Author Archive | Denny Burk

Best Pictures of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

We did not witness totality where I live, but we did get 96% of a total eclipse of the sun. It was fantastic, even if not total.

Because I missed totality, I’m soaking-up footage of those who captured it on video or in photos. I am going to post those images here, updating as I come across the really good ones. I’m starting with a stunning compilation from The Washington Post (see above). I will update with more pics and videos below. Continue Reading →

God and the Transgender Debate

Andrew Walker’s important new book has just released today. It is titled God and the Transgender Debate, and it is a must-read. That is in fact what I wrote in my endorsement for the publisher:

The post-Christian West says that we are what we think we are, not what our bodies reveal us to be and this is one of the chief challenges to Christianity today. That is why God and the Transgender Debate is so important. It is a countercultural, compassionate, must-read book.
Denny Burk, President, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The transgender challenge is at the leading edge of Christianity’s interface with secular culture. If you want to understand this challenge, then you need to read this book. Highly recommended.

Seminaries across the country are shutting down

Ian Lovett at The Wall Street Journal tells the story of what is happening to theological education in the mainlines. The schools are going the way of the dodo.

Mainline Protestant seminaries are facing an existential crisis after a decade of mounting red ink.

Enrollment has fallen by nearly 25% over the past decade, according to the Association of Theological Schools, an accrediting agency.

Mainline churches, where membership has been falling for decades, can support fewer full-time pastors than in the past. Denominations are pulling back their financial support for seminaries, while the cost of educating students is still going up.

As a result, some of the oldest and most celebrated seminaries in the country—institutions that helped shape both Christianity and higher education in the U.S.—are on the brink of financial collapse.

The crisis in the mainline seminaries is real. And the institutional crisis cannot be understood rightly apart from the slide into theological liberalism, which is the death knell of vitality and life in Christian institutions. As a result, these schools do not train their students for pastoral ministry. Then what are they training for? As WSJ reports,

Until recent years, seminaries largely focused on training young college graduates to become full-time church pastors… But as the nation has grown more secular, the role of clergy, and seminaries, has shifted…

“We take seriously our role in training religious leaders. But we also take seriously our role in training leaders for nonprofit organizations and other institutions,” said the Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, president of Claremont School of Theology.

Lisa Devine, who graduated from EDS in May, is typical of many mainline seminary students these days. At 36, she lived in California most of the time she attended EDS.

She said she doesn’t “feel called to parish ministry.” Instead, her family plans to start a “therapeutic farm.”

I don’t even know what a “therapeutic farm” is, but it is not pastoral ministry in a church. What do you need a seminary for if it is not training pastors of churches?

Theological education is indeed in crisis, but make no mistake. The crisis was theological before it was institutional. Now it is both.

A time for moral clarity

Like you, I’ve been watching with dismay and disgust as events have unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. There has been a naked display of racism and white supremacy. If ever there were a time for evangelical Christians to speak with biblical conviction and moral clarity, now is the time.

In doing so, no one should be taking their cues from the president of the United States on how to do this. Both this weekend and in his campaign, he has not shown moral clarity or leadership in this area (although as I write, there is an update). Rather, we should be taking our cues from scripture, which is absolutely and unequivocally clear that white supremacy, racism, and violence are grave sins which God himself will judge.

Why will God judge such racism? Because all people are created in God’s image, and as image-bearers we all have inestimable worth and dignity. To assault an image-bearer is to assault the One whose image they bear. Thus racism, white supremacy, and violence are incalculably heinous sins.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” –Genesis 1:27

“Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.” –Psalm 100:3

“From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth.” –Acts 17:26

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” –John 3:16

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” –1 John 4:8

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” –1 John 4:20

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” –1 John 3:15

The first fruit of the spirit is love (Gal. 5:21). Anyone who refuses to love is showing that he does not have the Spirit and stands condemned.

The racism and white supremacy on display in Charlottesville are damnable errors and are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who wave the banner of racism in the name of Christianity are no Christians at all. If they do not repent, they stand condemned.

This is the message that we must communicate, and we must do so in a way the matches the urgency of our moment. God’s word is clear on this, and so must we be.


UPDATE – 8/15/17: Today, President Trump addressed the nation in a press conference in which he said that the white supremacist protestors were “very fine people.” His full remarks were more than disappointing. They were morally bankrupt and completely unacceptable. People who protest while chanting Nazi slogans are not “very fine people.” I agree with David French’s assessment:

The most pernicious forms of evil always mix truth and lies. So, yes, there were kernels of truth in some of Trump’s statements. No question there were hateful, violent leftists in Charlottesville this weekend. And on the question of monuments, Trump is right to point out the lack of a limiting principle. We already know that some on the Left have their eyes set on demolishing or removing monuments and memorials that have nothing to do with the Confederacy, but all that pales in importance compared to his stubborn and angry attempts not just at moral equivalence (after all, no one on the Left committed murder this weekend) but at actually whitewashing evil…

Donald Trump loves people who love him, and the vile and vicious alt-right has loved him from the beginning. Today, he loved them right back.

The President again failed to show moral clarity and leadership. It was a sad, disgraceful display.


POSTSCRIPT: I am grateful to see so many evangelical leaders who have already spoken with conviction and clarity. The following list is only a sample of the many who have spoken up. I am grateful for all of them.

Albert Mohler comments on North Korea and Just War

On Friday’s episode of “The Briefing,” Albert Mohler offered comments on Just War theory and how it applies to the President’s authority to wage war against North Korea. Mohler argues,

The comments made by Dr. Robert Jeffress have engendered a lot of conversation. But without just looking at those comments let’s look at the larger questions and how Christians have fought through these issues consistent with Scripture throughout the centuries. In the first place we need to understand that the Bible is clear about the role of government. In Romans chapter 13, government, as established by God, is one of God’s gift to humanity in order to establish order in uphold justice and righteousness. is given what is described as the power of the sword. Inspired by the Holy Spirit the apostle Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 13 that the state, the government,

“does not hold the sword in vain.”

It has a purpose. It has a legitimate purpose. And among those purposes is the establishment and maintenance of justice and righteousness and the protection of human life. The most important responsibility of any government is the protection of the lives of its own citizens.

So the Scripture, not only in Romans 13, but in other passages — as we think of this in terms of biblical theology — makes clear that God has established government and given government rightful authority; not authority that’s a blank check, but a rightful, legitimate authority that must be exercised in accordance with right principles of justice and righteousness. When the pastor said that,

“God has given President Trump the authority to take out Kim Jong-Un,”

at this point what we need to consider is that indeed God has invested government with authority, the power of the sword is part of that authority, but it’s not an authority that comes with a blank check, it comes in a moral context…

With heavy hearts thoughtful and biblical Christians recognize that military action is sometimes absolutely called for, but it’s never called for for Christians to be bellicose, that is in any way to celebrate war. These are clearly very dangerous times and it calls forth the most careful Christian thinking. We can hope and pray that some years hence we’ll look back and just have to be reminded of the fact that this kind of moment had existed between United States and North Korea. We can hope that it comes down to that, rather than the alternative, which is almost too horrible to contemplate.

Read the rest or download audio here.

Poll: Is it ever right to be angry at God?

Last Spring, I posted a tweet and a blog that turned out to be more controversial than I ever anticipated. In both postings, I made the case that it is always wrong to be angry at God. Many readers disagreed. I am conducting an informal poll to find out how controversial this question really is among readers. Please weigh-in above.

The de facto “affirming” church

Wesley Hill has waded into the discussion about the proper deployment of the term “orthodoxy” when it comes to current controversies about sexuality. I won’t rehash the whole debate here. But to summarize, James K. A. Smith and Alan Jacobs have recently made the case that those who affirm homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage can nevertheless be “orthodox” Christians. An affirmation of untraditional sexual behavior need not nullify an affirmation of the creeds. Hill basically agrees with them about this.

Hill is always thoughtful and reasonable, and his post yesterday is no exception. He also has been a consistent opponent of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage, and I am very grateful that he and I are agreed on that much.

But still, there remains some disagreement over how to deal with the so-called “affirming” position within the church. And from where I’m sitting, the disagreement is substantial and worth the time to work through if at all possible. Here’s what I mean. Hill writes:

I want to mount arguments for traditional, male-and-female marriage that appeal to the creedal grammar that my opponents and I both affirm. As much as lies within me, until I have good reason to believe otherwise, I want to assume that my interlocutors who affirm same-sex marriage and who say the same creed with me each Sunday do so in good faith, and deserve to be answered on the basis of the orthodox Christian theology they profess. Insofar as this is what Smith’s post was aiming at, I’m with him 100 percent…

As much as I think the revisionist view of the morality of same-sex sexual intimacy is blatantly and tragically wrong, I cannot see that all of those who hold it have ceased to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, and therefore I cannot see my way clear to remove myself from fellowship with them.

In responding to this, I should stipulate up front that some of our differences are no doubt ecclesiological. He is an Anglican, and I am a Baptist. But still, the issue of who the church recognizes as Christian is a fundamental question that all disciples of Jesus must face. And here, Hill makes the case that even though he strongly disagrees with those who promote the “affirming” view, he still must recognize them as brothers and sisters in Christ and maintain fellowship with them.

And it is here that the substantial difference emerges. And to see it, you have to think about how this stance plays out in the life of a local church. I am a pastor. Suppose a man in my congregation comes to me and says, “You know, I feel like the Lord is leading me to marry so-and-so. So-and-so is married to an ungodly man. She desires a godly husband, and I want to be that for her. So she is going to divorce him to marry me.” The man goes on to explain that his relationship with this other man’s wife is actually not contrary to his commitment to Christ but will enable both he and the other man’s wife to follow Christ more faithfully.  (That may sound far-fetched to you, but I have actually heard this defense of adultery before.)

As a pastor, what is my proper response to this would-be adulterer? Shall I confirm his affirmation of credal orthodoxy and then let the adultery slide? He is after all not renouncing any fundamental doctrinal commitment. We are merely having a disagreement over a forthcoming divorce and remarriage. Since we have so much in common otherwise, should I just celebrate our common “credal grammar” and continue to make appeals to him while staying united in fellowship?

I hope that readers can see that such a response would be pastoral malpractice on my part. My actions would suggest affirmation even though I may personally hold a traditional view of marriage. The only proper response to such an interlocutor is to call that brother and sister to repentance and to make every effort to restore the sister’s marriage insofar as it is possible to do so. If the brother and sister resist calls to repentance, then the faithful and loving response is for the church to pursue that couple with church discipline. If they continue to resist the church’s call to repentance, then they must be excommunicated–meaning that they must be set outside of the church and no longer treated as a brother and sister in Christ.

Christ commands us to do this (Matthew 18:15-18). The apostle Paul rebukes a church for failing to do this (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). It is not that Christians can never be in error without being excommunicated. It’s that the church can never be indifferent or passive toward brothers and sisters who fail to respond to such reproof. The church ultimately has to refuse to recognize sexual immorality as consistent with an authentic Christian commitment.

If the church’s obligation is clear with respect to adultery, why is it unclear with respect to homosexual immorality? If I understand Hill (and Smith and Jacobs) correctly, their argument would treat homosexual immorality as a special case in the life of a church. If someone sincerely holds to credal orthodoxy and sincerely holds to a revisionist view of marriage, then the church must not disfellowship them but must continue to recognize them as Christian. This seems to me the opposite of what scripture commands us to do. This seems like a sure fire way for the church to lose its distinction from the world altogether.

One final thing: If a church that holds to traditional marriage allows members to affirm the sanctity of homosexual relationships, what is the difference between the traditional church and the so-called “affirming” church? A church will either recognize gay marriages or not. A church will either ordain “affirming” clergy or not. There is no in-between position at the practical, congregational level. And if a traditional church does not enforce moral boundaries in a way that is consistent with its traditional beliefs, then its ecclesial practice is no different than a church that affirms homosexual relationships. It is a de facto “affirming” church.

Are evangelicals becoming more open to gay marriage?

I wrote an article about seven years ago on what the bible teaches about homosexuality. That essay begins with a discussion of Brian McLaren’s then recent affirmation of committed homosexual relationships.

It is strange to read that essay now and to consider in retrospect how quickly McLaren faded from evangelical view. At the time, the “emerging church” still had some purchase within the evangelical movement. Now that entire project is defunct and so are its major proponents. They pushed the very edges of the leftwing of the evangelical movement until they pushed themselves right out of the movement. Many of them did so by adopting unorthodox positions on sexuality.

The ascendancy of the so-called “emerging church” seems like ancient history, but it really wasn’t that long ago. How quickly its heterodoxy doomed it to irrelevancy and demise. Evangelicals no longer look to the McLarens, the Tony Joneses, or the Rob Bells for sound guidance on the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

This recent history is the playing-out of Jesus’ words in John 10:

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:3-5).

At the end of the day, the church follows the voice of the Lord Jesus and will not go after the voice of “strangers”—those offering a teaching that is contrary to Christ and his word. Those who do go after the “strangers” are revealing themselves not to have been a part of the fold to begin with. They leave the church because they were Christians in name only.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).

Ed Stetzer wrote a really helpful essay last November about how “Evangelicals across the Spectrum Are Clarifying Marriage as a Core Belief.” He shows that evangelical institutions are in the process of making clear what they have always believed about marriage and sexuality—that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and that sex is only permitted within that marriage covenant.

Almost immediately, Matthew Vines posted a string of tweets protesting Stetzer’s claims. Vines argues that the evidence shows that evangelicals are actually moving toward affirmation of gay marriage.

I think it is possible that Stetzer and Vines may both be right (sort of). Stetzer is simply observing how evangelical organizations are clarifying and reaffirming the traditional view, and he is right about that. Vines is simply observing the fact that some people associated with evangelical Christianity are embracing gay marriage. And he is right about that.

Vines points to trends among millennials as evidence of his claim. Vines is right about those larger demographic trends, but he is wrong about what they mean. Yes, millennials are far more open to gay marriage than their parents or grandparents. And yes, that will likely influence some within the evangelical movement to embrace gay marriage as well. But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that the Christian faith is changing its posture on marriage. It means that some people currently associated with Christianity will be leaving us. They will follow a “stranger’s” voice right out of the faith.

It is not hard to predict what happens after the “strangers” leave orthodox Christian teaching. We’ve seen this countless times before. As it happened with the “emerging church” and with theological liberalism, so it will happen again. The “strangers” move on from the faithful, and the faithful move on from the “strangers.” There is a sad parting of ways. But the church remains the church, and the faith remains the faith. The true sheep will follow the voice of their shepherd come what may. The strangers’s ascendancy is eventually forgotten, and the church of the Lord Jesus endures. The voice of the strangers will grow quiet, and their memory will grow more and more distant.

Peter Leithart’s 2013 prediction is proving right:

God has his winnowing fork in his hand, and he’s ready to use it. There’s likely to be a lot of chaff, blown away like mist. But there will be a harvest. We’re being sent into an oven, but Jesus will crush the grain of the harvest so that, baked in the fire of the Spirit, it will become bread for the life of the world.

What we are witnessing in the evangelical movement right now is a winnowing—a parting of ways. It rightly grieves us because no one relishes division or departures from God’s truth. But it is all important that we see what this means. This division is real and necessary for anyone turning away from what the scriptures teach on marriage and sexuality. And all sides would do well not to obscure just how high the stakes really are.

N. T. Wright offers brief commentary on transgenderism

N. T. Wright penned a letter to the editor of The Times of London this morning expressing his thoughts about “gender-fluid” children. Responding to articles about gender identity confusion–and even trans-speciesism–in children, he writes:

The confusion about gender identity is a modern, and now internet-fuelled, form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism. The Gnostic, one who “knows”, has discovered the secret of “who I really am”, behind the deceptive outward appearance (in Rifkind’s apt phrase, the “ungainly, boring, fleshy one”). This involves denying the goodness, or even the ultimate reality, of the natural world. Nature, however, tends to strike back, with the likely victims in this case being vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.

Rosaria Butterfield weighs-in on 4 stages of evangelical affirmation of gay marriage

Earlier this week, I posted “Four stages of ‘evangelical’ affirmation of gay marriage,” which traces out a basic trajectory I have observed among those who jettison their biblical beliefs about marriage. Almost immediately, readers pointed out stages that I missed, and I thought of at least one on my own. Rosaria Butterfield wrote to me with an additional stage that I thought worth sharing with you. She writes,

I also appreciated your blog post on the 4 stages. I wonder, though, if you missed a stage–somewhere between point 1 and point 2. I believe that the refusal to take a stand happens when someone buys into the sexual orientation identity system that says gay is not how you are through the imprint of original sin, but rather is who you are, through your supposedly morally neutral sexual orientation. I think it will become more and more important to foreground this step, as the next attack on orthodoxy will be (and already is) a resurgence of pelagianism in its denial of the biblical witness on original sin. The move between how and who is vital. And the slippage is one paved by the gay Christian movement (side A or B, no difference in worldview, in my opinion). The difference between how and who also explains why this is a hard argument for the church to make–and how people shift from point 1 to point 2. After all, denying a person the right to be who she really is is something only a bigot would embrace. It is vital that the orthodox church stand firm that there are no such things as gay people–there are gay desires and gay sex and gay communities and gay identities–but people are all made in the image of God. The only ontological groundings in Genesis 1:27 are biological sex.

I couldn’t agree more with Rosaria on this. Buying into the “sexual orientation identity system” is the crossing of the Rubicon, as it were. Why? Because it costs you a biblical anthropology and requires you to buy an erroneous substitute. It requires you to reduce human identity to the sum total of one’s fallen sexual desires and then to affirm them. And there are countless sad consequences downstream from this decision. Rosaria has written at length about this in her book Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend that you do.

——————-

UPDATE: A reader has written to me asking the following question:

I’m a long time reader of your blog. I am very thankful for it. I very much appreciated your recent post on the four stages that occur on the way to affirming gay marriage. I was also appreciative of your follow up that mentioned Rosaria Butterfield’s input. In that follow up post you mentioned that other stages had been mentioned or thought of. Do you have a plan to bring those to light as well? I do hope so!

I don’t have a plan for a follow-up post. Truth be told, there are probably many “stages” we could identify along a trajectory to affirming gay marriage. And many of them would be fruitful to explore. The main point of my original post was not to identify every conceivable stage but to highlight the trajectory. The trajectory doesn’t end merely in affirming an error. It ends in bad feelings (sometimes animus) towards Christians who won’t affirm the error. 

This trajectory reveals what it true generally about unbelief. Unbelief often leads to open contempt for God’s people (see John 15:18-25). In fact, such contempt is one of the chief marks of unbelief, just as love for the brethren is a true mark of saving faith. And this is where I think the trajectory helps us to evaluate our own hearts. Do we love our brothers and sisters in Christ who hold firmly to the truth? Or is there a root of bitterness toward those who hold firmly to the truth? The answer to those questions says a great deal about one’s true spiritual condition (1 John 3:14-15).

For what it’s worth, the other “stage” that I might have included between 1 and 2 is the “dialogue” stage. Sometimes “dialogue” is a way station to having no firm convictions on the matter, which then becomes a gateway to full affirmation of what the Bible forbids.

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