Archive | Theology/Bible

Is disagreement about homosexuality an “intra-evangelical” discussion?

Zondervan will be releasing later this year a new book on homosexuality in their Counterpoints series—a series I appreciate and have recently contributed to. This new volume features two writers who believe homosexuality is not sinful and two writers who do. I have not read this book yet, but I am eager to see it as soon as it is available. Having said that, here are a few things to be watching for:

1. Framing Sexual Immorality as an Evangelical Option – The publisher’s description has a section that caught my eye:

Until recently most books fit neatly into two camps: non-affirming books were written by evangelicals and affirming books by non-evangelicals. Today, this divide no longer exists. Recent books written by evangelicals appeal to the authority and inspiration of Scripture as they argue for an affirming view. The question of what the Bible says about homosexuality is now an intra-evangelical discussion.

Again, I have not read this book yet. But the publisher says this book frames the discussion as an intra-evangelical dialog. This seems to suggest that one can be an evangelical Christian while affirming sexual immorality as a moral good. It seems to suggest that homosexuality is an issue over which faithful evangelicals can have disagreement and nevertheless still be considered evangelical. If the publisher’s copy is indeed borne-out in the book, that would be a whole new departure in evangelical works on this topic. It would not be a middle-of-the-road view. Framing the issue that way would give the “affirming” side what they always wanted. If not total agreement, it at least acknowledges that their views are within the pale. Such an impression would be quite misleading, but it is the impression left by the publisher’s description.

2. Are there enough views represented? – In the book Heath Lambert and I recently wrote, we identify at least four different “views” on the question of homosexuality: liberal, revisionist, neo-traditional, and traditional. This classification is important in our view because the Bible’s teaching is the central issue, not whether one is construed as “affirming” or “non-affirming” according to some non-biblical standard. Differences on this issue revolve around biblical authority and willingness to adopt revisionist readings. Additionally, the Bible’s teaching on sexual orientation is also at the center of this conflict. Both sides of the “intra-evangelical” debate affirm the Bible’s authority and its prohibition on homosexual behavior. The “intra-evangelical” debate between neo-traditionalists and traditionalists concerns the ethics of sexual orientation. Neither the liberal nor the revisionist approach can be in any way labelled as faithfully Christian, much less evangelical. The former denies the authority of scripture outright, and the latter denies it by distorting its message beyond recognition. In any case, these are meaningful distinctions, and as far as I can tell there is no one representing the “traditional” view in this volume.

3. “Affirming” vs. “Non-Affirming” – Related to the above, I am persuaded that the labels “affirming” and “non-affirming” frame the issue in a way that is already biased against what the church has always believed about homosexuality. When the labels are applied to questions of human identity, they sound as if one group likes gay people and the other doesn’t. The label “non-affirming” seems to imply animus against same-sex attracted people, while “affirming” seems to suggest openness and grace. This is an unfair and misleading way to frame this discussion, and it certainly is not a framing that originates with this book. Maybe this book will make better use of the terms than I have seen elsewhere, but I am obviously skeptical about that.

In any case, the book releases in November. Stay tuned.

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Some reflections on a church that has recently embraced egalitarianism

Last night I watched Pastor Pete Briscoe give his rationale for leading his church to welcome female elders to their leadership structure (see above). Briscoe pastors Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, a large congregation in the metro area of Dallas, Texas. His sermon amounts to a recitation of long-standing egalitarian readings of scripture. I admire that Briscoe and the elders made a public presentation of the decision and their justification for it. They have laid their cards on the table, and that is a good thing. But I still think their reasoning is flawed on many points. I am not going to give a point-by-point rebuttal. That would go beyond what is feasible in a single blog post. I would simply highlight three concerns that I think are salient in this particular case. Continue Reading →

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Bart Ehrman debates Richard Bauckham about the Gospels

 

Attention, fellow Bible nerds. The audio above features two big-hitters debating the authorship of the Gospels. Bart Ehrman, a well-known skeptic, squares-off against Richard Bauckham. I think Bauckham powerfully and decisively refutes Ehrman in this one. Here’s a description of the show from the “Unbelievable” website:

Bart Ehrman’s new book “Jesus Before the Gospels” makes the case that the stories about Jesus would have changed and evolved before they were written down as the Gospels.

Richard Bauckham, author of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, defends the view that the Gospels were written by those with access to eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ first followers. They debate who wrote Mark, whether the Gospels came from anonymous traditions and how they received their titles.

You can listen to the audio above or download it here.

An unseemly troll but a fine review

Several weeks (months?) ago I received a package in my faculty mailbox at work. I was so taken aback by it that I snapped a photo of it (at right). It was obviously a book mailer, but the label on the outside said this:

“Are Conservative Evangelical Men More Likely To Abuse Their Wives?”

I didn’t even know what was inside the package, but I already knew that this was a transparent troll—a marketing ploy. They send out a book to a bunch of conservative evangelical men, and then they put a label on the outside of the package with an ugly insinuation about conservative evangelical men. The publisher wasn’t merely trying to get me to read the book. They were trying to provoke me. Continue Reading →

Jesus Christ, the perfect “has been”

The strangest thing about the Christian faith is not our views on sexuality or politics. Those things are not even our most controversial of claims. The strangest thing about us is what the apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:

3 that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

To be sure, that Jesus died is not the controversial part. Even unbelieving pagans agree with the death of Jesus as an historical fact. They don’t, however, agree with the meaning of his death—that it was a vicarious sacrifice “for our sins” to reconcile us to God. But they do agree that he was dead and buried. No great dispute there.

The controversial part is the second half, “he has been raised.” Why is it strange? Because dead bodies don’t come back to life. It just doesn’t happen. But eye-witnesses like Paul say that it did in fact happen in Jesus’ case. Jesus was dead. Really dead. Violenty dead. Indisputably dead. And yet he was “raised.”

The blood that had stopped flowing through his veins began flowing again. The heart that had stopped beating for days started beating again. The brain that had ceased all functioning except for the coagulation of decaying blood began working again. The smell of rotting flesh became the smell of new and incorruptible life.

But perhaps the strangest thing about what we believe is contained in the words “has been.” The wording here is crucial. There are four verbs in these verses, all of which are simple past tense except for one, “he has been raised.” Whereas Jesus’ death, burial, and appearances happened once upon a time, it is not so with his resurrection. He “has been” raised—the perfect tense—which indicates past time with ongoing results.

Think about what this means. It is not merely that Jesus came back to life 2,000 years ago. It is that Jesus is alive in a physical body right now. To say that Jesus “has been raised” is to say that the blood is flowing through Jesus’ veins right now, that his heart is beating right now, that his mind and thinking are at work right now. At the heart of our confession is the belief that a formerly dead Jew is alive in a body right now and seated at the right hand of his father right now.

And one day, this formerly dead Jew will return to reclaim what is his. And the same power that brought him back to life will bring his people back to life as well. And we will live—resurrected, incorruptible, immortal, and whole. Jesus is the “firstborn” from the dead, and that means that he will bring us forth as well (Col. 1:18).

So, yes. The strangest thing about us is this. Jesus Christ has been risen from the dead. He is alive now and will appear again to reassert his rule over his broken world. And when he does, all the sad things will come untrue. He will wipe every tear from every eye (Rev. 21:4). This is the best news in the world, and it is for anyone who will have it. You just have to believe right now.

A must-read about the evangelical gender debate

Without question, 1 Timothy 2:12 is the most contested verse in the wider debate among evangelicals about women in ministry. The most contested clause within this most contested verse is “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” And the most contested word within this most contested clause is without a doubt authentein (often translated as “exercise authority”).

The meaning of this term and even of its syntax has been the subject of no little dispute. And it has long been a crux interpretum among those engaged in the debate between complementarians and egalitarians.

For two decades now, the most important book on this crucial text is Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Tom Schreiner. The entire volume is devoted to explaining in rigorous exegetical detail what these words mean in their historical and literary context. The first edition appeared in 1995, the second in 2005, and now the third has come out just a few weeks ago. Continue Reading →

What if you’re not as awesome as you think you are?

Proverbs 16:2 is simple and uncomplicated, yet it says something profound about the human condition.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives.

The “ways of a man” refers to the way that a person leads his life. This particular “man” shows very little concern about the moral character of his life. When it comes to decisions or relationships or work, this kind of person tends to hold himself in high esteem. He views himself as “clean” in his own sight—which means that he thinks he is doing just fine. Continue Reading →

Is Hell real? Did God really make a place in which to punish sinners forever?

I am happy to announce that the second edition of Four Views on Hell was released today. It is edited by Preston Sprinkle, and yours truly has written the chapter on Eternal Conscious Torment. John Stackhouse argues for annihilationism, Robin Parry for Universalism, and Jerry Walls for Purgatory. It is a spirited exchange that highlights the major issues at stake in this debate.

There are many people who can hardly bear to contemplate the traditional doctrine of hell, and I include myself among them. But just because a doctrine is difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. If it is taught in the Bible—as Eternal Conscious Torment most assuredly is—then it is nothing less than God’s own word that He has revealed to us for our good. And we should receive it as such.

At the end of the day, what we believe about hell reveals what we believe about God. What kind of God, after all, would preside over such a horrific place? What kind of God indeed? I argue that the infinite torments of hell reflect the infinite holiness and greatness of God himself and of the incalculable heinousness of sinning against such a Being. But I make the case not based on theological deduction but based on biblical exegesis of ten passages from the Old and New Testaments that indicate Eternal Conscious Torment as the end of everyone who fails to repent and believe in Jesus. Continue Reading →

An atheist who can’t help believing in God

Atheist Elizabeth King says that she can’t “shake” her sense that there really may be a god. If you ask her whether God exists, she will answer with a definitive “no.” She has made a decisive break from the evangelical faith of her youth. But still, she occasionally prays and offers up other expressions that reveal that she’s hardwired for faith. You should read the whole essay in The Washington Post, but here’s her conclusion:

I’m not sure what to do about God. If I could figure out a way to banish this figure from my psyche, I would. But psychology is not on my side. Having been conditioned to believe in God for so many years, and having a brain hard-wired for belief, I may be stuck with his shadow forever. While I remain steadfast in my (non)belief, I also feel I have no choice but to accept that I’m an atheist with a sense for God and that without this kink in my beliefs, I might not strive to understand myself better.

King explains her involuntary religious expressions in a materialistic way–that her brain has a bent toward faith. I couldn’t help but see that there is a more plausible explanation for her feelings than the one she has come up with. It comes from the apostle Paul in Romans 1:19-21:

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.

The fact is that all of us are “hardwired” for faith. God has made us and His world in such a way that we are surrounded by perceivable evidence of His being and goodness. He is manifestly the God who is there, and sometimes ironically even atheists bear witness to that truth.

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UPDATE, 2/11/16: Elizabeth King reached out on Twitter and wishes for me to clarify that she in no way believes in God. Here she is in her own words:

“Gay Christian” explains why she now accepts same-sex marriage

I just read another public account of someone who is walking away from what the Bible teaches about marriage. Former Wheaton employee and self-identified “gay Christian” Julie Rodgers explains why she has embraced gay marriage. She has written about this previously, and I have responded previously. Nevertheless, this latest account is also worth some reflection. She writes:

Your beliefs don’t shift in an instant. We research and agonize, bouncing between hope and despair, until one day we hear ourselves say something a former version of ourselves never would have said. That’s how I came to support same-sex marriage in the church. When I came out as a teenager in Baptist circles in the Bible Belt, I never would’ve imagined God would still like me if I married a woman one day. And I want to try to explain, in theological(ish) terms, how I ended up here.

She goes on to tell the story, which I won’t rehash in full here. I will simply encourage you to read it for yourself. I offer here a short list of reflections on what she has written: Continue Reading →

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