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‘American Gospel’ Blows a Hole in the Prosperity Gospel

The new documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone, directed by Brandon Kimber, takes aim at this scourge. America has always been a pragmatic, can-do kind of country, and the film argues that the material focus of the prosperity “gospel” suits American culture.

In offering this searing critique, which applies not merely to “them” out there but to us (for many of us love money and ease more than we might be comfortable admitting), Kimber first establishes what the true gospel is: good news centered in the finished work of Christ. Standing in the place of sinners like us, Jesus has absorbed the perfect wrath of the Father and made a way out of hell and into heaven. When we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior by God-given faith, we are instantly justified and counted righteous in God’s sight, the very merit of Christ’s now being our own (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 5:1–2; Eph. 2:8–9). Numerous evangelical theologians and pastors comment on this truth in the film, together building a clear and potent case for faith in Christ.

True Stories of True Faith

American Gospel traces the stories of real Christians whose lives have intersected with prosperity teaching in some way. One woman sobs as she recounts how health-and-wealth teaching ripped her life apart, piece by piece, until she had nothing. The film also introduces us to Katherine Berger, a woman suffering from numerous dreaded illnesses—one after another, it seems—who nonetheless radiates bright faith in God.

Also prominent in the film is Costi Hinn, nephew of faith-healer Benny Hinn. Costi served on his uncle’s team as a “catcher” who witnessed apparent miracles around the clock. His testimony—soon to release as a book—takes us into the seamy experience of the faith-healer, an enterprise that preys on the poor and suffering to enrich the flush and covetous.

The moment that crystallizes the shameful nature of faith-healing comes when Costi discusses how Benny Hinn would (and does) “heal” people with minor ailments. When it came to terminally ill children and other sufferers facing profound challenges, the “healer” refused. This was the first jarring note in Costi’s young life that eventually led him out of prosperity religion (and that’s what it is—a different religion than biblical Christianity).

American Gospel does not hold back; the camera pans back to the outer boundaries of auditoriums at Hinn crusades, where desperate parents cradle diseased children, ignored, unwanted, and unhealed. We watch this, and we hear Justin Peters testify to this experience personally, and we cannot help but feel both sadness and righteous anger—Christ’s own anger. The money-changers are still in the temple, still making God’s name a mockery.

This is an exact parallel of what Jesus did not do. He did not enter the ministry to make money. He did not work in the name of God to be popular and liked. He did not heal those who could do anything for him. Rather, he came to the physically and spiritually poor and made eucatastrophes of them all—not only addressing their bodies but, in many cases, saving their souls. He was not in it for himself; he was in it for the Father’s greater glory and the sinner’s true salvation. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Sadly, Christ’s name is invoked by “faith healers” like Hinn and others whose ministries don’t reflect him.

Call Your Skeptical Friends

American Gospel succeeds in its mission. It shows the spiritual and even eternal stakes of prosperity religion. It reveals the danger of allowing any endeavor, however virtuous on the surface, to seep into the preaching and application of the biblical gospel. The movie champions the true, saving gospel, and it unpacks this message with clarity and conviction. Here’s hoping many viewers will come across American Gospel on various streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo), and that Christians will find opportunities to watch the film with unbelieving neighbors and friends. The prosperity “gospel” is a great foil by which to evangelize, for it is patently a sham to many outside of the church. A film like this could be a great apologetic for those with a skeptical bent, for example.

Though nicely shot and edited, the film could be a bit tighter, and the summation of the gospel message takes some time to unfold. So many voices speaking to different issues can begin to send the brain whirling, though I did appreciate how Kimber mixes in Christian leaders both well known and also lesser known. As is not uncommon today, American Gospel presents the gospel message primarily in terms of justification, which is the heart of the euangelion but not the doctrinal sum. The film references the local church but could say more about its importance. Similarly, the moral implications of the gospel are somewhat muted in American Gospel. If we must not make the moral dimension of Scripture the point of every passage, neither should we lose sight of it. But these are small critiques, not major ones.

High Stakes

The prosperity gospel comes with a terrific cost, as all false teaching does; it does not merely ruin intellectual systems, it ruins individual lives. We see this firsthand in the film.

American Gospel does not merely “destroy arguments” of the prosperity kind in keeping with apostolic aims (2 Cor. 10:4–5). It also shows us that the natural man craves miracles: healing, wealth, favor, better “benefits” and sales “commissions” (this is literally what a Bethel pastor leads a congregation to ask God for), a life stripped free of suffering and challenge. But the miracles God brings in most of our lives are often quite different: quieter, less showy, but powered by the saving gospel.

Instead of immediate healing, Christians may well be called to persevere in suffering. Instead of wealth, we may be called to learn contentment in our situation. Instead of coming back from the dead as in “heaven tourism” books, we must all face death and square with mortality. Instead of the cessation of trials upon the exercise of faith, we may be called to endure trials over the long haul. Instead of undimmed favor with power-brokers, we may be called to anonymity and unappreciated toil. Instead of a life of globe-hopping circuit-riding, we may be called to tuck in with our families (especially our children) and love them well, normal day by normal day. Instead of experiencing an unbroken string of personal triumphs, we may take many hits as we await the ultimate cosmic triumph of our warrior-savior, Christ Jesus. These are “ordinary miracles,” the very work of God in us.

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Most people know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong.

We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known, but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like those people, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say.

As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?

Here are ten biblical reasons why racism is sin and offensive to God.

1. We are all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Most Christians know this and believe it, but the implications are more staggering than we might realize. The sign pictured above is not just mean, it is dehumanizing. It tried to rob Irish and blacks of their exalted status as divine image bearers. It tried to make them no different from animals. But of course, as a white man I am no more like God in my being, no more capable of worship, no more made with a divine purpose, no more possessing of worth and deserving of dignity than any other human of any other gender, color, or ethnicity. We are more alike than we are different.

2. We are all sinners corrupted by the fall (Rom. 3:10-205:12-21). Everyone made in the image of God has also had that image tainted and marred by original sin. Our anthropology is as identical as our ontology. Same image, same problem. We are more alike than we are different.

3. We are all, if believers in Jesus, one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). We see from the rest of the New Testament that justification by faith does not eradicate our gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things. Our first and most important identity is not male or female, American or Russian, black or white, Spanish speaker or French speaker, rich or poor, influential or obscure, but Christian. We are more alike than we are different.

4. Separating peoples was a curse from Babel (Gen. 11:7-9); bringing peoples together was a gift from Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). The reality of Pentecost may not be possible in every community—after all, Jerusalem had all those people there because of the holy day—but if our inclination is to move in the direction of the punishment of Genesis 11 instead of the blessing of Acts 2 something is wrong.

5. Partiality is a sin (James 2:1). When we treat people unfairly, when we assume the worst about persons and peoples, when we favor one group over another, we do not reflect the God of justice, nor do we honor the Christ who came to save all men.

6. Real love loves as we hope to be loved (Matt. 22:39-40). No one can honestly say that racism treats our neighbor as we would like to be treated.

7. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Sadly, we can hate without realizing we hate. Hatred does not always manifest itself as implacable rage, and it does not always—or, because of God’s restraining mercy, often—translate into physical murder. But hatred is murder of the heart, because hatred looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, I wish you weren’t around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you. That’s hate, which sounds an awful lot like murder.

8. Love rejoices in what is true and looks for what is best (1 Cor. 13:4-7). You can’t believe all things and hope all things when you assume the worst about people and live your life fueled by prejudice, misguided convictions, and plain old animosity.

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“A strangely fascinating power is exerted by those who are utterly sincere.  Such believers attract unbelievers, as with the case of David Hume, the eighteenth-century British deistic philosopher who rejected historic Christianity.  A friend once met him hurrying along a London street and asked him where he was going.  Hume replied that he was going to hear George Whitefield preach.  ‘But surely,’ his friend asked in astonishment, ‘you don’t believe what Whitefield preaches, do you?’  ‘No, I don’t,’ answered Hume, ‘but he does.’

I am convinced that in our day simple sincerity has not lost any of its power to appeal or to impress.  It was in 1954 that Billy Graham first hit the headlines in Britain, with his Greater London Crusade.  Approximately 12,000 people came to the Haringay Arena every night for three months.  Most nights I was there myself, and as I looked round that vast crowd, I could not help comparing it with our half-empty churches.  ‘Why do these people come to listen to Billy Graham,’ I asked myself, ‘when they don’t come to listen to us?’

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On Wednesday and Thursday, the modern state of Israeli celebrated the 70th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence. Here are nine things you should know about the creation of the modern Israeli state.

1. In AD 138, the ancient nation of Israel ceased to exist when the Roman emperor Hadrian crushed the Bar Kochba revolt and banned all Jews from Palestine (i.e., the biblical regions known as the Land of Israel). The land was conquered by various nations until 1517, when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans retained control until 1917, when the British captured Jerusalem during World War I.

2. By 1850, only about 14,000 Jews remained in Palestine. But in 1881, in reaction to growing anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia, a number of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) organizations were established with the aim of furthering Jewish settlement in the area. The Hovevei Zion groups were the forerunners of modern Zionism, the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.

3. Theodore Herzl—officially referred to in the Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel as “the spiritual father of the Jewish State“—launched the modern Zionist movement in 1896. In his pamphlet Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), Herzl considers the “Jewish Question”:

Everything tends, in fact, to one and the same conclusion, which is clearly enunciated in that classic Berlin phrase: “Juden Raus!” (Out with the Jews!)

I shall now put the Question in the briefest possible form: Are we to “get out” now and where to?

Or, may we yet remain? And, how long?

Herzl answered that question by proposing a Jewish homeland:

The whole plan is in its essence perfectly simple, as it must necessarily be if it is to come within the comprehension of all.

Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.

Herzl also proposed two possible locations for the homeland—Palestine and Argentinia. “We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by Jewish public opinion,” he said.

4. In 1897, Herzl began to put his plan into action by convening the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. At this symbolic congress—which was referred to as the Basel Congress—the group adopted the Basel Program with this stated goal: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” A few weeks after the event, Herzl wrote in his diary, “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word—which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

5. During World War I, the Allies drove the Turks out of Ottoman Syria. In 1917, the British government announced its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in the 67-word statement know as the Balfour Declaration:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

After the war the British controlled the area of Palestine and was given a mandate by the League of Nations to administer the territory. Under British rule, the land was sometimes referred to as Mandatory Palestine.

6. The Jewish population in Palestine grew between 1919 and 1923 as Jews began to flee persecution in Russia and Ukraine. This influx of Jews, along with the Balfour Declaration, led the Arab inhabitants of the land to develop their own political movement, known as Palestinian nationalism. A nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs led to the “Great Revolt” of 1936-1939. This insurrection led the British to propose a partition of the land into Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs rejected the proposal.

7. In 1939, the British began limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine. Even after the Holocaust began creating Jewish refugees in Europe, the UK refused to lift the immigration cap. Thousands of Jews died trying to flee to Palestine in small boats, and thousands more were caught and turned away. The American government supported a move to allow 100,000 new immigrants into the region, which prompted the British to abandon the Palestine Mandate and leave the issue to be resolved by the United Nations.

8. On May 15, 1947, the United Nations created UNSCOP (the UN Special Committee on Palestine), with representatives from 11 “neutral” countries: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia. UNSCOP offered two proposals to solve the “Palestine Question.”

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A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month finds that the rate of alcohol use disorder (i.e., alcoholism) rose by 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s. One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study.

Here are nine things you should know about the problem of alcohol abuse in America:

1. The most commonly used diagnostic tool to determine alcohol abuse is the DSM-IV-TR, which defines it as a maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least one of the following occurring within a 12-month period: (1) Recurrent use of alcohol resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use; alcohol-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household); (2) Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by alcohol use); (3) Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct); (4) Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication); and (5) Never met criteria for alcohol dependence.

2. The DSM-IV-TR defines alcohol dependence as a maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following occurring at any time in the same 12-month period: (1) Need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol; (2) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol; or drinking (or using a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms; (3) Drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended; (4) Persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking; (5) Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of drinking; (6) A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking; (7) Continued drinking despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to be caused or exacerbated by drinking; (8) No duration criterion separately specified, but several dependence criteria must occur repeatedly as specified by duration qualifiers associated with criteria (e.g., “persistent,” “continued”).

3. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men—in about two hours. In 2015, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month

4. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on five or more days in the past month. In 2015, 7 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month

5. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition in a child that results from alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, the problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome vary from child to child, but defects such as brain damage and growth problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome are not reversible. The prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome is estimated to be two to seven cases per 1,000, and the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders to be as high as 20 to 50 cases per 1,000. (As the Mayo Clinic notes, there is no amount of alcohol that’s known to be safe to consume during pregnancy. If you drink during pregnancy, you place your baby at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.)

6. An estimated 88,009 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Of the 9,967 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2014, there were 6,391 drivers (64 percent) with BACs of 0.08 g/dL or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of 2,752 motor vehicle occupants (28 percent) and 824 non-occupants (8 percent).

7. An estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 (2.5 percent of this age group) had alcohol use disorder. This number includes 298,000 males (2.3 percent of males in this age group) and 325,000 females (2.7 percent of females in this age group). An estimated 37,000 adolescents (22,000 males and 15,000 females) received treatment for an alcohol problem in a specialized facility in 2015.

8. In 2015, 33.1 percent of 15-year-olds report that they have had at least one drink in their lives. About 7.7 million people ages 12 to 20 (20.3 percent of this age group) reported drinking alcohol in the past month (19.8 percent of males and 20.8 percent of females). Approximately 5.1 million people (about 13.4 percent) ages 12 to 20 (13.4 percent of males and 13.3 percent of females) reported binge drinking in the past month, and approximately 1.3 million people (about 3.3 percent) ages 12 to 20 (3.6 percent of males and 3.0 percent of females) reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.

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by David Platt / January 30, 2017

The scope of today’s refugee crisis is truly unprecedented, affecting nearly 60 million people. Never before have so many been displaced, put in danger, and forced from their homes. In Syria alone, more than half of 22 million people have either been displaced or killed. More than 4 million have fled to neighboring countries. I share these numbers to remind us of the sheer enormity of this crisis.

Much of our response to the refugee crisis seems to come from a foundation of fear, not faith. Much of it seems to flow from a view of the world that is far more American than biblical, far more concerned with the preservation of our country than the accomplishment of the Great Commission.

As church leaders, we have a responsibility to help people think biblically about this crisis. Perhaps more than that, we have an unprecedented opportunity to respond intentionally for the spread of the gospel among refugees.

Hell on Earth

Last year I spent time at the border between Greece and Macedonia. As my coworkers and I worked in refugee camps, we heard story after story, each of them more harrowing than the last. A Syrian woman who’s now the only member of her family after bombs flattened her house. A Yazidi woman who saw seven of her family members beheaded by ISIS.

Much of our response to the refugee crisis seems to flow from a view of the world that is far more American than biblical, far more concerned with the preservation of our country than the accomplishment of the Great Commission.

I spoke to normal people with normal lives—professors, engineers, doctors—all of them forced to flee across Turkey where they were exploited every step of the way. To cross the Aegean Sea, they paid an exorbitant sum for a spot on a raft. Designed to hold 20 people, the raft slowed under the weight of 60. The destination wasn’t much relief: a camp built for 2,000, jam-packed with more than 15,000 refugees, huddled up in their makeshift tents.

One night I walked around the camp. I heard babies cry and children cough as freezing rain fell on these small tents, now mired in the surrounding mud. It was like walking through a semblance of hell on earth.

In light of such atrocities, what can we do? How does God’s Word compel us to respond? Does it say anything? We need to know. We need to know because we need to help the church know how God’s grace and his Word compels our response to this situation in the world.

Obviously, there’s much one could say, but I want to frame this discussion with five brief truths that lead to five brief exhortations.

Five Biblical Truths

1. Our God reigns sovereignly over all things.

As we look around at all that’s going on in the world, we must remember for ourselves and we must remind the church that God is sovereign over it all. Every day, the wind only blows at his bidding. The light of the sun only shines according to his command. Not a speck of dust on the planet exists apart from the sovereignty of our God.

He’s sovereign over nature, yet we know he’s also sovereign over nations. Our God charts the course of countries. He holds the rulers of the earth in the palm of his hand—and this is really good news. It’s good news to know that Assad in Syria is not sovereign over all. It’s good news to know that ISIS is not sovereign. It’s good news that Vladimir Putin is not sovereign, and neither is Donald Trump.

Our God is sovereign over all, even the suffering in this world.

Did you know that in the Book of Job, God is called “the Almighty” 31 different times? Amid all the mystery of the book, one conclusion is clear: The power of Satan is limited by the prerogative of God. Satan cannot do anything apart from divine permission. Satan is on a leash, and God holds the reins.

Satan is on a leash, and God holds the reigns.

Job makes it clear: God is sovereign over comfort, and God is sovereign over calamity. Remember when he tells his wife, “Shall I receive good from God but not evil?” And the Bible tells us, in all his questions, Job did not sin with his lips.

There are entire theologies out there that have been developed in order to claim that God is simply doing the best he can under the circumstances. Ultimately, these thinkers say, he doesn’t have sovereign control over evil and suffering.

But we know the opposite is true—and we must proclaim that God is always in control, and that Satan is always controlled. God is sovereign; Satan is subordinate. We reject a kind of Star Wars dualism where good and evil forces are equally warring against one another. God does not deal in dualism. This is domination, and it’s all over Scripture.

When Job is afflicted, God is in control. When Joseph is sold into slavery, God is in control. When evil kings act in wretched ways toward Israel, God is in control. When religious leaders and Roman officials sentence Jesus to death and crucify him on a cross, God is in control. When Christians today preach the gospel to the nations and are killed in the process, God is in control. When we get to the end of the Bible and we see the cosmic battle for the souls of men and women throughout history, God is in control. He’s in control on every page of Scripture and on every page of history—including the refugee crisis that currently surrounds us.

2. Our God oversees the movement of all peoples.

This point is simply the outgrowth of the first one, most clearly explained by Paul at Mars Hill:

He made one man. From one man, every nation of mankind that live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26–27)

This truth is obvious throughout Old Testament as God raises up some nations, while scattering others. At the appointed time, God sent Israel to Egypt. At the appointed time, he brought Israel. He orchestrated the exiles from Jerusalem; years later, he orchestrated their return. Even in the New Testament, we see God using suffering—like the stoning of Stephen—to scatter his church from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth.

In his goodness, our God turns even the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation.

So when we see the migration of peoples for a multiplicity of reasons, we must recognize that every bit is occurring under the governance of God. In Acts 17 Paul says that God is doing it all for a reason, that people might seek him and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Much more could be said on this point, but we must remind ourselves: The Lord will make no mistake. Our God aims to be sought, found, known, and enjoyed by all the peoples of the world, and he oversees their travels to that end. In his goodness, our God turns even the tragedy of forced migration into the triumph of future salvation.

3. Our God generally establishes government for the protection of all people.

We know this from Romans 13:1–4:

There is no authority except from God. Those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities, resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment, for rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Governments exist under God’s authority to promote good and restrain evil. In God’s design, the primary purpose of government is to protect people. I mention this point since any serious thought about the refugee crisis must take into account the role of government under God.

So, yes, according to God’s design, responding to the refugee crisis leads to political discussions. But as followers of Christ, we must maintain biblical foundations in these discussions, for through our our elected officials we shape our own laws, and we must hold these officials accountable to do good as we pursue the good ourselves.

But let’s take this one step further.

4. Though God generally establishes government for the protection of all people, he specifically commands his church to provide for his people.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” He’s obviously not saying we shouldn’t care for all people. But we can’t deny the priority of provision here and elsewhere in Scripture for those who are of the household of faith.

In the same way I uniquely identify with my bride—I hurt when she hurts, I rejoice when she rejoices—Jesus intimately identifies with his bride. While on the road to Damascus, the resurrected Lord Jesus asks Saul a simple question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? When you persecute the church, you’re persecuting Christ.

Truths like this are why we have passages on social justice, like Jesus’s well-known words from Matthew 25:34–40:

Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty 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.

And the righteous will answer to him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, you were thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.”

We know this is not a general reference to anyone who is hungry or thirsty, a stranger or sick. Jesus is specifically referring to “my brothers” (v. 40)—that is, needy members of the family of Christ, the household of faith. Again, this care doesn’t totally exclude those who aren’t part of the church. We love all our neighbors, even our enemies, as we love ourselves.

It is altogether right, then, for the church to consider how to care specifically for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the middle of this refugee crisis. Not only is such care for refugees right; it’s required. Why? Because of the character of God.

5. Our God seeks, shelters, serves, and showers the refugee with his grace.

Remember the Book of Ruth? Elimelech the Israelite, his wife Naomi, and their two sons are driven from their homeland due to a famine. They migrate to Moab, a foreign land full of forbidden people who originated when Lot had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Generations later, Moabite women seduced Israelite men into sexual immorality—and 24,000 Israelites were struck dead. The message was clear: Don’t go near Moabite women.

Yet Elimelech and Naomi’s sons—Mahlon and Chilion—married Moabite women. Not long after, all three men die, and Naomi is left alone with two Moabite daughters-in-law. She returns to Bethlehem and begs them to stay in Moab. One obliges, but the other, Ruth, insists: “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

So a Moabite woman soon finds herself in an Israelite town desperate for food and family. Sound familiar?

Enter Boaz, the lord of the harvest, who sees her working in his field. When he finds out who she is—a Moabite—he seeks her out instead of kicking her out. He goes to her, greets her, shelters her from harm, and promises her safety. Then he does the unthinkable. He stoops to serve her and invites her to his table, where she enjoys a meal of roasted grain. All this leads to a showering of grace as Boaz gives Ruth 30 to 50 pounds of food to take home—at least half a month’s wages.

Why do we have a book of the Bible named after a Moabite woman? Because we have a God who cares for the outcasts and the oppressed, the strangers and the refugees.

The stage is now set for the romance of redemption that follows. Boaz eventually takes Ruth as his wife, and they have a child, whose line will one day lead to the quintessential kinsmen redeemer, Jesus Christ.

So why do we have a book of the Bible named after a Moabite woman? Here’s at least one of the answers to that question: Because we have a God who wants us to know how much he cares for the outcasts and the oppressed, the strangers and the refugees. In one of the key phrases in the book, Boaz pronounces a blessing on the otherwise forbidden Moabite woman: “A full reward will be given to you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

There is refuge, the book of Ruth shows us, under the wings of God. And we know Boaz isn’t merely a model of goodwill. He’s a mirror of God. He’s the agent God uses to show how he seeks out the oppressed and shelters them under the shadow of his wings; how he serves the outcast at his table and showers the needy with his grace; and ultimately, how he is faithful to care for the forbidden foreigner.

And so, we’re compelled to do the same. We’re compelled to reflect our Redeemer.

For the rest of the post…

Due to a variety of current events, the name of Margaret Sanger has repeatedly surfaced in the news the past few weeks. The focus on Planned Parenthood because of a series of investigative videos has brought renewed attention to the organization’s notorious founder. Presidential candidate Ben Carson has encouraged people to “go and read about Margaret Sanger and go and read about the beginnings of this organization so that you know what you’re dealing with.” Several journalists have been criticized for accepting the “Maggie” awards for their pro-abortion coverage. And a group of black pastors sent a letter to the director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery asking that the bust of Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger be removed from the museum’s “Struggle for Justice” exhibit.

Who was Margaret Sanger? Here are nine things you should know about one of the 20th century’s most controversial figures:

1. In 1916, Sanger opened the world’s first birth control clinic in New York City. Nine days later Sanger was thrown in jail and the clinic shutdown for violating the Comstock obscenity laws, which included a prohibition against literature describing contraceptive methods.

2. At the First American Birth Control Conference in 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League (ABCL). In 1942 the ABCL changed its name to 1942 Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In 1952 in Bombay, India at the Third International Conference on Planned Parenthood, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) was founded. Sanger served as president of the IPPF from 1952 to 1959. (She died in 1966.)

3. Sanger was leading advocate of the eugenics movement, specifically of negative eugenics, which promoted the reduction of sexual reproduction and sterilization of people with undesired traits or economic conditions. Her views on eugenics were shaped at an early age by her experience in a large family. The sixth of eleven children, she noticed as a child that the wealthy families had small families while the poor had large families. In her autobiography, My Fight for Birth Control, she wrote, “I associated poverty, toil, unemployment, drunkenness, cruelty, quarreling, fighting, debts, jails with large families.”

4. Sanger believed the use of birth control was necessary, as Jyotsna Sreenivasan explains, not only for the individual woman’s well-being but also for the economy as a whole. In her 1931 pamphlet “Family Limitation” Sanger wrote, “The working woman can use direct action by refusing to supply the market with children to be exploited, by refusing to populate the earth with slaves. . . . Pass on this information to your neighbor and comrade workers.”  Sanger arranged for this pamphlet to be distributed widely though a Socialist labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World.

5. In Woman and the New Race, Sanger included a chapter to answer the question,  “When Should a Woman Avoid Having Children?” Included in her list are the admonition that “No more children should be born when the parents, though healthy themselves, find that their children are physically or mentally defective” and “By all means there should be no children when either mother or father suffers from such diseases as tuberculosis, gonorrhea, syphilis, cancer, epilepsy, insanity, drunkenness and mental disorders.”

6. On a radio show, Sanger is reported to have said that “morons, mental defectives, epileptics, illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope fiends” ought to be surgically sterilized. If they wish, she said, such people should also be able to choose a lifelong segregated existence in labor camps.

For the rest of the post…

by Dr. Darrell Bock

I’ve been hearing a lot in the public square about trajectories. In these conversations God’s Word is used to argue that the church needs to change its view on same-sex marriage, even though Scripture seems uniformly against it. This comes not only from newspaper columnists, such as Steve Blow in the Dallas Morning News, but also from evangelical commentators who claim the direction of the Bible takes them there. I understand this desire to love well, taken from the great commandment (Matt. 22:39), and I also see that one can ask such questions not out of a desire to rebel, clear a new path, or conform to culture, but out of sincerity.

Sincere questions deserve sincere responses. This article is designed to engage those who say the real thrust of the Bible is to joyously enter our brave new world with open arms and hearts. I’ll discuss various claims arguing that Scripture either doesn’t clearly address our specific contemporary situation or that Scripture is open and inconsistent enough to allow room for a category previously rejected.

Claim 1: Jesus didn’t speak about same-sex marriage, so he’s at least neutral if not open to it. What Jesus doesn’t condemn, we shouldn’t condemn.

This is an argument from silence, but the silence doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Jesus addresses and defines marriage in Matthew 19:4–6 and Mark 10:6–9 using both Genesis 1:26–27 and Genesis 2:24 to parse it out. Here Jesus defines and affirms marriage as between a man and a woman, a reflection of the fact that God made us male and female to care for creation together. With this definition, same-sex marriage is excluded. Had Jesus wished to extend the right of marriage beyond this definition, here was his opportunity. But he didn’t take it.

Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it. He was not as silent on the topic as some claim.

Claim 2: The Old Testament (OT) allows all sorts of “prohibited” marriage, including polygamy and what would today qualify as incest. If those were permitted, surely monogamous same-sex relationships should be allowed.

Here’s where a look at trajectory helps us. If we observe what Scripture actually teaches, we see that (1) such past marriages are consistently portrayed as resulting in social chaos and aren’t so much prescribed as described; and that (2) Scripture’s expansion into the New Testament (NT) narrows down the scope of options to the standard of one monogamous union between a man and woman in which the marriage bed is to be honored but porneia—sexual infidelity in all its manifestations—is to be avoided (Heb. 13:4). Additionally, elders are to show the community what it looks like to be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).

So opening up marriage to a new category actually works against Scripture’s trajectory on marriage.

Claim 3: The move to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage is like the church’s past blindness on slavery, women’s rights, and a geocentric universe—where what was “clearly” taught in Scripture is now seen as wrong.

It’s fair to point out that some views that used to be considered clear in Scripture have actually turned out to not be so clear—and even wrong. Hermeneutical humility for all is not a bad thing. But it cuts both ways. Whereas with creation/slavery/women one can point to passages where counter-tensions existed with what was clear (such as the way Paul asks Philemon to treat Onesimus, or how Mary sat as Jesus’s disciple, or how the Spirit is said to indwell all women), no OT or NT text is even neutral on same-sex issues. Every single text that mentions the topic does so negatively.

So here also trajectory helps us, since with same-sex passages there is no trajectory. The reading is consistent. That should count for something.

Claim 4: We don’t follow all sorts of OT laws today (try laws on having sex while a woman is menstruating, or eating certain types of food), so why should we accept what the OT says about same-sex relationships?

We already set the trajectory for this answer when we noted that all the biblical texts on homosexuality, both in the OT and NT, are negative. Yet one other observation needs to be made. Some OT laws deal with the issue of uncleanness tied to the temple and worship, which aren’t categories of sin but of appropriateness tied to worship. These aren’t moral laws, but restrictions that distinguished Israel from the surrounding polytheistic nations who were morally loose and sacrificed certain types of animals (and in some cases, children) as part of their worship. This claim shows no sensitivity to these biblical distinctions. In some cases, it ends up comparing apples to oranges since issues of uncleanness were set aside in the NT when Gentiles came into the fold (Acts 10:9–29; Eph. 2:11–22; Col. 2:13–15).

We don’t read the Bible as a flat text. It progresses, even along certain trajectories, so that with the arrival of the promise certain parts of the law are set aside (Gal. 3; Heb. 8–10).

For the rest of the post…

July 10, 2015

Earlier this week, the South Carolina legislature passed and Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a measure to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol grounds. The decades-long controversy over the flag was reignited last month when the killer of nine members of a historically black church in Charleston was found to have posed with the flag. “That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ,” wrote TGC Council member Russell Moore. “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

Here are nine things you should know about the flag, its history, and the controversy:

1. What is often called the “Confederate flag” was never the official flag of the Confederate States of America (CSA). It was also not called the “Stars and Bars”—that was the name of the first national flag of the CSA. The flag is properly known as “the battle flag of the Virginia army,” though it was sometimes called “Beauregard’s flag” or “the Virginia battle flag.” Today, it is most commonly called the “Battle Flag.”

2. During its four-year existence from 1861 to 1865, the Confederate States of America had three successive national flags, all created by different designers. William Porcher Miles, the chairman of the Confederate Congress’s “Committee on the Flag and Seal,” designed and submitted what was later known as the “Battle Flag.” His design was rejected in favor of the “Stars and Bars” design that more resembled the American flag. However, the last two flags of the Confederacy did incorporate his design.

3. Miles’s original flag design had an upright cross but he changed it after Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion” objected that the symbol of a particular religion (i.e., Christianity) should not be made the symbol of the nation. Miles later explained the diagonal cross was preferable because it “avoided the religious objection about the cross (from Jews & many Protestant sects)…” Miles also claimed the diagonal cross was “more Heraldic than Ecclesiastical…” [All emphasis in original.]

4. During the early parts of the Civil War, both sides would carry their national emblems into battle. At the first battle of Manassas (Bull Run), the similarity between the USA’s “Stars and Stripes” and the CSA’s “Stars and Bars” caused considerable confusion and even led some Confederate troops to fire on their own units. General P. G. T. Beauregard resolved to adopt a “battle flag” for his command, the army of Virginia. To assist in this project, Beauregard turned to his former aide, William Porcher Miles. Miles submitted his previous design for a national flag, which was officially adopted by Beauregard’s army. Beauregard would later push to have the flag be the standard battle emblem for all CSA units.

For the rest of the post…

by  

June 19, 2015

Nine people are dead. Before we move on to the theological implications and the clarion calls—the social media posts and the half-baked diatribes—let us mourn. Let us pray because nine God-image bearing persons were massacred in Charleston, South Carolina. To describe the horrors, our words fail us.

But God does not. And his Word speaks to the terrors of identity idolatry. It speaks to how we demonize the opposite of what we idolize; we devalue the opposite of what we treasure; we hate the opposite of what we love. And Dylann Roof—the Charleston gunman, the domestic terrorist—ultimately loved his ethnicity. He rang out with the worst manifestation of his hatred: he took the lives of those who were the opposite of white, yet who bore the same image he did. Again, our words, so feeble, and our experiences, so limited, can hardly speak to this. But we don’t need our words or experiences to engage this because we have the Word of God.

Consider its commentary on the beginning of human history. What hand did Satan play in Eden? He laid his regular ace: attacking identity. He tempted Eve to believe God was not who he said he is. Adam negated his identity as a male, as one who was to protect and lead; Eve wandered outside of Adam’s authority, foiling her womanhood. Both actors took a good thing—identity—and made it an ultimate thing, which is the essence of idolatry. Both attempted to rise above their author, grasping for his identity, grasping for God-likeness. The tragic irony? They were already like him, for he had made them in his likeness (Gen. 1:26–28). But still they grasped, and so they died. God removed them from his fellowship.

The Tragedy of Identity Idolatry 

Identity idolatry leads to toil and enmity. It leads to death. Worst of all, it leads to separation from God. This is at least one lesson we can learn from Charleston. And yet, to lesser extents, we see this lesson all around in different manifestations.

Dylann Roof’s rampage comes on the high heels of Vanity Fair’s reveal of Caitlynn Jenner, one who seemingly has everything yet is enveloped in a poor identity he trusts will satisfy. Roof’s horrible actions also trail Rachel Dolezal, a former NAACP chapter president who was caught lying about her ethnicity. She seems to elevate being black, a good thing, above anything and anyone else. All these are people. All these people are in the wrong place of hate and mental disillusion. And that’s partly due to their sinful self-loving, which violently turns into a loathing—possibly of self or of others—but certainly of God and the image he has so graciously bestowed on humans, the crown of his creation.

The tragedy, as my friend stated so well in this loving piece on Jenner, is that the snake is eating itself.

For the rest of the post…

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