Archive | Theology/Bible

God loves you. We love you. Tell us what it’s like to be you.

Andrew Wilson recently preached a message at King’s Church Eastbourne on “Transgender and Intersex.” His text is Matthew 19:1-12, and he does a faithful job with it. He is a really fantastic communicator, and he clearly sets forth the teaching of scripture and how it applies to our thinking about transgender and intersex.

This message is not mainly polemical but pastoral. I like his line about how we ought to communicate with those wrestling with gender identity issues: “God loves you. We love you. Tell us what it’s like to be you.” Of course there’s more to say than that, but we certainly shouldn’t be saying less than that, right?

On a related note, Andrew also participated in a podcast discussion with Megan Defranza about her book on intersex. You can listen below.

At one point during the discussion, Andrew asks Defranza a pointed question. He presses her to explain how her views on intersex challenge a more conservative reading of scripture. I’m not sure that she ever answers his question directly. If I were to characterize the challenge her book brings, I would do it this way.

Conservative evangelicals have argued that the “givenness” of the male/female binary is the basis for the givenness of the gender role distinctions. Defranza believes that intersex persons prove that the male/female binary is not a “given.” In other words, the male/female binary of Genesis 1 and Matthew 19 is no norm at all. One implication of this view is that evangelical Christians can and should embrace transgender identities as normal and good.

As I have said before, the revision that she proposes is a theological earthquake and completely at odds with what the Bible teaches.

I am grateful for Andrew’s willingness to address these issues with clarity and pastoral concern. More pastors need to be doing the same.


What does the Bible teach about homosexual desire and identity?

Heath Lambert and I did a series of interviews with Family Life Today about our book Transforming Homosexuality. For many of you readers, the content of our book is no mystery. Still, in these recent discussions we do go into a little more depth. Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine are great interviewers, and they are pros at teasing-out the practical implications of things.

One of the things that comes out in these interviews is how much this book applies to all people. Yes, we are trying to ask and answer pressing questions about homosexuality. But in doing so, we are really just talking about the way sin and desire work inside all people—including us.

All of us—gay, straight, or otherwise—have deeply ingrained desires that are contrary to God’s will for us. In that sense, Christians have far more in common with our gay neighbors than perhaps we have previously recognized. We all stand in need of the transforming grace of God, and that is exactly what the gospel offers us.

The interview is in three parts and will be airing over the next three days on radio stations across the country. Family Life has already posted the series to its website, and you can listen or download them there. You can access them as well at the Family Life Podcast. Finally, you can listen or download below. Continue Reading →


Are you a closet annihilationist?

National Geographic has an interesting article on the doctrine of Hell. Chris Date, Preston Sprinkle, Clark Pinnock, and Edward Fudge are all quoted in the piece. The gist of it is that evangelical belief in the traditional doctrine of hell is in decline.

Over the last 20 years, the number of Americans who believe in the fiery down under has dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent. Heaven, by contrast, fares much better and, among Christians, remains an almost universally accepted concept…

Annihilationsists believe they have already made significant inroads within the evangelical community.

“My prediction is that, even within conservative evangelical circles, the annihilation view of hell will be the dominant view in 10 or 15 years,” says Preston Sprinkle, who co-authored the book Erasing Hell, which, in 2011, debuted at number three on the New York Times bestseller list. “I base that on how many well-known pastors secretly hold that view. I think that we are at a time and place when there is a growing suspicion of adopting tradition for the sake of tradition.”

Four thoughts about this: Continue Reading →


Complementarianism: A quick observation about where we’ve been and where we’re going

I was just reading Joe Carter’s explainer on the Justice Department’s recent warning to North Carolina concerning their “bathroom law.” (By the way, Carter’s explainers are always excellent and helpful. Don’t miss them.) He shows that the Justice Department’s redefinition of “sex” is unprecedented and actually will do harm to real women. In his conclusion, Carter makes an observation worth noting:

This is why complementarianism is not merely about “submission” within the family. It’s also about protecting women from a culture that worships male power and disdains femininity, and has no qualms about using the LGBTQIA movement to codify advantages for men into the law.

I think Joe is right about this, and there is a smiling providence that we would do well to acknowledge. The complementarian vision was forged in an intra-evangelical conflict over the role of women in ministry. Ultimately, it involved issues of authority and leadership in both the church and the home. In the late 80’s and 90’s when evangelical theologians began to produce a body of work to articulate and defend the complementarian position, no one could have anticipated how important this work would be for the controversies we are now facing. Continue Reading →

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.

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 →

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 →

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