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Ask Me Anything (Abortion, 13 Reasons Why, Local Church, Cartoon Pornography, etc)

Ask Me Anything

I receive questions—lots and lots of questions—as part of the feature I call Ask Me Anything. Here is another attempt to answer a few of them.

I had an abortion when I was in college. I have confessed that sin to God and know I have been forgiven. I am now dating and about to be engaged, but have never told my boyfriend about the abortion. Does he need to know? Do I need to confess the sin to him as well?

You don’t owe that kind of information to a boyfriend, but you do owe it to a husband. The difficulty, then, is knowing when it’s the right time to discuss that information with a boyfriend who may soon be a husband.

I will explain more momentarily, but first let me say how thankful I am to know that you have confessed the sin to God and received his forgiveness. We serve a God who is good and gracious and willing to forgive us for every sin, whether great or small. The freedom he offers is not only freedom from the punishment of our sin, but also the guilt of our sin. This means you can live as a Christian free from the burden of your past actions. It’s a joy to know that you have found and accepted such forgiveness.

Now, back to your question (which I wish I could discuss with you at length face to face rather than briefly through the Internet). I believe it is imperative that you tell your future husband about your abortion. This does not necessarily need to happen now, but it does need to happen before you marry him. The reason I say this is that marriage is to be a relationship of full intimacy and that includes intimacy of knowledge. You are not allowing your husband to truly know you unless you let him know this. If you decide not to tell your husband about this, you will be holding back a very important part of who you are. You will be entering into the most intimate relationship while holding onto a big secret. Even from the way you’ve asked the question, I suspect you feel in your conscience that you ought to tell him, but that you are struggling with actually doing so. That is understandable. But if he is a man worthy of marriage, he must also be a man worthy of knowing your most difficult burdens and shouldering them with you.

Part of the joy of marriage is to enlist the help of another person as your primary ally in growing holy before God and in bearing the burdens of the Christian life. Little good can come from withholding secrets from the one who is meant to know you best. So please do tell him. And perhaps seek the counsel of the pastors at your local church so they can offer their help and prayer.

I’ve read a lot of reviews about the controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. I wonder if you can give your review as well. I love how you reviewed The Shack and told us why you will not be seeing the movie. It helps a lot to explain it to other people. Thank you in advance.

I will not be reviewing this series. I will not be reviewing it because I cannot in good conscience watch it.

When I consider watching any movie or television series, I always look for reviews to tell me what it’s all about. If I learn that it contains scenes of nudity and blatant sexuality, I will not watch it. My conscience and my understanding of what God wants for his people won’t allow it. A quick look at 13 Reasons Why tells me that if I watched it, I’d spend a lot of time watching teenagers simulating having sex with one another. The parent’s guide at IMDB says it has this: “Making out, gay themes, sex, rape, showers depicted. A few shots of male and female butts. No frontal or full nudity. Sexual dialogue in most every episode of the first season about losing their virginity, sexual performance, promiscuity and sexual reputations.” Then it goes on to offer a little more detail for each of the episodes. PluggedIn says it earns its prohibitive TV-MA rating “in at least half a dozen ways. F-words and s-words fly regularly, joined by scads of other profanities. High schoolers drink and get drunk. Sex—real or not, willing or not—is very much at issue here. … We see sexual assaults and raw violence on screen. Characters engage in (or are rumored to engage in) same-sex relationships. And eventually, we see Hannah Baker—in graphic detail—commit suicide.”

That’s more than enough for me to realize that I will not and cannot watch it. And it makes me wonder how or why any Christian could watch it. One of the most concerning things I see in the church today is a willingness for believers to watch other people pretend to have sex as part of their entertainment diet. And, to add to that concern, this is often young people having sex. What would it say about me if I, as a 40-year-old man, was eager or even willing to watch teens the age of my own children simulate having sex together? Perish the thought!

There are some Christians arguing that we ought to watch shows like this so we can better understand and engage the culture. I contend that we can better serve the culture by not watching this stuff at all. I believe I am a far better witness to a friend when I explain why I won’t watch it at all than when I join him in watching it and then try to explain myself.

I have written a number of articles with the theme “Sex on the Silver Screen” and continue to gather my thoughts on this whole area. I hope to write a lot more about it in the future.

I am interested to know your perspective on the obligation a radio preacher, high-profile blogger, author, or other influential Christian minister has to shepherd those with whom he or she has a unique influence. For example, a specific podcast may speak to a person about a particular trait of the Christian life. This may be something that the author has spent considerable time pondering and praying about and through their medium has touched listeners in a deep and meaningful way—a way that the pastor of their local church may not have the expertise to copy. This then puts that pastor in an unfortunate position, having to perhaps provide counsel or influence members of a congregation who are listening to a different voice. At the same time, the podcaster gets to put their opinion out there and then leave it without responsibility for the fallout or impact. It seems like sort of a “one night stand” of information (sorry for the crude analogy). Should the John MacArthur’s, RC Sproul’s and James MacDonald’s of the world have some avenue to help guide those under their tutelage regarding their specific teaching?

It is my hope that prominent ministries and personalities do their utmost to complement the local church and do nothing to supplant it. I don’t think there is anything wrong with listening to John MacArthur on the radio, watching John Piper on YouTube, or reading R.C. Sproul’s books. I don’t think there is anything wrong with watching, listening, or reading a lot of this material. As a local church pastor, I’m perfectly content to have my congregation do so. In fact, I’m quite pleased when I learn that people are interested in learning more and more about God and his Word. But I do hope they continue to regard such teaching as supplemental to their local church, not a replacement for it. The danger is not the material itself, but the tendency of sinful people to elevate it over the local church.

Do these high-profile men (or women) have an obligation to the people who follow them? I think their obligation is to teach what is true and to continually affirm the centrality of the local church. If they are trying to gather a cult following or trying to draw people away from the local church, they are being unwise and sinful. But if they are affirming the distinct role of the local church and doing their utmost to direct people to it, they are doing the right thing. All of the people you have listed are local church pastors who continually affirm the importance of the local church. They are not attempting to gain a following, but to serve God’s people.

For the area of pornography, could you touch on why anime and cartoon renderings of sexual acts would also be wrong? This is a trend I see for gamers but they justify it in that no humans are harmed in making it. Thank you!

I recently went looking for updated statistics on pornography, and one of the strangest things I learned is that the fastest-rising pornographic search term of 2016 was related to the year’s biggest video game. Apparently, as soon as a game reaches any level of popularity, there are soon pornographic adaptations of it or tributes to it. Sometimes I prefer to be ignorant. It shows, though, that there is a connection between pornography and popular entertainment.

There are many arguments we can make about pornography and why it is wrong. Certainly it is wrong to watch other people have sex since this makes a mockery of the reality that God intends sex to be a private act of intimacy between a married couple, not a public act of exhibitionism meant to titillate others. But when it comes to anime or cartoons, we are not watching real people have sex, and therefore that line of argumentation becomes less valuable. But that’s not to say it’s right to watch it.

I might instead want to meditate on Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Or perhaps Ephesians 5:3-4: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Passages like these call us away from filth and toward purity. They call us not to have anything to do with sexual immorality. They call us to fill our minds with what is good and true and pure and beautiful rather than what is base and inappropriate. And then I’d want to ask whether this is really an appropriate use of time. Time is short and we are responsible before God to make the most of it (Ephesians 5:16). It would be difficult to sustain an argument that watching cartoon characters have sex with one another is a worthwhile use of time. Finally, I’d want to deal with the fact that pornography is created to incite sexual desire which is then typically satisfied through masturbation. I believe masturbation is a perversion, not a legitimate expression, of God’s intention for sexuality.

In short, sex between cartoon characters is still making a mockery of God’s good intention for sexuality. It is still meant to titillate. It is still inappropriate. It is still a total waste of time.

If Bible study is so important, how did ordinary Christians for a thousand years or more function and grow without a personal copy—without their own collection of scrolls, for example? Yet Christianity still spread throughout the known world.

We tend to believe that people who lived before us had the same experience of the world as we do. Therefore, we assume that since we have a daily quiet time that involves a leather-bound Bible and a cup of coffee, this is the way it has always been. Yet, as this question indicates, historically, this is actually the exception rather than the rule. For most of church history, people have not had the Bible available to them as we do today. It took the technology of the printing press (and, more recently, the digital explosion) to make this possible.

How did people know and obey the Bible before this? I think we can get hints from David: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day,” and “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” (Psalm 119:97,148). David probably spent less time reading the Bible and more time meditating on it. He would encounter the Bible in smaller quantities, but then spend more time meditating on it to gain understanding and inspire application. This was necessary in a world where books (or scrolls) were rare and expensive.

In the New Testament era, Christians undoubtedly spent more time memorizing the Bible than we do today. They encountered the Word primarily in formal worship settings, then attempted to memorize and meditate upon it. They also copied down bits of it on whatever scraps of paper or parchment they could find. This continued until the Reformation when there was a resurgence of interest in God’s Word and, at last, a medium that could quickly, easily, and cheaply distribute it.

We have much to be thankful for in this modern world, and one of the greatest blessings is our access to the Word of God. Of course access is not the same as actually reading it, so let’s be sure we take full advantage of the blessing!

So many Christians are online, and we continually uphold one another, pray for each other and are blessed by one another. I go to my physical church, but not every Sunday. Since we are fulfilling the spirit of love and blessing others, do you think that this is acceptable?

In general, no. I do not think it is wise or consistent with God’s will to replace a substantial commitment to the local church with online community.

Of course there are circumstances in which some people must be absent from church—age, infirmity, military deployment, and so on. And, of course, there are circumstances that can keep us away from church services for a week or two—sickness and work, for example. But in general, I am convinced that God expects us to participate in a local church and to commit to it to such a degree that we miss the public gatherings only rarely and regretfully.

There are a few substantial differences between online community and the public gatherings of the local church.

The first is that online community tends to be a voluntary community where the local church is an involuntary community. What I mean is that people tend to form online communities based on shared interests and niche passions. This promotes a kind of homogenous community that rarely displays the diversity of God’s kingdom. The local church, on the other hand, is an involuntary community that is open to all. This forces us to learn to love people who are very different from us and, in that way, displays far more diversity. The gospel proves its power when we can find love and fellowship with people who are very different from us.

The second is that there is something about eye-to-eye, real-world relationship that is truer and purer than online relationships. This is not to say that online relationships cannot be genuine and meaningful. But they are not the same. There is a kind of relational intimacy and a true knowledge of others that is missing. You cannot really know and be known in the digital world as you can be in the real world. If we want to serve people to the best of our abilities (and, of course, to be served by them) we need to be with them.

The third is that online community cannot provide a corporate worship experience that approximates the local church. We cannot sing virtually like we sing corporately; we cannot pray virtually like we pray corporately; we cannot celebrate the sacraments virtually like we celebrate them corporately. All of these things require us to be together, to share space, and to share our lives.

The digital world has given us many great abilities, and interacting with other Christians and developing meaningful relationships with them is perhaps the foremost. Yet we cannot allow this to distract us from the means God uses to bless, encourage, and transform his people—the local church. Let everything else be supplemental to that.

I have recently begun to catechize my sons (ages 3 and 5) since reading your posts about catechism. It has been an incredible experience and through it, I have been forced to examine my own beliefs since I want to be confident that I agree with what I am teaching my own children! I began using the Westminster Short Children’s Catechism, but I’m not sure I agree with everything entirely (e.g. God having made a covenant of works with Adam). I now have been looking at the New City Catechism for children and I almost fully agree with everything, except for one short sentence that states that Christ descended into hell between his crucifixion and resurrection (question 31). I’m not sure that I agree with that statement. I’m considering using that catechism and simply omitting that line. Can you give me your thought on the New City Catechism? Is it one you’d feel comfortable teaching to your own children? Thank you in advance!

I was raised on the Heidelberg Catechism (in church) and the Westminster Shorter Catechism (at home). I have far less knowledge of the New City Catechism, though I do recognize it as drawing heavily upon those two, as well as Calvin’s Geneva Catechism. So while it’s new, it’s actually old.

I have not throughly studied the New City Catechism, but my understanding is that it “levels out” some of the distinctly Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed teachings to make it better fit all the Reformed traditions. It is meant to appeal to anyone who is in general agreement with the theology and emphases of The Gospel Coalition, including Baptists. So, for example, read the questions and answers on baptism and you’ll see they are broad enough to fit all the Reformed traditions, rather than only adult baptism or only infant baptism.

I may teach it to my family eventually. We have already studied the Shorter Catechism and are currently working through the Heidelberg. Perhaps when we are finished these, we will turn to the New City. But I still feel a bias toward the older and more established ones.

As for complete agreement, I’m a Baptist, but teach my family these distinctly Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed catechisms. I simply adapt where necessary. I’m not at all opposed to introducing my children to the alternative viewpoints and then telling why I do not hold them.

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