Results tagged “The Gospel” from Reformation21 Blog

Leaving the Faith: Reflections of a Prodigal


By now the firestorm of commentary around Josh Harris' public announcement--that he has not only divorced, but departed from the Christian faith--has died down. People have moved on, but not before delivering a slew of analysis, indictments, pleas, condemnation, and speculation.  

When the news hit and I observed all the commentary, I too wanted to offer my two cents. However, I found myself struggling to say anything publicly. While I do think there might be some merit to the contributing factors cited, namely that he was never a true believer to begin with, I know there is more to the story than simple pat answers can provide. Now with the news that Marty Sampson of Hillsong fame has announced his departure from the faith, I am compelled to speak.

You see, I was a prodigal. I came to Christ in my first year in college in 1982. Though I grew up  in a missionary Baptist church, if the gospel was preached I guess I didn't have ears to hear it. By my junior year in high school, I came to the conclusion that church just wasn't for me, and I resisted attendance any further.  

That all changed when I got to college and met a couple of Christians. They didn't talk to me about church; they told me about Jesus. To this day I can't remember everything they said to me, except for this one line: "You're looking for something and you won't find it until you find Jesus." After a couple of visits to the Thursday night worship/bible study, the reality that I needed Jesus as my Savior stirred by soul with such a convicting force that I found myself on my knees in the quietness of my dorm room, telling Jesus I was a sinner and that I needed him. That's all I knew at the time.

Over the next few years, I would be ingrained in the life of the church, including the college group and whatever fellowship opportunities that arose. To be clear, my participation was a direct reflection of what I believed to be true about the faith that I now embraced: That Jesus died for my sins, and receiving him as Savior meant that I was to live for him. For the most part, I tried. I was diligent with Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and the like.

Unfortunately, the deceitfulness of sin began to erode my walk. This is why James issues a stern warning about our own lusts that can lead us down a dangerous path, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15). It didn't help that I sat under some unfaithful and distorted teaching that really didn't deal honestly with the sin nature that still tries the soul.

After a few years from my "conversion," I walked away from the faith in 1986. While I never denounced Christianity or indicated I was no longer a Christian, my line of thinking definitely echoed what I hear Harris and Sampson utter--there was a deconstruction, if you will. But really, it was flat out rebellion. I could not live within a Christian construct any longer, foolishly believing that it was freedom. I lived as one who did not believe, doing what was right in my own eyes, and making many foolish decisions along the way.

That all changed towards the end of 1998. By then I was in my second marriage to a nonbeliever, living under very unpleasant circumstances, and about to experience preliminary stages of a life altering illness. The Lord used the examples of his family members, very committed Christians, to bring about conviction to my heart that eventually led to repentance at the beginning of 1999. Shortly after my husband collapsed from what we would later learn was complete renal failure (which led to his death in 2004), the Lord had fully gripped my heart and wooed me back. His kindness truly does lead to repentance. 

Like so many speculating about Harris, I can give you the precise theological language about my soteriological position from a Reformed perspective. But honestly, I can't tell you whether I was a Christian, so seeped in rebellion that it took 13 years to come to my senses, or if I was never truly a Christian to begin with. All I know is that I was lost and now I'm found. The Lord has so graciously dealt with me, drawing me to himself. He lifted this prodigal out of the depths of sinful mire and gave me eyes to see his grace, beauty and forgiveness.

I've had some trying times since that miraculous day in 1999. I've been confronted with doubts and disappointments, trials that sent my mind into a tailspin, times of feelings of abandonment, hard and slow areas of sanctification, and bouts of numbness. The words of Peter in response to Jesus in John 6:68-69 permeate my heart, just as it did that day I read it 20 years ago. When those following Jesus began to depart in droves because they couldn't get with what Jesus was saying about himself, Jesus turned to Peter and asked, "Do you want to go away as well?" Peter's response pierces my soul to this very day: 

"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

This has anchored me in those times of apparent contradiction. It has propelled me to keep clinging to Christ and trust in his all sufficient work when my mind and my circumstances tempted me not to. But I also know that it is only because of Christ's love for me and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that has sustained me. And where else could I go, but in the firm grip of the loving Father? Unfortunately, it took me wandering away to really learn there was no place else.  

So while everyone has moved on from Harris, I consider my story and still wonder about him. Perhaps this is not the end. Whether he was ever in the Father's hand or not, I wonder if there still might be hope for him to find himself there. I know what it's like to "feel" like you're free from the shackles of what your rebellion deems a restrictive religious paradigm. But I also know that apart from Christ, there truly is no freedom at all.  

Lisa Robinson holds a ThM degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (2014). She is newly married and recently moved from Dallas, TX to Roanoke, VA where she resides with her husband Evan and attends Christ the King Presbyterian Church. She blogs at

Pastor, Keep Preaching the Gospel to Yourself!


Do you want to be a gospel-centered pastor? Just keep preaching the gospel. Doing so is much more than merely pinning John 3:16 to the tail of every sermon or conversation. The first person we must preach the gospel to is ourselves. The gospel must not merely be conceptualized as an abstract idea that we talk about but instead, what feeds our soul and compels our life and ministry. My ministry hero, Andrew Fuller (1754-1815), would often remind pastors, "The best way to hold fast the truth as a minister is to live upon it as a Christian."

A pastor's life must be built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ and his gospel. As a pastor, I have found that when I am most discouraged, and my ministry starts feeling like drudgery, often it is because I have stopped thinking about the fact that, by God's grace, I am a Christian. Sometimes my pastoral work and responsibilities eclipse the foundational reality that I am a child of God. When this tragic eclipse happens, my focus in pastoral ministry goes straight to performance, people-pleasing, failures, fears, and frustration.

Pastors must also commit to preach the gospel to our congregation relentlessly. Again, doing so is more than merely tacking Jesus and the gospel onto a sermon but rather preaching and applying the biblical message in light of Jesus. Why is this so important? Why can't the preacher simply say true things from the Scripture without showing how it fits together in Christ? It is because, apart from Christ, there are no promises, there is no good news. No passage from the Bible has been truly expounded until the particular message of the text is integrated with the climax of God's revelation in Jesus Christ.

When ethical and moral imperatives are proclaimed as sufficient, even abstracted from Jesus, the result is a crossless Christianity in which the central message becomes a soul-deadening abstracted exhortation to try harder in order to live according to God's rules. Where this moralistic approach to preaching is embraced, the hearers who possess a seared conscience are invited to adopt an attitude of self-righteousness: according to their judgment, they are adequately living by God's rules. Whereas faithful believers with tender consciences may despair because they know that they consistently fall short of God's standard.

Preaching the gospel from the entire Bible is required theologically, pastorally, and missiologically of Christ's undershepherds. Theologically, because all Scripture is centered on him and finds its meaning in him. Pastorally, because the only true obedience anyone can render is the obedience of faith in Christ and his gospel. Missiologically, because there is no salvation for anyone apart from Jesus Christ.

Pastors have a myriad of responsibilities, but none can replace the preaching of the gospel. In fact, all other activities must be permeated with the gospel message. Doing what matters most, and the only thing that ultimately matters for eternity is possible for every single preacher. Relentlessly preaching the gospel is not dependent on budgets, platforms, giftedness, technology, or anything else. All it takes to preach the gospel in a constant willingness.

A few years ago, I heard from a pastor who was in South America on a mission trip preaching the gospel when a weeping man approached him. The man verified his name and then asked the pastor his father's name. When the pastor told him the man his father's name exclaimed,

"Thank you, Jesus!" Then the man said, "Fifty years ago, your father came on a mission team and shared his testimony through a translator. One of the men in the crowd was my father, and though he said nothing at the time, he trusted Christ that night. He taught me the gospel, and I was called to preach the gospel. I know your father's name because my father thanked God in prayer for your father's faithfulness until the day he died."

Pastor, just keep preaching the gospel to yourself, your congregation, and the whole world.

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

Defending Door-to-Door and Open Air Evangelism


I first met Nick Batzig in 1993 when I became the pastor of Golden Isles Presbyterian Church (PCA) on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Nick and his family were members of the church. Nick was sixteen years old and a member of our church youth group. I have always loved Nick and consider him a dear brother in the gospel ministry. Nick is very bright and an excellent writer and I have benefitted from a number of his posts. 

However, after reading Nick's post, "City to City Evangelism"--which recently appeared on Ref21--I believed that I needed to respond to it and defend the use of door-to-door evangelism and open air preaching. First, at the end of Nick's post he gives his "take" on how he believes a church can be most faithful and effective in evangelism. He mentions "equipping the congregation to be outward focused, intentional about inviting unbelievers into their homes and ultimately to sit under the preaching of the Gospel in the local church." He says this might look like a Christianity Explored course. . . hosting a Mother's of Preschoolers group. . . inviting friends to local church Bible studies. . ." And to all of these suggestions I say, "Amen. Wonderful." I have always said that I am in favor of any method of evangelism as long as it is doctrinally sound. By all means, we must equip our people with a desire to reach out to their neighbors, to have them in our homes, and hopefully to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to them. 

I take exception, however, with Nick's assessment that door-to-door evangelism is not for today, that it was probably not taught by Jesus, and that open air preaching was unique, reserved for "the intertestamental period which was a transitional period during which the New Covenant church was being established among unreached people..."

Nick objects to the notion that door-to-door and open air proponents use Jesus and the apostles as the paradigm for such ministry. He says, "The same line of reasoning is, interestingly, made by Charismatics with regard to many of the supernatural practices descriptively outlined in the book of Acts. Anyone reading the Gospels or the book of Acts must surely recognize that these were no ordinary times."

First of all, to compare Charismatic supernatural gifts with open air preaching and door- to-door evangelism is like comparing apples to oranges. Most of us would agree that the manifestation of the supernatural gifts at the time of the apostles were revelatory in nature and thus limited to the Apostolic era, whereas their practice of Apostolic evangelism was their way of "doing business." As Roland Allen states in his classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours, a Study of the Church in Four Provinces all pastors, missionaries, church planters must decide which paradigm of ministry they will choose to use. They may use what seems right to them, what the latest missiological studies may tell us, or they can use the paradigm of Jesus and His apostles. 1 I believe we should and must choose the method of Jesus and His apostles. Allen clearly lays out for us how the apostles and Jesus "got it done." The question is not, "What would
Jesus do?" Rather it is, "What did Jesus and His apostles do?"

Both Allen and Ray (The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary) are very quick to admit that the only explanation for the success of the early church was not their methodology, as important as that was, but rather the vibrant ministry of the Holy Spirit. While I am a strong proponent of door-to-door evangelism and open air preaching I am also very cognizant of the fact that if the Holy Spirit does not "show up" then our labors are absolutely and completely in vain. But the promised Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and every believer is baptized with the Spirit upon regeneration and every believer can and should seek the filling of the Spirit every day in their lives (Ephesians 5:18, Luke 11:1-13). May I state the obvious, the task of evangelizing the lost in any day, and that certainly includes today's post-modern western world, is impossible without the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It goes without saying, that such a truth must drive us to fervent, revival prayer.

Nick suggests that Jesus was not actually teaching door-to-door evangelism in Luke 10, that it was more city-to-city. At the very least, in this passage, we can say that Jesus was sending His disciples to the people of these towns and they did engage them in some form of door-to-door evangelism. Why? Because He told them, "Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house. . . and stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you,'" (Luke 10:5,7). And when Paul gives his farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus he reminds them that he did not shrink from declaring to them anything that was profitable, teaching them publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:20,21). That sounds like open air and door-to-door evangelistic ministry. Some may suggest that Paul is speaking pastorally here about ministry to believers, but again one does not normally testify solemnly of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ if he is only building up the saints. And after Peter and other apostles were beaten by the Sanhedrin, they were sent on their way, but every day in the temple and from house to house they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:42).

When Nick suggests that the Apostolic period was unique and therefore that open air preaching worked then but not now, then again I must strongly disagree. Of course the Apostolic era was unique but this does not mean there have not been many other powerful outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon open air preaching, both before and after Pentecost.

We know the Old Testament prophets preached in the open air. While building the ark, where else would Noah have preached but outdoors? And Jude tells us that Enoch, from the seventh generation after Adam, came with thousands of His holy ones to prophesy, to proclaim God's judgment, and to convict the ungodly (Jude 14,15). There were no synagogues at the time. Enoch and his fellow preachers clearly preached outdoors. Even after the building of the Tabernacle, Moses preached outdoors. All the prophets almost exclusively preached outdoors. The revival in Nineveh through Jonah's preaching was done outdoors (Jonah 3:4). Ezra's sermon which God used to bring revival was preached in the open air (Nehemiah 8:1-6). And in the New Testament era, it is true that Jesus apparently preached His first sermon in a synagogue (Luke 4:14- 21), but after that He mainly preached outdoors. Where was His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) preached? How about the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24,25)? Furthermore almost without exception the sermons mentioned in Acts were all preached outdoors. Obviously we need preaching behind a pulpit in a church building on the Lord's Day. That's a no brainer. But where in Scripture are we ever told to preach only on the Lord's Day? The gospel is to go forth daily, everywhere people gather.

Okay, so now I hope you see my point that open air preaching was done in both Old and New Testament times. But what about in more modern history? In their book A Certain Sound: A Primer on Open Air Preaching,2 Ryan Denton and Scott Smith cite Michael Green who in his book Evangelism in the Early Church says there is ample evidence to prove that open air preaching continued from the time of the apostles through the second century A.D. To go further, a preacher named Aldan, in the seventh century went from town to town on horseback preaching in destitute regions. And of course George Whitefield, Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and William Tennent all preached to thousands in the open air in the Eighteenth Century. The great Reformed Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon devotes two chapters of his very instructive book Lectures to My Students on the viability and necessity of open air preaching. So to discount the practice of open air preaching is to dismiss a vital method of reaching the lost. I am not saying that open air preaching and door-to-door evangelism are the only means by which we should evangelize; but I am saying that we have no right to dismiss them as impractical in today's world.

I make a strong case for both open air preaching and door-to-door evangelistic ministry as well as answering the objections many have to open air preaching at Forget None Of His Benefits. 3 You may wish to read further there. 

I am sure Nick means no harm to the work of reaching the lost in our communities, but I fear that most of us, frankly, are looking for any excuse not to evangelize. Let's face it, most of us are cowards and don't want to face rejection and ridicule. I get it. So when a thoughtful brother like Nick questions the viability of door-to-door and open air preaching then it discourages people from actively engaging in regular, consistent evangelistic ministry. So, by all means, let's encourage our people to have an outward focus, to get to know unbelievers, and to have them in our homes, but at the same time let's champion those faithful evangelists who go door-to-door and who faithfully and Biblically proclaim the excellencies of Christ in the open air.


1. Roland Allen, a missionary in Uganda around 1925, wrote both Missionary Methods and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Both are must reads for any missionary, church planter, or pastor. May I also recommend another book which goes into even more detail, The New
Testament Order for Church and Missionary, written in 1947 by Alex Rattray Hay, a missionary in Buenos Aires.

2. Published by Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
3. "An Irrefutable Argument for Open Air Preaching," April 18, 2019;
Answering Objections to Open Air Preaching, April 25, 2019; and "A Case for Door to Door Evangelism," July 6, 2017.


Al Baker is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America, serving as an Evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship. He is the author of four books--Evangelistic Preaching in the 21st Century, Seeking a Revival Culture, Revival Prayer, and Essays on Revival. Al has also served as the organizing pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church, West Hartford, Connecticut; and, prior to that, as the pastor of Golden Isles Presbyterian Church, St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Pastor, Keep Preaching the Gospel!


As I was busy rushing from one place to another, I noticed a man looking at me with a big smile on his face. He had just stepped out of a work van and was doing some sort job nearby. To be honest, I had a lot on my plate to get done that day, and was determined not to be slowed down. The next thing I knew, the man who had been grinning at me was now standing right in front of me.

I do not remember what I was thinking at that moment but, sadly, it was probably something like, "Oh great." 

He said, "You don't remember me. I went to your church 14 years ago when you first arrived in Lexington. You preached the gospel every week, and so did the small group leaders. To be honest, I did not want to hear it and stop attending. I thought I wanted something more practical that would help with my daily life. I found what I was looking for, I was getting my ears tickled, but I could never shake the gospel you preached and 4-years-ago I trusted Christ, and I am now in a great gospel-preaching church where I now live. I just wanted you to know. Thank you! Don't ever stop!"

I am not usually one to cry, but as he walked off, I teared up thinking about the sheer goodness of God and the incredible power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To think, in my self-preoccupation, I would have preferred to avoid that conversation that day. After all, I thought that had important stuff to get done. Thankfully, God's sweet providence does not acquiesce to my self-referential ordering of what is important: "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (Prov 16:9).

My encounter with that man woke me up and reordered my thinking and priorities. I was not depressed or discouraged on that day but I was sinfully distracted. The core activities of pastoring have a relentlessness about them--prayer, study, preparation, planning, pastoral care, visiting, discipling, preaching, counseling--are never-ending. There is never a finished project. There is always more to be done. No pastor worth his salt thinks he ever does enough in any of these areas so consistently possesses a nagging feeling of inadequacy. Most pastors cry out with Paul, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor 2:16). On our better days, we answer that cry like Paul does as well, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Cor 3:5).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul explained how believers should evaluate ministry: "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful" (1 Cor 4:1-2). The Corinthians valued the outward gifts that stimulate applause like we so often do as well. Paul rejected this visible success standard for evaluating Christian leaders. The measure, according to Paul, is faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus. Paul goes on to assert that he is free and independent of human evaluation, whether it be the Corinthians' judgment or his own (1 Cor 4:3). After all, he had "decided to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Nevertheless, it is a battle to remember that success in ministry is gospel faithfulness. It is certainly a difficult truth for pastors to live out.

Pastor, can you echo Paul's assertion of being free and independent of human evaluation because the only thing that matters is to "be found faithful" (1 Cor 4:2)? Paul says, "This is how one should regard us," because so often we do not define success by faithfulness. Too often, pastors evaluate success by applause, size, and immediate outward results. After all, these are the measures often thrust upon pastors by their congregants. There is a frequent accusation in a pastor's conscience that preaching the gospel is not enough. If only they were cooler, younger, smarter, a visionary, kinder, more creative, more charismatic, and fill-in-the-blank. Sadly, many (most?) pastors feel like failures based on these kinds of evaluative standards, ones that God never provided.

When I shared on social media the providential encounter I explained at the beginning of this article I was stunned at the immediate and overwhelming response. The post was shared thousands of times, and I began receiving social media responses, direct messages, emails, and phone calls with people telling me how meaningful and encouraging the anecdote was to them. Several pastors said they were going to print the Tweet out and read it each day as a reminder of how God is at work even when they do not see the immediate results.

If you have an encounter like the one I had with the man who shared with me how God had used the gospel faithfulness of our church to bring him to faith in Christ ten years later--cherish it. But remember that even when you do not experience the kind of peek behind the curtain that God provided me on that day--showing what he is doing when the gospel is preached--please know that is what he is doing. Paul reminds us of this important truth when he exhorts, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Cor 3:6-7).

Pastor, be encouraged, keep your head down, keep planting and watering by faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus, and you can know God is working through it even when you don't know.

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

Evangelical Evolution?


Given what World Magazine once called a "major, well-funded push" to promote the acceptance of evolution among evangelical Christians, the case must be persuasively made against the compatibility of evolution and the Bible. In answer to a pro-evolutionary stance, I am one of those Bible teachers who believe that the implications of evolution involve sweeping changes to the Christian faith and life.  

While I appreciate the moderate spirit of many who want to find a way to accept evolution alongside the Bible, I find that the more radical voices are here more helpful.  For instance, I share the view of Peter Enns in the conclusion to his book The Evolution of Adam, writing that "evolution... cannot simply be grafted onto evangelical Christian faith as an add-on," but requires a fundamental rethinking of doctrines pertaining to creation, humanity, sin, death, and salvation.  But Christian ethics must also be revised.  Enns writes that under evolution "some characteristics that Christians have thought of as sinful," including "sexual promiscuity to perpetuate one's gene pool," should now be thought of as beneficial.  Even so foundational an issue as the Christian view of death must be remolded by evolution.  An evolution-embracing Christian faith must now see death as an ally: "the means that promotes the continued evolution of life on this planet." 

I am not a qualified scientist and have virtually nothing to contribute to the science involved in evolution.  As a Bible teacher and theologian, my concern is the necessary beliefs that flow from the Word of God.  For the ultimate issue involved with evolution is biblical authority: must the Bible submit to the superior authority of secularist dogma? Or may the believer still confess together with Paul: "Let God be true though everyone were a liar" (Rom. 3:4).  From this perspective, I plan a short series of articles arguing against the idea that evolution is biblically acceptable.  

Evolution vs. Genesis 1

The first topic to consider is our reading of Genesis 1.  It is frankly admitted by evolution supporters that anything like a literal reading of Genesis 1 rules out evolutionary theory.  As Tim Keller wrote for Biologos: "To account for evolution we must see at least Genesis 1 as non-literal."  I would alter that somewhat, since the issue really is not the absolute literalness of everything we read in Genesis.  Rather the question is whether or not Genesis 1 is a historical narrative that intends to set forth a sequence of events.  Evolution requires that Genesis 1 is teaching theology but not teaching history.  But is this an acceptable categorization of Genesis 1?

First, though, does an historical Genesis 1 rule out evolution?  The answer is Yes.  Consider Genesis 1:21, which records that God created species by means of direct, special creation: "God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind."  These "kinds" are species, which did not evolve from lower forms but were specially created by God.  This special creation is highlighted in the case of the highest creature, man: "God created man in his own image; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27).  If these verses are presenting a record of history, it is a history radically at odds with the history posed by evolutionary theory.

This raises the question as to the genre of Genesis 1.  Literary scholars teach the widely accepted view that different kinds of literature cue different reading expectations.  So what is the genre of Genesis 1?  According to those who support evolution, Genesis 1 functions as a poetic rather than historical genre.  The argument is that Genesis 1 employs highly stylized language and a repetitive structure.  Keller's white paper argues that Genesis 1 is like the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15 or the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.  It corresponds to more historical chapters by presenting a poetic rendition that must not be taken as the history itself.  Just as Exodus 14 tells the history of the Red Sea crossing, followed by the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15, so does Genesis 1 relate to the more historically acceptable version of Genesis 2 (a subject that will be treated in a later article).  Given this poetic form, Genesis 1 may be ruled out as teaching historical events.

The problem with this view is this: 1) there is a recognizable form to Old Testament poetry and; 2) Genesis 1 is not written in this form.  You can see this by reading Genesis 1 and then reading the Song of Deborah.  

Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Judges 5:1-3 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: "That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!  "Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing; I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.

These passages are not written in the same genre.  I would point out in passing, however, that while Judges 5 certainly is a poem, the history it presents is nonetheless true.  This observation challenges the idea that to label a chapter as poetry serves immediately to remove its historical value.  Judges 5:26 celebrates Jael slaying Sisera: "she struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple."  That is pretty much what Judges 4:21 says happened.

While defending the historical potential of poetry, that subject is not germane to Genesis 1.  The reason for this is that the Bible's first chapter has a different genre, namely, historical prose narrative.  Old Testament poetry is shaped by parallelism and repetition.  Consider Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid."  Hebrew poetic parallelism involves the second line interpreting or expanding the meaning of the first.  This is not what we see in the narrative of Genesis 1.

It takes great effort to deny that Genesis 1 fits the genre of historical narrative.  Here, we see a structure consisting of a series of waw consecutive verbs.  The waw is the Hebrew letter V, which means "and" when attached to the front of a verb.  When attached to a noun it is disjunctive  -- it stops the narrative flow.  When it is consecutive, before a verb, the waw advances the narrative flow.  "This happened and then this happened and then this happened."  This is what we find in Genesis 1: "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness" (Gen. 1:3-4). Given this construction, literary guides to the Bible commonly identify Genesis as "an anthology, or collection, of stories" in which "narrative is the primary form." Therefore, just like so many other chapters in the Bible which contain divine wonders that the unbeliever will reject, Genesis sets itself forth as recording events from history. Christians are expected to read accounts like this and believe that what is recorded actually happened, however contrary to secularist expectations.

A challenge to this view comes from Jack Collins' description of Genesis 1 as "exalted prose narrative."  On the one hand, he admits "that we are dealing with prose narrative... [and] the making of truth claims about the world in which we live." On the other hand, he says the chapter presents an "exalted" form of writing.  The reason for this is because of "the unique events described and the lack of other actors besides God" and also because of "the highly patterned way of telling it all." By this latter point he means the structure of successive days and the morning/evening pattern.  Because of these features, Collins assets that "we must not impose a 'literalistic' hermeneutic on the text." By this, he means believing that the events happened as the text says they did.  But why the exalted features overthrow the normal way of reading the text is not made evident.  Might the exalted nature of the narrative be a function of the event itself: God's unique creation of all things?  Wouldn't we expect an account of this to be "exalted" simply by virtue of the stupendous events?  And what other actors than God might there be in such an account?  

The reality is that the genre of Genesis 1 is the same as the genre of Genesis 2 through 50: historical narrative.  Therefore the arguments used to remove the historicity of Genesis 1 must inevitably apply equally to the whole of Genesis, with all its teaching about God and man that is opposed to secularist dogma, including the Fall of Adam, Noah's Flood, the Tower of Babel, and God's covenant of salvation with Abraham.  All of these narratives are highly stylized accounts involving exalted and unusual themes, at least from our perspective.  

There is a reason, of course, for isolating Genesis 1 from the rest of the book.  Admittedly, it is more "exalted" a narrative than others - it is the creation account!  But Genesis 1 is also the chapter that most stands in the way of the theory of evolution, for which scholars are determined to find room by warning against "highly literalistic" readings - i.e. ones that take the narrative seriously as history.  And when Genesis 1 has been neutralized, the same approach can be applied to other pesky narratives like Genesis 3 and the Fall of Adam.  After all, there can be no Adam when evolution has been accommodated accepted by our reading of Genesis 1.  So now the danger of a "highly literalistic" reading has advanced to chapter 3.  But, wait, the flood narrative cannot be taken seriously in light of today's science and that narrative is highly structured, too.  It will not take too long before the entire book of Genesis is reduced to historical rubbish.

One of the grand motives, I believe, for accommodating evolution in Genesis 1 is so that evangelicals can stop arguing about science and start teaching about Jesus.  But do we fail to note that Jesus' story begins in Genesis 1?  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God..." (Jn. 1:1).  In fact, when the interpretive approach used to neutralize Genesis 1 as history is necessarily extended by evolution, then the reason for Jesus' coming is lost?  After all, without a biblical Adam as the first man and covenant head of the human race, then what is the problem for which the Son of God came?  Here we see just how right Peter Enns is: evolution is not an add-on to the Bible, it is a replacement.

Dr. Richard D. Phillips is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC and the chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology

This post was originally published at Reformation21 in December 2014. 

On Platt and Priorities


It's been an amazing past few days watching the fallout from David Platt's prayer over president Trump. When I first heard about the situation and read the transcript of the prayer, my initial reaction was quite positive. This was further confirmed for me when I saw the video. From what I know of Platt, he isn't the type to mark his ministry with political affiliations. In fact, for a guy who wrote a book about being radical for Jesus and pushing against American success, I found his move to pray for Trump quite admirable. Over at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer provided some further insight into just how far removed Platt is from being a sycophant for Trump. After all, this was the same guy who was conflicted about participating in the president's first prayer breakfast and who last year gave a speech at the TGC conference that ruffled feathers over remarks made about racial equality. I have no idea of his political orientation, but I think it's a safe bet that he's probably not a big fan of Trump. So his decision --and one that was hastily made given the unannounced nature of the visit--to bring Trump on stage and pray according to Scripture was even more commendable. It seemed to me that he prioritized pray and the preaching of the gospel over his own bent.

Apparently, not everyone saw it that way. As the criticism mounted, there was a general consensus that Platt should not have brought him up on the stage. Doing so seemed to give him a priority status that smacked of conflating politics with Christianity. Some believed his presence on the stage to be harmful to women and minorities, especially considering statements that have been made that have racist undertones.

Now, the first charge might have some validity if Platt had prayed a politically charged prayer. However, the content of the prayer appealed to the lordship of Christ and the granting of wisdom in line with the 1 Timothy 2:1-6 passage he read. In other words, there was nothing in his prayer that suggested any kind of partisan interest or political posturing. Platt is far from being of the ilk of evangelicals that court the president. So any criticism in this regard is unwarranted, in my opinion.

However, I am not without empathy for the other reason. I confess, I don't care for Trump and continue to be disheartened that out of all the GOP candidates in the 2016 election, his presidency was the outcome. I confess I am one of those never-Trump conservatives who would have gladly voted for any of the other candidate on that stage (and did as a write-in). Since he came into office, I have vowed to be fair and give credit to where it is due. But do I find his boorish behavior devaluing of the presidential office and his crude remarks towards women and minorities to give credence to the charges of racism and sexism. In short, had I been in that congregation, I would have been uncomfortable, too, especially with the applause that erupted after Platt's prayer.

But here's the thing: in the Lord's house, the greatest priority is to honor Christ, proclaim his lordship and orient the hearts of the congregants towards him. However I feel about a particular individual and whatever I think may have been ill motives on his part, all of that has to be subjected to the purpose for which we are gathered. Yes, Trump crashed a church service and quite possibly for his own political gain and photo op. But that doesn't take away the priority of prayer and preaching the gospel that obviously took precedence for Platt. In his post-service statement that he issued in response to the pushback, he stated, "In that brief moment, I prayed specifically for an opportunity to speak the gospel to him, and for faithfulness to pray the gospel over him." Aside from the fact that he was put on the spot (and perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt) I'm puzzled why a prayer that was so thoroughly gospel saturated and honored Christ as king would be so upsetting to God's people, unless of course, our priorities are misplaced.

Sadly, the whole episode of the backlash quite possibly revealed that we have elevated other priorities over Christ's redemption and kingdom purposes. What does it say that we cannot abide by prayer for a sinner that he would look to Jesus and govern wisely according to kingdom precepts? Have we elevated our disdain for Trump above the cause of Christ and the fact that he can turn the most wretched of human beings, or those we deem wretched, into his followers by softening the hardest hearts? When God gave his commands to Old Testament church in Exodus 20, the very first thing he told them (and us), "you shall have no other gods before me." (Ex. 20:2). That means we give no other agenda above his and place his kingdom paradigm above any socio-political interest.

Christ came to save sinners and he commands his church to make disciples of all nations. If in fact we truly believe that Trump is the worst of the worst, what better opportunity to display the love of Christ by proclaiming the agenda and lordship of Christ over a person we believe in dire need of this heart orientation. Who knows what that prayer on a stage did in his heart. Instead of being mad that Platt made a wrong decision about bringing him on the stage, perhaps we can be glad that Trump encountered a pastor who had no other interest than honoring Christ as Lord above any kind of partisan agenda.

I can't help but wonder if the underlying premise to the criticism is that we really don't believe that Trump is deserving of God's grace and mercy. The book of Jonah is instructive here. God told Jonah to bring a message to the Ninevites about turning their hearts towards him. Instead, Jonah did everything he could to avoid such a spectacle and begrudged the fact that God would ask such a thing. Just like Jonah, who qualified who should receive God's grace and mercy, we might be saying the same thing disguised as anti-partisan interests. But here's a telling clue: would we have the same reaction if the same situation happened and the same prayer was offered over former president Obama?

At the end of the day, our chief priority is to exalt Christ and his agenda. I believe Pastor David Platt did just that.

Lisa Robinson Spencer holds a ThM degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She is newly married and recently moved from Dallas, TX to Roanoke, VA where she reside with her husband Evan and attends Christ the King Presbyterian Church.

Breaking from Breaking News


The category of breaking news has grabbed our eyes to report such matters as the latest celebrity gossip and the latest tweet of a politician. Though sometimes the breaking news is of tragedy (because tragedy sells) in some land far away or even some other state. A flood. A shooting. An injustice. An outrage.

As pastors and Christian leaders often the expectation is to have an opinion commentary about every event on the cable news, the top of the Drudge Report, or on our Facebook/Twitter feed.

We may think our situation is unique, but C.S. Lewis' comments from the last century sound unusually prescient on this phenomena. Though speaking of a newspaper, one could imagine him talking about information on a screen when he wrote in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths:

"It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning."1

Why did C.S. Lewis see this as an "evil"? He continued:

"I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know)."2

National and world news that is far away can often distract us from our local community, our neighbors and our family.

How much do we know of the problems of the local community that we could address? How many of us are coaches or school board members rather than congressmen? How much do we know of the burdens and sorrows of our neighbors? How much time have spent commenting on what may be genuine tragedies in the world thousands of miles away, that we have almost no ability to solve, compared to the neighbor who faces a terminal diagnosis, in body and soul, or the directionless high school graduate, or the desperate mother who would give untold riches for a bit of sleep? How much time do we spend on the questions of our children and spouse about what we are doing in their daily lives?

The difference between the local and national is also a matter of how well we fulfill our call to declare the gospel. In the few minutes it takes a fellow stay-at-home mom to help another mom get a nap, an opportunity to invite her to a local bible study presents itself. In the few dollars for lunch from a church elder to talk about the future of a high schooler, comes an opportunity to talk about vocation and the work that builds into eternity. To be the listening ear of a neighbor to the fears of an immortal soul in a mortal body, an opportunity to refer to the one who conquered death is near. Our local sorrows present us with a chance to speak eternity into a world of vapor, that is passing away in a way national and global ones do not.

In being distracted by the breaking news and sorrows of the day, Lewis concludes, is a problem with virtue-signaling. Well, he didn't say that, but he did comment:

"A great many now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don't think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we're doing it, I think we're meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise."3

Which is more important to us, to be seen as virtuous in being outraged or grieved at the right news events, or to point to the virtue of our Savior and enjoy His blessings? It seems particularly relevant that when Jesus was asked about current events in His day, He turned the conversation around to be personal and eternal: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)

Brothers, we are not called to be news pundits. We are called to heralds and witnesses. Our best service is not commentary on the news of the day. We are not failures if we do not have a "hot take" or "worldview analysis" for each news item. But we are failures if we fail to speak of the good news that transcends our trivial present, and extends to eternity. In that, we can do more than worry and be in sorrow: We can glorify and enjoy our God. Don't let the breaking news of the day be an excuse to neglect the good news and our neighbor who needs to hear it.


1. C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, vol. 2 (New York: HarperCollins e-books; HarperSanFrancisco, 2004-2007), 747-748.

2. Ibid., p. 748

3. Ibid.

Rev. Jared Nelson is the pastor of New Life Presbyterian (PCA) in Aliquippa, PA.

An Evening Prayer


Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. Here is an evening prayer for your encouragement:

"My Father in Heaven, I come this evening with praise.

You are the fountain of all wisdom and the mountain of all strength. If there could be weakness in you, it would still be stronger than my greatest strength. If there could be foolishness in you, it would still be wiser than our greatest wisdom.

Thank you Lord for giving me moments of wisdom today; and thank you for being my strength every day.

My Father in heaven, I also come this evening to confess.

I am not wise or important. I am one of the foolish people of the world, one of the weak, one of the lowly.

Although that is what I am, I confess that I am also one of the boasters of the world. I like people to think I am clever and good. I make a big deal of the little that I know. I argue quickly. I repent slowly. I like to hear my praises. I even praise myself.

Please forgive these sins, and the others that come to my mind. Forgive them all I pray.

My Father in heaven, I also come this evening for help.

This evening I not only repent of sins gone past. I ask that you will help me walk with you in the future.

Help me to boast - but only to boast in you, my lord. Help me to love praise, but to love the praise of your wonderful name. Help me to join those who live for you, instead of living for themselves.

Thank you for showing your wisdom in planning our salvation. Thank you for showing your strength in defeating sin, death, and the devil.

Please teach me to love Jesus Christ. Please teach my whole family to love him too. Help those who face loss, and grief, and disappointment, to find in Jesus enough joy for every day Help my by your Spirit, as I pray this in Jesus's great name. AMEN."

*This is the twelfth prayer in Dr. Van Dixhoorn's series on prayer

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn (PhD, Cambridge University) is a Professor of Church History and the Director of the Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also serves as an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.

Lost and Found


Lost and Found: How Jesus Helped Us Discover our True Selves
Edited by Collin Hansen
The Gospel Coalition, 2019
160 pages, paper, $12.99

I have always been troubled by those long, weight-loss infomercials that one sees on late night television. I have nothing against hearing the struggles of real-life people to decrease their diet or increase their exercise. Indeed, I applaud all people with the courage and grit to seize hold of their personal health and well-being.

No, what troubles me are not the stories themselves or the effort that went in to them, but the shape that those stories take. The message is not simply a pragmatic one about the best methods for lowering one's weight or cholesterol or blood pressure. The message is one of conversion: before I started diet program X, I was depressed, isolated, and starved for meaning and direction; after I finished it, I was happy, valued, and fulfilled.

Such stories--and they are used to sell everything from get-rich-quick schemes to find-the-perfect-mate websites, magical acne cream to mystical holistic medicine, female breast enlargement to male potency enhancement--represent nothing more nor less than a bastardization of the Christian testimony: I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. Americans have long yearned for the quick fix, but that yearning has grown stronger and more insistent with each passing decade. "Just change one thing in your life," the promise goes, "and, presto chango, all your failures will morph into successes and all your sorrows will be transmuted into joy.

Sadly, just as the authentic Christian testimony has been perverted into the infomercial, so the infomercial has returned the favor and infected the testimony. Televangelists and success-in-life preachers too often peddle the same quick fix as the latest diet fad. Walking down the aisle in a flurry of emotion becomes the equivalent of purchasing a mass-marketed, new-and-improved product: a split-second decision that comes with the seductive promise that, without any further changes in your life, everything will now be perfect. Your life now has purpose (don't worry that that purpose is self-focused); you've won the salvation lottery (don't worry about transformation in Christ); you've had your ticket to heaven punched (don't worry about getting to know and love the conductor).

The answer to this commercialization of the gospel is not to abandon the real Christian testimony, but to restore it to what it should be. Thankfully, a new book from the publishing arm of The Gospel Coalition (TGC) points the Body of Christ in the right direction. Edited by the editorial director of TGC, Collin Hansen, Lost and Found: How Jesus Helped Us Discover Our True Selves offers a dozen testimonies from a wide array of believers who have experienced the life-changing power of God's amazing grace.

After introducing the collection and sharing briefly his own faith journey, Hansen wisely kicks things off with the testimony of a well-known evangelical figure, Joni Eareckson Tada. Most readers will already be aware of how a diving accident at the age of 17 left Joni a quadriplegic. Since that tragic day, Joni has allowed the Holy Spirit to use her creative talents and indomitable spirit to share the gospel and to advocate for people with disabilities around the world. Though she writes here, as she always does, with great compassion for those who suffer, she does not turn a blind eye to the severity of sin.

The real problem with man, she explains, is not physical pain but spiritual pride and rebellion. "God's goal is not to make us comfortable. He wants to teach us to hate our transgressions as he grows our love for him. God wants us to hate our sin as much as he does. . . . exposing sin is more important to God than relieving human suffering, even unthinkable suffering" (29-30).

Those are difficult words to read and to contemplate, especially for a suffering-aversive age like our own, but Joni does not shrink from applying the principle to herself: "for the last 50 years in my wheelchair, I've been daily dying to self and rising with Jesus, dying to self and rising with Jesus, dying to self and rising with Jesus. My goal is to mortify my fleshly desires, so I might find myself in Christ" (31). No quick fix here, but a slow process by which the dying and rising savior molds us into fit instruments--what the late Eugene Peterson called "a long obedience in the same direction."

Vaneetha Rendall Risner's moving testimony also gives praise to a dying and rising savior who will not always deliver us from our suffering, but who will transform it and use it to mature us into the people he created us to be. Growing up in India with polio not only subjected Vaneetha to long years of bullying by her fellow schoolmates but has left her increasingly paralyzed. Add to this the death of an infant and a failed marriage, and the sum might seem to suggest that the Lord has abandoned Vaneetha.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to attesting to the opening stanza of "Amazing Grace," Vaneetha proclaims boldly: "Out of the ugliness of my life, God brought beauty" (54). She even shares with us five concrete things that Christ has taught her through her trials. First, they have made her "more grateful--I notice and appreciate little things rather than expect them" (55). Second, they have "taken away my fear of the future . . . I realized that I could survive . . . [and] experience joy that does not depend on circumstances, a joy that could never be taken away by anyone or anything" (55).

Third and fourth, her sufferings have given her "an empathetic ear" (55) for others who suffer, and have driven her closer to Christ, on whom she must rely every day. Finally, they have made her long for heaven--not only because heaven will mean an end to her pain, but because there she will "see in greater clarity how he has used my pain for good, both in my life and also in the lives of others" (56-7). In one way or another, all the contributors to Lost and Found have experienced that special kind of clarity that can only be gained through a direct and intimate relationship with the God who created us.

Sam Chan in particular--who was born in Hong Kong, studied medicine in Sydney, Australia, and earned a PhD from Chicago--attests to how Christ alone can bring such clarity to a life without direction. "The first 25 years of my life," he explains, "went according to the Asian-immigrant high-achieving script. Study hard. Stay out of trouble. Get a degree. Become a doctor. It was an endless series of successes" (130). Only it wasn't. What was missing from his life were the two essential ingredients to true and lasting happiness: validation and fulfillment.

Sam spent half his life seeking validation through an ascending stairway of raises and promotions. The only problem with that plan, he found, was that "once you reach the top, there's no one up there to tell you that you've done well" (132). His simultaneous search for fulfillment proved to be "even trickier. To be fulfilled is to have achieved the goal of your mission. The mission of an acorn is to become an oak tree, Aristotle said. So, when an acorn becomes that oak tree, it is fulfilled. It has attained a full life. Likewise, if we want fulfillment, we need to know our mission in life. But doesn't that just bring us back to where we started? We can't have fulfillment if we don't know the point of life!" (132).

I hear many of my college students say that they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. That is good as it goes, but Sam discovered that the something must be backed up by a somebody. Jesus, he concludes, is "the ultimate Somebody to live for. His story is bigger than our own. If we live for him, we'll find a fulfilled life. A full life. Or, as Jesus calls it, eternal life" (137).

Along with Sam, all the contributors wrestle in their own way with the difference between the Christian and worldly definition of success. For no one is this truer than Jason Cook, a former NFL player and associate pastor of preaching at Fellowship Church in Memphis. Though he grew up in the church, the mantra Jason absorbed from the world, the pulpit, and the football field alike was that "if I performed poorly, then I could not be loved. That was the unspoken message I learned from a culture of success" (123).

Like the rich young ruler in the gospels, who thought his wealth and his external obedience to the law made him righteous, Jason had to learn "the impotence of his goodness and futility of his self-righteousness" (124). In short, he had to set "aside the idol of self-reliance" (125). Only then, when he had gained the proper poverty of spirit, could Jason do what the rich young ruler could not: follow a savior who shatters, redefines, and transcends all worldly standards of happiness, goodness, and success.

Lost and Found does not break new theological ground, but it provides a much-needed reminder that the true end of the gospel is not a Friday night make-over but a slow, incremental, often painful process of transformation.


Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his 18 books include Atheism on Trial, Apologetics for the 21st Century, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, and On the Shoulders of Hobbits.



A Censorious Spirit


Sinclair Ferguson once lamented the fact that whenever he overheard others discussing some public theologian or individual at a conference, the statements were almost always prefaced with a negative comment such as, "Well, you know, the problem with him is..." Sadly, those sorts of conversations are far from uncommon among those of us who have been in the church for any length of time. We are all almost certainly guilty of making similar statements about brothers and sisters and, we have, no doubt, been the objects of such pejorative statements. So what are the marks of this all too common spiritual deficiency? And, how can we check our spirits so that we rid them of this censoriousness? 

In what is arguably one of the most important books ever written, Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards sounded the theological alarm about a censorious spirit being contrary to Christian love. In the course of his sermon on this subject, Edwards set out three ways "wherein a censorious spirit or a disposition uncharitably to judge others consists:

  1. A censorious spirit appears in a forwardness to judge ill of others' states.
  2. A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' qualities; to overlook their good qualities, and to think them destitute of them when they are not, or to make very little of them, or to magnify their ill qualities and make more of them than they are, or to charge them with those ill qualities of which they are free.
  3. A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' actions.

First, A censorious spirit appears in a forwardness to judge ill of others' states. When we are not walking in love toward others in the body, we are apt to make a sinful judgment about the spiritual condition of another based on our own faulty assumptions, observations or presuppositions about them. Edwards wrote:

"Persons are guilty of censoriousness in condemning others' [spiritual] state when they,

...condemn others as hypocrites because of God's providential dealings with them, as Job's three friends condemned him as a hypocrite for the uncommon afflictions with which he met...

...condemn them for those failings which they see in them, which are no greater than are often incident to God's children; and it may be no greater, or not so great, as their own, though they think well of their own state...

...condemn others as those who must needs be carnal men for differing from them in opinion in some points which are not fundamental.

...or when persons judge ill of others' state from what they observe in them for want of making due allowances for their natural tempers, and for their manner of education, and other peculiar disadvantages, under which they labor."1

Second, a censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' qualities. When we are not walking in love toward other professing believers, we are often quick to see the worst in others and slow to affrim the best in them. Edwards explained,

"Some men are very apt to charge others with ignorance and folly and other contemptible qualities which in no way deserve to be so esteemed by them.

Some seem to be very apt to entertain a very low and despicable opinion of others, and so to represent them to others, when a charitable spirit would discern many good things in them, and would freely own them to be persons not to be despised.

And some are ready to charge others with those morally ill qualities from which they are free, or at least to charge them with them in a much higher degree than they are really in them. Thus some have such a prejudice against some of their neighbors that they look upon them as much more proud men, or more spiteful and malicious, than they really are." 2

Finally, A censorious spirit appears in a disposition to judge ill of others' words or actions. When we are not walking in love with other believers, we are ready to have evil suspicions about their words and actions, without any justifiable reason or evidence to think evil of them. Edwards noted,

"A suspicious, jealous spirit, whereby persons are apt to be jealous of others, of their being guilty of such and such things when they have no evidence of it, is an uncharitable spirit, and contrary to Christianity. Some persons are very free of passing their censures on others with respect to those things which they suppose they do out of their sight. They judge they commit such and such wickedness in secret and hid from the eyes of men, or that they have done thus, or said thus, among their companions or those who are united with them in the same party or design, though they keep it hid from others who are not in the same interest. These are the "evil surmisings" spoken of and condemned in 1 Tim. 6:4.

...Very commonly persons show a very uncharitable and censorious spirit with respect to others by being forward to take up bad reports of persons. Merely hearing a flying ill report of a person is far from being sufficient evidence against persons that they have been guilty of that which is reported. Yet, it is a very common thing for persons to pass a judgment on others on no other foundation.

...It is very common with men, when prejudiced against others, to put bad constructions on those actions or speeches of others which are seemingly good, and as though they were performed in hypocrisy. And especially in the management of public affairs, or affairs in which others are concerned with them. If anything be said or done wherein there is a show of concern for public good, or for the good of their neighbors, or the honor of God, or the interest of religion, others will be ready to judge that this is all in hypocrisy; that the design really is only to promote their own interest, or to advance themselves, that they are only flattering others, that they have some ill design all the time in their hearts."3

This ought to convict us deeply of how often we have harbored subtle censoriousness in our hearts toward those we ought to have loved the most. Instead of rushing to the worst possible conclusions about others, we ought to consider our own failings and sinfulness. This is such a challenging yet richly rewarding goal for us to pursue. The more we focus on our own hearts and motives, the less we will sinfully judge others in the body of Christ. The more we see our own sinfulness and need for the Savior, the more we will extend the same grace to others we profess a need of for ourselves. The more readily we extend love to others and are committed to thinking the best of them, the more our words and actions toward them will reflect the deep, deep love of Jesus.

1.  Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings ed. Paul Ramsey and John E. Smith, vol. 8, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1989), 285.

2. Ibid., 286

3. Ibid., 287

Rhyme Thee to Good


In the first post in this short series on the theology of the seventeenth Anglican poet, George Herbert, we considered the centrality of salvation by grace in the altar poem. It shows up throughout his other poems as well. But of course the Gospel is only good news if preceded by the bad news of sin, and Herbert has several striking poems that explore the nature and nurture of sin. One of them is "Sin's Round."

Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am, 
That my offences course it in a ring. 
My thoughts are working like a busy flame, 
Until their cockatrice they hatch and bring: 
And when they once have perfected their draughts, 
My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts. 

My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts, 
Which spit it forth like the Sicilian hill. 
They vent their wares, and pass them with their faults, 
And by their breathing ventilate the ill. 
But words suffice not, where are lewd intentions: 
My hands do join to finish the inventions. 

My hands do join to finish the inventions: 
And so my sins ascend three stories high, 
As Babel grew, before there were dissentions. 
Let ill deeds loiter not: for they supply 
New thoughts of sinning:
wherefore, to my shame, 
Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am. 

Keep in mind that the "round" suggests both a circle and a song with overlapping repeating parts (such as "Dona Nobis Pacem" or "Scotland's Burning"). The poem presents repetitions or circles in the first and last lines, at the beginning and ends of adjoining stanzas, and the "thoughts of sinning" that start in stanza one and restart in stanza three. Herbert has brilliantly pictured the vicious cycle, the hamster wheel of sin; and his picture implies that only God's grace can break us free.

"Sin's Round" and "The Altar" are good examples of Herbert's so-called "emblematic" poems, which develop a theme in terms of a simple, concrete image named in the title. Many of the titles bear playful senses; for instance, "The Collar" suggests God's yoke and vocation. And some of the emblematic poems are rather enigmatic ("Jordan," "The Pulley"), leaving the reader to puzzle out the exact meaning of the image. Near the middle of The Temple we find a sequence of these poems based on the parts of a church building: "Church-monuments," "Church-lock and key," "The Church-floor," "The Windows" (discussed below). Each of these poems uses a feature of the church as an allegory of some aspect of the sin and sanctification of the church's people. The poems put to rest the thought that Anglican Herbert might prefer neat externals to the grit of applied redemption.

One of the emblematic poems develops Herbert's most ingeniously subtle and thoroughly Reformed image of Sola Gratia. Here is the "The Holdfast":
I threaten'd to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might;
But I was told by one it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
"Then will I trust," said I, "in Him alone."
"Nay, e'en to trust in Him was also His:
We must confess that nothing is our own."
"Then I confess that He my succour is."
"But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought." I stood amaz'd at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express
That all things were more ours by being His;
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.

Christ owns and takes credit for everything, including our confession that he owns everything. We might glimpse several biblical texts behind this poem. First Colossians 3:3, which was a favorite of Herbert: "Our life is hid with Christ in God." Then there is the more familiar Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." The poem is a wonderful expression of the way works righteousness creeps in the backdoor even of the good Protestant soul: the speaker gets backed down from his desperate attempts to do something, have some credit, for his salvation. But no, it's all grace, from first to last. (Ephesians 2, by the way, goes on to say "we are his workmanship," literally his "poems" [poiema], which take us back to the message of "The Altar" and might suggest a greater role for poetry in spiritual formation than we are used to allow.)

The Spiritual Life: Practicing What You Preach

A major emphasis of the Reformation was a concern for the holiness of the church in daily life, especially the holiness of her shepherds. Recall Luther's scandal at the pomp and licentiousness of the Roman Catholic clergy. Herbert picks up this emphasis on faithful living in a poem called "The Windows."

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word? 
He is a brittle crazy glass; 
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford 
This glorious and transcendent place, 
To be a window, through thy grace. 
But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story, 
Making thy life to shine within 
The holy preachers', then the light and glory 
More reverend grows, and more doth win; 
Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin. 
Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one 
When they combine and mingle, bring 
A strong regard and awe; but speech alone 
Doth vanish like a flaring thing, 
And in the ear, not conscience, ring.

The Christian life means we are to be scratched and broken windows, remade by Grace, through which others see God's life "annealed"-- that is, glazed or stained. With "doctrine and life" together, the Word preached takes shape and color, and the shapes and colors have meaning because the doctrine is sound. The image is provocative because it is Christ's "story" depicted in ours (the window) but also God's light that shines through us so that others may read the story. What, then, is the light? The Holy Spirit? Herbert is saying our lives are in a way sacraments that complete the Word.

But how do you become a "window"? Through the disciplines of the spiritual life--prayer, through Scripture reading and meditation, and through self-examination. Here Herbert celebrates the power and beauty of "Prayer":

Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age, 
God's breath in man returning to his birth, 
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth 
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r, 
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 
The six-days world transposing in an hour, 
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; 
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, 
Exalted manna, gladness of the best, 
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, 
The milky way, the bird of Paradise, 
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood, 
The land of spices; something understood. 

This poem, which partly inspired Tim Keller's book of the same name (see chapter two), illustrates how poetry can take something familiar and show us its poignancy, depths, and cosmic resonances. Every image here could bear fruit in meditation. Prayer, if accompanied by faith, is "reversed thunder;" but the poem ends with the whisper that prayer is "something understood." Herbert is saying, "let me remind you, after the fireworks, of the still, small, but amazing truth that your father listens."


When we think about the Reformation, we think mostly of institutions and doctrines and liturgy and famous theologians. However, doctrine shapes worship and worships shapes culture, which in some ways shapes doctrine. The Reformation also gave us Charles Dickens and John Milton and Jane Austen and Marilynne Robinson and George Herbert. These broken altars, these crazy windows, these things understood, were also, as Calvin put it, "theaters of God's glory." They too are the Reformation.

What's more, our interest in the literary legacy of the Reformation should go beyond mere historical concerns. We are not just concerned with acknowledging the "fruit" and thereby importance of the Reformation. Although the modern novel is a largely Protestant effect, and although most of the great English poets of the past four centuries years have been Protestant, the last century saw a sharp decline in Protestant letters from the richness of that tradition. C. S. Lewis put his finger one of the symptoms:

"The difficulty we are up against is this. We can [often] make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from the lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. Every newspaper, film, novel, and textbook undermines our work. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy's line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity latent."

I think it is self-evident that today we have too many of these "little Christian books." Moralistic, platitudinous, sentimental, dry, clotted with the skim of a thousand proof-texts--these books pretend to inspire, pretend to feed our hearts, pretend to structure our minds; but when we close them much of that melts away, dissipates. Then our fancy returns to the charms and rage of pop culture, an allure that better imitates, tragically, the heavy fire God's kabod.

When we neglect the power of the imagination and the beauty of style, we are running with the world, and we but poorly worship the logos of John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:3. When we favor content over form and logic-chopping consistency over beauty, we not only disservice our Gospel and slight the Incarnation; we also depart from the best of our tradition.

Faced with this criticism and Lewis's call for an enchanted "mere Christianity," we could hardly find a better champion than George Herbert. Employing over a hundred different stanza forms, Herbert is inarguably the most structurally inventive of any English poet. What's more, he is a remarkably honest and subtle excavator of experience--of one's inner struggles with God and oneself over faith, doubt, the nature of redemption, the attractions of worldliness, and the hard road of sanctification. And yet, as mentioned earlier, we find consistent simplicity in his images and mindset, reflecting a childlike faith and anchorage to the Word. Herbert maintains some classic Reformed values--the importance of personal holiness, preaching, and the doctrines of Grace--but he can help enrich our currently impoverished theological imagination. For he shows that poetry can be emotionally honest and gripping, but also tightly and deeply biblical. Thus it plants truth in the heart and emotions as well as in the mind.         

You can, ironically, preach that doctrine must be completed by living, that faith without works is dead; but saying that can't draw the soul, inspire the heart, or sting the conscious the way the poem itself can. Let us, then, be willing to

Harken unto a Verser, who may chance
Rhyme thee to good, and make a bait of pleasure.
A verse may find him, who a sermon flies,
And turn delight into a sacrifice." ("The Church Porch," st. 1)

Bret Saunders is Associate Professor of Humanities John Witherspoon College.

On the surface, Paul's observation in Philippians 1:14 that "most of the brothers" in Rome--where Paul was chained to a member of the imperial guard awaiting the outcome of his judicial appeal to the emperor Nero--had become "more confident in the Lord" and "more bold to speak the word without fear" by virtue of Paul's own "imprisonment" makes absolutely no sense. Paul's imprisonment and the uncertainty of his own fate should have made other Christians in Rome less, not more, bold. It should have cowed them into quiet submission into Rome's inchoate stance against that upstart religion Christianity. How did it produce the opposite result? How did Paul's suffering embolden other Christians?

The answer lies in Paul's attitude towards his unfortunate circumstances, an attitude that he reveals to his readers in considerable psychological detail in Philippians 1:19-26. Paul demonstrates not the fear, worry, and anger that one would expect from someone in his circumstances (i.e., a candidate for capital punishment). He demonstrates, rather, pure joy. He portrays himself as one in the ultimate win-win situation. Either outcome of his appeal to the emperor is, in his judgment, a victory. Either he will be released from prison, and so given further opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and serve the church, or he will be executed, and so step into the inheritance that belongs to him as a believer; namely, life forever in the presence of our triune God. Paul considers death the preferable option: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (Phil. 1:23). But living has its own reward; namely, the opportunity to convince more and more people to embrace the forgiveness of sins available to them on the basis of Christ's work and so claim a share in that eternal inheritance that Paul himself anticipates. In short, "to live is Christ, to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21).

Paul's attitude towards impending death reflects the posture that C.S. Lewis hoped he might evidence if facing immediate death. Lewis was once asked by a reporter what his response would be if he were to look up in the sky and see a German bomb just about to land on his head. Lewis replied that he would stick his tongue out at the bomb and say, "Phooey! You're just a bomb. I'm an immortal soul." Lewis effectively pointed out, with this response, that Christians need not fear death -- indeed, that they might anticipate death -- because of the hope that belongs to them as believers. Paul, imprisoned in Rome and potentially facing capital punishment, exemplifies the very attitude towards death that Lewis hoped he might display if looking death in the eye. Paul is sticking his tongue out at death; looking death in the eye and grinning rather than flinching.

And that attitude towards death is the very thing that is emboldening other Christians. When Paul sticks his tongue out at death, "most of the brothers" suddenly realize that death isn't so big and bad after all. The worst (as it were) that death can actually do is usher them into the bliss of life forever with God. Suddenly Paul's Christian peers feel able to stick their own tongues out at death (or any other consequence that Rome might throw their way for their witness to Christ's person and work). Their fear evaporates and their own proclamation of the Gospel flourishes as a direct result of Paul's extended tongue. And this is cause, of course, for even greater joy for Paul: "Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Phil. 1:18).

Paul's attitude towards death was a powerful form of proclamation. It was a sermon (of sorts). It's one thing to claim that Christians have a hope for something greater in the life to come, a hope that relativizes their investment in the things of this world. It's another thing to stand before death with your tongue sticking out, demonstrating to the world that you consider this life's pleasures paltry in comparison to those that await you on the other side of death's door.

By the end of Philippians chapter one, Paul is encouraging Christians in Philippi to stick their own tongues out at suffering, and reminding them that their own courage in the face of suffering is itself a form of Gospel proclamation. Christian in Philippi had "opponents" (vs. 28); they were not facing death, perhaps, for their faith in Christ (at least not yet), but they were facing lower grade forms of persecution (the loss of reputation, property, rights, etc.). Their own suffering was, Paul reminds them, part of God's plan for them; indeed, it was a gift from God to them, if rightly understood (Phil. 1:29). Their suffering was an opportunity for them to proclaim, like Paul in prison in Rome, that their hope was not in this life, but in the life to come. The testimony they were invited to give to their hope in the life to come would be, Paul observed, a word of condemnation to their opponents, a reminder of their opponents' lack of hope in anything more than this world has to offer. But, by the same token, it would be a word of encouragement to their Christian brother and sisters, and a word of witness to those in Philippi who were seeking something more solid, in terms of hope, than anything this world has to offer.

Suffering gives us the same opportunity. Every form of suffering threatens something that we value in this life: income, reputation, relationships, health, even life itself. Every form of suffering equally gives us the chance to witness to the world that we value something much, much more than whatever we stand to lose in this world. Suffering gives us opportunity, in other words, to witness to the hope that belongs to us as Christians. And that witness is powerful, because suffering invariably elicits attention from everyone around us. Suffering is mesmerizing. We've all had the experience of seeing the blue and red flashing lights ahead of us on the highway while the traffic backs up. We've all silently cursed the drivers ahead of us for slowing to a near stop in order to goggle the carnage. We've all reached the front of the line of traffic and slowed down ourselves to take in as much of an eyeful as we possibly can. Why? Because pain and suffering elicits attention. When we suffer, people notice. We invariably have a pulpit. The question is, what will we proclaim from that pulpit? Will we despair, and so witness that our hope lies in this world, and that we cannot bear the pain of losing something in this world? Or will we joyfully stick our tongues out at suffering, and so witness to a hope -- a hope of life forever with God -- that no form of suffering can take from us; a hope, indeed, that even death can only deliver, not destroy.

The Peacemakers


With each passing beatitude in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, it becomes more and more clear that a person cannot be a genuine Christian without have their attitudes and actions completely and radically transformed from the inside out. Regardless the extent of your exegetical gymnastics, there is no possibility of developing a theology of salvation by works from Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The beatitudes are shining reminders that when a person is saved by grace through faith, their life will begin to manifest attitudes of genuine humility, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity, and peacemaking.

In Matthew 5:9, Jesus states, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Jesus is not giving priority to how one might become a "son of God," but is emphasizing that the likeness of "sons of God" have to their heavenly Father--for God is a "God of peace" (Romans 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). From the moment man was exiled from the garden in Genesis 3 because of sin to the climax of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's plan has been to bring about lasting peace between himself and man, and then between man and man. Paul describes God as a peacemaker in 2 Corinthians 5:19, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." Therefore, since this is a characteristic of their heavenly Father, peacemaking should also characterize the "sons of God."

The Priority of Peacemaking

The word "peacemakers" can be translated into the word "wholemakers." The concept of "peace," throughout Scripture, is a situation of comprehensive welfare. In English, the word "peace" usually refers either to an inner tranquility--peace of mind--of an outward state or an absence of war. But biblical shalom, biblical peace, conveys an illustration of a circle and means communal well-being in every direction and in every relation. The individual in the center of the circle is related justly to every point on the circumference of the circle. While the English word often denotes a straight line of peace between one person to another, the Hebrew word portrays a circle embracing one's whole relational community. In Scripture, to bring peace is to bring community. The Apostle Paul entreated the Corinthian believers, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). To manifest peace within a body of believers does not mean more dinners, more activities, or more fellowships, but to bring authentic community in biblical peacemaking.

The theme of peacemaking could, in essence, be the theme of Matthew 5. One commentator is convinced that the peacemaking between ourselves and our enemies that Jesus speaks of here is meant to include the circles of our daily lives: house, family, community, congregation. Another commentator sees Jesus' horizon as larger than peace within the home or church and as embracing the whole world. All six commands of Jesus that follow in Matthew 5:21-48 describe forms of peacemaking--from the control of anger through fidelity in marriage to the love of enemies. Using the Hebrew analogy, it may be helpful to view peacemaking as concentric circles that move outward, proceeding from a pure heart. Peacemaking must touch every part of the life of the Christian--house, family, community, and congregation.

How are Christians supposed to demonstrate authentic biblical peacemaking?

First, we must understand that peacemaking and peace-realizing are two completely different things. A true peacemaker longs for peace, prays for peace, works for peace, and sacrifices for peace, but the realization of peace may never come. Romans 12:18 is very important at this point, Paul says, "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all." This is the goal of one who is called a peacemaker, "If possible, so far as it depends on you." In other words, don't let the rupture in the relationship be your fault and if lasting peace is never accomplished, never let that deviate you from being a peacemaker.

Second, it is vital to understand that peace-realizing is not always possible when you stand for the truth of God's Word. Paul admits that there will be times when your stand for truth will inevitably make peace an impossible reality. For example, he states in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19, "I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized." Paul is very clear that genuine Christians must never compromise the truth in order to prevent divisions at all cost. In fact, it is precisely because some are genuine peacemakers that divisions existed within the Corinthian church. Jesus said in Matthew 10:34, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household." In other words, you must work for peace, pray for peace, and love peace, but you must never abandon your allegiance to Jesus and his Word regardless of the affliction and animosity such a stand may bring down upon your head.

The Position of Peacemakers

When Jesus states that peacemakers will be "called sons of God," he is not describing to us how one becomes a "son of God," but is simply saying that all those who are already sons are also peacemakers. Scripture is replete with passages that point to how we become "sons of God." For instance, we could go to John 1:12, "As many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name." Or, we could examine Paul's words in Romans 10:9-10, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." We become sons of God by trusting in the finished and complete work of Christ on the cross, through faith.

In addition to explaining how to become a son of God, Scripture abounds with verses identifying the "sons of God." For instance, sons of God have the indwelling Spirit, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). The sons of God are promised a resurrection unto eternal life, "For they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:36). The sons of God have immediate access to God in prayer, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6).

Jesus is clear that the priority of every Christian should be peacemaking, and when such a priority is present they can be assured that they are his sons and daughters. Jesus' hearers are the outcasts and nobodies of society and he distinguishes them here by giving them the name, "peacemaker," which was reserved for the Roman Emperor. These little people, these peacemakers, are dignified here by Jesus with membership in the very family of God.


Dustin W. Benge (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is visiting professor of Munster Bible College, Cork, Ireland and lecturer at The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.

Union with Christ is Everything


As a missionary, my grandfather taught Greek and Hebrew at a seminary in Igbaja, Nigeria. He labored for years after on a cognate lexicon of New Testament Greek. Such interest in biblical languages may sound heady and high-brow, the sort of thing that wouldn't have much connection with vibrant faith.

But nothing could be further from the truth. If you talked to my grandfather about Greek, you'd quickly learn that what he was most passionate about was what he referred to as the "identification truths"--the wide variety of Greek constructions that the New Testament uses to describe Christians' connection with their Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

Believers are "crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20, NIV), "raised with Christ" (Col. 3:1), "in Christ Jesus" (Php. 1:1), "baptized into Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:3), "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:2), "circumcised by Christ" (Col. 2:11), and reconciled to God "through Christ" (2 Cor. 5:18). Christ's disciples are related to Him as branches to the life-giving vine (Jn. 15:5). In Christ, believers receive "every spiritual blessing" (Eph. 1:3), including election (v.4), predestination (v.5), adoption (v.5), grace (v.6), redemption (v.7), and the sealing of the Holy Spirit (v.13).

This is just a sampling of the Scripture's teaching on the significance of union with Christ for believers. Recent years have seen numerous books tracing and expounding this biblical theme, a renewed focus on what has always been at the heart of Christian faith: the saving relationship that Christians have with their Triune God and Savior, found in the Father's gracious gift of union with the Son by the Spirit. This is core Christianity, in all its warmth and wonder and power.

Christian life is life in Christ. The wonderful truth about Christians' union with Christ, and all that it means, is at the heart of Christianity spirituality. We can probe it in reverent exegesis of the Greek New Testament and we can embrace it with the childlike faith of 'receiving Jesus into your heart.' One thing we cannot do is comprehend the totality of God's kindness to us in Christ.

And one thing we must not do is downplay the significance of this majestic spiritual truth. But there are, tragically, some who call themselves Christians but seek to do just that.

Some months ago, in a bout of tweets responding to The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, Union Theological Seminary expressed their rejection of Christ as the only way of salvation. They still claim to be Christians, but they deny that a relationship with Jesus is necessary in order to be saved. Instead, they say:

"We deny that salvation is only found through Christianity, that God's salvific grace is exclusive to any single faith or religion. Moreover, in God's eyes there is no difference in spiritual value or worth between those who are 'in Christ' and those who aren't."[1]

This is a denial of the gospel. Union has denied the union that makes a Christian Christian. The central proclamation of Christianity is that salvation is found in Jesus Christ, and in Him alone. Christians are those who declare that "Jesus is Lord" (Rom. 10:9). The Christian message declares that "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

With tragic logic, Union's denial of the exclusivity of Christ brings a denial of the glory of being included in Christ. Union avers, but for believers there is nothing more precious or significant than their union with Christ by faith through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All the wonders of redemption are wrapped up in this notion of being in Christ.

What "spiritual value" comes from union with Christ? It is our position in Him that makes His death count for us and His resurrection mean our life (Rom. 6). Inclusion in Christ is the logic of salvation; when you exclude it from your picture of redemption (even with the intent of being more inclusive), you sever salvation from its source. There is no life apart from Christ. In the oft-quoted words of John Calvin, 

"First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us."[2] 

Christianity means we are in Christ, and Christ is in us by the indwelling Spirit.

In God's eyes, those who are in Christ have a whole new identity: "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Cor. 5:17). What does the new identity of believers look like? Peter declares to believers--"all of you who are in Christ" (1 Pet. 5:14)--that "you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (2:9).

In these images, picking up on the special status of ethnic Israel in the Old Covenant, Peter describes the privileged status given to believers in Christ in the New Covenant. They are chosen by God from the nations. They have the dignity of both the regal and priestly offices--doubly set apart. They are precious to God, uniquely His. They have a commission of worship and a destiny of glory. All of this is true of every Christian--all those who are united with Christ by faith. None of this is true of those who are not in Christ.

The glory of redemption, the offer of the gospel, is radically inclusive: anyone who will come to Christ will be saved, and receive in Him every spiritual blessing. But the gospel is also utterly exclusive: only in Christ will anyone be saved. There is one way to God, one gate to the kingdom, one bridge from death to eternal life--and that is Christ.

What difference does union with Christ make? All the difference in the world. All the difference in this world, and in the world to come.


[1] Union Theological Seminary, via Twitter, @UnionSeminary, Sept. 5, 2018.

[2] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.I.1.

Josh Steely is the Pastor of Pontoon Baptist Church in Pontoon Beach, IL.

The Unthinkable Sin


One day I had the opportunity to preach with John Barros outside of an abortion mill in Orlando. In the message I preached, I made the point that I am also a murderer because Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." (Matthew 5:21-22). After I finished, John cautioned me not to use this kind of argument because, though it is true, it can, inadvertently undermine the gravity and seriousness of the sin those heading to the abortion clinic were about to commit. I was, to some extent, downplaying the teaching of Scripture regarding the degrees of the severity of sin.

Most Christians are familiar with the unpardonable sin which Jesus speaks of in the Gospels: "...the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." (Luke 12:10). The fact that an unpardonable sin even exists is evidence that some sins are more evil than others. During Jesus' trail in which He was unjustly condemned, He taught us that there are greater degrees of sin. Jesus said to Pilate: "...he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin." (John 19:11).

The Unthinkable Sin That Never Entered God's Mind

There is not only an unpardonable sin in the Bible, there is also an unthinkable sin in the Bible. There is only one kind of sin that is so evil, so wicked, and so unbelievably horrific that the Bible says it never even entered into the mind of God. This is the sin of parents murdering their sons and daughters. The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of this sin three times:

"For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind." (Jeremiah 7:30-31)

"Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind..." (Jeremiah 19:4-5)

"They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35)

This unthinkable sin involved parents sacrificing their own children to false gods. These parents were murdering their own children, and they did so as a part of a religious, idolatrous ritual. God hates and forbids idolatry, but nowhere else in the Bible does He speak this way about idolatry - that it never even entered His mind.

Why might God speak this way? Because this particular form of idolatry was particularly abominable to Him because it involved the shedding of innocent blood (which God particularly hates: "There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood..." (Proverbs 6:16-17)) and it involved the unthinkable act of parents shedding the innocent blood of their own children. God designed parents to be the life-giving protectors of and providers for their children; to love their children; to be God-like authorities in their children's lives who are supposed to lead them to God by teaching them about God and displaying for them what righteous, good, loving authority is supposed to look like. When parents reject this God-given calling and do the exact opposite by murdering their own flesh and blood - this sin is particularly abominable to God - it's even unthinkable to Him. 

God Knows, But He Doesn't Know The Unthinkable

How can something - anything - not even enter God's mind? Doesn't God know all things from all of eternity? Isn't He omniscient? Hasn't He ordained "whatsoever comes to pass?" He absolutely is and He absolutely has! There is nothing that God does not know. He knows all things and no one can teach Him anything. Consider the following teaching of Scripture about God's infinitely and eternal knowledge:

"Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:13-14)

"...remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose...'" (Isaiah 46:9-10)

"God is greater than our heart, and knows all things." (1 John 3:20)

So if God knows about the evil of His people sacrificing their own children, in what sense does He not know? How does this practice not even enter His mind? He doesn't know it in the sense that this particular sin is so wicked and contrary to His will, that it is unthinkable to Him. Iain Duguid has explained that the phrase "did not enter into My mind" is "an anthropomorphism indicating how contrary it is to the LORD's will for His people."1 Ardel Caneday suggests, "[This is] not an expression of previous ignorance . . . [but] . . . an intensive idiom to express what is unthinkable."2 Michael L. Brown writes, 'This was the last thing on my mind! I never intended this for you, nor did I ever associate you with such vile practices.' The divine 'shock' is genuine, but not because of the 'surprise element' as much as because of the horrific nature of the sins committed."3 And, Charles Feinberg notes, "One of the most debased forms of idolatry involved child sacrifice...By strong anthropopathism, the Lord indicates that the enormities the nation committed in sacrificing children had never been enjoined on them or spoken of and had never even entered into his mind. It was totally alien and opposed to his will."4

It's as if this particular sin is so bad that the all-knowing, omniscient, all-powerful God could not even think of it because it is so contrary to His perfect, holy character.

The Unthinkable Sin Of Abortion

Like in Jeremiah's day, child sacrifice exists today. Abortion is the unthinkable sin of child sacrifice in our day. Abortion is the murder of an unborn child. God's Word makes this abundantly clear. As Nick Batzig has recently written: "It is estimated that under Stalin, 23 million men, women and children were brutally murdered, under Hitler, 17 million were tortured to death; but, under the red, white and blue, close to 60 million helpless, unborn children have been ripped apart in the womb - which, as we all know, is supposed to be the safest place for a child." Abortion truly is the great unthinkable sin of our day.

In his commentary on Jeremiah, Philip Ryken writes:

"Jeremiah's sermon on the Valley of Slaughter suggests important parallels between child sacrifice and abortion on demand...Anyone who has ever seen pictures, videotapes, or ultrasounds of children in the womb knows how early the human heart forms, and how the fetus can respond to pleasure and pain. To know those things is to know instantly and instinctively that abortion is the murder of an unborn child. There is no substantive moral difference between the child sacrifices offered in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and abortion as practiced in America."5

Some may think it a stretch to equate abortion to the pagan rituals of demonic child sacrifice; however, it is actually one and the same in a more demonic form of sophisticated idolatry. Instead of the altar of Molech, many sacrifice their unborn children on the altar of convenience, a college education, reputation, or money. Whenever couples abort their children under the rationale of any of these reasons, they are essentially shedding the blood of their children on the perceived altar of their own personal idol.

Saving Sinners From The Unthinkable Sin: The Son God Sacrificed

There is only one unthinkable sin in the Bible. And there is only one unpardonable sin in the Bible - and praise God that murdering your own children is not that unpardonable sin!

You see, the sacrifice of a Son did enter into God's mind once. God did think the unthinkable - He determined to crush, strike, condemn, and curse His own perfect, beautiful, sinless Son in place of sinners so that they might be saved.

God loves sinners! God loves parents who murder their own children! So in eternity past, God determined to save sinners by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save sinners by His sacrifice on that cross and by His resurrection from the dead. On that cross Jesus took upon Himself the unthinkable sins of sinners and the wrath of God that son and daughter murderers deserve so that there is therefore now no condemnation for all those who repent and believe in the LORD Jesus Christ!

There is salvation in Jesus, even for the unthinkable sin of abortion. Jesus' grace is greater than all our sin! Whether you've had one, ten, or one million abortions, where your sin abounds, His grace abounds all the more - if you will admit that your abortion is the unthinkable sin, turn from this sin, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then you shall be saved! "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!" "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!" (Acts 16:31; John 3:16).

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God saves the unsaveable and forgives the unthinkable: He washes away the unthinkable sin; He casts it behind His back and remembers it no more; As far as the east is from the west so He removes your sin from you; He casts it into the depths of the ocean floor forever! And God then accepts you and delights in you just as He does in His own Son. I love they way Dr. Russell Moore puts it:

"And what the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us is that there are probably women in this congregation right now who have had abortions - probably many of you. And you are probably hiding in the secret and in the shame of that abortion, fearing that anyone will ever find out about that secret that you have. What the Gospel of Jesus Christ says is that you are not an enemy in any culture war. If you come out of hiding and embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Scripture says that you are so hidden in Christ that when Satan accuses you and says: 'I know who you are, and I know what you did. I know your secret!' - your response is to say: 'Satan, you are exactly right. You are right when you say that I am deserving of condemnation, but I have already been condemned! You are exactly right when you say that I am worthy of execution, but I have already been executed! Because I am in Christ - so every bit of penalty that belongs to me has already fallen on me! I've been crucified! I've been pulled off of that cross! I've been buried under the curse of God! And you know what? God now has announced what He thinks of me when He opened up that hole in the ground and Jesus Christ - my Head, my New Life, my New Identity - walked out of there. So when God looks at me, He says of me exactly what He says of Jesus Christ: this is my beloved child, and in you I am well pleased!'"6

Hallelujah! What a Savior! He alone forgives the unthinkable sin and all of our sins! After receiving such a great salvation may we go and sin no more, and may what is unthinkable to God become unthinkable to us as well.


1. Iain Duguid, Notes on Jeremiah in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 1480.

2. Ardel Caneday, Beyond The Bounds, Open Theism And The Undermining Of Biblical Christianity, eds. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 194.

3. Michael L. Brown, The Expositors Bible Commentary, Jeremiah, eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 115.

4. Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 141.

5. Phillip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (ESV Edition): From Sorrow to Hope (Preaching the Word) (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 144-145.

6. I heard Dr. Russell Moore preach this in a sermon delivered on a Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Joseph Randall is the Pastor of Olney Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA.

A Call for Gospel Centered Preaching


God saved me at a conference at which John Piper was speaking in Atlanta in 2001. Through his public ministry, Dr. Piper has been one of the most influential men in my life. Last month, he wrote a post, Should We 'Make a Beeline to the Cross'? A Caution for Gospel Centered Preaching, in which he raised a caution about "gospel-centered" preaching. I have concerns about how many might misunderstand or misuse this post. It is probable that John Piper agrees with much or most of what will follow, therefore, this should be received as more of an addition to the discussion than a rebuttal.  

Piper's intentions in his post are not altogether clear. The post contains enough qualifiers or nuance to leave me with the following questions: Does John Piper believe it is appropriate to have sermons with no gospel in them or not cross in them? Is he advocating for sermons that do not have the cross in them if the text does not specifically mention the cross? Is he advocating for sermons that do not have Christ in them if the chosen text does not specifically mention Christ?  

Prior to considering what the Scripture teaches about preaching the cross, I want to start with some points of agreement with truths that Piper affirms in his post. 

First, no text of Scripture should be treated quickly or superficially. Second, We should not give a mere nod to any portion of Scripture. Third, all Scripture is God breathed and profitable that the man of God may be complete. Fourth, we must declare the whole counsel of God.

That being said, I believe that every sermon should contain the person of Christ and the gospel of Christ. Central to the gospel is Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sin. Here are 12 arguments in defense of this thesis.

1. Like Piper, I could not find a source for the beeline quote many have attributed to Spurgeon. However, a cursory reading of Spurgeon's sermons reveal his great love for preaching Christ and Him crucified with incessant frequency. Here are a few Spurgeon quotes that make his views plain on the place of Christ and the gospel in preaching: 

In his Sermons to Soul Winners, Spurgeon explained,

"I believe that those sermons which are fullest of Christ are the most likely to be blessed to the conversion of the hearers. Let your sermons be full of Christ, from beginning to end crammed full of the gospel. As for myself, brethren, I cannot preach anything else but Christ and His cross, for I know nothing else, and long ago, like the apostle Paul, I determined not to know anything else save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. People have often asked me, "What is the secret of your success?" I always answer that I have no other secret but this, that I have preached the gospel,--not about the gospel, but the gospel,--the full, free, glorious gospel of the living Christ who is the incarnation of the good news. Preach Jesus Christ, brethren, always and everywhere; and every time you preach be sure to have much of Jesus Christ in the sermon."

In Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, we read,

"Brethren, first and above all things, keep to plain evangelical doctrines; whatever else you do or do not preach, be sure incessantly to bring forth the soul-saving truth of Christ and him crucified." And, "Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme." And, "O that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God."

2. Every sermon in the book of Acts contains the person of Christ and the gospel of Christ, every sermon includes reference to  the cross of Christ. The apostolic pattern of preaching is still a pattern of preaching for us today.

3. Every epistle written to God's people by Paul, Peter or the author of Hebrews preeminently centers on the person of Christ and the gospel. This is significant insomuch as that is how we discover what the apostles believed about what should be included in the saints' diet of truth.

4. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). Central to the gospel is the cross. To not preach the gospel, therefore, assumes that there are no unbelievers present in the congregation, or it assumes it is unnecessary for  unbelievers who may be present to hear to the gospel.

5. Believers need the gospel because the gospel, produces fruit in the believer's life (Col. 1:5-6). Tim Keller writes, "The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom." In his Commentary on Galatians Martin Luther writes, "Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually."

6. Have you ever wondered why Paul was eager to preach the gospel to Christians? Have you ever wondered why every Spirit inspired writing we have from Paul and Peter to God's people contains in it the the gospel.

7. Since we should take seriously Piper's encouragement not to superficially and quickly deal with any text then we should include with these deep treatments a proclamation of the gospel of Christ crucified. Here is what I mean by way of example: Let's say that a preacher's given text for the day is 1 Peter 4:7-9 (the Scripture Piper cited), which deals with self control. Dealing deeply with self-control will bring us face to face with our need for the cross. After a careful treatment on self control, the cross would be a cup of cold water to those of us who have failed to have been as self controlled as we ought--which is all of us. In fact, Peter teaches us that the one who lacks self control and other godly characteristics has forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins, which happens at the cross. Peter, therefore, teaches us that we need a reminder of the cleansing provided by Christ crucified (2 Peter 1:4-11).

We are not not arguing for a reductionistic preaching that only speaks about the cross of Christ. Like Paul, we must declare all of God's counsel. However, we can not say we have preached Christ crucified on any given Sunday if we did not preach Christ crucified. Preaching Christ crucified means preaching Christ crucified.  Paul wrote, "we preach Christ" and "we preach Christ crucified" (Col. 1; 1 Cor. 2:2) He used words to preach the person of Christ and cross of Christ.

8. No matter how mature a saint is on this side of eternity he never gets past his need to hear the good news of Jesus who died by being crucified. When John the apostle was an aged, mature saint on the isle of Patmos, he had a vision of Jesus. John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. What did Jesus deem necessary for the mature Apostle to hear while in the Spirit on the Lord's day? Jesus said, "Fear not...I died (Rev. 1:17-18). The solution to the fear every saint deals with is found in Christ's words-- "I died."

9. God's word inextricably, continually and explicitly connects sanctification or the living of the Christ life to the gospel of the cross. We cannot treat sanctification or the Christian life atomistically apart from the cross. The apostles do not separate out these subjects in their writings. They are inseparably connected in Scripture. Many, many examples can be furnished from the NT. Here are a few.

Romans 6:1-4:

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."

Galatians 2:20:

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Colossians 2:20:

"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations."

Ephesians 4:32:

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."

Ephesians 5:25-26: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her"

10. When we fall short at fulfilling the many imperatives in God's word--as we surely will--we need to hear the good news of the cross.  Preaching that leaves off the gospel of the cross is preaching that can assume that God's people have a good enough grip on the gospel, particularly when it comes to applying the cross the our failures in all the imperative sections of Scripture. As Piper has explained, "the only sin that can be repented of is a forgiven sin." The good news is necessary in repentance, which is a consummate part of the Christian life. A non-superficial treatment of any text will bring all of us face to face with our need for repentance and the gospel of the cross. None of us grasps the gospel like we should. Peter, after being discipled by Jesus, after Pentecost, stood condemned because his conduct was not line with the gospel. If this can happen to Peter, it can happen to any of us. We must not assume the gospel of the cross with even the most mature among us. We must not assume the gospel with anyone. Assuming the gospel leads to the loss of the gospel.

11. I am not arguing for anything less in our preaching and teaching than that for which Piper was arguing. I am arguing for more. We must not treat any text quickly and superficially. and we must take care so that we can say with Paul, "we preach Christ crucified." We must ensure that we can say that our sermon had that in it which is the power of God unto salvation. Let's make sure that we can say that our sermon had the gospel which produces fruit in the life of the believer. The cross is made explicit in the apostolic preaching and writing. Shouldn't we follow the pattern of the apostles in our preaching week in and week out?.

12. God also uses the preaching of the cross to stir up the saints to take the gospel to the lost, to the nations. As Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." May our preaching aim to have the saints hearts full of the gospel so that they live it, share it with the lost around them and work for it to go to the nations.

Why would we leave out of any sermon that which is the song and saying of the throne room of God in heavenly, corporate worship: "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:9; 12)! The cross is not only the means of sanctifying God's people, but the cross is how God glorifies Himself, which is the chief end of all things.

Stephen Burch is the Pastor of Centrality Church in Asheville, NC

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 14, Racism


[Editorial Note: This is the fourteenth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article XIV: Racism

We affirm that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. Such racial sin can subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory. Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God's revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

We deny that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity. We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism. We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions. We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another. And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

As stated in the above affirmation, racism is sin. It is a declaration that seems unambiguous enough on the surface and, dare I say, is one with which hardly anyone today - Christian or not - would disagree. Nevertheless, there is a broader context in which the aforementioned attestation should be understood. Which is to say, it does not suffice merely to declare that "racism is sin" apart from investigating first and foremost what is sin. In other words, what exactly is so significant about this small, three-letter word that makes racism the prideful and malicious attitude it is described as in Article 14 of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel?

In considering these and other questions, I am reminded of the Westminster Shorter Catechism[1] where, in Question 14, 'sin' is defined as "any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God." But this definition of 'sin' begets yet another question, namely, what is the "law of God" to begin with? In terms of sheer numbers, God's law consists of several hundred very specific commands given by God to His people throughout the Old and New Testament. Those commands fall, fundamentally, under two categories: 1) how you and I are to relate to God, and 2) how you and I are to relate to one another.

But Christ, whom the Scriptures proclaim is the fulfillment[2] of the law of God, declared[3] that those two categories of commands can, fundamentally, be expressed in two practical ways: love God and love your neighbor. This is an important consideration as racism is often understood primarily in terms of a violation of the second category of God's law (how you and I are to relate to each other) as opposed to the first category (how we are to relate to God)[4].

That racism is viewed chiefly in terms of a contravention of man's standard of morality is why increasing numbers of evangelical Christians, and the churches and ministries they attend and support, are so attracted to a "social gospel" that focuses much of its efforts and resources on remediating the tangible impacts of racism, particularly with regard to reforming its discriminatory structures and institutions, as opposed to the spiritual origins of such a sinfully prejudicial attitude.

It is a mindset that is reflected in the words of author, feminist, and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins, who goes by the pen name 'bell hooks'[5] who, in Ending Hate: Killing Racism, insisted[6] that "There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures."

But notwithstanding the socio-cultural implications and ramifications of racism, whether historical or contemporary, the "structure" that most needs transforming is that of the human heart. It was Jesus Himself who made this congenital reality abundantly clear when, in dealing with the hypocritical legalism of the Pharisees, He declared[7], "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (emphasis mine).

The human heart is a structure that is inherently defiled; and the source of that defilement is sin.

Our problem, however, both within and without the evangelical church, is that, in our pride, we simply refuse to see ourselves as the innately defiled creatures we are[8]. Consequently, we continue to embrace the ethical mirage that by transforming the prejudicial and discriminatory structures that exist because of ourselves, we can somehow redeem ourselves from the damage done to ourselves by virtue of the structures we have ourselves constructed. There is no thought that is more antithetical to the gospel than the idea that mankind can somehow save himself from himself. As theologian A.W. Pink exclaimed[9], "Just as the sinner's despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer's growth in grace (emphasis mine)."

The evangelical church must come to the realization that the "social gospel" is not the answer to the problem of racism. The reason it is not the answer is because racism, nor its myriad effects, is not the real problem. The real problem is defiled human hearts that conceive of the evil and ungodly ideals, philosophies, schemes, and attitudes that give birth to the sinfully prejudicial structures and institutions that are representative of those ideals and philosophies.

In other words, what makes "racism" an "ism" to begin with is sin. Apart from sin, the word race, from which the word racism is derived, remains a static, banal, and inobnoxious noun, as opposed to morphing into the dynamic, bromidic, and poisonous verb it has become; not by osmosis by virtue of external influences, but by inheritance[10] of the sinful nature handed down to the human race by our first parents.

The "paradigm" and "practical model" for the kind of transformation about which Gloria Jean Watkins speaks has already been given to us in the gospel in the words of the apostle Paul[11], who exhorts us to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Needless to say, racism is not the "good and acceptable and perfect" will of God. But unless the hearts and minds of those who harbor such sinfully prejudiced and discriminatory sentiments and motives toward others of God's image bearers are transformed by the power of the gospel, they will remain utterly and wholly incapable of either knowing or doing that which is God's "good and acceptable and perfect" will[12].



[2] Rom. 8:3-4

[3] Matt. 22:34-40

[4] Gen. 39:9; Ex. 10:16; Josh. 7:20; Judg. 10:10; Ps. 51:4



[7] Mk. 7:21-23 (NASB)

[8] Gen. 3:1-24, 6:5, 8:21b; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23

[9] The Wisdom of Arthur W. Pink, Volume 1

[10] The Heidelberg Catechism, Part I: The Misery of Man, Q&A #7:

[11] Rom. 12:2 (NASB)

[12] 1 Cor. 2:14


Darrell Harrison is the Dean of social media at Grace to You, a teaching fellow at the Princeton Seminary Black Theology and Leadership Institute, a US Army veteran, host of the Just Thinking podcast, and an ACBC biblical counselor.

Souls Always Need More Curing

David Powlison, in his excellent book Seeing With New Eyes, touches on the reality of indwelling sin--particularly with regard to what we believe and how it impacts our actions. Powlison rightly insists that all believers live in a tension between the flesh and the Spirit in this life. Employing the illustration of "competing voices" he writes,

"In each saint, the cravings and works of indwelling sin grapple against the Holy Spirit's desires and fruit (Gal. 5). It is no surprise, then, that in life stories you often notice competing voices jostling for the final say. A transcription of what takes place in a person's soul reads like a courtroom drama where different witnesses tell contradictory stories about what happened."

He then gives the following example:

"A man may repent of a criminal lifestyle and find genuine new life in Christ. But, at the same time, in the name of Christ he embraces a bizarre eschatological scheme and a political conspiracy theory. He may genuinely turn from violence and drug addiction--high hosannas! At the same time he may become newly self-righteous toward former partners-in-crime and adopt the abrasive manner of the person who led him to Christ--a Bronx cheer for such results. Souls are cured, but they also sicken in new ways. Souls always need more curing."

I was struck with the profound simplicity of the last two sentences. "Souls are cured, but they also sicken in new ways. Souls always need more curing." Who among us could be so blind to the fact that our souls are constantly in need of more curing? The reality is that most of us are not readily aware of our need for more curing--particularly when it regards a self-righteous attitude or posture toward others who are struggling with sins other than our own at present. This, in turn, reminded me of one of Jonathan Edwards' reflections on the reality of self-righteousness in the lives of believers. In his sermon, "Bringing the Ark to Zion a Second Time," Edwards wrote: 

"A man is brought, when converted, wholly to renounce all his sins as well as to renounce all his own righteousness. But that don't argue that he is wholly freed from all remains of sin. So no more is he wholly freed from remains of self-righteousness. There is a fountain of it left. There is an exceeding disposition in men, as long as they live, to make a righteousness of what is in themselves, and an exceeding disposition in men to make a righteousness of spiritual experiences, as well as other things...a convert is apt to be exalted with high thoughts of his own eminency in grace." 

This is, of course, squarely in keeping with the teaching of our Reformed Confessions about the nature of sanctification. For instance, Westminster Confession of Faith (Ch. 12.2) declares, "Sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh."

No matter how long we have been Christians, of this much we must be certain: Our souls always need more curing. The blood of Jesus never stops cleansing the consciences of believers. There is never a time in our Christian lives when we do not need the cleansing blood of Jesus and the purifying work of the Holy Spirit. There is never a time when we do not find "a continual and irreconcilable war" within. There is always more pride to be leveled. There is always more self-righteousness to be mortified. There is always more love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control to be nurtured in our lives. There is always more greed, lust, envy, laziness, sinful anger, bitterness, jealousy, gossip and slander that needs to be mortified within our hearts and lives. Our souls always need more curing. The good news? God has promised to cure the hearts of His people by the Gospel throughout the time of our sojourning here until He brings us to glory. Only then will we be able to say that our souls need no more curing.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 9, Heresy


[Editorial Note: This is the ninth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 9:


WE AFFIRM that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. We further affirm that heresy often involves the replacement of key, essential truths with variant concepts, or the elevation of non-essentials to the status of essentials. To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction. We affirm that the accusation of heresy should be reserved for those departures from Christian truth that destroy the weight-bearing doctrines of the redemptive core of Scripture. We affirm that accusations of heresy should be accompanied with clear evidence of such destructive beliefs.

WE DENY that the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.

Heresy. The word itself likely conjures up images of the Inquisition, medieval torture devices and angry torch wielding mobs. Though such un-pleasantries are now in the past (hopefully), heresy remains a very serious theological reality and poses an eternal danger to countless souls.

The Greek word for heresy, hairesis (αἵρεσις), carries the basic meaning of division. Titus 3:10 which states, "Reject a factious (divisive) man after a first and second warning" employs this term. In fact, the King James version renders it quite literally, "A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject."

Though division often carries a negative connotation, not all division is bad. Some division is absolutely necessary. As Christians we are to be wholly devoted to the authority of God's inerrant, infallible, all sufficient word. That devotion necessitates that we divide from those who are not so devoted. Jesus himself will one day separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:32). Division can be a good thing.

There is nothing good, however, about heresy. Heresy constitutes a willful departure from Christian orthodoxy and has been a problem in the church practically since its inception. Jesus and the New Testament writers repeatedly warned about the rise of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-31; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). In fact, almost every book in the New Testament directly warns of false doctrine.

There are many different categories of heresy. There are heresies regarding the godhead such as Modalism[1] which denies the trinity and Open Theism which denies God's knowledge of the future. There are Christological heresies such as Arianism and Kenosis theology, both of which denigrate the deity of Christ.[2] There are soteriological heresies such as Universalism and the Roman Catholic doctrine of Infused Righteousness that deny salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. This brief list is barely the tip of the heretical theological iceberg. To imbibe one or more of these heresies is to depart from the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and to put one's soul in eternal peril.

It is important to understand that all heresy is error but not all theological error is heresy. There are a number of secondary or tertiary biblical and theological issues about which genuine Christians can disagree and still have fellowship in Christ. For example, who wrote the book of Hebrews? Some say Paul, others say Luke or Barnabas or someone else. The fact of the matter is that we do not know who wrote it; only that the author was inspired by the Holy Spirit. If one person believes Paul wrote Hebrews and another person believes Luke wrote it, at least one of them is wrong - and possibly both are - but neither is in heresy.

Drs. John MacArthur and the late R.C. Sproul differed on at least two theological issues: eschatology and the ordinance of baptism. MacArthur is a "leaky dispensationalist" in his eschatology and holds to believer's baptism whereas Sproul was amillennial and affirmed paedobaptism. It is not that eschatology and baptism are unimportant issues. They are both quite important - but they are not essential components in and of themselves to the gospel. They differed with one another on these issues and yet they respected each other greatly. They spoke at each other's conferences. They spoke highly of one another. MacArthur preached at Sproul's funeral. They loved one another. They were friends. Despite differences on these non-essential issues, these two men were absolutely united in the gospel. How MacArthur and Sproul interacted with one another serves as an inspiring model for me and many, many other believers around the world.

This having been said, some points of error even though they may not be intrinsically heretical may, and often do, lead to heresy. The Apostle Paul warned that false teaching "spreads like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16-17). Error almost always begets more error.

Methodism, founded upon the teachings of John and Charles Wesley in the 18th century, was once committed to the authority of scripture and the preaching of the gospel. Then, in the early 1920s, the denomination began to ordain women as "local preachers" and later granted women "full clergy rights" in 1956.[3] Today the Methodist denomination is hopelessly liberal. It holds that practicing homosexuals can be Christians and even permits their ordination to ministry provided that they take vows of celibacy. The other mainline denominations (Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ) have already embraced homosexual marriage and homosexual ordination. The United Methodist Church, and all the mainline protestant denominations, are far more concerned with social and environmental issues than they are the gospel. Their dwindling numbers reflect this sad truth. John and Charles Wesley would not recognize Methodism today. The doctrinal slide into heresy began with allowing women to preach.

One of the things that most alarms us as the initial signatories of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (and the nearly 10,000 others who have signed as of this writing) is that within the evangelical social justice movement (heretofore ESJ) we are seeing and hearing some of the same arguments that swayed once theologically conservative denominations that are now in spiritual ruin. For many years Beth Moore has publicly preached to men[4] but now within the Southern Baptist Convention there exists serious talk of her actually becoming its president. There can be no credible doubt that the ESJ movement is promoting egalitarianism.

Even more ominously, within the ESJ movement we are seeing a push for the acceptance of celibate "gay Christians." The stated purpose of the Revoice Conference held in July of 2018 is:

Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.[5]

That purpose statement alone should have brought swift, decisive and universal condemnation of Revoice for it flies in the face of clear biblical teaching that God saves people out of homosexuality (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), not that it permits them to hold onto a "LGBTQ-lite" identity.

Notice the pernicious nature of false teaching as described by the Apostle Peter:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. - 2 Peter 2:1

Heresy is never advertised as such to God's people. It is not introduced to the church with fanfare and clearly marked labels. It is introduced secretly and in camouflage. It is always intermingled with the truth. To adapt a phrase from Mary Poppins, 'Just a spoonful of theological sugar helps the heresy go down.'

The charge of heresy is a serious one to levy and the label of heretic is not one to be carelessly applied. Sadly, such aspersions are coming from some in the ESJ camp. Dr. Eric Mason, Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA, and author of the newly released book entitled Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice[6] tweeted the following:

We need a modern day ecumenical council on race and justice! We need canons and synods and creeds on this! Come to Philly and we can call it the Council of Philadelphia! Limit it to 300 key men and women pastors and scholarly secretaries. Rebuke the heretics and affirm the sound.[7]

Thabiti Anyabwile immediately responded to Dr. Mason's tweet with an enthusiastic, "I'm in!"[8]

The charges of heresy and racism are not coming from those of us who signed the SJ&G, they are coming from those who oppose it. This is wrong and it is sinful. And, ironically, by levying false accusations it foments the very ethnic division that those in the ESJ movement claim to oppose.

In conclusion, we are not seeking to divide from anyone unnecessarily. We see this as a fraternal debate but one with extremely serious consequences. As the introduction to the SJ&G statement says, "we grieve that...we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course."

It is not that those in the ESJ movement are denying the exclusivity or deity of Christ. It is not that they are denying salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is not that they are denying the authority of scripture - at least not directly. In other words, they (at least most of them) are not necessarily heretical in what they teach, but we do believe them to be in serious theological error; error which, left unchecked, will inexorably lead to heresy. The error we are seeing today in the ESJ movement is the error that seemed benign to Methodists a century ago. Out of love for God and concern for His sheep we are trying to sound the alarm.

We have seen this movie before.

[1] Modalism is a heresy that denies that there is one God who eternally exists in three Persons, as the Bible teaches. Rather it holds that there is one God in three manifestations. One notable adherent is T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, TX. See

[2] Both Arianism and Kenosis theology are alive and well in the Word-Faith/New Apostolic Reformation movements.

[3] Source:

[4] Beth Moore has preached to men in numerous venues including but certainly not limited to a Sunday morning sermon July 1, 2012 at Passion City Church pastored by Louis Giglio and has preached to thousands of men at multiple Passion Conferences, just one example of which can be seen here. Josh Buice, one of the initial signatories of the SJ&G statement has written about the many concerns regarding Beth Moore as has Elizabeth Prata and Michelle Lesley.

[5] Source:

[6]  Woke Church was released October 2, 2018.

[7] Tweet dated May 13, 2018. Source:

[8] Ibid.

An Extraordinary Love


Dying to self is the fertile ground from which love springs and the weeds of anger and hatred and jealousy cannot take root. When we die to self, we look more like the One who bought us and more like children of our heavenly Father. Let us shock the world by manifesting a Kingdom ethic they can't help but find alluring.

As Christians, ours is a different ethic--namely, a Kingdom ethic. We live by an ethic that comes from above. That truth is brought home as Jesus teaches, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'" (Matt. 5:43-44). This statement by Jesus launches the Christian ethic into the stratosphere of uniqueness. He says that we are not just to refrain hating our enemies back but we are to have a positive attitude towards our enemies! "Those who persecute you," Jesus says. He takes the worst of enemies. Are there any enemies more difficult to love than persecutors? And we are supposed to love those?

When Stephen is being stoned as the first martyr of the Christian church and Saul stands there holding the garments, Stephen utters his last words, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." He is being executed unjustly and yet it is not anger that pours forth, but love. He prays for them.

"This just isn't possible," we might think. I agree, it isn't possible in our flesh. But it is possible for the child of God by the Spirit of God to love the enemies of God for the glory of God. Stephen possessed the power of Christ within Him. The same Christ, who hung upon the cross and cried out to His Father in prayer, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:24).

Isn't this the crux (pun intended) of the Christian life? We look different because we are different. As Christians, we don't belong to this world, so we don't respond as the world with anger and hatred. Let them foam at the mouth, but not us. Let them be on a continual cycle of anger with the day's news, the day's injuries, the day's insults, but not us.

Jesus goes on to say, be "perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Jesus sets before His disciples the ethics of the Father and says, "See who He is; be like Him. Do as He does." Our life is to reflect the life of our Father and manifest His person and truth to the world around us. That is revolutionary, especially in our day!

How do we manifest love instead of anger and hatred? Only by His power. Only by reminding ourselves that we ourselves have no ground on which to stand. To inquire within, "How can I have anger and even hatred in my heart towards my enemies, when I was the recipient of God's love and grace when I was an enemy?" "Has a greater insult or injury been offered to me than I offered to God?" How can I not give what I have received? How can I not understand the grip sin can have upon another? How can I not be moved with compassion that they lack knowledge of the grace of God or don't know it to the degree I do?" We take a step back and look at our enemies with the lens of God's grace and love.

What impact could it have on this culture, a culture that desperately needs it, if every Christian transferred the fervor of hatred, ridicule, and anger towards our enemies into fervent prayer for them instead? What if we prayed with the same zeal with which we ruminate upon the injustices done to us? What kind of impact could that have?

"Love your enemies," Jesus says. He doesn't say we have to like them. Some have done such horrible things, that we may never like them. But we can love them. We can take a step back and remind ourselves of the sinner they are and the need for God's grace they have, just as we are and have need. As Christians, we don't take our ethical standards from the community we live in--thank God. We don't look to society to set our standard for what is right and wrong. We don't look horizontally to determine who we should be. We look vertically at who He is; and, He is love. He is our Father. His only begotten Son is our Savior. This God sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). He gives good gifts to all. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). That is love. We were enemies and He loved us. So, our love is to surpass that which the world evidences. Not just exceed them in quantity but in quality. Ours is a different love. Ours is to be an extraordinary shocking love.

Forgiveness is the Key


When Jesus commands us to forgive those who have sinned against us, we have a tendency to question just how far he would have us go with extending such forgiveness. Surely the Savior didn't have Corrie ten Boom forgiving those who cruelly persecuted her and her family--those who were responsible for the deaths of some of her closest family members--in mind, did he?

Yet, he so clearly teaches, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25).

Until World War II, Corrie ten Boom had lived peacefully in her home in the Netherlands with her father and sister, Betsie. When the war broke out, Corrie and her family began hiding Jews in her father's home. Betrayed by a fellow countryman, the family was sent to prison where her father died. After being separated for a time, Corrie and Betsie ended up in the same place in Germany, the notorious prison camp--Ravensbruck.

Sadly, Betsie also died while in the camp, her body unable to tolerate any more of the poor conditions and cruel treatment. After a clerical error, Corrie left Ravensbruck and returned to Holland.

No one would have blamed Corrie if she had never returned to Germany. It was a miracle that she left Ravensbruck alive. But it was Betsie who suggested that they someday would, in fact, return. One night, in Ravensbruck, while lying face to face on a small cot, Betsie shared what she knew God had told her: that they would be back to share the love of Jesus. Even under Corrie's protest, Betsy insisted God would take away the bitterness and fill their hearts with God's love.

As Corrie rested her hand on Betsie's beating heart, she realized how close her sister's heart was to God's. Corrie wrote, "Only God could see in such circumstances the possibility for ministry in the future-ministry to those who even now were preparing to kill us."

After Betsie died, Corrie returned to Germany in order to bring the message of God's love and forgiveness to those left behind in war torn Germany just a few short years after her miraculous release from Ravensbruck.

When she had finished her talk, a man came forward to speak with her. Corrie recognized him to have been a guard in the prison camp, a man she described as "one of the most cruel guards."

He complimented her speech and proceeded to offer her a handshake. He did not seem to remember Corrie, when he told her that he was once a guard at Ravensbruck. He explained that the Lord had taken a hold of his life and he was now a Christian. He said he knew God had forgiven him, but he would like to hear that Corrie also had forgiven him.

Corrie describes the scene in her book Tramp for the Lord:

"It could not have been many seconds that he stood there--hand held out--but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it--I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who had injured us. 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses,' Jesus says, 'neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.'

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion--I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. 'Jesus, help me!' I prayed silently. 'I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.'

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

'I forgive you, brother!' I cried. 'With all my heart.'

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely, as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5, 'because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.'"

What a story! What a vivid portrayal of God's miraculous work of grace in the hearts of His people! It is a lifelong work in progress. Even after being able to forgive a cruel Nazi guard through the Holy Spirit, Corrie says "I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me and on to others. But they don't." At eighty years old, Corrie still knew that she must draw fresh from God each day for good feelings and behaviors. Forgiveness is a miracle that we must ask God to work in our hearts each day.

Corrie summarized this best when she wrote: "Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. The forgiveness of Jesus not only takes away our sins, it makes them as if they had never been."


Even the Smallest Sin...

I was intrigued to read the results about what evangelicals profess to believe concerning key biblical truths in 2018 in Ligonier Ministries' State of Theology survey. Among the many shocking findings was the conclusion on the category dealing with the just punishment for sin. Out of 3002 respondents in the US, 58% rejected the idea that "even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation." Of the 2133 surveyed in the UK, 62% rejected that same doctrine. Unlike several of the other findings, in which there is a noticeable shift in the beliefs of 18 year olds from those of 65 year olds in the church, there was uniformity of rejection in the represented age groups. That ought to give us pause about what has and what is being taught in our churches. 

As I read these findings, my mind drifted to the interchange between Anselm and his associate Boso in Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?), in which Anselm pointedly told his theologically confused understudy, "You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin." Further on, Anselm said, "So heinous is our sin whenever we knowingly oppose the will of God even in the slightest thing; since we are always in his sight, and he always enjoins it upon us not to sin." This, in turn, reminded me of those words of C.S. Lewis, in his preface to Milton's Paradise Lost, in which he wrote of the nature of Eve's sin, "She who thought it beneath her dignity to God, now worships a vegetable." 

All sin--even the least sin--is a worshipping of self or some other created thing. It is, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "exchanging the truth about God for a lie and worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Rom. 1:25). Sin is transgression against the infinite and Eternal God and therefore each and every sin deserves infinite and eternal punishment. The writer of Hebrews captures this principle when he writes that according to the Law of God, "every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution" (Heb. 2:2). God requires perfect, personal and perpetual obedience of all men throughout all time to His Commandments. This is why we need a Savior who keeps the law perfectly for us and takes the burden of our guilt upon himself on the cross. When we come to see the greatness of our guilt we begin to see our need for the greatness of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Infinite and Eternal Son of God incarnate in the flesh. 

May God give us grace to see that the least sin we have committed deserves eternal judgment so that we might more fully trust in the Eternal One who took that judgment on Himself on the cross having, as it were, suffered the pains of hell for us.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 7, Salvation


[Editorial Note: This is the seventh post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

WE AFFIRM that salvation is granted by God's grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Every believer is united to Christ, justified before God, and adopted into his family. Thus, in God's eyes there is no difference in spiritual value or worth among those who are in Christ. Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ. By God's regenerating and sanctifying grace all believers will be brought to a final glorified, sinless state of perfection in the day of Jesus Christ.

WE DENY that salvation can be received in any other way. We also deny that salvation renders any Christian free from all remaining sin or immune from even grievous sin in this life. We further deny that ethnicity excludes anyone from understanding the gospel, nor does anyone's ethnic or cultural heritage mitigate or remove the duty to repent and believe.

Salvation. It, along with the related term gospel (the subject matter of Article VI), is one of the most widely used and recognized of evangelical terms but also one about which there is much misunderstanding.

The New Testament employs two primary words for salvation: sozo (σῴζω) and rhuomai (ῥύομαι), both of which carry the idea of rescue or deliverance. Salvation then, in a very real sense, is an act of deliverance and being saved is to be in a constant state of being delivered. When God saves someone, He delivers that person. In Psalm 144:1-2 David writes, "Blessed be the Lord, my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer." God, by His character and nature is a deliverer. But from what? From what are we delivered and into what are we delivered?

We are delivered from ourselves - Most people today have this vague belief that as long as they are "good" people who do good works and are sincere that these efforts will earn them a place in Heaven. The notion that we can save ourselves, referred to by theologians as autosoterism, may be popular but it is foreign to the Bible. Scripture very clearly teaches that "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isaiah 64:6) before a thrice holy God. Good works will profit those apart from Christ nothing in the day of judgment and will serve only as damning testaments against their self-righteousness.

Just as the Ethiopian cannot change his skin and the leopard cannot change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23), so we cannot deliver ourselves. Repentance from sin is not something a person can do on his own. Repentance unto salvation is in and of itself granted by God (Acts 5:30-31; 11:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Saving faith in Christ's atoning work on the cross is also granted by God. The Apostle Paul writes,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The "gift of God" in the Greek is grammatically neutral indicating that both grace and faith are divine gifts sovereignly given by God. If we could somehow gin up faith on our own then we would have reason to boast in ourselves. But such self-boasting is exactly one of the things from which the Gospel delivers us.1

We are delivered from sin and its power - When God grants repentance and saving faith a person is delivered from the judicial penalty of sin. Every human being is a sinner by nature, by choice and by action (John 3:19; Romans 3:23; 5:12) and is spiritually dead deservedly facing eternal judgment in Hell (Ephesians 2:1, 3; Romans 6:23; Revelation 14:9-11). Once wrought in the human heart, the miracle of the new birth frees so completely from the penalty of sin that "there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and against God's elect no one can bring a charge (Romans 8:1, 33).

Not only are we delivered from sin's penalty, but we are also delivered from its power over us. Before conversion a person is a helpless slave to the ruthless master of his own depraved desires. After conversion, he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and is a slave to his new Master, Jesus Christ. The Christian has been granted a new nature and with it comes new desires. As believers we begin to love what God loves and hate what He hates.

It is not that a Christian is incapable of sin. Though often used in an evangelistic context, 1 John 1:9 is written to believers, not the lost. As Christians we can and do sin. But the glorious truth is that though Christians stumble into sin, they do not swim in sin. Christians do not relish sin and look for opportunities to sin. One of the hallmarks of a genuine believer is that when he does sin it grieves him. Arthur W. Pink writes:

The nature of Christ's salvation is woefully misrepresented by the present-day evangelist. He announces a savior from hell rather than a savior from sin. And that is why so many are fatally deceived, for there are multitudes who wish to escape the Lake of Fire who have no desire to be delivered from their carnality and worldliness.2

It is good and it is right to warn people to flee from the wrath to come. But just as much as we should want deliverance from hell, we should want deliverance from sin. We should have a godly sorrow over our sins (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). When we sin, it should grieve us because we understand that our sin grieves God. The gospel delivers us from our love of sin to a love for holiness.

This deliverance from our fallen affections leads to a deliverance toward holiness and sanctification. In 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle Paul gives a long list of sins which mark the lives of unbelievers: fornication, idolatry, covetousness, drunkenness, homosexuality, theft, reviling and swindling. Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God. Then Paul says, "Such were some of you" (vs. 11). Notice the past tense. His readers were those things, but they are not anymore. We can no more speak, for example, of a gay Christian than we could of a murdering Christian. Christians do not have their identity in sin, but in Christ.

Paul then says, "but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (vs. 11). Notice these three terms: washed, sanctified, and justified. The two bookend terms, "washed" and "justified," deal with the new birth, salvation. The term in the middle, "sanctified," deals with the believer's personal growth and conformity into the image of Christ. Those whom God saves, He sanctifies. There are no exceptions to this. Where there is no sanctification, there has been no salvation. It is a package deal. The initial, definitive sanctification that occurs at conversion continues throughout the believer's life until glorification.

We are delivered into a new family - The new birth gives us a new family. Those who receive Christ are "given the right to become the children of God" (John 1:12) and have "received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15). That is a staggering reality. God takes those who were formerly His enemies, delivers them from sin and adopts them into His own family. Consider this passage from Matthew's gospel:

"While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, 'Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'" (Matt. 12:46-50).

Many of us have experienced a strain in relationships or even alienation from members of our family after conversion to Christ. What a comfort this passage is in such times. Our salvation may result in alienation from our blood family but we also gain a new family - and a big one at that. We instantly gain millions of brothers and sisters in Christ scattered all over the world.

This brings me to one aspect of the social justice movement that deeply grieves my heart. The message from many in this camp is that the gospel is sufficient to cleanse one's conscience and turn one's behavior from adultery, theft, fornication, blasphemy, etc., - but not racism! To deal with racism the big guns must be brought to bear. I do not understand such thinking.

One of the great blessings that has been mine as an evangelist is that God has granted me opportunities, as of this writing, to preach in 25 countries. I have preached in countries throughout Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. It does not matter what country I am in, with what culture I am surrounded, how much or how little material belongings the people have, or even what language is spoken, when I am with like-minded believers in Christ there is an instant bond, an instant kindred spirit, an instant fellowship and an instant love between us.

Another thing that does not matter is ethnicity. I do not care what color their skin is nor do they care what color mine is. I have never been in a church overseas and had the thought, 'They really need more white people in here.' I have never once felt unwelcome. We do not mistrust one another. We love one another. Even though we may have just met for the first time I have an instant love for them and they for me - because we are family. And because we have all been delivered from Adam's family into the family of God, none of these superficial differences matter. The dividing wall has been broken down (Ephesians 2:13-19) and we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Salvation is deliverance. Glorious and beautiful deliverance. We have been delivered from the dead and made alive in Christ (Colossians 2:13). We have been delivered from sin and its deadly hold on our hearts. We have been delivered into the family of God where superficial differences matter not. And, we will one day be delivered and presented to the Son as a love gift from the Father where we will enjoy Him and glorify Him forever (John 6:37; 17:2, 9, 24) all "to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).

1. This in no way diminishes man's responsibility and accountability before God. God is sovereign and man is responsible. God's sovereignty and man's responsibility are twin truths that, at times, are even seen in the same passage. See for example: Matt. 11:27-28; Acts 2:23.

2. Pink, Arthur W. "A. W. Pink's Studies in the Scriptures," pg. 373. Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2001.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 6, Gospel


[Editorial Note: This is the sixth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 6: Gospel

WE AFFIRM that the gospel is the divinely-revealed message concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ--especially his virgin birth, righteous life, substitutionary sacrifice, atoning death, and bodily resurrection--revealing who he is and what he has done with the promise that he will save anyone and everyone who turns from sin by trusting him as Lord.

WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel. This also means that implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel.

Within the evangelical culture today marketing tactics often employ keywords as a means of increasing sales. There is no greater marketing term in our day than the word gospel. Many people believe that if they can somehow attach the word gospel to their product as a descriptor it will bring instant success. It's not uncommon to see people talking about gospel books, gospel marketing, gospel people, gospel diet, gospel music, and gospel issues. In the controversy on social justice, people are insisting that it's a gospel issue. In the same way that everything we disagree with isn't heresy, everything that we do agree with isn't a gospel issue.

The New Testament Greek word for gospel (εὐαγγέλιον) literally means "good news." While many have objected to "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" as being unaware of cultural evils and misinformed of how to approach the depravity of our culture, it really becomes a heated discussion when we insert the gospel. Some consider social justice a gospel issue while others would say that it's something that is acutely affected and influenced by the gospel. This is why implications, applications, and illustrations must be handled with precision and care. In most cases, both groups (woke and non-woke) evangelicals would agree on the gospel, but the real controversy comes in how the gospel is applied to a culture. In this case, the controversy is centered primarily in the denial of Article VI.

Defining our Terms

Paul made a definitive statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as he penned his letter to the church in the city of Corinth. He provides a summary statement of the gospel by writing, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." In Romans 1:16, Paul stated that he was not ashamed of the gospel. Robert Haldane comments on Romans 1:16 by stating:

This Gospel, then, which Paul was ready to preach, and of which he was not ashamed, was the Gospel of God concerning His Son. The term Gospel, which signifies glad tidings, is taken from Isaiah 52:7, and 61:1, where the Messiah is introduced as saying, "The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings."1

The glad tidings of God (gospel) involve the glorious mystery of God's mercy and saving grace that is granted to fallen sinners through the blood sacrifice of Jesus. What better message could we be identified by and what better message could stand at the heart of our ministry? God the Son took upon himself human flesh, lived a sinless life which the first Adam failed to do, and then was crushed by the Father on the cross in the place of ruined sinners. The message of the gospel points to the fact that Jesus proved his sovereign power by the resurrection and we cling to his work alone by faith for the remission of sin. His unconditional grace is granted to all who believe--regardless of the color of skin, economic status, sex, or intellectual capabilities of the repentant sinner.

Affirming our Denial

Any statement containing affirmations and denials will bring heat in the area of what the document is intended to oppose. In the case of the gospel, while social justice is not a "gospel issue" in the sense that it's not a definitional component of the gospel--it's quite possible to insert social justice into the gospel and thereby create a specific brand of heresy (Gal. 1:6-9). In the denial, the Statement reads:

We deny that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.

Within this debate on social justice, some people are suggesting that if you're not performing works of social justice (admitting systemic racism, oppression, and other injustices while working toward a solution) that you are not a true follower of Jesus.

Thabiti Anyabwile, in his sermon, "Preach Justice as True Worship" made the following statement:

"We preach and we do justice because we wish to be like our Lord and we wish to see his righteousness fill the earth. The pursuit of justice and equity does not take us from the heart of our Savior. The pursuit of justice and equity takes us deeper into the heart of our Savior. If we know God in Jesus Christ whom he has sent, then we have been instructed by wisdom. And indeed if Christ has been made to be wisdom for us, then as the proverbs say we ought to understand justice completely. We ought to understand that doing justice is essential to that worship that pleases God our father."

When I hear a statement such as this, I find so much with which I can agree completely. In fact, if you look at the whole article which comes from his sermon that's linked on the same page, you see a reference to Romans 12:1-2 and the call to becoming a "living sacrifice." If by "doing justice" Thabiti Anyabwile means that we should stand in opposition to sinful behavior, live righteously, and love our neighbor--I can agree with such a statement. If, by chance, Thabiti Anyabwile intends that we become socially and politically engaged while embracing the ideologies of white privilege, systemic racism, and the systemic oppression of women within our culture and specifically evangelicalism--I would reject his understating of worship. We can't teach Christians to assume the gospel and to emphasize justice and expect a good outcome. 

Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. recently posted a clip of a sermon where the following statement was made:

"Social justice is a biblical's not a black issue, it's a humanity issue. It's not a hood issue, it's a global issue. And until we understand that Jesus himself said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captive, to set free those who are oppressed." If that ain't social justice, I don't know what is."

Not only is that a misguided approach to biblical hermeneutics--it misses the point of Luke 4:16-30. A clear contextual reading of that account of Jesus in Nazareth will demonstrate that God often does the unexpected. Furthermore, the emphasis is placed upon the spiritual poverty and slavery to sin and how Christ delivers people from spiritual poverty rather than the social needs of individuals.

It is critical that we are crystal clear about what we believe the gospel to be, the basis of biblical worship, and the mission of the Church. If a person is not careful, mission drift can lead the local church and the local pastor off into the world of cultural Marxism and fairly soon the pulpit which was once the focal point of Christian worship is transformed into a political stump where humanitarian "do-gooder" talks are delivered to socially motivated people in the name of Jesus.

We are slaves of righteousness as children of God and we must live justly in a fallen world. However, how we live (for good or evil) has nothing to do with the definition of the gospel. How we live will be shaped by the gospel as James rightly articulated the point that "faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26). We must not celebrate sin nor tolerate injustice--especially within the ranks of evangelicalism. Such an acceptance of evil would be the height of hypocrisy.

Tim Keller has recently spoken out against "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel," stating the following:

"It's not so much what [the statement] says, but what it does. It's trying to marginalize people talking about race and justice, it's trying to say, 'You're really not biblical' and it's not fair in that sense...If somebody tried to go down [the statement] with me, 'Will you agree with this, will you agree with this,' I would say, 'You're looking at the level of what it says and not the level of what it's doing. I do think what it's trying to do is it's trying to say, 'Don't make this emphasis, don't worry about the poor, don't worry about the injustice, that's really what it's saying.' Even if I could agree with most of's what it's doing that I don't like."

What exactly is the Statement seeking to do with its words? Is the document really seeking to marginalize people who genuinely care for the poor and mobilize relief efforts to care for such individuals in the name of Christ? Is it really true that the Statement is seeking to marginalize people who oppose racism?

The Statement does have several goals and one is to separate the gospel from social justice. In fact, it would be really helpful to drop "social" as a descriptor of biblical justice altogether. It's the gospel that changes the heart of fallen depraved sinners (2 Cor. 5:17). Only through the power of the gospel can a dead sinner be given life. This is a work of God's saving grace and we must remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).

How Does the Gospel Produce the Fruit of Righteousness and Justice?

The mission of the gospel is to bring depraved sinners into reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:17-6:2). Reconciliation only happens through the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Preaching justice will lead people to fear the sword in the hand of the government (Rom. 13:1-7). Preaching the gospel will lead people to fear God who is bigger than the government (Rom. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:11).

When Amy Carmichael went to serve in India, she was no jewelry-laden prosperity preacher nor was she a low-beam humanitarian aid servant. She was a high-beam bright light in India who served children and broken women with the gospel of Jesus. Yet, as she witnessed the Hindu suttee and heard the cries of women being burned alive (Hindu people believed that women should want to die when their husbands died, so as they burned the body of the widow's husband, they would place her on the funeral pyre of her dead husband) she engaged in the pursuit of justice for these women and labored to stop this practice. Her engagement was motivated by her gospel mission in India.

John Paton was convinced that the gospel had the power to change the heart of even the hardest sinner. As he penned his autobiography, he wanted to prove his point to the sophisticated Europeans who had a low view of the power of the gospel. As he recounted what he had witnessed in his ministry, he penned the following account of the conversion of Kowia, a chief on Tanna. When he was dying he came to say farewell to Paton.

"Farewell, Missi, I am very near death now; we will meet again in Jesus and with Jesus!"...Abraham sustained him, tottering to the place of graves; there he lay down...and slept in Jesus; and there the faithful Abraham buried him beside his wife and children. Thus died a man who had been a cannibal chief, but by the grace of God and the love of Jesus changed, transfigured into a character of light and beauty. What think ye of this, ye skeptics as to the reality of conversion?...I knew that day, and I know now, that there is one soul at least from Tanna to sing the glories of Jesus in Heaven--and, oh, the rapture when I meet him there!2

When Jim Elliot and his missionary partners never called out on their radio after their encounter with the savage Auca Indians in the jungle of Ecuador, the wives of these men feared the worst. After a search team was sent into the jungle to locate the men, they found their bodies. They had been attacked and killed by the Indians as they sought to reach them with the gospel. Less than two years later Elisabeth Elliot (the wife of Jim Elliot) and her daughter Valerie along with Rachel Saint (Nate's sister) moved to the Auca village. The once savage people were transformed by the gospel and today they are a friendly tribe. It was a commitment to the gospel that radically changed the Auca tribe even resulting in the change of their name to the Huaorani tribe.

As the local church is committed to the gospel (from preaching to discipleship)--hearts are changed and it results in a more just and equitable society. The Church of Jesus is committed to doing justice, but justice can't change a person's heart and biblical justice cannot be disconnected from the gospel. While justice is not the gospel, true biblical justice is connected to our God and you can't have the gospel without God. Social justice leads people toward humanitarian work and social engagement while the gospel leads the Church to put their faith into action. When the gospel changes a person's heart it will lead them to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly for the glory of God (Micah 6:8; 1 Cor. 10:31).

1. Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans, electronic ed. (Simpsonville, SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1996), 55.

2. John Paton, The Autobiography of the Pioneer Missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2013), 160.

Dr. Josh Buice serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia -- just west of Atlanta. He is the founding director of the G3 Conference, the author of the theology blog Dr. Buice studied at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his M.Div. and D.Min. in expository preaching.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 1, Scripture


[Editorial Note: At Reformation21, we aim to offer a confessional Reformed perspective on contemporary issues. Many times contemporary issues are also controversial. We have never shied away from controversy. Controversial issues are sometimes also complex. We believe that in the case of things that are complex and controversial, we need to be even more careful that we are listening well and exercising biblical discernment. As the Bible instructs us: "Know this, my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:20).

Our friends at Founders Ministries have recently been involved in helping to produce "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel." It has caused quite a stir. It is a controversial statement on a complex issue. Some have said that the Statement is too broad and vague in its criticism. So we want to give the authors of the Statement a chance to elaborate further. Others have charged its writers with effectively implying that caring for the poor and caring about injustice should not matter to Christians (though the actual language of the Statement suggests otherwise). We believe the authors deserve a chance to explain what they were saying and what they intended.

The Statement on Social Justice was not produced by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Some of its defenders have close ties to the Alliance, while others have convictions that lie outside of the boundaries of the confessions to which we subscribe. While we are not officially endorsing the Statement, we certainly do believe its authors ought to be able to speak for themselves on these timely and important matters. We are mindful of the wisdom of Proverbs 18:17: "The one who states his case first seems right until the other comes and examines him." So we invite you to come and examine these important issues. And our prayer is that all of us can conduct this examination in a spirit of discernment, wisdom, and brotherly love.

Jonathan Master, 

Editorial Director of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals]


Article 1--Scripture

WE AFFIRM that the Bible is God's Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God's final Word, which is Scripture alone.

WE DENY that Christian belief, character, or conduct can be dictated by any other authority, and we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching. We further deny that competency to teach on any biblical issue comes from any qualification for spiritual people other than clear understanding and simple communication of what is revealed in Scripture.

The first article in the "Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" addresses the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. This is highly appropriate for a document that that has been issued in order to defend and affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ. How do we know what that gospel is? To what source do those who profess that gospel look for their marching orders? The answer is Scripture and Scripture alone.

The classic passage in the Bible about its nature and authority is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

If the Bible is truly our final authority then other philosophies cannot be. This does not mean that there is nothing useful or true in such philosophies, but that we are only to accept what is found in them that corresponds to reality as revealed in Scripture. Biology, sociology, psychology, as well as other disciplines, can provide helpful descriptions of reality. Their claims, however, must all be evaluated in the light of Scripture.

This is precisely what God's people are required to do.

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? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isaiah 8:19-20, my emphasis).

If the chirpings and mutterings that derive from various aspects of intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory do not accord with God's written Word, then we are to dismiss them as having no light in them. The Apostle Paul applied this prophetic assessment when he wrote, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

The whole "Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" is an attempt to take Paul's admonition to heart and clarify key doctrines that are in danger of being undermined by worldly philosophies. These philosophies, if left unchecked, will undermine the gospel of Christ and lead people away from Him.

The statement asserts that "all truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God's final Word, which is Scripture alone." Since Scripture is breathed out by God (θεόπνευστος), it is inerrant and, therefore, authoritative. What it teaches, we are obligated to believe. Where it leads, we are obligated to follow. When anyone tries to influence our faith or conduct, as believers we must evaluate what is being said by the Bible. If what is being taught is not explicitly stated or inferentially contained in the Holy Scriptures then Christians are not to be bound by it as if it comes from God.

What this practically means is that every time we accept teaching that tells us what we "must," "ought" or "should" believe or do as Christians it is because such teaching derives from God's Word.

The most faithful, helpful Christian leaders and teachers, then, are those who most clearly understand and simply teach what God has revealed in the Bible. A person's background or experience may provide peculiar opportunities for understanding Scripture in more personal or practical ways, but it is only competency in handling the Word of God that makes such a person a trustworthy spiritual guide.

Spiritual people--those who have been born of God's Spirit and are trusting Jesus Christ as Lord--want to grow in His grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). This is both a privilege and a responsibility and is what leads us on to spiritual maturity. Such maturity, far more than one's race, sex or life experiences, is what qualifies a believer to be helpful to others in knowing and following Christ.

Ours is a day when authority is perhaps the most crucial issue confronting us. We are like the servants in Jesus' parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27). Instead of carrying out his business as we await his return, too often our attitude says, "We do not want this man to reign over us" (14). Yet, Christ is our only King. Because of that, his Word is our final authority.

In Romans 12:2 Paul gives us the following straightforward command: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." The only way for us to obey this admonition and to avoid allowing ourselves to be pressed into the world's ways of thinking, feeling, and aspiring is by the continual training and renewing of our minds. We must keep growing in our understanding and application of Scripture. We must learn it, believe it, and submit our lives to it.

Only by such commitment to God's Word will Christians be able to distinguish between truth and error and avoid being led astray by false teaching that creeps into our churches.

Tom Ascol is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL and the Executive Director of Founders Ministries

Lloyd-Jones on Racism and the Gospel


There was a recent advertisement on Twitter for a Christian event in Mobile, AL titled, "Shrinking the Divide: A Gathering for Racial Reconciliation" featuring John Perkins and Russell D. Moore. There were some immediate negative responses from numerous professing Christians on Twitter. In summary, the comments basically asserted that Jesus has already conquered the divide on the cross and that this kind of conference wrongly implies there is something lacking in what Christ has done. According to the critics, talking about division is what really divides. These kinds of responses have become all too common along with pejorative name-calling against anyone who speaks out against racial injustice as SJW's (Social Justice Warriors) and cultural Marxists.

Such comments are often followed with the idea that talking about race or racial injustice at all is a waste of time and distracts us from the gospel. After all, it is frequently said, the gospel is the only answer to racism. Racism, they suggest, automatically disappears when the gospel takes prominence. It is a bizarre sentiment coming from conservative evangelicals. If racism disappears when someone is genuinely converted to Christ then do they believe that slaveholders Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and R.L. Dabney were unconverted men who didn't really believe the biblical gospel? If not, such rhetoric is empty.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who I have never heard anyone describe as a Marxist, gospel-compromising, SJW, preached a sermon on John 4:13-14 titled, "Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics," in which he brought up the issue of racism. Early in the sermon on Jesus's encounter with the woman at the well Lloyd-Jones explains,

"We have dealt with some general prejudices that hindered this woman. She turned to our Lord in amazement when he asked her for a drink of water. She said, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?" We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, gender prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries--the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!"

Lloyd-Jones then proceded to address the prejudices that the church battles both societally and personally. He explained that falling into this type of sin is a mark of spiritual dullness and gospel evasiveness. Regarding the woman Jesus meets at the well, Lloyd-Jones says, "She shows us that you can be intelligent, you can be quick and alert, you can be subtle at disputation, and yet the whole time be spiritually dull." He goes on to clarify, "You see, this is not a question of learning; spiritual understanding has nothing to do with natural ability, nothing at all." Of the "hindrances and obstacles" this woman used to evade the fullness of Jesus gospel message Lloyd-Jones declares, "As they were true in the case of this woman, so they are, in principle, still true of all of us."

Anticipating the objection that the prejudice and gospel avoidance of the women at the well was merely because she was an unbeliever and such sins could not be found in a genuine Christian who believes the gospel Lloyd-Jones explains what he refers to as a fallacy:

"It is assumed, therefore, that while this spiritual dullness is true of an unconverted person, like the woman of Samaria, it cannot be true of a Christian. But it can! The fact that we have become Christians, that we are born again, that the Spirit of God is in us, does not mean that we have solved all our problems; that is only a beginning. We now have to go through a great process of readjustment, and it is because so many people fail to realize that and, still more, fail to act upon it that they are constantly in trouble."

Lloyd-Jones attacked this fallacy when he says, "Spiritual understanding is not something that happens automatically. Not at all! You must work out your own salvation in this way." He goes on to note the multitude of imperatives directed at Christians in the New Testament by declaring, "All this is addressed to Christians, and it is because we fail to realize this that we are so frequently in trouble and raise these hindrances that prevent us from receiving this well of water that springs up into everlasting life." He provides five reasons Christians struggle with spiritual dullness and gospel evasiveness in our lives:

(1) Old pre-conversion habits we still struggle with.

(2) The feeling that we have everything; we received it all at conversion, and there is nothing more to be gained.

(3) Laziness.

(4) The magical view of faith, people seem to think that faith is a magic word that completely changes everything.

(5) In preaching and teaching we tend put too much emphasis upon the will and upon momentary experience of decision and surrender.

According to Lloyd-Jones, we are all experts in the kind of gospel evasiveness that we find exhibited in the woman at the well, shifting the ground and changing topics. We will even use the fact of our Christian conversion to avoid living out the gospel,

"How we evade the issue, how we parry the question! It is because we do not like being searched, we do not like being examined, we do not like being disturbed. This is 'the natural man,' the old nature that is still with us. You do not get rid of your old nature when you become a Christian, when you are born again. The old man has gone, but the old nature has not gone; and the old nature, the natural self, does not like being searched. That element remains in us. We resent it; we do not want to be made to feel that we are wrong. We even dislike the very process that disturbs us out of our sloth: 'Why, we are Christians! I was converted.'"

Lloyd-Jones went on to insist that the gospel is meant to disturb and confront us. He then pressed in on our responsibility to apply our lives to the truth of John 4:13-14 by exhorting, "He searches us for our own good, but it is painful; so we evade it by taking up other issues. We have seen how the woman of Samaria did it, but what about us?" Thus, he brings up the horrific sin of racism again and explains that it is even possible to denounce someone else in order to evade dealing with your own sins. Lloyd-Jones explains, "You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself." That is precisely what the racists does and it it also what some who denounce racists are doing to shield themselves.

Every way that Christians evade walking in line with the gospel must be confronted with specificity and clarity. We have this responsibility in regard to racism and every other anti-gospel attitude we embrace and action we take. Yes, Jesus has already conquered the racial divide on the cross and the gospel is the answer to the sin of racism. Absolutely true! Nevertheless, as Paul notes, it is sadly often the case that we still "walk as the Gentiles do" (Eph 4:17) in far too many ways. May we keep reminding one another without apology, "But that is not the way you learned Christ!--assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus" (Eph 4:20).

Pursuing True Unity


There is something transcendently unifying when a group is engaged together in a singular, heroic cause. For instance, historians have often highlighted the camaraderie and esprit de corps they have found among the members of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps embodies, perhaps more than anything else in American public life, a brotherhood--forged in the forest of Belleau Wood, on the sands of Iwo Jima, through the bitter cold of Chosin Reservoir, and in the streets of Fallujah. The Marine Corps represents an ethos which has gripped the American imagination since our nation's inception. And that ethos centers around the fact that Marines fight America's toughest battles. When I entered the Corps in 2007, it was at the height of our involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. As Marines we shared a common enemy and a common mission and our success depended on our unity as Marines. In this war-time environment, it was normal for Marines from every socio-economic background in America to forge close friendships with each other. I served with Marines who loved those of different ethnicities as much or even more than their own families, and they were willing to lay down their lives for each other. It really did not matter whether you were white, black, Asian, Republican, Democrat, poor, rich, or something in between (not that these identities and distinctions are unimportant), what mattered was that you were a Marine and that we needed each other to win the fight against a formidable enemy.

By way of contrast, our ethnically, politically and socio-economically diverse nation is currently rift with division. Rod Dreher and many others predicted that this is exactly where we would be, after President Trump was elected. It is also not surprising that the wider divisions in the culture have seeped down into the Church. What is surprising is that rather than seeking to maintain biblical unity by the means outlined in the New Testament, some in the Church are turning to secular social constructs and methods--advocating for their use in the Church. It seems that the sufficiency of Scripture is being compromised by many who continue to give lip service to its inerrancy and authority.

That being said, in the midst of all the political and ideological division in our nation, the Church has a golden opportunity to achieve and model true Christian unity. Our unity should be a central part of our prophetic witness to this culture. We need to turn back to the Scripture to discover how that unity was achieved and how it is to be nurtured and maintained among the members of Christ's body.

New Testament Unity in the Gospel

The New Testament emphasis, over and over again, is that true Christian unity is only built on a right understanding of the gospel. No matter our national allegiance, economic background, political party, or ethnicity, the gospel unites believers in one faith, one 'body' (1 Cor 12:12, 17). This is why Paul, a devout Jew, called Titus, a young Greek, "my true child" (Tit 1:4). To what does Paul attribute this close relationship (which, incidentally, contradicted the social boundaries of the ancient world)? He called it the "common faith" (Tit 1:4). It should not be lost on us that it is the gospel and a unity in orthodox doctrine which enables a once prejudiced Jew to call a former godless Greek his own legitimate son. It is also the gospel which enables Paul to write to the Romans, "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you--that is that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mind" (Rom 1:11-12). Our common Christian faith is to bring us together above everything else and cause us to give encouragement to one another. The true gospel and the true gospel alone must be our primary focus--as Martyn Lloyd-Jones emphasized so well at the height of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century.

It is our knowledge and love of God and the Lord Jesus Christ which transforms our relationships with one another. As Jesus taught, it is those who obey the gospel who are His true "mother and brothers" (Matt 12:49). The family of God outstrips all our other allegiances and affiliations. This includes our allegiance to a political party or ethnicity. Identity, and therefore unity, in the New Testament is almost always linked to the fact that we have been united to Christ in faith through the gospel. This is surely Paul's argument in Galatians 3:26-28, where the Apostle wrote,

"For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Paul was not insisting that these other identities do not matter (indeed he makes a great deal about Jewish identity in Romans 9-11 and male and female identity in Ephesians 5); rather, he is highlighting the fact that these identities are inconsequential when it comes to our standing in Christ. Nor should they be the primary emphasis in matters of Christian unity and fellowship with one another. This is also Paul's point in the second half of Ephesians 2, but I am not going to belabor the point.

On the flip-side, the gospel is also an equal-party offender. Paul's point in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is crystal clear. Both Jews and Greeks were confronted by the message of the cross because it grated against their pre-conceived expectations of God--the Jews could not stand that their messiah could die the death of one cursed by God and the Greeks thought it foolishness that a powerful God would allow himself to be abused and killed. But the message of the gospel, "to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks" is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24). This is why it is a travesty if our local church congregations do not reflect the ethnic diversity of our surrounding communities. For example, an ethnically monolithic church in a diverse geographical community is an affront to the unity the gospel produces among believers. For God is also an equal party elector and Savior. I could say a lot more here, but I think the point is made. The gospel is meant to break into diverse communities and bring a united people together who, by the world's standards, are not supposed to be united.

The New Testament Mission of God

The second principle of New Testament unity is a resolute focus on the mission of Christ. Christ charges us to "make disciples" through the proclamation of the gospel (Matt 28:19-20). Paul emphasized over and over again the necessity of gospel preaching in cultures, rife with issues of injustice (e.g. 2 Tim 4:2, Tit 1:3). It was this focus and the spiritual battle against the forces of darkness, which oppose this mission, which united the Church together.

In our day, many issues of justice such as abortion, slavery and human trafficking, or the treatment of refugees are important...very important. But they are not the primary mission of the Church. Nor are those issues what the Church is to be united around. Not that the Church cannot speak to those issues or that individual Christians cannot engage those issues of injustice with great success, but cultural transformation is not the primary mission of Christ's Church.

In the pages of the New Testament we discover that the early Church rallied around its primary mission, which was and is the proclamation of the gospel. As Christ's Church we have been commissioned with the most important mission in history. It is Christ's mission. And this mission demands all of our effort and energies as well as our unity in the gospel. We also have the most formidable enemy that has ever existed: Satan himself. Satan would love nothing more than for Christ's church to be divided against herself arguing about privilege, power, and political affiliation. Such discussions, in light of our daunting mission, are like stopping to debate about who is holding the fire hose and who is cranking the ladder in the midst of a five-alarm fire. We can be sure that when the Church leaves her primary mission behind and leaves her flank exposed in division that Satan is rejoicing.

When We Sin Against Each Other

Even when we are unified in our identity in the gospel and thoroughly engaged in Christ's mission, there will be times when we sin against one another. Christians will inevitably offend, and sadly sometimes grievously hurt, one another. Sometimes we offend even when we do not intend to do so. This leads to the third principle of Christian unity. Believers are called by God to relentlessly love one another. 1 Peter 4:8, Peter says, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins." Our love for one another is an overflow of Christ's love for us (1 John 4:7). Our hearts are to overflow with love for one another inn such a way that our "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). We are to think the best of one another and we are to be quick to extend forgiveness to one another (Col 3:13). This is key to our preserving the unity that we already have in our mutual union with Christ.

There is no room in the Church for harboring bitterness against a fellow Christian. There is no room for demanding that wrongs be repaid or 'reparations' be made--as some have recently been suggesting. There is no room for continually harboring doubt and distrust towards those who indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. Rather, we should be defined by a spirit of love and forgiveness. This love for one another, even when wronged, is what will stun our embittered culture.

In our divided culture, unity in the Church will be only nurtured and maintained, using the methods and principles that Jesus and the Apostles have outlined for us in the New Testament. If all of the members of our churches would commit to holding fast to our unifying identity in the gospel, relentlessly engaging in Christ's mission of gospel proclamation, and being clothed in Christian love for one another, our churches will be those that effectively maintain unity. These bodies of believers, from diverse backgrounds and idealogies, will serve as beacons of unity in a divided world. I'm hopeful that the Holy Spirit will do a great work among us to this end. This is our time and our opportunity to maintain and model unity God's way.

Compromising the Truth in Love (of Self)


I fear that much, if not most, counseling in churches hurts people more than it helps them. Why would I say that? I say it because pastors want to be liked and perceived as caring shepherds. Often, that fact overrules the need to push back against what the person perceives to be their problem in order to challenge what needs to be changed in their thinking and actions. There are often long-standing underlying patterns of non-biblical responses to people and circumstances that must be exposed.

People rarely rightly identify their problem. What people perceive to be their problem is often not their actual problem. It usually takes time, effort, and intrusive questions to get at the real problem. In other words, effective discipleship counseling almost invariably involves pushing back at what the person thinks their problem is. Even when this is done with gentleness and respect, it is often met with a sense of offense and outrage.

Herein lies the problem. People come to be counseled assuming that you will accept their self-definition of their problem. If you do so, you will invariably give them advice that does not help them. Often, such advice will make their problems worse rather than better, but they will leave thinking of you as kind, caring, and compassionate. If you push to get at their real problems you'll often be labeled unkind, harsh, and an uncompassionate shepherd. In fact, some people will get mad, leave the church, and find a church down the road where a staff person will be glad to superficially console them.

Every church has to decide whether or not they are really trying to help and disciple people or are they simply a public relations firm, maintaining the brand and image at all costs. Sadly, it is often the superficial pastors and staff, consumed with image and perception, who are often outwardly applauded as being kind and caring shepherds. This applause comes even though they are neglecting the real problems of the sheep and doing them real harm.

Some time ago, I met with my staff to tell them we are going to be loving truth-tellers in counseling because we are called to be disciple-makers, not self-promoters. I made it clear that we often have to risk making people mad in order to really help them and if they made someone mad by loving them enough to tell them the truth I would stand behind them. Not long after this meeting, a young adult came for counseling with one of our pastors. She explained the people who were, in her mind, the problem (the issues were normal disagreements and mildly unkind comments) and asked for help in dealing with these people.

After attempting to get to the heart of the matter, the pastor told the young adult that he didn't think these other people were her primary problem. He explained that most people go through the kinds of conflict they were describing in relating to other people. He suggested to the one being counseled that she should consider she might be the problem because she had been responding to almost every situation in a highly self-referential way. The pastor suggested they should develop a plan to cultivate humility and an others-centered focus.

His redirection of the problem was not well received. The young adult got angry and suggested that the pastor was insensitive and victim-blaming, stormed out, knocking a few things off the desk on the way out. The pastor came to me and recounted what happened and said, even though what he said was true, he felt terrible about how the session ended. I asked him if he said what he said gently and out of love, he assured me he did. I told him the only way the young adult could be helped was by the truth and we committed to pray for the person. A few weeks, later the young adult showed up again at the pastor's office. This time to apologize and to say he was right and now wanted to be discipled regarding these issues. He connected her with a disciple partner and I am pleased to report a very positive life transformation in that individual's life.

I mention that situation to ask what would have happened if the pastor had just accepted the young adults self-definition of the problem out of self-protecting image managing? The person's life would have been made worse, and the needed humility would have been neglected rather than cultivated. As long as the counselee kept the problem defined as external, she could avoid the needed personal growth. I fear that too many pastors and staff are willing to leave people in their sinful attitudes because they love temporary peace and personal reputation more than they love the one being counseled. And more importantly, more than they love Christ who gave them the authority to counsel in His name.

Jesus is Lord of all, including discipleship counseling in His churches. The rich, young, ruler asked Jesus, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). If Jesus had simply given him something simple to do, he would have gladly done it and would have been full of joy and great thoughts about Jesus. The problem is that it would have been empty joy because he would have been deceived with false assurance about eternal life. Mark tells us, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mark 10:21). He loved him enough to confront his real problem, a lack of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The text tells us "he went away sorrowful," but that was what love demanded. It was the only way the rich, young, ruler could be confronted to repent and believe so that he could know real joy and assurance of eternal life.

Our churches are to be outposts of the kingdom of Christ, engaging in spiritual war, discipling in the name of King Jesus, for His glory and the advance of His kingdom. They do not exist to create and protect the brand and image of pastors and staff. Every time we in the church tickle itching ears, not just in the pulpit (2 Tim 4:3), but also in the counseling room, we add to the darkness as those who are "swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power (2 Tim 3:4-5). Paul's admonition is to "Avoid such people" (2 Tim 3:5), even when their office door says pastor or church staff.

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

Identifying Our Identity


At present, two popular--yet antithetical--positions about sexuality and identity exist within the orthodox Christian community. In their recently book Transforming Homosexuality, authors Denny Burk and Heath Lambert identify these as the traditional and neo-traditional positions. Both of these positions exclude from acceptable Christian behavior sexual acts that are outside of Scriptural marriage between one man and one woman. Also, both sides should acknowledge that even if they see the other side as wrong, they are Christian brothers aiming to work out a practical and biblical theology to minister to same sex attracted individuals.

So what is the major difference between these positions? Those in the neo-traditional camp believe that sexual acts performed with the same sex are wrong, but that people who have these attractions should not think of the temptation, in and of itself, as sin. Many of this perspective would accept the modern language of sexual orientation, even going so far as saying one can be a "Gay Christian" or "a Christian who happens to be gay." The orientation then is neutral, or even positive, as Wesley Hill states that those of a gay orientation have a way to "harness and guide its energies in the direction of sexually abstinent, yet intimate, friendship...being gay and saying no to gay sex may lead me to be more of a friend to men, not less."1 One's sexual orientation, in that case, is to some degree affirmed as a platform for unique and special spiritual fruit.

This way of viewing sexuality and Christian living has grown in popularity in the Evangelical world that has sought to engage those who experience sexual attraction to the same sex. One must at the very least be thankful for engagement with same sex attracted persons. Many remember a time when the majority position was mere rejection and disgust at those who wanted to learn about Christ but confessed these attractions. Thus, this camp wishes to say: "You can be a celibate Gay Christian, or be a Christian who happens to be gay and celibate."

The traditional view has major problems with this view, as will become evident. For those of the traditional understanding, not only is the act to be considered sin, but the desire and internal temptation itself is something to be repented of, not a means of special spiritual fruit.

The neo-traditional approach is thus at odds with the traditional and confessional understandings of the doctrines of original sin, concupiscence, and repentance.

For instance, The Westminster Confession of Faith (and its cousins the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration of 1658) in chapter 6.4 and 6.5 states that original sin is "original corruption, whereby we are...inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions..." and that corruption as well as the act "are truly and properly sin." This means the desires to sin themselves are properly understood as sin. It is a sin to be tempted to sin, when that phrase is understood to mean an internal temptation of desire towards that which is a violation of God's law.2

The Westminster, Savoy and London Baptist Confessions did not invent this conception of sin, but we see it both in Church history in the Augustinian doctrine of "concupiscence", but also in the text of Scripture itself in the Pauline doctrine of "the flesh," (Romans 7, Ephesians 2, Galatians 5, etc) in James' explanation of temptation by way of internal lust (James 1), and Jeremiah's statement of the depravity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Finally, our Lord tells us that the sin of adultery is committed not merely by outward act only, but in our heart and with our eyes (Matthew 5:28).

This difference in identifying the desires, and not merely the acts, as sin is not mere semantics. It has profound consequences in how we address the person who desires to live the Christian life who has experienced same-sex attraction. When we are called to repentance, are we called to merely do different things or to desire different things? How you answer that question will determine how you counsel practical application of our battle against sexual sin.

Think of this firstly in how you counsel a man who confesses a common temptation of sex outside marriage with women he works with, socializes with, or sees at church. As a pastor should you counsel a man to harness his sexual energies to be more of a friend to women and have an identity as a lustful Christian? Or ought he be encouraged to mortify, kill, that desire for a sexual mate besides his wife, and affirm his identity in Christ as a hedge against his adulterous desires? One hopes all Christian pastors and counselors would attack the lust, and remind the Christian of their identity in Christ, that they are not to be discouraged by their sin, or embrace their lusts for good purposes, but to embrace their placement in Christ as their sole identity even while he struggles with sin.

Certainly, there is a place for identifying what we struggle with. We claim to be simultaneously sinners and saints. But we are saints in status, even while sinners in constitution. To identify solely as Christian, as in Christ, as declared righteous is not to deny sin in our lives, but to be able to fight against it. We fight against our fallen nature with what God has remade us to be. Can you be a Christian that struggles with same sex attraction? Yes. In fact, being a Christian means you struggle with sin rather than surrendering to it. Only a living thing struggles, only a born again saint struggles with sin. But we are no longer identified by our sin. Then should you identify as a gay Christian? No. For the same reason you should not identify as a stealing Christian or greedy Christian or lying Christian. Such a label confuses status with composition.

There is a better energy to harness in our sanctification. That energy is the Spirit as He cements our identity in Christ. Should we welcome those that come from the gay and lesbian community? We must do so! It is also our duty to remind all men and women of the liberating truth that if one embraces Christ, he or she is not defined any longer by his or her sexual attractions or temptations. Within the list of the condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are those who are identified by their sin including the greedy, sexually immoral, drunks and "homosexuals." But the glorious truth of 1 Corinthians 6:11 is Christians have a new identity: "Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." While Christians may still struggle with each of those sins, our identity in Christ trumps each temptation, and we are no longer identified by our sins and temptations, but by Christ.

There is a great practicality in the doctrine of identity in Christ. The Christian struggling with same-sex lust is told: "You are not weird, or an outcast, or a special sort of sinner. No, you are just like the rest of us, and struggle just like the rest of us. While one person sits in the pew on your left with active struggles against gossip, the person in front struggles against pornography, the one in back of you struggles with greed, and the one on the right struggles with pride. None of them are identified by their sin, but identified in Christ. You can be assured that we are not heterosexual or homosexual Christians, nor divided between lying and prideful Christians, but united as Christians who struggle against sin, and struggle to mortify it together and grow more and more into the likeness of Christ, whose name we carry."

All Christians struggle with sin throughout their lives here; but, that sin does not define us. Our lapses with sin do not define us. Christ alone defines us. He shares his title to a believer with no other, excepting the Father and Spirit, whose name we were sealed with in our baptism. (Matthew 28:19) This is not semantics. It is the practical theology of our identity in Christ, our doctrine of sin, and our active repentance. Let us dust off the words of John Owen, applying it to all Christians in our sinful corruption, excepting no group from the task as Christians: "Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you."

1. Wesley Hill,Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, (Grand Rapids: Brazos PRess, 2015)pg 81.

2. Some object here that we can never understand temptation as sin because Jesus was tempted and resisted. But while our Lord was tempted externally, because He was free of the effects of original sin in the fall, Jesus did not have the corruption of a fallen nature for this confessional idea of internal corruption and temptation to apply to Him.

Andy Stanley, the Ten Commandments and Jesus


I recently wrote about a sermon that Andy Stanley, pastor of one of the largest churches in America, North Point Community Church near Atlanta, GA, preached titled Aftermath, Part 3: Not Difficult (you can watch it here). In the sermon, Stanley argues that Christians should completely unhitch their faith from the Old Testament. You can read my broad critique here ( but in this article I want to zero in one Stanley assertion that his message to Christians is "Thou shall not obey the Ten Commandments."

Contrary to Stanley's admonition, Jesus does not diminish the Old Testament law or its summary found in the Ten Commandments one jot or title. Rather, Jesus declared that he fulfilled the law (Matt 5:17-20). Therefore, Christians must not reject the law that Jesus fulfilled, but rather embrace it, allowing it, through faith in Christ, to shape how we live. Christians are the only people who can truly live out the purpose of the law. The law was not, and is not, to be thought of as a ladder to climb for salvation. The Ten Commandments reveal the impossibility of our being justified by works of the law and point us toward the fulfillment of the law's demands for us by our Lord and Savior. The Christian does not abandon the law Christ fulfilled but rather abandons love of law as a Savior (Rom 10:4).

Prior to the coming of Christ, the law functioned as a kind of prophecy revealing our need of the true and only law keeper to come. Jesus kept the righteous law perfectly, including the Ten Commandments, and clarified the law's meaning and depth for us. Apart from Jesus we cannot have a right understanding of the law of God or its summary in the Ten Commandments. The ethics of the commandments are a reflection of the character of God. This triune God reveals himself most decisively in his son, Jesus Christ. The moral vision of the Ten Commandments plays a central role in both Old and New Testament ethics.

It is striking that when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in his glory on the mount of Transfiguration that they also saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses was the great law giver and Elijah was the representative of the prophets. Neither Moses or Elijah spoke but rather everyone gathered there heard the father's voice declare, "This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!" Clearly, the point of this awe-inspiring event was not a rejection of the law and the prophets but rather a visual demonstration of fulfillment of them in Jesus. What was written by the very finger of God on tablets of stone would be perfectly fulfilled by the living Word of God, Jesus. As Sinclair Ferguson has beautifully written, "The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker."1

The law in the Old Testament was never meant to be understood as an abstract moral code. The Ten Commandments were given to a people who had already been chosen and redeemed by grace. They do not begin conditionally, "If you will keep the following commandments, I will be your God." Rather, they begin with a statement of saving grace, "I am the Lord your God" and then continue with a recollection of redemption from bondage in Egypt: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (Ex 20:1-2). God's love gave redemption and God's love gave the summary of the law in the Ten Commandments. Through faith in Christ, the Ten Commandments provide Christians a path for enjoying God and living in the freedom he provides.

Whereas the Ten Commandments were the unbeliever's accuser; they become the believer's exhorter toward blessing. Before salvation they threatened and after salvation they provide loving direction. Only the gospel motivates faithful obedience but the Ten Commandments help guide the way toward obedience. Andrew Fuller wrote, "First, to prove that the ten commandments are binding, let any person read them, one by one, and ask his own conscience as he reads whether it would be any sin to break them Is the believer at liberty to have other gods besides the true God? . . . Every conscience that is not seared as with a hot iron must answer these questions in the negative."2

Martin Luther asserted that the Ten Commandments cannot damn one who has faith in Christ, but he also added,

However, the Ten Commandments are still in force and do concern us Christians so far as obedience to them is concerned. For the righteousness demanded by the Law is fulfilled in the believers through the grace and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whom they receive. Thus, all the admonitions of the prophets in the Old Testament, as well as of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament, concerning a godly life, are excellent sermons on, and expositions of, the Ten Commandments.3

What the Ten Commandments teach about how we should relate to the true and living God (commandments 1-4) and fellow image bearers (commandments 5-10) has no expiration date. The Ten Commandments focus on permanent obligations for God's redeemed people. All of the commandments reflect the character and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a reflection of the Ten Commandments; the Ten Commandments are a reflection of Jesus. Thus, Jesus alone perfectly kept the Ten Commandments in thought and deed. Christ's person and work were not a reaction to an unrelated law code but rather Jesus, the eternal word become flesh, fulfilling his own personal word as the King of the cosmos--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To honor Jesus as Lord, we must honor his word.

Let's be perfectly clear, detaching oneself from the Ten Commandments is detaching oneself from the words of Jesus. To know the God of the Ten Commandments is to know Christ. As Paul explained to those justified by faith alone in Christ alone, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully" (1 Tim 1:8). Luther sums 1 Timothy 1:8 up well, "To sum up all of this: Use the Law as you wish. Read it. Only keep this use away from it, that you credit it with the remission of sins and righteousness. ... Good works are necessary and the Law must be kept, but the Law does not justify."4


1. Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2016), 178.

2. Andrew Fuller, (1988). "The Moral Law the Rule of Conduct to Believers: A Letter to a Friend," The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions--Miscellaneous, J. Belcher, Ed., Vol. 3 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988) 585.


3. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, vol. 22, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, eds. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 38-39.


4.  Martin Luther, Luther's works, vol. 28: 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Corinthians 15, Lectures on 1 Timothy, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds., (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999) 231-232.


Imagine There's No Hell

At the Desiring God 1990 Pastor's Conference, Sinclair Ferguson gave a talk titled, "The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment." It is, without doubt, one of the most significant treatments of the doctrine of hell that I have ever heard. At the outset of that lecture, Ferguson told the following story: 

"A number of years ago, certainly within the lifetime of all of us present in this room, one of the royal princesses of the realm coming out of a cathedral service in England spoke to the dean of the chapter of the cathedral, and said to him, 'Is it true, dean, that there is a place called Hell?' To which the dean apparently replied, 'Madame, the Scriptures say so, Christian people have always believed so, and the Church of England confesses so.' To which she responded, 'Then in God's name, why do you not tell us so?'" 

If the princess' sentiment was an adequate reflection on the preaching in churches in the Western world so many decades ago, it is certainly true of preaching in the church today. Despite a paucity of biblical preaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment, there remains no shortage of attacks on the idea of preaching about the doctrine of hell. Carving out a caricature of conservative Southern pastors, Andy Stanley recently sounded off about his aversion to the idea of preaching about hell. He said: 

"Have you ever heard preachers (well, you have if you grew up in the South)...have you ever heard preachers rant about sin? It's like they're angry at sinners, they're angry about sin, they're just judgmental--they're angry at sinners and happy about hell (audience laughter)? That's Old Covenant thinking that leaked in. That's mix and match. That's an Old Covenant prophet railing against the nation of Israel, "And God is going to judge you," "And God is going to get you." It's Old Testament. It's Old Covenant. In the New Covenant, do you know what we discover? That sin doesn't make God angry." 

I'm not sure what's worse--the fact that Andy Stanley tagged every minister who happens to be Southern, who hates sin and who preaches about eternal punishment as an angry, judgmental bigot who loves hell or that he threw the Old Covenant prophets in the same basket. 

Whatever one may think about his statement, it is clearly en vogue, in our day, for false teachers to mock the biblical teaching on eternal punishment, every chance they get. The mocking of eternal punishment became something of a trend among former evangelicals when Rob Bell responded to the insistence that Ghandi was in hell back in 2011:

"Gandhi's in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?" 

The irony is that while Bell was subtly denying the idea of a place of eternal punishment altogether when he utilized his series of rhetorical questions, he was simultaneously affirming the reality of the existence of such a place. As John Lennon suggested, denying the reality of hell is "easy if you try." But that's the point, isn't it? You have to try and imagine there isn't a place of eternal punishment in which the justice and wrath of God is displayed on the unrighteous for all of eternity, precisely because there is such a place. Which is what makes Stanley's statements so perplexing. It's as if he believes that God somehow did away with a place of eternal punishment--a place that he, at one and the same time, seems to affirm existed prior to Christ coming into the world to saved his people from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). 

A few days ago, Rachel Held Evans took to Twitter to mock an important point that Tim Keller made about eternal punishment and the cross. Keller had written, "Unless you believe in Hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you." Clearly missing the theological import of Keller's statement, Evans responded, "I will never understand a worldview in which one's security in Christ is dependent upon the eternal torture of millions of men, women, and children in hell. 'Well at least it's not me' is not a faith rooted in love, but a faith rooted in selfishness and fear.'" Though a terribly twisted misrepresentation of the intent of Keller's statement, Evans is correct about this much: the issue of the importance of the doctrine of hell is the issue of security in Christ. In other words, "From what does Jesus save us (secure us)? and "For what does Jesus save us (secure us)?" If we don't know the biblical teaching about that which Jesus saves us from, we will never adequately begin to grasp the greatness of the love that compelled him to die to secure that which he saves us for

The other issue that Evans fails to see is that Keller, in highlighting the love of Christ, is emphasizing the conjunction of justice and mercy in the death of Christ. In Cur Deus Homo, Anselm--the great eleventh century theologian--captured the essence of this conjunction when he He wrote: 

"The mercy of God, which seemed to disappear when we considered the justice of God and the sin of man, is so great, and so consistent with justice, that we can think of nothing greater or more just. For what can be conceived more merciful, than, when the sinner has been condemned to eternal torments, and has nothing by which to redeem himself, God says, 'Take My Only-begotten Son, and give Him for yourself:' and the Son Himself says, 'Offer Me and redeem yourself?'...Again, what can be conceived more just than that He to whom is offered a Price greater than all the debt, should, if it be offered with the due disposition, forgive the whole debt?"

On the cross, the eternal Son propitiated (i.e. removed) the eternal wrath due to those who have sinned against the eternal God by himself falling under that wrath and suffering the equivalent of eternal punishment in the place of his people. We will never begin to adequately understand Jesus' cry of dereliction on the cross, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me" (Matt. 27:26), until we come to terms with the fact that we deserve to be forsaken by God for all eternity on account of our sin (Matt. 25:46). After all, one sin against an eternal being necessarily has eternal consequences. We will never understand what Jesus experienced when he said, "I thirst," until we first hear what he said about the rich man in torments in Hell (Luke 16:24). Jesus warned repeatedly about the reality of eternal punishment under the figure of being cast into "outer darkness" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). As J. Gresham Machen once noted, "These words were not spoken by Augustine, or by George Whitefield, or by Jonathan Edwards, but by Jesus of Nazareth."

If there is no hell then there is no need for the atoning sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. If there is no hell, we should draw the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul drew when he put forward the logical implications of the resurrection: "If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Cor. 15:32)! If there is no eternal punishment, then there is no magnification of the love of God. As the Apostle explained in Romans 5:8-10, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." If there is no eternal wrath of God removed by the blood of Jesus then there is no eternal love of God demonstrated in the death of Christ. 

If we are to faithfully herald the love of Christ which passes knowledge, we must faithfully and compassionately herald the wrath of God which passes comprehension. We don't help anyone see their need for the eternal life and blessedness that comes to us by faith alone in Christ alone, if we deny, downplay or disregard the reality of eternal death and destruction that we deserve on account of our sin. Far from being judgmental or selfish, preaching about eternal punishment in order to magnify the grace and mercy of God in Christ crucified and risen is the most loving, compassionate and God-honoring thing a minister can do. May God raise up a generation of pastors and preachers who will faithfully proclaim the wrath to come in order to hold up the One who died to save his people from that wrath.

When Your Child Sins, Good News!


Too often, parents respond to their child's sin by focusing on how our child is letting them down. They make it clear that the child is failing to live up to the family standard of righteousness. Such an approach fails to clarify God's standard of righteousness and fails to pave the way for clarity about the good news of salvation. Uncovering a child's sin provides a strategic opportunity for the Christian parent to say something like, "You sinned. I am not surprised by your sin. The Bible calls your sin ________. I have sinned too, but I have been forgiven of my sins by faith in Jesus Christ, and I am praying that the discipline you receive will remind you that sin has consequences and that you need to seek forgiveness in Jesus Christ."

Framing discipline in an anti-gospel way places children on a performance treadmill. Their lives are based on meeting your expectations. And the only outcome of that approach is defeat and despair. Conviction of sin will bring no joy. It will only bring shame because they will reason, "I have failed my parents who thought I was a good person. Now, they know I am not a good person because I have these thoughts and act this way. I must be worthless." Constant accusation without the gospel is hellish, not holy.

As Christian parents, we need to make sure our words and actions match our doctrine when we discipline our children. Every instance of parental discipline is a strategic opportunity to expose our children's true identity (and ours too)--sinners who need a Savior. That is what is so powerful about gospel-focused discipline. When a parent clarifies the sin, points to the gospel, administers the discipline, and then embraces the child joyfully and forgivingly by declaring, "I love you no matter what!" the child gets a small taste of the glorious and absolute freedom offered in the gospel (Gal. 5:1).

Christian parents often fall into the trap of merely parroting the culture's expectations for our children's lives. We often raise our kids based on the same things non-Christian parents value rather than anything distinctively Christian. We are called to love God by loving our children, but too often we love the idea of raising (culturally) successful children. Seeing a child meet cultural expectations can easily become the way parents validate themselves.

Christian parents who base parenting decisions on other people's perception of them and their family's social standing are tragically treating their children like props in a public relations campaign. Faithful, cruciform, Christian parenting demands an intentional commitment to take every parenting thought captive to obey Christ and embrace distinctively Christian, gospel-focused aspirations.

In Ephesians, Paul declares that the triune God is at work in heaven and on earth summing up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). Like all things, Christian parenting is to be summed up in Christ. This means that there is a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, and cruciform distinctness to faithful Christian parenting. Our parenting must create a culture in our home where the gospel is becoming more intelligible, or we will inevitably design a culture where the gospel is becoming unintelligible. Failure to cultivate a gospel-filled home will yield children who may speak the language of the Christian faith but are saturated in the wisdom of the world.

Worldliness is not a word that Christians use much anymore. According to Paul, worldliness is defining the world outside the lens of the gospel. It comes packaged in both conservative and liberal morality. While worldliness can sometimes come with bad manners, it can easily come with good manners too. Our goal must be to teach our children that the gospel redefines every category in their lives (2 Cor 10:5). It gives them a new lens through which to see the world.

The dividing line between the Christian and the world is not found in moral superiority, but a crucified Messiah. We are all guilty sinners in need of a Savior. Consequently, we cannot discuss our child's behavior on the world's terms and simply tack Christianity on as an addendum to the discussion. The Christian parent's goal is not good kids--it is gospel kids. The Christian parent's goal in discipline is not low-maintenance, well-mannered children, but gospel proclamation.

When the apostle Paul declared, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified," he was not suggesting that the cross of Christ was the only thought that ever entered his mind, nor was he saying that he tacked on some commentary about Jesus' death to every dialogue (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was contending that the power and wisdom of God on display in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ served as the only proper frame of reference for every single thought.

So how should committed Christians think about and react to sin in the life of their children? The pattern begins with confronting the child about their sin. Following this, we must learn to explain to our children that they are praying that God will use the discipline to teach them that they need to ask forgiveness for their sin. Gospel-focused parents teach their children that sin is a heart problem and has consequences. They point to the gospel as the only ultimate answer and thank God for another strategic gospel opportunity. After all, that is a Christian parent most important job.

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

A Time to Listen, A Time to Speak


In recent days, social media has been inundated with podcasts, articles, and videos in which individuals have sought to speak to the issues surrounding ethnic tensions and relations. While there has been much controversy, there has also been growing hostility and contention regarding ethnic strife within American conservative evangelical churches. In this post, I wish to briefly address those who may be reticent about discussing this topic publicly.

First, we need to be honest about the true state of affairs regarding ethnic tension within our society in general. It is certainly true that there has been substantial progress over the past fifty years regarding the protection of minorities under the law and in the public perception of racism. However, there are still many layers of stereotyping and prejudice that affect interpersonal relationships among ethnic groups. Some of this can be explained by ignorance, but at the heart of this, there is genuine enmity between different ethnic groups, which has consequences within American society. This is not merely white racism towards minorities; this also involves the perception of white southerners among minorities. Within the church, this manifests itself in the lack of openness, uneasiness, and mistrust between various ethnic groups.

Striving for Unity

Second, we must acknowledge that the New Testament only addresses this topic within the context of the Church. The major source of ethnic tension in the Scriptures is centered around Gentile-Jewish relations and Paul spends a great deal of time addressing this topic. Central to Paul's discussion in Ephesians is the unity of the Church. From Paul's perspective, the glory of the gospel is that there is one Church composed of Jews and Gentiles. Thus, two groups who were formerly hostile to one another have been brought together through the blood of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). This unity is the basis behind Paul's exhortation to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (cf. Ephesians 4). Therefore, our fundamental identity is in Christ and any philosophy that seeks to undermine that source of our unity in Christ strikes at the heart of the gospel. It is our common fellowship in Christ that calls us to love all of our brothers and sisters in Christ - regardless of the social strife that may exist. Therefore, if we are truly "people of the Book," then we must be willing to address this topic in light of what Scripture teaches.

Third, do not believe the notion that there is only one approach in dealing with how ethnic/social strife ought to be dealt with in the Church. Contrary to popular belief, there is no direct New Testament teaching on how ethnic strife should be addressed outside the Church beyond the call to love our neighbor. There is the issue of ethnic strife among the widows in the early church, resulting in the formation/reorganization of the diaconate (Acts 6). However, there is no single answer to every form of ethnic strife in the New Testament. In general, we may agree on what we should do (i.e. love our brothers and love our neighbor), but we do not always agree on how that should be done (i.e. the manner in which we demonstrate this love in tangible social and ecclesiastical ways). Since the specific methodology is not given to us in the Scripture, American evangelicals tend to have two approaches: (1) use vague inferences from theocratic Israel or the New Covenant church, or (2) use social science research and/or methodologies from prior historical movements to address it. There are obvious pros and cons to each of these approaches.

A Time to Listen and a Time to Speak

When we come to the matter of speaking to the issue of ethnic strife/division, we must remember the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism on the 9th Commandment. According to Question 144, the ninth commandment

"requires that we maintain and promote truthfulness in our dealings with each other and the good reputation of others as well as ourselves. We must come forward and stand up for the truth, speaking the truth and nothing but the truth from our hearts, sincerely, freely, clearly, and without equivocation, not only in all matters relating to the law and justice but in any and every circumstance whatsoever. We must have a charitable regard for others, loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good reputation as well as regretting and putting the best light on their failings. We must freely acknowledge their talents and gifts, defending their innocence, readily receiving a good report about them and reluctantly admitting a bad one. We should discourage gossips, flatterers, and slanderers; we should love and protect our own good reputation and defend it when necessary..."

We must let these words sink down into our ears. Many individuals have contacted me privately in order to express that they strongly disagree with the trajectory of the accepted conclusions on ethnic strife, but are afraid of being slandered for speaking out on it--since slander and vitriol often ensue when someone speaks out about his or her concerns. It is perfectly understandable why people would be reticent to speak up; but, as Christians, we are called to truth-telling individuals. We are called to be people of conviction who will not allow falsehood to thrive, if we believe that falsehood is being propagated. As the Larger Catechism teaches, we must come forward, stand up for truth, and stand publicly alongside those who proclaim the truth, in spite of the consequences. This usually means that we need to forego politeness and we ought to speak frankly with one another about what truly matters.

It's important to state that there is a necessary time for quietly listening, reflecting, considering, and thinking about these issues. However, there is an appropriate time to speak. When it comes to matters of "racial reconciliation," the refrain that has been loudly promoted since the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012 is that white southern evangelicals need to sit down and listen to their non-white brothers. The hysteria on social media regarding this topic has drowned out many balancing and stabilizing voices and has ultimately muted others. Many have sought to take time to listen. Is there not a time at which it is necessary for us to express differing opinions? Is there not a time for us to speak clearly, sincerely, and lovingly to our concerns?

When the most extreme voices have the microphone, many have operated by "charitable assumptions." believing that the tone of the rhetoric would come down. However, the tone has not sobered in six years; rather, some seem to be greatly angered and emboldened. How long can those of us who are concerned with what is being said about how ethnic strife should be handled in the church live silently with "charitable assumptions"?

Is It Worth It?

Some say that this discussion isn't worth their time. I certainly understand that reaction as well; but, this is not a matter on which Christians may remain neutral. This discussion illustrates a fundamental disagreement on the basic implications of the gospel. Some have said that racial reparation is part of the gospel. This is no longer a fringe discussion, but it has begun to fracture churches. If we believe that the solutions being offered are worse than the actual problems we face, then we must speak about it.

For those who have been reticent to speak up, may I ask you some questions: If you really believe that the purity of the gospel is at stake, is it not worth defending the gospel? Are you concerned that the gospel is being repackaged and redefined to make it more palatable to our current media agendas? Are we choosing not to speak up because we are still pondering these matters? Or are we refusing to speak out because we lack courage? Are we giving public and private encouragement to those who are confronting these issues? Are we tolerating a matter that we should be condemning and warning others about? To conclude, consider the words of the Apostel Paul,

"For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully" (2 Corinthians 11:2-4).

Gabriel Williams (Ph.D., Colorado State University) is assistant professor of atmospheric physics at the College of Charleston. He writes at The Road of Grace. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the College of Charleston.

Being Apologetic About Jordan Peterson


If you have been previously unaware of Jordan Peterson's existence and the discussion surrounding him, worry no more--the evangelical blogosphere has been working overtime to enlighten you. In fact it could be considered a major feat to have missed this debate in its entirety. I tried to resist myself, but the tide of emails, texts, YouTube videos, and blogs overcame the usual defenses.

For the uninitiated, Peterson is a Canadian secular depth psychologist who has been making waves over the last few months for his controversial yet articulate stands on social issues, witty advice, and ability to command any room into which he walks (David Robertson provides a good introduction). Peterson appeals mainly to the growing masses of disaffected young men who tend to struggle with lack of direction and self-worth--men we see all too often in the church today.

Yet some Christians see far more in him than just this. At the celebratory end of the spectrum, a few argue that Peterson represents the archetype of an emotionally intelligent pastor, one who has been strong where our accepted pastoral wisdom has been weak.   At the critical end, some wonder whether Peterson's work is just a thinly veiled application of Nietzsche's transvaluation of values or a justification of pride-as-virtue. That is quite the difference. Which begs the question: what in the world are we to do with the likes of Jordan Peterson?

That evangelicals often reach diametrically opposed evaluations of secular resources is nothing new. Think about Harry Potter or "secular music" or the debates over what media Christians can use. That we keep ending up in widely divergent places on such crucial issues however should at least raise our eyebrows. Perhaps something bigger is going on here. Perhaps such surface level differences signal deeper theological and structural issues in our communities--issues that revolve around how we understand common grace and common ground.

Much ink has been spilled trying to explain why Peterson is so popular with evangelicals. I think I can offer one more reason: Peterson is a respected secular scholar who is affirming important biblical truths in non-biblical ways. This second part also explains why Peterson is so unpopular with some. For example, in his 12 Rules for Life, he comes out in favor of things like corporal punishment in parenting (Prov. 13.24), but argues for this from a common-sense and ultimately authoritarian point of view. As a Christian counselor myself, I find that these kinds of arguments breed inner conflict by affirming the truth in seemingly secular ways. On the one hand, finding a secular voice who affirms Christian values is extremely rare and exciting; on the other, Peterson's methods appear suspect.

And this is where evangelicals usually end up on issues like this: one side voices support for the common grace truth that can be found in a "thing" and the other side protests that the "thing" in view is fueled by basic presuppositions and methodology that necessarily disqualify whatever good can be found in it. It is exceedingly difficult to move beyond these poles once they have been reached. Not only is it hard to do this conceptually (for each position leaves no real room for compromise) but it is also difficult to do this personally. Try convincing a convinced homeschooler that public school options are sometimes acceptable, and vice versa!

On one hand, Peterson advocates for the importance of religion and traditional modes of living, campaigns for sanity in gender roles more courageously and clearly than most celebrity Christians, and sounds curiously biblical on many issues. Maybe he can even teach pastors a thing or two about equanimity, style, and approach. So we should allow our brothers and sisters to voice their tempered support for thinkers like Peterson. Calvin would have had it that way. Speaking on these kinds of people, he says that "so far as they do no harm, they are useful and profitable" and that "Christ declares that we ought to reckon as friends those who are not open enemies."

However, Peterson's worldview is steeped in Jungian archetypal mythology, mixed with a dash of evolutionary psychology. Although he references the Bible, he makes sustained arguments from other religious streams of thought as well. More often than not, Peterson argues from "is" to "ought," using evolutionary developments as guidelines for successful living (cf. Peterson's love for lobsters in 12 Rules). A complete or even moderate buy in by Christians to these principles could end in unmitigated disaster, and we should listen to those brothers and sisters who warn us of this. Calvin faithfully guides as always: "whoever does not assist [in establishing the Kingdom of God] is...opposed to [Christ]." Where secular resources oppose or do not assist the advancement of God's kingdom, at these points they must be opposed themselves.

Categorizing a thinker or system of thought based upon this schema can be exceedingly difficult. Part of the reason for this is that balancing extremes is naturally difficult, as is the task of identifying what constitutes opposition to the gospel. Does a system of thought oppose the gospel, fail to assist its spread, or actually advance it? Peterson is maddening in this regard, for he does all three at times, sometimes even in the same thought!

Perhaps the chief difficulty, however, is our own lack of uniformity of understanding regarding our approach to common grace and common ground in the Reformed tradition. We often (rightly) argue that non-Christian modes of thinking find no common ground with Christian ones. As the non-Christian is diametrically opposed to God in his unrighteousness, so will his thoughts, being born out of the root of rebellion and tainted with sin, end up opposed to God. Of course, the unbeliever will often stumble upon true things, but this is due to God's common grace.

The problem with such a line of reasoning is not the line of reasoning itself--this is perfectly legitimate. The problem is the attitude we so often draw from it; namely, that we must therefore publicly and equally oppose all things non-Christian. This orientation does not actually follow from the insistence that there is no common ground between believer and non-believer. Put another way, opposition of belief does not always necessitate opposition in disposition.

How can this be? First, this is so because it is actually consistent with presuppositional thought. Calling common grace discoveries good is simply saying "Amen!" back to the God who enabled them in the first place. Even more than this, affirming the good and calling out the bad appears to be one of Jesus' favorite ways of engaging the lost. Of the many examples of this, Mark 12.28-34 is the most instructive. After a scribe comes up to Jesus and speaks correctly about the law, Jesus tells him that "you are not far from the kingdom of God." This is a double-edged statement, for Jesus is simultaneously telling this man that there is much good in his thinking and yet that it is not good enough. It is also a brilliant response, for it perfectly balances the call to affirm and challenge non-believing thought.

This does not mean that there isn't a time and place to strongly condemn evil thinking and doing; Jesus does as much in many places. But it is a call to consider the evangelistic import of how we respond to secular resources. Will Jordan Peterson come to Christ if our response to him is exclusively negative? What of his followers? More pointedly, would we have come to God if His response to us had been exclusively negative (Rom. 5.8)?

In The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges tells the story of Henry Trumbull's train ride with a drunkard. Each time the drunkard took a swig, he offered one to Trumbull, who each time politely declined. Finally, the drunkard exclaimed, "You must think I'm a pretty rough fellow." In response, Trumbull said "I think you're a very generous hearted fellow," which then opened a door for him to share the gospel. We can only wonder what kind of opportunities we might gain to speak the hard truths of the gospel to seculars if we just led off with the right foot.

Brian Mesimer is a counselor at the counseling center of First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, SC. 

"The false self is deeply entrenched. You can change your name and address, religion, country, and clothes. But...the false self simply adjusts to the new environment. For example, instead of drinking your friends under the table as a significant sign of self-worth and esteem, if you enter a monastery, as I did, fasting the other monks under the table could become your new path to glory. In that case, what would have changed? Nothing."

So wrote the Trappist Monk Thomas Keating some years ago. Whatever the merits of Keating's own solution to the situation he describes, his analysis of our basic human condition seems spot on to me. Keating understands that licentiousness and legalism represent not only alternative (albeit de facto related) ways of relating to divine law, and so of laying claim to one's inheritance (whether measured in present or deferred beatitude), but also alternative (albeit de facto related) ways of constructing identity, and so projecting an image of one's self both to one's self and to others. Some define themselves by conquest and consumption; others by strict conformity to moral standards of one provenance or another.

The Gospel, by way of contrast and solution to the "false self," bids us find our identity in our participation in the benefits of Christ's person and work for us (forgiveness and renewal), and so in the vast love of God for us which stands behind our participation in the benefits of Christ's person and work. Thereby it simultaneously invites us to forfeit those identities we have so carefully constructed via conquest and consumption or moral conformity (to precepts divine or human).

Recently I've been thinking about the way in which Margery Williams's classic children's book The Velveteen Rabbit (1922) captures this particular dynamic of the Gospel.

The Velveteen Rabbit has, of course, intrinsic worth. He's made of velveteen after all. Velveteen may not be proper velvet, but presumably it beats polyester or mere cotton as far as materials go (disclaimer: I don't actually know what I'm talking about on this score). Similarly, we human beings have intrinsic worth as image-bearers of God. Our image-bearing ontological/functional status should, at least in principle, go some way towards establishing our sense of self-worth as well as the worth of others. But in our fallen (or in the Velveteen Rabbit's case neglected state), the truth about our origin and inherent status rarely suffices to keep the "false self" at bay. The reality is we're wired for relationship, and questions of self-worth and identity inevitably revolve in the final analysis around the reality of whatever relationships (or lack thereof) we find ourselves in. Because sin has severed the relationship that matters most, we end up feeling lost and worthless; hence the quest to establish identity and worth down those paths noted previously.

The Velveteen Rabbit ultimately discovers his own identity -- and so forfeits his own "false self" as well as any false hope entertained of realizing his eschatological end ("realness") through false means -- in the love bestowed upon him by the Boy. The Boy's love doesn't (initially) change what the Velveteen Rabbit is (i.e, a Velveteen Rabbit). But it does impart previously unrealized value and identity to the Rabbit. Similarly, God's love for us doesn't (initially) change what we are by nature, but it does impart a previously unrealized value and identity to us. God's love, in other words, defines us. God's love -- measurable in the lengths that God has gone to in order to rescue us from the guilt and misery of our sin -- bestows upon us the freedom to stop defining ourselves to ourselves and others by our conquest and consumption (on one hand) or (on the other) strict conformity to moral precepts.

But in the end, love not only defines the Velveteen Rabbit; it also transforms him. The Velveteen Rabbit, true to the prophetic word of the Skin Horse (the Velveteen Rabbit's source of inspired truth), achieves realness on a new level by virtue of the love bestowed upon him, even though that love (and so the path to eschatological realness per se) introduces, whether directly or indirectly, considerable pain and sorrow to the Rabbit's life. God's love (and the realization of his love for us in the person and work of Christ) likewise leads to our own transformation (glorification). But, as every Christian knows and numerous New Testament texts conform, the path to glory is paved with pain and suffering (Rom. 8:17).

Of course, all analogies -- including those based on children's literature -- break down in the end. The Velveteen Rabbit's eschatological end necessarily separates him from the Boy whose very love imparted identity and an inheritance to him. God's love, which imparts identity and inheritance to us, draws us into his presence more concretely in the end (which is to say, God is our inheritance). But perhaps enough parallels between the Velveteen Rabbit and the Gospel exist to extend G. K. Chesterton's apology for the "ethic and philosophy of elfland" (and so all that children's stories stand to teach us) to Williams's classic work, even if it the Velveteen Rabbit (1922) slightly postdated Chesterton's comments (Orthodoxy, 1908).

Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?

One of my close friends was telling me about a recent interaction he had at a Reformed seminary with a student who was preparing to go into college ministry. In the course of their conversation, my friend and this seminarian entered in on the subject of sexual sin. This young man insisted that there is no sexual sin that is more heinous than another. My friend pushed back on that idea, explaining to him that the Scriptures and our Reformed Confessions teach otherwise. The young man then gave my friend the common rebuttal, "Jesus talked more about self-righteousness than sexual sin; and, he said that self-righteousness was worse than sexual sin." Ironically, this response only lends support to the idea that some sins are more heinous than others. However, it has sadly become the most common way in which many pastors have recently sought to downplay the severity of sexual sin. Contrary to the current narrative, the Scriptures, the Reformed Confessions and principles of nature teach us that some sins are more reprehensible than others.

Twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus references Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach varying degrees of condemnation for the unrepentant. When he first commissioned his disciples to preach the Gospel to the cities in Israel, Jesus told them, 

"Whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" 

Then, after the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum rejected His words and works, Jesus said to his disciples, 

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes...And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you."

Commenting on Jesus' appeal to Sodom, John Calvin wrote: 

"Christ mentioned Sodom rather than other cities, not only because it went beyond them all in villainous crimes, but because God destroyed it in an extraordinary manner, that it might serve as an example to all ages, and that its very name might be held in abomination. And we need not wonder if Christ declares that they will be treated less severely than those who refuse to hear the gospel. When men deny the authority of Him who made and formed them, when they refuse to listen to his voice, nay, reject disdainfully his gentle invitations, and withhold the confidence which is due to his gracious promises, such impiety is the utmost accumulation, as it were, of all crimes. But if the rejection of that obscure preaching was followed by such dreadful vengeance, how awful must be the punishment that awaits those who reject Christ when he speaks openly!"1

The purpose of Jesus' appeal to Sodom and Gomorrah was not to lighten the sin of those cities. It was to heighten the sin of the cities in which he did his mighty works and wonders. When he wanted to find the most egregious example with which to draw a comparison, Christ appealed to those cities that were engaging in homosexual gang rape and violence. In Israel in Jesus' day, no civilizations were considered to be as far gone as those of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God spoke through the Old Testament prophets about the sin and judgment of Israel and the nations, He often did so by comparing them with Sodom (Isaiah 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer. 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezekiel 16:46, 48, 53, 55, 56; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9). 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 83 captures the essence of Jesus' teaching: 

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? 

A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. 

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 151 explains that the aggravations of offense are based a number of different factors. The first of which has respect to the persons offending. When explaining what they meant when they spoke of "persons offending," the members of the Westminster Assembly wrote:

"If they be of riper (i.e. older) age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others." 

Certainly, no one would take issue with this explanation--at least, not in part. Our society unequivocally acknowledges that it is a heightened offense for men who hold positions of power to abuse that power in order to prey on women for sexual gratification. When God places men or women in positions of power or influence, such individuals have an increased responsibility to use that power for the glory of God and the well-being of others. When, instead, men or women chose to abuse that power for self-pleasing ends, God considers it to be a more heinous sin. This is just one small example of what the members of the Assembly mean when they refer "aggregations" and "aggravations" 

While there is a great deal more to unpack and glean from Westminster Larger Catechism 151, it is important for us to note what the members of the Assembly say in Larger Catechism 152

Q. 152. What does every sin deserve at the hands of God? 

A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserves his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Though some sins are most certainly more abhorent than others--and deserve greater judgment than others--"every sin, even the least...deserves the wrath and curse" of God and "cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ." There are no grounds for anyone to think that he or she is in a better spiritual position than others by nature. We are all, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God (Eph. 2:1-4). Just because we may not have fallen into some particular sin doesn't mean that we are, by nature, more righteous than others. The Scriptures level the playing field, so to speak, at this point. All of us are condemned by the Law of God, by nature, because of our natural depravity (Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:22). Neither does this, in any way whatsoever, give us a license to make light of what we may deem to be "less heinous sin." We cannot, because of Jesus' teaching on varying degrees of judgment, downplay even the least sin in our lives. The same Jesus that teaches us that there are varying degrees of judgment teaches us that if we so much as look at someone to lust after them we have already committed adultery with them in our hearts; and are, therefore, liable to judgment--unless we repent (Matt. 5:28-30). Additionally, we must acknowledge that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of any, no matter what sins they have committed or what sinful lifestyles they have embraced. If men and women will repent and turn to Christ, trusting only in His blood and righteousness, they will be forgiven and redeemed. The blood of Jesus is of such infinite and eternal value that it covers every sin of those for whom it was shed, no matter how atrocious that sin. 

Cultural Myths About Truth and Love


A witness for Christ in any age--and certainly in this present age--requires a prayer-saturated, Christ-centered, Gospel-motivated, Bible-shaped, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying commitment to "speak the truth in love." But this essential command for effective Gospel ministry to both those not yet saved and those already saved is easier said than done. The prevailing tendency is to sacrifice "speaking the truth" in the name of love, or to thoughtlessly speak the truth without love. We cannot truly love without speaking truth truthfully; and we can't speak truth truthfully without loving intentionally and thoughtfully. You can "speak the truth" without loving but you can't "love" without "speaking the truth." To paraphrase a much more able Gospel minister from another age who confronted this issue with a clear, insightful and captivating observation: "Truth without love is barbarity, but love without truth is cruelty" (Bishop J. C. Ryle).

Because speaking the truth is central to an effective Gospel ministry, there is little doubt that Satan will devise as many reasons possible to discourage Christians from either speaking to those living in the death spiral of sin and idolatry; or to distract them from intentionally, thoughtfully and relentlessly loving sinners drowning in the brokenness of a sin-deceived life.

Furthermore, it is equally obvious that if Satan cannot silence the truth, he will attempt to trap us into speaking the truth without love. If he can't stop us from loving, he will entice us to quit speaking the truth. He does this in two ways. First, Satan tempts us to minimize truth with meaningless euphemisms that disguise the horrific consequences and the irrationality and blasphemy of sin. Second, and often even more effectively, he will culturally intimidate us into outright silence in the name of love. Our diminished truth speaking or silence actually reveals that we are more interested in people loving us than we are in them knowing truthfully the love of Christ and being brought into the life-changing blessing of loving the Christ who first loved them.

So Satan--with an insatiable desire to reduce love into deeds that are void of truth or to communicate truth through self-righteous arrogance--today employs five deceptive myths:

Five Deceptive Myths

  1. To love someone, we must initially avoid speaking the truth about sin, the idolatry that produces the sin and its consequences for time and eternity. To love simply requires you to manifest Gospel deeds of love. Do not tell them the truth about sin, even though the love of Christ revealed in the Gospel is directly related to the reality of sin, the sinfulness of sin, and the wages of sin-- which is death.
  2. To love someone you must accept them; and, to accept them you must accept their behavior. At the very least you must be silent about their sin, the rationale for its idolatry, and the lifestyle arrangements created to embrace that sin and affirm it as culturally acceptable--unless and until they give you permission to speak about it.
  3. To love others acceptably we must not simply speak in terms and vocabulary they understand, but only in the terms and vocabulary they approve and dictate (i.e. deceitful world view euphemisms)--e.g. adultery becomes an "extra-marital affair" or "recreational sex" or "hooking up"; homosexuality becomes "gay" or "an alternative lifestyle" etc.
  4. You have not loved someone acceptably unless they approve and affirm the truth you have spoken and the love you have given.
  5. You have not spoken the truth in love unless those to whom you have spoken are drawn to love you in return.

What is the Result?

In the present age the influence of these myths (when they are individually and/or collectively embraced) are almost always initially revealed by "selective truth speaking"--all of which is done in the name of "sensitivity." The result is that many contemporary Christians following their leaders will sacrifice truth speaking in the name of love; yet, amazingly, they will boldly address the sins and prevailing issues that the culture agrees are undesirable. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with speaking to cultural sins (cultural sin and justice concerns must both be addressed, after all). However, though many boldly speak the truth on issues found on the list of "Culturally Approved Topics for Denunciation," there is an astonishing silence about other prevalent issues the Bible clearly identifies as heinous sins. Why the silence? First of all, those who the masses confront are confronted with permission by today's culture shapers. Many suppose that by speaking to these issues the cultural capital of the church will be enhanced. But in contrast, those sins--corporate, cultural, and individual--which are avoided, are the ones that have been declared off limits because they are on the "Cultural Approved Lifestyle List." Even more, those issues on the Culturally Approved Lifestyle List are not only declassified as sins but now are to be celebrated, perpetuated and propagated. This brings us to the crux of the question: is "selective truth speaking" an evidence of sensitivity or is it a lack of courage; is it compassion or is it cowardice?

Multitudes of ministers and leaders are imploring Christians to embrace this "selective truth speaking" as an exalted virtue. For example, the present culture expresses concern about refugees, sex trafficking, racism, and other heinous sins and injustices--and rightly so! Churches and pulpits join the culture's efforts by truth speaking affirming these practices as sins and lovingly instituting ministry initiatives to eradicate these acts of iniquity and minister to the victims. And so we should and must! But by doing so an unassailable fact emerges - leadership is speaking publicly with compassion, courage and conviction. In fact, when pastors speak publicly on these issues, in their sermons and on their podcasts or blogs, people praise them for the very fact that they are being leaders. They should be praised for this.

However, at the same time, many of the voices that speak boldly on these issues are silent in the same public square concerning the agenda of culturally normalizing unfettered sexual eroticism, marital anarchy, and the sanctity of life (among others). In addition to their deafening on these issues - which the culture is now promoting and celebrating - it is now considered unspiritual or unbecoming for the Christian and/or the church to participate in the messiness of bringing the blessings of common grace to the culture by promoting and debating public policies rooted in a Biblically informed public theology for human flourishing.

A Crucial Theological Fact

Often, in all of this, one important theological fact is forgotten. We live in a world that, emphatically, does not desire the love of Christ or the truth of the Gospel. It never has and, apart from the moving of the Holy Spirit; and, it never will. Neither did I, until the grace of God changed my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brought me from death unto life. What did He use? He used believers who spoke the truth in love to me. They did so with varying degrees of sophistication, but praise the Lord they were willing to speak the truth and love me. Now I, as a beneficiary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their courageous compassion, must also speak the truth--lovingly--to those who need me to do so (even if they do not approve me doing so - even if they do not want me to do so)--we still must do so as others did so for me and you.

Final Thoughts

We must seek to speak the truth thoughtfully, timely and with words carefully chosen--even while we create an environment of love for effective communication. If a doctor knows you have a terminal condition and loves you he will not be silent. He will thoughtfully tell you the truth. He will likely take you aside in a private room providing an appropriate environment. Then he will tell you the truth in love and he will love you with the truth. Ministers are physicians for the soul. We know sin brings death and we know God's grace has provided the solution to sin's guilt and power. We also know that God has commissioned us to speak the truth in an environment of love. We cannot be silent about the truth they need to hear in the name of love any more than the doctor could. Nor would we tell them the truth about sin and God's grace in Christ without creating a thoughtful environment of love.

Those who have not yet come to Christ need to hear the truth of His Word spoken from those who will love them sacrificially and intentionally. And those who know Christ but have faltered in their walk for Him need us to love them enough to speak the truth. Those around us need us to deliver truth with a love that demonstrates the astonishing and unstoppable love of Christ and Him crucified.

In a world that has grown increasingly hostile to the truth of the Gospel, it would be easy to fall prey to perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed statements like the one famously attributed to the renowned St. Francis of Assisi: "preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words." Instead, we must preach the Gospel and we must use words because they are necessary. Why? Because God's word tells us that "faith comes by hearing." In a word, we must speak the truth.

Love is essential because it opens the door for truth, affirms the truth and authenticates the truth; but, it is the truth that will "set you free." We are all born with a desire to be approved. But for believers our approval rating does not come from the world. "Do your best to present yourself unto God...handling accurately the Word of Truth."

Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, ALHarry completed his doctoral dissertation on "The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization" and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Churchas well as a number of other published works.

Reformation 500, Social Justice and the Gospel


This year has been a veritable Reformation-fest-- a marvelous celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (1517-2017). Protestants from all over the world have been recounting the amazing events, courageous figures, and key doctrines of the sixteenth- century movement that changed the course of history.

How can anyone tire of hearing stories about the intrepid Augustinian monk from Wittenberg, the one who bravely stood up to the formidable powers of the Roman Empire for the sake of the Gospel? Who wearies learning of John Calvin's compassionate ministry to suffering missionary- pastors in France or John Knox's courageous gospel preaching in Scotland? What about Reformation doctrine? Do the five solas ever grow dull? No way! They point us to the covenant faithfulness of God and the unsearchable riches of our Savior. Reformation 500 has been an encouragement and inspiration.

Like many, I've attended several Reformation 500 events over the last twelve months. The preaching at most of these gatherings has been soul-stirring. Again and again I've been moved by the captivating stories of magisterial Reformers risking everything for the sake of the gospel. I've been reminded of the daring recovery of essential Christian doctrine. I've also been encouraged to hold fast to the ordinary means of grace-- the divinely ordained means of Word, sacraments, and prayer. These unadorned and seemingly foolish means direct us away from a trust in our own person and work to a trust in the all-sufficient person and work of Christ.

There was one Reformation 500 message that I heard, however, that was different from the others. It was troubling both as to its content and tone; and, it did not--in any way whatsoever--communicate the good news of the Gospel. The sermon clearly demonstrated the need for further reflection upon the history and doctrine of the Reformation in our churches.

The following is a tale of two sermons-- a straightforward account of two very different Reformation 500 messages that I heard in the month of October. The sermons were preached by two different preachers with two very different emphases. By comparing the two sermons, I hope to demonstrate that the best way forward for Reformed denominations in general, and the Presbyterian Church in America in particular, is for ministers to commit to the bold and unmistakable preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the whole counsel of God.

The first Reformation 500 sermon that I heard was an exegetically sound and deeply compelling exposition of Scripture. The sermon was on the theme: Solus Christus [Christ Alone]. As the preacher skillfully explained the glory and majesty of Christ, I found myself captivated by the eminence and loveliness of the Savior.

The preacher masterfully set forth the supremacy of Christ. He then wondered aloud how we could ever have a relationship with such an exalted and glorious King. After all, Jesus is so magnificent, so powerful, and so holy; and we are so lowly, so weak, and so sinful. Before answering, the preacher described how the medieval Roman Catholic Church set up buffers between sinners and Christ (e.g. Mary, saints, priests) to relieve the fear of approaching Christ on our own. It was (and is) an erroneous system of co-mediators attempting to shield sinners from a transcendent, unapproachable, and wrathful Christ.

After reflecting upon this pertinent Reformation history, the preacher led us to the mountain peaks of grace as he expounded upon the High Priestly office of Christ. He explained how Christ is the one who offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for our sins on Calvary, the one who possesses bottomless wells of grace for rebel sinners, and the one who invites us by grace through faith into a saving relationship with God. Jesus Christ is the only mediator we need, and he is full of love and compassion for sinners.

Towards the end of the sermon--as the grace, truth, and beauty of Christ were on full display--it felt as though time had stopped. I was meeting Christ in his preached word. He had laid hold of me. I found myself ashamed of my sin and profoundly grateful for my Savior. It's what happens when Christ is faithfully preached.

Getting a view of Christ in the preaching that day motivated me to be a more faithful disciple as it relates to my marriage, family, calling, and outreach to the lost. Encountering Jesus in the sermon confronted my selfishness, pride, and worldly patterns of thinking. I was powerfully reminded that my true identify is in Jesus, and not in my worldly accomplishments, moral strivings, or in the way others perceive me. The sermon was a clarion call to faith in Christ.

The second Reformation sermon that I heard was very different from the first one. Regrettably, neither the gospel nor those who risked their lives to recover it were given attention. No, rather than proclaim the riches of Christ, the preacher delivered a impassioned address on racial injustice in Southern history and modern culture. Instead of focusing on the doctrines, events, and courageous men and woman of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, he presented a discourse on the evils of gentrification, income and wealth disparity, and the systemic injustice of white majority cultures. This individual explained and applied the text he was supposed to be preaching through the lenses of a form of critical race theory. It was an exercise in cultural and sociological analysis, and entirely missed the point of the passage from which he was supposed to be preaching. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the sermon was that in lieu of the gospel, a new law was placed upon the backs of the hearers-- a new and convoluted law requiring social justice and cultural change.

Now, by no means do I want to dismiss the significant problems and serious pain caused by wicked injustices that exist in our (and every) nation's history and culture. Social injustice is as real as it is complex. We should expose and condemn it when we can, in whatever form it might take (e.g. abortion, sex trade, racism, slavery, sexual harassment, etc). Nor do I think it inappropriate for ministers to preach against the sins of our culture, and to bring biblical application on these matters--especially when a text plainly speaks to them. 

By contrasting these two sermons, I am not downplaying the wickedness of social injustice or the need to speak against it. Rather, I'm simply pleading with pastors and churches in the PCA and elsewhere to follow the lead of Christ, the Apostles, and the Reformers to make it a blood-earnest priority to keep the gospel central in our preaching and discipleship. We must not exchange the proclamation of the gospel for moralistic speeches on social justice or any other issue. The church's mission is to make disciples through the faithful proclamation of Christ from the whole counsel of God. Those disciples, actively abiding in Christ, are called to love their neighbors and bear the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is our only real hope for change. Therefore, Christ's saving action, not our social action, must be at the core of the mission and message of the church.

The gospel must never be assumed in our churches. We must boldly and clearly proclaim the gospel from our pulpits, fonts, and tables on the Lord's Day. It must be central in our discipleship ministries. Preaching and teaching the gospel is what the church is called to do. If we do not preach Christ, who will? If we lose sight of the gospel, we will walk down the same road as many mainline denominations who at one point started believing the lie that social activism outweighs the preaching of Christ in both relevance and importance. Vague affirmations of the gospel sprinkled into a spirited message on social justice will not only obscure the person and work of Christ, it will inevitably confuse the mission of the church.

Public and ecclesiastical dialogue on social justice and race have grown tremendously over the past year. It has rapidly increased in my own denomination, the PCA. Some of the discussion has been helpful. But much of it tends to exude more heat than light, and more sociology than sound theology. The purpose of this article, then, is not to expound upon the best way to preach against cultural sins or to explain how the church should be involved in social justice causes. It's to make one simple point: If our churches and denominations are to remain healthy, we cannot marginalize, negotiate, or redefine the gospel.

This year's Reformation 500-fest has served the church well. It has forced Reformed Christians everywhere to remember our rich Protestant and Reformed heritage, and to reflect upon the nature and centrality of the gospel-- the true gospel announcing redemption for wretched sinners through the penal substitutionary death and hell-conquering resurrection of the Son of God. It is that magnificent gospel which must remain paramount in our preaching, worship, discipleship, and mission.

The future health of the church depends on it.

Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is senior minister of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, South Carolina.

Hollywood, Capitol Hill and the Human Heart

As more women bring to light the heinous sexual misconduct of male celebrities and politicians, it would do us good to remember two all-important truths: First, God's word testifies to the pervasive depravity of all men and women (Rom. 3:10-18); and, second, Scripture holds out the universal remedy for sinful men and women--namely, Christ and him crucified. To make this observation is in no way whatsoever to downplay the urgent need we have to protect women from sexual predators and to put punitive measures in place to prevent sexual harassment and abuse of all shapes and forms. It is, however, to highlight that there are dangers associated with the media's fixation on only one or two forms of sexual sin, while neglecting the biblical testimony about the pervasive spiritual depravity of men and women. When depravity is denied, the Gospel is inevitably neglected or rejected. When the Gospel is neglected or rejected, there can be no prospect of forgiveness, cleansing, restoration and renewal--the hope of which Scripture constantly holds forth while bringing indictments against the sin of mankind.  

We ought to welcome an exposure of sexual sin in a culture that has celebrated, embraced and fought for every other conceivable form of sexual sin. However, only highlighting one or two specific forms of sexual depravity will have the inevitable and undesired result of fueling self-righteousness among those outraged by it. When the media singles out one particular sexual sin, while approving almost all other forms, one who hasn't fallen into a socially unacceptable form of sexual sin begins to go on a self-righteous rampage about the sin of others while refusing to acknowledge his or her own depravity. 

There is no outrage in the media about the absolutely hellish nature of pornography and the destructive nature it has on marriages, young people and on society as a whole. As our culture rejects the clear teaching of Scripture, and increasingly promotes and defends polyamorous, incestuous and every conceivable form of androgynous and homoerotic act, we are sliding into a veritable pit of sexual depravity. The media would have us believe that the great problem in Hollywood and Capitol Hill is the problem of power structures that allow men to abuse that power in order to gratify sexual desire. The news outlets may shine an occasional spotlight on the female teacher who engaged in inappropriate sexual relations with an underage student; but, it is men in positions of power that are the chief perpetrators. Nevertheless, it is not power structures that lead male politicians and celebrities or female teachers into sexually depraved acts. If we only focus on nurture, to the neglect of nature, we will ultimately bring about nothing lasting. 

The Scriptures are clear that the problem in Hollywood and Capitol Hill is the problem of the human heart. We are all fallen in Adam (Romans 5:12-21). The guilt and corruption of Adam's sin was imputed to all of his descendants. There is no other explanation for why Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore and Al Franken have done the repulsive things they have done. There is no other explanation for why you and I have done all of the sinful things that we have done. 

When the Apostle Paul set forth the Bible's exposure of our depravity, he explained: "the Scripture imprisoned everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:22). The Scripture exposes sin and confines all men and women under sin's dominion and condemnation so that those who will believe on Christ will come to him for forgiveness and redemption. If all we do is agree with the secular world about the heinousness of one or two forms of sexual sin, and throw our support to the call for accountability and repercussions, we are simply wielding God's Law. However, when we acknowledge the testimony of Scripture about our own pervasive depravity and our need for Christ, we will be all the more ready to extend the hope of forgiveness and cleansing in Christ to those whose depravity has been publicly exposed. This is an opportunity for the church to speak to the culture at a time when the culture is still acknowledging certain forms of sin and depravity. The window may be small, and the moment is passing by quickly; but, if we have eyes to see and hearts that are burdened for the lost, we will seek to seize the moment for the redemption of both men and women around us.  

The Church's Answer to Racism and Sexism


Racist attitudes, bigoted actions, rape, and assault have recently been dominating the news cycle. In the midst of chaos in our culture, the Church has the great answer to racism, sexism, and classism. We have the answer and we are to show it. The world needs our voice and our example.

Paul says in Colossians 3:11, "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." He then provides a list of virtues that are to mark the Christian's life: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." Paul says that we are to forgive one another and love one another. And then in verse fifteen, he asserts, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."

The Christian is to have the peace of Christ ruling his or her heart. Colossians 3:15 has often been misunderstood. Paul is not thinking primarily about how the Christian is to feel. He has in mind our peace in the fellowship of the church. Notice, he qualifies it by "to which indeed you were called in one body." Peace serves as the arbiter in our dealings with one another. It reigns as the umpire. There will be times that difficulties arise in the church, in our community. But when problems arise, the peace of Christ jumps in and mediates. It rules in our community.

When a baseball player hits an infield grounder to the shortstop and he picks up the ball and fires it home just as the runner from third is sliding into home plate, debate ensues. As kids on the neighborhood diamond, we would argue till someone gave up. "He was safe," one would argue. "No, he was out," someone else would contend. That may occur even in the Major Leagues. However, when the umpire steps forward and says, "Safe," the matter is concluded. The dissension is over. When Christ occupies our lives, the peace of Christ will rule our fellowship. It serves as the arbiter. It is the umpire.

I believe Paul especially has in mind the problems that arise from our differences. Peace is to reign here, where the world doesn't know or experience it. We come from different ethnicities, cultures, races, classes, and genders. Yet, our differences are not what mark us. As Christians, we possess the greatest thing in common: Christ is in all of us. "But Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11), so peace rules our hearts and our interactions with one another. Our unity, our regard for others, and our respect for differences should strike the watching world with amazement. "They will know you by your love for one another," our Lord said.

As Christians, we view all people as possessing inherent dignity and worth. From the womb to the grave, they matter. From the streets of Manilla to the Mansions on Park Avenue, they possess worth. But even more than that. In the body of Christ, we bring together Greek and Jew, barbarian and Scythian, poor and rich, black and white, Republican and Democrat. We exist as the most heterogeneous body there shall ever be. Before the throne of God will be those from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Yet, we also exist as the most homogeneous body there shall ever be, because we are all filled with the same Spirit--the very Spirit of Christ. As Christians, we dare not reject one another, look down on one another, or forsake one another because doing so would be to reject, look down upon, and forsake Christ.

Maybe Paul's admonition at the end of Colossians 3:15 is the most helpful, "And be thankful." I love that. Be thankful. For what Paul? For one another. We are not only to love one another, not only are we to forgive one another, but we are to be thankful to God for one another. Thankfulness has a way of engendering peace, developing love, and maintaining unity.

Dear fellow believer, let us manifest the unity for which our culture is searching. The answer lies with us, because Christ indwells us. May we show it to the watching world, so that they can't help but ask, "How do they do it?" And let us be ready with the answer that lies within us.

I Can't Hear You Over All the Name Calling


Lately I have been reading articles by a few Evangelicals who are deeply committed to racial justice.  As I agree and sympathize with much, I do find myself in reaction to some of the things they have said. These ideas, and others like them, spring up from time to time, although often in new phrases and provocative rhetoric.   Some of what they have said is not new, they are echoes of various lines of thinking that have been part of conversations that have been present as long as I have been involved in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.

Ah, you will see I mentioned a word that is part of what is at stake in the conversation, and that is the word "reconciliation."  The phrase "racial reconciliation" is a term that has been at times threatening, revolutionary, and welcoming to people who have been convicted about the racial and ethnic alienation that has been present in our society since the idea of race was constructed to help both Arabs and Europeans feel justified in their exploitation of various nations, namely those nations and ethnicities of color.

This term is also slammed, shunned, and discarded by some as being either misunderstood or misused, and thereby not radical enough in the quest for justice. Some have postulated there can be no reconciliation since we were never unified to begin with, and though this sounds like it might make sense, the idea discards Adam and Eve and Noah as a unified human race, Babel as the dividing of the nations, and the calling of Abraham as a Jew to divide the world into Jews (circumcised) and Gentiles (uncircumcised).  I take that criticism as a cheap rhetorical trick with no logical foundation.  It also seems to accept the postulation of race as a biological reality and not a constructed one.

Some don't like the word "racial" since it was a socially constructed idea to explain "color" in various human beings and to assign them a lower status by white people.  No less a person than John Perkins has recently spoken powerfully against this word since it creates differentiation between people groups, and God is no respecter of persons.  He thinks that our continued use of it perpetuates the differentiation in a negative way.  Nevertheless we all pretty much admit to such realities as "racism" and doing away with the term is not going to do away with racists anytime soon.

Then there is the criticism of the entire phrase as one seen to be preferred by white people because they see it as an individualized process or event and fail (or refuse) to see systemic injustice in the broader society.  One of the writers I read wants only to speak of "white supremacy," and feels that is where the onus belongs, on the white community. I certainly sympathize with the need to see justice as a larger issue than simply our personal bias and prejudice.

White Supremacy

White Supremacy is a term that is searching for some consensus.  It seemed to have a historical context in the teachings of the slave justifiers (even among Muslim scholars prior to the Western slave trade) the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, and going back to Nazi Germany's view of the "Superior Race."   The attempt to dump the guilt of such association  on all white people due to their being in the numerical majority, having inherent white privilege as a cultural majority in a racialized nation, and or being clueless as to what systemic injustice does to people is problematic at best, and frankly, racist at worst.

Let me be clear, as our former president used to say.  I think white supremacists are dangerous, and the belief in white supremacy is the essential building block of intentional white privilege.  In short systemic decisions to deprive people of color of their rights while seeking to maintain those of whites is due to an evil and deceived thinking that being white is superior and something to be maintained by economic, political, and social means.   The use of violence to achieve and maintain racial advantage has often followed soon after, but not all those who agree with this racist ideology or who passively and/or ignorantly go along and enjoy its benefits are people who would engage in violence.

I also believe that racists can be converted and changed, and that the white population that is carried along in the stream of white privilege has a conscience that can be stimulated by truth and justice. This is one of the  historic realities of the power of the Civil Rights movement in our nation, and no matter the mockery by some of the Christian Church the fact is that some of those Christians were touched and awakened to help bring about legal and substantive change in our society.  It did not happen without them.

Political ideologues, in their rhetorical world, are adept at polarizing issues, leaving no middle ground, and thereby marginalizing people who are still learning and still becoming conscious of issues.  In their eyes you are either as radical as they are, or you are the enemy.  Taking and using such political device and rhetoric may sound and read as prophetic, but the question remains as to whether or not it is genuinely Christian?  Some of it frankly is bitter, a bit mean, and seems to take delight in making people feel miserable.

Some of the rhetoric is no better, and serves no other purpose, than name calling.  I suspect some of it is an attempt to feel powerful, a sort of triumphalism, through the use of language. Rhetorical "one ups-man-ship" might make one feel better but I don't think it convinces anybody but one's allies.  Instead of seeking peace, which is a Christian duty, command, and practice, it alienates.  I believe one of the worse things we can do is to use language (no matter how lyrical or artistic) that is confused, opaque, and that causes more misunderstanding and less healing.

One of the realities we live in is that of a demographic white majority in the United States, and lately we are seeing in the white population (both here and in Europe) a strong reaction against and resistance to any changing of that reality through immigration.  White cultural reality is very strong in Evangelicalism, and those minorities which are present in a white Evangelical world are forced to encounter "white normativity." Whether or not white people in majority or whole admit to the presence of other cultural realities in the United States I think "white normativity" is going to be a cultural reality for a long time to come.

Some minority individuals decide that self-segregation is what they would rather pursue for their own cultural comfort, healing, and safety.  They seek an escape from the cultural fatigue and aggravation which seems to be fairly consistent in the education and training of "one more white person," who has only now realized and admitted there are other cultural realities.  If it is not self-segregation it sometimes seems to be an emotional self-alienation with a lot of complaining.

There is a corresponding majority culture reaction by which racial issues are simply shut down, walked away from, or mocked and ridiculed if a white person feels racially aggravated. Too often white people seem to react to racial issues, or even some racial event on the news, as if every mention, achievement, or expressed anger of black folks was taking something away from them.  When that resistance to engaging in a healthy understanding and realization of racism gives up to listening, learning, and hoping then the turn begins; the turn to reconciliation and justice.

The price to pay for real "reconciliation" is high for each of us in our own ethnic and cultural groups and we pay it in different ways.  I believe minorities pay a higher price but it is arrogance to assume others are paying nothing (though they may not being paying the full price yet), it is disingenuous and dangerous to assume it will cost any of us little.  There is both an illegitimate and a legitimate price to be paid. The illegitimate price of self-hatred and complete assimilation into the "other" while discarding our own culture and ethnic identity pays negative dividends in self, family, and community.  There is only one thing worthy of paying the legitimate price of reconciliation (which is a long exposure to misunderstanding, insult, attacks of various kinds, and sacrifice in relationships,) and that is the pursuit of being the answer to the prayer of Jesus; that we might be one.

The argument for expanding the term White Supremacy to include the entire white population (and thus take the onus off of specific political and violent groups) as responsible for systemic injustice seems to negate the idea of personal repentance, and personal relational healing, and declare it to be inconsequential as long as injustice continues. In an attempt to thwart individual evasion of institutional racism it makes the personal repentance of racism meaningless.  We agree that change must be pursued in "loosening the chains of injustice and untying the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke," as Isaiah says in chapter 58:6 Change has to begin somewhere, and more pointedly in "someone." From such individuals justice begins to arise, and it must if the repentance and change is real.

To take the term White Supremacy and make it universal rather than specific to hate groups is to deprive all of us of the vigilance needed to monitor their incipient violence and to be prepared to resist it.  White supremacists must love this universal application and definitive inflation.


I would like to be one of the few voices lifted up to defend the word "reconciliation."  Not only do I like it, want to practice it, and have paid some measure of a price to pursue it, but my bottom line is that I think it is Biblical.  It is a word far greater than race, full of grace and mercy, includes all the Gentiles in the Body of Christ (thus including in its central idea inter-Gentile union), and the Jews, and is one of the soteriological effects of the death of Jesus on the cross.

Reconciliation is not a word to despise for the reason that being personally reconciled (to God or people) does not automatically end systemic injustice, but rather a word that is to be preached!  It is our future hope that Jesus will reconcile all things to himself.  In short, it is a process which God commissioned, a message and a ministry we should all be caught up in and which will not be fulfilled in our lifetimes.

To reject reconciliation, and yes, racial reconciliation, and substitute it with permanent guilt until there is complete systemic change, is defeatist, despairing, unrealistic, and ultimately creates more division.  I think it is better to spell out, and preach out, the price of real and Biblical reconciliation; the cost of sacrificially enslaving ourselves to other groups to win them, the cost of suffering with and for them in a true "becoming" with them.

One phrase that comes up is "white fragility" in the context of conversations about race and injustice. I think I understand the historic dynamic but unfortunately this is a universal human problem, and not simply one that can be assigned to one people group.  It is difficult, as a representative of a particular racial, ethnic, or cultural group, to constantly hear the pathology present in one's own people group carped on by another ethnic group.  Racial conversations are frequently difficult and sometimes feel threatening; the use of blaming and provocative language in the guise of the pursuit of justice (without giving hope) I believe will be self-defeating.

I have seen this reaction in various groups when the issues of public health and social concerns and "pathologies"are listed by race or ethnicity.  Invariably the argument is made to stop blaming those listed as representative of the statistics (from our ethnic group, or our ethnic group a whole) and attack something else; the system, society, and history that has helped to create those problems.  I'm just wondering if you can feel my love if I keep telling you how bad your people are?

Can any of our identified racial groups own any of (their) our peculiar or popular sins? It is no doubt difficult. Will our identified racial groups continue to resist group labeling as insulting and demoralizing?  I have a suspicion that they will, therefore such labeling should be used tenderly, strategically, tactfully, and even lovingly in trying to bring about change.  Every cultural group has particular sins that should bring shame to them, and certainly the white majority in this country has earned much of the shame and guilt that generally they don't like to hear about or embrace.

Guilt, by itself, is an insufficient motivator and is quite often the edge of the blade on which people will either divide into denial, anger, and resentment on one side and admission, confession, and a search for restoration on the other. The preaching of the Gospel always contains the bad news of sinful reality, but it is not a Gospel at all if it doesn't have "good news."

The Gospel, the real Gospel of Christ, is not true to itself if all it does is stick people with guilt and leaves it there.  This is not a way of saying that we shouldn't preach against societal or national sins,  it is a way of saying that with repentance there is forgiveness, there is grace, there is, (watch it, here it comes...) reconciliation.  I see that word as one which has a milestone beginning but continues as a process, both personally, socially, institutionally, and ecclesiastically.

It is progress when any community faces its reality head on, and in humility and courage seeks to change its culture toward righteousness, both personal and social, in its behavior. As the Scripture says in Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people."  Does any of this humility and courage happen without change in individuals?  I would submit that it cannot. Does it suddenly happen generally, culturally, systemically, politically?   While some despise the individual aspect of Christian faith as insufficient for corporate change it is nevertheless a historic (societies and nations have changed) and realistic part of the whole, it just has to be preached (consistently) as a beginning and not an end in itself.

Randy Nabors was the pastor of New City Fellowship, a congregation committed to the African American and poor communities, in Chattanooga, TN from 1976 until 2012. In 2012 Randy began working for Mission North America--the mission agency of the PCA--in order to coordinate Urban and Mercy and to build the New City Network.

[Editorial note: This post originally appeared on Randy's blog and is used with his permission. While it is somewhat lengthier than that which we usually run at Ref21, we believe that the content demands a more careful and developed treatment.]

A Social Savior


As I continue to scan the landscape of Christian social justice activism, that is, social justice-labeled activities that are said to be carried out "in the name of" Christ, I've noticed many Christian activists have a tendency to proffer to the world an image of Jesus that is tantamount to that of a sanctified social worker, a holy humanitarian, an exalted egalitarian.

This visage of Jesus as a "Social Savior" is borne of a proclivity many Christian social justice activists have to leverage the works of Christ as the primary impetus not only for individuals who profess to follow Him to do likewise, but also institutions, such as governments and corporations, so that an equitable, just, and impartial society and world, which they believe Christ envisioned for mankind, ultimately becomes reality.

It is through this paradigm that such works of Christ as healing the centurion's servant (Matt. 8:13), and the blind man (Jn. 9:6-7), and feeding more than 5,000 people on one occasion (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 on another (Mk. 8:1-8), as well as His love for the poor (Luke 6:20) and the oppressed (Luke 4:18), are viewed as evidences that mandate Christians to take upon themselves, in accordance with Christ's words in Jn. 9:4, to " the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work."

This kind of sanguine worldview may seem admirable, perhaps even virtuous, to some, especially given the current milieu in which Christianity - and white evangelical Christians in particular - are being called to account for the deliberate and systematic misappropriation, to put it mildly, by their ancestors of various biblical precepts for the express purpose and intent of enslaving and otherwise oppressing black people in America.

That Christianity was practiced in such a deliberately iniquitous manner is both a sad and unarguable fact.

As author and researcher Richard Reddie notes in a 2007 BBC article on the Atlantic slave trade and abolition:

"Religion was...a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of this. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelization was one of the justifications for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians."

Conversely, theologian and author Timothy Keller, in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, extols:

"Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be both addressed and redressed. There is no excusing it. The typical criticisms...about the oppressiveness and injustices of the Christian church actually come from Christianity's own resources for critique of itself. The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel. Historian C. John Sommerville claims that when Anglo-Saxons first heard the Christian gospel message they were incredulous. They couldn't see how any society could survive that did not fear and respect strength. When they did convert, they were far from consistent. They tended to merge the Christian other-regarding ethic with their older ways. They supported the Crusades as a way of protecting God's honor and theirs. They let monks, women, and serfs cultivate charitable virtues, but these virtues weren't considered appropriate for men of honor and action. No wonder there is so much to condemn in church history. But to give up Christian standards would be to leave us with no basis for the criticism."

So, admittedly, there were those, including many Christians, who, while professing to be followers of the God of the Bible, appropriated the teachings of the Bible in such ungodly ways as to devalue, disparage, and destroy those who were equally the bearers of God's image (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26) as those who, "in the name of" God, volitionally chose to oppress, maltreat, and, on many occasions, murder them.

Be that as it may, to whatever extent the gospel was leveraged in such base and sinful ways is not the fault of Christianity. Quite the contrary. It is the fault of that which Christianity unambiguously and forthrightly addresses. Namely, the innate depravity of the human soul (Gen. 4:7, 8:21b; Eccl. 7:20; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23; Gal. 5:17.)

To view Jesus preeminently as a "Social Savior" is a misguided, short-sighted, and dangerous proposition, as it fails to take into account the fundamental root cause of many of the historical and contemporary socio-ethno inequities which many Christian social justice activists, particularly blacks, are seeking to redress through such propitiatory gestures as the removal of Confederate statues and monuments and the paying of reparations for slavery.

Notwithstanding the innumerable and tangible good works performed by Jesus for the practical benefit of those to whom they were graciously and mercifully imparted, those works were subsidiary to the primary reason Christ came into the world which, contrary to what many Christian social justice activists - and others - believe, was not to remedy socio-political or socio-economic inequities by improving the material, financial, or social station of those with whom He interacted, but to point people to Himself as the long-awaited Messiah.

This reality is underscored in , in which the apostle John declares:

"Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

A problem many Christian activists have in their pursuit of social justice is that they confuse Christians with Christ.

That is something that should never happen.

As theologian and historian Thomas J. Kidd cautions in his 2012 article titled Slavery, Historical Heroes, and "Precious Puritans":

"The Christian faith has only one perfect hero. He is our proper object, not just of emulation, but of worship. We all fall far, far short of his example."

In other words, only Jesus is Jesus. We are not.

Even in our most well-founded expectations that those who profess to believe in Jesus display a certain level of consistency in living out that belief (Eph. 5:1-2), we must never lose sight of the fact that when an individual professes faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9), it is their salvation that is instantaneous not their sanctification (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).

It is with this thought in mind that we would do well to consider the words of theologian John R.W. Stott who, in his classic work The Cross of Christ, reminds us of this spiritual reality:

"For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; whereas God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be."

Stott's words highlight the futility of espousing a Jesus who is a "Social Savior"--whose coming to earth is viewed strictly in terms of how works-righteousness (e.g. removing statues, paying slavery reparations, etc.) can be a means toward the kind of society in which justice, equity, and righteousness are normative (2 Pet. 3:13).

At the risk of disappointing many of my social justice warrior (SJW) brothers and sisters, Jesus is not a Social Savior. Christ came into the world save sinners not society (1 Tim. 1:15; Matt. 10:34-36). If the works of Christ themselves were sufficient as the model for how the kind of egalitarian social structure so zealously desired by many Christian SJWs is to be realized in today's society, the question still remains: why, then, was it necessary for Him to die?


Darrell Harrison is a member of Rockdale Community Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation located in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers, Georgia. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell was the first African-American to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. Darrell blogs at "Just Thinking...For Myself"


Just Thinking...

As more and more is being written about ethnicity, I thought that I'd point our readers to the B.A.R. Podcast (Biblical And Reformed), hosted by my friend, Dawain Atkinson. Dawain has had some the most noted pastors and theologians on the show (e.g. Derek ThomasMark Dever and H.B. Charles, Jr.). Additionally, he regularly interviews Christian hip hop artists and various local pastors. Recently, he interviewed Darrel B. Harrison, a fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of the Princeton Theological Seminary. The biblical and theological emphasis in this particular episode brings much to the table for your consideration, in light of current discussions about race and social justice. So, do yourself the favor and go listen to the episode titled, "Just Thinking...For Myself!"

The Intricacies of Interracial Marriage (Part 2)


In light of current discussions regarding racial reconciliation, we thought that it might be a benefit to our readers to run a series of videos from a longtime contributor, Rob Ventura, and his wife, Vanessa, concerning a variety of subjects related to interracial marriage. Rob is the pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Providence, RI. Rob and Vanessa have been married 20 years and have three children.

The interviewer, Suhylah Claudio, has provided the following rationale for this series of interviews:

"To share the varying perspectives on race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality from various ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to dispel myths and stereotypes and expose points of view from those whom we may not feel are 'like us' and ultimately to think about what Scripture says about these things. My goal is to help unite us as one race of Christians who are aware of the perceptions and experiences of one another so that we can be more sensitive and loving as brethren in Christ."

In this second video, Rob and Vanessa talk about their thoughts on the racial identity of the children of an interracial marriage, as well as about the opportunities we have in light of our backgrounds for the spread of the Gospel.

Expect the Unexpected

Last night, I had the great privilege of delivering the baccalaureate speech to the 2017 graduating class at Veritas Academy in Savannah, GA. While meditating, in recent days, on the multitude of truths that God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes--especially as it pertains to the unexpected hardships and seeming injustices that we will all experience in life--I've come to realize that Ecclesiastes would, in itself, make a perfect baccalaureate speech. Of particular importance is the following maxim of Qoheleth:

"I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time" (Eccl. 9:11).

In his sermon on Ecclesiastes 9:11 (which is included in his excellent commentary on the book), Phil Ryken sums up the essence of the passage when he says:

"The time will come when events overtake us. Before we know it we get trapped in a bad situation at work, or afflicted with a disease or caught up perhaps in a financial tsunami. And, at the very end of our times, of course the time will come for us to die and then go to judgment--that's a time that God knows and we do not. And, if time does not overtake us "chance" certainly will-- chance not simply in the sense of 'fate,' but chance in the sense of something that happens, and 'occurrence.' He is not talking about something good that happens to you, but something bad. And so it is in a fallen world. Many unhappy events, Natural disaster, environmental catastrophes, military conflicts in various parts of the world, economic downturns--its all very unpredictable-- the misfortunes of life are inevitable and inescapable. And here in his mercy God tells us to expect the unexpected. 

So when hardship comes--even when it comes very suddenly--we should not be surprised; we should realize that this is the kind of thing that happens in the world. Nor when life is good should we think that our own natural abilities will somehow spare us from having hard times. No matter how gifted we are, or how well prepared or how many advantages we have in life, the truth is that we too may suffer an evil day. Now the questions is, "How should we respond when that days comes?" 

Of course, the answer to the question is only found in the Gospel. Christ gave up all riches, privilege and honor in order to take all of our foolishness on Himself. He promises to sustain us through the midst of the unexpected trials, disappointments and hardships of life. Then, He promises to bring us to glory where there are no more sorrows, sadness, sickness or suffering (Rev. 21:4). If we have Christ, we have an anchor for our souls during the midst of the unexpected hardships. Nevertheless, in the here and now, we must "expect the unexpected" variables of life. 

You can find the audio of the baccalaureate speech here

Referenced Resource

C.S. Lewis "The Weight of Glory" (a sermon preached at St. Mary's in Oxford, June 8, 1942)

The Intricacies of Interracial Marriage

In light of current discussions regarding racial reconciliation, we thought that it might be a benefit to our readers to run a series of videos from a longtime contributor, Rob Ventura, and his wife, Vanessa, concerning a variety of subjects related to interracial marriage. Rob is the pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Providence, RI. Rob and Vanessa have been married 20 years and have three children. 

The interviewer, Suhylah Claudio, has provided the following rationale for this series of interviews: 

"To share the varying perspectives on race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality from various ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to dispel myths and stereotypes and expose points of view from those whom we may not feel are 'like us' and ultimately to think about what Scripture says about these things. My goal is to help unite us as one race of Christians who are aware of the perceptions and experiences of one another so that we can be more sensitive and loving as brethren in Christ."

In this first video, Rob and Vanessa talk about their ethnic backgrounds, how they met and the way in which their marriage was perceived by relatives and those in the public. It is our desire that this series will stimulate helpful and God-honoring discussions about this important subject.

Identity, Affinity and Christ

So many of the controversies surrounding the church at present center on concepts related to identity and affinity. Whether these issues are sexual, ethnic, biological or political in nature, one cannot escape the seemingly ubiquitous existential clamor with which we are daily inundated. Bombarded by a steady stream of headlines about scandal, social injustice, political policy and manufactured pandemonium, the Christian is ever in danger of losing a sense of who he or she is in Christ. When we enter into debates in which emotional hijacking tends to be par for the course, we must guard against the temptation to abandon the center of gravity of the Gospel and to trade our identity and affinity for something other than Christ and His people.

This danger is not foreign to the pages of the New Testament. Many of the pervasive issues that the Apostles tackled in the foundational days of the New Covenant church were those having to do with identity and affinity. Whether it was the Judaizers tempting Jewish converts to forfeit their fellowship with their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ or the Corinthian error of picking and choosing which of the teachers in the church would represent their particular affinity group, the fledgling churches were constantly in danger of departing from Christ in order to settle in with another identity or affinity group. The potency of the Judaizing heresy lay in the fact that false brethren appealed to the heritage of a select portion of the believers in the body. These false teachers baited the newly converted Jewish believers with their past, saying, "This is your heritage. Don't abandon your heritage. Don't betray us." In Corinth, members of the church were vying for particular teachers to lead their affinity groups. The deleterious subtlety of this error was seen in the fact that the teachers with whom they aligned themselves were men who had been appointed by God to be ministers in the church. New forms of these pernicious errors can and will most certainly surface in the church today. When they do, they inevitably threaten our Gospel identity in Christ and affinity with His people.   

For the Christian, nothing short of knowing Christ and who we are in Christ will suffice. When we remember that Jesus stood in our place, for our sin, and took the wrath that we deserve in order to forgive us, cleanse us and reconcile us to God (as well as to unite us to all of His blood bought people), we come to understand that our past doesn't identify us any longer. In turn, we start to recognize that we don't have to search for a particular affinity group--we've already been placed in one, namely, the Church. The Apostle Paul labored tirelessly to establish this principle in the minds of God's people. He gave the Galatians the remedy to their misplaced identity when he explained, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-29). 

A tangible loss of real spiritual joy will always accompany our misplaced quests for identity and affinity. There is a deep seated joy that flows from realizing the newness of life that we have in Christ in the Gospel. So much of what we read or hear online today lacks this sense of Gospel joy. When we allow psychological constructs, social agendas, party spirits and cultural identities to take the place of the good news of Christ crucified for sinners, we invariably forfeit the benefit and implications of the good news. When I was a new convert, many in the church would tell me, "Nick, you've got to remind yourself that you'll always be a drug addict." I'll never forget the inner freedom and joy that I finally came to experience when I realized that I was a new creation in Christ. The Apostle reminded the Corinthians of this very thing when he wrote, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). A new name, a new identity, a new experience, a new community, a new life in Christ--these were the truths that caused joy inexpressible and full of glory to well up deep within in my heart. 

These are the truths which are meant to shape our minds so that we will be able to navigate our way through a world that tells us our past, our desires or our preferences are what ultimately define us. Then, and only then, will we be able to speak helpfully to the issues of the day without derailing or disenfranchising our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our union with Christ in His death and resurrection means that we are defined by who He is, what He has done and what we have become in Him (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As this truth grips our hearts, we will find that our affinity group consists of all those who--no matter their moral, socio-economic, ethnic or political background--have also been raised to newness of life together with us in Him. 

Striving to Escape the Fall

Marathons, mud runs, CrossFit, Yoga, diets, non-GMO and gluten-free foods, Christian financial programs, anti-vaccination and homeschooling have--each in their own way--taken over the driver's seat of the lives of so many in the church. While all of these things, in and of themselves, may be good things and have their proper place in a believer's life, they often hold too prominent a place. It is fairly easily to gauge whether we have given these things too prominent a place in our hearts and lives; we can be sure that we have when they become the overwhelming subject of conversation we have at church, when we get together with others and in what we spend out time reading or writing on social media. After all, Jesus taught us that we speak most what our hearts value most (Luke 6:45). So, what do these things--that seem so completely unassociated with one another--have in common? They can all be ways that we try to control our lives in order to escape the misery that is the effect of the fall.

"The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery." So wrote the members of the Westminster Assembly in Q. 17 of the Shorter Catechism. Everything negative in this life falls into one of these two categories--namely, sin and misery. The catechism goes on to explain the estate of misery when it says, "All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever." Sin and misery are the all-encompassing and inescapable realities of this life in this fallen world. Christ came into the world to redeem us from our sin and the misery of this fallen world, and to give us eternal holiness and happiness. While Jesus bore the curse in our place, took the guilt and power of our sin upon Himself at Calvary and reconciled us to God (thereby, definitively dealing with our sin), the misery that came into the world on account of the fall remains until the resurrection. We are all subject--no matter what physical, dietary, monetary, medical and educational decisions that we make--to "all miseries in this life, to death itself."

The Scriptures actually have quite a lot to say about the things that we foolishly trust in order to escape the misery of life. For instance, the Apostle Paul explained to Timothy that "bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (1 Tim. 4:8). All forms of exercise may "profit a little;" however, they are not paramount in the life of the believer. The pursuit of "godliness" in light of "the world to come" must be of chief importance.

Concerning foods, Jesus Himself made the audacious statement (i.e. audacious in light of the temporary dietary restrictions of the Old Covenant era), "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matt. 15:11). The Apostle Paul followed this with a warning about the danger of falling into the false religion of dietary asceticism when he wrote, "If you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations--'Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,' which all concern things which perish with the using--according to the commandments and doctrines of men" (Co. 2:20-22)? The danger of being susceptible to these things is that they "have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, humility, and neglect of the body." However, when considered spiritually, "they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Col. 2:23).

The Apostle also warned the members of the church against loving money when he wrote, "those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Tim. 6:9). By way of contrast, he commanded "those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17). For ever one verse in Scripture about God's desire for believers to be financially responsible there are two words about the ever present danger of greed. Often only the Lord knows whether we are being "financial responsible" or hiding greed behind the idea of "financial responsibility." Money is one of the greatest ways that men and women try to escape the fall, because in our minds money can purchase safety and satisfaction--happiness and health. 

No matter how health conscious men and women may choose to be, the Scriptures make it clear that no one can escape the reality of sickness and disease in this fallen world. We read that King Asa, "in the time of his old age was diseased in his feet"..."his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians" (1 Kings 15:23; 2 Chron. 16:12). This isn't teaching us that we should avoid medicine or homeopathic treatment. Neither is it teaching us that "if we just have enough faith God will heal us." Rather, it is teaching that the use of secondary means for healing is in vain if we are not trusting the Lord. No amount of sensitivity to the intricacies of medicinal or homeopathic practices can ever give what the Lord alone can give. For many in the church, a preoccupation with health practices is nothing less than an attempt to seek to avoid the effects of the fall--for themselves and their children--by natural means and measures.

In the same way, (and, I write this as someone who homeschools) many who chose to homeschool have (perhaps unknowingly) convinced themselves that this is how we are to protect our children from the world. While we should be absolutely committed to the Christian theistic education of our children, no environmental or situational form of education was ever instituted by God to safeguard our children from the world or to change our children's hearts. I have known plenty of children who were homeschooled by competent and godly parents who are now "off the spiritual reservation."
Education should never be embraced as a way to escape the effects of the fall. Education (even Christian education) is a good servant but a bad Savior.

We learn from the book of Job that the wisest and godliest of men and women is still subject to the most severe suffering and the greatest of miseries in this life--even when they have not done anything foolish or sinful to deserve that suffering. When we trust in exercise, diet, financial programs, medical practices and educational reforms to escape the fall, we will ultimately find ourselves to be frustrated with the outcome. God has promised to deliver believers from the guilt and power sin and the miseries of this life and the life to come only through the last man, Jesus Christ. 

In so many ways, we are all striving to escape the fall; yet finding it to be a futile enterprise. There is a day coming when everything that men inconsequentially strive after in this fallen world will become the confident possession of the believer; but, only in the resurrection. So, while "physical exercise profits," it profits little. While caring about what we eat matters, it matters little. While seeking to be fiscally responsible matters, greed is always lurking at our door. While pursuing wise medical choices matters, it is no sure safeguard against sickness; and, while wanting to give our children the best form of education we can give them matters, it cannot ultimately protect them from the evils of their own hearts. Only Christ can give what we are so often foolishly seek after in these things. Only Jesus will deliver us from the effects of the fall in the resurrection on the last day. So, "it's better to trust in the Lord" than in any of these fleeting and fading things (Ps. 118:8-9).