Posts tagged ‘Christianity’
The headlines speak for themselves. “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference.” “IRS Admits To Targeting Conservative Groups Over Tax Status.” “Gov’t Obtains Wide AP Phone Records In Probe.” It has not been a good week for our nation’s leaders. And there has been much shock and dismay expressed from people of all political persuasions and stripes. And yet, no matter how large these scandals may loom, there remains a subtle subtext that underscores these immense ignominies. To quote the words of the great George Strait in summary of this subtext: “I’ve come to expect it from you.” This, sadly, is the kind of behavior that we expect from our leaders. It may be scandalous, but it isn’t all that surprising.
So how does the general public respond to these salacious, but unsurprising, scandals? Consider this from TIME’s Zeke Miller and Michael Crowley in response to the AP phone records story:
Conservatives are not often fierce defenders of the media. But Monday’s news that the Justice Department obtained phone records for several Associated Press reporters as part of a national security leak probe raised a furor on the right, causing numerous Republicans to harshly criticize the Obama administration. While some may have genuine concerns about First Amendment protections, the right’s response also spotlighted an emerging Republican critique of Barack Obama as a Big Brother-style tyrant in charge of a power-abusing surveillance state…
Conservatives are now in the odd position of implicitly defending the media’s rights against the imperative of national security secrecy, a cause that didn’t interest them much when the FBI sought media phone records during the Bush years.
Miller and Crowley’s argument runs like this: Republicans defended their own when President Bush went after media phone records, so Democrats may do the same with President Obama. After all, every president and politician bends the rules and compromises on ethics. We simply have to accept this and then back the horse of our own political persuasion while also working to discredit the opposition. After all, that’s the formula for winning elections. One need look no farther than the recent victory of Mark Sanford, just sworn in as South Carolina’s newest Republican congressman, even though a few years earlier he engaged in an illicit affair with an Argentinian woman, insisting that she was his “soul mate,” all while serving as South Carolina’s governor.
Hopefully, a Christian can see right through this kind of shameful political jockeying. As my mother used to tell me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You can’t justify your group’s bad behavior by pointing to the bad behavior of another group.
So then, how should the Christian react and respond when corruption and scandal among our rock our nation’s leaders? First, no matter what our political persuasion, we can honestly, but also compassionately, call these types of scandals what they are: sinful. Second, rather than buying into the talking points, spin rooms, and damage control strategies, we can honestly, but also compassionately, call for repentance from our leaders. The best way to deal with sin is not to minimize or excuse it, but to confess it! Finally, even if our leaders in Washington are not the kind of leaders our nation and world needs, we can be the kind of leaders our nation and world needs. We can lead in our sphere of influence with integrity and character and with repentance when we falter and fail. We can seek to lead the way King David sought to lead Israel: “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:72).
Even though we cannot control how our leaders lead us, we can control the way we lead others – and ourselves. With God’s help, may we diligently guard the quality and character of our leadership. Our world needs all the faithful leaders it can get.
 Jonathan Karl, “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference,” ABC News (5.10.2013).
 Zeke J Miller & Alex Altman, “IRS Admits To Targeting Conservative Groups Over Tax Status,” TIME Magazine (5.10.2013).
In 1906, theologian and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, surveying theologians’ attempts to understand who Jesus was historically apart from what Schweitzer thought to be the layers of mythologizing that had been overlaid on Him by the Bible. Schweitzer finally concluded that Jesus saw Himself as One whose suffering and death would bring in the Parousia, or the final appearance of God. In Schweitzer’s own words: “He must suffer for others…that the Kingdom might come.” But Jesus proved mistaken in His imminent expectations of God’s Kingdom and Christianity has been grappling with Jesus’ failed apocalyptic expectations ever since:
The whole history of “Christianity” down to the present day, that is to say, the real inner history of it, is based on the delay of the Parousia, the non-occurrence of the Parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the progress and completion of the “de-eschatologising” of religion which has been connected therewith.
Interestingly, Schweitzer later abandoned his quest for the historical Jesus, considering it futile. After all, reconstructing who Jesus was apart from and skeptical toward the record of Jesus in the Bible is a tall order!
Over one hundred years after Schweitzer’s quest, Christianity Today published an article titled “The Search for the Historical Adam.” Much like the quest for the historical Jesus a century earlier, this quest seeks to reconstruct who Adam was quite apart from the biblical record of him. But this quest questions not only what Adam did and did not do – for example, “Did he really eat some forbidden fruit?” – this quest questions whether Adam even existed. The argument against Adam’s existence, which is where the shining stars of this quest have broadly landed, runs thusly: because evolution is true, a historical Adam cannot be. Instead, the human race emerged out of the chaos of natural selection, albeit this natural selection was guided by the detached hand of theism, rather than according to the simple and succinct word of the personal Creator.
It is important to note that cries to dispense with a historical Adam are not few and far between, nor are they outside the mainstream of Evangelical Christianity. Consider this argument against the existence of a historical Adam:
What is a “given” for Paul is the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The other things he says, especially about sin, the Law, and eschatology, are reinterpretations that grow from the fundamental reality of the Christ event. Recognizing this relieves the pressure that sometimes builds up around a historical Adam…We can now recognize that Adam is not the foundation on which the system of Christian faith and life is built, such that removing him means that the whole edifice comes crashing down. Instead, the Adam of the past is one spire in a large edifice whose foundation is Christ. The gospel need not be compromised if we find ourselves having to part ways with Paul’s assumption that there is a historical Adam, because we share Paul’s fundamental conviction that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all.
From where does such an argument against the historicity of Adam arise? From J.R. Daniel Kirk, and associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a one-time bastion of classic evangelical orthodoxy. Denying the historical existence of Adam has gone mainstream.
Contrary to the sentiments of many, I would argue that it is theologically and logically necessary for the historical Adam to have existed. It is theologically necessary because no mythical character can account for real sin. And the apostle Paul identifies Adam as the original sinner: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). It is logically necessary because it is incoherent to make an argument for Christ’s death and resurrection, boldly contradicting the consensus of the scientific community that dead people do not come back to life, on the one hand while arguing against the historicity of Adam because of the general consensus of the scientific community concerning evolution by natural selection on the other hand.
What Professor Kirk engages in is nothing less than a full on gospel reductionism. That is, Professor Kirk is willing to cede the integrity and veracity of the biblical record on whether or not Adam really existed as long as he can hold on to the gospel that Christ died and rose again. But once one lets go of what the Bible says in general, he will not be able to hold on to what the Bible says about the gospel in specific for long! The church body of which I am a part, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, has explained it this way:
The Gospel is not normative for theology in the sense that beginning with it as a fundamental premise, other items of the Christian system of doctrine are developed as provisional, historically conditioned responses to a given situation which will need to be revised for another situation.
This is precisely what Professor Kirk does in his article. He assumes that we can reinterpret the historicity of Adam for our situation because Paul’s insistence on a historical Adam was only a “provisional, historically conditioned response to a given situation.” But this false view of Adam can only lead to a false view of the gospel. In the words of G.E. Ladd, who was addressing those who were undermining the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ life:
Jesus was a historical person. His words were historical events. His deeds involved other people; but they were far larger than the boundaries of personal existence. His deeds included interpersonal fellowship, healings of bodies as well as minds. His mission created a new fellowship of men; and this fellowship after the resurrection because the Christian church which has become one of the most influential institutions in Western culture. All of this happened in history; and it is only because certain events first happened in history that other results were experienced in their existential dimension. Existential import results only from historical event.
What is true of Jesus is true of Adam. The existential reality of sin can only be meaningfully explained by an existentially historical Adam. Evangelically orthodox Christians must settle for nothing less.
 Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), 387.
 The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358.
 Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (6.3.2011).
 G.E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 64.
There have been plenty of splashy and flashy headlines sprawled across newspapers, news stations, and news websites concerning NBA free agent Jason Collins over these past several days, but I prefer the simplicity of CNN: “NBA’s Jason Collins comes out as gay.” The reactions to Jason Collins’ revelation, as expected, have been wide and diverse. The Huffington Post reports that President Obama called Collins to tell him “he was impressed by his courage.” Sports analyst Chris Broussard sparked a firestorm when, speaking on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” he said, “I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality…I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.” Finally, the Human Rights Campaign likened the effects Collins’ “coming out” to that of Jackie Robinson being the first African American to play baseball in the modern era. HRC President Chad Griffin released this statement:
Jason Collins’ commitment to living openly is a monumental step forward toward greater equality and he immediately becomes a role model for youth all across this country. His actions today tell LGBT young people that what will define our success in life is our character and dedication, not our sexual orientation. At a moment when millions are reflecting on the life and legacy of Jackie Robinson, Jason Collins is a hero for our own times.
So what is a Christian to make of all this? Chris Broussard summarizes the orthodox Christian position quite well when he says, “I think [homosexuality is] a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is.” The second part of Broussard’s statement is key. As we watch the story of Jason Collins’ “coming out,” we must see it as only a piece of a bigger puzzle. For decades, sexual immorality has been rampant in professional sports. One can’t help but think of the offer AshleyMadison.com put on the table shortly after Tim Tebow joined the New York Jets. Noel Biderman, the founder of Ashley Madison, offered one million dollars to anyone who could produce evidence that the backup quarterback was not, in fact, a virgin. Biderman said, “Sports and sex (and of course, infidelity) go hand in hand…If Mr. Tebow is indeed abstaining from adult relationships, I would encourage him to find a nice lady or two and enjoy his youth and fame as much as possible.” His assertion that “sports and sex (and of course, infidelity) go hand in hand” is, sadly, true. Story after story could be enumerated of professional athletes behaving badly – engaging in everything from infidelity to rape to premarital sex which has become so culturally accepted, it is no longer disconcerting enough to raise even an eyebrow much less make a headline. Thus, Chris Broussard’s embrace of an openly homosexual lifestyle is only one instance in a long parade of what the Bible would deem sexual immorality.
In a culture that has such radically different sexual mores from that of the Christian ethos, there are a couple of things Christians should keep in mind. First, we should remember that, no matter how winsomely and well Christian sexual standards are explained or packaged, there will be many who will reject and ridicule them. This has to do with the foolishness of the Scripture and of the gospel itself to those who do not trust Jesus. As the apostle Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Scriptural reservation for sex between a husband and wife is simply unintelligible to many in our society.
Second, even if the world considers God’s wisdom foolish, this does not mean that we should not share God’s wisdom with our world. Christians can and must speak to the issues of our day. After all, if we truly believe that God’s way is the best way, and if we truly love our neighbors as Jesus commands, how can we not share God’s desire for them out love for them?
Finally, as we share God’s Word – and especially as we share God’s Word concerning human sexuality – we must do so with an attitude of humility rather than with a spirit of arrogance. Jesus makes it clear that all struggle with sexual brokenness: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus’ standard for sexual purity is one that none of us have kept. When we speak to others about sexual purity, therefore, we must do so as fellow strugglers rather than as self-righteous sermonizers.
In a culture that celebrates and sanctions sexual sin, we are called to hold out a message of hopeful purity. By God’s grace, may we hold out that message with the clarity, conviction, and compassion that it deserves.
 Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel, “Obama Calls Jason Collins, ‘Impressed By His Courage’ In Coming Out,” The Huffington Post (4.29.2013).
 Scott Collins, “ESPN’s Chris Broussard sparks uproar with Jason Collins remarks,” LA Times (4.29.2013.)
 HRC Staff, “Jason Collins Changes the Face of Sports Forever By Coming Out,” Human Rights Campaign (4.29.2013).
 Danny Cox, “Jets quarterback Tim Tebow’s virginity worth a reported $1 million dollars,” Examiner.com (4.24.2012).
As investigators continue to probe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev concerning his role in the Boston Marathon bombing, his motive, though not fully understood, nevertheless seems to be driven at least in part by an al Qaeda agenda. Consider this from NBC News:
It is as slickly designed as any magazine you would find at the supermarket checkout line, or in the seat pocket in front of you on an airplane. It even has snappy cover headlines – teasing articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”
And now Inspire, the recruitment magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, probably has its next cover story: It allegedly helped inspire the two brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the hospitalized suspect in the marathon attack, has told federal investigators that the brothers got information on building bombs from Inspire, law enforcement officials told NBC News.
Before Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan were identified by the FBI as the suspects in this bombing, confusion – and, I should add, speculation – as to who could have done such a thing abounded. There was the damaging gaffe from the New York Post which published a cover featuring two young men who, according to the Post, were sought by “the Feds” when, in fact, they were not suspects in the bombing. And then there were those who speculated – and even hoped – that the bomber would either be or not be a certain race, religion, or political persuasion.
Two articles, published before the Tsarnaev brothers were identified, are of special interest in this regard. The first article appeared in The Guardian carrying the headline, “US Muslims ‘holding their breath’ as Boston investigators hunt for bomber.” The article opened:
US Muslims are “holding their breath” as the investigation into the Boston Marathon attacks develops, amid fears of increased racial profiling and attacks if an Islamic link is confirmed, according to advocate groups.
The second article was by David Sirota, writing for Salon, and was titled, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Sirota, who I should point out is himself a white American, offers the rational for his demographic hope thusly:
If the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident – one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates. Put another way, white privilege will work to not only insulate whites from collective blame, but also to insulate the political debate from any fallout from the attack.
It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted, and that therefore a more systemic response is warranted. At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.
Interestingly, both of these articles share this in common: they both hoped the bomber was not a Muslim. But Sirota’s article takes it one step farther. He wants the bomber to be “a white anti-government extremist.” The Guardian’s article has only a negative hope for who the bomber is not. Sirota, on the other hand, holds out a positive hope for who the bomber is.
I can sympathize with the sentiments of those interviewed for The Guardian’s article. After all, I cringe whenever I hear another Christian merely say something wrongheaded, hypocritical, or bombastic. To have someone who claims to follow Christ plant and detonate a bomb in the midst of a crowd of marathon onlookers would break my heart. After all, such a tragedy would harm the Christian witness and put up a Satanic barrier that could very well be a powerful preventive against people coming to the truth. I can only imagine the stress, anguish, and embarrassment that some in the Muslim community must be feeling right now. And when these feelings are coupled with the potential of reckless retaliation against mosques and Muslim religious leaders, my guess would be that many in the Muslim community are also feeling fear. Thus, those in the Muslim community deserve our prayers for their protection against such retaliatory attacks as well as our prayers that they continue to be afforded the basic human dignity implicit to the imago Dei. Whether or not a person is a Christian, everyone should be afforded a basic amount of dignity and respect, for we are all creations of the Almighty. A tragedy like this can make a certain people group feel as though they have lost even this basic modicum of dignity and respect.
I have a much harder time understanding the sentiments of Sirota’s article. Hoping that a particular person or people group has committed a heinous crime is beyond me. As a Christian, the prayer is never that a particular person or people group would sin, but that a particular person or people group would be guarded from sin. The words of Jesus come to mind: “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).
The fundamental problem with Sirota’s argument is this: he is trying to identify a scapegoat that will most readily suit his own political machinations and interests. The message of Christianity is that a scapegoat, not for politics, but for sin has already been provided – Jesus. Thus, rather than trying to lay blame at the feet of a particular person for the sake of a political agenda, we can lay blame on the cross of Christ where it will be taken away. For Christ not only takes the blame for human sin by His death, He conquers it by His resurrection. And so, when sin rears its ugly head as it did in Boston, which would you rather have: someone you can blame or someone who can save?
I know what my answer is.
 Erin McClam, “Slick al Qaeda online magazine aims to train a generation of killers,” NBC News (3.23.2013).
 Karen McVeigh, “US Muslims ‘holding their breath’ as Boston investigators hunt for bomber,” The Guardian (4.17.2013).
 David Sirota, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American,” Salon (4.16.2013)
What a week it’s been. Monday the headline was carnage at the Boston Marathon as a pair of terrorists planted and detonated two bombs, though they planted more, at the race’s finish line. Three lost their lives. More than 170 were injured. I awoke Wednesday morning to the news that the tiny town of West, Texas, north of Waco, erupted in a fireball in an explosion in a fertilizer plant. Dozens lost their lives because of this tragic accident.
On the heels of so much tragedy and loss of life, two questions inevitably arise, both consisting of just one word: “How?” and “Why?”
“How did these two terrorists manage to plant numerous bombs at the finish line of a major race in seemingly plain sight with so many law enforcement officials standing by for any sign of trouble?” “How did a small blaze at a fertilizer plant get so out of control in a literal split second?” Investigators specialize in answering these “How?” questions. Already, expansive and detailed investigations have been launched to try to figure out how these tragedies happened.
The “Why?” questions are a little tougher to answer. “Why would someone premeditatedly work to cause so much pain and anguish in the bodies, hearts, and lives of so many?” “Why would God allow any of this to happen?”
Though we have partial answers to our perennial “Why?” questions, our answers are inevitably incomplete because of our finite perspective. But there are some things we can know and say in tragic times like these nonetheless.
First, we must say that tragedies like these are spawned because of sin. The attacks in Boston are an example of the darkest corners of human depravity on display. Two individuals took it upon themselves to actively break God’s law and our nation’s laws in order to coldly calculate a catastrophe. The fertilizer plant explosion in West is an example of creation’s sinful brokenness. Because we live in a world that has gone wrong (cf. Genesis 3:17-19, Luke 13:1-5), wrong things happen.
Second, we can also say that tragedies like these testify to God’s patience, albeit in a strange and backwards way. After all, God is under no particular compulsion to allow this sinful world to continue on. But He does. Why? Because He loves the people He has made and wants to give them as much time as possible to repent of their sinful state and turn toward Him. As the apostle Peter reminds us, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).
In the days ahead, steps will no doubt be taken to try to assure that the tragedies of this week will not be repeated. This is good! We ought to learn from tragedies like these for the sake of everyone’s safety and wellbeing. But no matter how many steps we might take to try to guard against similar situations in the future, no human being can root out the underlying cause of all such situations: sin. Though we might be able to prevent a particular tragedy from happening again, we cannot take out tragedy’s foundation of sin. Only Jesus can do this. Only Jesus can conquer the wickedness of this world and restore His creation and His people back to the way He originally dreamed and designed them: perfect.
I have often made the point, when teaching various Bible classes, that, in Christianity, theology and anthropology are inextricably intertwined. You can’t really understand anthropology if you don’t understand theology and you can’t really understand theology if you don’t understand anthropology.
Here’s why. Theology without anthropology undermines the gospel. After all, the heart of the gospel is what God has done for us! He sent Jesus to die and rise for us! Without understanding the anthropological “for us” of the gospel, we are left with a system of theology that is more akin to Deism than it is to Christianity. For without the gospel’s anthropological association, God is left distant and detached from the creation He formed. Conversely, anthropology without theology also undermines the gospel. It is theology, after all, that tells us who we are anthropologically and why we need Jesus. And the verdict on who we are anthropologically is not good:
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
Apart from an understanding of God’s verdict on us as sinners, we are all too readily tempted to think of ourselves as better, nobler, and loftier than we really are. Thus, in order to truly understand the peril of our sinful state, we must understand what the Bible says theologically about our brokenness anthropologically.
I bring all of this up because I have been doing some thinking lately about the anthropological side of Christianity. And what I have come to realize is that while Christian authors, pastors, and leaders will spend a lot of time addressing the anthropological side of Christianity on a micro scale, sometimes, macro anthropological concerns can get marginalized.
Here’s what I mean. The Christian arena is replete with resources on marriage, addiction, finances, relationships and other personal, or micro, concerns. And these resources are needed and, I would add, popular! What is less popular in our day, however, are resources that address macro anthropological issues of cultural trends, power structures, injustice, and societally systemic sins as well as their broad historical and philosophic foundations. Part of the reason I would guess these resources are less popular is because addressing macro anthropological issues is an inevitably more complex, convoluted, and academic exercise than addressing micro anthropological issues due to the sheer size and the extended historical timelines of these macro anthropological issues. Furthermore, because it is the micro anthropological concerns that most directly and immediately affect us, it is easy to look at what only directly affects us right now than consider the broader concerns of our world over time.
But Christianity calls us to consider both ourselves and our world. For Christianity, among other things, is a worldview. And without understanding Christianity’s anthropological entailments on a macro scale and their insights into how we, knowingly or unknowingly, are shaped by the history, philosophy, and culture to which we are heirs and of which we are a part, we will inevitably have trouble, and ultimately be unsuccessful, in addressing and resolving our own micro concerns. This is why so much of the language of the Bible is cosmic. For God’s final promise is not only that He will only fix our personal problems, but that He will redeem our world. In the words of the apostle John:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)
Make no mistake about it: God cares about the micro. He cares about your tears and your pain and your worries and your regrets. But He will fix your micro concerns in His macro way: He will make everything new. So perhaps we should spend a little more time thinking about “everything” that God will make new and a little less time thinking only about our micro concerns.
When the Facebook page of the Human Rights Campaign changed their profile picture to a red and pink equal sign on March 25 in anticipation of the Supreme Court hearing cases on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal marriage benefits to only opposite sex marriages, the response of many in the Facebook universe was nearly instantaneous. By the time the Supreme Court was listening to arguments for and against Proposition 8 the next day, roughly 2.7 million people had changed their profile pictures to the red and pink equal sign.
Welcome to the way we debate and discuss watershed issues in the digital age. We post a profile picture.
As I have watched the national debate over same-sex marriage unfold, I have been struck by the daftness of so many of the arguments concerning such a monumental issue. As a Christian, I have grave theological and moral concerns with same-sex marriage, but others have registered cogent concerns with same-sex marriage quite apart from the traditional moorings of biblical Christianity. For instance, in their book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George offer an excellent argument for traditional or, as they call it, conjugal marriage over and against a revisionist view of marriage. The heart of their argument is this:
If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage. They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life – but as essentially an emotional union…If marriage is centrally an emotional union, rather than one inherently ordered to family life, it becomes much harder to show why the state should concern itself with marriage any more than with friendship. Why involve the state in what amounts to the legal regulation of tenderness?
The authors’ argument is simple, yet brilliant. Those who argue for same-sex marriage seem to define marriage based strictly on affection. But there are many relationships that are affectionate, such as friendships, and yet are not state-regulated. So marriage must be something more than simple affection. But what more is it? This is a question that proponents of same-sex marriage have a difficult time answering with any uniformity.
Sadly, the work of these authors has not been well received or responded to. Ryan Anderson, appearing on the Piers Morgan Show to explain the arguments of his book, was attacked by Suze Orman who dismissed him as “very, very uneducated in how it really, really works.” Considering that Anderson is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who received his degree from Princeton and is currently working on a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame, I find it hard to believe that he is “very, very uneducated.”
In another example of supporters of traditional marriage being flippantly dismissed, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones took Ross Douthat of the New York Times to task for daring to suggest that an orientation toward procreation ought to be part of the definition of what constitutes a marriage:
It was opponents [of same-sex marriage], after realizing that Old Testament jeremiads weren’t cutting it any more, who began claiming that SSM should remain banned because gays couldn’t have children. This turned out to be both a tactical and strategic disaster, partly because the argument was so transparently silly (what about old people? what about women who had hysterectomies? etc.) and partly because it suggested that SSM opponents didn’t have any better arguments to offer. But disaster or not, they’re the ones responsible for making this into a cornerstone of the anti-SSM debates in the aughts.
In his response, Douthat questions Drum’s account of the origin of the procreation argument for traditional marriage:
If gay marriage opponents had essentially invented a procreative foundation for marriage in order to justify opposing same-sex wedlock, it would indeed be telling evidence of a movement groping for reasons to justify its bigotry. But of course that essential connection was assumed in Western law and culture long before gay marriage emerged as a controversy or a cause. You don’t have to look very hard to find quotes…from jurists, scholars, anthropologists and others, writing in historical contexts entirely removed from the gay marriage debate, making the case that “the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation” (that’s a California Supreme Court ruling in 1859), describing the institution of marriage as one “founded in nature, but modified by civil society: the one directing man to continue and multiply his species, the other prescribing the manner in which that natural impulse must be confined and regulated” (that’s William Blackstone), and acknowledging that “it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution” (that’s the well-known reactionary Bertrand Russell).
Douthat ends his response to Drum with a brilliant one-liner: “Once you’ve rewritten the past to make your opponents look worse, then you’re well on your way to justifying writing them out of the future entirely.”
This line, more than any I have read in a long time, encapsulates the problem with our public debates – not just over same-sex marriage, but over many controversial issues. No longer are people interested in debating a big issue with the kind of intellectual rigor or careful thought such issues deserve. Instead, we change our Facebook profiles to an equal sign. Or we ridicule a Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate as “uneducated.” Or we make patently false claims about the historical origins of our opponents’ arguments. We try to write our opponents out of the future entirely.
We, it seems, are much less interested in intelligently discussing and debating an issue and much more interested in asserting our will on an issue. We no longer care whether or not we arrive at the right position on an issue as long as others bow to our position on an issue. And, lest I be accused of intimating that only proponents of same-sex marriage engage in such dubious debate tactics, let me be clear that I have seen opponents of same-sex marriage pull these same kinds of sorry tricks. After all, they’re on Facebook too. They host cable news shows too. They write less than thoughtful columns too.
The nihilist Nietzsche seemed to take special delight in laying bare the basest corners of human nature. In his seminal work Beyond Good and Evil, he summarizes his thoughts on the heart of humanity: “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is Will to Power.” Nietzsche purported that people, at their cores, desire to assert Machiavellian power over others much more than they ever desire to converse with others. This is why Nietzsche saw “slavery in some sense or other” as necessary to human advancement. Those who are strong must assert their wills over those who are weak.
As I have watched the debate over same-sex marriage unfold, I have become worried that Nietzsche just might be right. In this debate, winning against the other side has become more important than discussing and reasoning with the other side to arrive at the right side. And because of that, I can’t help but think that, no matter who wins, we might just all lose.
 Alexis Kleinman, “How The Red Equal Sign Took Over Facebook, According To Facebook’s Own Data,” The Huffington Post (3.29.2013).
 Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson & Robert George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: Encounter Books, 2012), 7, 16.
 Jamie Weinstein, “Fresh off his Piers Morgan confrontation, Ryan Anderson explains his ‘un-American’ views on marriage,” The Daily Caller (3.30.2013).
 Kevin Drum, “The Gay Marriage Debate Probably Hasn’t Affected Straight Marriage Much,” Mother Jones (3.31.2013).
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1907), 20, 223.
On this Easter Monday, I thought I would share with you some words from a series of seventeen sermons preached by Martin Luther in 1533 on 1 Corinthians 15. In this chapter, the apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ and the hope and assurance that it gives us that we too will be raised on the Last Day:
Because Christ is risen and gives us His resurrection against our sin, death, and hell, we must advance to where we also learn to say: “O death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] although we at present see only the reverse, namely, that we have nothing but the perishable hanging about our neck, that we lead a wretched filthy life, that we are subject to all sorts of distress and danger, and that nothing but death awaits us in the end.
But the faith that clings to Christ is able to engender far different thoughts. It can envisage a new existence. It can form an image and gain sight of a condition where this perishable, wretched form is erased entirely and replaced by a pure and celestial essence. For since faith is certain of this doctrine that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection, it must follow that this resurrection is just as effective in us as it was for Him – except that He is a different person, namely, true God. And faith must bring it about that this body’s frail and mortal being is discarded and removed and a different, immortal being is put on, with a body that can no longer be touched by filth, sickness, mishap, misery, or death but is perfectly pure, healthy, strong, and beautiful…
God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live. But the devil inflicted so much shameful filth and so many blemishes on nature that man must bear so much sickness, stench, and misfortune about his neck because he sinned. But now that sin is removed through Christ, we shall be rid of all of that too. All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth. (AE 28:202-203)
Luther’s final words beautifully summarize the hope of Easter: “All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on the earth.” Because Christ is risen, the evils of sin and death will be destroyed. Or, in the words of the poet John Donne, because of Easter, “death, thou shalt die!”
Christ is risen! And this means you will too.
It must have been a terrifying ordeal. The man who twelve men had followed, loved, learned from, and staked their lives on was being arrested by an angry mob, led by a man who used to be among their ranks: Judas. Mark depicts the scene like this:
Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed Him. The men seized Jesus and arrested Him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture Me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Then everyone deserted Him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (Mark 14:43-52)
This final detail about this young man who flees naked is unique to Mark’s Gospel, leading many scholars to believe that it may have been Mark himself who, overcome with fear, fled the scene. But what is recorded here is more than an incidental historical detail. What is recorded here is a tragic historical pattern:
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10)
Mark wasn’t the first to flee the Lord naked and afraid. Adam did too.
In the Bible, nakedness is often used as a symbol of shameful sin:
- “Your nakedness will be exposed and your shame uncovered. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one.” (Isaiah 47:3)
- Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns away. (Lamentations 1:8)
- “I am against you,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.” (Nahum 3:5)
Sin and nakedness go hand in hand. But the promise of Scripture is that when sin leaves us shamefully naked, Jesus clothes us with His righteousness: “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). Even as we flee from the horror of the cross naked in sin, Jesus draws us back to His cross, covering our nakedness with His atoning blood. The death on a cross that once caused everyone to flee now beckons all to its promise of salvation. During this Holy Week, this is what we remember. And this is what we believe.
This past weekend in worship and ABC, we discussed some of the biggest objections and obstacles that people present to trusting in Jesus. One of the objections and obstacles I covered in ABC had to do with the reliability of Scripture. Bart Ehrman, a skeptical scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains why so many people call into question the Bible’s reliability:
Not only do we not have the originals [of the biblical manuscripts], we don’t have the first copies of the originals. We don’t even have the copies of the copies of the originals, or the copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. What we have are copies made later – much later. In most instances, they are copies made centuries later. And these copies all differ from one another, in many thousands of places…These copies differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are. Possibly it is easiest to put it in comparative terms: there are more differences in our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.
Many people wonder if that which is recorded in the Bible is historically accurate. Recently, popular news commentator Bill O’ Reilly called into question the historicity of the biblical stories of Adam and Eve and of Jonah, saying, “I was taught, in my Catholic school, that a lot of the stories in the Bible are allegorical.” Bart Ehrman takes it a step farther. He not only questions if what is recorded in the Bible is historically accurate, he questions if what is recorded in the Bible was even supposed to be there at all! He notes the many ancient copies we have of the Bible differ from each other, thereby undermining their veracity, at least in Ehrman’s eyes. After all, if no two ancient manuscripts completely agree with each other, how can we know which manuscripts record what was actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, et al?
In their book Reinventing Jesus, three biblical scholars make some helpful distinctions concerning the types of variants, or differences, that we find in ancient biblical manuscripts. In order to understand what is truly going on with the differences we have between ancient copies of the Bible, it is worth it to review their categories.
The majority of the variants we have in the New Testament are either alternate spellings or misspellings of a given word. For instance, the name John is in some manuscripts spelled Ioannes, while in other manuscripts, it is spelled Iaones. One “n” or two? It doesn’t really matter. Regardless of how this name is spelled, we know to whom the manuscript is referring.
Differences That Do Not Affect Translation
There are some differences between ancient copies of the Bible that have no affect on how we read something in English. For example, Greek allows for definite articles before proper names, but does not demand them. Thus, instead of referring to “Mary,” a biblical Greek text may refer to “the Mary.” Or, instead of referring to Jesus, a Greek text may read “the Jesus.” Because Greek allows for but does not demand these definite articles, some ancient Greek texts contain the definite articles in front of names while others do not. This, however, does not affect the translation or meaning of a given biblical text. Rather, the decision to retain or forgo a definite article is merely a matter of style.
Meaningful Variants That Are Not Viable
There are some differences between ancient biblical copies that do indeed affect the meaning of a text, but one of the variant readings is simply not viable. For instance, ancient versions of 1 Thessalonians 2:9 refer to “the gospel of God” while a late medieval manuscript of this same verse refers to “the gospel of Christ.” Though the gospel is indeed Christ’s gospel, because only one late medieval manuscript has this reading while almost all other ancient manuscripts refer to “the gospel of God,” the reading that refers to the gospel of Christ simply isn’t viable. Too many other texts militate against this reading.
Meaningful and Viable Variants
Finally, there are some variants between ancient biblical copies that both affect the meaning of a text and are viable. Romans 5:1 has variants that read, “We have peace” as well as “Let us have peace.” Scholars are split on which one is original. But even if scholars are split on which one is original, both statements are theologically correct. After all, we are both promised peace through Christ and commanded to be people of peace by Christ.
It is important to note that the variants which are both meaningful and viable make up only about one percent of all textual variants. Moreover, even with the many, but small, differences in our many ancient biblical manuscripts, not one of these differences – even the meaningful and viable ones – compromises a biblical doctrine. Throughout all of these manuscripts, doctrines like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith are taught. Indeed, Ehrman is finally forced to admit that the vast majority of variants in ancient biblical manuscripts are insignificant when he writes, “Most of these differences are completely immaterial and insignificant.”
So what does all this mean? It means the text of the Bible we have is the text of the Bible as it has always been. Thanks to the faithful and diligent efforts of many scribes and scholars over many centuries, the words of the apostles and prophets have been faithfully handed down from one generation to the next. What we read now in the Bible is what the Christian Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. Christ has preserved His Word from corruption by His grace. Thanks be to God!
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (New York: Harper Collins, 2005), 10.
 Melissa Barnhart, “Robert Jeffress Argues With Bill O’Reilly Over If Jonah, Adam and Eve Stories Are Real,” Christian Post (3.8.13).
 J. Ed Komoskewski, M. James Sawyer & Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Really Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006), 53-63.
 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 10.