What Are Your Thoughts About the Future for Christians in America?


As usual, Wanda’s café was crowded during the lunch hour, so my student and I decided to head outdoors under the breezeway to enjoy our fresh-grilled meals, which, in my case, included a side order of crispy fries sprinkled with that patented bay seasoning lightly coating them, giving them a salty, spicy kick to accompany the ham and melted Swiss on ciabatta—Sorry! I digress…

WandasSign Conversation PersecutionAs we enjoyed our meals outside, in the cool of the shade, Jordan and I spoke—as best we could envision it—of the future of Christianity in America. Neither of us felt any hint of an Eeyore complex, where we lived under a cloud of gloomy expectations; yet we invariably returned again and again to the concept of Christian suffering. Regardless of where our topic began—he was asking me questions related to a research project he was conducting—we always came full circle back to the idea that the future of Christianity in the next half century would be markedly different from that of its recent past. The future of Christianity in America includes increased marginalization and, most likely, increased persecution.

This sentiment is one that is “felt” or “sensed” at the grassroots level in evangelical churches because Christians are feeling isolated and silenced at work.  However, it still is not fully on the radar of Christian academics. Increasingly, as a result of the Supreme Court DOMA decision last summer, academics are realizing that conflict over the sinfulness of homosexual behavior is on the horizon. Dr. Mohler made the point plainly this past week with his post, “No Third Way.” His message in that post was that churches will be forced to decide one way or the other on the acceptableness (or sinfulness) of homosexual practice. There will be no third way of holding firmly to the truth of Scripture while also keeping in step with the cultural norms of sexual practice.

Still, even with prominent evangelicals beginning to notice the clash ahead, I think that too few scholars are paying attention to persecution itself. I have presented a paper on the topic at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in the past. And, Lord willing, I may do so again this November. ETS is the largest annual gathering of evangelical scholars in the U.S. Even if my paper is accepted, it will represent only the slightest exposure in the overall scheme of Christian academic research.

At the ETS annual meeting, there will be about 700 papers presented. There will not be even 7 papers at ETS which discuss persecution in the New Testament. There will be dozens of papers discussing the biblical doctrine of inerrancy and authority (as there ought to be). There will be dozens more discussing the doctrine of ecclesiology (and rightly so). But there will also be a great many papers dealing with esoteric, navel-gazing topics which amount to nothing more than “straw,” as Thomas Aquinas put it.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim is likely to be killed in Sudan for maintaining her faith in Christ. Asia Bibi has been separated from her husband and children for 1,250 days, locked in a Pakistani prison with the death sentence hanging over her head. Christians in Eritrea are confined in metal cargo containers, being allowed so little room that they cannot even lie down for sleeping.  Christ’s sheep are being slaughtered by the wolves of the world, and we’re mired in conversations about how Christians might best care for whales.

–I’m not opposed to whale care. I love whales. I paid a hefty sum of money at Newport Beach so my family and I could see these massive creatures. They truly are an awesome feature in the splendor of God’s creation. They are living beings and, thus, warrant our proper stewardship of them. Yet, they are not people. They are not human beings created in the image of God, and, more importantly, they are not the threatened and oppressed church of God which was purchased by Him at the cost of His own blood!

I expect that more and more Christians in America will soon be wrestling with what it means to lose a job on account of Christian faith. More and more, we will be faced with needy Christians in our churches—Christian teachers who get fired because of Christian convictions. Christian churches that are smaller, poorer, and, likely, pastored by a bi-vocational minister.

We all need to be thinking and speaking soberly about what persecution means. Why does persecution happen to the righteous? Why do all of the China Christians persecutedNew Testament writers (with the possible exception of Jude) think that persecution is a topic which they need to address in their sacred writings? How should Christians respond to suffering on account of Christ? What do the blessings—which Jesus, Peter, John, and James reference—mean for those who suffer for the sake of righteousness? Christian scholars can help us answer these soon-to-be pertinent questions.

In the face of an ever-intensifying fury against Christ and His church, there is an urgent need for writing and thinking about persecution and pastoral ministry.  I think now is the time to focus on such work.

Christians are losing their freedoms at a record pace all over the world. They are on the verge of being extinct throughout the Middle East. And we all—I, too—have been guilty of a little too much whale-watching.  We need to focus more attention where Christ is intensely at work—caring for his abused Bride and suffering Body, loving His Church.

If Jordan and I had any foresight at all, then a new day for Christianity is rising quickly in the west. Fading like a distant dream is the vision of a moral majority. In its place is a moral—and persecuted—minority.  The future of Christianity will look less and less like the evangelicalism of 1994 and more and more like that found in Acts 14 and Hebrews 10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 12.

“Do not be deceived. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

I’m curious. Do you agree with me and Jordan? Is there a growing sense of persecution increasing in the U.S.? Does this seem right to you?

Biblical Morality–A Crime Against Humanity?


Homosexuality laws 2

Homosexuality laws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Current events did not take long to prove Dr. Mohler correct in his assertion yesterday that gay rights has become the centerpiece of a new moral “McCarthyism.” Dr. Mohler’s commentary concerning “The Giglio Imbroglio” has proved prescient. Today, news has come out that an American pastor is being sued for “crimes against humanity” because of his views on homosexuality.

 

Scott Lively, a pastor and activist who believes that homosexuality is a sinful undermining of traditional marriage and family norms, has been sued by SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda–a political action group funded by George Soros).  The lawsuit has been filed in federal district court and appeals to international law, citing a trip that Lively took to Uganda to speak out against the homosexual lifestyle.

 

The case seems important to me for two different reasons. On the one hand, it is troubling that an American citizen is being sued in U.S. Federal court on the basis of international law pertaining to events in another country. If this path is followed, then it would open an entirely new line of extra-constitutional ammunition to employ against Christians or any who dare violate the accepted norms of the policemen of political correctness.

 

Second, and much more importantly, if the case is not thrown out entirely (as Matt Staver of the Liberty Counsel is suggesting), then it will encourage the further persecution of Christians who hold a biblical position of calling homosexuality a sin. What Lively has done is express his opinions. For those opinions, he is being charged with assault against the entire population of humankind.

 

I’m not a huge fan of Scott Lively. He has been over the top in some of his opinions against homosexuality. Nevertheless, he has not harmed anyone. He made clear that he does not condone Uganda’s proposed death penalty for homosexuality. So, even those who oppose him should recognize that he does have the right to free speech.

 

At what point should those preaching tolerance actually have to exercise some of their own?

 

 

Did Jesus Have a Wife?


There’s a new controversy a-brewing, and it’s all by design. Professor Karen King is promoting the novel idea that gospel jesus wife controversy Jesus had a wife.  She has found a fragment—supposedly from the 4th century (though not yet attested)—which contains the line, “Jesus said to them, My wife….”

Whether anyone in the 4th century actually wrote that line, we do not yet know. We do know that Jesus had a bride—the church (Ephesians 5).  And we know something else: Professor King has not uncovered “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” as she is now calling the fragment.

Referring to a fragment in this way is like calling a business card a biography. As a matter of fact, the fragment is a little smaller than a business card. It contains maybe 30 words in Coptic script. It is hardly sufficient evidence for anything, much less proof that Christianity had lots of different gospels that taught lots of different things (which is the professors real aim—not just in this latest controversy but in all her “scholarship.”)

Dr. Mohler has a full review of the latest claims Professor King is making in regard to a wife for Jesus. His critique is excellent and thorough. For those of you who do not have the time to read through his fuller critique, I offer Dr. Mohler’s final assessment of the matter:

“The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife?” Not hardly. This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. Nevertheless, do not miss what all this really represents — an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.

The reason Dr. Mohler asserts that this is an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith is that news outlets have been all too eager to report the fragment find as though it were actually a new gospel. No new gospel has been found. And, even if it were a whole gospel account, why would anyone on the basis of a single 4th century document consider overturning 20 centuries of tradition which is based on thousands and thousands of documents—many of which were written within decades of Jesus’s life on earth?

The entire affair is a sad commentary of the state of scholarship at Harvard Divinity and in America more generally.  If this is scholarship, then we might as well say business cards are literature and bumper stickers are fine poetry. There is no such thing as a gospel of Jesus’s wife.

Grace and Controversy


Presently, a small group of Southern Baptists have stirred a mini-controversy over the issue of Calvinism (just in time for the convention).  This group (mostly affiliated with the seminaries in New Orleans and Fort Worth) have undertaken an effort to exclude or diminish the impact of Calvinism from “traditional Baptist soteriology.” I have strong opinions about the foolishness of their efforts, and I wrote a piece expressing my opinions. However, under the advice of godly people close to me, I chose to keep my opinions to myself rather than publish them for others to see. Basically, my decision was made by following the age-old adage: “If you can’t say anything nice. Don’t say anything at all.”

Fortunately, two godly men have published very helpful pieces in response to this controversy. If you are unfamiliar with the controversy, or if you are sorting your way through the details of it, you would do well to read these two pieces.  Dr. Mohler’s article is remarkably gracious and generous (read it here).  And Dr. Tim McKnight’s piece offers historical perspective which might ameliorate much of the animosity if heeded.  Of course, many folks have responded to the Statement made by SBC Today (authored by Erick Hankins). The pro-Calvinist responses I have read have been filled with both truth and grace.  I am severely unimpressed with the position statement authored by Hankins.

Again, I could not be as generous as Dr. Mohler nor as patient and cool-tempered as Dr. McKnight; so I have chosen to say nothing about the current controversy.  Both of these pieces are excellent.  Take confidence through the controversy that the Lord Himself will judge in grace and truth.  May truth indeed prevail and may the flock of God be shepherded and protected by Spirit-filled preachers.

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.

Obama’s School Speech


If you haven’t read Dr. Mohler’s commentary on the school speech by President Obama, then you owe it to yourself to check out this blog post from him.  I find this post to be the best balanced article yet concerning the controversy.  He really did a nice job.

One Nation Under God


The official motto of the United States is more than lip service to ward off the wrath from a potentially vengeful god.  The motto is what I would call a fence, a paradigm for the existence of human institutions and the humanity benefitting from them.  This point—the significance of a corporate, unified belief in the supremacy of the God of the Bible—is underscored this week by Dr. R. Albert Mohler’s response to the cover article from Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. 

 

In his reply, Dr. Mohler points out that the idea of freedom of conscience depends on a greater reality than man if the concept is to mean anything.  Mr. Meacham had argued that America’s unifying force is not any specific faith; rather, the unifying force was a commitment to freedom, particularly including freedom of conscience.  Yet, the bare notion of freedom is insufficient.  On what grounds might one claim to have the right to freedom?  Why not rather assume one has the right to exercise freedom so long as his freedom does not undermine the well-being of the state?  Indeed, is it not the case that freedom is able to exist only insofar as its limits are understood?

 

For example, one may be free to play football.  In his playing football, he is free to run as fast and as far as he wishes.  However, there are other free players on the field, too, who wish to stop him.  Not only that, there is a prescribed area in which the player must run, or he is ruled out of bounds and his play is stopped, along with his freedom to run the football.  The player would not be free to play football if there were no boundaries to the field.  Without sidelines and goal lines, football is not a possibility.  Without boundaries, we have no freedom.  To put it another way, unfettered freedom is nothing short of chaos.  No one has unrestrained freedom of conscience, nor should he.  For freedom to flourish, boundaries must exist.  Boundaries provide the rules of the game by which maximum freedom for the individual and the society is realized.  The question, then, is not whether there should be freedom of conscience, but who decides the boundaries of freedom in America?   

 

The wisdom du jour would have us believe that the boundaries must not be provided by God for this would artificially and prejudicially inject religion into an otherwise non-religious sphere of political machination.  Yet, is this the truth?  The founders—many of whom were not Christians—did not shun the God of the Bible in determining the contours of our freedom.  They referenced Him specifically in the declaration of our freedom—the Declaration of Independence. 

 

The founders of the United States understood that Christianity provided a foundation for freedom and conscience in a way that other religions (like Islam) could not.  As Dr. Mohler says, “Though the founders included those who rejected the Christian Gospel and Christianity itself, Christianity had provided the necessary underpinnings for the founders’ claims.”  Claims to freedom require foundations somewhere beyond the individual man or woman in order to avoid a disintegration of social order into mass chaos, where every man does what is right in his own eyes.  

 

Democratic freedom—the kind of freedom that comes from majority rule—will prove (as it has in the past) to minimize freedom and maximize tyranny.  If we are one nation under God, then there will be one God to whom all men must answer, regardless of rank, title, or power.  In other words, when an understandable and knowable God exists who judges all men impartially, then all men can be said to be under the authority of that God’s law ultimately.  Law and order is made possible by the Lawgiver and Orderer of all things—God, meaning the Judeo-Christian God.  Mr. Meacham and many like him are unwilling to yield this point, apparently thinking that if a nation allows God to stick his divine foot in the door, then soon he will own the house and enslave everybody within it.  Again, this is not at all the case.  Our gravest danger comes not from letting God in, but in keeping God out.  Do you doubt this?  {Part 2 still to come}

Excellent Explanation


I wrote a blog post last week about the latest Barna poll and how I basically think such polls are worthless.  However, taken on face value, they may be able to identify trends in our culture.  Dr. Mohler speaks in response to this latest poll by Barna, and his commentary is outstanding.  Read this article, and you will understand what worldview talk is all about.  You will hear many themes explained which have been trumpeted here. Dr. Mohler is excellent.

 

Abortion and the Election


Couple Dr. Mohler’s insight with Professor George’s research, and you get a very helpful blog for understanding both abortion and this election.  Read the blog here.