Archive | Christianity

“Gay Christian” explains why she now accepts same-sex marriage

I just read another public account of someone who is walking away from what the Bible teaches about marriage. Former Wheaton employee and self-identified “gay Christian” Julie Rodgers explains why she has embraced gay marriage. She has written about this previously, and I have responded previously. Nevertheless, this latest account is also worth some reflection. She writes:

Your beliefs don’t shift in an instant. We research and agonize, bouncing between hope and despair, until one day we hear ourselves say something a former version of ourselves never would have said. That’s how I came to support same-sex marriage in the church. When I came out as a teenager in Baptist circles in the Bible Belt, I never would’ve imagined God would still like me if I married a woman one day. And I want to try to explain, in theological(ish) terms, how I ended up here.

She goes on to tell the story, which I won’t rehash in full here. I will simply encourage you to read it for yourself. I offer here a short list of reflections on what she has written: Continue Reading →

1

Hold Them Back

imageToday is the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision–a decision that has presided over the legal killing of over 57 million human beings since 1973. Abortion-on-demand is without question the greatest human rights crisis of our time.

Proverbs 24:10-12 tells us that we cannot be indifferent to this horror. It calls us not to turn away but to “hold them back.” Below is a message I delivered at my church on this text. My hope and prayer is that the Lord would use it to awaken consciences. Download here or listen below.

The message has three verses and three points:

  1. Protecting Life Requires Resolve (24:10).
  2. Protecting Life Requires Action (24:11).
  3. Protecting Life Requires Responsibility (24:12).

I close with five exhortations based on this text:

  1. Pray for an awakening in our churches that will spill over into our culture. The conscience of our culture has been seared.
  2. Submit yourself to God and resist the self-centeredness of this age that drives the abortion mindset.
  3. Support alternatives to abortion with your money and time and prayers.
  4. Use your democratic privileges to press for the protection of the unborn.
  5. Offer the Gospel to anyone who has been broken by abortion.

What was wrong with Trump’s appearance at Liberty

Perhaps the best way to explain what went wrong with Donald Trump’s appearance at Liberty University earlier today is to clarify what wasn’t wrong with it (watch above).

There’s nothing wrong per se with a Christian university hosting a presidential candidate for a speech on their campus. In a university setting—even in a Christian one—a speech need not equal an endorsement. If other candidates are given equal access and if it is clear how such a visit might contribute to robust Christian thinking and conviction, there is no necessary offense in this. In fact, it could be a win.

There’s nothing wrong per se with a Christian university hosting a non-Christian for a speech or a lecture on campus. We should encourage a robust exchange of ideas—even with voices we might otherwise disagree with. And there is no necessary violation of principle to have, for example, an atheist participate in a symposium on the plausibility of belief. In fact, in that setting it would be profoundly beneficial to have an actual atheist come and make his case alongside that of Christians and to hear each side hash the issues out in reasoned debate. We can imagine any number of scenarios in which it might be helpful to hear from a non-Christian on a Christian campus. And I can even imagine a setting in which hearing from a non-Christian politician might actually be helpful and in keeping with a school’s mission.

There is, however, something deeply wrong about a Christian university hosting a person who shows little evidence of being a Christian and then treating him as if he were a Christian. That is what happened at Liberty University today, and that is the main thing that was wrong. Trump spoke at Liberty University’s convocation—a meeting that resembles a Christian chapel service. It began with the students singing together songs of praise—the kind that you might sing at your average evangelical church. The pastor leading the service then led the congregation in prayer and reported on local mission activities of Liberty students.

Then the President of the University—Jerry Falwell, Jr.—took the stage to introduce Trump. Even though Falwell clarified that the University wasn’t endorsing Trump for President and that other candidates had also been invited, Falwell went on to give what could only be construed as a personal endorsement of Trump [UPDATE: Falwell has since added his personal endorsement.]. He said that he admired Trump’s candor and willingness to be politically incorrect, even comparing Trump to his own late father Jerry Falwell, Sr. Falwell even said that Trump had born “fruit” through a life of love and charity to others. In every way, Liberty framed Trump’s appearance as if it were a Christian message from a Christian person. The only problem with this is that it was not clearly either one of those things. Here’s why.

Trump has given little to no evidence of actually being a Christian–at least in the way that Liberty has heretofore defined it. That is not to say that Trump doesn’t claim to be a Christian. Indeed, in his speech he claimed to be a protestant and a Presbyterian. Shouldn’t we just take him at his word? For the moment, let us set aside whether we think his policy proposals are consistently Christian. Just consider how Trump has described in his own words his Christian commitment. Trump has said that he has never asked God for forgiveness. Why? Because he says he doesn’t need it. Trump has said that he only goes to church at Christmas and Easter. His many divorces are also well-known. What kind of Christian is it that feels no need for forgiveness from his sins? That only gathers with God’s people twice a year for worship? That is involved in what is at best serial monogamy? It may be a “Christian” that is Christian in name only, not in reality.

None of these items is an unforgivable error, but they do appear to be un-repented of error. If he were applying for membership in the church where I pastor, he would not be allowed to join while having these errors in tow. If he were already a member and persisted in these errors, we would excommunicate him. In short, we would treat him as if he were not a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus. What we would not do is put him on a platform and tell everyone that he has born the “fruit” of authentic Christianity—much less invite him to give a speech in a slot that is typically reserved for Christian preaching. To do such a thing would be to call light darkness and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20). To put him before the people, to endorse his message, and to treat him as a fruit-bearing Christian is to “participate in his evil deeds” (2 John 11).

Also, it doesn’t serve Trump to leave the truth of the gospel in obscurity. What Trump needs is what all of us have needed. We need to know that we are sinners and are in desperate need of reconciliation with a holy God. If there is one thing we need in this life, it’s forgiveness from our offended Maker. The good news is that our Maker loves us and his sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins. He has resurrected Jesus from the dead to give us eternal life. Anyone who repents of their sin and believes in this Savior will taste real forgiveness and the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit. That message is for any and everyone who will have it, and it is totally free. It may advance a political agenda to leave these things in obscurity, but it doesn’t advance the kingdom of God.

Donald Trump doesn’t have to be a Christian in order to run for president or to speak at Liberty University. But Liberty University—as a Christian institution of higher learning—has a responsibility not to confuse people about what Christianity is. And today they fell short of that in a big way.

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Related Posts:

“Trump tells voters he’s a ‘great Christian'” (October 28, 2016)

“Glenn Beck at Liberty University” (May 1, 2014)

How confessional rigor promotes academic freedom

Wheaton faculty member Timothy Larsen weighs-in on the controversy swirling around his campus. In the midst of it, he makes an observation about academic freedom that might be counter-intuitive to some readers but that demonstrates the deep need for Christian institutions of higher learning. Larsen is spot-on when he writes:

Indeed, for some of our most thoroughgoing critics it means that we are not at all like the University of Illinois. A statement of faith, they assert, prohibits academic freedom and thus disqualifies us from being a genuine institution of higher education.

It feels differently from the inside. The vast majority of the professors Wheaton hires come either straight from a Ph.D. program at a major, secular school or from teaching at a secular university. Again and again they revel in the luxurious, newfound academic freedom that Wheaton has granted them: For the first time in their careers they can think aloud in the classroom about the meaning of life and the nature of the human condition without worrying about being accused of violating the separation of church and state or transgressing the taboo against allowing spiritual reflections to wander into a conversation about death or ethics or hope.

Just like no Catholic wants everyone to join a monastery, so I would not want every institution of higher education to be like Wheaton. Still, I have no doubt that the intellectual life of the entire nation is stronger because places like Wheaton exist than it would be if all higher education had its academic freedom curtailed by prohibiting theological lines of inquiry.

Your average secular university believes in academic freedom so long as Christian ethics and worldview are excluded from the mix. Were it not for committed Christian institutions of higher learning, we as a people would indeed be impoverished.

Seven reasons why you shouldn’t read 1 Timothy 6:1-2 as an endorsement of slavery

Have you ever faced a skeptic—maybe a family member or a friend at work—who threw slavery at you as evidence that the Bible can’t be trusted? They argue that if you are using the Bible as your authority on what is right and wrong, then you are basing your deeply held beliefs on a morally deficient revelation. If the Bible is wrong about something as elementary as slavery, how can it be trusted in its central claims about Jesus?

And so the issue of slavery often comes up when people wish to discredit the Bible—to show that it is not worth your admiration and trust. Sometimes these criticisms really sting. And sometimes, Christians don’t know how to answer—especially when the text in view is one like 1 Timothy 6:1-2:

1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against. 2 And let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

Some people read this text and think that because Paul tells slaves to honor their masters, he must also be endorsing slavery. But is it really true that telling these Christian slaves to submit to their masters is the equivalent of approving slavery? The answer is no for several reasons:

1. Telling someone to submit to an authority does not imply that the authority is morally approved.

God told the Israelites to seek the good of the city while they lived under the authority of Babylon, all the while God planned to destroy Babylon for its wickedness. Peter tells wives to submit to a husband’s authority, even those who are “disobedient to the word” (1 Pet. 3:1-2). Peter tells Christians to submit to governing authorities, even though those authorities were persecuting them (1 Pet. 2). No, God condemns any exercise of authority that is contrary to His holy will. And there are many elements of both Roman slavery and American slavery that were against God’s law. Treating a person as property without recognizing their dignity as image-bearers of Almighty God is sinful and condemned everywhere in the Bible. And yet that feature was endemic to both Roman and American slavery. So telling someone to submit to an authority is not an endorsement of the one wielding that authority.

2. The Bible Often Condemns the Means by Which Slaves Were Taken as Slaves.

In the first century, slavery wasn’t race-based like it was in the American South. People were taken as slaves through a number of means: warfare, piracy, highway robbery, infant exposure, and punishment of criminals. In all of this, there was always prevalent the issue of kidnapping people in order to enslave them. What does the Bible say about kidnapping?

In 1 Timothy 1:10, the apostle Paul says that kidnapping or man-stealing is against God’s law. Most interpreters recognize that this man-stealing was for the purpose of slavery. That is why the ESV has it as “enslavers” and the NIV as “slave traders.” Certainly, the background for Paul’s command is the Old Testament law:

Exodus 21:16 “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death” (ESV).

Who is to be put to death? The one who takes the man and the one who holds him. This is significant because some people have made the case that while the Bible does condemn slave-trading it does not condemn slave-holding (e.g., Douglas Wilson, Black and Tan, 56). If this view were correct, there would not necessarily have been any moral problem with Christians owning slaves in the American South during and before the Civil War.

But Exodus 21:16 says that both the kidnapping and the enslavement are punishable by death. And this is the background for Paul’s own thinking about the matter in 1 Timothy. The entire system of Southern slavery was based on kidnapping people from Africa. The slave-traders stuffed these Africans into ship holds where they suffered and died by the thousands. That slave-trade was an abomination. And it is fallacious to suggest that the slave-holders are not morally implicated in the slave-trade. You cannot defend those who participated in the slave trade, nor can you defend those slave owners who created the market for man-stealing.

So the Bible definitely condemns the means by which slaves were taken as slaves—especially kidnapping, which was punishable by death.

3. The New Testament forbids Christians from coercive violence against slaves.

Ephesians 6:9 “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”

Yes, there were Christian slave owners in the New Testament. But no, they were not allowed to threaten their slaves with violence. And obviously, if they weren’t allowed to threaten with violence, they weren’t allowed to actually do violence against their slaves. It may have been allowable under Roman law for a master to abuse or even kill his slave. But it was not allowable under God’s law to do such things. You might call that slavery in some sense, but what kind of slavery is it that doesn’t allow the master to coerce his slave through violence? It’s certainly not Roman slavery. It’s certainly not like slavery in the American South. This is something so different one wonders if you can call it slavery at all.

4. The New Testament commands Christians to treat slaves like brothers.

When Paul wrote to the slave-owner Philemon about his run-away slave Onesimus, Paul told Philemon to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother… If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me” (Phlm 16-17).

What kind of slavery is it that tells a master to give up threatening and to treat his slaves like his brother? Again, it’s not Roman slavery. It’s nothing like slavery in the American South. So the Bible isn’t endorsing either one of those. This is something else entirely. And that is why slavery cannot continue where the Kingdom of God holds sway. The Bible completely undermines all the defining features of slavery: kidnapping, coercive violence, treating people like property rather like brothers created in the image of God.

5. The Bible encourages slaves to get out of slavery if they can.

1 Corinthians 7:21 “Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.”

If the Bible were endorsing slavery, then it wouldn’t be telling slaves to take opportunities to become free. And yet that is exactly what Paul does.

6. The Bible forbids Christians from voluntarily entering into slavery.

1 Corinthians 7:23 “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.”

The command couldn’t be clearer: “Do not become slaves of men.” If the Bible were endorsing slavery, then it wouldn’t be forbidding Christians from becoming slaves.

7. The Bible condemns racism.

As I mentioned earlier, slavery in the New Testament was not race-based. But slavery in the American South was. The Bible forbids treating someone else as less than human because of their race. God created man in his own image—all men—not just white ones or black ones or red ones or yellow ones. Because of that, every person—not just some people—every person has inherent dignity and worth as image-bearers of almighty God. For this reason, the diversity of races is not an evil to be abolished but a glory to be celebrated. God intends to gather worshipers for Himself from every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). And we know that in Christ “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11).

So no, the Bible does not endorse slavery nor the evils inherent in slavery. On the contrary, it abolishes them in the name of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not command us to take up arms in violent revolution to abolish slavery. It does, however, introduce a new kingdom in the world that will one day overthrow all unjust authorities. And we are called as the church to be an outpost of that coming kingdom. And wherever the church goes, slavery must flee because the Kingdom of Christ will not abide unjust authorities.

When the critics assail scripture, they often make confident assertions about things they know very little about (1 Tim. 1:7). In this case, when they rail against the Bible’s alleged endorsement of slavery, they are misrepresenting what the Bible actually teaches. Every word of God is pure and good and wise and right and good for us–including what it says to us about those under the yoke.

“Your word is very pure,
Therefore Your servant loves it.” –Psalm 119:140

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*I’m in the midst of a series on the pastoral epistles at my church, and this post is an excerpt adapted from the message on 1 Timothy 6:1-2. You can download the audio here or listen below.

Shepherds Lead from the Front

This is a great little image about pastoral leadership from my colleague and friend Hershael York:

On one of my trips to Israel I once saw a man behind a flock of sheep, driving them down the road by holding out two long sticks, one on either side, in an attempt to force them to stay together in front of him. Puzzled that I had never seen a shepherd lead his sheep like that, I asked my guide, Zvi, “Why is that shepherd driving his sheep that way? I’ve never seen that before.” “Oh,” he answered. “That’s not a shepherd. That’s a butcher. He has bought those sheep and now he has to drive them to the slaughterhouse. They won’t follow him, because they don’t know him. He can’t lead them, so he has to drive them.”

Shepherds lead from the front. Butchers drive from behind.

The rest of the post is the text of John 10:1-15. Read it.

Wheaton Prof. dismisses theological concerns as “trumped-up”

Yesterday, embattled Professor Larycia Hawkins held a rally in response to Wheaton College administration’s intent to terminate her. If you haven’t been keeping up with this story, I encourage you to read Joe Carter’s explainer here. You can watch the entire rally above, including a statement from Professor Hawkins herself (which begins at 28:30).

The main thing that I take away from Hawkins’s statement is its defiance—especially at the end. Here’s a transcript of about the last three minutes or so of her remarks: Continue Reading →

A religious test for conservative Christians in academia

In terms of cultural influence, there is hardly any group more consequential than the faculty members of elite universities. They have an incalculable impact on emerging generations of leaders in business and politics and other fields that define our national life.

How do they come to this position of influence? The first and most important qualification is the Ph.D. degree. Who determines who gets Ph.D.’s in our country? Little groups of faculty members meeting in little rooms determine who gets into the programs and thus who will comprise the future faculties of our nation’s colleges and universities. How do these committees do their work? Continue Reading →

Interview with Michael Brown on “Line of Fire”

Many thanks to Dr. Michael Brown who recently interviewed me about the new book Transforming Homosexuality. You can download the interview here or listen below. The interview begins at 55:00.

 

You can subscribe to Dr. Brown’s podcast at his website here.

When transgenderism hurts children

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Many people treat gender identity conflicts and sexual orientation as if they are the same. If a sexual orientation is something you are born with and is thus immutable (a claim I would contest as a Christian), then gender identity must work the same way. It’s something you’re born with and can’t be changed. If therefore a child embraces a gender identity at odds with his/her biological sex, then it would be harmful and wrong to try and change that gender identity to align with the child’s biological sex. It would be harmful and wrong in the same way that trying to change sexual orientation is harmful and wrong.

Because trying to change a child’s mind is harmful and wrong, the best way to deal with gender identity conflicts in children is to try and change the body. And so more and more, hormone suppression and cross-dressing are prescribed to young children who experience gender identity conflicts. The cross-dressing establishes them socially in their preferred gender. Hormone suppression prepares their bodies for gender reassignment surgery at a later point—because again, changing the body is less harmful than trying to change the mind. At least that’s how the politically correct orthodoxy has developed. Continue Reading →

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