancient Bible lands, Christians are dying at an alarming rate. Actually, the more accurate way of saying it is that Christians are being exterminated throughout the lands of the Old and New Testament narratives. In Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria—and all over the Middle East, Christians are severely persecuted.

 

Not too long ago, I posted about a controversy brewing in Germany with Chancellor Merkel. She made the claim that Christians were persecuted more severely than any other group.  Now, a new study affirms the statement made by Chancellor Merkel. Christians are nearly gone in the Middle East.

 

The Telegraph headline reads: Christianity Close to Extinction in the Middle East. Several telling quotes will give you the overall flavor of the article:

 

“The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.”

 

“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

 

Christ is no longer welcome in the Middle East. Ostensibly, the problem is militant Islam. As the article states,

 

The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.

 

As Christians, we ought to pray much for Christians suffering persecution throughout the Middle East. We should also remember that persecution happens where Christ is present. He is present with His people in these oppressive places. The enemy senses a weakness in the body of Christ right now, so he is striking there particularly hard.

 

There are many instances in Scripture (such as John 8) in which enemies wished to kill Jesus, but they could not. Even on the night of His arrest, enemies fell to the ground under the influence of Jesus’s divinity (John 18). Yet, when Jesus was arrested and bound, the mocking, spitting, cursing, and ridiculing began. Jesus was not simply executed on a cross; he was tormented and persecuted all along the way. As then, so now, when the body of Christ is weak, the enemy will strike hard.

 

Yet now, as then, the greatest redemption occurs after the worse persecution. Christ is present with His people in the Middle East (regardless of how few of them are left). If we were of a sound spiritual mind, we, too, would be present in Spirit with our body suffering in the Middle East.

 

While praying for God to strengthen the saints suffering in terrible places, also pray for us to be awakened from our celebrity stupor of vanity Christianity so we might remember those who are ill-treated, since we ourselves are in the body.

 

 

Why Jesus Cares for the Persecuted (and we should, too) – Video


When we began Project 13:3 as a ministry to the persecuted church, we ran the idea by some friends to get their input.

Below is a video of a conversation I had with a very good friend of mine, Jeff Mooney. Dr. Mooney is a Professor of Old Testament at California Baptist University. The video below is Part 1 in a series of videos which discuss what the Bible teaches about persecution.  The videos also explain the need for a ministry like Project 13:3.

I would love to get more input from some of you. I will post more videos in the future, and I will pass along your criticisms and comments to our video editors for future work we are planning to do. Please let us know if the videos are helpful and what could make them better. Thanks!

Does the Bible Condemn Abortion?


I hear a common refrain from those who favor abortion. It usually goes something like, “The Bible is silent on abortion,” or “the Bible never condemns abortion.” Is this true? Is it true that the Bible does not speak to abortion?

On the surface it appears true that the bible does not condemn abortion. There is no text which says, “Thou shalt not commit

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

abortion.” However, on those literal terms, there is no text which says, “Thou shalt not initiate a nuclear holocaust.” Yet, we somehow think that would be a bad thing and probably not something God wants us to do. Must we have a verse which explicitly says, “Do not put Jewish people in a gas chamber” in order to know that it’s wrong to do it?  It’s a bit simplistic to say the Bible does not condemn abortion. It certainly does.

In the 10 Commandments, we read, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).  The word murder (in the original Hebrew) refers not to killing in general, but to the specific, determined effort to end a human life.  Often, it is translated “manslayer.”  This command does not forbid all human killing. It does not forbid killing in war or conducting executions for the sake of justice.  But the question is whether or not it forbids killing a life in the womb. I think it does, and I will share with you the two reasons why.

First, Moses (who wrote Exodus) does speak to the issue of abortion in the very next chapter after writing the “You shall not murder” commandment. In Exodus 21:22-25, Moses writes the famous “eye for an eye” passage (called the Lex Talionis, or the law of retaliation). The point of that passage is not to encourage blood-thirsty people to seek vengeance. Rather, the point is to keep the punishment in proper relation to the crime. If a foot is injured, you cannot gouge out a person’s eyeballs in return.

What is almost always missed when this passage is read or quoted is the fact that it is spoken in the context of a pregnant woman being accidentally struck by men who are in a fight. “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth… yet there is no further injury… “(Exodus 21:22)–then the result is to pay a  fine in accordance with the demands of the woman’s husband. But if there is further injury (to the woman or the child?) then the law of retaliation holds: life for life.

While it is not certain what further injury is in view in this passage, the principle holds either way: Do not fight near a woman who is pregnant because you may do harm, and, if you do, you will bear the full weight of guilt in accordance with the injury you cause. In modern legal jargon, the fitting term here is negligent homicide–a form of murder which took place because you acted recklessly and caused another person to die.

The Exodus 21 passage stringently forbids reckless behavior when men are around an expectant mother in order to prevent injury. This principle is something we still recognize with animals, but we exempt ourselves from its reasonableness when it comes to human life.  According to Title 16, Chapter 5A, Subchapter II, Paragraph 668 (a), of the United States Code, if one disturbs an eagle’s nest and, thus, causes an eagle’s egg to crack, then he can be fined $5,000 and sentenced to prison. The reason is clear. An eagle’s nest incubates an eagle’s egg which is the home of an eaglet struggling to be born alive. Along the same reasonable lines of thought, the Bible protects the nest of babies struggling to be born alive.  The hypocrisy of our laws is inexcusable.

On the second reason I think the Bible does condemn abortion: God is pro-life in the most exceptional sense of that term. Jesus on two occasions in John’s gospel called himself “Life” (see John 11:25 and John 14:6).  Practically every verse in the Bible after Genesis 1:26-27 affirms the value of every human life and, thus, negates abortion–which inherently devalues human life.  Genesis 9:6–the passage of Scripture which demands execution for murderers–does so on the premise that human life images forth God and, thus, is the property of God. No person has the right to determine in accordance with his whims or desires that one of God’s image-bearers should be killed.

We must not destroy the image of God. Indeed, Genesis 9:7–the very next verse–reaffirms the God-given command to be fruitful and multiply human beings upon the earth–that is the opposite of the spirit of abortion. So, it appears to me that the Bible is not silent after all on the issue of abortion.

Saying there is no commandment in the Bible against abortion is almost like saying there’s nothing in a grocery store that says you have to eat.  While it may be technically true, it is ridiculously off the mark.  Everything about a grocery store says, “Food, Eat.”  And everything in the Bible says, “Life.”

Related Articles:

Tyndale Against Tyranny (Again)


English: William Tyndale, Protestant reformer ...

English: William Tyndale, Portrait from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Česky: William Tyndale (portrét ve Foxeově Knize mučedníků) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you own a copy of the Bible in English, you should be thankful for a man named William Tyndale. William Tyndale fought both the government and the established church to give the plowman his own copy of God’s Word. Tyndale held the courage of his convictions firm to the end, translating the New Testament into the language of the people. For his heroic efforts, he was killed. He died as a true martyr for Christ.

Today, the publishing firm that bears his name is also trying to get God’s Word to people in their own language. Tyndale House Publishers was born out of the passion of its founder, Kenneth N. Taylor. Dr. Taylor wanted all people everywhere–including children–to have full access to God’s Word.  In the spirit of the original Tyndale, Taylor’s publishing house has published millions of Bibles starting with The Living Bible and moving in 1996 to publishing the New Living Translation.

In addition to publishing bibles, Tyndale House also publishes Christian literature such as the Left Behind series. Tyndale House has become a standard-bearer for athletes and stars who want to share their positive testimonies of faith. Examples of those who have published through Tyndale include Kurt Warner, Emmit Smith, and Rick Santorum.

Still, the Obama administration does not consider Tyndale House Publishers religious enough to avoid paying for abortifacient drugs in their health insurance plans. As a result, the publishers filed suit against Obama’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

Thankfully, a federal judge has awarded a temporary injunction to Tyndale House Publishers so that fines will not accrue against them until after the case has been settled. As I have said before, the HHS mandate as interpreted by the Obama administration is a direct assault on the First Amendment, and, if it is ultimately upheld, Americans will no longer be free to exercise faith convictions in public.  This decision is monumental.

I am very thankful for Mark D. Taylor and Tyndale House publishers for their willingness to fight against the tyrannical imposition of abortion upon Christians in the marketplace. I hope you will join me in praying for their success in this matter of religious freedom.  Specifically, there are 3 ways to pray as the case progresses:

  1. Pray that the courts will see that Tyndale House (and other Christian businesses filing suit against the HHS mandate) are operating by faith with faith-oriented purposes like Bible publishing. Christians (and people of faith)  live public and complete lives of faith.
  2. Pray that the courts will honor the protections inherent in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which protects the right of religious liberty for Tyndale House through its parent organization, the Tyndale House Foundation. It is clear that the Foundation exists for explicitly Christian purposes and that the leaders of the Foundation and the publishing house operate from the standpoint of Christian conviction.
  3. Pray that the Obama administration is not successful in its attempt to restrict religious liberty to activities related to church gatherings. Such a “success” by the administration would be a defeat for all Americans, not to mention it would mean the virtual eradication of Christian witness in the public square. This is significant because it will ensure a systemic persecution of Christians in America, as light cannot help but shine–even when the government says it can’t.

Again, thank you, Mark Taylor and Tyndale House Publishers, for bringing your faith convictions to bear on public policy. May the Lord grant you a success which would keep people free who may not even be aware of this encroaching bondage.

God and Money


English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

English: Flag of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What happens when a theologian crosses paths with an economist? It sounds like a bad joke. But the question is pertinent, considering that a new book is on the horizon which combines clear theology with sound economic principles.

One of the benefits of attending ETS in Milwaukee was hearing Wayne Grudem defend this thesis: “God does not require or even authorize the state to redistribute wealth–except for a welfare safety net.”  Dr. Grudem offered the session as a preview to an upcoming book. He has already sent the manuscript to the publishers so watch for the book in 2013.

Grudem’s basic outline is so practical that it is difficult to see how anyone can miss the point, but, of course, our last election is Exhibit 1A in the evidence room against such practicality in economics. Grudem asserts first that the power of government is great and therefore exceptionally dangerous. The government bears the power of the sword and can coerce its will on its citizens.

Second, Grudem explains that the government is expected to fulfill several functions, but wealth distribution is not among them.  Punishing evil, promoting good order, and establishing justice (not fairness) is among the important tasks of government, while equalizing income and property have no place in government function.

Third, Grudem shows that the Bible expects private property ownership, not communal government property. Individuals are to own the land and thus possess the wealth of a nation. Governments must be held in check so that the “king” does not exact the wealth from his people.

Fourth, Grudem demonstrates how justice is concerned with a standard of righteousness–not with counting coins to make sure everyone has the same amount. The government should prevent crime and enforce contracts, but it should not take money from some to buy votes from others and thus to keep all in subjection.

Grudem’s work is timely (as always). The book should be a very helpful resource when it arrives. In the meantime, Grudem suggests a book by Jay Richards: Money, Greed, and God.

Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality – The Gospel Coalition Blog


Especially Preaching: The Ordinary Means of Grace and Christian Spirituality – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

The blog conversation linked above is a great one for us to follow because it addresses issues which we take for granted. If we are serious about following God’s Word, we will always be willing to check our traditions at the door of the Bible.  However, we must also be cautious about discarding tradition simply because we don’t understand its origin.  There is a good chance that many of our traditions have in fact been built upon Scripture.  The fact that we aren’t able to defend those traditions biblically may not be an indication that we are following tradition instead of the Bible. It may simply mean that we are still somewhat ignorant of the Bible and need to dig back into the Word to learn more about why we do what we do.  The conversation on this blog is a very good example of our need to keep digging, in my opinion.

Is Young Earth Essential Theology?


According to the claim of this BP article, Dr. Mohler has taken a dogmatic stand concerning the necessity of holding to a young earth view of creation.  Personally, I think that claim overstates the case which Dr. Mohler is making for the young earth.  His aim is much higher than the age of the earth.  He is, in fact, upholding the necessity of biblical authority in matters of science.  His concern is that if we begin merely with doctrinaire “science,” we will end without the doctrines of the gospel.  As the article points out, this vacating of doctrine is exactly what Dr. Mohler says is happening with BioLogos.

The age of the earth question actually arose from geology and not, specifically, from Darwinian evolution.  However, Darwinian evolution quickly picked up on the old age of the earth being posited by geologists. Evolutionists needed such long periods of time to explain how lower life forms (or non-living forms) could evolve into higher life forms.  So, the 19th Century saw a happy marriage between geologists and evolutionists (both operating on a naturalistic model of science).   According to this article, it wasn’t just the geologists and evolutionists who adopted the old earth theory.  Spurgeon, Hodge, and other influential (and otherwise evangelical) Christian leaders accepted an old age view of the earth based on what the scientists were saying.

What Dr. Mohler said in his response is that there are 3 ways to approach the age of the earth issue other than the way it is approached by evolutionists: (1) That creation occurred with the appearance of age, which is exactly what happened with Adam and Eve.

(2) That creation in its fallen state manifests the appearance of age; this would be like my dad’s friend, Cecil.  My father had not seen him in more than a couple of decades.  When he saw his friend Cecil again, my dad exclaimed, “Dang, Cecil, your face looks like it’s worn out 3 bodies!”  That was my father’s way of saying that Cecil looked much older than his age.  Something like this might be at work in creation.

(3) That the earth is actually much younger than evolutionists claim.

Dr. Mohler is, in fact, arguing for (3) because, as he says, it makes the most sense when reading through the biblical material.  On the plain reading of Scripture, most people would agree that this is what the text is saying (whether they trusted the text to be accurate or not).  Though this is the position for which Dr. Mohler argues, he is clear to say,

“The age of the earth is not the central question, though it is an unavoidable and important question.”

The reason he asserts that it is important and unavoidable is because of the references in the New Testament to an historical Adam.  In Romans 5, Adam is portrayed in a role of federal headship with regard to sin.  Sin entered through Adam.  We are all descended from Adam and Eve.  This descent seems to demand an historical Adam and Eve as progenitors, and an historical Adam as the head of the human race.  It isn’t impossible for Adam and Eve to have existed a very long time ago, but they certainly must have existed.  Evolutionists (to get from pond water to people) needed a really long time to pass before human beings appeared in order to make their theory of origin work. (For a view contrary to the young earth view, see here, where they offer 3 choices of their own).

Today, there are Christians arguing for a return to a catastrophic flood theory based both on the geological record and the fossil record (for a very interesting example, see here).

I personally have no trouble standing with Dr. Mohler on this and saying that I read the Bible as a 6 day, young earth creation.  But I don’t think we should–even for a second–lose sight of what is at stake: Truth.  The question is whether the Bible must be interpreted in light of Science.

Given the history of unreliability and immorality present in science, I’m not convinced that I need to abandon the Bible just yet.  Scientists still seem to revere Kinsey.  Scientists were responsible for the Tuskegee Experiments.  And scientists have been known to be wrong:  See here, here, here, or here.  Oh, and we can’t forget this recent “scientific” fiasco.

Justice and Vengeance


Folks often confuse the concepts of justice and vengeance, but God is not confused. He makes a clear distinction.  Justice concerns dealing with someone according to a fixed law or standard—particularly a standard by which all are governed equally.  Vengeance, on the other hand, concerns an individual or group who perceive a wrong against them and seek revenge in response.  They forego justice for revenge.

Clint Eastwood’s famous film The Outlaw Josey Wales was an exercise in blurring the distinction between the two concepts of justice and vengeance.  Josey went after a band of murderers who had killed his family.  In taking on the mission personally and seeking revenge for the wrong done against him, Josey Wales enacted vengeance.  He subverted the law.  However, the men who were killed genuinely were guilty of murder and, thus, should have been punished.  So, in that sense, there was ultimately justice.  We call this kind of justice a vigilante justice.  All of Clint Eastwood’s acting and directing after Rawhide were directed towards the gray areas just off the edge of justice (think Dirty Harry).

No matter how Eastwood and others attempt to murky up the water’s edge, there is a pool of clear water out of which the Lord has established justice.  Deuteronomy 19 makes the point plain.  As the people of God were entering the Promised Land, they needed a system of justice to maintain order against the chaos of vengeance.  The Lord established for them cities of refuge in order to maintain the distinction between justice and vengeance.  His justice was displayed in several ways.

First, the Lord commanded that there be 3 cities of refuge, evenly spaced throughout the land.  The proportional spacing meant there would be refuge within the reach of all citizens, justice for all, not just for the privileged few.  In the event that Israel increased her land and population, she could add 3 more cities of refuge, again, ensuring justice for all.

Second, the cities of refuge were designed to promote justice and diffuse vengeance.  Whenever someone was killed, the family of the victim understood that they had the right to kill the killer in return (life for life).  However, the cities of refuge offered protection for the killer.  If he fled to the city of refuge, no one could kill him, thus providing protection for him against vengeance.

Third, the city of refuge offered justice.  If the person killing another actually were guilty of murder, he would not be allowed to stay in the city of refuge.  The elders of the city of refuge would have to apprehend the suspect and hand him over to those seeking justice.  I use the word justice here rather than vengeance because the family allowed the system of justice to work.  The family allowed the killer to reach the city of refuge.  They allowed the city of refuge to pronounce judgment as to guilt or innocence.  And they were right in their judgment against the man.  Because the killer was guilty of murder, he deserved to die for murder.  This is justice, not vengeance.

Fourth, the system of justice displayed by the cities of refuge is a remarkable manifestation of the justice of God.  In reality, there are no innocent people in the eyes of God.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  And yet, God makes a refuge for the innocent.  Though in an ultimate sense, all men are guilty of crimes against God, in a lesser sense, not all men are guilty of all crimes evenly.  If a man kills another man by accident, he is not guilty of murder.  The Lord Himself knows this and accounts for this reality in His great justice and mercy. God is perfectly just, and His justice and mercy are displayed in all His ways—even in the way that he maintains the distinction between justice and vengeance.

Burning Fears


According to this article, Pastor Jones is still planning to burn the bible of Islam at a service commemorating the 9th Anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. 

I have a couple of simple observations.

Pastor Jones has a right to burn the Quran.  He lives in a nation which prides itself on freedom of speech.  Clearly, he has the right under free speech laws to do what he is doing.

We should be glad that we are free to express ourselves in this way.  To the extent that we are outraged at Pastor Jones, we are probably displaying either a fear of retaliation or an ingrained liberal bias.  Free speech is not about allowing only the speech we like. It is about allowing precisely the speech we don’t like.  Telling Mr. Jones he cannot do this would violate his freedom to express his religious and political views.  Even repugnant views are expressible under our free speech laws.

Many who are outraged that he would burn the Quran are not likewise bothered by the many folks who burn Bibles and desecrate Jesus, Bibles, flags, effigies, etc.  So, why the intense concern over the burning of a Quran?  My guess is that the concern is a tacit acknowledgement that we are afraid that Muslims will become angry.  Therefore, we think it best not to outrage them.  Is this not itself an admission that Pastor Jones is on to something?

He claims that we have for too long placated the violent Islamists.  Instead, he says we should assert our freedom and warn the Islamists not to become violent in retaliation.  I can just imagine someone reading this and thinking Pastor Jones is just plain crazy.  I might be easily convinced of that conclusion myself.  Nevertheless, Jones is pointing to a double standard we have grown comfortable with embracing—the double standard of excusing violence in the name of Islam.

Think of it this way.  If a group in San Francisco held a Bible-burning bonfire of the vanities to voice their displeasure with Christian opposition to gay marriage, few people would notice or care enough to protest the profligate pyro-technicians.  Certainly, there would not be riots in Jakarta or Paris or London or New York.  And if there were rioting in New York which ended with innocent bystanders being killed, we would go to the rioters and hold them accountable.  We would not go to the Bible-burners in San Francisco and act as though they were responsible for causing the deaths.

We do have a double standard.  I think the double standard is evidence that we secretly believe what Pastor Jones is saying, even though we dare not say it ourselves.  We believe that a vocal majority of Muslims are violent against anyone who disagrees with their religion.  If violence in Jakarta ensues, we will be even further persuaded, albeit also appalled by Pastor Jones.  We may wish to condemn his actions, but we will still take notice of the violence in the name of Islam.  At the end of the day, this is Islam’s problem: Violent backlashes tend to characterize Islam in the world today (whether the offense is cartoons, Papal speeches in Germany, or Qurans burning in Florida).

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here.  I don’t think Pastor Jones is doing the right thing.  As a pastor, I believe that we are to speak always with grace, seasoned as it were with salt.  The salt of our seasoning is the gospel of grace through Christ.  We are not called to salt the earth with incendiary rhetoric.  Rather than extending a flaming torch, we should offer a rugged cross. But I do think a message is being revealed through the reactions of others.

Hellfire to Homosexuality, Pt. 2


So, to the more weighty matters of the conversation, I would reiterate my own belief that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16).  The issue for Christians is the salvation of souls, not the success of political parties.  Like many Americans, we have opinions on political matters, but opinions are like nostrils, everybody has a couple.  When it comes to salvation, we don’t rely on mere opinions, but on revelation from God.  Surely, many will doubt the possibility of God revealing His will to humankind, but Christians do not doubt that He has spoken perfectly in His Son.  The accurate record of the revelation of Christ (the Son of God) is the Bible.

The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin and, as such, disqualifies one from salvation.  This biblical statement does not mean, as the hatemongers of Westboro Baptist assert, that “God hates fags.”  God’s hatred is not toward homosexuals, it is toward sinners.  God’s wrath is provoked by sinful folks who ignore His truth and reject His Son.  Such wrath is not reserved to those of a particular sexual persuasion.  It is reserved (as Romans 1:18 says) for those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

Interestingly, my friend is in agreement that “suppressing the truth” is at the heart of the matter (even though he understands the suppression differently than I do).  If I understand him correctly, he is concerned that Christians are actually asking (or demanding) that gays suppress the truth of who they really are in order to conform to an arbitrary (or archaic) scheme of sexual morality under the duress of eternal damnation.  I will admit that when the matter is painted that way, it is repugnant.  First of all, none of us wants to be tricked, manipulated, or coerced on matters as personal as sexuality.  Second, it seems that certain behaviors (like homosexuality) are quite natural for some.

In reply, the first thing I will say is that it is not in any way clear that Nature (or nature’s God) has hardwired homosexuality—at least not in the sense that it does not or cannot change.  In 2009 at the convention of the American Psychological Association, a symposium was held on the matter of sexual orientation change.  The symposium, chaired by Dr. A. Dean Byrd of the University of Utah Medical School, discussed a research project which sought to test the hypothesis that sexual orientation is not changeable.  In this project, the researchers identified a subgroup population which self identified as “Truly Gay,” meaning that these were more mature persons with a 100% certainty of their sexual orientation.  They self-identified as having no heterosexual inclinations at all.  The researchers concluded that their hypothesis was wrong, that sexual orientation can and does change.  The researchers were particularly surprised by the results within the Truly Gay subpopulation: Our most surprising single finding, and one that is replicated over several different measures, is that the Truly Gay subpopulation experienced more significant change. So, it would seem that if homosexuality is hardwired by Nature (or nature’s God), then it is at least possible for it to be unwired or re-wired.

Second, when it comes to Nature, we must remember that Natural facts are themselves interpreted things, and in humility we all should realize our interpretations could be wrong.  For instance, what does one mean by saying that his homosexuality is natural for him?  Most likely, he means to say that he is most comfortable practicing sexuality with a same sex partner, or he may say that he is attracted to the same sex and not attracted to the opposite sex.  To frame it another way, he is probably saying his affections are strongly given to same sex attraction.  Assuming this is true, must we conclude that he is therefore homosexual by nature?  The case is not as simple as it seems.

What aspect of nature do we use to make this determination?  Do we rely on affections alone, or does anatomy have a role to play in deciding what Nature is saying about sexuality?  This question is very important because there are other aspects of nature which may be arguing against same sex attraction.  Natural affections may all be directed toward homosexual practices, but are natural affections the only consideration?  What about anatomy?  Does natural anatomy have anything to say?  If so, then isn’t it actually more natural for a man and a woman to complement each other sexually?

Nature (or nature’s God) has designed the vaginal walls to receive penetration.  The walls of the vagina are relatively thick, and the cell walls overlap in such a way as to be conducive for penetration.  However, the rectal wall is not designed to receive penetration; rather, it is designed to extract or expel bodily waste.  Therefore, its natural design is toward expelling from the body, not receiving into the body.  The cells are different from those making up the vagina, and the rectal wall is much thinner, increasing the likelihood of tearing during penetration.

Some have demonstrated that because of this, there is an increase in the spread of disease, as the tearing of the rectal lining allows fecal matter to spread into the body.  A recent journal [See here] was published after a review of 1,000 recent research projects concerning homosexuality.  The conclusion of the review [at least in relation to disease] was that “for gay men, beyond HIV, syphilis, genito-urinary infections and anal carcinomas were significant.” So, the question is whether this aspect of nature is to carry any weight in deciding whether homosexuality is according to nature.  If it carries no weight, then why not?  If it carries weight, then how much?  How does one determine whether anatomy is more important than affections?  Are physiological considerations able to outweigh sexual feelings?

Third, when it comes to discerning the intent of Nature (or nature’s God), no group has practiced such methodology longer or better than Roman Catholics, who, of course, understand the sexual organs to be designed for reproduction.  Since homosexuality works against reproduction, it is considered by them to be against nature.  Likewise, evolutionists believe that human beings survive to reproduce, thus homosexual behavior (though natural in one sense) is also anomalous.

How is one to decide what is according to nature (what is natural)?  Considering that homosexuals represent only about 4% of the American population (see journal just mentioned), the numbers seem to suggest that it is natural to be heterosexual.  Of course, the reply to this statement would be that though those who practice homosexuality represent a minority, they are still a minority acting naturally.  Some people—but not all people—appear to be “natural” athletes.  So, one can be a minority and still be acting according to nature.  I understand that, but I still am suggesting that it is difficult to claim nature or design as definitive because one can appeal to nature from several different vantage points.  Making arguments for a certain pattern of behavior is more complicated than it appears because the truths of nature can be misinterpreted based on our biases.  To put it another way—a more biblical way—we all tend to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  This truth suppression even extends to the truths of Nature (or nature’s God).

This truth suppression is right at the heart of why God does hold people accountable for their actions against Him, even though the individuals believe they are acting according to Nature.  I will explain this in more detail in the next post…

Higher Entertainment


I have never watched Stephen Colbert and barely know who he is. However, I was recently sent this video clip from an interview that he did with Bart Ehrman.  This is so funny.  Colbert is obviously quick-witted.  Colbert appears to hand Ehrman his head on a platter.