I attended the 70th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Denver, Colorado last week. For those of you who don’t know, ETS is a society of theologians and biblical scholars who are dedicated to biblical inerrancy and a belief in the Trinity. At the annual meeting, members come together to present academic papers, meet with publishers, and catch up with old friends. What follows are some reflections about this year’s meeting. Continue Reading →
Yesterday, I finished Elaine Pagels’ moving memoir Why Religion? A Personal Story (Ecco, 2018). If Pagels’ name is unfamiliar to the general reader, it is not to scholars of the Bible and early Christianity. Pagels has been writing provocative books about early Christianity and its interface with Gnosticism since the 1970’s. Her 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels was a popular introduction to the Nag Hammadi library that became a publishing sensation. Her work in this book caught the attention of a popular readership and garnered numerous awards.
She has written many other books since then, so her scholarly work has been well-known for decades now. And yet, this latest book, Why Religion?, seems different. It is a deeply personal narrative of her life, not just as a scholar but as a wife and a mother. Her account reveals that her work as an author has been deeply impacted by her own personal search for meaning in the midst of suffering. And her suffering has indeed been profound. Continue Reading →
Parents who hit their kids may believe that a swat “just gets their attention” or imposes old-fashioned discipline, but spanking in fact makes behavior worse than it was before and can cause long-term harm, pediatricians said Monday. Continue Reading →
The Associated Press reports on what the Democrats intend to do if they take back the House of Representatives this November. In short, they plan to introduce legislation that would be the biggest assault on religious liberty in our nation’s history. From the report:
Just days ahead of a midterm election they hope will deliver them a majority, House Democrats are promising to prioritize anti-discrimination legislation that would for the first time establish widespread equal rights protections for LGBTQ individuals. Continue Reading →
We’ve been singing “Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right” at our church in recent weeks. I have to say that the words and music to this are really special. It is written as a song for saints who are suffering. Which means that it is written for all of us. Here are the words: Continue Reading →
Yesterday at our church, I took a break from verse-by-verse exposition of 1 Corinthians in order to address an important question about prophecy and tongues. The sermon has three points:
What Is the Gift of Prophecy?
What Is the Gift of Tongues?
Are Prophecy and Tongues for Today?
My answer to the last question is “no.” My contention is that prophecy and tongues are revelatory gifts that are foundational to the church but that are no longer operative within the church (Eph. 2:20). You can download the sermon here, subscribe to the podcast, or listen below.
For more reading on this, I recommend two books, both of which I rely on heavily in this message:
- Thomas R. Schreiner, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2018).
- Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1979).
David Bahnsen writes about the aftermath of the Kavanaugh imbroglio in which he opines on the situation that conservatives find themselves in—including those conservatives who happen to be Christians. There is one part of Bahnsen’s piece that jumped out at me when I read it. Bahnsen writes:
It would be nice if conservatives of faith had some support in the church, that allegedly spiritual institution of Christian community, doctrine, and practice. If you want to know what the church will look like in 3-5 years, look at what the culture is doing now. If you want to know what the culture looked like 3-5 years ago, look at the church now. From all but complete outliers in Rome and evangelicalism, the Christian church is in the theology of capitulation business now, desperate to fit in, desperate to be accepted by Vanity Fair, and oblivious to the fact that no amount of surrender is going to prove sufficient. Non-churched leftists are completely comfortable calling their ideology “leftism” or “progressivism.” The cultural pacifists that fill today’s pulpits lack the courage to even self-identify for the humanism-soaked sponges that they are. Christians, you are all alone if you are looking for the church to defend your cause, mission, and purpose. I don’t blame unbelievers for laughing at the latest screed that comes from today’s emasculated church; I do blame believers for not doing so.
My despair has come from the realization that our divide in this country is not merely sociological, that the other side is playing for keeps, and will stop at nothing to win. It is exacerbated by the realization that potential courageous opposition – the church – is asleep at the wheel. And my turmoil is unresolved by the realization that the tactics we will face as a remnant defending western civilization and the American experiment in the decades ahead will not, and cannot, be reciprocated by our own side. If we forfeit a quest for civility and decency, we will have already lost.
Let me stipulate up front that I do not believe that the church needs to take sides in the partisan guerilla warfare that characterizes our politics today. On the contrary, the church needs to be a voice of moral clarity and witness in a culture that is becoming increasingly fractured. That means first of all, that we need to preach the unvarnished gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners. It means second of all, that we need to call balls and strikes when speaking about how God’s truth comes to bear upon the world we live in—including how it comes to bear on political matters. We don’t show partiality. We must show absolute unwavering allegiance to a higher kingdom and calling.
How do we do that? In particular, how do pastors do that? How do they avoid becoming the “humanism-soaked sponges” that Bahnsen decries?
There are many things that could be said in answer to this question, but I want to say what ought to be the first and most obvious thing. Don’t preach the newspaper. Don’t preach whatever fad happens to be taking over the culture at any given time. Preach the word. Preach it verse by verse, line by line, chapter by chapter, book by book. If you want heaven to set the agenda of your message, then let the Bible set the agenda of your preaching. If you will do that, you will be more relevant than ever. If you fail that, you will be more irrelevant than ever. And no amount of flashy bells and whistles will save you from that irrelevance if you fail to preach the word.
“1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
–2 Timothy 4:1-5
This week we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Dr. R. Albert Mohler’s tenure as the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am so grateful for his leadership at Southern and in the Southern Baptist Convention writ large. I am more grateful than I can tell for his influence in my own life. I would not be doing what I am doing today if it weren’t for him.
The faculty and the board of trustees had a banquet to honor the anniversary on Monday night, and the video above was premiered at that event. It was a special evening, and here is one piece of it we can share with you.
Congratulations, Dr. Mohler. And thank you.
The board of trustees at Azusa Pacific University have reinstated a ban on homosexual relationships among students. The trustees released a letter earlier today announcing a return to their original policy. Read it below.
This is good news for Azusa. There will be tough days ahead as they still have students who support homosexual relationships and who will be disappointed by this news. Nevertheless, the trustees made the right decision. Let’s hope and pray they stick to it. Continue Reading →
Over the weekend, I read the news about Azusa Pacific University—an “evangelical” school in California that is removing its ban on homosexual relationships among students. The campus newspaper reports:
Effective this fall 2018 semester, Azusa Pacific removed language from its student standard of conduct agreement that prohibited public LGBTQ+ relationships for students on campus. As an evangelical institution, APU still adheres to the Biblical principles of human sexuality—the belief that “sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman” and it remains a cornerstone of the university’s foundation.
The paper claims that the ban on homosexual relationships has been removed even as the school still maintains “biblical principles of human sexuality.” If that seems confusing, that’s because it is. An APU alumnus attempts to explain the change:
“We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same-sex romantic relationships while it is impossible to enforce or monitor [whether other students are remaining abstinent],” Green said. “Queer students are just as able to have romanticized relationships that abide by APU’s rules. The code used falsely assumed that same-sex romances always involved sexual behavior. This stigmatization causes harm to our community, especially those serious about their Christian faith.”
The students spoke, and the administrative board listened. Associate Dean of Students Bill Fiala, Ph.D., said that as the board evaluated their code of conduct, they wanted to be attentive to equity.
“The changes that occured[sic] to the handbooks around sexual behavior creates one standard for all undergraduate students, as opposed to differential standards for different groups,” Fiala said. “The change that happened with the code of conduct is still in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution. The language changed, but the spirit didn’t. Our spirit is still a conservative, evangelical perspective on human sexuality.”
Notice how the school is now parsing things up. The school’s standards of conduct now simply ban “sexual intimacy outside the context of marriage,” where marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman (10.1 Inappropriate Sexual Behavior). As long as students avoid “sexual intimacy” outside marriage, they are free to pursue whatever romantic relationships they please—gay, straight, or otherwise. In other words, homosexual romance is permitted so long as no “sexual intimacy” is involved.
Despite the school’s claim otherwise, there are major problems with this policy, and it’s stunning that the administration doesn’t see them. First, the school reduces sexual sin to “sexual intimacy” outside marriage without defining what “sexual intimacy” consists of. Obviously intercourse would be prohibited, but what about kissing? Holding hands? What exactly is being prohibited here for those in homosexual relationships?
And that raises a second problem. In an attempt at “equity,” the statement fails to reflect biblical distinctions between homosexual relationships and heterosexual ones. It seems that the statement is open to couples expressing public displays of affection—holding hands, hugging, etc. On its own terms, it would also allow gay couples to hold hands, hug, etc. along with a range of other public and private displays of affection. Anyone who thinks this is a Christian approach to relationships doesn’t understand Christianity.
Which brings us to problem number three. The Lord Jesus himself teaches us that it is not merely immoral sexual behavior that is sinful but also immoral sexual desires:
Matt. 5:27-30 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus says that it is sin to look at a married woman in order to desire her sexually. And there is literally hell to pay if immoral desires are not kept in check. Sexual holiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of deeds committed but of desires felt. Yet Azusa is saying that it is okay for romantic homosexual relationships to happen on campus so long as there is no sex. Do they not see how this contradicts what Jesus teaches us about sexual holiness as a matter of the heart?
The fundamental problem here is that Azusa has adopted a policy that fails to make a moral distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Even when abstinent, they are not morally equivalent. A heterosexual relationship can and may have the covenant of marriage as its aim and goal. A homosexual relationship can never have marriage as its aim and goal. That means that a homosexual relationship can never be holy or pleasing to God. By definition, it is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27).
One more item is problematic. The school’s standards of conduct prohibit students from cohabitating with the opposite sex (9.0 Cohabitation). Yet students of the same-sex are still permitted to cohabitate—presumably including those that are in homosexual romantic relationships. Does Azusa believe that it is good for same-sex attracted students to be cohabitating while experiencing sexual desires for one another? What an unwise and confusing and destructive message the school is sending.
The problems in this new policy are legion, but on the whole this cannot be squared with a faithful Christian sexual morality. In the name of “equity” it abandons historic Christian teaching about homosexuality. It’s a capitulation to error that is neither faithful to Christ nor good for students. This policy contradicts Azusa’s claim to be a Christian institution. I hope and pray that they see this, and soon.