Archive | Theology/Bible

Pursue God, Not Pornography

Pornography is such a pervasive evil. It is eviscerating our civilization and even our churches. I continue to be burdened that this ubiquitous evil in our culture has become such a ubiquitous evil in our pews. That was the occasion for my message yesterday in the chapel of Southern Seminary and Boyce College. View it above or listen below.

D. A. Carson warns against affirming gay marriage as a “Christian” view

D. A. Carson has written an essay for Themelios explaining “Subtle Ways to Abandon the Authority of Scripture in Our Lives.” Among other examples, he lists Zondervan’s recent Counterpoints volume which has two essays arguing that homosexual immorality is compatible with scripture, and two essays arguing that it isn’t. I’ve commented on the Counterpoints volume twice in this space (here and here), and I share Carson’s concerns. Here is an excerpt from Carson’s essay:

Recently Zondervan published Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church; this book bills these two views as “affirming” and “non-affirming,” and two authors support each side. Both sides, we are told, argue “from Scripture.” If the “affirming” side was once viewed as a stance that could not be held by confessional evangelicals, this book declares that not only the non-affirming stance but the affirming stance are represented within the evangelical camp, so the effect of this book is to present alternative evangelical positions, one that thinks the Bible prohibits homosexual marriage, and the other that embraces it…

Inevitably, there have been some articulate voices that insist that adopting an “affirming” stance on homosexual marriage does not jeopardize one’s salvation and should not place such a person outside the evangelical camp. For example, in his essay “An Evangelical Approach to Sexual Ethics,” Steven Holmes concludes, “Sola Fide. I have to stand on that. Because the Blood flowed where I walk and where we all walk. One perfect sacrifice complete, once for all offered for all the world, offering renewal to all who will put their faith in Him. And if that means me, in all my failures and confusions, then it also means my friends who affirm same-sex marriage, in all their failures and confusions. If my faithful and affirming friends have no hope of salvation, then nor do I.” But this is an abuse of the evangelical insistence on sola fide. I do not know any Christian who thinks that salvation is appropriated by means of faith plus an affirmation of heterosexuality. Faith alone is the means by which sola gratia is appropriated. Nevertheless, that grace is so powerful it transforms. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone issues in a new direction under the lordship of King Jesus. Those who are sold out to the “acts of the flesh … will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19–21). The apostle Paul makes a similar assertion in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers not men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

In the context of Paul’s thought, he is not saying that without sinless perfection there is no entrance into the kingdom, but he is saying that such sins—whether greed or adultery or homosexual practice or whatever—no longer characterize the washed, sanctified, and justified. In other words, it is one thing to affirm with joy that sola fide means that we appropriate the merits of Christ and his cross by faith alone, not by our holiness—that holiness is the product of salvation, not its condition—and it is quite another thing to say that someone may self-consciously affirm the non-sinfulness of what God has declared to be sin, of what God insists excludes a person from the kingdom, and say that it doesn’t matter because sola fide will get them in anyway. The Scriptures make a lot of room for believers who slip and slide in “failures and confusions,” as Holmes put it, but who rest in God’s grace and receive it in God-given faith; they do not leave a lot of room for those who deny they are sinning despite what God says. Sola gratia and sola fide are always accompanied by sola Scriptura, by solus Christus, and by soli Deo gloria.

Carson goes on to comment on a number of contemporary developments related to evangelicals and sexuality—including Brandon and Jen Hatmaker’s recent endorsement of sexual immorality. Read the rest of Carson’s essay here.

President Reagan’s stunning statement of pro-life conviction

Sanctity 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.

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