Saturday, April 26, 2014
I will attempt a measured response that might help us through yet another damaging fallout surrounding the single most polarizing issue in our generation. I aim to be a peacemaker, because someone has to be.
But with employees from over 50 denominations, some of which sanction same-sex marriages (United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), as well as staff in the 17 states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex marriages are legal and binding, World Vision has chosen not to make this issue a condition of employment.
Rather, they are leaving the theological sorting to the local church of which WV considers their organization an “operational arm,” not a “theological arm.”
First of all, the Christian community is not going to reach consensus on gay marriage.
Every article, regardless of its position for or against, is the same. The support arguments; same. The rebuttals; same. The circular thinking; same. The responses are fully predictable, the language identical, the interpretations immovable, and after all the energy expended, we discover we are at the same impasse.
This is a fact: Thousands of churches and millions of Christ-followers faithfully read the Scriptures and with thoughtful and academic work come to different conclusions on homosexuality (and countless others). Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation.
There never has been.
Reason and humility occupies too small a place in the analysis of the historical church and the progressive interpretation of Scripture. We just get ANGRY and DEFEND and say WELL I GUESS YOUR BIBLE IS MISSING A SECTION. It’s immature and myopic and a watching world is dumbfounded by our refusal to critically self-evaluate and invite nuance into an ancient text that was written across several cultures, 40+ writers, 1500 years, 8 genres, and an entire worldview shift once Jesus hit the scene.
Reactionary, emotional attacks are not helpful. Denny Burk decrying the “collapse of Christianity at World Vision” under a “false prophet who comes to you in sheep’s clothing…but inside is a ravenous wolf” is exactly the sort of emotional jargon that whips Christians into a frenzy and incites us to crucify one another. Burk declared that we would know false teachers by their fruits.
We do not need any more inflammatory soldiers in the culture wars; we need more thought leaders who are slower to publicly condemn their faithful brothers and sisters.
Perhaps you don’t agree with gay marriage, but this policy change at WV doesn’t affect your support of their mission. This is not a deal breaker for you. Great. It doesn’t have to be. You do not need to defend your continued sponsorship. Without question, WV is a high-ranking international charity that has transformed millions of lives. It has a solid, established history and employing married gay people has no bearing on their infrastructure or unambiguous mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ.
Brothers and sisters, I am starving for reasonable, measured Christ-followers to become the dominant voices in the ongoing culture wars.
Friday, April 25, 2014
For some time now, evangelicals have argued that homosexual orientation can be changed through reparative therapy. That idea is no longer sustainable. For some time failure and scandal have plagued various evangelical reparative organizations, including the most visible of all, Exodus International. Now Justin Lee, author of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate, has joined the chorus calling for evangelicals to abandon this approach to homosexuality with his bluntly titled article: “Dear Evangelicals, Let’s Stop Burying Our Heads in the Sand on ‘Ex-Gay’ Ministries“.
The biblical texts prohibiting same sex acts are well known. What is disputed, however, is whether those texts apply to homosexual persons as we now understand them. It is fair to say that in the ancient world there is no conception of homosexuality as an orientation parallel to heterosexuality. Given that we now know there is such an orientation and that it cannot be changed, the question becomes inescapable: do the texts of condemnation apply to these persons as well? Some Christian ethicists believe they do while others believe they do not.Some Christians believe homosexuality is God-given and good (see for example, Mel White and his organization SoulForce) while other Christians believe homosexual orientation is part of the fall but that homosexuals can still participate in covenantal Christian unions (see for example, Lewis Smedes). This is a good reminder that within the realm of acceptance there are different kinds of acceptance.
Someone asked me to post some selected bibliography from my research:
McCormick, Scott. The Lord’s Supper: A Biblical Interpretation. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966.
"From Supper to 'Sacrament': Why the Early Church Moved from Supper to Bread and Wine" by John Mark Hicks [online]
Starting things off: Eastern Orthodoxy: Same as all the other Eastern religions
Part 1: “Metaphysical Religion” and “Becoming One with God”
Part 2: Aquinas, “existence”, and the failure to observe the Creator-creature distinction
Here is the Creator/creature distinction in the ontological sense:
Intrinsically holy, God is qualitatively distinct from creation—not just more than, but different from, his creatures. There is no divine soul, preexisting throughout eternity, thrown mercilessly into the realm of time and matter. God breathed life into Adam in creation, and he “became a living being” (Gen 2:7 NIV)—an embodied soul and an animated body. And yet, God pronounced this creation good (Gen 1:4, 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25, [and “very good” when speaking of man, Gen 1:31]).
It is no crime to be different from God. Finitude is not a “falling away” from some primordial infinitude. There is no part of human nature that is higher, brighter, more infinite, or more real than another. This means that the only legitimate ontological distinction is between the uncreated God and the created world, not between spiritual and material realms (as is posited in the “chain-of-being” ontology). Ontological difference – the strangeness that makes us stand in awe of God’s majesty – is good … (from Michael Horton, “The Christian Faith”, A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan © 2011, pg 42).
So yes, above and beyond the condition “to exist”, Confessional Protestantism holds this Creator/creature distinction. This distinction also exists in the ethical sense after the fall:
Thursday, April 24, 2014
From Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
I remember a woman who was a spiritist, and even a medium, a paid medium employed by a spiritist society. She used to go every Sunday evening to a spiritist meeting and was paid three guineas for acting as a medium. This was during the thirties, and that was quite a large sum of money for a lower-middle-class woman.
She was ill one Sunday and could not go to keep her appointment. She was sitting in her house, and she saw people passing by on their way to the church where I happened to be ministering in South Wales. Something made her feel a desire to know what those people had, and so she decided to go to the service, and did so. She came ever afterward until she died and had become a very fine Christian.
One day I asked her what she had felt on that first visit, and this is what she said to me. She said, “The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat among the people, I was conscious of a power. I was conscious of the same sort of power as I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference. I had a feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power.”
--Elizabeth Catherwood and Christopher Catherwood, eds., The Christ-Centered Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Classic Sermons for the Church Today (Crossway, 2014), 34
HT: Dane Ortlund.
During a talk at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Nima Arkani-Hamed, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., paced to and fro in front of the blackboard, addressing a packed room about the future of supersymmetry. What if supersymmetry is not found at the LHC, he asked, before answering his own question: then we will make new supersymmetry models that put the superpartners just beyond the reach of the experiments. But wouldn’t that mean that we would be changing our story? That’s okay; theorists don’t need to be consistent—only their theories do.
Metaphysical simplicism renders all biblical teaching about God ‘metaphorical’, at best, or “not literally true,” says Helm: “On the theory of divine accommodation, statements such as ‘God repented’ are in a sense false, false if taken literally.
Oliphint acknowledges that speaking of God’s essence requires that we speak apophatically, but he affirms a notion of analogy which allows us to speak theologically after the pattern of God’s own trustworthy speech about himself. That is, Scripture affords true knowledge of God as he is in himself, even given creaturely epistemic limitations. “We can affirm that of which we cannot conceive”
And so Helm describes a dichotomy between eternal decree and historical event. “In short what God timelessly decrees is a complete causal matrix of events and actions” (Eternal God, 170). In his post he writes, “[b]iblical theism requires that we make a sharp distinction between what God has eternally decreed, and what as a result comes to pass moment by moment, stage by stage in time. Otherwise we confound the Creator with his creation. The coming to pass of what is eternally decreed is executed in time. But God is not in time, though what he decrees to come to pass most certainly is.”
God decrees eternally; and we see this as God acting temporally.
Following Thomas, Helm claims that God eternally decrees historical event E, and therefore we do not say that historical event E affects God in any way or implies the historicity of divine activity.
This is an obvious non-sequitur which gently overlooks the entire economy of salvation, as a result of which Helm denies a historical transition from wrath to grace.
These books are coming out with such frequency that it is virtually impossible to read and review them all. But that shouldn't even be necessary.
“I’m convinced that the entire book and movie is a hoax from start to finish,” said John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif. “It has nothing to do with Christianity. It has nothing to do with the Bible.”
Colton’s descriptions of heaven are full of fanciful features and peculiar details that bear all the earmarks of a child’s vivid imagination.
There is simply no reason to believe anyone who claims to have gone to heaven and returned. John 3:13 says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” [NLT: “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.”] And John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.”
Four biblical authors had visions of heaven—not near-death experiences. Isaiah and Ezekiel (Old Testament prophets) and Paul and John (New Testament apostles) all had such visions. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55).
In this podcast, John Piper argues against such books from Isaiah 8:19 (And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?)
God’s beef with necromancy is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. Why would you inquire of the dead to find out what you want to know instead of inquiring of me? And if they say: Well, I have inquired of you and you didn’t tell me what I want to know. He would say: Well, that is your problem. I have told you what you need to know. You don’t need to know about such and such if I haven’t told you. And, in fact, if you go trying to inquire about such and such that I haven’t told you, you are dishonoring me. So that is the nature of the argument. And, therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of thing and people ought to stop writing those books.
- Impossible like “people having near death experiences?”Probably not. That happens all the time. Even I had a near death experience once when I woke up in a bed soaked in my own blood from head to toe…well, it was mostly my blood…and 2 liters of saline…- Impossible like “people having surgery and being on the ropes?”Again, no. That happens all the time. I know of a guy that swallowed a rope and had to have surgery to get it out…well, it was more like floss…and the surgery was non-invasive…
- Impossible like getting to go to Heaven outside of Christ, based on the “hope” that…uh…somehow that God will just toss aside his own holiness and the entire person and work of Christ and let everyone in?Well, not everyone everyone.I mean, God can’t let Hitler in…and Stalin…and really bad guys like kidnappers, and child molesters, and pyramid scam artists, and homophobes, and people who deny global warming, and people who eat gluten…and people who are bigots according to your standards of what’s “open minded”…so in the end nobody but yourself and your relatively small circle of friends…Is that the kind of impossible we’re talking about?Well, that must be it. That’s gotta be the “possibility” that the film is portraying.No sin.No repentance.No gospel whatsoever.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (Jn 10:1-5).
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:12-14).
Jesus was referring to miraculous works in John 14:12 when He spoke of “the works that I do.” This is clear not only from the immediate context of John 14 (see verses 10-11) but also from the greater context of John’s Gospel in which the miraculous works of Jesus gave evidence of His identity (see 5:36; 10:25; 20:30-31). And what miraculous works was Jesus referring to? He doesn’t name them, but the Gospel of John—which records only a fraction of the signs and wonders Jesus performed (21:25)—provides several examples:
- Jesus changed water into wine (2:1-11).
- Jesus healed a boy who was about to die (4:46-54).
- Jesus healed a man who had been crippled and unable to walk for 38 years (5:1-9).
- Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-14).
- Jesus walked on water (6:16-21).
- Jesus healed a man born blind (9:1-41).
- Jesus resurrected a man who had been dead for four days (11:1-45).
Initially the author was talking about inerrancy. But then came this: "Denying the inspiration of Scripture can have far-reaching theological consequences."
For some people, believing in inerrancy is the same as believing in inspiration. And this definitely, absolutely will create more Bart Ehrmans. Because now, as soon as they start to doubt inerrancy, they will think that perhaps the Bible isn't even inspired.
An unintentional insight from the author perhaps, but an important one!
Protestants, from the earliest days of the Reformation, understood a “categorical distinction” between God and all of the rest of creation: the “Creator-creature distinction”. On the other hand, while God is Creator within the Roman Catholic system, God is not “above and beyond”, in a totally other category. He shares a trait, and that trait is “existence”.
In other words, the first category in Roman Catholicism is to start with “existence”: God has “existence”, and he passes this characteristic along to every other created thing. Down below and in subsequent entries I’ll begin to show how that cashes out in the Roman Catholic understanding of the universe.
This is not something that “damns them all to hell”. But this kind of difference at the starting point does lead to the kind of confusion in which Roman dogmas and Protestant doctrines cannot be reconciled after 500 years of differences.
There is also a caution that goes along with all of this.