Christianity Is About More Than Signs

I read a fascinating article today on the so called “oil producing Bible” in Georgia that got me thinking about what we as Christians look to for support of our beliefs. At the end of the article, someone interviewed said, “It has brought people closer to God, it has brought people healing, it has rekindled people’s faith and curiosity even if one day it’s proven that all this was a sham.” That’s not the kind of faith I want! I don’t want to be reliant upon external signs and random happenings to trust that God will keep his promises to us. Nor should any of us! Yes, God often works through common means of grace (thankfully) to encourage us, but so often we want something miraculous when the miraculous has already happened.
I immediately thought of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15 when as I was reading this. Paul reminds us:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
The resurrection is a verifiable historical fact. There’s no argument greater for our faith than the empty grave. And if that grave isn’t empty, then we should be pitied, according to Paul.
Our entire faith hinges on that empty grave. We don’t need any more evidence to support the truth that Jesus was the Son of God and bore the penalty for our sins, and because of that we are now his ambassadors to the watching world! That gives us hope in the midst of our long obedience in the same direction, the obedience that is impossible apart from the Spirit at work in us through the support of our family in Christ. So let’s not forget to keep Christ at the forefront of our minds and lives as we rely on that sign of the empty grave.

Can A Conservative Evangelical Millennial Still Have A Voice?

If there’s anything the recent World Vision issue has taught me, is that I am increasingly going to be on the short end of the stick. I am someone who sponsors a child through World Vision and was concerned when they changed their employees stance on same-sex marriage. No, I wasn’t going to abandon the child I sponsored, but I was uneasy about identifying with an organization that I cannot agree with theologically, especially when there are other organizations that do the same thing World Vision does without compromising their beliefs. This issue isn’t simply about marriage, but about the authority of Scripture. Yes, there is room for different interpretations of Scripture, but not for questioning what God has clearly commanded. And despite what many have tried to argue, the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin (not the only sin, mind you, but still a sin).

As these issues begin to become more frequent, I am continually seeing that people don’t want to listen to or agree with me because I am a conservative Evangelical who looks to Scripture as my final authority and look back to church history to help me understand the issues of today. As soon as Scripture begins to be questioned the rest of the Christian worldview falls apart. So what do we do when, as a writer at Desiring God put, the Bible is the controversy?

I know that there are a number of Millennials who are in the same boat as me. After all, the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement is still on the rise among many of the people I talk to. There’s a growing awareness of the need for biblical authority and understanding to help us deal with issues like what happened with World Vision. People are willing to change the message of the Gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable. But the Gospel isn’t palatable. It’s offensive. Jesus said things that got him in a lot of trouble. He said things that were incredibly offensive, like “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Our whole faith hinges upon the brutal execution of an innocent man. This is how God showed his love to the world. By hanging his one and only Son on the cross in our place. How can you soften that blow? How can you being a sinner sound rosy and cheerful? And it’s not a one time event, it’s not saying a sinner’s prayer and having fire insurance, it’s a daily act. I think Luther said it best when he said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

With all this concern that Evangelicals are shooting themselves in the foot by being too controversial, I think it’s necessary to look back at Jesus’ ministry to see just how offensive the Gospel really is. And I hope that drives people away! I’ve been saying for a while that I hope I offend people regularly. Not because of the things I do, but for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus being lived out in my life. I know I’m not always going to take the popular road, or the easy road, but I know that I will do my best to continue to follow the Lord’s leading and guiding in my life as I continue to live as a saved sinner in a sinful and broken world. I eagerly look forward to the day when Jesus will make everything right with the world and there won’t be controversy like this, but until that day, I will continue on.

For another look at this issue, see Trevin Wax’s article on this issue, it’s very helpful.

Is It True?

I went to a small Christian liberal arts school called Taylor University in the middle of corn fields, Indiana. One of my favorite classes was a class called Contemporary Christian Belief. The class went through 5 questions that Christians were dealing with when I was in college (i.e. is homosexuality a sin, did Jesus really live, etc.). One of my favorite books from this time was ‘Is the New Testament Reliable?‘ by Paul Barnett. One of my favorite things about the Christian faith is how factual it is. The historical records show us Jesus actually lived, the Israelites were a real people, that they actually were in Egypt and the list goes on and on. I read a great article today titled ‘Christianity, the Worlds Most Falsifiable Religion‘ that talks about this very issue.

I, along with the author of this article, can’t think of any other world religion that is based on public events that can be checked. The believer’s of that faith need to take what one person said in blind faith.

Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning that they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which call upon believers to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.

The whole article is worth reading and makes me incredibly grateful that we have a God who is an intellectual God. A God who cares about us and works in history to bring about his plans for our good and for his glory.

Exodus International (My Continuing Thoughts, Continued)

Homosexuality seems to be one of the main issues dominating the church and culture today. I have written before about some of my continuing thoughts regarding homosexuality, yet the culture seems to continue to shift, so taking a stance is easy for a day, but then there’s another facet that needs to be dealt with. So many times it feels like we’re shooting at a moving target. In this same moving target, Exodus International, an organization aimed at fixing people with same sex attraction by converting them to straight attractions, has just announced that they will be shutting down their organization. Alan Chambers, the founder of Exodus, just published a blog titled ‘I Am Sorry.‘ Through what I’ve read about the “redemptive therapy” the results were slightly less than what people I think had hoped. I don’t necessarily think it is the best way to deal with same sex attraction.

Shortly after Alan announced that Exodus would be closing their doors, he did an interview that appeared in The Atlantic. In this interview he said a few things that were troubling to me.

Have you changed your theological position on homosexuality?

My belief about sexual expression remains the same. But that really matters little to anyone except for me. It only serves to govern my own life. This isn’t something I’m going to make an issue or a barrier of in my relationship with anyone else.

The bold was the question asked, the regular font was Alan’s response. I’m glad to see that his beliefs about sexual expression remain the same, but it isn’t enough to say that is only governs his own life. The church has a responsibility to protect and preserve what God has commanded in regard to sexuality. And far too many people forget what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:12 in talking about sexual immorality, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”

Tied in to this is Alan’s response to the question, “Are you in favor of gay marriage?”

I don’t really know what to think, honestly, when it comes to gay marriage. But I also don’t think anybody needs me to have a position. People have a right to live their lives as they see fit. If a friend or family member who is gay or lesbian invites me to be a part of their special day, I’m going to go and be a part of that because I love them. It doesn’t matter if I endorse or condone something–that’s not my right. I have plenty of friends who are gay and lesbian, loved ones in my family who are gay and lesbian. Their family will be my family, their friends will be my friends, and that’s all that matters.

Again, tied in to my above hesitation with this-if someone is a true believer, I don’t think that this is an appropriate response. If someone is in Christ, yet experiences same sex attraction, it does not make them worse than me as the sinner I am, but that does not mean they are then able to act on their desires. Just as me, as a single heterosexual male cannot act on the desires I have in the lust I have in my heart toward women I see. And this gets harder as it gets warmer out! I so long for the day that I will no longer have any lust in my heart, but until that day I will fight hard against my fleshly impulses.

So many people in this discussion point to Christ and his lack of mention about anything in regard to homosexuality. While Jesus may not have mentioned anything about this, he did talk about sexuality in general. In Matthew 19, Jesus is questioned about divorce.

“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They (the Pharisees) said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Jesus whole idea of sexuality is rooted in the creation order. Looking back at Genesis, the way God created the world was with a male and a female, who together were the pinnacle of his creation. Yes, because of sin there were and are perversions of sexuality throughout the Bible and today. Many of the patriarchs had multiple wives, and we can read through the Bible to see the problems that occurred because of those multiple wives! God’s intent for mankind has always been for a man and women to become one flesh. Tied in to this, simply because Jesus didn’t address this issue head on, doesn’t mean it’s not an important issue. Far too many people neglect that Jesus was a real person who lived in first century Israel and was raised in a conservative Jewish home. There were many issues that Jesus didn’t address that were assumed. Homosexuality was considered to be a sin in conservative Jewish homes, and as seen above, Jesus had a very high view of sexuality that is rooted in the creation order. Does this mean that Christians need to be hate mongers who continually bash those with same sex attraction? Not at all! We should come alongside our brothers and sisters who do experience these attractions and love them as they live in the same fallen world we do, struggling with their sin and issues, just as we do. Let’s not encourage the pursuit of sin, but the pursuit of holiness in all areas of life-including sexuality.

I hope that Alan Chambers does not throw out Scripture in his attempt to reach those with same sex attraction, but continues to hold to it as he seeks God’s will for his life now as he works to help reconcile the relationships between those who experience same sex attraction and those in the church who are opposed to it. May the church be a place of grace and the Spirit convicting those of the sin in their lives as we continue to conform more into the image of Jesus Christ.

Ministering in the Midst of Pain

I’ve been reflecting a lot this past month on the life of Job who, in the world’s, and even his friend’s eyes, seemed to get the raw end of the deal in life. For those of you who don’t know the story, Job was a man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Job was an incredibly rich man and God had blessed him because he feared God. Through the course of the story, Job loses everything except his wife who eventually told Job to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9), she doesn’t sound like a pleasant woman to be around. As Job is aching from sores covering his entire body, his three friends come to console him. However, instead of consoling they continually wage war against his mind in an attempt to discover some hidden sin and reason as to why God was punishing Job this way. Job continues to maintain his innocence until God finally speaks to Job and his friends and asks a series of questions that none of them (or us today) would be able to answer. This past week someone on twitter posted a link to Job 42:2 which is Job’s response to God. Job, who suffered far greater than anyone I know, was able to say:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel with knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

One of the biggest things I’ve been learning through some trials the past month is to put everything in perspective. God is a good, perfect and loving Father who continues to care for me and guides me when I don’t understand what’s going on in my life. James 4:8 says, “draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” and I’ve slowly been discovering that over the past month. God has wonderful ways of getting ones attention, and most often it is through painful situations. Romans 8 is a wonderful chapter that guides us through the process of suffering well. In verse 18 Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” It’s not even worth taking the time to compare! What awaits us in glory will far exceed any trial we will need to face on this earth! Later on in verse 32 Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give him all things.” God isn’t some far off being who doesn’t care about the intricacies of our lives as some people would suggest, rather he is continually involved in weaving together our lives for our good and his glory. And he understands suffering! Mankind would never be able to reach God on our own power, so God came down to us in Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins and now because of that, we can enter into God’s presence with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).

So how can we faithfully minister in the midst of suffering? By “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Continue to keep your eyes on him, until we, with Job, can say, my eyes now see what my ears had once heard.

The Wrath of God

It has become very popular in many Christian circles today to downplay God’s wrath. Many people I talk to quickly say that God is a loving God which means he wouldn’t ever punish anyone. Even Rob Bell last year questioned the existence of hell in his well known book Love Wins. In the opposite side of the spectrum is Tim Keller who in a sermon titled, ‘The Dark Garden,’ talks about how he came to realize that a wrathful God is MORE loving than a non-wrathful God. For him, it all hit home in the Garden of Gethsemane .

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that I came finally to grips—I made my peace, as it were—with the wrath of God. Now, it might shock some of you that…a preaching minister was struggling with the very idea of a God of wrath, a God who sends people to Hell…. And then it was studying the Garden of Gethsemane when I finally came to peace with it because I realized this: The reason why people get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath is because they want a loving God…. They say, “I can’t believe in Hell and wrath because I want a more loving God.” And I came to realize in the Garden of Gethsemane that if you get rid of the idea of Hell and wrath, you have a less loving God.

You can read some more thoughts from the sermon here. I am grateful that Tim Keller took a stance on this issue and is willing to say that God is a wrathful God! He cannot tolerate sin, for he is a holy God. Praise God that through Jesus, we have a way into the presence of God!

EFCA Theology Conference Session 3 – Robert Gagnon

Jesus and Marriage – Robert Gagnon

Key Jesus Sex Text: Mark 10:2-12 (parallel is Matthew 19:3-9)

Learning from Jesus: A Back-to-Creation Model

  • Jesus declared Gen 1:27 and 2:24 to be the model for marriage
  • For Jesus, marriage isn’t something for humans to tinker with
  • Jesus emphasizes the “twoness” of a sexual bond
  • Prohibits both a revolving door of divorce/remarriage, implicitly polygamy
  • Where does Jesus get this number “two”
  • Gen 1:27, Gen 2:24, what do these 2 verses share in common: the union consists of a man and a women. Two sexes designed by God for a sexual union.
  • Twoness of the sexes is the foundation for the twoness of the sexual bond
  • Confirmation: Qumran’s basis for rejecting polygamy
  • S the twoness of the sexes is the basis for the twoness of the sexual bond

Three Corollaries to Jesus’ Back to Creation Model

  1. OT Law does not always reflect God’s perfect will
  • Many people think Jesus is increasing the permissions of marriage, Jesus is doing the opposite and actually making it more rigid
  • Jesus unilaterally amended the constitution of Israel
  • Moses made a concession to male “hardness of heart”
  • Jesus worked toward a more rigorous sexual ethic, closing off remaining loopholes
  1. Jesus repudiated inequities toward women, but in which direction?
  • In early Judaism, a man could commit adultery only against another woman’s husband
  • What Jesus did not do is give women the same sexual license that men had
  • Instead, he bound men to the same high standard as women
  1. A homosexual relationship is worse than a polygamous one
  • Jesus regarded a male-female prerequisite as foundational for sexual ethics
  • That obviously precludes a homosexual relationship

Further evidence of Jesus’ rejection of Homosexual Practice

  1. Nine other arguments
  • Jesus’ retention of the Law of Moses (Scripture) generally
  • Jesus’ intensification of the Law’s sex ethic (adultery of the heart, divorce)
  • John the Baptist’s strong stance on sex laws
  • Early Judaism united opposition
  • The early church’s united opposition
  • Jesus saying about the defiling effect of desires for porneia (Mark 7:21-23)
  • Jesus on the Decalogue adultery prohibition (Mark 10:17-22)
  • Jesus’ saying about Sodom (Matt 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-12)
  • The “born eunuchs” statement (Matt 19:10-12)
  1. Why then did Jesus not speak directly against homosexual practice?
  • No need to, the Hebrew Scriptures already clearly established man-male intercourse as a grave offense
  • No Jew is known to have engaged in homosexual practice in the period, it wasn’t happening. It would have been a waste of Jesus’ time
  • What then is the meaning of Jesus’ silence on homosexual practice? Same thing as his silence on bestiality

Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage

  1. Prohibiting remarriage after divorce
  • Matt 5:32, Luke 16:18, Mark 10:11-12, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
  • If a man divorces his wife on invalid grounds would mean that the marriage is still intact in God’s eyes, so if the man remarries he is committing adultery by having sex with a woman other than his wife
  1. The hardest case: A woman invalidly divorced
  • She’s the victim of a divorce, yet if she remarries she is committing adultery, again the main part is if the marriage is still intact

Learning from Jesus: Other Principles

  1. Sex ethic distinct from love command
  • If these are the same, if we truly loved everyone we should be having sex with everyone. Jesus said to love everyone, but have sex with only 1 person
  1. A strong interior component to sexual ethics
  • He wants not only external but internal obedience
  1. Sexual ethics as a life-and-death matter (Matt 5:29-30, John 8:3-11)
  2. A heightened ethical demand coupled with a loving outreach to violators
  • Jesus is asking us to do both
  • The parallel of tax collectors and sexual sinners – Jesus reached out to both of these groups – outreach to those in greatest danger
  1. Jesus on the love commandment, rebuke and forgiveness, the Good Samaritan
  • Love your neighbor as yourself, a true understanding of love is not about you, it’s about correcting a friend who is straying
  • Rebuking and forgiveness Luke 17:3-4
  1. The ends of marriage
  • Procreation (Gen 1:27-28)
  • Companionship and sexual enjoyment (Gen 2:18_
  • The highest objective of marriage is not even companionship, but Jesus’ insistence on marital indissolubility, based on the 2 becoming 1, is the key
  • Marriage is God’s instrument for reuniting male and female into an integrated sexual whole
  • God designed marriage for shaping two into one
  • Sexual activity sets in motion a reality beyond the individual’s control