Saturday, March 30, 2013

A NEW New Testament (Saturday Fun--Theology Version)

This painting represents the Four Gospel authors,
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not the members
of the more recent panel of scholars.
One of the guys in my Men's Leadership Class forwarded this link to a breaking news story that we have, at last, been given a New New Testament.  It seems that a group of 19 "scholars" representing a spectrum of more liberal Christian persuasions and including rabbis and an expert in eastern religions and yoga  have decided that important writings were left out of the canon and need to be added.
These scholars believe that adding The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, The Acts of Paul and Thecia, and bits and pieces of other writings from the second century give us a more "nurturing and inspiring" spirituality, according to Hal Taussig, the committee's chairperson.  Interestingly, Taussig was also a part of the "Jesus Seminar," whose mission was to eliminate from the four canonical gospels material that was not truly from Jesus--which turned out (in their view) to be most of what Jesus is recorded to have said.

Taussig says that these added books will also give us a fuller context of the life of Jesus, and should be used to offset culturally inappropriate teachings in the accepted New Testament, such as wives submitting to husbands and slaves to masters.

In response, Timothy Paul Jones, from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that using these books to gain context "would be like studying 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer' to understand the context of the 13th Amendment."  Personally, I'm  not sure that Jones isn't being unfair to that fine piece of literature.

To keep any of you from having a less "nurturing and inspiring" spirituality, I give you the following quote from the Gospel of Thomas, that for some reason is not featured in this article.
Gospel of Thomas, Saying 114. Simon Peter says to them: "Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!" Jesus says: "See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven."
 I wonder why this isn't in the New Testament, don't you?  All you women reading this, don't worry.  According to the NEW New Testament, some day Jesus will turn you all into men so you can be saved.

Some might say these people need to get a life.  More accurately, they need life.  Eternal life.  Gospel life.  Life that depends on a real life, crucified, risen, ascended, returning Savior.  Life that is revealed through the 66 books of the Bible, just as they have been given and preserved.  Life that finds its guidance and authority in the Scriptures, which are all given by God's breath, and are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that God's followers can all be made complete and equipped for every good work (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in  your old New Testament to read the direct quote).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Unholy Debate During Holy Week

For Christians around the world, this week is a reminder of the great love and sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  From his final presentation of himself to Israel on Palm Sunday, to his cleansing of the Temple on Monday, to the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday, the week is pregnant with meaning and significance.

For Christians in America this year, we are also watching with either dismay or anticipation as the debate on same sex marriage is taken up by the Supreme Court.  There is an air of inevitability that is portrayed in the media and bolstered by pronouncements by various political and entertainment figures that "now is the time." for what is being called "marriage equality."  

Certainly this is not of the same significance as the events leading up to Easter, but it is a watershed moment for our culture.  Will our government purposely redefine something God created and Jesus specifically defined to bless humanity into something that calls for divine judgment?  Christians who love their nation (as we are instructed to do in Scripture) are right to be concerned.

While many Christians are posting Facebook warnings or concerns or articles on why they oppose legalization, I note that some of my Christian friends using social media sites are displaying an red profile picture of an equal sign, endorsing the cause of same sex marriage.  An article I just read asked a question: "When did it become acceptable for Christians to embrace and endorse" homosexual behavior generally, and then same sex marriage as appropriate in our culture?  

The author argues that it came about gradually, as we substituted the biblical God for a God of "faux love, cultural acceptance, and open theism."  In short, when we became idolaters.   Our idol, especially among the young, promotes a libertarian ideal of freedom that says, "do what you want, as long as it does  no harm."  This sounds charitable and "nice"--a live and let live philosophy.  

But in fact, this kind of thinking shows that those who hold it hate their neighbors--especially their neighbors who embrace evil and call it good.  

Later in the article, I read this explanation:
In endorsing laws based solely on the secular liberal-libertarian conception of freedom (at least those that produce no obvious self-harm), they are doing the very opposite of what Jesus called them to do: They are hating their neighbors, including their gay and lesbian neighbors. You do not love your neighbor by encouraging them to engage in actions that invoke God's wrath (Psalm 5:4-5Romans 1:18). As Christians we may be required to tolerate ungodly behavior, but the moment we begin to endorse the same then we too have become suppressors of the truth. You cannot love your neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).
Love of our neighbor demands speaking the truth in love, with grace, but with conviction.  If the law is changed, we will still need to do the same.  But it is right for us to pray and support those who would seek to keep the law from changing, if we would seek to spare our culture further consequences that come from denying God's defining power over his creation.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Mini-Rant on when Good Causes Do Bad Theology

I am convinced that the evangelical church needs to help the poor around us, and that our faith shines when we are engaged in a Christ-like manner in meeting needs around us.  I served an inner city church for seven years, have been significantly involved with ministries to prisoners and the urban poor, and I am supportive of liberal immigration policies, and of welcoming strangers.

That said, I am incredibly bothered by the sloppy usage of Scripture by many who hold the same views to try and promote care for the poor, the stranger, and the prisoner.  This is no more obvious than when Matthew 25:31-46 is used as textual support for this call.  While it feels like a gut-wrenching motivational call to arms, it is a faulty interpretation and (I believe) misapplication of an important text.

In case you don't remember, it is the famous passage describing the final judgment as a separation of righteous "sheep" and unrighteous "goats," with the sheep rewarded and the goats punished.  The sheep on his right are commended by Jesus with these words: "I was hungry and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."  The righteous ask when they did this, and Jesus replies, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."  The unrighteous, as you may remember, did not do any of these things for the least, so they did not do them for Jesus, and are sent into eternal punishment.

Now, a whole lot hinges on this passage, including our understanding of salvation itself, for it seems that eternity is on the line here.  Is relief for the world's sufferers a requirement for salvation?

The phrase that gives the passage its proper meaning often gets missed.  Jesus is not speaking of caring for all the poor.  He specifies who he has in mind who were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison. It is "the least of these my brothers."  Are all people the brothers (and sisters) of Jesus?  Not according to his usage of the word.  When Jesus identifies his brothers in Matthew, it is those who do his will--read Matthew 12:46-50 (see also the parallel passages in Mark 3 and Luke 8 ; also Matthew 23:8, 28:10; Luke 22:32; John 20:17, 21:23)).  This is said in a context where his physical family is present and seeking to take him home.

Jesus is saying in Matthew 25 what he says elsewhere, and what John says in 1 John, and Paul indicates in various epistles: love for the people of Jesus is the evidence that the life of Jesus is in us (Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 John 3:14).  We cannot say we love Jesus, but have no care for his people, who are his Body.  He is not saying that failure to visit all prisoners, or feed all hungry, or clothe all naked people is a sign that you stand condemned.  But failure to care for the people Jesus has redeemed and made his brothers and sisters is such a sign (1 John 4:19-21).

So, let us take this Scripture to heart and love Christ's people and meet each others needs.  Let us care for those in need around us, regardless of whether they know Christ yet or not.  But, let us also build our theological foundation for compassion upon those outside the Body of Christ from Scriptures that apply directly to that concern.  The parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind as a much more applicable passage.

Don't diminish the Scriptures by failing to pay attention to what they are actually saying.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"When Gay Comes to Church"--the Follow Up

Clicking on the highlighted text below leads either to the articles mentioned, or to links on for the books.  You can also find the books listed in the Amazon widget on the right--clicking there will also lead to to a place to complete a book order.  And of course, you can check to see if any of these books are available in our local library--some of them will be.

In Sunday's message, I told a story taken from an article by Mark Buchanan, entitled, "When Clean and Unclean Touch."  Click on the title to read the whole story.  It is worth the read.

As to resources that have helped my thinking on how Christians respond to both the reality of same sex attraction and the cultural challenges confronting us, I can recommend a number of books that have been very positive.

Out of a Far Country is Christopher and Angela Yuan's story of his life in the gay world, his mother's heartbroken quest to help him, and how both came to experience the hope and grace of God in forgiveness.

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, by Wesley Hill, is a powerful work by a man who has faced this struggle, committed to faithful Christianity, and to celibacy.

Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, by Mark Yarhouse, is an excellent discussion by a professor, counselor, and researcher on this issue.  He seeks to establish a clear distinction between a gay identity and same sex attraction.

Wade Burleson, a Southern Baptist pastor in Oklahoma, had two excellent blog posts I would comment to you.  One speaks of how to love sexual sinners and offenders in your life by the power of grace and truth.  The other addresses showing the love of Christ to militant homosexual activists.  Both are worth reading.

The Gospel Coalition site has the article I mentioned about gay activists and basic changes they see coming in marriage for all through the idea of "monogamish" relationships.  The article is here.

One post I did not mention in the message that is well worth your reading is the story of this woman--a former lesbian feminist studies professor and her journey to Christ and a very different life--now as a pastor's wife.

Sad but unsurprising news is that on the same day I was seeking to lay out a compassionate, yet biblical approach to homosexuality, Rob Bell was publicly announcing what he had hinted at earlier--his full endorsement of gay marriage.  He says "that ship has sailed."  You can read the news story here, on a news site that is supportive of that position.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Fun

Here's a funny clip from Mark Lowry--and you'll even here an illustration I used recently.  And no, I wouldn't say everything Mark says, and some of his lines are not quite a precise as I would like, but you'll still get something from this.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Resources to follow up the "Forgiveness" Sermon

In the opening of Sunday's sermon, I reference the article, "Going to Hell With Ted Haggard," and if you click on that title, you will be redirected to it so that you can read the whole thing.

There are a number of helpful books on forgiveness, but I would warn you--if you really begin to practice biblical forgiveness, it will either change your life or drive you away from the truth.  So much of what it is to be a Christian is wrapped up in whether we will receive the grace to forgive.

Here are some of those resources:

From Forgiven to Forgiving, by Jay Adams.  A solid, biblical introduction to the subject.
Victory Over the Darkness, by Neil Anderson has a significant section on the importance and power of forgiveness in dealing with our own past and those who have sinned against us.
Total Forgiveness, by R.T. Kendall has been highly recommended to me, and it has been used by God as a tool in the radical change of a number of people I have been made aware of.  So, I offer it to you even as I begin reading it myself.  Kendall was the successor of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel in London, for those who know their Reformed authors.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Resources on the "Higher Standards vs. Double Standards" Message

There were a few sources I mentioned that might be helpful in following various parts of the message.

I referenced two articles I read on the web that were very helpful in my preparation.  The first was "The Most Offensive Verse in the Bible" and it was by Dan Phillips at the Pyromaniacs blog.  While there are times when the these guys get a little too strident, I generally find their posts to be very thought-provoking,  Even when I disagree, I am challenged well.

The second article was by Michael Cheshire, and was called "Firehouse Accountability."  It was great, and I won't try and summarize it here, except to say this is where the idea of moving from "accountability to" to "accountability for" came from.  I will be linking to another of his articles next week--just a heads up there.

Also I was asked about a book I referenced in one illustration about helping the poor, and why we need to do so wisely.  It is called When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...or Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

One more suggestion: check the Greene County Library for books I recommend if you want to borrow instead of buy.  Many of them are actually available.  Brenda Guernsey has kindly let me know this, and I want to pass it along to all of you as a possibility.

For those with access to the Cedarville University Library, many of my book recommendations will be available there, too.

Resources on the Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage Sermons

I'm late getting this and the next post up, but wanted to list a few resources I've mentioned or used in preparation for my marriage, divorce, and remarriage sermon material in our "No Easy Answers" series.

First, let me encourage you to visit the GBC website, where my notes for both messages, the audio, and the video links are all available.

I also used research collected by David Instone-Brewer in his volume, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible. This is a rather detailed volume, but he has summarized his findings in a more "popular" style book called Divorce and Remarriage in the Church.  Others have said reached the same conclusions he did (and I have) and he gives extensive bibliographies for more research as well.

Another approach to divorce, unrepentant sin, and church discipline is taken by Jay Adams.  I did not mention this in the message because I would not have had time to present it and deal with it fully.  In short, Adams says that when a spouse sins against their marriage partner in a way that strikes at the covenant bond, they should be confronted through the church discipline process.  If the spouse fails to repent, and is eventually disciplined out of the church, then the spouse is to be treated as an unbeliever.  Since this "unbeliever" has abandoned his or her responsibilities to be a godly marriage partner and departed from the church, they could be divorced for abandoning the marriage.  There is much more to the view, and it can be found in Adams' book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible but I am uncomfortable with it because it tries to stretch the church discipline process into a divorce mechanism.  I believe the position I outlined puts divorce in the proper context and makes such a stretch unnecessary.

Of course, church discipline may come into play when unrepentant sin by a believer leads to the breaking of a marriage covenant, but that is a different issue.