Posts tagged ‘Gospel Coalition’

When Cultures Clash

Society 1Three weeks ago on this blog, I shared a quote from The Gospel Coalition’s Trevin Wax that I think brilliantly summarizes a radical shift in our culture:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private.  Today, this situation is reversed.  A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[1]

Sex has become a – if not the – defining characteristic for many in our society.  I recently read an article about a professor who, in a women’s studies course, asked the class to write down the moment they realized they were gay, straight, bisexual, or queer.[2]  For many, one’s sexual awakening has become their road to Emmaus.  It is nothing less than their conversion experience.  I grew up Baptist, and the question I was often asked was, “When did you ask Jesus into your heart?”  Now the question is, “When did you have your sexual awakening?”  Sexuality is what gives many their meaning, purpose, and identity.

As I wrote three weeks ago, as a Christian, I cannot define myself in the way so many in our society have chosen to define themselves.  I must define myself by Christ and His Gospel.  I am, however, well aware that when I define myself in this way, I offend a whole host of societal sensibilities, especially as they pertain to sexuality.

As I’ve been pondering this clash of values, I’ve come to realize that Jesus faced much the same situation.  First century society was rife with sexual standards that were radically different from His.  Take for instance, the emperor of Rome during Jesus’ day, Tiberius Caesar, who, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, enjoyed watching group sex.[3]  This type of sexual licentiousness is, thankfully, offensive to many in our day, but, sadly, nevertheless acceptable and practiced among some.  So how did Jesus respond to sexual ethics that contradicted His own?

First, Jesus was ethically rigorous.  Jesus didn’t compromise His sexual standards in an effort win allies or appear tolerant.  I think of Jesus’ clash with the religious leaders over divorce.  In a world where many religious teachers taught that it was acceptable for a man “to divorce his wife for any and every reason,” Jesus responds, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3, 9).  This sexual standard was so rigorous that Jesus’ own disciples exclaimed, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

It was William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, who famously quipped: “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”[4]  Jesus was not interested in conforming to the sexual spirit of His age.  We should not be interested in conforming either.

But there is another side to Jesus’ engagement with the sexual spirit of His society.  For at the same time that Jesus was ethically rigorous, He was also relationally generous.  In other words, even if people were in lifestyles He could not condone, He did not shun them.  He loved them.  I think of the woman at the well in John 4.  Or the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Or the woman who anoints Jesus with perfume in Luke 7.  Jesus cared deeply for these people.  We should too – even if they do not share our ethical commitments.

A faithful Christian response to the sexual standards of our society, then, demands that we answer two questions.  First, where do we stand?  Have we compromised biblical sexual standards to kowtow to the spirit of our age?  If so, no less than the living Lord commands that we hold the line.  But second, who are our friends?  Do we generously befriend those who do not think or live like we do?  If our friends are only those who share our ethical commitments, we have traded Jesus’ love for quarantined law.  And that helps no one.

As Christians, we need both ethical standards and relational grace.  I hope you have both.  You should.  Jesus has given you both.  After all, how do you think He befriended you?

_____________________________

[1] Trevin Wax, “The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[2] W. Blue, “When Did You Know You Were Gay?Psychology Today (7.15.2014).

[3] Suetonius, Life of Tiberius 43.

[4] Tony Lane, Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christians Believe (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2014), 48.

July 28, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

It’s Not About The Supreme Court Ruling

Credit:  Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

There was the ruling.  And then there was the reaction to the ruling.  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, saying it did not have to pay for certain types of birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act because it considered them abortifacients which violated the theological beliefs of the company’s owners, the reaction was swift and fierce – from both sides.  Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, announced:

Here is what the decision means:  People have First Amendment rights, and even if the corporations themselves are not entitled to Free Exercise exemptions, the people behind the corporate veil, the business owners themselves, certainly are.

On the other side, Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, lamented:

We think it’s a bitter pill to swallow for women, and that the decision is saying that bosses know best and their religious beliefs can trump very basic health-care coverage.  It’s especially harmful to women, but beyond this, down the line, there will be other cases, other challenges, that could have an even broader effect.[1]

Of course, along with these measured responses, there were also the less measured responses of the Twitterverse, like one post advocating arson: “#HobbyLobby are scum of the earth.  Burn every single one down, build a homeless shelter there instead.”[2]  Then, there was another very humble post from a person who agreed with SCOTUS’s ruling:  “Ha. Ha. It’s The. Law.”[3]

What fascinates me about all these responses – whether they be sophisticated or sleazy – is how little they have to do with the actual legal ins and outs of this case and how much they reflect the radically disparate worldviews of our society.  I have found no better synopsis of the clash of worldviews in this case than this from Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[4]

This is exactly right.  Different people value different things.  For some, their faith is their defining characteristic.  Thus, they have a strong desire to practice their faith in every area and aspect of their lives, including their business dealings.  For others, some other thing – like their sexuality – is their defining characteristic.  And anything perceived as an affront to their sexual identity is worthy of unrestrained caustic choler.

As a Christian, I really have no choice when it comes to how I will define myself:  my life must be defined by Christ.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So what does this mean for my interactions with those who define themselves by other things?  A few things come to mind.

First, I must love those with differing worldviews.  As Ed Stetzer so pointedly says in his article on the Hobby Lobby ruling, “You can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”[5]  People who live outside a Christian worldview are not to be destroyed or oppressed in a political or judicial power grab, but loved through a winsome witness.

Second, I must realize that my worldview is no longer a privileged majority worldview in our society.  Indeed, many people are not at all concerned that a Christian may be legislatively or legally forced to do something that goes against his conscience.  Again, Ed Stetzer writes, “Most Americans are not as passionate about the religious liberty issue (when connected to contraception, even abortifacient contraception) as most evangelicals and conservative Catholics.”  Trevin Wax reveals that “a record number of Americans (1 in 3) said the first amendment [which grants religious liberty] goes too far in the freedom it promises.”  This is just a reality.

Third, I must make the case – through both a rigorous intellectual defense and a gentle, quiet lifestyle – why my worldview should be seriously considered and why it does indeed lead to true human flourishing.  It is important to note that this case cannot be made quickly.  Indeed, it cannot even be made by just my life or in just my lifetime.  No, this is a case the whole Church must make.  And blessedly, the Church has been making it for millennia.  For instance, the Church made its case here.  And here.  And here.  And here.  This is why I doubt any Supreme Court ruling – be it in favor of or against religious liberty – will kill the Church’s case.  For this is the case and cause of Christ.

Let’s keep making it.

______________________________

[1] Ashby Jones, “Legal Experts, Advocates React to Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling,” The Wall Street Journal (6.30.2014).

[2] Costa Koutsoutis, @costa_kout, 6.30.2014

[3] Harriet Baldwin, @HarrietBaldwin, 6.30.2014

[4] Trevin Wax, The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[5] Ed Stetzer, “Hobby Lobby Wins: Where Do We Go from Here?The Exchange (6.30.2014).

July 7, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Bible Is All About ___________

Bible 1The Bible is all about __________.

How you fill in this blank makes a big difference in how you approach not only the Bible, but your life as a believer in Christ.

I have no doubt that most Christians would fill in the blank with “Christ.”  After all, a respectably orthodox theology demands no other answer.  “The Scriptures…testify about Me,” Jesus declares (John 5:39).  But what we say about the Bible and what we want to know from the Bible are often two very different things.

I once had a lady who felt the need to give me some preaching advice following one of my sermons.  “The problem with you,” she began, “is that you always end your sermons the same way:  by talking about Jesus.  I already know what Jesus did,” she continued. “I want to hear about what I need to do to live a better and successful life!”  She expressed publicly the way a lot of people feel secretly.  To learn about Jesus is fine and good, but what we really want is to learn about ourselves – how we can be successful.

Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, calls such a desire “reading the Bible narcissistically.”  He explains:

We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our godliness. We treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it’s a heaven-sent self-help manual…Even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans, the place we go for the help we need to “conquer today’s challenges and take control of our lives.”[1]

But this is not the purpose of the Good Book.  The Bible is not about us being better.  It’s about Jesus being perfect.

“But what about me?” someone may protest.  “I have concerns I need answered!  And they’re not just concerns about how I can go to heaven after I die, they’re concerns about how to deal with things while I’m still alive!”

This is where we can modify how we fill in the blank a little bit.  Because the Bible is indeed all about Jesus.  But Jesus came for us.  Jesus lived for us.  Jesus died for us.  And Jesus rose for us.  The Bible is all about Jesus who just happens to be for us.

Tchividjian continues:

The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue; our sin with His salvation; our failure with His favor; our guilt with His grace; our badness with His goodness.

The problem with the way so many people approach the Bible is that they skip over Jesus to get to themselves.  The Bible is indeed about us, but it’s about us in light of Jesus.   And it is when we read the Bible in light of Jesus that we discover that we are more deeply sinful than we ever thought, unable to improve our lives under our own power and will, and Jesus is more magnificently gracious than we ever imagined, able to save us from our sin and our selves.  You see, Jesus is not only the key to reading the Bible correctly, He is the key to reading ourselves correctly – as sinners in need of a Savior.  It is when we see Him as the center of the Scriptures that we find we need Him as the Savior of our lives.


[1] Tullian Tchividjian, “Reading The Bible Narcissistically,” The Gospel Coalition (6.10.2013).

June 17, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Kicking Back

They’re doing terribly this year.  My fantasy football team, that is.  Last weekend, my quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, scored an underwhelming grand total of fourteen points.  My wide receivers are putting more points on the board than he is.  To add insult to injury, the other day, I caught a few minutes of a game on ESPN Classic when Roethlisberger was still in college playing for Miami University in 2003.  I wish he played now the way he played then.

Most people know that I am a football fan.  There is nothing like kicking back on a Sunday afternoon taking in an NFL game or two, dozing in an out of consciousness, especially since my Sunday mornings, as a pastor, are generally action-packed!  And of course, I love watching my beloved Longhorns take on their toughest rivals.  The pageantry and suspense of college football is unlike anything else.

I’m not the only one who loves a good football game.  The NFL’s popularity has been rising steadily and startlingly over the years, this year reaching an all time high of 59 percent of Americans who say that they follow professional football according to an annual Harris Poll.[1]

As a football fan, I would be the first to say that there’s nothing wrong with following the game.  I would also add that there’s nothing wrong with all sorts of other things people do to kick back and relax – from golfing to finding your favorite movie on Netflix to fishing to surfing the internet.  And yet, if these are the only ways we spend our leisure time, we are cheating ourselves out of something transcendent.

The Lutheran theologian Gene Edward Veith wrote an article recently titled, “The Purpose of Work.”  In it, he noted a disturbing trend in the way Americans view their leisure time:

In our culture today…most people probably do not use their leisure to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful.  Our leisure is filled with more entertainment than contemplation.[2]

Veith’s last line is key.  When we find leisure only in what entertains us – be that a football game or a golf outing or a movie or a fishing expedition or a favorite internet site – we miss the more profound blessings that leisure has to offer.  For a bit of contemplation – on family, on work, on friends, and, most importantly, on God – can yield key and transformative insights for life and engender a thankful heart for all the blessings God has given.  But first, we need to take time away from being entertained to think and to thank God.

The Bible’s portrait of leisure can guide our us on our journey from liesure as solely entertainment to liesure that includes contemplation:

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.  Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Notice that in Israel, the celebration of the Sabbath – a day to rest from the work of the week – is specifically tied to contemplation.  The Israelites are to remember their slavery in Egypt and how God brought them out.  For Israel, leisure was not just time to be entertained, it was time to spend with God.

How do you spend the bulk of your leisure time?  Entertainment is good, but not when it comes at the expense of reflecting on your life and on your Lord.  After all, He is the One who gave you that leisure time in the first place.  As the Psalmist reminds us, “God gives rest to His loved ones” (Psalm 127:2).  Maybe you should use your leisure rest not just to be entertained, but to say “thank you” to God.


[1] Michael David Smith, “Poll finds NFL more popular than ever,” NBC Sports (10.6.2012).

[2] Gene Edward Veith, “The Purpose of Work,” The Gospel Coalition (10.7.2012).

October 15, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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