• Theology •
September 20, 2005
I just came across a blog announcing that a group known as the Covenant Renewal Fellowship at Princeton Theological Seminary plans to hand out t-shirts reading “gay? fine by me” on the campus today. As the leader of the effort stated, “We’re hoping that these t-shirts, along with other activities put together by Covenant Network Fellowship and BGLASS (Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians And Straight-Supporters), would let students know that we are trying to create a safe environment for LGBT students here at PTS.”
In a previous posting he had written: The t-shirts were made by Fine By Me, Inc., a non-profit group in NYC whose mission is to promote public opposition to homophobia and to give LGBT people and their allies a human face. I think this t-shirt campaign is a great way to help people on this campus know and see visibly, who is supportive and a safe person to come and speak with. Way to go Covenant…
The problems with this are legion, of course. Can you imagine a t-shirt that would read, “gay? fine by Paul?” Of course, the postmodern academy is now filled with arguments offered to dismiss the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexual behaviors as out of date (Paul didn’t know anything about sexual ‘orientation’) or repressive (the biblical text is shaped by a hostility toward ‘sexual minorities’) and so on.
As a matter of fact, another blogger (a Ph.D. student in theology at Vanderbilt) responded to the original post by arguing that the Old Testament texts on homosexuality must be ‘disambiguated’ — a process he admitted would be difficult.
He asked further: Finally: do the Scriptures even have the ideological resources to interface [with] modern notions of “sexuality”? Hasn’t Foucault shown that the very concept is a modern invention? Isn’t Scripture’s preoccupation [with] acts of sexuality? If so, the only means of addressing the topic of homosexuality is [with] a positive theology of sexuality. And I don’t think a cogent case can be made for such as a theology of heterosexuality.
So, Scripture, he doubts, even has “the ideological resources to interface [with] modern notions of sexuality.” In closing, he mused: Sorry for the rebarbative style. Thinking on my feet here and wanted to get it out while I had a few minutes. Well, it’s not every day you see an apology for a rebarbative style of argument.
Alas, we have much work to do. At the same time, sending the signal that a Christian is “a safe person to come and speak with” would be an undeniably good thing — so long as that Christian is prepared to tell the truth about homosexuality, one sinner to another.
September 20, 2005
My friend Hugh Hewitt has started a new project and he has invited me to be a part of it. “One True God Blog” is a forum for genuine and respectful theological discussion. It’s just getting started, but you won’t want to miss it. In addition to Hugh (and myself), the participants include John Mark Reynolds of Biola College (Eastern Orthodox), Mark D. Roberts of Irvine Presbyterian Church (Mainline Protestant), Amy Welborn (Mainstream Roman Catholic), and David Allen White (Traditionalist Roman Catholic). [See here for more information on participants.]
Hugh’s first question concerned demons, and was raised by the new film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. [Read the dialogue here.]
From my most recent post: The concept of the demonic effectively refutes the idea of moral relativism. The very concept of demons implies an absolute and undeniable evil. Indeed, even ardent secularists find themselves using the terms “demon” or “demonic” when referring to the grotesque moral evil represented by Adolf Hitler and his “final solution of the Jewish problem,” for example. Nevertheless, the Bible clearly presents demons as far more than symbols of evil.
One more thing: We must be very careful to avoid any kind of dualism here. The Devil and the demons are not supernatural and spiritual beings on par with God. To the contrary, they are created spiritual beings who rebelled agianst God and will face His sure and certain judgment. This is another reason why we must be careful not to give them more then they are due, in terms of attention.
Christians who live in fear of demons deny the power of God that protects them. Christians who are fascinated with demons demonstrate a state of immaturity and spiritual imbalance.
September 19, 2005
Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., one of the paladins of American
liberalism, remembers the late Reinhold Niebuhr in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times.
Schlesinger and his generation were shaped by Niebuhr’s “rediscovery”
of the doctrine of sin in the middle years of the twentieth century.
Nevertheless, Niebuhr’s conception of sin was concerned more with the
sinfulness of social structures, than with the sinfulness of persons.
After all, his most oft-quoted book title was Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932).
September 8, 2005
September 8, 2005
An event as large and catastrophic as the hurricane which struck the Gulf Coast of the United States last week can only be understood in the context of the full teaching of Scripture. It is not enough to focus on one or two texts. On the contrary, we must look at the big picture and draw our conclusions only in light of the entire storyline of the Bible.
September 7, 2005
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina once again raises questions about the goodness and power of God. These are not easy questions, and not just any answer will suffice. If we are to understand how to think rightly about God and the storm, we must look to the testimony of Scripture.
September 6, 2005
Niall Ferguson — our greatest living historian of empire, and a generally sound thinker — really misses the mark when he addresses the meaning of Hurricane Katrina.
Writing in The Telegraph [London], Ferguson [a professor of history at Harvard University] looked back to the awful Lisbon earthquake of 1755. That disaster in Portugal rocked the Western world — quite literally — and caused many to wonder about the power and character of God. Ferguson cites the French philosopher Voltaire, who seized the opportunity to offer an atheistic interpretation of the disaster, arguing that the earthquake proved nothing more than the randomness of chance.
“What will the preachers say?,” Voltaire taunted. He insisted that the only proper interpretation of the disaster was rooted in atheism, and he wanted others to follow his lead.
Ferguson writes: That, unfortunately, was wishful thinking. On the contrary, the most common human response to a natural disaster is to reaffirm rather than to repudiate religious faith. Religion, after all, has its prehistoric origins in man’s desire to discern some purposeful agency in the workings of nature. The Old Testament, I need hardly remind you, interprets the flood of Noah’s time as a divinely ordained purge of a sinful world. Perhaps predictably, the Methodist John Wesley attributed the Lisbon earthquake to “sin… that curse that was brought upon the earth by the original transgression of Adam and Eve“.
More: The reality is, of course, that natural disasters have no moral significance. They just happen, and we can never exactly predict when or where. In 2003 – to take just a single year – 41,000 people died in Iran when an earthquake struck the city of Bam, more than 2,000 died in a smaller earthquake in Algeria, and just under 1,500 died in India in a freak heatwave. Altogether, at least 100 Americans were killed that year as a result of storms or forest fires.
Natural disasters – please, let’s not call them “Acts of God” – killed many more people than international terrorism that year (according to the State Department, total global casualties due to terrorism in 2003 were 4,271, of whom precisely none were in North America). On the other hand, disasters kill many fewer people each year than heart disease (around seven million), HIV/Aids (around three million) and road traffic accidents (around one million). No doubt if all the heart attacks or car crashes happened in a single day in a single city, we would pay them more attention than we do.
As Voltaire understood, hurricanes, like earthquakes, should serve to remind us of our common vulnerability as human beings in the face of a pitiless Nature. Too bad that today, just as in 1755, we prefer to interpret them in spurious ways, that divide rather than unite us.
Well, naturalism just will not do. We are not merely vulnerable “as human beings in the face of a pitiless Nature.” We are sinful human beings in the face of a holy God. Nature is not our judge — God is.
I have warned of those who claim to know just why this disaster fell upon these specific victims. There are those ready to identify New Orleans as a uniquely sinful city, and to suggest that God had simply had enough of that region’s sinful ways.
God is sovereign, and His ways are always right. He is in control of every molecule in the cosmos at all times. But He has not granted us the authority to explain why this city is destroyed while those of equal sinfulness remain dry. Beyond this, Scripture is sufficiently clear about the nature of sin for all of us to be aware that every single one of us — and every single city, village, and town — deserves destruction and wrath. The remarkable truth is that God allows sinners to live, and loves sinners to the extent that He gave His own Son for our redemption. We dare not claim to speak on God’s behalf.
But Niall Ferguson reminds us of the opposite error — the error of assuming that such disasters offer proof that there is no God, or that there is no God who matters. Ferguson wants to remove God from the question, and then to encourage people to be kind to each other in the face of nature’s fury.
Naturalism is a dead-end street. It may offer an intellectual escape for those who cannot trust God in the midst of the storm, but it offers no foundation for why people should respond with care, benevolence, and love. If “Nature” is all that matters, we are robbed of all moral meaning. Life is just one short trial from the womb to the grave. The only way to avoid the language Ferguson finds so objectionable — “acts of God” — is to believe in no God at all, or in a God who doesn’t act. That just isn’t the God of the Bible.
September 5, 2005
Sadly there is no shortage of Christians ready to offer an inside tip on the purposes of the Almighty. Instead of standing silent before the humbling mystery of the Divine will, these souls are ready to hurl judgment upon their neighbors.
Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post reported Sunday that some Christians are ready to speak on God’s behalf. Steve Lefemine, an antiabortion activist in Columbia, S.C., was looking at a full-color satellite map of Hurricane Katrina when something in the swirls jumped out at him: the image of an 8-week-old fetus. “In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion,” said Lefemine, who e-mailed the flesh-toned weather map to fellow activists across the country and put a stark message on the answering machine of his organization, Columbia Christians for Life. “Providence punishes national sins by national calamities,” it said. “Greater divine judgment is coming upon America unless we repent of the national sin of abortion.”
Further: In Israel, Christian journalist Stan Goodenough was struck by the juxtaposition in recent days of Jewish settlers being removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip and Americans being forced out of their homes in New Orleans. “Is this some sort of bizarre coincidence? Not for those who believe in the God of the Bible . . .,” he wrote in a column for the Web site Jerusalem Newswire. “What America is about to experience is the lifting of God’s hand of protection; the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel.”
Even more: In Philadelphia, Michael Marcavage saw no coincidence, either, in the hurricane’s arrival just as gay men and lesbians from across the country were set to participate in a New Orleans street festival called “Southern Decadence.” “We take no joy in the death of innocent people,” said Marcavage, who was an intern in the Clinton White House in 1999 and now runs Repent America, an evangelistic organization calling for “a nation in rebellion toward God” to reclaim its senses. “But we believe that God is in control of the weather,” he said in a telephone interview. “The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the streets. . . . We’re calling it an act of God.”
Cooperman also provided details on some Muslim responses to the hurricane, but I’ll let someone else deal with that. Our Christian responsibility is to deal honestly and directly with the evidence of bad theology in our own midst.
Without doubt, God is sovereign and in control of the entire universe — including the storms. Yes, human sin is the explanation for the brokenness and calamity that has befallen creation. God does punish sin and holds humans accountable. God’s wrath is even now being demonstrated in the events of human history, but not fully. We await the Day of the Lord when God’s purposes will be fully accomplished.
Furthermore, abortion and homosexuality are deadly sins that corrupt a nation. National decadence and our progressive acceptance of sins is our national shame. The law of the harvest still applies. We shall surely reap what we have sown. And yet, we have no biblical right to claim that we know what this storm means.
Those who would dare to make such claims should remember God’s rebuke of Job’s friends, who readily told Job why God had sent such suffering.
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. [Job 42:7-9, English Standard Version]
September 4, 2005
Tony Campolo suggests that the Old Testament never asserts the omnipotence of God. Thus, he advises that we should not suggest that God could have prevented Hurricane Katrina from devastating the Gulf coast. Raising the question, “Why didn’t God do something?,” Campolo responds:
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see “all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)
September 2, 2005
On Thursday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program I discussed the outbreak of lawlessness and moral anarchy in New Orleans. Snipers and rioters have hampered rescue attempts and gangs are moving throughout the inundated city, looting and setting fires. Rapes, shootings, and assaults are now reported from within the Superdome.
My guest was Dr. Ligon Duncan, senior minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi and president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. We talked about the realites of fallen human nature and our need for the restraints of law, order, and authority.
Dr. Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries has written a very helpful essay on the same question, arguing that the anarchy in New Orleans reminds us of our true human nature and of God’s gift of common grace. His article, “Katrina, Common Grace, and a Theory about the End of the Age,” is important reading. Consider these paragraphs:
The reason for looting is obvious. All the normal impediments to thievery in New Orleans are no longer in place. There is no electricity, so there are no alarms or lights or other manifestations of electronic protection on personal property. Security guards are gone. The police cannot gain access to certain areas of the city. Surveillance cameras that otherwise would photograph burglars are no longer operative. In other words, virtually all the restraints and obstacles to criminal behavior have disappeared. What kept the sinful and criminal inclination of the human heart from expressing itself is gone. [Needless to say, there was, before Katrina, a considerable amount of criminal behavior in spite of such restraints.]
Here’s my point. Electricity and light and alarms and the police are analogous to the common grace of God. They function as something of a barrier to criminal behavior or a deterrent that hinders the full expression of human wickedness. Once these natural restraints disappear, the full extent and expression of evil and criminal inclination begin to emerge. My point is that what electricity and light and alarms and police do to restrain wickedness in a singular American city is analogous to what the Holy Spirit does to restrain human sin on a more global scale.
September 2, 2005
Traumatic world events and nagging questions of belief sometimes cause Christians to be troubled in spirit and to question their assurance of faith. In every generation, believers have struggled with the question of assurance in salvation. As always, the church confronts this issue as both a pressing theological question and as an urgent pastoral concern.
August 31, 2005
William Cowper [1731-1800] was among the greatest of English poets and hymn writers. With John Newton, he produced the famed hymnal, Olney Hymns, in 1779. Cowper wrote “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” in 1774. The phrase quickly entered popular parlance, but Cowper’s reverent and thoughtful understanding was quickly lost. When he described God’s ways as mysterious, Cowper was not shrugging his shoulders in resignation, but expressing a Christian confidence.
Cowper’s words should encourage believers troubled by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, or by any great distress. “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,” Cowper instructs, “but trust Him for His grace.” Our confidence: “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
Those words define Christian truth and Gospel courage in the face of what truly appears as a “frowning providence.” Cowper did not deny the reality of evil and suffering, but he did deny the victory of evil and suffering. We dare not doubt God’s smiling face.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.