When Do We Use the Word Sin, and Why?

By Aimee Byrd

A couple days ago, I wrote about how even the world of Reformedish evangelicalism is contributing to the sad “State of Theology” that is evidenced in the Ligonier Ministries’ survey. Bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles when ethics is prioritized over our theology of God, his Word, man, and the gospel. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. Our updated survey is showing just that. And so we see that even the ethics that we held so dear are now falling apart:
 
An alarming 69% of people disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, with 58% strongly disagreeing.
 
As the results reveal a low view of God and his Word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel, it only follows suit that sin is no longer that big of a deal. I can’t tell you how many “Christian” books I’ve read by popular authors in our circles that don’t even use that word anymore. One of the most powerful books upholding the holiness of God and the evil of sin that I have ever read is Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Evil of Evils. If sin is a missing word in our vocabulary, evil is even more offensive. His premise is, “That it is a very evil choice for any soul under heaven to choose the least sin rather than the greatest affliction,” reasoning that, “There is more evil in sin than in outward trouble in the world; more evil in sin than in all the miseries and torments of hell itself” (2,3).
 
Think about it, when the youth in our midst look at the church they often see her on one hand carefully calculating to accept or modify obvious behavior that Scripture labels as sin, and on the other hand reserving the strong language to quibble over skirt lengths and education. The ultimate sin that a contemporary Christian seems to face is that of not being very nice. Maybe we need to spend some time talking more about what sin really is so that we are clear on why we are so desperate for Christ. Maybe the good news doesn’t sound all that radical to someone who is frustrated or merely broken and hoping for a makeover. But when you learn about the pure holiness of God, sin is seen as the evil of evils, something to abhor at all costs. And that leads us to think about what sin cost our Savior. Burroughs expounds:
 
Oh, you heavens!  How could you behold such a spectacle as this was?  How was the earth able to bear it?  Truly, neither heaven nor earth was able, for the Scripture says that the sun withdrew its light and was darkened so many hours. It was from twelve to three that the sun withdrew its light and did not shine, but there was dismal darkness in the world for it was unable to behold such a spectacle as this was. And the earth shook and trembled, and the graves opened and the rocks split in two, the very stones themselves were affected with such a work as this, and the vale of the Temple rent asunder. These things were done upon Christ’s bearing of the wrath of His Father for sin. Here you have the first fruits of God’s displeasure for sin, and in this you may see, surely, that sin must be a vile thing since it causes God the Father to deal thus with His Son when He had man’s sin upon Him. (102)
 
Surely we think of sin as too small a thing. The creation couldn’t even bear the sight of Christ carrying our sin, propitiating the Father’s wrath. Our holy Savior took on the greatest affliction of bearing our sin—every bit of it—as he faced his Father’s judgment instead of us. Could anything ever come close to showing us the evil of sin as God pouring His wrath for it on His Son? And not only are we able to turn to him for forgiveness, but his very righteousness is reckoned to us as well. Who else could be worthy of our praise and worship? How could we choose sin over any affliction when we have Christ’s Holy Spirit to apply his glorious work to us and give us his very strength to avoid the evil of sin? Even now, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for his people as we are being transformed into his own likeness.
 
Why would we ever want to soften this language? And what’s more perplexing, why is it often used instead for shaming on extra-biblical regulations like skirt lengths, current interpretations for biblical manhood and womanhood, political parties, food righteousness, and education choices? These extra-biblical regulations are not the power to holiness. Sin isn’t what’s “out there.” Sin saturates our hearts. This is why we so desperately need to know the Holy One who delivers us from the reign of sin and places us in the reign of grace, giving us the power by his very Spirit to obey. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). 
 
We need to love the One who gives us the freedom of holiness—who takes away our chains, declares us holy in him, and then begins the sanctifying work of transforming us into his likeness. In order to know what sin is, we need to know holiness. Then we need to know how we will have the transforming power for goodness. The beauty of freedom is that we can finally choose goodness!
 
Are we as a church clearly communicating to one another and the watching world what sin really is? 
 
 
*A section of this post is taken from an earlier article on the Evil of Evils that I wrote in 2014

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If Our Ethics Are Steering the Wheel, We Shouldn’t Be Surprised by the State of Theology

By Aimee Byrd

I received a preview of Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey in my inbox last week, revealing what evangelical Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity, and was afraid to click on it. I can already see the state of theology all around me. It’s easy to blame the secular culture around us or the denominations that don’t take theology seriously. But bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles. 
 
Unfortunately, a trend I have noticed in the evangelical church, particularly in our parachurch groups and popular level so-called Christian books marketed to us, is that we care more about ethics than really knowing these primary doctrines. As long as everyone is on the same page with the sexuality, pro-life, and other social issues the church is up against, Christian authors and readers have been given a lot of leeway. 
 
Brothers and sisters, we have our priorities out of place.  We should care about social issues and sexuality because of what we know about God and salvation.
 
I have written so much about how our own Christian books are conditioning us to have a low view of God and his word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel. I’ve mentioned how, for example, no one seemed to be alarmed about a popular women’s author’s troubling views on God’s Word or man’s ability to save himself, until she came out saying that homosexuality can be considered holy. The line was drawn at Christian ethics, not at the Christian message. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. And our updated survey is showing just that:
 
This year, for the first time, more Americans agree that the Bible’s teaching on same-sex relationships is outdated than disagree.
 
STATEMENT NO. 29
The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
 
Finding:
44% agree vs. 41% disagree
*All participants in 2018
 
As we are rightly concerned about ethics, I’m concerned about writers, preachers, and teachers in our circles forming alliances with others who advocate for social issues we hold dear, even as their teachings in some primary doctrines have serious theological problems. It can be beneficial to join forces over ethics, but we need to be upfront, not silent, about our theological convictions in the process. Sharing platforms and cross-promoting needs to be done honestly. Because if our ethics are steering the wheel, we will lose our orthodoxy and the ethics will all loosen anyway.
 
I care very much about social issues. But they come from my theological convictions. I’m concerned about how low or bad doctrine has been accepted and promoted for the sake of our social stances. This was painfully demonstrated when we called for complementarian evangelicals to take a stand on an orthodox view of the Trinity. I thought, as complementarian leaders have called out the abuses in feminism and the sexual revolution, they will surely call out the unorthodox teaching on the Trinity. I thought, they will surely correct those who use that teaching to apply it to social relationships, saying women are eternally subordinate to men—right? Because that is really bad. We’re talking about who God is. And that would distort the gospel. That would take from women what Christ said would never be taken from her. 
 
But it was taken. And the top complementarian leaders were silent. No retractions. No apologies. No, instead, there was just a little shuffling of leaders. Instead, I was criticized for my tone. Apparently, when confronting abuse and heresy, you are to have a gracious and submissive tone—if you’re a woman, that is. Because then people will respond? No, they still don’t respond. I had that tone back in the day, when I believed in complementarianism. No one remembers that because no one listened. And with the nice tone and all, it wasn’t very interesting. 
 
The thing is, what these complementarians believed about social relationships between men and women was steering their theology of the Trinity. We were given this response by the new president of CBMW:
 
I am a Danvers complementarian. That view of gender is not and never has been reliant upon an analogy to the Trinity. Biblical complementarianism neither stands nor falls on speculative parallels with Trinity… 
 
CBMW exists to promote the Danvers vision, which is silent on this current controversy. 
 
This is the same organization that most promoted the errant view of the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This is a primary doctrine. All of the sudden, it doesn’t matter as long as everyone agrees on women still being subordinate. 
 
I’m sad about the state of theology today. Very sad. But before we shake our heads, we need to begin in our own circles. 

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Revoice and God’s Design for the Family

By Todd Pruitt

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you have probably read my previous piece on the Revoice conference. Revoice has been the source of great division in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the denomination in which I serve. That is because although Nate Collins, the conference organizer is a Southern Baptist, the church which hosted the conference belongs to the PCA and several of the speakers are office holders in the PCA.
 

As I have written previously, I am thankful that those connected to Revoice have repeatedly affirmed their belief in the biblical ethic that sexual intimacy is to be shared between a man and woman in the bonds of marriage. There are no special congratulations for affirming what the Bible teaches. However, lest anyone mistakenly conclude that the speakers and organizers of Revoice advocate the normalizing of homosexual acts, I want to be clear that is not the case. Unfortunately, the positions they hold concerning human identity, sexual orientation, sanctification, and the moral status of same-sex desire will, I fear, ultimately undermine their current commitment to biblical standards of conduct.
 

I will not argue about the motives of those connected to Revoice. I can only assume that they sincerely hope to minister to those who struggle with sinful sexual desires. This is a cause the church must embrace. The new sexual revolution and the gender chaos connected to it is wreaking havoc in the lives of many of our neighbors; people we are called to love. The church must think constructively and regularly about ways to communicate God’s law and gospel to those who struggle under the weight of homosexual desires and gender confusion.
 

But as I have stated before, along with many others, the trouble with Revoice is the content. What Revoice proposes is a departure from what Christians have historically believed about key doctrines and their ethical implications. Revoice represents a theology and ethic which, if allowed to take root in the PCA, will lead us into great and grievous errors.
 

One of the troubling statements which came out of Revoice was that the “nuclear family” has become an idol in the church. In his plenary address, Nate Collins made the following rather extraordinary statement:

Is it possible that gay people today are being sent by God, like Jeremiah, to find God’s words for the church, to eat them and make them our own? To shed light on contemporary false teachings and even idolatries, not just the false teaching of the progressive sexual ethic, but other more subtle forms of false teaching? Is it possible that gender and sexual minorities who have lived lives of costly obedience are themselves a prophetic call to the church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family, toward sexual pleasure? If so, we are prophets.
 

Dr. Collins’ shocking application of the Scriptures – that homosexuals are prophets in the way of Jeremiah sent by God to rebuke the church – can be left for another post. In a future post I may also address whether abstaining from what God calls an abomination constitutes “costly obedience.” What I wish to focus on here is the notion that the church holds “idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family.” This theme, that the church idolizes or makes too much of the “nuclear family” was affirmed elsewhere at Revoice.
 

In her conference workshop, Bekah Mason stated that “the non-traditional family is the biblical family.” She cited examples of families from the Bible which strayed from the pattern of husband, wife and children. However, in doing so Miss Mason neglected or ignored an important principle of biblical interpretation: description is not the same as prescription. The fact that the Bible records the existence of family arrangements other than husband, wife, and children does not suggest that the Bible commends those arrangements. Indeed, the Bible often points out the inevitable disasters that occur when God’s design for the family is rejected.
 

So, why the ambivalence and perhaps passive hostility from Revoice toward the pattern for family established by God in his Word? One can only speculate. Perhaps it is because, having uncritically accepted worldly categories of sexual orientation and human identity, an ambivalence toward the family is inevitable. Since the speakers and organizers of Revoice wish to challenge what the church has always believed about the nature of temptation, homosexual desires, and human identity, perhaps a necessary component of that project is a relative devaluing of the family as designed by God.
 

I am choosing my words carefully, I assure you. I believe that the warnings from Revoice against making an idol of the “nuclear family” are, at the very least, ill conceived. This warning comes from those who have chosen to embrace a homosexual identity, invented a category of non-lustful same-sex sexual attraction, and have, in many cases, eschewed the creation mandate. I do not believe they are in a position to offer wise counsel regarding the family. That may sound harsh. But my intention is to correct what I view as a sharp trajectory toward serious error. Even the terminology of “nuclear family” is adopted from secular culture. Much like the term “sexual orientation,” “nuclear family,” implies that there are various ways to be family just like there are various ways to be sexually oriented. But in the Scriptures we see that God has instituted two families: 1) The conjugal family of husband, wife, and children, and 2) The spiritual family, the church to which all Christians belong.
 

Consider what God affirms about the conjugal family in his Word:
•    It is the creation of God (Gen. 1-2). The conjugal family is the one God-prescribed design for families.
•    It is given the creation mandate to have children and govern the created order (Gen. 1-2). That means humanity’s very purpose is tied to the conjugal family.
•    It is the means by which God communicates the blessings of his covenant of grace from one generation to the next (Gen. 12, 15, 17; Acts 2:39).
•    It was the means by which the Messiah was raised and incorporated into Jewish society.
•    It is assumed in and governed by God’s moral law (Ex. 20:1ff; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
•    It is the ordinary means by which God trains his people to understand and obey his law (Deut. 6:20-25).
•    It is (marriage, that is) a living illustration of the mystery of Christ’s love for his church (Eph. 5:22ff).
 

Even a cursory survey like the one above suggests that it would be exceedingly difficult to value the family more highly than does God.
 

To be sure, the human heart is a factory of idols. Our imaginations run wild in ways we are probably not fully aware, seeking to worship the creature rather than the Creator. So I suppose it is possible to make an idol of the family. But I suggest that is no easy task. Again, is it possible to value the family, to love the family, to place a higher priority on the family than does God? I assume so. But how hard one would have to work to do so.
 

However, it is also true that not everyone is called to be married. Indeed, some are positively gifted to remain chaste. The Apostle Paul himself recommended chastity for those who would follow in his footsteps of dangerous and demanding ministry (1 Cor. 7). What is more, not every marriage is blessed with the ability to procreate. These men and women must never be slighted, ignored, or in any way devalued within God’s spiritual family, the church of Jesus Christ. I am blessed to be a pastor to precious souls in all these categories of life and our church is stronger because of them.
 

So, the church is made up of the married and the chaste as well as those with and without children. If any pastor, elder or church member withholds love from or marginalizes someone because they are unmarried or without children they are sinning against God and the body of Christ. It must also be stated that those who are married and have children should not be resented for it. Neither should churches be dissuaded from acknowledging the goodness of marriage and child-raising.
 

In the weeks since the Revoice conference, nothing I have read has lessened my deep concern about the theology and ethic taught at the event. Given where the conference was hosted I wonder whether the theology of Revoice will be given a place in the PCA. I suppose it already has.
 

I agree fully with the following statement from Rick Phillips in a post published yesterday (9/25/18):

There are many reasons to have sympathy with the aims expressed by the Revoice conference, especially the genuine sorrows of those who experience same-sex attraction. But the doctrine of Revoice is not one that biblically faithful Christians can afford to view with sympathy. Either the biblical view of humanity, sex, marriage, and society is right or else it is wrong. Likewise, if gays represent a prophetic voice challenging the church to conform, then it is the traditionally understood Christian view of sex and marriage that comes under rebuke. It is for this reason that the PCA cannot afford either to endorse the Revoice message or even to stand by inactive as conferences like these are held in our churches. If the Bible is true, right, wholesome, and good, then the doctrine of Revoice must not be embraced, nor permitted in the counsels of the church. What is at stake in this controversy is nothing less than the commitment of our denomination to the truth of God’s Word and our embrace of the Scripture’s view of life and godliness.
 

Recommended:
You can read Dr. Harry Reeder’s excellent commentary HERE.

Tim Geiger of Harvest USA attended Revoice and recorded his thoughts HERE.

David Strain wrote a wonderful piece on same-sex attraction in the form of an imagined letter to a struggler.

Dr. Guy Waters wrote a helpful piece on Paul’s words about homosexuality HERE.

 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

Reforming Our Worship

By Todd Pruitt

 

Once again Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Powder Springs, GA will be hosting their annual Reformation Worship Conference in partnership with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This years’ theme is “Worshipping God’s Way, Not Ours.” I’m planning to attend. Give me a shout if you see me.
 
Date: October 18-21, 2018

Speakers:
Scott Aniol
Roland Barnes
Kent Butterfield
Dan Cole
David Garner
Robert Godfrey
David Gordon
David Hall
Terry Johnson
Burk Parsons
Carl Robbins
Mark Ross
Neil Stewart
Carl Trueman

Register HERE
 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

How Much Should a Drunk Teenage Boy Be Held Accountable for His Behavior?

By Aimee Byrd

 
I am ashamed of my 17-year-old behavior. By God’s grace I have matured into a 42-year-old with a godly understanding of holiness and identity. By God’s grace, I have repented of my wayward behavior and his righteousness has covered me and the sanctifying work of his Spirit is transforming me more and more into the likeness of Christ. That doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for my actions.
 
Criminal behavior certainly has consequences—especially criminal behavior of the nature of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Outspoken people are taking sides commenting about whether or not these allegations are true. That isn’t what I want to address. What I am shocked over is what I am seeing regarding whether or not it even matters now, even it is true. I would agree with Rachael Denhollander’s assessment that a “morally repugnant felony should be on the list of qualifications for leaders holding some of the highest offices in the land. So let’s evaluate these allegations.”
The court of Twitter is all over this. I’ve tried to stay out of online political conversations. But it gets extremely disheartening to see more and more comments like this from people whom I’d otherwise respect:
 
 
I’ve seen and heard this sentiment a lot over the last couple of days—by Christians. I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old daughter. And I hate the message this kind of reaction sends to them—boys will be boys. Sometimes they just can’t help themselves. I hope you aren’t the one in their path when they get that sexual urge and want to have a little fun. Oh, and by the way, if you speak up about it, you are going to be ruining their lives. I also hate the message it sends to my 13-year-old son—look, you’re a guy and sometimes you just can’t control yourself. And if you’re drinking, then it’s not really even you. I mean, 17-year-old you isn’t really the you who you are going to be anyway. You have an excuse. 
 
I grew up in a family that was obsessed with self-defense. So I received some training that many children did not. There’s a self-defense mentality that goes along with the physical training. That’s no guarantee against assault. I still could have been shoved into a bedroom, powerless against two older strong young men. And there are more instances in my life than I can count where I was assaulted by what would be considered a lesser charge, a misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature. Women and teenage girls often do not speak up when this happens, because it’s often received as “no big deal.” We are just supposed to take it. Well, that is not the mentality I was taught. And yet the consequences of doing something about it are often just as demeaning, or could even be dangerous. 
 
One time this escalated for me in a traumatizing way. I was 18 years old at a crowded party in college. I felt someone grab my backside. I turned around and saw that it was a tall guy with a proud smile on his face, beaming while all his friends are laughing that he did it and that he got caught. My response was something like, “What is your problem?” and he acted like it was there for the taking. I warned him not to do it again. He did it again. It was even more humiliating the second time, as he clearly was enjoying the attention this was bringing him from all his buds. I warned him again and the look on his face communicated, “What are you going to do about it?” So I said, “If you do it again, I will have to defend myself.” 
 
Here is where a million scenarios run through your head because you know he’s going to do it again. There is a sense of powerlessness. He’s going to do it because he can. I should just get my friends to leave the party with me. But, a) I don’t know if I could talk them into leaving, and b) that might be even less safe if he and his friends followed us out. Maybe I can just move further away from these guys. Too late, he did it again, before I even had time to move. Those scenarios never had the time to play out because I literally just turned back away from him and towards my girlfriends. And without even processing what I was going to do, I defended my honor and I spun around with a right hook that nailed him in the chin and caused him to fall flat to the floor.
 
Doesn’t that sound so empowering? 
 
Well, it wasn’t. It’s not like he was just going to take it and move on, (you know,  like I was supposed to do when he assaulted me). Everyone was now looking. He was just clocked by a girl. Immediately he yelled, “what the hell is your problem, bitch?!” I was portrayed as a hysterical “B” as he continued to berate me. Things could have gone from bad to worse here. Maybe I could knock him down when he wasn’t expecting it, but now I’m standing there with his whole group of buddies who could have all tore me up. Thankfully, my friends sought out the person whose house it was, and he was a stand up guy. I really was at the mercy of this guy’s judgment. Did it matter that I was being continually groped in his house, or was I being hysterical? He said it mattered. He kicked out the perpetrator and his friends. With that, he sent a message to everyone watching. I, on the other hand, was a mess. It was such a vulnerable moment in my life.
 
Now this was a much smaller offense than what Ford is accusing Kavanaugh of. It’s not the kind of offense, even if charged, that would affect his career at 53. But it is still seared into my mind at 43. I wish 18-year-old me didn’t go to parties. But I am grateful that the young man who threw the party thought what was done to me mattered. In this situation, we probably had a drunk teenager telling another drunk teenager that he crossed the line. Not only that, he assured me that I would not have to endure the humiliation of dealing with that guy any more in his home. He made him and his friends leave his house. 
 
I wasn’t shoved into a room and pinned on the bed while someone stronger and older than me tried to rip off my clothes, laughing while grinding himself on me and grabbing me. My mouth wasn’t covered so that I could not call for help. I was a little scared for my safety, but I wasn’t in a position where it was very likely two guys would rape me if I couldn’t get away. I didn’t have to lock myself in a bathroom terrified, wondering if I could escape. I didn’t have to run out of the house and then decide whether or not I would ever tell anyone. For now these are all public accusations that have not gone through due process. But they are very serious ones. The way we respond matters. Our teenagers are watching.
 
If my daughters were ever assaulted—even by drunk teenage boys—I would hope that the message that we have continually sent them is that it matters. I would want them to know that they can speak up and that we would be their advocates. I would hope that no matter where they were, there would be other decent people who also know that it matters. I expect, and train, all of my children to be one of those decent people if they have the chance.
 
The thing is, this doesn’t just happen to teenagers at parties. These teenagers grow up internalizing the messages they have been receiving all around them. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo testimonies have revealed the consequences. I’ve kept this particular misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature and others to myself because I didn’t want my personal history posted on social media. But I have brought it up twice in conversation with others this week regarding the Kavanaugh accusations precisely because they weren’t talking about whether or not they were true. They were talking about whether or not it even matters. “That’s just the way things were” or “why are we surprised that a teenage boy tried to make a move on a girl at a party”? It doesn’t matter; they were teenagers. “We were stupid teenagers too. By God’s grace we aren’t like that anymore.” How long are we going to continue to downplay abuse?
 
My question is (besides the obvious one regarding whether you’ve committed a felony sexual assault as Kavanaugh is being accused), has God’s grace matured us merely to have better adult behavior or to also care about all who are made in his image?

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The Real Housewives of the Ancient World

By Aimee Byrd

My last article lamented the lack of published evangelical Christian female academics, as well as the gulf that we have between academia and ordinary layperson. I incorporate the work of different female academics in my own work, and often highlight them on the blog. Here are some I have featured before:
 
Christine Pohl, here and here
Michelle Lee-Barnewall, here and here
Sara Moslener, here and here
 
Today I want to briefly introduce Linda Cohick’s, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. What I really appreciate about this book is that her work offers a comprehensive picture of women during this time, especially due to what I call the “in between the lines” research she offers. 
 
History has taught us about the extreme subjugation of women in Greco-Roman patriarchal culture. Likewise, we see the accepted opinions of the Jewish rabbis in the first century recorded in the Mishnah, such as the popular Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’, “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women” (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a). We know that the typical way things were set up was that the domestic sphere was the realm of the women, while the men were able to take the reins in the social sphere, conducting business and interactions outside of the home. 
 
And yet one of my biggest observations about Cohick’s book is how history teaches us that some things do not change—in between the lines history, that is. While we are more aware of what the literary documents and their attached ideologies and agendas say, Cohick couples this research with some of her own, looking at epigraphic, inscriptional, and archaeological remains to paint a fuller picture of the life of women during the time of the early church. And we see that in between the lines of the polemical work and ideologies, women are filling in with everyday contributions: relationally, vocationally, and even theologically. 
 
Cohick opens with her intentions for writing:
 
I do not intend to present here a theological argument that debates important issues concerning women in the contemporary church. Rather than make theological assessments about women’s ordination, for example—I leave that to church polity makers—my more modest intention is to provide and engaging and accurate reconstruction of ancient women’s way of life. (21)
 
One of the biggest themes in the book is that status trumps gender. So as Cohick gives us a thorough look at all the different vocations for women as daughters, wives, concubines, mothers, and in both gentile and Jewish religious activities, she examines the difference wealth and status make, also looking at the common life in slavery and prostitution, on one end, and benefactors and the institution of patronage, on the other. It is a fascinating study in which the reader sees how “Greco-Roman culture and Early Judaism were deeply penetrated by layers of social status. Not only legal categories of free, freed, and slave, but also relative wealth and pursuit of honor played major roles in determining the choices available to women. Thus a survey of women’s lives in the Greco-Roman world must consider issues of gender, class, status, and ethnicity to fully appreciate how women negotiated their local worlds” (22). This is just as true today. Whatever cultural codes and ideologies we live in, both secular and religious, there is often a much more complex story of life being lived in between the lines.
 
The book begins with the grim start for the less-desired births of Greco-Roman females, whose lives were in the hands of their father’s decision, often resulting in infanticide or abandonment. Abandoned baby girls were sometimes taken by other families and raised as slaves and/or prostitutes. The accepted daughter would be raised in her own family under the patriarchal expectations of the time, where she could be “both beloved by her family, and is a cause of great anxiety” (64). 
 
But the book ends with another picture that demonstrates how wealth and status can elevate a woman as a female benefactor who would “have a voice and an authoritative role in the community, granted to them without consideration of gender”:
 
For all its faults (noted by ancients themselves), the institution of patronage was in many respects gender-blind. As such, it allowed freedom of movement at most social levels for women to participate in the social, economic, and political environment without any cultural condemnation. Thus, while a woman might otherwise be stigmatized for speaking or acting publicly on economic, religious, or political matters, a patroness had liberty to exercise her ideas and interests with society’s blessings. (320)
 
This provides a clarifying lens as Cohick discusses Joanna (somewhat building off of Bauckham’s fascinating chapter in Gospel Woman, proposing Joanna and Junia the apostle may be the same person, Junia being the Latin name of the Hebrew, Joanna), Lydia, Phoebe, and Mary Magdalene. Her work on Paul’s embracing of reciprocity as the key aspect of patronage was God glorifying, fascinating, and enlightening. In Paul fashion, he turns the cultural model right-side-up, so that we see God as the “ultimate Patron, and all Christians as his clients. Thus to place himself in the socially inferior role of a client to the Romans is not threatening, for he is also on a mission for God, which counterbalances the social equation. So too with Phoebe—her benefaction does imply her socially superior status. But her role as emissary (deacon) for Paul and the church at Cenchreae mitigates the harshness of the asymmetrical relationship” (307).
 
Critically speaking, there were points of speculation, admittedly by the author; but all good, critical historians have to use their imaginations. Also, there were sections where it seemed Cohick painted a positive picture from in between the lines that were more exceptional discoveries than descriptions of life for everyday women. But her work has certainly expanded the view of women during the time of the early church and shows “rural women worked alongside men in caring for their animals, building their homes, and feeding their families” and that “slave women did all manner of work required in the home and in the market place; many worked as prostitutes.” She certainly does not “suggest an egalitarian paradise during the Greco-Roman period,” and succeeds in “encourage[ing] the reader’s imagination to think beyond the stylized snapshots of ancient women sequestered in cramped homes, barefoot and pregnant.” This line captures her work well:
 
I am not sanguine enough to think that we can recover women’s actual voices, but I remain confident that echoes of their heartaches and successes are recoverable. (324)
 
This is a historic, academic work, and therefore takes a bit more reading skill for that genre. It’s probably not going to go over well as the next suggestion for book club. But I highly recommend it for the informed reader who wants to dig deeper into the culture of the early church. And I plan to incorporate Cohick’s research into some of my own work as I try to bridge that gulf between the curious ordinary Christian reader in the pews and the academic life. 

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

The Trickle Down Effect

By Aimee Byrd

 
I had the pleasure of being treated to lunch yesterday by a friend I haven’t seen in three years. We were struggling in one sense, as we wanted to hear about each other’s family, but had limited time and the conversation quickly steered to theological discoveries, which provoked more questions. My friend just completed seminary and is now diving deeper into Greek and Hebrew languages.  She mentioned how she longed to see more women encouraged to go to seminary and learn at that level. She had the opportunity to attend with her husband, and with her kids being older, was able to take advantage of that. One thing that she is painfully noticing is the lack of published female academics that she can use as resources for her papers. This took our discussion down many rabbit trails—ones with all kinds of rich landscape as well as painful recognition of brick walls and neglected terrain. We talked about what women can do after seminary, where and what they can teach, how the church is missing out when she doesn’t hear from half it’s members, and whether published women get read. I think a whole series of books could be written on these topics. But I’d like to comment further on another related trail we went down.
 
Our passion is for the church, and we lamented the fact that we live in a day when all kinds of resources are available to both men and women, and yet there is a large gulf between the academy and the layperson. I’m not an academic. I have a bachelor’s degree in education and art. And yet, I can benefit from the works of contemporary professors and other academics, as well as rich theological works from over a thousand years ago. But many laypeople do not take advantage of this, as there is such a gulf between popular level books that we are conditioned to read, and the well, sometimes painfully boring and abstract writing found in academic works. Even so, I have found plenty of engaging academic authors while also doing the work of sifting for gold in the less-engaging ones.
 
Sure, these authors need to write with precision, and their works are called academic for a reason. But there comes a time when we need to ask the question about the purpose of it all—is it for theological academics to always be talking to themselves? Sometimes, even often, yes, that is a good thing. Likewise, we expect medical doctors to talk in their language, and their exclusive academic studies and dialogues make advancements in the field that help us all. But the end game is to help patients and to provide preventative care for them. Medical doctors especially want to educate all the common folk in healthy living. 
 
This is the same with theology. There needs to be a place for academics to talk to themselves, but the point is for the trickle down from the academy into the church, right? Seminaries train pastors, authors, and many other leaders that are supposed to be investing in the church. Laypeople first get to receive the proclamation of the Word and the sacraments as our foundation for discipleship in the church. But this receiving comes with a responsibility. All of God’s people are responsible to be active traditioners of the faith. Learners become teachers, even if it is in an informal context.
 
In their book, The Pastor Theologian, authors and pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson lament that with the rise of the academy, theologians and intellectuals tend to find their home in that atmosphere. They warn of a theology that has become ecclesially anemic, and of the church becoming theologically anemic. Timothy George opens the Foreword of the book with a quote from William Ames, “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (7). This is not a mere intellectual quest. It shapes our everyday lives and it is an eternal matter. Hiestand and Wilson discuss the need for pastor theologians leading way for the church to close the gap. This is important. I also think that we need more academic writers and teachers, men and women, working with pastors and informed laypeople to stimulate the trickle down of rich theology. 
 
Speaking as a woman, it is a devastating failure for the church to see that the most popular Christian woman authors being read by laypeople, and even in women’s ministry groups, are often conditioning women in poor reading skills, terrible hermeneutics, and theological error. Is this the real trickle down effect? It’s easy for the more theologically minded to turn up our noses and to point out everything that is wrong with these authors. But it’s much more difficult to do the work to close the gap. 
 
This is the less-marketable atmosphere in which I have been trying to wade in. It’s a tough spot to navigate through. It’s even tougher to work in circles that supposedly promote complementarity between the sexes, and then keep women from contributing as conversation partners at the theological table, from speaking at coed conferences, or just don’t encourage them in higher theological learning and publication. Why are all of the women publishing good academic works egalitarian? And why are complementarians warned that it’s dangerous to read them? Do we sound off alarms like this when it comes to other secondary doctrinal differences? These brick walls and neglected terrains are especially troubling when we look at the women with profound theological contributions in Scripture. In his book, Jesus Becoming Jesus, Thomas Weinandy points out that “Elizabeth could be the first Doctor of the Church”, as she “is the first to profess, by her words and actions, both the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity.” Luke chooses to use the words of both Elizabeth and Mary to teach us rich theology. Elizabeth was able to speak profound theology in an incredibly memorable and fascinating greeting. And Mary showcases the Lord’s glory in doxology. Weinandy continues, “another woman, Mary Magdalene, will first proclaim that Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, is the risen Lord of glory” (25). Our richest doctrines of the faith were first proclaimed by women.
 
Paul calls many women co-laborers, naming four who “worked very hard” for the church in Rome (Romans 16:6, 12). This is how he describes his own ministry work in other contexts. We see that when Paul is led by the Spirit to Macedonia to preach the gospel, he finds a group of God-fearing women. He doesn’t ask where the men are; he evangelizes them and then plants the Philippian church with Lydia. Jesus invests in a Samaritan woman and she evangelizes a whole town. Wife and husband team, Priscilla and Aquila, pull Apollos aside for a little informal seminary-level training. These are but a few examples of men and women working together to evangelize and disciple with serious theology that transforms everyday lives—men and women closing the gap between the elite/educated and the common layperson to the glory of God.
 
We have the same Spirit now. And we live in a time where women have more rights and opportunities than ever. But how are things trickling down? Should women be doing less for the church now than they did in the first century? Should we be satisfied with being separated in our own ministries with unequipped teachers? Do we no longer belong in the world of rich, theological teaching that benefits the whole church? Shouldn’t we be an important part in closing the gap today?

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

Three Good Books — and the Return of Another Old Friend

By Carl Trueman

Three recent books are worth reading. 

 

The first is Thomas Weinandy’s Jesus Becoming JesusWeinandy is a Franciscan theologian who is well-known in orthodox Protestant circles for his superlative exposition and defense of classical theism, specifically immutability and impassibility.  In this new book he starts what he intends as a multi-volume exploration of New Testament theology.  Here, he engages with the Synoptic Gospels.  He states at the start that it is not his intention to deal in any detail with current New Testament scholarship but rather to read the gospel narratives as a systematic theologian.  The result is often enchanting and frequently intellectually challenging, as any discussion of the mystery of the Trinity must be.  Here is Weinandy on Christ’s baptism: 

 

[I]n the Father declaring, in the descent of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is his beloved Son, we gain entrance and perceive beyond the torn heaven into the very mystery of the Trinity. The Father reveals himself as Father not by saying that he is the Father, but by revealing his Son by saying in the love of the Spirit, “You are my beloved Son.” In this declaration the Father manifests himself as the loving Father of his Son. This is in keeping with who the Father is, for he is only the Father in that he fathers his Son, and so it is only proper that he reveal himself as the Son’s Father. We perceive here that the Father is metaphysically incapable of revealing himself as Father apart from his Son, for he is defined as Father only in relationship to his beloved Son. (88-89)  

 

The manner in which he set the life of Jesus in a Trinitarian context, demonstrating how the identity of the Son is vital to understanding his deeds and his teaching, is most welcome and will help any preacher who has ever faced the question, ‘What difference does classical Trinitarianism make to how I read the Bible?’  Far from being irrelevant, the classical Trinity lies at the core of revelation. 

 

While Weinandy’s Roman Catholicism is evident in his treatment of the Lord’s Supper, this is a book that Protestants will otherwise find most helpful. I for one will never be able to preach the gospel narrative in quite the same way again.   And we will be interviewing Dr Weinandy about his book, and his contributions to classical theism, on a future MoS podcast. 

 

The second book is the first volume of the translation of Petrus van Mastricht’s great work, Theoretical-Practical Theology.  Van Mastricht (1630-1706) was one of the last great representatives of Reformed Orthodoxy before the project began to crumble due to the impact of Enlightenment patterns of thought in the late seventeenth century, with their accompanying revisions of classical metaphysics.  He was also a huge influence on Jonathan Edwards.  For these reasons alone we should welcome this translation project.   

 

In this volume there is some preliminary material (a biographical sketch, van Mastricht’s essay on preaching) and then the prolegomenal discussion which lays the foundation for the theology proper of the next volume.  Consistent with his belief that theology is a mixed discispline both theoretical and practical, van Mastricht constantly takes the reader from doctrinal truth to practical application.  In an era when both are at a premium, he offers a valuable model. 

 

This book arrives at a time when the historical work of Richard Muller, Willem Van Asselt and others on post-Reformation Reformed theology and its confessional development is being developed in important systematic ways by theologians such as Scott Swain and Michael Allen at Reformed Theological Seminary.   The realization that some influential strands of modern Reformed theology are actually outside the boundaries of the confessional consensus has reignited interest in the great theologians of the seventeenth century and this volume will therefore be a joy to those whose lack of Latin would otherwise prevent them from seeing what their spiritual forebears actually taught. 

 

The third book is from my fellow countryman, Melvin Tinker, vicar of St John, Newland near Hull: That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost.  Melvin has fought a long and often lonely battle against various strands of lunacy in the Church of England and in this brief book he attempts to explain how and why the tide of what he denotes ‘cultural Marxism’ has carried all before it, not simply in the world but in the church as well. At a mere 117 pages of text, this is a remarkably concise analysis of our current ecclesiastical malaise. 

 

I should come clean at this point and admit that much of my delight in this book stems from the fact that Melvin would appear to be something of a fan of Camille Paglia, whom I have not mentioned for a while but for whom my own love reamins string and is indeed no secret. Melvin even quotes with approval my article where I confessed to such.   Citing Paglia’s astute analysis of the gullibility of the trendy Christian approach to sexuality, he makes the laconic and devastating comment; ‘Sometimes non-Christians on the outside seem to be more insightful about the Church than Christians who are on the inside.’ (82).  Yes they do.  Oh yes they do.   That is why books like this are important because they actually help us to think about the Church rather than simply capitulate to the trendies or merely shout Bible verses louder at them.

 

Three very different but very useful books.  And it’s good to have my radical feminist heartthrob back on the blog. 

 

 

 

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

The Kerygmatic Fallacy

By Carl Trueman

I taught ministerial candidates for 25 years at three separate institutions and, during that time, came across one question in relation to doctrine more than any other: “Is it preachable?”   In fact, I suspect it was often not really a question — more an implicit objection to a doctrine merely couched as a question: “BUT is it preachable?” 

 

This question reflects an understandable concern, given the centrality of the Word preached to Protestantism.  But it is mischievous in its implications, smuggling into the theological task criteria for doctrinal truth which are little more than matters of personal taste or cultural plausibility.  And it has a long and inauspicious pedigree. 

 

Historically, it was one of the objections Erasmus made to Luther’s doctrine of the bondage of the will.  How could it make sense to preach the law when nobody could fulfill its commands?  Or predestination when it would only subvert any notion of real moral accountability?  But this kind of objection to certain doctrines – we might call it the kerygmatic fallacy – is no monopoly of Luther’s nemesis or of anti-Protestants.  His own friend and colleague, Philip Melanchthon also thought preaching predestination was a bad idea, a position for which he was implicitly slapped by his Reformed contemporary and friend, John Calvin, in his Institutes.  For Calvin and Luther, the presence of a doctrine in God’s Word meant that it must be preached.  God knew best and therefore no matters of human taste or misplaced concerns about its impact could silence a biblical doctrine.  The kerygmatic fallacy was just that – a fallacy. 

 

In more recent times, the Dutch theologian, G.C. Berkouwer, increasingly made preachability an axiom for dogmatic formulation.  In his volume on predestination, Divine Election, his discussion of the divine decree perturbed John Murray. Later volumes only sharpened the problem, as he moved more towards the actualism of Karl Barth as a means of avoiding what he regarded as the static objectivism of classical orthodox formulations. 

 

In my experience, the ‘But is it preachable?’ question/objection has come most recently to be lodged against those centre-pieces of classical Christian Trinitarian theism, divine simplicity and divine immutability and impassibility.  Can notions as apparently arcane as the first and as allegedly static as the second have any place in the pulpit?  Indeed, can they be preached? 

 

It would take a fat volume to offer anything approaching an adequate answer to that, but a number of preliminary responses might at least give pause for thought to those swept up in the kerygmatic fallacy. 

 

First, and most obviouslyit must be possible to preach these doctrines for the simple reason that they have been preached for many centuries.   The Cappadocian Fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Perkins, Goodwin, Voetius, Owen, to name but a representative handful, all did so.  The Westminster divines seem to have known a thing or two about the preacher’s task and clearly codified these doctrines in Chapter Two of the Westminster Confession.  If the doctrines were preached then, at the risk of tautology, they were obviously preachable. 

 

Second, if these doctrines were preached and believed until relatively recently by orthodox Christians everywhere, why do some no longer think they can be?  When did these teachings start to be ‘unpreachable’?  It is doubtful there is a single cause but some aspects of the current context suggest themselves: the idea of process has gripped philosophical imaginations since the era of Hegel and Darwin; post-Auschwitz many theologians have argued that identification in suffering must be a foundational part of the divine answer to suffering, a tendency which has not abated in our own era of cheap victimhood; and (within the evangelical Protestant camp) a skewed understanding of what the Reformers meant by scripture alone has often fueled a biblical theology pursued in detachment from historic systematic theology.  The immutability of God has thereby become the victim of the mutability of the world.  

 

But the preachability of a doctrine is determined by its truth, not vice versa, a point made forcefully by Luther in his response to Erasmus.  It is also exemplified in the negative by the history of doctrine where the abandonment of the classical doctrine of God has typically led within a generation to doctrines that truly are unpreachable because they are so far detached from historical and biblical Christianity.   History seems to suggest that the kerygmatic fallacy ironically lays the foundation for kerygmatic failure. 

 

So the only evaluative question to ask about any doctrine is this: ‘Is it historic, biblical Christianity?’ And if the answer to that is yes, then the next question is not ‘Is it preachable?’ — by definition it must be — but rather ‘How then should I preach it?’   And, whatever the doctrine may be, a brief but humble glance at the great theologian-preachers of the past will almost certainly help you answer that.

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

Same Sex Attraction, Temptation, and Jesus

By Todd Pruitt

 

The Revoice conference is over. But we will continue to hear from Revoice, its various speakers and supporters. It is not my goal here to write a point-by-point rebuttal of the many troubling things that were stated in the conference. I have listened to the addresses from Nate Collins and Eve Tushnett and there is enough troubling material there to keep one busy for quite a while.

 

One of the central points of controversy with Revoice specifically and the Gay Christian movement in general is their understanding of sin and temptation. They have departed from the testimony of Scripture and the Protestant theological heritage. Is attraction to members of the same sex inherently sinful, morally neutral, or essentially good like attraction to mebmers of the opposite sex? If Jesus was tempted in every way as we are then does that mean he struggled against same-sex attraction? Some, even in the PCA, are saying yes.

 

Mark Jones recently posted the following helpful comments on his facebook page:

 

SSA and Christ’s Temptations. A few thoughts…
 

Temptation and Sin
 

Lusting in the heart after that which is opposed to God’s law is opposition to that which is good. Here we are speaking of internal temptations, understood as the deliberation to sin. Thus sin has several stages, as follows:
 

A) Inclination and propensity;
 B) Deliberation (via inward or outward temptation);
 C) The resolution to sin;
 D) The act itself;
 E) A certain pleasure in performing the act;
 F) Boasting.
 

Of course, not all stages are necessary for sin to take place. Temptation, inwardly, may be sinful. What is temptation? As John Owen notes,
 

“It is raising up in the heart, and proposing unto the mind and affections, that which is evil; trying, as it were, whether the soul will close with its suggestions, or how far it will carry them on, though it do not wholly prevail. Now, when such a temptation comes from without, it is unto the soul an indifferent thing, neither good nor evil, unless it be consented unto; but the very proposal from within, it being the soul’s own act, is its sin” (Works, 6:194).
 

If temptation is understood this way, then a proposal towards that which is evil (e.g., same-sex attraction) is sinful. We are distinguishing between proposals from within versus a proposal from without. And the distinction between the two is not a mere quibble, but the difference between heaven and hell.
 

As John Davenant notes, “although the faculty of desire itself is not sin, yet the inclination and propensity of it to evil is sin; even in one asleep, when it does not at all actually incline to sin.” This is similar to the act and habit of faith. As those who still have remaining indwelling sin, we have the habit of sin always that leads to acts of sin. We mortify not just the acts but also the habit, which means we repent not only for the act but the habit of sin. In other words, we repent for who we are, though forgiven, because we are still those who have remaining uncleanness in our very being.
 

Christ Tempted in Every Way
 

I hold that Christ was not “liable to temptations from within.” If I may summarize the basic view of Reformed theologians, and including the vast majority of the Puritans I have read, I would argue the following:
 

Our temptations typically arise from within us, as we are lured away by desires that give birth to sins such as unbelief and sinful lust (James 1:14–15). Jesus was free from these types of temptations. He did not have an inclination towards evil or the “inclination and propensity” of desire towards evil from within. For example, as the Sinless One, filled with the Spirit beyond measure, he did not experience lust in his heart towards a woman; however, that does not mean he did not find certain women attractive. As a man, he would have experienced a natural attraction to a beautiful woman. Beauty is necessarily attractive. Nevertheless, this “attraction” was always kept perfectly in check. Never once did it move to the realm of lust or covetousness.
 

The various outward temptations that Jesus would have felt may have had a certain appeal, but he fought ardently to repel them all. To depend on oneself or to give in for a moment to a lustful thought or action always carries an appeal, but Jesus could not and did not do that. He always entrusted himself to his Father. He always responded perfectly to any situation in which he found himself tempted.
 

There were, however, no sinful impulses in Christ that originated from within his human nature. Because Jesus had infirmities, he had natural human weaknesses that, for example, made him subject to hunger. Thus the devil tempted him in that area in the hope that Jesus would not depend on God but upon bread alone. The desire to eat when hungry is not sinful, but such a craving at the expense of faith in God’s provision is. As the sinless one, Jesus felt the force of temptation more than we can imagine.
 

As such, Owen and the Puritans would say that a homosexual lust, even if it is not acted upon, is sinful. Even homosexual attraction has to be mortified because it is not natural, but rather unnatural. It is a temptation towards that which is evil. So not just the act itself, but also the “deliberation” that arises from the “inclination and propensity” is sinful and needs to be mortified (Rom. 8:13). Inclinations need to be reoriented so that propensities are reoriented so that the justified child of God is freed more and more from resolutions to sin.
 

Christian faith has indeed seen homosexual orientation as perversion, or at least as a pathology, and its expression as a serious sin. But if people want to argue that inward temptation in the form of homosexual desires is not inherently sinful because Christ was tempted in every way as we are, they will have to do a little better than simply make that assertion.

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.