Author Archive | Denny Burk

When a “mother” fathers a child, who are you to judge?

Perhaps you’ve already seen the new Dove soap commercial featuring a transgender “mom” (see above). Such displays are ubiquitous in pop culture these days, but this one caught my eye. This one stood out because it is not only redefining male and female, but it is also redefining mom and dad.

My question for those who accept transgender identities is this: Are there any limits on who can “identify” as a mom? If being a mom really comes down to how one self-identifies, what is the limiting principle here? Here’s what I mean:

  • Should someone who fathers a child and who looks and dresses like a man self-identify as the “mother” of a child? If not, why not?
  • Should someone self-identify as the mother of a child that they have no legal relationship to (either by birth or by adoption)? If not, why not?
  • Should someone self-identify as a “mother” when there is no child in the picture at all? In other words, should one self-identify as a mother even if he or she has no relationship to any particular child? If not, why not?
  • The Dove commercial says that “you are the only expert in your kid.” But what if a child says that she needs a father? Should her father self-identify as her mother? If not, why not?

If the Dove commercial is correct that we must affirm a father who self-identifies as a mother, then isn’t it possible for anyone to be a “mom”? If the Dove commercial is correct that there really is no one right way to be a mother, then who’s to deny any of the self-identities listed above?

These questions would have been incomprehensible to people even ten years ago. But I do think they are relevant today. The hegemony of self-identities is here, and those promoting them have given us no principle by which they may be limited–even when they are harmful to others. And yet they owe us that explanation, but that explanation is not forthcoming. And it won’t be forthcoming because they don’t have an answer. How long will it take for folks to figure that out? And how much damage will be done to families before they do?

Can the mainline be saved? Not in the way Douthat suggests.

I’m a big fan of New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and I am really grateful for his voice at the old “gray lady.” So it is unusual that I would take issue with one of his columns. But over the weekend I read his column “Save the Mainline,” and I thought this one might be worth a little push-back.

I should stipulate, however, that I agree with much of his analysis about the decline of mainline churches and about the ideological rootlessness of modern liberalism. Without some unifying principle, liberalism really has descended into a kind of “illiberal cult of victimologies that burns heretics with vigor.” Douthat is right that “The wider experience of American politics suggests that as liberalism de-churches it struggles to find a nontransactional organizing principle, a persuasive language of the common good.”

So we are agreed on the decline of mainline churches and the ideological listlessness of liberalism. I disagree, however, that a return to the mainlines would be a good thing. Here are three reasons why I think it would be a bad thing.

(1) Liberal “Christianity” does not have the theological ballast to right the ship of political liberalism. Or to put it another way, it is not at all clear that mainline liberal churches are any less prone to becoming an “illiberal cult of victimologies” than their secular counterparts. Can you think of any recent mainline examples of intolerance? I can. I don’t think this spirit will offer anything to counteract the intolerance emerging on college campuses across this country. In many ways, the mainlines have already capitulated to the very errors that Douthat thinks they are prepared to correct. If history is any guide, secular liberals are more likely to influence mainline churches than mainline churches are to influence secular liberals.

(2) Mainline churches tend to be theologically liberal, and theological liberalism is not Christianity. Theological liberalism in 2017 looks a lot different than it did in 1923 when J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism was published. But what Machen said of theological liberalism then is no less true of theological liberalism now. It is a different religion that is completely incompatible with the faith once for delivered to the saints (Jude 3). In that sense, it is a kind of apostasy—which is an old timey word for “falling away” from Christianity. Mainline congregations tend to deny the authority of scripture, supernatural elements of the biblical storyline, and the sexual norms of scripture. Some of them even deny the incarnation and the bodily resurrection of Christ. These are not theological sidebars. They are at the essence of the faith. Any congregation that denies them is at best Christian in name only. I am grateful for individual congregations within mainline denominations that are holding the line on these issues. May their tribe increase. But they seem to be the exception rather than the norm, and an influx of unbelieving secular liberals is not going to help them in the struggle they are engaged in.

(3) Christianity teaches that apostate religion is bad for people, and as a Christian I cannot recommend something I know to be harmful to people. Moreover, I cannot recommend something that scripture explicitly tells me to warn people against. I just finished preaching a series on the pastoral epistles at my church. One of the key themes that Paul hammers home time and again is how dangerous false teaching is. It doesn’t lead to “good deeds”; it leads to judgement. Here is a sample of the kinds of things Paul says about false teachers and those who listen to them:

“They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16).

“…keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19-20).

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions…” (1 Tim. 6:3-4).

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge “– which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21).

“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).

As a Christian, I can’t see any reason for commending churches that are Christian in name only. Such churches lead people away from Jesus and not to him. How could we possibly commend them to anyone?

I would love for mainline churches to be “saved.” But that salvation will not come from an influx of secular liberals. Moreover, “salvation” should not be cast in terms of institutional viability but in terms of faithfulness to Christ and his gospel. In the latter sense, the only way for the mainline to be saved is for congregations and leaders to repent of essential departures from the Christian faith. Anything short of that would be window-dressing at best.

An Easter Hymn

O Jesus, Savior of my life,
My hope, my joy, my sacrifice,
I’ve searched and found no other one
Who loves me more than you have done.

So I denounce my lingering sin
Whose power You have broke within
My ever weak and faithless frame.
Its vigor’s crushed in Jesus name.

For your death did at once proclaim,
The Father’s glory and my shame.
And you did seize my cup of guilt
And drank all that the chalice spilled.

No condemnation now I dread
Because you went for me instead
To bear the curse and wrath and rage,
To pay the debt I would have paid.

Yet your work finished not with death,
Nor with your final murdered breath.
For death’s blows could not ever quell
The One whose life is in Himself.

Your passion broke forth full with life,
And foiled the adversary’s wiles.
You broke the chains, destroyed the sting
With which death had afflicted me.

O Savior, who died in my stead,
You firstborn from among the dead,
O Savior, you who saved my life,
Will take me whole to paradise.

So on this resurrection day
I lift my voice with all the saints
And sing with all my ransomed might
Of You, the Savior of my life!

Death, Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

———-
Poem: “Death, Be Not Proud” (Holy Sonnet 10), by John Donne

Usage Note on “Re-Accommodate”

By now you have all heard about the United Airlines fiasco involving the violent removal of a ticketed passenger. I won’t rehash the whole story here (although I did get a first person account from my colleague John Klaassen who was seated right in front of the removed passenger; see the guy in the orange shirt here).

After videos of the incident went viral, the CEO of United released a statement claiming that passenger had been “re-accommodated.” This neologism has been widely mocked—especially since video footage of the incident had already been seen by half the world by the time the CEO released his statement. It was as if he was saying, “Don’t you believe your lying eyes. We merely re-accommodated him.” After two days, it’s pretty clear that nobody is buying this glaring euphemism.

But as “re-accommodate” is poised to become the word of the year, I thought it might be useful to make one usage note. Technically speaking, this passenger’s removal would not have been a re-accommodation even if the man had decided to deplane voluntarily and without incident. Why?

While the Urban Dictionary has already updated its lexicon, The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) still does not have an entry for re-accommodate. However, AHD does have entries for “re-” and for “accommodate.” Entry 3.b under “accommodate” says that the word means “to provide for; supply with something needed.” The prefix “re-“ denotes “again” or “anew.”

Since the accommodation in question is airline passage from Chicago to Louisville, the United CEO’s term re-accommodate would mean to provide passage from Chicago to Louisville again. But this is precisely what did not happen. One cannot re-accommodate unless they have first accommodated, which United of course did not do.

Bottom Line: The CEO’s euphemism would have been inaccurate no matter how the passenger had been deplaned. And I have a hunch that because this incident has become so notorious, the CEO’s intended meaning for this term is likely not going to be the one that makes it into AHD. The meaning reflected in the tweet below is mostly likely the one that will stick.

The Miracle of Mercy

Some songs age like milk. And other songs age like wine. In the latter category is Steve Curtis Chapman’s 1994 tune titled “Miracle of Mercy.” It felt like a personal testimony when I first heard it in 1994, and it only feels more so today some 23 years later. And it was on my mind due to a sermon I preached this morning at my church—the last message in a series on the Pastoral Epistles.

Titus 3:1-15 is a text that—among other things—tells Christians how they are supposed to relate to their unbelieving neighbor. Paul commands us “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 1:2). But Paul is very realistic. He knows that loving our neighbors is often difficult when neighbors are unlovable.

Sometimes they make stupid decisions. Sometimes they pridefully defy what the boss told them to do. Sometimes they are off into all kinds of false religions and spiritualities. Sometimes they are so carried away by their lusts that you can hardly stand to be around them. And some of them are just plain cussed. They have bad attitudes and are selfish. And sometimes they even treat us shabbily.

Paul anticipates this difficulty and says this:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3).

That means that when you look at your neighbor and you begin to feel a distance from them or heaven forbid perhaps some disdain, Paul is saying that you need to remember that you are not so different from them. Your sin predicament was not different from theirs. You and your neighbor are both descended from your Father Adam and are in deep need of grace. That means that you need to be humble. You don’t have any room to be looking down on or despising anyone.  We should be humiliated when we contemplate our own Christless fallenness.

God saved us and gave us all of his own goodness—not because we were good (because we weren’t), not because we deserved it (because we didn’t), not because we were lovable (we were not lovable, in fact verse 3 says that we were hatable!)—God saved us and graced us not because of anything worthy in us. He saved us because of “his own mercy” toward us. God loved us and cared for us because of his own character and virtue, not because of ours.

And that’s why I shared “Miracle of Mercy” with the congregation this morning and why I am sharing it with you now. It’s a statement that acknowledges the humiliation that we should all feel about our own sin. And with that, it’s a statement of awe and wonder that God has been so merciful to us in spite of ourselves. And that mercy is something we should never get over.


“Miracle Of Mercy”

If the truth was known and a light was shown
On every hidden part of my soul
Most would turn away, shake their head and say
he still has such a long way to go
If the truth was know you’d see that the only good in me
Is Jesus, oh it’s Jesus

If the walls could speak of the times I’ve been weak
When everybody thought I was strong
Could I show my face if it weren’t for the grace
Of the one who’s known the truth all along
If the walls could speak they’d say that my only hope is the grace
Of Jesus, the grace of Jesus

But, oh the goodness and the grace in Him
He takes it all and makes it mine and causes his light in me to shine
And he loves me with a love that never ends
Just as I am not as I do
Could this be real, could this be true
This could only be a miracle
This could only be the miracle of mercy


Sermon: “How Grace Changes Us” (Titus 3:1–15)

Ten thoughts about the “Billy Graham Rule”

This is by no means everything that can or should be said about the so-called “Billy Graham Rule.” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this.) Nevertheless, here are ten brief reflections on this particular discipline:

1. We must take sexual holiness seriously because God takes sexual holiness seriously. To reject God’s purpose of holiness in our lives is to reject God altogether. For this reason, we must be blood-earnest about holiness.

  • “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3).
  • “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints… For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:3-5).

2. The Bible commands us not only to avoid sexual immorality but to avoid situations in which we know that we are vulnerable to temptation.

  • “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
  • “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).

3. Jesus commands us to consider radical (even countercultural) measures in our pursuit of sexual holiness. Failure to do so could lead to judgment.

  • “And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

4. It is good and wise to adopt habits and behaviors that promote good character and a good reputation.

5. It is good and wise to devise strategies for avoiding sexual immorality. Biblical wisdom teaches us to identify temptations to sexual sin and to make plans to avoid them.

  • “Keep your way far from her, And do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).
  • “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths” (Proverbs 7:25).

    Please note that these texts from Proverbs are not teaching that all women are temptresses. Obviously, all of them are not (see Proverbs 31). These texts are simply a warning about women who are. Even so, the text is not singling out such temptresses as the sole instigators of sexual immorality in the world. The key thing to remember is that the Proverbs are written from a father to a Son. So the exhortations are the kinds of things that a father would say to a son about sexual purity. And this includes warnings about the kinds of women to avoid. If it were written from a mother to a daughter, it would include warnings about the kinds of men to avoid. By implication, the text does tell women about the kind of men they need to avoid. In that sense, the principles apply to all of us, male or female. All of us—male and female—need to strategize to avoid enticements to sexual immorality.

6. We must never confuse our wise strategies for holiness with actual holiness.

  • “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9).

7. Nevertheless, these strategies (such as “The Billy Graham Rule”) are only useful if they are pursued with some amount of consistency and rigor.

  • “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

8. When practicing the “Billy Graham Rule,” strategize arrangements and meetings to avoid awkward demurrals. Perhaps they cannot always be avoided, but it is worth trying. Otherwise, you risk unnecessary offense against well-meaning, unsuspecting friends and colleagues.

  • “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18).

9. Beware of broadcasting your invocation of “The Billy Graham Rule.” If you do broadcast it, you risk the unnecessary offense mentioned above. You may also run afoul of Jesus’ admonition:

  • “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

    Remember that the rigor of your strategies is a reflection mainly of the sinfulness of your own heart, not of the hearts of each and every person affected by your rule. Therefore you should have some humility (and perhaps even some healthy embarrassment) about the measures you have to take to rein your own problems in.

10. Forebear with your brothers and sisters who are making a good-faith effort to pursue holiness and to protect their marriages. You may not agree with the rigor with which some pursue their strategies for holiness. And we all need to be open to wise correction as we pursue these things. In any case, try to see the best in the good-faith efforts of those who are trying to pursue holiness.

  • “Forebear one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).
  • “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).

Why our churches need more gray hair

In Titus 2:2, Paul writes to Titus about the older men in his congregation:

“Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” –Titus 2:2

These older men are not to be confused with those who hold the office of elder (cf. 1:5). The “older men” are those who literally have advanced age. Paul says that these men must have several exemplary characteristics.

“Sober-minded” translates a term that means “very moderate in the drinking of an alcoholic beverage” (BDAG). Its figurative extension here means “be free fr. every form of mental and spiritual ‘drunkenness’, fr. excess, passion, rashness, confusion” (BDAG). It is a call to be “restrained in conduct, self-controlled, level-headed” (BDAG).

“Dignified” means “worthy of respect/honor, noble, dignified, serious” (BDAG). The dignified person is so self-possessed and in control of his temper and fears that he elicits admiration from those who know him.

“Self-controlled” indicates someone who is “thoughtful, self-controlled” (BDAG). In Aristotle’s ethics, the term indicates “avoidance of extremes and careful consideration for responsible action” (Aristot., EN 3, 15; BDAG). For Aristotle, the “self-controlled” person “is intent on the what, the how, and the when of doing what should be done.”

“Sound” means to be “healthy” or free from sickness. The figurative extension of that meaning here is “correct” or free from error. So “sound” in faith, love, and endurance means that older men have to believe in the right way, love in the right way, and endure in the right way.

In sum, Paul says that older men must be those who do not panic in the face of a challenge. They do not get angry when provoked. They do not fear in the face of a threat. The older men are to be as solid as an oak. They are to be the kind of men to whom people look when something is broken and no one knows how to fix it. They are the kind of men who are sought out for their wisdom and ability to speak truth into very difficult situations.

They are exemplary in faith and in love for wife and children and church and neighbor. They face trials with perseverance and courage. They are the kind of men that you want your son to grow up and be like.

Churches desperately need their older men to exemplify being sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Churches need an army of laymen who believe well, love well, and suffer well. And churches need them because these older men are the pace-setters for the rest of the church. It is not an accident that Paul begins with the older men. He begins with them because he intends for the old guys to be leading out in these things in the church and in their homes.

Proverbs 20:29 says that “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” This verse means that young men are not noted for their great and profound wisdom into life. The main contribution of young men is their ability to serve others with their physical strength and vigor. That means that the young men ought to be trying to out-serve one another in ways that involve their physical ability. When someone needs help moving, they show up. When there is a workday at the church, the young men need to be there with their able-bodied eagerness.

But as the years accumulate strength diminishes. And as strength diminishes, guess what begins to accumulate? Experience and wisdom. And gray hair represents the accumulation of wisdom and sensibleness about life and about what needs to be done. And this is an old man’s splendor and contribution to his neighbor. And it is supposed to be his contribution to the body of Christ. The church needs her older men to be what God has called them to be. They should live life in such a way that evokes admiration and respect. They do not need to be great orators. They do not need to write books on theology. They simply need to be godly. They need to be able to pour themselves out to their family and others who need their steadiness and wisdom.

The world’s point of view on the relationship between gray hair and wisdom is upside down. The world absolutely idolizes youth. So much so, that the order of the day is to suppress the appearance of age—to try to stay and look as young as you can for as long as you can because the essence of the good life is for those who are youthful, vigorous, and beautiful. And the world caters to the tastes and opinions of the young because they are the most coveted consumer demographic.

The world puts the old people on the shelf and the young people on the podium. But it really should be the other way around. Every believer should aspire to the crown of splendor—to the honor that is due to those who have learned to live well and faithfully to what God has called them. So this word to the old, therefore, is a word to all of us.

Santa in a gay marriage in new picture book

HarperCollins will be publishing a new book featuring a gay Santa. Here’s the report from TIME magazine:

A new picture book will depict Santa as a gay man in an interracial relationship, publisher Harper Design confirmed Tuesday.

The book, Santa’s Husband, goes on sale Oct. 10 and tells the story of a black Santa Claus and his white husband who both live in the North Pole. Santa’s spouse frequently fills in for his husband at malls, according to a description of the book Harper Design provided to TIME…

A photo… of the book’s original concept art shows the couple, both wearing Santa suits, looking dreamingly into each other’s eyes.

Harper Design said the book is meant for all ages.

I guess we already knew that no area would be off-limits in the cultural revolution before us, but this one is still quite sad. Santa has long been transformed into a secular symbol of Christmas. But still, he was a symbol for children. This book is but one more indication that purveyors of the new sexual morality are willing to appropriate any and every cultural symbol and transform it into an avatar of the revolution. 

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