Archive | Theology/Bible

Critical Theory, Social Justice, and Christianity: Are They Compatible?

Neil Shenvi is a scientist with a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from Berkley, but in recent years he has become a budding Christian apologist. He is a member of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina (where JD Greear is pastor) and has been putting out some really insightful, accessible material critiquing critical theory and social justice.

At a conference earlier this year, he delivered a message titled “Critical Theory, Social Justice, and Christianity: Are They Compatible?” Shenvi shows that critical theory (along with its larger social justice project) is an alternative worldview that is incompatible with Christianity. It is really well done, thorough, and devastating to the claims of critical theory. Continue Reading →

The Innermost Meaning of the Cross

“But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”
-Isaiah 53:10

“God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation in His blood through faith, in order to demonstrate His righteousness.”
-Romans 3:25

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”
-Galatians 3:13 Continue Reading →

What the Gospel Requires

The most succinct expression of the gospel in all of scripture appears in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in 15:3-5. Nowhere else is the matter stated so briefly and comprehensively than in this one text. But before Paul spells out what this gospel is in verses 3-5, he explains what this gospel requires in verses 1-2. Paul writes:

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand…

Right out of the gate, Paul makes it clear that his focus is the gospel. The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word euangelion, which very literally means “good news” or “good message.” Gospel is not a word that originates with Paul or even with Jesus. The term grows out the rich soil of revelation in the Old Testament where the prophets announce the “good news” of Israel’s promised return from exile. The key text in this regard is Isaiah 40:9: Continue Reading →

Are biblical manhood and womanhood cultural constructs?

I have been preaching through 1 Corinthians at my church and have just completed a series of sermons on Paul’s long section about matters related to public worship (chs. 11-14). At the beginning and end of this section, Paul addresses the role of women in public worship. In chapter 11:2-16, Paul introduces the idea of male headship and the need for women to honor headship when they pray and prophesy in the gathered assembly. In chapter 14:34-35, Paul says that women need to “keep silent” and to “subject themselves” when prophecies are uttered during congregational worship.

One item that stood out to me in both of these texts is that Paul grounds his teaching about male headship in the common practice of all the churches. After instructing women to honor male headship by wearing head coverings, Paul writes:

1 Cor. 11:16 “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

Likewise, when giving instructions about orderliness while people are prophesying, Paul writes:

1 Cor. 14:33-36
33b as in all the churches of the saints. 34 Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

Notice what Paul is doing. In both of these texts, Paul says that his teaching about headship and submission is not some sidebar item that churches can either take or leave. He says that his teaching on headship, manhood, and womanhood are a part of the apostolic foundation that he has laid in “all the churches of the saints” (14:33b). To depart from this foundation is to depart from something that the apostle believes to be fundamental.

In 11:16, it’s as if Paul is saying to his readers, “If you don’t like honoring headship in worship, you need to know that you are out on an island. If you want to follow me and the other apostles, you won’t fight me on this. You will turn your heart toward honoring headship in the way that I am telling you.”

In 14:36, Paul says that the word of God is not the exclusive domain of any one church. The word of God did not originate in Corinth, nor was Corinth the only place to which the word of God came. The word of God is abroad in the churches. The Corinthians need to pay attention to how the Spirit of God is moving and working in all the churches.

If all the churches are hearing from the Spirit one thing, but the Corinthians are practicing another thing, then that’s an indication that the Corinthians are the outliers, not everyone else. Everyone else is observing male headship. So also should Corinth. This is in keeping with 1 Cor. 11:16 where Paul writes, “We have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

This emphasis from Paul struck me because of discordant notes that I have been hearing lately. Right now, these notes seem to be low rumblings, but I can imagine that they may be getting louder in days ahead. I have heard some people denigrate “biblical manhood and womanhood” as “white” theology that is rooted more in racial stereotypes than in biblical teaching.

While it is true that all of us need to be on guard against unbiblical stereotypes, we need to be very careful that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater. My concern is that some may be in danger of casting aside what the Bible teaches on these things simply because of an alleged association with “whiteness.”

This would be a serious mistake—indeed a grave error putting one outside of the apostolic teaching that Paul intends for “all the churches.” It would be casting aside God’s design in creation. It would also be a rejection of the very truths that God intends for our good and flourishing.

Paul wishes to emphasize that his teaching about male headship is not something that is good for some people but not for others. It’s not merely a cultural construct. No, it is a part of God’s creation design, and it is the pattern that must prevail in every church. If that is true, then we ought to honor the headship norm just as all other faithful churches do. And we ought to beware of any attempt to denigrate this teaching as a mere cultural construct that can be set aside. No, this is the word of God, and as Christians we are duty bound to uphold and cherish this teaching.

Paul says that the headship principle is recognized in all his churches. And so it must be in ours.

Azusa Pacific University removes ban on gay relationships…again.

Last Fall, I wrote about Azusa Pacific University’s (APU) removal of the ban on gay relationships among its students. Days later, the trustees voted to reverse the administration and to reinstate the ban. Today, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that Azusa Pacific University has removed its ban on homosexual relationships yet again. From the report:

Azusa Pacific University again has lifted a ban on LGBTQ relationships on campus.

The university Board of Trustees directed administrators to update the student handbook for undergraduate students, campus spokeswoman Rachel White confirmed. The changes specifically removed language that barred LGBTQ relationships as part of a standing ban on pre-marital sex.

The update, enacted Thursday, demonstrates Azusa Pacific’s commitment to “uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion,” according to university Provost Mark Stanton.

“APU is an open-enrollment institution, which does not require students to be Christian to attend, and the handbook conveys our commitment to treating everyone with Christ-like care and civility,” Stanton said in a statement. “Our values are unchanged and the APU community remains unequivocally biblical in our Christian evangelical identity.”

Why is the university claiming that its biblical values haven’t changed even as they announce the removal of the ban on homosexual relationships? This is a little bit confusing, but hang with me here as I try to sort out what this change means.

Notice how the school is now parsing things up. The school’s standards of conduct now simply ban “sexual intimacy outside the context of marriage,” where marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman (10.1 Inappropriate Sexual Behavior). As long as students avoid “sexual intimacy” outside marriage, they are now free to pursue whatever romantic relationships they please—gay, straight, or otherwise. In other words, homosexual romance seems to be permitted so long as no “sexual intimacy” is involved.

Why would the school remove (for the second time!) the ban on homosexual relationships? Provost Mark Stanton says that the change shows that APU is committed to “uniform standards of behavior for all students, applied equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion” (emphasis mine). Notice the Provost’s concern about discrimination. APU had been under fire from student groups on this very point. These groups not only claimed to identify discriminatory inconsistencies in APU’s student handbook, but they also claimed that these policies put the school out of step with accreditors and licensing agencies.

What was the discriminatory inconsistency? While the handbook banned “homosexual relationships,” it also banned creating a “hostile environment” for any student on the basis of their “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” (“Harassment“). The activists argued that it was inconsistent for APU to allow celibate heterosexual romance while banning celibate homosexual romance. Such a ban resulted in a “hostile environment” for homosexually oriented students, which is a violation of APU’s own community standards, which make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” into protected classes.

Last Fall, APU’s student government passed a resolution demanding clarification on this point. Among other things, the resolution says:

Students are currently being held at a double standard where romanticized heterosexual relationships are permitted on campus, but a student who is in a romanticized same-sex relationship can be punished; and,

To hold students to equal standards. the Board of Trustees and the administration must either remove the ban on romanticized same-sex relationships or ban all romanticized relationships at Azusa Pacific University…

As an outsider, I hate to say it, but APU made a huge mistake by making sexual orientation and gender identity into protected classes on campus. Because they did that, they made it impossible to ban celibate homosexual relationships while allowing heterosexual ones.

Despite the school’s claim otherwise, there are major problems with this policy, and APU may be stuck with those problems as long as their handbook recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes on campus. To begin with, the Lord Jesus himself teaches us that it is not merely immoral sexual behavior that is sinful but also immoral sexual desires:

Matt. 5:27-30 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Jesus says that it is sin to look at a married woman in order to desire her sexually. There is literally hell to pay if immoral desires are not kept in check. Sexual holiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of deeds committed but of desires felt. Yet Azusa’s new policy seems to be saying that it is okay for romantic homosexual relationships to happen on campus so long as there is no sex. Do they not see how this contradicts what Jesus teaches us about sexual holiness as a matter of the heart?

The fundamental problem here is that Azusa’s student handbook fails to make a moral distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Even when abstinent, they are not morally equivalent. A heterosexual relationship can and may have the covenant of marriage as its aim and goal. A homosexual relationship can never have marriage as its aim and goal. That means that a homosexual relationship can never be holy or pleasing to God. By definition, it is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27).

One more item is problematic. The school’s standards of conduct prohibit students from cohabitating with the opposite sex (9.0 Cohabitation). Yet students of the same-sex are still permitted to cohabitate—presumably including those students who are in homosexual romantic relationships. Does Azusa believe that it is good for same-sex attracted students to be cohabitating while experiencing sexual desires for one another?

The LGBTQ+ activists who agitated for this change are claiming this as a victory:

They celebrate but not for good reason. This new policy may put APU at peace with protesters, accreditors, and licensing agencies, but it puts the school at odds with faithful biblical Christianity. And that is the main problem. Perhaps it is too much to hope that APU will recognize their error and correct it. I will hope and pray nonetheless that they will.

A Strong Statement on Sexuality from the President of Covenant Theological Seminary

I was really grateful to read a strong and clear statement about human sexuality from the President of Covenant Theological Seminary. You can watch the full statement above. A transcript of the first four minutes of the statement is below.

“Hi, I’m Mark Dalbey, President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. I’m here today to respond to a number of questions and concerns that we have received about our commitment to biblical sexual ethics in light of a conference that was held in St. Louis last summer called Revoice. Here’s what we believe about biblical sexuality.

Marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy is only to be expressed in such a marriage. Homosexual desire is a result of the fall. It’s a sinful desire that is to be mortified and resisted and in no way dignified. Homosexual lust, homosexual intimate behavior is sin and condemned by God.

As to the Revoice conference, Covenant Seminary does not endorse, promote, or have a role in the Revoice conference. We do not agree with all of the views that were shared or taught at the Revoice conference. Dr Sklar, Old Testament professor and Vice President of Academics, who has two commentaries on the book of Leviticus, was asked to speak and did speak on Leviticus 18 and 20 and the continuing relevance in God’s moral law of forbidding homosexual lust and behavior. Covenant Seminary does not advocate for queer theology, Covenant Seminary does not teach that a person should identify as a gay Christian, and Covenant Seminary will not have any of our faculty speaking at the 2019 Revoice conference.

Much of what is being said about Covenant Seminary is [a] sinful, slanderous, violation of the ninth commandment which teaches in the Larger Catechism that we should promote and preserve the good name of our neighbor and ourselves when necessary. Sadly, it is necessary for Covenant Seminary to do this given that we have been under these slanderous attacks.

Here is what we teach our students about how to relate to homosexual people who are unbelievers. We teach them that they are to hold uncompromisingly to the biblical sexual ethics. We also teach them that they are to love unbelievers as those made in the image of God, that they are to recognize that we are fellow sinners ourselves as we seek to communicate the good news of the saving and transforming power of the gospel to people involved in a gay lifestyle. Christians are to build relationships with unbelievers of all kinds, including those who are homosexuals, and we are to live out the gospel call to not only love God but to love our neighbor as ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be promoting this. We teach our students to love people well and to communicate the unchanging truth of God’s word in winsome ways that the Holy Spirit might change hearts and bring people to Christ.

We also teach our students as they minister to fellow believers who have all kinds of struggles including struggle with same-sex attraction and temptations that we are to love them and pastorally care for them. We are to disciple them by using the ordinary means of grace that they might grow in Christlikeness and have strength to resist ongoing temptation. We also teach our students that they are all to find their core identity in Christ and not with whatever particular sinful struggle they may have. Our churches should welcome fellow believers who have ongoing temptation and struggle with same-sex attraction to be full members of the body of Christ that will be able to exercise their gifts and that also would benefit from the ministry of others in the church.”

How To Discipline a Pastor

In 1 Timothy 5:19-21, the apostle Paul explains how to deal with a pastor who is sinning.1 Some readers understand Paul to be setting a higher standard for pastors than for other members of the congregation. I think this is a mistaken reading of Paul’s words, for Paul wishes for everyone to be treated equally and without “partiality” (v. 21). Paul writes:

19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

Paul’s process for dealing with elders accused of a sin lines up with what Jesus says must be done for any brother that is accused of a sin. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus says that if a church member sins against you, you should go to them in private. If they don’t repent, then you take along two or three witnesses to establish the charges made against the sinning brother. If they establish the charges and he still refuses to turn from his sin, then they are supposed to put the matter before the church. If he refuses after it is brought to the church, then he is excommunicated. Continue Reading →

David French lecture on Intersectionality

Yesterday, David French lectured on intersectionality on the campus of Boyce College and Southern Seminary. It was a pleasure to have David on campus, and his lectures were really stimulating. The first lecture is already posted on SBTS’s YouTube channel (see above). I expect the other two lectures to be posted very soon.

David explains that the basic foundation of intersectionality is the commonsense observation that people have traits that can make them members of more than one marginalized or oppressed class of people. He argues that this particular observation about the complex way that people experience discrimination or oppression is fundamentally true.

David also argues that if that was all there was to intersectionality, there wouldn’t be much of a controversy about it. Intersectionality as a description of human experience is not controversial, but intersectionality as a prescription for social action is. And it is the latter that he takes aim at in all three presentations.

If you’re interested in learning more about intersectionality, the best short introduction to the subject that I have read is Joe Carter’s article “What Christians Should Know about Intersectionality.” Elizabeth Corey’s introduction is longer than Carter’s, but it is no less helpful and worth the time to read: “First Church of Intersectionality.”

I have commented on intersectionality over the years on my blog, but my basic objections to it are in a little post titled “Two ways in which intersectionality is at odds with the gospel.” Andrew Sullivan offers a powerful critique of intersectionality from a secular perspective in “Is Intersectionality a Religion.”

If you want to take a deep-dive into some actual intersectional theory, I recommend Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1 (1989): 139-67. For a popular introduction to Crenshaw’s theory, see her recent TED Talk, “The urgency of intersectionality.” Patricia Collins and Sirma Bilge have a book-length introduction to intersectionality in a work titled Intersectionality, Key Concepts (Malden, MA: Polity, 2016).

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