Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cultural Renewal, the Church and Tim Keller

In the wake of mass defections from the church, especially among the youth, the question of the church has received renewed interest: “What is the church and what is its role?” Consequently, more radical definitions are gaining attention – “an instrument for cultural renewal,” “a conversation,” “a protective place of nurturing.”

Despite the many definitions regarding the mission of the church, Scripture is remarkably consistent. The church is the Body of Christ, created out of the Gospel and for the Gospel.

Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to the good seed of the Gospel, which, when sowed in the right soil, produces a great harvest (Matthew 13). His Great Commission directed His disciples to sow this seed of the Gospel:

  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20) 
Making disciples depended upon spreading this Good News. Growth and maturity required the same truth-food:

  • To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Embracing the Gospel had profound consequences. This is partially why the post-resurrection church devoted themselves to the teachings of the Apostles (Acts 2:42; 4:33). Paul committed the Ephesian elders "to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

By the Spirit, the Word of the Gospel can transform us and provide a bounteous inheritance. It both saves and edifies. Therefore Paul warned that any real growth had to be according to the Gospel of our Lord (1 Cor. 3:11), which required diligent protection.

The implanted Gospel is transformational and therefore should also affect the fields in which it grows. The Gospel has already transformed society. Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, in a review in the Sunday Times of Niall Ferguson's new book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, carries a quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in which he tries to account for the success of the West, to date:

  • “One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.
  • “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.
  • “Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.
  • “But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.”
 The Gospel and salvation carry powerful implications. Therefore, I cannot fault pastor and writer Tim Keller too strongly in stating:

  • The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world.
  • The whole purpose of salvation is to make the world a great place.
  • God sees this world as not a temporary means to salvation…But salvation is a temporary means to the end of this material creation, to the renewal of creation.
  • Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal. (Spoken at an “Entrepreneur’s Forum” sponsored by Redeemer PCA: 
We are not only saved to enjoy and worship our Savior forever; we are also saved for the great privilege of serving. The second Great Commandment highlights our responsibility to our fellow human beings, to love our neighbor as ourselves. One way to do this is to protect our environment – both physical and vocational.

Keller is correct to insist that the Gospel and salvation have a purpose. When we truncate the Gospel by forgetting this purpose, we make the church seem irrelevant and loose our influence within a society that fails to see our influence.

Keller correctly points out that if our concern is evangelism, we should be interested in cultural/societal renewal. It often happens that when the transformational power is brought to bear upon society that eyes will open and mouths will cease spewing forth their invectives.

However, Keller goes too far in a number of ways. To say that the “whole purpose of salvation is to make the world a great place,” misses much of the big picture – our own transformed lives, proclamation of the Gospel, the New Heavens and the New Earth, and our relationships with others and with our Savior.

Besides, if cultural renewal is to be our goal, Keller fails to give sufficient attention to the mighty outpourings of the Spirit, which have transformed society. Indian Scholar Vishal Mangalwadi writes about the powerful revival, nurtured by the preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield:

  • The biblical revival affected the lives of politicians. Edmund Burke and William Pitt were better men because of their Bible-believing friends. They helped redefine the civilized world…Perceval, Lord Liverpool, Abraham Lincoln, Gladstone, and the Prince Consort, among others, acknowledged the influence of the Great Awakening. The biblical revival, beginning among the outcast masses, was the midwife of the spirit and character values that have created and sustained free institutions throughout the English-speaking world. England after Wesley saw many of his century’s evils eradicated, because hundreds of thousands became Christians. Their hearts were changed, as were their minds and attitudes, and so society – the public realm – was affected. (The Book that Made your World)
  • The following improvements came in a direct line of descent from the Wesleyan revival. First was the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of the industrial workers in England. Then came factory schools, ragged schools, the humanizing of the prison system, the reform of the penal code, the forming of the Salvation Army, the Religious Tract Society, the Pastoral Aid Society, the London City Mission, Muller’s Homes, Fegan’s Homes, the National Children’s Home and Orphanages, the forming of evening classes and polytechnics, Agnes Weston’s Soldier’ and Sailor’s Rest, YMCAs, Barnardo’s Homes, the NSPCC, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the list goes on. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people behind these movements were Christians.
Perhaps even more troubling is what Keller omits from the game-plan. When we send troops into battle, we not only instill them with a transcendent vision for what they can accomplish, but also the dangers and hardships they will have to endure along the road. Jesus warned His troops:

  • "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)
However, this kind of warning seems to be noticeably absent from Keller’s marching orders. Instead, there is little warning about the devices of the enemy, and there is little acknowledgment that they are enemies of the Gospel (Rom. 8:5-8).
Keller is not alone in minimizing certain “distasteful” Gospel truths – truths that portray the radical distinction between the saved and the unsaved. Emergent Church pastor, speaker and writer, Doug Pagitt, puts it this way:

  • We are connected to each other as well. Christians like to talk about community, yet the dualistic [us-them] assumptions surrounding our theology make it almost impossible for us to experience true community. As long as we hold on to “us” and “them” categories of seeing the world, we live behind a barricade that prevents us from joining in with God and others in real and meaningful ways. And it doesn’t really matter who we decide “them” is – the non-Christians, the sinners, the liberals, the conservatives, the Jews, the Catholics, that weird church on the other side of town. Division is division, no matter how righteous we want to make it sound. (A Christianity Worth Believing, 91-92)
Although I have never heard Keller to speak in this extreme manner, the absence in his teaching of any “dualistic assumptions”  – saved vs. unsaved, children of light vs. children of darkness (1 Cor. 2:14; John 3:19-20), new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) vs. children of the devil (John 8:41-44), Body of Christ vs. the world –  is deafening. 

To operate in the world, we have to understand the world. The New Testament is filled with warnings about the wicked heart of man, the resultant false teachings of the world, and the threat they pose to the church (Mat. 7:15; Mark 8:15; 13:5-6; Col. 2:8; Titus 1:9-11; Rev. 2:2, 14).

Consequently, cultural renewal without the necessary Gospel-truth-tools becomes a ticket to assimilation. Many go forth from Keller’s church armed with the idea that if they can just love enough, the world will see the light and want Christ. However, it was the world that crucified the Christ, the perfect model of love.

There is little appreciation of the fact that salvation is a supernatural gift to us who dwell in abject darkness and are enemies of God (Rom. 8:5-8; 5:9-10). Consequently, without being born again, the world will merely become more arrogant and hardened to the Gospel in the midst of their improved environment. This means that we should be very guarded in our optimism about changing the world.

However, the Redeemerites are ill-equipped to deal with this reality. They go forth as the unarmed Russian troops had during the First World War as they stormed the German invaders, hoping to pick up a fallen gun as they bravely made their charge. Redeemerites fail to perceive the radical distinction between saved and unsaved and face an enemy they cannot see or understand. They think that if they simply party with the world, they will be accepted and the world will accept their faith. Instead, it is more likely that the salt will loose its saltiness.

As an example of social renewal, Keller admits that we cannot simply join the Harvard faculty and expect to change it. However, he suggests an alternative – we can create a “think-tank” to influence them.

However, as long as Christians remain ill-equipped, the influence runs in the other direction. We send our Christian youth to the university, even many “Christian” ones, and they return as secular clones, either lost to the church or so badly compromised that they are almost indistinguishable from the secular world. Meanwhile, they are convinced that they have been enlightened and therefore look down on Evangelicals.

Evangelism – the proclamation of the Gospel – also seems to be conspicuously missing from Keller’s program. Understandably, it can be argued that since the Gospel has been so thoroughly discredited in the West, we first have to earn the right to be heard. This is reasonable, but this doesn’t seem to be part of Keller’s strategy. Instead, he pejoratively refers to evangelism as “increasing the tribe” – in other words, the in-group, the “us vs. them” mentality.

Instead, Scripture refers to the proclamation of Gospel as central and indispensable:

  • That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:15-16)
It is sad that we have become ashamed of the Gospel, because of all the contempt poured out upon it. However, it is hubristic to think that we can change society without its proclamation. Besides, such an expectation would place an intolerable burden upon us to look and act better than others so that they will want what we have.

Instead, we are a motley crew. God has chosen the rejects of this world so that boasting would then become difficult (1 Cor. 1:26-29). As hard as I try, I must admit that many unbelievers look better than me and perhaps in this life, they always will. This is partially because our impressions are limited to the mere appearance of things (1 Sam. 16:7). Consequently, if my evangelistic hope rests upon the superiority of my character, my hope is a false one – one that will be disappointed.

Instead, our hope is in the proclamation of Gospel and the Spirit who validates it in those who are being saved. Through this, we are a “sweet smelling savor,” but this miraculous savor seems to be exclusively associated with the presentation of the Gospel (2 Cor. 2:14-17). Therefore, if we trust in God, we are constrained to trust in His methods, even if despised by the world. To go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6) in this regards – to place our hope in other methods – is to place our hope in ourselves. This is a hope that will suffer a hasty demise.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in social projects. However, we must do so with right expectations, preparations and methods. If we want to have a sanctifying influence on this world, we cannot dismiss Jesus’ means of sanctification:

  • You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John 15:3)
  • Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)
What then is the church? According to Paul, it is “God's household…the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Above all else, the church is about the ministry of the Gospel!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage, Equal Rights and the Redefinition of America

Same-sex marriage (SSM) is now before the United States Supreme Court. The State of California had, by popular vote, passed Proposition 8, limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. However, it was subsequently overturned by a California court as “unconstitutional.”

The plaintiff, Paul Katami, had been prevented from marrying his gay partner in California. His appeal is based upon the contention that laws that limit marriage to heterosexual couples represent discrimination – the denial of his rights:

  • "Stigma is stigma. And discrimination is discrimination," Katami told CNN. "I think that any time there's discrimination in the country, it needs to be addressed and it needs to be taken care of. And that's why we feel that anytime in our history when there's been racial discrimination or sexual discrimination of orientation, or in particular marriage at this point, that we always bend toward the arch of equality."
Katami compares apples and oranges - marriage discrimination to “racial discrimination or sexual discrimination.” However, this equation fails to compute. While SSM is about behavior and a new institution, the other forms of discrimination pertain to the very nature of the person – their race and sex.

It is not enough to allege “discrimination.” All laws discriminate against one form of behavior or another – paying taxes, operating motor vehicles… Instead, this question must be adjudicated, not in terms of whether or not they discriminate – they do discriminate – but rather whether the laws discriminate in a just manner.

Katami claims that laws that restrict marriage to heterosexual couples are unjust:

  • "This is about our equality," said Paul Katami, one of the plaintiffs in the California case. "This is about our freedom and our liberty. So we are not trying to topple marriage. We are not trying to redefine marriage. What we are trying to say is that equality is the backbone of our country."
Is SSM really a matter of equality? Homosexuals are free to marry anyone they want in their own churches. Instead, the issue is about legal and social acceptance and the promotion of a lifestyle that is highly self-destructive in terms of just about every indicator – lifespan, suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, STDs, depression, and other mental health issues.

If Katami and other proponents of SSM are serious about “equality,” why aren’t they talking about “equality” for polygamists? Why should they be the subject of discrimination?

I raise this issue because in order to assess the coherence and viability of a principle – “discrimination,” “rights,” “fairness” – we need to examine how it plays out in related areas. Why should “equality” just pertain to SSM? And if this principle of “equality” is to govern our understanding of marriage, on what basis can “equality” be denied to minors? So far, I haven’t heard any proponents of SSM bring minors into the equation. If they did bring minors and pedophiles into the equation – and they should if we are to rationally weigh whether or not “equality” is a morally coherent concept – the public might awaken to its frightening implications.

Such “equality” would mean that there could no longer be a basis to deny anyone their “rights.” Fifteen people could thereby demand their “right” to marry one another. To deny such an appeal would then be no less discriminatory than denying SSM!

And how then could society deny the “right” of a father to marry his daughter or a mother her son? Wouldn’t this be a denial of their “equal rights?”

However, such “rights” would undermine traditional marriage and family. What then is to prevent a daughter from being groomed as a sexual or “marriage” object for her father? Why shouldn’t he groom her from an early age to satisfy his sexual appetite? Isn’t this his “right?”

And what is to protect the wife in this sexualized world? What is to prevent the husband from taking on additional younger wives? Isn’t this his “right!” And opposition to this would also constitute “discrimination!”

What is to prevent teachers from grooming their students as sexual objects? Can we “discriminate” against this behavior? Can we deny them their “equal rights?” And how could the parents protect their children against this when they are enticed by their attractive teachers? Wouldn’t the parents be violating the “rights” and “choice” of their children?

If our marriage laws and sexual codes are unjustly discriminatory, then we need to comprehensively examine the claims of the SSM proponents regarding such concepts as “discrimination,” “fairness,” and “equality.” However, this kind of dispassionate examination is precisely what is being obstructed. Instead, shouts of “homophobe” resound from our institutions of “higher learning.”

Meanwhile, Katami claims that, “We are not trying to redefine marriage.” However, the promotion of such “rights” and “equality” destroy marriage’s protective walls. They also prevent the parent from protecting their children against sexual predators, who now are claiming their own “rights.” When any limitation, taboo, or boundary becomes “discriminatory,” traditional marriage and family become indefensible.

As the tide of public sentiment begins to turn in their favor, the SSM proponents now claim that SSM is the will of the people. However, is it truly the will of the people or the result of systematic indoctrination and manipulations by the power-elites – the media, the court and the university?

Marsha Segelstein, a former senior producer for CBS News, paints a sinister portrait of the pro-gay program:

  • They thus are able to insinuate that opposition to gay marriage equals discrimination or hate speech. Tactics that…label opponents as bigots and homophobes and…characterize homosexuals seeking “marriage” as victims have been largely successful. In many cases, those who have publicly voiced opposition to gay marriage have suffered serious consequences. (Salvo, Spring 2013, 20)
The consequences can be brutal. For instance,

  • In October 2012, the Chief Diversity Officer for Gallaudet University, Angela McCaskill, was placed on administrative leave for signing a petition supporting the placement of a referendum on the ballot in Maryland. The referendum was to give voters the opportunity to approve or disapprove of Maryland’s “marriage equality” law, which had instituted gay marriage in the state. Through a sign-language interpreter, McCaskill told reporters that she had been asked by a faculty member whether or not she had signed the petition. “In this very moment, she [the faculty member] determined that this signature meant I was anti-gay.” (21) 
In this hostile and repressive atmosphere, it is no wonder that many who oppose SSM are running for cover, and their voice is not heard. Threats of violence and even death are not uncommon. A 14-year-old who testified before the Maryland State Senate was threatened”

  • “If I ever see this girl, I will kill her. That’s a promise”… Another attacked her family… “her parents should be exterminated”… “And now everyone knows her name, so hopefully she will feel what it’s like to be harassed and bullied.” (21-22)
The bullying has also taken on tangible forms. Gay activists had been able to obtain a list of Proposition 8 supporters. As a result, they vandalized churches and even stalked supporters at their places of work. Terrified supporters were coerced into making tearful apologies. Others were forced to resign:

  • Scott Eckern, director of the California Musical Theater…eventually resigned after news of his $1000 donation spread… The director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Richard Raddon, was forced to resign when his donation of $1500 was revealed…A 67-year old restaurant employee who had donated $100 had to take a leave of absence from work after opponents launched protests against the restaurant. Businesses large and small – from hotels to insurance companies to private dental practices – were targeted with boycotts and protests. (22-23)
Even an elderly woman was targeted as she carried a large cross:

  • Several men surrounded her and yelled in her face, and one of them knocked the cross out of her hands and stomped on it. (23)
Intimidation is a powerful change-agent. Along with massive doses of propaganda, it can influence the vote and even deprive many of their livelihood:

  • A marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan…explained to a gay couple wanting to be married that he had religious objections to performing the ceremony. He offered to find someone else, and the couple was married. (23)
However, that wasn’t good enough. Now he and many others are facing suspension. Many college students are also facing suspension for the unpardonable sin of expressing their beliefs, and many college Christian groups are being disenfranchised from college campuses. Christian businesses are being threatened with closure because of their stance against SSM.

Not only does the gay agenda threaten to redefine marriage, it threatens to redefine the entire nature of our free society along with our freedoms of speech and religion. If we want to see what this redefinition looks like, Segelstein suggests that we look no further than Canada:

  • Their experience shows that much is at risk: tolerance for religious beliefs, loss of parental rights over their children and moral upbringing, the very concept of heterosexuality as normative…and the basic freedom to practice religion without government interference. (24)
With the backing of mental health professionals, the pedophile community is also claiming discrimination and their entitlement to equal rights. Now, in many school districts, parents cannot exempt their children from pro-gay “sensitivity training.” If this trajectory continues, parents will soon have to subject their children to pro-pedophile “sensitivity training.” And why not! Pedophiles are likewise “born this way and have no alternative.” How then can a freedom-loving society discriminate against them, while not discriminating against gays! It cannot! If the door is opened to SSM, then it must be opened to everyone else who claims such a “right.” Soon, parents warning their children against the advances of pedophiles will also be guilty of “hate speech” and “pedophobia.”

Besides, if gay sex can be construed as something beautiful, so too will pedophile sex! (According to some, pedophile sex offers a valuable service to children!) They both depend upon the same logic - freedom of choice, an immutable sexual orientation, non-discrimination and equal rights.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sexual Libertarianism: Can it Deliver the Goods?

 Western culture is sex-addicted. Perhaps instead, it is addicted to the idea of maximizing sexual pleasure by removing any limitations or taboos. When actress Kristen Davis was asked about her role in Sex and the City, she commented that the purpose of the show was to “demystify the whole sexual thing,” making it as normal as eating a Big Mac.

Another indication of the Western thrust towards the demystification of sex comes from the universities, where sex is given center-stage. In 2012, Harvard extended official recognition to a new student group – Harvard College Munch:

  • Munch is not about midnight snacks. It is a coy term for kinky sex, principally…bondage…and sado-masochism. (Salvo, Spring 2013, 11).
The group’s founder explained, “It’s tying people up, telling them to do stuff, and hitting them with things.” One Harvard female undergrad explained to the student newspaper, “I like being told that I’m a slut or good for nothing but sex” (11).

Ironically, at the same time, so many university campuses are trying to ban Christian groups. In contrast, these groups promote a much higher view of humanity – that we’re good for far more than sex. However, Western culture’s vision and commitment is for normalizing and promoting all forms of sexual gratification, even if it is degrading and imposes tremendous personal costs.

However, does sexual libertarianism (SL) lead to sexual gratification? Well, it must! Why else would it be promoted so vigorously?

However, there are sound reasons to question that SL can deliver the goods. Robin Phillips cites research showing that “people who have the most sex, the best sex and are the happiest about their sex lives are monogamous, married, religious people”:

  • Women without religious affiliation were the least likely to report always having an orgasm with their primary partner – only one in five … Protestant women who reported always having an orgasm [had] the highest [percentage], at nearly one-third. In general, having a religious affiliation was associated with higher rates of orgasm for women. (The Social Organization of Sexuality, 115; quoted by Salvo, Spring 2013, 35)
This is consistent with previous studies. A Redbook Magazine survey of 1970 found that:

  • The more religious a woman is, the more likely she is “to be orgasmic almost every time she engages in sex.” Conversely, irreligious women tended to be the least satisfied with the quality and quantity of their intercourse. (35)
Phillips cites two other studies that were consistent with these findings. Many have speculated about these surprising findings. To explain them, some have cited the negative costs of the demystification of sex, while others have associated casual sex with violating the moral standards of the participants, even when they denied having them, thereby depriving them of sexual fulfillment. Writing for USA Today, William R. Mattox:

  • Suggested that “church ladies tend to be free from the guilt associated with violating one’s own sexual standards” – a factor that a University of Connecticut study found to hinder sexual satisfaction among unmarried college students. (36)
Meanwhile, others suggest that over-exposure can lead to apathy. Phillips cites a 16-year-old who confessed, “I’m so used to it, it makes me sick.”

C.S. Lewis adds an important piece to the puzzle, reflecting the words of Jesus (Mat. 6:33):

  • Look for yourself [and your own fulfillment], and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look to Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. (Mere Christianity; cited by Phillips, 37)
Far from being a cosmic kill-joy, the Bible gives us a portrait of a God who understands what we need and gives us the necessary guidelines to satisfy these needs. After all, He created us and truly loves us!

Politics, Christianity and Cal Thomas

 Should Christians abandon the political arena? To put this question another way – Is there any arena where the light of Christ shouldn’t shine? Evangelical Christian and widely read columnist, Cal Thomas, seems to answer “yes.” For one thing, he claims that Christian attempts to bring about political change have been for naught:

  • We’ve tried to change culture through government for thirty years, since the forming of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition and all these other religious/political groups…and what happened? Nothing. (Salvo, Spring 2013, 29)
Even if Thomas is correct about the “nothing,” this shouldn’t represent a reason to abandon politics. Perhaps instead, our failures might serve as a call to reexamine ourselves, our methods, and the need to better prepare the societal ground through reasoned argumentation.

Besides, perhaps we use an unbiblical measure to assess “failure” and “success.” Fundamentally, for the Christian, success is a matter of faithfulness:

  • This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:3-5)
The world’s response should not govern our assessment of success and failure. Instead, we should measure it in terms of our responsiveness to our Lord, and this might be a matter of being the light, whether individually or corporately.

If we are to use Thomas’ measure of success, then the Prophets of Israel were utter failures. Ultimately, Israel rejected their measure and Israel went into captivity.

Thomas’ measure of success is extreme in other ways. He argues against political involvement because it fails to change hearts:

  • You cannot convince the unredeemed to behave in a way that is pleasing to God absent conversion. (29)
Although conversion is the optimal change-engine, we shouldn’t disdain more modest changes. In this regard, I like what Martin Luther King stated:

  • “It may be true that a law can’t make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
There are many things that are important that fall short of conversion. In another breath, Thomas admits this:

  • People talk about William Wilberforce [and how, as an MP, he was instrumental in outlawing slavery] and use him as an example. But what they don’t really focus on is that Wilberforce prayed for hours every day…That’s why he was effective. (29)
I certainly agree with Thomas, and for this reason, we can and should infiltrate all areas of society with the light and in prayer!

When Thomas was asked about same-sex marriage, he responded:

  • I think they ought to fight harder to protect their own marriages. (28) 
This is certainly true! Our morality begins at home. If we leave our wives, we have sacrificed the right to speak out against same-sex marriage, and we also make the church look like a hoard of hypocrites. (However, once we confess and renounce our sin, we then can speak.)

However, Thomas seems to want to restrict sexual issues to the home and church:

  • Even if we could organize and harness the entire Christian population of America and even if they all agreed about everything – which they never would…- this still wouldn’t achieve the goals we seek, because such goals are not reached through the political system…You don’t cure societal breakdown through the government. You cure it through the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. (28-29)
However, I wonder if people will listen to us after we show them that we are utterly uninterested and uninvolved in the social-political arena – the horrors of slavery, communism or National Socialism come to mind – and thereby confess that the Christian faith is irrelevant to these public matters?

While it is true that our detractors deplore our involvement in politics, they also hold us accountable for our non-involvement! One atheist wrote:

  • “European Christianity failed to prevent the mass slaughter between the faithful in the Great War and actually contributed to World War II, insofar as conservative churches supported fascism. The failure of the churches to provide sound moral guidance may help to explain the [European] Continent’s postwar lack of enthusiasm of religion.” (“The Big Religion Questions Finally Solved,” Free Inquiry, Jan. 2009, 29)
Darned if we do; darned if we don’t! Perhaps instead, we need to refocus on what our Lord would have us do. Perhaps we need to revisit the Hebrew Prophets and their prophetic calling before Israel.

Even today, many point the indicting finger at the Evangelical Church for its silence in the face of injustice and victimization. This shouldn’t be! We have a mandate to expose evil (Ephes. 5:11) and to be the light and the salt of the world (Mat. 5:14-16) not only within our own homes and churches. Meanwhile, many evangelicals are understandably praising the Catholic Church for its public stand on various social issues.

Sadly, our silence has given the Muslims ample political and religious capital. With some justification, they point to the moral decay of the Christian West – condoms, pornography, sex-trafficking, abortion, promiscuous sex, single parent families, drugs, crime – as evidence of the failure of Christianity.

Even when conversion is not in view, we still have the obligation to pursue what is right, irrespective of the arena:

  • Amos 5:14-15 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts…
I wonder if some of the weakness of the church is the result of abandoning our responsibilities. Amos promises that if we seek what is good – and this even includes “justice in the courts” – “then the LORD God Almighty will be with you.” This principle is true even apart from the likelihood of conversion!

Today, there is much talk about partnering in politics as opposed to oppositional politics. This seems to be Thomas’ favored approach. He has just written a book – Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War that is Destroying America – with his friend, the liberal Democratic strategist Bob Beckel.

While partnering – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours - might be an answer to the “Partisan War,” it also presents many dangers to the Christian witness. I cannot imagine Elijah partnering with King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Nor can I imagine Jesus partnering with King Herod or Agrippa. How could we resist the temptation to compromise our message and calling and become “unequally yoked” in the context of such partnering?

Although there are Biblical precedents for partnering – Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah – and opportunities to promote the Gospel (Daniel’s witness before Nebuchadnezzar), too often, we send Christians into these trenches without adequate preparation. We send our children to “partner” with the university, and they return as their clones - not partners - while the university remains as secular as ever. But even the trenches belong to our Lord and are places to illuminate with His light.

Lord, grant us wisdom:

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Repentance Revisited: Is it Necessary for Salvation?

Is repentance necessary for salvation? Just recently, Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, a ministry to help gays leave the gay lifestyle, inadvertently raised this issue. He claimed that unrepentant gays are fellow brothers in Christ and will therefore go to heaven:

·        Is there condemnation for those who are in Christ? There is not! There are people out there living a gay Christian life, an active Christian life. God is the one who called them and has their heart and they are in relationship with Him. And do I believe they will be in heaven with me? I do!

This statement affirms that forgiveness and salvation – and they are inseparable – do not require repentance, but simply a profession of faith. However, this raises an important question: “Is a faith that lacks a willingness to repent truly a saving faith?”

According to the traditional Dispensational theologian, Lewis Sperry Chafer, it is:

  • Scripture is violated and the whole doctrine of grace confused when salvation is made to depend on anything other than believing. The divine message is not “believe and pray”…”believe and repent”…If they were as essential to salvation as believing they would never be omitted from any passage wherein the way to be saved is stated. (Major Bible Themes, 187).
In order to protect the teaching that salvation is purely a free gift of Grace, Chafer claimed that saving faith is only a matter of mental assent or agreement to certain truths without any need for commitment or repentance. Although I respect his concern, I think that this strategy is a big mistake. I will try to demonstrate how mental assent alone fails to measure up to the standard of Biblical faith.

The demons can also assent to the truths of the Gospel, but this doesn’t save them. James claims that demons believe in “one God” but yet they remain unsaved:

  • But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. (James 2:18-19)
Their problem isn’t that they fail to give mental assent to certain truths. Their problem is that their faith isn’t a Biblical faith. It doesn’t contain any commitment or repentance. In fact, the demons probably know the Gospel better than most of us and could quickly acknowledge its tenants.

However, in opposition to this, Dispensational theologian J.B. Hixson claims that the demons’ problem is not that they lack commitment or repentance but that they lack enough Gospel knowledge:

  • The object of their [the demons’] faith – the proposition they believe - is the unity of God. No one, demons or otherwise, receives eternal salvation by believing in the unity of God. (162)
However, to suppose that demons only understand that God is One is not Scriptural. Clearly, they understand far more. They show evidence that they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He will judge them:

  • When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (Matthew 8:28-29; also Mark 1:23-24; 3:11; 5:6-7; Luke 4:33-34, 41: 8:28)
Nor should we suppose that this is not all that they understand. They even know something about the way of salvation through the Son:

  • Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." (Acts 16:16-17)
Demons clearly have a lot of knowledge. They know Scripture (Mat. 4:6) and have the ability to deceive us (2 Cor. 11:14-15; 4:4; 1 Tim. 4:1) However, we are not saved purely by our knowledge. The Biblical concept of faith must include more than mere knowledge. And it does.

Jesus told a parable about two people – a Pharisee and a tax-collector – who went into the Temple to pray. Only the despised tax collector left “justified” – saved (Luke 18:9-14). Doubtlessly, the Pharisee could give assent to far more doctrine than could the sinner, but evidently, he lacked saving faith – one that includes repentance. Clearly, we are not saved by our knowledge of the Gospel alone. While the Pharisee was in denial about his own sin and was consequently unwilling to confess and repent, the tax collector was clearly repentant. Jesus explained that the Pharisee’s problem was not that he lacked the proper doctrine but that he had refused to humble himself to acknowledge his sin, and that made all the difference.


Repentance is not a meritorious work. John the Baptist contrasts repentance with the good deeds that will be brought forth by a repentant heart:

  • But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:7-8; Luke 3:8)
It is easy to say, “I repent of my sins.” It is entirely another thing to “produce fruit” that reflect a repentant heart. Although a change of heart regarding our sins (repentance) is key, the Pharisees were often in denial (Matthew 23; Luke 16:15; 18:9). Consequently, God gave the law to give us an objective measure in regards to our spiritual and moral standing. Bringing forth the fruit (good works) required by the law would reveal whether someone was truly repentant and regretted their sins (Rom.3:19-20).

Obedience isn’t repentance. Instead, obedience is the fruit of repentance. If we truly regret our sins, we will turn from them. At least, we will try. A good tree bears good fruit.

Paul makes the same distinction between repentance and its fruit. In his defense before King Agrippa, Paul distinguishes repentance from the “deeds” of repentance:

  • “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) 
Clearly, Paul did not regard repentance as a meritorious act or “deed.” Instead, true repentance brings forth deeds as does faith.

The ISBE defines “repentance” (Greek, “metanoeƱoĆ“”) as:

  • Spiritual change implied in a sinner's return to God. The term signifies "to have another mind," to change the opinion or purpose with regard to sin. 
In some instances, the ISBE defines it as a feeling but never as a work or as obedience. As a change of heart and mind, repentance seems to be almost synonymous with faith.

  1. Faith is a turning to God; repentance is a turning away from sin.
  2. Faith is a trust in God; repentance rejects trust in self.
  3. If faith is the determination to live for Christ, then repentance is the determination to turn from sin.
Seen in this way, faith-repentance represents a single turn away from sin and to God. They are opposite sides of the same coin, not two separate activities. When I turned to Christ, I simultaneously decided that I no longer wanted my old life.

There are many evidences that a real Biblical faith and repentance are synonymous and therefore inseparable. They both come as gifts from God:

  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9; also Rom. 12:3; Phil. 1:29; Acts 18:27; 16:14; 13:48; 3:16)
The same principle also applies to repentance. It is granted by God:

  • When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18; 3:36; 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:24-25).
Repentance leads to salvation as does faith. There are many other verses that list repentance as the requirement for salvation without any mention of faith:

  • He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)
  • Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
  • Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19; also Acts 2:38; 8:22; 17:30; 20:21)
These verses are clearly referring to salvation – forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. Why is there no mention of faith here? Are these verses suggesting that faith is unnecessary for salvation? Of course not! However, if repentance is inseparable from the concept of faith – both being opposite sides of the same coin - then it would be redundant to say “repent and believe.”

Consequently, when John the Baptist and Jesus preached “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” it was understood that this command also entailed a trust in God. Repenting from sin, while totally neglecting God, is a ludicrous idea. Likewise, trusting in God, while continuing to trust in our own sinful devices, is equally ludicrous.

The Hebrew Scriptures often mention “repentance” or “turn back” in the place of faith. In consecrating the Jerusalem Temple, King Solomon specified repentance as a condition for forgiveness and restoration:

  • "When your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against you, and when they turn back to you and confess your name, praying and making supplication to you in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them back to the land you gave to their fathers.” (1 Kings 8:33-34; also see Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 18:30-32; Mal 3:7; Isaiah 1:27; 59:20)
A refusal to repent is a refusal to trust in God. Just imagine one of your congregants requesting that you baptize them, saying:

  • Pastor, I fully trust in Jesus and believe whatever He teaches. However, I must be totally honest with you. I simply refuse to stop molesting little boys. It’s just too important to me. However, I understand that faith is simply mental assent to the truths of Scripture. Therefore, I agree that pedophilia is wrong, but I’m not going to give it up.  
This, of course, is ludicrous. If someone trusts in Jesus, he will do what Jesus tells him to do! When someone refuses to do this, it means that he doesn’t trust in Him. Instead, he believes that he knows better about what is good for him than does Jesus. This is not faith but self-deception.

If you were to baptize him and extend him the right-hand-of-fellowship, you would then have to quickly retract it and bring church disciplinary charges against him. How ludicrous!

However, it would have been very different if the pedophile had said instead:

  • Pastor, I don’t have the strength to quit molesting, but I want to trust that Jesus will help me.
In contrast, this is a cry of repentance and a willingness to follow Jesus! This is also a demonstration of faith.

Faith entails repentance and therefore, repentance is not an extra condition for salvation. Dispensational theologian Charles C. Bing defines saving faith (“pisteuo”) as merely “to be convinced of something” (101). However, this falls far short of the robust portrait of faith that we receive from Scripture. In Scripture we find that faith is not simply a decision to acknowledge certain precepts. Because the natural man is opposed to the light (John 3:19-20), regards the things of God as “foolishness” (1 Cor. 2:14), and, consequently, does not seek God (Rom. 3:10-12), a change of heart is required.

Moses confessed to Israel that “to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know” or believe (Deut. 29:4; NASB). However, Moses promised that God would “circumcise your hearts…so that you may love him” (Deut. 30:6). As Ezekiel revealed, faith is predicated upon a new heart and Spirit:

  • I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
This new heart (along with the Holy Spirit) – the pre-condition for faith – would not only produce assent to His truths, but also a love for God and a readiness “to follow my decrees.” It will also produce a willingness to turn from the old life (repentance):

  • Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. (Ezekiel 36:31)
In contrast, the “gay Christians” do not loathe their sins. Faith and repentance are a package deal. They are inseparable. They come from the same gift of a new heart. The reality of the New Covenant will not allow us to affirm a faith that lacks commitment and repentance. In the end, when God pours out His Holy Spirit upon Israel, they will not simply acknowledge a certain set of truths, but they will also repent of their sins and seek Him (Zech. 12:10 -13:1).  Jeremiah described this New Covenant reality: God would "put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). As a result:

  • They will always fear me [faith]…so that they will never turn away from me [repentance]. (Jeremiah 32:39-40)
Being born again – receiving and new heart and the Spirit – means that we will receive those truths that we had once hated and rejected. It also necessarily means that we will repent of our former ways, including our hatred of the light! It is impossible to believe if we still retain our former hatred of truth and refuse to repent of it. Faith and repentance are as inseparable as the heads and tails of the same coin.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus informs five churches that that they must repent if they are to be saved. For instance, He promises the church at Laodicea:

  • Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:19-20; also see Rev. 2:5; 16; 22; 3:3)
They were naked and Jesus told them how they could obtain “white garments” of salvation by means of repentance. Salvation was the issue. There can be little doubt of this. The church at Sardis had been encouraged that if they did repent, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5).

Telling people that they need not repent in order to be saved might be comforting, but it is a false and temporary comfort. Jesus warns the church at Ephesus that if they didn’t repent, He would remove their lamp-stand. However, if they did repent, they would “eat at the tree of life” (Rev. 2:7).

This is the very type of message we need to be telling the “gay Christians!” However, we shouldn’t underestimate the force of the temptation that Alan Chambers experienced. It is just too easy to overlook the need to repent when others insist that you regard them as brethren in Christ, and then treat you like a hero after you compromise.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cognition and Thomas Nagel

Can thought and cognition be reduced to a matter of mere chemical-electrical materials? NYU Professor of Philosophy and atheist, Thomas Nagel, reasons that there must be more to thought than just the materials:

·        It is not merely the subjectivity of thought [the experience of thought] but its capacity to transcend subjectivity and to discover what is objectively the case that presents a problem. Thought and reasoning are correct or incorrect in virtue of something independent of the thinker’s beliefs, and even independent of the community of thinkers to which he belongs…There are norms [laws] of thought which, if we follow them, will tend to lead us toward the correct answers to those questions…Mathematics, science, and ethics are built on such norms. It is difficult to make sense of all this in traditional naturalistic terms. (Mind and Cosmos, 72)

It is one thing to accurately perceive the world; it’s another to put the data together into a reasonable, logical, useable and comprehensive package. Somehow, our minds must be amenable to the world around us and they both must be amenable to a set of common logical laws that can enable us to convert the external, material world into accurate ideas about it.

Our minds are more than mirrors or cameras that provide exact reflections of our slice of reality. They are synthesizers. However, in order to function in this way, there must be an “operating system” or set of transcendent rules in place that instructs our mental circuitry about how to organize the data. Besides, the real world data has to also be conformable to these rules.

Without this set of rules, we are no more than firing circuitry leading nowhere. Instead, this glorious package we call “mind” gives every appearance of a grand and intelligent design – the kind alluded to in the Bible:

·        Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thomas Nagel: The Hated Atheist who Broke Rank

NYU Professor of Philosophy and avowed atheist, Thomas Nagel, is 75 years of age and has taught for the past 50 years. Perhaps this helps to explain his courage in bucking the evolution establishment:

  • For a long time I have found the materialist account [that the world consists of nothing more than molecules in motion] of how we and our fellow organisms came to exist hard to believe, including the standard version of how evolutionary process works. The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes…The current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense. (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 5)
Indeed, common sense would argue against the notion that the universe and all of its incredible design features sprang forth uncaused out of nothing. We just don’t see those kinds of things happening today. Besides, uncaused and unexplainable phenomena represent a denial of the scientific enterprise, which understandably assumes that understanding is possible.

This book is clearly a threat to “the current orthodoxy.” Harvard psychologist and Darwinian Steven Pinker dismissed the book as “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.” Pinker’s assumption is that if you violate this orthodoxy or even call it into question, then you call into question your own rationality. The Guardian named Mind and Cosmos the “most despised science book of 2012.”

Nagel regards materialism as reductionistic – it reduces reality and causation, without the support of science or reason, to no more than energy and matter. However, he doubly makes himself a pariah by also challenging the theory of evolution:

  • The process of natural selection cannot account for the actual history [of species] without an adequate supply of viable mutations, and I believe it remains an open question whether this could have been provided in geological time merely as a result of chemical accident, without the operation of some other factors determining and restricting the forms of genetic variation…With regard to the origin of life, the problem is much harder, since the options of natural selection as an explanation is not available. And the coming into existence of the genetic code – an arbitrary mapping of nucleotide sequences into amino acids, together with mechanisms that can read the code and carry out its instructions – seems particularly resistant to being revealed as probable given physical law alone. (9-10)
However, what Nagel says about intelligent design (ID) theorists – the enemy - represents the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the evolutionist:

  • They [IDers] do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair. (10)
Nevertheless, Nagel reluctantly rejects ID. I write “reluctantly” because the basis of his rejection is insubstantial and not on par with his rejection of evolution:

  • I confess to an ungrounded assumption of my own, in not finding it possible to regard the design alternative as a real option. I lack the sensus divinitatis that enables – indeed compels – so many people to see in the world the expression of divine purpose… (12)
Nagel’s queer hesitation about ID seems to coincide with Jesus’ words:
  • "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
Reason alone will not bring us to the Father. Salvation requires supernatural intervention. We must be born from above. Let’s pray for Nagel!