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July 10, 2006

Like all Christians, I love my quiet time. I am always thrilled at the prospect of sitting down during the few quiet moments before a busy day to spend some time alone with God—a few moments one-on-one with my Creator. I love to open the Bible and to carefully and systematically read the Word of God, allowing it to penetrate my heart. I love to sit and think deeply and meditatively about the Scriptures and to seek ways that I can apply God’s word to my heart. I love to pray to God, pouring out my heart in confession, praise, thanksgiving and petition. It is always the best and greatest part of my day. I couldn’t live without my quiet time.

But that’s not reality, is it?

Like all Christians, I sometimes love my quiet time. While I am sometimes thrilled at the prospect of sitting down to spend some time with God, all too often I dread it. I’d rather catch up on the news or spend some time writing or reading a good book or find out how badly the Bluejays beat the Red Sox the day before. My quiet time is often invaded by little children, demanding my time and attention. Too often I hate to make my way through a difficult book of the Bible and dread spending another day reading through the prophecies of Isaiah. Thinking requires more time and effort than I am willing to give and it usually seems that a quick, cursory prayer is enough to make me feel that I’ve done my duty and asked God to bless my day and to forgive me for being a jerk with my kids the night before. I skim Scripture, breathe a prayer, and settle down to my breakfast.

That’s a little closer to reality, isn’t it?

In The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges provides two scenarios and then a question. In the first, he describes a good day. “You get up promptly when your alarm goes off and have a refreshing and profitable quiet time as you read your Bible and pray. Your plans for the day generally fall into place, and you somehow sense that presence of God with you. To top it off, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is truly searching. As you talk with the person, you silently pray for the Holy Spirit to help you and to also work in your friend’s heart.” We’ve all had days like that. But we’ve also all had days like this: “You don’t arise at the first ring of your alarm. Instead, you shut it off and go back to sleep. When you awaken, it’s too late to have a quiet time. You hurriedly gulp down some breakfast and rush off to the day’s activities. You feel guilty about oversleeping and missing your quiet time, and things just generally go wrong all day. You become more and more irritable as the day wears on, and you certainly don’t sense God’s presence in your life. That evening, however, you unexpectedly have an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who is really interested in receiving Christ as Savior.” Bridges then asks if you would enter into those two witnessing opportunities with a different degree of confidence. Think about it for a moment. If you’re like most Christians, I suspect you would feel less confident about witnessing on a bad day then on a good day. You would feel less confidence that God would speak in and through you and that you would be able to share your faith forcefully and with conviction.

Why is it that we tend to think this way? According to Bridges, we’ve come to believe that God’s blessing on our lives is somehow conditional upon our spiritual performance. In other words, if we’ve performed well and done our quiet time as we ought to have done, we have put ourselves in a place where God can bless us. We may not consciously articulate this, but we prove that we believe it when we have a bad day and are certain that on this day we are absolutely unworthy of God’s blessings. This attitude “reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: the thinking that, although we are saved by grace, we earn or forfeit God’s blessings in our daily lives by our performance.”

Perhaps you, like me, have too often turned quiet time into a performance. If we perform well for God, we enter our day filled with confidence that God will bless us, and that He will have to bless us. We feel that our performance has earned us the right to have a day filled with His presence, filled with blessings, and filled with confidence. And, of course, when we turn in a poor performance, we feel that God is in heaven booing us and heaving proverbial rotten vegetables in the form of removing His presence and, in the words of a friend, “dishing out bummers.”

Quiet time becomes tyrannical when we understand it as a performance. Bridges provides a pearl of wisdom. “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” Whether we are having a good day or a bad day, the basis of our relationship with is not our performance, for even our best efforts are but filthy rags, but grace. Grace does not just save us and then leave us alone. No, grace saves us and then sustains us and equips us and motivates us. We are saved by grace and we then live by grace. Whether in the midst of a good day or bad, God does not base His relationship with us on performance, but on whether or not we are trusting in His Son.

Greg Johnson of St. Louis Center for Christian Study wrote an interesting tract entitled “Freedom from Quiet Time Guilt” (link). Johnson wrote about something I had only recently realized myself. “That half hour every morning of Scriptural study and prayer is not actually commanded in the Bible.” Imagine that. He goes on to say, “As a theologian, I can remind us that to bind the conscience where Scripture leaves freedom is a very, very serious crime. It’s legalism rearing its ugly little head again. We’ve become legalistic about a legalistic command. This is serious.” We have somehow allowed our quiet time, in its length, depth or consistency, to become the measure of our relationship with God. But “your relationship with God—or, as I prefer to say, God’s relationship with you—is your whole life: your job, your family, your sleep, your play, your relationships, your driving, your everything. The real irony here is that we’ve become accustomed to pigeonholing our entire relationship with God into a brief devotional exercise that is not even commanded in the Bible.” So what, then, does Scripture command? It commands that the Word of God be constantly upon our hearts. We are to pray, to read the Scripture and to meditate upon it, but we are to do so from a joyful desire, and not mere performance-based duty. We are to do so throughout our whole lives, and not merely for a few minutes each morning. Like Johnson, I came to realize that the “goal isn’t that we pray and read the Bible less, but that we do so more—and with a free and needy heart.”

So do not allow quiet time to become performance. View it as a chance to grow in grace. Begin with an expression of your dependency upon God’s grace, and end with an affirmation of His grace. Acknowledge that you have no right to approach God directly, but can approach Him only through the work of His Son. Focus on the gospel as the message of grace that both saves and sustains. And allow quiet time to become a gift of worship you present to God, and a gift of grace you receive from Him.

July 07, 2006

Earlier this week I encountered an amusing but startling article in the blog section of the Palm Beach Post. The author discussed a recent situation involving Victoria’s Secret.

“Victoria’s Secret became the target of breast-feeding activists this week after women in Racine, Wis., and Quincy, Mass., went into the popular women’s lingerie store and were told they couldn’t breastfeed their children on the sales floor.

It’s hard to imagine that Victoria’s Secret, of all places, could be anti-breast—or at least squeamish about the partial exposure of a woman’s breast amid the racks of revealing peekaboo attire on sale.

But it happened. The result: Victoria’s Secret was the target of a nationwide ‘nurse-in’ protest this past weekend called for by a group of angry breastfeeding women.”

I’d hate to be on the wrong side of a group of angry breastfeeding women! I think it could only be worse to be on the wrong side of a group of angry homeschooling women. But I digress. It seems terribly ironic that Victoria’s Secret, a company that has done a great deal to commodify the breast along with every other aspect of female anatomy, refuses to allow women to breastfeed on their premises. As the article says, “Victoria’s Secret, after all, is all about partial, and more-than-partial exposure of a woman’s body.” The company’s advertising shows a lot more exposed breast than is likely to be seen when a woman nurses her child. And what’s wrong with a woman feeding her child in public?

Until six years ago I had never thought much about breastfeeding. My mom, with still a little bit of hippie in her blood (you should see those early photos of her as a mother), raised five children and each of us breastfed for at least a year or two. There is good reason, I think in retrospect, that the five children in our family are all spaced three years apart! I was the second child to be born into the family and so, for at least five or six years of my life, I saw little sisters breastfeeding. I thought nothing of it, for it was as natural as breathing. Babies needed to eat, so mom fed them. If they needed to eat at home, mom fed them at home, and if they needed to eat when we were out, mom fed them in public. Actually, I’m pretty sure mom even fed them in the front seat while dad was driving the car, something that wasn’t forbidden back then as it is today (for good reason, I might add). I called my mother this morning to confirm my memories and she said, “Yes! I fed you guys all over Toronto.” And what’s more, she thought nothing of it. I don’t think it ever occurred to her to do otherwise. She was discreet about it, of course, but was certainly not ashamed to fed us when we need to be fed. There was nothing complicated about it.

Six years ago, Aileen gave birth to our first child. Suddenly, breastfeeding seemed complicated. Aileen struggled with breastfeeding in public or even in “semi-private” conditions (such as when friends were visiting). She would gladly nurse the baby when her girlfriends were present, but when a man entered the room, she would opt instead to drag her friends to a different room. Somehow, between generations, breastfeeding had become shameful. While a few of our friends would, with some hesitation I think, breastfeed when men were present, most tended to camp out in a room by themselves, or at least sat around a corner or with their backs turned.

Aileen recently gave birth to our third child and she still will not feed her in public. If we happen to be in public when Michaela demands her dinner, Aileen will sequester herself in a bathroom or other private area and settle down to feed the baby.

It is not my purpose here to argue for or against public breastfeeding. Ultimately, a woman should confer with her husband and do what makes them feel comfortable. If they are uncomfortable with nursing a child in public, the mother should not feel compelled or obliged to do so. Similarly, if they are unashamed to have her feed the child in public, then by all means, she should do so. The right to nurse in public is protected by the laws of the land, and so it should be.

I found the story from the Palm Beach Post quite instructive. It shows something about our society, I think, that we will gladly tolerate breasts when they are in the context of sexuality, but not when they are in the context of child-rearing. Somehow, over the past couple of decades, public breastfeeding has become taboo. Stores and restaurants routinely demand that breastfeeding moms take their babies to the bathrooms to nurse them there. More and more people seem to regard it as unnatural or disgusting. Victoria’s Secret can plaster the store windows with huge posters of nearly-naked women with their breasts almost fully exposed, but when a woman sitting inside the store discreetly latches her child to a breast, it is regarded as exhibitionism.

My dad has often remarked that television and movies, while routinely showing scenes with explicit sexual content, will almost never show scenes that involve sex between married couples. He does not mean to say that it would be somehow morally superior to show a married couple engaging in sexual acts on the movie or television screen, but simply that it is only a certain kind of unnatural, unbiblical sexuality that our society wishes to see. Satan hates what is natural and good. He loves what is unnatural and evil. When we look at breastfeeding in this context, it makes perfect sense that our society does not object to public displays of breasts when they are in the context of sexuality. Men love to be able to walk past Victoria’s Secret and to see vivid images of other women displaying their near-perfect bodies. But in the context of something that is natural and good, such as a woman nursing her baby, breasts are somehow repulsive. We have exchanged the natural for the unnatural. And I guess we must like it that way.

July 05, 2006

It has been quite a while since I posted a “Feedback Files” article. I guess I have taken to answering more correspondence privately than publicly. For those not familiar with the term, “Feedback Files” refers to the times that I use this site to answer questions sent to me by readers. I’m often willing to research and address questions or theological conundrums. Of course I am really quite unqualified to answer many of these questions (except the ones on web design), but I can at least fall back on a great collection of books.

I recently received a question from a reader who asked “can someone worship (idolize) the Bible?” Is it possible that a person can make the Bible into an idol? She mentioned a Sunday school teacher who had told her, in response to some of her “Reformed answers” to questions on the book of Romans, that he “needed to be careful not to worship the Bible.” And so she wanted to know if it was possible to do so.

In brief, I can affirm that it is entirely possible for a person to idolize the Bible. If I were to place a Bible upon an altar, light some candles around it, and bow down before the Bible, I would be worshipping a collection of paper, ink and leather (or “pleather”). I would be idolizing a created object rather than worshipping God. This would be no better than worshipping the image of a man or animal carved from wood or stone. But this is not what is most often meant when a person accuses another of idolizing the Bible. So today we will take a brief look at “bibliolatry” which we can define as “having excessive reverence for the letter of the Bible.”

I have been accused of being a bibliolater. I’m sure many other Reformed Christians have as well. This charge is most often levelled against a person who affirms the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture. It may also be levelled against a person who affirms the sufficiency of Scripture. Dr. A. William Merrell, in an article entitled “Bibliolatry—A Fraudulent Accusation,” discusses the charge that Southern Baptists are bibliolaters. He makes an insightful observation: “The truth is that those crying ‘bibliolatry’ may be covering their own aberrant view of Scripture.” It is truth that the charge of bibliolatry is most often spoken by those who have the lowest, most liberal theology of Scripture. These people object to what they feel is a woodenness of faith and practice that stems from too literal an understanding of Scripture.

The fact is that we, as sinful humans, have lost our ability to have unmediated access to God. Adam and Eve, before they fell into sin, had the privilege of walking and talking with God. They had direct, face-to-face access to the Creator through which they could walk and talk with Him in the cool of the day. This is a privilege we eagerly anticipate enjoying again when the Lord returns. But in the meantime, polluted as we are by sin, we have severed that direct communication so that we must now rely on the mediated word of God. That word is given to us through Scripture. Merrell quotes John Stott who once said, “God has clothed His thoughts in words, and there is no way to know Him except by knowing the Scriptures. … We can’t even read each other’s minds, much less what is in the mind of God.” And that is the truth. We can only know God through His word. So let’s seek to understand this word and see what it teaches about our attitude towards Scripture.

The Bible, as we commonly refer to it, is the word of God. But it is not the only word of God. God has, after all, revealed Himself in other ways, such as through creation, through visions and through the words of Jesus, some of which made their way into Scripture. John Frame, in Salvation Belongs To The Lord, defines the word of God as “God’s powerful, authoritative self-expression.” That seems to me a good way of defining the concept. God’s word is powerful in that it does more than merely communicate, but also creates and controls. Paul says that the preaching of this word is not only communication but also power. God’s word is authoritative in that it is not only power but also language. God shows his authority over nature by calling things and by giving them names. He has authority over the people He created and He expects that we obey His word. And finally, God’s word is self-expression. The words of God reveal not only his power and authority, but also Himself. Frame says, “the word is the very presence of God among us, the place where God dwells. So you cannot separate the word of God from God himself.”

Did you catch that? You cannot separate the word of God from God himself. The word reveals God. Frame goes on to show that the speech of God has divine attributes. It is righteous, faithful, wonderful, holy, eternal, omnipotent and perfect (most of these are drawn from Psalm 119). These are attributes of God and are, thus, also attributes of His word. He shows also that the word of God is an object of worship, quoting Psalm 56:4 where David writes, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” The Psalmist repeats this in verse ten, saying “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise…” “This is remarkable, for only God is the object of religious praise. To worship something other than God is idolatrous. Since David worships the word here, we cannot escape the conclusion the word is divine.”

And, in fact, the word is God, for in the familiar words of the Apostle John we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This verse identifies God’s speech, His self-expression, with God Himself. “The Word that ‘was God’ in verse 1 was not only Jesus, as verse 14 clearly indicates (‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’), but also the speech of God commanding the light to come out of darkness in Genesis 1:3.”

Thus we see a unity between God and the word. God is the word and the word is God. The word is where God is and God is where the word is. God’s word is the presence of God among us. What is the implication of this? We’ll turn one final time to John Frame. “God’s word, wherever we find it, including Scripture, is an object worthy of reverence. I’m not advocating bibliolatry, which is worship of a material object with paper, ink, and so on. The paper and ink are creatures, not God, and we shouldn’t bow down to them. But the message of the Bible, what is says, is divine, and we should receive it with praise and worship.”

It is worth quoting the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith. “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.”

And so, when we read the word or come under the teaching of the word, we must realize that we are in the very presence of God. We do not worship pen and ink, but we do treat Scripture with reverence, regarding it as the very presence, power and authority of God. If we rely on Scripture, regard it as infallible, inerrant and sufficient, and understand it to have many of the very attributes of God (the attributes that Scripture gives itself), we do not err. And we certainly do not become bibliolaters. I would suggest that it would be very difficult to have too high a view of Scripture. S.M. Baugh, in an article printed in Modern Reformation concludes that “what some may call bibliolatry is not always- indeed, is rarely such.” And I agree. There may be some who make an idol of Scripture, but very few. It is much more likely that our theology of Scripture is too low, too human, too safe.

June 29, 2006

Superman Returns has hit the theatres, bringing the long-awaited return of the Man of Steel to the big screen. And as this movie hits the screen, opening to lukewarm but generally positive reviews, it seems that at least a couple of groups are intent on claiming Superman as their own.

Superman is Jesus Christ. Maybe not really Jesus Christ, but certainly a Christ-like figure. A type of Christ perhaps. It’s obvious, isn’t it? During a recent interview with Wizard magazine, Bryan Singer, Director of Superman Returns proclaimed “Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes.” When speaking to Entertainment Weekly magazine he said of this movie, “It’s a story about what happens when Messiahs come back…” Is Superman a Jesus figure? An article at Pastors.com, provided as a sermon outline and written by Stephen Skelton, claims that he is. Skelton says, “Singer is looking to tell the best story he can, and he has consciously pulled from the Gospel story. For us, the result is an opportunity to use the Superman story to share the Gospel.”

Stephen Skelton is the founder of The Entertainment Ministry, a company whose motto is “identifying God’s purposes in popular entertainment.” The company’s website says “we believe many stories that transcend social, racial and cultural barriers today do so because they contain spiritual truth for which all people have a God-given hunger. Accordingly, the ministry promotes a grassroots approach to using popular entertainment to engage a Christian worldview. To that end, we hope these Bible studies not only provide a time of good fellowship but also continue to equip the church with ways to reach the world beyond.” They create Bible studies based on popular television programs and films and ask, “Do you want to engage and energize your class…Do you want to bring Jesus to searchers ‘where they are’… Do you want to model the powerful parable approach of Christ… Then these Bible studies can serve you.”

Here are a few of the parallels to the story of Christ as told in Scripture. Do note that some of these may spoil the film for you, if you are intending to see it. I don’t really know. Because I haven’t seen the film and don’t ever recall reading a Superman comic I am unsure as to whether this is an original story, or a re-telling of an existing story. Skelton premises these quotes with this: “here are some items from the movie that can help you prepare an outreach message on Superman Returns.”

  • “As the story begins, Superman (our Christ figure) has ascended into the heavens. He has returned to his home planet Krypton to see if he is in fact the ‘only son.’ The time he is away from Earth is symbolic of the time between Christ’s ascension and return.”
  • “When Superman comes back, he finds a world much worse off than when he left. Most upsetting, Lois Lane has moved on. She has a fiance and a son named Jason (which is a variation of the name Jesus). There is some imagery here of the Virgin Birth. (Suffice it to say that the movie provides no other explanation—no explanatory conversation or flashback.)”
  • “When Superman arrives to stop him, [Lex] Luthor stabs Superman in the right side with a kryptonite dagger—which recalls the spear that pierced the right side of Christ. Thereafter, our superhero undergoes a brief re-enactment of the march of the Passion. Superman tries to crawl away from his persecutors while struggling under the weight of kryptonite poisoning.”
  • “Despite the deadly danger, Superman lifts this entire kryptonite-laced landmass into outer space, symbolically taking the weight of a world of sin upon himself. As in the Gospel story, this supreme act of sacrificial suffering has disastrous consequences and Superman plummets back toward the Earth—in the crucifixion pose.”
  • Rushed to the hospital, Superman lies near death. In the Daily Planet office, a proposed newspaper headline announces ‘Superman is Dead.’ However, a little later, back at the hospital, the room (like Christ’s tomb) is found empty—and Superman lives!

Skelton concludes, “In terms of Gospel imagery, Superman Returns is more than we could have hoped for. Plus, the film has action, eye-popping special effects (some used for Christic effect), and even a little romance.”

So there we have it. The church has claimed him. Superman is Jesus.

Or is he?

Superman is gay. Maybe not really gay, but certainly a gay-like figure. A type of homosexual perhaps. It’s obvious, isn’t it? In a recent much-discussed article, The Advocate, a popular and influential gay magazine asked “How Gay is Superman?” According to the article, he’s really gay. Or really gay-like, in any case. The article’s author, Alonso Duralde, reflects on why most of the entertainment he enjoyed as a child was geared towards women, and yet Superman resonated with him. “I was addicted to reruns of I Married Joan and old Ingrid Bergman flicks on the afternoon movie. I was the only boy in my sixth-grade class to read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Nothing could make me change the channel faster than an old Rat Patrol or Daktari episode popping up in the middle of my afternoon of TV. So why was I drawn to these heroic tales of adventure and derring-do?”

Duralde suggests three theories. First, like most gay kids, superheroes have to keep their “difference” a secret. “As kids with a nascent understanding of our queerness, a lot of us tamped down our own fabulousness—not to keep Lois safe or to stem the Nazi menace, but to watch our backs.” In Superman he saw a man who was also wrestling with a hidden secret about his true identity. Second, comic books are a lot like soap operas. They are ongoing stories that build one upon the other and often look back to what has happened in the past. “For a gay kid who never got into soaps, apart from the occasional Search for Tomorrow episode with our housekeeper, comics were my first window into labyrinthine story lines that involved numerous characters.” And finally, superheroes are “totally hot.” “If you were a little boy in search of idealized masculine imagery—or a little girl starved for images of strong, powerful women-comic books were often where you got your fill. And a lot of those boys grew up and were inspired to make themselves over in their heroes’ image.”

He concludes, “Not for nothing does gay director Bryan Singer have an eye for how to make the Superman suit most flattering to Brandon Routh in Superman Returns. And rubber nipples weren’t the only way that director Joel Schumacher made Batman and Robin look even more homoerotic than usual in the two sequels he directed. The iconography of superheroes definitely pushes a button or two with many gay men.”

So there we have it. Homosexuals have claimed him. Superman is gay.

Or is he?

Which one is it? Is Superman the ultimate Jesus figure, or is he the ultimate homosexual figure? I’m quite comfortable suggesting that he cannot be both.

I don’t know that anyone can answer if there is something more to Superman than just a superhero. But this I do know: the belief that Superman appeals to unbelievers because they crave a Messiah is not premised on a sound understanding of Scripture. Unbelievers surely crave many things and perhaps even a kind of redemption. But an unregenerate heart, a heart in which the Spirit has not begun to work, cannot crave the Jesus Christ of the Bible. They may crave a false Christ, a Christ of their own making. But not the real Christ. not the Christ who saves. Jesus Himself tells us this. In John 7:7 He says, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”

What is there in an unbeliever that will make him respond favorably, on a spiritual level, to a Christ figure? According to the Bible, nothing. Until men have been regenerated, until the Spirit has begun to convict them of sin, there can be no move towards Him. There can be no acceptance of Him. There can be no desire for Him or perceived need of Him. Superman cannot be Jesus, the true Jesus, to your unbelieving friend of neighbor.

What is there in an unbeliever that will make him respond favorably, on a carnal level, to a gay figure? According to the Bible, plenty. Until men have been regenerated, until the Spirit has begun to convict them of sin, men will find solace in other sinners. They will find stories that affirm their sin and affirm their sinful choices. And, when looking in stories created by sinful men, they will never have far to look.

Superman isn’t Jesus. But I suppose he could be gay.

June 28, 2006

I wrote yesterday about my experience at the Bank of Canada as I was taught to distinguish between genuine and counterfeit currency. As promised, today I will provide a few brief applications, though I still have much to think about and reflect upon. I do intend to write more formally about this subject at a later time. I went to this meeting looking particularly for parallels between spiritual discernment and the task of discerning counterfeit currency. I was not disappointed. The parallel between these two disciplines is unavoidable. In this article I am going to draw attention to just a few of these.

I was surprised to learn that the Bank of Canada expects all Canadians to exercise discernment with their currency. Despite having exchanged currency countless thousands of times, it had never occurred to me that I ought to be verifying each bill. I had never been told so. While I consider myself a person who values discernment, I had to admit that I had no discernment when it comes to currency and I could easily have been fooled. The literature the bank produces and the message they attempt to convey says “Check your notes! Make it a habit!” We are expected to check each piece of currency that comes into our possession. And clearly, if every person in the country was equipped to discern genuine from fraudulent, and if every person was to verify every piece of currency that came into his possession, all counterfeit money would be eradicated, as would the livelihoods of those who produce it.

Why is it so important that I check each piece of currency? Because once I accept a bill, that piece of money becomes my responsibility. Should I attempt to later deposit this bill in a bank and should the teller find that it is counterfeit, the bill will be confiscated and I will not be reimbursed. What I accept becomes my responsibility. Now there is a difference between taking a bill and accepting a bill. I have the right to inspect and refuse any piece of currency. But once I accept that money, I am responsible for it.

There is a clear parallel here to spiritual discernment. Just as I am responsible for money I accept and later attempt to spend, in the same way I am responsible for the teachings I accept and later attempt to share with others. Thus it is my responsibility before God to inspect every teaching that comes my way. I should test each teaching that is presented to me, refusing to accept any that go against the plain teaching of Scripture. There are tests the Bible provides which will help us discern truth from error. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 exhorts all Christians to “test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” We are first to test, then abstain, and finally hold fast.

Yesterday I mentioned the phrase, “touch, tilt, look through, look at” as a filter through which I can pass a particular piece of currency. These represent four exercises which will draw my attention to the marks of a genuine piece of currency. Similarly, the Bible provides a series of tests we can use to discern truth from error. I have much reflection to do in this area, but I would suggest some good filters we can apply in the spiritual realm are: examining Scripture, seeking the counsel of godly men and women, and seeking the consensus of historic Christianity.

A parallel commonly used by authors and preachers, is that, like experts in counterfeit currency, a person who wishes to be discerning must focus more on what is genuine than what is counterfeit. Before handing me a stack of bills and asking me to sort through them to discern which were fraudulent and which were genuine, Monica taught me about real currency. Having done that, the differences between good and bad were immediately apparent. In the same way, Christians, and even those with a particular gifting or interest in discernment, should focus more on truth than error. The more we understand what is true, the easier it will be to identify what is fraudulent. The more we know about God’s character, God’s ways, and God’s Word, the greater the contrast will be between truth and error.

Monica taught me the defining characteristics of a genuine bill. There were certain markers she told me to look for: fine-line printing, raised print, holographs, watermarks, and the like. By focusing on these markers, most of which are are difficult to duplicate and are thus missing from counterfeit bills, I was able to make quick but confident judgments. A point she conveyed several times is that counterfeiters usually only put in a minimal effort. They seek to make a copy of the original that is only good enough to pass a cursory inspection. Sadly, most people rarely even consider that a piece of currency may be fraudulent and thus are fooled even by the most pathetic effort at duplicating money. It struck me that most Christians are unaware of their responsibility to test doctrine. And yet most false doctrine is remarkably simple to detect and avoid, for it often is built around minimal effort in undermining truth.

While a single twenty dollar bill has a variety of security features, the Bank of Canada does not expect every person to inspect every one of these features. Rather, they suggest that every person choose two or three features and focus on those ones. This keeps the task of inspecting a bill from becoming burdensome. Still, because of the minimal effort expended by counterfeiters, verifying only two of the security features will usually be enough to discern whether a bill is genuine or fraudulent. If inspecting two does not provide enough information, a person can verify the others as well.

A short time ago, the Canadian media focused a great deal of attention on the so-called “Windsor $100 bill.” Several fraudulent $100 bills had been removed from circulation in the Windsor area, but the media attention made it seem as if these counterfeit bills had flooded the nation. Multitudes of stores across the nation immediately refused to accept $100 bills and even today a great many stores refuse to accept any bill higher than $50. Yet there were only a very small number of these false $100 bills and the amount of media attention was completely unwarranted. Fully eighty percent of counterfeit money is in the $10 and $20 dollar denominations, and in recent months there have been a growing number of counterfeit $5 bills in circulation. While many people were worried about fraudulent $100 bills, many $5’s, $10’s and $20’s were no doubt slipping through unnoticed. We see a similar situation in the church. It is quite rare that we are presented with fraudulent teaching that contradicts the most important teachings of Scripture. More often we are faced with issues of lesser importance than the major tenets of the faith. If we look only for false doctrine that contradicts the first-order doctrines, we may allow countless lesser errors slip through.

I went to the Bank of Canada to learn about currency, but learned a great deal about spiritual discernment. It was a valuable exercise and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about spiritual discernment in so unlikely a place.

June 27, 2006

“Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it.” I can’t count the number of times I have read quotes similar to that one, taken from John MacArthur’s Reckless Faith. It seems that whenever an author wishes to discuss discernment, he mentions federal agents and the method they use to discern the genuine from the counterfeit. I have often wondered if this metaphor is accurate and whether agents truly do study genuine currency first. Curious person that I am, I decided to find some answers. I called the Bank of Canada, worked my way through various levels of bureaucracy, and eventually arranged a meeting with one of the nation’s foremost experts on counterfeit currency.

I twice missed the Bank of Canada building, one of just five local offices in Canada, before finally spying the appropriate address. There is no sign on the outside of the heavily-tinted glass building to announce what is within. As I entered the sole door, I found myself in a tiny foyer, only a few feet square. The door ahead was barred and an small sign announced that I was to press an intercom button and to announce my business. I pressed the button and stated that I was there to conduct an interview. After checking my name against a list, the security guard unlocked the door and I was permitted to proceed into a bare reception area. The doors locked behind me and a series of locked doors were ahead of me. The occasional person passed through these turnstile doors, but only after swiping a security card. The turnstiles allowed only one person to enter before locking once more. I passed my identification through a small opening cut into a foot-thick glass window. The guard made a copy of it and passed it back to me along with a visitor’s pass. A few minutes later I was greeted by Monica, the expert on currency, and we walked through bare, utilitarian corridors until we found a vacant meeting room.

twenty dollar billMonica was far friendlier than the security guard, though she had to bring along a tape recorder and later mentioned that some poor soul would later make a complete transcription of our conversation. She asked me about my interest in counterfeit currency and I told her about my interest in the field of discernment and the constant metaphors I have encountered that point towards the training provided to federal agents. She seemed interested and decided that she would provide me with a basic rundown of how agents are trained and would then hand me a stack of mixed currency—different denominations, some of which was genuine and some of which was counterfeit—and allow me to test my training.

And so we began. It turns out that John MacArthur is correct. Training in identifying counterfeit currency begins with studying genuine money. There are certain identifying characteristics that are added to each bill printed by the Bank of Canada. These characteristics are necessarily difficult to reproduce. Some are intended to stump the casual counterfeiter, armed with no more than a scanner and color laser printer, and some will stump the more serious counterfeiter, even if armed with expensive, high-tech equipment. She summarized the approach to distinguishing a genuine bill with the phrase, “touch, tilt, look at, look through.” The first step then, is to touch the bill. Because currency is printed on unique cotton-based paper, a false bill will often feel false. She described the most common reaction to the feel of a counterfeit bill as “waxy.” A person may not quite be able to describe it, but it just feels wrong. There are also two areas on a bill where raised print provides a tactile clue to a genuine bill.

Having touched the bill, Monica described the “tilt” features. First she pointed out the holographic stripe which is remarkably difficult to accurately reproduce. When the bill is tilted, this holograph will show all the colors of the rainbow. Additionally, each tiny maple leaf on the bill is color-split, so that it appears in two colors simultaneously. And, when studied closely, tiny numbers identifying the denomination of the bill will appear in the background of this stripe.

The third step is to look through the money. By holding a bill to the light, several features appear. There is a small, ghost-like watermark image of the bill’s main portrait. In the case of a $20 bill, this means that a tiny portrait of Queen Elizabeth II appears immediately beside a more pronounced portrait. Another of these “look through” features is a gold thread woven through the bill that will appear solid when held up against a light source, but broken or staggered if counterfeited.

The final step is to look at. “Look at” features include fine-line printing within the bill’s portrait and certain background patterns. These lines and patterns are so fine that they cannot be adequately reproduced by the casual counterfeiter.

We spent a small amount of time examining security features of some of the older bills that are still in circulation, and the features that are unique to lower denominations of currency. All the while I plied Monica with questions. She provided a thorough and helpful answer to every question I could think of.

That was my introduction to counterfeit detection.

And now my training would be put to the test. Monica placed before me a stack of bills of varying denominations. I knew that some were genuine and some were counterfeit. The first, a twenty dollar bill, immediately struck me as a forgery. Just as she said, it felt waxy and seemed to have been printed on standard pulp-based paper. I tilted it and noted that the holographic stripe was not really holographic at all. Though I was already convinced that this was a forgery, I pressed on and noted that no portrait of the Queen appeared when the bill was held to the light, and the fine-line printed was blurry and imprecise. It was clearly a counterfeit.

The next bill was a genuine five dollar bill. I examined the bill and found that everything seemed in order. The security features were in-place. The print was sharp and hidden features appeared just as they should.

I continued to move through the stack of bills. One bill almost seemed sound, but then I noted the thinnest white edge on the bill, showing that it had been poorly cut from a sheet of white paper.

I soon learned that identifying counterfeit currency is not a terribly difficult task. When a person knows what to look for, when he has been trained to examine the bill for particular identifying characteristics, identifying genuine from fraudulent can be done with great accuracy, even on the basis of only a small amount of training. I successfully identified each piece of counterfeit currency.

I will continue this article tomorrow by sharing some lessons I learned at the Bank of Canada.

June 21, 2006

Every year or so I find myself crawling back to a definition of the word Reformed that I first wrote up a couple of years ago. I find it worthwhile to revisit this every twelve months or so. With the amount of reading and studying I do in a year, I feel it is interesting to turn to this definition to see what I would change and what I would refine. I also find it humbling to see which parts of the definition I may have emphasized at the expense of others. And so today I thought I would define the word Reformed, trusting that the readers of this site will find it helpful. While Calvinism and Reformed are not fully synonymous, most people understand them to be so. Because the differences between them are subtle, I will use them synonymously.

It is important to understand that because the Reformed tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation, the term Reformed was not defined from within a void. Rather, it was defined as a biblical response to the excesses and perversions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, having returned to Scripture, attempted to carefully and faithfully rebuild the church upon the teachings of the New Testament. Thus by affirming Reformed theology, a person is implicitly denying certain other theologies, such as Catholic theology (which Reformed theology rose in opposition to) and Arminian theology (which later rose in opposition to Reformed theology). While Calvinism predates Arminianism, it was only codified in the five points after the rise of Arminianism. There is a sense in which Calvinism is both a cause of and the reaction to Arminianism. Or perhaps we could say that Arminianism is a response to Reformed theology, and the codification of Calvinism is a response to Arminianism.

There are many expressions of the Christian faith that are based at least partially on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. These are separated into four main divisions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Cults. Protestantism can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminian and Reformed. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine. We will concern ourselves today with the minority who consider themselves Reformed. These tend to be people who attend Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist Churches, though they may be found in other churches as well. Sadly, there are many churches that were once Reformed and may still use the title, even if they have long since abandoned the theology.

It is surprisingly difficult to find a worthwhile definition of Reformed. While many people claim to understand the Reformed faith and are eager to provide a definition, few seem to be both fair and adequate. Here are a couple of examples culled from a Google search:

  1. A term used to refer to a tradition of theology which draws inspiration from the writings of John Calvin (1510-64) and his successors. The term is generally used in preference to “Calvinist.”
  2. Referring to the Reformation, it’s theology, and/or those subscribing to it. Also used to differentiate a,) Calvinism from Lutheranism, or b.) Continental European Calvinism from Scottish Calvinism, aka Presbyterianism.

Those are both concise definitions but ones that do not capture the full sense of the word. A far better and more complete definition is found at Five Solas. There Professor Byron Curtis, a professor at Geneva College breaks the definition into four parts which I will expound in some detail. The first two parts define foundational Protestant beliefs and the second two are exclusively Reformed. According to Curtis, to be Reformed is:

  1. To confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church:
    • Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
    • Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
    • Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
    • Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
    • The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
    • The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
    • The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ’s love to us in our deep need.
    • The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

    It would be correct to say that, to this point, we are dealing with a statement of the Protestant faith more than a statement of the Reformed faith. From this list we see that Reformed Christians adhere to all the foundational beliefs taught in the Bible. These beliefs were the foundation of the early church and are based on the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by the apostles and early church fathers. Many of these beliefs were changed or lost as the Catholic Church grew in power and authority from the fifth century onwards. Throughout history there were isolated and often-persecuted pockets of non-Catholic believers who held to many or all of these points of doctrine, but they were largely lost until their rediscovery at the time of the Reformation.

    We will find that Professor Curtis’ definition is based largely upon a Presbyterian understanding of several doctrines. Reformed Baptists may take issue with the sacraments being signs and seals. I would suggest that Reformed believers will have a high view of two sacraments, though they may differ somewhat on just how they are to understood and how they are to be administered.

  2. To confess the four solas:
    • The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
    • the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
    • the means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
    • the merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)

    Again, these form the basis for Protestantism as much as they do for the Reformed tradition, though sadly the majority of Protestants will never encounter the terms. These are the principles that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and separated it from the Roman Catholic Church. These four points of doctrine are based entirely on the Bible and were the theological driving force behind the newly formed Protestant movement.

  3. To confess the distinctives of the Reformed faith:
    • In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
      T = Total Depravity U = Unconditional Election L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption I = Irresistible Grace P = Perseverence and Preservation of the Saints

    These five distinct points of doctrine are also known as the five points of Calvinism as they were first articulated by John Calvin after the Reformation was in full-swing. They are based entirely on the Bible. When people speak of being Reformed these five points of doctrine are most often what they are referring to. Most evangelical (non-Reformed) churches do not hold to all of these points. Some hold to two or three (and occasionally even four), but most reject them in favor of Arminian theology which is, at heart, synergistic, relying on a cooperative effort between man and God.

  4. Other Reformed Distinctives:

    Professor Curtis goes on to list other points of doctrine he believes are Reformed distinctives. They include: The Regulative Principle of Worship, Covenant theology (The Church is the New Israel - we most often see an expression of this theology in infant baptism, but it also impacts eschatology and many other doctrines) and Life is religion (Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations (callings)). I would not consider adherence to these principles necessary to consider oneself Reformed and I suspect the majority of Reformed Christians would agree with me. It is these distinctions that provide some of the differences between Calvinist and Reformed.

  5. Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be the glory in all things.

    This is, once more, something all Christians would claim, either explicitly or implicitly. In all areas of life we are to give glory to God alone.

So what does this all mean? To be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible - to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Reformed doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would have to make no distinction between biblical Christianity and the Reformed faith.

If you are interested in learning more about the Reformed tradition, there are many excellent resources availble to you. Here are a few favorites:

  • Christian Handbook by Peter Jeffery - an excellent little book I reviewed here that introduces Christian beliefs from a Reformed perspective (A very brief review).
  • Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. This is an excellent, fun introduction to the Five Points (my review).
  • Desiring God by John Piper - not for the faint-of-heart but does a great job of explaining Reformed principles (Discerning Reader reviews).
  • What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul (Discerning Reader reviews).
  • The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice (Discerning Reader reviews).
June 19, 2006

It was about six years ago that Aileen and I first moved to Oakville. We realize now that we were backwards in our decision to move, for we moved first and looked for a church second. If, in the future, it becomes necessary that we move again, we will seek a church first and a house second. When we arrived in Oakville, we went searching for a God-glorifying church. Our search took us through several congregations. There were a few that seemed promising for a couple of weeks, but one after the other we determined that they were unsuitable. Some had very poor statements of faith and some seemed to care far more about adherence to programs and fads than adherence to God’s Word. Some were just plain weird. It was a frustrating time and one I hope we never to have to repeat.

At one point we spent several months in a church that we thought was one we could settle in. Though it was in a neighboring town and required a lengthy drive, we were growing desperate and were willing to drive almost any distance to be part of a God-glorifying church. We enjoyed the preaching at this particular church and immediately benefited from it. The worship was focused on God and was based primarily around songs that were theologically-sound. The worship leaders tended to give equal focus to traditional hymns and contemporary songs, a mix that we quite enjoyed. Eventually we found, though, that the church was distinctly unfriendly. This dawned on us one Sunday morning when, after attending for several months, it occurred to us that we did not really know anyone in the church and that nobody seemed to be making any effort in welcoming us. Around that time a new church began in our neighborhood, much closer to home. We became involved in this church and were there for the next five years.

There was one thing about that church (the one we attended for a couple of months) that continually bothered me. It seemed that, for some reason, the church placed a limit on the number of verses they would sing of any given hymn. The limit was three. Sometimes this was not a big deal. Other times it was a great frustration. One hymn that we sang quite often was “My Jesus, I love Thee.” This was clearly a hymn that was a favorite of the church. It is a favorite of mine, so I was always glad to sing it. But there was a problem. “My Jesus, I Love Thee” has four stanzas. And yet this church seemed to always adhere to that limit of three which meant that they would always remove one of the verses. The first time we sang it, they sang stanzas one, two and three. The next time they sang stanzas one, two and four. And that was the pattern they established.

Before I continue, allow me to provide you with the lyrics for this beautiful hymn:

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this hymn shows a clear progression from verse one to four. It begins at conversion (“for Thee all the follies of sin I resign”), looks back to redemption (“purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree”), looks forward to persevering in the faith (“praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath”) and finishes with glorification (“I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright”). To eliminate any one of the verses is to eliminate much of the power and even the purpose of the hymn. It is to tear the hymn’s heart out. It was an ongoing frustration that they would not allow us to sing the complete hymn and thus rejoice in God’s complete work.

Paul Jones has noticed this phenomenon as well. In his book Singing and Making Music he writes, “On occasion I have witnessed a pastor or song leader in the context of worship say something like this: “Let’s all stand and sing ‘Come, Thou Almighty King,’ and we’ll do verses 1 and 3.” In so doing, he has failed to notice that the hymn is a hymn to the Trinity (in spite of the fact that this text is usually sun go the tune TRINITY…and that it clearly outlines praise to the triune God in its stanzas.” He goes on, “It might make some sense to sing the fourth stanza alone, since the doctrine remains intact, but hymns should normally be sung in their entirety. By omitting the second stanza, one leaves God the Son out of the picture, misses the point of the Trinitarian hymn, and unwittingly perpetuates incomplete, heretical doctrine. A bit of planning with forethought and a read-through of the hymn’s text would prevent such an error. Moreover, it might occasion an appropriate comment to alert the congregation to what it was about to sing.” Now it may be overstating things to say that a worship leader may perpetuate heresy in eliminating a stanza, but I think Jones’ point stands. Hymns were meant to be sung in their entirety. Of course, this is not always possible. Some hymn-writers tended to be a little bit long-winded and it is not always practical to sing fifteen or twenty stanzas of a song. But even when a song extends through many verses, I believe that some careful planning by the worship director could choose verses that would not leave out doctrine that is critical to the song’s purpose.

Amazing Grace is an example of song that is sung only in part. Traditionally, churches sing four verses, but unbeknownest to many, Newton actually wrote seven stanzas. Still, the heart of the hymn is provided in the four verses we most commonly sing and we do not lose a lot in eliminating the remaining three. So it can be done.

And so I suppose I am writing today to ask worship leaders to exercise care in choosing songs. Too often a critical portion of a song is eliminated for the sake of brevity. Too often scheduling takes priority over theology.

June 16, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Together for the Gospel, the group blog that features interaction between Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan. Despite coming from different backgrounds and being members of different denominations, these men “are brothers in Christ united in one great cause - to stand together for the Gospel. We are convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many churches and among many who claim the name of Christ. Compromise of the Gospel has led to the preaching of false gospels, the seduction of many minds and movements, and the weakening of the church’s Gospel witness.” I greatly admire each one of these men and have grown immeasurably from their ministries.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

June 16, 2006

Dr. Albert Mohler was a guest on Larry King Live last night as a member of a panel that was to discuss the topic of homosexuality within the church. King gathered quite a large and interesting panel that included: Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church; Reverend Jo Hudson, pastor of the United Church of Christ’s Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, one of Texas’s largest predominantly gay churches; Andrew Sullivan, Time magazine columnist, and openly gay Catholic; Reverend Canon David Anderson, president and CEO of the Anglican American Council who opposes gay clergy in the church; Father Michael Manning, Roman Catholic priest; and Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were joined briefly by Bishop Frank T. Griswold, chief pastor of the Episcopal Church of the United States.

If you were unable to watch the show, you may be interested in reading through the transcript. Unfortunately, the transcript cannot convey body language, tone of voice and other elements that are critical to human communication.

There are a few observations I would like to make about last night’s panel discussion.

King began with a couple of questions directed at Bishop Robinson. He asked Robinson if he had desired the office of bishop. Robinson’s response was, “Actually, at first, I didn’t want to be a bishop. God had to chase me for quite a long time before I would say yes. I knew this would be controversial and yet sometimes God asks us to do things that are hard. And in my prayer life, what I discovered was that God was promising to be faithful to me as God had always been faithful to me in my life and would stand by me during this very difficult time if I would just struggle and strive to listen to and for his voice.” It struck me as interesting that, when faced with a difficult decision, Robinson turned to prayer, and sought to hear God’s voice through prayer. Apparently he did not turn to the Bible which would have been perfectly clear on the Scriptural qualifications for a man who wishes to be a pastor or bishop. This is all too common in our day, as more and more people seek God’s voice, but without reading His Word.

It was interesting to see Bishop Robinson, Jo Hudson and Andrew Sullivan defend a view of mankind that regards people as generally good. It was also clear that they adhere to a faith that is subjective and largely of their own making. It is a faith in which the individual is the source of authority. This allows them to ability to ignore those parts of Scripture that they dislike. Robinson said “This [homosexuality] is something that one is. And that’s what’s so important for people to understand. God made me this way and declared me good. And that’s, that’s something that I have laid claim to.” He also said that “we follow a person who was always reinterpreting scripture and letting people know that it’s the spirit of what’s going on in one’s heart that is the real key and when he said love one another as I have loved you, it means that we need to be moving to the margins, doing justice work, working against racism. All kinds of things that Jesus would be doing in this day and time. I have no question in my mind that Jesus considers me beloved. Just as I am.” And finally, “What we’re saying is, look at our relationships. Look at the good that comes from them. If you look closely, you’ll see God showing up in them.” But where is the authority? Where is the adherence to God’s commandments? A man can look good but still be little more than a whitewashed tomb.

Meanwhile Hudson declared that she joined a church because she “fell in love with God” and that she “found a relationship with God that I discovered in the church and want to be a part of a community of faith that brings that love to other people.” She also insisted that the laws against homosexuality were contextual and that the words now translated “homosexual” in the New Testament are translated that way improperly. In reality, she believes, these words suggest some type of pedophilia. Of course it is simple enough to say that others have proven that these words are misinterpreted, but this is a far cry from actually producing legitimate proof.

A few days ago Ligon Duncan posted an article at the “Together for the Gospel” blog and suggested that “if you can get egalitarianism from the Bible, you can get anything from the Bible.” The same is true of homosexuality. I find it interesting that unbelievers know without any doubt that the Bible condemns homosexuality. If the Bible is clear on anything, it is clear on the fact that God regards homosexuality as an accursed affront to His design for sexuality. Unchurched people may hate the Bible for teaching this, but they accept that the Bible makes this very clear. But then there are leaders within the visible church who seek to undermine this understanding. It is people who regard themselves as Christians who so often seem to exert the greatest effort in making grey what is black and white. Those within the church often do much more damage than those outside.

Sullivan used an interesting (and original) line of reasoning, saying that, by denying his sexual orientation, he would be committing a greater sin than expressing his sexuality, for he would be bearing false witness against who he really is and against who God created him to be. And, as we might expect, and despite surely knowing the answer to his own question, he turned to the Old Testament laws and declared that Christians were being inconsistent in believing that homosexuality is wrong but not advocating the death penalty for homosexuality. Like the others, he seems to believe that people are inherently good, for “When you’re told as a child that what you know to be yourself is somehow evil and wrong, it’s a terrible wound that the church places in the souls of so many young people…” I will give him credit for quick thinking with the following jab at the Anglican Church: “It’s not that Jesus said little about homosexuality, he said nothing about homosexuality. The only thing he did say was that divorce was impossible and, of course, without a divorce, the Episcopalian church would not exist at all.”

Sadly, Bishop Griswold seemed to believe much the same as he spoke of a progressive truth. “Truth is unfolding. Isn’t it interesting that we learn more about truth in medical areas, truth about the world around us, but we can’t learn anything new about sexuality? Isn’t that strange?”

In opposition to these people, David Anderson and, to a greater extent, Dr. Mohler stated plainly and repeatedly that we are not good but that we are sinners in desperate need of God’s forgiveness. They were also, both implicitly and explicitly, discussing a higher authority. The first comment Mohler made dealt with authority and this comment stood in stark contrast to many of the others made throughout the evening. “The first thing should never be what really bothers me but whether or not as Christians, God has set a standard to which we are obligated. The issue is, always has been and always will be, the authority of scripture. The scripture very clearly tells us that our creator has a purpose for our sexuality.”

He dealt also with human depravity, saying “we are Christians here talking about the church in the New Testament and there we find the amazing teaching from the Apostle Paul that we’re made up as the church as those who come from many different kinds of sins, all of us, as sinners, speaking of homosexuality, as well as swindlers and others, Paul said such were some of you, speaking to Christians.” King replied with a simple question. “Reverend Mohler, are you a sinner?” Mohler responded with as simple an answer. “You bet I am, Larry, absolutely.” He went on to share the gospel. “It’s a matter of talking about sinners who are saved by grace, sinners who have repented of their sin and the message of the gospel is that all who repent of their sin and come by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.”

There is a sense in which Dr. Mohler had the most difficult task of the evening, but at the same time, he may also have had the easiest task. While Mohler had to state views that were controversial and unpopular, and views that went against what many of the other church leaders believed, he spoke under the authority of the Word of God. He simply stayed true to the Word of God and shared news of ultimate acceptance and forgiveness.

His final comment summarized the issues of authority and depravity. “Well, I hope not on this regard because it comes under the authority of scripture, but I know the one thing that must not change is this, as one sinner saved by grace to other sinners, I say come to Jesus Christ and come to newness of life. It will change your sex life, for everyone. It will change every dimension of your life and that’s by the grace and mercy of God.”

I can say “Amen” to that!

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