Some personal reflections on the ministry of R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

The news just went out that theologian R. C. Sproul has passed away. I cannot overstate what his influence has been over two generations of evangelicals. I was not personal friends with Dr. Sproul and never had the pleasure even to meet him (I am eager to hear the stories of those who did know him). Nevertheless, his ministry has had an enormous influence on me personally, not least because I discovered his ministry right when I needed it most.

I was in college in the mid-90’s when I first heard of R. C. Sproul. In those days, there was no “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” no Gospel Coalition, no T4G. But there was Sproul and Ligonier ministries. Dr. Sproul was reformed when reformed wasn’t cool—at least it wasn’t where I grew up in the deep south. Resources were limited in those days, and that is why Dr. Sproul’s ministry meant so much to me.

There are four signal moments that stand out to me from that time: Continue Reading →

Are Christians crying wolf about mistreatment and marginalization?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian alleges that Christians are crying wolf with claims of marginalization and persecution and that those claims need to be vigorously challenged. Why have liberals failed to challenge them? She answers:

Why are we reluctant to challenge such claims? It’s the result of a tacit social contract, an uneasy truce after the 20th-century wars over science and the role of religion in the public sphere. According to this social contract, institutions outside the religious sphere will not use scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs, so long as those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims that extend far beyond the walls of the church.

This paragraph is astonishing on a number of levels:

1. Allen-Ebrahimian claims there is a “tacit social contract” in which secularists will not use “scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs.” Really? I can hardly believe that she would make this claim. Has she read any of the contemporary debates between creationists, evolutionists, and intelligent design advocates? The writings of the new atheists? To be sure, each side can give as good as it gets. But to say that Christian belief has been free to operate without scientific critique is just incredible.

2. Without realizing it, Allen-Ebrahimian exemplifies the very reason conservative Christians are concerned about marginalization and mistreatment. She says that Christians are free to practice their belief within the walls of the church but that they dare not do so “beyond the walls of the church.” Right there is the problem. It’s the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion. Freedom of worship relegates religious observance to the church house. Freedom of religion—our nation’s first freedom in the Bill of Rights—allows believers to practice their faith outside the walls of the church in their work, community, etc. So for example, if a Christian baker doesn’t want to participate in a gay wedding, freedom of religion says he shouldn’t be forced to do so. But the freedom of worship folks believe that he can bake cakes however he wants at church, but outside the church the state can use its coercive power to force him to violate his conscience and participate in gay weddings. It’s easy for Allen-Ebrahim to say “nothing to see here, move along.” She’s not the one facing public sanctions for believing what Christians have always believed about marriage.

3. Allen-Ebrahimian claims that Christians can believe what they want so long as “those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims.” This is staggering. Christianity is nothing if not a sweeping political claim. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that Caesar is not. That is why we sing at this time of year that he is “King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever.” We don’t believe these words to be pie in the sky. We really do believe that our highest allegiance is to a crucified and raised Jewish man from Nazareth. We believe that he will judge the nations in righteousness, including the United States. We also believe that there will be sorrow for everyone who comes up short at that judgment. Those truths have sweeping implications for the way we live our lives now as citizens. And there are sweeping political implications for the way we view human dignity, justice, war, and a host of other public issues.

Christians aren’t crying wolf or being paranoid about the challenges to religious liberty that are increasing nationwide. They are happening whether Allen-Ebrahimian acknowledges them or not. And her wish to banish religious observance from the public square is precisely why we are concerned.

The big story from Alabama’s senatorial election is the absence of evangelical voters

In a column for RNS, Jonathan Merritt takes Albert Mohler to task for Mohler’s analysis of last night’s election results. He writes:

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on CNN around 1 am to give conservative Christians credit for the controversial Republican’s defeat. “[Moore] lost because so many evangelicals didn’t show up. That’s the big story … what didn’t happen,” Mohler said.

But Mohler’s assertion flies in the face of the facts. Eight in 10 white evangelicals cast their vote yesterday for Moore, a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct with multiple underage women. That’s roughly the same number who one year ago voted for Donald Trump, a man credibly accused of sexual misconduct with several women who has also admitted to engaging in such behavior. (Additionally, the percentage of evangelicals who voted for a write-in candidate was roughly on par with the general electorate.)…

Mohler is a shrewd thinker and capable culture watcher, so I assume he must be referring to the evangelical share of the total electorate. White evangelical Christians comprised 44 percent of all voters yesterday, compared with 47 percent of voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections. But this tiny shift, which The Washington Post referred to as “slight signs of slippage,” is nothing to crow about.

I agree that there is nothing to “crow” about, and thankfully nobody (including Mohler) is doing that. And I would agree that certain self-identified evangelicals do have some soul-searching to do.

Having said that, Merritt has misunderstood the significance of these numbers and as a result has come to some erroneous conclusions about evangelical involvement in yesterday’s election. Merritt says that the white evangelical turn-out yesterday was only a “tiny shift” from previous elections. But he is comparing apples to oranges. The shift from 47% to 44% represents percentages of two totally different voter turn-outs.

The total vote yesterday was a fraction of what it was in previous election years. Yesterday 1,344,406 people voted in the Alabama senatorial election. According to exit polls, 44% of those votes were cast by evangelicals, which comes out to about 591,539 votes. Moore got about 80% of those votes bringing his total evangelical support to about 473,231 votes.

That means that out of 1.8 million adult evangelicals in Alabama, only 26% of them voted for Roy Moore last night. In previous elections (2008 and 2012), evangelicals were about 47% of 2 million voters in Alabama. As David French has observed, that means that about 350,000 fewer evangelicals turned out for this election than turned-out in previous elections. That is more than the difference in this election. The evangelical absence from this election more than accounts for Doug Jones margin of victory. RNS‘s own report earlier today confirms this and contradicts Merritt’s narrative:

White evangelicals were less motivated to go to the polls than other voters (black and white), and those that did were less likely to vote GOP than in 2012. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that had they turned out and voted the way they did then, Moore would have won by 2-3 percentage points instead of losing by 1.5.

Lyman Stone’s analysis comes to the same conclusion as this one. He writes,

Many commentators are going to position Moore’s defeat as some kind of big let-down for evangelicals. It isn’t. More than 60 percent of the white evangelical adults in Alabama did not cast a vote for Moore.

True, very few voted for Jones, perhaps because Jones supports abortion, which must of us adult white evangelicals consider to be murder. But white evangelical turnout fell from nearly 75 percent in the 2016 race (which, of course, had a presidential election as well), to about 45 percent in 2016. That’s not some marginal change by a few evangelicals of conscience; that’s a powerful expression by a large share of Alabama’s electorate that political nonparticipation was better to them than the options they were offered.

Bottom line. Albert Mohler’s analysis of evangelical involvement in this election is correct, and Jonathan Merritt’s is wrong. About 75% of evangelical adults in Alabama chose not to vote yesterday. Tens of thousands of evangelicals would not vote for Doug Jones and could not vote for Roy Moore. They stayed home, and that made all the difference in this election.

Evangelicals had a decisive influence in this election—just not in the way that many commentators predicted. And certainly not in the way that Merritt alleges.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article included calculations based on 2.4 million evangelicals in Alabama. That number is actually 1.8 million adult evangelicals in Alabama. Other figures have been re-calculated to reflect that correction. HT: Alan Cross.

Is the Pope right about the Lord’s Prayer?

Last week, The New York Times reported that Pope Francis wishes to change the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer. From the article:

Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit.

I think the exegetical case for this change is pretty weak. The words and phrases simply don’t mean what Pope Francis wants them to mean. I agree with Tony Esolen, who writes: Continue Reading →

Who will stand for the children if their own parents won’t?

It is a shame that there is need for a video like the one above, but there is. Doctors are telling parents to put their gender-confused children on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormone therapies which eventually render them infertile for life. Some are even recommending the surgical removal of functioning reproductive organs. All of these harmful therapies are in the service of a destructive, untested transgender ideology.

Who will stand for the children if the parents won’t?

Parents, don’t be taken-in by the erroneous, totalizing claims of transgender ideologues. Protect your child from destructive “therapies” that are irreversible and that cause permanent bodily damage. If you don’t stand, it is very unlikely that anyone else in the medical community will.

The Daily Signal has a transcript of the video above at the following link: “I’m a Pediatrician. Here’s What I Did When a Little Boy Patient Said He Was a Girl.”

The Lesser of Two Evils Does Not Vindicate Evil

Sohrab Ahmari has written a penetrating op-ed for The New York Times titled, “Supporting Roy Moore Is a Devil’s Bargain.” I agree with just about everything in this piece, but I want to highlight one part of it that evangelicals would do well to pay attention to.

Ahmari points out that many evangelical voters felt that the binary choice of the 2016 election meant that voting for a morally compromised candidate was necessary in order to preserve the Supreme Court and to advance the social conservative cause. And then Ahmari highlights this defense from evangelical Trump supporters:

Well, respond the Trumpian conservatives, our vote is just the opener. We will call our leaders’ moves as we see them — the good and the bad.

Except they don’t. They might take issue with this or that White House policy. But they rarely if ever call out the president’s moral degradations. And such criticism is the only kind that truly irritates Mr. Trump.

This point needs to be underlined. I understand why some evangelicals felt they had no choice but to support a compromised candidate because of the binary nature of the general election. I disagree with that calculation for reasons that I made well-known throughout 2015-2016. I still disagree with it. Having said that, I understand and am sympathetic with those who felt constrained by the poor alternatives before them. I disagree with the decision, but I get it. I really do.

But the choice to support a candidate that one knows is morally compromised also brings with it an obligation to be morally consistent. You still have to call balls and strikes with your morally compromised candidate. The lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting is not a vindication of the “lesser” evil. The so-called “lesser” evil is after all still evil. And evil doesn’t become good simply because someone else’s evil is perceived to be greater.

And that means that you cannot pretend that a politician’s obvious moral degradations are irrelevant. Nor can you turn a blind eye and pretend that they don’t exist. In short, you have to recognize evil as evil and cannot treat it as something else. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Nor does the lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting relieve the Christian of his obligation to speak and bear witness to truth. Why? Because such a Christian now has the burden of proof that his principles are not beholden to earthly partisan interests but to the eternal and unchanging word of God.

That means that when the president says or does something morally bankrupt, it is wrong for his supporters to pretend that he didn’t. It also means that when a party fields a morally compromised candidate, it is wrong for Christians in that party to turn a blind eye to the moral degradation in their midst.

The sins of another do not justify your own. Likewise, to call out the sins of the other political party while ignoring those in your own is rank hypocrisy. “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17).

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Recommended: “How to Live Under an Unqualified President” by John Piper

Christian Baker Jack Phillips Gets His Day in Court

Today, Jack Phillips will finally get is day in court–the Supreme Court. The State of Colorado is attempting to force Phillips, a Christian baker, to use his artistic gifts to create a cake for a gay wedding celebration. Phillips says that creating such a cake would violate his religious beliefs. Phillips is not singling out gay weddings as uniquely objectionable. He has also declined to make Halloween cakes and cakes with risqué messages for bachelor parties. Why? Because those messages also violate his religious beliefs.

Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the question. The Court will decide (probably in June) whether the state of Colorado can force Jack Phillips to create a message that contradicts his beliefs. What will they decide? That remains to be seen. Until they do, however, it is important to keep in mind what this case is and is not about.

I first wrote about this case over four years ago, and I have been following it very closely ever since. In that time, I have observed a raft of news reports that obscure the facts of the case. For example, The New York Times reported last summer:

The case will be a major test of a clash between laws that ban businesses open to the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation and claims of religious freedom. Around the nation, businesses like bakeries, florists and photography studios have said, so far with little success, that forcing them to serve gay couples violates their constitutional rights.

This paragraph is actually incorrect. Phillips is not discriminating against anyone because of their sexual orientation. He is not refusing service to gay couples because they are gay. In fact, he serves gay customers all the time. He is perfectly happy and willing to serve gay customers in his shop.

Earlier this year, USA Today and Religion News Service ran an article headlined, “Supreme Court will hear religious liberty challenge to gay weddings.” This one really distorts the nature of the case. Phillips is not challenging the legality of gay weddings. He’s challenging Colorado’s attempt to force him into participating in one (RNS has since corrected the headline).

And that is the real issue. Phillips does not think the state has the right to coerce him to create art that contradicts his faith. Creating a cake for the purposes of celebrating a same-sex wedding would violate his faith. And that is what he is objecting to.

You will read press reports and hear news stories claiming that he wishes to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That is just simply not true.

How will this case ultimately be decided? The decision is likely to come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the man who was the deciding vote in both Obergefell and Windsor. David French explains the religious liberty peril before us:

If Justice Kennedy views this case primarily through the LGBT lens, then the First Amendment may well lose. Kennedy is obviously proud of his long line of LGBT-friendly precedents, and that pride has even led him to a relatively rare First Amendment misstep, so it will be critical to explain to him (and the other justices, of course) that this isn’t a case about “discrimination” but rather about forced speech. Framing matters, and the other side will wrongly frame the case as raising the specter of Jim Crow. The right framing is found in the First Amendment.

This case will likely be a watershed for how free speech and religious liberty claims are treated in the future. If the government can force Jack Phillips to create a message that contradicts his beliefs, then the state can coerce anyone to violate their conscience. Free speech and religious liberty are not just for Christians but for everyone.

If the court gets this right, it will have gone a long way to upholding our first freedom in the Bill of Rights. If the court gets this wrong, it will have gone a long way to undermine it.

How CTE may be affecting decline in NFL viewership

Clay Travis reports that TV networks are set to lose about $500 million dollars due to ratings decline in their NFL coverage. NFL viewership is down about 20% from two years ago. Many observers are blaming the decline entirely on the protests. Other observers say that the protests are just one piece of a larger picture.

Travis argues that there are four reasons for the decline: (1) kick-off times no longer concentrated on Sundays, (2) poor quarterback play, (3) the addition of two teams to Los Angeles, and (4) the protests. I highlight Travis’s article not because I wish to weigh-in on the debate about the decline in NFL viewership. I cite his article because of what he says about number two—poor quarterback play.

Travis argues that CTE is going to change the future of the quarterback position in the NFL and thus the overall quality of play. He writes:

I think the biggest threat to the NFL’s product right now is the lack of quality quarterbacks. The scary thing for the NFL? I don’t see that improving because with the CTE issues now becoming a major point of discussion across the country there are going to be fewer and fewer kids playing football. You know most parents won’t let their children box now because we know what it does to a person’s brain, what if the same thing happens with football?

You might think the declining numbers of kids playing football won’t impact things very much, but it’s important to contemplate the position that will be most impacted by this decision.

It’s quarterback.

I think CTE is likely to decimate the quarterback position in football.

That’s because quarterbacks tend to come from two parent, middle class households and the players would probably go to college even if they didn’t play football. Playing quarterback is expensive, you have to go to exclusive camps now to refine your craft and become elite.

The parents of quarterbacks are the most likely parents to pull their sons from football.

Look at the list of top quarterbacks in the NFL, how many of them needed to play football to go to college? Maybe Dak Prescott. Maybe. Are there any other star quarterbacks in the NFL that wouldn’t have gone to college without football?

Not that I know of.

That means football is something that they are choosing to do as part of many other potential activities, sports and otherwise. Football isn’t their way out of poverty, it’s just a sport they start playing and happen to be good at. Odds are most top quarterbacks in the NFL could have also been pretty good at baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis or lacrosse if they’d played those sports instead.

What would happen if you took the top ten quarterbacks and removed them from the NFL? The league would be virtually unwatchable, right?

In the next decade will the Manning brothers, the Brady’s and Brees’s, the Cam Newton’s, Matt Ryan’s and Russell Wilson’s of the world play football? I doubt their parents will let them.

They’ll play other sports.

If that happens, the NFL’s bad play is going to get worse and worse in the years ahead.

Whether Travis is right about the ratings decline, I can’t say. But anecdotally, I think I can confirm what he is saying about CTE. Parents are becoming more and more aware of safety issues in football—in ways that no one was concerned about back in the olden days when I played in high school.

The trend seems to be that the more engaged parents are with their children, the more reluctant they are about football. Obviously, that is not universally the case, but it does seem to be happening in some measure. Such a trend will have inevitable consequences for the NFL in the long term, and those consequences may already be occurring.

I’m curious if readers are seeing the same thing I’m seeing. Are you reluctant to let your sons play football? Why or why not? Weigh-in on the conversation here.

Polyamory, the next sad frontier of the sexual revolution

Now that homosexuality and transgenderism are all but normalized, polyamory seems to be the next sad frontier of the sexual revolution. The latest installment of this trend appears in The New York Post’s profile of a polyamorous “throuple.”

Stories about polyamory are appearing with more and more frequency, and I have seen a theme beginning to emerge in other polyamorous profiles that I have read. Not everyone in the relationship is happy about polyamory. At least one partner wishes for monogamy but concedes to polyamory so that he won’t lose the one he wishes he could be monogamous with.

The throuple in the Post’s profile is no different. One man and woman in the relationship describe themselves as “bisexual.” A second man describes himself as “homoflexible”—by which he means homosexual but willing to accept the presence of the woman so that he doesn’t lose his man.

Readers of this blog know where I stand on this one. Any sexual relationship outside of marriage is an immoral one and does not promote God’s glory or human flourishing. I grieve that our culture has become so debased that this kind of blatant immorality could be perceived as normal or wholesome.

Acceptance of polyamory begs some fairly obvious questions about sexual morality that our culture is not prepared to answer. If sexual morality is reduced to consent, then on what basis could anyone possibly object to polyamory? If our culture is willing to accept polyamory merely based on consent, where does this end?

Yesterday’s taboos are today’s norms. Who could have imagined ten years ago how much our culture would come not only to accept but also to celebrate homosexuality and transgenderism? I can’t help but wonder what taboos today will give way in the days ahead. Incest? Bestiality? Indeed, where does this end?

Moral Clarity and Witness are the Priority, not Politics

Yesterday, I saw a portion of the emotional press conference in which another very credible woman accuses Judge Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. The New York Times reports on what she said:

The new accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, told a packed news conference in New York that Mr. Moore attacked her when she was a teenager and he was a prosecutor in Etowah County, Ala. Ms. Nelson was represented at the news conference by Gloria Allred, a lawyer who has championed victims of sexual harassment.

“I tried fighting him off, while yelling at him to stop, but instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch,” Ms. Nelson said, growing emotional as she described the assault, which she said happened one night after her shift ended at a local restaurant, where she was a waitress.

She said that Mr. Moore warned her that “no one will believe you” if she told anyone about the encounter in his car.

Ms. Allred displayed a yearbook that Ms. Nelson said had been signed by Mr. Moore, and the writing mirrored other examples of Mr. Moore’s signature.

If you haven’t seen the video of the press conference, watch it for yourself. As I said, I think this woman is very compelling and credible. And the same can be said of the other accusers who have come forward over the last week.

I am not omniscient and cannot claim any special definitive knowledge about the veracity of each and every allegation. All I can say is that from what I’ve read and seen over the last week, there is certainly enough smoke to suggest a very serious fire. Even if one does not believe the most serious allegations, everyone ought to be scandalized by the undisputed allegations—that a grown man was seeking to date underage teenage girls.

As Christians, our first response to such allegations should not be a political calculus. Our first response should be horrified compassion for those traumatized by sexual misconduct. And that response should also include moral clarity and consistency. The balance of the United States Senate is not our chief concern. Our witness is. More than anything, we must be concerned to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to its transforming power. That witness is undermined when God’s truth is set aside for any reason, much more for worldly political ends.

Yesterday before these most recent allegations came forth, Albert Mohler made the following remarks on The Briefing:

We also understand a particular responsibility to defend the defenseless and to speak up for those who need that defense, and we must make very clear that predatory sexual behavior, especially predatory sexual behavior addressed to a child, to a minor, is absolutely heinous, reprehensible, and cannot be accepted by any morally sane society. Even in our sexually confused age, we should be thankful for the fact that there is at least enough residual moral sense in the American people that they understand that any contact by an adult male with a minor female, or for that matter you could even change the genders, it’s absolutely wrong, immoral, and unacceptable. So we should at least state that about the charges right up front: If indeed the allegations are true, they are genuinely, morally devastating and they should be politically devastating as well.

I couldn’t agree more. Every person who names Jesus as Lord should agree as well.

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