A Better Way

I was happy to pass along some links to African American voices we ought to be hearing. But because they will sometimes ask inconvenient questions or come to conclusions not sanctioned by the elites they are slandered and ignored.

The voices of these men and women have become all the more important as the sanctioned voices on the subject of race are now openly challenging (denying?) talk of racial reconciliation. One prominent voice in the PCA is now holding forth the liberation theologian James Cone as a voice worth following. It seems someone recently tried to warn about encroaching liberation theolgy in the PCA only to be mocked and called a racist. But I digress.

There is a better way to talk about race than what we are being treated to in the currently approved narrative by the currently approved spokespersons. Randy Nabors, no stranger to the effort at racial reconciliation, has written a measured, gracious, and helpful piece wherein he holds out hope that racial reconciliation will not be replaced by reckless condemnations of white supremacy. His is one of those better voices. May the influence of Mr. Nabors and those like him grow and the voices of division and accusation either repent or fade away.

In which I chat to Tony Payne and talk about Robert Burns

I recently had the pleasure of doing a podcast with Tony Payne, of Moore College, Sydney, in which we talked about the piety of the Reformation and Reformers.  You can find it here.  We also chatted briefly about the greatest literary description of the impact of Protestant piety upon the households of ordinary, rural people: Robert Burns’s great poem, The Cotter’s Saturday Night, a beautiful poetic account of the preparations for the Lord’s Day in the house of a poor crofter.  NB: It is not me reciting the poem or playing the bagpipes on the podcast.  But kudos to TP for including both.

A Few Questions About the New CBMW Statement

I see that CBMW has a new document named the Nashville Statement, calling the church to faithful witness to God’s purposes for human sexuality. I share their concerns for speaking out against the damage and pain caused by the sexual revolution. I share their zeal for promoting holiness and to make known the good news of redemption in Christ available to all. But as I read the 14 articles, I had some serious questions still unanswered. The impact from the Trinity debate, of which CBMW was of central concern, and the teachings on masculinity and femininity that have been taught from their website, at their conferences, and by their most well-known leaders, still hasn’t been dealt with.
One year ago, Denny Burk became the new president of CBMW and wrote a post denying CBMW’s connection with the unorthodox teaching of ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son). He promoted a “big tent” complementarianism that included differing views of the Trinity. I wrote an article then, hoping to get actual retractions of the harmful CBMW teaching about the Trinity and troubling teaching on manhood and womanhood. It was called What Denny Burk Could Do. I ended with this:
I would love to see CBMW clean house and actually be the leaders they write about sometimes, I really would. But I am not going to accept a veneer of concern without real change. At this point it appears that all the proponents of ESS will still be people of influence there. No one from CBMW has made a statement retracting the teaching on ESS/ERAS/EFS, rather they continue even in Strachan’s resignation announcement to promote his book that teaches it. They continue to assure us that it is orthodox. And none of Ware or Grudem’s writings on it have been retracted either. They are all leaders there still. Nor has there been any explanation or apology for the Sanctified Testosterone teaching or Soap Bubble Submission (although that particular post has disappeared). Nothing. All of that teaching needs to be retracted, with apologies at this point, for CBMW to have any credit in my book. Denny Burk could lead the way in doing that.
Before that, I made a plea to CBMW, asking them to take a firm stance on the Trinity. Here we are a year later with a new statement from CBMW, signed by many of the proponents of ESS/ERAS/EFS, and those who formerly supported this teaching but have now backed away from it. Looking back a year later, I would have loved to see CBMW lead the way in retracting the unorthodox, harmful teaching from their own movement and leaders. I would have loved to see some apologies for leading people in such error and for calling some of us names who pointed it out. I would have loved to see men and women invited to sign off on orthodox teaching that doesn’t reduce men and women to stereotypes. But this was not the case. And now we have this new statement, which makes me ask more questions:
• What do they mean by “divinely ordained differences between male and female” in Article 4? I agree with the words themselves. But CBMW hasn’t retracted their teaching on eternal subordination of women by God’s design. Just last year, sessions from their conference “The Beauty of Complementarity” connected ESS/EFS to complementarianism in an ontological context of authority and submission. Just last year they promoted the release of Owen Strachen and Gavin Peacock’s book, The Grand Design, which taught this very connection (and is endorsed by others also signing the Nashville Statement). 

• And if this is not the case, then I have to wonder why include CBMW proponents of ESS who used this teaching in conjunction with masculinity and femininity such as Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and Owen Strachen, as signatories?  I looks to me like this is still the accepted teaching. How else should I read it?

• CBMW also hasn’t retracted any of the hyper-authoritarian, hyper-machismo teaching about manhood and their hyper-submissive and stereotypical teaching about womanhood. Instead, I have seen much more of the same by some of their popular leaders. So once again, I wonder if this is what applies to their “divinely ordained differences”?

• Are these divinely ordained differences ultimately expressed in sex and marriage and authority and submission? The statement says nothing about friendship. God didn’t design the two sexes only for marriage. What about how we were designed for the new heavens and the new earth? Where’s the brother/sister language? This is an important part of our sexuality that carries over into our eternal bodies when we will not marry. The church needs to speak more into how we were created for communion with the Triune God and with one another in platonic—intimate but non-erotic—relationships. This too is a faithful witness against the sexual revolution and for promoting one another’s holiness. And a great hope for those who suffer with same sex attraction.

There are people whom I have much respect for who have signed this Nashville Statement. I am not trying to bash anyone or insinuate that everyone who signed or was involved in writing this has some sort of ESS agenda. But I am concerned that so much has been overlooked. CBMW wants to be our leading voice in what they call biblical manhood and womanhood. A year ago, I was hoping CBMW would lead the way and make things right. Now, I just see rebranding. You can’t pretend that there were no problems with your whole movement and then continue to try and lead the way with a new statement. If you continue to teach harmful stereotypes and promote unorthodox teachers that are not in line with Nicene Trinitarian doctrine, you can’t be a trusted name for me no matter how many good signatures you get. Thankfully, I belong to a confessional church that already has statements to which I subscribe.

A Little Ol’ Fashioned Diversity

It seems that in the Reformed(ish) world there is only one approved narrative regarding race and racial reconciliation. Indeed, any voice which dissents even mildly from the approved message is ignored and/or vilified by the great and the good.

Perhaps the recognized white leaders of big reformed(ish) evangelicalism are under the impression that our African American brothers and sisters are a monolith with one voice and one perspective. Either that or their hostility toward dissent keeps them from acknowledging the diversity of views among our A.A. brothers and sisters. I have seen a white pastor refer in writing to an African American sister in Christ as “ignorant” because she dared dissent from the obsession with race so in fashion today. This white pastor, it seems, knows more about racism than she does.

If you are interested at all in hearing some of the diversity among our African American brothers and sisters I would encourage you to check out the following:

Gabriel Williams (Here and Here)

Darrell Harrison

Lisa Robinson (Here and Here)

B.A.R. podcast

I do not supply these links because these men and women all agree with each other (or with me) all the time. I direct you to them because the current gatekeepers of the discussion surrounding race and racial reconciliation are ignoring them.

Rahab’s Lie

Rahab is such a fascinating person in history. Her part in helping the Israelite spies scouting out Jericho was full of bravery, discernment, and faith. We later see Rahab’s name, we’re talking about a Gentile women—ex-prostitute—here, in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Sure, there’s a whole list of sinners saved by grace in that genealogy. But genealogies in ancient Mediterranean society were patrilineal, tracing the offspring through the fathers. Rahab isn’t the only woman listed in this genealogy. I’ve already written about how she represents God’s openness of his covenant community to the Gentiles—a Canaanite who openly professed her faith in the God of Israel, and was then welcome to become a member of God’s household. 

But there’s something in Rahab’s heroine story that was pivotal for the spies’ escape, the takeover of the land, and her own salvation—she lied. Her lie was a result of her faith in these men being from God, her belief that he was going to give them the land, and her own desire to be a part of that as well. Now, if we look at the genealogy of Jesus, we see that it is full of redeemed sinners. I mean, David was an adulterer and a murderer; surely Rahab can be forgiven for a lie that saved God’s people. But I always stub my toe on this lie because it is told as if it were part of her faithful act. At least we have David’s repentance recorded so beautifully for us in Scripture. But there’s no hint of sorrow over this lie. It’s practically celebrated. Clearly Rahab’s faith was strong enough to take this risk of hiding the spies and lying to authorities. So, why wasn’t it strong enough to tell the truth and trust God? I happen to think lying is pretty serious. I mean, Satan is called the father of lies. So what do we do with Rahab’s lie that led to the birth of our Savior and a foreshadowing of his blessing to all nations?

Over the summer, I was doing some research on ancient siblingship. The central relational priority in Patrilineal Kinship Groups (PKG) was sibling solidarity. Honesty within the family was a vital aspect of familial duty. But this also was an aspect that revealed allegiance when it came down to family honor and loyalty. Joseph Hellerman discusses this in his book The Ancient Church as Family:

The fascinating issue of truth and lying in PKG culture represents and expression of PKG solidarity that is quite foreign to most Westerners. Much evidence suggests that, as the family related to outsiders, preservation of honor was a value held in higher esteem than truth telling in situations in which one or the other had to be compromised…

…One may lie to outsiders, if necessary, in order to preserve family honor, but one must tell the truth to members of the PKG. (45-46)

This made me think of Rahab’s lie in a more virtuous way. The fact that she lied to fellow Canaanites to preserve Israelites reveals a change of allegiance. But it wasn’t merely another race that she was aligning with; it was a family. Her solidarity with the Israelites was in a sense a sibling solidarity. The lie itself made a statement about familial duty. What’s fascinating about this is that her status as a prostitute is also changed. Her whole identity is changed. In fact, she was living a lie before and she has finally found the truth! Much later, the early church builds on this idea of sibling solidarity in God’s household. And there she is, listed in the gospels in the family of Jesus.

I still stub my toe over it some. But this sibling solidarity thing really helped shed light on Rahab’s lie.

Charlottesville and the Mission of the Church

On Saturday August 12, 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia was scarred by violence and hatred as white supremacist groups gathered to rally for their cause. Not surprisingly counter-protestors gathered as well. Some of the counter-protests were peaceful. Others were not. The mix led to an inevitable explosion of violence.

Tragically, one man, in an act of murderous terrorism, plowed his car into a crowd of people injuring 19 and killing one woman. And to heap tragedy upon tragedy two Virginia State Police Officers were killed in a helicopter crash.

The “triggering” event for this protest was the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. But the fact is, the decision to remove the statue did not produce the hate which was on display. It merely provided an excuse for those already occupied by hate to put it on proud display.

The presence of counter-protest violence – as sinful as that was – does not change the fact that Christians must denounce white supremacy, white nationalism, and resurgent Nazi-ism. These things are wicked and dangerous. It makes me sick to my stomach to see men dressed in Nazi garb, waving Nazi flags, offering Nazi salutes, and chanting Nazi slogans. Our country offered up scores of thousands of lives in Europe to defeat that ideology.

I was disappointed by President Trump’s hopelessly vague denunciation of the violence in Charlottesville. Christians must not be similarly vague when it comes to public evil. Whether it is spousal abuse, abortion, the present sexual chaos, or racism the people of God must be clear. Sin – especially those sins which damage and destroy image-bearers of God – must be publicly denounced. The public conscience must be pricked by the sharp point of truth.

At this point some of you must surely want to raise the fact that plenty of counter-protestors came armed with pepper spray, home-made flame throwers, and other weapons. That is true. Such behavior ought to be condemned without qualification. Local authorities will hopefully hold accountable those individuals connected to the so-called “Antifa” and others who acted out violently. And, yes, it would be nice if left-wing violence received the same level of media attention and public backlash as that from neo-Nazis. But unfortunately a world which holds the left accountable does not exist. And, no, the sorts of anti-white rhetoric regularly flowing from groups like Black Lives Matter does not help. It would be nice if the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) would condemn anti-white rhetoric. Alas…

Racial bigotry belongs to the same species of sins as abortion because it denies full human dignity to certain individuals and entire groups. It holds that there is such a thing as lesser humans. It is the wicked ideology which fired the ovens of Auschwitz. Therefore there is no appropriate way to say of what was on display in Charlottesville in the Nazi salutes and racist chants, “I disapprove, but…”

Racial bigotry or any sense of racial superiority is an atheistic false doctrine. It denies the witness of Scripture which holds that all humanity bears the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and thus possesses equal dignity. It also denies the vital connection Paul makes in Acts 17 – “And he made from one man every nation of mankind…” (vs. 26). We are all connected through a common lineage. Little wonder that the Nazis and Margaret Sanger were so enamored with Darwinism which denies our common ancestry.

Racial bigotry also vandalizes the great Christian hope that in the age to come all of those whom God has gathered to himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue through Jesus Christ will assemble around the throne of the Lamb.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

The answer to racial bigotry is not an amalgamation of left-wing critical theory and the gospel. The two cannot be harmonized. Nor is it appropriate to respond to white nationalism with black nationalism. The answer is a message. It is the same message Paul brought to the Corinthians; a message which seemed then and will seem today foolish and weak (1 Cor 1:18-2:5). There has never been a generation which looked upon the proclamation of the gospel as relevant and powerful. But it is through the message of the cross that God shows up the weakness and folly of the world’s power and wisdom.

We must not now succumb to those who say that the gospel is not enough. We must not experiment anew with the proven failures of the so-called social gospel. Are there vital implications which flow from the gospel? Implications which inform our words and guide our actions? Most certainly yes! But our answer to the hatred of Nazis must be the same as that given to homosexuals, adulterers, the greedy, drunkards, and the self-righteous. What is called for above all else is the message of the cross.

The church is at her best when she offers the one thing the world cannot: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Those who gathered in Charlottesville waving Nazi banners and chanting “blood and soil” are lost souls. They are not to be hated but pitied and prayed for. Their minds and hearts have been seized by our ancient foe. Their sin is worthy of condemnation. But who among us can claim that hate has never occupied a seat of honor in our hearts? Who among us can say honestly that we have never thought of ourselves as somehow superior to someone else? We may be sophisticated enough to not put our sins on garish display. But does that make us more innocent? Before God saved us were we any more fit for grace than the pitiful souls who chanted “blood and soil” in the streets of Charlottesville?

The Evils of the Sex Trade

This week’s Spectator has a powerful, if very harrowing, article on prostitution and the harm it does.  All pastors — all Christians — should read it.  It reminded me of a podcast interview the MoS team did with Heather Evans, of Valley Against Sex Trafficking.   That too is worth a listen for anyone who wants to grasp the real horror of the sex trade.

Some months ago I heard Leon Kass give a lecture in which he reflected on his time as a teacher.  He recalled how he had once been called out by a student for using the term ‘prostitute’ instead of ‘sex worker.’  He told the student that ‘sex worker’ was a complete misnomer because it implied the person was being paid for sex.  Prostitutes are not paid for sex, he said, they are paid to go away.  Very true.  One might add that they are also paid to allow someone else to deprive them of their basic identity as human beings.  One of the key quotations in the Spectator article is from a ‘john’: ‘I like prostitutes cos they do what I tell them. Not like real women.’    Indeed.  As the Spectator says, ‘it is not “sex work”. Most of the time, it is modern slavery.’

Those who use prostitutes degrade and defile somebody’s mother, somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter.  They help fund a diabolical industry of vile exploitation.  They are not the victims.  They are really no more than rapists who happen to pay their victims for their silence.  The church — and society — should have a zero tolerance approach to such people.

MOS Study Cruise

Let’s face it. Christians in America have suffered enough. We have, for too long, allowed the world to have all the fun. No longer! It is time Christians enjoy the same sorts of creature comforts the world has been enjoying. Mortification of Spin is finally going to do something about this disparity.

We are pleased to make an exciting announcement!

On June 15, 2018 you are invited to join us for the very first Mortification of Spin Study Cruise. We will be considering marvelous truths as we cruise about a storied river in an historic vessel: the SS Hermit Crab.

Alaska and the Caribbean are a little pricey but we have secured a 50 yard section of the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey where we will float along in comfort enjoying the majestic views and local wildlife.

You can book your reservation through 2 Dudes and a Boat at 555-LUV-BOAT

Cost: Thanks to generous funding from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals we are able to offer this wonderful experience for only $14 per person, $25 for couples.

Cost includes:
•    One square foot of personal space on the boat.  
•    Two Meals – Lunch: Fritos and a Ding Dong / Dinner: Bologna sandwich and a Fruit Rollup
•    Stimulating conversation with Carl, Todd, and Aimee
•    Disinfectant

* Neither the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals or the hosts of Mortification of Spin assume responsibility for any infections or emotional trauma suffered while on the cruise.

Reformation Preaching and the Modern Mind

This week I am giving the Moore College Lectures in Sydney.  The title of the series (with due homage to the great Peter Taylor Forsyth) is Reformation Preaching and the Modern Mind.  My hope is to use the Reformers, especially Luther, as a source for building a theological understanding of what preaching actually is.

In my first lecture, I concluded by offering the following seven theses which I will be defending (sometimes indirectly) in the remaining five:

Seven Theses on God and Preaching

The Reformation offers the following vital insights into preaching which helps us to understand it (both message and medium) as a theological act:

1. God is a God for whom speech is the primary vehicle of creation, presence, power, authority and new creation.

2. Those made in God’s image use speech in an analogous way to God himself.

3. God exerts his authority through the speech of those made in his image.

4. God builds his kingdom by the speech of preachers.   Preaching offers an alternative and “real” reality to those false realities created by the world, the flesh and the Devil.

5. Speech is axiomatic for both the content of salvation and the means by which salvation is applied.

6. The cross of Christ is axiomatic for both the content of gospel preaching and the shape of gospel ministry.

7. The existential engagement of preacher and congregation with the message is vital, given that such engagement is by its very nature engagement with God himself and with the tragedy of this fallen world.

And I left the final words of the lecture to Peter Taylor Forsyth himself:

“The Christian preacher is not the successor of the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet. The orator comes with but an inspiration, the prophet comes with a revelation. In so far as the preacher and prophet had an analogue in Greece it was the dramatist, with his urgent sense of life’s guilty tragedy, its inevitable ethic, its unseen moral powers, and their atoning purifying note.”[1]

[1] Positive Preaching and Modern Mind (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1907), 3-4.

A Brief Response to Professor Gehrz

Over at his blog at Patheos, Professor Chris Gehrz has responded to my most recent post at First Things.   Rod Dreher has provided a good reply but I offer here just a couple of brief comments.

First, Professor Gehrz seems on the whole to think that I see the problem with the LGBTQ movement as one of sexual morality.  I certainly do see it as a matter of morality, but then I see the problem of heterosexual cohabitation as one of sexual morality too.  But morality is not what makes this issue so contentious.   What makes the LGBTQ issue interesting and more significant is that it is also a matter of fundamental identity.   That makes the political debates surrounding the issue of profound importance, as anyone knows who has observed how the matter has played out in the public aquare in general and higher education in particular.

Second, and flowing from the first, Professor Gehrz states that he does ‘I don’t believe that marriage, sexuality, or gender identity is anywhere near “the heart of the Gospel.”’  This statement would seem to indicate that he does not see the LGBTQ issue as one of identity (unless he wants to argue that identity — who we are and who we think we are at our most fundamental level– is nowhere near the heart of the gospel).  But even if it were just about sex, then sexual morality seems to be something about which both Jesus and Paul have many things to say. It is not for us to mark off as irrelevant to the gospel areas about which Jesus and Paul spoke.

The problem here is clear: he thinks I’m talking about sexual behavior/morality and he sees that as being of little importance, at least when it does not fall outside the boundaries of morality as society currently constructs them. But I am talking not so much about morality as about identity and the politics that flow from that.   And his failure to realize that this is the nature of the debate over LGBTQ rights etc., or perhaps his eliding of the matter of identity and morality in a manner which minimizes the significance of the former, means that he is completely underestimating the nature of the political problem. 

And, of course, we get the usual coda (using the military images of which he apparently disapproves when utilized by Rod and myself): “Conservative Christians have long waged culture war on sexual minorities, with precious little of the mercy, love, and grace that are actually at the heart of our Gospel.”   Such an unqualified statement has a rhetorical force and no doubt plays to the progressive gallery but it actually slanders the many conservative Christians who have worked with grace, love and patience in this area, often in anonymous, local contexts.   Indeed, such a sweeping generalization from one who professes not to be able to see into the hearts of others nor to jump to cynical conclusions regarding those with whom he differs on these issues is quite remarkable. I wonder what he counts as ‘waging war’?  As little as believing that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, and that sexual activity is to be restricted to that relationship, and that one has the right to say that in public perhaps?   Because that is certainly how the liberal culture now defines it.