31 January 2012

About any Word from God: basic considerations

by Dan Phillips

[You might expect something on ER2 and, eventually, I may write more about it. Meanwhile, I'd just ask you to re-read Thabiti's eloquent and moving post from October 1 of 2011, and this and this, and ask yourself where we would be today if the thoughts in posts such as those and other similar warnings, written months in advance of ER2, had been so broadly and publicly taken up that it would be impossible for MacDonald and Driscoll to ignore such concerns. Meanwhile, this.]

It is a central tenet of Christian faith that there is such a thing as a word from God (Gen. 1:1; 15:1; Jn. 1:1, 14, 18; 3:34, etc.). Without that assertion, made and affirmed, there simply and literally is no Christian faith (Rom. 10:17).

So, HSAT, let's think through some questions about words from God:
  1. Does it change anything, if there is a word from God?
  2. Does it change everything, if there is a word from God?
  3. Does the Bible ever depict the arrival of a fresh word from God as intended to be welcomed as a casual, business-as-usual affair?
  4. Is there such a thing as a word from God that is not inherently fully true, and thus inerrant?
  5. Is there such a thing as a word from God that is not instantly, inherently and absolutely morally-binding?
  6. Even in the cases of words from God that do not direct me to do something (i.e. Jer. 18:1; Jn. 1:14), are they not still inherently and instantly and universally morally-binding in that believers must affirm that they are God's words, and must believe them?
  7. Does not the very existence of tests of prophecy (i.e. Deut. 13:1ff.; 18:15ff.) underscore the fact that, if it is a word from God, all people are obliged to embrace it appropriately?
  8. If the elder(s) of a local church knew of anyone in the congregation that was in rebellion against a word from God, either by refusing to do what the word said to do, or refusing to believe that the word was God's word, would they not be obliged to confront and discipline that person, and ultimately to expel him or her as an unbeliever, absent repentance?
  9. Can a body of believers be in the regular practice of disobeying, ignoring, or being ambivalent about words from God, without disastrous spiritual consequences?
There. Now I'll ask and answer two more questions:
  1. Say... isn't that an awfully basic list of awfully easy questions? (Answer: in "evangelicalism" today? It should be, yes. Would to God that it were. But no, evidently it is not.)
  2. Are you going somewhere with this, fella? (I mean to, yes; probably Thursday.)
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30 January 2012

The Sword and the Shaving Brush

by Phil Johnson

"Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity" (Ephesians 6:24).

'm in Ukraine for the remainder of the week, with a fairly grueling teaching schedule. So this is nothing more than one of those "This Is Where I am Right Now" posts that Frank Turk so despises. And here's a scene from last week's seminar on the life and ministry of C. H. Spurgeon:



Oh, and there's this:

D.A. Carson has responded to Mark Driscoll's attack on evangelicals in the UK.

I'm surprised Carson didn't mention Rico Tice in his short-list of young English preachers who answer Driscoll's challenge and debunk his caricature of UK evangelicals:


See especially how Tice punctuates his comment at 3:00.

A couple of years ago, I heard Tice preach a superb, solidly biblical message on hell at St. Helen's Bishopsgate in London. He's articulate, courageous, and (as one-time captain of Bristol University's Rugby team) surely more virile than anyone who thinks manhood is best exemplified by being a spectator at cage fighting events.

Anyway, I have to say I'm also kind of surprised Carson said anything at all. In the words of a friend of mine, here's the shorthand history of The Gospel Coalition's efforts to corral Driscoll's motormouth:

· Driscoll credits (?) God with playing porn in his head
[ crickets ]
· Driscoll accuses folks of child molesting...though says he could be wrong
[ crickets ]
· Driscoll writes another sex manual
[ crickets ]
· Driscoll validates a false-gospel preaching modalist
[ crickets ]
· Driscoll says Brit pastors are weenies
NOW YOU WAIT JUST A MINUTE, YOUNG MAN!!


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28 January 2012

No Doubt as to what we believe and teach

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from The Greatest Fight in the World: C. H. Spurgeon's Final Manifesto.




e have nowadays around us a class of men who preach Christ, and even preach the gospel; but then they preach a great deal else which is not true, and thus they destroy the good of all that they deliver, and lure men to error. They would be styled "evangelical" and yet be of the school which is really anti-evangelical.

Look well to these gentlemen. I have heard that a fox, when close hunted by the dogs, will pretend to be one of them, and run with the pack. That is what certain are aiming at just now: the foxes would seem to be dogs. But in the case of the fox, his strong scent betrays him, and the dogs soon find him out; and even so, the scent of false doctrine is not easily concealed, and the game does not answer for long.

There are extant ministers of whom we scarce can tell whether they are dogs or foxes; but all men shall know our quality as long as we live, and they shall be in no doubt as to what we believe and teach.

We shall not hesitate to speak in the strongest Saxon words we can find, and in the plainest sentences we can put together, that which we hold as fundamental truth.

C. H. Spurgeon


27 January 2012

Coupla-Five Additional Thoughts on the Events of the Week

by Frank Turk



Before your weekend, you might need a few of these thoughts:

1. I repudiate all attempts to assign motives to the activities witnessed this week as reported/commented on in this blog space.  Gazing into the hearts of people in order to make sense of their actions is for politicians with bad motives, self-promoting charlatans, and gossip-mongers.  It is not anyone's place to discern what is in another person's heart.  However, that does not forbid us from discerning what actually happened and framing our objections to that.

2. That cuts both ways, btw: when someone receives criticism, and they offer, "those people are just jealous," as one among several of the best excuses not to answer that criticism, that's just poisoning the well -- and not even a very clever application of it.  It's sort of like poisoning the well while someone behind you is playing ominous music on a portable sound system and you're perfecting your evil Dr. Horrible laugh.

3. We all want to be on the receiving end of irenic discussions, but very few of us deserve them -- or even know how to participate in them.  You know: I don't blog like this because you get more flies with vinegar than you do with honey.  I blog like this because in the real world where we live, people wandering off the beaten path (specifically: of our faith) don't see gentle rebuke as rebuke at all.  They see it as the infamous "agree-to-disagree" cover they need to do exactly what they intended to do in the first place.  That doesn't mean we dispense with all the niceties.  Those thinking I just tossed out red meat yesterday to drive traffic to our little blog here have a pretty short memory.  Being clear about objections doesn't mean we weren't nice, but obviously the "nice" has gotten no one anywhere -- except to be branded "jealous" and "unfruitful" by those we have criticized.  Somebody who wants an irenic discussion of their experiments in broader ecumenism ought to, at least, not be threatening critics with arrest when they show up at the front door.

4. I'm still looking forward to Acts29 telling us what Mark Driscoll's embrace of TD Jakes as a full-fledged brother in Christ means to them as a network of affiliated churches and church planters.  It will be instructive.

5. You know: yesterday, when I was talking to Paul Edwards about this kerfuffle (a word introduced to this topic, btw, by D.A. Carson when he lined out what it means to be part of the Gospel Coalition back in October 2011), I mentioned that if you pressed, me, I might be willing to say that T.D. Jakes is possibly a brother in Christ.  I'm sure that rattles a lot of cages, so let me line out what I mean by that and then you can blog all weekend to remove me from polite company.
Well, it walks like a Duck ...
  • For starters, I promise you my kids cannot pass an ordination exam regarding the nuances of Trinitarian theology -- and they are pretty sharp kids.  That doesn't mean they aren't Christians: it means they have an incomplete theology which is growing in wisdom, in stature and in the favor of men (if I can say it that way and not also be drummed out of polite company).  A person doesn't need to have a completely-complete systematic theology to be saved by Christ.  Jakes might have the same lousy theological education that most adults in America have, and still have faith in Christ.
  • That said, that does not excuse him in the least for being a person who, for decades, has taught what is undeniably-modalist theology, and has trained others to do so.  It doesn't release him from the requirement to repent and recant his false teaching, and to make it right by, at the very least, revising and remaking his remarks on this subject.  He's a leader and not just Jack in the Pew: he has more responsibility than the average blogger, not less, when it comes to an item like this.
  • And this goes directly to the question of his Christian status as a brother in Christ.  When I say something that's false or misleading, or I do something which fumbles the ball in some way,  of course I should do the right thing and repent.  When I do that, I prove I am an actual brother in Christ and not a faker or someone who is either self-deceived or intentionally deceptive.  If he's my brother in Christ, saying, "I'm on a journey," and "It's actually too mysterious for words," and "well, I use 'manifestations' when you use 'persons' but we just mean the same darn thing," and so on is actually the opposite of humility and the opposite of brotherly love: it's self-justification.  It says that all errors are actually par for the course, and that I have no culpability in them.  That's not Christian faith speaking: that's something else, and it's ugly.  You want me to treat you like a brother (much less: a leader and teacher) in Christ?  Act like it.  Do what we do.  Real fruitfulness is repentance whenever we do something wrong, and not justifying our mistakes is a very corny, aw-shucks way.
And with that, I'm done for the week.  The comments are shut down.  When you read this, remember to be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people, and have some faith in the real man Christ Jesus, who humbled himself before he was born to actually condescend to be born and then die for the sake of the rest of us who are daily mucking things up.  It's a game-changer.







26 January 2012

After the Circus Parade

by Frank Turk

Yes, part 3 of my conference notes are already posted, so you can see them below.  However, yesterday T.D. Jakes (apparently) came clean as a fully-throated Trinitarian, and suffered a round of brotherly acceptance from James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll, so the whole matter is settled and now you people seem to owe everybody an apology for your godless, cessationist carping about orthodoxy and such things.

Right?

Oh wait: James MacDonald resigned from the leadership of The Gospel Coalition just days before Bishop Jakes' revelation that "manifestations" and "persons" are, pretty much, the same thing as long as you make sure your footnotes are properly added (you know: there are things the Father does which the Son did not do, and so on).  And the question of whether or not the Prosperity Gospel is in any way problematic with regards to the preaching of Christ, and Him crucified, (especially when it comes to the consequences of giving and, in the actions of a pastor, taking) just didn't come up.

So here's the deal: Phil is in deepest, darkest Eastern Europe this week, and I gave Dan the week off so I could post my conference notes here and link to the audio.  That means I get to post the first response to the Elephant Room 2 content.

Ready?

Ahem.



1. Someone needs to check the date for Mark Driscoll's shelf life as a reliable person.  In the past month, he utterly disgraced himself on the "Unbelievable" podcast by interrogating this host, Justin Brierly, and accusing him and the whole British Christian church of being a flop because they also don't have a Mark Driscoll, and they have a few women pastors.  But, when the other shoe drops and he has Bishop Jakes sitting before him in a place where there are supposed to be hard conversations, Bishop Jakes gets the velvet gloves -- including a complete whiff at the issue of egalitarianism in Jakes' own theology and church.  Of course, Jakes was not criticizing Driscoll's book, so the question of whether he's a good egalitarian or a bad one seems to fade in the distance.

2. The Gospel Coalition's response to MacDonald's resignation is par for the course for an organization that, frankly, values unity above the means to achieve unity (which is: sharpening each other with the truth).  The dodge that they are a "center-bounded" organization also needs to be checked for its shelf-life date as this kerfuffle demonstrates exactly what it means to be "center-bounded" -- you can hang out with us as long as you don't embarrass us, and when you do embarrass us, you just have to excuse yourself and we'll smile and wave.  If what happened yesterday was that Bishop Jakes exonerated himself from the charges of, as they say, bloggers, then credible people should embrace his clarifications (they certainly weren't any kind of recanting), and we happen to know of a group who are qualified to do just that.  If Jakes' chat with Mark Driscoll does not finally clear things up, then what's the best way for the council of TGC to handle Mark Driscoll's (non-resigned council member) endorsement of Jakes' orthodoxy?  I don't have any suggestions, but I think ignoring it is the way old-school Fundamentalists acted when their leaders did stupid things, and we know that TGC is not a group of Fundies, right?

3. TGC is not the only organization that has bacon in the fire after yesterday.  Acts29 is full of men who, if you ask me, are serious and sober guys with theological convictions that the Gospel matters -- which is why they bring it to the least of these, wherever they are.  I know Acts29 guys.  I know they abhor the Prosperity Gospel, anti-trinitarianism, The Oprah/Osteen axis of feel-good pep talks (which passes directly through the center of Jakes' church), using the Bible like a fortune cookie generator, and phony expressions of anything, including unity.  I'm looking forward to them helping us understand what happened yesterday because they, too, are not old-school Fundies who support their leaders no matter what, and the "matter what" has presented itself as if the circus parade has just come down Main Street.

So there you go -- you're going to miss a great post on what the Gospel means to marriage and the church today because you're going to get totally absorbed by this post.  Good thing nothing ever disappears on the internet.







3 of 3: Why the Church needs Marriage

by Frank Turk

This is Part 3 of 3.  You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.  And the audio of the whole thing is here.  Also: the audio for all the talks from the conference can be found here, including the panel discussion and both of Tim Challies' talks.


For those who asked, the whole talk as I delivered it can be found here in PDF form.

In the earliest periods of Roman history, Marriage meant that a married woman would be subjugated by her husband, but that custom had died out by the 1st century, in favor of Free Marriage which did not grant a husband any rights over his wife or have any changing effect on a woman's status.  With this, the reasons for any divorce became irrelevant. Either spouse could leave a marriage at any point.

This was the state of things into the second century  -- as the Christian church entered the ancient world.  At that time, the Christians had no political power, no economic power, and were seen as weird and irrational atheists because they only worshipped one god.  They had nothing -- no publishing houses, no televisions networks, no newspapers, no blogs.  They had absolutely no advantages in the society in general.

In our view, that means the game is over.  I think our view of it is deeply influenced by our own prosperity and our own good standing in the culture, but if we had no legislative recourse and no way to make movies about what we say we believe, we would see the problem of helping our culture rethink, refine and restore the institution of marriage as completely without hope.

Yet, the Christians in the –pre-christian west didn’t see it that way at all.  We have a great way to document this.  There’s a manuscript of a letter from a fellow who calls himself “Mathetes” to his friend “Diognetus”.  This letter was written some time between 130 AD and 200 AD – plainly, safely, in the middle of the second century.  Mathetes says he is writing his letter for a specific reason to his friend:

Excellent Diognetus: I see you are very eager to learn the way of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians.  You have very carefully and earnestly asked questions concerning them: … what sort of relationships they have among themselves, and why this way of worshipping has come now rather than much sooner into the world.  I am happy to encourage your questions, and I pray to God, because he enables us both to speak and to hear: allow me to speak so that, above all, you are encouraged and enlightened; and allow you to hear, so that I shall have no cause of regret for having done so.

Mathetes is trying to tell his friend about these disenfranchised Christians.  As the primary exhibit of making this report to his friend, Mathetes says this (paraphrased):
These Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, or common customs. They don’t have their own cities, they don’t have their own language, and they don’t lead a lifestyle which is peculiar or spectacular. They haven’t developed a new philosophy invented by very smart men; they don’t proclaim themselves to be the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, living in Greek and barbarian cities without preference, according to their lot in life, they follow the customs of the people who live where they live in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct.  But they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. 
So they live in each country, but they live there as sojourners, travellers passing through. As citizens, they do what all citizens do, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They live their time on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. 
They obey the written laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are insignificant and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. 
This view of life, but specifically of familial relationships, and especially of marriage, was a massive innovation from the Greco-Roman concepts and laws.  And that the Christians held fast to them in spite of slander and persecution was even of greater importance – because it spoke to, as Methetes said, a striking method of life.  They did not live in compliance to the law – their vision of what was right was not because the law set the standard.  Their vision was not lived out because they were seeking to change the law – because they saw themselves as people who were strangers, foreigners in a land that they did not belong to.  Their vision of life was completely apart from and above the Law.

Ultimately, Mathetes tells Diognetus why they live above the law:
As I said, what they believe is no mere earthly invention, nor is it a merely-human system of opinion, which they have decided to preserve.  God Almighty Himself, the Creator of all things though invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, a man who is the truth.  He is the holy and incomprehensible Word, and He has firmly established Him in their hearts. One might have imagined, God might send a servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who is influential in Earthly affairs, or one of with supernatural majesty and authority, but He did not.  … 
As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so He sent this man.  He sent this man as a man among men, and as God among men, and as a savior to men.  He came seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for oppression has no place in the character of God. He sent Him to call us, not as an avenger of justice to incarcerate us. He sent Him to love us, not as judging us – even though He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?  
But when our wickedness was fully grown, it had been clearly shown that its reward ought to be punishment and death, and was impending over us. God had before appointed for that time to come.  But God did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us because he manifested His own kindness and power, the one love of God, for men.  Instead He showed great long-suffering, and then He took upon Him the burden of our iniquities. 
He gave His own Son as a ransom for us.  He gave the holy One for transgressors.  He gave the blameless One for the wicked.  He gave the righteous One for the unrighteous many, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for those that are mortal. For what else was capable of covering our sins other than His righteousness? By what other way was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable work! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!
Does that sound familiar to anyone?  Does it strike a chord? See: for Methetes, the Christians were people who weren’t concerned about making the Law acceptable to themselves – or worse, to make other people acceptable by the force of Law.  Methetes believed that the Christians had something greater in mind than the law – They had the very Gospel in mind.

And this is the view which, in spite of the very uncertain economic and political environment of the next 15 centuries of Western Civilization, became the common view of marriage.  That is, it is not merely a social construct or advantage, but an utterly spiritual endeavor which is rightly and primarily ruled by the church because of its deep meaning.  While we may disagree with it, we can grant that the Catholic Church’s high view of marriage as a “sacrament” which has a greater demand on the two people involved than only a contract arbitrated by law can have is an easy mistake to make when we listen to how Jesus describes marriage as built into the very fabric of creation.

Now, more or less, this is the home stretch of my talk, and I have an answer here for the problem we’re considering which the readers of my blog will recognize immediately, but it will need to be unpacked.  And it goes back to this argument of “have you not read,” or “God has said.”

The question for us today is the same as the question the Pharisees asked Jesus 2000 years ago: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?"  That is: “Should we define marriage for our culture through the law?”  We know that society needs marriage.  And the definition of marriage we own in the West is the Christian definition – regardless of the arguments of those who want to change that.

But let me say it simply and seriously now: improving the Law is not going to improve the shoddy and shameful slanders against the conservative Christian definition of marriage, or against the institution of marriage in our culture.

There is a myth that the rate of divorce inside the church is the same as it is outside the church – the Barna Group perpetuates this myth all the time.  The truth is not quite that incriminating: a 2002 study by Larson and Swyers published in “Marriage, Health and the Professions” and cited in the National Review in 2006 spells it out that couples who attended church as often as once a month had divorce rates less than half of that of couples who attended church once a year or less.

Jesus has a definition of Marriage, and Society needs that kind of marriage – if for nothing else than stability and continuity.  But does the Church need Marriage?  Can the church abandon marriage to the culture and still be the sort of thing Jesus intended?

I think the answer, quite frankly, is no: the church must again bring marriage to society in a way that is greater than the Law.  You see: marriage is a necessary way in which the church brings the Gospel to Culture – and in this case, the Gospel is actually the solution to culture.

This is why our argument for marriage, our apologetic for this union, is not merely an evolutionary argument which says that because there are two sexes, marriage is for two sexes only.  Our argument rests not on the brute fact that men and women exist and seem to have the equivalent of matching Lego parts, but on the matter that God has actually said something about this.

This is why Jesus’ appeal, “have you not read,” is so shocking, so offensive: it is not merely that God has made things a certain way, but that he has given us a very extensive exposition of the union.  While the first description of this is in Genesis, which is where Jesus points the Pharisees, the Old Testament apex of the image is in Hosea – where a man takes a wife not only for himself, but for the purpose of redeeming God’s people.  And in that marriage, the question of adultery is utterly unquestionable: Hosea has married an adulteress.  She is utterly beneath him.  In fact, she leaves him for her former life.  But God says something else here: love in marriage is a picture of God’s love for those who abandon him, and cheat on him for other means of satisfaction.

This is the point: God says it.  That is: he makes it clear with words that this is what he means by it.  Jesus sums it up briefly in his response to the Pharisees, but that question of “one flesh” comes up again as Paul instructs the church in Ephesus:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, … that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 
And to the wives he said:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Now let me ask you: how can this be translated into a Law when it is in fact utterly the woof and weave of the Gospel?  It cannot be translated into Law.  Trying to do so makes it something which human people cannot do.  You cannot legislate the humility this takes.  You cannot legislate the priorities this requires.  You cannot legislate the profound intimacy this creates.  You cannot legislate the love at the very heart of this relationship which God wrote into the very creation of our kind.

Listen to me now as I close up:

The church needs marriage because it is a necessary part of God’s order in creation.

You know: society knows it needs this because this is how human kind not only carries on but flourishes.  Marriage externally shows itself to be a good thing even when considered in the most superficial and materialistic ways.

But there is something the church knows which is not disclosed in mere creation.  It is only disclosed by God’s Special revelation, and specifically and particularly in marriage.  If we overlook that, or find that to be somehow second-rate in favor of other means, we will have made a Gospel fail – we will have given up something God made for the purpose of demonstrating His plan for all things.

If we think we can preach the Gospel and not use this example to preach it for reals, we’re kidding ourselves about how we understand what God is doing in and through the Gospel.

The church needs marriage because broken people need to be sanctified and to learn the meaning of sacrifice and love.

This is certainly not the least reason – this is the “for reals” of the Gospel.  Look: nobody ever married a perfect person.  My wife certainly didn’t – I confess it.  But think about this, as told by Tim Keller in a recent RELEVANT Magazine essay:
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace. 
The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.

The church needs marriage to fully and rightly demonstrate the Gospel to society

I mentioned this right at the beginning of the talk: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” This is what the church needs to demonstrate to Society, and society needs the example because it frankly cannot come from anywhere else,  The message of the Gospel can only come from the church because we are the only ones entrusted with it, and we must deliver it through Gospel perfect example of marriage.

Is marriage the only way we send this message?  Absolutely not.  But consider the question we are asking today: what do we do about sexual confusion?  What do we do about our society where the norm is quickly becoming illegitimacy and an knee-jerk retreat to divorce when things get hard?  What do we do to show people what virtue is rather than beat them down over their failings when ours are frankly no less visible or obvious?

If our concern is whether or not our culture understands the right roles of men and women under God’s design and authority, the solution to the culture is the Gospel – as wrapped up in the design of marriage.  Missing this, and setting our hope on the transforming power of the Law rather than on the work of Christ in the message of the Gospel, is never going to achieve what we intend to achieve.

If the church was serious about this kind of love – which is Christ’s kind of love, first and foremost demonstrated on the Cross for a specific bride in order to make her holy and spotless before God – it wouldn’t abide a social Gospel of nondescript good will or idiotic exhortations about “your best life now”. Listen: often in marriage, you are not on the receiving end of good things but are in fact in the middle of hard doings. And if you expect that your marriage should be about satisfying you instead of sanctifying someone else through sacrifice, you will want to end your marriage in short order – kids and social appearances out the window. And let’s be honest: since divorce in the church looks like divorce in the world – that is, we do it for all the same reasons – I suspect we think of “marriage” in the same way the world does. So when the world simply wants to make the law look like what we are actually practicing, we have to look in the mirror and admit to ourselves that we are to blame for what the world thinks of marriage.

There’s one last thing I want to tell you, which is critical to taking action if we understand that we will teach the world what marriage out to be.  Paul said it to Timothy: “All who seek to lead a Godly life will be persecuted.”  We should expect that if we are committed to marriage, it will be hard work.  It will be hard to be a man who is literally giving up his life for the sake of his wife, for the sake of her nurturing and care.  It will be hard to be a woman who looks to her husband as the one who will do anything, no matter what the consequences, to care for her as if she was his own body.  But the benefit for you, for your marriage and family, for your church, and for society, is wrapped up by God in the very order of things.  Have you not read: he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'

If you can hear Him say that today, don’t harden your hearts against it.  Trust him that he did what is good for you, and believe it.

My thanks for your time today, and may God richly bless you.




25 January 2012

2 of 3: Does Society Need Marriage?


by Frank Turk


This is part 2 of 3.  You can find Part 1 (from yesterday) here.


This is an important point in this story: the Pharisees came to undo Jesus, to ruin him as a teacher and a leader, and in some sense as the very Messiah, with the Law.  They came to him with a point of law, with which they were experts, and they believed they asked him a question that could not be answered wisely – from the Law.  But Jesus gives them an answer that exceeds the requirements of the law.

“Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?"   They asked him.  He replied: "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

Jesus doesn’t really give us a lot of wiggle room here by saying this.  If Jesus were conducting the argument for marriage in public today, he probably wouldn’t say to people, “well, as long as the law makes it clear that it’s men and women in biologically-compatible pairs we’re talking about, OK.  That’ll do.  Maybe that’s all you folks can keep up with anyway.”  Jesus says here something far more incriminating.

He says that the only purpose of the law regarding marriage is to manage your “hard hearts” – an interesting term lifted from the Old Testament.  He means that Moses gave that Law to manage your disobedience and your uncanny ability to do what is right in your own eyes.   It’s an effective way to tell them plainly: you’re asking this question because you are just like your fathers, just like the people in the book of Judges, and Joshua, just like the people in Kings and Chronicles and Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel and Zechariah.  Why did Moses give you the Law?  Because the Law is for law-breakers, and even with the law, it turns out that you fellows are still prone to abuse the Law and make yourselves and your wives into adulterers anyway.

In one sense, Jesus has painted a pretty hopeless picture here.  It’s so hopeless that the scene ends with his disciples saying, “wow.  In that case, maybe it’s better that nobody should get married at all.”  That is: when they understand what it means to have marriage defined by the law, it looks like a recipe for failure.  And let’s give the disciples credit here for knowing themselves pretty well: as they hear Jesus say these things, they realize that this is actually how they think about divorce: it’s an escape from something they no longer want, but Jesus says using the law like that only makes you worse, guilty of adultery.

So this brings us to the serious question we are considering today: do either the church or society even need marriage?    I mean: if the disciples could hear what Jesus was saying here, and their response was, “um, maybe we should just not do this thing,” what should our response be?  And how do we communicate that to society?  Does society need marriage, really?

Well, what are the choices?  For example, what if we compare those who are married, and stay married, to those who are either not married or not able to stay married.

In 2010, The National Review reported on the CDC numbers on birth rates in the United States, and Robert Rector had this to say about the results:
America is rapidly becoming a two-caste society, with marriage and education at the dividing line. Children born to married couples with a college education are mostly in the top half of the population; children born to single mothers with high-school degrees or less are mostly in the bottom half.
So plainly, having children outside of marriage is not a great idea – but can people thrive without marriage?  That is: does the average person do better or worse if they are married?

Consider this: the common way to determine whether or not people are “in poverty” is to take the total number of households in a nation (in our case, the US), order them from the lowest household income to the highest household income, and divide that set of data into 5 groups, each containing the same number of households.  This is called dividing the population into “quintiles” of income.  In the US, there are roughly 113 million households, so each quintile has about 22.6 million households.

When you do this, you can examine the characteristics of each quintile to see whether or not there are other features in common in each quintile besides income.  I know this is a little boring and seems off-topic, but follow me here: in the general population, 51.3% of all households are married couples – 58.1 million households.  Of those, 13.085 million are below the middle quintile – which is 22.5%.  The other 77.5% of married households are in the middle quintile or better, meaning that more than 3/4th of all married households are well above the poverty line.  Most tellingly, 80% of all households in the top quintile are married couples, and when you narrow that down to the top 5% of all households the percentage grows to more than 85% being married.

Far more telling is that single-person households only account for 16% of all households, and less than 8% of all households in the highest quintile.  It’s sort of an invincible fact that marriage is good for household units, and it’s not a very far leap to say that when you aggregate that family-unit benefit to larger sociological or political measuring units – town, city, county, state, nation, culture/society – the benefit for the household unit is a net benefit for society.

But that is merely the economic impact of marriage on household units.  Does society benefit is other ways from marriage?  Let’s consider another product of marriage:  People.  That is: children.  This information is mind-blowing, so pay close attention.

In April 1998, City Journal published a study of birth rates based on the CDC annual review of birth rates in the United States.  The author of the article, Heather MacDonald, had this to say about that review:
"Illegitimacy is the greatest cause of long-term poverty in this country; unless it comes down, the poverty rate won't, either. [women] who give birth [out of wedlock] will [statistically] drift in and out of low-paid work for the rest of their lives, futilely seeking the holy grail of a permanent, ‘living-wage’ job."
In April 2010, Robert Rector wrote the following in the National Review:
The disappearance of marriage in low-income communities is the predominant cause of child poverty in the U.S. today. If poor single mothers were married to the fathers of their children, two-thirds of them would not be poor. The absence of a husband and father from the home also is a strong contributing factor to failure in school, crime, drug abuse, emotional disturbance, and a host of other social problems.
And that’s a fairly-broad claim by Rector, but it is substantiated over and over again by all manner of sociological research.  David Kopel, former DA for NYC,  has pointed out that in that jurisdiction “Almost 70 percent of juveniles incarcerated in state reform institutions come from homes with no father or without their natural parents. Most gang members, 60 percent of rapists, and 75 percent of teenage homicide perpetrators come from single-parent homes.” (1997)  Nationally, according to the CDC and national law enforcement agencies:

  • 63% of youth suicides are from broken homes. (Source: U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census).
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from broken homes. (Source: National Principals Assoc. Report on the State of High Schools).
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from broken homes. (Source: Center for Disease Control).
  • 80% of rapist motivated by displaced anger come from broken homes. (Source: Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 14, pp. 403-26).
  • 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a broken home. (Source: Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. Of Corrections, 1992).
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from broken homes.

It’s simply unquestionable: whatever it is that happens in a home where there is a father and a mother, it completely outstrips the socialization and behavioral characteristics of homes without 2 parents.

So marriage as such is a massive benefit to society – it is more likely to create financially-prosperous household units which, by and large, produce children less likely to commit suicide, drop out of school, exhibit behavioral disorders, and break the law.  Society needs marriage.

Listen: society knows it needs marriage.  You cannot find a society at any point in history which doesn’t have some sort of norms for establishing marriages and households.  We didn’t really have the rattle off the long list of liabilities of non-married arrangements to make this case.  The question is only this: how and from where do societies get their ideas of marriage?

Every society has marital norms, right?  That’s actually a secular argument here -- You can find all manner of marriage arrangements if you do a little research.  Wikipedia – the fount of secularized information that it is – lists dozens of types of marriage:

Arranged marriage
Boston marriage
Celestial marriage
Chinese ghost marriage/Spirit marriage
Covenant marriage
Endogamous
Female husband marriage
Fleet Marriage
Ghost marriage
Group marriage
Hollywood marriage
Human
Intermarriage or Mixed marriage
Interracial marriage
Lavender marriage
Levirate marriage
Line marriage
Love marriage
Mixed
Monogamy
Multiple marriages
Open marriage
Polyandry
Polygamy
Polygyny
Same-sex
Serial monogamy
Sexless marriage
Sister exchange

And let’s be honest: this is an attempt by secular advocates to say that as long as we call it “marriage,” it doesn’t matter what definition we use.  That is: the definitions here aren’t important, and the same outcomes will come under any of these arrangements – so let’s just settle on some kind of simplified version of this, something which appeals to the common denominator and common sense, and let’s move on.

Or worse still: it’s the way society reproaches us, the church, for the foundation of Jesus’ argument: “Have you not read,” and “God has said.”  You know: if it’s that clear, and God has said something, how do we come up with dozens – maybe hundreds – of different definitions of marriage when we look across cultures?  We may say that we should have read about this, but see here: none of these people have, and they’re perfectly fine.

A few years ago, Newsweek ran a cover story and featured articles about the definition of marriage, and this is what they had to say about the subject:
Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script? 
Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.
Listen to that:  “Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple turn to the Bible as a how-to script? Of course not!”  Not only does this writer get the narrative of the Bible on this subject completely wrong, she runs rough-shod over the historical fact that the way we view marriage today as “harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about … romantic love” is completely and utterly a function of the Christian influence over this cultural institution.

But let’s be a little self-aware about confusion: it’s a direct consequence of the Protestant Reformation.  Both Luther and Calvin, while having a very high view of the union of marriage, reacted against the Roman Catholic view of marriage as a sacrament by making it an important and God-ordained institution which, like all other vocations, ought to be administered by the civil magistrate.  Calvin had second thoughts about this before the end of his life, but it is unquestionable that the Protestant states of Europe were the ones which, in an effort to take this power out the hands of ecclesiastical courts, put it in the hands of the civil courts.  This migration had little immediate impact on the definition of marriage in Europe and America because all the judicial precedence for the civil courts were the decisions of the ecclesiastical courts.  But over time as Western culture moved through the enlightenment, the legal definitions of contract became more and more the model for how the Law ought to view marriage.  It was only in the 19th century that divorce became commonly legal in the English-speaking world, but the rate of divorce has become an epidemic in the last 50 years.

The collapse of the definition of marriage, folks, is because Christians wanted the Law to decide the answer to the question: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?"  Because we have handed it over to the courts to decide, they are deciding it.

Well, to respond to that, let’s consider this: how did the West ever get a Christian view of marriage?  That is: Western Civ predates the church, the Christian faith.  How did marriage become the domain of the church in the first place?

The ancient Greeks considered the relation of marriage a matter not merely of private, but also of public or general interest.  The laws were founded on the generally recognised principle that it was the duty of every citizen to raise up strong, healthy and legitimate children to the state.  The ancient Athenians liberally allowed divorce, but only the state, the magistrate, could declare the divorce.

In the earliest periods of Roman history, Marriage meant that a married woman would be subjugated by her husband, but that custom had died out by the 1st century, in favor of Free Marriage which did not grant a husband any rights over his wife or have any changing effect on a woman's status.  With this, the reasons for any divorce became irrelevant. Either spouse could leave a marriage at any point.

This was the state of things into the second century  -- as the Christian church entered the ancient world.  At that time, the Christians had no political power, no economic power, and were seen as weird and irrational atheists because they only worshipped one god.  They had nothing -- no publishing houses, no televisions networks, no newspapers, no blogs.  They had absolutely no advantages in the society in general.

In our view, that means the game is over.  I think our view of it is deeply influenced by our own prosperity and our own good standing in the culture, but if we had no legislative recourse and no way to make movies about what we say we believe, we would see the problem of helping our culture rethink, refine and restore the institution of marriage as completely without hope.

Yet, the Christians in the -pre-christian west didn’t see it that way at all.


... to be continued ...


24 January 2012

1 of 3: Why the Church and Society need Marriage

by Frank Turk


Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with my wife and the extremely-gracious folks in Warsaw, IN, at Christ Covenant Church & Trinity Evangelical Church (and their friends at the St. Regis Club) for a conference on the meaning of human sexuality & marriage.  

Tim Challies gave two very fine talks about definitional issues surrounding sexuality and marriage, and I got the simple and uncontroversial topic, "Why Marriage Is Necessary to a Civilized Society."

What follows today, tomorrow, and Thursday will be the substance of that talk, edited only to remove the topical items related to the conference.  Enjoy.


From the book of Matthew, Chapter 19:
1Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 
 3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" 4He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." 7They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" 8He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." 
10The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry."
Let’s open in a word of prayer:

Jesus, you are life for all men, and the light to all men.  You shine in the darkness, but the darkness has never understood it, and never overcome it.  The Law was given through Moses, but through you, we receive Grace and Truth.  Today, God, forgive us because sometimes we forget we are not the givers of law but in fact the ambassadors of Grace.  Teach us, God, to say what you say about this subject for the purpose that you say it – which is to call your people to yourself.  And help us, God, to be a light on a lamp stand in this dark world, the salt of the earth, and good and true neighbors to those who need you.  We pray this for your glory and honor, Jesus.  Amen.

Most of you have no idea who I am or why I’m qualified to speak at a conference like this.  Maybe I’m not actually qualified, but I am pretty deeply attached to this subject because I am a married man – and I haven’t always been one of those.  In fact, I can say with confidence that I was, for a long time, not qualified to be a married man.  When I realized this, I was ruined.  I mean: who doesn’t want to get married, right?  And it’s not like anyone would have stopped me – it wasn’t illegal for me to get married.  But there was no right-minded woman who would have married me.

And that was part of the conviction that led me to Christ: not that if I liked Jesus I could find a girl, but that there was something inside me which was deeply broken, and that anyone who knew me well enough to consider marrying me would know that much about me, and they’d say, “No.  No way!  He’s good for a laugh sometimes, but he’s a car wreck.”

So when I found Christ, I handed him my car wreck and told him simply, “I have no idea what to do with this.  I just need you to save it.”  And he did – he saved me from the car wreck of my sin so that the wrecker of judgment wasn’t going to haul me off to the junk yard of God’s wrath.

Which brings me back here to this topic of marriage.  The title of my talk today is, “Better Together: Why the Church and Society both need God’s plan for Marriage.”  It may seem obvious to most of you, but Jesus doesn’t just save us from the final judgment – although that’s important.  Jesus saves us for the sake of doing something with and for the sake of this Gospel we want to proclaim.  Right? Eph 2? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

See: for me, I had to ask God to make me into a man who could be a good husband. God: what is a good husband?  God: who must I be in order to find a good wife?  God: what will our marriage look like, and how will I know when I have done what you have expected from me?

So to answer the first question here – that is, what qualifies me to come here to you and tell you why the church and society need God’s definition of marriage – it is because I need God’s definition of marriage, and you’re just like me.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a believer who will ponder these few minutes we have together deeply or an unbeliever who has already tuned me out because of my Jesusing up here: you are just like me, and you’re a car wreck.  I know what the tow truck looks like, and I know what it means to be towed out of the scene of the accident and be put back together.  Often.

Let’s turn back to our passage of Scripture for a few minutes, and find God’s definition of marriage.  I would be hard pressed to believe that most of you here today have never heard this story from the book of Matthew before: Large crowds were following Jesus around, and the Pharisees were worried about that.    So they came to him, as they usually did, with a question.  The question was simple: can a man issue his wife a divorce for any reason?

Now, this is a broad question – and in some way it seems almost too easy, right?  “Any reason?  You mean like for burning his lamb chop or not finishing the dishes?  What sort of question is that?  Of course divorce is not for just any reason.”

But it turns out that this is exactly what they meant – among the rabbis, there were two schools of thought on the matter.  One of them did in fact say that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all, and the other taught that divorce was only for adultery, and even then only for intentional and persistent infidelity.  It’s a pretty big gap, and the commentators on this passage say that the purpose of this question was, of course, to trip Jesus up.  The thinking here goes that the question was made so that if Jesus answered in favor of one school or the other, it would effectively split his followers in half – or worse, split them so desperately that they fighting would disperse them altogether.

So in one sense, the question is asked to make sure Jesus cannot win.

But in another sense, the question is asked to measure Jesus against the standard of the Law – against the standard of Moses.  If Jesus did not answer the way the Law says he ought to, he was certainly a guilty man – someone inventing his own standard and teaching it to others.  It would be easy to call him wicked if he did not make it clear how the Law should govern the matter, or if he was releasing people to act in any way which looked right in their own eyes.

But let’s look at the question a moment before we get to Jesus’ answer. It’s one of those moments in the Bible when we have to be careful not to read too solemnly, or else we’re bound to miss how utterly human and relevant the text is.  Here are the Pharisees – the keepers of the Whole Law – asking Jesus when it was time for divorce because it was a common question. In a nutshell, the question is one that, if we are honest, is common in our culture: when is it OK to get a divorce?

Jesus, however, isn’t stumped by the question.  He’s not left to ponder it a minute – he sees right through the question and takes it directly to the heart of the matter.  We’ll come back to the first part of his answer is a few minutes: “Have you not read …?”  There’s a very important special plea there that we have to look at, but it’s important enough to take up last even though he started there.  But he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them.”  That is: if we’re going to talk about marriage, we can’t start anywhere but “the beginning,” which is to say, the purpose of men and women.

This is a hard sell even in religious circles today – that people are made and are not making themselves.  People want to be what they imagine they want to be, rather than what they ought to be.

This comes out of us in so many different ways.  You know: we want to be comfortable and leisurely, but look at how we are made – we are made to work.  We want to be somewhat sophisticated and cosmopolitan – in secular circles that is done by association with the rich and famous, and in our reformed circles, it’s done by quoting Calvin, Spurgeon, Luther and obscure puritans; we want to be very clever and be seen as clever, and if we were really clever, we’d write the pithy quotes rather than memorize them.  We’re not clever and self-taught: we need instruction.  We are made to be something by nature, by kind, and it’s no accident.

And Jesus underscores this: he actually takes out the question of “any reason” by pointing to the first reason: God made men and women.  That is: “he made them and said.”  That goes back to the over-arching argument, “have you not read?” but look at it simply from the standpoint of telling the story for a second: from Jesus’ perspective, God didn’t just make people with the animals, and the animals would be a kind of example for people and vice versa.  From Jesus’ perspective, when God created man and woman, he had something to say to them right at the beginning, and it matters.  What the Pharisees have asked him, then, is a sort of nonsense question: can marriage end for any old reason?  Well, of course not – because it wasn’t started for any old reason.  It was started when God made man and woman, so when you think about marriage, you have to think of God’s purpose in it, not man’s.

And here’s what God said, according to Jesus, right at the beginning when he made them: 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’

I think it’s interesting that a recent best-effort to set the law straight here in the United States was the Proposition 8 effort in California.  The State of California presented a ballot initiative called commonly called Proposition 8  which would amend its constitution and formally define “marriage” under the law.  The law read simply:
Section I. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the "California Marriage Protection Act."
Section 2. Article I. Section 7.5 is added to the California Constitution, to read:
Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Jesus says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

In Malachi 2, the Bible says it this way:

      But did He not make them one,
      Having a remnant of his Spirit?
      And why one?
      He seeks godly offspring.
      Therefore take heed to your spirit,
      And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
      “For the LORD God of Israel says
      That He hates divorce,
      For it covers one’s garment with violence.”

And somehow we offer that up in secular law as, “we only recognize marriage between a man and a woman.”

See: when Jesus says what he says, there are things which, frankly, the people asking him questions have either not remembered, or never learned.  “The two shall become one flesh,” he says.  Paul picks that up later in Ephesians, and tells us that a man who is married must treat his wife like his own flesh, and care for her, and nurture her.  To say that marriage is only “between a man and a woman,” seems to be missing something by comparison.

Jesus’ point is that the first purpose is that man and woman are made for each other.  That is, before we can talk about what the law might say about marriage, we have to see what marriage is for, and who it is for, and where it comes from.  And Jesus’ point is utterly unambiguous: the law does not create marriage.  Marriage comes far before the law, and it is built into the purpose of creation.

Now, there’s nothing new there for anybody in this room, right?  Whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever, you have heard some version of this before.  It shouldn’t be news to anyone that the Christian ideal of marriage is that man and woman are made for each other, and that they are to be joined together in a permanent way, in a miraculous way.

When Jesus tells the Pharisees that marriage was meant, from the beginning, to be an inseparable bond, they ask him a question: “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?"  That is: Jesus – what you’re talking about here doesn’t look like the Law of Moses. How do you run this thing?  We were asking you a practical question, Jesus, and you’re giving us a very lofty, but unworkable, answer. “One flesh? Moses gave us instructions on how to handle a divorce, and you come across with ‘one flesh’.”

It doesn’t look like a Law at all, does it?  It looks like something far more impossible, more incredible than any law.

This is an important point in this story: the Pharisees came to undo Jesus, to ruin him as a teacher and a leader, and in some sense as the very Messiah, with the Law.  They came to him with a point of law, with which they were experts, and they believed they asked him a question that could not be answered wisely – from the Law.  But Jesus gives them an answer that exceeds the requirements of the law.


... to be continued ...

23 January 2012

The Paragon of Perfect Love

by Phil Johnson



What follows is a message I wrote to an anonymous Internet hit-and-run commenter who posted an angry blast labeling some friends of mine "Pharisees" because, he said, they were "too concerned about orthodoxy and not concerned enough about unity, diversity, human dignity, and other' people's sensitivities."

The gadfly objected because someone in that forum had used the expression "theological miscreant" to describe a certain pernicious heretic. He went on for several paragraphs, scolding no one in particular but indiscriminately upbraiding anyone who might read. Then, oblivious to the irony of his closing remonstration, he wrote, "No one has the right to correct someone else's theology unless you have established a relationship based on love."

Anyway, I Tweeted the first sentence of the following response last week, and someone asked me for more context. Here it is:


he Pharisees' problem was not that they were too concerned with orthodox teaching, but that they had invented their own orthodoxy. Jesus condemned them for replacing and modifying the clear truth of Scripture with their own traditions (Matthew 15:1-9).

They were the chief theological miscreants of their day.

So how did Jesus treat them? Did He show them love—i.e., did He obey the Second Great Commandment in His dealings with them? Of course.

What did that love entail? First and foremost, Jesus declared the truth to them. He also frequently delivered public rebukes for the errors that threatened to damn them. He castigated them. He occasionally held them up to public ridicule. He obviously valued their souls more than their feelings. That is what authentic love looks like.

In other words, Christ, not Rodney King, is the paragon of perfect love.

The vast majority of Pharisees didn't heed Jesus' warnings, of course. The smug or snide ones might have even claimed it was because He didn't "have a relationship based upon love." It was nonetheless the right thing for Him to correct their false teaching and warn others of the danger posed by their error.

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22 January 2012

Christians in Name Only

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Solemn Warning for All Churches," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 24 February 1856 (very early in Spurgeon's London ministry), at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.




he first charge of general defilement Christ brings against the church in Sardis was that they had a vast deal of open profession, and but little of sincere religion. "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1).

That is the crying sin of the present age. I am not inclined to be morbid in my temperament, or to take a melancholy view of the church of God. I would wish at all times to exhibit a liberality of spirit, and to speak as well as I can of the church at large; but God forbid that any minister should shrink from declaring what he believes to be the truth.

In going up and down this land, I am obliged to come to this conclusion, that throughout the churches there are multitudes who have "a name to live and are dead." Religion has become fashionable. The shopkeeper could scarcely succeed in a respectable business if he were not united with a church. It is reckoned to be reputable and honorable to attend a place of worship, and hence men are made religious in shoals. And especially now that parliament itself doth in some measure sanction religion, we may expect that hypocrisy will abound yet more and more, and formality everywhere take the place of true religion.

You can scarcely meet with a man who does not call himself a Christian, and yet it is equally hard to meet with one who is in the very marrow of his bones thoroughly sanctified to the good work of the kingdom of heaven. We meet with professors by hundreds; but we must expect still to meet with possessors by units. The whole nation appears to have been Christianized in an hour. But is this real? Is this sincere? Ah! we fear not.

How is it that professors can live like other men? How is it that there is so little distinction between the church and the world? Or, that if there is any difference, you are frequently safer in dealing with an ungodly man than with one who is professedly righteous? How is it that men who make high professions can live in worldly conformity, indulge in the same pleasures, live in the same style, act from the same motives, deal in the same manner as other people do? Are not these days when the sons of God have made affinity with the sons of men? And may we not fear that something terrible may yet occur unless God shall send a voice, which shall say, "Come out of them, my people, lest ye be partakers of their plagues?"

Take our churches at large—there is no lack of names, but there is a lack of life. Else, how is it that our prayer-meetings are so badly attended? Where is the zeal or the energy shown by the apostles? Where is the Spirit of the living God? Is he not departed? Might not "Ichabod" be written on the walls of many a sanctuary? They have a name to live, but are dead. They have their societies, their organisms; but where is the life of godliness? Where is inward piety? Where is sincere religion? Where is practical godliness? Where is firm, decisive, puritanical piety?

Thank God, there are a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, but charity itself will not allow us to say that the church generally possesses the Spirit of God.

C. H. Spurgeon


20 January 2012

The Sea, and All That Is Therein

by Phil Johnson



t was the summer of 1997. I was slated to go on one of those week-long ministry-sponsored cruises along the Inside Passage in Alaska with Darlene—a full week of Bible teaching and heavenly scenery. A floating Bible conference in the north Pacific. We were very excited about it.

One major problem: I had a stack of work on my desk I could not in good conscience leave behind. It was mostly correspondence from "Grace to You" listeners—people seeking counsel and biblical help. Some of them were asking for advice regarding fairly urgent issues; some were asking tough Bible questions out of curiosity. But I needed to answer them all, soon. Prior to the cruise, I had set all my correspondence aside for a few weeks in order to meet a deadline with a book project, and I desperately needed to get caught up.

So (carefully forgetting to tell Darlene I was planning to work during her "vacation") I smuggled this 5-inch-thick pile of papers into a green fabric Eddie Bauer briefcase and took it with me as carry-on baggage.

The cruise was leaving from Seward, Alaska. We were to fly from Los Angeles to Anchorage, then drive from there to Resurrection Bay to get on the ship. We had a layover in Seattle on the way to Anchorage, and while in the airport there, I left that green briefcase in a chair while I walked over to the drinking fountain. That's when Darlene first consciously noticed the bag, and she went and stood by it to keep an eye on it. I knew I was caught.

I took an extra-long drink from the fountain, and when I returned, Darlene said, "What's in that briefcase? You should keep a closer eye on it. You don't want to lose it."

I said, "On the contrary. That's a bag of correspondence I'm going to have to work on during the cruise. Frankly, the best thing that could happen would be if it fell in the ocean. I'd have a great excuse for not answering all those letters."

Darlene was very patient, as always, and she just rolled her eyes at me. Not a word of complaint when she discovered I had dragged that bag of work along. No wonder I love her so much.

Anyway, to make a long story short, when we boarded our ship the next day, some stewards took several passengers' luggage and loaded it on a rolling cart to push it up the gangplank. Almost as an afterthought, I put that briefcase on top of the stack of suitcases, thinking it best to let the professionals get it on the ship.

Less than 20 minutes after we boarded, they started paging me on the ship's loudspeaker. That is something they never do on cruise ships unless it's a very serious emergency. They asked me to come to the front desk to speak to the captain.

So I went immediately, thinking something must be terribly wrong. It occurred to me that they might have received word that someone back home might have been in an accident, or had a heart attack, or something like that. I prayed for mercy and grace as I hurried to the main deck. The feeling got more ominous the closer I got to the ship's lobby. When the attendants working the front desk saw me coming, I heard one whisper to the others, "That's him!"—and they all scurried into the back room, out of sight.

So now I knew something was seriously wrong. A grim-looking man dressed in an officer's uniform led me into a complex of offices, stopped, and just before opening a door, he looked at me and said, "Mr. Johnson, I'm afraid I have some bad news."

After a disturbingly long pause, he opened the door and said: "Your briefcase fell in the water."



Inside that office several of the ship's crew had spread dripping-wet papers from my briefcase across every surface. People were on their hands and knees frantically trying to pat my stuff dry with towels. They looked up in unison when I entered the room. I could see panic in every set of eyes.

I broke out laughing. I said, "I told my wife I hoped that bag would fall in the ocean. You should have let it sink."

The panic in those eyes turned to pity. I think they all thought I was insane. The ship's purser, still grim, said, "Sir, I'm afraid everything in that bag is thoroughly soaked. It's very serious."

So I assured him it was not serious and tried to explain why this all struck me as hilariously funny. I also reassured the purser that I didn't need any kind of compensation or complimentary liquor for the week, or whatever. And I wasn't going to sue or demand free passage on cruises for the rest of my life.

I finally managed to convince them I really wasn't upset or crazy, and they breathed a collective sigh of relief that was almost palpable.



There was one woman in the room dressed in civilian clothes. She followed me out of the room and said, "Mr. Johnson, may I have a word with you?"

She said, "My name is Jeannette Seale. I'm on staff at the Seward Seaman's Mission, an evangelical mission to crew members on cruise ships. I was there when your bag fell in the water. I saw something fall; I heard the splash; and I heard crew members frantically shouting, No! No!" I thought a baby had fallen overboard or something.

"Two men crawled down the ship's ladder, literally risking their lives to retrieve your briefcase. They allowed me to come on the ship, because I knew the crew member who dropped the bag, and he was utterly distraught. He is a Muslim." (The ship's crew was from Indonesia.) "And he was saying, 'Oh God! Oh, God!' and I said, 'Amir, Allah is not going to help you now. We need to pray to Jesus. And I prayed aloud that whoever owned this bag would not be seriously angry. Because if you were angry or demanded compensation, it would probably cost him his job.

"Then," she said, "when we opened your bag, I could tell immediately from the contents that you were a Christian in full-time ministry. And then I began to pray for you, because I have seen too many Christians in situations like this behave worse than the world. And I thought if you lost your temper it would damage your testimony, and mine, and all the Christians on the ship.

"So I was profoundly relieved when you reacted the way you did, and I wanted to tell you thanks."



Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm no hero in circumstances like these. I have lost my temper and shamefully damaged my testimony in other, more trivial circumstances. Ask Darlene. I'm much too prone to mutter really unkind things about other drivers on the freeway. And she always admonishes me to try to speak in a kinder tone with customer-service reps on the phone. If you are a long-time blog-reader who has seen my responses to persistently-critical blog-comments, you know that sharp-tonguedness is one of my besetting sins. I admit it to my utter shame.

But this was different, because I immediately saw the hand of Providence in the whole incident. I had virtually prayed aloud that my bag would get dropped overboard. I had said to the bag, "Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea." It seemed clear to me that God had answered in a dramatic way. When the bag fell into Resurrection Bay less than 24 hours after my flippant comment to Darlene, I knew instantly that it was God Himself who gave it a push. (A crew member told me that in 20 years of working with that cruise line, he had never heard of a passenger's bag falling into the ocean.)

Fortunately Eddie Bauer bags are sturdy and well-sewn. Though by no means watertight, the bag floated just long enough for the crew to retrieve it before it sunk. Their risky rescue operation was above and beyond the call of duty.

Subsequent events proved that the Lord had a good purpose for dropping my bag in the sea. There was a group of Indonesian Christians on the crew who always visited the Seward Seaman's Mission when their ship was in port, and when they heard what had happened, they invited me to come and preach at their worship service on the ship on Monday night. They work long hours every Sunday and Monday, and then at 11:00 Monday night, they have just one opportunity per week to hold a worship service. About 25 of them would meet together each week in the middle of the night in a partitioned section of the ship's large dining room. And they gave me and Darlene the rare privilege of worshiping with them.

Their worship and fellowship lasted well into the early morning hours—not because my sermon was long, but because they kept singing and praying and enjoying one another's fellowship until we all simply couldn't stay awake any longer. That late-night worship service was the highlight of the cruise for me. Indeed, it was one of the highlights of my life, like a little foretaste of heaven.

I have thought about this a lot in the ensuing years: All the trials we go through would be a whole lot easier to endure if we had more trust in the workings of Providence. If we would just bear in mind that God is fully in control of everything that happens to us—both "good" and "bad"—we would be far less frustrated, and far more confident that He is in charge, working all things (including the "bad" and merely inconvenient things) together for ultimate good.

By the way, the papers in that bag dried just fine. I answered every letter. Though wrinkled and covered with a layer of crystallized salt, they were all still readable. And each time I picked up the next letter and felt the salty texture, it made me smile. So even the work I had to do that week was a special, memorable joy.

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19 January 2012

Book review — 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, by Thomas R. Schreiner

by Dan Phillips

40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, by Thomas R. Schreiner
(Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2010; 256 pages)

The meaning and role of Biblical law is a topic of great and regular interest in Christian thought, life, and preaching. Though I'd only read snatches and articles from Prof. Schreiner heretofore, I knew that Jim Hamilton (whose work I admire immensely) counts Schreiner as a mentor. Hence, I welcomed Kregel's provision of a review copy.

In 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, Professor Schreiner very concisely offers a wealth of useful information. The book is laid out in five sections:
Part 1: The Law in the Old Testament
Part 2: The Law in Paul
Part 3: The Law in the Gospel and Acts
Part 4: The Law in the General Epistles
Part 5: The Law and Contemporary Issues
The first and fourth parts are shortest (three questions each), and the second the longest (twenty-two questions, divided into three parts). Schreiner tackles the big ones, such as:
  • What Does the Word Law Mean in the Scriptures?
  • Was the Mosaic Covenant Legalistic?
  • Does the Old Testament Teach That Salvation Is by Works?
  • What Does the Expression “Works of Law” Mean in Paul?
  • Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Mandatory for Salvation?
  • How Should We Understand the Use of Leviticus 18:5 in the Scriptures?
  • Does Paul Teach That the Old Testament Law Is Now Abolished?
  • According to Paul, What Was the Purpose of the Law?
  • Does Paul Distinguish Between the Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil Law?
  • What Is the “Law of Christ”?
  • How Should We Understand the Antitheses in Matthew 5:21–48?
  • Why Did Paul Circumcise Timothy When He Refused to Circumcise Titus?
  • What Does John Mean by Keeping God’s Commands in 1 and 2 John?
  • Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians?
  • Should Christians Tithe?
  • What Is Theonomy, or Christian Reconstructionism, and How Should It Be Evaluated?
  • What Role Does the Law Have in Preaching?
My intent is to whet your appetite, and urge you to get and read the book, so I'll not be presenting Schreiner's answers to all of those questions. (It's a Golden Rule thing, speaking as an author who's been asked "Please reproduce X from your book so I don't have to get it.")

Readability. Schreiner is, in the overused phrase, a "world-class scholar," yet I find his tone engaging, candid and conversational. He admits to having changed his view from time to time (e.g 67, footnote 7).  Schreiner works hard to keep the reader on the page, not assuming an understanding that may not exist. For instance, before discussing "legalism,"  Schreiner defines it (25), which can be dicey. The prose of the text is also broken up with a number of contentful, helpful tables and charts.

I think many will find the "summary" at the end of each chapter particularly useful. The discussion can be complex, but Schreiner always returns and nicely boils it down for us. A series of "Reflection Questions" also enhances usefulness in study group contexts.

A number of critical truths are excellently-put. For instance, "Faith looks to God's promises and his supernatural work, but law finds blessing through what human beings accomplish" (49). Also, in the context of Christian living, Schreiner emphasizes the dynamic of love — and adds "love also is defined by the content of the commandments so that love does not devolve into sentimentality" (197). Earlier, Schreiner had well said,
Love is like a river that replenishes the human spirit, but moral norms provide boundaries so that the river is not dispersed abroad but retains its strength and power. Because human beings are sinners, they are prone to deceit and may identify as righteous a course of action that is contrary to love. Moral norms stipulate the nature of love, clarifying what is righteous and what is unrighteous. (106)
Good writing and good teaching at the same time. Not as common as one could wish.

Substance. Schreiner isn't at all averse to running athwart common scholarly opinion. For instance, it has been common for decades to say that the Hebrew word tôrâ (commonly "law") means instruction, rather than commands. Schreiner demurs, noting that the term "usually refers to what human beings are commanded to do," though not denying that it can mean more than "commands and prescriptions" (19). I think that hits it right, as I see it as well. In an appendix to the Proverbs book, I say that tôrâ refers to "authoritative instruction that was meant to bring God’s own perspective to bear on daily living" (349). Schreiner's entire chapter on this question (19-23) provides an excellent survey of the meaning of common terms used, packed with plenty of useful citations and specifics.

Unlike the recent reissue of the ZPEB, Schreiner tackles the "New Perspective" at some length (35-64), concluding that its foundation "is not nearly as secure as some claim," and faulting it for being "overly simplistic" in some of its readings of the original documents (39), and noting that "The problem is with what the New Perspective brackets out of Paul's theology" (42).

An annotated bibliography adds to the value, as do indices and (of course, because after all this is a serious book) footnotes.

Sidenote: I notice that Schreiner addresses a number of issues by appealing to "a redemptive-historical standpoint" (175) — that  is, to the location of a text within the flow of redemptive history. In other words, without meaning to put words in Prof. Schreiner's mouth, it is essential to relate a text to its administrative context, to where it falls in the unfolding of God's plan for the ages. Is it in the context of the Mosaic Law, for instance, or of the Law of Christ?

Of course I think that Schreiner is right, and to ignore this is to flatten the text of Scripture and, however unintentionally, to do it violence. Far lesser lights have also argued and developed the hermeneutical importance of this point at some length, though they use another term than "redemptive-historical standpoint." One wonders whether it may not be time to give that (here unnamed) school of thought a little deserved credit for enduring many slings and arrows for arguing for what every bacon-loving Christian has tacitly admitted for millennia.

This is a terrific book and and terrific help. I heartily recommend   40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law to all, and expect to return to it repeatedly in years to come.

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