Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Least Of These

Oh, he was SO CLOSE!

Kevin DeYoung posted what could have been a very useful post yesterday on Matthew 25: Who Are 'The Least Of These'? Matthew 25 has been trotted out ad nauseum by "progressives" to scold evangelicals for not supporting income redistribution policies that trap poor people in an endless cycle of poverty and dependence but they rely on a completely erroneous assumption about Matthew 25. The narrative is that justification doesn't really rely on faith but rather on doing a sufficient number of acts of charity. That might not be the explicit message but it is certainly implied. If you don't feed the hungry or visit those in prison, you are going to hell (not that they believe in hell, except perhaps for Republicans). Actually reading the verses in their complete form gives us a subtle difference to that narrative and is so often the case the careful study gives a different picture than the prevailing narrative. Here is some of what DeYoung wrote:

What’s more important to me is that we handle the Bible carefully, both from the pulpit and in our public pronouncements. Which is why we should try to understand “the least of these” in its proper context. What Jesus says in Matthew 25 is not “conservative” or “liberal.” It’s Christian, and has everything to do with how we treat other Christians.

“The least of these” refers to other believers in need—specifically, itinerant Christian teachers dependent on other Christians for hospitality and support. That’s my answer to the title of this blog post.

So he was right on in the first paragraph. I made this point the other evening in Bible study looking at Acts 4:32-37. The Bible is clear that Christians should be charitable people but it is especially clear that our first priority ought to be providing for the needs of fellow believers. That is the message of Galatians 6:10, which DeYoung also quotes and is also the message of Acts 2 and 4 (the all things in common passages), Acts 6 (the distribution for widows), Romans 15:25-28, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, etc. While ought to be generous as we are able to those in need, we should never do so at the expense of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Where he goes astray is the second paragraph. He just can't seem to get out of the organized religion paradigm. He bases this on similarities between Matthew 25 and Matthew 10:40-42. While there are similarities between the two passages, Matthew 10 is specifically speaking of the disciples Jesus is sending out. Matthew 25 makes no mention of the disciples specifically or itinerant teachers or anything of the sort. The principle is the same but it seems pretty clear that Matthew 25 is directed at the church broadly speaking, not a specific subset. I am sure that travelling teachers fall under the category of those in need Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25 but so do other believers.

Once again we see the organized religion mindset intrude on an otherwise solid Biblical study.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Congress And The First Amendment

Doug Wilson is doing a chapter by chapter review of Rod Dreher's "The Benedict Option" and has gotten as far as the second chapter. His review of that chapter titled Finding The Seven Thousand, is quite good but what really sets it apart is his treatment of the First Amendment and the founding of America. I am reproducing it here at some length (bold type my emphasis):

Follow me closely here. If you have a state bird (like Maryland’s oriole) and a national bird (like the bald eagle), you are not setting the stage for conflict. If you have a state flower (like Idaho’s syringa) and a national flower (like America’s rose), you are not begging for regional strife. But if the state denomination of Connecticut was Congregational, which it was, and you established any other denomination as the Church of the United States, you were pleading for trouble.

And so that is why the First Amendment of the Constitution says this:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Notice that the only entity that could possibly violate the First Amendment is Congress. “Congress shall make no law.” Congress could violate the establishment clause by creating a Church of the United States, bestowing that “honor” upon the Episcopalians, say. But they would also have violated the free exercise clause by telling Connecticut that they could not have Congregationalism as their state religion.
“The U.S. Constitution, a Lockean document, privatizes religion, separating it from the state” (Loc. 544).
Provoked at this point to strong oaths, I must say by the Great Horn Spoon, it is not so. It is correct to say that Locke was enormously influential, but absolutely false to say that the Constitution privatizes religion. No, it federalized religion. At the time the Constitution was ratified, 9 of the 13 states that ratified that document had established state churches of their very own. By having those state churches, they were in no fashion violating the First Amendment. They couldn’t violate the First Amendment. They weren’t Congress. The last state denomination didn’t disappear until the 1830’s (which happened in Connecticut).

I shudder to admit I haven't typically given as much attention to the rather obvious point that the First Amendment only really limits the Congress specifically when it comes to the establishment of religion. You should read the whole thing, more for Wilson's treatment of the First Amendment and public religion than the review of the Benedict Option which is rapidly becoming the most tiresome religious topic since the Prayer of Jabez came out.

I left a comment on the post and it was precipitated by looking back at my previous posts that referenced Dreher. I came across one from December 2015, You Cannot Have One Without The Other, which was primarily looking at the kerfuffle over the Wheaton professors claiming that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God but in that post I noted that Rod Dreher, who now claims to be the authority on the singular path forward for all iterations of Christianity, had never given any thought to the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God and as recently as December 2015 still didn't know the answer. Here is what I wrote at the time:

Unfortunately a lot of people don't seem to understand the problem. One well known writer who is put forth as a Christian authority is Rod Dreher who writes at The American Conservative among other places. Rod is known most recently for his proposal, the "Benedict Option", calling for a somewhat vague idea of Christians concerning themselves mostly with preserving knowledge and culture for some future time. Rod writes concerning this controversy in an article titled: Muslim God, Christian God. In it he says he has never even considered whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God:
To be honest, I’ve never thought at all about whether Muslims pray to the same God as Christians. The Catholic Church teaches that they do, and that was my belief when I was a Catholic, though I never gave it a minute’s thought. I don’t know what I believe now, to be honest.
That still floors me every time I read it. I can understand a new Christian not really getting down in the weeds about this issue but for someone who is a public thinker and is considered to be something of an authority and intellectual I can't believe he has never even thought about this. Of course by way of explanation he points out that the Catholic church says we worship the same god as Muslims so that is good enuff for him. That statements tells us a lot more about Catholicism than it does about Rod Dreher.

Come on. Rod needs to stop trying to speak for the entire church and instead take some basic classes on theology proper and comparative religion. How seriously are we supposed to take direction from a guy who is not sure and has not even thought about whether his faith (Greek Orthodox) worships the same God as is worshipped in mosques by members of ISIS?

As I have said or at least suggested before, there are a lot of Christians past and present that we can turn to in order to inform our strategy for the future, including Doug Wilson for his occasional faults, but Rod Dreher probably isn't one of them, at least not for the less discerning. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

More About Moore

The Russell Moore controversy continues to swirl across the interwebs with some parties gleefully hoping to see Dr. Moore get fired and many other parties breathlessly virtue-signaling about the end of Kingdom if Dr. Moore gets fired. As with all things internet, the truth is somewhere in the middle. There is little doubt that this story is getting a lot of press and all of it is bad. Just searching "southern baptist convention" on google shows three "top stories" right up front and all three are about Russell Moore and the ERLC. Not exactly the first thing you want people to read when they are looking at your denomination.



When compared to the budgets of the International Mission Board, North American Mission, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is pretty small potatoes. In fact, going to the SBC homepage you find a graphic right at the top that shows the break-down of the Cooperative Program spending.


Why do you suppose that is right on the homepage of the SBC, right at the top and oversized? Maybe because a lot of SBC churches who didn't give much thought as to where their cooperative program funding was going are suddenly starting to check it out. In fact the ERLC budget is so small compared to the rest of the work the SBC does, it wouldn't really warrant mention...except that people are looking a lot more closely at the CP these days.

We are not currently involved with an SBC church but most of my formative years as a Christian were in SBC churches and I still have some affinity for them. In spite of some flaws, they are by far the largest faithfully conservative denomination around by a big margin but this public squabble is giving plenty of ammo to those who despise any Christian group that dares hold to basic principles of the faith. Something needs to be done, and pretty soon, because the only thing people are hearing about the SBC right now is that a bunch of Trump acolytes are trying to crucify Russell Moore.

I get it. Russell Moore was picked, in my humble opinion, to head up the ERLC to be the anti-Richard Land. Land, as you may recall, was the quintessential SBC culture warrior type and the long-time head of the ERLC preceding Dr. Moore. Dr. Land even looks like a Southern Baptist. What I didn't realize is that Dr. Land is Dr. because he has a PhD from Oxford. Yes that Oxford, which goes along nicely with his magna cum laude B.A. from Princeton. I had no idea. Anyway, Dr. Land was at ERLC for a long time until he got in trouble for comments he made about Trayvon Martin. There was some concern over allegations of plagiarism or at least failure to thoroughly attribute what he said but make no mistake that what was at the core of the issue and why it got any attention and led to his firing was the perception of his comments as being racially insensitive. So in comes Russell Moore from relative obscurity to lead a very visible ministry of the SBC. The direction he has taken the ERLC has often been at odds with the rank and file of the SBC and therein lies the problem. From the SBC website:
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is not a church. It is a set of ministries supported by a network of cooperating Baptist churches.
The Southern Baptist Association is a voluntary association of evangelical churches. No SBC church is under obligation to fund any particular "ministry" of the SBC. The SBC exists as a cooperative association between like-minded autonomous local churches. So when you work for the SBC, you really work for a bunch of independent churches with autonomous budgets. Further, I understand why a lot of Southern Baptists wonder why they are sending checks that go in part to fund the ERLC and Russell Moore.

Let me say that the SBC has a major problem with being too involved with politics, specifically Republican politics. I think that is a serious issue and impediment to their mission so I have no problem with calling them out for it. I have as well. Where the issue comes in is how Dr. Moore makes this criticism. Too often it seems like Dr. Moore's criticisms of genuine issues in the church and even of specific politicians like Donald Trump end up bleeding over into what sounds like pretty pompous criticism of Southern Baptists in general, and that can sound a lot like some egg-headed ivory tower type scolding the ignert masses who he also expects to write checks to keep him employed. I absolutely do not think that is his real attitude but I also think that is how it sounds a lot and just as much I think the direction he is taking the ERLC is more reflective of "Stuff Russell Moore Likes" instead of issues Southern Baptists are concerned with.

With respect, it might be time for two things to happen.

First, Russell Moore might benefit from getting out of D.C./Nashville  for a while and spending six months out among actual Southern Baptists, reconnecting with his roots and the people he is supposed to represent. Instead of running in the halls of power and writing articles for the New York Times and Washington Post, maybe some time ministering in Alabama and Oklahoma might help to reorient him with the heart of Southern Baptist life. It certainly couldn't hurt and getting out of the limelight is just what the doctor ordered.

Second, the very existence of the ERLC itself needs to be re-evaluated. I am not sure that what looks a lot like a lobbying firm has a place in the SBC ministry budget and it often seems to be a flashpoint for controversy and hurt feelings. It seems that no matter who is running the ERLC, it is distracting from the mission of the Southern Baptist Convention and that 1.65% of the cooperative program budget might be better spent on a dozen missionaries or something instead of partnering with a group that also partners with George Soros and other questionable priorities of the ERLC.

Russell Moore is a nice guy from what I can tell and I appreciate his work. I appreciated it a lot more before he went to the ERLC and I honestly think the time has come to jettison the entire ERLC from the Southern Baptist Convention. Make it an independent group if you want but right now it is a distraction and is threatening to divide the SBC however this works out. That is not entirely the fault of Dr. Moore but he is also not exactly an innocent victim in this fiasco. For the good of the SBC and the Gospel imperative, it is time for the ERLC to be shut down or spun off.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How Can Old Testament Israel Inform Christian Thought About Illegal Aliens In The United States?

Among the many unintended consequences of the ascension of Donald Trump to the throne of the God-Emperor the Presidency has been political progressives magically discovering concepts like limited government, constraint of the executive branch, checks and balances and Federalism. Suddenly those terrible dead White men who owned slaves we call the Founding Fathers have a lot of important stuff to say. Of course it is also true that a bunch of conservatives have taken a sudden liking to executive orders and using "Federal funds" as a stick to punish bad behavior. Likewise religious progressives have rediscovered the Old Testament, or at least parts of it. I have seen a lot of people referencing the Old Covenant laws regarding the treatment of strangers and sojourners in the land of Israel in response to President Trump deciding to enforce U.S. immigration laws, like this passage:
"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. - Leviticus 19:33-34
Progressives who often speak of Jesus as if you can know Him apart from the recorded revelation of the Bible suddenly quoting Leviticus! It is an almost miraculous event!

Kidding aside, I do understand why progressives and even people who would qualify as conservative are turning to passages like that to inform our understanding as Christians regarding illegal aliens. It is a pretty good rationale. Scripture reveals a lot of things to us, most particularly the Good News of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. It also, as part of that redemptive history, exposes us to the reality of the nature of God and of man. While I think the proper hermeneutic practice is to use the New to inform and interpret the Old, that doesn't negate the Old Testament as a way of understanding God. In fact I think it is almost impossible to understand Jesus and the entirety of the New Testament without a solid foundation of the Old Testament. The understanding of the nature of God the Father that the audience of Jesus and the apostolic writers would have had came primarily from the Old Testament, so we as Christians should spend time in the OT to better understand the Father and thereby to understand the Son.


Now, having said that we need to be cautious and sober. Context always matters when interpreting Scripture and especially when trying to apply Scripture in a completely different setting thousands of years distant from the original setting.


First, a reminder of what Israel was and was (or is) not.

The nation of Israel in the Middle-East over 2000 years ago is not the United States. Having Christians living in the United States does not make it Israel. Nothing in the New Testament would imply that God intended to create a unique nation-state to replicate national Israel, in fact all of the evidence points to the contrary. This is a reminder that a lot of people across the political and theological spectrum apparently need, from progressive social justice warrior types who try to use Caesar to carry out the mission of the church to theonomists and others who think America should be run using obsolete Old Covenant laws. 

Israel of the Old Testament was a unique and never replicated national situation. It was a nation formed out of a specific act for a specific people by God under a now obsolete covenantal agreement for specific purpose as a type and shadow. It was created by God to fulfill a promise and as part of a series of promissory arrangements ("if you....I will"). God Himself led the Israelites out of Egypt after cursing the land of Egypt with plagues including the extermination of every first born male, curses that resulted because God Himself hardened the heart of pharaoh. He led His people in the wilderness before eventually acting to utterly destroy the pagan inhabitants of the land. He established the laws and the patterns of worship for His people in this land and one of the most critical laws was that they not intermix with other people. When Israel went whoring after other nations they invariably adopted the pagan worship of those other nations and this led to all manner of severe chastening for the Israelites, to the point of them eventually being conquered and exiled. God created the civic laws of Israel, many quite severe in our eyes like the death sentence for adultery, because the people of Israel were often hard-hearted, in other words the nation was a mixed nation of godly people and not godly people, and because adultery was an affront to God's created order. That is generally why laws exist, because people are not good in general. James Madison famously said that if all men were angels, no laws would be necessary but since men are not angels, we need laws. So the laws of Israel both reflected God's character (His hatred of sin, like with the death penalty for adultery, and His mercy, shown in the command to care for the stranger) as well as the reality of human nature and our tendency to sin. 

Another point that needs to be made is that while "God's heart" cares very deeply for the stranger and sojourner in the land, God is also a God of law. A great deal of the Bible is taken up with detailed civil laws for the nation of Israel and the penalties for breaking those laws. The penalties for law-breaking in Israel were harsh, almost brutal by our standards. None of us know how often those harsh penalties were applied but the fact remains that they were ordained by God as the response to law-breaking. Here is where I think that drawing even an indirect equivalency between the commands regarding stranger and sojourners in OT Israel and illegal aliens in the United States completely falls apart:

The strangers in the land spoken of in Leviticus 19:33-34 and elsewhere in the Old Testament were not willfully and knowingly breaking the law of Israel. Illegal aliens in the United States are willfully and knowingly breaking the law of the U.S..
There is an enormous difference between strangers and sojourners who are in a land and criminals who have willfully broken the law of the land they are in. Despite the word games a lot of people like to play ("undocumented immigrant" or just "immigrant") the fact is that people who are here "without documentation" are in this country illegally. You might not like the laws or think they are just but they are the laws. I know them, you know them and they know them. Regardless of the motivation of those here illegally, the simple fact remains that they are breaking the law, they know they are breaking the law, and they continue to do so.

That doesn't negate the obligation of the church to show mercy and compassion to everyone, especially fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10) but it does mean that we need to use a little more discernment than woodenly comparing theological apples and oranges.

I am of the opinion that for a host of reasons, it is prudent and just for a nation to have meaningful borders and immigration laws. Every civilized nation in the world does. We have ports of entry, passports, visas, etc. not to mention birth certificates, social security numbers, etc. that help to maintain order regarding who is a citizen, who is a legal visitor, who can come here and who can stay. Again, just like every other civilized nation. There is nothing inherently sinful or wrong for a nation to have meaningful borders and likewise there is nothing contrary to the Gospel or the teachings of the Kingdom for Christians to recognize, obey and even support such laws. A follower of Christ who encounters someone here illegally in need to mercy should extend to them what mercy and compassion they can and then should earnestly encourage them to return to their home country and seek admission to the United States via legal methods. On the other hand, a Christian who is engaged in aiding and abetting someone breaking the laws of the United States by harboring them or other means is also a law-breaker and is really not any different than someone who offers the use of their garage for car thieves to store vehicles they have stolen until they can dispose of them. That may sound harsh (They are human beings, not cars!) but willfully breaking the law is breaking the law, whether you are illegally in this country or evading taxes or stealing cars. 

By all means we should study the Old Testament to gain a better understand of God and His nature, which by the way includes His absolute abhorrence of and hatred toward sin, and that understanding should help to inform our relations with fellow image bearers. We should do so with the understanding that Israel was unique and has been gone for millennia and that proper hermeneutics and application requires us to understand where situations in the Bible are similar to contemporary events but also where they are dissimilar to contemporary events and prayerfully seek wisdom to discern the distinction. 

God cares for the stranger and sojourner. He also is a God of law. We need to keep both in mind when we seek His face and His will in these confusing and contentious times.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

His disciples came to him...

...And he opened his mouth and taught them.

I like the little stuff in the Scriptures. Sure, I like the sweeping theological statements, the deep teaching like we find in Romans and Ephesians. I like to go to the deep end and dive in (metaphorically as I can't really swim). But often I find pretty profound stuff in the verses that seem almost to be written in passing and often those can be found right before well known verses. This morning we were looking at the Beatitudes but right before you get into the "Blessed are..." passages, Matthew sets the stage for us and we usually miss it. He writes:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying (Mat 5:1-2)
It is amusing to see how much art that represents the
Sermon on the Mount depicts Jesus standing up to teach.
This is an interesting contrast. At the end of chapter 4 we read about the "great crowds" that followed Him (Matthew 4:25) because of His fame and especially because He was healing people and casting out demons. Here at the beginning of chapter 5 we seem to see a distinction. He saw the great crowds but He went up on the mountain with His disciples. He sat down and they came to Him. Did they have any idea what to expect? On the one hand He was pretty unpredictable. They never really knew what He was going to do or what He might say. Did they just follow Him up the mountain to see what happened? On the other hand, He sat down which was, according to the ESV Study Bible the way teachers in that era taught: "Teachers in Judaism typically taught while sitting..., a position Jesus takes regularly.". Regardless, they knew that He had something for them.

I got to thinking about this. What do we expect when we come to Jesus? I don't mean come to Him in faith and thereby receive justification. I am talking about the believer who comes to sit at the feet of our Teacher. When you pray or when you open the Scriptures, what do you expect to happen? Do you expect anything to happen? I find myself too often praying or reading in a perfunctory manner. I ought to pray and I ought to read the Scriptures so here it goes. Let me put a mark in that box on my religious obligation checklist and move on.

What if we came to Jesus in the ways we are taught to, by opening the Scriptures, by the remembrance of the breaking of bread, by prayer, by gathering as the church and really expect Him to do something, something miraculous and wonderful? I can't imagine that the disciples went up to where Jesus was sitting on the mountain and expected to get what we call the Sermon on the Mount, the longest continuous teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, but I bet they expected something to happen. I believe that if the church truly expected something to happen when they read the Bible or gathered together or prayed, amazing things would happen. There is incredible but often untapped power in the ordinary means of grace of the church. I don't mean listening to sermons necessarily or taking a plastic cup of grape juice off of a tray, although those certainly are a means of grace, but I mean anytime that the church, wherever it is, engages with God via the means He has provided and ordained: praying, reading the Scriptures, breaking bread with one another, gathering together in His name.

There is something to be said for being disciplined in the means of grace, reading and praying and gathering even when we sometimes don't feel like it but if we never do those things and expect something other than a perfunctory obligation, we miss the power of coming to Jesus. You can recite a prayer and "go to church" and read the Bible all the way through over and over but if you don't expect to meet Jesus and seek to meet Jesus when you are doing so, why should you expect anything powerful to happen?

God has ordained and provided and preserved the means by which we encounter His Son. He has given us every reason to expect something powerful and miraculous to happen when we do. Believer, come with me and sit at the feet of Jesus and expect He will do something and I guarantee He will provide. If you come to Him, He will teach you. Those who love Jesus, who have a new heart and His Spirit within them have a thirst for God. Come to the One who gives Living Water and you will be satisfied but your thirst will never be quenched. We simply need to come to Jesus looking to learn and He will teach us.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Women We Are Really Without


Apparently there is some sort of protest going on today under the hashtag #DayWithoutAWoman. Don't worry, the women who are going to be absent today are sadly not really going away, they are just not going to work or something for a day. Why are they taking the day off? Well I am glad you asked! Here is the scoop from www.womensmarch.com:

On International Women's Day, March 8th, women and our allies will act together for equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity.

In the same spirit of love and liberation that inspired the Women's March (my note: "spirit of love", you mean like Madonna talking about blowing up the White House?), we join together in making March 8th A Day Without a Woman, recognizing the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system--while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity. We recognize that trans and gender nonconforming people face heightened levels of discrimination, social oppression and political targeting. We believe in gender justice.

Wait, so is it a day without women or a day where women stay home or something to support sexually deviant mentally ill people? I guess they are going to wear red, because that doesn't have any historic connotations or anything and not shopping ("with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses" of course) and not doing any work. Don't worry ladies, the dirty dishes will still be there in the sink tomorrow! I am thinking about giving Amish women free rides to Wal-Mart today....

I wonder if any of the organizers of the Day Without Women gave any thought to the women we are really without today?

Since the legal perversion that gave us "the right to abortion", Roe v Wade, the abortion holocaust has claimed over 58,000,000 lives. Assuming that at least half of those were women (I would guess that sex selective abortions disproportionately target female children), that means that America is without over 29,000,000 women. Since "legal" abortions started in 1973, the earliest victims of the abortion holocaust would be in their 40's today. They would be wives and mothers, many would have careers and many others would be caring for their homes. One of those aborted women might have been less morally repulsive than Hillary Clinton and could have perhaps been the first female President. Or maybe they would just be a bunch of normal women trying to make it in this world. We will never know because they never got the chance to even draw their first breath. They were slaughtered in the one place that they should have been the safest in order to appease the goddess Choice.

The greatest injustice against women (and men and minorities and humanity itself) we have seen in the last 40 years will get no airtime from the media, no mention from virtue signaling celebrities and political activists, but we know and we don't forget. The regular people in this country know that our fellow citizens, our fellow image bearers, have been sacrificed on the blood-stained altar of feminism and no amount of marching or wearing red will undo that. We don't buy into the idea that this  "Day Without Women" has anything to do with average women. It is a leftist political stunt to provide cover for income redistribution and the normalization of perversion. It is not pro-woman, it is anti-male, anti-family, anti-children and really anti-women who don't bow to the altar of political correctness.

Don't be fooled. The agenda here is one of death, destruction and deviancy. It is an agenda dedicated to destroying families, destroying any sense of morality, destroying genuine femininity and destroying life. Real women will take care of their families and their homes tomorrow and not demand special recognition for it. They will go to work, they will wash dishes, they will comfort sick kids. They will sacrifice themselves for the sake of others because that is what women do. That is what makes them so indispensable to our society. Let the angry women march and be huffy about injustice. Real women will keep doing the often invisible work that helps to keep this country running and will not ask for nor expect anyone to make a big deal about it. That is just what they do, at least the ones who were lucky enough to escape the abortionist's scalpel.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Beauty And The Beast...And The Obligatory Gay Sidekick!

When it was announced that the beloved animated movie Beauty and the Beast was going to be remade into a live action (plus CGI I guess) film I was cautiously optimistic. My wife enjoyed the animated version and although it was pretty PC even back in the day, I had hopes from the original trailers that it would stay true to the story despite Emma Watson playing Belle (more on that in a second). For our recent anniversary I even made up a fake coupon she could redeem to have me take her when the movie came out, me thinking that it might be a nice movie to see and I would forsake my regular policy of refusing to subsidize Hollywood churning out movies that celebrate what God hates and that mock what God loves.

I guess not.

Reports surfaced yesterday that the character of LeFou, chubby sidekick of villain Gaston (who is a hunter of course, because they are obviously evil), is going to be portrayed as a homosexual. In a Disney film. Because that is where we have sunk to as a "culture". In the reports, the director of the film, Bill Condon, describes this move in breathless fashion:
In an interview with Attitude magazine, director Bill Condon said: ‘LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. 
‘He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings. It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.’ 
Mr Condon said the character, played by Josh Gad, is part of a ‘watershed moment’ for Disney. He said: ‘The studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay.’
It will be a watershed indeed, if by watershed you mean the latest move to degrade our culture. Slipping homosexuality and other deviant behavior into popular entertainment to try to normalize it is not unusual (apparently the new Alien movie, Alien: Covenant, features a ship full of couples who are going to populate a new planet and includes a gay couple. Um, how are two homosexual guys going to populate a new world? Another movie to pass on.). What is somewhat unusual is how open and bold they are about it. It is a "nice, exclusively gay moment", a specifically designed move to make a point. The point is, like he said, to tell kids at a young age who want to see a fun movie with a classic story that homosexuality is "normal" and "natural" even though it is absolutely neither of those things. I am not denying that homosexuality exists, it obviously does, or even that there are a lot of people who practice homosexual behavior, because there are, although in nowhere near the numbers the media would have you believe. That doesn't make it "normal" and it doesn't make it "natural". If I can be graphically blunt here a moment, there is nothing much more unnatural and abnormal than a man looking at another man and desiring to sodomize him or be sodomized by him. That sounds mean to say but when you stop playing word games and emotional shenanigans, that is ultimately what is being portrayed by this character. He doesn't want to give Gaston a simple kiss, he apparently desires to have deviant sexual intercourse with him. Since God designed sexuality to be male and female, when two males decide to engage in intercourse they have to find a substitute which is by nature unnatural. There is a reason that popular movies show male-female intercourse so commonly and often graphically but not male-male deviant sexual behavior. Simply put, most audiences are not sufficiently conditioned to it. Yet. The average person sees simulated normal intercourse portrayed in a movie, setting aside how unhealthy it is to watch this for entertainment purposes, and can understand it. I get why a man wants to be intimate with a woman, it makes sense. But even seeing two men kiss is still enough to turn the stomach of most people and the idea of watching two men sodomizing each other is grotesque. The visceral reaction of people is not because they are bigoted or indoctrinated by religion, it is because instinctively normal people understand homosexual behavior to be aberrant and unnatural.

But it will be in more and more movies and TV shows, you can be sure of that. Between normalizing homosexual behavior in mass media and the elites screaming bigotry at anyone who doesn't get on board, it is little wonder the needle keeps moving on what our culture accepts as normal. Notice here that the character chosen is comedy relief, which matches well with the normal pattern of presenting homosexuals in harmless roles. See gays are funny and dress nicely and know how to decorate. How bad can homosexuality be? The reality is much darker.

So while I am not surprised at all by this move from Disney, it is still kind of sad. It is simply the latest sign that our entertainment industry is almost entirely a political and religious movement that is driving an agenda that normalizes destructive behavior. Sadly I was forced to cancel my wife's coupon, at her urging. We will do something else fun to continue to celebrate our marriage rather than subsidizing perversion being portrayed at "natural" and "normal".



As a postscript, the article I referenced also talks about Watson's take on the character of Belle:
Miss Watson is also making the leading role of Belle more feminist. Once a dreamy bookworm, Belle has been transformed into an inventor.
Can one not be a "feminist" who loves to read? You have to turn a female character into an early STEM scholar because audiences are too stupid to understand your point unless you pummel them with it? As my wife pointed out to me yesterday when we read this article, in the original film (and I assume the remake), Belle offers to take the place of her father as the Beast's prisoner even though he is old and she is young and has her whole life ahead of her. Her actions are selfless and courageous. They place the well-being of another over that of herself. That is what true feminine strength looks like. Belle's actions in the film are already something that should inspire young women and girls to show strength through self-sacrifice and courage. That is the heart of feminine strength, which should be what feminism is about, but of course we don't get that.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tax Refund Season Should Also Be Giving Season

Many Americans, especially those who get the "Earned" Income Tax Credit which was delayed this year, are getting their tax "refunds" right now. I put refunds in quotes because a lot of people, like me, don't pay anything into the tax system because of our income level or in my case because I have so many dependents but we still get money "back" from the government. It is sort of like going to Wal-Mart and getting a refund on an item you never bought. America, what a country! Am I right?!

Anyway, for lots of people whatever their tax situation might be, the refunds are rolling in. That means a lot of extra cash in your checking account. Also like many other people we used a chunk of ours to pay off some small debts, and that should be a top priority because debt is mostly bad, but we still have a nice chunk left over. The initial impulse is to buy stuff that maybe you have been holding off on. If you are a Christian, might I suggest that you make a priority of giving to worthwhile ministries with a sizeable portion of your tax refund. For a lot of us, right now is when we have more unallocated money than we will have all year. There is really no better time to give than right now.


I made a small donation this morning to my preferred ministry, the Hope Community Project. Formerly known as the Haiti Orphan Project, the HCP modified their mission to focus on strengthening Haitian communities rather than forming orphanages. Instead of providing housing for orphans, the goal is to prevent orphans in the first place. They recently posted on their Facebook page (emphasis mine):
"An estimated 32,000 children live in orphanages in Haiti. More than 80% are not orphans. 80 years of research demonstrates the harm caused by raising children in institutions. As a result, most countries in the developed world moved away from this form of care decades ago." From "Orphanage Entrepreneurs: The Trafficking of Haiti’s Invisible Children," by Lumos.
That is why the Hope Community Project took the rather courageous step of changing their mission. Talking about orphanages is easy, people understand that. Talking about preventing "orphans" in the first place is much harder to explain but far more helpful. Their mission statement explains it better than I can:
We exist to facilitate the development of healthy communities through partnerships with Haitian churches and organizations to encourage sustainable physical, spiritual and economic health; we desire to communicate Christ-centered compassion as well as respect for the dignity and resources of the Haitian people.
HOPE’s overarching goal is orphan prevention. We seek to help vulnerable families stay together, as well as to encourage extended families and communities to care for the orphans among them. We desire to walk alongside them helping through school sponsorships, medical care, and economic development. We are committed to providing at-risk families and children in our target area a viable alternative to traditional orphan care in Haiti.
HOPE Medical Project serves the medical needs of the deeply impoverished, at-risk and orphans in the local community. We are committed to creating a permanent presence in our target community and ongoing mobile clinics in support of a variety of ministry partners who represent communities with an established need.

I think that is a worthwhile cause. There are lots of ways to give. I made a lump sum donation this morning and then set up a recurring donation. It seems pretty insignificant but a little is better than nothing. Another way to donate is to use Amazon Smile. I have it bookmarked so whenever I buy something from Amazon for myself or someone else a small chunk is donated. It is not much but since I am buying from Amazon anyway I might as well see some of that go to a good cause. It is easy to sign up, you can pick whatever group you want from the Keane Charitable Group that is the umbrella organization behind the Hope Community Project or lots of other Christians charities or even places like the ASPCA if animals are more important to you than people. As long as you see the Smile support message, some of your purchase proceeds go to your chosen organization. See below:


It can be tempting to use all of the "extra" money you have right now on something nice for yourself, and that is your prerogative, but please consider whether you can direct some of that cash to a good cause. There are plenty out there to choose from but do your homework. I actually know the people at the Hope Community Project and I also know that the funds I give go right to the work of ministry instead of overhead so I give with confidence. Wherever you give, make sure that your giving is going to ministering and not to pay for a bunch of staff people in offices. Make sure there is an accountability mechanism in place. Find out what the funds are used for. My preference is smaller ministries that I know instead of the massive groups but wherever you give, if you do so prayerfully and responsibly it will be a blessing. 

We have so much in this country and even when we think times are tough, and for a lot of us they are, there is almost always room to give to help advance the work of the Kingdom. Give prayerfully, give strategically, give generously. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

In Defense Of Creeds And Confessions (Sort Of)


I made this meme a while back for lulz but I think the message is still one that deserves some support.

There is a popular saying among groovy Christians and others that "doctrine divides". I agree and that is why I encourage the church to be more engaged in doctrinal study. One of the pressing needs of the day is to divide the church to winnow out the false teachers, those who are engaged in pernicious and unrepentant sin (1 Cor 5:9-13) and those who approve of that which God condemns (Rom 1:32). Thanks in part to our religious culture, our lack of persecution and the religious-industrial complex that has made pseudo-Christianity a money making machine with few peers, the religious landscape of America is awash in wolves feeding on the sheep, false prophets cashing big checks and flying in private jets and untold millions of Christians and others who are functionally theologically illiterate. We have tried a lowest common denominator "Christianity". It gave us Joel Osteen and Paula White, it gave us The Shack and Rachel Held Evans. It gave us a divorced, openly and wantonly homosexual Episcopal "bishop". Even beyond the obvious, popular level false teachers there are just so many Christians who have Bibles, go to church, attend Sunday school and listen to sermons and are still drinking milk instead of eating meat. That has got to change. Milk drinking Christians are fine when they are new but milk drinking 20 years after being born-again Christians do not have the grounding to stand firm in the faith in the days to come.

So what does that have to do with creeds and confessions? I have been kind of down on them in the past and I still think there is a danger in creating confessions that are intended to create an "us versus them" mentality where confessions are more like marketing material (come for the youth program, stay for the sacraments!) than sober reflections on theology. On the other hand I think that there is more to Christian discipleship than the plucky Christian with a Bible in hand taking on the world single-handedly. If anything we need more teaching aids, not fewer, and where confessions and creeds aid our study of the Bible and our understanding of the faith, I am all for them.

As Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries pointed out in a recent article, the solid creeds state right up front that the Bible is our sole authoritative source for faith and practice. The Second London Baptist Confession, which I am largely in agreement with, states right at the beginning:

1. The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.

People who understand the creeds understand that. The Bible is the standard, not the creeds or confessions. The creeds and confessions are teaching aids, useful for helping us to understand what is in the Bible and how it ties together, and are the accumulated witness of the men of the past and we today stand upon their shoulders. We should never take anything at face value without studying it for ourselves but we also don't have to recreate the wheel over and over. The Bible covers thousands of years of redemptive history with thousands of people making an appearance and hundreds of crucial themes woven together. I don't know about you but I certainly need help sometimes in bringing that all together.

The vast majority of the New Testament, especially the post-Gospel epistles and letters, is doctrinal teaching. Paul especially takes great pains to flesh out the Gospel for his readers. Paul didn't simply chuck a collection of the Gospels at the local churches he planted and tell them "Go for it and y'all have a good day!". No, he took the time to help them to understand what happened, why it happened, what it means for them and what they should do in response. This is the teaching ministry of the church, helping Christians move beyond the milk stage and into the meat stage, aiding the brethren in becoming approved workmen, equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). When the early church was said to be devoting itself to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42), do you think they just read the Bible (that they didn't have yet) over and over? Or did the apostles themselves help people to understand the Scriptures and to explain the Gospel and the ramifications of the resurrection?

Most local fellowship feature some sort of time of "preaching" via sermon, more properly called teaching, and Sunday school. What are those times of teaching but more learned, mature men helping the less mature and even the equally mature, to dig deeper into the Scriptures, see how they fit together and aid us in applying them? That is precisely what the confessions properly used should do. When I read the confessions on a certain topic or refer to a commentary or read a book by a trusted author, I do so with my Bible open but the reason I refer to them is to help me see things that I might have missed. I am not so arrogant as to think that I can read a verse and understand all there is to know about it just based on my own comprehension. I don't speak or read the original languages so I need help there understanding the nuances that might get missed in the translation process. I am not an expert on the ancient world so having some cultural context helps. I always appreciate it when teachers who are wiser than I help me to connect the dots in the grand revealing of the history of salvation.

It sometimes seems as if there is some sort of aversion to anything written on paper other than a Bible. That is mostly an overreaction against perceived and often real abuses of the creeds and confessions but the misuse or abuse of something by a few is not grounds to dismiss that thing entirely. Yes, some Christians and even some entire denominations, are hyper-creedal. When faced with a question they run to the Westminster Confession or the Book of Concord to see what it says rather than going to Scripture and using the confessions to help aid in their understanding. That is unhealthy but it is not an excuse to jettison the accumulated wisdom of hundreds of years from men who were towering intellects. Some people drive their cars irresponsibly and cause accidents but that doesn't mean we should stop using cars. The abuse by some of something good doesn't negate it's value to the rest of us. An overly intellectual faith is unhealthy but the proper response is not an anti-intellectualism but rather a robust, practical, Spirit-driven, Scripture-first intellectualism. I commented the other evening when we were talking about this passage in Acts...

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

...that there is a difference between not being educated and being ignorant. I obviously reject the idea that elders/pastors need a seminary education to qualify for that calling in the church but I don't reject the value of formal education. Without scholars we wouldn't have the Bible in English and would remain captive to the whims of human "priests". I appreciate the work and teaching of men like Albert Mohler and John Piper, Don Carson and Stanley Hauerwas. I don't discount what they have to say because they are well educated men and hopefully I don't give them more credence than they deserve. I am just someone who is hungry to understand and apply the teachings of Jesus and His apostles and I want as many tools at my disposal as I can get. That is all creeds and confessions are, tools in our tool chest, that help us to pull together the redemptive history of the Bible. Maybe you can build a house with nothing but a single hammer but for the rest of us we need all the tools we can get.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Criminal Theological Malpractice Of The American Church

No matter how you slice it, the church called to minister in the United States is flush with resources. I don't think you can argue that there is another time and place in the history of Christianity when the church has enjoyed such legal protection, even though there are ominous signs that is quickly coming to an end. The church is more or less completely independent of overt state control and yet our offerings to the church are tax-deductible and many of our expenditures such as compensation for clergy are also given tax-favorable treatment. We have Bibles out the wazoo (a theological term), ranging from cheap paperback versions for a couple of bucks to versions featuring calfskin covers and other amenities that will set you back hundreds of dollars. If you are even modestly tech savvy you have a dizzying array of Bibles at your fingertip for free and centuries of accumulated wisdom and study tools that would have been inaccessible to anyone without a massive personal library or access to a seminary library less than two decades ago. We run untold billions through church checking accounts every year, heck probably on a weekly basis, and the vast majority of that money is allegedly used to disciple existing Christians in the form of church buildings, clergy, programs and materials, all supposedly designed to equip the church.

What exactly have we gotten in return for this embarrassment of riches? What are the fruits of billions upon billions spent so Christians can worship and be taught in Sunday school and hear a professionally prepared and delivered sermon in comfort every week?

Based on my observations as a Christian of some 15 years who has been around the church quite a bit, the answer is not a heck of a lot.

In fact, the only other entity that I can think of that spends on this scale and gets such poor results in return would be the government.

The reasons are many but the results are pretty clear. The church, such as it is, in America is riddled with false teachers, bad doctrine and even worse, general theological apathy. Our churches are full of very nice people who have been in church all of their lives and are barely acquainted with even basic concepts. I certainly don't expect new Christians to be able to explain the hypostatic union or give me a brief summary of the three major schools of eschatology but I would expect people who have been in church all of their lives to understand the difference between the Old and New Covenant, to see the progression of revelation throughout the Scriptures, to give more than a two word definition of grace.

Like our society in general, the church has saddled entire generations of Christians with the curse of low expectations. We don't expect much from each other and of course that is what we get. I haven't met too many people in the church that are incapable of learning the deeper things of the Kingdom, they just have barely been exposed to them and have never been expected to learn them. As I have written so often, it seems as if we spend all of this money and expend all of this effort in order to intentionally keep the majority of the church as passive observers. Come sing a couple of songs, listen to a sermon, put your check in the plate, maybe go to potluck once in a while, and go about your business the other 167 hours a week with the assurance that you have done your part. I call this the "Show up, shup up and pay up" model.

We need to expect more and ask more of the church. Not simply because it is a matter of a poor return on investment but mainly because it is poor stewardship and harmful to the work of the Kingdom. I am 100% confident that the church can and will rise to the challenge if the challenge is offered to do more, learn more, act more. I am equally confident that if we do not expect more of the church, we will continue to get more of the same, more theological shallowness, more apathy, more disengaged Christians. The future we are facing has little room for casual observer Christians but unless the leaders of the church start to make room for the rest of the church and start to ask of them what the Bible asks of them, increased maturity, service, moving from milk to meat, then we can expect the influence of the church to continue to wane.

25 Years And Counting

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:18-24

Today my wife and I celebrate 25 years of marriage, two and a half decades, one quarter of a century. I was 20 when we were married and 16 when we started dating seriously so in my 45 years of life something like 2/3 has been with my wife. I don't really know what life would look like without her and hopefully I won't find out for a very long time, if ever.

I didn't know what it meant to be married when we took our vows. Sure I knew that I loved her and wanted to be with her for the rest of my life but I didn't know we would move so often and how hard that would be for her or that we would have eight kids or the rough times and all of the really good times, the times of hurt and the times of laughter. I didn't really know how different we would both be when we were middle-aged and that how different we are now from where we were is because we grew up in adulthood together. It has rarely been easy but it has always been a blessing and has usually been a lot of fun.

No truer words came from the mouth of God than it is not good for man to be alone. I am so grateful for the helper he placed in my life, my best friend, the one who listens to me raving and ranting sometimes, the one who console me and encourages me and sometimes rebukes me when necessary. She is exactly what I need and I am confident that her being in my life is no accident or mere chance. Second only to the gift of faith and the forgiveness of my sins, I am grateful to nothing more than the wife God gave me and who He continues to sustain. Thank you Lord. I love you Eva!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Curse Of The Cross

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -Matthew 27:45-46

Is there a more heart-wrenching passage in Scripture than the Son of God crying out to His Father: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The cry of the Son to His Father, Father why have you forsaken me? If you know Christ and realize your own sin and the perfection of Christ, the words of Christ are like a punch in the stomach. I can't read them or hear them aloud without getting torn up. I also know that the Father forsaken the Son at that moment means that I will never be forsaken in turn.

This passage came up today and I remembered a talk that R.C. Sproul gave at Together for The Gospel in 2008 on the curse motif of Scripture, specifically the cross. Here is a good summary of the talk:


I was privileged to be in attendance when Sproul gave this talk. It is dead silent in the room, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. You can listen to the whole talk, it is about an hour long, here. This is the sort of deep, rich thinking that we need more of in the church. Give it a listen, it will enrich your understanding of what Christ did for His sheep on the cross.