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Affirming sexual immorality is a departure from the Christian faith

I just read Jen Hatmaker’s interview with Jonathan Merritt in which she says that sexual immorality is compatible with following Christ. If you haven’t read it, you should read the whole thing. But here’s an excerpt: 

RNS: Let’s get into the issues, and I want to start with gay marriage. You’ve created some controversy with previous comments on the matter. Politically-speaking, do you support gay marriage.

JH: From a civil rights and civil liberties side and from just a human being side, any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love. And they should be afforded the same legal protections as any of us. I would never wish anything less for my gay friends.

From a spiritual perspective, since gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, our communities have plenty of gay couples who, just like the rest of us, need marriage support and parenting help and Christian community. They are either going to find those resources in the church or they are not.

Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.

RNS: If an LGBT friend of yours got married, would you attend that wedding?

JH: I would attend that wedding with gladness, and I would drink champagne. I want the very best for my gay friends. I want love and happiness and faithfulness and commitment and community. Yes. That’s an easy answer.

JH: I think we would parent that child exactly the same as the rest of them. Which is to say, we would always be on their side and in their corner and for them and with them. We want for all of our kids the same thing: faithful, committed marriage and a beautiful family that is committed to God and the church. I would have the same standard across the board, no matter what.

RNS: You mention faithfulness and God. Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?

JH: I do. And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it’s hard to nail down in one sitting. I’ve seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here.

I was grieved to read this, but not mainly for political or social reasons. I’m grieved mainly because this is a departure from the Christian faith.

The Lord Jesus, the prophets, the apostles, and the entire 2,000-year consensus of the Christian church agree that any sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sexual immorality and incompatible with following Christ. The scripture says that impenitent sexually immoral people cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). And now Hatmaker appears to be saying the opposite. She even goes so far as to say that such immorality can be “holy” (Isaiah 5:20).

But this is a distortion of the grace of the gospel. The grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for every sinner and saves to the uttermost. We must communicate that. But this grace must be received on his terms–by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). If it is not received on those terms, then it is not received at all. 

The grace of God “teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). That means that the grace of God is not unconditional affirmation of sinners in their sin. It’s the unconditional transformation of sinners from darkness to light. The grace that saves us transforms us, or it doesn’t save us at all (2 Cor. 3:18).  To say, therefore, that sexual immorality can be “holy” is to deny this core message of the Christian faith. 

Such departures from the Christian faith rightly grieve us, but we should not be surprised when they happen (1 John 2:19). The Lord Jesus told us to be ready for them and to recognize them for what they are (Matt. 7:15-23). The path of sexual immorality is not a path that leads to Jesus. And it is neither loving nor kind to give people the impression that it is.

I hope and pray that Hatmaker will reconsider this. I really do. But I’m also really concerned that her vast influence will lead people down a path that doesn’t lead to Jesus. So clarity in moments like this one is critical. When it comes to Jesus and sexual immorality, you can have one or the other, but you can’t have both (Matt. 6:24). The path divides here.

David and Nancy French opposed Trump, and it cost them.

David and Nancy French are evangelical Christians and two of the most outspoken conservative opponents of Donald Trump in the country. Taking this stand has not been without a cost for them. Today, they have both written searching reflections on what their opposition has cost them. The pieces linked below are difficult to read, but I think that they are necessary to read if you want to understand the darkness lurking just beneath the surface of this election season.

Thank you for fighting the good fight, David and Nancy. There are many of us who admire you and your principled stand this past year. Your moral clarity in the midst of a blinding fog has lit the way for many. Thank you.

Robbie George calls for charity among conservatives currently divided

Dr. Robbie George of Princeton University is regarded by many as the leading intellectual of conservatism. In a Facebook post today, he calls for charity among conservatives who are currently divided over how to vote in the 2016 presidential election. George writes:

Lincoln famously said: “With malice towards none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”

Friends, we are in a terrible fix here. And it is putting some of us at each other’s throats. it must not be permitted to do that. Donald Trump is dreadful. Hillary Clinton is horrible. One called for the killing of the innocent family members of terrorists. The other promises to protect the killing of unborn babies up to the point of birth. One shamefully denies that John McCain is a war hero. The other shamelessly lies to grieving families about the circumstances of their loved ones’ murders in Benghazi. Neither of the two is fit to be president. Either would be a disaster.

Faced with this appalling choice, some good people find it obvious that Donald Trump, vile though he may be, is the lesser evil. Others find it no less obvious that Hillary Clinton, odious as she is, is the lesser evil. For some of us, it just isn’t obvious which of these two scoundrels would do greater harm in the long run. But this is where charity is required. There is no point in getting angry at people for whom what is obvious to oneself in these appalling circumstances is not obvious. Every single one of us needs to do his or her best to think this thing through carefully and then follow the dictates of conscience, acknowledging and appreciating the fact that conscience might lead other reasonable people of goodwill to a different conclusion.

Whatever happens, whichever of these people is elected, those of us who believe in limited government, constitutional fidelity and the Rule of law, flourishing institutions of civil society, traditional principles of morality, and the like are going to have profoundly important work to do. And we will need to do it together. Let us not break the cords that bind us together in friendship and conviction.

Hear, hear. And I would add that many of us evangelical Christians would do well to hear George’s call for charity. Perhaps there are some “evangelicals” who have defended or minimized the character flaws of the GOP nominee. I think that is inexcusable. But that certainly is not the attitude of every evangelical who may be deciding to cast a reluctant, regretful vote for the GOP nominee. Many of them are simply trying to do “damage control” in light of two bad alternatives. I disagree with that, but I understand that.

I have many friends and loved ones who are going to cast a mournful vote for the GOP nominee. They care about the unborn and religious liberty just as much as I do. They have no illusions about what the GOP nominee is. They do not wish to endorse his character, and they aren’t making a public discrediting defense of the indefensible. They too are dismayed about the alternatives before them. But they are making a prudential judgment about the best way to do damage control with their vote. As I said, I disagree with them, but I understand and respect them.

I also wish them to know that the last thing I want is to be divided from them on the other side of this election. The GOP nominee has presided over the most divisive campaign I have ever seen. If he somehow were to achieve a lasting division among Christians who should otherwise be together, his rout would indeed be complete. I for one have no interest in letting him achieve that.


Is a church anti-gay for practicing church discipline?

101716_0505_Whathappens1.jpgWatermark Community Church is an evangelical congregation in Dallas, Texas. It has been in the news this past week after a former member wrote a Facebook post announcing the one year anniversary of his excommunication from the church. The Dallas Morning News picked up the Facebook post and published it under the title “Watermark church dismissed me for being gay.”

As you can imagine, no little bit of controversy ensued. A columnist at the paper excoriated the church in an opinion piece titled “Watermark megachurch banned a gay man that it didn’t deserve to have as a member.” Just today, the pastor of Watermark contributed a column to the News titled “Watermark church’s ‘loving correction’ helps members deal with sin.”

Full disclosure, Pastor Todd Wagner used to be my pastor. He is a faithful man of God and a consistent expositor of scripture. He and his elders are on the side of the angels in this, but you wouldn’t know it from the mischaracterizations in The Dallas Morning News.

Rather than try to summarize all of this public correspondence, I will simply direct you to the links above. From what I’ve read, there are several lessons that all churches and pastors would do well to take note of. Continue Reading →


Why more evangelicals may need to follow CT’s lead

Christianity Today has published an unusually scathing editorial by Andy Crouch. Crouch makes the case that “Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump’s blatant immorality.” He writes:

Since his nomination, Donald Trump has been able to count on “the evangelicals” (in his words) for a great deal of support.

This past week, the latest (though surely not last) revelations from Trump’s past have caused many evangelical leaders to reconsider. This is heartening, but it comes awfully late. What Trump is, everyone has known and has been able to see for decades, let alone the last few months. The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest—indeed, sexual assault—might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one.

Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.

And therefore it is completely consistent that Trump is an idolater in many other ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.

I cannot stress enough how unusual it is for CT to publish an editorial like this, but I think they were right to do so. Furthermore, I would suggest that other evangelical leaders and writers might consider following suit. Why? Many evangelical Christians are content to stay out of the political fray. I in no way fault them for that. We all have different callings and interests, and that is fine. But we are faced with a set of very unusual circumstances in the candidacy of Donald Trump. Impressions often don’t match reality. Many people are assuming that evangelicals in toto are supporting Donald Trump, that evangelicals are willing to turn a blind eye to disqualifying character defects, and that they are willing to endorse reprehensible character so long as the candidate is Republican and not Democrat. In short, it appears that evangelicals have no principle only partisan interest.

I know that many evangelicals would object to that characterization saying, “But that is an inaccurate view of things. Evangelicals are divided over Trump. And many of the ones supporting him are only doing so grudgingly because the alternative is also morally reprehensible.” I get that. But that is not the perception of outsiders. Outsiders are viewing us as a piece. One measure of that is revealed in an anecdote I just heard yesterday. A friend of mine was talking to a very well-known religion writer who assumed that evangelicals like Russell Moore and Albert Mohler were endorsing Trump. I think it is astonishing that a journalist could be so misinformed about the evangelical landscape, but there it was.

Do you think that the media and the general public are going to be any less confused about the evangelical landscape in the wake of Donald Trump? I don’t. Even though some of us have been making the case for his unfitness since the primaries, that fact is lost on many. I guarantee you that after this election is over, the media narrative will place a large part of the blame on “evangelicals” for Donald Trump’s malignant candidacy. And that narrative will treat “evangelicals” in an undifferentiated way.

What does that mean? It means that all of us will bear the dishonor of his candidacy, even those evangelicals who never endorsed him and even some of us who made the case against him. I’m simply saying that we should not expect a fair and nuanced portrayal of “evangelical” attitudes in the aftermath of election 2016. There will be blame and shame going around, and “evangelicals” will bear much of it—some of it deservedly, and some of it undeservedly.

That is why CT‘s editorial is so necessary. We are in an extraordinary moment that calls for extraordinary moral clarity. In fact, I think that more evangelical leaders and writers who are usually silent on such matters would do well to follow CT‘s lead here. It is important to speak with moral clarity now for the sake of evangelical witness later. Max Lucado and Beth Moore, for example, have both weighed-in, and I think it would be tremendously helpful if more would join them. This can be done without endorsing any particular candidate—just as Crouch has done. But I think now is the time to speak up. What we say now will shape the public impressions of evangelical Christianity later. And conscientious evangelicals need to be heard.

UPDATE: Since posting this earlier today, evangelicals have begun weighing-in. I’m going to try to keep a running update of statements below.


Last night’s debate and my burden going forward

The measure of last night’s disgrace is measured by the lengths I had to go to to conceal it from my children. When there is a presidential debate, our usual routine is to turn it on in the family room and to watch it. The kids may be in and out of the room if they are not in bed already. But it is a conspicuous viewing in the middle of our home if it is anything else.

Last night was different. I retreated into a room by myself to view the debate. On two or three occasions, my children came into the room. And on each occasion, I had to shew them out as quickly as possible to conceal from their tender consciences the ignominy unfolding on the debate stage.

It is not easy trying to explain to them why they cannot watch our two presidential candidates debate. Nor is it easy trying to explain to them why our family cannot support either of them. All they know is that we should respect our leaders, no matter their political party. They also know that we usually have a favored candidate who most represents our ideals. But they also know that there is no candidate for us this year from either of the two major political parties. This is a first for us.

This election has made me acutely aware of a weighty burden that I feel for my country and for my children. If evangelicals have felt at ease in Babylon until now, that ease has passed. Our culture is post-Christian, and so are our politics. We are strangers and aliens here (1 Pet. 2:11). That is nothing new. Indeed it has always been the case. But the contrast between the church and the world is becoming increasingly stark in our nation.

The burden I feel is not that Christians have lost the culture or that we need to figure out how to recover some pristine era in the past (no such era ever existed). The burden I feel is for preparing my children and the church that I pastor for the world that we live in now. To be in the world, not of the world, for the sake of the world is what God has called us to (John 17:13-21). To love our neighbors and our enemies and to do so faithfully and joyfully in the face of open opposition and cynical indifference—that is the burden of our time. And that is what we must prepare our children, our churches, and ourselves to face in coming days.

We live in sad times. But the debacle of the 2016 presidential election is not the cause of our times. It is the sign of our times. And we need to have our eyes wide open to the world and our hearts full of gospel joy and our feet swift to our great work. This does not mean a retreat from public life or from our democratic stewardship. It just means that we know where we have pinned our hopes for this life and the next. And believing that, we bear witness to a coming King who will one day make all things new (Rev. 21:5). For here we have no lasting city, but we are seeking a city which is to come (Heb. 13:14).

InterVarsity says TIME story is inaccurate

Elizabeth Dias has written a story for TIME magazine saying that InterVarsity plans to dismiss all staff members who fall short of the InterVarsity’s views on marriage and sexuality. InterVarsity has responded with a series of tweets disputing her article. There are eight tweets, and I encourage you to read them all. But it is the first and fourth tweets that I don’t know how to reconcile.

If anyone knows how these two statements go together, I’m all ears. I have read InterVarsity’s statement on marriage and sexuality. For the most part, it represents what Christians have always believed. It boils down to this:

“Scripture is very clear that God’s intention for sexual expression is to be between a husband and wife in marriage. Every other sexual practice is outside of God’s plan and therefore is a distortion of God’s loving design for humanity” (p. 11).

How can one simultaneously hold sex outside of marriage to be sin while supporting a definition of “civil marriage” that denies this? Do they allow staffers to support same-sex “civil marriage” or not?

Perhaps InterVarsity is making a distinction between Christian marriage and “civil marriage.” But I don’t know how such a distinction can be supported by their own theological statement, which says this about marriage:

“It is a public declaration, a societal institution, and an ordinance of God, where public vows are made before a community” (p. 9).

InterVarsity’s theological statement doesn’t seem to allow one to hold one view on Christian marriage and another view of “civil marriage.” They are joined together.

So again, I am not sure how to reconcile statement number one with statement number four above.

Having said that, it would be entirely good and necessary for a Christian organization to hold its staff members to Christian views on marriage and sexuality. You can’t have staffers telling college students that it is okay to have sexual relationships outside of marriage. Any staffer who communicates such a message to a student would be leading that student away from Jesus and not to Jesus. That is the opposite of discipleship. It is the antithesis of love. And it will lead students away to judgment.

So I am grateful for the initial report that InterVarsity is holding the line on this. I hope it is accurate. Failure to hold the line on sexuality and marriage means failure to be Christian. Fidelity to biblical teaching and the 2,000-year old consensus of the Christian church is absolutely essential.

UPDATE: InterVarsity has posted their full response to the TIME article on Facebook. The full text is below: Continue Reading →


Is Trump accelerating evangelical break with the GOP?

The video package above was produced by Jon Ward for Yahoo News. There are a variety of personalities that appear in it. What struck me while watching it is how the label “evangelical” is being pulled apart at the seams.

The apparent break-up with the GOP is but one sign of a larger conflict that evangelical Christians are facing in post-Christian America. As we move from “moral majority” to prophetic minority, we are feeling more uneasy in Babylon. That is not altogether a bad thing. Christianity’s contrast with the world is becoming more evident and will compel us to theological clarity. And that is happening now.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

The self-authenticating power of the Bible

In case you missed it, Andy Stanley posted a lengthy rejoinder to criticism he has received since telling his church that the Bible is not the foundation of the Christian faith. I responded to this last week. Just tonight, both Jared Wilson and David Prince  have posted thoughtful responses. For my part, I would reiterate what I said last week. I really appreciate Stanley’s clear affirmation of biblical inerrancy. He writes:

I believe the Bible is without error in everything it affirms. I believe what the Bible says is true, is true… So for anyone out there who is still a bit suspicious, I affirm The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

This affirmation is strong and unambiguous. So far so good. But Stanley goes on to argue that the real issue is not his doctrine of scripture but outdated ways of preaching the Bible. Because millennials don’t believe in the authority of scripture, Stanley argues that we cannot appeal to them with “the Bible told me so” arguments. He writes: Continue Reading →

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