Archive for May, 2013

Remembering the Lost

Memorial Day 1Today, we remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country.  Memorial Day is always a day full of mixed emotions.  On the one hand, we celebrate the bravery, valor, and commitment of these soldiers who were willing to suffer all – even death – to serve our nation.  On the other hand, as with any loss of life, we mourn.  And we should.  After all, in the words of the apostle Paul, death is not only an enemy, but the enemy (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:26).  We want death to be defeated.  We do not want it to defeat us.  But even as we mourn the loss of those we love, we can take heart in the promise of the Gospel that death’s defeat of us is only partial and temporary.  It is partial because death destroys only our bodies and not our souls.  And it is only temporary because when Jesus returns, He will raise our bodies to live with Him forever.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember our fallen, I would point you to some words from one of our nation’s founding fathers, John Hancock:

I hereby call upon ministers and people of every denomination, to…devoutly and sincerely offer to almighty God, the gratitude of our hearts, for all His goodness towards us; more especially in that He has been pleased to continue to us so a great a measure of health, to cause the earth plentifully to yield her increase so that we are supplied with the necessaries and the comforts of life, to prosper our merchandise and fishery, and, above all, not only to continue to us the enjoyment of our civil rights and liberties, but the great and most important blessing, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And together with our cordial acknowledgments, I do earnestly recommend, that we may join the penitent confession of our sins, and implore the further continuance of the divine protection, and blessings of heaven upon this people; especially that He would be graciously pleased to direct, and prosper the administration of the federal government, and of this, and the other states in the Union, to afford Him further smiles on our agriculture and fisheries, commerce and manufactures, to prosper our university and all seminaries of learning, to bless the virtuously struggling for the rights of men…and to afford his almighty aid to all people, who are established in the world; that all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.[1]

A few things are notable about Hancock’s words here.  First, as Hancock would guide us, it is important that we always remember to give thanks.  We are called by our Lord, even when times are trying and tenuous, to give thanks to Him for His blessings to us, His presence with us, and, most importantly, His gospel for us.  No amount of sin or tragedy can circumvent the good and sturdy promises of almighty God – even the tragedy of losing a loved one in battle.  For this, we can be thankful.

Second, Hancock encourages all of us to acknowledge our sinfulness.  After all, the sinfulness and brokenness of this world is the reason there are wars.  History is littered with tyrants who, rife with evil intent, needed to be defeated in battle so they could not carry out – or, in most instances, continue to carry out – their wicked agendas. When we confess our sins, we do so with the knowledge that the whole earth is broken by sin and needs healing.  We also acknowledge that even if we can curb and contain evil thanks to the valiant efforts of our brave troops, we cannot finally defeat it.  This can only be done by Christ.

Third, Hancock desires that we pray for the safety and protection of our troops.  On a day when we remember lives that have been lost, it is most certainly appropriate to pray that no more will be lost.

Finally, Hancock points us toward the Christian’s hope that, on the Last Day, “all may bow to the scepter of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the whole earth be filled with His glory.”  One day, wars will cease.  One day, tyrants will be no more.  One day, nations will not take up arms against nations.  Because one day, all will bow to Jesus and the whole earth will be filled with His glory.

As we remember those who have died waiting and longing for this day, may we ourselves pray that it would come soon so that we may be reunited with those we have lost and celebrate the final defeat of evil in the presence of our Savior.


[1] John Hancock, “Proclamation – Thanksgiving Day – 1791, Massachusetts.”

May 27, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Our Leadership Lacuna

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 5.13.27 PMThe headlines speak for themselves.  “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference.”[1]  “IRS Admits To Targeting Conservative Groups Over Tax Status.”[2]  “Gov’t Obtains Wide AP Phone Records In Probe.”[3]  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.[4]

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.


[1] Jonathan Karl, “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference,” ABC News (5.10.2013).

[2] Zeke J Miller & Alex Altman, “IRS Admits To Targeting Conservative Groups Over Tax Status,” TIME Magazine (5.10.2013).

[3] Mark Sherman, “Gov’t Obtains Wide AP Phone Records In Probe,” The Associated Press (5.13.2013).

[4] Zeke Miller & Michael Crowley, “The New GOP Case Against Obama: He’s Cheney!TIME Magazine (5.14.2013).

May 20, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Adam Is For Real

Adam and Eve 1 editIn 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.”[1] 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.[2]

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.”[3]  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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.


[1] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), 387.

[2] The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 358.

[3] Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” Christianity Today (6.3.2011).

[4] J.R. Daniel Kirk, “Does Paul’s Christ Require a Historical Adam?Fuller Theology News & Notes (Spring 2013).

[5] The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, “Gospel and Scripture” (November 1972), 9.

[6] G.E. Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1968), 64.

May 13, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Jason Collins’ Big Announcement

Jason CollinsThere 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.”[1]  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.”[2]  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.”[3]  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.[4]

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.”[5]  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.


[1] Joe Sterling and Steve Almasy, “NBA’s Jason Collins comes out as gay,” CNN (4.30.2013).

[2] Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel, “Obama Calls Jason Collins, ‘Impressed By His Courage’ In Coming Out,” The Huffington Post (4.29.2013).

[3] Scott Collins, “ESPN’s Chris Broussard sparks uproar with Jason Collins remarks,” LA Times (4.29.2013.)

[4] HRC Staff, “Jason Collins Changes the Face of Sports Forever By Coming Out,” Human Rights Campaign (4.29.2013).

[5] Danny Cox, “Jets quarterback Tim Tebow’s virginity worth a reported $1 million dollars,” Examiner.com (4.24.2012).

May 6, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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