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Friday, February 24, 2017

What the Transgender Debate Means for the Church

From Russell Moore . . . 
Last night news broke that the House officially rescinded President Obama’s executive order regarding transgenderism in public schools. This is a good decision that corrects outrageous and coercive directives. Children should not be turned into pawns of culture war experimentation. As a conservative evangelical, I’m glad to see this action.
At the same time, the cultural conversation on gender identity issues requires more than good policy. It demands a gospel-centered response from the church.
Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human. Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.
This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it, “male and female,” from the beginning or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, represent something of who we were designed to be, and thus impose limits on our ability to recreate ourselves?
The Sexual Revolution has always whispered promises of this kind of godlike self-autonomy. After a generation of no-fault divorce, cohabitation, ubiquitous pornography, and the cultural unhinging of sex from marriage and marriage from childbearing, it only seems inevitable that Western culture is now decoupling sexuality from even its most basic reality: gender. If human sexuality exists solely for our self-actualization and satisfaction, then it makes no sense to impose restrictions based on something as seemingly arbitrary as gender.
This, ultimately, won’t work. There are good reasons to put boys and girls in different bathrooms and locker rooms and sometimes sports teams, reasons that don’t impugn the dignity of people but uphold it. Sex-differentiated bathrooms and sports teams and dormitories for men and women aren’t the equivalent of, say, a terrorist Jim Crow state unnaturally forcing people apart based on a fiction, useful to the powerful, that skin color is about superiority and inferiority. Every human being knows that there are important, and necessary, differences between men and women. Without such recognition, women are harmed and men are coarsened.
Moreover, the move here toward severing self-identity from biological reality will hardly stop at “gender.” If anything, there’s much more of a case to be made that one can feel to be a different age than one’s doctor’s exam or birth certificate would show. That’s relatively indifferent if all that this means is “You’re only as old as you feel” or “I’m a Millennial trapped in a Gen-X body.” It’s something else entirely if chronological self-identity is mandated for military service or the drinking age or the age of consent. People and neighborhoods and nations and cultures cannot live this way.
So how should we as Christians respond?
First of all, we should never mock or belittle those suffering gender identity disorders. These are our neighbors to be respected and served, not freaks to be despised. They feel alienated from their identities as men or women and are seeking a solution to that in self-display or in surgery or in pumping their bodies with the other sex’s hormones. In a fallen universe, all of us are alienated, in some way, from who we were designed to be. That alienation manifests itself in different ways in different people.
Christian congregations that seek to be faithful to the gospel must teach what’s been handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church. A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities then is a revolt against God’s lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God had embedded in the creation.
But this also means that we will love and be patient with those who feel alienated from their created identities. We must recognize that some in our churches will face a long road of learning what it means to live as God created them to be, as male or female. That sort of long, slow, plodding and sometimes painful obedience is part of what Jesus said would be true of every believer: the bearing of a cross. That cross-bearing reminds us that God doesn’t receive us because of our own effort but because God reconciled us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Second, we must bear witness to the goodness of what it means to live as creatures, not as self-defining gods and goddesses. God created us as human, and within humanity as male and female (Gen. 1:27). We are all sinners, so we chafe against having ourselves defined by a Creator, and not by ourselves or our ideologies. Our nakedness shames us, because our physical difference reminds us that we are not self-contained. Man needs woman, and woman needs man.
We must also resist the temptation to buy into the Sexual Revolution’s narrative. I don’t just mean that we accommodate ourselves to the sins and heresies of the movement, although that’s always a danger too. I mean the danger is that we assume that the Sexual Revolution will always be triumphant, progressing upward and onward. To assume such is to assume that the Sexual Revolution will be able to keep its promises. It can’t. It never has. If Christians see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, we will be outraged and hopeless instead of compassionate and convictional. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it.
We should stand against any bullying of kids who different from other children, for whatever reason. Children with gender identity issues are often harassed and marginalized. They should be loved and protected. Schools can do this without upending all gender categories. More importantly, churches and Christians can do this. We should hate the bullying of our neighbors, especially children, even more than the outside world hates it.
We Christians believe that all of us are sinners, and that none of us are freaks. We conclude that all of us are called to repentance, and part of what repentance means is to receive the gender with which God created us, even when that’s difficult. We must affirm that God loves all persons, and that the gospel is good news for repentant prodigal sons and daughters, including for those who have trouble figuring out which is which.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Difference Between How Luther and Calvin Interpreted the Old Testament

Reading a book review of Preaching Christ From the Old Testament by Sidney Greidanus and found this quote from the book interesting, 

In spite of broad agreement, however, Calvin’s hermeneutical approach is quite different from Luther’s. Luther was concerned mainly about the issue of salvation and focused on justification by faith in Christ. Consequently, finding Christ in the Old Testament became Luther’s priority. Calvin, though affirming justification by faith in Christ has a broader viewpoint, namely, the sovereignty and glory of God. The broader perspective enables Calvin to be satisfied with biblical messages about God, God’s redemptive history, and God’s covenant without necessarily focusing these messages on Jesus Christ” (127).

I just engaged an individual on FB who was talking about objectivity and my response is that none of us are objective when we come to the bible.  Interesting to see how the central truth to both Luther and Calvin influenced how they interpreted Scripture.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sage Advice on the Christian Life

Found this on Dashhouse this week, sage advice from two men who helped to shape Christianity across the world . . . 
I’m fascinated by the advice that older saints give near the end of their lives, particularly when the advice isn’t what you’d expect.
I came across two pieces of advice this week from J.I. Packer and John Stott. Both seem to go together. Both are helpful reminders for me, and I’m hoping you find them helpful too.

J.I. Packer’s Advice

J.I. Packer is now 91. He’s a British-born theologian living in Vancouver. He’s author of many books including the classic Knowing God, and is surely one of the most influential evangelicals in North America.
In their book The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb, authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel recount traveling to Vancouver to meet with Packer. Packer gave this advice during their conversation:
You should have a fifty-year plan— a vision for growth over a long period of time as you embrace your weakness.
This isn’t the advice I would have expected. Three things stand out to me:
  • Packer argues for intentionality. Learning the ways of Jesus won’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate planning.
  • Packer also argues for the long view. We tend to be in a rush, but God isn’t in as much of a rush as we are. Learning to walk in God’s ways can take a lifetime.
  • Packer also focuses on weakness. We tend to like strengths; God tends to use our weaknesses. When we embrace our weaknesses, we’re really embracing dependence on God.
Packer reminds us not to coast. No matter how old we are, we can plan to use the remaining years and decades to intentionally grow in God’s ways as we embrace our weakness.

John Stott’s Advice

John Stott was a British pastor and author, and one of the primary authors of the Lausanne Covenant. Before he died he gave this advice, recorded here:
Dr. John Stott’s last bit of advice to his assistant before he died was simply this, “Do the hard thing.”
“Uncle John” believed that choosing the easy trail, the road most taken, and the path of least resistance can only end in mediocrity – even if it comes with praise.
I, like most of us, tend to like to do the comfortable thing. I have a section in my regular prayers in which I repent of my love of comfort. It helps me to repent of the times I want to find something easier to do. It helps to correct my tendency to coast rather than to risk.
Stott’s call reminds me of Jack Miller’s advice to risk or rust. It’s better to be all in than to coast with comfort.

Two Practical Examples

John Piper is retired from pastoral ministry and could be taking it easy. I was struck by this quote from Piper:
Piper: “I’m 71. Periodically I ask Noel: You willing to go to the nations? I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years.” 
Rose Marie Miller, who was married to the late Jack Miller, was born in 1924. Today she serves as a most of her time in London, serving with Serge’s Southall team, building friendships and sharing her faith with Asian women in London.

Both Piper and Miller seem to have a long-term plan to grow, even in weakness, and to do hard things. May their tribe increase as we follow the surprising advice of older saints.

Monday, February 13, 2017

DNA for Disciple Making Pastors

Our church is committed to making disciples through intentional relationships but this is very difficult considering the time requirements.  I am reading a plethora of books on discipleship for the third year of my DMin program at Talbot and am excited about being more effective at making disciples.  Here are some thoughts that gripped me today as I read Bill Hulls' latest book, Conversion and Discipleship.  
Over time, the DNA for multiplying disciples developed within me. What is this DNA? It has eight key components, listed below. Most of these are covered at some point in my book Conversion and Discipleship.

1.     A pastor’s first priority is growing every member of the church to be a mature, reproducing disciple.
2.     Every person called to salvation is called to discipleship.
3.     The gospel expects all disciples to make other disciples.
4.     All ministry activities should be evaluated by their contribution to growing mature, reproducing disciples.
5.     The method should be Jesus’ way of personally making disciples who make other disciples.
6.     Success should be measured not by how many disciples are made, but by how many disciples are making other disciples.
7.     Our churches exist for making disciples, and disciples are God’s gift to the world.
8.     The ultimate goal of making disciples is world revolution. When the gospel is preached to all peoples, the end will come.


To summarize all of this, I borrow the wise words of Pat Morley. “A disciple-making pastor has a vision to disciple every person in his church, a determination to make it happen, and a system for sustaining it.”

Bill Hull, p. 205.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Are All Sins Equal to God?

Clarity from Michael Patton at Credo House . . .

During my ordination, one of the questions that I was asked by a seminary professor was “Are all sins equal in the sight of God?” I hesitated. Not because I did not have a strong opinion on this, but because I was not sure what the answer was that he was looking for. Are all sins equal in the sight of God? My ordination may have depended on the answer.
It is very common within popular evangelicalism to answer this question in the affirmative. This was one of the main assumptions in a book that I just recommended last week. Most find this theological concept very appealing and accept it, I am afraid to say, without doing much homework.
I think this tendency to assume that all sins are equal in the sight of God comes by means of three influences.
1) A reaction by Protestants against the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal sins (sins that kill justifying grace) and venial sin (sins of a lesser nature that do not kill justifying grace).
2) A tendency within our evangelistic church culture to express common ground with unbelievers—i.e., if all sins are equal in God’s sight, then your sin is not worse than any other. This way we are not coming across as judgmental or condescending.
3) Some biblical passages that have been interpreted in such a way (discussed below).
I don’t believe, however, that all sin is equal in God’s sight. I believe that telling people all sins are equal to God does serious damage to people’s understanding of the character of God and of the seriousness of sins. There are many reasons for this, but let me start with a reductio ad absurdum and them move to a biblical argument.

A Practical Test

I often ask people who say that all sin is equal in the sight of God if they live according to their theology. Think about this. If all sin is really equal in the sight of God, and one really believes this, then God’s consternation and anger will be equal for whatever sin we commit. Equally important is the fact that our relational disposition before God should suffer equally from the conviction of the Holy Spirit for all sins. Most Christians understand what it means to have a conscience weighed down by unrepentant sin. But this weighing down normally only comes from those sins that we perceive to be more severe. If it is true, however, that all sin is equal in the sight of God and one actually lived according to that theology, then they should be just as troubled spiritually and just as repentant before God when they break the speed limit as when they commit adultery. After all, breaking the speed limit, even by 1 mph, is breaking the law and breaking the law is sin (Rom 13).
But nobody does this. We all see speeding down the road as water under the bridge of God. Apparently our conscience bears witness that it is not as bad as other things, even if we confess differently. Either that or the ability for our theology to actually affect the way we believe and think is non-functional in this situation. 

A Biblical Test

Next (and more importantly) I think that it is biblical and necessary to say that some sins are more grievous in the sight of God than others. This also translates into the non-politically correct assumption that some people are sinners to a greater degree than others. Even though Protestants may not agree with the theology behind the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins, there are many instances in the Scriptures where degrees of sin are distinguished.
1. Christ tells Pilate that the Jewish leaders have committed a worse sin than him, saying, “He who has handed me over to you has committed the greater sin” (Jn. 19:11, emphasis mine).
2. Certain sins in the law are distinguished in a particular context as an abomination to God, implying that others are not as severe (e.g. Lev. 18:22; Deut. 7:25, Deut. 23:18, Isa. 41:24).
3. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is set apart as a more severe sin than blasphemy of the Son (Matt. 12:31)
4. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists particular sins in such a way as to single them out because of their depraved nature, separating them from others.
5. There are degrees of punishment in Hell depending on the severity of the offense (Lk. 12:47-48).
6. Christ often evaluates the sin of the Pharisees as greater than the sins of others. You strain out a gnat while you swallow a camel (Matt. 23:24). If all sins are equal, Christ’s rebuke does not make any sense. (See also Lk. 20:46-47)
7. Similarly, Christ also talked about the “weightier things of the law” (Matt. 23:23). If all sins are equal, there is no law (or violation of that law) that is “weightier” than others. They are all the same weight.
8. Unforgiveness is continually referred to as a particularly heinous sin (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:23-35).

Why Do Some Christians Believe that All Sins Are Equal

So where does this folk theology come from? Most people would refer to Christ’s comments in the Sermon on the Mount. Most particularly, reference is made to Matt. 5:27-28 as justification for this way of thinking.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’” but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28 27).
Is there a difference in the eyes of God between thinking about adultery and actually doing it? Absolutely. If we say anything other than this, I believe we do damage to God’s character and encourage the act based upon its premonition. The point Christ makes in Matt. 5:28 is not that lust and the actual act are equal, but that they both violate the same commandment, even if the degrees of this violation differ. Thus, Christ was telling people – and particularly the religious establishment of the day that thought they were safe because they had fulfilled the letter of the law – that the law runs much deeper. The spirit of the law is what matters. Therefore, if you have ever lusted, you have broken the sixth commandment. If you have ever hated your brother, you have broken the fifth commandment (Matt. 5:22). But, again, the breaking of the principles of the commandment is the issue, not the degree to which it is broken.
This is the same argument that James makes in Jam. 2:10 when he says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” He is not equating all sin, but showing how any violation of the law, no matter how small, is still breaking the whole of the law because the law is connected to such a degree.

The Absurdity of Such Thinking

Think about this (another reductio): if you believe that adultery and lust are equal in the sight of God, then here are the consequences: any man or woman can justify divorce based upon the fact that in Matt. 5:32 Christ condemns divorce except for marital infidelity. All they need to do is make the safe assumption that their spouse has lusted to some degree during their marriage. This will make their divorce justified and biblical. In the same way, if a man were to lust after a woman on the internet, he might as well commit the actual act since in God’s eyes he already has. Or (while I am on roll), if you have ever lusted after a girl, then you are under God’s mandate to marry her since in God’s eyes you are one with her (1 Cor. 6:16).
I think that this way of thinking is not only wrong biblically, but it also has repercussions that lead to a distorted worldview and to discrediting the integrity of God and the Gospel of Christ.

A Better Way to Put It

It is true. All people are sinners (Rom. 3:23). All people are sinners from birth. But not all sin is equal.
I think this is a safe way to stay humble and accurately represent the biblical witness:
While not all people sin to the same degree, we all share in an equally depraved nature.
In other words, no one is less of a sinner because of an innate righteousness about which they can boast. All people have equal potential for depravity because we are all sons of Adam and share in the same depravity, even if we don’t, due to God’s grace, act out our sinfulness to the same degree.
If you disagree with this, just think—really think—about what you are saying about God. You are saying to an unbelieving world that your God is just as angry about the act of going 56 in a 55 as he is about the act of one who rapes and murders a six-year-old girl. Do you really want to go there? Do you really think this position is sufficiently supported to justify such a belief? Can you really defend it? If the Bible teaches it, fine. We go with the Bible and not with our emotions or palatability decoder. But I don’t believe that a viable case can be made for letting our theology argue for such a belief. I can’t think of many more things in Evangelical pop-theology that is more wrong, more damaging, or more
misrepresentative of God’s character and the nature of sin.
I answered with the above answer during my ordination. I was relieved when I saw the approval of the ordination committee. They were all concerned that I might be one who, even with seminary training, retained this belief that most Evangelicals have. I have often wondered whether or not they would have passed me if I had answered according to today’s Evangelical folklore, saying that all sins are equal in the sight of God. I would hope not.
Others who say the same thing:
R.C. Sproul