Monday, September 21, 2015


Here is an excellent article by Trevin Wax at Gospel Coalition about the the marginalization of InterVarsity through discrimination and even persecution and their biblical response.  They did not play the victim, not complain, but responded in biblical love, compassion, and mission.  The result is that they are growing in their influence!

The most difficult place to be a convictional Christian in North America is probably the campus of a university. Christian students frequently speak of the hostility they face on campus when they are open about their Christian faith and practice.
If the university is a microcosm of the rest of society and a sign of where our culture is headed, then Christians can expect hostility and marginalization to increase in the coming years. The good news is: if Christian organizations on campus are any indication, this marginalization could become the catalyst for more effective mission.

The Challenge to InterVarsity

Take, for example, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – a campus group that has faced opposition over the past 15 years.
In 2000, InterVarsity was expelled from Tufts University. The reason? The doctrinal and behavioral standards for InterVarsity leaders were distinctively Christian, thus excluding non-Christians. Other schools followed suit: Harvard, Williams College, and Rutgers.
It seems silly to many Americans to require an organization open its leadership to anyone, no matter what they believe. How can a group centered on a particular set of beliefs not require its leaders to hold those beliefs? How could a Christian organization appoint an atheist to lead it? Why should the College Democrats allow a Republican president? (Interestingly, the policies aimed at InterVarsity were applied inconsistently. Muslim groups that not only require certain beliefs of leaders but alsomembers were left alone.)
The problem for InterVarsity wasn’t just a matter of doctrine, but of practice. It was the requirement that leaders abstain from any sexual relationship outside of biblical marriage that caused particular consternation. By asking leaders to live by Christian faith and practice, InterVarsity had run afoul of our culture’s commitment to sexual liberty.
For more than a decade now, InterVarsity has faced multiple controversies regarding their groups’ leadership standards. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that universities had the right to require groups to open their leadership to all, as long as they applied that policy fairly and required all groups to adopt that “all comers” philosophy.
Last year, after Vanderbilt University excluded InterVarsity, Tish Warren wrote about the experience as a Christian who sees herself as a moderate – not politically or theologically conservative. Her testimony made clear that it is biblical orthodoxy, not one’s political leanings, that causes the offense.
“The line between good and evil was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.”
Soon after Vanderbilt barred InterVarsity, California de-recognized the campus organization from all 23 state schools. (InterVarsity has since been reinstated.)

How InterVarsity Responded

How did InterVarsity respond to these challenges?
First, students didn’t pretend to be martyrs. They did not see themselves as helpless victims of liberal tyranny. Being shamed or relegated to second-class status is marginalizationnot martyrdom — and they know the difference. Perhaps due to InterVarsity’s global outreach and ethnic diversity, these believers avoided words like “persecution” for their own situation when they are well aware of true persecution in other parts of the world.
Secondly, because InterVarsity students did not see exaggerate their difficulties, they were better prepared to treat their opponents with respect and dignity. They overcame the temptation to resent the people who marginalized them. Even though they were taunted and shamed, accused of being intolerant bigots no better than white supremacists, they cheerfully served the people who maligned them. They brought water and doughnuts to LGBT groups protesting them. They took stands against LGBT bullying even while facing ideological bullies in university leadership. They prayed for their university leaders and found creative ways to support and strengthen the institutions that were bent on driving them out.
David French witnessed InterVarsity’s cheerful courage and compassion firsthand:
“With my own eyes I’ve seen young college students – kids who months before never imagined they’d be at the center of a national controversy – braving physical intimidation in deliberately darkened hallways, barred from entering campus hearing rooms to respectfully defend religious freedom. I’ve seen young women endure rape threats and death threats yet double down on their faith commitments and commitment to free speech for all. Young students have been subjected to Star Chamber-like proceedings in which furious campus administrators tried to hector them into doubting and denying their faith. And students have turned out by the hundreds, crowding campus buildings, to pray for their university and protest their unjust punishments.”
InterVarsity leaders challenged policies they believed were unwise or discriminatory, but whenever they lost, they submitted to the decisions and moved forward without campus recognition.

What Happened to InterVarsity

Today, InterVarsity’s reports of conversion are up 172% from just ten years ago. In the past four years, InterVarsity has grown at a double-digit rate, increasing their presence on more than 100 new campuses and ministering to 40,000 students (up from 31,000).
If marginalization is a danger to a Christian organization’s mission, the numbers sure don’t show it. In fact, we might say the opposite is true. 
We often talk about how the test of one’s character, one’s inner fortitude (one’s “mettle,” to use the old English word) takes place in times of adversity. People say: “I didn’t know what I had in me until this happened!”
InterVarsity has faced adversity, but through that experience, its members have drawn out the beauty of Christianity in practice. A distinctive display of love for enemies is one of the most powerful marks of a Christian. But in order to display that love, you must find yourself in a place where you are maligned, misunderstood, or mistreated for your faith.

Church, Take Heart!

I hope the Church takes note. We shouldn’t see ourselves as martyrs facing bitter persecution. Neither should we given in to a poisonous resentment that reinforces the feeling of being beleaguered and oppressed.
Instead, like InterVarsity, we ought to see how the cultural challenges that lie ahead are not obstacles that hinder us, but avenues for our faith to shine brighter. That’s why Paul spoke of suffering as something to rejoice in – something that produces endurance and strengthens our hope in God.
InterVarsity is proof that cultural marginalization can actually help Christians be better. Being marginalized in wider society doesn’t mean that our Christian faith and practice has to suffer. It might just be the catalyst for even more effectiveness in our mission.

Friday, September 18, 2015

3 Reasons Not to Homeschool

I think homeschooling is a great idea but not for everyone.  I have seen disastrous results of homeschooling in some families both in terms of failing to educate their children and failing to spiritually influence their children positively.  Here are some wrong reasons for homeschooling.  Another article from Gospel Coalition.
When I meet someone new and they learn we are homeschoolers, I get a variety of responses. Some simply stare at me, perhaps wondering why I’m not in standard homeschool uniform. “Where is her denim jumper?” they might think. Others respond with “Good for you!” and begin asking questions with genuine curiosity about how our family homeschools. Still others share with me all the reasons they could never homeschool. And then there are some who mutter “That’s nice” and look at my children with a mixture of pity and a disdain.

Homeschooling Times Are Changing 

The responses I receive have a lot to do with widespread perceptions of homeschooling. Perhaps the diversity of responses reflects the fact that homeschooling is changing. It’s not what it once was. More and more people outside the church are choosing to homeschool. And no two homeschool situations look the same. In some families, two kids might be homeschooled while another two might be in a traditional school. In other families, children might participate in a homeschool hybrid program where they attend a school setting once or twice a week and are home the rest of the week. Some families use public school online education at home. In our family, my kids are homeschooled four days a week and attend public school one day a week.
Homeschooling is also growing in numbers. In 1999, more than 850,000 students were homeschooled in the United States. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education reported an estimated 1.77 million students were homeschooled. In North Carolina, more children are homeschooled than attend private schools.
This time of year, as we begin to transition out of vacation mindset back into school mode, you may be considering homeschooling for the first time. And there are many good reasons to consider it. You get to choose the curriculum for your children. You’re able to teach every subject through a biblical worldview. You can take time to study things your children enjoy learning about, at their own pace and on their own level. Homeschool allows for greater flexibility in your schedule. Since it doesn’t take as long as a typical school day to complete lessons, there’s plenty of time for extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, additional classes, and hobbies. Homeschooling also provides more time for families to spend together. I could go on.
But there are also reasons not to homeschool. If the idea of homeschooling has been on your mind, here are three reasons you should not homeschool your children.
1. Because you are afraid. 
Fear is a lousy motive for anything. Scripture is clear we are not to live a life of fear, whether it’s fear of people, circumstances, the future, or anything else. We shouldn’t homeschool because we fear something bad will happen to our children. Our children will have bad things happen to them whether we homeschool or not. We live in a fallen world where sickness, injury, crime, and other things occur around us all the time. The only fear that ought to motivate us to do anything is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7).
2. Because you think it will save your child. 
Homeschooling won’t ensure your salvation. The Holy Spirit is the one who awakens your child’s dead heart and gives a soft heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:23–24). So don’t pursue homeschooling because you think it will guarantee their salvation. It’s true that homeschooling affords you plenty of time and opportunity to discuss the things of God with your children, and that’s great. There’s time to dig deep into God’s Word, memorize it, and learn how to apply the gospel to all areas of learning and life. But homeschooling in and of itself will not save your child.
3. Because it’s what all your friends are doing. 
In some Christian communities, homeschooling is popular. If everyone around you is homeschooling and you’re not, it can feel like you’re less of a Christian for not doing so. To homeschool because of some outside pressure is not a worthwhile reason. Additionally, your Christianity does not hang upon your method of schooling. Your salvation comes by faith in the work of Christ, and such faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). Someone is not a better Christian because they homeschool. Homeschooling is something you do because you believe it’s best for your family. It’s a decision made after much prayer, study, and research. It’s a decision made for God’s glory, not to please others, not to fit in, and certainly not to appear more “Christian.”

Research and Pray

As a parent who’s gone through the difficult decision-making process to homeschool, I know what a big decision and commitment it is. As homeschooling continues to grow and change, I imagine more families will consider it.
If you’re contemplating homeschooling your children, I encourage you to spend time in thorough research and prayer. I also encourage you to not base your decision on fear, your children’s salvation, or peer pressure.

Christina Fox is a licensed mental health counselor, coffee drinker, writer, and homeschooling mom, not necessarily in that order. She lives with her husband of 18 years and two boys in sunny South Florida. You can find her sharing her journey in faith at and on Facebook.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What’s It Like to Abort Your Own Child?

This article from Gospel Coalition is profound on several levels.  The first is the depths of sin that flow from one's thinking.  The second is the opposite, the depth of good that flows from one's thinking!  Another is the impact that one can make on a secondary issue.  I wonder if the creator of the ultrasound had any idea that their invention would do for the pro life movement.
Bernard Nathanson’s first involvement with abortion was as a medical student at McGill University in Montreal. In 1945, having gotten his girlfriend pregnant, he scheduled and financed her illegal abortion.
In the 1960s, Nathanson, by then a medical doctor practicing obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN), became a leader in the movement to overturn laws against abortion. He and Lawrence Lader, who once proclaimed, “Abortion is central to everything in life and how we want to live it,” co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws(NARAL). Their goal was to make abortion both culturally and legally acceptable.
To achieve that goal, Nathanson would later admit, they “pursued dubious and in some cases straightforwardly dishonest strategies,” noted Robert George. They promoted the idea that abortion was about medicine, not morality; lied about the number of illegal abortions performed annually and about the number of women who died from them; suggested that opposing abortion was a “religious dogma” imposed by a Catholic hierarchy; and argued that abortion was an effective means to fight poverty.

The Pride of Expertise

In 1970, when New York legalized abortion, Nathanson became the director of the largest freestanding abortion clinic in the world where he oversaw more than 75,000 abortions and performed almost 5,000, including one on his own child. In his autobiography, he confessed:
What is it like to terminate the life of your own child? . . . I have aborted the unborn children of my friends, my colleagues, my casual acquaintances, even my teachers. There was not a shred of self-doubt, never a wavering of the supreme self-confidence that I was doing a major service for those who sought me out. . . . I had no feelings aside from the sense of accomplishment, the pride of expertise.
By 1974, a year after Roe v. Wade, Nathanson began to question whether the fetus was just an “undifferentiated mass of cells” or a developing human being. He was becoming increasingly sure that an abortion was, in fact, a death, not merely a medical procedure. Yet he continued to perform them because he remained convinced that abortion was “a legitimate solution to a woman’s personal problem.”

The Humility of Truth

In the 1970s, however, a new technology was introduced in the United States that would change Nathanson forever—the ultrasound. For him the ultrasound made it impossible to deny that abortion was anything other than the deliberate killing of a human being. Using ultrasound technology, he would later produce a pro-life documentary, The Silent Scream, with film footage of an actual abortion. He explained:
These [ultrasound] technologies and apparatuses and machines, which we now use everyday, have convinced us that—beyond question—an unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us. Now, for the first time, we have the technology to see abortion from the victim’s vantage point. Ultrasound imaging has allowed us to see this.
That new technology revealed not only that the unborn child was alive biologically, but alive mentally, too. In 2002, when I heard Nathanson speak to a group of Capitol Hill staffers, he shared a story I won’t soon forget:
We shocked a pregnant woman’s abdomen and watched the sonogram. The fetus jumped. We shocked it again; the fetus jumped halfway. We shocked it a third time; the fetus didn’t jump at all. This is when we discovered that the fetus is a baby with the capacity to learn and adapt. (Paraphrased from memory.)

The Crusade of a New Affection

Nathanson spent the rest of his life fighting the pro-abortion laws he helped put in place. His reasoning, though, wasn’t based on faith. He was a secular Jewish atheist who was convinced by science and human rights, not religion, that abortion was murder.
Gradually, though, the witness of the pro-life believers around him drew Nathanson to faith in God. “Having become persuaded of the truth of the pro-life position,” recalled George, “he was drawn to Catholicism because of the church’s witness—in the face of prejudice Nathanson himself helped to whip up—to the inherent and equal value and dignity of human life in all stages and conditions.”
In 2011, when Nathanson died, George penned an obituary for his friend. Looking back over Nathanson’s life, George noted two lessons. First, truth will prevail and overcome darkness. Second:
We in the pro-life movement have no enemies to destroy. Our weapons are chaste weapons of the spirit: truth and love. Our task is less to defeat our opponents than to win them to the cause of life. To be sure, we must oppose the culture and politics of death resolutely and with a determination to win. But there is no one—no one—whose heart is so hard that he or she cannot be won over. Let us not lose faith in the power of our weapons to transform even the most resolute abortion advocates.
Wielding truth and love won’t win over everyone to the cause of life, but it will change those with eyes to see and ears to hear. As truth beckons, “Come and witness the culture of death that undergirds abortion,” minds will be persuaded. As love invites, “Taste and see the culture of life that is Christ crucified for you,” hearts will be softened.
For abortion says, “Your life for mine,” but Jesus says, “My life for yours—even if you’ve killed your own child.”

Monday, September 14, 2015

3 Things to Look for in a Youth Minister

A great article every youth pastor needs to read (except mine)!  Found this on Gospel Coalition.
I have been in or around youth ministry for 25 years, including more weekend youth conferences than I can possibly count. I have now served in full-time ordained capacities for nine years, and in the churches I’ve served during that time I’ve always supervised or worked closely with the youth staff.
Needless to say, in all this time spent around the church, I’ve seen a heaping ton of youth ministers. Some have had wonderful, fruitful ministries, while others have crumbled faster than an overcooked oatmeal cookie. If I were hiring a youth leader today, I’d want to avoid the oatmeal cookie.

Three Irreducible Traits

I would be looking for three things:
One who loves God and his Word. This seems so basic one might wonder why it’s not just a given. Trust me, it’s not. I have seen many youth ministers whose relationship with the Lord was exposed as flimsy (at best) under the pressures of ministry. Typically these individuals have found their youth group to be a place of affirmation and acceptance, but not of theological substance. They’ve found a fun job as a youth minister in hopes of continuing to gain affirmation and acceptance.
If I’m hiring a youth worker, I want someone who has made the saving jump from experiencing acceptance in the church community to resting personally and substantively in the gracious acceptance given by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Qualified candidates must be prepared to be blown off and unappreciated by careless kids and under-discipled parents. The youth minister will need to possess the spiritual maturity to believe fully that:
  • All the acceptance and affirmation they will ever need they already have in Jesus Christ.
  • The Bible is a fountain of life, full of God’s true and living riches, attesting to his infinite grace, and authoritative for faith and life.
  • God and his Word are what students need more than anything else.
  • The youth minister’s personal time spent with God and his Word is the fuel for his ministry.
One who loves God’s people. Again basic, right? Not so fast. Ministry requires humility, and if you don’t already have it, youth ministry will either develop it in you or drive you away. Both can be painful. Because the fruitful youth minister is personally rooted in God’s love and saturated with his Word, he is already humbled before the Lord. Therefore, his main concern isn’t being liked, but that students hear the gospel of God’s grace over and over again. 
“Young adult” is not a requirement, nor is “wildly entertaining.” I’m not looking for someone who has a huge bag of tricks, unless they are particularly skilled in using those tricks to teach students about God’s grace. While the effective youth minister will have people skills broad enough to speak intelligibly to both youth and adults, I want someone who desires to make themselves available to students and their families, who can listen, who can teach the Bible in a compelling way, and who can teach others to do the same. I don’t want someone who just likes going to high school football games, but one who goes to high school football games intent on building relationships with students to the end that these relationships might lead students to know King Jesus. 
In short, I don’t want a youth minister who expects a fun job and a prolonged adolescence; I want someone who comes to the position with a robust theology of Christian ministry. 
One who is professionally aware. I once worked with a youth minister who, despite having a lot of talent, was perpetually frustrated at the lack of respect he got from parents and fellow church staff. “How much of your own money would you be willing to pay towards gaining the respect you desire?” I asked him. “I don’t know, $1,000?” he answered. “Then take that $1,000 and buy yourself some professional clothing.” He never did. He continued to wear flip-flops and torn-up shorts to staff meetings and parent gatherings, and, despite having a wife and child, he was never viewed as an adult. 
It may be entirely appropriate to act, dress, and talk like the lead student around students, but the qualified youth ministry candidate understands that adults need to see and feel the children are being led by a responsible adult. Part of being a responsible adult means dressing professionally in a professional setting. The expectation will of course vary by congregation, but in ministry situations the youth minister shouldn’t dress much differently than the pastor or the parents. Here are a few other things that will go a long way toward winning the trust and loyalty of parents and staff:
  • Be on time. Punctuality is important. Call ahead if it looks like you’ll be late. Though everyone will get caught in traffic occasionally, make sure you don’t create a reputation for tardiness. As one coach used to tell his players, “If you can’t be on time, be early.”
  • Return phone calls and e-mails promptly. If you receive a contentious e-mail, for example, then pray, make sure you’re calm, and return it with a phone call. 
  • Do what you say you’re going to do, and don’t make promises you likely won’t keep. Your calendar and to-do list aren’t just important for you; as one of whom much action and communication is required, how you keep track of where you’re supposed to be and what needs to be done is vital for the credibility of your ministry. If you’re not particularly organized or gifted at planning details, make sure you have someone around you who is.

Focus on the Essentials

Oatmeal cookies may be sweet, but they tend to get eaten up pretty quickly. The next time I’m looking for a youth minister, then, I’d be asking detailed questions about how strongly they love the Lord, how deeply they trust his Word, how compassionately they love his people, and how appropriately they will navigate their context.

Joe Gibbes serves as associate pastor for Christian education at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the interim pastor of Church of the Holy Cross in Trussville, Alabama. Joe writes for the Bible in a Year blog. He and his wife Amy have three children.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Bible and Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Common But Mistaken Claims

Same sex marriage will only become more of an issue in the US so it is good for Christians to think clearly on this issue.  Those that attempt to argue that the bible is acceptable of same sex marriage have no biblical grounds and those that attempt to do so display their ignorance! A well reasoned article by a prolific biblical scholar Darrel Block from Gospel Coalition.
I’ve been hearing a lot in the public square about trajectories. In these conversations God’s Word is used to argue that the church needs to change its view on same-sex marriage, even though Scripture seems uniformly against it. This comes not only from newspaper columnists, such as Steve Blow in the Dallas Morning News, but also from evangelical commentators who claim the direction of the Bible takes them there. I understand this desire to love well, taken from the great commandment (Matt. 22:39), and I also see that one can ask such questions not out of a desire to rebel, clear a new path, or conform to culture, but out of sincerity.
Sincere questions deserve sincere responses. This article is designed to engage those who say the real thrust of the Bible is to joyously enter our brave new world with open arms and hearts. I’ll discuss various claims arguing that Scripture either doesn’t clearly address our specific contemporary situation or that Scripture is open and inconsistent enough to allow room for a category previously rejected.

Claim 1: Jesus didn’t speak about same-sex marriage, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn. 

This is an argument from silence, but the silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Jesus addresses and defines marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–9using both Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 2:24 to parse it out. Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. With this definition, same-sex marriage is excluded. Had Jesus wished to extend the right of marriage beyond this definition, here was his opportunity. But he didn’t take it. 
Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it. He was not as silent on the topic as some claim.

Claim 2: The Old Testament (OT) allows all sorts of “prohibited” marriage, including polygamy and what would today qualify as incest. If those were permitted, surely monogamous same-sex relationships should be allowed.

Here’s where a look at trajectory helps us. If we observe what Scripture actually teaches, we see that (1) such past marriages are consistently portrayed as resulting in social chaos and aren’t so much prescribed as described; and that (2) Scripture’s expansion into the New Testament (NT) narrows down the scope of options to the standard of one monogamous union between a man and woman in which the marriage bed is to be honored but porneia—sexual infidelity in all its manifestations—is to be avoided (Heb. 13:4). Additionally, elders are to show the community what it looks like to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:212).
So opening up marriage to a new category actually works against Scripture’s trajectory on marriage.

Claim 3: The move to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage is like the church’s past blindness on slavery, women’s rights, and a geocentric universe—where what was “clearly” taught in Scripture is now seen as wrong.

It’s fair to point out that some views that used to be considered clear in Scripture have actually turned out to not be so clear—and even wrong. Hermeneutical humility for all is not a bad thing. But it cuts both ways. Whereas with creation/slavery/women one can point to passages where counter-tensions existed with what was clear (such as the way Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus, or how Mary sat as Jesus’s disciple, or how the Spirit is said to indwell all women), no OT or NT text is even neutral on same-sex issues. Every single text that mentions the topic does so negatively.
So here also trajectory helps us, since with same-sex passages there is no trajectory. The reading is consistent. That should count for something.

Claim 4: We don’t follow all sorts of OT laws today (try laws on having sex while a woman is menstruating, or eating certain types of food), so why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?

We already set the trajectory for this answer when we noted that all the biblical texts on homosexuality, both in the OT and NT, are negative. Yet one other observation needs to be made. Some OT laws deal with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship, which aren’t categories of sin but of appropriateness tied to worship. These aren’t moral laws, but restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship. This claim shows no sensitivity to these biblical distinctions. In some cases, it ends up comparing apples to oranges since issues of uncleanness were set aside in the NT when Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29Eph. 2:11–22Col. 2:13–15).
We don’t read the Bible as a flat text. It progresses, even along certain trajectories, so that with the arrival of the promise certain parts of the law are set aside (Gal. 3Heb. 8–10).

Claim 5: Same-sex marriage doesn’t harm anyone, so it’s morally acceptable and people should have the right to choose what to do.

This is one argument that’s not so much biblical as it is logical. Often the church’s response has been that human design reveals the wrongness of homosexuality because of childbearing. A same-sex couple cannot produce a child. But what does that say about singles or couples who do not or cannot bear children? That rebuttal is fair. Marriage isn’t just about providing children, nor is sex merely for procreation. The Song of Songs lifts up love in marriage as having its own merit, as do many psalms and proverbs.
But here’s another place where surfacing gender in its distinction matters. In Genesis 1 and 2, God’s creation of male and female as a complementary pair—a pairing of another person like me but not the same gender, both made in God’s image—is seen as part of God’s design. That image involves both male and female. Marriage depicts their mutual cooperation in a designed diversity to steward God’s creation. This is seen as creation’s pinnacle since it is the context in which God calls us to manage the world well. Part of that creation design is about the nurturing of future people, where respect for each gender is entailed and appreciated.
I ask a hard question now sincerely: how is respect and appreciation for both genders enhanced, affirmed, and modeled in same-sex marriage? It doesn’t even have the potential for showing it. In a somewhat ironic sense given our desire to be politically correct, same-sex marriage is discriminatory, for only one gender counts in the relationship.
Nevertheless, people do have the right to choose whom they live with and are morally responsible before God for their choices. In the end he will judge us—heterosexual or homosexual—for how we’ve lived in these areas, regardless of our national laws. The church’s plea has been motivated not by hate or fear, but out of a genuine belief that how we choose to live in this most basic of relationships affects our society for good or ill. So we should choose wisely, both individually and as a people. For those who trust Scripture, this means walking in line with the design and standards God says are best for love and flourishing.

Claim 6: The ancient world didn’t understand genuine same-sex love, so this is a new category to consider.

Apparently neither Jesus nor Paul nor even God the Father—who inspired Scripture—recognized this potential category. But this claim ignores how widespread same-sex relationships were in the ancient world. Not all of them were abusive or exercises of raw social power. This is a classic example of “chronological snobbery,” which C. S. Lewis described as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” (Surprised by Joy, 206), and which his friend Owen Barfield explained as the belief that, intellectually, humanity “languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century” (History in English Words, 154).
Such a claim drastically underestimates the options ancient life presented, and it ignores the fact that ancient culture fairly uniformly rejected the idea of same-sex marriage. This point is important for understanding Paul’s inclusion of such relationships in the category of porneia (Rom. 1:26–27; see also Jesus–Matt. 15:19). The infidelity in view isn’t just to another person, but to the complementary divine design of man and woman in God’s image.

Something Sacred and Profound 

Paying serious attention the trajectory of Scripture—even if it aims to be monogamous and loving—doesn’t open the door to affirming same-sex marriage. In fact, it does the opposite. 
Divine revelation gives us every indication there is something sacred about God’s image being male and female, and something profound about marriage between a man and a woman (Eph. 5:32)—something that makes marriage unique among all human relationships.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Do All Infants Go to Heaven?

This is a difficult issue because we have very limited biblical information about it, nor is it directly addressed in Scripture.  On top of this, it is a very emotionally charged topic.  These two factors make this discussion hard to be objective about when discussing and thinking it through biblical eyes.  Sam does a good job reasoning this through, originally from Gospel Coalition.
Recent revelatory videos about the practices of Planned Parenthood have stirred many to ask about the eternal destiny of these precious unborn babies. So are those who die in infancy lost? The same question applies to those who live beyond infancy but, because of mental disability or some other handicap, are incapable of moral discernment, deliberation, or volition.
This is more than a theoretical issue designed for speculation. It touches one of the most emotionally and spiritually unsettling experiences in all of life: the loss of a young child.
The view I embrace is that all those who die in infancy, as well as those so mentally incapacitated they’re incapable of making an informed choice, are among the elect of God, chosen for salvation before the world began. The evidence for this view is scant, but significant. 
1. In Romans 1:20 Paul describes recipients of general revelation as being “without excuse.” They can’t blame their unbelief on a lack of evidence. There is sufficient revelation of God’s existence in the natural order to establish the moral accountability of all who witness it. Might this imply that those who are not recipients of general revelation (i.e., infants) are therefore not accountable to God or subject to wrath? In other words, wouldn’t those who die in infancy have an “excuse” in that they neither receive general revelation nor have the capacity to respond to it?
2. There are texts that assert or imply that infants don’t know good or evil and hence lack the capacity to make morally informed—and thus responsible—choices. According to Deuteronomy 1:39 they are said to “have no knowledge of good or evil.” This in itself, however, doesn’t prove infant salvation, for they may still be held liable for the sin of Adam.
3. We must take account of the story of David’s son in 2 Samuel 12:15–23 (especially verse 23). The firstborn child of David and Bathsheba is struck by the Lord and dies. In the seven days before his death, David fasts and prays, hoping that “the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.” Yet following the child’s death, David washes, eats, and worships. Asked why he’s responding this way, David says, “Since he has died, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (v. 23).
What does it mean when David says “I shall go to him”? If this is merely a reference to the grave or death in the sense that David, too, shall one day die and be buried, one wonders why he’d say something so patently obvious. Also, it appears that David draws some measure of comfort from knowing that he will “go to him.” It’s the reason why David resumes the normal routine of life. It appears to be the reason he ceases from the display of grief. It appears to be a truth from which he derives comfort and encouragement. How could any of this be true if David will simply die like his son? It would, therefore, appear David believed he would be reunited with his deceased infant. Does this imply that at least this one particular infant was saved? Perhaps. But if so, are we justified in constructing a doctrine in which we affirm the salvation of all who die in infancy?
4. There is the consistent testimony of Scripture that people are judged on the basis of sins committed voluntary and consciously in the body (see 2 Cor. 5:101 Cor. 6:9–10Rev. 20:11–12). In other words, eternal judgment is always based on conscious rejection of divine revelation (whether in creation, conscience, or Christ) and willful disobedience. Are infants capable of either? There is no explicit account in Scripture of any other judgment based on any other grounds. Thus, those dying in infancy are saved because they do not (indeed cannot) satisfy the conditions for divine judgment.
5. Related to the above point, is what R.  A. Webb states:
[If a deceased infant] were sent to hell on no other account than that of original sin, there would be a good reason to the divine mind for the judgment, but the child’s mind would be a perfect blank as to the reason of its suffering. Under such circumstances, it would know suffering, but it would have no understanding of the reason for its suffering. It could not tell its neighbor—it could not tell itself—why it was so awfully smitten; and consequently the whole meaning and significance of its sufferings, being to it a conscious enigma, the very essence of penalty would be absent, and justice would be disappointed of its vindication. Such an infant could feel that it was in hell, but it could not explain, to its own conscience, why it was there.
6. We have what would appear to be clear biblical evidence that at least some infants are regenerate in the womb, such that if they died in their infancy they would be saved. This provides at least a theoretical basis for considering whether the same may be true of all who die in infancy. As Ronald Nash points out, “If this sort of thing happens even once, it can certainly happen in other cases.” Supporting texts include Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:15.
7. Some have appealed to Matthew 19:13–15 (also Mark 10:13–16Luke 18:15–17) where Jesus declares, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Is he simply saying if one wishes to be saved one must be as trusting as a child (i.e., devoid of skepticism and arrogance)? In other words, is Jesus merely describing the kind of people who enter the kingdom? Or is he saying these very children were recipients of saving grace? If the latter were true, it would seem to imply Jesus knew that the children he was then receiving would all die in infancy. Is that credible?
8. Let me close with an argument that’s entirely subjective (and therefore of questionable evidential value). Given our understanding of God’s character as presented in Scripture, does he appear as the kind of God who would eternally condemn infants on no other ground than that of Adam’s transgression? Again, this is a subjective (and perhaps sentimental) question. But it deserves an answer, nonetheless.
I can only speak for myself, but I find the first, third, fourth, fifth, and eighth points sufficiently convincing. Therefore, I do believe in the salvation of those dying in infancy. I affirm their salvation, though, neither because they are innocent nor because they have merited forgiveness, but solely because God has sovereignly chosen them for eternal life, regenerated their souls, and applied the saving benefits of the blood of Christ to them apart from conscious faith.

Editors’ note: This essay has been adapted and shortened from Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions (Crossway, 2013). 

Sam Storms is lead pastor for preaching and vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He also serves as a Council member of The Gospel Coalition.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Discipling Our Children - Lessons to Learn From the Duggar Family

A important article for all parents by Trevin Wax at Gospel Coalition . . . The world is shocked at the news of Josh Duggar molesting multiple girls when he was a teenager. After all, the Duggar parents went to great lengths to shelter their children from inappropriate influences in the world — from limiting their access to the internet to implementing a dress code of modesty and femininity. What’s more, they spoke publicly about their standards for sexual purity. They explained why Josh and Anna saved their first kiss for their wedding day, and why the couple always had chaperones.
More than the tawdry revelations of Lena Dunham’s inexcusable behavior toward her little sister, or the sickening accounts of abuse by Woody Allen or Roman Polanski, the Duggar scandal is shocking precisely because of the high bar they’ve set for themselves and the standards they’ve put on display.
Now, I have no interest in debating the facts of this case. It is heartbreaking, disgusting, and infuriating all at once, and even if we can all be thankful for God’s grace poured out on even the worst of sinners, we cannot minimize the long-lasting consequences of such behavior, especially when some of the victims were preyed upon by their own brother.
Instead, I’d like to point out a problematic, but fairly common assumption in many corners of evangelicalism — an assumption that needs to be challenged. It’s the idea that sin is something out there that we need to watch out for. The reality, however, is that sin is not primarily something we need to be sheltered from, but delivered from.
It’s easy for a Christian family that seeks to honor the Lord with distinctive, holy living to adopt this mindset:
“The world is evil, and our family is good. Therefore, we need to protect our family from the evil outside.”
Along these lines, training up children in the way they should go becomes primarily about sheltering our kids. We deliver our kids from evil by avoiding evil influences “outside” our home. We forbid certain television shows, monitor their internet usage, and avoid neighborhood kids. In some cases, we turn to homeschooling or Christian education.
The problem with this mindset is that it takes a legitimate aspect of wise parenting and twists it until it results in a warped view of children and society.
It’s perfectly fine to shelter your children from certain influences. It would be an abdication of parental responsibility to set no limits or standards in your home. In our family, for example, there are TV shows (even cartoons) that we don’t allow our kids to watch. We have standards regarding modesty and dress, the kind of language we use, and we send our kids to a Christian school.
There’s nothing wrong with setting limits and having standards, but neither is there something specifically Christian about these kinds of limits. Plenty of non-Christian parents wouldn’t let their kids watch a sexually-charged TV show, for example. Non-religious dads and moms may object to their daughter’s skimpy prom dress.
The problem for Christian parents isn’t in the desire to shelter children; it’s in the warped perspective that such sheltering can foster.
We begin to believe that sin and rebellion is a problem outside of our home, not inside.
We start thinking our kids are basically good and in need of moral direction, rather than recognizing that our kids are basically bad and in need of heart transformation.
We communicate to our kids that it’s ”us” (good) versus “them” (bad) rather than helping them see our family’s role as one of service (“us” for “them”).
Then, when evil shows up on the inside of our home, we diminish its significance or hide it rather than bring it out in the open.
The reason we shelter our kids shouldn’t simply be that there’s evil outside, but also that there’s evil inside. The line of good and evil runs through every human heart, as Solzhenitsyn once said. No one is immune to temptation. No child is a tabula rasa. We’re born in sin and, apart from the grace of Christ, we’ll die in sin. That’s why we need a Savior who rescues us, not a shelter that protects us.
I’ve long appreciated this distinction from Eric Geiger regarding “defensive” and “offensive” discipleship. His words apply to parenting as well:
Defensive discipleship plays to not lose the hearts of people to the world because defensive discipleship believes the hearts of people are pure. Consequently defensive discipleship focuses primarily on protecting people from influences in the world, from anything that could corrupt the perceived purity of the heart. Defensive discipleship strategy is prevalent and ranges from teaching people to isolate themselves from the culture to constantly alerting people of the influences they should avoid.
While defensive discipleship may sound appealing to some, it is theologically inaccurate. Our hearts are not pure in need of protection; they are wicked in need of transformation.
Offensive discipleship is different. It seeks primarily not to protect people from the world but to empower believers to overcome the world. Offensive discipleship understands the power of the gospel, trusts the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and knows that if Jesus brings His transformation, obedience will be the joyful result.
Certainly offensive discipleship includes some protecting as the apostle Paul warned about wolves threatening to hurt sheep, but protection is not the end goal— heart change is the goal.
God can bring good things out of horrible tragedies, and the Duggar scandal — as terrible as it is — is no exception. I hope that one good result will be a powerful reminder to good-intentioned evangelicals of the limits of “sheltering” and the need for the transforming grace of the gospel.