Posted on December 2, 2013
A chapel message delivered to St. Abraham’s Classical Christian School, December 2, 2013
“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.”
You are Christians. This means you’re disciples of Jesus Christ. You have been baptized. God’s brand is on you. This means you’re trusting in Jesus Christ and him alone (at least, you’d better be). Jesus saves us. We can’t save ourselves.
This brings us to Advent. Advent isn’t the same thing as Christmas. Christmas is the day (Dec. 25) on which we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. But Advent is the entire season during which we celebrate Jesus’ coming into the world as a baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. So, Christmas is one day. But Advent is several weeks.
But why celebrate Advent at all? Why should you celebrate Advent?
Let me tell you why. But you won’t understand why until you understand how to look at the world as a Christian. You’re not too young to understand how to think as a Christian. In fact, you must start thinking as a Christian right now.
First, you must understand creation. God created the universe in six days. He created the earth and sun and moon and stars and planets. He created the oceans and dry land. He created vegetation: trees and plants and grasses. He created all animals — fish, birds and beasts. Last of all he created man and woman, Adam, and Eve, and he placed them in a lovely garden. He made them in his own image. This means that they model him. We as humans can talk to God. We can reason like God (never as good as he can, of course). We know right from wrong. We are moral creatures. We were made sinless. We were made to share fellowship with the Father, Son and Spirit forever. In fact, this is why God created man and woman: to share the fellowship of the Trinity.
But, second, man and woman sinned. This is called the Fall. They ate the fruit that God had forbidden. They sinned. What is sin? Sin is breaking God’s law. God gave man his law so man could be happy. God knows what makes us happy — since he created us, he knows! His law, his ways, make us happy. But Adam and Eve listened to the serpent, Satan, who lied to them. He led them to rebel against God. They broke God’s law, and his heart. Their sin broke fellowship with God. That’s what man’s sin does: we rebel, we lie, we cheat, we say cruel things to the people that love us, we disobey our parents and teachers, we think about evil things, we are lazy, we try to get revenge on people that hurt us, we don’t care about prayer and God’s word. This is sin.
This sin brought down God’s judgment on Adam and Eve. Sin always brings judgement. Sin is so bad that God must punish it. God punished Adam and Eve in various ways.
We were born as sinners too, just like Adam and Eve became sinners. We, too, are born under God’s judgment. This is why people die and go to hell — they are sinners.
Sin is a poison. Maybe you’ve known of someone who was poisoned. They often must go to the hospital. If the poison isn’t gotten out of their body, they might die. Poison destroys life.
Sin the poison that destroys eternal life. It breaks our fellowship with God. It makes us think evil, cruel thoughts. It makes us hurt each other, lie to each other, cheat each other, make fun of each other. It makes us mistreat animals. Sin is terrible. It’s the poison in God’s good world. If this were the end of the story, our story would have a very sad ending.
Sin is also darkness. Have you ever stumbled and fallen in a dark room? Sin causes us to stumble and fall and do terrible things. Because of the darkness of our hearts, we can’t even see how bad we really are. We think we’re fine, but we’re not. Sin is poison, and sin is darkness.
But that’s not the end of the story. The third fact we need to know is redemption. God didn’t leave Adam and Eve and all of us in our sin. He set a plan in motion to heal us from the poison, to get rid our our hearts of darkness. That plan is Jesus Christ. God sent his Son to earth to live a life without sin. But he mostly sent Jesus to die on the Cross in our place and to rise from the dead to gain victory over sin. You see, since God must punish sin, he had to punish someone. Instead of punishing us sinners, he sent his own Son to earth to punish him in our place. Can you imagine how much God the Father loved us to send his own Son to die for us?
The Bible (in Malachi) teaches that Jesus was to come as the sun to shine in our sinful darkness and to heal us from our sin. He gets rid of the darkness, and he heals us.
When we put all of our trust in Jesus, and not in ourselves, God saves us. He heals us. He shines his light in our hearts. We are saved by faith. This means that we don’t trust ourselves. We put our trust in Jesus Christ. When we do that, our lives will never be the same. We’ll still have to fight sin, but we’ll fight it as healed people. We’ll still be near the darkness, but now we’ll be walking in the light.
This is what we celebrate at Advent: creation (God made everything), fall (man sinned), and redemption (Jesus healed man’s poison and got rid of man’s darkness).
This Advent season, let’s remember that God in Jesus has called us to walk as healed people, to walk in the light. To pray to our Lord who loves us. To read his word, the Bible. To obey our parents and teachers. To help one another. To be faithful to his church. To tell other people the gospel, the good news we already know.
Advent is all about celebrating Jesus coming into the world to get rid of the poison and the darkness. Whenever we look around at the poison and darkness, we can still be happy. We know that God is using Jesus Christ to heal the poison and get rid of the darkness.
Posted on November 30, 2013
The text of a talk delivered at the CCL East Coast Symposium on November 23, 2013 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia
Perhaps you’ve seen the movie titled Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro and Willie Nelson. It’s about a president who invents a crisis in the Balkans in order to divert attention from a sexual scandal at home. It came out after President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinski scandal. Coincidence? You do the math.
I suggest it’s an equally apt metaphor for the relation between politics and culture in Western Constitutional democracies like ours. It’s a metaphor that’s not self-evident.
The reason for this is that for decades the West has (ironically) purchased stock in the Marxist idea that all of life is politics (“the personal is the political”). Marx borrowed and developed this idea from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau made an ingenious offer to 18th century Europeans: I’ll offer you a plan to liberate you from every social authority that you deplore — family, church, guild, caste — as long as you give me an authority strong enough to crush these other authorities. Of course, that all-crushing authority was the state. Marxism bought that premise. In the Soviet Union and China and Eastern Europe and elsewhere it enlisted the state as a crushing authority to equalize all incomes and living standards. Many Western intellectuals and elitists gleefully went along for the ride.
In time, long after the rest of the world knew of the political horrors of Marxism, Western elites turned against this politically totalitarian Marxism (“Why, the Soviet Union is just as totalitarian as the United States!”). But they didn’t abandon Marxism. In fact, they expanded it. They adopted what is called “cultural Marxism” or “libertarian Marxism.” That is, they asked the question, “If what we want is total control over everything, isn’t it better to adopt a bottom-up strategy, so that people willingly embrace our views, rather than try to impose them politically? Why do we need a totalitarian state, when we can have a totalitarian culture?” In short, they turned their attention toward capturing culture: schools and universities, the law and medical schools. the arts, TV and radio and Hollywood, the major foundations and newspapers, prominent web sites, and playwrights and novelists. They’ve been dramatically successful. Their goal has been radical egalitarianism: flattening all differences, not just in the economy, but in sex (feminism, de-masculinization, homosexuality), in the environment (radical naturalism and dehumanization), religion (everything is “spiritual”), even in living existence (abortion and euthanasia and trans-humanism). Western elites never saw a hierarchy they didn’t want to topple — as long as they had a state strong enough to guarantee they could topple it.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: At about the same time that Western elites were turning away from political totalitarianism to cultural totalitarianism (in the 70s), conservative Christians were discovering politics. They wanted to take their country back from the pro-communist, pro-secular, anti-family, anti-biblical forces. They took their strategic cue from Western elites: “Let’s capture politics so we can restore our Christian values.” They learned their lesson in the failure of this strategy long after their enemies did, and many haven’t learned it even yet.
Just as conservatives and Christians were winning political victories — the Reagan revolution, a Republican-controlled legislature, and even a slight majority (sometimes) on the U. S. Supreme Court — they were losing their culture to same-sex marriage, ubiquitous pornography, religious pluralism, intentionally childless marriages, the gradual erosion of marriage altogether, the trivialization of the church, legal nihilism, collectivist health care, and on and on. They’re just learning, if they’re learning at all, that you don’t win cultures just by winning at politics. Quite the reverse is true.
Conservative Christians are often resistant to this stubborn fact. For one thing, political victories are a lot easier — you just need to elect somebody every 2 or 4 or 6 years. Or you simply need to pressure enough representatives to vote for a piece of legislation. For another thing, political victories are a lot more spectacular — what’s more dramatic than standing on the rostrum in a crowded Ritz Carlton ballroom late one election evening with all the major TV and cable news networks shining the camera and bright lights after you’ve just had a concession call from your political opponent? Talk about dramatic.
But these victories are illusory. They’re certainly not long-lasting, as we’ve learned much to our chagrin. It’s only as we grasp that culture is the tail that wags the political dog that we can might begin to turn our political defeats around.
If you want to make a long-term political impact, therefore, let me make some very boring, but very momentous, suggestions: Stay married. Love your spouse. Start a family. Educate your children in the Faith. Park yourself in a Bible-believing church. Immerse your life in prayer. Teach your younger children Christian songs and Bible stories. Expose your older children to TV programs like Blue Bloods and Longmire and movies like Lord of the Rings and The Patriot and books like C. S. Lewis’ space trilogy. Use your personal blog and FaceBook to articulate or share thoughtful Christian truths. Support (or start) sound Christian businesses. In conversation with friends and relatives, expound the virtues of Christian culture in law, medicine, entertainment, technology, economics, business, music, education, and so on. Send money to organizations that foster Christian culture, like CCL, the Alliance Defending Freedom, Jennifer Lahl’s Center for Culture and Bio-Ethics. There is a distinct place for more “top-down” cultural influence, and CCL supports that place, but most Christians will have a more modest, yet no less significant, role.
In a society that prizes autonomy from the Triune God and his Word, these are all culturally revolutionary acts. They are the acts that will produce massive political victories over time.
Am I advising we abandon politics? By no means. If nothing else, we have a vested interest in electing politicians and enacting policies that impede the continued growth of the omnivorous state. More importantly, politics is an area of culture, and we must work to redeem all culture, including politics, for the Lord’s glory.
Meanwhile, we must never forget the importance of culture. The political dog is out front, menacing and barking, but the hidden cultural tail is making it all happen.
I close with these incisive and sobering words from British conservative Theodore Dalrymple in his book Our Culture, What’s Left of It:
I have come to regard intellectual and artistic life as of incalculable practical importance and effect. John Maynard Keynes wrote, in a famous passage in The Economic Consequences of Peace, that practical men might not have much time for theoretical considerations, but in fact the world is governed by little else than the outdated or defunct ideas of economists and social philosophers. I agree: except that I would now add novelists, playwrights, film directors, journalists, authors, and even pop singers. They are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, and we ought to pay close attention to what they say and how they say it
Posted on November 18, 2013
I’ll respond briefly to my old friend Bill Einwechter’s rejoinder to my article “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem.” I have long thought that Bill is the most theologically astute, consistently practicing, and personally winsome of the patriarchalists, and they are wise to enlist him to champion their cause. This present post responding to him presupposes that the reader is acquainted with the previous posts, so please read them if you haven’t done so.
First, Bill argues that since the fact that a private in the Army must obey both his captain and colonel does not negate the senior authority of the colonel over the private, so the fact that children must obey both Dad and Mom does not negate the senior authority of the Dad over the children. The problem is that the family is not the Army. It is, in fact, injurious to import human “chain-of-command” authority structures back into the family (or the church, for that matter). The U. S. Army is not our paradigm; the Bible is.
Yes, Duties Can be Divided
Second, we can, in fact, separate the wife’s duties from the mother’s duties. If we couldn’t, it would hard to show how a childless wife could fulfill her entire duties. It’s hard to believe that Bill opposes the idea that “parenting [is] something distinct from the marriage and not an integral part of it.” When I pronounce a man husband and wife, I’m not publicly authenticating half a family. A husband and a wife are a family, even without children. Children are a great blessing ([Ps. 127:3]; well, not all children, only godly children [Pr. 17:25]), but children are not essential to a family, and a marriage is not essential to children (it should be, but fathers and mothers do sometimes die, and children are [unfortunately] born out of wedlock). If we can separate spousal from paternal and maternal obligation before children come along (and after they are reared), why can’t be do it while they are being reared? In short, paternal and maternal obligation can be and often are separated from spousal obligation.
Everything Without Qualification?
Bill argues that when Ephesians 5:24 states that wives must submit to their husbands in everything, it means just that — apparently without qualification. But we all know this cannot be true. If a husband demands a wife sin (for instance, submit to an abortion or spouse-swapping), she must disobey him and obey God. Likewise, if a husband demands that his children attend a public school while his wife believes they must be home schooled, he may not steamroll her God-given authority on the ground of texts like Ephesians 5:24, whose meaning is “Wives, obey your husbands in everything in which it is appropriate,” not in everything without qualification whatsoever.
Eight Unpersuasive Theses
Bill posits eight theses that allegedly support his contention not just that the wife should submit to the husband (valid) but that the mother should submit to the father (invalid), yet these sets of verses either are not pertinent to the special case he’s trying to make or do not prove what he’s trying to prove. For example, in arguing for (a) “male positional priority (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:8-24; I Cor. 11:7-12; 1 Tim. 2:13),” (b) that “man is the head of the woman and that she is to submit to him (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6),” and (c) that “elder and deacon qualifications … state that men are to govern their own children and households well (1 Tim. 3:4-5, 12),” Bill posits theses that do not refute the fact that father and mother have equal authority in the lives of their children. Bill seems convinced that these texts support his view because he has already assumed its validity. But you cannot assume what you need to prove.
Moreover, he makes a great deal about the fact that “father’s house” occurs 62 times in the Bible, while “mother’s house” appears only 4 times. But this is to commit a quantification fallacy. The virgin birth is taught explicitly only once in the Bible (Is. 7:14; cf. Mt. 1:23) while universal human depravity is taught ubiquitously. Should we allow the texts on universal human depravity to govern our views of the virgin birth merely on the strength of their quantity? Of course not.
Similarly, Bill notes that in most Biblical texts, the father is named before the mother, and Bill insinuates that this chronological priority of the father necessitates greater authority. Yet this fallacy is easily confuted. In 1 Peter 1:2 the sequence of the Trinitarian designation is Father, Holy Sprit, Son (see also 2 Cor. 13:14 and Jude 20–21). Does this mean that the Son is submissive to the Holy Spirit? That view would be heresy. Chronological priority in Biblical texts does not imply greater authority.
Bill notes that “biblical law … gives a man authority to overturn the vows of his wife and daughters (Num. 30:3-16).” Quite true, but in defending his view, that is an argument from silence. He needs to prove the authority the mother does not have, not the authority the father does have, and he hasn’t done this.
The Blessings of Confusion
Bill contends that spousal hierarchy coupled with parental parity (the view I hold) is “confusion.” But confusion is in the mind of the beholder. Let’s use a Biblical example (and not an example from the Army) to address this argument.
The Bible and Christian orthodoxy teach that in their eternal relations, the three members of the Trinity are equally authoritative, just as they share a single nature. It also teaches that in the outworking of redemption, the Son submits to the will of the Father and the Spirit does the will of the Father and the Son (at least the Western church teaches this). That is to say, the Biblical Trinity is both egalitarian and hierarchical, depending on the perspective from which it is viewed. This is the orthodox Christian position: ontological egalitarianism and economic hierarchy. Confusing? You bet. But the fact that it is confusing does not give us warrant to deny its truth. Eternal economic subordinationism is heretical, just as the more frequently espoused eternal ontological subordinationism is, despite the tragic fact that some patriarchalists (like Bruce Ware, not Bill) now espouse the former. The easy and un-confusing tack is to say, “In the family, what the father says goes at all times.” The easy way, and the wrong way. The Biblical and “confusing” way is, “The wife must submit to her husband, and children must submit to their parents (equally). The wife submits to her husband’s authority, but the mother does not submit to the father’s authority. Fatherhood and motherhood by their nature are not essentially spousal positions.” After all, we have plenty of single parents, but no “single” marriages, a contradiction of terms.
A Pastoral Exhortation to Mothers
Godly mothers are reading these lines, and I cannot avoid a teaching moment.
Mothers, you are to work lovingly and graciously and deferentially with your children’s father in rearing your children, just as is he is to work lovingly and graciously and deferentially with you. But you may not abandon your God-given authority in rearing your children. If your husband demands a choice with respect to their rearing that you cannot in good conscience support, you are not required by God to support it. The Bible commands wives to submit to husbands; it never commands mothers to submit to fathers. And you betray your God-given authority when you allow your husband the final and ultimate say in your children’s rearing. Just as the Son and Spirit do not submit to the authority of the Father in their eternal being (there being loving, equally authority in the Godhead), so there should — and must — be loving and equal authority in the rearing of children.
Posted on November 18, 2013
Like many of you, I was blessed to have been influenced by devout Christians in my youth. One of them was John Ashbrook. He was pastor of one of the Christian day schools I attended in the 70s. He finally went to be with the Lord a couple of years ago. He once said, “If you want to know what God loves, find out what Satan is attacking.”
I doubt anybody will dispute that today that includes the family. Extramarital sex, radical feminism, immature machismo (“he-man-ism”), pornography, recreational contraception, abortion, federal social policies that incentivize laziness, and much more. Satan is targeting the family — your family and mine, and too often he’s been dramatically successful.
If you want to know why I preach about the family so much, why Cornerstone stresses the family so much, that’s a big reason why: we want to be attacking Satan where Satan is attacking what God loves. We want to love what God loves, and God loves the family.
It occurred to me last summer that every main thing we need to know about marriage we can discover right at the beginning of the Bible. So I thought we’d survey the first two chapters of Genesis to discover God’s truth about marriage for us.
A pre-redemptive institution
The first truth I want us to note is that marriage was instituted in Genesis 1–2, before Genesis 3. What happened in Genesis 3? Man and woman sinned. This means that marriage is a pre-redemptive institution: it was in God’s plan before sin showed up. This is isn’t true of the church or the state, two other of God’s institutions for man. If man had never sinned, we wouldn’t have a church or state — at least not like we have them now. But we would have the family — many families.
This means that the family isn’t a concession to sin. This means the family isn’t designed to help redeem man from a bad situation. It means that the family is the way God meant things to be from the very beginning. This means that the family is for man as man, not just redeemed man. Christians sometimes ask whether non-Christians are really are married in God’s sight. Yes, they are. Only Christians should marry only other Christians, but marriage doesn’t depend on whether you’re a Christian. Marriage and the family are for humanity made in God’s image, not just Christians.
God is not enough for the man
God first made man, the male, Adam. God placed man in the perfect environment. Adam had splendorous, lush garden; the best food; no hard work; the animals as companions; bliss, daily fellowship with Triune God!
But all of this wasn’t enough for Adam. God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). I want us to think hard about the implications of that statement. Adam wasn’t alone, was he? After all, he had God, didn’t he? We sometimes might think, “I don’t need anyone but God,” but that’s not what the Bible teaches.
God was not enough. Man needs someone like him (like him, yet different). So, God created woman. Man in the garden had God, but God wasn’t all he needed. He needed someone like him, yet different from him.
He had God, but God isn’t a temporal, bodily being like man. Man had the animals. They are temporal and bodily beings, but they’re not made in God’s image. What man needed was a being made in God’s image like he was, and yet a being just different enough from him fill the void in his existence.
In other words, he needed a woman.
So God created woman, Eve, from Adam’s side, near his heart. I suspect there’s symbolism in this act. God didn’t fashion Eve from his feet, so he could trample on her. He didn’t create her from Adam’s head, so she could dominate him. God created woman from man’s side, near his heart.
Husbands, make sure your wife stays right there at all times: near your heart. Young single men, that’s what you’re getting with a a godly wife: a woman who can stay hear your heart at all times. A woman with whom you can share your deepest goals and longings and fears and hopes. A woman with whom you can be utterly transparent.
This is implied in Genesis 2:25: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” They were utterly open with each other — nothing to hide. Full intimacy, not just physical intimacy.
After a wedding this summer I was chatting informally with some of the young married couples. I said, “Most husbands think that if they show any fear or weakness or vulnerability to their wives, their wives will lose respect for them. They obviously don’t know women very well. Wives — the right kind of wives — cherish intimacy. The wife cherishes being able to help a man be what he cannot be without her. So, when you share your innermost thoughts with your wife, you’re not just meeting her needs, you’re helping yourself.”
And all the young husbands were staring at me warily while all the young wives were vigorously nodding their heads. A godly woman would never lose respect for a husband who shares his very life with her. She looks at that husband as a man she can trust — as her champion.
Adam saw Eve and said: “This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my
flesh” (Gen. 2:23). He knew the significance of where God had taken her from: from his very body. And this is why the act of marital intercourse is such a profound act. It’s not just a unity of bodies but a unity of beings, of lives. And this is why all extramarital intercourse is so tragic. It robs us and one another of a communion that can only be experienced as it should between a husband and a wife. The woman was created from the man’s body and joins the man’s body — and his heart and emotions and mind and history and will and his very life.
Husbands: sacrifice for this woman. Put her needs first. Trust her with your very life. Ever man who marries, implicitly acknowledges that he’s incomplete, that he’s lonely, that he’s not self-sufficient.
And that’s a good thing.
The husband is the leader
Man was created first, before woman, to lead — not dominate, but lead (1 Tim. 2:11–13). That’s a weighty obligation: to lead a woman (and often children). The husband is responsible for his wife’s material care, as well as her spiritual oversight. Husbands, your job is to lead your wife into grace and freedom and obedience and in the church and in the culture. That job is yours, not hers.
One of the cruelest ways a husband can treat his wife is to leave her alone and abandoned — not just physically, refusing to provide for her, but spiritually and emotionally. To shut her out of his life. To force her alone to make the decisions about finances and church and living arrangements and vocation and the children and future plans.
The wife is designed to be led — longs to be led — by a kind and loving and sacrificial husband. Every decision takes on increased importance.
Like Joshua, you husbands, must say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24:15). That’s your job, and you may not shirk it.
God made woman as a help worthy (suitable) to her husband: “Another like him, yet different.” Not like the animals, but one close to his heart with whom he can share his life.
The wife was created to assist the husband
We read in 1 Corinthians 11:9 that the woman was created for the man: not for his exploitation or amusement or objectification but to assist him in his God-called task. The man is called to steward God’s creation for the Lord’s glory and according to his standards, and the woman is called right along with him (Gen. 1:27–28). God calls every husband to a specific task, and the woman is to assist him in his life’s work. This isn’t limited to vocation, though it includes that. It means his entire God-given task of starting a family (which he can’t accomplish without a woman anyway!), of providing for their well-being, of supporting a church, of helping aged parents. The woman is to be there and a vital part of this task at every step of the way.
The wife is called to the husband. She is called to sacrifice her goals and aspirations for his. That’s not a popular idea today, but it is the biblical idea. The Bible does support the idea of the “career woman” for a wife, unless she understands that her husband is her career.
This obviously doesn’t mean that the woman can’t be employed or produce income (Proverbs 31 is obvious about that). It means that the wife cannot have a career track separate from her husband. She may not make plans about her future that are not subordinate to her husband’s plans.
The woman was created to be the man’s suitable help. Wives, that is God’s calling on your life.
The wife must submit to the husband
The Bible also teaches that the wife is called to submit to her husband — from the very beginning (1 Tim. 2:11–13). That just means she’s called to trust his leadership. He may never treat her as a doormat. He may never bulldoze her. The wisest husband always consults his wife and cherishes her counsel and no doubt follows it much of the time.
Godly wifely submission simply means that she trusts God with her husband’s leadership. If she disagrees with him, and he overrules her on some point, she trusts God that, if she’s right, God will change her husband.
There are so many times when God has changed me and vindicated Sharon’s counsel. Sometimes I disagreed and I was right. And sometimes not.
To live a life of submission is to live a life in faith. Wives, you don’t need to control or manipulate you husbands to guarantee that God will care for you and do right by you. In other words, God is sovereign in your husband’s life.
This is why godly submission is exhibition of of strength, not weakness. It’s proof of a woman who’s strong in faith and trusts her husband with God. And the godly husband who sees this submission never assumes he call bulldoze her. Why? Because she knows God is her great sovereign advocate and protector. A godly husband has great reverence and respect for a submissive wife, because he knows that God will move mountains to honor her obedience and to protect her against any usurpations of power.
The Husband and Wife
Marriage starts a new family
Moses writes, “[A] man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Our parents leave a heavy imprint on our lives. This is just what God intends.
But marriage starts a new family, a new covenant. A husband and wife honor their parents, but they are not submitted to their parents.
Parents of married children: love them and pray for them and help them, but know that you have no authority in their marriage. Married folks: never allow your parents or in-laws to dictate in your marriage and family. They have no God-given authority to do that. And God will not honor your family if you allow parents to dictate in your family.
You must leave father and mother and cling one another. You may not run home when hard times arrive. And parents: you may not allow your children and sons- and daughters-in-law to run back home when hard times arrive. Hard times in a marriage that are properly addressed in that marriage by the husband and wife only make that marriage stronger. Parents, if you keep interfering, you’ll rob your children of the victories that can be won only when they are forced to deal with big issues. Let God work in their marriage.
Marriage is permanent
Finally: Jesus once said to the Pharisees: “‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’” (Mt. 19:8). Divorce is a concession to human sinfulness. Divorce isn’t God’s creational way. Divorce is not a part of the design plan.
We live in a divorce culture. (Christians divorce almost as widely as non-Christians.) This is one consequence of today’s cult of autonomy: “I get to decide how I’ll live my life and make myself happy, and if a wife or husband gets in the way, I’ll just throw him/her on the trash heap.”
People’s lives are destroyed and children are scarred for life and investments are lost and churches are ripped apart and businesses are disrupted all because somebody was willing to sacrifice anybody and anything on the altar of their own gratification.
But the God who created man and woman alone knows what gratifies them. God’s plans for marriage are designed not just to please him but to please us. God desires to share his communion with us an joyous people — joyous as he is joyous. So his law for our lives is a joyous law — it makes us joyous when we obey.
And sacrificing for the gratification of other people — just as God the Father and Son and Spirit do for each other and for us— makes us joy-filled. A life of autonomy is not a life of joy.
So, in depravation, failure, illness, and incapacity — hang onto each other. Death alone should sever a marriage. Determine for yourselves that divorce is not an option for a Christian marriage.
“Out of two, one.”
What we learn about the first marriage is just as true today: God’s holy way is always right and good, and man’s sinful ways are always wrong and bad.
Posted on November 12, 2013
Below are introductory remarks made at CCL’s 2013 West Coast Symposium in downtown San Francisco last weekend:
We need first to know what culture is. We do that best by distinguishing nature (or creation) from culture. John M. Frame captures this distinction: “Creation is what God makes; culture is what we make.” Culture is quite different from creation; its distinctive trait is the human use of that creation for man’s benefit. Culture is what we get when man intentionally employs creation for beneficial purposes. A tomato is not an aspect of culture; a pizza is. Oxygen is not an example of culture; an oxygen mask is. King David is not defined as culture; Michelangelo’s famous sculpture King David (c. 1504) is culture. Creation plus man’s beneficial interaction with it equals culture.
God’s first commission to man is to steward the rest of creation for his glory. We often call this “the cultural mandate.” God commissions man as his deputy to be the benevolent king over the earth.
If you’ll think about it, this means that creation isn’t sufficient. God made all things very good, but he didn’t make them to stay the way they are. Man was designed to use his ingenuity and diligence to improve creation for humanity’s benefit and God’s glory. God didn’t want the world to have only tomatoes. He wanted man to create pizza (or something like it). God didn’t want to make only oxygen. He designed for man to help his fellow man when he was ill by devising an oxygen mask. Creation isn’t enough. God wants his image, man, to employ creation to fashion culture.
That task requires intellect. It did from the beginning. Adam used his intellect to name the animals. In time, no doubt, he used that intellect to devise simple machines.
Fulfilling the cultural mandate isn’t possible without intellect.
As time goes on and civilization progresses — and this is my main point — intellect occupies a greater role in the cultural mandate. It takes greater intellectual exertion and sophistication to make a wagon than a wheel and pulley. It takes greater intellect to create an automobile than a wagon. And it requires more to fashion voice recognition technology than an automobile.
This progress is true not only for technology. It’s equally true in theology (16th-century theology was much more intellectually sophisticated than patristic theology), politics (our age of political ideologies is much more intellectually grounded than the age of the ancient empires), and medicine (I suspect nobody here longs for the good old days of George Washington and bleeding patients to heal infections).
And what’s true of these fields is true across the board: philosophy, music, economics, investment, architecture, literature, engineering, athletics, health, and so on. Civilizational advance requires intellectual advance.
If this is true, it means that over time, Christian culture must occupy itself more and more with intellect. The point isn’t that all Christians, or most, must be intellectuals — that would be boring and lopsided — and, frankly, dangerous. The point, rather, is that Christians must take with increased seriousness the intellectual task of the cultural mandate. Somebody needs to be doing the intellectual lifting, and Christians need to be first in line to start lifting.
Ironically, our society is increasingly anti-intellectual. How can this be, given the pervasive intellectual advances that surround us? The answer is simple: fewer and fewer people are doing more and more of the heavy intellectual lifting. Our world is hyper-specialized, and intellectuals are quintessential specialists. Unfortunately, Christians have followed this trend and are usually happily anti-intellectual. In this way, they are supremely worldly. We don’t tend to think of anti-intellectualism as a form of worldliness, but it is.
There’s no single solution to this problem, but I’ll suggest one. Christians must recover the intellect as a mission field. They should put money and resources toward getting Christians trained to be engineers and software architects and professors and surgeons and attorneys and economists and pastor-scholars and political scientists and philosophers.
If the cultural mandate necessitates increased use of intellect over time, we need more Christians taking the lead in intellectual fields, and refusing to surrender vast portions of society to the Devil. In 30 years, robots will be doing the tasks many people are doing today. Intellect will increasingly occupy a greater share of culture.
Christians,therefore, must take the lead in conquering intellectual fields as we contemplate a Christian future.
Posted on September 28, 2013
No one can deny that we live in a time of drastic, even chaotic, cultural transition. Not merely the wide acceptance of homosexual and lesbian marriage, but also the growing hostility of the populace toward biblical Christianity and Christians and the drift of Christian churches and other institutions into what Francis A. Schaeffer termed “accommodation with the world spirit” are now stark realities. Religious persecution is on the rise, not just in Muslim and Marxist cultures, but also in the secular West. If we looked only at these trends, we’d likely be overcome with pessimism.
But a heartening counter-trend has emerged: a minority but increasing number of Christians cognizant that our culture is engaged in a moral suicide mission and won’t stand for it any longer. They are disturbed by the dishonor our culture brings to the name of Jesus Christ. They are arming themselves to combat this cultural blasphemy. We Christians live in what Thomas R. Schreiner has called “an eschatological war zone.” The holy powers of the world to come have invaded the evil powers of the present world in the Person of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul writes (Eph. 6:10f.) that we don’t battle against flesh and blood but against the demonic powers of this age. We must not shrink from the implications of this biblical truth: in resisting secularism, illicit sexualization, socialism, multiculturalism, radical feminism, video-game machismo, and the other cultural evils of our time, we aren’t chiefly combating fellow humans, but Satan and his minions. Let’s not succumb to a soft-core naturalism that strategizes with humanity alone in mind. We are fighting a supernatural battle with supernatural enemies; we must fight with supernatural weapons. The stakes are huge. We are battling for God’s good creation. More importantly, we are battling for God’s honor. We are destined to win, but there are no victories without battles.
Ours is the eschatological war zone.
Posted on September 17, 2013
The letter below is a response to a dear friend who inquired whether it’s permissible for Christians to share meals in their home with professed Christian family members living in open rebellion against God’s moral truth.
That’s a great but complex question, one to which I’ve given serious thought over the years, but I’ll take a stab at it.
The text you are alluding to is 1 Corinthians 5:11 —
“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.”
If we read that verse without context, we might get the idea that Paul is forbidding having common meals with disobedient believers (or rebels who claim to be believers). But 1 Corinthians 5 in its entirety seems to me to be about what we nowadays term excommunication. Paul uses the metaphor of leaven (vv. 6–8), teaching that if the pastors ignore unrepentant, persistent sin, the church body as a whole will gradually contaminate. He might also have used the metaphor John uses in 1 John 1 — sin breaks communion with God, and since the Lord’s Supper in the Bible celebrates communion not simply with our Lord but also our sisters and brothers (1 Cor. 10:16–17), for pastors to allow open rebellion is to impair the body’s unity.
Because much of the church today (not —-!) has such an impoverished view of communion, when they read texts like 1 Corinthians 5:11, they think it can only have in mind common household meals, which I think it does not. A revival of weekly communion and sensitizing Christians to its importance would help us to properly interpret scriptures like this and others.
But that doesn’t settle your vital question. The Bible warns (2 Jn. 10) about permitting false teachers into our homes. Unrepentant (notably immoral) Christians are not identical to false teachers, but it’s clear from this text that when we invite people into our homes for meals we are extending an invitation that implies an endorsement of some sort (this was particularly true in the ancient Near East, where hospitality was a social imperative, not just a Christian virtue). In Ephesians 5:2–13 Paul even implies that if we don’t rebuke the unrepentant whom we encounter, we’re participating in their sin. This is not a popular idea in a pluralistic culture, but it is the Bible’s idea.
This all means, it seems to me, that while the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid common home meals with professed Christians living in rebellion, in no way can we give them or anyone else the impression that we condone their sin; and if having a common meal in your home will imply an endorsement, you simply cannot do it. If, conversely, you make very clear to the rebels as well as other family members that you do not endorse this rebellion, I am not sure the Bible forbids such a meal.
I sure hope this helps. I’ll be praying.
Much respect, in Him,
P. Andrew Sandlin
Posted on September 12, 2013
Hello Andrew. I know you’re not running an advice column, but I was hoping you could help me out anyway. I’ve been going to my church for 5 yrs now and I love it, but as I get closer with some of my fellow members I realize a lot of them drink alcohol. They never get drunk but will have an occasional drink at dinner. This is completely new to me and how I was raised. They have never even heard it was a sin. Where does the Bible stand on social drinking. My pastor does not drink, but I’ve never heard him preach completely against it. I’m afraid I might have been raised a legalistic.
It does my heart so good to hear from you after so long, and especially to hear that you’re still following the Lord after all these years. God bless you and your dear family!
You pose a good question, and I’ll try to answer it simply and plainly from the Bible.
The Bible warns against drunkenness (what we today, in our compromise with sin, often call “alcohol dependency”) — Paul says this plainly in Ephesians 1:19 (see also 1 Peter. 4:3). A graphic picture of the tragic effects of drunkenness is found in Proverbs 3:29–35. Paul even warns that drunkards can’t enter the Lord’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:10). This doesn’t mean they can’t become Christians (see v. 11a), or that they can’t fall into sin (1 Jn. 1:8–9), only that they can’t persist in their alcoholism and expect to enter heaven.
But the Bible doesn’t forbid drinking all alcohol under all conditions, and this is easy to prove. God allowed old covenant Israel to turn their rejoicing tithe into “strong drink” and consume it before him (Dt. 14:26). “Strong drink” here likely included the higher alcohol content akin to what we today call whiskey — not only lower-alcohol-content beer or wine.
In Leviticus 10:9 Moses warned Aaron and his sons not to drink wine or strong drink when they entered the tabernacle to do their service as priests. If God prohibited all alcohol consumption, these limited prohibitions would have been unnecessary. The same logic is true of pastors and deacons in the NT (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 2:3). Why would God limit drinking alcohol for church officers under certain conditions if he prohibited it for all people at all times? God’s reason seems to be that he doesn’t want his spiritual leaders impaired by alcohol’s effects as they serve in their office.
And then there’s Romans 14:21. Paul has been arguing that he’s willing to surrender certain permissible actions if they truly cause a brother or sister to stumble in the Faith. He includes drinking wine in this class. Obviously, if God prohibited wine, he wouldn’t need to say this. Some people say that wine is equivalent to grape juice, but this doesn’t make sense. Why would anybody object to drinking grape juice? And the fact is that grape juice as a separate beverage wasn’t available in the ancient world. They didn’t have the refrigeration techniques we do today to keep it from fermenting. It’s true that people could drink the juice of immediately squeezed grapes, but that juice didn’t last long as unfermented!
Did Jesus Drink?
Christians sometimes believe that Jesus made (and drank) grape juice, not fermented wine, but this runs contrary both to the text and to common sense and history (Jn. 2:1–10). When the house ruler commented that the wine Jesus made was uncharacteristically better than the wine first served, he had to mean fermented wine. We don’t comment on the quality of grape juice in that way. We can easily compare and contrast the quality of wines but not that of grape juices. And, as I said above, there was no way to serve large portions of unfermented wine at a wedding anyway.
In Matthew 11:19, Jesus contrasts his ministry with that of John the Baptist. He points out that the Pharisees attacked John for being too strict and they attacked him for being too lenient! The Pharisees claimed Jesus was a glutton and a winebibber. These charges were false (and blasphemous), but Jesus admits that, unlike John, he did enjoy good food and wine. He obviously means alcoholic wine, or the Pharisees’ comments wouldn’t have had any meaning at all.
Was There Fermented Wine at Communion?
In 1 Corinthians 11:21 Paul rebukes the church for sins at the Lord’s Table. One of them is that some members were getting drunk. Obviously they were using fermented wine during communion. It’s true that in those days, the Lord’s Supper was a part of larger meal, and not a separate event, but this underscores the fact that early Christians consumed fermented beverages. Paul didn’t rebuke them for consuming alcoholic wine, only for getting drunk and otherwise not caring for their brothers and sisters.
There are many activities we engage in today that the Bible would consider at best questionable, but alcohol isn’t one of them. Christians in the Bible (and Jesus himself) did drink alcohol in moderation, and the Bible never rebuked them for it.
Does This Mean That All Christians May Drink?
This doesn’t mean that all Christians should drink alcohol. If a Christian can’t drink alcohol in moderation, he should never drink it (1 Cor. 6:12). This is often true in the case of those who were previously drunkards. And as I said above, if drinking will truly wound a weaker Christian (that is, one who doesn’t understand that the Bible permits alcohol, and will be led to drink it and thereby sin against his conscience), then we shouldn’t drink (Rom. 14:14–23).
But this only means that drinking is wrong in some cases, not all cases.
You mention legalism. It’s true that Christians can impose standards the Bible doesn’t impose and in doing this they undermine the Bible (Mk. 7:5–9). But in specific cases they can also act with blatant disregard for their brothers and sisters by drinking (Rom. 14). This is a sin also.
We live in an alcohol- (and drug-) obsessed culture, so it’s understandable why Christians would not want to allow drinking. But we have to be guided by the Bible, not by our culture.
I hope this helps.
Posted on August 10, 2013
The gospel presupposes a worldview. The fact that this idea sounds unsettling to us shows how far we’ve come from the Bible’s teaching. A worldview is a way of viewing the world. It’s a set of assumptions that everybody has by which we interpret what goes on around us and inside us. There is a Christian worldview and a Buddhist worldview and a Hindu worldview and a secular worldview and New Age worldview and Marxist worldview and variations and combinations of each. Whatever we experience in this world, you and I interpret through the grid of our instinctive assumptions. Those assumptions comprise our worldview. Worldviews are like pancreases: everybody has one, even if we don’t know it or think about it.
The gospel assumes that we grasp certain truths, that we adopt a basic worldview. We don’t preach the gospel in an intellectual vacuum. The minute we say, “Jesus saves,” we must ask, “Who is Jesus? and “Saves us from what?” and then we must face the fact that the gospel presupposes a worldview. This is easy to prove.
Suppose you’re conversing with an unbelieving colleague whose spiritual condition you’re desperately concerned about. This is the first time you’ve ever really gotten into spiritual matters. You don’t specifically know where he or she stands. You start with, “I’m concerned with your eternal destiny. How do you stand with God?”
Let’s suppose your colleague replies, “I don’t know much about God, but sure, I’d like to be right with God.”
And you respond, “Do you know that you — like all of us — were born into sin and our sin separates from God and that we stand under God’s judgment?”
And your colleague, good postmodern that he is, says, “I like God but I don’t like that idea of God. God’s not judgmental. He accepts everybody as they are. Sure, we’ve all failed and done a few bad things, but the only ‘sins’ God cares about are racism and homophobia and multinational corporations and judgmentalism. I believe in God, but I don’t believe I’m much of a sinner and, at any rate, I don’t think he’d judge me because I’m not perfect.”
You wouldn’t say (would you?), “That’s OK. You can still trust Jesus. He’ll take you just as you are. You don’t need to admit you’re a sinner. You don’t need to acknowledge that you deserve God’s judgment. You don’t need to repent. Just trust Jesus.”
No, you’d say, “You’re a sinner. You can’t become a Christian until you admit you’ve sinned by breaking God’s law. You must see that you’re accountable to God and deserve his judgment. After all, that’s the reason Jesus had to die. If people aren’t sinners, there was no reason for the Cross.”
If you’d respond to your colleague that way, you’re admitting that the gospel presupposes a worldview. You’re saying (as you should) that certain beliefs are incompatible with the reception of the gospel. The gospel saves from sin, and if we don’t repent of sin, we can’t be saved.
This is why at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry John the Baptist laid the groundwork by preaching repentance (Mt. 3:1–2). His listeners who refused to repent of their sins would face God’s righteous judgment (vv. 7–12). Jesus continued that message of repentance as part of his gospel preaching (Mt. 4:17). This is why David Wells is correct to observe in The Courage to be Protestant that the gospel is understandable only in terms of a moral universe. The gospel doesn’t harmonize with a conceptual universe in which man is his own god, in which truth is relative, in which guilt is merely subjective, in which there is no final judgment, in which all religions lead to the same place, and in which Jesus is one great religious figure among many. The gospel is simply incompatible with these ideas. This is another way of saying that the gospel demands that sinners give up certain false ideas before they can be saved.
So, when we preach the gospel to poor, hell-bound sinners, we’re preaching a gospel that demands they repent of their rebellious thinking, not just their rebellious emotions, their rebellious morals, their rebellious will, and their rebellious instincts.
The gospel presupposes a worldview. This is why the Bible starts with Genesis 1:1 and not John 3:16.
Posted on July 26, 2013
Adapted from my upcoming book Are Christian Sexual Ethics Outmoded?
In confronting the routinization of same-sex marriage (SSM) we are witnessing the collapse of a massive “plausibility structure.” By “plausibility structure,” I mean what Peter Berger has described as a humanly constructed coercive objectivity that has gained the “power to constitute and to impose itself as a reality.” For thousands of years of human history what marriage is was taken for granted. Throughout its history it has been assaulted, injured, and diluted — but never redefined. The fact that the West in recent years is the first civilization in human history to redefine marriage verifies our apostasy. Our civilization was shaped by both Christian culture and the Greco-Roman world. Christianity has been unwaveringly opposed to homosexuality. The sophisticated paganism of Greece and Rome, unlike Christianity, was lax about homosexuality — but not about the definition of marriage: “[E]ven in cultures very favorable to homoerotic relationships (as in ancient Greece), something akin to the conjugal [“traditional”] view has prevailed — nothing like same-sex marriage was even imagined.” In creating SSM, our civilization is overthrowing an entire history of the definition of marriage. Our depravity isn’t merely substantive; it’s also structural. We’re not merely evil; we’re creating principles and institutions for the purpose of enshrining our evil. SSM is becoming a new plausibility structure.
When plausibility structures collapse, an entire way of thinking and, therefore, of acting in a culture changes. The transition between the collapse of the old and the adoption of the new creates, for a time, at least, a deep cultural unsettledness springing from conceptual conflicts to which humans are simply not accustomed. In the case of SSM, the conflict isn’t hard to demonstrate. Quick: what’s marriage? The fact that you fumbled mentally at a definition you could articulate (as opposed to merely intuitively assume) doesn’t prove that there is no workable definition for marriage or that it’s a hard concept to understand. It only proves that marriage has been a plausibility structure for so long that nobody thought about defining it. Is it a legal contract between any man and woman? No, because such contracts occur every day and nobody would call them a marriage. Is marriage a long-term sexually committed relationship between a man and woman? Nobody would call that a marriage either. What about commitment to fidelity (however defined) before witnesses secured by a state-sanctioned marriage license? This would disqualify most of what were considered marriages in human history. The reason we’re obliged to re-think these definitions (or think about them in the first place) is that nobody before recent times would have even considered that people of the same sex could marry. SSM wouldn’t have been deemed so much immoral as implausible; we would have lacked the conceptual formulations with which to conceive of such a scenario.
Another example in the last century was the (re-)definition of personhood in the Third Reich. A chief objective of the Nazi propaganda machine under the undisputed direction of Joseph Goebbels was to dehumanize (literally) the Jewish population so that the rest of society would accept their enslavement and eventual liquidation. In time, that objective worked. This transformation required a deep unsettledness, overturning as it did centuries of the Western plausibility structure of personhood defined as man created in God’s image and entitled to basic humane [!] treatment. To be biologically human was ipso facto to be entitled to spiritual personhood. The Nazis changed that formulation for the Jews, and that change, while successful, wasn’t easy. It’s unsettledness is captured in an exchange in the classic movie Schindler’s List, about German entrepreneur and war profiteer Oscar Schindler, who over time became horrified at the Nazi extermination machine and used his war-labor factories to shield Jews from it. In one scene, Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish assistant played by Ben Kingsley, quibbles with Schindler on the most effective words to use on Schindler’s list of names scheduled to be submitted to the Nazis to assure his Jewish workers would be considered worthy of not being exterminated.
In exasperation, Schindler retorts, “Must we invent a whole new language?”
“I think so, yes,” Stern responds quietly.
Collapsing plausibility structures demand replacement plausibility structures, and since all such structures presuppose concepts and language for converting those concepts, no collapse survives without conceptual and linguistic unsettledness.
Today we speak of “traditional marriage” and “same-sex marriage.” A century ago this language would have been as incomprehensible as if we today spoke of “traditional wars” versus “non-violent wars,” or “traditional widowers” versus “married widowers.” Some plausibility structures are so inflexible and deep-seated and their meaning so self-evident that defining them seems tautological. The fact that we today can speak of “traditional marriage” and “same-sex marriage” testifies to the nearly unprecedented success of the radical homosexual agenda in unseating a millennia-long marital plausibility structure that has never had a single competitor in any culture anywhere.
Whatever we may say of SSM, it transports us into uncharted territory. We have no idea what a non-heterosexual marital plausibility structure would — or even could — look like.