Homosexuality from God’s Perspective

“What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality” by Kevin DeYoung

On Tuesday afternoon, CNN ran an article on its Belief Blog by Catholic priest (sort of) Daniel Helminiak entitled “My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality.”  The article is amazing for including so many bad arguments in so little space. A quick trip through the piece will show you what I mean. Helminiak’s writing will be in bold and then my response will follow.

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

These two paragraphs perfectly depict how many see any Christian opposition to homosexuality or gay marriage. We are undercover (or not!) theocrats trying to impose our personal preferences on the rest of the country. But the charge of legislating our morality is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, the government legislates plenty of morality already—morality about killing, stealing, polluting and a thousand other things we’ve decided are bad for society or just plain wrong. Moreover, the arguments being made in favor of gay marriage are fundamentally about morality. That’s why you hear words like justice, love, and equality. Most gay marriage advocates are making their case based on moral categories, if not religious and biblical.

What’s more, the pro-gay marriage side would like to see the state reject a conjugal view of marriage in favor of a new, heretofore unknown, definition of marriage. And in insisting upon the state’s involvement, they want this new definition to be imposed on all. We may not all have to like gay marriage, but the government will tell us what marriage means whether we like it or not.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

Here we have an example of progressive prejudice, the kind that assumes we have little to learn from the benighted masses who lived long ago. Whether they thought the world was flat has nothing to do with whether ancient people can teach us anything about sexuality. Such a tidbit is thrown in, it seems to me, as a rhetorical cue that these people were as dumb as doorknobs and can’t be trusted. More importantly, Helminiak distances himself from an orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration. Instead of approaching the Scriptures as the word of God, his first step is to position the Bible as a book by ancient people who don’t know all the things we know.

Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

There is really only one argument in the foregoing paragraphs: the sin of Sodom was about social injustice not about sexual immorality. No doubt, there were many other sins involved, as Helminiak rightly observes. But there is no reason to think homosexuality per se wasn’t also to blame for Sodom’s judgment. For example, Jude 7 states that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Even the NRSV, translation of choice for the mainline (and the version Helminiak seems to be using), says “pursued unnatural lust.” Clearly, the sins of Sodom lived in infamy not simply because of violent aggression or the lack of hospitality, but because men pursued sex with other men.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

This line of reasoning is also common among revisionists. There is little to say in its favor, however, and Helminiak’s argument—that para physin “carries no ethical condemnation”–is particularly weak.

1) He makes the rudimentary error of forgetting that words have a semantic range of meaning. Just because Paul used “against nature” or “dishonorable” in non-ethical settings (sort of), doesn’t mean those words and phrases cannot carry ethical weight in another context. It’s like suggesting that if FDR once said “this soup is terrible” and later said “what the Nazis are doing is terrible” that he couldn’t possibly mean anything more than “what the Nazis did was kind of strange and not my personal preference.”

2) The context in Romans 1 tells us how to understand para physin. Paul has already explained how the unrighteous suppress the truth about God seen in nature and how they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. In both cases Paul contends that people believe a lie which prevents them from seeing things as they really are (1:25). Then in the very next verse he singles out homosexuality as “contrary to nature.” He is not thinking merely of things that are unusual, but of acts that violate the divine design and the ways things ought to be. For Paul, the biological complementarity of the male-female union is the obvious order of things. A male-male or female-female sexual pairing violates the anatomical and procreative design inherent in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. That Jewish writers of the period used comparable expressions to describe same-sex intercourse only confirms that this is what Paul meant by the construction.

3) Even more obviously, we know Paul considered same-sex intercourse an ethical violation, and not simply something uncommon, because of what he says in the very next sentence. Helminiak conveniently cuts off Paul’s thought halfway through verse 27. Notice what Paul goes on to say: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV). When you read the whole verse, Helminiak’s “non-ethical” argument becomes implausible. Paul thought homosexuality not just unusual, but wrong, a sinful error deserving of a “due penalty.”

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

Helminiak’s argument seems to be: Paul said homosexuality was an impurity; Jesus set people free from the purity requirements of the Jewish law; therefore, homosexuality is not wrong. This reasoning is so specious that it’s hard to know where to begin. Jesus did recalibrate the purity laws, but Mark 7:19 makes clear that the episode in question was about declaring all foods clean. Jesus was not saying for a second that anything previously called “unclean” or “impure” was now no big deal. Helminiak again connects words in a facile manner, suggesting that because Jesus fulfilled certain aspects of the ceremonial code, now anything described with the language of impurity cannot be condemned. Nine times in his epistles Paul references “impurity” and it is always in the context of vice and immorality (Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:7). Besides all this, Jesus explicitly lists “sexual immorality” (in the passage Helminiak quotes) as one of the things that defiles a person. The Greek word is porneia which refers to “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG), especially, for the Jew, anything condemned by the Law of Moses.

It is simply not true that Paul, or Jesus for that matter, never considered homosexuality an ethical matter. To cite just one more example: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul uses a rare Greek word, arsenokoites, which is a compound from two words found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Paul thought the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament was still relevant and the sin was still serious.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

These are wild assertions without any corroborating evidence. Whatever one thinks of Leviticus 18 and 20 for today, it’s obvious that the Torah considered homosexual activity an abomination. It’s absurd to think that any ancient Israelite would have any celebrated David or Jonathan or Ruth or Naomi or Daniel if they were homosexual. It is the worst kind of special pleading and reader response to conclude against all exegetical, theological, and historical evidence that any of these Old Testament heroes were gay.

Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the centurion’s servant was his lover. The leading New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives three definitions of pais: a young person, one’s own offspring, one who is in total obedience to another. If the word somehow means “male lover” in the Gospels, we need evidence greater than Helminiak’s bald assertion.

Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The link between sex and procreation did not have to be articulated by Paul because it was already assumed. God’s design from the beginning had been one man and one woman coming together as one flesh. This design is reaffirmed throughout Scripture, not least of all by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and by Paul (Eph. 5:31). An important aspect of this union is the potential blessing of children. The prophet Malachi made clear that procreation is one of the aims of marriage when he said about a husband and wife, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).

None of this proves the case against gay marriage as a government injunction (though that case can be made as well). What careful attention to the Bible does show is that the revisionists do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. From the first chapter of the Bible to the Law of Moses to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people and every indication that it is a serious sin.

This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.

Of course, I disagree with Johnson’s approach to the authority of Scripture and his liberal deference to experience. But I commend him for acknowledging what should be plain: the Bible really really calls homosexuality a sin. A sin that can be forgiven in Christ like a million other sins, and a sin that can be fought against by the power of the Holy Spirit, but still a sin. That’s what the Bible says. And as the CNN article demonstrates, it takes a lot of contorted creativity to make it say something else.

About the Author: Kevin DeYoung is the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, right across the street from Michigan State University.  DeYoung has been the pastor there since 2004.  He was born in Chicagoland, but grew up mostly in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.  He roots for da Bears, da Bulls, da Blackhawks, the White Sox, and the Spartans. He is married to Trisha, lives in Lansing and has five young children, and, for some reason, a bunny. He is the author of numerous excellent books including: Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church; What is the Mission of the Church? (co-authored with Greg Gilbert); Why We Love the Church and Why We Are Not Emergent (both co-authored with Ted Kluck); and The Good News We Almost Forgot and the forthcoming The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.

The article above is adapted from Kevin DeYoung’s blog on The Gospel Coalition’s website:  “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed” – May 16, 2012 blog entry at http://thegospelcoaliton.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

Only One Life

by Nathan Busenitz, The Cripplegate

The year was 1860.

A lot happened in that year. In 1860, the Pony Express sent its first riders from Missouri to California. That same year, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States. And on December 20, 1860, South Carolina declared its secession from the union, setting events in motion that would culminate in the American Civil War.

It was in that same year, on December 2, 1860, that Charles Thomas Studd was born into a wealthy family in England.

Charles was a teenager when his father committed his life to Christ after attending an evangelistic meeting led by D. L. Moody. A short time later, at the age of 16, Charles himself came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Charles would go on to Cambridge where he would become one of the most well-known cricket players of his day, famous not only in Britain but around the world. When his time at Cambridge ended, Charles realized that he did not want to pursue a career in athletics. As he said it,

What is all the fame and flattery worth . . . when a man comes to face eternity?

I know that cricket would not last, and honour would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it [is] worthwhile living for the world to come.

How could I spend the best years of my life in living for the honours of this world, when thousands of souls are perishing every day?

Armed with an eternal perspective and motivated by a desire to serve Christ no matter the cost, Charles Thomas Studd (often referred to by his initials, C. T.) left England to serve as a missionary in China, under the oversight of Hudson Taylor.

C. T. Studd spent a decade in China, much of that time working in a rehabilitation center for opium addicts, sharing the gospel and seeing lives transformed by Christ. While in China, he also married his wife Priscilla, and together they had four daughters.

After spending a few years back in England, the family moved to India, where Charles served as a local church pastor for seven years. Though he struggled with severe asthma, often staying awake most of the night just trying to breath, he faithfully preached the gospel. And as a result, many souls in Southern India were won to the Lord.

Shortly thereafter, C. T. Studd became convinced that God wanted him to take the gospel to the innermost jungles of Africa. He eventually reached the Belgian Congo in 1913, though it was not easy. At one point, he contracted a severe case of malaria; on another occasion, he woke up in the morning to discover that a poisonous snake had been sleeping by his side all night long.

Along with his fellow missionaries, Studd established a number of missionary stations in the heart of Africa — bringing the gospel to tribes that had previously never heard the name of Jesus Christ. He wrote over 200 hymns, translated the New Testament into the native language, and witnessed thousands of African people turn to Christ.

C. T. Studd died in Africa, at the age of 70, having spent almost his entire adult life in missionary service: 10 years in China, 7 years in India, and roughly 20 years in Africa. Through his unwavering perseverance, a vast number of souls were reached with the good news of the gospel.

As one might imagine, that kind of pioneering missionary work was extremely taxing. But C. T. Studd’s response was simple and sincere. He said,

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.

That undying commitment to serve Christ no matter the cost is perhaps best captured in the words of a poem he wrote. Perhaps you’ve heard these words before:

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis–Al Mohler

Al Mohler – Tuesday • September 16, 2014

clip_image001Western society is currently experiencing what can only be described as a moral revolution. Our society’s moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a particular issue has undergone not small adjustments but a complete reversal. That which was once condemned is now celebrated, and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned.

What makes the current moral and sexual revolution so different from previous moral revolutions is that it is taking place at an utterly unprecedented velocity. Previous generations experienced moral revolutions over decades, even centuries. This current revolution is happening at warp speed.

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.

Why the Concordance Method Fails

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible word of God. We understand that, as B.B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.

There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.

It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations that are essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Needed:  A Biblical Theology of the Body

Biblical theology is absolutely indispensable for the church to craft an appropriate response to the current sexual crisis. The church must learn to read Scripture according to its context, embedded in its master-narrative, and progressively revealed along covenantal lines. We must learn to interpret each theological issue through Scripture’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Specifically, evangelicals need a theology of the body that is anchored in the Bible’s own unfolding drama of redemption.

Movement One — Creation

Genesis 1:26–28 indicates that God made man—unlike the rest of creation—in his own image. This passage also demonstrates that God’s purpose for humanity was an embodied existence. Genesis 2:7 highlights this point as well. God makes man out of the dust and then breathes into him the breath of life. This indicates that we were a body before we were a person. The body, as it turns out, is not incidental to our personhood. Adam and Eve are given the commission to multiply and subdue the earth. Their bodies allow them, by God’s creation and his sovereign plan, to fulfill that task of image-bearing.

The Genesis narrative also suggests that the body comes with needs. Adam would be hungry, so God gave him the fruit of the garden. These needs are an expression embedded within the created order that Adam is finite, dependent, and derived.

Further, Adam would have a need for companionship, so God gave him a wife, Eve. Both Adam and Eve were to fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth with God’s image-bearers by a proper use of the bodily reproductive ability with which they were created. Coupled with this is the bodily pleasure each would experience as the two became one flesh—that is, one body.

The Genesis narrative also demonstrates that gender is part of the goodness of God’s creation. Gender is not merely a sociological construct forced upon human beings who otherwise could negotiate any number of permutations.

But Genesis teaches us that gender is created by God for our good and his glory. Gender is intended for human flourishing and is assigned by the Creator’s determination—just as he determined when, where, and that we should exist.

In sum, God created his image as an embodied person. As embodied, we are given the gift and stewardship of sexuality from God himself. We are constructed in a way that testifies to God’s purposes in this.

Genesis also frames this entire discussion in a covenantal perspective. Human reproduction is not merely in order to propagate the race. Instead, reproduction highlights the fact that Adam and Eve were to multiply in order to fill the earth with the glory of God as reflected by his image bearers.

Movement Two — The Fall

The fall, the second movement in redemptive history, corrupts God’s good gift of the body. The entrance of sin brings mortality to the body. In terms of sexuality, the Fall subverts God’s good plans for sexual complementarity. Eve’s desire is to rule over her husband (Gen. 3:16). Adam’s leadership will be harsh (3:17-19). Eve will experience pain in childbearing (3:16).

The narratives that follow demonstrate the development of aberrant sexual practices, from polygamy to rape, which Scripture addresses with remarkable candor. These Genesis accounts are followed by the giving of the Law which is intended to curb aberrant sexual behavior. It regulates sexuality and expressions of gender and makes clear pronouncements on sexual morals, cross-dressing, marriage, divorce, and host of other bodily and sexual matters.

The Old Testament also connects sexual sin to idolatry. Orgiastic worship, temple prostitution, and other horrible distortions of God’s good gift of the body are all seen as part and parcel of idolatrous worship. The same connection is made by Paul in Romans 1. Having “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom 1:22), and having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25), men and women exchange their natural relations with one another (Rom 1:26-27).

Movement Three — Redemption

With regard to redemption, we must note that one of the most important aspects of our redemption is that it came by way of a Savior with a body. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Human redemption is accomplished by the Son of God incarnate—who remains incarnate eternally.

Paul indicates that this salvation includes not merely our souls but also our bodies. Romans 6:12 speaks of sin that reigns in our “mortal bodies”—which implies the hope of future bodily redemption. Romans 8:23 indicates part of our eschatological hope is the “redemption of our bodies.” Even now, in our life of sanctification we are commanded to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in worship (Rom. 12:2). Further, Paul describes the redeemed body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and clearly we must understand sanctification as having effects upon the body.

Sexual ethics in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, regulate our expressions of gender and sexuality.Porneia, sexual immorality of any kind, is categorically condemned by Jesus and the apostles. Likewise, Paul clearly indicates to the church at Corinth that sexual sin—sins committed in the body (1 Cor. 6:18)—are what bring the church and the gospel into disrepute because they proclaim to a watching world that the gospel has been to no effect (1 Cor. 5-6).

Movement Four — New Creation

Finally, we reach the fourth and final act of the drama of redemption—new creation. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-57, Paul directs us not only to the resurrection of our own bodies in the new creation but to the fact that Christ’s bodily resurrection is the promise and power for that future hope. Our resurrection will be the experience of eternal glory in the body. This body will be a transformed, consummated continuation of our present embodied existence in the same way that Jesus’ body is the same body he had on earth, yet utterly glorified.

The new creation will not simply be a reset of the garden. It will be better than Eden. As Calvin noted, in the new creation we will know God not only as Creator but as Redeemer—and that redemption includes our bodies. We will reign with Christ in bodily form, as he also is the embodied and reigning cosmic Lord.

In terms of our sexuality, while gender will remain in the new creation, sexual activity will not. It is not that sex is nullified in the resurrection; rather, it is fulfilled. The eschatological marriage supper of the Lamb, to which marriage and sexuality point, will finally arrive. No longer will there be any need to fill the earth with image-bearers as was the case in Genesis 1. Instead, the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Biblical Theology Is Indispensable

The sexuality crisis has demonstrated the failure of theological method on the part of many pastors. The “concordance reflex” simply cannot accomplish the type of rigorous theological thinking needed in pulpits today. Pastors and churches must learn the indispensability of biblical theology and must practice reading Scripture according to its own internal logic—the logic of a story that moves from creation to new creation. The hermeneutical task before us is great, but it is also indispensable for faithful evangelical engagement with the culture.

_________________________

I am always glad to hear from readers. Just write me at mail@albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/albertmohler

Online Source

The Death of Thomas Cranmer

by Nathan Busenitz

A brief sketch from the pages of Reformation history.

Cranmer

Four hundred fifty eight years ago, a crowd of curious spectators packed University Church in Oxford, England. They were there to witness the public recantation of one of the most well-known English Reformers, a man named Thomas Cranmer.

Cranmer had been arrested by Roman Catholic authorities nearly three years earlier. At first, his resolve was strong. But after many months in prison, under daily pressure from his captors and the imminent threat of being burned at the stake, the Reformer’s faith faltered. His enemies eventually coerced him to sign several documents renouncing his Protestant faith.

In a moment of weakness, in order to prolong his life, Cranmer denied the truths he had defended throughout his ministry, the very principles upon which the Reformation itself was based.

Roman Catholic Queen Mary I, known to church history as “Bloody Mary,” viewed Cranmer’s retractions as a mighty trophy in her violent campaign against the Protestant cause. But Cranmer’s enemies wanted more than just a written recantation. They wanted him to declare it publicly.

And so, on March 21, 1556, Thomas Cranmer was taken from prison and brought to University Church. Dressed in tattered clothing, the weary, broken, and degraded Reformer took his place at the pulpit. A script of his public recantation had already been approved; and his enemies sat expectantly in the audience, eager to hear his clear denunciation of the evangelical faith.

But then the unexpected happened. In the middle of his speech, Thomas Cranmer deviated from his script. To the shock and dismay of his enemies, he refused to recant the true gospel. Instead, he bravely recanted his earlier recantations.

Finding the courage he had lacked over those previous months, the emboldened Reformer announced to the crowd of shocked onlookers:

I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other thing that I ever said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth, which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand [which were] contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, [being] written for fear of death, and to save my life.

Cranmer went on to say that if he should be burned at the stake, his right hand would be the first to be destroyed, since it had signed those recantations. And then, just to make sure no one misunderstood him, Cranmer added this: “And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.”

Chaos ensued.

Moments later, Cranmer was seized, marched outside, and burned at the stake.

True to his word, he thrust his right hand into the flames so that it might be destroyed first. As the flames encircled his body, Cranmer died with the words of Stephen on his lips: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

Online Source: The Cripplegate

Persecution and Prayer

by Jonathan Master

Christians have always been persecuted.  Peter reminded his readers of this in the earliest days of the church: “…knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by the brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9b).  But it does seem as if the suffering of Christians – whether at the hands of Muslims, Hindus, or totalitarians of another stripe – has been in the news more lately.  The testimonies of our brothers and sisters in these places are sobering; but often they are also encouraging examples of grace-fueled perseverance.

I sometimes wonder how I would feel or pray if I was faced with serious persecution.  Would I be self-pitying?  Vengeful?  What are the key theological truths which need to be grasped most tightly during these times?

In Acts 4, we read about a prayer meeting which follows right on the heels of intense persecution.  Peter and John had just been released by the temple officials, but they had been ordered not to speak about Jesus any more.  The threat of suffering and death was real, and they had just experienced a foretaste of it.  So what did they pray upon their release?  What would you pray?

There are four main truths they meditated on in their prayer – four key teachings about God which they held tightly.

The first is that God is the sovereign creator: “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24).  The truth of God as creator is revealed to us in the very first chapter of the Bible.  It is foundational to everything that follows.  God’s authority and his work as creator insured that he was over and above anything else that might come against them.  What a comfort in times of persecution!

The second main truth is that God had promised judgment for those who opposed him.  This is found in verses 25-26, and is mainly encapsulated in a quotation from Psalm 2.  Psalm 2 begins with a rhetorical question about human rulers: Why do they oppose God, since it is ultimately in vain?  God’s response to their opposition is laughter and anger and he promises swift judgment upon them.  In our day, we shy away from affirming the judgment of God, but when facing God’s enemies, God’s righteous judgment is not an embarrassment, but a great comfort.  God will make all things right; he will judge those who oppose him.  Their ultimate end is in his hands.

Thirdly, these early persecuted Christians focused on the fact that God predestines.  Specifically, they affirm his predestination in the death of Jesus Christ.  Although those who killed Jesus are held responsible for their sin, yet nonetheless God had predestined for it to occur.  If that was true of the most wicked injustice in all of history, how much more was it true of whatever unfair persecution they or we might undergo?  Once again, we shy away from this doctrine of predestination and of God’s perfect plan.  But when we are faced with persecution, it becomes a sweet and significant truth.

Finally, these Christians knew that not only had God worked in creation, not only had he promised judgment, not only had he predestined that which takes place, but, in addition to all these things, he was at work even in their own day.  We know this because in verse 30 the Christians pray for God’s continued work: “…while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  God had not left these disciples on their own.  He was not sitting distantly aside, merely watching what transpired in their persecution.  No.  He was still at work through his church.  This persecution, painful as it was, did nothing to thwart God’s work at all.

In the midst of all this, the earliest Christians prayed for boldness (29), and we should pray for this today as well.  We need to be bold and clear in our presentation of the gospel.  But as we pray for boldness, let us remember these four doctrines which meant so much to them.  They are truths much maligned today, but they are vital to our lives as pilgrims here on earth; and to those of the brotherhood around the world who are suffering even now, they are simply indispensable.

____________________

Jonathan Master (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology and dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He is also director of Cairn’s Center for University Studies. Dr. Master serves as executive editor of Place for Truth and is co-chair of the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.

The Osteen Predicament — Mere Happiness Cannot Bear the Weight of the Gospel

 

Wednesday • September 3, 2014

Online source

clip_image002

The evangelical world, joined by no shortage of secular observers, has been abuzz about the latest soundbite of note from the Pastors Osteen — this time offered by Victoria Osteen as her husband Joel beamed in the background. It is a hard video to watch.

In her message, Victoria Osteen tells their massive congregation to realize that their devotion to God is not really about God, but about themselves. “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .”

She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

As you might predict, the congregation responded with a loud “Amen.”

America deserves the Osteens. The consumer culture, the cult of the therapeutic, the marketing impulse, and the sheer superficiality of American cultural Christianity probably made the Osteens inevitable. The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire. And, to cap it all off, they give Americans what Americans crave — reassurance delivered with a smile.

Judged in theological terms, the Osteen message is the latest and slickest version of Prosperity Theology. That American heresy has now spread throughout much of the world, but it began in the context of American Pentecostalism in the early twentieth century. Prosperity theology, promising that God rewards faith with health and wealth, first appealed to those described as “the dispossessed” — the very poor. Now, its updated version appeals to the aspirational class of the suburbs. Whereas the early devotees of Prosperity Theology prayed for a roof over their heads that did not leak, the devotees of prosperity theology in the Age of Osteen pray for ever bigger houses. The story of how the Osteens exercised faith for a big house comes early in Joel Osteen’s best-seller, Your Best Life Now.

According to Osteen, God wants to pour out his “immeasurable favor” on his human creatures, and this requires a fundamental re-ordering of our thinking. “To experience this immeasurable favor,” Osteen writes, “you must rid yourself of that small-minded thinking and start expecting God’s blessings, start anticipating promotion and supernatural increase. You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it. In other words, you must make increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass.”

There is nothing really new in this message. Anyone familiar with the New Thought movement and later books such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich will see a persistent theme. The important issue is this — Prosperity Theology is a false Gospel. The problem with Prosperity Theology is not that it promises too much, but that it aims for so little. What God promises us in Christ is far above anything that can be measured in earthly wealth — and believers are not promised earthly wealth nor the gift of health.

But to talk of the promises of God to believers is actually to jump outside the Osteen audience. The Osteen message does not differentiate between believers and unbelievers — certainly not in terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In their sermons, writings, and media appearances, the Osteens insist that God is well-disposed to all people and wills that all flourish, but there is virtually no mention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No reference to sin as the fundamental issue. No explanation of atonement and resurrection as God’s saving acts; no clarity of any sort on the need for faith in Christ and repentance of sin.

Instead, they focus on happiness and God’s “immeasurable favor” to be poured out on all people, if they will only correct their thinking.

As a thought exercise, let’s just limit the consideration to those people who have identified as Christians throughout the centuries. Does the Osteen message come close to their experience? Would it even make sense?

Just consider the fact that most Christians throughout the history of the church have been poor, and often desperately poor. They were not hoping to move into a suburban mini-mansion, they hoped to be able to feed their children one more day. That picture is still true for millions upon millions of Christians around the world today.

And that is just the start of it. What about all those who are even now suffering persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? What about the loved ones of the martyrs in Mosul? What about the Christians forced out of their homes and threatened with genocide? What about the children of Christians slain in Iraq and Syria just in recent weeks, or those martyred by Boko Haram in Africa? How does Prosperity Theology work for them? Can anyone look them in the eye and say that God’s plan for believers in this life is to know Your Best Life Now?

In her recent work on Prosperity Theology, historian Kate Bowler traces the shift from what she calls the “hard prosperity” message of the early Pentecostals to the “soft prosperity” message of modern preachers like Joel Osteen. As Bowler explains, the new “softer” version of the prosperity message has “become the foremost Christian theology of modern living.”

Well, maybe. Prosperity Theology certainly sells books and draws crowds in the United States, but what does it possibly say to a grieving Christian wife and mother in Iraq? How can it possibly be squared with the actual message of the New Testament? How can any sinner be saved, without a clear presentation of sin, redemption, the cross, the empty tomb, and the call to faith and repentance? Prosperity Theology fails every test, and fails every test miserably. It is a false gospel, and one that must be repudiated, not merely reformatted.

Victoria Osteen’s comments fit naturally within the worldview and message she and her husband have carefully cultivated. The divine-human relationship is just turned upside down, and God’s greatest desire is said to be our happiness. But what is happiness? It is a word that cannot bear much weight. As writers from C. S. Lewis to the Apostle Paul have made clear, happiness is no substitute for joy. Happiness, in the smiling version assured in the Age of Osteen, doesn’t last, cannot satisfy, and often is not even real.

Furthermore, God’s pleasure in his human creatures centers in his desire and will that they come to faith in Jesus Christ and be saved. The great dividing line in humanity is not between the rich and the poor, the sick and the well, or even the happy and the unhappy. The great divide is between those who, in Christ, have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s glorious light.

Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel. The message of the real Gospel is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” That is a message that can be preached with a straight face, a courageous spirit, and an urgent heart in Munich, in Miami, or in Mosul. 

If our message cannot be preached with credibility in Mosul, it should not be preached in Houston. That is the Osteen Predicament.

________________________________________

I am always glad to hear from readers. Just write me at mail@albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/albertmohler

Kate Bowler, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). Section cited is on page 78.