I recently did a number of videos for the TGC, and one of them was on lessons I’ve learned as a parent. We have three kids, 18, 15, 12, and have certainly learned a lot of lessons. Here’s one of the main ones:
Ever since Gordon Gekko’s character in the movie Wall Street uttered the phrase, “Greed is good,” there has been a wide-spread and oft-repeated myth that capitalism is based on greed. And, so the argument goes, if capitalism is driven by a sinful desire (greed), then it must be rejected as an immoral system.
Such issues have come up again in recent months as a number of new members of congress (and old members) are pushing the country away from capitalism and towards socialism, mostly on moral grounds. Even some well-meaning evangelicals, who have a genuine care for the poor, find themselves drawn to this new movement and its disdain for capitalism.
In light of this current climate, I appreciate Jay W. Richards’ book, Money, Greed, and God:Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009). Richards sets out to dispel many myths about capitalism, and is particularly intent on showing that it is not at all contrary to the teachings of Jesus and Christianity, as so many suppose.
Chapter five is devoted to the myth that capitalism is driven by greed, and Richards makes a number of useful points: [Read more…]
By now, plenty has been written on the issue of Mike Pence’s wife teaching at a Christian school that supposedly “bans” (the preferred word of the major news outlets, but not really accurate) LGBTQ students.
For those on the cultural left, this is a monumental and stunning discovery. Indeed, we are told (ironically, by the Huffington Post) that the Huffington Post “broke” the story—implying that a remarkable scandal had been uncovered.
Thankfully, many have pointed out that this whole “scandal” is much ado about nothing. There are thousands of Christian schools around the country just like the one that Karen Pence teaches at. And they are all doing something rather unremarkable: they are merely teaching the historical Christian position about sexuality.
But what is remarkable about such public discussions, is that everyone suddenly becomes a Christian theologian. Even people who typically have no association with Christianity are quick to don the theologian’s hat and give a lecture on what Christians really believe.
Enter Lady Gaga, Christian theologian. [Read more…]
Over the past year, I have slowly worked my way through my series on “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.
We finally come to the tenth and last “commandment” of progressive Christianity and this one is a classic: “Life in This World is More Important than the Afterlife.”
It’s hard to imagine a statement that better captures the ethos of progressive Christianity than this one. It marks a profound pivot away from matters eternal and toward matters earthly. Let’s not worry ourselves about what happens after death, we are told, because no one knows anyway. All that matters is helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and relieving human suffering.
This commandment marks a fitting end to the series because it embodies (in a single statement) many of the values of liberal Christianity pointed out by J. Gresham Machen many years ago. Here are a few of them: [Read more…]
I continue to (slowly) work my way through my series on “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.
Those keeping up with the numbers will notice that I skipped #7 and #8. Well, that is because those chapters in Gulley’s book were decidedly not progressive. Indeed, I agreed with many things in those chapters and found them helpful.
But, as we turn to the ninth commandment, the progressive emphasis returns with vigor: “We should care more about love and less about sex.”
Of all the postmodern cliches that abound, this one may be the most common. And it’s quite effective, rhetorically speaking. After all, it tells people what they already want to hear. They want to hear that they have all the sexual freedom they desire and, at the same time, that they are good people who are just about “love.”
It allows a person to keep their questionable behavior and congratulate themselves on their own moral superiority–at the same time.
Gulley’s book expands this cliche into a full-blown argument for sexual freedom. And he does so by adopting an all-too-common strategy. I will let out his strategy step by step. [Read more…]
Celsus “just can’t stand Christians.”
So, writes James O’Donnell (Pagans, 101) as he describes the vicious opposition to Christians in the earliest centuries, particularly from the second-century critic Celsus.
A few weeks ago, I began a short, three-part blog series about what people in the ancient world thought of Christians. In the prior post, we explored how Celsus viewed Christians as ignorant, uneducated simpletons.
In other words, one of the main problems with Christians was intellectual in nature.
But Celsus is by no means finished. In this post, we will see that he thinks that Christians also have a behavioral problem. Their actions are rude, anti-social, and morally repugnant.
So, what did Christians do that caused such irritation in Celsus? [Read more…]
Over the last few months I have slowly worked my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.
We come now to the sixth progressive commandment: “Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.”
In his sixth chapter, Gulley laments the fact that Christians are so concerned about protecting the church from aberrant views that they stifle free thinking and are even kicking people out who don’t conform.
To make his point, he proceeds to tell stories about people he knows who were “disfellowshipped” or “shunned” by their churches for certain behaviors or beliefs. They were just trying to think for themselves, but the church was more interested in “group uniformity.”
Let’s just get it out there. Preaching is hard.
In the midst of all the disputes over preaching, this fact remains undisputed. Yes, preaching is wonderful and exhilarating. But, it is also exhausting, frustrating, and difficult. Whether a person has preached one time, or a hundred times, they know this.
Why is that? What makes preaching so hard?
I would suggest that it has to do with the nature of preaching. Preaching is not just delivering a message, passing along facts, or making a point (though it does include these things). At its core, preaching is something that calls for a response in the listener.
Put differently, members of the congregation are not to be just detached observers of a sermon. God always calls his people to respond, in some fashion, to what his Word declares.
But it is precisely this feature that makes preaching so difficult. What are the most effective ways to call for a response? Or, in more common parlance, how do we apply God’s word?
When it comes to application, I would suggest that preachers tend to fall into a bit of a rut. We tend to use the same type of application, over and over again.
In order to remedy this, let me suggest three different categories for how to apply God’s word. These three categories are not mutually exclusive (and often overlap), but they can provide much-needed balance and breadth to our preaching. [Read more…]
I continue to work my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.
Now we come to the fifth commandment and it is a genuine classic: “Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.”
There is perhaps no commandment in the series that better captures the ethos of modern liberalism. Position yourself as humble and inquisitive, merely on a journey of discovery. And position the other side as less-than-humble dispensers of dogma. Brilliant.
Indeed, this is Gulley’s complaint about the church. He argues the church has been “committed to propaganda” and “towing the party line” instead of the “vigorous exploration of the truth” (93).
Ok, so what shall we make of this fifth “commandment”? A few thoughts. [Read more…]
I’ve been working my way through a series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity.” It’s an examination of 10 core tenets of progressive (or liberal) Christianity offered by Richard Rohr, but really based on the book by Philip Gulley.
Now we come to the third commandment: “The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.”
Gulley is concerned here with broken or estranged human relationships. The church should do more to repair/restore these relationships, but is too busy condemning people’s behavior. Christians need to stop judging and start helping.
Now, we can begin by acknowledging that the goal here is commendable. Bringing reconciliation to broken human relationships is a fundamental biblical value. The Bible has much to say on topics like forgiving one another (Luke 17:4) , being reconciled to one another (Matt 5:24; Acts 7:26), husbands and wives reconciling (1 Cor 7:11), and the removal of hostility between groups (Eph 2:16).
So, Gulley is correct that horizontal reconciliation between humans is an important aspect of Christianity.
The problem, though, is how Gulley thinks that reconciliation is best achieved. And it is here that Gulley takes a biblical value and puts a decidedly progressive/liberal spin on it. Reconciliation between humans is best achieved, he argues, when the church is less concerned with “making judgments.” [Read more…]
Last week I announced a new series entitled “The 10 Commandments of Progressive Christianity,” based off a list offered by Richard Rohr. This list embodies the type of theological liberalism that was battled by Machen in the early 20th century and still abides today.
So, let’s jump right into the first commandment: “Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.”
In many ways, this is a fitting first commandment for progressive Christianity. When given the choice between worshiping Jesus (which requires that he is divine) and merely looking at Jesus as a good moral guide, liberals have always favored the latter.
Of course, one might object that this statement isn’t really rejecting the divinity of Jesus because of the phrase “more than.” Thus, it could be argued, liberals are quite happy to worship Jesus as divine, but just put the priority on his moral example.
But, I think that would be a naive way to take the text. While such a reading is possible, the entire history of liberal Christianity is against it. The first thing to be jettisoned by liberals is always the divinity of Jesus–and therefore the worship of him. Moreover, if Jesus really is our divine Lord, how could worshiping him be secondary? Why would Jesus as example be more important than Jesus as object of worship?
It seems, therefore, we ought not to read too much into the “more than” phrase. It is likely just a way to tone down and soften the implications of this first commandment.
What, then, do we make of Jesus as simply a moral example? Several problems arise here: [Read more…]
As most people know, Rosaria has an incredible testimony. She was a tenured professor of English and women’s studies at Syracuse University and living as a homosexual when God saved her in 1999 in what she describes as a “train wreck conversion.”
Her memoir, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, chronicles that difficult journey, and her second book, Openness Unhindered, furthers the conversation about sexual identity and union with Christ. Rosaria is married to Kent, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and is a homeschool mother, author, and speaker.
Rosaria will be sharing her story at 10AM, Feb 20th, followed by extended Q&A. Due to the size of the event, it is being hosted by Christ Covenant Church. Tickets must be purchased in advance–no admission is allowed at the door. For more details, see here. [Read more…]
When it comes to reaching the “lost,” one of the most tried-and-true methods is the personal conversion story. Whether done privately or publicly, it’s compelling to hear a person’s testimony about how they came to believe in the truth of the Gospel, the truth of the Bible, and embraced the Christian faith. Such testimonies can personalize and soften the message so it is more easily understood and received.
But when it comes to reaching the “found,” there’s an equally effective method—and this is a method to which the evangelical church has paid very little attention. It’s what we might call the de-conversion story.
De-conversion stories are designed not to reach non-Christians but to reach Christians. And their purpose is to convince them that their outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their assent. Whether done privately or publicly, this is when a person simply gives their testimony of how they once thought like you did and have now seen the light. [Read more…]
When it comes to the truth of the Bible, our world has found plenty of reasons to reject it. We are bombarded with a dizzying variety of objections. So much so, that the average believer is quickly overwhelmed.
It’s a bit like being in a fight with multiple opponents at the same time. You might have a chance in a one-on-one contest, but it is disorientating when punches are coming from all sides. You can’t block them all.
One helpful way to address this problem is to learn how to separate these varied objections into distinct categories. This simple step allows us to organize our thinking. This helps us get a clearer picture of what particular opponent we are dealing with.
So, here are the three categories of Bible objections. Indeed, I might argue that just about any objection falls into one of these three categories. Our purpose here is not to answer the objections but just to explain them. [Read more…]
One of the perennial questions for all theologians (and all human beings) is “Why do we suffer?” And, “If God is good and sovereign, why does he allow suffering?”
While most of us have these questions, we don’t really have to deal with them until we experience suffering ourselves. This is when we discover whether we really have a “theology of suffering” that can deal with the hard parts of life.
This is an area of theology which needs more attention. I am not talking about answers to the intellectual questions regarding the problem of evil and how to resolve it. Reformed folks have addressed that issue in spades.
What is needed instead is a robust accounting for the role suffering plays in the life of the Christian and how to endure it faithfully when it comes.
A tremendously helpful step in that direction is [Read more…]
When it comes to shepherding God’s flock, there is little doubt that pastors spend a disproportionate amount of time addressing marriage problems in their congregations. Since marriage is a foundational institution created by God (Gen 2:23-25), it is perhaps no surprise that Satan attacks it relentlessly.
For this reason, I am excited about the new volume by RTS Charlotte counseling professor Jim Newheiser entitled, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers (P&R, 2017).
One of the unique features of the book is the structure. It is arranged into 40 different questions about marriage and divorce which allows the reader to turn directly to the question that is most pertinent to the situation they are facing.
For anyone in pastoral ministry, or who regularly finds themselves in counseling situations, this volume is a treasure trove of biblical, theological, Christ-centered wisdom about marriage. And all of it is delivered with a gracious, warm pastoral touch that comes from Newheiser’s many years of pastoral and counseling experience. [Read more…]
Well, Rachel Dolezal is in the news again.
You might recall her story from a couple of years ago. Dolezal was the civil rights activist and the former head of the NAACP in Spokane, WA. But, there was one little problem.
She wasn’t black.
Although she presented herself as African American–a bit of a prerequisite for heading up a chapter of the NAACP–it turns out that she was not black after all. Indeed she was a blonde, freckle-faced white girl born to two white parents. She had merely changed her outward appearance.
Not surprisingly, objective facts regarding biology, genetics, and ethnicity were not a deterrent to Dolezal’s insistence that she was black. “I identify as black,” she told Matt Lauer. In other words, I get to decide what is true. Reality is what I make it. [Read more…]
There is little doubt that the last year has been one of the most contentious political phases in our nation’s history. Thus it is no surprise that all sorts of Christian stock phrases about politics have been used and reused.
One of my favorites is the phrase, “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.” This is one of those phrases that is used so frequently that no one really bothers to ask what it means; nor does anyone bother to ask whether it is really true.
So, I want to analyze this phrase in our 10th and final installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Rather than following the standard structure for this series, I simply want to ask what people might mean by this phrase (and whether what they mean makes sense). Here are some options: [Read more…]
A number of years ago, my kids were into Veggie Tales. And, truthfully, so was I. It was actually quite enjoyable to watch these charming videos, cataloging the journeys of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, et al. Indeed, I could probably recite the opening song word for word.
The other day, my daughter Emma (who is now 16) told that she had heard some folks critiquing Veggie Tales as just “moralism” and not something Christians should let their kids be watching. So, she asked me what I thought about that.
This sort of critique reminded of an interview several years ago with World Magazine in which the creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer, expressed regret over the “moralism” of Veggie Tales:
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.
Now, there is much to be commended in Vischer’s realization. Certainly Christianity is more than simply behaving in a certain way. Christianity, at its core, is about God’s redemptive work in Christ to save sinners by grace.
Moreover, when it comes to proclaiming the Christian message, we always need to present the imperative (here’s what you should do) within the context of the indicative (here’s what Christ has done). The latter is always the foundation for the former.
However, that said, I wonder if Veggie Tales can be so quickly swept aside as non-Christian. [Read more…]
We live in a culture where the thing that is most offensive is not doing something wrong, but telling someone else that they are doing something wrong.
Bad behavior gets a pass. Calling it bad behavior does not.
Of course, this cultural trend should not be surprising. We are told in Scripture that depraved cultures “call evil good and good evil” (Is 5:20).
But, living in a culture like this has had its effect on Christians. We have been conditioned to never condemn certain kinds of behavior lest we are chastened by an avalanche of social media accusing us of being legalistic and judgmental.
Thus, even in Christian circles we often hear the claim, “It’s not my place to judge someone else.”
This popular phrase is the next installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase? [Read more…]
In all of the many Star Wars films (and there are too many now), one of my favorite segments is where Yoda is training the young Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.
After Luke fails to lift his X-wing fighter out of the swamp by using the Force, he complains to Yoda, “You want the impossible.” Then he walks off into the woods to pout.
Of course, Yoda then proceeds to lift the X-wing fighter out of the swamp himself and sets it on dry land. Luke stares in amazement, “I don’t believe it.”
Yoda’s reply is classic, “That is why you fail.”
While the quasi-Gnostic, New Age worldview of the Star Wars saga makes me hesitant to use it as an example, I have to say that a good lesson can be learned in this instance.
In short, the “impossible” can only be accomplished by faith. [Read more…]
How do modern psychological theories fit with the Christian worldview? That is an enormously important question.
If you want to explore the answers to that question, then you will want to know that this week (Jan 16-20) RTS Charlotte hosts Dr. Heath Lambert who will teach our Theology and Secular Psychology course. This course is part of Charlotte’s biblical counseling degree program.
In any election year (especially one as tumultuous and exhausting as 2016), there will be claims and counter-claims about what values and principles should guide the United States of America.
And such debates inevitably lead to appeals to the history and heritage of our country. What principles guided the founding fathers? Were the founding fathers Christians? Were the founding documents Christian in nature?
Thus we come to the next phrase in our “Taking Back Christianese” series: “America is a Christian nation.”
Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase?
Why Do People Use This Phrase?
There are a number of reasons this phrase is used by believers. Some may simply use it historically. It is a phrase that attempts to capture some historical truths about our country and how it was conceived. As for whether this phrase accurately captures such truths, that is something we will address below.
But other believers may use it as more of an argument. Given the rapid moral and cultural decline of our country, the idea that “America is a Christian nation” is designed to stem the tide. It is a way of pushing back against the secularization all around us by reminding people that things were not always this way. It reminds people that Christians were, at one time, not viewed as cultural pariahs.
What is Correct or Helpful about This Phrase?
One of the challenges of this phrase is that people can mean dramatically different things when they use it. So it might be helpful to get some of the options on the table. The following list (not exhaustive) moves from the most stringent interpretation of the phrase to the most lax: [Read more…]
In that post, I argued that this phrase is frequently misunderstood and misused. Paradoxically, some use the phrase to bolster the seriousness of sin (by arguing every sin is equally a big deal), while other use the phrase to downplay the seriousness of sin (by arguing that no sins are any worse than others).
In short, I argued that while no sin is small, some sins are smaller (or larger). Put differently, sin is serious enough that one is sufficient to separate you from God, but that does not mean all sins are equally heinous.
After writing that article, and seeing the response that it received, I decided to poke around Twitter to see how common this belief “all sins are equal” really is. I was surprised by what I found.
Of course, what people say on Twitter is not a scientific test of what people generally believe. But, it is illuminating nonetheless. Below are a few examples to give you a feel for how the phrase “all sins are equal” is being used in our world today.
I encourage you to read each one. It is a stunning picture of what our world believes about sin. And here is the thing to realize: what a person believes about sin really does affect their behavior. [Read more…]
The debate in our culture over sexuality has been raging for a while now. And sometimes it is difficult to find calm and clear voices who can cut through the rhetoric and the posturing and just provide solid biblical teaching on these complex issues.
For this reason, I am thankful for RTS Charlotte’s Dr. James Anderson, associate professor of theology and philosophy. In the video below, Dr. Anderson addresses our students at a lunch-time conversation on the issue of transgenderism. It is a wonderfully clear and concise treatment of this important subject.
James is one of the brightest minds in philosophical theology today. Check out his website here, and his latest book Why Should I Believe Christianity? If you are looking to study apologetics, philosophy, or theology, you need to come to Charlotte to study with him.
In this video, James lays out eight helpful theses about transgenderism, followed by some interesting Q&A. Here are the theses: [Read more…]
I thought book banning was supposed to be a thing of the past–particularly among the self-proclaimed liberal elites. We live in a more sophisticated time where all views are accepted. Tolerance should be our highest priority.
Or so we are told.
But, apparently book banning is back in vogue. Dr. John Kutsko, executive director of the Society of Biblical Literature, has just proposed that InterVarsity Press–one of the largest evangelical presses in the country– be suspended from having a book stall at the annual SBL meeting (starting in 2017).
The reason for this ban is the recent decision by InterVarsity to uphold the biblical view of marriage and to ask their employees to do the same (see IVP clarification on their policy here).
Since I have a current book with IVP Academic, The Question of Canon, and a forthcoming book with them on Christianity in the second century, SBL would effectively be banning my books from the annual meeting. And that would be true for hundreds and hundreds of other IVP authors.
Of course, the overt hypocrisy of this is stunning. An organization that professes to be for tolerance and for accepting all opinions, has now decided to be, in effect, a “confessional” institution where the ideologies of the ruling committee decide what people should and shouldn’t believe. [Read more…]
The wildly popular song “Let it Go,” from the movie Frozen, has the following lyrics:
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!
No doubt this captures the sentiment of much of our culture. People are looking to break through any last vestige of rules in our modern world. And they define the lack of rules–no right or wrong–as freedom.
Christians sometimes use a phrase that captures (or at least can capture) a similar sentiment, “We have freedom in Christ.” And Christians use this phrase in drastically different ways. Indeed, it is hard to imagine of phrase that has so much potential for being both biblical and unbiblical depending on how it is used.
It is now clear that our culture’s quest for sexual freedom is leading to some problematic and disturbing places. A few years ago it was homosexual marriage and now it is the transgender movement. It is frightening to think of what is next (here is one possibility).
There are a number of helpful resources that Christians have offered to respond to these trends. But, I appreciate this recent and brief (only 3+ minutes) video by RTS Charlotte professor of theology and philosophy, James Anderson.
James is one of the brightest minds in philosophical theology today. Check out his website here, and his latest book What’s Your Worldview? If you are looking to study apologetics, philosophy, or theology, you need to come to Charlotte to study with him.
Here is James’ answer to the question: “What is the Christian Response to Transgenderism?”:
This coming September, Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh (and my Doktorvater), releases his latest volume, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor, 2016).
Larry allowed me to see a pre-published version of the book and I can tell you that it is (not surprisingly) an excellent piece of work and a fascinating look at the way early Christians fit (and didn’t fit) into their Greco-Roman context.
Although most modern Western individuals see Christianity as typical of all religions around the world (usually with the “all religions are the same” line added in for good measure), this volume works to shatter that misconception. Historically speaking, argues Hurtado, Christianity was radically different than the surrounding religious world into which it was born. Here are a few of the features he points out:
1. Christianity allowed “religion” to be separated from the standard ethnic/national identity it was typically associated with. For most Roman citizens, your religion was not easily distinguished from your citzenship–the two were bound together. But, Christianity came along and people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and nationalities, began to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. The Roman government did not know how to handle this unusual new approach. Christianity was neither Jewish nor Greek (in the typical way it was conceived). Christians were a “third race.”
Over the last ten years, especially in Reformed circles, there has emerged a vision of the Christian life where one of the defining characteristics of a believer has now become transparency. A Christian is someone who is authentic, real, and open.
While prior generations might have suggested the essential mark of a Christian was obedience, those days seem long gone. In fact, for many (post)modern Christians the central issue is not whether someone obeys God’s law but whether they are honest about whether they have obeyed God’s law.
Authenticity has become (for some) the number one virtue.
Thus, we come to our very first instance of Christianese: “The Christian life is all about being transparent and vulnerable.” This is the first installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series originally announced here.
Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase?
As we answer these questions, it is important to be reminded again that these phrases are not included in this series because they are (necessarily) mistaken. This is not a series about wrong Christian phrases. On the contrary, these phrases (at least understood correctly) can capture helpful biblical truths. But–and this is the main issue–these phrases are often misunderstood. And thus they are subject to abuse and misuse.
There’s even a term for it. “Genetic Sexual Attraction.” GSA.
GSA is when a mother and her biological son, or a father and his biological daughter, are in a sexual relationship.
I had never heard this term before, but I suppose it sounds better than the word that really describes such relationships: incest.
And now GSA people want to get married.
I saw an example of this in a recent article about a 51 year-old mother and her 32 year-old son who are in a sexual relationship. Here is the mother’s defense of her behavior:
She said: “This is not incest, it is GSA. We are like peas in a pod and meant to be together.
“I know people will say we’re disgusting, that we should be able to control our feelings, but when you’re hit by a love so consuming you are willing to give up everything for it, you have to fight for it.
What is incredible about all of this, is that this is precisely the same situation that same-sex marriage was in just a few years ago. It was deemed to be unnatural and unhealthy and now our culture has fully endorsed it.
Notice also that the woman above even used the same argument that is used to justify same-sex marriage, namely that they are in “love,” and are not “able to control our feelings.”
In other words, this behavior is not a choice, but is genetic. And who can deny us the opportunity to express our love?
Get ready for round two of the marriage wars. The move to justify incest will be next.
Of course, sadly this should come as no surprise. In many of my prior posts on our culture’s gender confusion (e.g., see here), I have pointed out what many others have also pointed out, namely that the culture’s quest to redefine marriage will not (and cannot) stop with same-sex marriage.
If a man and a man are allowed to marry, then what keeps us from denying most anyone (any combination of people) the right to marry?
Why not a mother and her biological son? Why not a father and his biological daughter? Why not a man and two men? Or a man and two women? Or a woman and two men?
There’s no logical reason–given the rationale used for same-sex marriage–why we should deny marriage to these other groups. To do so would simply be discriminatory (on modern definitions of the term). Why should they not be allowed to enjoy the blessings of marriage? Why should they not be allowed to marry those they love?
This simply highlights one of the most often missed points in the whole same-sex marriage debate. Advocates of same-sex marriage often claim, “Everyone else gets to marry the person they love, so why can’t we? That’s discrimination.”
But this sort of claim is monumentally misleading. The marriage laws of this country have never said people can marry whomever they love.
Same-sex marriage advocates make it seem as if they are singled out unjustly. But, that is not the case. There have always been restrictions on marriage such as age, gender, biological relationships, number of spouses, etc.
What same-sex marriage advocates want is for our country to remove just one of these restrictions, the one pertaining to gender. The problem is that the rationale for removing that restriction–people should be allowed to marry whom they love–can be equally used to remove all the restrictions.
No doubt there will be some who would be pleased with such a development. “Yes,” they might say, “let’s remove all restrictions on marriage.”
But, if marriage can simply be whatever a person wants to make it, then it is swallowed up in an ocean of subjectivity. If marriage is entirely self-constructed there can be no such thing as “marriage.”
Marriage becomes a chimera. An illusion.
And this is why Christians have been opposed to same-sex marriage from the start. We are opposed to it simply because it isn’t marriage. Indeed, we’ve been opposed to it because, in the end, it will not enhance marriage in our country but lead to its disappearance.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention recently spoke at RTS Charlotte for the annual Harold O.J. Brown Lectures.
He gave two lectures, the first on pro-life ministry and the second on adoption ministry. This was followed by an extended (and very interesting) Q&A time.
Enjoy the video:
Just the name of that church conjures up all sorts of images in our mind. It was a church that was tepid, bored, and apathetic–overconfident in their own spiritual condition. In short, they were lukewarm.
And, as we all know, Jesus told them plainly, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16).
Spiritually speaking, the Laodicean church could be summarized in a single word that (unfortunately) captures the ethos of our modern culture: “Whatever.”
The problem, of course, with being apathetic is that you can actually be apathetic about your apathy! Put simply an apathetic church does not think it is that big of deal. But, here are some reasons apathy is a bigger deal than we think:
1. Apathy towards Christ can be more dangerous than enmity towards Him. The fundamental reason people miss the problem of apathy is because they assume its better than being an enemy of God. It’s halfway to being committed, they think, and thus better than being against God. It’s a step in the right direction.
But, Jesus disagrees. For him, apathy (at least in some ways) is worse than enmity towards God. “Would that you were either cold or hot!” (3:15).
It is actually the “whatever” type of person sitting in the pew that is hardest to reach. Why? Because they say to themselves, “I need nothing” (3:17).
As the author George MacDonald once said: “Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about Him.”
2. Apathy towards Christ is the religion of our age. Another factor that makes an apathetic church a problem is that it feeds our culture’s perception that religion is best in moderation. Ironically, while Jesus says apathy is the worst spiritual condition, our culture contends that it is the best!
For the most part, mainline churches in modern America are actually aiming for the middle ground. They want enough religion to be respectable, but to not so much that they are viewed as zealots.
Parents tell their children that they shouldn’t be atheists, but, at the same time, they tell them not to take this religious thing too far. Lukewarm religion is actually the goal.
In a culture like this, the last thing the evangelical church needs to do is to feed this misunderstanding. This is why John Stott thinks that the letter to Laodicea may be one of the most important for the modern church:
Perhaps none of the seven letters is more appropriate to the twentieth century church than this. It describes vividly the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin-deep religiosity which is so widespread among us today. Our Christianity is flabby and anemic, we appear to have taken a lukewarm bath.
3. Apathy towards Christ is out of sync with his worthiness. The core problem with Christian apathy, the thing that makes it so serious, is the thing we are apathetic about, namely the person of Christ.
There is an enormous disparity between the glory, wonder, and beauty of Christ and our bored, tepid, “whatever” sort of response to him. And it is this sizable gap between what Christ is worth and our lackluster reaction to him that makes apathy such a problem.
And that sort of gap raises serious questions about a person’s spiritual health and vitality.
For example, if someone found themselves at a middle school art fair, it would be fairly understandable if they found themselves bored and unimpressed with the quality of the art.
But, if that same individual stood in the Sistine Chapel and looked up at the wondrous work of Michelangelo and was still bored, then there would be something seriously wrong with them.
Simply put, apathy is a problem because it misses the whole point of Christianity: the greatness of Christ.
In the end, these three factors remind us that apathy is a bigger problem than we think. So what can be done about it?
Christ himself gives the answer in his letter to Laodicea: “I counsel you to buy from me” (3:18). A renewed vision of the beauty and greatness of Christ is always the ultimate cure for apathy.
And Christ invites his people to experience him afresh: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20).
In this verse Christ is drawing on the Song of Solomon, presenting himself as the groom and his church as the bride. And he is asking his church to fall in love with him all over again.
Lecture one (11AM) will be on the topic of “Pro-Life Ministry in the Local Church.” Lecture two (1PM), will be on the topic of “Adoption Ministry in the Local Church.” There will be a catered lunch in between the two lectures.
Russell Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. A widely-sought cultural commentator, Dr. Moore has been recognized by a number of influential organizations. The Wall Street Journal has called him “vigorous, cheerful and fiercely articulate” while The Gospel Coalition has referred to him as “one of the most astute ethicists in contemporary evangelicalism.”
An ethicist and theologian by background, Dr. Moore is also an ordained Southern Baptist minister and the author of several books including Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel. He blogs frequently at his website, russellmoore.com, and hosts a program called Questions & Ethics—a wide-ranging podcast addressing listener-generated questions on the difficult moral and ethical issues of the day. A native Mississippian, he and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.
As for the background to the lecture series, Dr. Harold O.J. Brown served as John R. Richardson Professor of Theology and Philosophy at the Charlotte campus of Reformed Theological Seminary from 1998 to 2007. Dr. Brown was a leading evangelical voice in the pro-life movement immediately after Roe v. Wade, co-founding the Christian Action Council (now Care Net) with former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
Dr. Brown was a distinguished evangelical scholar during his professional life, writing books, essays and articles in the areas of culture, science, theology and politics. His books include: The Protest of a Troubled Protestant (1969), Christianity and the Class Struggle (1970), Death Before Birth (1977), The Reconstruction of the Republic (1977), Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (1984), and Sensate Culture (1996).
Dr. Brown was much beloved by his colleagues and students at RTS who honor the memory of their dear friend with an annual lecture series at RTS-Charlotte.
If you are in the area, I hope you can come out for the lectures! You can register here.
It goes without saying that this country has experienced a monumental cultural and ethical shift in the last 5-8 years. What was once seen as wrong is now seen as right. And what was seen as right is now seen as wrong.
One is reminded of the woe in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”
At the forefront of this issue is the topic of homosexuality. And Christians face two distinctive questions in regard to this issue: (1) What does the Bible teach about homosexuality? and (2) What should we think about same-sex marriage in our culture?
On Monday, January 11th, 6:30-8:30PM, RTS Charlotte will host Dr. James White who will give two sessions on precisely these two questions. You can get all the details about these upcoming seminars here.
James is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the author of more than twenty books, a professor, an accomplished debater, and an elder of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church.
As a side note, I was pleased to endorse James’ recent book What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an. You will want to check it out.
Dr. White will also be teaching our course on Apologetics here at RTS Charlotte that same week, Jan 11-15. If you are interested in taking that course, or just auditing that course, see here for more info.
Dr. White’s lectures are actually part of a larger series we do here at RTS called EQUIP workshops. These workshops are not seminary classes, but are evening events designed to train Christians in the Charlotte community. Prior EQUIP speakers have included Ed Welch, Tim Lane, and Deepak Reju.
On Jan 18th, David Powlison will do a forthcoming EQUIP workshop on the topic of depression and suffering (I will highlight this event in a later post).
If you are in the Charlotte area on Jan 11th, I hope to see you there. In the meantime, here is a video of James White debating liberal scholar John Shelby Spong on the topic of homosexuality:
It is clear by now that we are living through one of the most monumental cultural shifts in the history of America. While most cultural changes are slow and plodding, this one has been a rapid, raging flood wiping out everything in its path.
Christianity, while once the defining influence on American culture and policies, has now become public enemy number one. In many people’s minds, Christians represent a clear and present danger to the social stability of the American enterprise. We are now less like citizens, and more like foreigners.
As a result, a bit of panic is spreading through the ranks. Anxiety levels are high. Christians are wondering how we should deal with this radically new and unprecedented cultural situation.
The answer may be a bit surprising. We deal with this radically new and unprecedented cultural situation by remembering it isn’t radically new and unprecedented.
In fact, it is a return to normal.
Of course, I don’t mean normal in the history of America. In the American experience, the pundits are right: this is an unprecedented cultural shift. But, in the history of God’s people, this present situation is not at all unusual. Indeed it has often been the norm; indeed, even the means by which God has advanced his Kingdom in unique and special ways.
I was struck by this reality the other day while revisiting the well-known story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three Israelites were no longer in Canaan, but were now in Babylon–a foreign country with no loyalty to the God of Israel. They had been exiled. They were foreigners.
Even more than this, the cultural situation in Babylon was eerily similar to the present situation in America:
1. Even though Babylon did not worship Yahweh, they did worship something (everyone does). They were committed to the cultural idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up (3:1).
2. The idol of Nebuchadnezzar was very intimidating and imposing–over 90 ft. high (3:1).
3. The commitment to this cultural idol was nationwide–everyone bowed down from the least to the greatest. This was especially true of the governing officials (3:2-3).
4. Babylon’s commitment to their idol was remarkably intolerant. It was absolute and dogmatic. It required unquestioned allegiance to the idol, lest one get thrown into the fiery furnace (3:6).
It is also worth adding that this was the same cultural situation that Christians found themselves in the second century. The Roman government viewed Christians as a threat to a stable society and threatened them with death if they would not bow down and pay homage to the Roman gods.
It doesn’t take much reflection to see how similar these cultural situations are to the present one in America. Our nation has become religiously committed to an idol of tolerance–particularly the belief that everyone’s sexual preferences must be embraced and affirmed. This is an intimidating idol which looms threateningly over all our nation’s citizens and is embraced by many of the governing officials.
And, most notably, this idol of tolerance is remarkably intolerant, with a commitment to destroy anyone who does not bow down and pay homage.
The implications of this situation are clear. As Christians we are no longer living in Canaan. Indeed, our situation is a lot more like living in Babylon.
And, this side of glory, that is back to normal.
If we are living in Babylon, then our primary response to the present cultural challenges must be just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and just like the second century Christians in Rome.
We must not bow.
Of course, there is more that can be said than this. And there is more than can be done than this. But, nevertheless it all starts with this.
Whatever steps we take to engage our culture–whether intellectually, socially, or politically–we must first be committed to this.
When you are living in Babylon, not bowing is the foundation of all other cultural engagement.
Much has been said about Planned Parenthood over the last few weeks due to the release of numerous behind-the-scenes videos. These videos have revealed what Christians have known (and said) for years, namely that abortion is one of the most barbaric, callous, and tragic practices of the modern world.
Hidden behind sanitized words like “fetus” and “tissue donation” and “scientific research” is the unthinkable reality that Planned Parenthood “doctors” are chopping up living babies in order to sell their body parts on the open market.
So, what could possibly be said in defense of PP’s activities? Incredibly, some people have tried to make a defense. And what is fascinating is to observe how inadequate (or even irrelevant) such defenses turn out to be. Let’s just examine a few of them:
1. Planned Parenthood does other good things. This is an example of a “change the subject” defense. In order to deflect attention away from the killing of babies, PP advocates point out how they also provide general healthcare like mammograms and STD testing.
However, there are numerous problems with this response. First, PP does not manage a single licensed mammogram facility in the United States. Not even one. Their main industry is, and always has been, abortion. Second, this defense is not actually a defense at all because it never addresses the main issue. The question is still on the table: does PP, in fact, kill babies and harvest their parts? If so, then it doesn’t matter what other good things it might do. Such things cannot overturn, nor should they cause us to ignore, the unthinkable practices they are engaged in.
2. The videos have been heavily edited. This response is legion among PP supporters, with the help of a complicit media. Of course, technically they are right. Of course the videos are edited. They are too long to show all at once. But, that is true of any lengthy video clip that needs to be shown on TV or the internet. The key issue is whether the video has been edited in such a way that it distorts the message. Given that the full videos are available for anyone to watch, why doesn’t PP just show alternative clips that prove their side of the story? Notice that they have not done this. And there is a reason for that. It cannot be done. Regardless of how many minutes you watch, the message is the same.
3. Planned Parenthood is not making any money. This, again, is a “change the subject” defense, and it simply doesn’t work. First, it is doubtful whether this claim is true. In the most recent video, there is even haggling over prices (see here). But, even it the claim is true, it is entirely irrelevant. Is murdering babies only a problem if someone makes money doing it? If they murder babies and make no money, is it then alright? The absolute absurdity of such an argument is its own refutation.
4. Fetal tissue is being used for important scientific research. The PP website even tries to pull on the heartstrings when they say, “The opportunity to donate fetal tissue has been a source of comfort for many women who have chosen to donate.” But, what they don’t mention is that these so-called organ donors–the babies–are alive when the organs are harvested! Its not the mothers who “donate” these body parts, its the babies themselves–at the cost of their own lives. What if we went around killing 8-year-olds for body parts? Would that be acceptable simply under the guise of scientific research? This defense is so bad, that it is tragic that so many people are falling for it.
These are just four examples, of the many flawed arguments used to defend PP. But, I want to point out something very important. Notice what is not being offered as a defense.
Planned Parenthood never says anywhere that they are not actually cutting up babies and selling their parts.
Rather they are saying such actions are justified because we don’t make money doing it, or because it used for science, or because we do other things that are good.
Most people who are accused of murder say, “I didn’t do it.” Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, simply says “We are doing it, but its not murder.” Thus, they have never denied killing babies. And that is a stunning silence that should not be missed.
This raises the question of how a country could get to the place where not only this is allowed, but is funded by federal tax dollars.
I am reminded of the way the world looked at the German people after the Holocaust had ended. The issue was not just how the Nazis could commit such unthinkable atrocities. The issue was how the entire German nation could stand by and watch it happen and do nothing.
Of course, there were some in Germany who fought against the Nazis. And there are some (thankfully) in America that fight against abortion. But, America, as a whole, is turning a blind eye.
Someday, I believe the abortion practice will eventually end. And when it does, it is sad to think they will look back into these generations of our country and ask, How could the entire nation stand by and watch it happen and do nothing?
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said,
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
There has been a lot of chatter the last few weeks about Rachel Dolezal, civil rights activist and the former head of the NAACP in Spokane, WA. Although she presented herself as African American–a bit of a prerequisite for heading up a chapter of the NAACP–it turns out that she is not black after all. Indeed she was a blonde, freckle-faced white girl born to two white parents. She has merely changed her outward appearance.
Of course, objective facts regarding biology, genetics, and ethnicity have not proven to be a deterrent to Dolezal’s insistence that she is black. “I identify as black,” she told Matt Lauer. In other words, I get to decide what is true. Reality is what I make it.
Many have pointed out the similarities between Dolezal’s case and that of Bruce Jenner and his declarations that he is now a woman. And the comparison has been (rightly) used to expose how intellectually vacuous the transgender cause really is. One cannot determine their own gender any more than a person can determine their own race. “Can the Ethiopan change his skin or a leopard his spots?” (Jer 13:23).
But, there is more going on here. And we have to be careful not to miss it. What is happening with Dolezal should not be viewed as just a rebuke of transgenderism (although it is). It is also a rebuke of the entire postmodern project of our Western culture over the last 50 years.
Dolezal is simply acting out the worldview she has learned from the Western culture within which she was raised.
No doubt she has heard, from her earliest days, that there is no objective truth. She has probably been told (repeatedly) that there are no absolute realities “out there” beyond ourselves. Over and over she has gotten the message that truth is simply a construct of the self.
And these messages probably didn’t come from her parents. They likely came from broader influences. TV shows have reminded her that her own feelings are what matters most. Pop culture has convinced her that she has to be “true to herself.” Musical lyrics have called her to a life of “authenticity”–which simply means live a life that makes you feel good and meets your personal needs.
In other words, the voices around her, for 37 years, have given her one clear message: you determine your own reality.
So, who can blame her for just living consistently with what she was taught?
Well, it turns out, just about everyone. The very culture that taught her that truth is relative has now turned on her. What it gave to her with one hand, it has taken away with the other.
And it is here that the Rachel Dolezal story exposes the silliness and the absurdity of postmodernity, and its accompanying commitment to relativism. It shows–perhaps more clearly than any other recent example–that postmodernity simply doesn’t work. It shows that we can’t create our own realities after all. We can’t make something true just because we want it to be. Any person with common sense simply knows that saying you are black doesn’t make you black.
Or, as Lev Grossman said in book NY Times best-seller The Magicians, “If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so.”
But, the Rachel Dolezal story reveals more than this. It not only shows that postmodernity is false, it shows that it is deeply and inherently hypocritical.
Postmoderns claim one thing, and yet do another. They say there is no absolute truth, but, when push comes to shove, they concede there is absolute truth after all. They pretend like reality is a construct of the self, but it turns out they don’t really live like that.
That’s why Bruce Jenner can be called a courageous hero, and, at the same time, Rachel Dolezal can be lambasted as a heretic. Postmoderns are comfortable saying people get to determine our own truth–but only when its convenient.
All of this simply reveals what the cultural elites have always known (but won’t admit), namely that they are inevitably selective about the way they apply their relativism.
When it comes to who a person sleeps with, they are relativists. When it comes to evidence in a criminal trial, they are not. When it comes to sexual identity, they are relativists. When it comes to global warming, they are not. When it comes to gender identity, they are relativists. But, unfortunately for Dolezal, when it comes to race identity, they are not. Or at least not yet.
And there is a reason for such (obvious) inconsistency. No person could really live as if reality were entirely determined by ourselves. Such individuals will always, and inevitably, keep bumping into the real world. And the real world has an irritating habit of not getting out of the way.
This hypocrisy–which is inherent to postmodernity–tells us something very important. It tells us that we humans make lousy gods. That’s what postmodernity is, after all. It is the human attempt to be god. It is the human attempt to control our own reality and determine our own truth.
But, in the end, we fail miserably. We just can’t pull it off. Our hypocrisy shows that we are only fake gods. Bad fakes.
And, as fake gods, our own “creations” are fake too. Bruce Jenner has tried to make himself a woman, but he is just a fake woman. Rachel Dolezal has tried to make herself black. But she is a fake black.
Postmodernity, then, has led to a culture of fakeness. That is the only kind of culture a fake god can create. We stride around proclaiming ourselves to be the lord of our private universes. We put on a good show. But, in the end, we are frauds.
We are like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. We project a facade of power and control. But, in the end, we are weak, scared, and hiding.
We have to recognize, therefore, that the postmodern project, at its core, did not start fifty years ago. It started at the initial fall of Adam and Eve when they took of the fruit because they wanted to “be like God” (Gen 3:5).
The only solution is for humans to abandon the quest to be God; to abandon the quest to make our own reality. The only things that aren’t fake are things that the true God has made. And God made Bruce Jenner a man. And God made Rachel Dolezal white. “And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:9).
One of the most common objections to biblical authority is that the God of the Bible is guilty of committing immoral acts. God appears to advocate, endorse, and even commit acts that are normally seen as morally questionable. The classic example is the command to the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites as they enter into the promised land.
In fact, it is the question of whether God endorses genocide that features heavily in the objections of atheist Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion (Mariner Books, 2008). It is also a prominent theme in Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014). See my review of Enns here.
For these reasons, I am thankful for the good work of Dick Belcher, the John D. and Francis M. Gwin Professor of Old Testament here at RTS Charlotte. Dr. Belcher has recently published important commentaries on book such as Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and has a wonderful book on Christ in the Pslams: The Messiah and the Psalms (Christian Focus, 2006).
Dr. Belcher recently did an interview on whether God is a moral monster with AP Magazine, an evangelical, Reformed publication out of Australia. Here are some excerpts:
Critics of the Bible claim that it contains so many obscene and cruel stories that it can hardly be the work of a holy and righteous God. Do they have a point?
Obviously, this is a pressing issue today. In the past people who have had moral problems with the Bible have said, “Well, the Bible contains some stories and practices that are offensive to many people and this undermines its authority”. But today some of the more passionate atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have gone a step further and said, “the Bible’s views on morality are dangerous”. This represents a change in the way that people are viewing the Bible. They are not simply saying that it is wrong; they are claiming that it is evil. Moreover, they go a step further and suggest that the teaching of the Bible should not even be tolerated; instead, it should be rejected as “hateful”. In response, I would point out that when the Bible describes an event it does not mean that it necessarily condones it. The Bible paints an honest picture about the fallen world and it certainly includes some confronting stories. However, the inclusion of some of these stories does not mean that God approves the actions of their characters. On the contrary, they are often condemned. What we need to understand is that God is able to use these stories in ways that further His purposes by teaching us things we need to know about Him, ourselves and His grace towards sinners.
When God brings judgment on people such as Pharaoh or the Canaanites is He being malicious, or does He have some other purpose in view?
In most of these situations, God’s first response is not judgment. Even in a case like Sodom and Gomorrah, God comes first to Abraham to reveal His plans to him. Abraham pleads with God, and God is willing to save the cities if there are 10 righteous people in them. So we see that God’s first response is not one of judgment. Usually God’s judgment comes after an extended period where people refuse to change, and evil reaches epidemic proportions. God is always slow to execute judgment. In Genesis 15 we discover that God reveals that He will not punish the Amorites for at least four generations, which in those times equated to over four centuries. I don’t think that anyone could argue that God acted capriciously and was not long-suffering and just in executing His judgments. In fact, I think that most of us would be thankful that God is so forbearing and merciful in the way He executes justice. I think we all need to pause and remember that the God of the Bible is holy and we are sinners. We deserve nothing from Him, and that’s the part of the equation we don’t understand today. If we did we would soon realise how merciful and gracious God is when He exercises such restraint towards us.
A lot of people take offence at God’s command to the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. What do we know about the Canaanites? Did they deserve it?
That’s the way this issue is presented sometimes: the poor, innocent Canaanites, minding their own business, and then God pounces on them in judgment and destroys them through the Israelites. Well, as I said earlier, God’s judgment wasn’t His first response. He waited for over four centuries until their evil had reached the upper limit, so to speak. The Canaanites were a people who were very wicked in their behaviour, even engaging in child-sacrifice. They worshiped gods who were lustful, incestuous, and bloodthirsty and the Canaanites became like the gods they worshipped. The goddess of sex and war, Ashtart, was very violent. She decorated herself with suspended heads and hands attached to a girdle. She exalted in brutality and butchery. Of course, the Canaanites also worshipped Baal, who was the god of fertility. One aspect of Baal worship involved the Canaanites engaging in sexual activity as a form of sympathetic magic to induce him to produce fruitfulness for their crops. So it’s a false picture to say that the Canaanites were innocent people minding their own business. They were extremely debauched and wicked people.
How would you answer somebody like Richard Dawkins who says that when God orders the extermination of the Canaanites He is nothing more than a moral monster?
I would answer by reminding him that the Bible says that God is a God of justice. His judgment is simply a manifestation of His justice and righteousness, and if we had a sense of His holiness, our response would be one of fear and reverence because of the holy God that He is. I would also remind him that this judgment upon the Canaanites serves as a warning of the future eschatological judgment that faces us. And I would also add this: God’s command to exterminate theCanaanites is not something that occurs all throughout Old Testament history. It is for a particular period of Israel’s history. It’s not as if Israel participated all throughout her history in this kind of activity. It was for a particular purpose in a limited period of her history. Further, it was confined to the time when she entered Canaan to take possession of it for herself so as to fulfil God’s purpose for her. Now there were times when Israel engaged in physical warfare – holy war – but many times that was defensive. So this is a strictly limited period during Israel’s existence, and we should not think of Israel participating in this kind of activity all throughout her history. To suggest otherwise is wrong.
To read the whole interview, go here.
As one considers the values of Hollywood and American pop culture, it would be easy to conclude that no one is concerned all that much about morality. The dominant message is that people should live whatever life-style suits their personal preferences. What is right for one person is not necessarily what is right for another.
Or so it would seem.
Just about the time you are convinced that Hollywood thinks morality is relative, a major entertainment figure steps forward and speaks out vigorously about a moral cause. Maybe it’s the environment. Or perhaps its racism. Or maybe the moral cause is caring for the poor. Regardless, it turns out that, in certain instances, morality is absolute after all. In regard to these moral issues, apparently everyone should be on board.
Such was the case with the latest statements by the actress Julianne Moore. The headline I read about her most recent interview said it all:
“Oscar Actress Frontrunner: I Don’t Believe in God; Gun Control a Must.”
Now right off the bat, it is clear that there are some serious problems with Moore’s worldview. First, she stumbles into the very problem mentioned above. How can we take her moral position seriously, when the message of her industry is that there are no moral absolutes? You can’t say, on the one hand, “Live whatever life-style you want,” and then, on the other hand, say, “You must follow this particular moral position” (in this case, gun control). It’s one or the other.
But, the second problem is even bigger than the first. In addition to making moral claims, Moore makes it clear that she doesn’t believe in God. Apparently, then, she has an atheistic worldview. Of course, she is free to have such a worldview, but the problem is that it doesn’t square with her moral crusade for gun control.
Presumably, she is concerned about gun control because she values human life. She believes it is “wrong” to take a human life, and wants to prevent as many human deaths as possible. But, on an atheistic worldview, why is human life more important than any other life? It is just the product of billions of years of mindless evolution. On an atheistic worldview, taking a human life is no different than taking the life of a cockroach. On an atheistic worldview, there is no right and wrong at all.
Later in the interview, Moore admits as much. She says:
“I learned when my mother died five years ago that there is no ‘there’ there,” she reflects. “Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.”
Basically, according to Moore, there is no inherent meaning in the universe–meaning is just something we “impose” on a world filled with “chaos.” All good and well, but what then is the ground for her moral claims about gun control and the value of human life? In a world without meaning, why would it matter what one human does to another? It is just one bag of molecules doing something to another bag of molecules.
Of course, Moore might respond and say, “You can still have morality on an atheistic worldview. Morality is determined by what is good for the most people. And gun control is good for the most people.”
But, this just creates a new moral code out of thin air, namely that “Morality is determined by what is good for the most people.” Where does this moral standard come from? Did she just make it up? And why should people follow it? Moreover, how does Moore determine what is good for the most people? What counts as “good”?
In the end, Moore’s worldview faces some serious philosophical challenges. She wants to have absolute morality so that she can declare murder wrong (and thus advocate gun control), but at the same time she provides no coherent basis for what makes something right or wrong. Indeed, she has a worldview that actually destroys the possibility of their actually being any real right or wrong.
When someone has such an obviously incoherent worldview, it makes one wonder how that happens. What leads someone to embrace two obviously contradictory premises? The Bible actually provides an answer for this. The Scriptures teach that men and women are made in the image of God and the law of God is written on their heart (Rom 2:14-15). This explains why Moore insists that murder is wrong (which leads her to advocate gun control).
The Scriptures also teach that unbelievers suppress this truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-23). Even though Moore knows there is a God, she refuses to admit such a thing and tries to live her life without him. Thus, her contradictory worldview is inevitable. She is trying to get away from God, but cannot escape him because the Law of God is written on her own heart.
Of course, it should be noted that Christians agree with Moore’s concern for human life. We agree that it is wrong to murder (regardless of what one thinks about the merits of gun control laws). The difference is that Christians actually have a coherent reason for why murder is wrong, namely because humans are made in the image of God (and thus are different from the cockroach), and because God has commanded us not to murder.
While non-Christians might act moral, and might advocate moral acts, only Christians have grounds for why an act is moral or immoral in the first place.
In the first century, while Christianity was still in its infancy, the Greco-Roman world paid little attention. For the most part, the early Christian movement was seen as something still underneath the Jewish umbrella.
But in the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice. And it didn’t like what it saw. Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society. Christians were, well, different.
So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture? One distinctive trait was that Christians would not pay homage to the other “gods” (see my prior post on this subject here). This was a constant irritant to those governing officials who preferred to see the pagan temples filled with loyal worshipers (temples which earned a good deal of money from the tributes they collected).
But, there was a second trait that separated Christians from the pagan culture: their sexual ethic. While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.
For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need. But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this? Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.
In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society. However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7). Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.
We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides. Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).
A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix. In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:
Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).
This sampling of texts from the second century demonstrates that one of the main ways that Christians stood out from their surrounding culture was their distinctive sexual behavior. Of course, this doesn’t mean Christians were perfect in this regard. No doubt, many Christians committed sexual sins. But, Christianity as a whole was still committed to striving towards the sexual ethic laid out in Scripture–and the world took notice.
Needless to say, this has tremendous implications for Christians in the modern day. We are reminded again that what we are experiencing in the present is not new–Christians battled an over-sexed culture as early as the first and second century!
But, it is also a reminder why Christians must not go along with the ever-changing sexual norms of our world. To do so would not only be a violation of the clear teachings of Scripture, but it would rob us of one of our greatest witnessing opportunities. In as much as marriage reflects Christ’s love for the church, Christians’ commitment to marriage is a mean of proclaiming that love.
In the end, Christianity triumphed in its early Greco-Roman context not because it was the same as the surrounding pagan culture, but because it was different.
I have just finished my formal review of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, How Jesus Became God–The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, 2014), and it should be available on the Reformation 21 website in the next week or so (I will provide a notice when it is posted).
In the meantime, I am beginning a series of blog posts responding to Ehrman’s new book. Some of these posts will draw on aspects of my forthcoming review, and some of these will be new observations about his book. This first post falls into the latter category and concerns the internal contradictions within Ehrman’s own worldview.
Even though Ehrman does not offer a comprehensive assessment of his own worldview, it is important to observe that throughout the book he presents himself as simply a historian. For 300-plus pages Ehrman claims he is just doing, well, what historians do. He is very clear that “religious faith and historical knowledge are two different ways of ‘knowing'” (132) and he puts himself in the latter camp. He is only interested in studying those events that “do not require faith in order to know about them” (132).
So committed is Ehrman to his role as a “historian” that he chides anyone who wants to insert value judgments into historical discussions. For example, Ehrman insists that we should not use terms like “heresy”or “orthodoxy” because that implies that somebody is really right and somebody is really wrong, and historians cannot make such judgments. These terms should be avoided because they are “value-laden” (319). Indeed, he says, “the historian has no access…to what is right in the eyes of God” (288).
Thus, Ehrman is clear. Historians should be value-free in their declarations. They should not declare what is right and wrong. Why? Because historians, as historians, do not have access to such values.
But, then there is the epilogue. And it is here that Ehrman’s professed worldview begins to unravel. Having just written a book where he chides others for inserting their own values into historical discussions, Ehrman begins to insert his own. Here he offers a litany of complaints about the immorality of early Christians and how they were guilty of anti-semitism–anti-semitism which is caused, argues Ehrman, by the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus. A belief that he claims has “horrific” implications (277).
At this point, however, the reader is mystified. Wasn’t it Ehrman who insisted that historians were not supposed to weigh in the rightness or wrongness of historical views (such as the Christian view about the divinity of Jesus!)? Wasn’t it Ehrman who insisted that it is the historian’s task to avoid declarations that are “value-laden”? Yet, here he feels completely free to offer his own moralizing at the end of his book.
But, the problems for Ehrman are even deeper. The issue is not just that he is violating his own professed code for how historians ought to behave, the bigger issue is the question of where he gets his moral norms from in the first place. How does Ehrman know that anti-semitism is wrong? On what grounds does he call it “horrific”? Where does Ehrman get this moral code that he is using?
Elsewhere, Ehrman assures the reader that he does believe in moral norms. He says, “I do think there is good and evil; I do think we should all be on the side of good; and I do think we should fight mightly against all that is evil” (354). Aside from the fact that such statements are out of place in a book purportedly committed to only discussing historical issues, Ehrman apparently feels no need to explain to the reader where these moral standards come from. Who decides what is “good” and “evil”? Bart Ehrman?
Ehrman seems unaware that absolute moral statements like this might just require some sort of philosophical grounding; some sort of worldview that can provide a cogent accounting of moral norms; some sort of basis for why one thing is “right” and another thing is “wrong.” But, Ehrman provides no such explanation. In fact, the closest he comes is telling the reader what is not his foundation for morality: “I do not believe there is a God in heaven who is soon to send a cosmic judge of the earth to destroy the forces of evil” (355).
It is here that Ehrman does not seem to recognize the profound inconsistency in his own worldview. On what grounds does a professed agnostic make such sweeping moral claims about good and evil, and right and wrong, and what God is like or not like? How does Ehrman know God is not going to come judge the earth? When it comes time to make such moral and religious declarations Ehrman seems quite content to abandon his agnostic stance.
Ehrman does hint at some reasons other folks have given for morality (though he doesn’t say these are his own views), such as “we can find the greatest self-fulfillment in life and so we can all thrive together as a society for the long haul” (355). But, these are not grounds for moral absolutes–they might explain behavior but they do not make behavior right or wrong. Something is not right or wrong simply because it leads to personal fulfillment. Some people may find personal fulfillment in torturing little children, but that does not make it “right.”
Ironically, it is the very worldview that Ehrman mocks and criticizes–biblical Christianity–that can actually provide foundations for morality. Christians believe that moral norms are grounded in the very character of God himself, the creator of the universe; and Christians claim to know about this God through his word contained in the Bible. Ehrman, of course, rejects this claim, but that misses the point entirely. If someone is going to make moral claims, it makes much more sense if it comes from someone who thinks they have access to God’s own thoughts on the matter, instead of coming from someone who is offering only agnosticism.
Now one might suppose that Ehrman could avoid this entire quandary by saying he doesn’t really believe in moral absolutes at all, but his merely offering his own personal moral preferences. Ok, fine. But, then Ehrman has no basis for his prior statement that “I do think there is good and evil.” Instead he should have said, “There is no such thing as good and evil, just private opinion.” And, if Ehrman is only offering his private opinion, then he no longer has a meaningful basis to object to anti-semitism. He cannot say it is really wrong–all he can say is that he personally doesn’t prefer it.
In the end, Ehrman’s worldview is a philosophical mess. He chides others for inserting value-laden statements and then offers his own. He claims to believe in the real existence of good and evil, but never explains where such moral norms come from. He makes sweeping claims about how there is no God who will judge the world while all the while claiming to be agnostic. He says Christians are wrong for being anti-semitic, but never offers a reason for why anti-semitism is wrong in the first place.
A genuine agnostic would have acknowledged he doesn’t really have anything to offer regarding discussions of God and morality, and good and evil. Indeed, a genuine agnostic would have acknowledged that Christianity might even be right. After all, according to an agnostic, who knows?
Politics can be ugly business. And there are things that happen (on both sides of the aisle) that are unfortunate and disturbing. But, unfortunately, the standard evangelical reaction to such a reality is to declare that no political party is better than any other. It doesn’t matter how you vote as a Christian, we are told.
During last year’s election, I challenged this notion in a post entitled Postmodernity and Politics. A few excerpts:
Even if both parties are flawed to some degree, the real question still remains, namely which political party is the closest to the principles and ethics laid out in Scripture? After all, at the end of the day, the Christian still has to go to the polls and vote for someone. And surely he wants to vote for the party that is closest to the teachings of Scripture.
I think the claim that both parties are equally flawed is highly problematic when one considers that Democrats and Republicans have near opposite political platforms on almost every major issue. Is it really likely that there would be two parties with nearly opposite values and ethical positions and, at the same time, neither would be closer to the teachings of Scripture? I suppose it is possible. But, is also very unlikely.
One wonders how the “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor Republican” approach would have worked for Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he navigated the frightening political landscape of Germany in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Would he have been compelled by the idea that the Scripture was neutral about whether Christians should vote for Hitler’s socialist party? The sad truth is that many Christians and many churches in that day went along with Hitler’s politics and offered no protest. Bonhoeffer disagreed and argued that it was the Christian’s duty to oppose the National Socialist party. I doubt Bonhoeffer would have been persuaded by the argument that “good Christians are on both sides of this issue.”
In light of the sad events of the last week, I am hopeful that this “all political parties are the same” misconception can be put to rest once and for all. In both the SCOTUS decision in support of homosexual marriage, and in the abortion debate in Texas, there was loud cheering on the one side and deep sadness on the other. It’s hard to imagine a deeper divide.
Indeed, when one looks back over the last period of time and asks which political party has been the one promoting, endorsing, and encouraging two of the most serious anti-Christian positions—abortion and homosexual marriage—the answer is not hard to find.
And these are not minor issues. One has resulted in millions upon millions of lost lives. And the other has redefined one of the most central and enduring institutions in human civilization.
Evangelicals have some serious soul searching to do when it comes to how we vote. The recent 5-4 split on the Supreme Court, and Obama’s endorsement of the majority decision, shows that all political parties are not the same.
I wonder what Bonhoeffer would say if he were living in America today. Would he say, “It doesn’t matter which party Christians vote for”? After this week’s events, I doubt it.
Now that we are in the thick of the political season, we are beginning to see the inevitable, and emotionally-charged, debates about the key moral issues of our day—homosexual marriage, abortion, etc. But, as soon as any group speaks out against these practices, the mainstream media, right on cue, is quick to chide them for forcing their morality onto others. The days of using morality as a political weapon are over, we are told. The “moral majority” of the 1980’s (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al.) has lost and we need to move beyond such self-righteous posturing.
But, is the age of the “moral majority” really over? I would suggest that it is not. Certainly the era of the Christian Coalition led by Falwell and Robertson is over. But, something remarkable has happened since then. A new morality majority has emerged—but this time it is on the left. Now the very groups that once chided Falwell and Robertson for appealing to morality, are doing it themselves as they defend practices like homosexual marriage. To deny same-sex couples the right to marry is now described as “wrong” and “evil” and “bigoted” and “mean” and “hateful.” When you hear such language from advocates of homosexual marriage it is clear they are not just on a political crusade, they are on a moral crusade. In their mind, they are overturning evil and injustice in the world.
The problem with this whole scenario is that Christians are slow to recognize what is happening. It hasn’t dawned on us that we are losing more than a political argument. We are losing a moral argument. In this battle, we have lost the moral high ground.
But, there is a way forward. Although it is ironic that those advocating sexual promiscuity are doing so on moral grounds (just think about that for a moment), it presents a clear opportunity for Christians to make their case for the truth of biblical Christianity. Two considerations:
1. We need to point out the inconsistency of this new morality. For years, Christians have been critiqued for imposing their morality on others and for bringing their own moral proclivities into the public sphere. Morals are private, we are told. Keep them out of politics. But, here is where the inconsistency of the left needs to be pointed out. Contrary to their own rules of engagement, they have made moral arguments for practices like homosexual marriage time and time again. Indeed, these are aggressive arguments that make sweeping condemnations of all who might disagree. And often the condemnations are followed by lawsuits, boycotts, and protests against business or individuals who express a differing view.
Of course, this inconsistency has been routinely missed by the media and by cultural and political leaders. This new moral majority is not called “self-righteous” (as was the old moral majority in the 1980’s). But, this should come as no surprise. The new morality gets a pass for one simple reason. It fits with what most people already believe.
2.We need to challenge the intellectual foundation for this new morality. Whenever issues like homosexual marriage are debated in the public sphere, Christians have made a bit of a tactical mistake. We have focused our time on the merits of each moral position (whether such a practice helps or hurts a society), and have not asked where morals come from in the first place. On what grounds does this new moral majority declare homosexual marriage to be “good”? And where do they get concepts of “good” and “evil” and “right” and “wrong”? On why should we even care about issues of “fairness” and “equality”?
Christians have answers to these questions. We believe that moral absolutes are grounded in the very character of God himself and revealed in his Word. Indeed, we would argue that without a theistic worldview, there would be no basis for any morals at all. One cannot make moral claims with just any old worldview. One needs a worldview that can provide a coherent reason for why something is really wrong or really right.
It is here that the advocates of the new morality run into some problems. Are they really willing to invoke God as the basis for their sweeping moral agenda? Doubtful. For one, the left has worked quite diligently to get God out of every public venue, from the pledge of allegiance to public prayer. Moreover, the DNC has just taken “God” out of its 2012 platform. So, it would be shocking, to say the least, if suddenly they invoked God as the basis for their new moral claims.
But, the problem is bigger than this. Even if they did invoke God as a basis for supporting practices like homosexual marriage, where could they turn to show that God has declared his support for such a practice? Certainly, the major theistic religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—all explicitly condemn such a practice. One would almost have to create a new theistic religion out of nothing, in order to find a “god” who is willing to support this particular behavior.
I suppose the new moral majority could forge ahead with their moral crusade without any appeal to God. But, an atheistic worldview provides no basis for moral norms. If there is no God, then why does it matter what a person does to another person? There is nothing “moral” about our actions under such circumstances. They are just actions. In fact, it was this realization that led C.S. Lewis to abandon his atheism: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?. . . Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning” (Mere Christianity, 42).
In the end, the new moral majority finds itself in an awkward, and intellectually indefensible position. They need a transcendent God in order for moral norms to exist, yet they are working at every turn against God’s role in the public sphere. Moreover, they are advocating a behavior (e.g., homosexual marriage) that is rejected by every major theistic religion.
In all of this, Paul’s description in Romans 1 rings true: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking” (Rom 1:21).