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October 06, 2008

Though this article discusses homosexuality, I do not intend for it to speak about the rightness or wrongness of such a lifestyle. I am sure my thoughts on whether homosexuality can be reconciled with the Bible hardly need explanation. Instead, today I want to look at one very interesting result, one very interesting development, that has come with the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. I have thought about this a little bit in the past but had my mind drawn to it again this weekend while reading Al Mohler’s book Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance. In this book, like Culture Shift before it, Mohler compiles some of his best blog posts and articles dealing with a common theme. In this case he writes about contemporary issues related to sexuality. And while there is much to glean from the book, one issue in particular give me a lot to think about.

I have sometimes wondered if, when The Lord of the Rings was first published, people looked with a certain suspicion upon the relationship of Sam to Frodo and Frodo to Sam. Here are two characters who loved one another deeply and who had a relationship forged in the fire. It is clear that in these characters, Tolkien was describing friendship as he had seen it in soldiers who had fought in the World Wars. He described a kind of intimate friendship that somehow seems so odd to our modern sensibilities. And in modern times many people have read homosexuality into that relationship, wondering if Tolkien, either deliberately or subconsciously, was creating gay characters.

Similarly, I have wondered if, when people first learned of Abraham Lincoln’s deep friendship with Joshua Speed, they raised their eyebrows. After all, Lincoln and Speed even shared a bed and wrote letters sharing their love and appreciation for one another. Recent historians have offered this relationship as proof that Lincoln was homosexual.

In both cases we’re seeing clear evidence of postmodern thinking. Today we think nothing of imposing our own understanding on historical texts, interpreting them as we see fit. We think little of original meaning and much of contemporary interpretation. Thus there are feminist readings of literature, gay readings of literature, African-American readings of literature, and so on. Every group, every interest, is free to read history and literature as they see fit. In an age with few absolutes, who can tell anyone else that they are wrong? And in both cases I realize that I am showing evidence of the pervasiveness of homosexuality in our culture. The fact that I would even wonder such things reveals that the presence of homosexuality is always just beneath the surface in our culture. I am reasonably certain that I can answer my own questions. No! When people read The Lord of the Rings they did not see homosexuality and when they first heard of Lincoln and Speed they did not even question whether they had been having sex in that bed. And here is an interesting part of the fallout of the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. We see homosexuality everywhere around us, whether it exists there or not. Things that are pure and normal we see as somehow being evidence or potential evidence of homosexual behavior.

In and of itself that may not mean too much. But according to Dr. Mohler, who follows the line of thinking from a Touchstone article written by Anthony Esolen, there is at least one sad consequence: it is marking the end of deep and meaningful friendships between boys. Writing about the scene between Sam and Frodo, Mohler writes “As Esolen suggests, a reader or viewer of this scene is likely to jump to a rather perverse conclusion: ‘What, are they gay?’” This is an “ignorant but inevitable response” to such a situation. It is simply the way our minds work today. “As Esolen understands, the corruption of language has contributed to this confusion. When words like love, friend, male, female, and partner are transformed in a new sexual context, what was once understood to be pure and undefiled is now subject to sniggering and disrespect.” I saw an example of this recently, in reading C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair with my children. There Lewis writes “Though [Jill’s] tongue was never still, you could hardly say she talked: she prattled and giggled. She made love to everyone—the grooms, the porters, the housemaids, the ladies-in-waiting, and the elderly giant lords whose hunting days were past. She submitted to being kissed and pawed about by any number of giantesses, many of whom seemed sorry for her and called her ‘a poor little thing’…” “Make love” has obviously been sexualized sometime between 1950’s England and 21st century North America. How might people understand Jill’s actions today?

Here is where it gets even more interesting and important. Says Esolen “Open homosexuality, loudly and defiantly celebrated, changes the language for everyone. …If a man throws his arm around another man’s waist, it is now a sign—whether he is on the political right or the left, whether he believes in biblical proscriptions of homosexuality or not. …If a man cradles the head of his weeping friend, the shadow of suspicion must cross your mind.” Gone is the innocence that would allow us to see a man love another man without assuming that their relationship involved sex or at least the desire for sex. Men and boys, including Christian men and boys, are suffering the fallout. “The sexual revolution has also nearly killed male friendship as devoted to anything beyond drinking and watching sports. …The prominence of male homosexuality changes the language for teenage boys. It is absurd and cruel to say that the boy can ignore it. Even if he would, his classmates will not let him. All boys need to prove that they are not failures. They need to prove that they are on the way to becoming men—that they are not going to relapse into the need to be protected by, and therefore identified with, their mothers.” And so boys feel that they need to prove to their peers that they are not homosexual. They do so by recklessly pursuing sexual experience with girls and by distancing themselves from meaningful friendships with other boys. Those who fail in both accounts are labeled as “fags” and subjected to the torment that follows. Boys have always had a lot to prove, but added to their burden today is proof of their sexual identify.

The proof that Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed did not have a homosexual relationship is in the very fact that they unashamedly wrote about their love and regard for one another. In a more innocent age they had nothing to prove and nothing to hide. They were able to be friends—close, loving, intimate friends—without bearing the burden of perverse assumptions. Their heterosexuality, their normalcy, was assumed. We make no such assumption today.

My mother has often remarked that men, and Christian men in particular, go through life lonely—forsaken by other men who should be their friends. And I think she is right. I wonder if we, too, bear the burden of perverse assumptions. Maybe we, too, from our early days feel the need to prove that we are not homosexual. And we do this by fleeing emotional or spiritual intimacy with other men, assuming that such relationships are unworthy of men—real men.

The societal prevalence of homosexuality is not going to lessen anytime soon. While Christians must continue to insist that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with Scripture (and you may like to read Dr. Mohler’s book to learn more about why this is the case) we must also not allow it to usurp friendship and to reframe the way we, as Christians, and Christian men, view and understand friendship. We have far too much to lose.

September 29, 2008

One of the joyful challenges I face in maintaining this blog is answering the questions of Christians who are wrestling with issues related to Reformed theology. I receive many questions from people who are new to the doctrines of grace or who are fighting through them for the first time. I try to answer as many of these questions as I can, though admittedly, a few do get away. Some time ago a reader asked about Calvinism and evangelism. He wrote this: “Given the tenets of total depravity (the spiritually dead are unable to choose God), unconditional election (saved through God’s sovereign choice) and irresistible grace (once God chooses you and regenerates you, you can’t NOT embrace Him)… what does a Calvinist see as the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel? Does a gospel presentation simply provide the context in which God ‘pulls the trigger’ of regeneration and faith for those He has already chosen? (cf Acts 13:48.)”

I understand the confusion many Christians feel when they consider evangelism in a Calvinist context. After all, if God is entirely sovereign, and if His grace is irresistible, what possible use can God have for us? Why would He bother using us in evangelism? This question introduces an apparent antinomy—an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary. The antinomy we face is what we perceive as tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. In short, how does our responsibility to evangelize interact with God’s absolute sovereignty in the salvation of souls?

I went about answering the question by first looking at several things that, according to Scripture, God has not called us to do in our evangelism.

We cannot help others realize the desperation of their situation or convince them that God exists It is the Holy Spirit who must do these things. Men are willfully ignorant of them. 2 Peter 3:5 says “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God.” The hearts of men are hard and only God can soften them.

We cannot convince unbelievers of their sinfulness. It is the Spirit who convicts men of sin. Before He died Jesus foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit and said “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). I believe this is one area we tend to get wrong. We often feel it is our job to convict others of their sin. But while we can tell people that they are sinful, it is only the Spirit who can actually convict them.

We cannot convince them of the necessity and wonder of Christ. A man needs the grace of the Spirit in his heart before he can see this. Isaiah 53:2 prophecies about Christ saying “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Sinful humans can neither appreciate nor desire Christ without the Spirit first working in them.

We cannot produce repentance or faith. Once again, those are God’s works and His alone. We can speak of the reality and importance of them, but cannot bring them about in others.

The Bible also teaches us several things things that we must do in regards to evangelism. These are things God tells us we must do if we are to obey Him and faithfully represent Him.

We must pray for the lost. God delights in using our prayers to accomplish His purposes. We should pray for salvation and pray that God would grant the person a heart of flesh; pray that God would use circumstances, either specific or general, to bring people to a realization of their desperation; pray that God would confirm what we are saying through other people or circumstances; pray that God would remove the peace they have in their unrepentance; and pray that God would put people in our lives that we can share our faith with.

We must show our faith in our lives. We need not only to speak about God and what He has done, but we also need to show in our lives that we have changed. Our day-to-day lives are a great testimony to unbelievers.

We must share our faith. When opportunities present themselves we are to act as the messenger to deliver the message, free from our prejudices and opinions. We are to present the purity of the gospel, not our spin on it. This, of course, requires knowledge of the Bible and of God’s character. A prerequisite to sharing our faith is strengthening our faith by learning about God and growing closer to Him.

We must invite others to hear the message. We are to invite people to church and other evangelistic occasions. I Corinthians 14:25 speaks of the potential of church services where it speaks of an unbeliever hearing the “secrets of his heart [being] disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” The Bible asks how a person can believe unless he hears the message. It is our job to share that message.

So here are the things we need to do—the things God invites and commands us to do so that He might reach His people.

To be consistent with Reformed theology we must say that if a person is one of the elect, he will come to faith and repentance. It is divinely predestined that this will happen and it is impossible for it not to happen. But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are and how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible (within the bounds He sets in His Word). Charles Spurgeon once said “if all the elect had a white stripe on their backs I would quit preaching and begin lifting shirt tails” (or something to that effect). God has not put a visible mark on the elect, so we are to treat all men as if they are among the elect, and are to share the Gospel far and wide. We need to share it with a sense of urgency.

It is critical that we realize that we are not to measure success by the visible results. A convincing response to evangelism does not necessarily indicative of a biblical method of evangelism. Perhaps this was best proven by the Catholic Church during their “convert or die” campaigns among the native populations of South America. Allow me to post a length quote from J.I. Packer’s wonderful book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.

If we forget that it is God’s prerogative to give results when the gospel is preached, we shall start to think that it is our responsibility to secure them. And if we forget that only God can give faith, we shall start to think that the making of converts depends, in the last analysis, not on God, but on us, and that the decisive factor is the way in which we evangelize. And this line of thought, consistently followed through, will lead us far astray.

Let us work this out. If we regarded it as our job, not simply to present Christ, but actually to produce converts—to evangelize, not only faithfully, but also successfully —our approach to evangelism would become pragmatic and calculating. We should conclude that our basic equipment, both for personal dealing and for public preaching, must be twofold. We must have, not merely a clear grasp of the meaning and application of the gospel, but also an irresistible technique for inducing a response. We should, therefore, make it our business to try and develop such a technique. And we should evaluate all evangelism, our own and other people’s, by the criterion, not only of the message preached, but also the visible results. If our own efforts were not bearing fruit, we should conclude that our technique still needed improving. If they were bearing fruit, we should conclude that this justified the technique we had been using. We should regard evangelism as an activity involving a battle of wills between ourselves and those to whom we go, a battle in which victory depends on our firing off a heavy enough barrage of calculated effects. Thus our philosophy of evangelism would become terrifyingly similar to the philosophy of brainwashing. And we would not longer be able to argue, when such a similarity is asserted to be fact, that this is not a proper conception of evangelism…

…It is right to recognize our responsibility to engage in aggressive evangelism. It is our right to desire the conversion unbelievers. It is right to want one’s presentation of the gospel to be as clear and forcible as possible. If we preferred that converts should be few and far between, and did not care whether our proclaiming of Christ went home or not, there would be something wrong with us. But it is not right when we take it on us to do more than God has given us to do. It is not right when we regard ourselves as responsible for securing converts, and look to our own enterprise and techniques to accomplish what only God can accomplish…only by letting our knowledge of God’s sovereignty control the way in which we plan, and pray, and work in His service, can we avoid becoming guilty of this fault.

It is not difficult for a Christian to know if he has, indeed, evangelized. He has done so if he has proclaimed the message of sin, death, Savior and forgiveness. If he has done this he has evangelized successfully. He cannot and must not evaluate his efforts in the light of who responds to the message. Don Whitney likens the evangelist to the mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his concern. And the same is true of the evangelist. He faithfully delivers the message and leaves the results to God.

Ultimately we need to understand that God has not seen fit to share with us exactly how human responsibility and Divine sovereignty interact in evangelism. While we need to always remember that God is the only one who can bring about salvation, He has decreed that we will be the instruments He uses to take the Good News to the world. And that is what we must do, all the while asking God to equip us to be worthy ambassadors for Him.

September 27, 2008

Last week’s poll (where do you buy books?) continues to fascinate me. After almost 1200 votes Amazon is the clear winner, holding steady with over half of the total vote. This week I thought I’d lighten things up a bit and ask a question that is really pure curiosity. It’s simply this: How old are you?

Do note that if you are reading this via RSS, you’ll have to click through to the site to actually answer. All voting is anonymous so there is no shame in adding your age to the poll!

September 25, 2008

Talk!Last week I added a poll to this site and asked where you buy the majority of your books. The results really surprised me. As of this moment Amazon has a clear lead with 55% of the votes. That means that half of us buy the majority of our books from Amazon instead of the local Christian bookstore or one of the many online Christian retailers. There are almost three times more votes for online retailers as brick-and-mortar retailers. While I’ll grant that this poll is far from scientific, it does show a clear trend (and one that makes sense of the fact that so many Christian bookstores are closing their doors).

In the comments, of which there are currently 89, many people indicated that Christians should do better than Amazon—that we should go out of our way to support Christian-owned businesses (see, for example, this one or this one).

I thought this was worth thinking and talking about and would love to hear some feedback. Do you think Christians should go out of their way to support Christian-owned businesses? Is this a moral imperative? Or should Christians feel free to shop wherever is most convenient or wherever offers the best prices? What is our obligation to other Christians in such matters?

September 20, 2008

It has taken years but I think I’ve finally managed to find a way of incorporating polls into blog posts. Those who visit the main page of the site will have already noticed a poll in the sidebar there. But I think I can now work it into a post as well. The most recent poll question asked simply “How many books do you anticipate reading in 2009?” The answer surprised me. Though I couldn’t quite arrive at an exact figure, it seems that, based on 600 votes, the average reader of this site will read (and presumably purchase) somewhere around twenty-five or thirty books in 2009. Though we sometimes hear of the decline of the printed word, that does not seem to be the case around these parts!

Today I would like to ask a follow-up question. And it is this: where do you buy your books? There was a time when I was a regular visitor at the local Christian bookstore. In fact, when I worked near to it, I would visit a couple of times a week to look at books and listen to the newest CDs. More recently, though, I’ve nearly stopped visiting altogether and now prefer to do my book and music shopping online. I doubt I visit the Christian bookstore more than twice a year. I’m wondering if my experience is common.

So there’s the question. Do note that if you are reading this via RSS, you’ll probably have to click through to the site to actually answer.

September 05, 2008

For sheer entertainment value, I think American politics in general, and Presidential campaigns in particular, are about the best bang for my buck, even as a non-American. For little more than the cost of an internet connection I can spend endless hours being amused. This 2008 campaign may be the most entertaining yet. While I rarely use this blog to discuss politics (and especially when I’m as ignorant of a topic as I am with U.S. politics), today I’ll make the rare exception. Over the past few days I’ve bookmarked a whole lot of links and today will try to tie a few of them together.

Sarah Palin is undoubtedly the most electrifying and polarizing figure we’ve seen in U.S. politics for a long, long time. She has completely changed the face of election. A week ago the media could not break away from Barack Obama. Today Sarah Palin is dominating the discussion. She was the perfect foil; if anyone doubts McCain’s smarts, I’d say he has proven himself the wily veteran with this pick. This has become an Obama vs. Palin election. At least for now, McCain is taking a back seat in his own Presidential election campaign. It’s all about Sarah. Chuck Colson’s article on clashing worldviews is interesting reading. “In the life of Sarah Palin, we see the clash of worldviews playing out before our own eyes. Consider every major controversial issue in American politics and culture right now … and somehow, they touch her personally.” Everyone can either love or hate Palin; few are ambivalent.

It’s little wonder that many evangelicals are quickly learning to love her. The little boy Piper Palin spit-shined in front of the nation is living, breathing proof of Palin’s commitment to life—probably the single most important issue to a vast number of Christians. In an age when 90 or 95 out of every 100 children with Down Syndrome are destroyed, Trig is, well, alive. That, in and of itself, is almost miraculous today. Asked about her brother’s Syndrome, Palin’s daughter Willow said, “I don’t care - he’s my brother and I love him.” Trig is exactly who God made him to be and he is a gift to that family.

But the greatest source of Palin’s appeal must be her sheer normalcy. She is exactly the kind of pit bull hockey mom you’d meet anywhere in Alaska (or Canada). She’s so unlike the majority of the politicians who strive for the White House. It seems almost a mistake that she is up on that platform.

People on the Loony Left know they hate Palin but they are struggling with how to hate her. They turned first on her children, insisting that her infant son could not possibly be her own. They smeared her for having a baby in her “old age” (as if they all had their families in their prime child-bearing years) and determined that the baby must be her daughters’. The stupendous stupidity of leveling and believing such a charge showed just how far people would stoop to attempt to discredit her. Of course the controversy was quickly resolved when the McCain campaign announced that Palin’s daughter was pregnant with a child of her own. Perhaps worst of all, she was going to keep the baby and will marry the father. While I read many articles assuring the American public that Palin was lying about being the mother of Trig, I don’t recall reading nearly so many retractions or apologies.

Things got even weirder than this. Liberal feminists (is that redundant?) began to turn on Palin. You would think women would be thrilled to see a woman who is poised to rise higher in government than any woman before her, but this was not the case. While these feminists would have cheered Hillary Clinton as President or Vice President, Palin was not exactly the woman they had in mind. Not the hockey mom, church-going mother of five who is undoubtedly a better shot than Dick Cheney! And not the woman who is a powerful figure while remaining feminine and attractive. Stand to Reason says “One of the things that bugs me about the Feminist movement is it seems to tell women that they have to act like men to be equal to them. And in the process women are no longer feminine and instead take on some of the worst aspects of masculine nature… Gov. Palin seems to have a feminine appeal while displaying her capability and strength.”

And so feminists wondered if she could possibly take care of her family while dealing with her responsibilities as Vice President. The feminists said this! Eventually there was something of a backlash and prominent feminists were forced to speak out. But the damage had already been done—we had seen another example of how far the left is willing to go to discredit this McCain/Palin ticket. They’ll gladly violate their own principles to keep McCain out of the White House. It truly was a shameful week for the press.

Interestingly, while feminists have been asking whether Palin can care for her nation and her family, Christians have been wondering the same. Is it right for a woman to take on a position of such responsibility? Is it right for her to assume a position of leadership? No sooner had Palin been announced than Voddie Baucham wrote a much-publicized article in which he said this: “My point is simple. The job of a wife and mother is to be a wife and mother. Anything in addition to that must also be subservient to it. There is no higher calling. Moreover, I believe Paul’s admonition [in Titus 2] should lead us to reject any notion of a wife and mother taking on the level of responsibility that Mrs. Palin is seeking.” Baucham believes that the pro-life party is using Palin as a pawn in a move that is distinctly anti-family. Those who know of Baucham will know that he is very conservative when it comes to the role of women (going so far in The Return of the Daughters to suggest that women should probably not go to college).

Other more moderate conservative Christians spoke up. Writing for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, David Kotter asked, “Does Sarah Palin Present a Dilemma for Complementarians?” He answered very well, saying, “From the outset we must remember that on November 4 the voters will not elect a national minister or pastor in chief. A president is not held to the same moral standards as an elder of a church. While it is a blessing from God to have ethical or even Christian political leaders, the Bible places no such requirements on secular governments. Even though the Bible reserves final authority in the church for men, this does not apply in the kingdom of this world.” Al Mohler agrees, saying “The New Testament clearly speaks to the complementary roles of men and women in the home and in the church, but not in roles of public responsibility. I believe that women as CEOs in the business world and as officials in government are no affront to Scripture. Then again, that presupposes that women — and men — have first fulfilled their responsibilities within the little commonwealth of the family.”

One blog I appreciated was Amy’s (which has 173 comments and counting). Amy takes issue with the automatic assumption that a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother. “Being a wife and mother is a good and noble thing, but it is not the highest thing.”

And I firmly agree with Amy and Mohler and Kotter. While Christians do want to maintain the focus on the family we have to be careful about stating categorically that a woman has no business running for Vice President. Palin’s decision is one to be made with her family and with counsel from her local church. Beyond that we, as Christians, have to trust her judgment in this kind of disputable matter. Far be it from us to declare that she cannot do both and that she cannot do both with excellence.

The timing of this campaign is interesting since we are likely to be facing an election here in Canada in the weeks to come. Palin is an unique figure and for so many reasons. Her husband is a snowmobile racer, for goodness sake. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a few write-in votes in our election.

September 03, 2008

Talk!Admiral Lord Nelson once said, “Every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” They are profound words and ones well worth thinking about, and especially so in our modern context. I’ve written in the past about issues related to accountability and anonymity. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a bit about these issues in a way strikes a little closer to home.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who was asking if I think husbands and wives should keep secrets from each other or if they should even have private realms to their lives. This is a broad topic, but to narrow it down, we discussed just the issue of email and asked, “Should husbands and wives have full access to each other’s email accounts?” Obviously this might not apply to pastors or counselors or spymasters who may have a special need for privacy. But for the rest of us, I think it is a question worth asking and I’d love to get your feedback.

Should husbands and wives offer each other free and open access to their email accounts? Or should there be an implicit level of trust that makes such a measure unnecessary or perhaps even just plain wrong? Let’s talk!

Incidentally, this is the first of what I hope will be many opportunities to discuss topics in a more interactive way.

August 30, 2008

I don’t know what the Catalyst Conference is and I don’t know how they know who I am. A few days ago I went to my post office box and found there are a rather large package. I do not receive a lot of large boxes at the post office—it is usually either books or mysterious letters from conspiracy theorists who just *have* to let me know who is taking over the world and why (no joke). The rather large box contained a strangely-shaped triangular box which, it turns out, was an advertisement for this upcoming Catalyst Conference. Because of the sheer originality of the package, I snapped a few photos and figured I could post them here.



So here is the funky triangular box that was inside the rather plain brown shipping box.



And here is a close-up of one of the sides of the box.



Cracking the box open, I found all kinds of interesting things.



And here they are. A basketball and hoop, magnets, fliers, temporary tattoos, paper footballs, some kind of weird foam stuff, a deck of triangular cards and so on. Almost all of it was branded with the Catalyst name and logo.

I don’t think I’m going to be heading to this conference. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m too old to do so. But at the very least, I’ve got to give them kudos for the originality of their advertising…