• Must Read Books on Christianity, the Bible and Homosexuality

    A few weeks ago I spoke at Orange Evangelical Church and gave two talks on Homosexuality and Christianity. I have been asked a few times to recommend books on homosexuality and Christianity or homosexuality and the Bible that I have found helpful and so here are my list of must read’s on this issue that Christians need to be both Biblically clear headed and filled with the love and grace of Jesus:

    The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon. This is a must read for pastors, Bible college students and anyone who is in a significant place in christian leadership. Gagnon is exhaustive in his analysis of the Bible and his interaction with those who try to argue from the Bible that homosexuality is a biblically legitimate expression of sexuality. His tone is scholarly and straight to the point and he pulls no punches so this is not a book to go to if you are looking for pastoral counsel. But if you want a book that deals with the Bible and Homosexuality this is the book.This is a tough book to read that will take work but it is a vital book to read.

    Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views by Dan Via and Robert Gagnon. This is written by two scholars who present their arguments from the Bible on why the Bible is for homosexuality (Via) and why it is against it (Gagnon). It is a great book to see how the two different sides of this debate actually look at the Bible totally differently.

    Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill is a great book that I hope all Christians read. It is written by a man who calls himself gay in the sense that he is attracted to men and and yet he is a Christian who because of his faith will not act out on his desires. What this book shows is how painful it is to be caught in this situation. The book also gives us hope by dealing with this issue in a pastorally brilliant and theologically informed way.

    Sex and the Supremacy of Christ edited by Justin Taylor and John  Piper. Buy and read this book for Al Mohler’s article “Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections”. The article shows Mohler at his best. It is both biblically and theologically informed and culturally savvy.

    Like Me: Confessions Of A Heartland Country Singer by Chely Wright. Is an autobiographical account of American Country singer Chely Wright and her struggles with being a life long lesbian. It takes you through her battles with her identity, we read of her praying as a seven year old that God would make her straight and other emotionally gripping stories. Christians should read this book because it shows us point blank the emotional turmoil that exists when struggling with homosexual identity.

    Homosexuality is one of the flash points for Christians in our age. We need to be biblically informed and yet have compassion and love. The books on homosexuality will help you be both.

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  • How Do we Deal with the Ugliest Verse in the Bible?

    Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
    Psalm 137:9
    They are terrible words aren’t they? They are words that should bring us to have a strong emotional reaction. They are words which many opposed to Christianity will quote in an effort to show the invalidity of the Bible and Christianity. How should a Christian interpret these verses?
    As always we start with the context. We read in verse 1 that they are in Babylon which leads us to assert that this psalm was written after the Babylonians had taken Judah into exile. This had happened because the Israelites had continually rebelled against god their maker and worshiped other gods.
    In war terrible things happen. I dare say that the man who wrote this psalm had seen terrible things done in the name of war as he and his family were taken off to Babylon.
    He probably saw things that made him scream out things like:
    Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
    Psalm 137:9
    See these are not the words of a politician or a general coming up with a war strategy. These are the deeply pained words of one who has been through war and seen the atrocities of war. He screams out because he wants vengeance. Is this vengeance sinful? Yes.
    So why is it in the Bible? I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, God’s people are in Babylon because if their own sin. They rebelled against god and worshiped other gods. These words are a result of them rebelling against god therefore I think these words are in the BIble to show us where rebelling against God ends up. When you rebel against God you end up in a place which is so ugly and depraved that you may cry out ugly and sinful words like these.
    Secondly, when we take these words in the context of the rest of the book of psalms we see the psalms are full of different kinds of emotion, some high and some very low. One of the reasons that the psalms are replete with emotional language is to show God can connect with and even does welcome our deepest darkest emotions. Therefore I am tentatively proposing that  these words are in the psalms to show that God cares for those of us that are so hate filled that we would utter or think words akin to these. These kind if displays of emotion show that in the end we may want vengeance but we need a saviour who will rescue us from ourselves and ultimately ourselves.
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  • Is the Old Testament History or Story?

    There seems to be a growing kind of scholarship that is seeping into the minds of our students at Bible College. This is the kind of scholarship that sees the biblical text primarily as a story. Seeing the Old Testament as story is a good thing in some respects because it helps us see the whole story of the Bible and not see the Bible as a collection of little stories that we can atomize. Also, seeing the Bible as story is that helps us see the wonderful literary geniuses that wrote the books of the Old and New Testaments.

    But one of the things that is sometimes pushed in reading the OT as story is a “historyless” reading of the OT.  That is that the OT narratives themselves are contain truth but their connection to history is somewhat vague at best or at worst they shouldn’t be considered as history because that is an error of genre. We need to see the texts as story and therefore the writer of the narrative may have embellished facts or added in narratives that may not have happened but contain “truth” in the sense that the narrative is saying something that is true i.e. that God is powerful. To hold onto this “historyless” reading of the story of the Old Testament one must in the end jettison any idea of Biblical inerrancy.

    This sounds like theological liberalism as described by the Liberal theologian Stephen Sykes:

    Liberalism in theology is that mood or cast of mind which is prepared to accept that some discovery of reason may count against the authority of that traditional affirmation in the body of Christian Theology….. For many protestant Christians the most momentous step of theological liberalism is taken when they deny the traditionally accepted belief in the inerrancy of scripture.

     

    Stephen Sykes, Christian Theology Today, 12

    But the proponents of reading the Old Testament as a “historyless” story say that Sykes has got it wrong and we who hold to the inerrancy of scripture of have got it wrong. They aren’t denying the historicity of scripture they are merely seeing that God accomodates himself to us as he speaks through the scriptures by sometimes using human errors or establishments or myth to help us get at what is true. To do anything else would be to have an Apollinarian or a Docetic view of scripture.

    Apollinarianism and Doceticism  are both  early church heresies about the nature of Jesus  They both denied that he was fully man and said in some fashion that he was only God. If we don’t read the Bible in the way our interlocutors have outlined above we are  accused denying the humanity of Scripture. Now for a bible college student the last thing you want to be is a heretic so when an lecturer says something like this you quickly jump to his position because the last thing you want to be is a heretic even if they get to wear cool glasses like Rob Bell.

    But this whole idea that if you hold to a traditional doctrine of scripture where you affirm innerancy you are an Apollinarian or Docetic heretic is just plain stupid. Firstly, the Apollinarian or Docetic heresies are about the person of Jesus and to use them to talk about scripture is a bad category mistake  Secondly, to my knowledge those who held to the  Apollinariius and Docetic heresies never spoke to the doctrine of scripture because the early church (except for the heretic Marcion) held to the full authority and the inerrancy (even if using that word is a bit anachronistic) of the scriptures. Therefore, to my knowledge, even the heretics who held to apollinarianism or doctism would have problems with the view of reading the Old Testament outlined above. And finally, this view is stupid because in the end it is not an argument but a bullying tactic. It is akin to calling someone a name where the content of that name is totally unsubstantiated. is it right to call people names and put them in boxes? Yes as long as the name fits but in this case it clearly doesn’t and therefore it is just bullying.

    But what about the argument that God accommodates himself to us in scripture? Hans are you denying that? No way am I denying that! There is a good way of talking about God accommodating himself to us. I can find no better example of good accommodation than Calvin:

    “Indeed, that they dared abuse certain testimonies of Scripture was due to base ignorance; just as the error itself sprang from execrable madness. The Anthropomorphites, also, who imagined a corporeal God from the fact that Scripture often ascribes to him a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are easily refuted. For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to “lisp” in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.”

    John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, , 1.13.1.

    Most doctrines have an ugly sister (or brother if you want) and the doctrine of accommodation has one too. This is the Socinian view of accommodation  The Socinian view of accommodation is where God stoops to use erroneous conceptions of humans as vehicles for divine communication. Or in other words God uses human errors or establishments or myth to help us get at what is true. What is the difference in the Socinus’ view of accommodation and Calvin’s view? Calvin appealed to accommodation to reconcile apparent contradictions in scripture, Socinus accepted the contradictions and used accommodation to explain why and how they happened. These two men we see two ways of using the historical doctrine of accommodation. Calvin’s orthodox view uses accommodation to hold to the integrity of the scriptures. Socnius’ view uses accomodation  to undermine the scriptures. (This section is heavily indebted to ““The Peril of a ‘Historyless’ Systematic Theology” By Graham Cole  in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?)

    If you are being taught to see the Scriptures as story in a way that is undercutting the historicity of the scriptures by saying things didn’t happen as they are in scripture or something similar to this be wary. This kind of teaching comes about every few decades and ultimately it is not the generation that hears this teaching that suffers but the ensuing generations that suffer as the line of what is correct gets moved further and further to the left of biblical orthodoxy. (On this point see “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” in Iain Murray’s book  Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000.)

    The view of scripture I have confronted in this blog is taught by Godly men who think they are doing the right thing. They are kind, fun to be around and some of the guys who teach this I would consider my friends. But ultimately their view of the scriptures is out of line with traditional orthodoxy and should be rejected. The future of the preaching of the gospel is at stake.

    If you want to read further on these issues read the book that I think should be required reading by everyone at Bible College called  Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? edited by  James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary.

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  • Do You Have to Believe in a Historical Adam to Believe the Gospel?

    Whether Adam and Eve and were historical people who sinned against God is of great contention in evangelical theological circles today. Some say that Adam and Eve were just metaphors for Israel or the whole human race. Others say that we have to hold onto a literal Adam and Eve or we forsake the gospel.

    Last year Tim Keller wrote a brilliant piece called Sinned in a Literal Adam, Raised in a Literal Christ, In this article he says evangelicals should hold onto a literal Adam because of the trustworthiness of Scripture, the teaching of the New Testament and because of the nature of the Gospel itself. Keller closes with these words: 

    When we believe in Jesus, we are “in Christ” (one of Paul’s favorite expressions, and a deeply biblical one.) We are in covenant with him, not because we are related biologically but through faith. So what he has done in history comes to us.

    What has all this to do with Adam? A lot. Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 15 about Adam and Christ that he does in Romans 5.

    For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22).

    When Paul says we are saved “in Christ” he means that Christians have a covenantal, federal relationship with Christ. What he did in history is laid to our account. But in the same sentence Paul says that all human beings are similarly (he adds the word “as” for emphasis) “in Adam.” In other words, Adam was a covenantal representative for the whole human race. We are in a covenant relationship with him, so what he did in history is laid to our account.

    When Paul speaks of being “in” someone he means to be covenantally linked to them so their historical actions are credited to you. It is impossible to be “in” someone who doesn’t historically exist. If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work “covenantally”—falls apart. You can’t say that Paul was a man of his time but accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.

     

    Keller has nailed it. If you don’t have a literal Adam and Eve with a literal fall you are actually denying something close to the heart of Paul’s teaching and if you deny that you are probably denying the gospel.

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  • How to Grow as a Christian

    We live in a time where people are so busy that really important things get pushed to the periphery of life. For example reading the Bible and praying. This is the stuff that Christian growth is made of and yet we are more likely to listen to podcast than hear from God himself or read a book rather than read the Bible.

    I have been reading a book by Andy Stanley called Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. In it he has this quote about devotions or time where you read your Bible and pray:

    “Personal spiritual disciplines introduce a sense of intimacy and accountability to our faith walks. Private spiritual disciplines tune our hearts to the heart of God and underscore personal accountability to our heavenly Father. There is a direct correlation between a person’s private devotional life and his or her personal faith. And regardless of how long you’ve been in ministry, this is something you can’t afford to lose sight of. When God speaks to us personally through his Word or answers a specific prayer, our faith is strengthened. This is why private disciplines is a faith catalyst. One of the most impactful things I heard my dad say growing up was, “The most important thing in your life is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That’s direct. And I have found it to be absolutely correct. As my personal devotional life goes, so goes my faith, my confidence in God. And I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but as my confidence in God goes, so goes my personal confidence.”

    Andy Stanley – Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend

    Did you read those sentences “As my personal devotional life goes, so goes my faith, my confidence in God. And I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but as my confidence in God goes, so goes my personal confidence” Wow.

    I have seen that if a Christian is reading their Bible and praying then their walk with Jesus will be much stronger than if they aren’t. In fact when people are feeling far from God the first thing that I try to get them to do again is pick up their Bible, read it and pray. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other factors that make people feel far from Jesus it just means that the cure for feeling distant from God is something that all Christians know they should do but a lot of us (including myself) need reminding to do.

    How is your Bible reading and prayer?

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  • Why so many pastors are wrong about leadership

    I am in Tony Morgan’s new church leaders coaching network and I have been reading some of the ebooks he has written and have found them very useful. I found this quote very convicting as I read so many business leadership books but often neglect the bible on Leadership. This has been a helpful corrective for me:
    “It is true that we church leaders can learn from business leaders, but the corporate world should not set the foundation from which we lead. We can also learn from fellow church leaders, but they are also human and don’t provide a perfect model for Biblical leadership. When we look to other leaders, we are essentially holding on to our traditions rather than embracing the truth about leadership found in God’s Word. The Bible needs to become our filter for truth in every area of our life and ministry just because we see others doing it doesn’t mean that’s how God designed it.”
    Tony Morgan Developing a Theology of Leadership
    So many pastors are wrong about leadership because we look to secular models of leadership more than looking at what the Bible Says about Leadership. This is something we (especially myself) need to repent of.
  • Inerrancy and the Character of God

    I have been reading the book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith which is edited by Hoffmeier and Magary. So far it has been a great read and, if the titles of the essays are anything to go by, it is a very important book in light of the current debates about the historicity and genre(s) of the biblical texts. This morning I finished Mark Thompson’s essay entitled Toward a Theological Account of Biblical Inerrancy where Mark seeks to locate the doctrine of biblical inerrancy in the doctrine of God. It’s God’s character and his ability to communicate perfectly that makes us hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. Here is a quote from the essay:

    We are brought back here to our earlier observation that God acts, not just in terms of what is possible, but in ways that are at every point in keeping with his character. Inspiration and inerrancy are not synonyms, that is true. Nevertheless, it is the unfailing veracity of God that gives a particular character to the texts, which are God breathed. Inspiration and inerrancy are inseparable in this case because of the identity and character of the One who gives us “the sacred writings which are able to make (us) wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:15)

    Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith, pg. 96

    Is it therefore right to say that when we deny inerrancy or argue against it we are really attacking God and his character?

     

     

  • Starving pastors can’t feed their sheep

    Last year was a dark year for me. My father passed away from cancer, the culture at my church was toxic and to top it all off I was going through a very dry time spiritually. I wasn’t making an effort to read my bible and pray. I wasn’t speaking with people who encourage me.

    I was dry.

    Now dry times happen to all Christians but it seems like so many of the stats I read say that pastors feel spiritually dry more of the time than they feel spiritually vibrant. Therefore, it is no surprise that a lot of pastors don’t spend quality time caring for their own souls. This is where I was at for a significant time last year and my church took a hit. My preaching lacked power and depth and was largely ineffective. Sure God did move but I could discern that my preaching didn’t have the power it should have.

    I realised this year that I was starving. I hadn’t been feeding on God’s word and when I did read it I read it either to tick a box saying I had done it or I was reading it to prepare for something. The thing is starving pastors can’t feed their sheep. As pastors we are to be people who watch our life and doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). Carson says about this verse says that there should be a discernible growth in life and doctrine because of our feeding and meditating on the word. Whenever I think about that I am always challenged.

    I want to feed my sheep. I want to be able to preach with passion and vitality. Therefore I need to be feeding on God’s word in a way where I am satisfied in it.

    Are you a starving pastor?

    When was the last time you had a satisfying time in God’s word?

    What steps do you need to take so you are refreshed by Gods word?

     

  • Deny inerrancy and you will kill your church

    Okay it is a provocative title I know. But read this paragraph from Thom Rainers blog on Twelve trends for healthy churches

    A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.

    Now I think a lot of people who call themselves Evangelicals deny a parody of inerrancy not the inerrancy that is expressed by The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I would say for those of us who have never read anything on inerrancy and yet still denies it you should read the statement.  I think you will find you believe in true inerrancy not the parody of it that gets derided in some Evangelical circles.

    But my concern is that those of us who call ourselves Evangelicals and yet argue against the historicity of the scriptures realize that they are not doing the service to the church that they might think they are but they are actually destroying the church. One of the saddest things I have seen is Christians who are confused because their pastor or a theological college lecturer will say something like “Exodus didn’t really happen exactly like that” and yet say in the next breath “But the Bible is trustworthy”. Or when a pastor or lecturer makes a lot of so called contradictions in the Bible and yet say “But the Bible is historically reliable”. What the pastor or lecturer is generally doing is trying to argue against a parody of inerrancy but what they are really doing is undermining their listeners confidence in the scriptures. With this kind of teaching the chickens don’t come to roost for a few generations when no one holds to anything like an Evangelical doctrine of scripture.[1] But by this time it is too late. The scriptures wont be preached and the gospel will be denied and the church is dead and it all started with some of us trying putting intellectual respectability above faithfulness.

    If you deny true inerrancy you will kill the church. But you probably won’t be around to see it.

     


    [1] For more on the issue of inerrancy and Evangelicalism read the chapter ‘Intellectual Respectability and Scripture’ (pg. 173-214) in Ian Murrays book Evangelicalism Divided

     

     

  • Why are Christians different?

    I read a Piece by Miroslav Volf titled Soft Difference: Theological Reflections on the Relation Between Church and Culture in 1 Peter today. If you haven’t read it do yourself a favour and read it. Here are some great quotes on why Christians are different:

    “The root of Christian self-understanding as aliens and sojourners lies not so much in the story of Abraham and Sarah and the nation of Israel as it does in the destiny of Jesus Christ, his mission and his rejection which ultimately brought him to the cross. “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (John 1:11). He was a stranger to the world because the world into which he came was estranged from God. And so it is with his followers. “When a person becomes a believer, then he (or she) moves from the far country to the vicinity of God…. There now arises a relation of reciprocal foreignness and estrangement between Christians and the world.” Christians are born of the Spirit (John 3:8) and are therefore not “from the world” but, like Jesus Christ, “from God” (John 15:19).”

    “It would be a mistake, however, to describe this new distance as simply religious. In that case, the terms “aliens” and “sojourners” would have been used purely metaphorically and would indicate “no actual social condition of the addressees.”  Such a view would presume that religion is essentially a strictly private affair, touching only the deep region of a person’s heart. Surely this is a mistaken view. That religion takes place simply between a naked soul and its divinity is a prejudice, one which is nourished today by the fact that in modern societies religion has been pushed outside of the public arena. Yet even in the so-called private sphere — such as the personal life, family or friendships — religion continues to be a social force. [15] Religion is essentially a way of thinking and of living within a larger social context. Religious distance from the world is therefore always social distance. At least this holds true for Christian faith.

    How does this Christian distance from society that is religious and social come about? 1 Peter answers: through the new birth into the living hope. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). The new birth, whose subject is the merciful and electing God (1:2), creates a two-fold distance. First, it is a new birth. It distances one from the old way of life, inherited from one’s ancestors (1:18) and transmitted by the culture at large — a way of life characterized by the lack of knowledge of God and by misguided desires (1:14). Second, it is a birth into a living hope. It distances one from the transitoriness of the present world, in which all human efforts ultimately end in death. In more abstract theological terms, the new birth into the living hope frees people from the meaninglessness of sin and hopelessness of death.

    This process of distancing by rebirth takes place through redemption by the blood of the Lamb (1:19) and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1:3). People who are born into the living hope take part in the eschatological process which started with the coming of Jesus Christ into this world, with his ministry of word and deed and with his death and his resurrection. Christian difference from the social environment is therefore an eschatological one. In the midst of the world in which they live, they are given a new home that comes from God’s future. The new birth commences a journey to this home.”

    “Christians are the insiders who have diverted from their culture by being born again. They are by definition those who are not what they used to be, those who do not live like they used to live. Christian difference is therefore not an insertion of something new into the old from outside, but a bursting out of the new precisely within the proper space of the old.”

    “When identity is forged primarily through the negative process of the rejection of the beliefs and practices of others, violence seems unavoidable, especially in situations of conflict. We have to push others away from ourselves and keep them at a distance, and we have to close ourselves off from others to keep ourselves pure of their taint. The violence of pushing and keeping away can express itself in subdued resentment, or it can break out in aggressive and destructive behavior. The Petrine community was discriminated against and were even a persecuted minority. Feelings of rage and thoughts of revenge must have been lurking as a threat, ready to rise up either in aggression toward their enemies or at least in relishing the thought of their future damnation. But what do we find in 1 Peter? Exhortation is given not to repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but to repay evil with a blessing (3:9)! From the perspective of pop psychology or quasi-revolutionary rhetoric, such a refusal to vent the rage and actuate the mechanism of revenge would be at best described as unhealthy and at worst thought of as worthy only of “despicable rubble.” In fact, it speaks of sovereign serenity and sets a profound revolution in motion. When blessing replaces rage and revenge, the one who suffers violence refuses to retaliate in kind and chooses instead to encounter violence with an embrace. But how can people give up violence in the midst of a life-threatening conflict if their identity is wrapped up in rejecting the beliefs and practices of their enemies? Only those who refuse to be defined by their enemies can bless them.”

    “To be a Christian means to live one’s own identity in the face of others in such a way that one joins inseparably the belief in the truth of one’s own convictions with a respect for the convictions of others.”