Robert Gagnon Challenges David Gushee to a Debate

If you haven’t read David Gushee’s article “Christians, Conflict, and Change,” you should. In said article Gushee urges conservative Christians to change their views regarding homosexuality “voluntarily,” implying that if we don’t, we will be in hot water with the thought police. A number of thoughtful conservatives have written responses. However, the one that caught my attention was written by theologian Robert Gagnon. Gagnon made headlines with his massive tome The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Hermeneutics. Although I haven’t read it yet, reviewers suggest that this is the go-to advanced study on the topic. Here’s his reaction to Gushee’s post:

Could a more theologically vacuous attack piece be written by a theologian? Where’s the theology? David Gushee, who switched positions on homosexual practice and “transgenderism” and who is timid about subjecting his views about Jesus, Paul, and Scripture to a rigorous public debate, now tries to scare all the rest of us, not with an argument about God’s judgment but rather with an argument about society’s judgment of us if we don’t comply. We are all bigots, the moral equivalent of racists, who don’t agree with Gushee’s theological “conversion” away from Jesus’ sexual ethics.

Somebody famous once said: Don’t fear humans who can only kill the body; fear God who can send both body and soul to hell.

According to Gushee: “As with the fight against racial discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s, sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination is rapidly being rejected by society…. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, making for 12 to 16 straight years of Democratic control of the White House, it is quite possible that by Supreme Court ruling and federal regulation any kind of discrimination against gay people will have the same legal rights and social acceptance as any kind of racial discrimination. Which is, none.”

True enough about the election of Hillary Clinton. Yet Gushee approves of this and indeed relishes making the connection himself in order to shut the rest of us up.

I’ve been warning for years about how the “GLBT” movement is the biggest threat to our civil and religious liberties; but (unlike Gushee) not for the purpose of encouraging people to abandon Jesus’ foundational view of sexual ethics; rather, partly to warn Christians to exercise their freedoms in this country vigorously, while they still have them, to make this the paramount concern in voting against those who would deny them and their children important religious and civil liberties; and partly to tell Christians to prepare themselves for persecution so that they will not fall away when difficulties arise. Christianity for much of its history has faced persecution from the state for holding fast to its God-given convictions. We’re now going back to the future.

Can someone, anyone, get David Gushee to stand up with me in a public forum so that we can get to the bottom of what Jesus and the apostolic witness to him thought and then assess whether the so-called “new knowledge” arguments are really all that new, or accurate (the hermeneutics of it all)? Because these are the matters that alone matter: Truth in Love. Not the threats of the state or the various structures of this-worldly power.

File Gushee’s piece under the heading of bullying.

I sincerely hope this debate takes place.

 

Meditation on 1 John 3:2

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are loved by God, accepted by God, and adopted into his family, the church. The aim of lives is to please him (2 Cor. 5:9) and to be conformed into Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29). The beauty of 1 John 3:2 is that we will “follow our exalted Head” (Wesley) and receive a glorious resurrected body. We are going to a place where there is no sickness, death, or disease (Isa. 33:24; Rev. 21:4). Because of what awaits us, we “set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13) and we seek to live “lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11). We continue to seek his will in our daily lives and we pray that he would give us life according to his steadfast love.

So renew and deepen my love for you Jesus, for you alone are worthy of our adoration, affection, and allegiance. Dazzle my heart with your beauty; fill my gaze with your wonder; free my hands with your mercy ~ Scotty Smith

What I Learned in My Science and Technology Class

Well, I’m a day late in posting this blog, but I guess it’s better late than never. As I mentioned previously, last week I took a course called “Church Issues in Science and Technology.” The professor, Tim Sansbury, has a background in science and theology and is one of the few voices in the church today who has published in this area. He’s unique in that he holds degrees in physics, theology, and philosophy. In particular, he’s well-versed in the philosophy of science. Also, he’s up to date on how technology is changing our world and the unique challenges it presents for the church. New technology raises ethical questions that all of us will confront.

Although I still need to write my major paper for the class, after finishing up the lectures last Friday, I went to a Starbucks and wrote down some things I learned. These aren’t listed in order of importance. Here goes:

  1. Science explains the uniformities of nature.
  2. No ethics without metaphysics.
  3. Science can’t answer metaphysical questions.
  4. Pornography is quite literally destroying peoples’ lives. It’s scary.
  5. Science can’t disprove the literal existence of Adam and Eve.
  6. The statement, “Science has shown that miracles cannot take place” is beyond the realm of science.
  7. Science can explain causes but it can’t explain everything.
  8. The way Christians often talk about science is a blight on the church.
  9. It’s important to remember that many scientists have not taken a course on the philosophy of science.
  10. Christianity is a falsifiable religion.
  11. Peoples’ issues with Christianity are not intellectual.
  12. “If you try to get God to fit in your brain, you’ll have problems” (Tim Sansbury).
  13. Metaphysical naturalism is a religion.
  14. No one can be a consistent moral relativist.
  15. If it’s true that theologians aren’t often good scientists, it’s also true that scientists aren’t often good theologians and philosophers.
  16. Finding a genetic link to explain a person’s behavior (i.e. a gay gene, a violent gene, etc.) doesn’t justify a person’s behavior. “Is” still doesn’t imply “ought.”
  17. Scientists interpret data differently because they read the evidence in line with different narratives. “Paradigms drive interpretations of evidence” (Sansbury).
  18. Was there a talking snake in Genesis? Yes. God can do miracles. He raised Jesus from the dead!
  19. No coherent worldview can ever say, “Miracles are impossible.”
  20. Technology always brings a downside.
  21. Science is designed to force objectivity, but it rarely does that. Biases live within all of us.
  22. Our emotions affect what we believe is reasonable.

Upcoming Blog

I recently returned from Florida where I was taking a course entitled “Church Issues in Science and Technology,” taught by Dr. Tim Sansbury. The first part of the course was essentially a philosophy of science. The second part was about the impact technology is having on churches worldwide. I’m planning on writing a separate blog, outlining some things I learned in bullet point fashion.

The Cycle of Temptation

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

“You are being watched. The demonic powers have had millennia to observe human nature. . . . They notice what turns your head, which quickens your pulse. Like the Roman guard feeling around, with a spike in one hand, on the Lord Jesus’ arm, seeking his vein under the skin, the demonic beings are making out your weak points, sizing you up so that they might crucify you. They’ll find what you want, and they’ll give it you” ~ Russell Moore[1]

Temptation stalks you every day. Whether it’s the impulse to take a second glance at the girl in tight jeans, the handsome man with the great personality you wish you had married, the children who joyfully obey their parents that you long to have, the rush to judgment of the person inappropriately dressed or covered with tattoos. And on and on it goes.

In his book Tempted and Tried, Russell Moore helpfully lays out the nature and cycle of temptation. Being aware of what’s taking place during the hour of trial can assist you in the battle. Take heed.

A Question Identity. James tells us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (Jas. 1:14). The words “lured” and “enticed” come from the world of fishing. “Lured” refers to the bait a fisherman puts on his lure to get a fish to bite at the bait and then be caught. The point James is making (as verse 15 makes plain) is that we sin because of the evil inside us. We want things that God says will harm us. Why is this a question of identity? Because in the heat of temptation the inner dialogue taking place within us is that we are a more reliable guide as to what will bring satisfaction to our lives than God. In such a moment I have forgotten that I’m the creature and not the Creator. I’m a God-wanna be.

The Battle of Competing Desires. Before telling us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire,” James informed us that in the heat of temptation we would be tempted to blame our temptation on God: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (Jas. 1:13). Nevertheless, this has been our inclination since Adam—literally (Gen. 3:12, “the woman whom you gave me to be with me”). Thus, if I have a desire for something (or someone!) that Scripture says I cannot have, my gut-level reaction is going to be, “Well, then why do I have these desires inside me?” And I might conclude, “God made me this way. How else do you explain these desires?” But do we really want to conclude this? If I’m seeking to understand the Bible, then I must do some more digging. At a commonsense level, we all know that not everything we want or desire (even if it brings pleasure) is good for us. Hence, Aristotle’s conclusion: “What misleads people seems to be in most cases pleasure; it seems to be a good thing, even when it is not.”[2] If I only consult my inward desires and do whatever they tell me, I will be a slave to my desires.

So, where do we go from here? If we want to be Christ’s disciples, we must recognize that our desires and appetites are not sovereign. God is sovereign, and he tells me that I must be ruled by higher and holier desires. Amazingly, God promises to change my desires. Yes, this may be a long, arduous battle. Yes, I will come up against deviant longings throughout my earthly trek, but in the end, God will win and bring me safely home. God promises to make us more like Jesus. And to make me more like Jesus, God must change my desires so that I can live a truly human life.[3] Only then will I know the “expulsive power of a new affection,” that Thomas Chalmers wrote about. I need the “strong, lively actings of love to Christ in the soul, so as to swallow up all carnal affections and desires.”[4]

As you can probably guess, this puts us on a collision course with our culture. God’s definition of freedom and the world’s definition of freedom are quite at odds. “[T]he tendency of modern thought,” writes Peter Jensen, “is to see the locus of liberty as situated primarily in an individual subject’s spontaneous power of choice.”[5] Whereas God desires to rule on the throne of our hearts, what rules there now is the more erratic god of desire. The view that our appetites are sovereign appears to be the new normal.

A Loss of Future Perspective. Moore is right: “Temptation only works if the possible futures open to you are concealed. Consequences, including those of Judgment Day, must be hidden from view or outright denied.”[6] The near-sightedness, the blinding power of sin is nowhere seen more clearly than in our willingness to give up eternal pleasures at God’s right hand for a moment of pleasure in the here and now. We’re like animals marching toward the slaughterhouse completely unaware of what awaits us. We just follow the herd. Meanwhile, Satan couldn’t be happier.

The easiest life for you will be one in which you don’t question these things, a life in which you simply do what seems natural. The ease of it all will seem to be further confirmation that this is the way things ought to be. It might even seem as though everything is happening exactly as you always hoped it would. You might feel as though your life situation is like progressing up a stairway so perfect it’s as though it was designed just for you. And it is. . . . In many ways the more tranquil you feel, the more endangered you are. As you find yourself curving around the soft corners of life, maybe you should question the quietness of it all. Perhaps you should listen, beneath your feet, for the gentle clatter of hooves.

 

[1] Russell D. Moore, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 48.

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. F. H. Peters (NY: Barnes & Noble, 2004), 3. 4.

[3] See, e.g., Paul Miller, Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2014), 191; David Powlison, Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (Philipsburg: P&R, 2003), 161.

[4] Jonathan Edwards, “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, eds. W. H. Kimnach, K. P. Minkema, and D. A. Sweeney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 158-159.

[5] Peter F. Jensen, “God and the Bible,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 493.

[6] Moore, Tempted and Tried, 50.

Assurance of Salvation

A fellow pastor tells the story of two devout senior saints in the church he serves. These are two women who are similar in a number of ways. They both read the Bible daily and pray regularly; they are involved in the life of the church; they give and serve sacrificially when needs arise. And yet when it comes to the assurance of salvation, they are miles apart. One woman lives with complete confidence in her salvation, and the other doesn’t. Instead, she constantly questions whether or not God looks favorably upon her. She struggles to believe she will go to heaven when she dies.

Any pastor or close friend to this woman would want to love and support her. As I heard about this story, I asked myself: What would I say to this dear woman. (For interested readers, I’ve made some brief comments on this issue before.)

First, I would say: Yes, we are encouraged to engage in self-examination, but remember to look to Christ in the process. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul exhorts us, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Yes, therefore, it seems reasonable to ask whether we have entrusted ourselves to Christ. Yes, we should ask ourselves if we see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). But we must look to Christ in the process! As Sinclair Ferguson helpfully remarks, “There is no assurance derived simply by examining our sanctification.”[1] Rather, ask yourself: Have I looked to Christ to save me? Am I banking on his life, death, and resurrection for my right standing before the Father? If you can say yes to these questions, then rest in him. Does our faith oftentimes feel weak? Yes, but we call to mind that “The efficacy of faith does not rest upon the intensity with which we believe, but the reliability of the one in whom we believe. It is not the greatness of our faith, but the greatness of God, which counts.”[2]

Secondly, I would ask the question: Is there some area of disobedience in your life that is causing you to lose assurance? Yes, we all sin and fall short (Rom. 3:23), but I’m asking a more pressing question: Is there some besetting sin in your life that keeps rearing its ugly head? I’m not asking this question to pile on the guilt. The point remains, however: Disobedience to God’s commands results in a lack of assurance. If this happens to be the case, my counsel is to forsake your sin and run to Christ and be assured of his glad welcome. Christ receives sinners (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Tim. 1:15).

Third, recognize that a person’s temperament may play a part in this matter. Some people are by nature overly introspective; they have overactive consciences; they are tender souls whose consciences are easily pricked. To quote Ferguson again: “A melancholic disposition de facto creates obstacles to the enjoyment of assurance—partly because it creates obstacles to the enjoyment of everything.”[3] This is one of the reasons why we can’t always trust our feelings; we can’t build our doctrine of God based upon our experiences. It’s simply not a strong enough foundation. Thus, when we lack assurance of salvation (and this could be applied in various contexts) we must do theology. We must look to our doctrine. Why? Because, as Alister McGrath rightly notes, “Our doctrine must interpret our experience in order to transform it.”[4]

If we have entrusted ourselves to Christ, we can be assured that he has received us. God is a good God whose Word is reliable. He does not lie (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). He will complete the work he started in our lives (Ps. 138:8; Phil. 1:6). He’s always faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). Rest in him.

 

[1] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 214.

[2] Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 1999), 112.

[3] Ferguson, The Whole Christ, 219.

[4] Alister E. McGrath, Studies in Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 262.

Thoughts on John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

For Saint Augustine it was Romans 13:13-14. For Martin Luther it was Romans 1:16. For Jonathan Edwards it was 1 Timothy 1:17. Although as Christians we hold the entire Bible in high esteem, God has used specific verses to capture our hearts in unique ways. Throughout history, John 3:16 has been such a verse for many people. Because it encapsulates the plan of salvation so clearly, we see it placarded on signs at sporting events, pasted on car bumpers, or possibly even tattooed on someone’s skin. What is it about John 3:16 that moves so many people? I can think of three reasons

Our God loves. Despite the anti-God propensities within each of us (Gen. 3; Ps. 14), God loves us. He sought us out. He came after us. He wasn’t content to leave us in our sin. Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son makes it clear: God doesn’t just wait for us to come to him; he runs to us. He’s active in his love for us not because we deserve it, but because (unbelievably), he delights to give us what we don’t deserve (Eph. 1:6, 7, 14).[1] In Zephaniah 3:17 (often referred to as the John 3:16 of the Old Testament) God says he will “exult over you [his people] with loud singing.” Through Isaiah God reminds us, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (62:5).

Our God saves. Renowned Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield was once asked to summarize the teaching of the Bible in three words. He responded, “God saves sinners.” To those whose hearts have been pierced by this reality, the message of salvation is like a cool cup of water on a hot summer day (Prov. 25:25). We rejoice when we read, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn. 5:11). Any and all who repent of their sins and trust in Christ for eternal life will be saved. Nevertheless, in our current cultural climate (which often takes the phrase “God is love” to mean “Love is God”[2]) we must emphasize that John 3:16 doesn’t promote universalism—the belief that everybody, no matter what they believe will be saved. The context makes such a notion untenable (see John 3:18, 36). Jesus wants to stress to Nicodemus (v. 1) the truth that the good news knows no ethical boundaries.[3]

Our God keeps promises. Jesus promises that those who believe in him will be saved eternally. Ponder this: Our God maintains an eternal relationship with his people. And this promise is in fulfillment of God’s prior promise to Abraham (Gen. 12) and David (2 Sam. 7) that we would be his people and he would be our God forever. Are we surprised? He promised he would never leave us nor forsake us (Josh. 1:5; Heb. 13:5).

This should cause our hearts to burn within us (Lk. 24:32), our thoughts to soar in wonder, and our mouths to sing with joy. We can’t grasp how great our God is! We catch a glimpse, however, in John 3:16. God has set eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), and the one who placed eternity in our hearts has met that deepest desire in the gospel by sending a sinless Savior into this world to rescue sinful people who, through their own disobedience, have condemned themselves to a hopeless eternity. But our God wasn’t satisfied to leave things that way. He sent his Son, Jesus. And Jesus lived an obedient life and died a substitutionary death, thereby purchasing redemption for his people. He promised to be with us on earth (Matt. 28:20) and then take us to be with him forever, to go to the place where everything sad becomes untrue (Jn. 14:3).

_____________________________________________________________________

[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, God, Scripture & Hermeneutics: First Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002), 71-95.

[2] Even non-Christian scholars recognize this. See e.g., Simon May, Love: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), xiii. May refers to love as a religion and notes that “The religion of love is no less attractive to the diehard atheist than to the agnostic or the believer” (3).

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Lifting Up the Son of Man and God’s Love for the World: John 3:16 in Its Historical, Literary, and Theological Contexts,” in Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, eds. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 141-159. See esp. 153.