Archive | Theology/Bible

A mere complementarian reading of the most contested verse in the evangelical gender debate—1 Timothy 2:12

Evangelicals seem to be more divided than ever about the issue of gender roles in the home and in the church. On the one side, you have the egalitarians. They believe that Christ came to abolish gender norms. For them, true equality means that both men and women can serve in whatever roles they feel called to within the body of Christ. If a woman wants to be pastor, great. If she wants to preach the Bible to men, no problem. As long as the person is gifted for the work, then it doesn’t matter what the gender of the preacher is. At least that’s how the egalitarians have it.

On the other side, however, you have the complementarians. They believe that while men and women are equally created in the image of God, God nevertheless calls them to different roles within the home and within the church. In the home, God calls men to lead their families, and in the church God calls qualified men to teach and to serve as pastor/elder.

As you can imagine, the egalitarian view fits very well with the spirit of the age while the complementarian view does not. But the bottom line for us is not whose view is the most popular. The bottom line for us is, “What does the Bible say? Whose reading of scripture is correct? How then are we to order our lives together in churches as we meet together for worship?” Continue Reading →

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

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 →

Let every heart prepare him room!

How could there possibly be anything more mysterious and wonderful than the incarnation of Jesus Christ? God became a man. God took on mortal human flesh and became subject to all the things that every other mortal is subject to. He sneezed. He coughed. He got headaches and an upset stomach. Every morning he got up, shook the dust out of His hair, and put his hand to the plow in his Father’s field.

Jesus Christ was not only subject to sickness, but also to death. The eternal Son of God was die-able. In fact, he did die. And three days later, what was mortal became swallowed up by immortality in the resurrection.

Even now, the resurrected Christ sits at the right hand of God in glory. As I type these words, the incarnate God intercedes in the flesh for His people before the Father (Romans 8:34). And it all began in a manger 2,000 years ago. No, actually, we have to go nine months before that—when Jesus Christ was first conceived by the Holy Spirit within the virgin Mary, when the God-Man was an embryo. “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. . . The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30, 35).

How can it be that God has come in the flesh? How can it be that he is in the flesh now? Yet this is precisely what the Bible teaches. “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

As we ponder the imponderables of God, let us never cease to be amazed at the manifold mercies of God that have come to us through the incarnation of King Jesus. Let every heart prepare Him room.

Merry Christmas!

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 →

Pastors, be ready for questions about abortion and homosexuality

The Federalist ran a story yesterday about a certain pastor’s appearance on The View. One of the hosts asked him what his church teaches about homosexuality and abortion. The pastor dodged the question. Another host, Joy Behar, followed up by asking very specifically whether abortion is a sin. Still, the pastor could not bring himself to say that abortion is a sin. Rather, he said that each person has to “live to their own convictions” and that God would be the judge.

A few thoughts on this:

1. His answer is not sufficient. As a pastor, you have a responsibility to speak the truth in love, and it is not loving to fail to speak the truth (1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:15). One can do both at once, but it was not done here.

“We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).

2. The questions are not surprising. Any pastor should know and be prepared to answer these questions–especially if one is going on a show like The View, where there is no mystery about how the hosts view abortion and homosexuality. The hosts are for abortion and for homosexuality. It is pastoral malpractice to leave the impression that abortion is just an individual choice and might be right for some and wrong for others. Be ready, pastors. You’re not gonna have to go on The View to get asked these questions, and you shouldn’t be caught by surprise when they come your way.

“Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you” (1 Pet. 3:15).

3. His answers are not consistent. The pastor is willing to speak with moral clarity about racism. He condemns it outright and is congratulated by the hosts for doing so. But when asked for the same kind of moral clarity about abortion and homosexuality, he backs down. Why? Clearly the hosts approve his condemnation of racism but would not have approved a condemnation of abortion or homosexuality. A pastor must never stick his finger to the wind to determine when and where to offer moral clarity. No, he must be morally serious at all times and has no right to pick and choose when he’ll speak the truth and when he won’t. If he is God’s man, then he must always be completely truthful.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

4. This kind of evasion is a real temptation for every Christian, and that includes me. It is hard to stand when the world and the devil stand against you. There is a cost to moral courage, and only a test can reveal who is willing to pay it. We need to pray for each other to be faithful and not to falter when the tide turns against us. That tide is turning now, and we need grace to meet it.

“The Lord stood with me and strengthened me… and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:17-18).


UPDATE: The pastor has released a statement on Twitter clarifying his stance on abortion.

Woman who lived as a transgender male for nearly a decade shares conversion to Christ

The Baptist Messenger has posted an interview with Laura Perry, a woman who spent nearly a decade living as a transgender male. She describes years of male hormones and a sex change surgery and how she came to faith in Christ. You can watch above, listen below, or download the audio here.

Church Clarity ought to be about biblical and theological clarity

On Wednesday, the website ChurchClarity.org appeared online. Its stated mission: to pressure churches to make clear on their websites whether or not they affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. The leadership team that runs the website is comprised exclusively of those who affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. And they seem to be focused on forcing evangelical megachurch pastors to clarify where their churches stand on the issue.

I looked through the website and found a number of problems with it. Here are several of them in no particular order:

1. The website claims that it merely wants clarity and that people on all sides of the issue ought to agree about that. That sounds reasonable until you read the fine print. It turns out that this group does not want theological or biblical clarity but only clarity about a church’s policies. The site says:

Church Clarity is not interested in evaluating theology or doctrine, but rather organizational policy. Policies are much more straightforward and have clear impact on people. Will your church let a trans woman join a women’s group? Will your pastoral team officiate a wedding for a gay couple? These are the policy questions we are seeking to clarify. What we’re not interested in: A church’s theological position on whether queer Christians go to heaven, whether same-sex attraction is natural or chosen, how gender plays out in the story of Adam and Eve, etc. You get the point. Conversations around LGBTQ+ issues often drift needlessly into theological debate. That is why we painstakingly emphasize our laser focus on evaluating the level of clarity in regards to a church’s actively enforced policy.

The problem with this is obvious. The clarity that this group calls for falls short of the clarity that Jesus requires (2 Cor. 4:2). Being clear about policies is fine. But even more central is being clear about what a church believes. A church’s policies ought to be grounded in clear biblical teaching, but “Church Clarity” does not aim at “evaluating theology or doctrine.” And yet this is precisely what the Lord expects churches to do. Followers of Christ will recognize that no one is served by putting theology and Bible on the backburner. In fact, that is a recipe for falling into the same kind of error that the founders of “Church Clarity” are into.

2. “Church Clarity” believes that churches have to earn their tax exempt status. A lack of clarity on LGBT issues could be grounds for denying churches tax exempt status:

Churches are unique organizations in America. They enjoy tremendous public subsidies, as they are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are expected to play a vital role of serving their communities. But there is very little accountability to demonstrate that they are earning that subsidy. In fact, many churches fail to uphold the basic standards of transparency that we, as a society, expect from most other organizations.

“Church Clarity” seems unaware that churches don’t “earn” tax exemptions. The United States government does not give tax exempt status to churches because they meet some minimum threshold of usefulness to a community. They are given because of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Supreme Court has held that tax exemptions are not subsidies, that they help to uphold the separation between church and state, and that they are based on the first amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion (see Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York). Is “Church Clarity” really suggesting that churches should lose their tax exemptions based on their website content? If their websites don’t meet Church Clarity’s standard of clarity? Do we really want the federal government policing church websites to determine whether their policies on LGBT issues are clear enough? This is absurd.

3. “Church Clarity” seems particularly concerned about churches “where ambiguity and misleading practices have become normalized.” They write,

Many churches have avoided fully or clearly disclosing their church policies out of a desire to be “seeker sensitive,” that is, a desire to attract “seekers” and convert them into loyal “customers.” This capitalist mindset is particularly dangerous in a spiritual context. It means that pastors will preach about “welcoming” and “loving” all people, no matter who they are, while quietly refusing to officiate weddings or grant full membership to LGBTQ+ people.

There are clear laws and regulations in the for-profit world that protect us from “false advertising” and “bait and switch” tactics. But while we hold the marketplace accountable for such violations, we rarely insist that churches abide by these basic norms. Are the stakes not much higher when it comes to spiritual matters? Is a clearly communicated policy on a church’s website an unreasonable expectation? We don’t believe so.

“Church Clarity” claims to be targeting “seeker sensitive” churches, but they do not seem to realize that they implicate non-seeker sensitive churches as well. What they call “false advertising” and “bait and switch” may not be those things at all. It is not false advertising when a traditional church welcomes all sinners to visit the church, to hear the message, and to come to Jesus. That’s what every faithful church teaches, and it is in no way at odds with upholding the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality. Perhaps if “Church Clarity” were a little more interested in theology and Bible they would recognize that.

Again, keep in mind that “Church Clarity” doesn’t want theological or biblical clarity. They only want churches to advertise whether or not sexually immoral people can participate in every level of a church’s membership and leadership. It doesn’t matter to them whether the church’s website is theologically or biblically clear.

4. “Church Clarity” focuses on megachurches. There is a reason for that. There really are pastors of megachurches who have been evasive and silent on this issue. Some of them are suspected of being “affirming” but of being too cowardly to admit it. “Church Clarity” seems intent on blowing up their evasions and forcing the issue. I agree that the evasions are unhelpful and cowardly. I do not agree with Church Clarity’s suggested remedy.

Pastors who have been evasive need to repent, but they don’t need to follow the agenda of “Church Clarity” to do that. They need to make plain their commitment to biblical orthodoxy. They need to make plain their church’s convictions in a doctrinal statement (I recommend the Nashville Statement). And they need to set forth a biblical and theological vision of human sexuality in the teaching ministry of the church. How an unorthodox, apostate group rates them on these efforts should be of no concern at all. How God rates them should be of utmost concern (1 Cor. 4:2-5).

Spurgeon on the “reproach” of believer’s baptism

“If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right… If we could find infant baptism in the word of God, we should adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us,—that we are odd, and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible, and cannot find it, and do not believe that it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, et al., The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Chicago: F.H. Revell, 1898), 155.

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