Archive | Theology/Bible

President Reagan’s stunning statement of pro-life conviction

Cowboy, Ronald Reagan, Cowboy Hat, Hat, PresidentSanctity of Human Life Sunday is an annual observance held on the Sunday closest to anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion (January 22). The tradition started in 1984 on the eleventh anniversary of Roe.

President Reagan issued a proclamation marking the day, which was held on January 22, 1984. Since then, Democrat presidents have tended not to mark the day with official proclamations, while Republicans have. Nevertheless, the observance has gone on in churches across the country every year with or without the proclamation. I will be marking the day in my sermon tomorrow at our church.

Tomorrow’s observance happens to fall on the exact anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I thought it would be worth the time to revisit President Reagan’s original proclamation. It is a stunning statement of pro-life conviction, and it is cast in terms that are very rare today from people in high office. The text is below. Continue Reading →

Should we avoid praying for Donald Trump by name in public worship?

Mike Kinman (rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA) explains why his church will not pray for Donald Trump by name in their public services, even though they prayed for President Obama by name. He writes:

We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people – particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety.

This presents a challenge. We are rightly charged with praying for our leaders … but we are also charged with keeping the worshipping community, while certainly not challenge-free, a place of safety from harm. As I have said before, for some it could be as if we demanded a battered woman pray for her abuser by name. It’s not that the abuser doesn’t need prayer – certainly the opposite – but prayer should never be a trauma-causing act.

The question is – does saying the president’s name in prayer in this way compromise the safety of the worshipping community? Let me be clear that I believe this is a high bar … much more than “I disagree with the president” or even “the president deeply offends me.” This is the level of compromising the safety of the worshipping community.

The Bible does command Christians to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), but there is no requirement that we must do so by name. So I don’t want to go beyond what scripture says about how explicit our prayers must be. I don’t think we have to say every leader’s name in order to pray for them faithfully in public worship. Having said that, I have a few concerns about the rationale given by the rector above:

First, I am skeptical about this reluctance to name someone whom we will be referring to anyway. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that the president-elect is as scary as some people fear. I can’t help but think about the Harry Potter stories in which Harry is the only person willing to say the name “Voldemort.” No one else would utter “Voldemort” because the mere mention of his name made them fearful and anxious. Harry stood out because he knew no such fear. His willingness to say the name contrasted his courage with everyone else’s fear. Likewise, could a reluctance to say Trump’s name be catering to fear? Shouldn’t the gospel be casting out such fear?  Because the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, we are going to pray for the president one way or the other. That means that we are still going to be referring to Mr. Trump in public worship even if we don’t say the name “Trump.” We are still going to be drawing the same person to people’s minds. If we treat him as “him who shall not be named,” I am concerned that we might communicate fear rather than courage to congregants.

Second, we have been praying for President Obama by name at our church. If we were to avoid praying for President Trump by name, I don’t know how that wouldn’t be perceived as a partisan statement (at least by some). Shouldn’t we avoid the appearance of partisanship in our prayers for our leaders?  If your tradition has been to pray generically for “the president,” then no problem continuing that in the new administration. If your tradition has been to pray for the president by name, then people will notice when you stop doing that for the new president. And they may view it as a political statement.

Third, “trigger warnings” have a poor track-record in institutions of higher education, where they have become ubiquitous. In colleges and universities, there is growing evidence that this sensitivity to “triggers” has done little to educate or to shape the character of students in positive ways. In fact, the opposite seems to have taken place, and much speech has been shut down and squelched by hyper-sensitivity to “triggers.” I can’t imagine how it would be helpful to cultivate such censorious sensitivities within the church. One could make the case that the Bible itself is just one giant “trigger.” Are we going to self-censor the “triggers” from scripture too? Many churches already do that, even though they may not admit it in so many words. And that is not a faithful path for any congregation to go down.

There is a Proverb that says this: “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). Sensitivity to triggers seems to cater to those who are constantly fleeing, even when there is no real danger afoot. If we want to teach God’s people to be as “bold as a lion,” avoiding Trump’s name is unlikely to help. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

Should Churches Discipline Gay-Affirming Members?

Earlier today, I participated  in a debate for a radio program about homosexuality and church discipline. The program is “Up for Debate with Julie Roys,” and three of us were debating this question: “Should Churches Discipline Gay-Affirming Members?” I argued that they should. The other two guys argued that they shouldn’t. Here’s the description of the show from the website:

With same-sex marriage becoming increasingly common, more church-going Christians are affirming same-sex relationships.  Should churches discipline, and even excommunicate, these believers – or overlook the offense?  This Saturday on Up For Debate, Julie Roys will discuss this issue with Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who advocates discipline and even excommunication.  Challenging his perspective is Hector Sabido, a pastor who advocates a more tolerant approach — and Tim Otto, a gay, celibate member of a so-called “Third Way” church.

The audio of the debate is now available. If you are interested in listening to our discussion, you can download it here or listen below.

The eternal generation of the Son is the biblicist position (and always has been)

Lee Irons has produced a substantive and persuasive response to Kevin Giles’s claim that the Fathers never understood MONOGENES to denote eternal generation. Lee’s work is heady stuff and unfolds in five separate posts. But it is worth the read if you can track with the Greek. I think Lee establishes that the Fathers did in fact view MONOGENES as an exegetical linchpin for eternal generation. The evidence he provides is quite compelling (even overwhelming). Here are links to all five posts.

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4  /  Part 5

In his final post, Lee makes a crucial point that evangelicals would do well to consider. Many evangelicals have treated the doctrine of eternal generation as a kind of speculative theological deduction. This posture is due in large part to a misunderstanding of MONOGENES. Lee shows that this is mistaken: Continue Reading →

Dane Ortlund’s hard-hitting review of N. T. Wright’s new book on the cross.

Dane Ortlund has posted a review of N. T. Wright’s recent book The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. This is as hard-hitting a review as I have ever read. Among other things, Ortlund writes:

I can’t review this book by trotting out a bunch of virtues and then saying one or two things that could have been stronger and concluding that it’s a nice book that everyone should read. The problems with this book, unlike the majority of Wright’s other books, so outweigh the good things that the net effect of reading it is spiritually dangerous. Many college students will read this book for their understanding of the crucifixion. I wish they wouldn’t…

I’ve been strongly critical of this book because Wright is otherwise one of our (our) strongest authors and because there is so much that is helpful in his corpus that it is frustrating to have such a weak book at this stage in his career. And it is sad that many younger people may read this as their first substantive book on the meaning of Christ’s death.

At the end of the day here’s the question to ask of a book that claims to be a popular level book on Christ’s crucifixion. A street-level test for someone trying to track with Wright in this book would be: If your college-aged son or daughter came to you in abject distress at their idolatry or sinfulness or addictive behavior or enslavement to the world’s priorities, and sought your counsel, what comfort would you have for them according to this book? Beneath all the clever cuteness about how all reformed evangelicals have been asking the wrong questions, after all the ornate assembling of the Bible’s storyline, what is the actual comfort of Christianity for your beloved child? What can you give them? What can you say? This book does not give you much to latch onto. And that is a problem, a problem of a fundamental and not peripheral nature, especially for a book pitched at a general Christian population.

Read the rest here.

A Plan to Read through the Bible in 2017

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 →

Are counter-imperial readings of the Bible about to make a comeback?

Over the weekend, Mike Bird made a canny prediction on Twitter:

If you are not familiar with “empire criticism,” it is an approach to reading the Bible (especially the New Testament) that approaches Scripture as a “coded” critique of imperial regimes. According to this approach, those who are reading the biblical text carefully will notice parallels between gospel terminology and that of the first century Caesar cult. When read in that light, it is clear that the gospel is meant to oppose imperial regimes–especially the mighty American imperial regime that is afflicting the world. Continue Reading →

Charles Ryrie’s rare Bible collection sells for $7.3 million dollars at Sotheby’s auction

When Dr. Charles Ryrie passed away earlier this year, I mentioned that he had owned a vast collection of rare Bibles, including an assortment of ancient Greek manuscripts. Dr. Ryrie had invested significant resources in amassing his private collection. For example, one of the Bibles that I once saw in person was a first edition King James Bible published in 1611. This particular edition is one of only nine copies in the world. Dr. Ryrie purchased this Bible at an auction where he outbid the University of Texas Library to obtain it. Like I said, significant resources.

Dan Wallace has just written that Ryrie’s collection was sold at auction this week by Sotheby’s. Wallace attended the auction hoping to obtain something from the collection. But there were deep pockets in the room who outbid him, and he came away empty handed. In any case, Wallace’s account of the auction is fascinating, and you can read it here. My unconfirmed hunch is that a lot of these items will end up on display at the forthcoming Museum of the Bible.

Sotheby’s has the entire collection posted on their website and what each piece ended up selling for. Some of the items sold in the tens of thousands of dollars, others in the hundreds of thousands, and at least one sold for over a million dollars. Ryrie’s Wycliffe New Testament sold for $1.7 million dollars. There were 195 items up for auction, and together they sold for $7,341,818. It’s incredible that such a valuable collection was owned by an evangelical theologian.

It’s an impressive library, and you can see the collection with hi-def images here.

Does the congregation have a role in “appointing” elders?

There are many evangelical churches who view their elders as a self-appointing, self-perpetuating leadership body in the church. They do not view the congregation as having much of a role in the selection and ordination of pastors. For them, congregational votes and involvement in the process are American cultural artifacts read into the biblical text, not norms emerging from the witness of scripture.

One of the texts often cited as evidence for this view is Titus 1:5, a text in which the apostle Paul gives some very specific instructions to the lead pastor in Crete—Titus. It says this:

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.

At first blush, the situation looks straightforward. An apostle instructs a pastor to appoint other pastors. The pattern for installing church leadership, therefore, should be the same for us. Pastors identify and install other pastors. This biblical case was once compelling to me, and it used to be my view.

I am now convinced, however, that this view is incorrect. I won’t rehash all the reasons for this in a single blog post, but I do want to explain how Titus 1:5 fits in with a congregational approach to appointing church leaders. I just delivered a sermon about this to my church yesterday, and here’s what I told them.1

The book of Acts reveals that Paul had a certain pattern that he followed in planting churches during his mission to the Gentiles. That pattern is described succinctly in Acts 14:21-23:

21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Paul’s pattern involves at least three items:

  • Converting Sinners: He makes converts through preaching the gospel.
  • Strengthening Believers: He strengthens new believers through discipleship and instruction.
  • Appointing Leadership: He appoints pastors/elders in every church to carry on the work after he is gone. (Notice that it’s plural elders in every single church, which means each church should welcome a plurality of elders, cf. Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Thes. 5:12, 13; 1 Tim. 5:17).

When Paul says that he left Titus in Crete to “set in order what remains,” he means that he left him there to set in order what was still undone. They still hadn’t finished the third and final item in Paul’s church-planting pattern—appointing pastors/elders. And so Paul leaves it to Titus to get this done.

Yes, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders, but he doesn’t specify in this text how this appointment process was supposed to unfold. This single term “appoint” does not by itself reveal the entire picture. Paul is silent about such details in this text (as is Luke in Acts 14), but there are other texts which help us to see more clearly the apostolic pattern for appointing qualified candidates to official church office.

In Acts 6:3, the apostles are discussing how they will appoint qualified men to serve the church in Jerusalem. It is widely believed that the office of deacon is grounded in what unfolds in this text. As such, the Apostles are establishing a pattern for appointment to official church office. What do the apostles model for us? They turn to the whole “congregation” and say this:

3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint
[same word as Titus 1:5] to this duty.

The word for “appoint” is the same one that we find in Titus 1:5. But the apostolic “appointing” is the end of a process that includes the congregation. The Bible says that the “whole congregation” chose the Seven and brought them to the apostles (Acts 6:5-6). And then the apostles laid hands on them (Acts 6:6). So the process unfolds like this:

  • Church leadership recognizes a need for an office to be filled.
  • Church leadership calls on the congregation to recognize and select qualified candidates.
  • Church leadership prays and lays hands on the candidates to install them into office.

I think we should read Paul’s words to Titus in Titus 1:5 in light of this apostolic pattern for “appointment” to church office. The congregation’s role in recognizing and appointing church leadership has warrant in scripture—indeed direct apostolic warrant. Thus there is a role both for the elders and for the congregation in appointing church officers. Congregational votes, therefore, aren’t a vestige of American cultural expectations. They are simply one way of discerning who the congregation recognizes as qualified office-holders in the church.

It is important to remember, however, that congregational rule does not mean congregational willfulness. In congregational churches like my own, we aren’t voting on things because we want to carry out the will of the congregation. We vote on things because we want to carry out the will of God. This polity only works if every member is a born again disciple of King Jesus—that is, if every member is walking under the Lordship of Jesus. We are not trying to follow our own will but God’s will, and that should be reflected in what we agree together to do.

That means that every single member has a responsibility to know the qualifications for church leadership and only select those that meet the qualifications. If the congregation ever forsakes that responsibility, the church risks drifting into weakness and perhaps even into false teaching. So every single church member has a special responsibility to know and follow the will of God in their role as a member of the church. And that role includes the appointment of elders.


1 For many of these insights, see George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 287-88.

Deep in the Weeds on MONOGENES and Eternal Generation

Last summer, I did something that I had never taken the time to do before. I read the Nicene Creed in Greek. Of course I was very familiar with the English version of the Creed before then, but not so much the Greek. One thing that is clear in the Greek is that the Nicene fathers were interpreting scriptural terms in saying that Jesus is the “only begotten” (MONOGENES) and “begotten not made” (GENNAO). These terms derive from John’s writings, and the Creed clearly interprets MONOGENES to denote “generation” or “begottenness.”

That the Son is “begotten not made” and “begotten before all ages” means that the Son’s “only-begottenness” is eternal. Thus the doctrine of eternal generation emerges in the Creed not only as the church’s confession but also as an interpretation of specific biblical texts (John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 1 John 4:9). To be sure, the doctrine of eternal generation has a broad biblical basis and does not rely solely on MONOGENES. Nevertheless, the Nicene Fathers feature MONOGENES in the Creed as an exegetical linchpin for the doctrine. Continue Reading →

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