Archive | Christianity

Who can teach in a seminary? Men, women, both?

Last night Desiring God posted a new episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast in which John Piper answers the following question from a listener:

“Dear Pastor John, I’m a seminary student at an orthodox but interdenominational school in the United States. I share your complementarian understanding of God’s design for male and female roles and relationships in the home and church. On that basis, I have recently doubted whether or not my seminary ought to allow women to teach pastors in training. What do you think? Should women be hired as seminary professors? What is your best case?”

In response, Piper makes the case that women should not be hired as seminary professors. Why? Because the seminary professors who train future pastors ought themselves to be qualified as pastors. The calling of a seminary professor is not merely to download information. Piper argues,

“The proper demand on the seminary teacher is to be an example, a mentor, a guide, an embodiment of the pastoral office in preparing men to fill the pastoral office… The attempt to distinguish the seminary teaching role from the pastoral teaching role in such a way that the biblical restriction to men does not apply to the seminary teaching results in a serious inconsistency… If it is unbiblical to have women as pastors, how can it be biblical to have women who function in formal teaching and mentoring capacities to train and fit pastors for the very calling from which the mentors themselves are excluded?”

I think Piper has made a compelling case here—one that is consistent with a complementarian view of gender roles and one that I have long agreed with. Moreover, it’s a position that is not new. It is precisely the case that many other complementarians have made over the years.

For example, my own denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) was facing this very issue back in 2007. As a result, the Southern Baptist Texan1 interviewed presidents of SBC seminaries asking them to describe their seminary’s practice regarding female professors. They all answered basically in the same way. There are some areas in which they would not hire women to teach.

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote:

“We have identified certain positions that closely parallel the office of the pastor, the elder, the overseer, that we would only look to call and hire men for those particular areas. Those areas include preaching, pastoral ministries, theology, and biblical studies. I could not imagine that we would hire a woman to sit in one of those professorial positions as an instructor over men.”

Likewise, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded:

“We believed it was right in accordance with biblical teaching that the faculty members who would model the pastorate in the teaching of disciplines specifically for pastors would be qualified by Scripture to be pastors. This was not just an abstract theory. This also was what was advised to us in terms of the necessity of specifying which teaching positions must in all cases be qualified in this manner. So we defined all teaching positions in the school of theology as of necessity to be pastor-qualified.”

There were others who answered similarly, but you get the gist. All of these answers presume not only a certain job description for the theology professor but also a certain purpose for the theological seminary. The seminary exists to serve churches, and for that reason their primary mission is (or at least should be) the training of pastors for churches. In the core pastoral disciplines (preaching, pastoral ministries, theology, and biblical studies), the best approach is to employ professors who qualify for the pastoral office.

If seminaries really wish to serve actual churches in this way, then they must not adopt a teaching ministry that undermines the ecclesiastical norms of the churches they serve. The contrary view—which is based on the observation that the seminary is not the church—misunderstands what the purpose of the seminary is.

Piper’s conclusion crystallizes the issue:

“The issue here at the seminary level is largely the nature of the seminary teaching office. What do we aim for it to be? Is it conceived as an example and model and embodiment of pastoral vision, or not? That will lead us in how we staff our seminary faculty.”

Sadly, many theological educators and seminaries have lost sight of the primary mission of training pastors for churches, but John Piper has not. Piper’s vision of the purpose of a seminary is the correct one, and that is why his answer to the question posed above is correct as well.

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1 Gary Ledbetter, “SBC seminaries show similarities, diversity regarding female profs,” Southern Baptist Texan (February 22, 2007): 3, 7.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

Should Christians take one another to court? (Short answer: no)

Jesus says that the world will recognize his followers by how his followers love one another. If people look at us and see us resolving our disputes and putting one another’s needs before our own, if they see us trying to outdo one another in honoring one another, if they see us weeping with those among us who weep and rejoicing with those among us who rejoice; if they see that, they will know that we love one another. And they will know that we are who we say we are—disciples of the King Jesus.

But if they see us fighting with one another, gossiping about one another, complaining about one another, trying to take advantage of one another and to get our fair share of the pie from one another, and if they see us trying to exact a pound of flesh from one another; what is the watching world going to conclude about us? Are they going to say, “Wow, maybe there is something to this Jesus thing.” Or will they say, “Those people are just as pathetic as the rest of us. What a bunch of phony baloney that Christianity is.”

Do you think it matters whether or not we love one another in the church? Jesus says it does: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). If you think it matters (and Jesus says it does), then our ability to resolve disputes and conflicts among ourselves takes on existential importance for the mission of the church. The world will either see Jesus in our conflicts or they will not. Which will it be?

This is precisely the situation Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. In these eleven verses, Paul addresses members within the Corinthian church who had let their disputes get totally out of hand. It was so bad that they were hauling one another off to secular law courts. And you might think that this is a bit of a change of subject from the previous chapter on church discipline, but it’s not. In chapter 5 he’s dealing with the church’s failure to be the church, and he’s doing the same thing in chapter 6. In chapter 5, they were failing to be disciplined and holy. In chapter 6, they are failing to resolve their own internal disputes. And in both chapters, these failures harm the witness of the church to those on the outside.

In these eleven verses, Paul tells the Corinthians not to be hauling one another into secular lawcourts. And his reasons boil down to this:

I. The Saints Are Competent to Judge (1-3)
II. The Saints Are Compromised by Lawsuits (4-8)
III. The Saints Are Called into a New Identity (9-11)

To hear the rest of this unpacked you can download the audio here or listen below.

Is there a Christian justification for visiting prostitutes?

I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians at my church over the last year, and last week’s message was on 1 Cor. 6:12-20, in which Paul confronts men in the Corinthian church who were not only visiting prostitutes but who were also defending their right to do so as Christians. These men were rationalizing their sin by appealing to Christian freedom and to what they perceived to be the purpose of their physical bodies. Paul confronts their self-justifications with three truths.

I. Christian Freedom Has Limits (6:12).
II. The Resurrection Has Implications (6:13-18a)
III. The Body Has a Purpose (6:18b-20)

This passage is a case-study in how we tend to rationalize and excuse not only sexual sin but all sin. You can download the message here or listen to it below.

A Plan to Read through the Bible in 2018

In years past, my customary mode for reading through the Bible every year involved starting in Genesis and reading right through to Revelation. I estimated that about four chapters per day would get me through in under a year’s time. The method worked reasonably well, but it wasn’t without its problems. Sometimes I would miss a day (or days) and get behind, and I had no way to keep up with my progress. I needed a schedule so that I could keep myself accountable for finishing in a year.

In 2009, therefore, I did something I had never done before. I followed a Bible reading plan. I adopted Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Calendar for Daily Readings. It provided the schedule that I needed. It also outlined daily readings from different sections of the Bible. On any given day, I would be reading something from an Old Testament narrative, something from the prophets, and something from the New Testament. Although this plan provided the accountability that I needed, I found it difficult to be reading from three to four different biblical books every day. I know that not everyone is like me, but that approach lacked the focus that my brain requires. I missed reading the Bible in its canonical arrangement and focusing on one book at a time. I wished for a schedule that would go from Genesis to Revelation in canonical order. Continue Reading →

A drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge has a startling conversation with the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Jacob is damned in death for his misdeeds in life, and he appears to warn Scrooge that he is headed for the same fate. Scrooge resists the suggestion that Jacob’s life was damnable. Scrooge understands that if Jacob’s life is damnable, then so is his own. So this exchange ensues:

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Well done, Mr. Dickens. Well done. Lord, help us to understand what is the comprehensive ocean of our business.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Some personal reflections on the ministry of R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

The news just went out that theologian R. C. Sproul has passed away. I cannot overstate what his influence has been over multiple generations of evangelicals. I was not personal friends with Dr. Sproul and never had the pleasure even to meet him (I am eager to hear the stories of those who did know him). Nevertheless, his ministry has had an enormous influence on me personally, not least because I discovered his ministry right when I needed it most.

I was in college in the mid-90’s when I first heard of R. C. Sproul. In those days, there was no “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” no Gospel Coalition, no T4G. But there was Sproul and Ligonier ministries. Dr. Sproul was reformed when reformed wasn’t cool—at least it wasn’t where I grew up in the deep south. Resources were limited in those days, and that is why Dr. Sproul’s ministry meant so much to me.

There are four signal moments that stand out to me from that time: Continue Reading →

Are Christians crying wolf about mistreatment and marginalization?

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian alleges that Christians are crying wolf with claims of marginalization and persecution and that those claims need to be vigorously challenged. Why have liberals failed to challenge them? She answers:

Why are we reluctant to challenge such claims? It’s the result of a tacit social contract, an uneasy truce after the 20th-century wars over science and the role of religion in the public sphere. According to this social contract, institutions outside the religious sphere will not use scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs, so long as those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims that extend far beyond the walls of the church.

This paragraph is astonishing on a number of levels:

1. Allen-Ebrahimian claims there is a “tacit social contract” in which secularists will not use “scientific methods to criticize religious beliefs.” Really? I can hardly believe that she would make this claim. Has she read any of the contemporary debates between creationists, evolutionists, and intelligent design advocates? The writings of the new atheists? To be sure, each side can give as good as it gets. But to say that Christian belief has been free to operate without scientific critique is just incredible.

2. Without realizing it, Allen-Ebrahimian exemplifies the very reason conservative Christians are concerned about marginalization and mistreatment. She says that Christians are free to practice their belief within the walls of the church but that they dare not do so “beyond the walls of the church.” Right there is the problem. It’s the difference between freedom of worship and freedom of religion. Freedom of worship relegates religious observance to the church house. Freedom of religion—our nation’s first freedom in the Bill of Rights—allows believers to practice their faith outside the walls of the church in their work, community, etc. So for example, if a Christian baker doesn’t want to participate in a gay wedding, freedom of religion says he shouldn’t be forced to do so. But the freedom of worship folks believe that he can bake cakes however he wants at church, but outside the church the state can use its coercive power to force him to violate his conscience and participate in gay weddings. It’s easy for Allen-Ebrahim to say “nothing to see here, move along.” She’s not the one facing public sanctions for believing what Christians have always believed about marriage.

3. Allen-Ebrahimian claims that Christians can believe what they want so long as “those beliefs are not combined with sweeping political claims.” This is staggering. Christianity is nothing if not a sweeping political claim. We believe that Jesus is Lord and that Caesar is not. That is why we sing at this time of year that he is “King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever.” We don’t believe these words to be pie in the sky. We really do believe that our highest allegiance is to a crucified and raised Jewish man from Nazareth. We believe that he will judge the nations in righteousness, including the United States. We also believe that there will be sorrow for everyone who comes up short at that judgment. Those truths have sweeping implications for the way we live our lives now as citizens. And there are sweeping political implications for the way we view human dignity, justice, war, and a host of other public issues.

Christians aren’t crying wolf or being paranoid about the challenges to religious liberty that are increasing nationwide. They are happening whether Allen-Ebrahimian acknowledges them or not. And her wish to banish religious observance from the public square is precisely why we are concerned.

Is the Pope right about the Lord’s Prayer?

Last week, The New York Times reported that Pope Francis wishes to change the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer. From the article:

Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit.

I think the exegetical case for this change is pretty weak. The words and phrases simply don’t mean what Pope Francis wants them to mean. I agree with Tony Esolen, who writes: Continue Reading →

The Lesser of Two Evils Does Not Vindicate Evil

Sohrab Ahmari has written a penetrating op-ed for The New York Times titled, “Supporting Roy Moore Is a Devil’s Bargain.” I agree with just about everything in this piece, but I want to highlight one part of it that evangelicals would do well to pay attention to.

Ahmari points out that many evangelical voters felt that the binary choice of the 2016 election meant that voting for a morally compromised candidate was necessary in order to preserve the Supreme Court and to advance the social conservative cause. And then Ahmari highlights this defense from evangelical Trump supporters:

Well, respond the Trumpian conservatives, our vote is just the opener. We will call our leaders’ moves as we see them — the good and the bad.

Except they don’t. They might take issue with this or that White House policy. But they rarely if ever call out the president’s moral degradations. And such criticism is the only kind that truly irritates Mr. Trump.

This point needs to be underlined. I understand why some evangelicals felt they had no choice but to support a compromised candidate because of the binary nature of the general election. I disagree with that calculation for reasons that I made well-known throughout 2015-2016. I still disagree with it. Having said that, I understand and am sympathetic with those who felt constrained by the poor alternatives before them. I disagree with the decision, but I get it. I really do.

But the choice to support a candidate that one knows is morally compromised also brings with it an obligation to be morally consistent. You still have to call balls and strikes with your morally compromised candidate. The lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting is not a vindication of the “lesser” evil. The so-called “lesser” evil is after all still evil. And evil doesn’t become good simply because someone else’s evil is perceived to be greater.

And that means that you cannot pretend that a politician’s obvious moral degradations are irrelevant. Nor can you turn a blind eye and pretend that they don’t exist. In short, you have to recognize evil as evil and cannot treat it as something else. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

Nor does the lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting relieve the Christian of his obligation to speak and bear witness to truth. Why? Because such a Christian now has the burden of proof that his principles are not beholden to earthly partisan interests but to the eternal and unchanging word of God.

That means that when the president says or does something morally bankrupt, it is wrong for his supporters to pretend that he didn’t. It also means that when a party fields a morally compromised candidate, it is wrong for Christians in that party to turn a blind eye to the moral degradation in their midst.

The sins of another do not justify your own. Likewise, to call out the sins of the other political party while ignoring those in your own is rank hypocrisy. “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17).

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Recommended: “How to Live Under an Unqualified President” by John Piper

Christian Baker Jack Phillips Gets His Day in Court

Today, Jack Phillips will finally get is day in court–the Supreme Court. The State of Colorado is attempting to force Phillips, a Christian baker, to use his artistic gifts to create a cake for a gay wedding celebration. Phillips says that creating such a cake would violate his religious beliefs. Phillips is not singling out gay weddings as uniquely objectionable. He has also declined to make Halloween cakes and cakes with risqué messages for bachelor parties. Why? Because those messages also violate his religious beliefs.

Today the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the question. The Court will decide (probably in June) whether the state of Colorado can force Jack Phillips to create a message that contradicts his beliefs. What will they decide? That remains to be seen. Until they do, however, it is important to keep in mind what this case is and is not about.

I first wrote about this case over four years ago, and I have been following it very closely ever since. In that time, I have observed a raft of news reports that obscure the facts of the case. For example, The New York Times reported last summer:

The case will be a major test of a clash between laws that ban businesses open to the public from discriminating based on sexual orientation and claims of religious freedom. Around the nation, businesses like bakeries, florists and photography studios have said, so far with little success, that forcing them to serve gay couples violates their constitutional rights.

This paragraph is actually incorrect. Phillips is not discriminating against anyone because of their sexual orientation. He is not refusing service to gay couples because they are gay. In fact, he serves gay customers all the time. He is perfectly happy and willing to serve gay customers in his shop.

Earlier this year, USA Today and Religion News Service ran an article headlined, “Supreme Court will hear religious liberty challenge to gay weddings.” This one really distorts the nature of the case. Phillips is not challenging the legality of gay weddings. He’s challenging Colorado’s attempt to force him into participating in one (RNS has since corrected the headline).

And that is the real issue. Phillips does not think the state has the right to coerce him to create art that contradicts his faith. Creating a cake for the purposes of celebrating a same-sex wedding would violate his faith. And that is what he is objecting to.

You will read press reports and hear news stories claiming that he wishes to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That is just simply not true.

How will this case ultimately be decided? The decision is likely to come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the man who was the deciding vote in both Obergefell and Windsor. David French explains the religious liberty peril before us:

If Justice Kennedy views this case primarily through the LGBT lens, then the First Amendment may well lose. Kennedy is obviously proud of his long line of LGBT-friendly precedents, and that pride has even led him to a relatively rare First Amendment misstep, so it will be critical to explain to him (and the other justices, of course) that this isn’t a case about “discrimination” but rather about forced speech. Framing matters, and the other side will wrongly frame the case as raising the specter of Jim Crow. The right framing is found in the First Amendment.

This case will likely be a watershed for how free speech and religious liberty claims are treated in the future. If the government can force Jack Phillips to create a message that contradicts his beliefs, then the state can coerce anyone to violate their conscience. Free speech and religious liberty are not just for Christians but for everyone.

If the court gets this right, it will have gone a long way to upholding our first freedom in the Bill of Rights. If the court gets this wrong, it will have gone a long way to undermine it.

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