To Those “Born Again” in the USA

My good friend, Fred Liggin, recently posted a contextualized paraphrase of John 8.30-37 on his blog, Long Way Here, and on his Facebook page.

“As He was saying these things, many believed in Him. So Jesus said to the Christians living in the USA who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are descendants of democracy,” they answered Him, “and we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. We aren’t enslaved to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus responded, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.

“I know you are descendants of democracy, but you are trying to explain my teachings away because My word is not welcome among you.”

Kinda hits home, doesn’t it?

In sharing this I have no desire to denigrate our country – especially not right after Memorial Day. As Americans we have much to be thankful for. Among that for which I am thankful are our civil liberties, and for those who have served to preserve them. On Memorial Day we especially give thanks for those who “gave the last full measure of devotion”. As a country we have been greatly blessed. But, as a country, we also have more than a few things for which we need repent – both from our past and in our present. What I think Fred hits on is the confusion and compromise that sometimes – perhaps even all too often – occurs in the church, because of an unhealthy mixture of allegiances to country and to Christ. If you are an American, be thankful! But always remember: To God alone belongs glory. (Isaiah 42.8)

Here is the link to Fred’s original post: Jesus, Truth, and Freedom.

What’s the Problem?

Writing in 1974, Francis Schaeffer suggested:

“The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

No Little People

In other words, for Christians assessing the Culture Wars, the problem is you – and the problem is me.

Intolerance of Contemporary Tolerance

I recently finished reading D.A.Carson‘s excellent book, Intolerance of Tolerance.  It was a long time coming, with several starts and stops and re-starts along the way, but in the end it was well worthwhile.  The stops and starts were in no way reflective of the readability of the book.  It had more to do with my time, and demands requiring the reading of other things.  The book itself is a fascinating consideration of one of the most volatile foundations of our present cultural hostilities. At its essence, this book explores the radical difference of a very subtle shift in the definition and practice of the word tolerance.  As Carson points out, the tolerance has traditionally been understood to mean:

“accepting the existence of different views”


“recognizing and respecting others’ right to beliefs and practices without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing with them”

Pretty basic stuff in a free and pluralistic society, right?  It is this kind of understanding that causes a statement usually attributed to Voltaire to resonate with our sensibilities:

“I don’t agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Carson notes that the newer, active, definition presently employed by the majority of our culture, or at least by the cultural elite and the ivory towers is slightly different:

“the accepting of different views”

Given just a simple glance, this newer definition seems to be just a shortened version of the more traditional understanding.  But given adequate consideration we quickly see that there is a vast difference. Taken as is, this newer definition of tolerance assumes that all views are equal, equally valid, and should thus be equally embraced.  That is what “accepting” a view is, as opposed to accepting that people have a right to hold a view.  This “acceptance” is rooted in the postmodern notion that there is no truth; or at least that there is no true Truth; as Truth varies with individual experience.  But this idea is absurd; and those who claim to hold to it are hypocritical.

First the absurdity. Certainly our experiences effect the way we perceive the world, and even the the way we experience the verifiable truths of this world.  But the truths transcend mere experience.  Green is green, whether I am color blind or not.  Day is day; Summer is summer; 2 plus 2 is always four.  I have heard it said that What I experience is my Reality, but Truth is what IS regardless of how I relate to it.  Of course there are also complexities that effect the way we experience Truth, but Truth is … well, it just IS.  And since Truth just IS, then it is not possible for ALL ideas to be equally valid.  Sometimes we are just wrong. The fact that we have a right to be wrong in no way validates our wrongness.

Second, any attempt to embrace this new definition will inevitably lead to hypocrisy.  For example, to maintain that all views are equally valid would require one to embrace the philosophies of the KKK and the Nazi’s.  Any thinking person would obviously reject the core beliefs of these groups, as well as most of the the subsidiary views.  And rightly so.  Further, to assert that all views are in themselves equally valid would require a level of cognitive dissonance that allows the embracing of mutually exclusive views, as certainly there are many examples of conflicting beliefs.   The reality is that no one is capable of living out what this new definition of tolerance demands.  And those who claim to do so, in practice show their hypocrisy in their (right) rejection of some views (such as those of racists, etc.), and at the very least in their disdain for those who do not embrace their definition of tolerance.

Intolerance of Tolerance is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to understand the roots of our present cultural hostilities. In the above video, Carson offers a lecture from the substance of the book.  Also of interest may be an an article excerpted from the book, Contemporary Tolerance is Intrinsically Intolerant.   intolerance

Resources to Help Us Navigate Our New Cultural Reality

Ship in Narrow Passage

The Elders of the church where I serve as pastor met, as usual. Part of our discussion, however, was anything but usual.  While it is not uncommon for this group to discuss subjects to help us more effectively minister, even setting aside occasional Saturday mornings to delve into variant viewpoints of issues that affect peoples’ lives, this is the first time our discussions involved anything that approached the edges of civil laws.  In the end, what was requested at this point was a a handful of resources for our mutual consideration, some things that might prove helpful as we seek to remain faithful – in all respects – in this new cultural “reality” concerning marriage.

It seems to me that there are two aspects we – and other churches like ours – need to navigate: first, how to defend the biblical design for marriage with wisdom and in truth; second, how to wisely, sensitively, and effectively minister to individuals struggling with same-sex-attractions, as well as to individuals and families for whom this is a real and personal issue, and not just a theoretic and/or political hot potato.

What we do not want to do:

  • We do not want to over-react to the new legal definition of marriage, which we believe to be at odds with the biblical definition that directs us.
  • We do not want to act and speak in ways that are insensitive, and/or unnecessarily offensive to those who struggle with, or who are impacted with, issues related to same-sex attraction.
  • We do not want to alienate people we are called to love – some of whom we already love, and who number among our friends.
  • At the same time we do not want to – we cannot – capitulate to the culture, forsake God’s Word as our only ultimate authority, or compromise the gospel in any way.

While it is somewhat cliche, I have long asserted that our goal should be to live and minister in such a way that the gospel be our only offense.  Of course this is not possible, since my sin, and the sin of every other person associated with our church, is real, and our sin is often offensive to those around us.  But I think the phrase nevertheless has merit, as an aspiration, perhaps especially now, as we seek to navigate these new waters.

The resources I am providing here probably help more with the first issue, how to defend and teach our position; offering less help concerning the second, how to effectively love and minister to those with same-sex attractions, and how to effectively love and encourage those who love someone struggling with same-sex attractions and who may be in a same-sex relationship.  This is new ground for pretty much everyone, so I will be exploring to find all I can find, as I expect we will see an increase of people impacted – or at least more people coming forward with both questions and concerns.

Here is an annotated list of resources I have found helpful:

Making Sense of Scriptures “Inconsistencies” by Tim Keller

This is a very good, relatively short, and easily understandable response to those who suggest that by opposing or by not supporting homosexuality Christians are picking and choosing from the Bible.  Keller offers a short primer course on the relationship between the OT & NT, and why that matters in our current climate.

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags by Kevin DeYoung

DeYoung poses some thoughtful questions for those sitting on the fence on this issue, or who while being Christians are adopting the cultural narrative over the biblical narrative.  These questions could be misused, and become tools for confrontation; or they can be used thoughtfully to encourage honest reflection in a process to renew our minds toward biblical conformity.

50 Resources for Equipping the Church on Homosexuality & Same-sex Marriage

This is a fairly extensive resource list, with links to articles related to a variety of questions many Christians are asking.

The Bible and Same Sex Relationships by Tim Keller

A thorough and practical review of two of the primary books supporting same-sex marriage. In this review Keller outlines six categories that virtually all arguments favoring same-sex relationships fall into, and then Keller addresses each argument.  While this might seem merely academic, my experience is that any dialogue with proponents of same-sex marriage will inevitably involve one or more of these argument categories. Therefore, Keller’s reflections prove to be highly practical.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung

This is a short book, comprehensive, yet readable.  It is essentially a Readers’ Digest version of a more technical academic book that is on the market.  DeYoung explores the issue from a number of angles, mining the Bible for its authoritative guidance.

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

Written by an Evangelical who struggles with SSA, this is an absolutely helpful little book for those of us who do not struggle with this particular issue.  Hill helps the reader understand the heart & mind of those who experience SSA.  He is clear about homosexuality being sin, yet he also exposes some of the hurtful, insensitive, and unhelpful things that those of us in the church have done – and are prone to do – toward those who do have this inclination.  This is a tool that can help us minister to those struggling homosexuality.

Harvest USA

Harvest USA is a ministry that works with people struggling with all forms of sexual brokenness.  On their site they have a variety of articles, many of which could be of help and interest. What Harvest USA’s resources also can do is remind us that homosexualiuty is but one issue, and that there is a wide range of sexual brokenness that the people in our pews experience.  Homosexuality and SSA is but one expression of brokenness, no worse, and no better than any other expression.  What sets it apart now is that it is the only government sanctioned and culturally acceptable expression.  We must be careful to not over-react to this, nor to under-react.

This is a lot of stuff, but it is also not enough stuff.  I hope those who are concerned about the faithfulness of the church – both to purity and to our mission – will find at least some of these helpful.  But please keep in mind that while this issue has new status in our culture, that our mission and purity have always been held in tension.  We are called and sent into a broken world, a world which has been broken and corrupt in various ways for millenia. We ourselves are no better than the broken world, but rather redeemed from it by God’s grace, through the sacrificial death of Jesus.  When we were called, we were as corrupt and broken as whoever we may be tempted to see as the worst of humanity.  But in Christ we have found mercy and hope.  (1 Corinthians 1.26-31; Romans 5.6-8; Matthew 9.13; 1 Timothy 1.15)

Absence of Grace in the Culture Wars

Abstract Rainbow Birthday Cake

There has to be some way to better go about this.  The Washington Post reported last week of a man in Colorado, Bill Jack, who in attempt to demonstrate the hypocrisy of recent court rulings related to the Traditional Marriage vs. Gay Marriage debates, requested two cakes that together expressed clear anti-gay sentiments.  Jack seems to have chosen his target bakery knowing the owner supports LGBT positions.  Whether Marjorie Silva, the owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is herself lesbian, none of the articles I read seemed to say.  But it really does not matter.

I too have been disappointed by some of the recent court rulings related to this issue – whether it is the bakers forced to close down their bakery for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding; the photographers who were legally penalized for declining an invitation to photograph a gay wedding; or the New York couple who have rented their barn to couples wanting rustic weddings, but  who have been fined so heavily that they may now have to sell their farm because they declined to acceopt a gay couples request to rent it for their wedding.  While the issues may be somewhat complex, and I have not kept up with the details of these incidents, the principles at stake, to my mind, are simple.  There is enough free commerce in this country that these folks – Azucar included – should not be required to accept business that violates their moral standards.  In a free market system, if these folks demonstrate egregious business practices, it is likely they will suffer the consequences at the hands of the public – i.e.  they will go bankrupt from lack of business.

Of course there are other issues at stake. High among them is whether these instances fall under the authority civil rights discrimination protection. But it is not the question of actual business practices that is no my mind at the moment. As disappointed as I am about some court rulings, I think I may be even more disappointed in the tactic employed by Bill Jack. (BTW, is that a real name? It sounds like the name of a morning D.J.?)

Sympathetic as I am to the frustration that led Mr. Jack to act, I find his tactic and, even worse, his stated motive to be dubious and misguided.  Acording to the Washington Post article:

“[Mr. Jack] believes Azucar Bakery ‘discriminated’ against him ‘based on my creed,’ which is Christian.”

Here is where I have my biggest problem.  While some may find reason to applaud Mr. Jack’s tactic in this culture war issue, I am deeply chagrined that he makes the suggestion that his action was compelled because he is a Christian.  Even if it can be argued that Mr. Jack did not say he acted because he was a Christian, he at the very least says he was discriminated against because Azcur Bakery refused to make his cake because of the “Christian” message. Either way, it seems quite evident that Mr. Jack is equating Christianity with his actions.  And for me, that is the rub – or that’s what rubs me the wrong way.

I am deeply disturbed when those who call themselves Christians conflate the culture wars with the only thing that makes any of us Christians – the gospel.  And however you slice this cake, neither Mr Jack’s action nor his message are distinctly “Christian”. In other words, while they may be in line with traditional biblical values, they have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel.

There does seem to be some disagreement about what Mr. Jack wanted on his cakes.

The Washington Times, quoting the owner of Azcur Bakery, says:

 Anti-gay phrases including “God hates gays” and an image of two men holding hands, covered in a big, red “X.”

To World Magaize Mr. Jack says:

[H]e requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible. He asked that the first cake show on one page, “God hates sin – Psalm 45.7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin – Leviticus 18.22.” He requested that the second cake have on one page, “God loves sinners,” and on the facing page, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us – Romans 5.8.”

I tend to believe Mr. Jack in this. He is clear and intentional with his message. But I still maintain that, despite his use of Bible verses, there is nothing distinctly “Christian” in his message.  Further, his motive is certainly not driven by the gospel, but rather by the culture war.

I am not suggesting that Mr. Jack is not a Christian. Nor am I suggesting that Mr. Jack’s act is inherently wrong.  I am simply saying that while he may be free to act this way, and his values may be shaped by his faith, the action itself should not be viewed as Christian.

Jesus’ instruction to his followers is: “Be as shrewd as a serpent, and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10.16) Mr Jack seems to me to have the serpents shrewdness down, but there seems to me to be no moral innocence here.  I stand on the same side as Mr. Jack in this cultural issue, but I do not stand with him.  I believe his actions – and actions like these – have actually served to distort the gospel, which will make it all the more difficult for critics of Christianity to hear the gospel and understand what followers of Jesus actually stand for.

I do not consider Mr. Jack to have been wronged, at least not for his faith.  As it stands, nothing in Mr. Jack’s actions, nor in the actions of similar cultural activists, communicates anything about the substitutionary death of Christ for sinners – i.e. the gospel.  So if there is nothing inherently Christian in his message, motives, or behavior to be discriminated against, it stands to reason that he was not discriminated against – at least not for the reasons he claims.

Bill Jack offers just another expression of a Christ-less culture warrior, under the guise of Christianity – just another one driven by values, but devoid of grace.

Advancing Progressively Backwards

T.S. Eliot penned a penetrating poetic analysis of our cultural plight:

It seems that something has happened that  has never happened before:  though we know not when,  or why,  or how,  or where.

Men have left God not for other gods, they say,  but for no gods; and this has never happened before

that men both deny gods and worship gods,  professing first,  Reason, and then Money,  and Power, and what they call Life, or  Race, or  Dialectic.

The Church disowned,  the tower overthrown,  the bells upturned, and what have we to do

But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards

In an age which advances progressively backwards?

~ Taken from T. S. Eliot‘s  Choruses From the Rock.  You might enjoy reading the whole poem. It has the feel of a 20th Centrury Book of Ecclesiastes.

Lord Save Us

I spent this morning watching the documentary, Lord Save Us From Your Followers.  I was prompted by a note from a friend and, despite it not being on my agenda for the day, I was intrigued.

Once again, I am not sure where I have been. This film came out over a year ago.  Some of it looked familiar, so I may have caught part of it on GMC or some other television cable network.  But for whatever reason, what I saw before did not capture my interest enough. Perhaps I had an initial wrong impression.  Perhaps I was just busy and could not watch the whole thing before. But even if that were the case, I am not sure why this went out of mind so quickly that I did not seek it out when I had the time to check it out.

The driving questions about this exploration of the Culture Wars in the United States is: Why is the Gospel of Love Dividing Our Nation? That is a great question.

Here are a few brief thoughts that come to my mind having just finished watching:

  • Ouch!  This cuts close to home.  This film clearly reveals how we as Christians (and I personally) are at fault for much of the perception the UnBelieving Culture has about Christianity and Christians.
  • I was encouraged by the responses of those who are opposed to Christianity and Christians when a Believer was willing to engage them in an honest discussion. I was moved by the power of humility, compassion, repentance and confession by the Believer. Apparently Jesus knew something when he commanded his followers to first take the plank out of our own eyes before confronting others about the specs in theirs.  (Matthew 7.5) Paul, too, when he instructed the Galatians to “gently restore” those who were astray of the way of God, but that they should be careful that they did not stumble in their own sin in in the process. (Galatians 6.1)
  • I am hopeful of a positive impact. But our strategic priorities must be in order. First is the reformation of the Church, including widespread repentance of God’s people for our failure to seek genuine righteousness.  Only later can we expect to have any positive cultural impact.  (2 Chronicles 7.14)

Now for the qualifications:

I know some who read this blog will be inclined to immediately dismiss the message behind this film because some of the theological premises expressed by those interviewed are questionable (to say it kindly), because it is not a theological discussion, and/or because some of the Christians represented do not reflect your tradition. (For the most part, this is true of mine too. Only John Perkins comes to mind who I know to share a similar theological heritage.)  But to dismiss this film for any of those reasons is a sad mistake.  At the very least recognize that this film depicts how a wide spectrum of our culture views us.

This documentary runs 1:42, so to watch it takes some time.  I suppose it would not lessen the appreciation to break it up into segments.  But I do encourage honest Believers, those interested in engaging in holistic mission to take the time, however you break it up.

To watch, click: Lord, Save Us From Your Followers