Results tagged “the Gospel” from Reformation21 Blog

Identifying Our Identity

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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

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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 (http://www.davidprince.com/2018/05/10/a-response-to-andy-stanley-jesus-and-the-old-testament-what-god-has-joined-together-let-not-man-separate/) 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

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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!

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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

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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

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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?

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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 from...place" and "aggravations from...office." 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Reconciliation

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

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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 "...work 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"

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Just Thinking...

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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).