I hope your holiday weekend was at least this good.
John Adams speaking in favor of American independence:
Objects of the most stupendous magnitude. Measures which will effect the lives of millions–born and unborn–are now before us. We must expect a great expense of blood to obtain them, but we must always remember that a free constitution of civil government cannot be purchased at too dear a rate as there is nothing on this side of Jerusalem of greater importance to mankind.
My worthy colleague from Pennsylvania has spoken with great ingenuity and eloquence. He has given you a grim prognostication of our national future. But where he foresees apocalypse, I see hope. I see a new nation ready to take its place in the world, not an empire, but a republic. And a republic of laws, not men!
Gentlemen, we are in the very midst of revolution; the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of the world. How few of the human race have ever had an opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children? I am not without apprehensions, gentlemen. But the end we have in sight is more than worth all the means.
My belief says that the hour has come. My judgment approves this measure and my whole heart is in it.
All that I have, all that I am, and all I that I hope in this life I am now ready to stake upon it. While I live, let me have a country. A free country!
Watch the moving speech from the excellent John Adams miniseries here.
For evangelicals who lament last Friday’s Supreme Court decision, it’s been a hard few days. We aren’t asking for emotional pity, nor do I suspect many people are eager to give us any. Our pain is not sacred. Making legal and theological decisions based on what makes people feel better is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. Nevertheless, it still hurts.
There are many reasons for our lamentation, from fear that religious liberties will be taken away to worries about social ostracism and cultural marginalization. But of all the things that grieve us, perhaps what’s been most difficult is seeing some of our friends, some of our family members, and some of the folks we’ve sat next to in church giving their hearty “Amen” to a practice we still think is a sin and a decision we think is bad for our country. It’s one thing for the whole nation to throw a party we can’t in good conscience attend. It’s quite another to look around for friendly faces to remind us we’re not alone and then find that they are out there jamming on the dance floor. We thought the rainbow was God’s sign (Gen. 9:8-17).
If you consider yourself a Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, there are important questions I hope you will consider before picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution. These questions aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.
1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?
2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?
3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?
4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?
5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?
6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?
7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?
8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?
9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?
10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?
11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?
12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?
13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?
14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?
15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?
16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?
17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?
18. How would you define marriage?
19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?
20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?
21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?
22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?
23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?
24. If not, why not?
25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?
26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?
27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?
28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?
29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?
30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?
31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?
32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?
33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?
34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?
35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?
36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?
37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?
38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?
39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?
40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?
Food for thought, I hope. At the very least, something to chew on before swallowing everything the world and Facebook put on our plate.
Note: An earlier version of this post had the questions in paragraph format rather than enumerated. The content is still the same. Readers interested in studying what the Bible teaches about homosexuality may be interested in checking out my new book on that theme.
There’s been a lot going on in the past two weeks, much of it hard and sad. Here’s a very cute baby singing Elvis.
Now that the Supreme Court has issued its sweeping ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, we can expect an avalanche of commentary, analysis, and punditry. I’m not a law professor, a politician, a talk show host, or a public intellectual (whatever that is). I’m a pastor. I study and teach the Bible for a living. Which means, among all the things I may not be an expert on, I may be able to say something meaningful from the Scriptures. So as we pour over legal opinions and internet commentary, let us not forget what the Bible says.
The Bible says the Lord alone is God and we should have no other gods before him (Ex. 20:2-3). Not the state, not the Supreme Court, not our families, not our friends, not our favorite authors, not our cultural cache. No gods but God.
The Bible says we should love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). And who is your neighbor deserving of such love? Wrong question, just worry about being the neighbor you’d want for yourself (Luke 10:25-37).
The Bible says love is not the same as unconditional affirmation (James 5:19-20). Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
The Bible says that disciples of Jesus will be hated as Jesus was hated (John 15:18-25; 2 Tim. 3:12). If the world loves us, it is not a sign of our brilliance, but that we belong to the world.
The Bible says that when reviled we should not revile in return (1 Peter 2:21-25). We should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44).
The Bible says Jesus came into the world to save sinners, especially the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). That means people like me, like you, and like the Apostle Paul who at one time opposed everyone and everything he later came to love and defend.
The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18-25; Mal. 2:15; Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) and that homosexual practice is sin (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jude 7), but a sin from which we can be washed clean (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Any Christian who really believes the Bible must believe all of the Bible. You can’t applaud what Jesus says about loving your neighbor from Leviticus 19, if Leviticus 18 and 20 are throwaway chapters. You can’t unpack the good news of Romans 8, if Romans 1 is overstuffed with cultural baggage. You can’t marvel at the goodness of God’s creation, if there is no good design in how he created things. Either the Bible is God’s Word or we are sufficiently godlike to determine which words stay and which words go.
The cultural breezes are blowing against us. The worldly winds are stiff in our faces. But the hard parts of the Bible are no less true for being less popular. The Bible says what it says, so let us be honest enough to say whether we think what the Bible says is right or wrong. Diarmaid MacCulloch, a decorated church historian and gay man who left the church over the issue of homosexuality, has stated the issue with refreshing candor:
This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity, let alone having any conception of homosexual identity. The only alternatives are either to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong. (The Reformation: A History, 705).
Yes, those are the only alternatives. I know books are right now being written by the dozens trying to make the case that the Bible is really keen on gay marriage, but it can’t be done. Not with exegetical and historical integrity.
Not with gospel integrity either.
A holy God sends his holy Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for unholy people so that by the power of the Holy Spirit they can live holy lives and enjoy God forever in the holy place that is the new heaven and new earth. Is this the story celebrated and sermonized in open and affirming churches? What about twenty years from now? And what if we flesh out the gospel story and include the tough bits about the exclusivity of Christ and the reality of hell? What if the story centers on Calvary, not as a generic example that love (defined in whatever we choose) wins, but as beautifully scandalous picture of a love so costly that God sent his Son into the world to be the wrath-bearing propitiation for our sins? What if the story summons us to faith and repentance? What if the story calls us to lay down everything–our ease, our desires, our family, our preferences, our sexuality, our stuff, our very selves–for the sake of the Storyteller? What if part of the story is believing that every jot and tittle in the Storybook is completely true?
I’d rather not talk about homosexuality again. But the world hasn’t stopped talking about it. And the Bible hasn’t stopped saying what it has always said. So let’s not be shrill and let’s not be silent. If you already know what the Bible says about homosexuality, don’t forget what the Bible says about all of life and godliness. We can be right about marriage and still wrong about everything else that matters. And if you like most everything else the Bible says, why would you on this matter of homosexuality decide the Bible suddenly can’t be trusted? If you won’t count the cost here, what else will you be willing to sell? The support for homosexual behavior almost always goes hand in hand with the diluting of robust, 100-proof orthodoxy, either as the cause or the effect. The spirits which cause one to go wobbly on biblical sexuality are the same spirits which befog the head and heart when it comes to the doctrine of creation, the historical accuracy of the Old Testament, the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, the resurrection, the second coming, the reality of hell, the plight of those who do not know Christ, the necessity of the new birth, the full inspiration and authority of the Bible, and the centrality of a bloody cross.
If Jesus is right and the Scriptures were spoken by God himself (Matt. 19:4-5) and utterly unbreakable (John 10:35), then the place to start when it comes to something as fundamental as marriage is also the place to end, and that’s by asking the question “But what does the Bible say?” As Christians living in the midst of controversy, we must keep three things open: our heads, our hearts, and our Bibles. Don’t settle for slogans and put-downs. Don’t look to bumper stickers and Facebook avatars for ethical direction. And don’t give up on the idea that God has a clear word and a good word on this issue. God has already spoken, and he specializes in gracious reminders, so long as we stay humble, honest, and hungry for the truth. After all, man does not live by bread alone (or sex alone), but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).
How could one not be moved by the events in Charleston last week? Indeed “moved” is hardly a sufficient verb. We need words like heartbroken, appalled, grieved, outraged, and disgusted. Nine brothers and sisters murdered, and after being so kind to the killer that he almost didn’t go through with his wicked machinations. How can this happen? In America? In 2015? In a church? And inspired by the kind of racist beliefs we’d like to think don’t exist anymore?
But they do exist, even if (thankfully) not like the used to.
Charleston is a beautiful city and there have been beautiful gospel scenes broadcast from that city in these last days. But obviously all is not beautiful in South Carolina, just like all is not beautiful in Michigan, and all is not beautiful in the human heart.
I’ve grown up my whole life hearing that racism was wrong, that “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (to use one of the first definitions that popped up on my phone) is sinful. I’ve heard it from my parents, from my public school, from my church, from my college, and from my seminary. The vast majority of Americans know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong. We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known (and loudly), but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like those people, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say. As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?
Here are ten biblical reasons why racism is a sin and offensive to God.
1. We are all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Most Christians know this and believe it, but the implications are more staggering than we might realize. The sign pictured above is not just mean, it is dehumanizing. It tried to rob Irish and Blacks of their exalted status as divine image bearers. It tried to make them no different than animals. But of course, as a white man I am no more like God in my being, no more capable of worship, no more made with a divine purpose, no more possessing of worth and deserving of dignity than any other human of any other gender, color, or ethnicity. We are more alike than we are different.
2. We are all sinners corrupted by the fall (Rom. 3:10-20; 5:12-21). Everyone made in the image of God has also had that image tainted and marred by original sin. Our anthropology is as identical as our ontology. Same image, same problem. We are more alike than we are different.
3. We are all, if believers in Jesus, one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). We see from the rest of the New Testament that justification by faith does not eradicate our gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things. Our first and most important identity is not male or female, American or Russian, black or white, Spanish speaker or French speaker, rich or poor, influential or obscure, but Christian. We are more alike than we are different.
4. Separating peoples was a curse from Babel (Gen. 11:7-9); bringing peoples together was a gift from Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). The reality of Pentecost may not be possible in every community–after all, Jerusalem had all those people there because of the holy day–but if our inclination is to move in the direction of the punishment of Genesis 11 instead of the blessing of Acts 2 something is wrong.
5. Partiality is a sin (James 2:1). When we treat people unfairly, when we assume the worst about persons and peoples, when we favor one group over another, we do not reflect the God of justice nor do we honor the Christ who came to save all men.
6. Real love loves as we hope to be loved (Matt. 22:39-40). No one can honestly say that racism treats our neighbor as we would like to be treated.
7. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Sadly, we can hate without realizing we hate. Hatred does not always manifest itself as implacable rage, and it does not always–or, because of God’s restraining mercy, often–translate into physical murder. But hatred is murder of the heart, because hatred looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, “I wish you weren’t around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you.” That’s hate, which sounds an awful lot like murder.
8. Love rejoices in what is true and looks for what is best (1 Cor. 13:4-7). You can’t believe all things and hope all things when you assume the worst about people and live your life fueled by prejudice, misguided convictions, and plain old animosity.
9. Christ came to tear down walls between peoples not build them up (Eph. 2:14). This is not a saccharine promise about everyone setting doctrine aside and getting along for Jesus’s sake. Ephesians 2 and 3 are about something much deeper, much more glorious, and much more cruciform. If we who have been made in the same image, born into the world with the same problem, find the same redemption through the same faith in the same Lord, how can we not draw near to each other as members of the same family?
10. Heaven has no room for racism (Rev. 5:9-10; 7:9-12; 22:1-5). Woe to us if our vision of the good life here on earth will be completely undone by the reality of new heavens and new earth yet to come. Antagonism toward people of another color, language, or ethnic background is antagonism toward God himself and his design for eternity. Christians ought to reject racism, and do what they can to expose it and bring the gospel to bear upon it, not because we love pats on the back for our moral outrage or are desperate for restored moral authority, but because we love God and submit ourselves to the authority of his word.
Wise words from John Witherspoon’s farewell sermon in Paisley, the bustling Scotland town the famous Kirk minister left for America in May 1768:
If you preach the free forgiveness of sin through Christ, without at the same time showing the necessity of regeneration and sanctification by his Spirit, it will either not be embraced at all, or it will be turned into licentiousness.
And if you preach the duties of the law, without at the same time displaying the grace of the gospel and the vital influence that flows from the head to the members, you will either build up men in a destructive system of Pharisaical religion and self-righteousness, or bring them under the Egyptian bondage of making brick through they are not furnished with straw.
The privileges and duties of the gospel stand in an inseparable connection; if you take away the first you starve and mortify the last. (“Ministerial Fidelity in Declaring the Whole Counsel of God” in Works, 2.518)
This strikes me as good biblical balance. Preach the free offer of the gospel, while also calling sinners to be born again and be holy as God is holy. And when you preach the imperatives of Scripture, make sure these same sinners know there is mercy for all their imperfections and sanctifying power in the midst of all their weaknesses.
Witherspoon was right: the privileges and duties of the gospel stand in inseparable connection.
What we all need–black and white, moms and dads, singled and married, rich and poor, young and old, the proud and the pitiful, the strong and the weak, the religious and the irreligious–is this good news:
“Do you know of any good history books I should read this summer?”
If that’s your question, I have 15 suggestions for you. Here are 15 history books pitched at a popular level (or at least accessible to a wide audience) that I’ve read and enjoyed.
What If? The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been, edited by Robert Cowley. A great example of counterfactual storytelling. The chapters on Sennacherib and Jerusalem, the Mongol invasion that didn’t happen, the fog that saved Washington’s army, Lee’s lost order, the disaster that should have been Midway are just some of the provocative “what if’s” you’ll consider in this creative and informative collection of essays.
Tom Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. A complex history told very well. No footnotes, but historically robust and readable.
David McCullough, 1776. My favorite McCullough book, which is saying something. Start it today and I bet you’ll be finished before July 4.
Paul C. Gutjahr, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy. A model academic biography that is structured in such a way as to be eminently readable. It will be hard not to like Charles Hodge after reading this book.
Thomas Fleming, A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War. Fleming argues that both sides had extremists with apocalyptic rhetoric who took all or nothing positions. Whether you agree with the thesis or not, this is a terrific history of the build up to the Civil War.
Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President. Guelzo is one of the finest historians of the period, a deft writer, theologically astute, and sensitive to the religious (though he argues not born-again Christian) dimensions of Lincoln’s life and thought.
James L. Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. Did you read the title? Read it again. It’s not an exaggeration. The book is history but reads like a thrilling crime drama.
Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson. Easily the most inspirational book on this list. One of the missionary biographies you really must read.
Jay Norlinger, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World. For what could be an obscure topic, the prose is remarkably light and the history much more interesting that you might think.
Eliot Asinof, . It’s summer, so read something about baseball. You’d be hard pressed to do better than this book.
Paul Johnson, Churchill. So many wonderful anecdotes, so much wisdom, and so short.
John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History. If you are under the age of 40, you are probably less interested in this book, but that’s all the most reason you need to read it.
Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power. This is only one of four published volumes in the series (and there is supposed to be a fifth and final installment), but this is the only one I’ve read (more accurately, am still reading). There is a lot of detail here, but a lot of insight into the best and worst of human nature.
Peggy Noonan, When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan. There are other more critical accounts of Reagan’s life, but none so easy to read and so well written.
Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity. In looking at the relationship of our presidents among themselves, this book really does give a glimpse of American history that we haven’t seen before. The Gibbs/Duffy book on Billy Graham and the Presidents is also a fun read.
Location: This year’s General Assembly was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Moderator: The PCA elected Mr. Jim Wert as Moderator of the 43rd General Assembly. Mr. Wert serves as a ruling elder at Intown Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been actively involved in all levels of the church’s courts.
Churches & Missions: 1,831 (increase of 23 from 2013)
Professions of Faith: 9,425 (increase of 299 from 2013)
Membership: 358,516 (decrease of 1,318 from 2013)
Total Family Units: 136,849 (decrease of 477 from 2013)
Long Term Missionaries: 596 (decrease of 24 from 2013)
Two Year Missionaries: 115 (decrease of 3 from 2013)
Missionary Interns 230 (decrease of 46 from 2013)
Two Week Missionaries: 4,599 (decrease of 211 from 2012)
RUF: 125 campuses in 42 states and in 60 Presbyteries
*The Stated Clerk noted that less than half of PCA churches report their statistics. He believes the PCA actually would have shown modest growth in 2015 if all churches did report their statistics
Major Issues/Actions of this Assembly
Issues to Watch
As was true of the 42nd General Assembly, so is true of the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, this Assembly won’t create headlines around the world or be noted in histories of the Presbyterian Church. In many ways, I am thankful for that. It was a good Assembly as the church conducted its very routine and ordinary business. We made theological pronouncements, exercised pastoral concern, worshipped, fellowshipped, and encouraged the mission of the Church. May God keep the PCA true to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.