Archive | Theology/Bible

Why should the state foreclose the possibility of a second opinion for Charlie Gard?

I had not planned on writing about the tragic case of the infant Charlie Gard. But I just completed a Twitter convo with Alistair Roberts about it that has changed my mind. If you are unfamiliar with Charlie Gard, here is the gist of his story:

For ten months, Charlie has been living in the intensive-care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. In March, his doctors decided that there was nothing more they could do for him, and they recommended that his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, withdraw his ventilator. They refused, on the grounds that an untried experimental treatment was available in the United States. The hospital, in accordance with British law, applied to the courts to forestall further treatment. In April, the High Court found for the doctors and against the parents. In May, the Court of Appeal upheld the initial decision. In early June, the Supreme Court agreed. And this week, the European Court of Human Rights — the last court of jurisdiction — refused to intervene. Charlie’s parents have raised enough money from private donations to fund the experimental treatment, but the court decision prohibits his removal to the U.S. Whenever they see fit to do so, the doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital can now remove Charlie’s life support.

The bottom line is this. Charlie Gard’s parents wish to try an experimental treatment in the United States. It is perhaps a slim hope, but it is one nonetheless. Charlie’s doctors wish to remove his ventilator which will undoubtedly lead to his death. The courts have sided with the doctors. But in this case they are not only allowing the doctors to remove the ventilator, but they are also preventing the parents from pursuing a second opinion in the United States. And according to a video message released today (see above), they are not even allowing Charlie to go home for palliative care.

What are we to think about this? In his book Evangelical Ethics, John Jefferson Davis writes:

In certain cases of the newborn with disabilities, no known medical intervention can reverse a genuinely hopeless prognosis… Such cases are, however, quite infrequent, and should not be used as a rationalization for the deliberate neglect and abandonment of children with disabilities whose lives could be saved by available medical interventions (p. 177).

It seems to me that the last phrase of that last sentence is the relevant one to Charlie Gard’s case. There is an available treatment that his parents wish to pursue. Even if Charlie’s doctors are convinced that he cannot be helped, why would they foreclose the possibility of a second opinion in the United States? Moreover, why would the state prevent the parents from pursuing this option? I agree with Davis:

The proper practice of medicine should be guided by a life-affirming ethic in all cases… There is indeed a time to die, just as there is a time to be born (Eccl. 3:2), and modern medicine must acknowledge its own limitations. But the basic thrust of medicine should always be to choose life (Deut. 30:19), because all human life is sacred to God who made it (p. 177).

In Charlie Gard’s case, I am having difficulty seeing how a “life-affirming ethic” would foreclose the possibility of a second opinion against the parents’ wishes. Moreover, per the video above, the doctors are now denying the parents the opportunity to take Charlie home for palliative care. This is a difficult case, but not so difficult that the state should weigh-in with this kind of draconian limitation. Again, Davis writes:

The proper practice of medicine should be guided by a life-affirming ethic in all cases, even when the physician can only provide care and comfort to a patient–young or old–who is already in an irreversible process of dying. A medical practice informed by the spirit of Christ and love the neighbor will see as a primary end, to cure whenever possible, and always to provide care and comfort to all patients, both in their living and in their dying (p. 177).

There are certain boundaries that the state (and the doctors in this case) must not cross, but they seem to have gone far beyond them in the case of Charlie Gard. If the doctors have indeed concluded that there is nothing else to be done for Charlie, then why deny the final comforts his parents wish to offer him at home? If palliative care is indeed what they want, then why can’t Charlie go home?

Scholar says intersectional feminism is a cult

Christina Hoff Sommers studies the politics of gender and feminism as resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and she is the host of the “Factual Feminist” video series. Yesterday, Ben Domenech interviewed her for The Federalist Radio Hour (download here or listen below).

Sommers defines her own feminist views over and against “intersectional feminism,”1 which she says dominates college campuses today. She says that intersectional feminism is like a “cult” which allows no dissent and silences all contrary views. It is heavily invested in identity politics, promoting a kind of “oppression olympics” in which there is a competition among students to prove who is the most aggrieved by perceived oppression of one sort or another. It is divisive and censorious, and the toxic atmosphere it creates cannot be sustained. Something has to give.

In a recent symposium on free speech, Sommers identifies intersectionality as the leading obstacle to free speech on college campuses. She writes:

When Heather Mac Donald’s “blue lives matter” talk was shut down by a mob at Claremont McKenna College, the president of neighboring Pomona College sent out an email defending free speech. Twenty-five students shot back a response: “Heather Mac Donald is a fascist, a white supremacist?.?.?.?classist, and ignorant of interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”

Some blame the new campus intolerance on hypersensitive, over-trophied millennials. But the students who signed that letter don’t appear to be fragile. Nor do those who recently shut down lectures at Berkeley, Middlebury, DePaul, and Cal State LA. What they are is impassioned. And their passion is driven by a theory known as intersectionality.

Intersectionality is the source of the new preoccupation with microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and privilege-checking. It’s the reason more than 200 colleges and universities have set up Bias Response Teams. Students who overhear potentially “otherizing” comments or jokes are encouraged to make anonymous reports to their campus BRTs. A growing number of professors and administrators have built their careers around intersectionality. What is it exactly?

Intersectionality is a neo-Marxist doctrine that views racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and all forms of “oppression” as interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Together these “isms” form a complex arrangement of advantages and burdens. A white woman is disadvantaged by her gender but advantaged by her race. A Latino is burdened by his ethnicity but privileged by his gender. According to intersectionality, American society is a “matrix of domination,” with affluent white males in control. Not only do they enjoy most of the advantages, they also determine what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”

But marginalized identities are not without resources. According to one of intersectionality’s leading theorists, Patricia Collins (former president of the American Sociology Association), disadvantaged groups have access to deeper, more liberating truths. To find their voice, and to enlighten others to the true nature of reality, they require a safe space—free of microaggressive put-downs and imperious cultural appropriations. Here they may speak openly about their “lived experience.” Lived experience, according to intersectional theory, is a better guide to the truth than self-serving Western and masculine styles of thinking. So don’t try to refute intersectionality with logic or evidence: That only proves that you are part of the problem it seeks to overcome.

How could comfortably ensconced college students be open to a convoluted theory that describes their world as a matrix of misery? Don’t they flinch when they hear intersectional scholars like bell hooks refer to the U.S. as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”? Most take it in stride because such views are now commonplace in high-school history and social studies texts. And the idea that knowledge comes from lived experience rather than painstaking study and argument is catnip to many undergrads.

Silencing speech and forbidding debate is not an unfortunate by-product of intersectionality—it is a primary goal. How else do you dismantle a lethal system of oppression? As the protesting students at Claremont McKenna explained in their letter: “Free speech?.?.?.?has given those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry.” To the student activists, thinkers like Heather MacDonald and Charles Murray are agents of the dominant narrative, and their speech is “a form of violence.”

It is hard to know how our institutions of higher learning will find their way back to academic freedom, open inquiry, and mutual understanding. But as long as intersectional theory goes unchallenged, campus fanaticism will intensify.

I think Sommers is onto something here. And I think that Christians need to take note. Intersectional theory certainly does stifle free speech, and in particular it seeks to shut down religious perspectives that conflict with the theory. That is why, for example, Christian arguments about sexuality and gender are often met not with counter-arguments but with appeals to the lived-experience of those with one or more of the LGBT identities. In other words, Christian truth claims are not met with reason but with accusations of oppression and abuse.

Joe Carter has written an essay identifying helpful and unhelpful elements of intersectionality theory. I am concerned that the unhelpful elements of intersectionality theory have already established some beachheads within the evangelical movement. On more than one occasion I have been told that my views on sexuality and gender are deficient not because they are incompatible with God’s revelation but because I happen to be a heterosexual white male. My overlapping layers of “privilege” render anything I would say irrelevant and unworthy. This is intersectionality at work, and it shuts-down necessary confrontations with scripture in the name of intersectional righteousness.

And this is the test for evangelical Christians. What will we do when intersectional righteousness is at odds with God’s righteousness as revealed in scripture? This is the great fork in the road, and the two paths do not lead to the same destination.

1 See my previous posts on intersectionality here and here. For a primer on intersectionality, I recommend Joe Carter’s article “What Christians Should Know about Intersectionality.” 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.”

NPR: “Southern Baptists Update Bible’s Language On Gender”

Earlier this week, I wrote about an article in The Atlantic that claimed the Southern Baptist Convention has produced a “gender-inclusive” translation of the Bible. The Atlantic piece was badly mistaken on many points, but it nevertheless generated some headlines in the run-up to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix, AZ.

NPR covered the story in its morning edition yesterday. I did a brief interview for the segment, which you can listen to above. You can also read the transcript here or download here.

“The Gospel according to Glennon”: What gospel?

Elle magazine has published a long-form essay on famous mommy-blogger Glennon Doyle Melton. Until Melton divorced her husband and came out as a lesbian last year, I really didn’t even know who she was. Even so, she has been a popular blogger and writer for a number of years, especially among women. Her openness about her imperfect life has endeared her to millions of readers, many of whom are Christians. Anyway, the Elle feature tells her story, which I won’t rehearse here. I encourage you to read the piece for the full account. Nevertheless, I would offer a handful of reflections on the essay:

1. I have never been a reader of Melton, so I am coming at this as someone with very little knowledge of her. Still, it is striking that for someone who was billed as a “Christian” writer, there is nothing about her in this article that would suggest that she held to the Christian gospel. Maybe she did at some point. But it is absent even in the part that narrates her “conversion.” Perhaps readers more familiar with her work can weigh-in on this, but I still thought that was a conspicuous absence.

2. Even before her coming-out, this article says that her fellow travelers were the likes of Rob Bell and other pop-spirituality/self-help gurus. It also says that she has been a member of the United Church of Christ–a “church” that sanctifies sexually immoral relationships. Were these items red flags to Christian readers before her coming-out? It seems like they should have been.

3. The author of the article emphasizes that Melton’s authenticity and openness about her imperfect “messy” life is what made her so popular–even among non-Christians. It seems that there is a lesson in this. An air of “authenticity” and “messiness” is no substitute for authentic Christian faithfulness. We would all do well to learn how to tell the difference. 

4. The story of Melton’s coming-out was particularly sad–and perhaps even a little bit dishonest. Melton did not merely come out as a lesbian. She divorced her husband to pursue a relationship with a woman that she had fallen in love with. Her husband’s description of his experience is worth considering in his own words:

As for Craig, he remembers receiving an urgent text message from Glennon one afternoon, saying she had something very serious to discuss. “It sounded like 911, like Code Red,” he tells me over the phone. “I rushed home. On the way, I was thinking, Either she has cancer, or she’s gay.” (Obviously Craig isn’t as clueless as he’s sometimes portrayed to be.)

When he found out it wasn’t cancer, “I hit the floor bawling,” he says. “I was just so happy she wasn’t going to die.” Then came a wave of “sadness, confusion, and anger,” he says. “I thought we had been doing things the right way. Both of us had been working on ourselves. We’d entered a phase that was supposed to be a new life for us. It was a shock. It felt like the end of the world.”

But eventually, Craig says, he felt he had no choice but to accept his new reality. Glennon and Abby are, after all, “two women following their hearts,” he says, slipping into Glennon-speak. “Isn’t that what life is all about? Finding true love? If Glennon is happy, and Abby is happy, and the kids are thriving, what’s wrong with that?” Now he shares joint custody of the children with Melton, and he recently accepted a new job in technology sales.

There’s no question that both spouses played a part in the dissolution of the marriage. But still, it is striking that Craig is unable to lament the end of his marriage. He is obviously grieved over the loss, but he does not even hint that anything wrong has happened. Because his wife fell in love with a woman, she is to be celebrated for divorcing him. But would people be celebrating the divorce in the same way if she had left him for another man? Probably not. Why? Because “coming-out” and embracing gay identity is seen as sacrosanct in our culture–even more holy than the covenant of marriage. Even more important than maintaining one’s wedding vows.

The result is that the divorce gets whitewashed. Its impact on the husband and children is almost completely a non-factor in the story. The central factor is Melton’s personal happiness and self-fulfillment. And that is why so many of her readers feel empowered to pursue divorce instead of sticking it out through tough times in their own marriages. Here is a telling comment from a marriage counselor interviewed for the article:

“She puts a knot in my stomach,” says couples therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, whose latest book is called Healing From Infidelity. “I can’t count how many times I hear women quoting her when they come into my office. On the positive side, she wants to empower women. But the fact is, most people don’t do divorce all that well, especially when children are involved. She’s strengthening their conviction that they need to get away from their husbands, instead of learning to work through challenging issues. Sometimes you have to be a warrior to stay.”

5. If this article is accurate, what is left of Melton’s “Christian” faith cannot be reasonably described as authentically Christian. The article says,

She’s equally enthused about her new role as a pillar of the progressive opposition movement. Since leaving Craig for Wambach—who stumped for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has been an advocate for women’s equality and LGBTQ causes—Melton has recast herself as a leader of the Christian resistance to Trump. “It’s one of the best parts of our relationship,” Melton says. “We wake up in the morning, and we literally say to each other: ‘Coffee and revolution.’?”

To that end, Melton has stopped blogging about floor crap and started blogging about Black Lives Matter and the need for intersectionality. These days, when she reminds her followers that they “can do hard things,” she’s not talking about scraping Play-Doh off the rug but about helping children in Aleppo—or calling your congressperson. “I realized I didn’t just want to parent children in my own little home, but to mother the whole world,” Melton says. “What’s the point of gaining influence if you’re not going to use it?”

Mother to the world? Wow. But what is she bequeathing to her “children”? It’s not the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but sadly something else altogether.

Have Southern Baptists embraced gender-inclusive Bible translation? Not by a longshot.

Jonathan Merritt and Garet Robinson have penned an article for The Atlantic with the inflammatory title, “Southern Baptists Embrace Gender-Inclusive Language in the Bible.” The subtitle continues, “America’s largest Protestant denomination has produced a revised translation that incorporates many features it had long condemned.”

No doubt the timing of this article is no accident. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) begins its annual meetings tonight in Phoenix, Arizona. It would indeed be a bombshell for messengers to learn as they arrive to the convention hall that their denomination has delivered a product that the rank-and-file have long opposed in resolution after resolution.

It would be shocking if it were true. But it’s not true. In fact, it’s demonstrably false. Merritt and Robinson’s article is not only riddled with factual errors. It also appears that they do not even understand the basic issues of the longstanding debate over gender-inclusive translations.

Merritt and Robinson claim that the first edition of the CSB was well-received in 2003 and that “the Bible battlefront quieted for more than a decade.” This statement is glaringly inaccurate. The year 2003 was about the time that the translation controversy began heating-up to a fever pitch—especially after the publication of the now defunct TNIV. There were a string
of publications weighing-in on the controversy through the early to mid-2000’s. And even after that, the controversy was never entirely over.

My point is simply this. Merritt and Robinson reveal very little evidence of familiarity with the debate or with the issues in contention. The result is an article with so many problems that I can’t even begin to catalogue them all in a single blog post. But for the sake of illustration, I’ll cite two examples:

(1) Merritt and Robinson make no mention of the fact that the CSB follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines in its approach to gender language. The Colorado Springs Guidelines were drafted in 1997 in the wake of news that the NIV would be producing a gender-neutral revision. On May 27, 1997, James Dobson convened a meeting of evangelical scholars and leaders that drafted a set of guidelines for handling gender language. Those guidelines have long been regarded by both sides of the debate as a standard for those opposing gender-neutral translations. The CSB translators followed those guidelines, an observation which leads me to my second point.

(2) Merritt and Robinson allege that “a number of the same ‘gender-neutral’ elements that the SBC previously condemned were inserted into its own translation.” If Merritt and Robinson had consulted the Colorado Springs Guidelines, perhaps they would not have made such an inaccurate statement. Perhaps they would have noticed that the examples they cite of “gender-inclusive” renderings in the CSB follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines!

For example, Merritt and Robinson point out that,

The CSB now translates the term anthropos, a Greek word for “man,” in a gender-neutral form 151 times, rendering it “human,” “people,” and “ones.” The previous edition had done this on occasion; the new revision adds almost 100 more instances… The CSB translates the term adelphoi, a Greek word for “brother” in a gender-neutral form 106 times, often adding “sister.”

Merritt and Robinson see this as an example of gender-inclusive translation, but the Colorado Springs Guidelines allow for certain instances of anthropos to be translated in a gender-inclusive way. The same is true for adelphoi, which often does refer to “brothers and sisters.” What Merritt and Robinson fail to understand is that these points are fairly uncontroversial in the larger debate.

The debate has not focused on examples such as the ones cited by Merritt and Robinson. Rather, the debate has focused on examples where the biblical author clearly intends masculine meaning. A gender-inclusive translation will often mute the author’s masculine meaning with a rendering that is gender-inclusive. That is the point of the debate. And Merritt and Robinson produce not a single example of the CSB muting masculine meaning with a gender-inclusive rendering. Not one example.

I should also mention one other thing. I know the translators of the CSB. There is a reason that they agreed to follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines. The translators themselves all oppose gender-inclusive renderings of scripture that mute masculine expressions.

I have been following the gender-inclusive translation debate in scholarly and popular literature for over a decade. I am also the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization devoted to upholding what scripture teaches about men and women and their respective roles in the home and in the church. I know what gender-inclusive translations look like, and I am on the record opposing them. The CSB is not a gender-neutral translation of scripture, nor were the CSB translators trying to produce one. On the contrary, the translators intended to produce an accurate translation that faithfully renders what the authors of scripture intended to communicate. The CSB has admirably achieved this goal. The critiques of Merritt and Robinson in The Atlantic are completely off-base.


Postscript: For readers unfamiliar with this debate, I thought it might be helpful to illustrate the kinds of “gender-inclusive” renderings that the Colorado Springs Guidelines were designed to eliminate. For example, the NRSV is a gender-inclusive revision of the RSV. Consider the NRSV’s gender-inclusive revision of 1 Timothy 3:2:

RSV: Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife
NRSV: Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once

The RSV rightly renders the underlying Greek term as “husband” (Gk. andra). The gender-inclusive NRSV mutes the fact that Paul is not talking about married people in general but about a “husband” in particular. By eliminating the clear masculine meaning of the underlying Greek, the NRSV obscures the fact that Paul intends for pastors to be qualified men.

Gender-inclusive translations of scripture routinely do this kind of thing. They obscure masculine oriented details of the source text. By following the Colorado Springs Guidelines, the CSB translators have taken pains to avoid this kind of thing. For Merritt and Robinson to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent the CSB.

Let’s say “only-begotten” in the Apostles’ Creed

If last summer’s trinity debate did anything, it raised awareness among evangelicals about the primary importance of eternal generation in distinguishing the persons of the trinity. As I have written previously, it also highlighted the fact that the Nicene Fathers were interpreting scripture when they confessed Jesus to be the “only-begotten” son of God.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the beginning of last summer’s trinity debate, I thought it might be worth noting one small way that the debate impacted the liturgy of the church where I serve as a pastor. Our church follows a regular liturgical order, which includes a recitation of the Apostles’ Creed before receiving communion. We do this every Sunday, week in and week out. The only exception is that once a quarter we recite our church covenant in place of the Creed. That has been our longstanding practice, but several months ago we began confessing Jesus as “only-begotten” in the Apostles’ Creed.

Why weren’t we confessing “only-begotten” before the trinity debate? The short answer is that we were relying on English translations of the Creed, many of which render the Greek term MONOGENES as “only” or that follow a Latin version that has unicum (“only”) rather than unigenitum (“only-begotten”). In any case, the Greek form is generally regarded as the oldest form of the Creed and may even be as old as the second century.1 And the Greek form (which I hadn’t read before the Trinity debate) clearly has MONOGENES.

For that reason, we have included “only-begotten” in our weekly confession of the Apostles’ Creed. It is the language of the oldest form of the Apostles’ Creed. It is the language of the Nicene Creed. And most importantly, it is the language of scripture itself (John 1:14, 18; 3:16; 1 John 4:9). It is the universal confession of the Christian church. I hope our English translations of the Creed in public worship will reflect that. The recitation in our church now does. Perhaps it will in yours too.

1 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1878), 19.

Treating young women as sisters in absolute purity

Yesterday, I wrote about how pastors are to relate to different sex and age groups within the congregation. The apostle Paul helps us to think through this in his instruction to young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:1-2. Here’s the rendering I provided yesterday:

Do not speak harshly to an older man but exhort him as you would a father.
Do not speak harshly to younger men, but exhort them as brothers.
Do not speak harshly to older women, but exhort them as mothers.
Do not speak harshly to younger women, but exhort them as sisters, in all purity.

Everything that we observed yesterday—about treating people with respect and about honoring each member’s age and station in life—carries right over to the pastor’s treatment of younger women. The pastor must not speak harshly to “younger women” but must exhort them with the same respect and honor that he would owe to his own flesh-and-blood sister.

But notice that Paul adds one additional element when it comes to the younger women of the congregation—purity. Paul says Timothy is supposed to treat these young women “as sisters, in all purity.” The word translated as “purity” only occurs two times in all of the New Testament—here and in chapter 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” The word indicates moral purity, but its connection with younger women here certainly means that Paul has sexual purity in mind.

It is likely that Paul adds a word about sexual purity because there is a particular pitfall that is all too common—sexual immorality. A pastor who has learned the art of communicating with warmth and compassion can easily find himself in a situation of emotional connection with a woman that he ought not have such a connection with. And so Paul says that there must be no hint of impropriety in his ministry to younger women.

But it is important to notice that Paul places two obligations on Timothy’s relationship to younger women. Timothy must treat them “in all purity” and treat them “as sisters.” Pastors have an obligation to get this balance correct.

On the one hand, he must relate to these young women “in all purity.” That means that he must learn to think about and to talk to these women in ways that neither imply nor intend any sexual possibility. There are certain emotional and physical connections that are only appropriate to marriage. And the faithful pastor must avoid making those connections with women who are not his spouse. He must relate “in all purity.”

On the other hand, the pastor has an obligation to relate to these young women as “sisters.” This means that a pastor must not simply withdraw from relating to the women of his congregation. He may make private efforts to gouge out his own eye or cut off his own hand (Matt. 5:28-30). But the pastor’s quest for personal holiness does not authorize him to cut off the eyes and hands of Jesus (1 Cor. 12:21). And that is what these younger sisters are—members of the body of Christ. A pastor must not simply tune these women out as if they weren’t members of the body of Christ.

A female seminary student once told me a story about a time she said “hello” to a male classmate before class started. His response to her was “I’m married,” and then he turned away. This misses the mark. A pastor must strive for holiness, but he must be careful not to let his striving turn into stiff-arming the younger women of the congregation. How arrogant it is to assume that if a female says “hello” that she is trying to be a home-wrecker. No one should be naïve about the fact that there are promiscuous women in the world that all men need to beware of (see Prov. 5). Likewise, a pastor must be vigilant. But he must also not be so cynical that ordinary conversation with a Christian woman be interpreted as a sexual advance.

What does it communicate to a sister in Christ if a pastor treats her like that? It tells her that his mind is preoccupied with things it ought not be preoccupied with. It also communicates that he thinks her very existence is a threat to holiness. It communicates that he is not thinking of her as a sister “in all purity.”

Sibling relationships help us to remember that it is possible to have a warm brotherly love for a person of the opposite sex that involves no sexual intention or possibility. And that is why Paul presses the familial analogy in this teaching about sexual purity. We all know what it’s like to have female family members—perhaps a mother or a sister or an aunt, etc. And thus we can imagine what it is like to have relationships in which sex is the farthest thing from anyone’s imagination. Paul wants pastors to retrain their minds to think of the younger women in the same way—as family members.

Even though the so-called “Billy Graham Rule” has been much maligned of late, I believe there is great wisdom in it. Every one of us must be vigilant about holiness, and every one of us would do well to develop habits and disciplines that keep our eyes on the path in front of us. A pastor must be exemplary in this regard. He must also be exemplary in relating to all the members of the congregation as family members. This balance is not beyond the realm of possibility. It can be done. Indeed, it must be done. And we must not let worldliness and carnality steal the wholesome vision that the apostle Paul has set before us.

Pastors, don’t be a jerk. Be a shepherd.

The venting of the proverbial spleen seems to be the order of the day from cable news to social media and sometimes even in interpersonal interactions. We like to hear someone who agrees with our views “tell it like it is,” especially if the telling involves a few zingers against people whose views offend us. We thrive on this kind of outrage because it appeals to our sense of self-righteous indignation. It feels oh so good to be oh so right. And there’s nothing quite as satisfying as dressing down “those people” who don’t agree with us.

This spirit is destructive wherever it is found, but it is especially destructive when it stands behind a pulpit. Even for preachers, it can be tempting to turn the pulpit into a platform for outrage. When that happens, preaching can become more an expression of a carnal pastor’s irritations than a shepherd’s care for the people of God. This is not to say that preachers must avoid confronting sin. It is to say that whenever you have to confront someone, it matters how you say what you say—even if what you are saying is right.

Paul seems to have had this dynamic in mind in exhorting young pastor Timothy about how he was to address the different people in his congregation. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul says this:

1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

At first blush, it can be a little confusing to hear Paul forbid Timothy from “rebuking.” Is Paul really saying that pastors must never “rebuke” anyone in the congregation? Doesn’t that contradict what Paul has said elsewhere about the necessity of rebuking false teachers (1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 1:9)? Doesn’t it contradict what the Bible says generally about the goodness of a faithful rebuke (Prov. 17:10; 27:5; 28:23)?

There really is no contradiction, however, as the problem is mainly one of English translation. The word translated as “rebuke” in the ESV probably isn’t strong enough. Rebukes can be life-giving and helpful, but that is not the kind of “rebuke” in view here. The literal sense of the term is to beat something with your fists. It is a term that in certain contexts suggests physical violence. But the word also has a figurative meaning that refers to verbal violence. The NIV’s “speak harshly” captures what Paul is trying to communicate. It is possible to abuse someone with fists. It is also possible to abuse someone with words. And Paul is saying that the pastor is forbidden from verbally assaulting his congregants. A pastor sins when he lords his authority over the flock by berating them (1 Pet. 5:3; cf. Matt. 20:25; Mark 10:42).

If we were to fill in the ellipses, the sense of Paul’s exhortation would go like this:

Do not speak harshly to an older man but exhort him as you would a father.
Do not speak harshly to younger men, but exhort them as brothers.
Do not speak harshly to older women, but exhort them as mothers.
Do not speak harshly to younger women, but exhort them as sisters, in all purity.

In this way, Paul tells Timothy not to obliterate but to conciliate with his words.

The term translated as “encourage” in the ESV usually has the sense of strongly appealing to someone, urging them or exhorting them to do something. Clearly, Paul has in view the manner in which a pastor exhorts his people, and this certainly applies to his teaching and preaching ministry. The term translated as “encourage” also has the added sense of speaking in a conciliatory, friendly manner. Paul wants Timothy to know that even if the pastor must bring a confrontation, he must do it in a way that respects the person he is talking to.

A wise and courageous pastor will always remember the wisdom of Solomon when exhorting his people: “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18). A good pastor is not going to use his words like a sword but like a scalpel. A sword and a scalpel are both made for cutting. But a sword is for killing. A scalpel is for healing. Even in confrontation, a pastor’s aim is not to deliver the coup de grâce but to heal.

Some pastors seem to believe that if they aren’t getting through to their people, that means they need to yell louder. But Paul says that a good pastor must not hammer people with his words. Instead, a good pastor will do his ministry with a sensitivity to the different kinds of people that he ministers to. It matters how a pastor treats people. And a pastor must not treat the congregation in an undifferentiated way. He must treat people in a way that respects their age and station of life. A pastor will minister to all different kinds of people in a given congregation, but Paul tells Timothy to treat every one of them like family. And there are appropriate ways to treat family members.

First, Paul says that the Timothy must not speak harshly to “an older man” but exhort him as he would a father. Paul wants Timothy to know that he should avoid talking down to a man who is older than he is. Even if an older man is wrong and needs correction, Timothy must not draw the sword but the scalpel. He needs to speak with the same respect that he would accord to his own father. If a pastor pulls a sword, he may destroy the older man. Or it is just as likely that the older man may draw his sword as well, and the verbal fisticuffs can cause division and get out of hand very quickly. It is always good to remember that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1).

Second, Paul says that Timothy must not speak harshly to “younger men” but exhort them as brothers. Addressing younger men is different than addressing older men. Both situations require respect, but it will be expressed in different way. A pastor will not say “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” to a younger man, but neither will he talk down to them. He must treat younger men like brothers. A man must not draw the sword on his own flesh and blood, and that is what a younger brother is in the body of Christ. A pastor must respect the younger men in a way that is due their age and station. This calls for honestly, truthfulness, and forbearance.

Third, Paul says that Timothy must not speak harshly to “older women” but exhort them as mothers. A pastor must not treat women who are his senior with careless disregard. He must care for them and speak to them like he would his own mother. The respect required for older men is also called for in relating to older women. But there may be an added dynamic that Paul wishes to accent. A man has a kind of built-in protectiveness when it comes to his own mother. Perhaps Paul is appealing to this sensibility as well and calling pastors to have a sense of protectiveness about the elder women of the congregation.

Paul’s final exhortation relates to the pastor’s treatment of the young women in the congregation. Because Paul adds a requirement of “purity” to this exhortation, we will consider this one in a separate post tomorrow.

Feed my giraffe?

The apostle Paul once gave an exhortation to his disciple Timothy about the job description of a pastor. Among other things, Paul said this: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 4:6). In context, “putting these things before the brothers” means teaching God’s word to God’s people. And in this case, teaching that word involved a direct confrontation with false teaching.

This means that the main labor of a pastor is to understand and explain what the Bible means. But a faithful pastor can’t leave it there. If he does, it’s just a lecture. A good servant is going to connect the dots for the people. He’s going to tell them not only what the Bible means but also how it applies to their lives.

Some preachers think they are serving their people if they deliver eloquent theological discourses that are long on concept but short on connection to people in the pew. Everything they’re saying is learned and perhaps even true, but it’s going over the congregation’s head. Charles Haddon Spurgeon confronted this problem with a pointed, humorous quip:

Christ said, ‘Feed My sheep. . . . Feed My lambs.’ Some preachers, however, put the food so high that neither lambs nor sheep can reach it. They seem to have read the text, ‘Feed My giraffes.’1

Spurgeon is being light-hearted here, but he is making a serious point. A preacher has the responsibility to “put these things before the brothers” in a way that doctors and plumbers and lawyers and housewives and factory workers can all understand. A preacher’s job is not to complicate simplicity but to simplify complexity. Unfortunately, too many do the opposite. A good servant of Christ Jesus preaches the word in a way that connects to people.

I know that I need to do better here. Perhaps there are some other preachers out there who need this little nudge too.


1 William Williams, Personal Reminiscences of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 2nd ed. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1895), 145.

It is never right to be angry at God. Ever.

Over the weekend I posted a tweet that proved to be unexpectedly controversial. Well, unexpected to me anyway. I had no idea it would be so provocative simply to say that it is never right to be angry at God. But provocative it was—more so than I ever anticipated. Some readers were downright angry about the tweet. Not all of them were like this, but there were more angry responses than I could count. The objections people raised fell into two broad groups. And I thought it might be worthwhile to offer some brief reflections in answer to both.

1. To those who thought I was saying we should stuff our feelings down and not be honest with God about our pain.

This is not what I said, and it is certainly not what I meant. In fact, I believe just the opposite. Just this last week, I taught on the lament Psalms in my hermeneutics courses. And what I said then is what I always say in my courses. These Psalms teach us to cry out to God with brutal honesty when life hurts us. They make sense of a world in which we suffer real evils and have real tears streaming down our faces. They deal with death, depression, and all the other evils that make us feel undone in this life.

These Psalms teach us how to hope in God in the midst of suffering. They reflect the reality of the human condition in a fallen world where oppression, violence, and death hound the people of God. They reflect the same world that you and I live in where children get cancer, fathers desert their families, and strong men rule and oppress as dictators. They portray the world as it is, not as it should be. They reflect the whole range of human experience and do so with unflinching honesty and hope.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we took a really close look at Psalm 13, in which David’s suffering makes him feel abandoned by God. There is anguish, pathos, and a sense of desperation in David’s cries. This Psalm and many others like it teach us to cry out to God when we feel desperate. They teach us to be honest about just how desperate we feel in those moments. They don’t teach us to stuff our feelings down. On the contrary, they teach us to lay all our cards on the table. They teach us to make our requests known to God so that the peace of God which transcends all understanding might guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-8).

There’s no stuffing down of feeling and emotion. There is authenticity, confession, and hope. And they are for us. They teach us how we should pray.

2. To those who believe that the Bible (especially the Psalms) teaches us that it is right to be angry with God sometimes.

There is not a single psalm that teaches us that it is right to be angry with God. You can look high and low in the Psalms, and you will find no such expression. It’s just not there. What is there is desperation, grief, anxiety, frustration, and lament. But in none of it is there justified anger against God. There is a world of difference between “How long, oh Lord” and “How DARE you, oh Lord?” These Psalms have a great deal of the former and none of the latter.

This discussion is not an academic speculation about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We all have skin in the game, and we are all going to suffer. Some people reading this are suffering right now. Some may be feeling that they are hanging on by a very thin thread. The last thing that these sufferers need to hear is that it is right for them to be angry with God. What that tells them is that it is okay to disapprove of God’s character and His ways.

But that is precisely the opposite of what the sufferer needs. And it is the opposite of what the Psalms are leading the sufferer to do. The Psalms are doing their level best to show us that no matter how low we feel, no matter how low we go, God is good and holy and trustworthy in all that He is and in all that He does. The faithful response to affliction is to believe in God’s goodness and faithfulness no matter how bad things get. This is the fight for faith that all of us have to wage when the chips are down.

The Bible commands us to “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). What does this mean but that some anger is good and that some anger is bad? It is good and right to be angry at evil and at sin and at the Devil. It is sinful to be angry at what is good and right and true. And that is why it is never right to be angry at God. He is always good and right and true. To set yourself against God is to set yourself against what is good. No matter how painful and perplexing His ways may seem to us, it is never right for us to be angry at Him. Ever. But it is right for us to tell Him about it when we are.

I have seen people give in to their anger against God, and it shipwrecks their faith. When someone enters into a settled disapproval of God, that is the path of apostasy. It is not the path of healing and faith. If this path is pursued without repentance, it leads to judgment not to comfort. It is not loving or merciful to lead sufferers away from the only good and wise God who alone can bring them the comfort they need. And that is why there is so much at stake in this question and why we need to get this right.  If we love each other, we need to be able to say to one another that it is never right to be angry at God, even though it is always right to tell Him about it when we are.

Postscript: John Piper has two helpful articles on this that I would commend to you:

John Piper, “It is never right to be angry with God”

Anger at sin is good (Mark 3:5), but anger at goodness is sin. That is why it is never right to be angry with God. He is always and only good, no matter how strange and painful his ways with us. Anger toward God signifies that he is bad or weak or cruel or foolish. None of those is true, and all of them dishonor him. Therefore it is never right to be angry at God. When Jonah and Job were angry with God, Jonah was rebuked by God (Jonah 4:9) and Job repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

The second assumption that may cause people to stumble over the statement that it is never right to be angry with God is the assumption that God really does things that ought to make us angry. But, as painful as his providence can be, we should trust that he is good, not get angry with him. That would be like getting angry at the surgeon who cuts us. It might be right if the surgeon slips and makes a mistake. But God never slips.

John Piper, “Is it ever right to be angry at God?”

This is why being angry at God is never right. It is wrong – always wrong – to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:25). It is arrogant for finite, sinful creatures to disapprove of God for what he does and permits. We may weep over the pain. We may be angry at sin and Satan. But God does only what is right. “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments” (Revelation 16:7).

But many who say it is right to be angry with God really mean it is right to express anger at God. When they hear me say it is wrong to be angry with God, they think I mean “stuff your feelings and be a hypocrite.” That’s not what I mean. I mean it is always wrong to disapprove of God in any of his judgments.

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