Pastoral Issues

Law, Gospel and Faith

This is an old article, but the subject is always relevant.  

A prospective student at Telos Institute asked me a good question about my view on Law versus the Gospel.  As part of my reply I sent him the text of a letter I’d written to someone who had criticized a lecture of mine on the Decalogue.  This individual had claimed that Christians were sanctified solely by faith plus nothing else, and that the law did not even provide a normative standard for ethics.  Here is my reply (changed in a few places) to this person’s criticism.

Dear Friend,

I am happy to address your criticism of my lecture, “The Ten Commandments (1)” in my “Christian Ethics” series.  It is vital we protect the Gospel of justification by faith and the correct teaching on sanctification.  If I am indeed guilty of teaching that the Decalogue is, as you put it, “a standard of conduct to gain acceptance before God” (emphasis added), I deserve your reproof.

Sadly, I think you have not understood my teaching and have thus misrepresented me (listen, e.g., to my lecture on “Law and Gospel” at Spirit & Truth).  Still, I am glad of this opportunity to add some clarification.

The thrust of your complaint is seen in these words: “We are not saved by the keeping of the law of Moses nor are we progressively sanctified by the law.  It is all of God by grace!”

To this I can only write, “Amen!”  I agree entirely.  So why the confusion?  After re-listening to the lecture I have concluded that one of the following statements triggered your objection:

  1. I speak of the Ten Commandments as “God’s way of summing up godly conduct.” – But I immediately qualify what I mean by stating emphatically the proviso; “that godly conduct is always expressed in love.”  This harks back to the previous lecture on “The Primary Forms of Love,” where I tried to delineate what that love is by using Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:23.  I then refer to the Ten Commandments (minus the Sabbath command) as encapsulating “…aspects of the primary forms of love.”
  2. I go on to say that any course on Christian conduct would be odd if it ignored the Commandments since “they were given to regulate behavior.”  – This was just to say that the Commandments were given for an ethical purpose.  The use of the adjective “regulate” here simply implies “adjustment.”  For example, how do you know that stealing or adultery is wrong?  Simple, you go to Scripture (Exod. 20:14-15 in the OT; Rom. 13:9 in the NT).  Why is it wrong? I answer, because these commandments reflect God’s own character (e.g., He is truthful, just, faithful, etc.), and as such they possess normative moral authority over a Christian.  Thus, if one is to be “conformed to the image of Christ” he will be conformed more and more to the Decalogue.  This is important to notice since the Law cannot regulate behavior as a “rule of faith.”  This is why I stress the internal function of the Law (love) and not the external function.   Thus understood, “the law is a spiritual guide.”

Let us deal quickly with the first part of your charge, which has to do with justification and salvation.  Now, as you say, “The law justifies no one.”  Agreed!  Where, then, do I even remotely infer that it does?  This is a course on Christian Ethics, not non-Christian morality.  Indeed, as I am at pains to repeat throughout the course (including this very lecture!), a right relation to God through the new birth is a pre-requisite to knowing and loving Him.  This is precisely because Christian ethics is an internal as well as an external matter.  The internal aspects mold the external actions.

On, then, to your main accusation: we are not “progressively sanctified by the law.”  Certainly we are not, if what you mean is the futile religious conformity to the law.  But I never say that we are sanctified that way.  In fact, in the lecture on “Law and Gospel” (Lecture 15), I expressly repudiate such a teaching.  The Law as an external standard has absolutely no authority over the Christian (e.g. Gal. 2:16, 19; 3:1-3, 11-12 – You see, I have read Galatians).

Have you not noticed how Paul employs the Commandments (though not the Sabbath) in his Epistles? (more…)

5 KEYS FOR YOUR 2016 SPIRITUAL TRAVEL GUIDE

I wanted to write a ‘Facing the New Year’ post to focus myself on the main things, but I came across this piece by Dr. David Allen which I don’t think I could improve upon.  Hope it blesses you.  Happy New Year!

 

Two things are important when you take a trip: transportation and discrimination. You must know how you are going to get there and you must determine what to take with you. If you want to ruin your trip, take too much luggage.

It is the same in your Christian life. Knowing what to take and what to leave behind is the critical issue. The Christian life is a journey. We are pilgrims just passing through. Travel light.

Some Christians have accumulated lots of stuff over the years. Spiritual pack rats they are. With every passing year, their spiritual luggage gets more cumbersome. Time to unpack that luggage and throw out the things you don’t need.

Backpacks of bitterness. Handbags of hurt feelings. Suitcases of self-pity. Trunks full of anger, fear, unforgiveness, and other assorted burdens and sins.

Philippians 3:12-16 is Paul’s travel guide for your Christian life and he lists five key points you need to know to travel light.

  • Develop a healthy DISSATISFACTION with where you are spiritually. (12)

Notice I said a “healthy dissatisfaction,” not a paranoid or morbid dissatisfaction. Picture a scale of spiritual maturity from 1 to 10 with 1 being very immature and 10 being sinless perfection. How would you rate your spiritual maturity? Are you a 3? A 6? Wherever you are, don’t be content to remain there in 2016. Don’t be addicted to spiritual mediocrity. If you are a 3, move to 4. If you are a 6, move to 7.

  • Develop a single-minded DEVOTION. (13)

Paul says, “one thing I do.” Jesus said to the rich young ruler: “one thing you lack.” He said to Martha, “one thing is important….”

One thing. Not two things or ten things, but one thing. The one thing that is the main thing in your life is being like Jesus; a mature disciple in Christ.

A laser is focused light. It can cut through wood or metal. When you get focused you will learn how to travel light.

  • Develop a dogged DETERMINATION to be like Christ! (14)

This is the content of Paul’s “one thing”: “I Press toward the goal of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Picture of the runner whose eyes are fixed on the goal. With every effort of physical and mental exertion, he “presses” for the goal. Our goal is Christlikeness.

In order to press toward this goal, Paul lists two absolutely necessary things you must do.

First, discard all DISTRACTIONS. (13b) “Forgetting the things that are behind.” You cannot erase the memory of the past, but you can live in the present no longer influenced by the past. Two things distract us: past failures and past successes. You can depend on neither for today’s Christlikeness. Get a spiritual waste basket and chunk those past failures in it. You break the power of the past by living for the future.

Second, develop DILIGENCE. (13c) “Reaching forth to the things ahead.” The best picture I know of this word “reaching” is a football receiver sprinting down field. The ball is in the air and is arcing down in front of him just short of the goal line. An ordinary reach will not do. So the receiver, taking no thought for his body, leaves his feet, stretches out his body until he is parallel with the turf, extends his arms to the limit . . . and comes down with the ball in hand over the goal line for a touchdown.

  • Develop spiritual DISCERNMENT. (15)

“. . . and if any of you on some point think differently, God will reveal this to you.” Discernment comes through knowledge of the Scriptures, prayer, and a lifetime of walking with God.

  • Develop spiritual DISCIPLINE. (16)

“Let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” The Bible is filled with people who began well, but ended poorly: Lot, Samson, Saul . . . . Why? They lacked spiritual discipline. They disregarded the rules.

August 7, 1954. The Empire Games in Vancouver, B.C. The mile race. Roger Banister and John Landy, the two fastest men in the world in the mile run, were competing against each other for the first time. Each had broken the four-minute mile earlier in the year. Landy’s strategy was to get the lead and never relinquish it. Bannister’s strategy was to allow Landy to be just ahead through the first 3 laps, then in lap 4, kick in and pass him.

Bannister was surprised at the strength and stamina of Landy. After lap 3, Landy was pulling away. Bannister moved it up a notch and began to gain ground. Around the last turn, on the last straightway, Landy was in the lead. He did not know exactly how far behind Bannister was because he could no longer hear footsteps due to the deafening roar of the crowd. With less than 90 yards to go, Landy suddenly turned to look over his left shoulder. At that instant Bannister was on Landy’s right shoulder and as soon as Landy looked back, Bannister kicked in, streaked by him, and won the race in the last 20 steps.

Travel Light! And don’t look back!

 

50 Key Quotes from the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Here is a very informative link to what the justices of the Supreme Court have said, pro and con, about their 5 to 4 decision to legalize Gay Marriage.

http://erlc.com/article/50-key-quotes-from-the-supreme-courts-same-sex-marriage-ruling

The kind of “reasoning” employed by Justice Kennedy et al could and will be employed by pedophiles, polymorists, and even those who want to marry their dog.  This is what godless law looks like.

Apologetics and Your Kids (4) – Inculcating the Right Worldview

Part Three

The Bible has a very specific and definitive outlook on the meaning of life.  In the parlance of modern culture such an outlook is called a “Worldview.”  There has been a lot of talk about worldview in recent years, and this is on the whole a good development.  Worldviews are very important, and appreciation of them, and of the Christian-Biblical Worldview in particular, is without doubt a great benefit.

Briefly: What a Worldview is

A worldview is basically the lens or prism through which a person “looks”, and with which they interpret most of life.  There are many definitions; some good, some not so good, but the key element of a worldview is a commitment of the heart.  I don’t say total commitment.  To be sure, no one consistently follows their worldview – and few in fact realize there is one to follow.  But we all have one, and their influence upon us is often pronounced, for good or ill.

To illustrate this just think about the kinds of messages about which tell us how to think:

“Listen to your heart”

“You have your truth and I have mine.”

“People who think they are right and others are wrong are just bigoted”

“We evolved from some prebiotic slime and are here by cosmic accident.”

“We decide our own fate.”

These are all sayings which proceed from a false worldview, but a pretty prevalent one all the same.  These sayings each are tinged with a pretended moral authority which makes them appear more imposing than they are.  And people who absorb these kinds of beliefs will always tend to have little use for the concept of Truth as we’ve discussed it; or for absolutes, or indeed God.  They will have no answers to the Big Questions of Life: the kind of questions teens often ask (a subject to which we’ll have to return).  And the more tenaciously these trite sayings are held, the less patience these folks will usually have for Christian answers.

One thing is for sure; if any of these pat opinions take hold in the hearts of our kids, Christian Truth claims will be held with less conviction – maybe they’ll settle merely temporarily at the most superficial level of a childhood habit?  We don’t want that!

Here I hope you begin to see why Apologetics; the defense of the Truth of the Christian Bible and its worldview, can be a great asset in encouraging right thinking.  And let no one persuade themselves otherwise, it is thinking!

Consider this insightful observation:

“the Christian world-view takes seriously the teaching that God lays claim to all of life, and is opposed at every point by the counterclaims of his adversary.  Ultimately, there is no spiritual neutrality in either scholarship or literature, sports or agriculture, art or journalism.  Everywhere there are forces which seek either to honour the Creator’s intent or to replace it with a substitute.” – A. M. Wolters, “World-view”, in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, edited by W.C. Campbell-Jack & Gavin McGrath, 761 

Parents of younger kids and teens need to be switched on to the reality of this interminable spiritual warfare that is fought in the realm of ideas.  We cannot, as Christians, believe in neutrality in any sphere.  Everything they meet with comes “worldview-loaded.”  Abstinence from the world is unscriptural, unworkable, and dangerous.  We must be able to guide ourselves and our children in right thinking about the mixed messages they’ll encounter.  To help them identify the Christian Worldview and see through false worldviews when they rear their heads (as they do every day); that is a powerful gift we can give them.

We must place our kids in the kinds of settings where they are encouraged and trained to think biblically.  We must seek to surround them (I do not say imprison them!) with influences which steer their hearts toward the claims of God upon them as his creatures.  They must be trained to recognize the messages all around them for what they are: either for Christ or against Christ!

Beginning next time, we will see how this can be done…

Apologetics and Your Kids (3) – We Are Losing Our Kids!

Part Two

have begun this series with this three-part introduction, trying to bring attention to the matter of Truth and the authenticity of our allegiance to it as Christian parents.  My concern is that Christians nowadays do not prize Truth for what it is – an attribute of God – but rather treat it as something they can use a bit of when they think it needful.   Francis Schaeffer used to say that the Church should live out what he termed “true truth” before the world.  But the Church has forgotten the importance of Truth, and its role as the witness to the Truth in this dark and deceitful age.  Truth must come first.  Our preferences are not that important.

I realize that in putting matters this way I am not going to make many friends.  But I am not concerned with making friends so much as with telling it as it is.  And the fact is young people raised in Christian homes and attending evangelical churches are leaving those churches in droves.

According to a Barna poll 66% of these kids are deserting their Christian upbringing.  And the figure may be even higher.  A survey conducted by the SBC asserts that 88% of young people walk away from the faith never to return.  And there is no sign of any abatement.  Something is badly amiss, and Christian parents especially need to stop pretending everything’s okay so long as their kid or teenager has a good time at church.

Loyalty and Credibility

In surveys which have been done of young people who have ‘left the Faith’  the issue of deep commitment to what we Christians claim to believe crops up continually.  Young people can sense when we are believing Christianity for its usefulness or pragmatic value, and when we are believing it because we know it is true and our allegiance is to it asTruth.  The former carries no assurance because Truth is being used as a prop for our life-choices.  The second is in rather short supply in our evangelical churches.  There is a lack of integrity and sincerity about the Church today.  Sincerity is the great by-product of holding loyally to the objective Truth of God’s Word.  The term Paul used when describing the “Belt of Truth” in the Christian Armor (Eph. 6:14) demands such loyalty.  You can’t put on this “belt” if you don’t prize Truth.  You don’t prize Truth if you don’t submit to it and internalize it.

The Truth ought to have the sort of authority over us that old-fashioned Headmasters had over school children.  But too often Truth is treated like modern Headmasters are.  They have a position of authority, but there is very little they can do with it, and the kids who pay lip-service to them know this.  Insincere people tend to let the side down and don’t much care if they do.  Sincere people who have placed themselves in subordination to the Truth, whatever the cost, have the kind of integrity which our young people are looking for.

What it Takes

My big concern in this series is how to use apologetics in evangelizing and building up our children, whether they are aged eight or eighteen.  But I felt I needed to stress this issue of authenticity; the difference between using something true and committing to it because it’s true.  To do this we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about our churches.  Does our local church emphasize Bible doctrine, or is doctrine and theology never really discussed?  Does the leadership have an unequivocal stance on the six days of creation and Noah’s flood?  When was the last time the ugliness of Sin was spelled out in a sermon?  We must ask ourselves, Did we choose our fellowship primarily because of its commitment to the Truth, or did we choose it for the music or the programs?

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to,

…sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.

Here is the classic verse for Christian Apologetics.  We are to be “always ready” to defend the Christian Faith.  We are always to be able to “give a reason for our hope.”  But please do not overlook how the verse starts: “sanctify [that is, set apart] the Lord God in your hearts.”  To set God apart in our hearts demands of us that we allow His Truth to have full authority over us.  In Christian venues where Truth is not seen as primary, we must respectfully depart and seek out those that do.  No one leaves the Faith over the music.  They do and are leaving over the matter of Truth.  Let us defend the Truth, but let us be real!

Apologetics and Your Kids (Pt.1) – The Power of Negative Thinking

This is the first in a series of ongoing posts at Telos Ministries 

We have all read the statistics of young people who flee the Faith in which they have been reared soon after hitting college.  There is more than one reason for this defection.  The first and most obvious issue is probably the state of the heart.  Is this individual actually saved?  I’m not asking, “did they think they were saved?”, I’m asking “were they saved?”

Now, before someone calls me on stating the obvious, or what is worse, of relying on the easy explanation, let me make a personal observation.  This shall also act as my baseline

In my experience most churches and most Christian parents do not teach the Christian Faith in a way that supports Godward faith in the world we are called to live in.  And the major reason for this is a general disinterest in or else fear of doing apologetics.”

There it is.  There is the statement I am going to try to defend and, more importantly, expound in these posts.  But I’m going to begin where too few Christians today would want me to.  I’m going to put in a plug for some good old-fashioned negative thinking!

Starting in the Negative

People don’t like the negative.  They would far rather things were all positive.  There’s too much negativity in the world they say.  I hear them, and I agree, but only up to a point.  If the negativity comes from a dour outlook; a refusal to say anything nice or anything edifying, then without a doubt negativity is unwelcome.  If a person is always looking on the bad side they must not be allowed to dampen our spirits for too long.  Time with such people, even if they are our friends, must be measured lest we get dragged into the doldrums.

Yet when addressing important issues it is often proper to begin in the negative.  To start off all sanguine often brings a temptation to keep on looking at the bright side even when it has stopped being bright.  It is difficult to be analytical with a perpetual smile on ones face.  How easy it is to fool someone if you can make them feel good!  Isn’t that what con artists do?

Think of a shell game or many types of gambling.  Commonly you will be lured into thinking you can track the little ball under the cups; often you’ll be allowed to get it right the first time.  Or you’ll win a hand or two, or get “lucky” at the roulette wheel once or twice.  You’ll start feeling positive, and you’ll get taken.  “All that glisters is not gold.”  A critical approach can keep us out of a lot of trouble.

I think that for most adult Christians, what they want from their Christianity is solid values, wholesome music, nice friends, lively youth activities, and a bit of teaching thrown in.  They want it all upbeat and uplifting.  With these ingredients in their lives, many of God’s people are satisfied with what they have.  No need to go deeper, and certainly no need to connect their kids minds up to the ramifications of being a Christian.

More Than Mere Belief

The trouble is that church environments like this are not very biblical, nor are they very solid.  Grown ups may have tempered the Christian Faith to their middle class outlooks, but young people are not content to ask no questions.  And if they are not given the opportunity to think through Christianity, it is likely they will not really make it theirs!

More thoughts to come…

 

Photo courtesy of Ray Miller

 

My Review of Chapter 5 of Matthew Vines’ book ‘God and the Gay Christian’

{This is part of a chapter by chapter critique of this book at SharperIron]

Before foraying into the New Testament, where he seems to think he will find justification for his views, Matthew Vines attempts to deal with “The Abominations of Leviticus.” He does not deal with the relevant texts by doing contextual exegesis or theological formulation; instead he takes a more indirect route around Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Basically his approach is to relativize the Old Testament law by comparing prohibitions and punishments which God mandated for the theocracy of (OT) Israel, and then contrast them with what he believes is Christian practice. At the latter half of the chapter he runs to Philo and the works of radical liberal scholars in an attempt to prove that ancient cultures saw the passive agent in homosexual relations as being lowered to the level of the woman: of being, in other words, “feminized.” This is so he can lift the word “abomination” away from its obvious meaning of “moral repugnance.”

The Law and its purposes

Every attentive reader of the Bible understands that the regulatory system which God gave to ancient Israel does not carry over in all its parts into the New Testament era. Although Christians have understood the relationship between “Law and Gospel” differently, they have, nonetheless, been clear about the fact that the sacrificial system was not intended for Christians. So too, the theocratic governmental codes for the nation of Israel, which served specific purposes, political and religious, do not apply to Christians in blanket fashion. It is in this sense at least that the Christian is said not to be under the Law (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 5:18).

That being said the question still has to be addressed regarding the use of the Law in Christian practice. Vines appears to want to nullify it completely. He opines,

Paul said in Romans 7 that the law existed to expose our sin, revealing our need for a Savior. But once our Savior has come, we no longer need the law. We could compare it to the way drivers no longer need road signs once they arrive at their destination. (p. 80)

But it is not that straightforward. In point of fact the very chapter he cites, Romans 7, describes Paul’s acquiescence with and commendation of the moral aspects of the law (See Rom. 7:16-22). In agreeing with the law’s moral teachings (Rom. 7:16), Paul can commend much in the ethical code of the law to Christians, and this certainly includes the shunning of the “dishonorable passions” (ESV) of homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27).

Another simple but profoundly relevant reason for not totally bidding adieu to the Law is that some of the laws retain a universal character because they directly reflect the character of God Himself. Thus, nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament because they speak of God’s attributes as Lord, as Creator of the family, and as holy and truthful (see e.g. Rom. 13:8-10). The New Testament also repeats other Old Testament prohibitions. One of these concerns homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9). These are universal and everlasting verities and are non-negotiables for any Bible-believer. Two of the passages which Vines uses stating that the Christian is not under the law pertain to justification, not ethical mores (including Gal. 3:23-25 & 5:2 which Vines cites in footnote 1).

While he is anxious to support the contention that “Old Testament laws related to sex don’t always align with Christian views on sexual ethics” (p. 79), Vines has to admit that “It’s true that there are a number of Old Testament laws that correspond with Christian beliefs about sin” (p. 82). He is also forced to acknowledge the national and socio-political reasons for certain laws. He notes that, “Given the threats posed to the Israelites by starvation, disease, internal discord, and attacks from other tribes, maintaining order was of paramount importance” (p. 86).

But still he needs to maintain that same-sex relationships were forbidden, not because they are inimical to God’s righteous nature, but only because of more cultural concerns. Since God does not change, any moral behavior which contradicts His character has a universal stamp on it. We shall see that homosexuality is immoral on this score. But for argument’s sake, let’s pretend it isn’t. Adultery, bestiality and prostitution are always treated as sinful. There are several reasons for this, but the foundational issue is God’s nature and its relation to the marriage covenant and the sanctity of the family, together with our status as image-bearers. Vines would have us believe the Bible endorses same-sex marriages. In that way he, along with conservative Christians generally, can inveigh against adultery, bestiality and prostitution, and even condemn same-sex relationships outside of marriage, while finding a loophole for gay marriage.

But always and everywhere in Scripture, marriage, which is a creation ordinance, is between a man and a woman, and a family is a triad of a man and wife and children. Arguing from silence that Scripture affirms gay “marriage” is as vacuous as arguing that Scripture affirms man-boy marriage or man-animal marriage. Both of these arrangements Vines would (we trust) consider repugnant. But he wants adult same-sex relationships to be the exception. If he can’t affirm these other sexual proclivities as leading to valid “marriages,” he cannot use the same reasoning to exempt same-sex “marriage” from the same charge of moral corruption. So this line of argument gets him nowhere.

OT Polygamy

To further mix things up, Vines brings up the issue of polygamy in the Old Testament. He thinks the polygamous marriages of David were alright in God’s eyes because although he was punished for his adultery with Bathsheba, he wasn’t even rebuked for having more than one wife. He cites the beginning of Deuteronomy 21:15-17 supposing that in saying “If a man has two wives,” it endorses the practice. But David’s sin involved murder as well as adultery. His polygamy, though conventional within the wider culture, clearly went against the precedent of Genesis 2:24 and, as with Jacob, is never shown in a good light. Besides, Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is not about marriage per se, but about the right of inheritance. Moreover, it too casts polygamy in a bad light. The Genesis 2 passage records Adam looking for a partner and God bringing him a woman. Jesus’ words concerning marriage and divorce are based solidly in the Genesis 2 description of marriage (Matt. 19:4-8).

The real question

So where does this leave Vines’ argument? Vines says the real question is, “Are the laws we find in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 grounded in a view of gender complementarity that applies to Christians?” (p. 82). He is prepared to side with leftist liberal scholars who will tell him what he wants to hear. But though I would answer “Yes,” that is not the real question at all. The real question is and always will be, “Is homosexuality portrayed in the Bible as a sin?”

Before turning to the Levitical passages and Vines’ treatment of them, I want first to bring in another passage. Deuteronomy 22:5 is pertinent to the discussion because of the connotations of the language used. The text forbids cross-dressing, calling those who do so “an abomination to the LORD.” This must be viewed as a moral prohibition. If God detests the subversion of male and female by cross-dressing, how much more would He detest the subversion of the male-female marriage ordinance? In God’s economy males are husbands and females are their wives. These roles are vital to the promulgation of the human race, which is to be extended strictly within the ordinance of marriage (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). Thus, any blurring of the concept of the mutual roles of men and women, especially in terms of marriage, is not to be countenanced.

But turning to Leviticus 18:22 we read, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” Because the Canaanites did practice these things the LORD cast them out (18:24) and the land itself is described as vomiting them out (18:25). Vines’ retort that the abomination of lying with a menstruating woman (18:19) is now acceptable to Christians ignores the plain fact that a woman in this condition was ritually unclean (Lev. 12:2b), as was the man who touched her (Lev. 15:19-27). In the case of the prohibition of Leviticus 18:19 Vines should have seen that the issue was ritual not ethical. But the matter of homosexuality is an ethical matter, as indicated by the use of the verb toevah (abomination) in the verse and as a high-handed sin in 20:13.

To navigate around this fact, Vines appeals to the work of feminist OT scholar Phyllis Bird, who has concluded that the Hebrew term toevah “is not an ethical term, but a term of boundary marking” (p. 85). Contrariwise, the standard Koehler-Baumgartner Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Vol.2, 1703), defines the use of toevah specifically referring to Leviticus 18 and 20 as, “the abhorrent customs of the Canaanites…by which is meant in particular sexual perversity…and in special cases sodomy.” OT scholar John D. Currid notes that the term “derives from a root meaning ‘to hate/abhor’ ” (Leviticus, 244).

Bird, like Vines, appears to have an agenda. And since she views the Bible as a non-inspired culturally contextualized text, she may feel at liberty to interpret it with a free hand. But how anyone could read Leviticus 18 and 20 and come away with a non-ethical meaning of “abomination” is hard to fathom. Vines (following his radicals), is badly wrong here. He should not have resorted to agenda-driven liberal scholarship to bolster a poor thesis. In Leviticus, as in Genesis 19, homosexuality is a distortion of a creational intent and is morally repugnant to God.

Appeals beyond the Bible

By appealing to the Jewish Platonist Philo, and other sources such as Plutarch and (certain) Middle Assyrian legal codes, Vines is, of course, going outside the confines of Scripture into the realms of profane history. This maneuver is only helpful if it corroborates what one already finds in Scripture. Otherwise it tends to distort the biblical picture. (This should give readers pause when they see evangelical scholars take this tack on other topics.)

This is Vines’ method toward the close of the chapter, and to do it, he relies upon radical unbelieving scholars like Bird and Daniel Boyarin, both of whom are, unsurprisingly, pro-gay. But why would a supposedly “conservative Christian” rely upon such authorities as Bird, Boyarin, and Saul Olyan? Are these people Bible-believers? Why not turn to more representative and conventional authorities like Gordon Wenham? Wenham has made a study of homosexuality in the ancient Near East and has shown that although such practices were commonplace in the surrounding cultures in the ancient world, the Israelites were different.

He writes,

Seen in their Near Eastern context the originality of the Old Testament laws on homosexuality is very striking. Whereas the rest of the ancient orient saw homosexual acts as quite acceptable provided they were not incestuous or forcible, the Old Testament bans them all even where both parties freely consented. (362)

The reason for this is identified in the Genesis creation account, with its definition of marriage and distinctions between the sexes. His conclusion is,

It therefore seems most likely that Israel’s repudiation of homosexual intercourse arises out of its doctrine of creation. God created humanity in two sexes, so that they could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Woman was man’s perfect companion, like man created in the divine image. To allow the legitimacy of homosexual acts would frustrate the divine purpose and deny the perfection of God’s provision of two sexes to support and complement one another. St Paul’s comment that homosexual acts are ‘contrary to nature’ (Rom 1:26) is thus probably very close to the thinking of the Old Testament writers. (363)

Matthew Vines is not reading his Bible to discover what it says about marriage and homosexuality. He is trying to make it affirm what he, as a gay man, affirms. It will not oblige him. Although homosexual attraction is often not sought after, anymore than are urges to steal or to lust after a woman, it must never be baptized to make it acceptable as Christian or lodge comfortably within its meaning of “follower of Christ

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Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism: A New Heresy

I like to read Roger Olson.  He is one of those thinkers who helps provide balance for my normal diet of Reformed Biblical and Systematic Theology.  Sometimes I disagree with him strongly.  But I always appreciate his erudition and personable style of communicating it.

I linked to this on FB the other day, but I post it here now because I really think it’s an important (and disturbingly accurate) evaluation of many of today’s breed of evangelicals:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/05/a-shocking-conclusion-about-american-christianity/

The Struggle of Prayer (Pt.7)

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

 

This petition, especially when coupled with the addendum in v. 14-15 (“if you do not forgive others the Lord will not forgive you”) has caused concern for some of God’s people. Let me say first that this passage is not concerned with forgiveness of sins and justification on the basis of the cross and resurrection. Certainly, that is not how the disciples would have understood Jesus.

Rather, what is in view here is our unfettered approach to God. How can we think of asking God to forgive us our debts and our sins (Luke 11:4) if we hypocritically refuse to forgive the debts and sins of others against us? Just as unconfessed sin stops our prayers from being effective, so an unforgiving heart will damage our fellowship with our Father, and hence our prayer life.

This petition requires us to look within ourselves for any traces of hypocrisy in our dealings with our fellow man. How many of God’s children harbor secret enmities, prejudices, envies and bitterness toward others? In some sense they must be to us as we would be to God.

Thus, as Andrew Murray says,

“In each prayer to the Father I must be able to say that I know of no one whom I do not heartily love.” (With Christ in the School of Prayer, 30.)

A prayer life that fails to include thorough self-examination is always going to be deficient. Although no man can know himself so well as to exclude all suspicion of his heart-motive, yet he must search his memory for sins still unconfessed and people yet unforgiven.

Craig Blomberg says it thus:

“Our pleas for continued forgiveness as believers, requesting the restoration of fellowship with God following the altercation sin produces, is predicated on our having forgiven those who have sinned against us.” (Matthew, NAC, 120.)

Christians are not to bear grudges. Prayer that trusts that God sees and cares will always be able to forgive the wrongs of others.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle of Prayer (4)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In the last post I cited what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It would be good to have a brief exposition of it.  Let us begin by dividing it up:

“Pray, then, in this way:

Introduction and First Petition: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 ‘Thy kingdom come

Second Petition:  Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

Third Petition:  ‘Give us this day our daily bread.

Fourth Petition: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Fifth Petition:  ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Doxology: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.’ – Matt. 6:9-13.

As a matter of fact, and as most of you know, this isn’t an actual prayer to be prayed (although it can be put to that use), but a model or outline of how to pray.  Since it comes from the One who hears the prayers we send up, this little outline is full of interest.

“Our Father in Heaven” 

After telling the disciples that they not pray long and repetitive prayers (“God does not measure prayer by the yard” – R.C.H. Lenski), the Lord Jesus tells them to address God personally as their Father.  We are not to think the OT saints did not speak to God in a direct and informal way.  There are clear examples of this in the Psalms for example.  But we do not find them calling Him by this paternal word “Father.”  The word Jesus used is an Aramaic term ‘Abba’ which was commonly used even by grown up children as an affectionate way for addressing an earthly father.  This tells us that relationship is at the center of prayer.  Cold formality puts God in the wrong setting and makes Him seem aloof and unfeeling.  It is hard to draw near to someone like that.  But real prayer does draw us close, even if it is in confession and repentance (Heb.4:14-16; 1 Jn. 1:9).

Calling upon God as our Father honors God’s intentions in sending Christ for us.  In His great priestly prayer Jesus declared, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” (Jn. 17:6).  It is comforting to know that the Father chose to have this personal and loving bond with us through the Son and the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:4; Rom. 8:14-17).

“Hallowed by your Name”

To “hallow” something is to treat it with great reverence so as to set it apart from other things.  God’s Name invokes God Himself, which is why we must not take His Name in vain or utter it in an inappropriate way.  As one Puritan writer put it:  “Could we but see a glimpse of God’s glory, as Moses did in the rock, it would draw adoration and praise from us.” – Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, 50.   We should have it in our hearts that God’s name may shine forth gloriously in other hearts, as it one day shall.  Thus, there ought to be a sense of anticipation as well as honor in our speaking to God.  We should seek to magnify Him in our lives; not by our “success” but by our efforts to, ”walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7).  As Watson goes on to say, “If we do not magnify his name, we contradict our own prayers.” – Ibid, 51.

“Your kingdom come”

Just what does it mean to pray “Your kingdom come”?  As a matter of fact this depends on ones theology.  I find this to be quite fascinating; that the very first petition in the Model Prayer divides believers along two lines depending on how they interpret the kingdom.  Some commentators combine these words with those that immediately follow, so that “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” become synonymous with “Your kingdom come.”  I sympathize with this approach, but I do not adopt it because too often this can lead people to de-emphasize the meaning of “kingdom” in its context. While it is true that God’s will is done on earth by some persons (e.g. Matt. 12:28; cf. 12:50; 21:31-32; 26:42), it would be quite wrong to equate that with the prayer for the coming of the kingdom.

In its setting in the early ministry of Jesus (see for example Matt. 10: 5-7), the kingdom would mean only one thing to the disciples and the people in general.  It would mean the Messianic Golden Age promised by the Prophets in Isaiah 2, 11, 62, and Micah 4 (cf. Acts 1:6).  Therefore, in its proper context, this petition looks forward to the return of Christ and His righteous reign over the earth.

For those Christians whose theology tells them that Christ is ruling now, the petition has to be lifted out of its original context and deposited within a context more conducive to their doctrine of the Church.  Notwithstanding, Jesus’ intention here is that we pray for Christ’s coming Millennial Reign to be set up.  That of course means that we join in the hope expressed in the last prayer offered in Scripture: “Amen.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Part Five