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Trevin’s Seven

Aug 28, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper , and David Brainerd by John Piper. $3.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. Tim Keller – “Here I Stand”: Elsa (from Frozen’s “Let It Go”) vs. Luther (from the Diet of Worms). I’m a big fan of Frozen, even while I scratch my head at the popularity of “Let It Go” (see my article on the movie and song here). I’m an even bigger fan of Tim Keller’s books, including his footnotes. His latest book on preaching pits Elsa against Luther.

2. World Magazine interviews Gabe Lyons, founder of Q. This is an insightful conversation about dialogue and debate with people when the disagreements are major.

3. In The Atlantic, Allen Guelzo asks the provocative question “Did Religion Make the Civil War Worse?” The answer, of course, is complicated. Guelzo also shows how the War corrupted American religion. Fascinating essay.

4. Heather Walker Peterson – Inhabiting the Psalms. I recently worked on a Gospel Project session on the psalms and have begun reading multiple psalms before bed every night. This article reminds me of the importance of inhabiting the world of these ancient songs of faith.

5. Owen Strachan – The Depressing and Weirdly Encouraging Data on Ashley Madison UsersThere is a stark difference between male and female users of the site, and Owen shows how the lies of the Sexual Revolution are exposed in the data.

6. The Pew Study Finds Orthodox Jews are More Like Evangelical Christians – Not Other JewsThis data shows a shifting demographic and, perhaps, a more conservative Judaism in the future.

7. Andrew Walker – Thoughts on Vanity Fair and the Triumph of Christian Moral-Ethical ImaginationIf the Ashley Madison debacle doesn’t depress you, try reading the Vanity Fair article about young people using Tinder. Here, Andrew shows that Christianity’s vision of sexual ethics is so beautiful in comparison to the hook-up culture we live in.

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The Mark of Christianity That is Disappearing from Our Worship

Aug 27, 2015 | Trevin Wax

confessing-sinIt is puzzling to see one of the defining marks of a Christian’s identity quietly disappear from a church’s worship.

I’m speaking, of course, about confession – a time when the church comes together as a repentant people, and asks God to forgive and cleanse, to renew and restore, to inflame our cold hearts and fill us with overflowing love.

Confession is one of the defining marks of a Christian because it is linked to repentance and faith. When we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with God that our sin is something that needs to be forgiven. We are recognizing that our sin hurts us, hurts others, and most importantly, hurts the heart of God.

Confession is the expression of repentance in which we name our sin for what it is, turn away from sin, and turn toward a merciful God. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that the non-Christian sins and the Christian does not, but that the Christian sins and repents, while the unbeliever hardens their heart toward God – either by refusing to admit the sin or by trying to deal with the sin in some other way.

As a part of corporate worship, confession has historically been near the beginning of a service. Once we have been summoned to worship God, and once we have seen and begun to experience His presence, we are like Isaiah – falling on our knees before a majestic and holy God, amazed when seeing the brightness of His glory, ashamed when seeing our sin for what it is. Before we can move forward in worship, or move outward in mission, we fall down in repentance.

Scripture never requires a time of confession near the beginning of a service. The Lord’s Prayer leads us to ask for forgiveness near the end, not the beginning. Making confession a requirement in every worship service could give the impression that God is constantly angry with us and we can only approach Him after doing penance. This would lead us back to the medieval image of a God whose favor we must somehow earn, rather than the God of grace whose favor is freely received through the merits of Christ and His righteousness.

Today, however, the more pressing problem is not the idea of a God who is perpetually angry, but a shriveled god who is shallow and nice. If we don’t see God taking sin seriously, we won’t take it seriously either. And once we stop taking sin seriously, repentance loses its power. No surprise, then, that confession falls away, and the one thing for which all Christians should be known – repentant faith – is something we no longer express together in public.

My hope is that the practice of corporate confession will make a comeback – whether in a time of silent prayer, corporate confession, or songs that plead for mercy. After all, we are not in a posture to receive God’s Word until we have first renounced our sin.

A confession of sin renounces any attempt to justify the sin; we humble acknowledge our sin and its sentence. At the same time, we humbly place ourselves in the hands of a mighty and merciful Savior. He is the One who grants repentance, and He is the One in whom we trust.

Note: I wrote this blog post as part of a series for Keith and Kristyn Getty’s email newsletter. They have done great work in providing the Church with songs of confession. Here are a few free downloads.

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The Shrug That Scares Me To Death

Aug 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

91 Life Is Beautiful (1997)One of my favorite films is Roberto Benigni’s 1997 tragicomedy, La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful). It tells the story of a Jewish father, Guido, who invents creative ways to keep his son out of danger while they endure life in a concentration camp.

There is a scene in that film that continues to haunt me. Guido is a waiter serving German officials and their wives as they gather for an evening of fine dining. While the Nazis are eating and drinking in luxury, the horror of the concentration camp lies just beyond the walls.

But then, one of the German officials who knew Guido before the start of the war calls him over for a private conversation. Guido has every reason to think that this officer wants to help him and his family survive. Instead, the German officer picks up where they left off years before. You see, Guido was good at solving riddles, and this officer needs help in solving a particularly perplexing one.

The conversation is long. It goes on for several torturous minutes. As it dawns on him that the officer has given no thought to assisting him, Guido remains silent – his face filling with pain and disbelief. And in a moment of tragic and terrifying irony, Guido – a Jew who is seen as less than human by the Nazis – is the picture of humanity that stands over against the cold indifference of the Nazi officer.

“A Shrugging of the Shoulders”

I’ve thought of that scene a few times as I’ve read some of the online defenses of Planned Parenthood.

In New York magazine, for example, Rebecca Traister claims that the “big secret of abortion” is that “women already know how it works” – that pro-life efforts to show us the results of the procedure won’t really change minds, no matter how grisly the videos get. Quoting Frances Kissling, she writes: “Abortions are yucky… but after that response, there is a shrugging of the shoulders.”

That shrugging of the shoulders is what scares me to death.

Yes, I know there are pro-choice activists who, in light of these videos, are rethinking their position on abortion.

Yes, I know there are politicians on both sides of the aisle who find the videos disturbing.

Yes, I trust there are people who have shifted in their views due to the videos.

But the shrug is what scares me. It frightens me to think that we live in a society that can watch this kind of violence against the defenseless, say “Oh well!,” and then click to the next news story.

If They Only Knew?

Many in the pro-life movement think the problem in our culture is one of ignorance. If just enough Americans knew what was really going on in these abortion clinics… If only they saw the freezers full of baby parts… If they could see how we chop up the unborn and sell off their parts… they would be outraged and would demand we stop the carnage!

So, we have blamed the media for not covering these stories sufficiently or for reporting them with blatant bias. That blame is justifiable. Media bias remains one of the strongest obstacles to the pro-life cause.

Still, we assume that once our fellow citizens see the victims, once people realize that there is always a dead body after an abortion, once people see the bloody reality behind our euphemisms like “products of conception,” and “fetal tissue,” and “reproductive health,” then they will finally say, “Enough!”

I hope that assumption proves right.

But it scares me to death that we may be wrong. It frightens me to think we live in a society that knows full well what we are doing and simply doesn’t care.

The shrug is the sign we have become a shell of humanity – a soulless society where the baby hearts we sell are bigger than our hearts that are still beating. We live in a world in which people can look square into the faces of tiny human beings and talk about how much money their organs will bring in.

“Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder,” says Leon Kass. The absence of societal shuddering in response to the Planned Parenthood videos frightens me more than the videos themselves.

God, Open Eyes

What does this mean for us as we go forward? At the national prayer breakfast in 2012, when Eric Metaxas shared the platform with President Obama, he compared the pro-life movement to Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, explaining how we are to treat people whose eyes are blind to the humanity of the unborn:

Wilberforce saw what the people in his day didn’t see, and we celebrate him for it. Bonhoeffer saw what others did not see…

Apart from God, we cannot see that the unborn are persons. Those of us who know the unborn are human beings are commanded by God to love those who do not yet see that. We need to know that apart from God we would be on the other side of that divide…

Metaxas is right. That’s why we must pray – that God will open eyes to see the gift of human life and the tragedy of our killing clinics. After all, had God not opened our own eyes, we would be shrugging too.

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Trevin’s Seven

Aug 21, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Brian Croft. $3.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. Mary McCampbell – Policing with Embrace: How Officer Norman Loves His CommunityI just love this story. It’s been a difficult year for law enforcement officers, and we need to lift up the examples of ordinary heroes like this.

2. Welcome to the New Dark Ages! An atheist calls out intolerance toward dissenters to same-sex marriage supporters. Brendan O’Neill, the editor of Spiked, a “godless Brit,” argues that something terrifying has happened during the past five years: a belief that was held by virtually all human beings for centuries has been rebranded as bigotry, something that may no longer be expressed in polite society.

3. D. A. Horton – Biblical Exposition and MillennialsIt encourages me to see fellow millennials like D.A. seeking to mobilize our generation through sound, exegetical preaching.

4. Brandon Clements – What the Planned Parenthood Videos Tell Us about UsBrandon shows how the horrifying carnage of abortion is our country’s sacrifice for maintaining our disordered loves. Powerful and provoking.

5. Joel Miller – What Tolkien and Lewis Teach Us about Surviving Difficult TimesWorld War I had a large effect on both these authors from the 20th century. Miller explains how we benefit from their trials today.

6. LifeWay Research – Divorce Divides More Than Just FamiliesPastors are all over the place on the issue of divorce, when it is justified, and who they will remarry.

7. Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times - In College and Hiding From Scary IdeasLast week, I wrote about Jonathan Haidt’s claim we are “coddling” the American mind. Here is another article that shows the silliness of this kind of education.

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Love: Our Shelter in the Cultural Storm

Aug 20, 2015 | Trevin Wax

lighthouse-storm-man“I’m not sure the people in my congregation are ready for what’s coming.”

That’s the sentiment of many a pastor who sees how the cultural tides are turning against those who adhere to Christianity’s sexual ethic. The tide is bringing to shore a number of challenges, including social ostracism and the potential loss of income, status, or opportunity.

Some of these fears are overblown; but more than a few of them are real. Four dissenting Supreme Court justices just sounded the alarm.

The questions follow: How do we fortify believers for this cultural moment?

How do we ensure that Christians remain steadfast, committed to Scripture, and immune to activists whose ideologies threaten schism concerning issues that the Church has always been united on?

How do we prepare people to bear the stigma of the world?

The simplest, most profound answer is: through love.

In the passage where he calls New Testament believers “sojourners” and “exiles,” the Apostle Peter starts off by addressing them as beloved (or loved ones, or dear friends – depending on your translation). Beloved. There are two senses of “being loved” that prepare us well as sojourners and exiles.

Loved By the Family

At the first level, Peter is speaking about being part of the beloved family of God. This is the love that we have for brothers and sisters.

Thus, one of the ways we equip believers to bear the stigma of standing for Christ is by doing so together – as the family of God. It’s one thing to be a lone individual taking a stand. It’s another thing to know that there are others are with you.

The last thing we need are believers who adopt a “run for the hills!” mentality and then, like Elijah, bemoan the fact that there are so few who are faithful. There are millions of Christians who have not and will never bow the knee to Ba’al. We belong to this people, and we stand in a long line of men and women who have rejoiced to suffer for the name of the Savior.

The more our world fractures and polarizes, the tighter and stronger our churches must be.

Loved By the Father

At a second level, and more fundamental, Peter is speaking about being beloved by the God who has demonstrated His love through the gift of His Son. We are beloved by God.

It’s common for Christians to think being “in exile” implies God’s displeasure or punishment. This is because we have wrongly applied the exile of the Old Testament people of God to our situation today. The fact that Peter can address “exiles” as beloved means that being a beloved child of God is not at odds with being in exile. And even in the Old Testament, where the exile was in fact a disciplinary moment from God toward His people, the exile did not communicate God’s hatred or His disdain.

Exile is not an accident. In Jeremiah 29, when the prophet wrote his letter to the exiles, he spoke of them as being “sent” to Babylon, as having been “deported” by God Himself. Exile was not an accident back then, and being “in exile” is not a coincidence now. In both cases, God loves His people.

Here’s why this matters for the fortifying of Christian faith and witness in our day. If you fail to get this truth deep down into your heart, if you fail to recognize God’s unfailing, unchanging love for you no matter your circumstances, you will not be able to represent Him well in exile.

The only way you will ever be able to withstand the hatred of the world is if you are immersed in the love of God.

The only way you will ever be able to live without the approval of others is if you are assured of God’s approval of you in Christ.

The only way you can stand against the world when everyone is jeering you is when you know God is there, cheering you on, calling you His beloved child.

Unless we are overcome by the love of God, we will be overcome by the fear of man.

Fortified Faith

Our task is twofold. First, we must strengthen the bonds of the Christian community, creating an oasis of faith, hope, and love in the midst of a decadent culture. A place of love that makes rejection from the world more tolerable because of the embrace we receive from the church. Secondly, we must immerse ourselves again and again in the inexhaustible fountain of God’s love for us in Christ. A fountain that refreshes us with our free and full salvation through Jesus.

Perfect love casts out fear. So, when you look to the future, don’t be afraid. You are beloved.

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Trigger Warning! The Bible May Disturb Your Emotional Health

Aug 19, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Here is my article this week, posted at RNS:

Before you read this article, be warned! You may come across something you disagree with, or an idea that makes you uncomfortable, or a statement that causes offense. Please shut off your mobile device or close your browser, and back away slowly from your computer.

I’m kidding, of course. But only a little.

There’s a movement afoot in many universities and colleges across the country. It’s driven by the vision for the campus to be a “safe space” where ideas and words that make someone uncomfortable can be easily avoided. In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait describes it as a renewed strain of political correctness, a kind of “language policing” that poisons political debate and shuts down discussion.

In The Atlantic, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff argue that this strain of political correctness is primarily about “emotional well-being,” protecting students from psychological harm. It’s “the coddling of the American mind,” they say, in a twist on Allan Bloom’s famous work, “The Closing of the American Mind.”

One example of turning college into a “safe space” is the recent trend of putting “trigger warnings” on books — alerts from a professor that something in the course may stir up a strong, emotional response from the students. The motivation behind trigger warnings is sensitivity to people who have had traumatic experiences, a way of letting them know they may be disturbed by what they read.

Unfortunately, in a collegiate atmosphere tense with the fear of perpetual offense, the number of “triggers” have multiplied, and many of the most important books in history are getting labeled, and in some cases, dismissed.

For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” gets a trigger warning because of its depiction of misogyny and abuse. The classic myths of ancient Greek literature get trigger warnings because of rape.

Can you imagine how many trigger warnings the Bible would get? If there has ever been a book that is designed to make you uncomfortable and challenge your way of thinking, it’s the Bible.

Continue Reading…

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The Gospel, Marriage, and Sexual Schismatics

Aug 18, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 1.31.06 PMIs the nature of marriage an “agree-to-disagree” issue for Christians?

Earlier this week, Scot McKnight commented on the decision of Union University to withdraw from the CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) because no action had yet been taken regarding two Mennonite faith-based colleges that opened the door to same-sex marriages among their faculty. Anticipating that other Christian colleges will soon follow Union’s lead, Scot explains why he agrees with Union on the biblical teaching of marriage, but disagrees with Union on withdrawing from the CCCU.

The Gospel and Marriage

Scot believes it is problematic for evangelicals to consider one’s teaching on marriage as more central to the gospel than other issues that divide Christians (baptism, for example). He critiques Union’s president, Dub Oliver, for saying that division on marriage damages our Christian witness and denies the authority of Scripture. Scot believes it is counterproductive to tie one’s understanding of marriage to the gospel in this way. He writes:

I see this connecting-to-the-gospel argument far too often. It is a borrowing of authority — the colonizing of authority if you will — from one thing to another to give the new thing the authority it would not otherwise have.

He goes on:

Let me register this: I disagree with Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, and often do on their progressive courage fronts, and Union and others can do what they want, but this is culture war stuff being used theologically to create division where a kind of unity and bland disregard of differences, some quite at the heart of what many of these schools actually make central, in the past.

Scot is right that the CCCU does not include stringent doctrinal tests for its members. It only requires them to have a public, institutional mission that is “Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith.”

“Historic Christian Faith”

But therein lies the question. How can a school claim to be rooted in the historic Christian faith when arguing for a vision of marriage that, literally, has no history within Christianity? Does an institution that no longer accepts the unequivocal witness of the Christian Church for two thousand years to the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality meet the CCCU requirement?

Union says no. The CCCU, currently, implies that this is an “agree-to-disagree” issue. In his commentary, Scot recognizes that in the texts that most clearly explicate the gospel, there is no reference to marriage. But this makes me wonder… which doctrines are essential for the church or an institution to faithfully promulgate the gospel? Is there anything besides the gospel proper that might be grounds for disunity?

Who is Creating Division?

I agree with Union’s decision, and, frankly, it appears that Scot is the one reading this situation from the perspective of “culture-war politics” and this is why it has clouded his judgment on this point. Let’s be clear. Union’s decision is not what is creating division here, but the moral heterodoxy of the schools that have abandoned the Church’s witness to marriage.

Who has changed here? Not Union, but the schools who adapted their policies in line with the state’s institutionalization of the Sexual Revolution revision of marriage.

Who has brought about this division? It is certainly not the schools that remain in line with every Christian in history until just decades ago.

It baffles me that one would blame the schisms across the Western Church today on those who uphold Christianity’s historic sexual ethic instead of those who advocate for a sexual revisionism that would have been unfathomable to the generations of the Christians who came before us and, even today, shocks the consciences of the vast majority of Christians outside the West. Only in Western cultures do we call churches “affirming.” Outside the West, the term is “apostate.”

Scot is reading this situation as if it were a fundamentalist reaction to the broader Christian movement. I think he has it backwards. This is schism brought about by those whose “cheap grace” is employed as justification for sexual immorality – the sort of situation that the brother of Jesus warned against (Jude 4), which means that “defending the faith” (Jude 3) in this context is less about maintaining the points of our creed or the planks of the gospel and more about the Church’s moral witness to the sexual ethic described by Jesus and the Apostles.

Pannenberg the Prophet

In the late 1990’s, Wolfhart Pannenberg, who would be to the left of many if not most evangelicals, clearly saw what was at stake in the mainline denominations’ wrangling over same-sex marriage. Appealing to Jesus’ definition of marriage and the New Testament’s witness, Pannenberg wrote:

“These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to the Christian message as a whole.”

In other words, the idea that one can simply disregard this element of sexual ethics and not do damage to Christianity is impossible.

Now, there are two ways of relating marriage as a matter of first concern to the gospel. One is to lump everything essential into “the gospel,” which is what evangelicals who call this a “gospel issue” have done.

The other approach is to say that the gospel is not the only thing that is essential for Christians to believe. It’s to say that there are elements of the Christian Story that are non-negotiable, even if they are not included in how we define the gospel (one might consider the doctrine of the Trinity or the authority of Scripture as examples). There may be doctrines about God and man that are not the gospel, but necessary for the gospel’s preservation and delivery.

Pannenberg, I believe, takes this latter approach, and this is why he arrives at a position that calls out the apostasy of institutions that bow before the cultural authorities on marriage:

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

I’m with Union, and with Pannenberg. For the CCCU to imply that one’s position of marriage and sexuality is an “agree-to-disagree” issue is to introduce a moral fog into our churches and institutions that will be devastating to the Church’s witness.

[[Update: Scot McKnight has clarified to me that he does not believe marriage is an “agree-to-disagree” issue for Christians. It is a matter of biblical fidelity.]]

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Trevin’s Seven

Aug 14, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?: Responding to Objections That Leave Christians Speechless by Paul Copan. $2.99.

Here are seven of the best articles that I came across this week:

1. The Atlantic - The Coddling of the American MindJonathan Haidt explains how college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.

2. Eric Geiger – 7 Practices of a Listening Leader. When you fail to listen to your team, you fail to gain the valuable perspective that could be gleaned. Here’s how to listen better.

3. Joseph Sunde – Marriage as Cornerstone: How the Family is a Foundation for Flourishing. This article that lays out how views of marriage have shifted over the centuries and why some of the changes are good and others are bad and what Christians can do to recover the beauty of this vital institution.

4. Kevin Smith – Being a Preacher Means Being a LearnerGood thoughts from Kevin about how a pastor can devote time and seek breadth in study.

5. From The Daily Beast - I Don’t Know If I’m Pro-Choice AnymoreIt’s encouraging to see a pro-choice person grappling with the implications of that position. It’s even more encouraging that it’s his wife who is urging him to switch sides.

6. In case you missed it. Ann Voskamp - An Honest Conversation about AbortionMasterful and moving, in the way only Ann can accomplish.

7. Ben Witherington – Why Gay Marriage Can’t Be Christian MarriageWitherington calls gay marriage an oxymoron from a biblical and Christian point of view and then offers seven reasons why gender complementarity is essential to Christian marriage.

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I Want a Bigger Bible

Aug 13, 2015 | Trevin Wax

reading-bibleIn recent years, evangelicals have been pushing for racial reconciliation, multi-ethnic congregations, and greater diversity among leaders and institutions. We know that part of our witness to the gospel is our reconciled relationships as God’s people – redeemed by the blood of Jesus and now called to have Christ’s mind as we seek unity.

All good.

But it’s difficult to get excited about “reconciliation” and “diversity” in the abstract, especially if we aren’t close friends with anyone from another ethnicity or culture.

So, let me offer another reason why we should be excited about growing diversity within evangelicalism: Our Bible will get bigger.

One reason I want to see racial reconciliation, multi-ethnic congregations, and greater diversity among evangelicals is because I want more of the Bible. And every time I get to know people from other cultures and backgrounds, my Bible grows. I see new things. I get new angles into the truth of God’s inspired Word. I find new treasures.

Every single time.

Reading with Eastern European Eyes

I can still recount insights – earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting truths – from Romanian preachers exegeting the biblical text from their Eastern European background. I remember the passages and sermons: Doru Hnatiuc on Luke 18, Marius Cruceru on John 21. Or the numerous conversations over the years with my wife, Corina, where in Bible study, she asks me questions about the text that I had never even considered.

Does it seem like 1 Peter 2 contains some difficult counsel about submitting to earthly authorities and honoring your government’s leaders when you’re not particularly fond of them? Listen to someone who was beaten and jailed for their faith preach that same passage.

My Bible got bigger when I lived in Romania because I interacted with believers who brought their Eastern European worldview to the text. They challenged me to ask different questions, and as a result, I found new treasures.

Reading with Different Frameworks

Whenever we do Bible study with believers from around the world and from other cultures, some of the most vexing and “problematic” passages of Scripture (for us Westerners, at least) get reframed.

For example, we often read the conquest narratives of the Old Testament with some apprehension. Aren’t these battles an embarrassing example of colonization? Isn’t this a narrative of subjugation and domination of other lands?

With the haunting specter of our own ancestors’ atrocities toward native peoples, we read these texts with a troubled conscience. Even more troubling is the fact that no other biblical authors – in the Old or New Testaments – seem to share the same concern.

My African-American brothers and sisters read these texts differently. Their recent history more closely resembles that of the Israelites than mine does. So, when I am editing Gospel Project sessions written by the great African-American preacher, Robert Smith, Jr., my love for the book of Joshua grows. I’m joining the story of the Israelites, one generation after their escape from bondage in Egypt. Don’t you think that the descendants of actual slaves might have interesting insights when it comes to these historical books?

Looked at from this angle, the conquest narratives take on a different feel. Israel isn’t a world power targeting small, innocent peoples in these lands, but a poor band of straggling soldiers taking on the mightiest and most wicked empires of the world. It’s a David and Goliath moment, with God turning the world upside down for the good of His people. It’s not as if Israel is like, in The Lord of the Rings, the army of Mordor bearing down on the good little folks of the shire. It’s more like the band of upstart rebel hobbits charging into Mordor and winning.

Reading with Shame and Honor

Your cultural location and your cultural background changes how you read the text.

I’ve written before about one of my favorite examples – the way Russians in St. Petersburg read the story of the Prodigal Son. They almost always cite the famine as one of the main reasons for the son’s return, whereas Westerners often miss that little detail. Fed and full, we don’t know what desperation will drive you to when you’re starving to death. That’s not something in our cultural history, so “famine” doesn’t engender the kind of immediate revulsion and fear that it does in places like St. Petersburg, where a siege in WWII killed millions.

What about when I read the Bible alongside my Asian brothers and sisters? My Bible gets bigger as I start to see just how saturated Scripture is with the themes of honor and shame – as important a facet of biblical theology as innocence and guilt. Adam and Eve running away and hiding – shame, or “losing face.” Some of Jesus’ most beloved stories are driven by the narrative tension of honor versus shame. Furthermore, the shame dimension reminds us just how awful Jesus’ death was, and just how amazing it is that a shame-based culture would promote the crucifixion as the means by which the world is saved.

More Voices, Bigger Bible

The more voices we have access to, the bigger our Bible gets — the more we see what is there, behind our cultural blinders.

I can’t wait for the day there are commentaries from cultures all over the world. I can’t wait for the day publishers don’t just translate English sermons and books into other languages but also give us access to global evangelical leaders who have been translated into English.

Just as we find it beneficial to consult commentaries from other times, so also we will benefit from the insights that come from other cultures. I’m thankful for multi-ethnic relationships, not just because we get the chance to know brothers and sisters in Christ better, but because through them we get more of God’s Word.

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Sex is More AND Less Important Than You Think

Aug 11, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Unmade bed“Sex is everything,” goes the idea in the 21st century. “And sex is nothing.”

This paradoxical view of sexuality in our society requires a paradoxical response from the Church. Our Christian witness must “put sex in its place” – meaning, we will need to take sexuality more seriously and less seriously than the rest of society.

“Sex is Nothing”

Let’s begin with the first claim – that sex is nothing, or at least not a big deal.

We live in a society where pornography is rampant, where young people trade nude pictures of each other as currency, where all sorts of sexual practices and partners and casual encounters are viewed as natural and beneficial. Many in our society believe sexual activity is no big deal, and so they scratch their heads as to why anyone would make a judgment about consensual sexual behavior. The categories of “right” and “wrong” impose a moral standard that does damage to people.

In response to this radical downplaying of the seriousness of sex, the Church must step up and say, “Sexuality is far more serious than you think.” Casual sex is a myth. It is a radically diminished view of sex that kidnaps it from its covenantal home and strips it of its spiritual dimension. That’s why the Church must say and show how sexuality is a serious matter.

Saying: We teach the seriousness of sex when we explain how the union of a man and woman within the covenant of marriage points to the spiritual union of Christ and His church. There is a glorious mystery here – of two becoming one flesh, of a union that is oriented toward the creation of new life, of a new family that leads to more image-bearers of God. N. T. Wright places the Christian view of sexuality within the grand narrative of Scripture:

“The male/female relationship, woven so centrally into the story of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, is not an accidental or a temporary phenomenon, but is, rather, symbolic of the fact that creation itself carries God-given life and procreative possibility within it. Even to consider the question from this angle poses a sharp contrast to the way in which, in our present culture, sexual activity has become almost completely detached from the whole business of building up communities and relationships, and has degenerated simply into a way of asserting one’s right to choose one’s own pleasure in one’s own way. To put it starkly: instead of being a sacrament, sex has become a toy.”

Showing: The Church must not only say that sex is serious, but also show this to be the case. To “put sex in its place” means that Christians will need to take sexual sin more seriously than our culture does.

Jesus puts sex in its place when He calls us to implement radical measures as we pursue a life of single-minded devotion and purity (Matthew 5:27-32). So, get ready. Our actions will shock the world, especially when people see us confronting each other over something as “normal” as pornography, or kicking an unrepentant adulterer out of church, or finding ways to fight lusts of various kinds.

The silence of the Christian church in regards to sexual sin among its own members reinforces the societal myth that sexuality can be casual and free of consequences. And if the Church does not take sexual sin among its members seriously, how can we speak prophetically to the world about God’s good design for sexuality?

“Sex is Everything”

To a society that says, “Sex is nothing,” we say, “It’s much more serious than you think.” But our society also says “Sex is everything. This is where I get my identity, my fulfillment, my life.” To this, we say, “Sex is less serious than you think. You are pinning too many hopes on sex.”

Many people today believe that the purpose of human life and the measure of human flourishing is in the freedom to express oneself, to deliver one’s unique inner essence to the world by “being true to yourself.” Apply this expressivist philosophy to sexuality, and you wind up with a society in which sexual self-expression becomes vital for happiness. To question the validity of someone’s sexual attractions or practices is to call into question their personhood, to do damage to their identity, to radically dehumanize them by submitting their desires to scrutiny.

In response to this idea, the Church must say, “Human dignity means you are not defined by your sexual attraction.” Staking your identity in sexuality or pinning your hopes for happiness on sex is too low of a goal for a human being made in God’s image.

In this case, we put sex in its place — not by saying “sex is no big deal” but by telling people, “you are so much more than your sexuality.” We will not reduce our human self-understanding and self-expression to sexual urges. It’s not that we diminish sex, but that we elevate human dignity.

The Church must reject the often-unstated assumption of society that human flourishing is, in some way, dependent upon sexual relationships. Richard Hays argues that the biblical witness undercuts our cultural obsession with sexual fulfillment:

“Scripture (along with many subsequent generations of faithful Christians) bears witness that lives of freedom, joy, and service are possible without sexual relations… Never within the canonical perspective does sexuality become the basis for defining a person’s identity or finding meaning and fulfillment in life.”

Elevating and Demoting Sex

Sex is not a matter merely of biology or physicality; it is a spiritual reality.

Ironically, one of the reasons our society is so sex-saturated is because we are so transcendence-starved. Unable to reach the heavens, we go under the bed sheets. It’s because our society senses that there must be something more to life, something more to sex than casual encounters, that people continue to amp up the experience – trying new methods, new partners, new medicines, staking their identity in their sexuality – whatever it takes to achieve sexual satisfaction.

When our age of expressive individualism leads people to assume sexual behavior is one of the only ways a human life can flourish, the Church must be ready to put sex in its place: elevating the significance of the sexual union, and demoting the significance of sexual identity.

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