Friday, January 27, 2017

Fighting Abortion is Not the Fourth Sign of the Church

Some Christians are what I call, “single-issue.” I recall one family that left a church because everything did not revolve around Evangelism Explosion. But that's just one issue.

The issue I'm thinking about is abortion on demand. Some concerned Christians expect their pastor to thunder away almost each week on this topic, or at least mention it. He must make it is his central motif. He must protest outside the abortion clinic. If he doesn’t, he can say he’s against abortion all he likes, but it’s not enough.

Motivating the single-issue congregant is a deeper judgment. He thinks that the ultimate reason abortion on demand still happens is because pastors let it. Churches let it.

As one who has taken a virulent stand against abortion, both in the pulpit and with pen, I can say without qualification, “I hate it.”  Period. I pray the day that Roe is overturned. Nonetheless, as a former pastor, an as one who may return to the pulpit someday, here’s the bottom line.

We are called to feed the sheep. There are A LOT of sheep, with A LOT of issues, and ALL in need of my attention. Looming divorces, adulteries, disciplinary cases, spousal abuse, explaining to a family why God let their 26-year-old Army Veteran son die of a brain tumor, being torn down by at least one congregant each week, Presbytery responsibilities, and on and on and on and on and on it goes.

Added to that, I am buried under a pile of administrative responsibilities. I am so pressed for time that I can barely get a sermon together for Sunday. Also, I have a family, my first ministry, and the needs there are formidable. I also have a body and a Spirit, which cry out for attention.

It is totally exhausting. And totally time consuming.

As much as I hate baby killing; as much as I look to the day the madness ends, I also feel compelled to speak these words in love. Sidewalk counseling is not the forth sign of the Church.

Now, I’ll concede that some conservative pastors have capitulated on this issue. But here’s the deal. Do not think that just because a pastor doesn’t make abortion his No 1, front burner issue, that that is justification to judge, or worse, vow never to sit in a pew again. The context of the pastorate, particularly for solo pastors, simply does not permit any one man to make abortion the umbrella issue, under which everything else in the church revolves.

Being a pastor is the highest calling a man can have. But it's also the hardest. Pray for your pastor. Love your pastor. In fact, minister to your pastor. He’s human too. And by all means don’t gauge him or his church through a single issue, as radically important as it is. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Andy Stanley and the “NEW Hermeneutic”

The problem of faith and reason is longstanding in the history of theology. Augustine held that faith aids reason (credo ut intelligam) and that reason aids faith (intelligo un creadam). The church father is, however, inclined to stress the later over the former. It was with Thomas Aquinas, and his Summa Theologica, that the effort to reconcile faith and reason reached its apex. Rejecting the medieval doctrine of double truth, he placed natural reason prior to faith in effectively every area of the Christian life. The restrictions are the mysteries of the faith that reason cannot penetrate.

Thomas’ affirmation of the high role of native reason in Christian belief is linked to his stress on dialectical method in study, seminally set forth by Peter Abelard. The form of study is dependent largely on logic to argue both sides of a theological question. Christian belief is thus the proper result of process or synthesis. Faith then assents to the final proposition arrived at by reason.

Thomistic theology was not only dialectical in method, but also in mission. Thomas’ effort to reconcile faith and reason looks back to Augustine who felt the pressing need to reconcile the Christian gospel with culture—“culture” understood as the manifestations of the intellectual achievements of the Greeks. Ironically, Plato and Aristotle were caught up in their own set of dialectical tensions in the form of particularization and abstraction. With the world setting the agenda for the Church, the blind were leading the blind, and both fell into a ditch.

This brief overview of key points in Thomistic theology provides entrée to Andy Stanley’s view of the Bible. Although the leap may seem a bridge too far, Stanley is a contemporary example of how one can easily fall into the “ditch” should one try to present the gospel to the secular mind, not on the foundation of God’s Word, but on the basis of autonomous reason.

Stanley’s view of the Bible, and his low view of expository preaching, have already attracted attention. So my purpose here is not to rehearse these general critiques. It is rather to focus on one particular idea of Stanley’s that he presented in a series of sermons delivered at Northpoint Church, titled, “Who Needs God-The Bible Told Me So.” My particular interest is Part 3 of his series

I will restate Stanley’s main thesis this way.

The Bible does not exist because of Christianity. The Bible exists because of the Christian faith. Therefore, the basis of belief is not the Bible, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The witnesses to the resurrection are a sufficient basis of Christian belief.

Specifically, Stanley suggests that because “Christianity made its greatest strides 282 years before the Bible even existed", Christian belief does not depend on the biblical record. How then did people become Christians before the Bible took final shape? By trusting the account of the witnesses to the resurrection.

Motivating Stanley is an apologetic concern. Like Augustine and Thomas, he wants to bridge the problem of faith and reason, or faith and culture, but in a fresh way. He fears that the problem of “de-conversion” especially among postmodern people is not helped in a dogmatic milieu of “The Bible says.” Assertive claims to inerrancy will only worsen matters given the conflict between the Bible’s record of a 5000-year history of mankind and science. The mistake, according to Stanley, has been to wed faith to the Bible rather than to the resurrection. He warns,

If the Bible isn’t true, Christianity comes tumbling down. Consequently, Christians have felt compelled to defend the Bible because the only way to defend the Christian faith is to defend the Bible. It is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible.

Thus, according to Stanley, if you de-converted from Christianity because you believe part or all of the Bible isn’t true, “you left Christianity unnecessarily.”

I will call Stanley’s idea the NEW Hermeneutic (No Exegesis Warranted). Stanley does not offer a new formula for hermeneutics. He offers a pathway beyond hermeneutics. He does so by inverting classical Protestant interpretation. Instead of seeking to know the biblical situation of the resurrection through the glasses of special revelation, the Bible, he assumes the situational storyline of the resurrection, as if it is somehow independent of the biblical text, and then makes the biblical record mere history. While Stanley’s method is similar in contour to contemporary Romans Catholic theology (and to nineteenth-century Higher Criticism), he is not so sophisticated. Still, to Stanley the Bible is a posteriori to faith in the witnesses to the resurrection, not constitutive of faith, to wit, a priori.

Several problems emerge in Stanley’s NEW Hermeneutic.

First, Stanley’s central claim that people were Christians long before the canon of Scripture was complete is a strawman. Protestant theology has never stipulated that the completed Bible was foundational to the faith of the church of Acts to the end of the fourth century. What it does state is that the Word of God—the Law and the Prophets, to the Pauline letters circulated among the early churches—defined and regulated belief and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Just because the Bible was not canonized until years after the resurrection does mean that people were without the Word of God. As Ra McLaughlin with Third Millennium Ministries observes,

It’s preposterous to argue that if no one had a bound copy of our sixty six books, then no one had the books individually. That’s like saying Israel didn’t have the Law because it existed on separate scrolls.

Second, the NEW Hermeneutic repeats a major error of medieval scholasticism. In order to synthesize faith and reason, Thomas adapted the Greek form/matter schema for theology. He drew a distinction between the existence of a thing and its essence. Existence tells us that something is, while essence tells us what something is. But the essence of a tree (tree-ness) does not guarantee the existence of any particular tree. Thomas brings existence and essence together using the philosophical concept of esse (to be). God’s esse unites his essence with his actual existence.

Thomas’ answer is problematic. By arriving at the existence of God by abstracting reality from form, much like Plato, he depersonalizes God. Thomas tries to abate this problem by assigning indiscriminate Greek (and Roman) concepts of personality to God, but this is very different from how God has revealed himself in Scripture. 

Returning to Stanley, were it possible to know the resurrection from the early witnesses without recourse to the Bible, we could only know its existence (that it happened) but not its essence (what it means). That the resurrection occurred tells us little about the rich theological meaning of Easter Day. Stanley presents a historical resurrection but deprived of the life-changing content of Scripture.

Third, by limiting Christian trust to the veracity of the early witnesses to the resurrection, the NEW Hermeneutic relegates the resurrection to church tradition and makes it no more than a dogmatized story for those unwilling to take God at his Word. But on what basis are we to trust in tradition? According to Thomas, what differentiates faith from the other virtues is that faith’s formal object—the First Truth—is revealed in Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church (see Summa Theologica II-II Q.5 a.3). Should there be a clash between church tradition and Scripture, it is tradition that has the final say. 

Like Thomas, Stanley has elevated tradition above the Bible. But according to the Bible, Stanley is wrong. Paul writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4-5).

Fourth, Stanley’s NEW Hermeneutic is based in “brute facts.” John Frame explains.

Stanley’s position is so militantly based on brute facts that he actually says it doesn’t matter whether there are errors in the Bible. Well, yes, we do believe the Gospel because it is factually true. But we also have a book that not only records those facts, but which gives a normative account of the facts. Stanley is presenting a situational gospel while trying to deny the normative. Can’t be done. Without a normative Bible, the situational events are based on the authority of the autonomous mind; that is, they are dependent on unbelief. He uses unbelief to prove belief.

Stanley has not dealt persuasively with the so-called obstacle of “The Bible says.” He has only moved the authority for belief to autonomous reason. One wonders, then, what kind of belief Stanley is advocating. There is natural belief in “every drop of rain that falls.” But then there is saving faith, which is the gift of God. This “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Minus the Word of God, Stanley re-presents Thomistic dualism for modern evangelical use: belief is the product of rational process beginning in disbelief.

In conclusion, Andy Stanley’s NEW Hermeneutic, although intended to provide postmodern people access to the Christian faith without sorting out the messy issues of biblical inerrancy, authority, and infallibility, subscripts the Bible to the witnesses to the resurrection. Beyond the obvious circularity of this argument is a stark warning to all who would follow Stanley’s teaching. As Jesus put it into the mouth of father Abraham, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Decline of America and the Role of the Church

Between the Dallas shootings, the Hillary mess, and so much more, I've been thinking about the relationship of the Church in America to the moral decay and lawlessness in our society.

Now, if you think about it, most culture-minded Christians assume that our national problems are largely a byproduct of the failure of churches to "transform" their surrounding culture. They are absentee in their cultural mandate. Having written a great deal on the cultural mandate, I see that connectivity as well.

However, I want to suggest that the real problem is not "with" the church and its cultural program. The problem is instead "within" the Church. Let me explain this nuance.

When Paul, for example, says in 2 Tim. 3:1-4 that "in the last days difficult times will come", then gives his long list of difficulties, it is natural to think he is decrying the state of affairs in the culture. But read vs 5. The treacherous people Paul is talking about are in the church, for they are "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power."

Here, then, is a clue to the relationship of the decline of the churches in America with the decline of American society. When Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth..."You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:13;14), he meant that the Church is both a standard of what community "ought to look like", and, is thus a citadel or safeguard against the decay of the world around it. And here's the main point: the Church IS these things simply by being the Church...a strong, Kingdom-oriented people, bent on holiness.

We can talk all we like about "worldview" and the need to practice the cultural mandate. But what can a worldly church offer the world that it does not already have? Before we are a more culturally-minded church, we must first be a Christ-centered, holy-minded church. We must be THE CHURCH.

This in my view is a major reason we are witnessing a world run a muck. The American church is far more American than it is the Church. So let judgement begin with the household of God.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Exploring a New Bible College in DRC

In May of 2014, I was blessed to travel to the DRC. Bukava, Congo is situated on the south end of Lake Kivu and provides a splendid setting for Bible classes. Much more than this, however, the conference with about 70 pastors and area leaders sparked overwhelming interest in core biblical doctrines that many of us take for granted.

The response to that conference was so overwhelming that, as I shared in my last newsletter, the pastors at the conference rather insisted on a Bible College in Bukavu. Since then, I have been praying about the start of a Bible College in the DRC, one very similar to Covenant College of Theological Studies and Leadership in Kenya, which I helped to start. 

After a very serious setback with my low back in 2014 that eventually required surgery, I was finally able to make plans to return to conduct what I call a "test" or pilot class to ascertain the educational abilities of the men who might form the nascent first class of the new school. 

A roadblock was immediately before us as we discovered that since 2015 the DRC has made it extremely difficult to secure a Visa. At issue is the fact that the Congolese government does not want foreigners witnessing what is happening on the ground in DRC and reporting back home. Because I was not able to secure a Visa in time for this trip, the organizer of the class, Bishop Theophile Rugubira, made arrangements for us to meet acorss the border in Kamembe, Rwanda. 

The class was on "Principles of Sanctification" a syllabus I have created. One rarely takes a class in sanctification in our Bible Colleges and Seminaries. However, I was moved to create the class due to the low view of sanctification leading to holiness in so many of our churches: the "cheap grace" movement. 

I am pleased to report two things. One is that the class went extremely well. The men were exposed to biblical truths they had never been exposed to before, and which absolutely opened their eyes. All of my teaching was based in Reformation truths on justification and sanctification. Rev. Stephen Nshimimana served as translator for the class. There is no better translator than this man of God!

Second, and this is also a great answer to prayer. I was able to stand and teach for many hours with relatively little discomfort. Friends, a week before I left for Rwanda, I could hardly walk through our neighborhood. But I thought, "I've just got to go and trust God. If he's in this, he will part the waters." Well, indeed he did! It's been said that ministry proceeds resources. In my case, ministry proceeded strength. 

Testing the men was a simple matter of pop quizzes. In addition, I gave them an assignment to write a 5-page paper on a reading. The reading is Chapter 3 of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion! The section covers the relationship of repentance and sanctification. Because the men speak French and Swahili, readers will assist me in grading the papers. 

Many questions remain regarding the Lord's will for a Bible College in DRC.  But think about this. Such an educational ministry would be the first in DRC in over 175 years!

I still have much healing to do. My doctor says that it could be another 6 moths before it is known with certainty if my last surgery is a success. Regardless, I plan to serve the Lord as best I can, and as long as I can. Lord willing. 

Thank-you all for your prayers for me and for a successful trip. I know that many at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, where I was pastor, and scores of Facebook friends, and many others, were lifting me up before the Lord. Prayer works!

Your continued support can be sent to Equipping Pastors International (EPI), Just mark your check "John Barber." Thank-you all!

A ministry of Equipping Pastors International

EPI 8007 Waterglow Ct, Orlando, FL 32817

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Transgender: the Facts, the Lies, and Our Hope

By now, most Americans are aware of the joint letter issued from the Departments of Education and Justice directing all public schools to ensure “transgender students a supportive and non-discriminatory school environment.”

According to the statement issued by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, transgender students must be allowed access to the bathroom and locker room on the basis of the sex with which they identify, not according to their biological sex. She continued, “This guidance gives administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”

She went on to compare separate bathrooms for boys and girls to Jim Crow laws that further legalized racial segregation by creating separate bathrooms for blacks and whites. Consequently, public schools can comply with the new ruling or face forfeiture of federal funding.

Although a host of angry responses have followed the mandate, mainly from concerned parents who fear the potential of sex offenders to take advantage of it, my purpose here is not to address that particular worry. Rather, I want to 
(1) Provide a synopsis of genetic sexual disorders. (2) Make a series of observations based on these facts. (3) Point us to our hope in Christ.

1.      A synopsis of genetic sexual disorders

How is human sex determined? The Psalmist records that we are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). This truth is seen in the fact that within the human cell are 23 pairs of chromosomes totaling 46. Chromosomes determine everything from the color of your hair, to your height, to your sex.

Among the 23 pairs of chromosomes is the sex chromosome. This one pair of sex chromosomes in men is XY, while the one pair of sex chromosomes in woman is XX. Whether you are male or female depends on the sperm cell. If a sperm cell containing an X chromosome fertilizes an egg, the result will be XX or female. If the same process happens, but the sperm cell contains a Y chromosome, the result will be XY or male.

In men, the Y chromosome plays the leading role in determining male sex and fertility. On each chromosome are the human genes. The Y chromosome contains fifty to sixty genes. Just one male gene, the SRY gene, a protein, is responsible for developing a fetus into a male and for preventing the development of female reproductive systems. The remaining genes on the Y chromosome are responsible for male fertility.

Problematically, genes can mutate during the reproductive process resulting in genetic abnormalities. Due to the limitations of space, I will give only brief attention to the principle examples.

Turner Syndrome. This is a condition in which a female (XX) is partially or completely missing an X chromosome. The condition can trigger infertility, heart problems, and alter a female’s appearance. The condition affects about 1 in 2,500 newborn girls.

Klinefelter Syndrome. This represents a group of chromosomal disorders in males (XY) who have one or more extra X chromosomes. The extra X in males usually occurs when the genetic material in either the egg or in the sperm splits unevenly. The disorder is not hereditary. Researchers estimate that 1 in about 500 newborn males has an extra X chromosome. Far fewer males have two extra X chromosomes (1 in 50,000) while even fewer have 3 extra X chromosomes (1 in 500,000). A variant form of Klinefelter is seen among males with an extra Y chromosome. The extra X and/or Y chromosome can effect physical and intellectual development. 

Swyer Syndrome. Also known as 46, XY, this aberration happens when a male (XY) is born with some female reproductive parts. Affected individuals may also have external genitalia that do not look clearly male or female. Although genetically male, in recent years more people with Swyer syndrome are opting to be identified as female. Toward this end patients are prescribed hormone replacement therapy to enhance female sex characteristics. Swyer syndrome is caused by mutations in the SRY protein responsible for male development. It occurs in approximately 1 in 80,000 people.

46, XX Disorder. Differently from Swyer Syndrome, the disorder occurs in a female (XX) whose ovaries are present, but whose external genitalia appear male. In some cases a combination of male and female genitalia are present. The disorder can result, among other causes, from the mother taking male hormones during pregnancy. Regardless of the cause, the SRY gene somehow gets misplaced causing male enhancement—despite the absence in the female of the Y chromosome. The incidence happens at 1 in 80,000 births.

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). Often confused with Swyer Syndrome, AIS occurs among genetic males (XY). The causal factor are bodies unable to respond to certain male sex hormones, called androgens, before birth and during puberty. Those with incomplete AIS show signs of both male and female sexual development. Males with complete AIS have female external genitalia exclusively. The complete form of AIS is thought to occur in 1 in 20,000 births.

Ovotesticular DSD. Formerly known as hermaphroditism, an infant is born with the internal reproductive organs of both sexes (female ovaries and male testes). Ovotesticular DSD mostly occurs among females (XX). The external genitalia are usually ambiguous but can range from normal male to normal female. This is the rarest disorder of sex development in humans with a current estimate of 500 affected individuals. The cause of Ovotesticular DSD is unknown.  

2.      What observations pertinent to the transgender debate can we draw from these disorders?

First, inherent to all of the above maladies is that none alter basic gender. They do alter, to various degrees, sex organs and fertility, but not one’s birth gender or sex. These syndromes occur among either genetic males or among genetic females. Thus, for one to use these disorders as a means to justify the right of gender expression, when in fact genetic disorders do not change one’s birth gender, is to take advantage of people born with real reproductive abnormalities.

Second, it ought to be noted that not until the sexual revolution reached new and dizzying heights did the word transgender came into vogue. For years, the various disorders mentioned above were classified as chromosomal conditions, and those with these conditions as sufferers with genetic disabilities in need of proper medical evaluation and support.

It was with the rise of gender studies programs in institutions of higher learning that the nomenclature of sex and gender were separated and redefined. It was then that gender supposedly became a matter of subjective feeling, rather than biological fact. This paved the way for the new understanding of “transgender.” According to today’s gender expert, transgender is mainly an umbrella term that may include any person who self-identifies with a gender different from the one given him or her at birth.

Of interest, then, is the fact that were we to add up all the people believed to have been born with the birth disorders described above, plus those not listed, we would still not arrive at the .03% who are thought to represent the transgender community. The .03% figure was published by the Williams Institute and accounts not only for those born with sexual disorders, but also includes anyone who self-identifies with a preferred gender (Williams Institute, 2011).

Third, the genetic disorders listed above force us to examine the administration’s assumption that the public schools are, in the words of AG Lynch, guilty of “unjust school policies.” This is a red-herring. Since when have students with chromosomal conditions suffered institutional discrimination at the hands of the public schools? Although a recent article by the New York Times reports that 71% of transgender people hide their gender identity for fear of discrimination, the paper of record fails to provide any such evidence (“The Search for the Best Estimate of the Transgender Population”, June 8th, 2015). This is pure spin and deception on the part of the Obama administration.

Indeed, for AG Lynch to conjure up “Jim Crow” laws to prove her point is an example of inverse logic. Because public schools have traditionally provided separate bathrooms and locker rooms for boys and girls cannot be taken to mean that central to this provision is the intent, purposeful or otherwise, to discriminate against transgender students. Nor does it mean that the potential of such discrimination exists. The schools are merely, and benignly, providing such facilities based upon scientific laws of sex or gender. To infer otherwise is to read malicious intent into an age-old practice where no such malice is intended.

Supporters of the administration are correct that students with chromosomal conditions have been using the bathroom of their choice all along. But that’s the point. For decades, both the children with these conditions and their parents have sought answers from the latest medical technology. A byproduct of these family’s efforts is knowing which bathroom an affected child should use. There is no issue here that supports the need for federal bathroom policies. The directive is a solution in search of a problem. 

Why are the Departments of Education and Justice doing this? The answer ought to be obvious. To insist that students, though born genetically healthy, be able to use facilities that comport with their favored gender selection, is to recognize them as equal to students born with actual genetic defects, and is thus one more step in the federal government’s attempt at social engineering.

But why now? When same-sex marriage came before the U.S. Supreme Court, the proverbial frog had been boiled in the pot. Beginning in the early 90's, our kids were treated to Heather Has Two Mommies. And that was in the public schools, by the way. Parenthetically, I wonder if the teachers who had their students read that book are now feeling forsaken by the powers-that-be since being put on notice about “unjust school policies.”

But to our question. Why now? Not long ago, Bruce Jenner became "Caitlyn". More recently, North Carolina began its battle with the federal government over bathrooms and such. And most Americans have been aware of the transgender phenomenon. But that is really all our culture has wrestled through. 

The reason for the sudden mandate is because the current administration is running out of time. It must therefore act quickly to make the American people knuckle under to the progressive vision of a brave new world.

3.      Where is our hope?

This question brings us full circle. The above account of genetic disorders was prefaced with a quote from Psalm 139:14, which states the glorious truth that each of us is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Note the word “made.” That someone is made means there is a Maker. Jesus affirmed this fact when, in reference to human gender, he said, “Have you not read that He who created then from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE” (Matthew 19:4). That God is our Maker means that he is also our Redeemer.

An atheist who supports gender shifting denies his Maker and Redeemer. But when a transgender seeks to justify his decision by saying, “I was born in the wrong body”, is he not affirming the existence of the immortal soul? For how else can he be born in the “wrong body” if not for the fact that the Soul (psyche), with its full range of personality traits, is greater than mere flesh? It would seem that this atheist is proof of Descartes’ “man in the box.”

In an age when the god of political correctness seems less interested in wooing us, but wearies over our dallying, irksome and petulant that we are not bowing fast enough before his image of equality, there stands THE TRUTH. Centuries ago, our Redeemer took upon himself all of our sins; even our genetic disorders, and there at Calvary, Jesus died. But death could not hold him. It did not because it could not. Now he says to all in need of forgiveness of sins, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

May the God of peace guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Spurgeon Doesn't Help Us With Trump

Of two evils, choose neither." Spurgeon's quote has been posted numerous times on social media by Christians who find themselves in a moral conundrum at the very thought of voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Here’s the problem with Spurgeon’s idea. Biblically there is no such thing as a choice between two evils. Let me explain.

Moral philosophers and theologians have long spoken of the problem of "tragic moral choice", also known as the “incommensurability in values.” The man on the street simply calls it “choosing between the lesser of two evils.”  

The best known example of tragic moral choice is the one about the Nazis during WW II. Do you handover the Jews knowing that your choice makes you complicit in their deaths? Or do you lie and violate the Ninth Commandment? The Lutheran scholar, John Warwick Montgomery, has argued that such choices are unavoidable and of necessity cause us to sin.

The Bible, however, takes a dim view of the so-called lesser of two evils idea.  God never puts us in a position in which we can’t escape evil. This is for the reason that the Bible presents a consistent moral ethic. To argue for tragic moral choice is to operate on the wrong assumption that Scripture presents a confused ethic. It is always our duty to make choices that honor God. And to opt out of making a choice exclusively because one is convinced that no honorable choice is possible is to misunderstand the logic of Scripture.

One reason people think they are trapped between the lesser of two evils is because they confuse this idea with what are really priorities in the Bible. For example, although I am to love all people (1 Pet. 4:8), I am united to my wife in a unique way that images Christ’s love for his church (Eph. 5:25). My love toward her is thus to be prioritized differently than it is toward others. When voting for an elder in my church, Scripture obliges me to vote for a man who meets clear qualifications (1 Tim. 3) such as being “apt to teach”—a priority not mandatory for all church members. A big problem is that many people expect the President of the United States to be as godly as an elder. Sorry, but elder is a higher office.

The second reason many Christians wish to avoid choosing between the lesser of two evils is because they confuse an evil with a wrong.  An “evil” is something that brings suffering. Evil is therefore broader than a wrong.  For example, my back pain is an evil.  To alleviate it, I may choose back surgery, an even greater evil. But my hope is that, although super painful in the short-term, surgery will facilitate complete relief long-term. Starvation, poverty, disease, are also forms of evil. James says that "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone (1:13). He means we shouldn’t use evil as an excuse to sin. Also, the devil is called “the evil one” (1 John 5:19). So we see the breadth of evil.

A “wrong”, on the other hand, is a sin against God. Steal a candy bar from the 7-11 and you’ve committed a wrong. I am rather confident that “No Trump” evangelicals incorrectly assume that a vote for Trump is a wrong—a sin against God.  

Now let’s make sense of all of this. Imagine our two families are miles from land in a sinking boat. Suddenly, out of the mist, come two boats to save us. One is captained by an adulterer; the other is captained by a thief. Which boat will you get into?  You say, “Neither one. I’m waiting for the evangelical boat which is captained by a devout Christian who will end abortion.” I say, “You’re kidding, right?” You reply, “Both these guys are reprobates and I’m not going to choose between two evils.”

You see what you’ve done? For one, you failed to prioritize scripturally. The immediate priority is to save our families so we can fight another day. Scripture passages against thievery and adultery simply don't apply here.

Second, you confused an evil with a wrong. As bloody painful as it is for you to sit in the adulterer’s boat on the way to dry ground, God doesn’t view you as an adulterer. Neither does he view your choice to get your family into the boat as a "wrong."

Right now our nation is sinking. And two boats are on the way. God is not asking you to pick between “the lesser of two evils.” He asking you to to: (1) Prioritize what Scripture prioritizes. (2) Distinguish an evil from a wrong. 

Is it possible that God, in his infinite wisdom, has brought Trump along, if for no other reason than to prevent this nation from sinking permanently into the abyss of PC progressivism? And that he has done this so that when this nation is back on the ground we can then plan for the kind of constitutional conservative we need for the future?

I don’t know the answer to this question. But I encourage you to vote. I know I will.  

Monday, March 28, 2016

Feelin' the Bern is Losin' our Freedoms

With Democrats "feelin' the Bern" some people need to burrow beneath the promise of "free stuff" and recognize socialism for what it really is. 

Socialism insists on a planned economy with central planners. The only way for the plan to work is if everyone is on board. That's because even one chink in the armor of the planned economy is enough to threaten its success. 

But a free people naturally disagree. "Who will be the planners?" "How shall we order our priorities?" And there's the problem. It's impossible to achieve universal commitment to the plan from a free people. 

So dissenters are first marginalized, then dehumanized, then when that doesn't work, they are crushed. Goodbye America! 

So, if you're "feelin' the Bern", feel this. A note for Bernie is a vote for totalitarianism. Wake up America!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Clarification on Frame's "Person-Revelation"

Because John Frame took the time to answer my critique of his position on “person-revelation” in the Introduction to my book, One Kingdom: the Practical Theology of John M. Frame (xi-xii), I want to clarify my comments. I do this because I really do not disagree with John completely. Rather, I have questions. And it was my unanswered questions that kept me from fully embracing John’s position on person-revelation, which I noted in the book as follows.

[Frame] speaks of “human beings as revelation.” That would seem contradictory to the biblical truth that the apostles had authority as recipients of revelation (Eph. 3:7-13; Gal. 2:8-9; Rom. 1:1-6) but not as sources of it.

John begins his explanation of person-revelation in the context of divine communication (2010:304). Following his Lordship triad: authority, control, and presence, he extrapolates that “God reveals himself in events, words, and persons” (2010:304). Central to his position is the fact that humans are created in the imago Dei; hence, all human beings reveal God and his attributes in meaningful ways (Rom. 1:19-20; Psalm 8:3-4). I have no argument here. It is settled dogma that all people are created in God’s image and are therefore means of natural revelation.  

It is the next point in Frame’s syllabus on person-revelation that caused me pause. He moves seamlessly from the role of the image of God as revelatory of the Creator, to the place of the redeemed creature in helping us learn how we ought to understand and live God’s word. For “if meaning is application, at least from one perspective . . . then we cannot understand language without understanding how its speakers apply it. Language is part of life” (2010:305). I glean from John’s writing a three-fold approach to this understanding.

First, “we should understand how God himself makes use of his word” (2002:305). John’s principle example is God who calls us to “be holy, for I am holy (Lev. 11:4; 1 Peter 1:15-16)” (2010:317). In line with the imitatio Christi, we see God’s holiness best expressed in the earthly life of the incarnate God: Jesus of Nazareth. (2010:317). Second, and in order of importance, we have the lives of the Apostles who “place great weight on themselves as person-revelation” (2010:318). Here John is referencing occasions in which Paul, for example, encourages us to “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). And third we need to keep an eye on how responsible Christians apply the word, because “there is no better way to learn the application of the Word than by seeing it applied by others who understand it well” (2010:317). Point in fact, our human example need not be redeemed for “we need to see examples of how fellow human beings use God’s word—rightly and wrongly” (2010:305). “Wrongly?” Yes. For as John says elsewhere, “Even sin, in one sense, images God, for sin is basically an attempt to be God, to replace God on the throne” (2010:316).

The point of connectivity in Frame between understanding the Bible and how people go about applying it is inspired mainly by his penchant for seeing all theology as “practical.” However, it should be noted that this connectivity is also inspired, in part, by John’s reading of Wittgenstein, who rejected the idea that the meaning of words is grounded in the God of all meaning. Wittgenstein instead held that the meaning of words is wholly dependent upon their use from culture to culture; from individual to individual. John certainly does not believe that words are without absolute meaning save for their application. Still, Wittgenstein’s language construct is seminal in John’s evolvement on person-revelation. We learn the meaning of the word of God by how people use it.

As I pondered the matter during the course of writing One Kingdom, two questions arose in my mind. “Does the Bible speak of how people apply God’s word as 'revelation?'” And “If the Apostle’s lifestyle is revelation, can we say the same of all people?”

There ought to be little question that God’s own use of his word, certainly as Jesus lived it, is revelatory. His miracles were deeds that revealed his identity. The right use of God’s word as Paul lived it is also revelatory of Christ with the caveat that Paul was not perfect. If the régime of the Apostles is to be a standard for our behavior, then it must reveal something important to us about God and his word. So I will call this revelation—“person revelation”—if you like.

On the other hand, I do not find Paul referring to his walk as “revelation.” The idea may be there, but it is not patent in the Pauline corpus. Nor does Paul extend the idea to say that the lives of all admirable Christians is revelation. But should this be the case, then at what point is my brother or sister Godly enough to help me understand the meaning of God’s word? Must he or she be like Paul? That is the inference in 1 Corinthians; a rather tall order I might add, one that I do not see in any of my fellow believers including myself. Furthermore, as John has said, if  even wrong behavior images God, I am compelled to wonder why Paul calls the Corinthians to repent of their bad behavior and model his good behavior?  John might reply that wrong behavior is not to be modeled, but only shows our sinful desire to be like God, which John has said reveals an aspect of God. But I’m not convinced that sin images God. I’m not saying I disagree, but only that, as of yet, I am not convinced. In fact, it is regular parlance in Reformed theology to say that sin has defaced the imago Dei, not that it images God and/or the meaning of God’s word from its own unique perspective. I am not mocking these points. Theses are serious questions for me.

Then I noticed that the two principle teaching points on person-revelation do not seem to match. John teaches that all people—saint and sinner—image the Creator, whereby all give testimony to God's existence. There is no distinction between the two groups. But then note that person-revelation becomes restricted. Although we can comprehend how God intends us to use his word even by those who use it "wrongly", John would have our attention focus mainly on mature Christians as the divine witness. At this point, I began to wonder about the internal consistency of person-revelation for theology. Perhaps the answer is that there are different categories within person-revelation each with special nuances. I do not know.

These are questions with which I still wrestle. And all of this is to say that my critique of person-revelation in One Kingdom was fostered more by unanswered questions than by principled disagreement. Again, I am completely on board with person-revelation as an appellation for the functioning capacity of the image of God to reveal him. It is the exploitation of how well people in general (not just Jesus and Paul) practice God’s word that leaves me with too many questions to feel comfortable with the thought—at least for now. This is why I stated in my book that the idea of imitating mature Christians might best be elaborated under the heading of the doctrine of sanctification, with lateral reference to how Godlike behavior “reveals” God’s will for our lives. In other words, person-revelation works better for me as a subset of progressive sanctification than as a way to understand the doctrine of the Word.

I will continue to wrestle with the idea of person-revelation. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Five Questions I'd Ask Pope Francis

With even many evangelical leaders seemingly drawn to the magnetic star power of the visiting Pope Francis, if I had just a few minutes with him, I'd ask him five questions. 

1. Sir, if you are interested in helping the poor, as seen in the fact that you take the bus to work, then why not do something more than symbolic and melt down some of that gold in St. Peters? That way you can feed tens of thousands for several years.

2. You are an outspoken critic of capitalism. Let’s see now. Italy’s labor-market rules have remained largely unchanged since the modern Italian state was established. When last year Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attempted modest efforts to reform Italy’s notoriously matrixed labor laws, Italy’s largest union, the Italian General Confederation of Labor, led many thousands of people in a revolt. They insist on guaranteed jobs for all. Indeed, sir, under the Cassa Integrazione Guadagni (income-assistance scheme), businesses that need to downsize can put some workers on standby, and the government will cover a significant share of the normal salary until the company can hire back the worker. I’m wondering how Italy’s “soft socialism” is going for you guys, seeing that the income-assistance scheme strains the state’s budget, discourages workers from seeking other jobs, and curtails struggling companies from downsizing to stay competitive. 

3. On homosexuality, you said "Who am I to judge?" Yet when it comes to Protestant thought you said in a 1985 lecture (translated into Italian in 2014) that Luther is a "heretic" and Calvin is a "heretic and schismatic." According to that lecture, you went to say that Protestantism lies at the root of all evils in the church and in man's heart. So why are you able to "judge" two men who believe the Bible to be true, but not two men who lie with one another, an act that God calls an "abomination?" 

4. My wife has a relative by the name of Rowland Taylor. His short biography is in The Foxes Book of Martyrs. He was burned at the stake for not following the command of Bloody Mary to switch from the biblical administration of the Table to the Mass. Now in Washington D.C., a Pentecostal evangelist gave you “high-five.” I wonder if you’d like to swing by and give my wife a “high-five” as a humble gesture on your behalf to say, “Sorry for killing your relative over so small a matter.”

5. Here’s my final question. You had a few days with the American people and you spoke numerous times. But the one thing I never heard you proclaim. The simple gospel. You had the greatest opportunity to do so, yet you turned it down. So many hearts could have been transformed. Why, why, why, did you not preach the gospel?  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tullian Tchividjian Bounces Back?

It is unfortunate but every so often a Christian, including a pastor, wanders away from the sheepfold and finds himself perilously ensnared by sin and in grave danger. In keeping with the duty of the church, especially its elders, it becomes necessary to vigorously seek the full repentance and restoration of the lost sheep. As in the case of the prodigal son (Luke 15:3-8) the contrite heart is one both heaven and the faithful saints celebrate. 

In the case of Tullian Tchividjian we have an example of a lost under-shepherd. Having admitted to adultery, the South Florida Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) deposed Tchividjian on August 11, 2015, ruling him unfit for Christian ministry.

Tchividjian followed his removal from the pastoral office by filing for divorce from his wife, Kim, on August 27th. They were married in 1994 and together have three children.

Deposition from office is a serious infliction of church discipline. The goal of all church discipline is the repentance and restoration of the sinner, the peace and purity of the church, and the honor of Christ.

One wonders, then, at the wisdom behind the decision on the part of the Willow Creek Church, in Winter Springs, Florida (a congregation of the PCA) to add Tchividjian to its pastoral staff recently as Director of Ministry Development. Tchividjian’s bio on the church’s website describes him as a

best-selling author, having written seven books on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its liberating implications. Most recently, Tullian served as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founded Liberate, a ministry devoted to connecting God's inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world.

Note there is no mention here of his deposition from office, his adultery and lies, or that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church had removed any reference to Liberate from its church website. It’s as if none of it ever happened.

The questions that arise from this hire are glaring.

Has Tchividjian had ample time to come to full repentance such that he is now ready to reenter ministry, albeit as a layman?  One would think that even Tchividjian should want a longer period of cooling off and getting his act together before jumping back into a position of church leadership. Well-meaning people who treat Tchividjian in his new role as though his adultery and deposition from office were but a blip on a radar screen may not aid him toward full repentance but may only enable him.

The PCA Book of Church Order 34-8 is clear that

A minister under indefinite suspension from his office or deposed for scandalous conduct shall not be restored, even on the deepest sorrow for his sin, until he shall exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony as shall heals the wound made by his scandal.

Second, how is the biblical standard of the peace and purity of the church upheld and strengthened by this move? How can the staff and people of Willow Creek work with Tchividjian in an air of normalcy without turning a deaf ear to his history? And how will this ministerial culture affect people’s attention to the “peace and purity of the church?”

Lastly, how is the honor of Christ upheld?  Did Jesus die for sins so we can treat those who have practiced them in such a light handed manner?

It has been argued that Tchividjian is only serving Willow Creek as a layman and not as an ordained minister. But that is a difference without a distinction. BCO 36-7 is clear that until restored to ministry, the deposed officer is prohibited “from exercising any of the functions” of the ministry.

Time will tell what comes of the new Willow Creek relation. But one thing is clear. God will not be mocked.