My wife was singing this line from “The Sussex Carol” tonight in our kitchen, and it was like a ray of light to my soul: “Then why should men on earth be sad, Since our Redeemer made us glad?” I hope it will be a ray of light to yours as well. Continue Reading →
I am really grateful that evangelicals seem to be moving toward a serious conversation about homosexuality. Two articles in particular seem to be driving some recent online discussions. One is a piece in World magazine profiling a lesbian chaplain at Wheaton College. Another is a piece by Michelle Boorstein in The Washington Post about the “celibate gay Christian” movement. Both of these articles have provoked disagreement and spirited discussion about what it means to be a same-sex attracted Christian.
I am not going to try and rehash all that has been said up to this point. I invite you do to take a look at the links in this post if you want to get up to speed on the points of disagreement. My aim is to engage with Wesley Hill’s recent post at the Spiritual Friendship website. He invites feedback to his “thought experiment,” so I am going to offer some.
Michelle Boorstein has a must-read piece in The Washington Post about the celibate gay Christian movement. It features Albert Mohler, Wesley Hill, and some others from the evangelical movement. The article begins with a discussion about Eve Tushnet, a celibate Roman Catholic lesbian.
Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
This is an interesting article not least because secular people tend to find celibacy strange and even subhuman. That comes out in the article, and it goes to show how far we’ve come as a culture to think that sex is the end-all be-all of human existence. But that is where we are, and that is why the average person reading about celibacy just sort of scratches their head and says, “What? Really?” The answer is yes, really. Celibacy is celebrated in scripture for those to whom it has been given (Matt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7). It is no surprise that God would call some people to walk this path. Continue Reading →
Christianity Today has a short article challenging Tertullian’s famous statement about Christian martyrs: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Does persecution really cause Christianity to grow? According to one study, the answer is no. Here’s an excerpt:
According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of the world’s population live in a country where social hostilities involving religion are high, and 64 percent live where government restrictions on religion are high. Does this explain why Christianity is likewise growing worldwide?
Not necessarily, says missiologist Justin Long, who recently compared Pew’s latest tally of religious freedom restrictions to Operation World’s latest tally of Christian growth (see chart). His conclusion: Church growth is “not strongly” correlated with either governmental or societal persecution. However, Christianity “tends loosely” to change more rapidly (grow or shrink) when governmental restriction is high, and stays relatively stable when such pressure is low.
This isn’t the last word on this question, but you should read the rest of it anyway. Three quick thoughts in response:
1. We should be mindful of and prayerful for the persecuted church across the world. We rightly admire the courage of brothers and sisters being faithful through horrendous suffering, and we should pray that their suffering would end and that God would break the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 58:6).
2. We should remember that there are some places in the world where persecution threatens to exile or extinguish Christian communities. For these brothers and sisters, persecution is not a strategy for growth—at least not one that they would choose. It may providentially strengthen them in some ways, but that is not a reason to hope for evil that good may come (Romans 3:8).
3. We should be careful about glib statements about persecution in our own context. I have heard people say things like, “What we need in the American church is a good persecution.” Usually, a line like that is spoken by someone who wants to see genuine spiritual renewal in our land. But still, it’s spoken like a true American—one for whom real bodily suffering is a theoretical thing rather than a reality. No one who is shedding their blood for the gospel talks like this. They pray for deliverance, and we should too. Here’s a better way to pray for and think about potential persecution in our own context:
“I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” -1 Timothy 2:1-2
The second point of the sermon focuses on verse 11 and deals with whether Paul intends for women to serve as deacons. This is a controversial question, and I obviously don’t treat it exhaustively in this sermon. Nevertheless, here’s where I came down.
A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel at the Evangelical Theological Society discussing the question “Is Same-Sex Orientation Sinful?” Owen Strachan moderated the discussion among three of us who presented papers on the subject: Wesley Hill, Preston Sprinkle, and yours truly. Both Wesley and Preston have posted on the session. Craig Sanders has written a report as well.
I am currently working on a book about sexual orientation, and much of what I presented to the panel was a rough version of what will appear in that book. So I will hold back on rehashing the entire argument here. If you want to read my paper, send me an e-mail and I’ll send it to you (contact me here).
The heart of our disagreement on the panel was over the ethics of orientation. In short, we had a disagreement about whether same-sex attraction is sinful. I argued that it is. Preston and Wesley argued that it is not. So those were the two sides of the panel. Continue Reading →
Trip Lee has written a new song expressing how he feels about the recent tragedies in Ferguson and New York (listen above). In short, these events have left him thinking, “It could’ve been me.” No matter what your feelings are about the non-indictments in these particular cases, what Trip is talking about here is absolutely essential. For me at least, hearing such stories over the last two years from brothers like Trip, Voddie, Thabiti, and others has transformed my view of the African American experience. Don’t miss this.
In the wake of the grand jury verdict in Ferguson, I’ve seen thoughtful commentators trying their best to do two things. On the one hand, they want to listen carefully to our African American neighbors who experience racial prejudice in their interface with law enforcement and with the criminal justice system. They want to give due regard to systemic racial inequality that still exists in our country. On the other hand, they also want to be fair in their evaluation of Michael Brown’s death and how his death relates to the overall racial disparity in our criminal justice system.
This has been a difficult balance to strike in the wake of events in Ferguson. Some have insisted that Michael Brown’s death is “Exhibit A” of the larger systemic issues in our country. Furthermore, they insist that failure to treat Brown’s death as an exemplar of those issues is a failure of racial sensitivity. And herein is the impasse: Not that people deny the existence of larger systemic issues, but that the shooting of Michael Brown must be viewed as an example of it. Emotions run high as all the pathos of our nation’s original sin come to the surface in these kinds of discussions. And that is why the discussion is so difficult. That is also why evangelicals have even found themselves divided on the matter.
I’ve been reading through Jonathan Edwards’ treatise on The Nature of True Virtue. This book can only be properly understood in connection with Edwards’ earlier work The End for Which God Created the World. In that earlier work, Edwards shows that God is the first and best of beings and that the purpose of all things in God’s universe is to glorify God’s own magnificence and goodness.
In The Nature of True Virtue, Edwards argues that true virtue consists in having one’s heart attuned to that great reality—the glory of God. Virtue, therefore, can only exist in those who know and love God above all else. Edwards says it this way,
And therefore certainly, unless we will be atheists, we must allow that true virtue does primarily and most essentially consist in a supreme love to God; and that where this is wanting, there can be no true virtue. -Yale Edition, p. 554
In other words, moral uprightness may be a dim shadow of virtue, but it is not true virtue if it has no respect to God. Only an atheist—or someone whose view of God is so low that he no longer conceives of the true God—can deny that true virtue must be defined this way.
This means that all systems of morality—secular or religious—that ignore God are not truly virtuous. Those who follow them—no matter how rigorously they follow—are not truly virtuous. In short, godless virtue is no virtue at all.
If this is true (and I believe that it is), the implications are staggering.
I’m reluctant to say anything, so I will say very little. Here are my thoughts on the morning after.
1. We still have race issues in this country. As President Obama said last night, we’ve made progress, but we have by no means arrived. It is an enormous grief that African Americans feel so regularly alienated by police and by the criminal justice system more broadly. It is a great sadness that black fathers have to have sobering conversations with their sons about encountering the police without getting shot—a conversation I never had with my father. As a people, we are not yet what we should be. It does no one any good to deny that. Again, as the President said last night,