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Compassion Without Compromise

Nov 21, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Recently I had the privilege of writing the foreword to a new book authored by my friends Adam Barr and Ron Citlau. The book is entitled Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Bethany House, 2014). It’s a very good book. You should think about getting a copy. My foreword is below.

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Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear something about homosexuality. It’s all over the news and all over social media. It’s the subject of countless conversations, arguments, diatribes, rants, punditry, and commentary. You can’t help but wonder: Is there really anything left to say?

Actually, there is a lot that still needs to be said. This issue is not about to fade into the background, and many of the hardest personal and pastoral questions are just beginning to surface. That’s why I am delighted with this new book.

Adam and Ron are excellent pastors, good thinkers, and great friends. I’ve known Adam since we went to college together and I sat there jealously as he, with his long, flowing locks, played guitar and crooned in the worship team, much to the admiration of many young women. Since then we’ve become close friends, colleagues in ministry, and, in many  ways, brothers in arms.

My friendship with Ron is not as long, but just as rich. I will never forget Ron’s stirring, courageous testimony at our denomination’s General Synod back in 2012. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the gospel more poignantly and powerfully presented at such a gathering. I’m grateful for Ron’s winsome, yet bold, approach to this difficult topic of sexuality. I have learned much from him.

As much as I appreciate Adam and Ron personally, that’s not the reason to read this book. A much better reason is that they have teamed up to write an engaging, accessible, sensitive, uncompromising, wise, and biblical book about the most controversial issue of our day. There are other books on homosexuality–and many of them should be read alongside this one. But what makes this volume unique is the personal touch–especially Ron’s story of having had gay feelings for most of his life–and the pastoral approach to the difficult questions none of us can avoid:

  • Should I attend my friend’s gay “wedding”?
  • Should we invite our homosexual son’s partner to our home for the holidays?
  • How should I respond if my young child thinks he’s gay?

There are dozens of questions like this in the book, each one answered with biblical insights and with good sense. I can’t imagine any Christian not being helped by this book. Adam and Ron are clear about the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual activity. They are informed on the latest scholarship. They are discerning when it comes to real-life application. And they are, above all, hopeful. Hopeful in the power of the gospel to save, to forgive, to restore, and to transform. If you are looking for a resource that will help you think about the issue of homosexuality with unflinching truth and with sincere grace, this is a great place to start.

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

Nov 20, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in his Son. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in his Son. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples is so important: “Who do you say that I am?”

The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?

There’s Republican Jesus who is against tax increases and activists judges, and for family values and owning firearms.

There’s Democrat Jesus who is against Wall Street and Walmart, and for reducing our carbon footprint and spending other people’s money.

There’s Therapist Jesus who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.

There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes to film festivals.

There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.

There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes run faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.

There’s Martyr Jesus, a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.

There’s Gentle Jesus who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash and looks German.

There’s Hippie Jesus who teaches everyone to give peace a chance, imagine a world without religion, and helps us remember all you need is love.

There’s Yuppie Jesus who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat.

There’s Spirituality Jesus who hates religion, churches, pastors, priests, and doctrine; he wants us to find the god within and listening to ambiguously spiritual musical.

There’s Platitude Jesus, good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons; he inspires people to believe in themselves, and lifts us up so we can walk on mountains.

There’s Revolutionary Jesus who teaches us to rebel against the status quo, stick it to the man, and dream up impossible utopian schemes.

There’s Guru Jesus, a wise, inspirational teacher who believes in you and helps you find your center.

There’s Boyfriend Jesus who wraps his arms around us as we sing about his intoxicating love in our secret place.

There’s Good Example Jesus who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.

And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world.

This Jesus was the Creator come to earth and the beginning of a new creation. He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the serpent, the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood, the Christ promised to Abraham, the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died, the Christ promised to David when he was king, the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a suffering servant, the Christ predicted through the prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

This Christ is not a reflection of the current mood or the projection of our own desires. He is our Lord and God. He is the Father’s Son, Savior of the world, and substitute for our sins-more loving, more holy, and more wonderfully terrifying than we ever thought possible.

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7 Ways Christian Academics Can Be Truly Christian

Nov 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

I love the life of the mind. I am immensely thankful for good scholarship, intellectual investigation, and the best of the academic enterprise. As a pastor and just as an intellectually curious sort of chap, I want Christian academics to flourish. I also want these Christian scholars to be thoroughly Christian.

Which means at least seven things:

1. Invest in the local church. Take the membership class. Sign up as an usher. Take your turn in the nursery. Sing the hymns and praise songs like you really mean them. You need community. You need accountability. Your need diversity. To be sure, your school probably talks a lot about diversity, but what about educational and intellectual diversity? After writing that festschrift you need to be around factory workers and farmers and firefighters. Find a good church. Get plugged in and stick around.

2. Be humble. Honor others above yourself. Don’t look down on others who are less intelligent, even if it’s the pastor or the worship leader. Understand that everyone has different gifts. There are people who won’t read three books this year, but they are pure gold around the hospital bed, in the youth room, under the hood of a car. A PhD does not make you (or me) The Special. Being an expert in one little thing does not make you an expert in everything. And don’t forget about people. Engage them with the same curiosity you would your research.

3. Serve the body of Christ with your gifts. Don’t be afraid to put some of the cookies on some of the lower shelves. Teaching or writing in a way that can be understood by the hoi polloi is not a sign of selling out. Be creative, be mindful of others, and find a way to use your knowledge to encourage and equip your brothers and sisters in the faith. Eschew obfuscation!

4. Be a good spouse and pay attention to your kids. There are few contemporary idols as addictive and as respectable as academics. The promotion is not worth a divorce. That journal article is not worth your kids’ well being. Being a good dad or a good mom is not a waste of your degree. You learned, didn’t you? You gained valuable skills and contacts, didn’t you? What will gain a Christian scholar if he gains the endowed chair but forfeits his family?

5. Maintain a resolute allegiance to the word of God. Peer review, tenure review, comprehensive exams, a dissertation defense–they’re not as important as standing before the judge of all the earth with a clean conscience. Don’t sacrifice your faith for academic credentials or credibility. Don’t forget the noble ideals that inspired you to pursue this path in the first place. Let God be true, even if every man thinks you’re a nut-job.

6. Do your work to the glory of God. Work hard. Be honest. Be kind. Refuse to participate in all the games and all the politics. And as you do your reading, writing, and teaching to the glory of God, under the authority of the word of God, know that God delights in it. God loves professors as much as he loves pastors and missionaries.

7. Put your studies in perspective. We need specialists. We need scholars doing confusing work that most people wouldn’t understand and may not care about. We need people who work tremendously hard so that the pool of human knowledge can swell just a little bit more. But we also need all of this to be put into perspective. There are people in the church with wayward kids, people with depression and anxiety, people who are lonely, people struggling with same-sex attraction, people devastated by marital infidelity, people numb from the pain of infertility, people with quietly dismal marriage–and this is to say nothing of the needs outside the church. People need to hear the gospel. People need to know you care. People need to meet Jesus. I’m not saying your research doesn’t matter. I’m just reminding all of us that a whole lot of other things matter too.

 

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 17, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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The One and the Many

Nov 14, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

There are many ways God uses to get us to where he wants us to go. But there is only one message he gives to save us from sin.

The problems in our day is that we get the one and the many reversed.

We think there’s only one way God can direct our lives. Only one path to walk down. Only one way everything turns out right. Only one right job, right house, right church, right move. So we panic that we may have married the wrong person, taken the wrong job, gone to the wrong school, moved to the wrong state.

We worry that we may be out of the center of God’s will. God has one right way for us; what if we miss it? What if we already have? Maybe your life is much different than you thought it would. Maybe it feels like God has forgotten you. Maybe you fear that there is no possible happy ending in your future. Many of us think there’s only one way God can direct our lives, and if we don’t get our plans lined up with his, well, then all is lost.

But that’s now how our loving heavenly Father guides our steps. God had a hundred ways to get Paul to Rome, just like he has a hundred ways to get you where you are supposed to be.

By contrast, we make a mistake in the opposite direction when it comes to salvation. We panic about a missed job opportunity but never give it a second thought if we miss the opportunity to repent and believe in Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Most people figure there are many ways to get saved. It’s just about being sincere: if you really, really believe something, then you’ll be okay. Or it’s just about being a decent person: as long as there is someone out there who is worse than you, then you’re fine. We assume that with so many cultures and so many religions, they must also work out in the end.

Too many of us are so concerned about our problems right now in this life that we’ve not thought about where we will be someday later after death. We’ve got things exactly backwards. We think there is only one path for me to follow on earth, but many paths I can take to get to heaven. God tells us the opposite: worship the Lord alone and you’ll not only live forever in heaven, you’ll be taken care during your whole meandering life here on earth.

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Not That Kind of Homosexuality?

Nov 13, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The Bible has nothing good to say about homosexual practice.

That may sound like a harsh conclusion, but it’s not all that controversial. Even the gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk has concluded that “wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. With reference to it the New Testament adds no new arguments to those of the Old. Rejection is a foregone conclusion; the assessment of it nowhere constitutes a problem.”[1] There is simply no positive case to be made from the Bible for homoerotic behavior.

Revisionist arguments in favor of same-sex unions do not rest on gay affirming exegetical conclusions as much as they try to show that traditional interpretations of Scripture are unwarranted. That is to say, the only way revisionist arguments make sense is if they can show that there is an impassable distance between the world of the Bible and our world.

Of all the arguments in favor of same-sex behavior, the cultural distance argument is the most foundational and the most common (at least among those for whom biblical authority is still important). Although the Mosaic Law and Paul’s letter to the Romans and the vice lists of the New Testament speak uniformly against same-sex behavior, these texts (it is said) were addressing a different kind of same-sex behavior. The ancient world had no concept of sexual orientation, no understanding of egalitarian, loving, committed, monogamous, covenantal same-sex unions.

The issue was not gender (whether the lovers were male or female), but gender roles (whether a man was overly feminized and acting like a woman).

The issue was not men having sex with men, but men having sex with boys.

The issue was not consensual same-sex intercourse, but gang rape, power imbalances, and systemic oppression.

The revisionist case can take many forms, but central to most of them is the “not that kind of homosexuality!” argument. We can safely set aside the scriptural prohibitions against homosexual behavior because we are comparing apples and oranges: we are talking in our day about committed, consensual, lifelong partnerships, something the biblical authors in their day knew nothing about.

Despite its superficial plausibility, there are at least two major problems with this line of thinking.

Silence Is Not Always Golden

For starters, the cultural distance argument is an argument from silence. The Bible nowhere limits its rejection of homosexuality to exploitative or pederastic (man-boy) forms of same-sex intimacy. Leviticus forbids a male lying with a male as with a woman (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). The text says nothing about temple prostitution, effeminate men, or sexual domination. The prohibition is against men doing with men what ought to be done with women. Similarly, the same-sex sin condemned in Romans 1 is not simply out-of-control passion or the insatiable male libido that desires men in addition to women. According to Paul, the fundamental problem with homosexual behavior is that men and women exchange sexual intercourse with the opposite sex for unnatural relations with persons of the same sex (Rom. 1:26-27; cf. 22, 25). If the biblical authors meant to frown upon only certain kinds of homosexual arrangements, they wouldn’t have condemned the same-sex act itself in such absolute terms.

Because the Bible never limits its rejection of homosexual behavior to pederasty or exploitation, those wanting to affirm homosexual behavior can only make an argument from silence. That’s why you will often read in the revisionist literature that the biblical author was only thinking of man-boy love or that an exploitative relationship would have been assumed in the minds of the original audience. The logic usually goes like this:

  • There were many bad example of homosexual behavior in the ancient world.
  • For example, here are ancient sources describing pederasty, master-slave encounters, and wild promiscuity.
  • Therefore, when the Bible condemns same-sex intimacy, it had these bad examples in mind.

This reasoning can look impressive, especially when it comes at you with a half dozen quotations from ancient sources that most readers are not familiar with. But the last step in the syllogism is an assumption more than an argument. How can we be sure Paul had these bad examples in mind? If he did, why didn’t he use the Greek word for pederasty? Why didn’t he warn masters against forcing themselves upon slaves? Why does the Bible talk about men lying with men and the exchange of what is natural for unnatural if it wasn’t thinking about the created order and only had in mind predatory sex and promiscuous liaisons? If the biblical authors expected us to know what they really had in mind—and no one figured this out for two millennia—it appears that they came up with a remarkably ineffective way of getting their point across.

What Do the Texts Say?

The second reason the distance argument fails is because it is an argument against the evidence. The line of reasoning traced above would be more compelling if it could be demonstrated that the only kinds of homosexuality known in the ancient world were based on pederasty, victimization, and exploitation. On the face of it, it’s strange that progressive voices would want us to reach this conclusion. For it would mean that committed, consensual, lifelong partnerships were completely unknown and untried in the ancient world. It seems demeaning to suggest that until very recently in the history of the world there were no examples of warm, loving, committed homosexual relationships. This is probably why Matthew Vines in using the cultural distance argument to make a biblical case for same-sex relationships admits, “This isn’t to say no one [in the Greco-Roman world] pursued only same-sex relationships, or that no same-sex unions were marked by long-term commitment and love.”[2] But of course, once we recognize that the type of same-sex unions progressives want to bless today were in fact present in the ancient world, it’s only special pleading which makes us think the biblical prohibitions couldn’t be talking about those kinds of relationships.

I’m not a scholar of the ancient world, neither are most of the authors writing on the revisionist side. As a pastor I can read Greek, but I’m no expert in Plato, Plutarch, or Aristides. Most people reading this are not scholars either. Thankfully, almost all of the important ancient texts on homosexuality are readily available. It doesn’t make for fun reading (especially if you think homosexual behavior is wrong), but anyone can explore the primary sources in Homosexuality In Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents. This 558-page book is edited by the non-Christian classics professor Thomas K Hubbard. What you’ll find in the sourcebook is not surprising given the diversity and complexity of the ancient world: Homosexual behavior was not reducible to any single pattern and moral judgment did not fall into neat categories. There was no more consensus about homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome than we see today.[3]

From a Christian point of view, there are plenty of examples of “bad” homosexuality in the ancient world, but there is also plenty of evidence to prove that homosexual activity was not restricted to man-boy pairs. Some homosexual lovers swore continued attraction well into their loved one’s adulthood, and some gay lovers were lifelong companions.[4] By the first century AD, the Roman world was increasingly divided on the issue of homosexuality. As public displays of same-sex indulgence grew, so did the moral condemnation of homosexual behavior.[5] Every kind of homosexual relationship was known in the first century, from lesbianism, to origiastic behavior, to gender-bending “marriage,” to lifelong same-sex companionship. Hubbard’s summary of early imperial Rome is important:

The coincidence of such severity on the part of moralistic writers with the flagrant and open display of every form of homosexual behavior by Nero and other practitioners indicates a culture in which attitude about this issue increasingly defined one’s ideological and moral position. In other words, homosexuality in this era may have ceased to be merely another practice of personal pleasure and began to be viewed as an essential and central category of personal identity, exclusive of and antithetical to heterosexual orientation.

If in the ancient world not only had a category for committed same-sex relationships but also some understanding of homosexual orientation (to use our phrase), there is no reason to think the New Testament’s prohibitions against same-sex behavior were only thinking of pederasty and exploitation.

Hubbard is not the only scholar to see the full range of homosexual expression in the ancient world. William Loader, who has written eight significant books on sexuality in Judaism and early Christianity and is himself a strong proponent of same-sex marriage, points to examples of same-sex adult partnerships in the ancient world.[6] Even more telling, Loader sees evidence for nascent ideas about orientation in the Greco-Roman era:

It is very possible that Paul knew of views which claimed some people had what we would call a homosexual orientation, though we cannot know for sure and certainly should not read our modern theories back into his world. If he did, it is more likely that, like other Jews, he would have rejected them out of hand, as does Philo after reporting Aristophanes’ bizarre aetiology [i.e., the study of causation] of human sexuality.[7]

Loader’s statement about Aristophanes is a reference to Plato’s Symposium (c. 385-370 B.C.), a series of speeches on Love (Eros) given by famous men at a drinking party in 416 B.C.. At this party we meet Pausanias who was a lover of the host Agathon, both grown men. Pausanias applauds the naturalness and longevity of same-sex love. In the fourth speech we meet the comic poet Aristophanes who proposes a convoluted theory, including notions of genetic causation, about why some men and women are attracted to persons of the same sex. Even if the speech is meant to be satire, it only works as satire by playing off the positive view of homosexual practice common in antiquity.[8]

To suggest that only certain kinds of homosexual practice (the bad kinds) were known in the ancient world is a claim that flies in the face of many Greek texts. Here, for example, is N.T. Wright’s informed conclusion:

As a classicist, I have to say that when I read Plato’s Symposium, or when I read the accounts from the early Roman empire of the practice of homosexuality, then it seems to me they knew just as much about it as we do. In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it’s already there in Plato. The idea that in Paul’s day it was always a matter of exploitation of younger men by older men or whatever . . . of course there was plenty of that then, as there is today, but it was by no means the only thing. They knew about the whole range of options there.[9]

And then there is this paragraph from the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, in his massive book Homosexuality and Civilization:

Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian.[10]

I know it is poor form to pile up block quotes from other authors, but in this case it proves a point. Scholars all of different stripes have said the same thing: the cultural distance argument will not work. There is nothing in the biblical text to suggest Paul or Moses or anyone else meant to limit the Scriptural condemnation of homosexual behavior. Likewise, there is no good reason to think from the thousands of homosexuality-related texts found in the Greco-Roman period that the blanket rejection of homosexual behavior found in the Bible can be redeemed by postulating an impassable cultural distance between our world and the ancient world. There is simply no positive case for homosexual practice in the Bible and no historical background that will allow us to set aside what has been the plain reading of Scripture for twenty centuries. The only way to think the Bible is talking about every other kind of homosexuality except the kind our culture wants to affirm is to be less than honest with the texts or less than honest with ourselves.

 

NOTES

[1] Pim Pronk, Against Nature? Types of Moral Argumentation Regarding Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) ,279.

[2] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (New York: Convergent Books, 2014), 104.

[3] Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 7-8.

[4] Ibid., 5-6.

[5] Ibid., 383.

[6] William Loader, The New Testament on Sexuality (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans: 2012), 84.

[7] Ibid., 323-24, 496.

[8] See Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001), 350-54.

[9] John L. Allen Jr., “Interview with Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham, England,” National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004, http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/wright.htm (accessed November 11, 2014).

[10] Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003), 114.

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Magnify Conference this Weekend

Nov 12, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

magnifyThe website may say registration is closed but you can still register for the Magnify Conference in person. Join us at University Reformed Church this weekend for a great time of singing, teaching, and fellowship.

Here’s the basic schedule:

Friday

7:00pm – Session 1: Trusting in the Christ Who Is Preached (Dever)

8:30pm – Session 2: A Conversation with Mark Dever

Saturday

7:45am – Pastor/Elder Breakfast (RSVP only)

9:00am – Session 3: Twelve Important Truths About Following Jesus (Dever)

10:30am – Session 4: How the Church Can Reach the Next Generation (DeYoung)

1:00pm – Q/A with Mark Dever

2:05pm – Session 5: Discipline (Dever)

Note: Mark will also be preaching at University Reformed Church on Sunday morning. I will be continuing my series on systematic theology in the evening.

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The Preacher, the Counselor, and the Congregation

Nov 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

At University Reformed Church, one of our firm convictions is that the ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the counselor are not different kinds of ministry, but rather the same ministry given in different ways in different settings. Both are fundamentally, thoroughly, and unapologetically Word ministries. One may be more proclamation and monologue, and the other more conversational and dialogue, but the variation in approach and context does not undermine their shared belief in the power of the Word of God to do the work of God in the people of God. What shapes our understanding of pulpit ministry is a strong confidence in the necessity, sufficiency, authority, and relevance of God’s Word. The same confidence shapes our understanding of counseling ministry.

 The Word of God is necessary. We cannot truly know God or know ourselves unless God speaks. While Christians can learn from the insights of those blessed by common grace and those with gifts of reason and observation, the care of souls requires revelation from the Maker of souls. We preach and we counsel from the Scriptures not simply because they help us see a few good insights, but because they are the spectacles through which we must see everything.

The Word of God is sufficient. All we need for life and godliness, for salvation and sanctification has been given to us in the Bible. This doesn’t mean the Scriptures tell us everything we need to know about everything or that there is a verse somewhere in the Bible that names all our problems. The Bible is not exhaustive. But it is enough. We don’t have to turn away from God’s Word when we get to the really hard and messy stuff of life. The Bible has something to say to the self-loathing, the self-destructive, and the self-absorbed. We do not need to be afraid to preach and counsel from the Word of God into the darkest places of the human heart.

The Word of God is authoritative. The Christ who is Lord exercises His lordship by means of His Word. To reject His Word is to reject Him. In a day filled with sermonettes for Christianettes, we must not forget that what most distinguished Jesus’ preaching from that of the scribes and Pharisees was His authority. The Word gives definitive claims, issues obligatory commands, and makes life-changing promises. All three must be announced with authority. This authority may be spoken in a loud voice or a soft whisper, in a prayer or in a personal note, with an outstretched finger or an open embrace. Authority is not dependent on personality or one’s position within the church building. Authority comes from God’s Word, and the counselor no less than the preacher must bring this authority to bear on all those encountered, especially on those who swear allegiance to Christ.

God’s Word is relevant. Terms change. Science changes. Our experiences change. But the human predicament does not change, the divine remedy does not change, and the truth does not change. This makes the Word of God eternally relevant. Whatever work we can accomplish in the church apart from the Word of God is not the work that matters most. When it comes to matters of heaven and hell, matters of sin and salvation, matters of brokenness and healing, we are powerless in ourselves to effect any of the good change we want to see. This is why we must rely on the unchanging Word of God. If Christ is relevant—and what Christian would dare say He is not—then we can never ignore what He has to say to us. There is less wisdom in our new techniques than we think and more power in God’s Word than we imagine.

A Gospel-Tuned Tag Team

I love the partnership in the Word that I share with our Director of Counselor, Pat Quinn (not the current governor of Illinois!). It’s encouraging—and unfortunately rare in many churches—to know that what I preach on Sunday will be reinforced by our counseling ministry Monday through Saturday. I don’t have to worry that Pat will be working from a different foundation or pursuing a different cure. He’s far more gifted than I am at asking questions, assigning homework, leading Bible studies, and gently helping people apply the Word of God to their problems. But though he may be more skilled in his context, he doesn’t do anything substantially different from what I do in mine. He talks about faith, repentance, sin, salvation, the gospel, justification, lies, truth, forgiveness, promises, commands, communion with God, and union with Christ—all the same themes I expound from the pulpit week after week.

I’d like to think my preaching makes Pat’s counseling easier. He can build on what I teach, use what I preach, and remind people of last week’s sermons because when we both work from the Word, we end up saying the same things. I know I’ve become a better preacher knowing that Pat is such a good counselor. Hearing the questions he asks and the cases he’s working on helps me make sure that my message does not just aim for an announcement of truth, but also for the care of souls. It’s always more effective to preach with real people, real hurts, real struggles, and real temptations in view. Being involved in our counseling forces me to think how this week’s text speaks to a teenager with same-sex attraction, or to an older man struggling with bitterness, or to a young couple with no hope for their marriage, or to a confused wife who can’t stand her husband.

If my sermon’s don’t help with counseling, then I need to rework my approach to preaching. And if a church’s counseling is totally unlike, in substance and grounding, faithful expositional preaching, then the church’s counseling probably is something other than biblical. The preacher and the counselor working together, teaching the same truths from the same Bible to the same heart conditions, can be a powerfully gospel-tuned tag team.

Adapted from my contribution to the new book Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World (eds. Bob Kellemen and Jeff Forrey).

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Still my kids’ favorite commercial.

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What Is the Heartbeat of Reformed Theology?

Nov 06, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? Some would point to the Doctrines of Grace (Five Points of Calvinism) and others to the Solas of the Reformation. Still others may be inclined to assert that it is the sovereignty of God or union with Christ. All of these are good answers, but if I was pressed to articulate the one thing that drives Reformed Theology, I would reply that it is the glory of God as revealed in the Scriptures:

  • We emphasize reliance upon the Scriptures because observing the rule He has given for faith and practice ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the sovereignty of God because a theology rooted in His supremacy ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the distinction between Creator and creature because a right understanding of His “otherness” ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the sinfulness of man because recognizing His unfathomable grace ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the inability of man in salvation because accentuating His mercy ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize predestination and election because distinguishing He is a God who freely chooses ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize prayer because faithful dependence ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the preached Word because listening to His voice ascribes glory God.
  • We emphasize the sacraments because participating in these gifts to the church ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize holiness in the Christian life because being conformed to the likeness of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize daily quiet times because seeking Him in private worship ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize worship in our homes, because centering our homes upon Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize Lord’s Day corporate worship, because gathering with the bride of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize preaching Christ from all the Scriptures because maintaining the centrality of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize providence because trusting in Him for all things ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize missions because spreading His fame throughout all the earth ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize theological rigor because worshipping God with all our mind, heart, and soul ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the covenants because treasuring God’s faithfulness ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the pilgrimage of the Christian life because seeking Christ above beauty ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize that the treasure of heaven is Christ because observing there is nothing better ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize conversion because calling men, women, and children to faith in Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize common grace because recognizing that all good things come from above ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the local church, because as the appointed bride of the Son ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize union with Christ in salvation because seeing every aspect of our salvation in relation to Christ (as the Scriptures do) ascribes glory to God.

What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? I wouldn’t feel the need to argue with someone who would suggest it is the Doctrines of Grace, union with Christ, or even the Solas of the Reformation. Yet, I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after.

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