Dunkirk: “English fathers, sailing to rescue England’s exhausted, bleeding sons.”

Tonight, the movie Dunkirk will begin showing in theaters across the nation. I assume that most of you reading this know why this film has been so highly anticipated. It is not merely because some reviewers are already saying that this is the best movie ever made by director Christopher Nolan. It is also because of the story itself.

The tale of the evacuation from Dunkirk during World War 2 is one of the most riveting and inspiring true stories that you will ever hear. It is a story of heroes, common and uncommon. It is a story of national valor and courage, and for that reason the story is beloved and cherished. What happened at this little fishing village in the north of France in 1940? Continue Reading →

Why intersectionality may be at odds with the gospel

Elizabeth Corey’s recent article in First Things may be the best short intro to intersectionality that I have yet come across. I highly recommend that you read it if you have not already. I would like to highlight a couple items from Corey’s observations that relate to my growing concerns with this philosophy of human identity—indeed, two areas where this ideology seems to be at odds with the Christian gospel.

Before doing that, I should stipulate up front that I do not disagree with every aspect of the theory. As Joe Carter has pointed out, intersectionality can help us to understand how an individual may experience multiple layers of discrimination or mistreatment. From a Christian perspective, this insight can perhaps serve as one metric for understanding how sin operates in a fallen world. This rightly evokes our compassion and resolve for justice. Nevertheless, I do not see why we need the total theory in order to maintain that particular insight, and I can think of a number of reasons that Christians might want to unload the theory. At least two of those reasons appear in Corey’s essay.

Reason 1: Intersectionality fosters an unbiblical view of human identity

Corey observes a deficiency in intersectionality theory that goes to the very foundation:

Intersectional theorists begin their work on the basis of a debatable (though never debated) set of characteristics that supposedly constitute personal identity: race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and sometimes others (weight, attractiveness, age). Women are collectively, and as individuals, oppressed. So are gays, lesbians, Hispanics, blacks, the disabled, the aged, the very young, the obese, the transgender—and the list goes on, becoming more complex with the addition and subtraction of multiple traits.

Intersectionality fails to distinguish between social categories that are morally neutral and those that are morally implicated. For example, race and gender are set right alongside sexual orientation. This is a big problem. Whereas the Bible celebrates racial diversity and the complementary differences between male and female, it does not celebrate sexual orientation diversity. The Bible says that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful, but intersectional activists would view such a judgment as oppression when applied to gay or bisexual people. Intersectionality insists that homosexuality is a good to be celebrated and promoted. Likewise, intersectionality defines gender in a way that mandates the celebration of transgender identities. This too is a radical departure from Christian teaching about how integral biological sex is to human identity as male and female. In these ways, intersectionality is at odds with fundamental truths of Christianity.

Reason 2: Intersectionality exacerbates social divisions rather than healing them

It has often been observed that intersectionality creates a kind of “oppression Olympics” among those who hold the theory. Ironically, within college campus subculture, one’s moral authority can be enhanced by intersecting identities of oppression. This kind of a social dynamic incentivizes grievance based on identity. In that way, it entrenches social divisions rather than healing them.

Indeed, Corey talks about one theorist who insists that there can be no peace between intersectionality and those who refuse to recognize the validity of the theory:

At the end there was a question and answer period. I asked whether and how Collins would suggest that intersectionality engage with its adversaries, the hated conservatives. Given the polarization of America right now, did she see some way for the two camps to communicate or find common ground? The vehemence of her answer was startling. “No,” she said. “You cannot bring these two worlds together. You must be oppositional. You must fight. For me, it’s a line in the sand.” This was at once jarring and clarifying.

To refuse to recognize intersectionality is not merely a theoretical dispute. It reveals animus toward those whose identities must be recognized and celebrated. Such refusal is the opposite of “safe space” and must be vigorously opposed.

All of this makes for a cauldron of division. Intersectionality may be good at pointing out what divides us, but it is horrible at bringing remedy to those divisions. No amount of “allyship” ever really rights the ship. Identity grievance endures no matter how many allies come onto the scene.

The gospel on the other hand is providing an entirely different remedy. Where the gospel prevails, reconciliation between between social groups also prevails. That is what Galatians 3:27-28 is all about:

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The gospel removes hostilities between social groups. It doesn’t foster them. Also, the gospel doesn’t celebrate social identities that are defined by human fallenness and sin (e.g., homosexuality, transgenderism). If the Bible is true, then these identities can only be understood as features of the sinful nature which the gospel means to obliterate and to transform into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

The church is supposed to be a counterculture of gospel unity which bears witness to a world that is divided by countless hostilities. Intersectionality seems to incentivize those hostilities, whereas the gospel overcomes them.

The intersectional case for teenage sodomy

Vera Papisova is the editor of the wellness section of Teen Vogue–the section that published a recent article teaching teenage girls how to enjoy being sexually brutalized by their boyfriends. A few days ago Papisova posted a tweetstorm defending herself. If you want to read her remarks on Twitter, click on the link above. I’ve compiled the tweets in the paragraphs below. She writes:

I am so proud of all of the medically accurate and thoughtful information I publish for @TeenVogue, and I’m even prouder of my writers. Everything in the wellness section is published based on years of research and talking to experts and people of all identities daily. DAILY. All of my writers are marginalized people who deserve to have a platform to speak for themselves, & reach young people who identify w/ them.

As a woman, I have been deprived of so much information that could have saved me from traumatizing and isolating experiences in my life. But I am also white, straight-passing, cisgender. I am grateful for my privilege, and I choose to use it to pull other people up.

The biggest mistake I see in criticism I get on a daily basis is that the world underestimates young people. Let me remind you: Not only do studies show providing information to young people BEFORE THEY NEED TO USE IT is how we HELP people make safer, better choices — We need to be realistic about how difficult & confusing it is to be young, be vulnerable to various systems of oppression, to feel helpless. Young people are ALREADY experiencing trauma, facing mental illnesses, having sex, and dealing with REAL problems. They deserve information. I refuse to be part of a culture that TEACHES anyone to accept feeling alone, unsafe, unsupported, unloved.

Internalized hatred starts early and the more privileged someone is, the more impact their internalized hatred, ignorance, and misguided judgment will affect the population. Privilege DOES NOT exempt anyone from experiencing trauma and pain, but it is also not an excuse to deny others of their life experiences. This is why EVERYONE deserves to have AS MUCH information as we have available about bodies, minds, relationships, sexuality, gender, etc. I will keep asking, “who’s missing a seat at the table?” And I will continue to do my best, which is all I can do, to offer them space.

Thank you @pfpicardi for trusting me with the @teenvogue platform. I am here because I believe in young people, and you should too.

Papisova offers two lines of defense for the article encouraging teenage children to sodomize one another. First, she argues that children need education about how to have safe sex. Second, she argues that failure to provide such education constitutes oppression against minorities.

Sexual-revolutionaries have been making the first line of argument for years. They were making it even way back when I was an adolescent, and it boils down to this; Those kids are going to be having sex anyway, so we might as well show them how to do it in a way that keeps them from getting pregnant or from contracting a disease. One of the chief problems with this argument is that it acts as if the only problem with teen sex is that it might be “unsafe.” It is an argument entirely unconcerned with the moral or spiritual formation of minor children. And in fact it seems to presuppose and perhaps even to encourage sexual promiscuity among children. And I think teens have gotten the message.

As problematic as that first line of argument is, it is Papisova’s second line of argument that is really troubling. Whether she realizes it or not, it is an argument in favor of sodomy among minor children based on intersectionality.

As I have written about before in this space, intersectionality is a theory of human identity that is all the rage on college campuses and increasingly in popular culture. It is the idea that a person’s identity is “formed by mutually interlocking and reinforcing categories of race, gender, class, health, and sexuality” (Carter 2017). Intersectionality teaches that people experience either oppression or privilege based on all such identity categories simultaneously, and it is identities based on gender and sexuality that are coming into play in Papisova’s remarks. She is concerned about teenage girls and boys (gender identities) who engage in a particular kind of sexual act (sexual identity).

Papisova checks her privilege up front, noting that she is a “white, straight-passing, cisgender” woman. According to this brand of identity politics, it is the responsibility of the privileged to become an ally of the oppressed. That is why Papisova writes, “I am grateful for my privilege, and I choose to use it to pull other people up.” Failure to become an ally makes one complicit in oppression at some level. Because oppression is wrong, everyone is morally obligated to become an ally. Among other things, becoming an ally means affirming the sexual orientations and gender identities of marginalized people. Being an ally means providing such people a “safe space” just to be who they are. And that is why Papisova concludes, “I will keep asking, ‘who’s missing a seat at the table?’ And I will continue to do my best, which is all I can do, to offer them space.”

Papisova’s remarks are filled with boilerplate language from intersectional activism. And it is why Papisova believes she needs to be educating minor children on how to safely sodomize one another. In this intersectional worldview, it is oppressive to withhold such information from minor children. Indeed, the true ally is morally obligated to share such information with children or risk doing them harm. If this argument seems strange to you, you need to know that it doesn’t sound strange to a generation of college students who have been indoctrinated by this ideology.

And it is precisely here where this ideology concerns me as a Christian. This brand of intersectionality cannot be reconciled with a biblical worldview. Intersectional activists define allyship in terms that require affirmation of homosexual and transgender identities. And yet faithful Christians may never affirm lesbian and gay sexual behavior. Nor can they ever define human identity as the sum total of a person’s fallen sexual desires. Because the Bible teaches us to love our neighbor (which is not the same thing as “unconditionally affirm your neighbor”), faithful Christians can never be an ally in the way demanded by intersectional activists.

And in this case, Christians are morally obligated to oppose what Papisova feels morally obligated to defend—the practice of sodomy among minor children. If someone wants to argue that my conviction in this regard amounts to “oppression,” I suppose I will have to live with that. But what I cannot live with is the idea that the sexual degradation of minor children is okay. On the contrary, if I am to love my neighbor as Jesus commands, I must oppose with all of might both the degradation and the bankrupt ideology that underwrites it. And so must you.

Standing against a destructive misogyny threatening our children

Sexual perversion is firmly entrenched in our cultural mainstream, so it takes a lot these days to astonish me. But I am astonished today. In the span of twenty-four hours, I have come across not one but two separate unrelated articles about teenage girls who agree to be brutalized during sexual encounters with teenage boys. Both articles indicate that this is a growing trend among adolescent children who becoming sexualized at younger and younger ages.

Last week, Teen Vogue published an article instructing teenage girls how to enjoy being sodomized by their boyfriends. The article is so vile that I am not even going to link to it. But among other things, it tells these minor children that such activity is normal. It gives detailed instructions on how they can learn to enjoy it. For those teenage girls who are still reluctant, Teen Vogue reassures them:

Anal sex, though often stigmatized, is a perfectly natural way to engage in sexual activity. People have been having anal sex since the dawn of humanity. Seriously, it’s been documented back to the ancient Greeks and then some. So if you’re a little worried about trying it or are having trouble understanding the appeal, just know that it isn’t weird or gross.

Let’s just pause here for a moment and ponder this. A major publication marketed to minor children is instructing them on how to enjoy being sodomized by other minor children. If this doesn’t fill you with grief and outrage, nothing will. God help us.

How did we get here that this kind of brutalizing conduct has become the norm? Many of you already know the answer. It is because of pornography. Countless teenage boys have spent the better part of their adolescence marinating in hardcore pornography. This material has decimated them. Their sexual preferences and tastes have been definitively shaped by this material, and they are bringing these expectations to any female who will agree to them.

And that brings us to the second article, which has a decidedly more realistic take on what is happening. Allison Pearson writes about a conversation she had with a group of mothers about how to raise healthy and happy children. The conversation turned to talk about sex. Pearson writes:

A couple of the women present said that they had forced themselves to have toe-curlingly embarrassing conversations with their teenagers on the subject. “I want my son to know that, despite what he might see on his laptop, there are things you don’t expect a girl to do on a first date, or a fifth date, or probably never,” said Jo.

A [doctor], let’s call her Sue, said: “I’m afraid things are much worse than people suspect.” In recent years, Sue had treated growing numbers of teenage girls with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex; not, as Sue found out, because she wanted to, or because she enjoyed it – on the contrary – but because a boy expected her to. “I’ll spare you the gruesome details,” said Sue, “but these girls are very young and slight and their bodies are simply not designed for that.”

Her patients were deeply ashamed at presenting with such injuries. They had lied to their mums about it and felt they couldn’t confide in anyone else, which only added to their distress. When Sue questioned them further, they said they were humiliated by the experience, but they had simply not felt they could say no. Anal sex was standard among teenagers now, even though the girls knew that it hurt.

I was reluctant to write about this because it is so awful and embarrassing even to acknowledge. But there it is. It is reality, and it is all around us. A generation of young men are destroying themselves by the darkness of pornography, and now they are foisting their desolation on young women who desperately want to be loved by a young man. The sexual revolution which promised to liberate has given birth to a destructive misogyny that is now being soft-pedaled as “normal” by the likes of Teen Vogue.

I have said this before, but it is worth saying again. Porn use in our culture is a civilizational calamity. The sexual revolution promised us more sex and more pleasure. It has actually delivered to us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for their sexual pleasure. It has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood. And if you lose marriage and fatherhood, you lose your civilization. We have sown to the wind, and our children are reaping the whirlwind—not least our daughters, who are less likely than ever to find a man who hasn’t been corrupted by this.

As a father and as a Christian I am feeling the weight of this. I know that porn use is the pastoral challenge that defines our generation. This brokenness is all around us and among us. It is the burden of far too many of the boys and men sitting in our pews. I don’t know of any other problem that has done more to subvert manhood and marriage than porn use. It is killing us.

A word to Christian parents: Your responsibility here is very practical. If you are giving your children unfettered access to screens and online content, you are giving them away to this darkness. Your job as a parent is to push back against the currents that are trying to overwhelm your children. Don’t give your small children and adolescents a smartphone. No matter how much they beg for it. No matter how much your friends and neighbors look at you as strange for not getting with the program. Don’t do it. Children are being introduced to this content at younger and younger ages. It will be all that you can do to keep them away from friends and acquaintances at school who share this material on their own smart phones. The last thing that you need to do is to give them their own pipeline to this sewage. Don’t be so naïve to think that they won’t find this material. They won’t have to find it. It will find them unless you stand in the way.

I agree with Rod Dreher:

Parents have to build an anti-smartphone culture for their kids, and help each other stick to it. Eventually the kid will become older teenagers, but one hopes that they will have been morally formed to have self-restraint when it comes to pornography access on the thing.

Christian parent, building an anti-smartphone culture begins in your home, so start there. Your kids are not going to avoid this content by accident. They are only going to avoid it on purpose. That means that you have to be planning how you are going to train them to be vigilant over their own hearts (Prov. 4:23). This will take time—indeed an entire childhood—to form. And you will need to teach them how to handle technology as they grow into young adulthood. You will need to introduce access with intentionality and with limits. As you are doing so, they need guardrails from you to keep them on track until they can take the wheel themselves as young adults.

Mom and Dad, let’s agree together to be weird and countercultural for the sake of our children. They desperately need us to be this for them whether they realize it or not.

—————

Denny Burk is Professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and is the President of The Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.


UPDATE #1: The editor for the wellness section of Teen Vogue has made a defense of her editorial decision to include this article in the magazine. I respond to her defense here.

UPDATE #2: D. C. McAllister has published a very helpful article at The Federalist outlining the health risks involved with this type of sexual behavior among young women. She writes:

Anal sex is a very high-risk sexual behavior, more so than vaginal intercourse and oral sex. As reported by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a Guttmacher study found that 25 percent of the women they interviewed had been forced to have anal sex. “Coercion and violence notwithstanding, many participants reported pain and discomfort, including emotional distress, during anal intercourse.” A study from the UK concurs: “Young people’s narratives normalized coercive, painful and unsafe anal heterosex.”

In HuffPo, Naomi Wolf said when she visited several college campuses, “anal fissures were the number one health problem women were having because everyone was doing anal when they were drunk and had just met, which is not the best way to do anal. It’s a very delicate thing. So, the scripts are being set by porn.”

Not only is it painful, it has other risks. It can eventually lead to fecal incontinence, and the American Cancer Society reports, “Receptive anal intercourse also increases the risk of anal cancer in both men and women, particularly in those younger than 30.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that “Anal sex is the riskiest sexual behavior for getting and transmitting HIV for men and women.” It “carries a risk 17 times greater than receptive vaginal intercourse. Moreover, receptive anal intercourse even carries a risk 2 times greater than that of needle-sharing during injection drug use.”

The CDC also reports that “in addition to the same sexually transmitted diseases that are passed through vaginal sex, anal sex can also expose participants to hepatitis A, B, and C; parasites like Giardia and intestinal amoebas; bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli.”

Given the high risks, do we really want our children having anal sex?

On Eugene Peterson’s Retraction

Yesterday I wrote about Eugene Peterson’s interview with Jonathan Merritt in which Peterson endorses gay marriage. That interview caused a firestorm, including news that the largest Christian retailer in the country would no longer be selling works produced by Eugene Peterson.

Today, Peterson has retracted what he said in his interview with Merritt. Sarah Pulliam Bailey has Peterson’s full statement at The Washington Post. I reproduce it here so that you can read it for yourself:

Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”

To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

It’s worth noting that in my 29-year career as a pastor, and in the years since then, I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked. This reporter, however, asked a hypothetical question: if I were pastoring today and if a gay couple were Christians of good faith and if they asked me to perform their wedding ceremony—if, if, if. Pastors don’t have the luxury of indulging in hypotheticals. And to be honest, no is not a word I typically use. It was an awkward question for me because I don’t do many interviews at this stage in my life at 84, and I am no longer able to travel as I once did or accept speaking requests.

With most interviews I’ve done, I generally ask for questions in advance and respond in writing. That’s where I am most comfortable. When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that.

That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such a couple as their pastor. They’d be welcome at my table, along with everybody else.

When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who “seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,” I meant it. But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior. It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth.

There have been gay people in a variety of congregations, campuses, and communities where I have served. My responsibility to them was the work of a pastor—to visit them, to care for their souls, to pray for them, to preach the Scriptures for them.

This work of pastoring is extremely and essentially local: Each pastor is responsible to a particular people, a specific congregation. We often lose sight of that in an atmosphere so clouded by controversy and cluttered with loud voices. The people of a congregation are not abstractions, they are people, and a pastor does a disservice to the people in his care when he indulges in treating them as abstractions.

I regret the confusion and bombast that this interview has fostered. It has never been my intention to participate in the kind of lightless heat that such abstract, hypothetical comments and conversations generate. This is why, as I mentioned during this interview, I so prefer letters and will concentrate in this final season on personal correspondence over public statements.

As I tweeted earlier, I am grateful to see Peterson retract what he said in his interview with Merritt. He confesses that he succumbed to the pressure of the moment when being interviewed and that what he said to Merritt does not reflect his actual views. That he was willing to say so and to do a complete about-face is rare and remarkable. Peterson says, “I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman.” That is a faithful affirmation.

Having said that, I do believe that Peterson has left some pretty fundamental questions unanswered. How does he square this “biblical view of marriage” with admitting practicing gay people into church membership? How is his view of marriage consistent with bringing openly gay persons onto his ministerial staff? These are the pastoral practices of one who affirms homosexual relationships, not of one who opposes them. Peterson raised more questions in his interview yesterday than he answered in his retraction today.

And these questions are fundamental. The issue of gay marriage is not a second order issue like disagreements over baptism. Paul says that those who practice sexual immorality cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). We cannot treat this issue as if it were adiaphora, an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree. To get this wrong has eternal consequences. And that is why a pastor may not claim to hold to traditional marriage while telling people that they need not repent of homosexual immorality. These two positions are mutually exclusive.

Today’s retraction was a step in the right direction. Peterson affirms a biblical view of marriage and says that he would not perform a gay wedding ceremony. This is good. But I hope he goes further to clarify that his past pastoral practices are not faithful to a biblical view of marriage. People are looking for a way to avoid the reproach that comes to Christians for upholding scriptural teaching on marriage. A pastoral practice that differs from what the Bible teaches about marriage would be one way to do that. That is why Peterson needs to make sure he addresses all the issues raised in his first interview. I hope he will.

Eugene Peterson will always exist

Eugene Peterson has revealed that he now embraces homosexuality and gay marriage as consistent with the Christian faith. In an interview with Jonathan Merritt, he writes:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

To say that Peterson’s justification for same-sex relationships is really thin would be an understatement. His is not an argument based on scripture. Rather, it’s an argument based on sentiment. He says that he’s known some nice gay people, therefore he now discards the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church. This is not pastoral wisdom. It’s folly of the first order.

Anyone familiar with Peterson will probably not be surprised by this interview. His denominational affiliation is with the PCUSA, and his views fit right in with that group. Perhaps what is more surprising is that we are only just now finding this out with this level of clarity.

Peterson says that as a pastor he had openly gay church members and even once hired an openly gay music minister. Since Peterson retired from pastoral ministry in 1991, that would suggest that his acceptance of practicing gay church members and clergy goes back at least 26 years. During that time, his writings have had an enormous impact among evangelicals through the nineties and beyond. I had one of his books assigned to me as required reading when I was in seminary. He has been contributing to Christianity Today as recently as this year. It is surprising that this information wasn’t more widely known among evangelicals before now.

Peterson’s greatest legacy is his paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message. This book has had a massive impact worldwide (including famously and recently with Bono). I am not a fan of paraphrases, and so I have not paid a lot of attention to The Message over the years. But I decided to take a look at some of the key passages today in light of the interview.

Merritt points out in the interview that Peterson doesn’t use the words “homosexuality” in The Message. Merritt is right about that, but that is not the most important thing about his rendering of these passages. It turns out that in the three New Testament passages that deal explicitly with homosexuality, Peterson obscures and conceals the Bible’s meaning altogether (see Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:10 in The Message). These are renderings that revisionists like Matthew Vines could be quite happy with. Again, perhaps Peterson’s views aren’t so new after all.

People have asked me whether I believe Peterson is a bona fide Christian in light of this revelation. The best way I can answer that is to say what I would do if he were a member of the church where I pastor. We wouldn’t immediately presume that he isn’t a Christian. He would be given the opportunity to repent and to come back to the truth of scripture. If he refused to repent and persisted in this false teaching, we would eventually excommunicate him and treat him as an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17; Titus 3:10). This is what we believe our Lord teaches us to do in dealing with false teachers, so we would do it.

Merritt’s interview with Peterson concludes with an odd question:

One day, as with all of us, Eugene Peterson will not be someone who exists. He will be somebody who did exist once. When that moment comes, how do you hope people will remember Eugene Peterson?

It is true that Peterson will one day die, but it is not true that he will one day cease to exist. Peterson will exist after death and into eternity—just like the rest of us. In eternity, “how people remember Eugene Peterson” will not be the most important question. The preeminent concern in that day will be how God remembers Eugene Peterson. This is the biggest question not only for Peterson but for all of us.

Eugene Peterson is not the first and won’t be the last well-known “Christian” to fall to the wayside over the issue of homosexuality. This is the watershed issue of our time, separating those who will follow the word of Christ from those who will not. No one among us will be able to avoid this question. No one.

Paul says, “I did not come to baptize.” So is baptism important or not?

In 1 Corinthians 1:17, the apostle Paul says that “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.” Some commentators read this statement and conclude that Paul is downplaying baptism or saying that baptism doesn’t really matter that much in the big scheme of things. For example, Richard Hays writes:

In Paul’s apostolic work the ministry of the Word is all-important, whereas the ministry of “sacrament” has only secondary significance; the community should not be divided by different sacramental practices, because its fundamental ground of unity lies in the proclaimed gospel (p. 24).

The implication seems to be that differences over baptismal practices are not as significant enough different traditions have made them out to be. Furthermore, it doesn’t really matter whether a person gets baptized or whether they had an infant baptism versus a believer’s baptism, etc. In this way, commentators have downplayed baptism. But is that a correct understanding of Paul’s statement? I think not.

Paul is not downplaying the importance of baptism. He is simply making reference to his unique commission from Christ to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. There are many who can baptize, but Paul was specially appointed by Christ to preach the gospel.

John 4:2 says that Jesus himself baptized no one but left the baptizing to his disciples. But that practice did not render baptism of secondary significance to Jesus. For Jesus himself gave us the great commission, which is the primary mission of the church and which includes baptism (Matt. 28:19-20).

If this interpretation is correct, then it might be better to translate verse 17 as follows: “Christ did not send me to perform baptisms but to preach the gospel” (Thiselton). So Paul is not denigrating baptism. He’s simply following the example and calling of Jesus. His aim was not to make sure that he did all the baptizing. His aim was to preach the gospel, for “preaching was the spearhead of the Christian mission” (Barrett, 49). In his commentary on this text, Spurgeon put it this way:

“There were other people who could baptize for him: it was enough for him that he should concentrate all his energies upon that one matter of preaching the gospel, not that he neglected the divine command, but that it was not necessary that he, any more than his Master, should baptize personally, for we read that ‘Jesus Christ baptized not, but his disciples.’ Not to put a dishonour upon the ordinance, but to let us see that the ordinance does not depend upon the man, but upon that sacred name into which we are baptized, and upon the true faith of the person baptized.”

C. H. Spurgeon, “Witnessing at the Cross,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 59 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1913), 348.

I pray to be a “mystic patriot”; I hope you do too.

I’m sick this Independence Day—which means I spent a good bit of time in bed reading yesterday. Among other things, I read G. K. Chesterton’s reflections on what it means to be a Christian patriot. If you have never read it, I encourage you to read Chesterton’s “The Flag of the World” in his classic work Orthodoxy.

Chesterton contends that love of one’s homeland is not like house-hunting—an experience in which you weigh the pros and cons of a place and choose accordingly.

A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it. He has fought for the flag, and often won heroic victories for the flag long before he has ever enlisted. To put shortly what seems the essential matter, he has a loyalty long before he has any admiration.

We do not choose our homeland. It is something that we are born into. Thus our acceptance of our home is not like a house that we can leave when we tire of it. It is like the love we have for our family:

It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.

Love for family is not based on what is deserved. It is a loyalty that precedes any prior condition. Because love of country is not based on pros and cons—because it is unconditional love—true patriotism means that we must seek the nation’s good and flourishing no matter its condition. This love therefore becomes transformative.

True patriotism motivates reform and improvement because it is realistic about the nation’s shortcomings. A man may love his mother unconditionally, but that love does not mean that he is indifferent to her if she is a drunk. His love moves him to seek her welfare and improvement. His love does not simply affirm her sad condition. In the same way, the patriot loves his home not because she is perfect. He knows that she isn’t. The patriot’s love moves him to work for her welfare and improvement.

If Christian patriots love America as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, America may yet become fairer than Florence. Why? Because that kind of love seeks the nation’s perfection. In Chesterton’s words:

People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

This kind of patriotism does not close its eyes to the sins that bedevil the nation. One cannot excuse evil simply because it is being committed by the nation that we love and are loyal to. Chesterton says that it is evil to “defend the indefensible.” Such is the anti-patriot, and “he will not wash the world, but whitewash the world.”

The real challenge for the patriot is the same challenge that the Christian faces in his relationship to the world writ large:

One must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world without being worldly.

This analogy is instructive, and it reveals an irony that may lead us toward the best kind of patriotism. After all, the Bible tells us that God loves the world while telling us not to.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

How can these two expressions be reconciled? They reveal a love for the world that is good and a love for the world that is bad. The evil love is the kind that loves the world for its vices. The good love is that kind that seeks the world’s welfare and transformation.

Likewise, the good love of the world produces the best kind of patriotism—a love for the nation that works for its good and welfare. It’s a love that seeks the nation’s good and transformation even when the nation is wayward—in fact, precisely because she is wayward.

I think patriotism for the Christian will become more difficult in the days ahead. Our nation is wayward in so many ways. In many ways it is becoming more hostile to Christians. For that reason, our calling will be to love a nation that may very well not love us back. Our children may be called to love a nation that makes itself an enemy to the true faith. Nevertheless, the call to love the nation and not its vices endures for us and our children.

This is what Chesterton calls the “mystic patriotism”—the love for nation that is undeserved. It requires a love that is supernatural. Who is adequate for these things?

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:5-6).

This is the love that has been shed abroad in the hearts of God’s people, and we have been called for such a time as this.

The baker who refused to make wedding cake appears on “The View”

If you are unfamiliar with this story, see my previous post on the topic. Just a few thoughts about this appearance on “The View”:

1. The ladies from “The View” were respectful in this exchange. That cannot always be said in left-leaning pop-culture venues that are typically dismissive of religious liberty claims. That they gave a platform to Jack and Kristen is a win for religious liberty.

2. The baker Jack Phillips and attorney Kristen Waggoner acquitted themselves quite well in this exchange. And this is not exceptional among Christians in the wedding industry who are behind the eight ball right now with religious liberty claims. Most of these people are just normal folks who own small businesses but who can’t lend their creative expression to help celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony.

3. Kristen is right. 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. Religious liberty is not just for Christians but for everyone. As Russell Moore has recently argued, “Religious Freedom is for Non-Christians Too.”

Why should the state foreclose the possibility of a second opinion for Charlie Gard?

I had not planned on writing about the tragic case of the infant Charlie Gard. But I just completed a Twitter convo with Alistair Roberts about it that has changed my mind. If you are unfamiliar with Charlie Gard, here is the gist of his story:

For ten months, Charlie has been living in the intensive-care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. In March, his doctors decided that there was nothing more they could do for him, and they recommended that his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, withdraw his ventilator. They refused, on the grounds that an untried experimental treatment was available in the United States. The hospital, in accordance with British law, applied to the courts to forestall further treatment. In April, the High Court found for the doctors and against the parents. In May, the Court of Appeal upheld the initial decision. In early June, the Supreme Court agreed. And this week, the European Court of Human Rights — the last court of jurisdiction — refused to intervene. Charlie’s parents have raised enough money from private donations to fund the experimental treatment, but the court decision prohibits his removal to the U.S. Whenever they see fit to do so, the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital can now remove Charlie’s life support.

The bottom line is this. Charlie Gard’s parents wish to try an experimental treatment in the United States. It is perhaps a slim hope, but it is one nonetheless. Charlie’s doctors wish to remove his ventilator which will undoubtedly lead to his death. The courts have sided with the doctors. But in this case they are not only allowing the doctors to remove the ventilator, but they are also preventing the parents from pursuing a second opinion in the United States. And according to a video message released today (see above), they are not even allowing Charlie to go home for palliative care.

What are we to think about this? In his book Evangelical Ethics, John Jefferson Davis writes:

In certain cases of the newborn with disabilities, no known medical intervention can reverse a genuinely hopeless prognosis… Such cases are, however, quite infrequent, and should not be used as a rationalization for the deliberate neglect and abandonment of children with disabilities whose lives could be saved by available medical interventions (p. 177).

It seems to me that the last phrase of that last sentence is the relevant one to Charlie Gard’s case. There is an available treatment that his parents wish to pursue. Even if Charlie’s doctors are convinced that he cannot be helped, why would they foreclose the possibility of a second opinion in the United States? Moreover, why would the state prevent the parents from pursuing this option? I agree with Davis:

The proper practice of medicine should be guided by a life-affirming ethic in all cases… There is indeed a time to die, just as there is a time to be born (Eccl. 3:2), and modern medicine must acknowledge its own limitations. But the basic thrust of medicine should always be to choose life (Deut. 30:19), because all human life is sacred to God who made it (p. 177).

In Charlie Gard’s case, I am having difficulty seeing how a “life-affirming ethic” would foreclose the possibility of a second opinion against the parents’ wishes. Moreover, per the video above, the doctors are now denying the parents the opportunity to take Charlie home for palliative care. This is a difficult case, but not so difficult that the state should weigh-in with this kind of draconian limitation. Again, Davis writes:

The proper practice of medicine should be guided by a life-affirming ethic in all cases, even when the physician can only provide care and comfort to a patient–young or old–who is already in an irreversible process of dying. A medical practice informed by the spirit of Christ and love the neighbor will see as a primary end, to cure whenever possible, and always to provide care and comfort to all patients, both in their living and in their dying (p. 177).

There are certain boundaries that the state (and the doctors in this case) must not cross, but they seem to have gone far beyond them in the case of Charlie Gard. If the doctors have indeed concluded that there is nothing else to be done for Charlie, then why deny the final comforts his parents wish to offer him at home? If palliative care is indeed what they want, then why can’t Charlie go home?

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