Women and children first? Absolutely.

I’ve been enjoying Andrew Roberts’ recent biography of Winston Churchill titled Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book includes a letter in which Churchill opines about the sinking of the Titanic and about how proud he was that the men on the ship put women and children onto the lifeboats first. Churchill said that the whole event “reflects nothing but honour upon our civilization.” His prose is grandiose but stirring:

I cannot help feeling proud of our race and its traditions as proved by this event. Boatloads of women and children tossing on the sea safe and sound — and the rest — silence. Honour to their memory. In spite of all the inequalities and artificialities of our modern life, at the bottom — tested to its foundations, our civilization is humane, Christian, and absolutely democratic. How differently Imperial Rome or Ancient Greece would have settled the problem. The swells and potentates would have gone off with their concubines and pet slaves and soldier guards, and . . . whoever could bribe the crew would have had the preference and the rest could go to hell. But such ethics could neither build Titanics with science nor lose them with honour.’

I can’t help but wonder if men in 2019 would do what those men did over one hundred years ago. Would they put the women and children into the lifeboats first? Or would the elbow their own way to safety? In any case, what an act of valor on the part of these men. Churchill is right. The whole event reflects honor on that civilization.

When being a Christian isn’t “decent” anymore

I woke up this morning to a troubling Op-Ed in The Washington Post by Cynthia Nixon. The entire article is a call for an end to civility toward anyone who holds Christian convictions about sexuality. In particular, the essay responds to the fact that former Vice-President Joe Biden recently referred to current Vice-President Mike Pence as a “decent man.” Nixon unloads on Biden for this flash of tolerance and civility, arguing that Mike Pence’s Christian convictions about sexuality are worthy of the severest public outrage and opprobrium. She writes,

I think it’s important to explain why calling Pence “a decent guy” is an affront to the real meaning of the word….

These are not the actions of a decent man. The fact that Pence does vile, hateful things while well-coiffed and calm doesn’t make him decent; it makes him insidious and dangerous. Respecting each other’s rights and humanity is what makes us civilized — not keeping a civil tone while doing the opposite.

It’s easy to say nice things about Pence when you’re not personally threatened by his agenda. If Biden were being directly attacked in the same way that our community is, I think he would see Pence from a very different vantage point…

And then she ends with this chilling conclusion:

When you’re fighting for the rights of marginalized communities who are under attack, it’s okay to stop being polite. This is not a time for hollow civility. This is a time to fight. If Democrats are too wedded to the collegiality of the Senate dining room to call out the Republicans who espouse homophobia, how are we ever going to stop them?

It is hard to imagine that The Washington Post would allow this kind of open animus against adherents of any other point of view. Can you imagine an Op-Ed arguing that it’s time to toss civility aside and embrace open animus towards anyone who supports, say, the Green New Deal? And yet, here it appears as a matter of course that it is open season on Christians who dare to affirm what the Bible teaches about sexual ethics.

This is the new reality for Christians who hold the line on biblical sexual ethics, and I don’t see any signs of things letting up. On the contrary, this kind of open animus only seems to be spreading. In light of this, it is good for Christians to remember a few things:

1. The Lord Jesus has prepared us for this.

In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples for opposition to their mission. The entire chapter is bracing, not least because Jesus is so forthright about what his disciples should expect: “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). Jesus told us that we would face open animus, and we would do well to prepare ourselves for the kind of lives Jesus told us that his disciples would have. This is what we signed up for. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

2. We must not respond in kind.

Those who oppose the Christian message will increasingly call for an end of civility toward Christian conviction. The rallying will become more brazen. As it does, we must commit ourselves not to respond in kind.

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?” (Matt. 5:44-46)

We need to be ready to love our neighbors and our enemies and to bear witness in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward us. Christians may someday face fines and other penalties for their convictions on marriage. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration. Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness. But this is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus has called all of us to, and we must never return evil for evil (Rom. 12:17).

3. It will be worth it.

Every one of us will be tempted to fudge the message in order to avoid conflict. Don’t do it. Being faithful to Jesus and his word will be worth it no matter what it costs us to do so. We have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood (Heb. 12:4), and I don’t see that coming any time soon. But even if it were to come to that, it would be worth even losing our lives for the sake of Christ and his word. No matter what we suffer or what we give up for Christ, it will be restored to us and then some in the age to come. “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25).

The opposition is increasing. Jesus has prepared us. Let’s be ready.

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 →

African Christians Rescue United Methodists

By now you have read the news about the United Methodist Church—that conservatives within the denomination beat back an effort by liberals to affirm gay marriage and LGBT clergy. The New York Times reports:

After three days of intense debate at a conference in St. Louis, the vote by church officials and lay members from around the world doubled down on current church policy, which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote served as a rejection of a push by progressive members and leaders to open the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Now, a divide of the United Methodist Church, which has 12 million members worldwide, appears imminent. Some pastors and bishops in the United States are already talking about leaving the denomination and possibly creating a new alliance for gay-friendly churches.

This is without question good news. The United Methodists are now the lone hold-out among the mainline denominations which have embraced the sexual revolution and affirmed gay marriage and gay clergy. That alone is a big deal. And a welcome development.

In large part, we have the African Methodists to thank for this result. They form about 30% of United Methodists worldwide, and they are vastly more conservative than their American counterparts. With the help of the African Methodists, the liberal plan to affirm gay marriage and gay clergy was defeated in a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. North Africa gave birth to Western Christianity centuries ago. Now Africa is coming to the rescue of a compromised Western Christianity—at least in its Methodist version. Thank God for our African brothers and sisters.

Dr. Jerry Kulah, an African delegate who is a professor at the United Methodist University in Liberia, addressed a group of reform-minded Methodists who were attending the conference in St. Louis. Among other things, Kulah said this:

We Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to “grow up”…

We are grounded in God’s word and the gracious and clear teachings of our church. On that we will not yield! We will not take a road that leads us from the truth! We will take the road that leads to the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world!…

Unfortunately, some United Methodists in the U.S. have the very faulty assumption that all Africans are concerned about is U.S. financial support. Well, I am sure, being sinners like all of you, some Africans are fixated on money.

But with all due respect, a fixation on money seems more of an American problem than an African one. We get by on far less than most Americans do; we know how to do it. I’m not so sure you do. So if anyone is so naïve or condescending as to think we would sell our birth right in Jesus Christ for American dollars, then they simply do not know us…

Please understand me when I say the vast majority of African United Methodists will never, ever trade Jesus and the truth of the Bible for money.

Amen. Thank God for such clarity of conviction. The Africans understand that there can be no fellowship with those who affirm LGBT immorality. None. The Africans were willing to walk alone rather than continue on with an apostate American Methodist movement. The key word there is “apostate.” To embrace LGBT immorality is to embrace apostasy. The Africans understand that.

What the liberal American Methodists wanted was a “One Church Plan,” which would have treated LGBT as a matter of moral indifference among United Methodists. Although it was pitched as a compromise, the plan’s effect would have been a total capitulation to the liberals.

What the liberals want—more than anything—is for the conservatives to concede that LGBT affirmation is an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians might agree to disagree. The Africans said no. And they were right. To grant that LGBT affirmation is in any way compatible with Christianity is to lose the essence of Christianity. You can have LGBT affirmation or you can have Christianity, but you can’t have both.

This is the bottom line that I fear many so-called evangelicals have yet to come to grips with. There can be no compromise with LGBT affirmation. The Bible and the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church simply won’t allow it. This is why so many of us signed our names to article ten of The Nashville Statement:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been running under the cover of confusion—confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. From the very beginning of the Christian faith, sexual morality has always been central. Those who wish to follow Jesus must pursue sexually pure lives. A person may follow Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both. He must choose. One path leads to eternal life, and the other does not. These are not new teachings. They are the ancient faith.

And yet, there are many “evangelicals” who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case. They are trying to convince people that same-sex immorality and following Jesus can indeed go together. And yet, scripture teaches that anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3-8). The stakes are higher than the revisionists want you to believe.

Authentic Christians labor for moral clarity on the point not so that we can say to sinners, “Keep out!” We are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they don’t need it. And the revisionists of our time are leading precious people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.

Real love—as God defines it—always rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). And that is what the Africans did in St. Louis this week. My hope and prayer are that American evangelicals will draw strength and courage from the example of these African brothers and sisters. I know I have.

“Battle for the Minds” at Southern Seminary


When I first came to Southern Seminary to apply for the Ph.D. Program in 2001, I went to the Boyce Centennial Library and checked out a 1996 PBS documentary titled “Battle for the Minds.” Back then, it was only available on VHS, and it was not allowed out of the library. You had to watch it right there in the AV lab.

After seeing the documentary, I searched high and low to obtain a copy of this video for myself. When that proved impossible, I began trying to find a copy online and have searched for it at different times over the years. I searched and searched, and it has eluded thus far… until today. Someone shared it on YouTube about five days ago, and a friend sent it to me this afternoon.

The story of Southern Seminary’s recovery from theological liberalism is well-known at this point, but this documentary is not a sympathetic look at that recovery. In fact, the producers would not have viewed it as a “recovery” at all but as a regression. The documentary focuses on the debate over women in ministry, but through the course of the video it becomes clear that the issues were much deeper. At heart, the debate was about biblical authority, which had been shunned by many on the faculty at that time.

When the video was produced, many of the theological “moderates” hoped that there still might be a chance to stop the conservative resurgence at Southern Seminary. We all know now that this was not to be. But things didn’t seem so clear for those in the midst of the struggle in the mid-90’s. This unsympathetic video bears witness to that.

When I first watched this documentary 18 years ago, it was only five years old. Nevertheless, the documentary bore witness to a Southern Seminary far different even from what I experienced in 2001. It is certainly a world away from what Southern Seminary is now.

This is a time capsule worth the time to watch.

Is social justice unjust?

I want to post a brief note about Noah Rothman’s new book on social justice titled Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America (Regnery, 2019). I just finished it a couple days ago and found much that is helpful in it. Rothman outlines a brief history of social justice movements and argues that its current incarnation has collapsed into identity politics. In short, social justice is not about notions of individual liberty and justice but about righting historical wrongs committed against various identity groups.

Rothman is not denying that certain groups have experienced injustice. On the contrary, he argues that certain classes of people have in fact experienced historic oppression and that their plight demands justice. His contention, however, is that so-called “social justice” has devolved into recriminations between identitarian movements on both the right and the left. He criticizes both sides of this conflict as extreme and poisonous to our common culture.

Nevertheless, Rothman’s focus in this particular book is the identitarian movement of the left called social justice. Here is Rothman in his own words:

The American tradition of political idealism is imperiled by a growing obsession with the demographic categories of race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation—the primary categories that are now supposed to constitute “identity.” As groups defined by these various categories have come to command the comprehensive allegiance of their members, identity alone has become a powerful political program. As it turns out, it is not a program that appeals to the better angels of our nature.

Identity has always been a part of our political culture, but lately the practitioners of identity politics have been less interested in continuity and legitimacy than in revenge. This retribution is antithetical to the conciliatory ideals by which injustices perpetrated in the name of identity were once reconciled. The authors of this vengeance reject the kind of blind, objective justice toward which Western civilization has striven since the Enlightenment. They argue, in fact, that blind justice is not justice at all. Objectivity is a utopian goal, a myth clung to by naïve children. We are all products of our experiences and the conditions into which we were born, whether we like it or not. Those traits set us on a course that is in many ways predestined.

The identity-obsessed left believes that Americans who are born into “privileged” demographic categories—male, white, and heterosexual, among others—will have an easier time navigating life than their underprivileged counterparts, among them women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBT. Those on the right believe the opposite is true: the historically marginalized have had the scales tipped in their direction. The so-called “privileged” majority not only has lost its privileges but is often stripped of its essential rights.

The paranoia which can ensue from this division is the venomous progeny of identity politics. Its practitioners call it social justice.

This idea of social justice has developed into a way of life. The study of identity long ago ceased to resemble an academic discipline. Its tenets are as inviolable as any religious dogma. [pages xii-xiii]

Rothman contends that social justice practitioners have left behind a liberal ideal of justice for the illiberal ideal of retributive and distributive justice. Retributive justice involves punitive social action against historically privileged groups while distributive justice requires redistribution of goods and capital to historically oppressed groups. This kind of justice foments division and hostility which in turn unravel the social fabric of the nation. In short, Rothman believes that the current incarnation of social justice is going to be the undoing of America unless its illiberal tendencies can be reversed.

I do not intend this to be a full review and have only given the briefest sketch of Rothman’s work. Nevertheless, Rothman has evinced a provocative thesis that I think deserves a wide hearing.

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).

Grieved beyond Words… and Resolved

The Houston Chronicle has published part one of an extensive investigative report on sexual abuse within Southern Baptist Churches (there will be two more installments in coming days). They uncovered 250 ministry leaders and volunteers who have been convicted as sex offenders and over 700 of their victims. Those numbers alone are horrid, but I agree with the report that there are likely many other such instances that were not uncovered by this investigation.

The report reveals horrors that have long been out of the light of day. Without question, the most difficult parts to read are the testimonies from the victims. They are beyond heartbreaking. I can hardly imagine what some of these dear souls have been through and how difficult it must have been to come forward. But I am grateful that they did. Continue Reading →

Pro-choice semantic games: Don’t fall for them

Thanks to two Virginia politicians and the President’s state of the union address, the country has fixed its attention on the brutality of late-term abortion. Pro-choice advocates are responding as they usually do by trying to distract everyone from the reality of abortion:

Pro-choicer: “Nothing to see here, move along.”
Casual observer: “But that really seems like a small person being killed in an abortion.”
Pro-choicer: “You sound like you’re against women’s healthcare. And also, science.”
Casual observer: “But the baby…”
Pro-choicer: “Don’t you believe your lying eyes. It’s just a clump of cells… you know, because of science and stuff.”

The problem for pro-choicers is that the later the abortion occurs, the harder it is for them to succeed with the “clump of cells” evasion. Anyone with eyes can see what is happening, and the old dodges fall a little flat.

The recent focus on political leaders who support the right to kill unborn humans at any point up until birth (and in Northam’s case, perhaps even after birth) means that they are having to come up with new evasions—the silliest of which I just read this morning. According to Axios, these are “The Facts” about abortion that should mitigate your concern about late-term abortions:

• In an interview with CNN, Barbara Levy, the vice president of health policy at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said, “The phrase ‘late-term abortion,’ is medically inaccurate and has no clinical meaning.”

• Jennifer Conti, a fellow with the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health, also told CNN: “In obstetrics, we don’t divide pregnancies into terms. ‘Late term’ is an invention of anti-abortion extremists to confuse, mislead and increase stigma.”

Did you catch the argument? It goes like this: Pro-lifers aren’t using the medically correct terms to describe late-term abortion. Therefore, you shouldn’t care that it’s legal to kill unborn human beings at any time up until the point of birth.

If that seems like a non-sequitur to you, that’s because it is. It is also one of the most pedantic and lame evasions that I have ever heard out of the pro-choice side. They are playing semantic games and hoping the casual observer will be too stupid to notice.

To all the casual observers of the abortion debate: Your eyes aren’t lying. Little people are killed in late-term abortions. Some people think it should be legal to kill those little people all the way up to the point of birth. Don’t let anyone distract you from that simple, central truth about abortion—especially those who think you are too stupid to know any better.

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