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A 2015 Gift for 2016 Battles

Friends,

 

2015 is nearly over, and if you want tax credit for your year-end donation to CCL, now is the time to give.

 

CCL’s mission is bold, broad — and biblical: influence Christians to take the lead, wherever God has placed them, to create a new Christian culture. We are the Lord’s “adversarial intelligentsia” in an age driven by secular-pagan elites. We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit employing holy people to communicate holy ideas to restore a holy culture.

 

We need holy resources to do it.

 

Would you be willing to send a gift today?

 

Before December 31, 11:59 Pacific Standard Time, please send a tax-deductible gift here.

 

Or you can send a check, postmarked no later than December 31, to:

 

Center for Cultural Leadership
P. O. Box 100
Coulterville, California 95311

 

Thank you so much for supporting CCL with your hard-earned money.

 

We do not feel entitled, and we don’t take it for granted; but we’re deeply grateful.

 

Thanks for providing us ammunition for the great cultural battle of our time.

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Pistol Packin’ Jesus?

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Jesus’ message was the Kingdom of God (Mt. 4:17, 23; Lk. 8:1). The Kingdom of God is the rule of God in the earth.[1] Near the heart of that kingdom-rule lies justice (= righteousness, [Mt. 6:33; Heb. 1:8]). That justice includes (as I intend briefly to show) the defense, including lethal defense, if necessary, of judicially innocent life.[2] Therefore, Jesus, by implication, would have supported — and does support — carrying firearms to defend that life. The fact that this line of reasoning should pose controversy shows how far justice and the Kingdom of God have been relegated to the periphery in the thinking of today’s world, including among many Christians.

Concealed-carry Jerry

For instance: Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the country, raised eyebrows and ire when he told the students in chapel, “If more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those [San Bernardino terrorist] Muslims before they walked in.” This thoroughly Christian assertion unsurprisingly elicited a firestorm from the usual suspects over on the Left. But even some evangelicals got into the act, like student leaders at the mildly conservative Wheaton College. One of the more widely distributed Christian objections emerged from Shane Claiborne in Jonathan Merritt’s column at the prominent Religion News Service. Merritt has been known as a “celibate gay evangelical,” and his writing tips distinctly Leftward. The latter is equally true of Claiborne.

Shane, please read your Bible — all of it

Claiborne tries to make the case, not so much that Falwell was socio-politically mistaken, but that Jesus himself would oppose violence in defending life: violence is never appropriate for a Christian. In other words, Claiborne is a pacifist, and he enlists Jesus Christ in his pacifist crusade. He writes:

As I listened to the words of Mr. Falwell, I could not help asking, “Are we worshipping the same Jesus?”

The Jesus I worship did not carry a gun. He carried a cross. Jesus did not tell us to kill our enemies. He told us to love them.

No one would confuse Claiborne’s views with the product of theological reflection. Jesus indeed carried a cross and not a gun, but there were no guns in the first century, and Jesus’ requirement to love our enemies has no essential bearing on the question of self-defense. It is possible that Jesus would have carried both a cross and a gun (had there been guns), and that possibility cannot be eliminated merely by a pious aphorism.

In fact, Claiborne’ highly selective use of the Gospels refutes his bald assertion. He somehow missed this commission Jesus gave to his disciples:

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” (Lk. 22:36)

That sword Jesus required his disciples to carry wasn’t for carving pork. It was for self-defense.

Claiborne elaborates:

Jesus blessed peacemakers and the merciful. He encouraged responding to evil, not with more evil, but with love. And he modeled that enemy-love on the cross as he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” crying out in mercy even for the terrorists who nailed him to the cross. I see in Jesus a God of scandalous grace, who loves evil-doers so much he dies for them — and for us….

In fact, it is Jesus who scolds his own disciple, Peter, for standing his ground when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. Peter defensively picked up a sword to protect Jesus, cutting off the ear of one of the persecutors. As he stood up for Jesus, he had the ultimate case for self-defense. And how does Jesus respond? He scolds Peter, telling him to but his sword away. Then he heals the wounded persecutor and reattaches his ear… only to be arrested and led to his execution.

Claiborne’s errors abound. He seems not to have considered our Lord’s redemptive work as a unique historical situation that necessitated unique responses. Jesus Christ knew his calling was to die, and he would not be deterred from that agonizing death (Lk. 9:51), even by well-intentioned friends like Peter. Our Lord was not laying down a pacifist ethic; he was assuring that there would be no impediments to his sacrificial death for humanity.

This is why, while Jesus did command Peter to sheath his sword when the Romans came to arrest him, Peter was in fact carrying a sword. Jesus obviously wasn’t prohibiting lethal self-defense, only that action in this unique redemptive situation: “Keep your sword, Peter, just don’t use it right now.” Jesus was in his temporary state of humiliation for the specific purpose of dying for the world’s sin. He is no longer in that state.

Past humiliation and present glory

The Son of God has existed in three modes: his pre-incarnate mode of glory with the Father (Jn. 17:20–24), his incarnate mode of humiliation on earth (Phil. 2:4–8), and his present resurrection mode of glory in his reign (Jn. 7:39; Phil. 2:9–11). It is in this last, glorified mode that we read of him:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev. 19:11-16)

Interestingly, Claiborne did not mention this righteously wrathful mode of our Lord’s existence, even though it is the one he presently occupies — and always will. To draw attention to this present life of our Lord would seriously impair, if not completely destroy, Claiborne’s pacifism.[3]

Jesus and life-depriving justice

Claiborne is entirely correct that Jesus Christ relishes peacemaking, love, mercy, and forgiveness. These are intrinsic to the Kingdom of God. In fact, they are precisely what necessitate using guns for self-defense, even lethal self-defense, if necessary. Why?

Jesus’ ethics are grounded in the Scriptures. This meant — and means — the Old Testament:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5:17-20)

And the Old Testament justifies committing violence in self-defense. In fact, in Exodus 22:2–3, violence in defense of property is justified. If this is the case, then violence in defense of judicially innocent persons, who are of much greater value to God than property, is certainly warranted.

This is why we later read these sober requirements:

“… Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps. 82:4)

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? (Prov. 24:10-12)

Jesus affirms the commands of the Old Testament, which requires us when it is in our power to rescue those who are in mortal danger. If we disobey God by not using lethal self-defense to protect judicially innocent life, we are not acting in love and forgiveness, but perpetrating injustice and evil.

In short: if Claiborne had access to a handgun while his mother or wife or sister was being hacked by saws or gang-raped, would he get on his knees in their presence and pray for the perpetrators, or would he use the gun to stop and possibly kill them? If he would not, he would be committing a nearly unforgivable evil, and God would require of him the blood of the innocent.

Christian love requires protecting innocent life

Love means defending, with lethal force if necessary, those unjustly drawn to death. Lovelessness means not defending them with lethal force. In that scenario, not to kill is not to love.

Jesus does not permit personal vengeance, which he reserves to himself and to the civil government (Rom. 12:19; 13:1–5). But protection, including lethal protection, of judicially innocent life in imminent danger is not vengeance.

Pistol Packin’ Jesus

Therefore, if Jesus were on earth today in the United States, we have no reason to believe he would not support the Second Amendment (framed, let us remember, by Christians or those shaped by Christian truth), and he would be quite happy for his disciples to carry firearms — and require them to use those firearms, if necessary, to defend judicially innocent life.

Jesus Christ demands of us life-protecting justice.


 

[1] George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 77–81.
[2] By “judicially innocent life” I distinguish those who do not deserve to die at the hands of man from those, like murderers or violent attackers in the act, who do deserve to die.
[3] Nor were the Romans who crucified Jesus “terrorists.” They were duly constituted civil authorities whose evil consisted precisely in the monstrously unjust perversion of their divinely stamped office.
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Family Is Gospel

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Introduction

On October 31 we celebrated Reformation Day, commemorating Luther’s nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg 500 years ago two years from now. But the Reformation must be an ongoing fact. The church must be constantly reforming, espousing “a theology of permanent reformation.”[1]

As Reformation people we take the Gospel and salvation seriously. I fear that sometimes, however, we become imbalanced in our soteriological (salvation) emphases. For instance, we stress justification, being declared righteous before God’s heavenly tribunal. That was certainly Luther’s great soteriological concern or, some might say say, his, or at least his followers’, almost exclusive soteriological concern.[2]

Or if we’re evangelical in a more recent sense, we greatly emphasize regeneration, being “born again.” Of course, the Bible teaches both of these Gospel truths, and it teaches them emphatically, and there could be no biblical soteriology (salvation doctrine) without them. But these are not the only Gospel truths we need to understand, and I’m afraid that this serious imbalance in not emphasizing other truths has helped contribute to some of the great cultural evils that surround us today.

That’s a serious charge, and it’s one on which I’d like to elaborate. Upfront I will tell you that the root problem is that Protestants often haven’t understood the structural role of the family in the Gospel. One effect of this omission has been to undermine the family in our culture, not just the church.

We might begin by considering Mary Eberstadt‘s thesis that the West lost God by losing the family, not vice versa.[3] This thesis sounds strange to us because we tend to think that people become anti-God first and then anti-family as result. But if the family is part of what the Gospel means, if we lose the family, we lose the Gospel — and eventually God himself.

Let’s consider Gospel truths in the Bible that Protestants often gloss over, and then let’s talk about how this omission has helped accelerate our present cultural evil, and what we can do about it.

The Trinity as Family

 First, let’s think of the Trinity. The Trinity is a Trinity of persons. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are real people. God is One Person, but God is also three persons. There are not three gods. There is one God. But this one God is three persons. If we believe there are not three actual persons, if we believe that God is one person but the other two members of the Trinity are just modes or extensions of the one Person, we embrace heresy. The Trinity consists of three actual people. These persons love each other. They commune with each other. They delight in each other.[4]

John chapter 17 records Jesus’ prayer to his Father for his disciples. We call it his high priestly prayer. He’s interceding for his followers — not just his present followers, but those who would one day follow him (v. 20). In other words, he was praying for us.

One thing he prays is most striking:

“… And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me….” (vv. 3, 20–23)

 

In eternity past, the Father loved the Son (and the Spirit). The Son is eternal, just as eternal as the Father. We call this the eternal generation of the Son.[5] He is constantly finding his life and sustenance in the Father (Jn. 5:36) without being one whit inferior to the Father. The Son wants to please the Father, as every good son wants to please every good father. And the Father relishes to exalt the Son, every good human father relishes to exalt his good human son. Every good father is proud of his good son, and the heavenly Father is proud of his good Son. We can only imagine the communion and delight and joy the Father, Son and Spirit enjoy with one another.

Jesus prays that this glory, this communion between Father and Son, will be extended to his followers, the chosen ones. Jesus prays that these disciples — and this includes us — may share in that intimate communion. We will all be one: Father, Son, Spirit, and disciples.

But I’d like to draw your attention to one more salient point. Jesus says this this knowledge, this communion, is eternal life (v. 3). It’s not a benefit of eternal life; it is eternal life. Eternal life is communion with the Father, Son and Spirit.

Later, John gives as the reason for writing his Gospel that his readers will have eternal life (Jn. 20:31). This is why Jesus came: to bring eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

This interpretation is supported by what Jesus says earlier in his ministry. The apostle John especially likes to record the great intimacy between the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Father. “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (Jn. 3:35). “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise’” (Jn. 5:19). “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). And perhaps the most tender of all, to Mary, at his tomb: “‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’’” (Jn. 20:30). Jesus felt so close to his disciples that he identified with them in their mutual relation to God. “He is my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

Think about it: Jesus came to give us eternal life, and eternal life is communion with the eternal family love of the Father and the Son.

The Gospel is presented in the Bible from many perspectives, but How many times when we hear the Gospel preached do we hear, “Trust in Jesus Christ because he came to earth to restore the broken communion between you on the one hand and the loving Father and him as the loving Son on the other”? Not as many as we should, I’d venture. But that’s precisely why Jesus came. At root, the Gospel is a family fact — the loving father and his children. The Good News is family love. This isn’t the way that many conservative Protestants today would put it, but it is the way Jesus Christ put it.

The Bride and the Groom

Next, consider marriage. We know from Ephesians 5 that the communion between Jesus Christ and his church is a “profound mystery” (v. 32). The mystery is that this communion is analogous to marriage. This passage explodes with meaning, but I’ll point out just a couple of specially relevant truths.

While the wife is called to subordinate herself to her husband (not anybody else’s husband; this passage doesn’t teach that women in general must submit to men in general), the husband is called to cherish and “bosom” his wife.[6] He is called to meet her bodily needs and protect her and “coddle” her just as he does his own flesh. This is what Jesus does with us, his bride, his church.

Second, the husband’s supreme self-sacrifice is laying down his life for his wife. This is precisely what Jesus did for us as his church, and he’s the pattern for us husbands.

Now the Bible teaches that Jesus’ death on the Cross was a sacrifice for sin and sinners. The entire old covenant atonement system was sacrificial. It pointed to Jesus as the one final enduring sacrifice (Heb. 10:1–18). This death (along with the resurrection) is the heart of the new covenant Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–4).

But it’s imperative to recognize that Paul isn’t teaching here that Jesus died just for separate individuals. This is why he speaks of the husband and wife. The bride is collectively the church. Jesus died for his people as an elect body. In our present individualistic culture, this distinction is important. Ours isn’t just a Jesus-and-me salvation. God makes his saving covenant with covenant people in the covenant blood-shedding of his Son.

Jesus is the groom and the church is the bride. Jesus coddles and nourishes and “bosoms” the church. He sacrifices himself in providing for the church, and he gives himself up in the ultimate sacrifice at death.

Think about this for a minute. It’s not just that he paid an abstract penalty for sin. He loves the church. He cherishes the church. He’s emotionally bound to the church. He wants to preserve the church so desperately that to save the church, he gives his own life. This husbandly sacrifice is at the heart of the Gospel. It’s not simply, “Jesus died on the Cross because he wanted to take us to heaven.” No. Jesus, the husband, poured out his life’s blood to rescue his wife. It was his self-sacrificial, husbandly love that made the Cross possible.

Now, think with me. This husbandly sacrifice is a Gospel truth. You don’t have a Gospel without the sacrifice, and you don’t have the sacrifice without the sacrifice of the groom for his bride. This means that marriage is near the heart of the Gospel.

The Children

Third, in John chapter 1 we read:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (1:12–13)

God sent Jesus into the world to get more children. We often don’t think of the Gospel in these terms, but this is one chief way to understand the Gospel, and we cannot understand it as we should if we lose this element. God is a Father. He has an eternal Son. He wants more than an eternal Son. He wants lots of children.

Of course, we are humans, made in God’s image, and we are not God and never can be. You or I cannot be a child of God in the same way that Jesus is child of God, but we can be a child of God, and we are children of God in the way that only humans can be. This in fact is what it means to be a child of God. That is precisely what the Bible calls us. The Gospel is God’s family-growth plan.

Earlier I mentioned being “born again,” or born from above, as we read in John chapter 3. God the Father employs his Holy Spirit to supernaturally birth us into his family. As John chapter 1 just said, we are not born of our own will, but our Father’s. It was not our idea to be born into a physical world, and it’s not our idea to be born into the spiritual world. That is the parent’s choice, not the child’s. Parents want to bring children into a world so that they will love and be loved, delighted and be delighted. Well, this is why our heavenly Father brings to us into his world: to love and be loved and delight him and so that we can delight in his world and his ways.

This is how we become a part of God’s family. We have our heavenly Father. We have a mother, the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26). We have brothers and sisters. A good family delight in each other. The parents nourish and rear the children and protect them and provide for them. The children look to and rely on and honor and obey the parents. The children enjoy each other’s company and plan time together and help each other in hard times. This is precisely what the Bible teaches about us as the children of God; and our family, the church, and the epistle of 1 John has a lot to say about it.

The Gospel, I repeat, is God’s family-growth plan. He has his eternal Son that he has always loved, and the Father desires more children, and the Son desires more brothers and sisters. They refuse to keep all of their family love and joy and delight to themselves. That’s why we read in Hebrews 2 that God “brought many sons to glory” by the suffering of Jesus Christ (v. 10). “For he who sanctifies [Jesus] and those who are sanctified [Christians, his brothers and sisters] all have one source [they have the same Father]. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (v. 11). Jesus is our older brother. We share the same Father.

The Gospel isn’t simply good news. It is good family news. The good news is family love.

To review: the Gospel means that we join the eternal communion of the loving Father and his Son by the power of his Spirit.

The Gospel means that Jesus is the church’s husband and sacrifices and bosoms us and lays down his life for us to rescue us.

The Gospel means that the heavenly Father wants more children than just Jesus, and therefore the Gospel is God’s family growth plan, and we’re a part of that family.

The Implications

Let me explore some poignant implications of these truths as they pertain to the church in the West in the early 21st century.

Creation truths

First, note that while each of these three facts is a Gospel truth, each is also rooted in creation. The heavenly Father and his eternal Son wanted to extend their communion, so they created humans, made in God’s image. Marriage is a creation ordinance, and it was around before the Fall. Jesus was the eternal Son of God, and did not simply become the son of God, but God created Adam as his human son (Lk. 3:38).

All of these predated the Fall. They are creation truths.

Now, the Fall introduced great changes into God’s good creation, but it did not destroy the creation. The Fall effaced creation; it did not erase it. The Gospel is the good news adapted to the fallen world, but the Gospel operates within the created world. In fact, the Gospel isn’t just about redemption; it’s about restoring and enhancing creation. That’s just what redemption does.

Too often, however, in stressing redemption, we’re too quick to get to the Cross. [7] This might sound heretical, but it’s not. The Cross is there to redeem something, and that something is God’s good creation. Redemption always occurs against the background of creation. And that is why the family is a pattern for the Gospel, and in fact, if there’s no family, there’s no Gospel. If there’s no eternal Father and Son, there’s no Gospel. If there’s no husband-and-wife union, there is no Gospel. If they’re no children of God (no Adam as the son of God), there’s no Gospel.

The de-familialized Gospel

Second, the Gospel Protestants have preached over the last century or so has been a truncated Gospel,[8] and one glaring aspect of that truncation is its lack of Biblical family orientation. Tragically, this omission was happening at the same time that our secular culture was assaulting the very foundations of the family: legalized abortion; recreational birth control; unwed teen pregnancy; pornography; easy, no-fault divorce; homosexuality, same-sex “marriage”; machismo; radical feminism; surrogate pregnancy; egg harvesting; artificial insemination; sperm donation. But the 20th century Gospel was all about individual salvation and forgiveness of sins and being right before God and “I’m going to heaven when I die.” The familial aspects of the Gospel were omitted or simply placed in another category, to be dealt with later, in sanctification or Christian growth. The important Gospel truth was the benefit and future of the individual.

Think about it. The church was preaching a radically individualized Gospel that neglected the family at the same time that the culture was preaching a radically individualized counter-Gospel that undercut the family. In other words, our Gospel didn’t challenge the secular culture at its very heart. For this truncated Gospel, we’re now paying a heavy cultural price.

The Gospel isn’t just a message; it’s a worldview. As David Wells wrote, the “Gospel makes sense only in a moral world.”[9] Part of that moral world is the family of God’s creation. You cannot preach the Gospel without preaching the family, and the church’s anorexic Gospel is no match for Satan’s robust counter-Gospel. If we’d been preaching family as Gospel all along, we could have confronted the secular anti-family counter-Gospel as the very point of attack.

Gospel preaching = family preaching

Third, we can’t preach the Gospel without preaching the family. About the time of the Obergefell decision, some allegedly conservative Protestant churches and organizations changed their position about homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” One reason they gave was that if they oppose same-sex “marriage,” they would “not necessarily [be following] the way of the Gospel.”[10] There’s unity in the Gospel, and the same-sex “marriage” dispute sunders this unity. They didn’t want to be distracted from their real calling, which is to preach the Gospel.

The problem is that there is no Gospel without the family. Think of it this way. We can’t understand why Jesus Christ died for the church until we understand that the church is the bride. The church bears distinctive feminine characteristics, and her Lord bears distinctive masculine characteristics. The church is the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). The church bears the Father’s children (Gal. 4:26). The church is utterly reliant on her Lord (Eph. 5:23c). But if both spouses are male, we have utterly lost this Gospel truth. The sacrifice of the husband for the wife is possible only if the husband is male and the wife is female. This is what the Bible means by sacrificial atonement, and it is simply not compatible with same-sex “marriage.”

Think about a lesbian couple with children. The Bible teaches that God is our Father. The right kind of fathers live and act like fathers. They act in ways that only fathers can act and mothers cannot and should not act; but if we have no father, only two mothers, we cannot understand what the fatherhood in the Gospel means. This doesn’t mean that a child without a father in the home cannot know the Gospel. But it does mean that the Gospel must be modeled to him by other fathers nearby. The specific, intentional exclusion of fatherhood in a lesbian marriage, however, doesn’t just destroy the biblical pattern of creation; it destroys the Gospel.

Let us think yet again about children. They are the product of a loving, physical intercourse, if marriage is done in God’s way. But a child born of a surrogate pregnancy (a rented womb) knows nothing about that loving intimacy at its source. A child born of anonymous sperm joined to an anonymous egg might be loved, but that child was not brought into the world as the result of a loving sexual act. We children of God are spiritually birthed by the loving act of regeneration by a heavenly Father. We were not spiritually manufactured by an abstract God acting abstractly. If we lose the loving, personal aspect of this rebirth, we have simply lost the Gospel.

In short: You cannot get the family wrong and get the Gospel right. This is why it will never suffice to say you’re going to set aside family issues and just preach the Gospel. If you set aside family issues, you cannot preach the Gospel.

“Just preach the Gospel”

Fourth, and, finally, our job as churches in counteracting the virulent, counter-family forces in our culture is to: preach the Gospel. But I don’t mean the family-erased Gospel of the 20th century. I mean the Gospel that invite sinners to join the communion of the eternal family, the heavenly Father and his Son and the Spirit. I mean the Gospel of the husband Jesus who sacrifices himself even to death for his bride, the church, and to which we are called in salvation. I mean the Gospel that births us into an entirely new family, with a loving, caring Father, with the God-Man Jesus as our older brother, and with loving and caring brothers and sisters.

Understand that these are not simply implications of a higher and more basic Gospel. These are the Gospel. And if we have neglected them, we have neglected critical aspects of the Gospel. Union with Jesus Christ is union into the fellowship of an eternal Father and Son. The death of Jesus Christ is the husband’s death for his bride. Rebirth is birth into the Christian family. This is Gospel.

In conclusion: in preaching and encouraging and protecting and nourishing the family in our churches, we are preaching and encouraging and protecting and nourishing the Gospel.

We hear a lot of talk about Gospel-driven churches and Gospel-driven living. This Gospel drivenness is an imperative, and this means that we must be family-driven churches who practice family-driven living. This has nothing whatsoever to do with “patriarchy” or “family-integrated churches.”[11] The church isn’t a collection of families. It’s the eternal heavenly family that is the paradigm for the earthly family, not vice versa. If we lose that family, as well as the creation family, we lose the Gospel. And if we do stress the family as we should, we have been faithful Gospel people. The family in its very DNA models the Gospel.

I know of a Christian couple with two small children. The husband’s parents are both Christians, but the wife’s divorced parents are not. I’ve known them for years. The unbelieving parents aren’t actively hostile to the Gospel, but they have had no interest in it. Yes as they see their children, and especially their grandchildren, I am noticing a subtle shift. Their hearts are softening, and I believe I know why. Because the family is Gospel truth, softening toward the family is a softening toward the Gospel, Just as a hardening toward the family is a hardening toward the Gospel. Peter tells us that an unbelieving husband is won over not by a wife’s Gospel preaching, but by her faithful, obedient life (1 Pet. 3:1–2). In the same way, unbelievers can be won over by the loving, caring family, which models the loving, caring family set forth in the Gospel.

If we want a successful Gospel church, we must be a successful family church. If we want a successful Gospel culture, we must be a successful family culture.

Family is Gospel.


 

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, “Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda,” Toward the Future of Reformed Theology, David Willis and Michael Welker, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 120.
[2] Carl Trueman is correct that Luther was so committed to (his view of) justification that he “used [it] . . . to remake soteriology,” in “Simul peccator et justis: Martin Luther and Justification,” Justification in Perspective, Bruce L. McCormack, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 73.
[3] Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton, 2013).
[4] Michael Reeves, The Good God (Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster, 2012).
[5] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2013), 490–496.
[6] Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010, 2011), Kindle edition, commentary at 4:1–6:20.
[7] Gordon Spykman, “Fundamentalism in the CRC: A Critique,” Pro Rege, September, 1986, 16.
[8] On this entire theme, see Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
[9] David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 138.
[10] “A Letter from the Elder Board,” https://www.citychurchsf.org/A-Letter-From-The-Elder-Board, accessed December 5, 2015.
[11] P. Andrew Sandlin, “The ‘Patriarchy’ Problem,” https://docsandlin.com/2012/04/17/the-patriarchy-problem-2/, accessed October 9, 2015.
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Creation Stewardship: The Christian View of Environmentalism

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Preface

In light of the Climate Change Summit in Paris, please consider this distinctly Christian view of environmental responsibility, which contrasts sharply with the secular view championed by all leaders of the participating Western nations.

Introduction

Global ecology is a notable action item on the agenda of Reformational Christianity, the form of Protestant Christianity traditionally most committed to a world-affirming Faith. To understand this Reformational conception of global ecology, however, we must situate it in the context of the Christian worldview, best summarized for our present purposes as the creation-sin-redemption paradigm.

Creation’s Goodness

The creation of humanity was God’s crowning achievement, male and female fashioned in His image. Humans, animals, plants and microorganisms share a single status as God’s animate created order (the Creator/creature distinction); however, humans are distinguished from animals and plants in that we were created imago dei, in the image of God that we ineluctably bear (the human/non-human distinction). Man and woman were uniquely fashioned for love and communion, not only with one another, but also with God. The animals, despite in some cases high degrees of sensation and intelligence, were not designed for this unique, everlasting communion with God. If, asReformational Christians believe, the Bible is a divine revelation to humanity, we can be confident that a benevolent, just, sovereign God created the universe for His own gracious purposes, no matter how we resolve arguments about how precisely He created it or how long the creative process took. Galaxies, stars, planets, all of earth’s plants and animals as well as its inanimate features — each is the effect of God’s creation ex nihilo. The narrative in the book of Genesis from the Christian Bible insists that this creation was “good,” precisely what God intended it to be: benevolent, harmonious, orderly — and revelatory of its Creator. The inherent goodness of creation is essential to the Christian worldview and therefore dictates how Christians understand ecology.

Moreover, God charged humanity with stewardship (caretaking) of the remaining creation. Genesis conveys that humanity’s charge is to govern creation (as God governs humanity). Humanity, man and woman of all times and races and nations and creeds, are called to be God’s benevolent vicegerents and caretakers of creation. This obligatory privilege is called the “cultural mandate.” Humanity’s divinely prescribed relationship to creation is one of active and perpetual interest, care, and cultivation.

The idea of stewardship is vitally significant to this discussion. While humanity is charged with managing creation, the creation is not our own, to treat as we wish; it is God’s property: “[E]very beast of the forest is mine [says Jehovah], and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (see Psalm 50:10).

Nonetheless, humanity, as God’s crowning creation, enjoys priority in the creational hierarchy. Humans, the paramecium, the jackal, and the rhododendron are all splendorous samples of God’s creation, but humans alone bear the divine imprint and the divine charge to steward the surrounding created order. For this reason, God gave the first man and woman vegetation for food. For the same reason, God fashioned humanity’s first clothing from animal skins. The non-human creation exists for humanity’s benefit, but not for our exploitation. Humanity is the caretaker; God is the owner.

The environment is our home and, therefore, subsists preeminently for our sustenance and delight under God’s ever watchful care. This original ecological arrangement, enveloped in love and harmony and order, was to continue as long as humanity pleased God.

Sin’s Curse

Nor did sin and the resultant curse alter God’s decree to protect creation. In fact, God imposed on humanity additional requirements to protect and preserve His inherently good creation from the predatory depravities of a sinful human race. For example, God warned ancient Israel, His covenant people, not to harm the trees when they besieged a city — the tragedy of warfare is compounded when humans irreparably damage plants and animals. In addition, one justification for the Jews’ weekly Sabbath rest was to grant their hard-working oxen and donkeys — not merely humanity — a chance to recuperate from their labors. The Biblical wisdom literature, too, declares that the slothful hunter neglects to roast his game — we can only imagine God’s grief over the rotting buffalo carcasses on the plains in 19th century America. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, assures His followers that God cares for every sparrow that falls from the sky — and humans, also, must care for the non-human creatures that inhabit God’s good earth.But humanity did not please God. Man and woman violated God’s plan — and broke God’s heart. This violation Christians call sin. Judgment for this sin spoiled the creation in the form of decay, destruction and death. This is God’s curse on creation itself. Creation, originally designed to serve humanity harmoniously, would thereafter pose hardships to us — taxing labor in soil cultivation, hostile animals, and an uneven climate. Moreover, sin introduced disharmony, strife and even chaos into creation. Humanity thereafter arrayed itself not only against God, against fellow humans, and against the individual himself (internal conflict) but also against nature. Woman and man would be tempted to abuse the wider creation just as they had abused God, their fellow humans, and their own selves. However, humanity did not forfeit the task as vicegerent; it forfeited only the fully harmonious environment in which it was to exercise that task.

God permits our use of the land and trees for eating fruit and erecting shelter and use of animals for food and clothing. Humanity enjoys the priority in creation. Yet too often we are predatory, proud and self-centered. Called to steward the earth, we instead exploit it for selfish gain without considering God’s purposes. We grind our fellow humans, including society’s most vulnerable — the elderly, disabled, and preborn — under our heel. We torment and abuse animals. We treat the air, plants and soil as if there were no tomorrow.

Our sin is bad news, not just for humanity, but also for all of creation.

Redemption’s Reversal

But humanity is not the only object of this redemption in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul observes that even the environment “groans and travails in pain,” waiting for its redemption from the curse that God imposed on account of humanity’s sin (see Romans 8:22-23). The creational curse is an abnormality, and God means to roll back that curse on all of creation, no less than the curse on humanity itself. The process of redemption includes the redemption of creation. In the words ofReformational apologist Cornelius Van Til, “The sweep of redemption is as comprehensive as the sweep of sin.” Jesus Christ’s incremental redemptive work, therefore, has global (and, in fact cosmic) implications. Jesus really is the Savior of the world. The good news is that the bad news is not the last news. Paul the apostle, the most prominent Christian of the New Testament, argues that Jesus, in His death, bore the penalty for humanity’s sin and in His bodily resurrection broke the power of that sin. This is God’s loving, gracious, momentous redeeming work for humanity. That victory over sin includes the reversal of God’s original judgment and an incremental, God-given power to turn away from our sin. Man and woman appropriate this redemption by faith in Jesus Christ.

This redemption of creation is perhaps the leading instance of how God’s common grace springs from His redemptive grace. “Common grace” denotes God’s goodness toward humans in general, irrespective of their faith in Jesus. God showers His kindness on humanity qua humanity, not merely on redeemed humanity. This common grace forges a unity within the human race, a common task of which remains stewardship of the globe. Christian and non-Christian, believer and agnostic, people of different faiths — all labor together to preserve the earth, despite sometimes radically different reasons for such ecological impetus.

For Reformational Christians, redemption in Christ has ushered in a new era, an era of global healing, the reversal of the curse. We happily join all men and women committed to preserving and cultivating God’s good earth as our common residence.

We Reformational Christians grant allegiance to Jesus Christ and to the Bible as furnishing our underlying ecological principles. While the Bible is a thoroughly pre-scientific book that does not prefigure the spectacular advances of modernity, its basic truth of the prescriptive relations between God and humans, between humans themselves, and between humans and nature — each a root issue of ecology — is of abiding validity.

A Distinctively Reformational Perspective on Ecological Issues

What, then, is the Reformational viewpoint on pressing ecological issues? First, we relish the earth as God’s creation, inherently good and worthy of our respect, though cursed on account of humanity’s sin. We perceive nature, like humanity itself, as desperately needing redemption.

We support sensible, responsible (though not politically coerced) recycling of natural resources like metal, glass and paper products, as well as solid waste, in addition to reforestation and highly efficient farming methods.

We advocate energy use that accounts for both human and environmental needs, comparatively inexpensive to humans and comparatively innocuous to nature — electricity and nuclear energy, as well as fossil fuels, for instance.

With respect to the human contribution to global climate change, we support neither a politically correct stampede toward coercive (government) deprivation of human liberty nor a head-in-the-sand obscurantism. Rather, we ponder the empirical data and support responsive policies (if warranted) that would delicately balance concern for humanity with that of the wider creation.

Arguably the most ecologically vulnerable, polluted parts of the planet are “common pool resources,” resources for which specific ownership is not obvious — and, therefore, for which specific responsibility is not assigned. We resist a coercive collectivism that contributes to such ecological irresponsibility, though we do not resist basic government protection of intrinsically communal dimensions of creation (like air, the seas and earth’s outer atmosphere), the misuse of which impairs humans’ life, liberty and property.

Because we believe that the earth is creation’s intergenerational playground under the watchful care of the Creator, we labor to deliver to our posterity a world more viable for humanity, animals and plants than when we entered it. We enjoy the earth and embrace the wonder of creation and relish it as a natural consequence of our stewardship.

Most significant perhaps is the fact that human creativity (when serving humanity rather than exploiting it and nature) is the greatest proximate factor in enhancing global ecology. We deny that every imbalance in natural ecosystems created by human activity is harmful. Creatively devised ecosystems are often more beneficial to plants and animals than “natural” ones. “Sustainability” — the small-minded preservation of the ecological status quo — is a poor substitute for vigorous production that will alleviate human poverty, a pervasive contribution to ecological injury. More efficient use of greater quantities of natural resources, as well as the discovery of new resources or the invention of artificial resources, is beneficial to the entire globe. We advocate, for example, the reduction of the scope of farmland through more prudent land use, coupled with the increase of that farmland’s productivity.

Energetic, responsible human engagement with the creation is the solution to, not the culprit of, ecological damage.

Conclusion

Conversely, the person who exercises faith in the God disclosed in the Bible, the God who created a good universe, the God who redeems sinful humanity, and the God who benevolently presides over His creation, will likely (if she or he grasps the momentous implications of this worldview) arrive at the ecological conclusions of this article. Not all Christians, however, share these conclusions.

Some Christians believe that the world, ripe for God’s judgment for its depravity, is destined to end in great conflagration, including environmental decimation. In short, the world, including ecology, is irredeemable. Obviously, these apocalyptic Christians will have little motivation for the sort of ecological stewardship of Reformational Christianity that this article advocates; and they, as did the secular Soviets, may even pose a hazard to global ecology.

Christians, like secularists, simply are not of a single mind on the issue of global ecology. Like so many basic life issues, one’s approach to global ecology will be driven by one’s presuppositions. If, for example, one supposes that the universe is self-contained; that it is the product of preexistent matter, chance and time; and that God is a myth or, if there is a God, that He cannot be known or that He plays no role in the universe, that person, if epistemologically self-conscious, will be led to certain basic conclusions about global ecology. Those conclusions will not always be compatible with conclusions from other secularists. For example, one might suggest that, though humanity is the highest extant evolutionary stage of life on earth, it is not qualitatively unique. Certain forms of hardy, virile, intelligent non-human life (apes, whales) deserve cultivation and legal protection while certain forms of disabled, mentally retarded or aged human life do not. The same assumption about man’s evolutionary priority, however, may lead to a nearly opposite conclusion: the dignity of humanity as an advanced form of life necessitates the compassionate treatment of all human life and the caretaking cultivation of the rest of nature for man’s benefit. Arguably the leading secular state of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, has been criticized widely and from multiple political vantage points for its rapacious, destructive environmental policies springing from its radical economic experimentation (which included little concern for non-human life). Secular presuppositions, therefore, can lead — and have led — to both an intense concern for as well as a diffident neglect of global ecology.

Nonetheless, Christians and secularists, equally vicegerents, though with radically different presuppositions, will at times share specific ecological concerns, goals and policies. In such cases, many Christians will rejoice to labor with many non-Christians, who are also created in God’s image and who, therefore, share in the cultural, including the ecological, mandate.

And Reformational Christians long for the day when, due to God’s redemptive grace showered on the world by Jesus Christ, all creation once again will live together in love, benevolence, and harmony.

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Financing a Cultural Reclamation

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Advent 2015
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Our Lord was born into a world riddled with political turmoil, revolutionary fervor, social chaos, and religious apostasy. Sound familiar? That is now our world, and the incarnate God birthed at Bethlehem that grew to be the redeeming King of Glory who transformed that world is transforming ours. CCL is one of his agents of cultural transformation, and you are keeping us in the thick of the transformation business.
Thank you so much for praying for and supporting my successful fall Southwest speaking tour. God blessed in ways I have no room to enumerate here, but here are just a few plans for 2016 —
  • The Oklahoma Center for Cultural Leadership, a national quarterly school for 100-300 pastors, meeting initially in Dallas, training them in the aggressive cultural worldview to re-Christianize our society. It starts in Dallas but, by God’s grace, won’t end there.
  • The following publications: Jeffery J. Ventrella’s Christ, Caesar, and Self: A Pauline Proposal for Understanding the Paradoxical Call for Statist Coercion and Unfettered Autonomy; the Honorable William Graves’ Prudent Jurisprudence: Essays on Law and Politics; and P. Andrew Sandlin’s Christian Culture’s Roots, Reign, Ruin and Restoration; The Gospel That Reclaims Culture; Bloody Good Friday: Studies for Holy Week; and What the Reformation Must Look Like Today.
  • Brian Mattson’s and my lecturing for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship next summer; Brian’s lecturing on Christian Worldview of Media and Public Policy for the Institute for Biblical and Theological Studies in Budapest; and my lecturing for the Wilberforce Academy in London.
  • Bill Blankschaen’s book collaboration with Red State’s Erick Erickson.
This is just the start.
As you probably know, most Christian ministries receive a large proportion of their annual donations at year’s end. We especially need help this year’s end. To keep us forging ahead for Christian culture, can you send your largest tax-deductible year-end gift to date?
You can donate here:
Or you can send a check to:
Center for Cultural Leadership
P. O. Box 100
Coulterville, CA 95311
I need your prayer, and I need your gifts.
I pray that you and your family have the merriest — and most Lord-honoring — Christmas ever.
With deep gratitude and respect,
P. Andrew Sandlin, Founder and President

 

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