Is Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty Suffering Christian Persecution?

Ian Bayne, a GOP candidate running for election in Illinois’s 11th District, sent an email to his supporters recently claiming that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is taking a stand against religious persecution in the same way that Rosa Parks took a seat against racial persecution in December of 1955. I have been trying to decide whether I believe Phil Robertson is suffering persecution on account of his identity in Christ.

Persecution USA I must admit that though I am a Christian, I am not much of a fan of Duck Dynasty.  I live in California now, but Louisiana is my home state. My mother, in fact, lives in the same city which the Robertsons call home.  Yet, I have tried to watch Duck Dynasty, and I just don’t enjoy it.  Swamp People—I love that show!  I identify with those folks. They remind me of my friends and relatives. They represent a little bit of the life I lived growing up in Louisiana. I do not as easily identify with the Robertsons.

But that doesn’t really matter because the issue is not whether I like or dislike the Robertsons. The question is whether or not Phil is suffering on account of the righteousness of Christ.  If he is, then I owe him my prayers, support, and honor on account of Christ.  If not, well, then I owe him nothing and will simply be able to explain to folks why his case is not Christian persecution.

Before being able to answer the question, I think we must first be able to define persecution.  I wrote recently about the need for definitions when it comes to important biblical concepts like persecution. Phil Robertson’s case reaffirms why it’s so important for Christians to understand persecution. Phil’s case, I fear, is only the beginning.

I work from a definition of persecution derived from Jesus’s teaching in Matthew’s gospel.  From Matthew 5, I conclude:Christian persecution definition

Persecution is a retaliatory action against the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ which is represented or proclaimed by the followers of Jesus Christ. 

Christ promises always to be present with His people. Christ’s people, from the beginning of our faith, learn the goodness of obeying Jesus. By our obedient actions and, further, by our speaking of Christ and His works, we Christians become targets for persecution. As we obey and proclaim, we necessarily display the righteousness of Christ.  Many people today will be every bit as hostile against Christ and His teaching as they were against the first followers of our Lord 2,000 years ago.

Just as the world hated, mocked, and abandoned Jesus then, so, now, people will hate, mock, and forsake Jesus (and His followers).

The question, then, in Phil Robertson’s case is simply this: Is his suffering related to the righteousness of Christ? Is his suffering on account of Christ?

On the one hand, some of Phil’s statements were crude and definitely not representative of Christ. Christians are taught to avoid coarse talk (Eph 5:4). Phil’s language—by admission of his own family in their public statement—was a bit raw. Christians can’t be offensive and then claim, when called out for their offense, that they are suffering persecution.  Persecution can only be a blessing if it occurs on account of Christ (and His righteousness). The Apostle Peter instructed Christians to make sure their suffering happens on account of doing what is right, not suffering for doing wrong (1 Peter 3:17). Phil could be suffering the consequences of wrong or foolish behavior.

And yet, as Denny Burk pointed out, the network was not offended by the language Roberston used. Clearly, A & E was offended by Robertson’s “personal beliefs.” Most assuredly, the personal beliefs in question were those related to the sinfulness of homosexuality. Robertson—however crudely—spoke the truth from the Scriptures. He rightly affirmed from the Scriptures his belief that homosexuality is a sin.  More than merely personal beliefs, Robertson’s statement reflects biblical truth. The truth which Robertson believes now has him off the air. He is suffering the loss of a television show on account of biblical truth, and that kind of suffering, in my opinion, is Christian persecution.

As always, others are free to disagree and offer their own reasons for their disagreement. But I think I side with Ian Bayne. Phil Robertson is suffering persecution.

Who Is Right About Tim Tebow, Me or President Obama?

The NFL season begins in just one month. So, plenty of stories will be generated from how well (or how poorly) Tim Tebow plays.  Getting a jump on the competition, President Barack Obama told a radio audience yesterday that he thought the Tebow trade was a mistake (See President Obama Weighs in on Tebow, Sanchez).

I have re-posted an article below in which I explain why Tim Tebow is a high caliber NFL quarterback (despite his shortcomings).  I have made a few corrections and updates because the original article was written while Tebow was a Bronco.  The data still holds true, and I still believe the Jets will be glad to have Tim Tebow. –I offer one piece of evidence in MY favor at the end of the post.


Tim Tebow is not the best quarterback in the NFL. He isn’t even in the top 5 of NFL quarterbacks. –And I am not a hater!  I love Tim Tebow. I have enjoyed following him since he entered the Swamp as a freshman at Florida. Tebow supporters have an obligation to be honest about his abilities and his limitations. So, here is my attempt to assess the value of Tim Tebow to the Denver Broncos New York Jets and to the NFL.  Tim Tebow is the 6th best quarterback in the NFL..

You read me rightly. Tim Tebow is the 6th best quarterback in the NFL right now.  You may wonder about the basis of such a statement.  My assessment is not the result of some strange, sports calculus. Unlike both the BCS ranking formula and the ESPN QB Ranking conundrum, my assessment is simple and straightforward. My assessment of a quarterback is related directly to how effectively the quarterback scores touchdowns.

There is no need to lock this secret formula into a vault somewhere; it is both simple and transparent, something that cannot be said of typical QB rankings and passer ratings. Here is a very simple way to assess an NFL quarterback.  How often does he score a touchdown?  On average, on plays in which he is handling the ball, how often does he get the ball in the end zone?

A long, long time ago (it seems now), before Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton as the Broncos signal caller, I made the assertion that Tim Tebow gave the Broncos the best chance to win games—much better than Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn or the guy throwing mile-high peanuts in Denver’s stadium.  Tebow was reportedly demoted to 14th string quarterback or something like that before last season. Yet, I made the assertion then that Tebow had something invaluable for an NFL quarterback: Tebow had a nose for the end zone.

He proved (in only 3 starts the prior season) to be willing and able to find pay-dirt.  The classic picture of him in the end zone against his college nemesis Florida State with blood-red paint from his face to his feet was no fluke. He burrowed his way into end zone after end zone in college, and he proved early to be able to do the same thing in the NFL.


In fact, Tim Tebow is the 6th best quarterback in the NFL at finding the end zone.  That is one of the main reasons he and the Broncos were 6-1 over his starting stretch.  Tim Tebow scores a touchdown—on average—for every 18.5 plays for which he is responsible (updated after 2011 Season, Tebow scored a TD for every 17.9 plays on the field).

In other words, when he runs or throws the ball, there will end up being a touchdown (not a field goal) by the 18th play.  There are only 5 quarterbacks in the NFL with better numbers than Tim Tebow.  In order, these 5 are (not surprisingly) as follows: Aaron Rodgers; Tom Brady; Drew Brees; Matthew Stafford; and Matt Schaub.

Before his injury, Matt Schaub was getting 6 points for every 18.06 plays in which he was a primary player.  Peyton Manning’s lifetime number is 18.16.  So, the Broncos did not win in spite of Tim Tebow. They won largely because of the contributions of Tim Tebow (whose TD numbers equal Manning).

The supposedly inept, unorthodox Tebow is scoring more efficiently than Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger.  His efficiency is neither a freak show nor a prep school fad, as some have suggested. It is, instead, basic football well played. “Hey, quarterback, get the ball in the end zone.”  The NFL is not so far removed from the prep school game if one remembers the basic goal of the game—which, for a quarterback, is to get the ball over the goal line.  Tim Tebow reaches paydirt better than most quarterbacks in the NFL.

Jets logo from Wikipedia

So, in favor of my position, I offer the following evidence from the Jets Training Camp:

Rich Cimini of ESPN, “Team insiders say the plan is to use Tebow in the red zone, where they can replace Sanchez with another player/blocker to bolster the running game. “

See Also, Tim Tebow Dominates at Goal Line.

Who is right, me or President Obama?

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Super Glory (Don’t Miss It)

For some, the Super Bowl will slip by with barely a notice.  For the uninitiated, the Super Bowl seems to be the epitome of a hyped-up overemphasis of testosterone in tights.  For others, the Super Bowl is the crowning achievement of the glory of sports.  In the favor of the latter group, fans are paying $200 or more to watch the game from OUTSIDE the stadium and up to $80,000 to watch the game from a suite INSIDE the stadium.  More than 100,000 fans will attend this glorious spectacle.  And it is glorious.

From the story of Clay Matthews’ perseverance to Donald Driver’s determination, the Super Bowl showcases the triumphant.  These are the best athletes America has to offer slugging it out on a global stage to earn the right to say: We are #1.  We (alone) did it.  The glory of triumph is alive on Super Bowl Sunday (which is not the real Super Sunday, of course, that would be Easter).

So, I thought it would be helpful for us to think about how we might watch the Super Bowl to the glory of God.  I think we do that by, first, not dismissing the glory that exists in the game.  There are countless chess matches being played out between receivers and defensive backs, between quarterbacks and linebackers, between blockers and tacklers, and between all the coaches who are working with all the players at all these positions.  There are mind games at work, and there are muscle games at work.  Sometimes, the smartest player or shrewdest coach will win the battle.  Other times, the strongest man closest to the ball will claim the crown.

At the end of the game, one team will take the trophy to the locker room.  The other team will ponder what might have been.  To the victor go the spoils—it is as true in football as it is in war.  Happily, in football, the losers don’t bleed to death.  They just go home.  All the agonizing workouts, the unceasing repetition of pushing 300 lbs. or 400 lbs. up and down and up and down.  The leg stretches and the running—sprints, distance, endurance—all the agony of off-season, pre-season, mid-season, and post-season training—all come down to a 60 minute survival-of-the-fittest slugfest on Sunday night.  One team will overcome the sacks, the fumbles, and the injuries.  The other team will not.  There will be 1 winner and 1 loser with no one in between.  For one team, the glory will erupt as the last second ticks off the official game clock.  Glory, indeed!

Watch the Super Bowl for the glory that is in it.

But even more, watch the Super Bowl for the glory that is beyond it.  The sacrifice of these players and the agony of their endurance will only fit them for victory against another team of roughly equal men.  Yes, it is mortal combat, but it is merely mortals in combat.  Though the Super Bowl will display the greatest glory of sports, including the storied histories of 2 fabled franchises, this game’s limits are obvious when compared to Christ.

Christ—the king of all glory—has triumphed over the grave, over death itself.  Forget taking a block from a lineman, Christ did real battle with sin, with Satan, with every evil in the world—and he won the fight.  Christ stretched out his arms while Satan hurled false accusations; he stretched out his arms while Pilate and the Jews enacted execution; he stretched out his arms while the Father poured out his wrath against sin; he stretched out his arms and swallowed death.  And death was not enough to stop him.  Being the resurrection and the life, Jesus Christ arose victorious over sin and over death so that any who would flee to his outstretched arms would find for themselves eternal life in his name.

There is true glory well beyond that of the Super Bowl.  Think of it as you watch the game.  Apparently, some of the players have run to the outstretched arms of Jesus to find forgiveness for their sins.  They see both the glory of the game and the greater Glory of life in Christ.  The story linked here speaks about Aaron Rodgers and the glory he sees in Christ (and the way his teammates respond).   And, on the other side of the ball, there is true glory in view for some of the Pittsburgh Steelers, too (see here).

So, enjoy the game to its fullest measure of glory with the players who know the difference between the perishable nature of the Lombardi trophy and the imperishable crown of life.

My First Response to ETS

My takeaway from the 62nd annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Atlanta, GA, is that N.T. Wright is at once the most winsome, witty, and incorrigible academic I have yet seen.  His extraordinary intellect and persuasive abilities cause him to be a formidable foe indeed for any who wish to counter his positions on the teaching of Paul.  Though Dr. Schreiner and Dr. Thielman gave adequate defenses of their own expositions of the writings of Paul, they seemed somehow inadequate to the task of taking on the likes of N. T. Wright.


Professor Wright seemed to me to speak from a loftier perch than either of the other plenary panelists.  Theirs was an upward lurch to convince or perchance persuade Professor Wright to reconsider inferences pertaining to various exegetical insights in the Greek of Romans 1, 3, and 10, while his was a slightly bemused rejection of their ill-fated attempts—with the notable exception of Professor Wright’s acknowledgement that we are never justified “on the basis of” works.  Notable indeed!


I am not meaning to imply that N. T. Wright actually held the higher ground—either by virtue of superior intellect or by the substance of his Pauline perspective.  Rather, what I am saying is that N. T. Wright held the higher ground by virtue of his ability to articulate his position in relation to its overarching metanarrative.  Drs. Schreiner and Thielman offered adequate defenses of particular exegetical points related to their translations of the writings of Paul.  However, they did not engage Dr. Wright at the level of his metanarrative.  It seems to me that N. T. Wright is not actually quibbling about what the text says (although he constantly repeats that chorus).  Rather, he is aiming at a wholesale re-writing of the Pauline narrative in a decidedly less soteriological direction.  Whether this is merely a matter of emphasis or not, I do not know, but, given the arrogant manner in which he simply discarded some of critics—telling them to “Get a life”—I would guess that his aim is toward something more than mere emphasis.


One of the critics being told to “Get a life” by Dr. Wright was Mark Seifrid of Southern Seminary.  Far from being a “cut and paste blog-poster” critic, Dr. Seifrid is well-informed in the matter of Pauline perspective.  He began writing on new perspective issues more than two decades ago, including the time of completing his dissertation at Princeton on this very subject.  Having presented books, articles, lectures, and chapters on the subject throughout the last two decades, Dr. Seifrid is more than capable of articulating a defense of a more traditional reading of Paul.  Surely, his decades of faithful labor cannot be so readily dismissed, as though Wright is simply flicking aside a nuisance from the sleeve of his expensive theological suit.


More to the point, I think in one way Dr. Seifrid may have been the best suited to engage Professor Wright, although Professor Wright’s barbs against Seifrid would indicate that such an encounter is unlikely.  Still, at the level of narrative, Dr. Seifrid appears particularly well-suited to encounter N. T. Wright.  Here is what I mean.


It is possible that Professor Wright conceded an important theological point at ETS, namely, that final justification is not on the basis of works.  Whereas his earlier writings indicated that the final verdict is declared by God on the basis of a lifetime of faithfulness (or some such language), N. T. Wright now affirms—at least as of Friday at ETS—that his intention all along has been to say “according to” and not “on the basis of.”  This is fine as far as the particular phrasing goes.


However, engaging Dr. Wright on the particular inferences of the Greek text or on particular nuances of the theological language he uses is not in itself adequate.  As Dr. Seifrid showed in his paper following Dr. Wright’s plenary session and panel discussion, N. T. Wright still needs to answer a great many questions at the level of his narrative.  It is his overall narrative that is problematic, not simply his translation of texts related to righteousness.


In his overall narrative, N. T. Wright clearly resets the narrative of the people of God on an ecclesiogical rather than a soteriological trajectory.  That line of trajectory leads, as Seifrid points out, to the very important question of whether final justification for the people of God consists in something more than (or in addition to) a divine declaration grounded solely on Christ.  Seifrid cites numerous entries from Wright’s Justification in which it appears that Wright is asserting that between our initial justification and our final justification, there is a work in which the Spirit makes us pleasing to God so that we can stand at the final judgment.  As Seifrid points out, this sounds more like Trent than ETS.

[Seifrid refers the Reader to Justification 144, 149, 156, 182-93, 226, 239.  One can find Seifrid’s article, “(W)right with God?: A Response to N. T. Wright’s Vision of Justification I: Atonement and Justification in Biblical Perspective,” MWJT 8 (2010) 1-38.]


In other words, the problem which Wright brings to the fore is more than a biblical or exegetical one; it is a theological one.  It may not be so much the case that Wright’s preaching is wrong in general.  It is his perspective that is wrong.  Whether his perspective is new or not is irrelevant if it is wrong.  Contrary to Professor Wright, the fundamental crisis Paul engages is not how one becomes a member of Israel, but how one might be saved.  Thus, the fundamental point which must always be engaged with Professor Wright on the matter of justification is the very point made by the Philippian jailer, when, in a moment of existential crisis, he cried out to Paul, “How can I be saved?”

For Your Own Good

So, did your parents ever tell you to do something you didn’t want to do, using the rationale, “This is for your own good”?  Yeah, mine did, too.  We had to go apologize when the rest of our friends did not.  We had to work while they got to play.  We got the spankings… all for our own good.

I am confessing publicly today that my parents were right.  It was (and is) for my own good.  Discipline is good. Order is good.  Having one in authority over us who will tell us what to do is good, even though we will often either not accept such authority, or we will act is thought we do not want it.  Still, it is for our own good.

The Lord, through Moses, teaches this to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:13, telling them to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which the Lord has commanded them for their own good. I can imagine that some of the people grumbled inwardly at having to obey.  After all, the other nations got to have temple prostitutes and many wives.  Why obey the rules of God?

Well, we could sit around and slander the silliness of ancient Israel, but it would only serve to act as a salve over the wounds our own open rebellion against God.  How many times have we felt burdened because we have had to withdraw from the gossip sessions?  We have had to depart from the parties?  We don’t get to watch the same movies.  We don’t drink the same drinks or smoke the same smokes.  Don’t, don’t, don’t.  Isn’t it true that we have murmured against our parents—and even against God—because it seems that the message of faith is Don’t?

We aren’t so different from Israel.  We, too, forget that the commandments come in the form of a deep and loving concern for our souls.  DO the commandments for your own good. When we grumble about what we don’t get to do, we demonstrate that we have forgotten the goodness of God.  We think of commands as burdens, oppressive templates imposed on us from above which intend to stifle our freedoms.  But commands are not meant to stifle us.  They are meant to free us to the full flourishing of the children of God.

Obey the commands of God.  They are not burdensome.  They are designed to set you free in a way unlike anything else under the sun (John 8:31-32).  The commands will reveal to you greater truth and greater freedom.  The commands of God will demonstrate His great goodness and perfect love.  Obey the commands of God for your own good.

Saints Fan

Not that you should be wavering at this point, but if you are looking for a reason to be a Saints fan, try reading this article about Drew Brees, a true saint.  Just the right encouragement before the big game next week.

Imagine This Scenario

I am linking here a letter that a wife has written on behalf of her husband.  Her husband has been in prison for 14 months.  Since last May, neither she nor her son has had any interaction with the imprisoned dad.  The Chinese authorities have kept this man locked up and isolated for 14 months.  The man is a believer in Christ.  He is being held, basically, until the authorities can find some evidence to use against him.  So far, nothing has been proven against him.  For 14 months, he has been in prison without enough evidence to convict him of anything.  Certainly, justice has failed.  I am linking this letter from his wife, pleading his case.  I cannot imagine what she has been going through these 14 months, but she is not bitter.

Contact the following Chinese government offices to express your concern for Alimujiang Yimiti:

The People’s Procurate of Xinjiang Autonomous Region
Tel: +86-991-2642000
The Supreme People’s Court of Xinjiang
Tel: +86-991-5959301 or +86-991-5959480
The Office of Inspector General for Law Enforcement of China
Tel: +86-10-62251925
Fax: +86-10-62254181
The Petition Office of the Supreme People’s Court of China
Tel: +86-10-63036424 or +86-10-83102103
ChinaAid grants permission to reproduce photos and/or information for non-fundraising purposes, with the provision that is credited. Please with questions or requests for further information. 

God or Government

We typically ask about the relationship between God and government. It may be that the issue is God or government. 

As it turns out, the more dependent people become on the government, the more ungodly they become.  To put the matter another way, faith in government diminishes faith in God.  A recent article spells out the implications of Obama’s attempt to hook more and more people on federal funds.  Dependency on government money, healthcare, education, and employment leads to a lack of faith in God.


This article makes and defends these assertions.  If one were to question the consequences of government action seriously, he would need to look no further than the problem of absent fathers among African-American families.  Look at the state of the black family in the 1960’s and compare it with more recent figures.  The war on poverty was a war on families because it taught so many to depend on the government.  Even with the best of intentions, liberal welfare policies undermine faith and family.


Don’t Waste Your Life

We have all heard Piper plead with the world and with Christians to not waste their lives.  Now, a very different sort of cultural icon is making the same plea.  This time, the plea springs from a most unexpected fountain: Korn.  You may remember that a few years ago, one of the members of the “nu metal” rock group Korn converted to Christ and left the group.  Now, another member has come to Christ.  His story is here, and it is well worth the read.


Enjoy the Web

Much evil is conducted via the internet; about that fact, there can be no doubt.  However, much good is done as well.  I have linked a couple of sites here which will prove my point.  I encourage you to explore these sites and enjoy what you learn.

First, Monergism is a theologically sound site that is chock full of resources, including an impressive array of reformed preachers and teachers.  Be sure to check out the MP3 library.

Second, Biblos is a remarkable, multi-lingual site that attempts to coordinate some of the best in classical, biblical study tools all in one place.  There are many languages available.  The entire text of the Old Testament is available (and searchable) in Hebrew.  The New Testament is available and searchable in Greek.  It isn’t “Logos” for those of you who are wishing for that, but it is an easily accessible Bible study site for every Christian.  Tons of translations in many languages are available.  Check out Biblos.

Pipe Dreams

From the world of opium, we get our expression “pipe dream.”  The idea behind the expression is that the situation you are imagining in your mind is so fantastic that it could never happen.  Because the situation could never happen in reality, you are limited to enjoying it only in fantasy.  The opium pipe would allow you the opportunity to explore in fantasy the dream that could never be a reality.  Hence, the term pipe dream.

Surely, a year ago we would have relegated Michael Phelps’ dream of 8 gold medals to the status of pipe dream.  Now, that dream is a reality.  But the reality of that which seemed only a dream has now been dashed by a pipe–not an opium pipe, of course, but a marijuana pipe.   Phelps undoubtedly regrets now whatever fantasy was in his mind while his face was in that pipe.

My concern is not related to the “piling on” excuses or indictments related to Michael Phelps; that work has already been overdone.  All I want is to ponder the questions C. J. Mahaney asks, “So what was Phelps searching for in that bong pipe? What emptiness in his soul was he trying to satisfy?”  What was the dream he was seeking in that pipe and why has it become a nightmare?

Mahaney answers his own questions in this article, which I highly recommend.  Thanks to my friend Justin Cooper for pointing out this article on Facebook.

Super Bowl Prep

To get your mind ready for the Super Bowl, and to help you discover the team for which you should be cheering, I have linked to this nice article.  You will so much enjoy it.  Go Cards!

(P.S. I grew up a Terry Bradshaw-Lynn Swann Steelers fan.  So, they are OK with me, especially when they beat Dallas).