When a church forfeits its doctrinal convictions and then embraces ambiguity and tolerates heresy, it undermines its own credibility and embraces its own destruction.
When a church forfeits its doctrinal convictions and then embraces ambiguity and tolerates heresy, it undermines its own credibility and embraces its own destruction.
As is always the case, we are left with a sense that a higher court is still needed. Christians know that Osama bin Laden escaped the reach of full human justice and a trial for his crimes, but he will not escape the judgment that is to come. Bin Laden will not escape his trial before the court of God. Until then, sober satisfaction must be enough for those still in the land of the living.
The news out of China grows worse as reports of the arrest, detention, harassment, and beatings of Christians come from across China. The most publicized case thus far is the repeated oppression against a Beijing congregation that has led to numerous arrests and a crackdown within China’s capital.
In a very important editorial statement, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board set the record straight. “Religious persecution is always abhorrent, but in this case it’s also a political blunder,” the paper stated.
The incident is a microcosm of the wider problems caused by China’s crackdown. Beijing insists it wants to promote a harmonious and stable society. Yet by arresting prominent activists for no apparent reason, the security forces are doing the opposite: Those who were once content to live quietly with the Party’s restrictions on free expression are now compelled to speak out.
Observers warn that China is sending the signal that it will not allow the eruption of protests like those that have spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
There is more to it, of course. Central to this crackdown is the paranoia of the Communist Party. One of the hallmarks of democratic societies is the existence of thriving “mediating institutions” between the individual and the brute power of the state. In the United States, these mediating institutions include everything from the PTA to your local church and the neighborhood reading club.
One dimension of the Communist Party’s idolatry is that it allows no mediating institutions between its power and the individual. It greatly fears these organizations, especially the church.
One reason — Christians in China now outnumber members of the Communist Party.
China’s strategy was detailed by the paper’s editorial:
This may come as a surprise to some in the West. Until recently, Beijing had played a skillful game of applying the screws just enough to keep everybody in line while easing state control over most aspects of people’s lives, including employment, choice of a spouse, housing, religion and even the ability to criticize the government in limited terms. International human rights advocates had to admit that most Chinese enjoyed greater freedom than ever before, and many foreigners downplayed arrests of dissidents as aberrations against a general trend of liberalization.
In other words, “those who doubted the Communist Party’s sincerity were right all along.”
“Caesar in Beijing,” The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, April 23, 2011.
The defense of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] got a little more complicated yesterday as the law firm that the House of Representatives had hired to defend the law withdrew from the case. As The New York Times stated bluntly, the firm dropped the case “amid pressure from gay rights groups.”
The Atlanta-based firm, King & Spalding, had agreed to take the case, and one of its lawyers, Paul D. Clement, was to lead the legal effort to defend the constitutionality of DOMA, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman in terms of federal recognition. The law also prevents any state from being forced to grant legal recognition to a same-sex marriage performed in another state.
Robert D. Hays, Jr., chairman of King & Spalding, released a statement in which he said: “In reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate. … Ultimately I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created.”
Clement, a former solicitor general of the United States under President George W. Bush, immediately resigned from King & Spalding and will continue to represent the House of Representatives in the case.
As The New York Times reported, Clement said: “I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. … Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do. I recognized from the outset that this statute implicates very sensitive issues that prompt strong views on both sides. But having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it.”
Gay rights groups hailed the law firm’s decision. Activist groups such as the Human Rights Campaign had lobbied King & Spalding to drop the case. The Weekly Standard obtained copies of emails sent by the Human Rights Campaign to supporters that read, in part: “Later that day we announced the elements of our campaign to show King & Spalding’ hypocrisy for taking on Defense of DOMA while touting their pro-gay policies – including their 95% score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. … In the meantime we also contacted many of the firm’s clients, LGBT student groups at top law schools and used social media to inform the public about K&S’s wrongheaded decision.”
The success of the group’s efforts to intimidate King & Spalding serves as a warning of things to come. This is the kind of intimidation that will be used against any organization or institution — or law firm — that takes a controversial case and opposes the agenda of the gay rights movement. Watch and be warned.
We should also take special note of the statement by Paul Clement. He defended his commitment to defend DOMA and the U.S. House of Representatives by stating, “Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do.”
So, now DOMA and the House of Representatives fall under the category of “unpopular clients” despite the fact that DOMA was passed by the overwhelming vote of both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. That statement underlines the moral revolution happening in our midst and indicates what groups like the Human Rights Campaign are certain is the direction of history. Armed with that confidence, intimidation is now the order of their day.
Michael D. Shear and John Schwartz, “Law Firm Won’t Defend Marriage Act,” The New York Times, Monday, April 25, 2011.
John McCormack, “Gay Rights Group Contacted Law Firm’s Clients in Campaign to Intimidate DOMA’s Defenders,” The Weekly Standard, Monday, April 25, 2011.
“HRC Statement on King & Spalding’s Decision to Drop DOMA Defense,” Monday, April 25, 2011.
The Douglas Boulevard Christian Church in Louisville has voted to stop performing legal marriages in light of Kentucky’s constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriages. As Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal [Louisville] reported:
Douglass Boulevard Christian Church made the unanimous vote Sunday [April 7, 2011]. The Rev. Derek Penwell, senior minister of the church, said it’s unjust that heterosexual but not homosexual couples can benefit from marital rights involving inheritance, adoption, hospital visits and filing joint tax returns, saving thousands in annual taxes. Our congregation believes it is unfair to provide different services and benefits to heterosexual couples than we can provide to gay and lesbian couples,” said a church associate minister, the Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan.
This argument has been encountered elsewhere, but Douglas Boulevard Christian Church, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, now becomes one of the first congregations in Kentucky to take such a step.
The news article also reports that the church now draws about 80-120 worshipers weekly. In 2008, it declared itself an “open and affirming” congregation, accepting persons without regard to sexual orientation.
According to the report, “The church plans to continue offering religious marriage ceremonies for gay and straight couples, but the latter will need to get a separate ceremony through a justice of the peace to get legal recognition.”
The Christian Church of Kentucky, which numbers about 35,000 members, does not ordain non-celibate homosexuals, but the national denomination has no policy on ministers performing same-sex unions.
One key fact from the article in The Courier-Journal: The church hosts about eight to ten weddings per year, “most of them involving nonmembers.”
For many years, I have driven by this church in its present location. The congregation was once much larger, with many families attending. This article indicates that the congregation has followed the trajectory of liberal Protestantism right down to the dwindling numbers of both worshipers and weddings from within the congregation.
In the news article, no theological argument is offered — only a protest of the denial of same-sex marriage in Kentucky. Nevertheless, on the church’s Web page, Senior Minister Derek Penwell offered his account of how he changed his mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
But beyond what I take to be the inadequacies of a static view of biblical interpretation that seeks to match the brown shoes of scripture with the often black tuxedos of context, the thing I found most persuasive in changing my theological views of homosexuality was my contact with my brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian.
To his credit, Rev. Penwell does not deny that the Bible condemns all homosexual behaviors as sin. Instead, he employs a trajectory hermeneutic that argues that new contexts require fundamentally different ways of understanding even what the Bible clearly addresses.
In his words:
In other words, I thought that maybe the Holy Spirit is in the process of revealing to us God’s true vision of the way things ought to be with respect to homosexuality. If this is the case, then we need not necessarily say that God has changed (though my colleagues who are Process theologians probably wouldn’t object to this description), but that the world has changed sufficiently to be able to receive the fullness of God’s truth on this issue.
So, his argument is that the Holy Spirit may now be “revealing to us God’s true vision of the ways things ought to be with respect to homosexuality” — a vision very different from that actually found in the Bible.
And thus, the fundamental divide over biblical authority and interpretation is laid bare for all to see. The real issue is not same-sex marriage or even sexuality. The fundamental issue is the authority and interpretation of the Bible.
Peter Smith, “Highlands Church Protest Gay-Marriage Ban,” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky], Wednesday, April 20, 2011.
Rev. Derek Penwell, “What is the What?,” posted Thursday, April 21, 2011. http://douglassblvdcc.com/310/what-is-the-what/
What sociology cannot do is deal with the most important question of all — the truth question.
The cross and the empty tomb stand at the center of the Christian faith. Without these, there is no good news — no salvation.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18
Giberson and Collins reveal their true understanding of biblical inspiration when they locate it, not in the authorship of the text at all, but in the modern act of reading the text.
The real question is now whether the church has sufficient biblical conviction to resist this doctrinal seduction. Otherwise, it may well be that Rob Bell’s “massive shift” is the shape of things to come.
Here is my message from the 2011 Pastors’ Conference at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. It was a great encouragement to be with Pastor Mac Brunson and so many preachers gathered there.
The edifice of modern science is built upon a worldview of naturalistic materialism as a methodological assumption. This controversy shows that the commitment of many scientists goes far beyond methodological naturalism — their commitment is to naturalistic materialism as a fundamental and non-negotiable worldview.
The future shape of the world appears to be a worldview competition between Christianity, Islam, and Western Secularism. For Christians, both of these worldviews represent real and lasting challenges to evangelism. Neither of these is a particularly new challenge, and the Christian encounter with Islam is now over a millennium in duration.
Writing over thirty years ago, when most American evangelicals had little knowledge of Islam, missiologist J. Herbert Kane of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outlined six reasons why the evangelization of the Muslim world has been so difficult. His explanation of “Why the Muslim Soil is So Barren” remains both instructive and important.
1. Islam is Younger than Christianity
Having borrowed from both Judaism and Christianity, Islam “has just enough Christianity in it to inoculate it against the real thing.” As with Mormonism, Muslims claim a later revelation that corrects and supersedes the Bible. This represents a very real challenge to the Christian, who will base the argument for the Gospel on the biblical revelation.
2. Islam Denies the Deity and the Death of Christ
Islam not only denies the deity of Christ, it finds the idea abhorrent. “If a missionary but mentions the deity of Christ the fanatical Muslim is likely to spit on his shadow to show his utter contempt for such a blasphemous suggestion.” Furthermore, the Qur’an denies that Christ actually died on the cross, thus taking away the very act of our atonement. “There appears to be no way around these two obstacles,” Kane lamented. “The Christian missionary can find many points of similarity between Christianity and Islam, and certainly he will want to make full use of these; but sooner or later he must come to the central theme of the gospel — the cross. At that point he runs into a stone wall. He can remove many offending things, but he can never do away with the offense of the cross. That and the deity of Christ are hurdles that can never be removed.”
3. Islam’s Treatment of Defectors
“All religions, including the broadest of them — Hinduism — look with disfavor on the devotee who changes his religion,” Kane advised. “But it remained for Islam to devise the Law of Apostasy, which permits the community to kill the adherent who defects from the faith.”
For Islam, “conversion is a one-way street.” Even when death is not a real threat, losing the bonds of community and family are huge costs.
4. The Solidarity of Muslim Society
Muslim societies are a solidarity, with religion, politics, economics, and personal life all accountable to Islam as a total way of life. Even where Muslims are not in a majority, such as in Western nations, they often concentrate in specific areas or communities where this solidarity can be approximated.
Under such an arrangement, efforts by Christians to evangelize meet a unified resistance, and a decision to leave Islam can be construed as an unpatriotic act, tantamount to rejecting one’s nation and people.
5. The Public Practice of Religion
Often overlooked by many Christians is the fact that a faithful Muslim demonstrates that faithfulness in a public pattern of prayers and observances. A convert who ceases these observances becomes immediately evident. This system of public prayer and ritual represents a powerful support for Islam and a powerful deterrent to conversion to any other belief system.
6. The Memory of the Crusades
As Kane explains, “To Christians in the West the Crusades were a bad dream, of which we have only the faintest recollection; but to the Arabs they are the greatest proof of the Christian hatred for Islam.” Christians bear the burden of a long and intensely bitter Muslim memory. Though atrocities were common on both sides, the atrocities committed by Christians were uniquely a repudiation of central Christian teachings.
In the mind of many Muslims, the Crusades feel like a living memory. To many within the Islamic world, Christians remain Crusaders, and evangelism is just another way of continuing the crusading mission.
Professor Kane’s breakdown of these obstacles is not only interesting and helpful, it also serves as a reminder that these issues are hardly new. At the same time, Christians must evangelize, no matter the obstacles to Christian witness.
Christians must remember that the Holy Spirit can break down the greatest wall of resistance and the Word of God is, as He says, like a hammer that shatters a rock. Dr. Kane’s arguments help us to understand the challenge, but were not meant to suppress evangelism. To the contrary, he wanted the church to be better informed as we fulfill the command of Christ.
J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission, revised edition (Baker Books, 1978/1983).
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Why would an ardent atheist care about translations of the Bible, and why would Christians be concerned with what an atheist would think? These are rather obvious questions, especially when the atheist is Christopher Hitchens, one of the most influential of the New Atheists.
Nevertheless, Hitchens devoted his column in the May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair to the King James Version of the Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.
As always, Hitchens is interesting and provocative. He places the history of the Authorized Version (the name by which the British normally refer to the King James Version) in its political context in the early years of the Stuart dynasty and rightly explains that the interest of King James I in the project was to “bind the majesty of the King to his devout people.” He then offers anecdotal observations of the KJV text, correctly attributing its tone and tenor to the earlier work of William Tyndale, as well as to the unusually gifted committee of translation.
Hitchens is a man of letters, and as such, he takes matters of language with urgent seriousness. He points to the King James Version as a crucial repository of our common civilizational knowledge. As he sees it, “A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one.” It is very hard to argue with that warning.
Hitchens is also an avowed enemy of banality, which means that he has little literary respect for modern translations that lack literary and linguistic taste and thus pander to mere popular taste. The King James Version translates 1 Corinthians 13:7 to read: “[Love] Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” But the Good News Bible translates it as: “Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.”
As Hitchens states:
This doesn’t read at all like the outcome of a struggle to discern the essential meaning of what is perhaps our most numinous word. It more resembles a smiley-face Dale Carnegie reassurance. And, as with everything else that’s designed to be instant, modern, and “accessible,” it goes out of date (and out of time) faster than Wisconsin cheddar.
He also has little use for attempts to render the text as gender-neutral. He asserts that “to suggest that Saint Paul, of all people, was gender-neutral is to re-write the history as well as to rinse out the prose.”
Along the way, Hitchens takes legitimate shots at modern marketing efforts to commercialize the Bible and sell some translation or edition to virtually every niche market. Of course, as an atheist, he expresses less sympathy with the Reformation conviction that the Bible should be available to everyone in the vernacular of the language. He does offer some interesting insights into the King James Version and the larger issue of Bible translation.
His admonition that translations should not “rinse out the prose” is well stated and profoundly appropriate. Even an atheist can offer good advice on literary matters, and Hitchens is a writer of great ability.
Since the article’s publication, several observers have noted Hitchens’ comments on faulty modern translations and gender-neutral approaches. His points are well worth noting.
But the more interesting aspect of this article to note is this: Christopher Hitchens, one of the world’s most ardent and outspoken atheists and a man in the fight for his life against cancer, is reading the Bible. This is at least the second article on the Bible that he has written of late. I note this with a sense of hope.
I know you will join me in praying that, in reading the Bible, Mr. Hitchens will find more than he might be looking for. Rinse not the prose of its message.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at email@example.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AlbertMohler.
Christopher Hitchens, “When the King Saved God,” Vanity Fair, May 2011.
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