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Wanted: Young Radicals for Truth

If Jesus Christ is worth believing, he’s worth following radicially 

Humanism has infested the evangelical church. One of its chief traits is antinomianism, abandoning God’s written law. Conceptually, antinomianism begins with denying the Bible’s inerrancy. Francis A. Schaeffer called biblical inerrancy the“watershed” issue among evangelicals.[1] It divides true evangelicals from pretenders. More and more, evangelical seminaries are denying or not insisting on an error-free Bible. They’ll highlight Christ’s death on the cross, and plead that the gospel is the centerpiece of evangelicalism; but they seem to forget that the only place we know about Christ’s redemptive work is in the Bible.[2] If we lose the truth of the Bible, we lose the gospel. And it won’t do to say that the Bible is true on spiritual and theological matters, but not necessarily true on historical and scientific matters. If it’s mistaken on history and science, it will be easy to show how it is mistaken on the central truths of the gospel, which is both historical and scientific.[3] Whenever we get rid of an inerrant Bible, antinomianism and anarchy reign.

Socialism

In addition, Schaeffer observed even in the early 80s how evangelicals were investing in economic Leftism, interventionism, and socialism.[4] They believe the state could enforce a “just wage.” The state should provide healthcare, education, and welfare benefits. But according to the Bible, these are responsibilities of individuals, families, and the church. The Bible teaches that state stealing is still stealing (1 Sam. 8:1–20; 1 Kin. 21:1–25). In other words, illegitimate taxation is anti-biblical. Yet more and more evangelicals claim that if you don’t believe in socialism, you don’t care for the poor. It seems to have escaped their notice that in history, by far the greatest force in lifting people out of poverty is what we term the free market.[5] This is just what the Bible teaches, though of course it doesn’t use that name.

“Feminist subversion”

Then it’s imperative to mention what Schaeffer terms “the feminist subversion.”[6] There is a biblical feminism, of course, if we want to use that language. Christianity exalted women. The ancient pagan way debased them. Women were Jesus’ most loyal disciples, more loyal than the male apostles. Both man and woman are created in God’s image. They’re equally valuable to God. Women are not inferior to men. This doesn’t mean that God has not called them to different tasks. The woman was created to be man’s equal partner in fulfilling the cultural mandate. That’s a creational norm. But God never designed women to be sent into military combat. They were not made to be rulers of the church. They were not made to pursue a separate career path from their husband. God has given them other, and sometimes even superior, callings. In the modern feminist subversion, man and woman are not equally created in God’s image to fulfill their respective callings. No, they must do equal things. The subversives want to pit women against men. They want to force women to do everything men are called to do, and force men to do things women are called to do. They want women to serve in combat, and they want men to stay home and nurture the children. This is a feminist subversion, and tragically, many evangelicals buy into it. Their entire agenda seems to be to accommodate the surrounding culture. They are accommodation junkies.

The Sexual Revolution gets its own pew

The evangelical church often refuses, additionally, to stand for biblical sexual ethics. The Bible supports sexual fidelity (sexual intercourse between a married man and woman), not sexual autonomy. The Sexual Revolution of the 60s presses relentlessly forward, devouring everything in its path. Its latest social and, therefore, legal victory has been same-sex “marriage.” We shouldn’t be surprised at this success within the culture, but its success within the evangelical church has been breathtaking. More and more evangelicals are trying to argue that the Bible permits same-sex “marriage.” This view is so absurd that one must intentionally close his eyes when reading the Bible to arrive at it. Some of them stop short of same-sex “marriage,” but defend “same-sex attraction” and want to carve out in the church a place for celibate homosexuals and lesbians that are faithful to Jesus Christ. This is utterly false. All of us have sinful temptations, but by the Spirit, we’re called to gain victory over them. The church must be open to all repentant sinners. But we don’t turn homosexual lust into a new principle to be affirmed within the church. The Sexual Revolution has been welcomed by the accommodation junkies in the church. Unless it’s expelled from the church, it will devour the church just as it’s devouring the culture.

After all, in Schaeffer’s haunting words, “Accommodation leads to accommodation —which leads to accommodation….”

Conclusion

Now a very personal charge to Christian teens and young adults. You’re the future leaders in Christ’s church. In 20 years, you’ll be in your prime. Decisions you’re making today will shape who you will be then. Question: Are you willing to be what Schaeffer called young radicals for truth?[7] Are you willing to stand for the truth, standing with great love and compassion, but standing nonetheless, against the great evil of our time? Are you willing to stand for personal holiness? Will you live a pure life before God in mind and heart and body? Will you love God and obey his gracious law?

Will you stand for the biblical gospel? In the broadest sense, the gospel is the good news of how God is turning back evil in the universe on the basis of his Son’s redemptive work. In its narrower sense, it’s the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.[8] Will you declare that gospel and stand for that gospel in our pluralistic age?

Will you oppose and expose evil in our culture, even among family and friends, if necessary? We’re called not just to avoid evil, but also to expose it. This biblical requirement isn’t a popular task in our multicultural world. After all, we tend to think that we can live how we want to, and we should leave everybody else alone to live how he wants to. But that’s not what Paul states in Ephesians 5:11. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,” he writes, “but rather expose [or reprove] them.” Schaeffer wrote, “Truth demands confrontation.”[9] If we’re not willing to confront evil and deception, we are not really serious about the truth. We haven’t done our job before the Lord if we simply stay away from sin. If unrepentant sin comes into our path, we need to expose and reprove it. Sin disturbs God much more than it disturbs us, and we need to take his side against sin, first against the sin in our own hearts, and then against the sin of the surrounding culture.

The wise father in the Scriptures says, “My son, give me your heart” (Pr. 23:26). The heart is the very center of our being. It’s who we really are. It’s how we relate to God. Our heart is turned either to worship God, or to worship some aspect of creation. We are either God-fearers, or we are humanists. We’re either Christians, or we’re idolaters. The question for you today is: which will you be? The choices are binary; there’s no third option. We must worship and serve the Creator, or we will worship and serve the creation.

That choice starts here. Right now. Today. It’s pernicious to delay giving your heart to God. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Ec. 12).

Give yourself in reckless abandon in zeal for God. Find out where God is, and run over to his side. If necessary, stand against yourself, and stand with God. If you’ll do this, God promises to bless you in ways you cannot imagine (Is. 64:4). But if you become nothing but a religious humanist, even an evangelical humanist, you can expect nothing but God’s judgment.

Commit yourself to become a young radical for Jesus Christ.


[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1984), 43–65.

[2] Mark Labberton, “On Being Evangelical,” Fuller, issue #2, 6–8. Labberton is president of Fuller Seminary.

[3] Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture (Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth, 1988), 15–64.

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 111–115.

[5] Ronald H. Nash, Poverty and Wealth, The Christian Debate Over Capitalism (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1986), 184–199.

[6] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 130.

[7] Ibid., 149–151.

[8]John M. Frame, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014), 1:26–33.

[9] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 64.

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Humanism Goes to Church

The worship of man invades the holy sanctuary 

You might think that the last place you’d find humanism is in the church. But you’d be wrong. As early as the 2nd century, some of the church fathers wanted to make Christianity respectable to the wider, unbelieving society. They created a synthesis between the Christian Faith and ancient Greek philosophy.[1] Greek philosophy was likely the first extensive, coherent humanistic system of thought in world history.

Since then, the church has constantly been forced to battle humanism. The primitive church had to battle Gnosticism. This was the ancient heresy that attacked creation and fostered a religious elite. In the medieval church, humanism emerged in the form semi-Pelagian soteriology (salvation doctrine): God doesn’t save man so much as he helps man save himself. In the modern church, religious humanism appears in the form of theological liberalism, sometimes called modernism.

Theological liberalism

Liberalism consisted of a fusion of Enlightenment rationalism (universal man’s reason is the final arbiter of truth) and Romanticism (individual man’s experience is the final arbiter of truth). Scientific rationalism + autonomous existentialism = liberalism. The basic spirit of liberalism is simple: Christianity must conform to the temper of the times. The Bible and Christian dogma aren’t authoritative. Man’s reason and experience in the modern world are authoritative. Liberalism’s chief tenet is accommodating Christianity to the reigning spirit of the age. In order to do this, liberalism had to deny the central truths of the Faith: the infallibility of the Bible, the virgin birth and the sinlessness of Christ, and his atoning death on the Cross and his resurrection, among other truths.[2] Liberalism is humanism dressed up in a Christian costume.

One of the leading American theologians of the 20th century was J. Gresham Machen. One of his most famous books was Christianity and Liberalism.[3] He argues that theological liberalism isn’t a new version of Christianity. Rather, it’s not Christianity at all. It’s another religion altogether. It’s religious humanism.

Evangelicals as liberals

You might be asking, “What has that to do with me? I’m not liberal. I’m a Bible-believing evangelical.” But the fact is that modern evangelicalism is gradually (sometimes not so gradually) becoming liberal, and if you and I don’t stand against the tide, we’ll be swept into liberalism right along with it. An early evangelical predicted this. His name was Francis Schaeffer. He wrote a book about it in 1984. It was called The Great Evangelical Disaster.[4] It was his last book published in his lifetime. He died in the spring of 1984. The book is a charitable and prophetic rebuke of the accommodating evangelicalism of his day. I hope you’ll get the book and read it. As a young man, I read it right after it was published. It has had a profound impact on my life. It’s even more relevant today than it was 34 years ago. In the book, Schaeffer used an interesting metaphor. He pointed out that in the 60s, many young rebels came to his ministry in Switzerland and exhibited their non-conformity to the old-fashioned ways of their parents and the 40s and 50s by wearing blue jeans.[5] Blue jeans at the time were the mark of non-conformity; “We’re not going to be like the stuffy establishment.” But Schaeffer pointed out the irony: almost all of these non-conformists were wearing blue jeans. They weren’t non-conformists after all. They were, in his language, accommodationists. They accommodated the surrounding culture. He then applied this observation to evangelicalism:

It does seem to me that evangelical leaders, and every evangelical Christian, have a very special responsibility not to just go along with the “blue-jean syndrome” of not noticing that their attempts to be “with it” so often take the same forms as those who deny the existence or holiness of the living God. [6]

And then he added this haunting line: “Accommodation leads to accommodation — which leads to accommodation …. [7] Once we start accommodating the surrounding humanistic culture, we keep on accommodating. That’s what many modern evangelicals have become: accommodation junkies. They’re addicted to accommodating the surrounding humanistic culture.

Antinomianism

For instance, our humanistic culture is deeply antinomian. That means anti-law. The evangelical church has accommodated this lawlessness. They generally do it under a pious, spiritual veneer. “We’re not under law, but under grace,” they love to say, without understanding what Paul is talking about (Rom. 6:14–15). They use the grace of God as an excuse to live a lawless life. But Paul declares that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:11–12). The churchly antinomians somehow believe that the Holy Spirit liberates them from God’s law, despite the fact that the Holy Spirit inspired that law. Some of them are sincere, but sincerely mistaken. They might not understand that being free from the law means being freed from the ceremonial law, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Ac. 15:1–39). Or it means that the law no longer condemns us to judgment, since Christ just taken our judgment for us on the Cross (Rom.8:1–3). We are never free from God’s moral law. God’s moral law is a reflection of his very being.

But many antinomians aren’t sincere but mistaken; they’re simply intentional rebels, even if they claim to be Christian. And this is one main way the modern evangelical church has become infested with religious humanism.

Paul himself tells us that the law has been fulfilled in those who walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). It is holy, just, and good (Rom.7:12). But many evangelical Christians don’t want to hear about God’s law. It requires that they limit sex to marriage. They want to engage in sex whenever they feel like it. They want to depend on government handout programs rather than get a job and work hard. Antinomian young men want to view pornography. Antinomian young women want to dress provocatively. If a child is conceived that would be inconvenient for them, they want to get an abortion. They want to drink alcohol to excess. They want to tell lewd jokes. They want to avoid the church when it is convenient not to attend. They care little for reading the word of God and for prayer. The Bible is quite clear about all of these things. There’s no ambiguity in the Bible; these things are sin. But like the surrounding culture, many evangelicals want to be free from God’s standards. They say that God’s grace will cover all their unrepentant sins. So they think they can keep on sinning the way they do, and God will forget about it. They’re religious humanists in the church. They’re accommodation junkies. And I can assure you, God won’t forget about it.

“Celebrate diversity”

This accommodation is a neighbor to relativism: there are no absolute standards. I’m okay and you’re okay, as long as your okay doesn’t infringe on my okay. It’s encapsulated in the slogan: “Celebrate diversity.” Apparently this celebration doesn’t include moral judgments, which are the anathema of our relativistic age, and, in fact, the only surviving acceptable moral judgment. No one is immoral except people (like us biblical Christians) who say that other people are immoral. This form of diversity is unforgivable in a culture that “celebrates diversity.” They want to celebrate diversity, but only as long as it’s sinful diversity. They’re accommodation junkies.

This is not, to put it mildly, the spirit of the great figures of the Bible. Elijah didn’t seek accommodation with the prophets of Baal. Jesus didn’t accommodate the Pharisees. Paul didn’t accommodate the Judaizers. John didn’t accommodate the Docetic heretics, who denied the humanity of Jesus Christ. The men and women of God whose holy exploits appear in the Bible worked to sharpen distinctions between good and evil, not to blur or erase those distinctions. They weren’t interested in accommodation with false religion; they were interested in fidelity to God.


[1] Rousas John Rushdoony, By What Standard? (Vallecito, California: Ross House, 1995), 1–7.

[2] Stephen B. Clark labels liberalism as “theological secularism.” It strips the Faith of the true God and replaces him with atheistic dogma. See his “Orthodox, Protestants, Roman Catholics: What Basis for Cooperation?” Summons to Faith and Renewal, Peter S. Williamson and Kevin Perrotta, eds. (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1983), 90.

[3] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923).

[4] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1984).

[5] Ibid., 99.

[6] Ibid., 146.

[7] Ibid.

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The Evangelical Singleness-Celibacy Paradigm Is Wrong

Evangelicals tend to be mimics. The surrounding apostate culture invents a trend, and evangelicals eventually adopt it, usually decorating it with a pious veneer. This is the case with the current widespread marginalization of and assault on marriage. Some moderns argue that ours is the best of times (or at least an improving time) for marriage. The recent click-bait headline “Are Millennials Saving Marriage? Divorce Rates Plummet” captures this optimism, but it misleads. Yes, there is good news: millennials are staying married longer than their parents’ generation. Staying married rather than divorcing is obviously favorable for institutional marriage. The bad news is that fewer millennials are getting married. Many fewer. This, in fact, is the prime explanation for fewer divorces — many fewer people are getting married. If there’s a single worst way to reduce the divorce rate, short of international genocide or nuclear holocaust, this is probably it. A study from the Pew Research Center discovered:

[M]illennials are three times as likely to never have married as their grandparents were…. Compared to previous generations, millennials are marrying — if they do choose marriage at all — at a much older age. In 1965, the average marrying age for women was 21, and for men, it was 23. Today, the average age for marriage is 29.2 for women and 30.9 for men ….

The study offers these as chief reasons for the dramatic shift in marriage: “Millennials place personal needs and values first,” “Millennials question the institution of marriage,” and “Millennials have a strong sense of identity.” Deep-seated secularization and the related lust for individual autonomy are obviously at work in this trend:

For some millennial couples, they’d rather avoid the term “spouse” as well as “marriage” altogether. Instead, they are perfectly happy to be lifelong partners without the marriage license. Because marriage historically has been a legal, economic, religious, and social institution — marry to combine assets and taxes, to benefit from the support of each other’s families, to fit the mold of societal attitudes, or even to fulfill a type of religious or cultural “requirement” to hold a lifelong relationship and have kids — younger couples may not want to give in to those kinds of pressures. Instead, they claim their relationship as entirely their own, based on love and commitment, and not in need of external validation.

The bonds of covenant-keeping are the furthest thing from these young minds suckled on radical autonomy (“their relationship [is] entirely their own”), especially sexual autonomy. A no less enticing and more accurate headline is “How Millennials Are Killing Off the Concept of Marriage.” If you are under the impression that millennials are “saving” marriage, this chilling article will rudely disabuse you.

Many evangelicals have accommodated this momentous cultural shift, as they do most cultural shifts, by offering alleged biblical reasons for delaying marriage or simply remaining single, committed to a life of devout celibacy. This rationale provides cover and comfort for delayed marriage or lifelong celibacy among evangelicals. (There’s also the emergence of celibacy for “same-sex attracted” evangelicals, but that topic awaits another post. It’s unfortunately necessary to state here that the Bible does not condone same-sex “marriage” and, in fact, the practice would simply be unthinkable in biblical times, or any other times before our own.)

Not Looking for Mr. Right 

This emerging evangelical rationale creates roadblocks to Christian singles who creditably want to get married but can find no suitable spouse, since so many are content to remain single, having been granted warrant by their pastors and other leaders. A striking (and particularly flagrant) example is Preston Sprinkle’s article in Relevant magazine, “What the Church Gets Wrong About Singleness and Marriage.” One of many such arguments from what we might term the Evangelical Singleness-Celibacy Paradigm (ESCP), Sprinkle ticks off most of the usual evangelical reasons for staying single, and in fact argues, as many in the ESCP do, that singleness is spiritually superior to marriage. Single people simply make more devout Christians. Several of these reasons seem impressive on first sight, but wilt under more extensive scrutiny. This post offers brief, but more intense, scrutiny.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 7

We should start with 1 Corinthians 7. This is the seeming silver-bullet text of the ESCP. The apostle Paul is answering the Corinthians’ questions about marriage. The statements to which the ESCP draws special attention are located in vv. 7–9, 32–33:

I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion…. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife.

This excerpt without context would seem to settle the matter once and for all: Paul wishes every Christian were celibate because celibates are more devoted to the Lord, but since some people can’t live without sex, they’re permitted to marry, living within a non-sinful but spiritually inferior state.

But this reading misses some key points that mitigate the sweeping verdict of the ESCP. First, this passage is the only one in the Bible in which the writer expressly declares that God did not command the writer’s words but merely permitted him to write them:


But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment …. But to the rest [Christians with unbelieving spouses who are content to remain with them] I, not the Lord, say …. Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord … But she [an unmarried widow] is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment (vv. 6, 12, 25, 40).

In short, Paul makes clear that in much of this chapter he is offering sound counsel, not communicating God’s norms. This fact does not imply that Paul’s advice is less inspired or infallible than his other writings or than the rest of the Bible. It simply means that his revelation in this chapter is not as widely applicable. Nor does it justify our playing “buffet application”: picking and choosing which biblical revelation to obey and bypassing the rest. The text itself must indicate the parameters of applicability. This text, however, discloses that the much of the chapter is (like the Jews’ wars of extermination in Canaan) not universally applicable. It is ad hoc advice, calculated for a specific situation. The reason for this limited applicability is likely found in vv. 26–27:

I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress — that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

No one knows precisely what this “present distress” was. Some NT theologians like Richard B. Hays believe it was the impending Second Advent (pp. 126–129): Paul believed it would occur in the Corinthians’ lifetimes, perhaps even very soon (“the time is short,” v. 29). Yet to the Thessalonians Paul had written that the “day of Christ” was not impending (2 Thes. 2:1f.). 1 Corinthians was likely written just 2–5 years after 2 Thessalonians, so it’s unlikely that Paul would have reversed himself in such a short time. The Corinthian church was influenced by classical philosophy and its pagan Greek assumptions (ch. 1–2), including, as Gordon Fee notes, a spiritualized asceticism and dualism, which degraded the body and sex (p. 269) and lent credence to the singleness-celibacy viewpoint. Perhaps this contra-Christian influence was disrupting the church. Whatever the “present distress” was, it contributed to Paul’s counsel, which he pointedly distinguished from God’s command. In fact, as Fee writes, “[A]part from the command in v. 10, the whole [chapter] is filled with what is acknowledged by the apostle as his personal opinion” (p. 270). It is sound counsel for the “present distress,” but it is not normative. Celibacy is a special gift (v. 7), but it is an exception. Leon Morris summarizes:

Though he [Paul] himself prefers celibacy, his advocacy of that state is very moderate. He does not command a celibate life for all who can sustain it. He never says that celibacy is morally superior to marriage. He regards marriage as the norm, but recognizes that there are some, to whom God has given a special gift, who should remain unmarried. (p. 105)

Paul believed that celibacy was a valid, but non-normative and exceptional, calling. It is not “morally superior to marriage.” This is likely why in all his canonical writings, he didn’t communicate its requirements. After all, he was clear about marital requirements (Rom. 7:1–3; 1 Cor. 11:9–12; Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Tim. 4:1–4; 5:14; see also 1 Pet. 3:–7). If celibacy were spiritually superior to marriage, it’s hard to imagine why Paul (or another biblical writer) wouldn’t have outlined its specific stipulations as he did for marriage. But if gifted celibacy is rare and exceptional, this paucity of evidence makes sense.

In addition, the fact that Paul requires church elders to be the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6) indicates he could not have believed that celibacy necessarily creates superior piety. Who of all people should be more devout than church leaders? Yet Paul did not require that they be celibate. In fact, it’s possible his words might plausibly be construed that celibates are not qualified for church eldership, though this is not an irrefutable conclusion.

“My life is solitary, and it’s mine”

In any case, the prime biblical text for the ESCP that, in Sprinkle’s words, “almost downplays marriage in light of the beautiful prospect of singleness” (1 Cor. 7) does nothing of the kind. It offers apostolic advice, not divine command, during a “present distress” that should not be universalized to apply in all possible situations.

Celibacy in the Resurrection

Another biblical argument from the ESCP stems from Jesus’ response to the Sadducees’ question about levirate marriage and the resurrection (Mt. 22:23–30; Mk. 12:18–25; Lk. 20:27­–36). They referred to the Mosaic law found in Deuteronomy 25:5–6 that if a man dies childless, his brother is required to marry his wife and to father for his deceased sibling an heir. The Sadducees inquired whose wife the woman would be in the resurrection (a reality they denied) if she married a series of men, all of whom died leaving her childless. Jesus subverted their question and pinpointed their ignorance by asserting that that there is no marriage in the resurrected state. Christina Hitchcock, who has written a book extolling the virtues of singleness, argues that

[S]ingleness signifies …the reality of the Resurrection and the priority of the church. Singleness is a sign of God’s future breaking into our present, a future characterized by radical, total dependence on God. Within this reality, we’re not related to anyone or anything in and of themselves, but all our relationships go through Jesus and outward. That is the vision of the future we see in the Resurrection, and I think that’s the reason Jesus promised a future in which people will neither marry nor be given in marriage (Matt. 22:30).

Hitchcock is not on shaky ground in suggesting that what Hebrews terms “the powers of the age to come” (6:5) retroactively invade the present. This is what theologians call the Already/Not Yet. While we cannot enjoy all the benefits of the glorified eternal state now, we can enjoy some of them (see Rom. 8:10–11; 2Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:11–15). In fact, there is a tendency among some evangelicals to underestimate the eternal powers that have invaded our preconsummate world. They’re plagued by an under-realized soteriology. But the eternal state is not our present state, and some aspects of it are so unlike our present state that they are simply not pertinent in this age. Celibacy is one of them. The reason for this is that Christians will be a different order of being in the eternal state than we are now. We will be enfleshed humans (the only kind there are), but ours will be resurrected, glorified flesh.

One feature of the eternal order is that there will be no need for procreation, and this is Jesus’ underlying point. The reason there is no marriage in the resurrection is that there’s no procreation, just as there isn’t among the angels. The issue is not the abolition of marriage per se, as though it were inferior, but that since one of the chief reasons for marriage is procreation, and since it will be unnecessary in the eternal state, marriage itself is unnecessary. “In this new deathless life,” declares R.T. France in his commentary on the passage, “there will be no place for procreation…. It is this aspect of marriage which Jesus’ argument excludes from the resurrection life, rather than any suggestion that loving relationships have no place there” (p. 317). It is entirely possible that spouses will be even more closely linked and intimate in the eternal state, simply not married and therefore not procreating. The issue is that, in France’s words, there will be “a wholly new kind of life.”

This life cannot be experienced in the preconsummate age. One way to understand the situation is to borrow the theological language of God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. The former he can communicate to man in a relative sense (love, kindness, holiness) but the latter he cannot communicate to man (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence). Similarly, some features of eternity are communicable to the present age (the kingdom of God, resurrection righteousness in the Spirit, consistent victory over present evil powers), but others are incommunicable (immortality, sinlessness, inherent celibacy). Celibacy and childlessness are not examples of the retroactive in-breaking of the eternal kingdom, simply because that order of existence is not designed for the present world. It is suitable only to the eternal state.

C. R. Wiley pointed out to me after kindly being willing to read a pre-posting version of this essay that Paul in Ephesians 5:27 links the one-flesh union of marriage to the eternal state in detailing Christ’s preparation of his bride, the church, for her formal, spotless, presentation to him. Though this picture is, of course, metaphorical, it is hard to square with the ESCP thesis that marriage has no place in the consummation and that celibacy is an inherently higher spiritual state. If it were, it is perplexing that God would use marriage as precisely the metaphor for his eternal, and not merely temporal, union with his bride, the church.

It is therefore incorrect to suggest that celibacy is an eschatological sign of the eternal kingdom. There is nothing inherently superior about celibacy in the present world.

Marriage is the Christian norm

Jesus Reconfigured the Old Testament Family

Moreover, Preston Sprinkle writes that “Jesus reconfigured the Old Testament’s emphasis on family when he recognized all Christians as brothers and sisters.” In this telling, the OT was family-centered while the NT is Christian-centered. This distinction is wrong on two counts. First, Jehovah in the OT demanded loyalty of individuals even if it meant breaking with their family (remember God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him?), and the NT recognizes the holy solidarity of the family. The Gospel promises apply to children no less than to their parents (Ac. 2:38–39). Families as families were baptized (Ac. 16:15; 18:8). Both parents and children are an integral part of the church (Eph. 5:22–6:4). The centrality of the family in God’s creational (and not merely redemptive) purposes is a theme of the both testaments.

It bears mentioning that in Matthew 19 we read Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ retort that if, as Jesus taught, divorce is permitted only in carefully circumscribed cases, it is preferable not to marry:

But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (vv.11–12)

Here Jesus is saying much the same thing Paul did later in 1 Corinthians 7. Celibacy is a gift, but there is no hint it is preferable to marriage. Jesus did not shift his Father’s emphasis from the family to the individual, and he never suggested that celibacy or singleness is spiritually superior to marriage.

The Examples of Jesus and Paul

In a related argument, Sprinkle draws attention to the fact that both Jesus and Paul were unmarried. But this fact has little relevance to his overarching thesis. Jesus does have a metaphorical bride, the church, and had he taken a literal bride (a nearly unthinkable scenario), he would have been obliged to abandon her to untold grief at his agonizing death and subsequent departure to heaven. He knew he could not (and should not) fulfill earthly husbandly obligations.

Paul was possibly a widower, but as a unique itinerant (“apostle of the Gentiles,” Rom. 11:13), he no less than his Lord could fulfill biblical marital obligations. He was happy in his celibate state and wished that all the Corinthians could benefit from it; but this was his own opinion, and he never once implied that celibacy should be normative.

The biblical texts that the ESCP routinely enlist to support their viewpoint fail, in fact, to support it.

Marriage as a Creational Norm

However, one biblical text conspicuously absent from almost all arguments for the superiority of singleness or celibacy is the Genesis creation account, and this omission is the Achilles’ heel of their entire case. It’s therefore understandable why the ESCP might wish to bypass Genesis 1-2. What gives it particular weight is our Lord’s statement that the creation account is universally normative (Mt. 19:8; Mk. 10:6). His answer was in response to the Pharisees’ question whether divorce was permissible under any circumstances. Jesus flatly told them it is not, and grounded his answer in the creation order. The Mosaic law permitted divorce because of the Jews’ hard hearts, but the creation order, which establishes marriage as a universal norm, trumps Mosaic law. This is a remarkable assertion, because the Bible holds the Mosaic law in the highest regard. Jesus’ statement indicates that what we may call creational norms take precedence over divine law established in the post-Fall world. Such a law is a concession, in some cases, to human sinfulness. Creational norms are, by contrast, the original design for the “operating system.” For this reason, Genesis 1–2 conveys the most universally normative expression of God’s will for his creatures anywhere in the Bible.

One of those norms is marriage. God created man for woman and woman for man. He created them so that they themselves would procreate and exercise dominion in the earth (Gen. 1:26–28). This is sometimes called the cultural mandate. A direct inference is that apart from marriage and children, it is not possible (with the exception of gifted celibacy) for humanity to fulfill its God-given role the world. Because evangelicals have tended to maximize redemption and minimize creation, they don’t allow creational norms to govern their views of marriage and celibacy, despite the fact that Jesus believed these norms reflect his Father’s universal will. Marriage is God’s norm. Anything else, even when legitimate, is an exception.

Marriage is the Holy Default

A man alone or a woman alone can’t fully display the image of God. In marriage, humanity most spectacularly images God. Adam must have Eve; Eve must have Adam. Together they embody and exhibit the divine image as fully as a creature can. The Trinity — God the Father, Son and Spirit, God as one nature in three persons — enjoyed infinite, eternal, blissful communion. Their communion was so indescribably joyous, that they decided to share it (read John 17). God is not stingy. That’s why he created man and woman. The eternal communion of the triune God expands outward to man in time and history. Man and woman now share in the communal life of the triune God (though, of course, in no sense becoming God).

A single individual wouldn’t have fully reflected that triune image. Man and woman both, in complement, comprehensively reflect God’s image. But a man alone or a woman alone can’t fully display the image of God. In marriage, humanity most spectacularly images God. In the words of James B. DeYoung:

… God could have made a thousand males for Adam, yet He would not have fully achieved His own image and its internal diversity. Without that full-orbed picture, His own being would have gone unknown and unknowable. Only a woman, not another man, could complete the divine design for humankind (31).

Adam must have Eve; Eve must have Adam. Together — and only together — they embody and exhibit the divine image as fully as a creature can. This is why John Calvin can write in his commentary at 1 Corinthians 7:1, “[T]he man without the woman was, as it were, but half a man.” Yet Preston Sprinkle exudes:

Much of this anti-singleness message saturates the air of our churches, sometimes with words, other times with actions. The message is usually … subtle and unintended. But single people hear it loud and clear: You’re incomplete until you get married and have at least two kids. (But if you have more than four, then people think you’re weird again.)

But to be pro-marriage is not to be anti-single. It is a creational truth that you are incomplete until you get married, and the Bible requires the fruitful blessedness of children (Ps. 127:3–5) and does not exalt childlessness. “The Childfree Life,” if a conscious choice, is sin, violating the creational norm of a fruitfulness-designed marriage (Gen. 1:27–28).

If the ESCP were correct, we can imagine God’s saying at creation, “Adam, I’m going to create from your own body a woman, one like you, yet different. Whatever you do, however, don’t marry her. The unmarried state is spiritually superior. The woman will draw you away from me.” Such a sentiment is outrageous. On the contrary, and as hard as it might be to accept the verdict, God alone was not sufficient for the man. The man needed someone like him, and though he was created in God’s image, he needed someone more like him than God is. God intentionally created man good, but relationally incomplete, and every male without a wife, and female without a husband, is relationally incomplete, even though at times it is God’s will for them to be that way (as widowers, for example, or as gifted celibates). To be married is alone to be complete.

Conclusion

This profound meaning of marriage rooted in the creation order demolishes the ESCP thesis that marriage is optional and that it and celibacy are not much more different from one another than right-and left-handedness are. The ESCP suffers from deep anticreational roots whose accelerated growth in the last few years threatens to choke the gospel. This is an irony, because evangelicalism is putatively all about the evangel, the good news, the gospel. But by its anticreational direction it strikes out at humanity as the image of God, and at marriage, procreation, and the cultural mandate as creational norms in terms of which the gospel is even possible at all. No creation, no gospel. Misunderstood creation, misunderstood gospel.

God privileges marriage because it is an underlying rationale for creating humanity in the first place. Man and woman in marital union most fully reflect the image of God and, with rare exception, produce children as God’s plan to oversee and cultivate the rest of his creation.

This is what man and woman are on earth to do, and this is the exalted condition that the gospel of Jesus Christ restores man and woman to.

UPDATE: Though I implied it in my essay on singleness, I wish to state now explicitly and emphatically (to avoid misunderstanding) that my criticisms are not directed at godly single Christians who desire to get married but who are waiting on a faithful spouse. Rather, my criticisms are directed at those singles who have marginalized or devalued marriage or even cast it aside, and for parents and, in particular, church leaders who encourage them in their disobedience.

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Creation: The Evangelical Failure

If you wonder why too many evangelicals are caving in to same-sex “marriage,” or “attraction,” surrogacy, “gender fluidity,” and transgenderism, part of the fault lies in the DNA of evangelicalism itself. Evangelicals champion of the biblical evangel, the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead so that sinners can be saved. This is their paradigmatic specialty and we should thank God that they have enjoyed great success over the last two centuries.

 

The Creational Marginalization

 

But with this specialization has come the marginalization of other parts of the Bible, notably creation. Not that evangelicals deny creation. They’re often at the forefront defending six-day creation and the universal flood. However, they have tended not to integrate creation into their worldview. Worse: they have not understood that creation is the foundation of the gospel. This is very easy to prove, if you think about it. The gospel offers salvation from sin, but what is sin? It is a violation of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4). But how did this violation come about? It came about as result of man’s distortion of creation. Genesis chapters 1-2 lay out creational laws, or norms. These include the Creator-creature distinction, humanity made in God’s image, the distinction between man and woman within that single divine image, the fruitfulness imperative, the cultural mandate, the Sabbath, and the goodness of creation itself. We might call these the creational operating system. This is how God designed the cosmos to work.

 

Not that evangelicals deny creation. They’re often at the forefront defending six-day creation and the universal flood. However, they have tended not to integrate creation into their worldview.

 

And it is within just this operating system that the gospel software works. Sin introduced a virus into that operating system. The object of the gospel is incrementally to eliminate that virus. The virus doesn’t obliterate the operating system, but it does impair it. The gospel is God’s hunt-and-destroy-the-virus mission.

 

Evangelicals have tended, however, to internalize, privatize, and Gnosticize the gospel. The gospel is chiefly about getting sinners forgiven by God and fellowshipping with him and taking them to heaven. It’s understandable that, in this telling, addressing same-sex “marriage” might be a tangent to keep the church away from the gospel. Taking on surrogacy, egg harvesting, and transhumanism (like the Center of Bioethics and Culture) is at best a secondary cause and, at worst, a distraction from the church’s mission.

 

But if we understand that the objective of the gospel is the restoration of God’s created order, increasing adherence to his creational norms, not just for his glory but for our delight, we will recognize these tasks and many others as well within the framework of the biblical gospel.

 

The Mediator of Creation

 

A fundamental theological flaw is at the root of this truncated gospel. Modern evangelicals see Jesus is the mediator of redemption, but seem less interested in him as the mediator of creation. But the Bible plainly teaches both. See what Paul writes in Colossians 1:13–19:


He [God the Father] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins [here’s Jesus, the mediator of redemption]. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist [here’s Jesus, the mediator of creation.] And He is the head of the body, the church,who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

For Paul, Jesus’ mediation in both creation and redemption work together to convey the fullness of God to and within the cosmos. The Jesus who died on the old rugged cross is the same Jesus who shaped the universe’s laws and upholds its existence.

 

Because evangelicals have embraced a truncated view of the Bible, because they have emphasized the evangel (narrowly construed) as the be-all-and-end-all, they have been willing to sacrifice the more fundamental creational truths on which the true evangelis founded. They didn’t set out to do this. And if someone had told them even 20 years ago that they would one day endorse or surrender to “gender fluidity” or same-sex “marriage,” they would have scoffed. But their preoccupation with one vital part of the Bible and relative neglect of other vital parts paved the way for these wholesale changes. The seeds of the present compromises were there from the beginning. The neglect wasn’t intentional, but it was neglect, and we’re now paying a bitter price for it.

 

The solution to this neglect is a return to a full-orbed robust view of creation and creational norms. Let’s preach the Jesus of the old rugged Cross and the even older creational Lordship.

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First, the Kingdom

When Jesus cautioned his disciples not to be anxious over earthly provision but to seek first God’s kingdom, since the Father supplies their every need (Mt. 6:24–34), he was laying out God’s priority for his followers’ overarching life commitment. Loving God in the totality of our being is the first great commandment (Mk. 12:28–32). The cultural mandate is the first great commission (Gen. 1:27–30). But the kingdom of God is the first great commitment. The kingdom of God is the reign of God.[1]

The Psalmist highlighted that universal reign (Ps. 2, 45, 72, 110, e.g.). Jesus came preaching it (Mt. 4:12–17). It begins in the heart of the Christian and works its way outward to all of life and society (Lk. 17:20–21; 1:33). The kingdom reveals God’s objective as his life-giving, joy-inspiring, world-flourishing rule in the cosmos. As the cosmos’ Creator, God knows what’s best for it, what delights and benefits man, what brings both him, and man himself, consummate glory. To willingly submit to Jesus Christ as Lord according to the Father’s command by the Spirit’s power is to live life to the fullest, life as God intended from Eden. The gospel is therefore truly the good news of the kingdom (Lk. 8:1).[2] The good news is that in Jesus Christ, God is overcoming the bad news of sin, corruption, and condemnation. Just as the bad news is not limited to the individual heart and destiny, so the good news is not limited to the individual heart and destiny. The curse afflicts all creation. But the gospel goes “far as the curse is found.” That means everywhere.

Satan’s Rival Kingdom

It should come as no surprise that Satan, whose desire to unseat God incited his downfall, spearheads a rival kingdom (Mt. 12:26). “Fall down and worship me,” he implored our Lord in the wilderness temptation (Mt. 4:8–9). Lucifer fell because he attempted to overthrow God Almighty (Is. 14:12–15). He is called “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), that is, the god of the world system committed to contesting God’s kingdom. History since Genesis 3 constitutes the cosmic war between rival kingdoms — God’s and Satan’s. Satan is not simply trying to seduce sinners to eternal damnation; he is also angling to control and enslave the present world. He will not succeed,[3] but he will fight with increasing fury, knowing his cause is doomed (Rev. 12:12).

Light_From_Heaven

It is because victory in this cosmic war is God’s plan for history that Jesus stated that his disciples are to seek his kingdom first. The kingdom is not a means to an end. It is the end, both as God’s objective, and in the historical sequence (1 Cor. 15:20–28). All else contributes to this end.

 

The Church Is Not the Kingdom

The church, for example, is a vital aspect of, but not identical to, the kingdom. The church is Christ’s body (Col. 1:18), for whom God’s very blood in his Son was shed (Ac. 20:28). To minimize the church is to minimize a sizable component of the kingdom. But the kingdom is wider than the church.[4] I once heard a church leader say, “The church is God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B.” It is more correct to say, “The kingdom is God’s Plan A, and the family and church and state are Plans 1A, 2A, and 3A.” The kingdom is The Plan. Everything else contributes to that plan. Make no mistake: To dismiss or marginalize the church is to dismiss or marginalize Christ’s body and bride. Today Christians somehow think they can bypass the church and still please God. No Christian in biblical (or patristic, or later) times would (or could) have dreamed of such a thing. The church is vital to the kingdom of God.

I once heard a church leader say, “The church is God’s Plan A, and there is no Plan B.” It is more correct to say, “The kingdom is God’s Plan A, and the family and church and state are Plans 1A, 2A, and 3A.” The kingdom is The Plan. Everything else contributes to that plan.

But the church is not the kingdom of God, and collapsing the kingdom into the church is dangerously limiting the rule of God. God is as interested in governing and ruling the culture outside the church as he is the church itself. Today in understandable reaction to the anti-church sentiment, many Christians seem to believe that our entire religious efforts should be expended on the church. Neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth went so far as to say, “Theology is . . . a function in the liturgy of the church.”[5] It is hard to imagine a more culturally irrelevant view of theology. Theology can no more be limited to the church or liturgy than the Bible can. Barth and evangelicals who follow his view today practice what Joseph Boot terms Churchianity.[6] They ecclesiasticize the Faith and the kingdom. They care little for God’s authority in education, politics, music, science, technology, entertainment — in the culture outside the church. The church should not simply be training “full-time” church workers but also encouraging Christians to develop a distinctively Christian worldview and apply it in the field to which God has called them in their 9 to 5 vocation. The goal of the kingdom is to capture and reorient every area of culture presently under the reign of sin, that is, Satan’s kingdom. This task is obviously much larger than the church. It will perhaps come as a surprise that the Protestant reformer John Calvin saw the calling of the civil magistrate, what we today term a politician, as an even higher calling than a pastor[7] (Calvin himself was a pastor.) He might have been wrong in this assessment (I believe he was), but at least he understood that the kingdom of God could never find its zenith in the church.

Conclusion

We followers of King Jesus are to seek first his kingdom. Aspects of the kingdom, like church, family, the state, vocation, business, our personal welfare and future, must contribute to that kingdom, to that rule in the earth. We are not to be self-centered, church-centered, family-centered, or politics-centered. We are to be kingdom-centered. This is identical to saying that we are to be God-centered. When we stand one day before the King, the urgent question confronting us will be: have we, as our life’s mission, pressed the King’s work, his kingdom, in our lives?


[1] George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 77-81.
[2] Scot M. McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
[3] J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971).
[4] Herman Ridderbos, The Coming Kingdom of God (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), 354-355.
[5] Karl Barth, God in Action (Manhasset, New York: Round Table Press, 1963), 49.
[6] Joseph Boot, For Mission, The Need for Scriptural Cultural Theology (Grimsby, Ontario: EICC Publications, 2018), 8–29.
[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2008), Bk. 4, Ch. 20, Sec. 4.
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