Article by: Matthew Barrett
“So what if everything in the Bible isn’t true and reliable or from God? That doesn’t really matter. The Bible still remains an authority in my life.”
Though it’s been years now, I remember hearing those words as if it were yesterday. I had no idea what to say in response.
I was shocked because I was hearing these words from a churchgoing, Bible-carrying, evangelical Christian. This person saw no relation between the truthfulness of Scripture and the authority of Scripture, as if one had nothing to do with the other.
In that moment I realized two things: First, the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura is just as important today as it was in the 16th century. I also saw that many Christians in the church have no idea what sola scriptura is or entails.
So what is sola scriptura? It means that only the Bible—because it is God’s inspired Word—is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority. This definition entails three implications related to authority.1. Our Only Supreme Authority
First, this means Scripture alone is our final authority. “Authority” is a bad word in our day of rugged individualism. But the Bible is all about authority. In fact, sola scriptura means the Bible is our chief, supreme, and ultimate authority. Notice I didn’t say the Bible is our only authority. Sola scriptura is too easily confused today with nuda scriptura, the view that we should have “no creed but the Bible.”
Those who repeat this misguided mantra believe creeds, confessions, and voices of tradition carry no authority in the church. But this was not the reformers’ position, nor should it be equated with sola scriptura.
Sola scriptura acknowledges there are other important authorities for the Christian, authorities who should be listened to and followed. But Scripture alone is our final authority. It’s the authority that rules over and governs all other authorities; it has the supreme say. While church tradition and church officials play a ministerial role, Scripture alone plays a magisterial role. This means all other authorities are to be followed only inasmuch as they align with Scripture, submit to Scripture, and are seen as subservient to Scripture.2. Our Only Sufficient Authority
Sola scriptura also means that Scripture alone is our sufficient authority. Not only is the Bible our supreme authority, it is the authority that provides believers with all the truth they need for salvation and following Christ. This notion of the Bible’s sufficiency has been powerfully articulated by Reformed confessions. For example, The Belgic Confession (1561) states: “We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein.”
And the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) says: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”
The Bible is enough for us.3. Our Only Inerrant Authority
Sola scriptura also implies that only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant authority. The basis of biblical authority is that God is its divine author. The ground for biblical authority is divine inspiration. As the Westminster Confession states,
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19, 21; 1 John 5:9).
To get a full picture of sola scriptura, we need to go beyond saying the Bible is merely inspired or God-breathed. Inspiration should lead to an understanding that the Bible is perfect and flawless. In other words, inerrancy is the necessary corollary of inspiration. They are two sides of the same coin, and it’s impossible to divorce one from the other.
Because it’s God speaking—and he is a God of truth, not error—his Word must be true and trustworthy in all it addresses. And because inerrancy is a biblical corollary and consequence of divine inspiration—inseparably connected and intertwined—it is a necessary component of sola scriptura.
Some will prefer the word “infallible” instead (which does have historical precedent). I’m fine with using the word as long as one means Scripture is incapable of erring. However, I would reject those who use it to say Scripture is true in its saving message but not in its specifics (e.g., historical details). “Infallible” and “inerrant” are complementary and compatible concepts—“infallible” (Scripture cannot err) being an even stronger word than “inerrant” (Scripture does not err). It’s historically and biblically erroneous, then, to use “infallible” to convey something less than “inerrancy.”What If We Reject It?
The God of truth has breathed out his Word of truth, and the result is nothing less than a flawless authority for the church. Were we to divorce the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture from its authority, disconnecting the two as if they’re unrelated, we would be left with no doctrine of sola scriptura at all. Should Scripture contain errors, it is unclear why we should trust Scripture as our final authority.
Should Scripture contain errors, it is unclear why we should trust Scripture as our final authority.
And should we limit, modify, or abandon the total inerrancy of Scripture, we set in motion tremendous doubt and uncertainty regarding the Bible’s competence as our final authority. As the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy puts it, “The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded.”
In other words, to reject biblical inerrancy is to undermine confidence in biblical authority, and what could have more relevance to sola scriptura than biblical authority? As Roger Nicole once wrote, “What is supremely at stake in this whole discussion [of inerrancy] is the recognition of the authority of God in the sacred oracles.”
It shouldn’t surprise us to find that in the recent history of evangelicalism, leaders have rallied around statements such as the Cambridge Declaration (1996), affirming inerrancy’s inseparability from sola scriptura: “Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life,” and the inerrant Scripture is to be “the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience.”Luther’s Central Question
What’s often missed in retellings of Luther’s story is the question of why his stance on Scripture was so detested by Rome. After all, Rome also affirmed Scripture’s authority and inspiration. So what made Luther’s stance so different and offensive?
He had the audacity to imply that Scripture is the Christian’s only inerrant authority.
It’s true the reformers never used the term “inerrancy.” But this objection fails to realize that though the term was not used, the concept was affirmed. Though the reformers didn’t flesh out the idea of inerrancy as meticulously as we have today (after all, inerrancy wasn’t their main battle with Rome), the basic concept and its most fundamental components are present in their writings. [See John Woodbridge’s compelling essay “Did Fundamentalists Invent Inerrancy?”]
While popes and councils err, Scripture does not. For Rome, Scripture and tradition were inerrant authorities. For Luther, Scripture alone is inerrant. What distinguished Luther and the rest of the reformers from church leaders in Rome, then, was their claim that as important as tradition is (and they thought it was extremely important), tradition is not without error. That honor goes to Scripture alone. Because Scripture is inspired by God and therefore inerrant, the reformers believed it alone is the church’s final authority, sufficient for faith and practice.
Matthew Barrett is associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including Salvation by Grace (P&R, 2013), Owen on the Christian Life (Crossway, 2015), God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture (Zondervan, 2016), and Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2017). Currently, he is the series editor of The 5 Solas Series with Zondervan. You can read more at MatthewMBarrett.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Tilly Dillehay
How would you handle physical suffering if it persisted for years? What would you learn? What would happen to your joy? Your prayers? Your faith?
These questions became deeply real to Connie Dever, wife of pastor and TGC Council member Mark Dever, when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in December 2013. That began a years-long journey with God that isn’t over—even now. The journey has taken her through multiple operations, radiation, hormone changes resulting in extreme body temperature and mood swings, back pain, and insomnia. A formerly healthy person able to “troubleshoot” physical problems and maintain control over her body, Connie suddenly found herself amid a trial that exposed a gap between what she believed and how she trusted God.
From 2014 to 2016, Connie kept a digital diary of her daily battle with the spiritual side of physical suffering. She recorded her thanks, over and over again, for God’s purpose. She begged for prayer from friends and readers. She copied excerpts of Scripture, classic hymns, and writers like Charles Spurgeon and C. S. Lewis, reflecting on how they were helping her get through each affliction.
Now these writings have been compiled in an excellent book, He Will Hold Me Fast: A Journey with Grace through Cancer (Christian Focus, 2017). I corresponded with Connie about the book, her first foray into print publishing.
Why did you start blogging about your cancer journey, and who did you have in mind when you were writing?
The answers to these questions are closely related. As I went through the tests, diagnosis, and surgery, it was quickly apparent I was really going to struggle with this trial. As it was my turn to be escorted from the shallow end of the pool (where I could safely touch bottom) to the 16-foot diving wall area, I was panicking. Others looked like synchronized swimmers as they encountered similar waters, calmly and gracefully keeping in step with the Spirit. But I was thrashing my arms and gasping for air. This wasn’t going to be pretty, as much as I would’ve liked it to be. Where was the beautiful “victory in Jesus” in my life?
But God, in great kindness, did give me the grace to trust his purposes were good. He wasn’t going to let me drown, but he definitely was going to give me a swimming lesson—a big one. I got the sense that perhaps there were others out there who might feel like I did. By sharing my honest weakness and failure, perhaps they’d be encouraged to see God’s sure rescue. So off went the “makeup” and online went the posts.
I also hoped others who didn’t yet know Jesus might see God’s goodness and strength and seek after him themselves. There were a number of beloved non-Christians following my posts; people for whom I’ve prayed for years. These posts allowed me to share on a level I rarely could in person. I hope God’s Word will not return void, as concerns them. I hope they respond like the disciples as they watch Jesus help me through my storms: “The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him!’” (Matt. 8:27).
Lastly, I wrote because I needed the help of God’s people. When I asked them for prayer in my posts, people responded generously, and God answered powerfully. What a wonderful thing it is to be part of the body of Christ!
At times, your writing is reminiscent of one of the classic Christian memoirs. It was encouraging to hear you talk honestly about your feelings and then hear you preaching truth to yourself in the next breath. Did you have practice doing this during more ordinary trials?
I suppose I came out of the “spiritual womb” practicing. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the saying goes. I became a Christian at a summer camp as a child. I went home with my Bible, my camp songbook, and a few other devotional goodies to keep me going. My family, though churchgoing, wasn’t a deliberate Christian family. The church we attended was very liberal; instead of classic lessons on biblical truths and the gospel, I learned concepts in Sunday school like JEPD text criticism. So I read my Bible and prayed on my own; I guess that started me digesting Bible truths and speaking them to myself, as best I could.
When I went to college, there was a fantastic, biblically grounded, passionate group of believers in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus and a good, expositional-preaching church right off campus. Add to that the rich books, like Knowing God, coming out at that time (late ’70s/early ’80s). The combination of godly people in person and godly writers in print helped me watch others speak truth to themselves, and better learn to do so myself.
The parade of faithful witnesses has continued in the decades since those college days: good churches, godly Christians, and great books. God has encouraged me to not take trials at face value, but to keep returning to his Word. I’m reminded of his faithful promises to use every trial for our good and his glory and to find their true, eternal value there. I’m especially indebted to my husband, Mark, and the fellow members here at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for reminding me to view the events of each day through a gospel lens.
How have you seen the Lord working in your husband’s life through your cancer? What about your two adult children?
On your wedding day, you make huge vows to each other before God: “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; until death do us part.” They stand like a great slab of marble, and you carve your life out of that marble together. How you respond to each joy and blessing, each heartache and trial, reveals more of the testament of your lives, joined together, for all to see. It’s hard work, but it can be beautiful work. There will inevitably be slips of the chisel, but no matter how it goes, you’re making it together.
While Mark and I have both had plenty of chisel-slips that put ugly dents in the marble, I’m so blessed to have had such a wonderful partner over the past 35 years. And really, these last few years have been especially rich. I’ve loved watching how God has used them in Mark’s life.
Mark’s tenderness and compassion toward me have been so sweet. I think others would say the fruit of it shows up in his preaching and his counseling, too. His confidence in the Lord’s goodness in trials has only grown stronger these last few years. Mark’s “aggressive contentedness” (as he likes to call it) to be satisfied in God and happy with me as I am—whatever trials may bring or take away—has shone brighter. And his longing for heaven—when we set aside these trials to be with the Lord—is greater than ever.
Mark has lived out well the call to love me like Christ loves the church. He has made this trial so much more bearable than it could’ve been. There have been many aggravating aspects of my illness: dirty dishes yet again in the sink, coming home yet again to an anguished wife, having fewer ministry opportunities together in our home. But Mark has made it all a beautiful gift of his love to me.
As for the kids, they’ve been affected much as you’d expect. They’ve been supportive and concerned, kind and helpful. Sometimes they have secret powwows with Mark about how best to help me. Sometimes I have secret powwows with Mark about how best to help them. It’s never easy to go through something like this, especially when it’s your parent, spouse, or child involved.
We pray God will use this trial for good in our children’s lives. We hope that they’ll be encouraged to seek the Lord and find him trustworthy in their trials, just as he has been faithful to care for me through mine.
How are you doing now, physically? What’s the latest chapter in the cancer journey?
Life is still really rough. Sometimes people have this thyroid surgery and radiation, start taking their little hormone replacement pills, and call it a day. I’ve not been one of those. There have been many permanent changes, both physically and mentally. I still have suspicious growths in my neck that they’re monitoring for more cancer.
And unfortunately, this summer I was diagnosed with a rare disorder that occurs in only 0.5 percent of all people who have thyroid surgery. It’s called hypoparathyroidism. Parathyroids are four rice-grain-sized glands that sit near the thyroid and regulate calcium and phosphate in the body. Many people get temporary damage to these glands after neck surgery. My damage has turned out to be permanent, and it’s getting worse. It takes monitoring throughout the day (and night), sort of like diabetes.
I’m just beginning to learn how to manage this condition. Doctors say it can take quite a while to get under control. Since so many things affect your calcium levels and my parathyroids are “off duty,” I never know exactly what will trigger the next low-calcium event and how bad it will be. It makes me think twice every time I leave the house, even for a walk around the block or to weed the garden. At this point, even small things can trigger muscle spasms or heart palpitations, if I sweat too much and lose too much calcium. I’m being stretched to trust God even with the adventure of pulling dandelions. Who knew that day would come! Please pray for me! It should get better as I learn more.
You wrote in the introduction of He Will Hold Me Fast that you didn’t want to “waste a speck of this trial,” and that you wanted to “know God so intimately that I could laugh at the days ahead, looking to God’s bountiful resources instead of my puny ones to meet them.” What do you think God has done already through your cancer journey?
I’m so grateful people have been encouraged, both in my weakness and also in God’s faithfulness to carry me. I’m happy to think someone else might be helped by anything they’ve seen in my life. That’s been a wonderful way God has not let these sorrows be wasted.
And—as hard as it’s been for me to carry on through this trial (which is looking to be a lifetime event now)—God has been answering my prayers to not waste these sorrows in my soul, and doing it in his typical “pressed down and overflowing” way. He’s taught me I most assuredly do not have what it takes to cope with my trials on my own, and I was never meant to. He’s taught me to not be so scared when I see huge unknowns ahead. I’m not sure I’m doing much laughing about the days ahead yet, but there’s a growing, quiet confidence that runs deeper than ever. God has planned this journey, and he loves me. He’s doing more than I can know. And he is holding me fast, right in his everlasting arms.
Article by: Ivan Mesa
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Andy Crouch—senior strategist for communication at the John Templeton Foundation and author of The Tech-Wise Family (2017) [interview | review], Strong and Weak (2016) [review], Playing God (2013) [review], and Culture Making (2008) [review]—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction books, books that have shaped his thinking on cultural engagement, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?Well, I read very little in bed, but here are the books on top of the wobbly stacks in our living room:
- The Theater of God’s Glory: Calvin, Creation, and the Liturgical Arts by W. David O. Taylor
- Christian Ethics in a Technological Age by Brian Brock
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- The Penultimate Curiosity: How Science Swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions by Andrew Briggs and Roger Wagner
- The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone
- Barefoot Leadership by Alvin Ung
- A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson
- Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz
- The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
- The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
- The Sacred Canopy by Peter Berger
- Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development by Bryant Meyers
- A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin
- The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
- The Odyssey by Homer
What’s your favorite book that no one has heard of?Well, it’s probably not the case that no one has heard of Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War, but let’s say it’s the book I consider to have the highest greatness-to-name-recognition ratio of any book I’ve ever read. It’s just a stunning novel. But the best answer, at least from 2016’s crop of books, is The Penultimate Curiosity, which is still at the top of a pile because it rewards endless rereading and browsing. Physicist Andrew Briggs and artist Roger Wagner trace the relationship between art, religion, and science in a generously illustrated Oxford University Press book. It probably could have used a more reader-friendly title, but the text and illustrations are quite engaging and accessible, and the argument that underlies the book is subtle and groundbreaking. I can’t recommend it highly enough. What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
When I was younger, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) seemed like a grand and totally inaccessible spiritual truth. These days it seems like a completely concrete and economical description of reality.
Also in the On My Shelf series: Walter Strickland • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler
Ivan Mesa is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Bernard N. HowardNuremberg, 1946
In 1946, Julius Streicher was on trial for his life. He had published the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, and had been captured at the end of World War II. The Allies put him on trial alongside 23 other prominent Nazis at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. During the trial Streicher was asked: “Witness, what aims did you pursue with your speeches and your articles in Der Stürmer?” Streicher replied:
I did not intend to agitate or inflame but to enlighten. Anti-Semitic publications have existed in Germany for centuries. . . . In the book The Jews and Their Lies, Dr. Martin Luther writes that the Jews are a serpent’s brood and one should burn down their synagogues and destroy them. Dr. Martin Luther would very probably sit in my place in the defendants’ dock today, if this book had been taken into consideration by the Prosecution.
Streicher was a propagandist who devoted his life to spreading slander and falsehood, but on this occasion he was telling the truth.Wittenburg, 1543
The book Streicher mentions, The Jews and Their Lies, was written by Luther in 1543, three years before his death. It was closely followed by another anti-Semitic treatise: Vom Schem Hamphoras (On the Ineffable Name). Oxford University historian Lyndal Roper summarizes the content of these two works in her recent highly acclaimed biography, Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet [review]:
The Jews, he alleges, look for biblical truth “under the sow’s tail,” that is, their interpretation of the Bible comes from looking in a pig’s anus. . . . They defame Christian belief, “impelled by the Devil, to fall into this like filthy sows fall into the trough.” If they see a Jew, Christians should “throw sow dung at him . . . and chase him away.” Luther calls for the secular authorities to burn down all the synagogues and schools, and “what won’t burn should be covered over with earth, so that not a stone or piece of slag of it should be seen for all eternity.” The Jews’ houses should be destroyed and they should be put under one roof, like the gypsies. The Talmud and prayer books should be destroyed and Jewish teachers banned. They should be prevented from using the roads, usury banned, and the Jews forced to undertake physical labor instead. Assets from moneylending should be confiscated and used to support Jews who converted. This was a program of complete cultural eradication. And Luther meant it. . . .
Luther’s anti-Semitism then reached a crescendo of physical revulsion. He imagined Jews kissing and praying to the Devil’s excrement: “the Devil has emptied . . . his stomach again and again, that is a true relic, which the Jews, and those who want to be a Jew, kiss, eat, drink, and worship.” In a kind of inverted baptismal exorcism, the Devil fills the mouth, nose, and ears of the Jews with filth: “He stuffs and squirts them so full, that it overflows and swims out of every place, pure Devil’s filth, yes, it tastes so good to their hearts, and they guzzle it like sows.” Whipping himself into a frenzy, Luther invokes Judas, the ultimate Jew: “When Judas hanged himself, so that his guts ripped, and as happens to those who are hanged, his bladder burst, then the Jews had their golden cans and silver bowls ready, to catch the Judas piss (as one calls it) with the other relics, and afterwards together they ate the shit and drank, from which they got such sharp sight that they are able to see such complex glosses in Scripture.”
This summary provides only a sampling of Luther’s hate-filled vitriol. Multiple passages in his 1543 writings against the Jews are just as abhorrent.America, 2017
October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Exasperated by the widespread selling of indulgences—pardons for sin sold by the Roman Catholic church to fund clerical debt and architectural projects in Rome—Luther bravely declared that Christ’s merits are “freely available without the keys of the pope.” Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses set in motion the Europe-wide revival of biblical faith we call the Reformation. Luther has accordingly been the historical figure placed front and center in this year of commemoration known as Reformation 500.
As a Jewish believer in Jesus, however, Reformation 500 puts me in a strange position. Luther’s gospel service cannot be denied; I myself have benefited from it greatly. But his attitude toward my own race was one of unrestrained hostility. How should I think about such a man? To frame the question more broadly, how should Luther’s anti-Semitism affect his legacy?
I have three proposals.
1. Luther’s anti-Semitism should be acknowledged without qualification.
I’ve noticed a pattern when Christians address the subject of Luther’s hostility to the Jews. First there’s acknowledgement; then comes an attempt to dial down the awfulness and make it less troubling. The desire to defend Luther is understandable—we owe him so much. But the excuses don’t stand up to scrutiny.
For example, at one recent conference a speaker said this: “Luther was wrong . . . but this isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism. That’s really a 20th-century phenomenon. . . . It wasn’t an ethnic motivation that prompted Luther to this; it was a theological one.” You can almost hear the audience’s sigh of relief. But the notion that anti-Semitism is a modern phenomenon is a fallacy. Although the term itself is relatively recent (according to the Anti-Defamation League it was first used in 1873), the reality it describes dates back to the 5th century B.C., when Haman “sought to destroy the Jews” simply because they were “the people of Mordecai,” his enemy (Est. 3:6). Whenever Jews are singled out for hostile treatment, that behavior can rightly be described as anti-Semitism. In any case, there’s ample evidence that Luther’s theological opposition to Jews was paired with ethnic hatred. Why else would he repeatedly picture them smeared with pig manure? To take a people’s distinctive feature—in this case Jewish avoidance of pigs—and maliciously turn it against them is textbook racism.
Others attempt to defend Luther by stressing that in his younger days he had been much friendlier to Jewish people. In his 1523 tract, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, he reminded readers that “the Jews are of the lineage of Christ” and called for better treatment of Jews than they’d received from the popes. While it’s true Luther wasn’t anti-Semitic throughout his life, it’s a serious mistake to make too much of the point. Imagine suffering vicious racial persecution. Would you gain any comfort from knowing your persecutor hadn’t always been a racist? What’s more, Luther’s friendliness to Jews in the early 1520s seems to have been predicated on the progress he expected them to make toward faith in Christ. So from the Jewish perspective, he wasn’t necessarily offering them safe harbor, come what may.
A third way people try to reduce the horror of Luther’s anti-Semitism is by presenting him as a person of his time, a fellow traveler in a generation given over to Jew-hatred. According to this argument, while Luther should be faulted for failing to overcome his culture, we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn, because every culture, including our own, has its blind spots. The problem with this argument is that Luther had in fact overcome his culture’s blind spots, at the time of the 1523 tract mentioned above. It’s like a white pastor in 1930s Mississippi calling for a radical easing of Jim Crow laws, only to double down on segregation two decades later. The one thing you couldn’t say in that pastor’s defense, given his earlier record, is that he simply went along with his generation’s blind spots.
I would advise anyone addressing Luther’s anti-Semitism to say it was evil, and the more closely you look at it, the worse it gets. Any temptation to sugarcoat this bitter pill should be resisted.
2. Luther’s anti-Semitism should—as far as possible—be understood.
The inevitable question raised by Luther’s anti-Semitism is how someone who did so much to glorify Jesus could disobey him so flagrantly in this area. The New Testament describes Jewish people who reject Jesus as “natural branches” broken off the “olive tree” of God’s people. It says to Gentiles, “Do not boast over those branches. . . . They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. . . . And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 11:18–23). Luther knew those verses. He translated each of those words from Greek into German! Why did he put them to one side, and others like them, in order to pour forth his white-hot hatred?
Our urge to understand shouldn’t lead us too quickly to rational explanations. Sin is profoundly irrational, as all of us know from our own hearts and actions. Explanations can easily morph into excuses like the ones discussed above. But insofar as they’re possible, explanations can help us avoid the same evils by revealing the missteps that take a person down dark paths.
Our urge to understand shouldn’t lead us too quickly to rational explanations. Sin is profoundly irrational, as all of us know from our own hearts and actions.
The main factor leading Luther toward anti-Semitism was his longing for a unified Protestant society. He wanted the “two kingdoms” of church and state to create a community that crushed or banished all threatening groups. In this way he sought a kind of Protestant medievalism. The theological changes he introduced were enough for him; in every other respect he wanted to preserve the medieval order.
So when the 1525 Peasants’ War threatened the medieval political settlement, Luther urged the German princes to “smite, slay, and stab.” When Anabaptists threatened Protestant unity, Luther and his colleague Philip Melanchthon accused them of sedition and blasphemy, and in a 1531 memorandum they argued such offences merited the death penalty. Luther’s comment on this action is telling: “Although it seems cruel to punish them with the sword, it is crueler that they condemn the ministry of the Word and have no well-grounded doctrine and suppress the truth and in this way seek to subvert the civil order.” Luther’s unwillingness to see the civil order subverted either politically or theologically meant he ran out of patience with the Jews and could no longer endure their presence in Protestant territory.
He felt he had a God-given right to live in a unified society in this world, and that error fueled his anti-Semitism. Surely there are lessons here for Christians in America today.
3. Luther’s anti-Semitism should harm his reputation.
The essence of the Reformation is that we’re saved not on the basis of our own deeds, but through faith in Jesus. That is why, in the brilliant novel The Hammer of God, a Lutheran pastor joyfully says, “I go about my duties as might a prison warden who carries a letter of pardon for all his criminals.” The pardon Jesus offers through his atoning death covers all our sins, even those as vile as Luther’s. To use Luther’s own formula, the believer is simul justus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and a sinner).
And yet Luther himself writes, in his 1520 tract The Freedom of a Christian, “The inner man, who by faith is created in the image of God, is both joyful and happy because of Christ in whom so many benefits are conferred upon him; and therefore it is his one occupation to serve God joyfully and without thought of gain, in love that is not constrained.” That is indeed the Bible’s vision for the Christian life (see Romans 6:15–23), and why we should particularly celebrate those Christians who, by the Spirit’s power, live out that vision most comprehensively.
With that in mind, it seems to me Luther is a man we should honor but not celebrate. Let’s honor him for confronting the hollow deceptiveness of the Roman Catholicism of his time. Let’s honor him for translating the Bible into the language of ordinary people, so they could read for themselves the words of eternal life. Let’s honor him for releasing countless monks and nuns across Europe from lives of cloistered ritual and mandated celibacy. Luther was a mighty instrument of awakening, deserving honor in this anniversary year. But this honor shouldn’t rise to the level of celebration. Our memory of Luther must be tempered with sadness because of his sin and its consequences.
Luther is to me both hero and anti-hero; both liberator and oppressor. Spiritually speaking, he has been my teacher, but in relation to my family he has acted as persecutor. Soon after Kristallnacht (when the Nazis destroyed Jewish synagogues and businesses), Bishop Martin Sasse published a tract titled Martin Luther on the Jews: Away with Them! Sasse quoted from Luther’s 1543 writings and argued Luther’s goal was finally being achieved. Through Sasse and others, Luther’s name and work were used to prepare the ground for the Holocaust, in which my own great-grandmother was murdered and my great-uncle and great-aunt were brutally incarcerated. The Holocaust was fully underway by 1943—exactly 400 years after Luther shut his ears to the Bible and unleashed his anti-Semitic furies. As we commemorate Reformation 500, we do well to remember that other anniversary.
- How I Process the Moral Failures of My Historical Heroes (John Piper)
- Walking in the Way of Grace with Martin Luther: Podcast Episode 1 and 2 (Collin Hansen)
Bernard N. Howard is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He is the pastor of Good Shepherd Anglican Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Now and again Bernard blogs at sixtyguilders.org. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Bruce Ashford
Kurt Anderson’s Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire is one of the bestselling and most discussed books of the year.
In this fast-paced and provocative work of revisionist history and diagnostic journalism, Anderson argues that Americans have recently become untethered from reality and that Trump’s election represents the high point of our collective delusion.
More importantly, Anderson argues Americans should come to grips with the fact that we’ve always been willing to believe nearly anything, having been besotted beholden to by magical thinking from the beginning.History of American Fantastical Thinking
When did America become uncoupled from reality? In Anderson’s account, we were already losing our grip when our nation was founded. Although school teachers tell the story of our founding with almost exclusive reference to the Pilgrims, America’s real founding fathers were the Puritans, members of a “nutty religious cult” who believed in “fantasies” such as Christ’s second coming. America’s religious hucksters, Anderson avers, made us uniquely susceptible to fake news. He offers many colorful examples as evidence, including early America’s widespread acceptance of national myths such as George Washington’s cherry-tree incident and its embrace of quack medicine, homeopathy, and mesmerism.
After the Civil War, he says, a deep divide opened between “moderns” committed to reason and reality, and “committed magical thinkers” closed to reason and immune to reality checks. Thus, in Anderson’s interpretation, the United States became an increasingly lush environment for the growth of falsehoods, magical thinking, and fantasy acceptance.
The 1960s accelerated the onset of our collective neurosis. The sexual revolution taught Americans that morality is relative and that each of us should “do our own thing.” For the first time in world history, an entire society cooperated with young people’s belief that the universe revolved around them. In this case, the youth reckoned that if Americans would just grow pony tails, wear Levi’s, and smoke rope, we’d be liberated from traditional social and moral norms that enslave and make us miserable.
In the 1970s, fantastical beliefs really took hold. As evidence Anderson cites several bestselling books, including The Secret Life of Plants, which supposedly demonstrated the emotional and spiritual relations between plants and humanity, and My Story, the autobiography of the young spoon-bender and mind-reader Uri Geller. Also in the 1970s, postmodernism began to flourish in the academy, teaching that “reality” is a social construction—that all truth claims are merely attempts to seize power for special interest groups.
During the same decade, the Left and the Right developed their own special versions of “crazy.” On the Left, the Weathermen promoted violence and social revolution, arguing that “dope is one of our weapons. . . . Guns and grass are united in the youth underground.” Various factions of the New Left went on to seek revolution through violence, setting off thousands of bombs during that decade. On the Right, America saw the formation of groups such as the John Birch Society, whose members believed the leadership of both major political parties had been infiltrated by Soviet agents ushering in a Kremlin-ruled American police state.
This fantastic way of interpreting the world made it easy for American citizens of both political parties to buy into conspiracy theories about JFK’s 1963 assassination. Similarly, it was easy for Americans to believe in UFOs and in the American government’s purported elaborate coverup of UFO sightings.
In the 1980s, it seemed America had regained some social equilibrium, but this false sense of relief concealed the fact that fantastical thinking was the new normal. The professoriate had bought into metaphysical and moral relativism. The public continued to buy into conspiracy theories. Citizens claimed to have been abducted by aliens. And none of this lunacy seemed as crazy as it would have two decades before.
In the 1990s, as Anderson sees it, the Right became more untethered from reality than the Left did. Once Republicans overthrew the Fairness Doctrine, which kept media shows from being ideologically one-sided, right-wing radio and television shows cropped up all over the nation and in every time slot on the airwaves. No longer held accountable to articulate both sides of an issue, these shows were set free to create echo chambers for their listeners.
Compounding matters, the internet’s ascendance enabled cockamamy ideas and falsehoods to spread instantaneously and globally, creating myriad alternative realities in which persons could live and move and have their being. Search engines gave prominence to beliefs and theories based on the preferences of internet users, rather than evidence or plausibility. The information age has enabled conspiracy theorists, crackpots, liars, and demagogues.Our Current State
So how widespread is America’s promiscuous devotion to the untrue? Anderson thinks the majority of Americans are untethered from reality; we’re a nation in which “opinions and feelings are the same as facts.” As evidence, he observes many Americans believe the Genesis creation account is God’s word, demons and angels are active in this world, and heaven is real. As further proof, he offers evidence that most Americans are skeptical about evolution and climate change and that many Americans think ghosts and telepathy could be real.
America’s collective magical thinking, Anderson opines, has coalesced to distort its cultural institutions, such as media and the universities; thus the very institutions that should discourage fantastic thinking have, in fact, enabled it. Consequently, fantasies and delusions have moved from the fringes to the respectable center.
In terms of contemporary politics, Anderson thinks the Right is far more untethered than the Left is. He blames Christianity again, citing the GOP’s greater number of Christian believers and, at the same time, greater number of conspiracy theorists. As he sees it, the reality-based Left gained the upper hand in the 1960s and ’70s, achieving civil rights, environmental protections, equality for women, and legal abortion. In the 1970s and ’80s, the political center shifted to the Right, where reality-based conservatives gained some victories such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the radical reduction of violent crime. By the 1990s, however, the GOP was full of fantastical thinking. Untethered from reality, its fringe elements took command of the party’s center, where they have remained to this day.Evalutating Fantasyland
How should we evaluate Fantasyland? Is Anderson right in his interpretation of American history? Or is he guilty of some fantastical thinking of his own? The answer is somewhere in-between.
We should approach a revisionist journalistic history like Anderson’s at least as suspicious as we are of the national founding myths he criticizes. If founding myths err via unctuous flattery, revisionist histories err via cynical disparagement. Revisionist histories might expose painful truths, but they also tend to present the truth partially and with a jaundiced eye. Usually, revisionist historians obsess on one flawed aspect of a nation’s history and use it as a club to beat down even the best aspects. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is one example, making “bloodthirsty colonization” a defining personality trait of America. Anderson’s Fantasyland is another example, foregrounding “fantastical thinking” as a distinguishing characteristic.Things He Got Right
But Anderson is right about many things. He’s right the United States has become increasingly untethered from reality, especially during the last half-century. The 1960s did give American youth social permission to deify their individuality and applauded them for taking that individuality in immoral directions. The 1970s were characterized by violence on the Left and conspiracy theories on the Right. The relative calm of the 1980s did betray the fact that crazy was the new normal. The 1990s did give birth to media outlets and internet sites that gave credence to a panoply of cockamamy ideas, half-truths, and falsehoods that spread instantaneously and globally, creating alternative realities in which many Americans now live.
Anderson is also right to recognize that the 2016 election cycle was a national dumpster fire in which both major-party nominees exhibited a loose relationship with the truth, media outlets across the spectrum peddled half-truths and conspiracy theories, and a plurality of Americans handicapped their critical faculties by limiting their news or opinion intake to one exclusive source (e.g., CNN, Fox News, Breitbart, Buzzfeed).Things He Got Wrong
But Anderson is irresponsibly wrong with many of his accusations. Consider, for example, his treatment of Christianity. He exhibits either ignorance, intellectual laziness, or bad will when he flings about papier-mâché caricatures of Christianity, mocks the Puritans as a “nutty religious cult,” dismisses Christ’s second coming as “fantasy,” and treats clergy on the same level as quack doctors and carnival barkers. Is Anderson so deluded that he can’t distinguish between historic Christianity and popular superstition? Between the historic Christian convictions of, say, President James Madison on the one hand, and the pop-level quackery of Uri Geller on the other?
Anderson is also wrong to locate delusion mostly on the Right. Don’t get me wrong: as a conservative I recognize that the Right does have a cornucopia of problems, including our susceptibility to conspiracy theories, immunity to partial truths and falsehoods, and penchant for dwelling in echo chambers.
Trump’s election does reflect those problems. Before the 2016 election cycle, Trump had been known as a Hollywood entertainer, playboy, brand marketer, and “birther” conspiracy theorist. During campaign rallies and debates he “winged it,” saying whatever came to his mind. At one point, Politifact estimated that 2 percent of his statements were “true,” and only 7 percent “mostly true.” The rest fell somewhere in the “half true” to “pants on fire lies” range.
Think about it. During the campaign, he implied most Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers, called network anchor Megyn Kelly a bimbo, compared Ben Carson to a child molester, mocked POW John McCain for being unable to evade capture, ridiculed Jeb Bush for having a civil demeanor during the primary debates, and told reporters it didn’t matter what he said or did since his supporters would remain loyal even if he shot somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue. Trump was right: a large portion of his base would support him uncritically, no matter what he said or did.
Yet Anderson’s biases cause him to overlook the fact that candidate Trump recognized some realities other Republicans and Democrats didn’t recognize or emphasize: the economic hardship and cultural dislocation experienced by working-class citizens, and the apathy or condescension they experienced at the hands of the Republican elite. Anderson also overlooked Hillary Clinton’s severely compromised relationship with the truth, and Democratic voters’ willingness to vote for her no matter what she’d said and done over the course of her besoiled career.
Mere decades after giving proper legal and moral status to an entire class of human beings—black slaves—who had been treated as property, America decided to rescind proper legal and moral status to an entire class of human beings—unborn babies—who had been treated as human persons.
More significantly, his biases cause him to overlook systemic delusions built into the Left’s platform. Consider, for example, its hearty embrace of the abortion industry. Anderson himself considers legalized abortion-on-demand a positive development in American history. Does he realize Roe v. Wade classifies an unborn human being as the “personality” (the legal word for a moveable piece of property) of the mother? Reflecting on that fact, I can hardly breathe. Mere decades after giving proper legal and moral status to an entire class of human beings—black slaves—who had been treated as property, America decided to rescind proper legal and moral status to an entire class of human beings—unborn babies—who had been treated as human persons. The Democratic Party is in full and unequivocal support of this position. This from the party of “justice and equality.” This from the party of “science.” This from the party of “equal outcomes.”
In sum, Anderson has given us a well-written and fast-paced book. But as a work of revisionist history and diagnostic journalism, Fantasyland is only partly successful. Anderson himself seems to have a questionable relationship with reality, conflating Christianity with superstition and underemphasizing the collective delusion exhibited by the political Left. Then again, I guess that’s what we should expect if America has, in fact, lost its mind.
Kurt Anderson. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. New York, NY: Random House, 2017. 480 pp. $30.00.
Bruce Ashford serves as provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He co-authored One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (with Chris Pappalardo) and is the author of Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians. You can follow him at www.BruceAshford.net and on Twitter.
Article by: Berny Belvedere
“Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” wrote the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, imploring us to violently resist the encroachment of death. Thomas published this work (“Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”) in 1951—a year before his father, for whom the poem is written, succumbed to illness and entered into that good night.
A common literary motif is the attempt to outrun death. Thomas rejects this creed, insisting on fight over flight. Yet what does it look like, this fading defiance, this assault on our own mortality? There is a night that comes for us all — we can no sooner stop its arrival than we can stop the Earth from turning. Yet we must burn and rage against it.
It may involve a refusal to surrender joy. All of us have interests, projects, and experiences infused with inner feeling, and to give these up too early is to entomb oneself alive, wrapped in a white flag.
It may come in a decision, against all medical and spiritual counsel, to let an increase in age bring with it an increase in recklessness.
Or it may involve a sense, like for Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” that it’s not too late to go on one final voyage, under the baths of Western stars, before the waves sweep everything away.
The common element in all of these options is a refusal to yield.Temptation to Yield
Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethicist best known as one of the architects of Obamacare, says there is a specifiable point by which all of us should yield. He thinks 75 years is enough:
Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value. But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
Emanuel’s recommendation—that we establish a ceiling on how old any of us should grow to be—is perhaps alluring to some Christians. We’ve all squirmed a little when asked to explain why we should remain here, on this sin-stained rock, rather than embrace the very death that like a chariot would bring us to the city with foundations. If “to die is gain,” as the apostle Paul put it (Phil. 1:21), then any answer we give for prioritizing Earth has the potential to unwittingly subvert our belief in the surpassing grandeur of the glorified state.
But Paul surely sensed, as we also sense, that to call Jesus Lord is to recognize our lives are ultimately not our own. There is a great temptation—especially in the presence of suffering as intense as it is bewildering—to plan our withdrawal and set a course for the place where will be made whole again. But these ships have another captain. The argument from mercy tells us to help the terminally ill escape their pain. But if we think God has a good handle on the concept of mercy, and if he has not yet indicated it is time, then we should trust we won’t be dispossessed of the mercy promised us.Catalyze, Not Paralyze
Dylan Thomas died a year after his father, at 39 years old—falling 36 years short of Emanuel’s target number. Might Thomas have agreed with Emanuel?
When Thomas writes, “Wise men at their end know dark is right,” he agrees with Emanuel. Yet it’s only partial agreement, since a sense of life’s completeness doesn’t ultimately validate a welcoming of its end. Thomas understands that a life must end, but until it does, it must be vigorously lived.
The unstoppable march of death can paralyze; Thomas calls us to let it catalyze.
I suppose it’s easy to view the end as thrilling when one’s frame of reference is The Odyssey, as it was for Tennyson. Does ordinary life possess the unrelenting adventurousness of a Homeric poem? It’s hard to see how life in a nursing home provides the same opportunity for glory.
Thomas saw his father, blind and dying, and implored him to resist. But what was Thomas looking for? What would it have looked like, in this context, to see his father raise a clenched fist against death’s coming?Death Is Not Life’s Goal
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used perhaps the archetypal symbol of our biological fitness — the heartbeat — to describe the unavoidability of death:
Our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave.
Yet “life is real,” Longfellow wrote, “and the grave is not its goal.”
Is 75 years, or some number close to it, enough?
To me, it’s not enough. One hundred years is not enough. Four hundred years is not enough. Ten thousand years is not enough. Aristotle saw in living things an inner inclination toward immortality. That desire, like a throbbing heartbeat, permeates my being.
In Psalm 23, David flattens the distinction between life and afterlife. Isn’t that just an artificial division, in the end? Our lives carry with them a post-resurrection glow. Apart from Christ’s taming of death’s sting (1 Cor. 15:55–57), the prospect that our earthly lives will one day hollow out retains its terror. Yet now—what is it? A brief interlude. We jump from life to life. There is goodness here and goodness there. And there is nothing that can separate us from that death-destroying goodness.
David speaks for those of us who believe, through no achievement of our own, that the end will bring with it a far better state than the one we currently enjoy:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
But that does not mean we should go gentle.
Berny Belvedere is a lecturer in philosophy at Florida International University and Miami Dade College, as well as editor-in-chief of Arc Digital. He has written for The Washington Post, National Review, First Things, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @bernybelvedere.
Article by: Mika Edmondson
On April 3, 1963, as Martin Luther King Jr. sat frustrated in the musky confines of a Birmingham jail cell, he took issue not so much with the hatred of the world but the apathy of the church. King had just received a letter signed by eight concerned clergymen that encouraged Birmingham’s Negro citizens to withdraw support from the nonviolent protest movement and denounce it as extreme, unwise, and untimely. In a tone dripping with patient indignation, King responded:
In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.”
More than a half-century later, King’s assessment remains mostly true among conservative evangelicals. For many, the Reformation has nothing substantial to say to racial and economic injustices.Reformation and Social Exploitation
On the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, however, we must not forget that medieval Catholicism’s theological errors were deeply intertwined with economic exploitation. Look at the 43rd of Luther’s 95 Theses:
Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
Thesis 43 goes on to explain, “Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.” From the beginning, the Reformation represented a direct response not only to doctrinal errors, but also to the social exploitation and devastation that sprang from them.
This alone suggests that perhaps Wittenberg has more to say to ongoing racial and economic injustice than we may have thought.
The problem of race in America is also deeply rooted in doctrinal errors that helped establish social exploitation. In her book The Baptism of Early Virginia [review], historian Rebecca Goetz chronicles the way Anglican planters in colonial Virginia crafted the idea of “hereditary heathenism,” the belief that enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples couldn’t be converted to Christianity. She explains, “As they began to think of Indians and Africans not as potential Christians but as people incapable of Christian conversion, Anglo-Virginians laid the foundations for an emergent idea of race and an ideology of racism.”Reformation and Hereditary Heathenism
Hereditary heathenism represented a direct repudiation of the doctrine of catholicity, a core theological tenet of the Reformed tradition that had been handed to the Virginia planters. As Anglicans, they regularly confessed with one voice the words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in . . . the holy catholic church.” Catholicity, the 16th-century reformer Zacharias Ursinus explains, means the church is “gathered out of all sorts of men, all states, kindreds, and nations.” Catholicity became a matter of Anglican (and Reformed) orthodoxy; it simply follows the redemptive promise that in the Messiah “all nations shall be blessed” (see Gen. 12:3; 26:4; Gal. 3:8; Rev. 5:9).
Imagine if the Anglican planters had been faithful to this single point of the Reformed tradition handed to them. The entire tragic history of slavery and the racial caste system in America might have been different.
Even as colonial planters laid the foundation for a racial caste system in America, they did so despite the theological tradition of the Reformation. Imagine if the Anglican planters had been faithful to this single point of the Reformed tradition handed to them. The entire tragic history of slavery and the racial caste system in America might have been different.Reformation Speaks to Catholicity
Continuing the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, the church today must use every theological tool at its disposal to confront and stand against the longstanding legacy, social exploitation, and devastation that has its roots in the doctrinal error of hereditary heathenism. Whatever they confess with their mouths, churches that refuse to practically live out their doctrine of catholicity may not be as orthodox or Reformed as they think.
Historically speaking, the Protestant Reformation was a European movement, and its confessional documents will always be culturally European. But insofar as they reflect the enduring truth of God’s Word and a moment in the history of God’s people, the Protestant Reformation has something to say to every diverse culture.
Whatever they confess with their mouths, churches that refuse to practically live out their doctrine of catholicity may not be as orthodox or Reformed as they think.
Here are five practical suggestions churches might employ to be more faithful to the doctrine of catholicity.
1. Recognize the gospel stakes.
In the church of Antioch, cross-cultural fellowship became a proving ground for orthodoxy. In Galatians 2:11, Paul knows the Galatians had become infected with the theological error of legalism because some Jews refused to have full and free fellowship with their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. Due to their behavior toward the Gentiles, Paul knows the Judaizers have made Jewish cultural practices part of the currency of acceptance in the household of faith.
Although we cannot uncritically map the distinctions between Jew and Gentile directly onto ethnic divisions in the church today, we are still taught the danger of thinking any cultural practice or distinction purchases our seat at God’s table of acceptance. For Peter to give preference to the Jews was to participate in legalism that expressed itself through ethnocentrism.
Throughout the history of the American church, white supremacy has functioned as a form of legalism.
Evangelicals are good at spotting legalism when someone says, “Christians don’t dance.” But do we recognize it in the heart that says, “My people are better than yours”? Throughout the history of the American church, white supremacy has functioned as a form of legalism. In colonial America, enslaved Africans were often denied formal membership in churches, relegated to the balcony during worship services, forced to sit on the floors in shackles, and take communion after whites. “Whiteness” was part of the currency of acceptance in the American church. The formation of the black church was a theological response to that form of legalism. During the civil rights period, Southern white churches often excluded blacks through written by-laws. Even today, many churches practice a soft separation, communicating in various ways that certain cultures aren’t welcomed on an equal footing. When we force other cultures to assimilate to our cultural practices in order to be accepted in our churches, it says something about how we believe people are accepted before God.
We need to ask ourselves: Are we communicating something about the currency of acceptance with God simply in the way we relate or don’t relate across cultural lines?
2. Preach the Word without ignoring cultural contexts and implications.
This doesn’t mean putting something in the sermon that’s not in the Bible. It means don’t leave out something that is in the Bible. If you preach the Bible without ignoring these dynamics, you’d be surprised what you find.
For example, in Mark 11:15–19, the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus returns to the temple to cleanse it. Part of the corrupt situation he found involved race-based, systematized injustice. Whereas the religious leaders protected the peace of the temple’s inner courts where the Jews prayed and worshiped, because of ethnic strife they brazenly turned the court of the Gentiles into a noisy and smelly livestock exchange.
In his zeal, Jesus completely dismantles the livestock exchange, refuses to let anybody pass through, and restores the court for the Gentiles to pray. Then he exposits Isaiah 56:7: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?” This passage is clearly about the inclusion of the nations among God’s people. It has tremendous implications for engaging racial divisions and disparities in the church.
3. Administer baptism without ignoring the cultural implications.
Because baptism and the Lord’s Supper signify not only our communion with Christ but also our communion with one another in Christ, they serve as a powerful witness against racial divisions and disparities. Remember Galatians 3:27–29:
For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
We know from 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11 that when he wrote Galatians 3:28, Paul was quoting an ancient baptismal formula. As believers prepared to enter the community of faith, the Lord reoriented them in a way that challenged their previous thinking. Jews who were used to being on top among God’s people confessed there is “neither Jew nor Greek” since Christ alone—not one’s race or culture—affords a place in God’s house.
Men who were used to having greater access and status in every other place in society confessed “there is neither male nor female” since Christ alone—not one’s gender—affords a place in God’s house. The wealthy who were used to being on top confessed “there is neither slave nor free” since Christ alone—not one’s wealth, earthly citizenship, or political affiliation—affords a place in God’s house.
We all need the same blood and the same empty tomb. In Christ, we all—regardless of race, class, or gender—have equal status and equal access and equal inheritance as co-heirs in the household of God. As Martin Luther put it in his commentary on Galatians 3:28, “There is much disparity among men in the world, but there is no such disparity before God.”
4. Worship with a view toward the unity and catholicity of the church.
Part of orthodox worship means being intentional about helping diverse people to better understand the claims of the gospel—and in so doing, to more faithfully worship the Lord. In my denomination (the OPC), the Directory for Public Worship says:
The unity and catholicity of the covenant people are to be manifest in public worship. Accordingly, the service is to be conducted in a manner that enables and expects all the members of the covenant community—male and female, old and young, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, healthy and infirm, people from every race and nation—to worship together.
This is a wonderful statement that could go a long way toward making the household of faith an expression of racial unity the Lord intends among his people. We must consider cultural choices that might undermine some members’ ability to worship together.
5. Pursue cross-cultural exposure and training.
In Acts 10:13, as Peter is on a roof, the Lord gives him a vision in which a sheet is let down from heaven filled with non-kosher animals. Then the Lord speaks to him from above: “Rise up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
In the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20), the Lord had already instructed Peter and the other apostles to disciple the nations. So Peter already knew he was supposed to preach to the Gentiles. The Lord could have simply repeated this command.
But this vision, while carrying that same basic message, is also doing something else. By having Peter go through the cultural practice of eating like a Gentile, the Lord equips him not only to preach to the Gentiles but also to live with them, to have cross-cultural fellowship with them. The Lord is training Peter to get over his Jewish cultural scruples and do what he must to convey to them that by faith alone, they too can be cleansed and accepted in Christ.
Mika Edmondson is the pastor of New City Fellowship OPC, a church plant in Southeast Grand Rapids. He recently earned a PhD in systematic theology from Calvin Seminary, where he wrote a dissertation on Martin Luther King Jr.’s theology of suffering.
Article by: Michael Kruger
“In our minds, we equate anger with the idea that God is flying into some irrational, overly emotional rage—that God has lost his cool. That’s not what’s happening here. God has not lost his cool. The anger here is righteous.” — Michael J. Kruger
Text: Revelation 14:9–11
Preached: January 30, 2011
Location: Uptown Church, Charlotte, North Carolina
You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.
Michael J. Kruger is president of Reformed Theological Seminary's Charlotte, North Carolina, campus, where he also serves as professor of New Testament. He is the author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012). He blogs regularly at Canon Fodder.
Article by: Joe Carter
Twenty-five years ago today the United Nation General Assembly issued a resolution declaring October to be the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The stated purpose of the resolution was to “raise public awareness to promote the eradication of poverty and extreme poverty in all countries.” The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 per person per day.
Let’s test your awareness about extreme poverty with a simple question: Would you say that over the past three decades (since the 1980s) the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty has:
C) Remained the same
The correct answer is B—extreme poverty has not only decreased but has been reduced substantially. In 1980 almost half the world’s population (44 percent) was living in extreme poverty. Today, that number has dropped below 10 percent.
If you assumed it increased, though, you aren’t alone. A 2014 survey by the Barna Group found more than eight in 10 Americans (84 percent) were unaware global poverty has declined, and more than two-thirds (67 percent) thought global poverty had risen during that period. Additionally, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (68 percent) said they didn’t believe it’s possible to end extreme global poverty within the next 25 years.
One exception to this pessimism was practicing Christians. Defined by Barna as people who have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life, practicing Christians under 40 were the most optimistic at nearly half (48 percent), with practicing Christians over 40 slightly higher than the general population (37 percent compared to 32 percent of all adults).Reason for Hope
Every Christians should be hopeful about this trend, for the reduction of global poverty over the past few decades has been nothing short of miraculous, and the eradication of extreme poverty in the next few decades is a very real possibility.
To understand why we can be hopeful we need to consider the historical trend. HumanProgress.org has a fascinating chart that compares the number of people living in extreme poverty (the orange line) with the number of people not living in extreme poverty (the blue line).
If the lines extended further to the left, we’d see them grow closer together. From the time Adam and Even left the Garden of Eden until about 1820, almost everyone in the world lived in extreme poverty. The Industrial Revolution, though, helped to lift many people above a subsistence-level standard of living. But the gains were extremely limited. By 1820 there were about 1.1 billion people in the world, of which more than 1 billion were still living in extreme poverty. As we see, from 1820 to about 1950 the two lines remain almost parallel.
Then around 1970 a seismic shift occurred. Just as the Zero Population Growth activists began to predict the world would run out of food and we’d all starve to death, economic growth began to carry more and more people out of poverty.
As poverty researchers Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina explain, since around 1970 we began “living in a world in which the number of non-poor people is rising, while the number of poor people is falling. According to the estimates … there were 2.2 billion people living in extreme poverty in 1970, and there were 705 million people living in extreme poverty in 2015. The number of extremely poor people in the world is 3 times lower than in 1970.”
The rate of extreme poverty reduction began to increase even faster after 1990. As Roser and Ortiz-Ospina note,
In 1990, there were 2 billion people living in extreme poverty. With a reduction to 705 million in 2015, this means that on average, every day in the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, 137,000 fewer people were living in extreme poverty.
On every day in the last 25 years there could have been a newspaper headline reading, “The number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday”. Unfortunately, the slow developments that entirely transform our world never make the news…
This reduction in extreme poverty is one of the greatest, though largely unheralded, achievements in human history. Can it continue?How Low Can We Go?
In 1990, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals included a target of halving poverty by 2015. That goal was achieved five years early. The new goal set in 2015, shared by both the UN and the World Bank, is to move almost all the world’s population above the extreme poverty line by 2030. Is that even possible?
While the ambitious goal is theoretically achievable, it’ll be difficult. Most of the reduction in poverty since 1990 has been because of the economic growth of India and China. In 1990, 51 percent of the population of India lived in extreme poverty. Today, it is only about 20 percent. Improvements in China have been even more stunning. In 1981, 88 percent of the Chinese population lived in abject poverty. Today, the number has declined to about 2 percent.
Increases in free trade and rapid economic growth transformed China and India. Unfortunately, that isn’t as likely to happen in the areas of the world that currently have the highest rates of poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, is plagued by corruption, armed conflict, and has become dependent on foreign aid, which tends to slow a nation’s economic growth. The result is that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the number of poor people has increased during the past three decades. (Although the percentage of the African population living in extreme poverty is slightly lower than in 1981, population growth has caused the total number to double.)The End (Almost) of Extreme Poverty
Even if the UN and World Bank target is reached, though, it won’t mean no one on the planet is living in poverty. Just as “frictional unemployment” (about 4 percent) exists when there is full employment, “frictional poverty” (around 3 to 8 percent) will continue even when extreme poverty has “ended.” With an estimated global population of 8.3 billion in 2030, that would mean between 249 million and 664 million people will still living in poverty.
The idea that extreme poverty could “end” and yet twice the current U.S. population be living on less than $1.90 a day may sound underwhelming. Even as we reach the “end of extreme poverty” we’ll still need to continue the fight until every person on earth has what they need to live. Yet considering that for most of human history everyone lived in extreme poverty reducing the number to a mere 8 percent of the global population would be an astounding achievement.
Meeting the goal by 2030 will take an unprecedented level of effort. But if could happen. If we succeed, we will be witness to one of history’s greatest accomplishments and one of the most profound blessings God has given humanity since the beginning of creation.
Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Lindsey Carlson
Food and I have a complicated relationship. It’s always been my go-to. Sad? Eat ice cream. Celebrating? Bake a cake. Special one-on-one time with my kiddo? Go out for breakfast. Catching up with a friend? There’s a Mexican restaurant for that. Food isn’t only for survival or celebration; it’s for boredom, comfort, and coping.
And I have plenty of legitimate excuses for eating carelessly or not exercising self-control: I’m busy, I have a big family with several picky eaters, and I’d rather spend time on ministry than meal planning.
My desire to eat as a response to every situation and my ready excuses have resulted in a lifelong battle with my weight, obsessive calorie-counting, scale obsession, yo-yo dieting, weight-related identity issues, and eating disorders. But at the root of my food problems are heart issues that can’t be diagnosed or excused by a doctor. In fact, these heart issues are more painful and problematic than any of my physical ailments. Sin, idolatry, guilt, and shame—they’re all on the menu.
At the root of my food problems are heart issues that can’t be diagnosed or excused by a doctor.More than a ‘Struggle’
The apostle Paul doesn’t mince words when it comes to matters of food and drink: “I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’” (1 Cor. 6:12). Jesus is Paul’s only master. My “food struggles,” then, aren’t just pesky annoyances—they’re masters competing for lordship in my life. When I decide to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, I crown food and place it on a throne meant only for Jesus.
Let me be clear about what I’m not saying. Body weight is not a measure of my holiness, and weight loss (or gain) can neither save my soul nor commend me to God. Countless physical factors can contribute to changes in my physical body. What I am saying is that my battle isn’t against the bathroom scale or mirror; it’s against food idolatry and its sidekicks gluttony and self-indulgence. If I want to stop walking like an enemy of Christ, whose end is destruction and whose god is the belly (Phil. 3:19), I have to call my “struggle” what it really is—sin.
When I decide to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, I crown food and place it on a throne meant only for Jesus.
When I recognize my food idolatry for what it is—a long-term struggle with sin—I can be tempted to give up on myself and assume Jesus has grown weary of helping me. But this is faithlessness. Jesus came so we might have abundant life. I’m confident the life he offers is so much more satisfying than a life of endless carbs and calories. So why do I perpetually settle for less?
Because I forget there’s hope, even for me.Power of Jesus
I often feel like the woman in Luke 8:43 who bled for 12 years. For most of my life I’ve felt weary, hopeless, and desperate for help. Having exhausted all my earthly resources in the way of diets, exercise, doctors, and medications, I know I need the same touch from the Savior. But my own (dog-returning-to-its-vomit) propensity to sin must never keep me from pressing in and reaching desperately toward Jesus—the only one who saves.
Jesus’s responded to the bleeding woman with compassion: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). She received instant healing; changing my eating habits is a lot more nuanced and complicated. But Jesus’s power isn’t nuanced or complicated. His power to simply stop her bleeding is exactly the same power that leads me (each and every time) to confess sin, to desire and pursue holiness, and to achieve victory over temptation.Go in Peace
I don’t know if I’ll ever win a final victory in the war against food idolatry this side of heaven. I expect I may be fighting for the long haul, since food sins most easily entangle me. But even though food idolatry is a roaring lion crouching at my refrigerator door, I’m learning to fight and defend myself. I’ve tasted glimpses of freedom, and I’m learning food isn’t my enemy; sin is. And our Bibles have plenty of specific encouragement for fighting sin if we’re honest about confessing it.
The forgiveness I receive by grace, through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf, offers me hope for two things. First, I have hope and assurance that God forgives me for my food idolatry. I no longer stand condemned. And second, I have hope that he who began a good work in me will be faithful to finish it, conforming me to the image of Christ by restoring a healthier—and yes, holier—relationship with food.
Our Bibles have plenty of specific encouragement for fighting sin if we’re honest about confessing it. . . . [But] even if every meal plan, diet, or ‘lifestyle modification’ you’ve ever attempted has failed you, Jesus won’t.
The abundant life we’re promised through Christ is filled with the sin-conquering power of the Holy Spirit. Even the most out-of-control eater can find the hope of being transformed and made new. Even if every meal plan, diet, or “lifestyle modification” you’ve ever attempted has failed you, Jesus won’t.
Taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (Ps. 34:8).
Lindsey Carlson is the wife of a church planter, a mother of five, and a Texas transplant adjusting to life in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find more of her writing on her blog, Worship Rejoices, or follow her on Twitter.
Article by: Trillia Newbell, Blair Linne, Rosaria Butterfield
“Stop and pray if you are tempted to share news or information that doesn’t need to be shared.”
In this new eight-minute video, Trillia Newbell (director of community outreach for the ERLC and author of Enjoy), Blair Linne (wife, mother, actress, and spoken word artist), and Rosaria Butterfield (author of Openness Unhindered) discuss how to avoid the alluring sin of gossip in the church and in the world.
Trillia Newbell is a wife, mom, and writer who loves Jesus. She is the author of Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, and God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God's Delightfully Different Family. You can follow her on Twitter.
Blair Linne is a spoken word artist who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their children.
Rosaria Butterfield is a former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University and author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown & Covenant, 2012) and Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Crown & Covenant, 2015).
Article by: Justin Holcomb
There’s a myth that porn is harmless. “It’s just a few consenting adults, doing what they want with their own bodies,” the thinking goes.
But this simply isn’t true. In reality, pornography is deeply involved in the exploitation of women and children, and it’s destructive to its consumers. Porn is much more than an individual decision—it’s part of a system that preys on women and children, and its viewers are participating in, contributing to, and being shaped by that destructive, enslaving system.1. Porn fuels the sex trade.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and it’s the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. According to the United Nations, sex trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year worldwide. In the U.S., sex trafficking brings in $9.5 billion annually. Those numbers are incredible. I’ve written about the sex trade before.
The primary way porn fuels the sex trade is by building the demand. After all, the sex trade consists of supply and demand. The supply is women and children either forced into exploitation at home or lured away from their homes with promises of jobs, travel, and a better life. The average age of girls who enter street prostitution is between 12 and 14—even younger in some developing countries. Traffickers coerce women and children through a variety of recruitment techniques to enter the commercial sex industry in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and escort services. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way each year.
The trafficking industry wouldn’t exist without demand. According to researcher Andrea Bertone, the demand consists of men who feed a “patriarchal world system” that preys on women and children.2. Porn shapes sexual desires.
Pornography shapes the appetites of men, women, and children to accept and even enjoy the exploitation of women. As Robert Jensen observes:
There are a few basic themes in pornography: (1) All women at all times want sex from all men; (2) women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and; (3) any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force.
It’s important to note that porn isn’t just a “men’s issue,” as 28 percent of people admitting to internet sexual addiction are women. Approximately 9 out of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed porn on the internet. The average age of first internet exposure to porn is 11, and in most cases is unintentional. The largest consumer of internet pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys.
Porn teaches its consumers that women exist for the pleasure of men and that their purpose is to be degraded and dehumanized for men’s excitement—and that they like it, even if they pretend not to. But this is part of the lie: Countless women in porn are there against their will and are being exploited. According to Jensen, “There is evidence that force and coercion are sometimes used to secure women’s participation . . . that psychological and physical damage is common and that heavy alcohol and drug use are routine.”3. Porn exploits child sexual abuse victims.
Mary Anne Layden, director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that most women involved in the sex industry are adult survivors of sexual abuse. Research indicates that the number is between 60 to 80 percent.
Simply put, most women in the porn industry are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and porn perpetuates their exploitation. Additionally, 20 percent of all internet pornography involves children.4. Porn supports ‘rape culture.’
The physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the women and children in porn is heartbreaking, but equally insidious is porn’s effect on men and society by normalizing the degradation and dehumanization of women. Jensen explains, “As pornography has become more acceptable, both legally and culturally, the level of brutality toward, and degradation of, women has intensified.”
The prevalence of porn means people are becoming desensitized to it, and are seeking out ever harsher, more violent, and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want. As one pornography director put it, “People just want it harder, harder, and harder . . . what are you gonna do next?”
Robin Morgan’s phrase “pornography is the theory, rape is the practice” captures the link between the production and consumption of pornography and violence against women and children. The point isn’t that porn causes all viewers to sexually abuse others, but that it creates what some researches call “rape culture” by normalizing, legitimizing, and condoning violence against women and children.5. Porn hijacks children’s sexuality.
Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, explains the implications of porn: “We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn. . . . Given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behavior and attitudes toward women.”
Mary Anne Layden argues: “There is evidence that the prevalence of pornography in the lives of many children and adolescents is far more significant than most adults realize, that pornography is deforming the healthy sexual development of these young viewers, and that it is used to exploit children and adolescents.”6. Porn limits men.
While porn is not just a “men’s issue,” it remains a pervasively male problem. William Struthers, a bio-psychologist, explains the effects on men: “Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.”
Porn limits male self-expression and has proven to be psychologically detrimental to some viewers. Frequent pornographic stimulus changes the neurological makeup in the brain—it actually rewires the viewer’s brain.
Everyone in the supply chain, from production to consumption, is participating in the economic juggernaut that is the porn industry, whether they realize it or not. And many of them are unaware of the harm being done to themselves and others. This industry fuels the global sex trade, builds the demand for exploitation, severely distorts sexuality, exploits abuse victims, and normalizes the degradation of women and children.
That’s why porn is much more than a private, individual decision.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at JustinHolcomb.com.
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and a theology professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He wrote Know the Creeds and Councils, Know the Heretics, and On the Grace of God. Justin also co-authored with his wife, Lindsey, God Made All of Me, Is It My Fault? and Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.
Article by: Jeremy Pierre
A little while back, TGC reshared my 2011 article “The Sin of Insecurity.” Most of the time when I see something old I’ve written, I experience mild embarrassment, usually for some stylistic choice or conceptual mistake. This repost had the same effect on me, but it also roused some consternation from a handful of readers. Basically, they said, “How can you call insecurity a sin, when much of it is an unwanted burden people suffer under?” I now asked the same question.
Six additional years of ministry—heck, of life under the sun—have helped my thinking grow up a bit. I wouldn’t really change the main concept of the article. I still think insecurity is largely a matter of measuring myself according to my own standards rather than God’s, which have been fulfilled by Christ. Insofar as insecurity involves this form of pride, it is sin. Where I’ve grown, though, is in being able to appreciate other factors in the equation.Insecurity Is Sin and Suffering
Insecurity isn’t just sin; it’s also suffering. The problem with my other article (besides the painfully overwritten introduction) is that it addressed insecurity exclusively as sin. But a fuller perspective recognizes insecurity as a sinful response conditioned by factors outside a person’s control. Sometimes those outside factors are traumatic and extreme; other times they’re common and everyday.
I’ve counseled folks whose insecurity feels crippling, often because of extreme conditions. Some people grew up under caretakers who were cruel. Others were sexually abused. Still others have physical conditions that separate them from others, in both appearance and capability. Often these people formed deep patterns of insecurity because their surroundings weren’t secure. These patterns get carried into their adult life, even after being saved.
Other folks struggle with insecurity that’s less pronounced, often because the conditions are also less pronounced. But it’s no less important to consider their conditions in order to care for them—whether they grew up in a family who didn’t get them, were trained at a school that didn’t reward their gift set, or navigated social circles that put them low in the pecking order. Insecurity isn’t expressed in a vacuum; it occurs in response to the awkwardness and futility of community life in a fallen world.
Insecurity isn’t expressed in a vacuum; it occurs in response to the awkwardness and futility of community life in a fallen world.
Caring for people in their insecurity means not merely addressing them as sinners, but as sufferers. They’re broken because the world they live in is fallen. Scripture addresses them with this understanding, even when confronting sin. Exodus is full of such compassionate recognition: “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exod. 6:9).Victory in Insecurity
The suffering aspect of insecurity also helps us define what victory is and isn’t. I still believe the ultimate solution to insecurity is to abandon our attempts to find our worth in anything other than Christ and his redemptive love (Phil. 3:7–8). But I also believe we won’t attain a perfect confidence in Christ that completely eliminates insecurity while we live here below (Phil. 3:12). Insecurity—especially for those who’ve lived through more extreme conditions—may be a lifelong battle. It may threaten to derail every social situation, lurk in every relationship, and stalk even private thought life.
But the promise of the gospel brings confidence not just for the sin of insecurity, but for the suffering part too. In Christ, we always have everything we need to respond to suffering in faith. In the case of insecurity, this means clinging to what he says about us rather than what we’ve been conditioned to think about ourselves. Christians belong to Christ, and this is the most important thing about them.
The promise of the gospel brings confidence not just for the sin of insecurity, but for the suffering part too.
Like the sinful aspects of insecurity, the suffering aspects don’t win in the end. Even when believers can’t sense their security in Christ, their actual security remains unchanged. Even when his followers seem unable to do anything with confidence, Christ sits confidently on his throne, doing all things well. For them.
Jeremy Pierre is the dean of students and associate professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as an elder at Clifton Baptist Church. He’s author of The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience (New Growth, 2016) and co-author of The Pastor and Counseling (Crossway, 2015). He and his wife, Sarah, have five children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Matt Smethurst
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Walter Strickland—assistant professor of systematic and contextual theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, co-author of Every Waking Hour, and contributor to Removing the Stain of Racism—about what’s on his nightstand, books he regularly re-reads, books that have shaped his thinking about gospel ministry, and more.
1. What’s on your nightstand right now?
2. What are some books you regularly re-read?
- Liberation and Reconciliation by J. Deotis Roberts
- Creation Regained by Albert Wolters
- The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry
3. What books have most profoundly shaped how you view gospel ministry?
- The Prophethood of Black Believers: An African American Political Theology for Ministry by J. Deotis Roberts
- Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy Keller
4. What books have most shaped your understanding of racial justice?
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith
- Black and Free by Tom Skinner
- Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility by George Yancey
5. What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you?
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
- Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
6. What are your favorite fiction books?
I didn’t learn to read until I was nine, and I didn’t develop a passion for reading until I discovered non-fiction (theological) books in college. As a result, I haven’t read much fiction (which I hope to change), but my favorite is The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.
7. Which book do you wish every evangelical would read and why?
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
Jennings beautifully demonstrates through historical narratives how theology itself has been infused with racial superiority. If you can stick with this rigorous read, it’a very helpful.
Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus by Reggie L. Williams
This is an important book because it depicts how a cross-cultural experience transformed Bonhoeffer into the figure whose pen we know and love. My hope is that this book demonstrates the value of being sharpened across cultural lines and that we would proactively pursue those opportunities.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
While evangelicals won’t agree with Dr. Cone theologically, he explains how the Christ event is viewed through the lens of historic or lived experiences. Cone views Christ through lynching in the African American experience.
8. What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
The most significant lessons I’m learning are that this world is not my home and suffering is an opportunity for our spiritual growth to be supercharged.
Also in the On My Shelf series: Andy Crouch • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler
Matt Smethurst is managing editor of The Gospel Coalition and author of 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2017). He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, Kentucky. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Rebecca McLaughlin
Three years ago, I met an Iranian scientist with an incredible brain and a stunning story: He had met Jesus through the disillusionment of the Islamic revolution and the music of J. S. Bach.
In Iran my friend had witnessed the full force of religious coercion, and he’d hated it. He’d converted to a new faith partly as a reaction against that force. He knew religious coercion was wrong, but now a Christian, he was wrestling with this question: Is it wrong to try to persuade someone to change their beliefs?
My scientist friend is an expert in breast cancer diagnostics, so I asked him to imagine a scene. He’s sitting across from a middle-aged woman from a poor educational background. She says she believes she’s not at risk of breast cancer and doesn’t need a mammogram. How should he respond?
We believe in religious freedom. We believe in cultural diversity. We know that persuasion can be coercive or manipulative, and that religious beliefs are deeply personal. All these things make us anxious about sharing our beliefs with others.
While this anxiety should make us careful, there are at least seven reasons why seeking to change a friend’s mind is not only justified, but a vital tenet of life together in a pluralistic society.1. Freedom
The right to try to persuade others—without coercion or manipulation—isn’t a violation of religious freedom, but a basic building block of a tolerant society (Elshtain). We can’t defend religious freedom without defending the freedom of believers to share their beliefs. Saying Christians are free to practice their religion, but not to invite others to join them, is like saying Jews are free to practice their religion, but not to recite prayers in Hebrew. Defending the right of atheist intellectuals to argue for atheism, while denying the right of Muslims, Jews, and Christians to advocate for theism, is equally incoherent.2. Respect
Respecting someone as a thinking agent—rather than just a product of their cultural environment—means recognizing they choose what to believe. Agents can change their minds in light of fresh evidence. Challenging a friend’s beliefs shows we take their faith seriously: we notice the differences between our beliefs and respect them enough to think they may have good reasons for their views. We may persuade them; they may persuade us. Respect breeds conversation.3. Honesty
If I believe in Hinduism, I disbelieve in Christianity. If I believe in Islam, I disbelieve in Buddhism. We may recognize and even celebrate the areas of congruence between different religious traditions, but it’s intellectually dishonest and ultimately disrespectful to suggest all religions are equally true. Indeed, religious relativism—which seeks to iron out the differences between religions and relegate religious truth to the purely subjective realm—is itself making an exclusive truth claim. If relativism is true, then Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and most other belief systems are false.
It’s intellectually dishonest and ultimately disrespectful to suggest all religions are equally true.4. Depth
When we place religious beliefs off limits for real and rigorous discussion, we sacrifice relational depth. Of course, attempts to persuade can make others feel attacked. But this need not be so. The person who truly seeks to persuade a friend must first listen to the fullest account of what they currently believe, and understand why they come at the world from that angle. This is an intimate act that creates the kind of personally engaging and intellectually stimulating conversations we all crave.5. Growth
It’s often said you don’t truly understand something until you can explain it to someone else. We won’t truly understand our own beliefs—and we certainly won’t notice our blindspots and inconsistencies—if we keep our faith to ourselves. Particularly in universities, where students should be jostling through a marketplace of ideas, keeping religious beliefs off limits for challenge and discussion is antithetical to personal and educational growth. We should all be open to adjusting our convictions in light of new information.6. Diversity
We tend to assume religious unity limits cultural diversity, but this view is disrupted by the reality of the global church. Christianity was multicultural from its inception. Jesus broke down every religious, racial, and cultural boundary, and the early church pushed Jews to mix with Gentiles, Barbarians with Scythians, citizens with slaves. One of the first converts to Christianity was a highly educated African (Acts 8:26–40). Today, most of the world’s Christians live in Asia, Africa, and South America, while some of the oldest Christian communities are being eradicated in Iraq and Iran. In the States, black Americans are significantly more likely to identify as Christians than whites. To ban evangelism in the name of diversity doesn’t empower racial and cultural minorities; it silences them.7. Love
My Iranian friend was clear: He would do all in his power to persuade the woman to have a mammogram. She is at risk of breast cancer, and it would be a failure of love on his part to let her continue in her false belief.
The world’s major belief systems make different claims on truth. The consequences are real. If we love our friends, we will seek to persuade them. To be sure, this can be attempted in an aggressive way that makes the other person feel like an enemy, not a friend. But persuasion, prefaced by listening—with respect and without coercion—is a deep and risky offering of love.
Rebecca McLaughlin holds a PhD from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill seminary in London. She recently transitioned from serving as VP of content at The Veritas Forum to focus on her own speaking and writing. Rebecca's audiences have ranged from professors to prisoners. She has spoken alongside Andy Crouch, N.T . Wright, and Paul Tripp, and written on topics ranging from Jane Austen to Doctor Who, and from biblical metaphor to gender and sexuality. Follow Rebecca at www.rebeccamclaughlin.org.
Article by: Joe Carter
At the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony host Seth MacFarlane read the names of the five actresses in the supporting actress category, and said, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”
No one finds that joke funny anymore.
Last week the acclaimed and influential producer was accused of serially abusing women. While the number grows daily, to date almost 30 women—including many famous actresses—have accused Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax, of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and/or rape.
The accusations have scandalized Hollywood, not merely because of Weinstein’s behavior—that was apparently an open secret—but rather because so many influential people knew and said nothing. Now the entertainment community wonders why they remained silent.
It’s tempting to mock the movie industry for such blatant hypocrisy. They frequently preach to us about their superior values; meanwhile, they were overlooking abuse in their midst. But instead of gloating we should consider what we as Christians might learn from the horrific, decades-long cover-up. Numerous lessons could be learned, but here are four specific takeaways we should consider:1. We are skilled at rationalizing abuse when it benefits us.
Would you be willing to turn a blind eye to accusations of sexual assault and abuse if it might benefit you in some way, either directly or indirectly?
Of course not. Unlike the denizens of Hollywood, we Christians have stringent moral standards. As servants of Christ we recognize it is our duty to protect the powerless and vulnerable from harm.
And yet . . . in the last election we had a choice between two candidates who have both contributed to the systemic abuse of women. One major party candidate had more than a dozen credible accusations of sexual misconduct against him, and had even been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. The other candidate had spent years aggressively covering up credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment against her husband, a former U.S. president. In both cases, the candidates attempted to shame the alleged victim into silence. Despite these actions, millions of Christians were willing to not only overlook the misdeeds of these politicians but were even willing to reward them by giving them the most powerful job in the world.
But that’s different, right? We had no choice but to cast a vote to support our preferred candidate, because otherwise our political enemies would have gained power. We had Supreme Court nominations on the line. We had important political concerns that could be set back for decades if the other party won. And, after all, the other side was as complicit in sexual abuse as our candidate was. We therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for making the best of a bad situation.
Sounds a lot like Weinstein’s apologists, doesn’t it?
The point is not to shame those who voted in the last election—we can’t change the past—but to call on all Christians to recommit to our values by refusing to support abusers in the future. It doesn’t take much courage; all it takes is for us to stop rationalizing our decision to ignore abuse, even when doing so benefits us either individually or collectively.2. We make an idol of work.
How much money would it take for you to turn a blind eye to accusations of rape? What sort of job offer would entice you to remain quiet while a man continued to abuse or rape women?
Again, we can’t imagine we would ever stoop so low as to discount credible accusations of sexual assault simply to protect our own economic security. Yet I’ve heard numerous Christians defend actors and actresses in Hollywood by saying they were justified in not speaking out, because challenging Weinstein could have cost them their job or work on future projects.
I can’t fathom such justifications. Over the course of my life, I’ve had about three-dozen jobs. Many of those jobs I’ve enjoyed, and some I’ve even loved. But there is no job in America you could offer me that would entice me to cover up for a rapist.
I don’t say that because I believe I'm a moral exemplar or because I’m particularly courageous. I’m neither. I say that because I’m the adopted child of a holy God. I say that because I can’t imagine standing before my King and Father and saying, “Sure, maybe I should have spoke up for those women, but you don’t understand, it was a really, really good job . . .”
Some people may have a legitimate reason for choosing their livelihood over protecting others. But most of us have no excuse. We need to prepare to respond in a way that doesn’t cause us to sacrifice our integrity to keep our paycheck. If you’re more concerned about maintaining your financial security than you are in protecting women from a known rapist, you need to reconsider your priorities.3. The powerful aren’t always as powerful as we assume.
Weinstein abused women for three decades because he was believed to be too powerful to challenge. Yet once he was challenged, his power quickly vanished.
No one should blame the victims who refused to confront him directly. Having already been victimized by the man they were under no obligation to risk suffering more abuse from him. But the people not directly victimized, who knew about the abuse and still did nothing, are all, in one way or another, morally culpable.
Some of those who turned a blind eye truly were too powerless to make a difference. But many others were multi-millionaires with reputations and power to rival Weinstein’s. They likely didn’t fear Weinstein’s power so much as they feared losing their own influence.
As the rapid fall of Weinstein has revealed, though, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to put an end to his spree of harassment and abuse. And, so far, few are suffering for standing up to the once-dominant producer.
Unfortunately, not every situation is as cost-free as this scandal. Many men and women do suffer for speaking about against their abusers. We must not dismiss such concerns. Yet all too often we assume powerful men and women are untouchable—and because of that belief we make it a self-fulfilling reality. By our continued refusal to stop them, they appear unstoppable.
Even though we are still to slow to act, our culture is growing increasingly tired of making excuses for abusers. Even in the secular world of Hollywood people are finding it doesn’t take much moral courage to end the scourge of sexual violence. If the Hollywood elite can challenge the status quo, why shouldn’t we, backed by the most powerful kingdom in the universe, be willing to stand against sinful worldly power?4. We are often too quick to restore fame and power.
Before he was fired from the company he co-founded, Weinstein sent an email asking many of the most powerful people in show business to serve as character witnesses. In the email he wrote,
My board is thinking of firing me. All I’m asking, is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance.
As one anonymous observer has noted, “This might be the most brazen example I have ever seen of the humanist doctrine of second chances. The phrase ‘allow me to resurrect myself’ is simultaneously laughable and heartbreaking. Laughable because no one can resurrect themselves. Heartbreaking because that is exactly what he needs.”
The idea that Weinstein can serve as Jesus to his own Lazarus and “resurrect” himself is the pinnacle of hubris. But Weinstein’s concept of how a “second chance” works is all too common in Christian circles.
Even before he finished apologizing, Weinstein had his path to restoration all mapped out: issue a public apology, take a short absence from the spotlight, follow up with therapy and counseling for “sex addiction,” and then the “resurrection” in which he returns—suitably chastened, of course—to fame, power, and public acclaim. All of that should take about six months, a year at most.
This is also the thinking of many Christians, especially celebrity pastors, who have abused the trust of the public and their congregations. Many of us were shocked when televangelist Jim Bakker, who served an eight-year prison term for fraud, returned to a broadcasting ministry nine years after getting out of jail. Today, we’re surprised if a scandalized pastor waits nine months before he returns to the pulpit and the spotlight.
The point is not that Weinstein or anyone else is beyond forgiveness and restoration. As Christians we have all been given a “second chance” and shouldn’t begrudge any other sinners from a new life. But in most cases, while forgiveness may be immediate, the process of restoration should take time. It should also not be assumed to be automatic. When a person has repeatedly abused his power and betrayed our trust he needs to not only repent but also to prove he can be trusted not to harm others in the future.
Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Karen Swallow Prior
The news in recent days—or has it been weeks or months?—has come like relentless blows.
So much bad news. There are the repeated natural disasters, of course, which are devastating beyond words. Then there are the manmade devastations: sexual assaults and the systems that enable them, national divisions over cloth and stone, and an ever-deepening pit of political expediency into which more and more people seem to sink.
However, there is good news even in this.
This unceasing news—exposing so many human failures—unveils cherished idols both inside and outside the church. What is exposed in this uncovering is ugly and horrible. But the revelation itself is a mercy.Sideways View
Sometimes the pain of real life is so blinding we cannot see the truth it offers us. However, art can provide a sideways view of truths too hard to look at directly. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation,” Ruby Turpin has to be hit in the head by a book in order to know the truth and be set free.
Mrs. Turpin is typical of the cultural Christians who inhabit O’Connor’s fiction. The story opens with Mrs. Turpin in the crowded waiting room of a doctor’s office—for the Catholic O’Connor, it has a certain resemblance to purgatory. While she waits, Mrs. Turpin’s quiet thoughts and mindless chatter reveal her to be proud and self-satisfied. She thinks she’s better than all the poor, lame, and sick in the room. The irony in this is that Mrs. Turpin is a hog farmer. When she tells this to a woman seated nearby, and the woman objects that hogs are “nasty stinking things,” Mrs. Turpin indignantly replies, “Our hogs are not dirty and they don’t stink.”
Mrs. Turpin doesn’t realize that such self-righteousness leads to hell.
Then, at the very moment Mrs. Turpin exclaims aloud, “Oh thank you, Jesus, Jesus, thank you!” for not making her black or white “trash” like those she sees around her, a young woman in the waiting room hurls a textbook at her, striking her violently. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” seethes the girl, whose name is, fittingly, Mary Grace. All of O’Connor’s stories feature a moment of sudden, unexpected (and often painful) grace. In “Revelation,” this is that moment.
Stunned, Mrs. Turpin returns home where she wrestles with the Lord, angry and confused. “What do you send me a message like that for?” she rails at God. “How am I saved and from hell too?”
The political, moral, and cultural climate in recent days has made many of us who are saved feel like we, too, are in hell.The Hell of Terrible Truth
For some of us, this hell has been seeing the same Christian leaders who’ve said for years that character matters then turn around and prop up immoral leaders for political gain. For some of us, this hell has been hearing fellow believers express greater value for symbols than for the things those symbols represent. For some of us, hell has been experiencing abuse by the church and having that abuse hushed, supposedly for the sake of the church. For most of us, hell has simply been watching the reputation of Christ’s bride sullied and dirtied—by both her enemies and also her own.
Now, in a turn that only God or The New York Times could have orchestrated, we are watching a worldly institution go through a hell of its own as it caves in on itself. Hollywood—putative purveyor of liberal, feminist, and progressive principles—is being exposed, over and over in recent days, for enabling and covering up decades of abuse and exploitation, the extent of which promises to exceed that perpetrated by the Catholic Church.
Yet with each successive revelation, the parallels between the world and the contemporary American church are becoming uncomfortably clear.
One actress’s explanation for why she attended a Harvey Weinstein fundraiser while knowing of his serial abuse of women echoes similar reasoning by evangelicals in the last election: “I felt that going onstage under his aegis was a betrayal of my own values. But I wanted so desperately to support my candidate that I made a calculation.”
As countless actresses were fending off the real-life advances of a sexual predator, real-life viewers, including many in the church (I know because I’m one of them), were consuming the products of that corrupt empire, indicting all who did so: “Fantasies that the public eagerly watched onscreen, the women recounted, sometimes masked the dark experiences of those performing in them.”
Even something as horrific as child rape is supported and enabled by Hollywood players if the perpetrator displays sufficient power, prestige, and good works.The Grace of Terrible Truth
Although it’s tempting for beleaguered believers to take glee in the exposure of hypocrisy outside the church—to find solace in the idea that at least we’re not as bad as that—we ought instead to take these revelations as O’Connor suggests: as a book to the head.
It’s difficult to see our own compromises, even more so our idolatries: putting more faith in political power, social traditions, personal and institutional reputation, and even personal pleasure than in God; or placing more value in such things than in those who bear God’s image.
At the end of “Revelation,” after she’s wrestled with God and shaken her fist at him for allowing her to suffer injury and insult at the likes of the lunatic Mary Grace, Mrs. Turpin has a revelation—a vision, in fact. In this vision, she sees all the saints—including the poor, the white trash, and the blacks she has disdained all her life—marching into heaven. Behind all of them she spots herself and her husband, not first but last, yet joining joyfully in the chorus of saints “shouting hallelujah.” As a result of her painful humiliation, Ruby Turpin exchanges self-righteousness for true righteousness.
In an era when both sides delight in pointing out problems with the other, the news is reminding us, painfully, every day, that idolatry comes in many forms—and that they all boil down to self-righteousness.
But such painful revelations offer a moment of grace, if only we will receive it.
Karen Swallow Prior is professor of English at Liberty University, research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and Fierce Convictions—The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.
Article by: Sara Wallace
The best part about watching my firstborn learn to read was knowing he was well on his way to reading the Bible for himself. It was amazing to think God’s Word would be accessible to him.
But that was also an intimidating thought. Where to begin? It seemed overwhelming.
As parents, it’s tempting to hold back on the actual Bible because we think it’s too much, too heavy, and our kids can’t understand it. It feels like putting adult hiking boots on a toddler who’s just learned to walk. Let’s stick with picture books about Noah’s ark and Jonah’s fish.
But the Bible is for children, too. Jesus himself said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). We don’t have to hold back. But our kids do need guidance and direction. This is why God instructs parents to teach God’s law “when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 11:19).
In the book His Word Alone, Summer Lacy writes, “The biggest mistake you can make in regards to studying the Bible is to begin with the assumption that you can’t understand it.” Rather than assume our kids won’t grasp it, how can we purposely equip them for understanding?
When we hand our kids a Bible, there are two foundational truths to give them along with it.1. The Bible Is Not about You
It might surprise kids to learn that the Bible is for them but not primarily about them. Born self-centered, we naturally read the Bible through the lens of self. “What does this say about me? What am I supposed to do (or not do) right now?” Those aren’t bad questions, but they miss the main point. They jump straight to personal application without any foundation. Who is this God we’re supposed to obey? Why should we obey him? As parents, it’s our job to point our kids away from themselves to the real star of the show. I love how Bryan Chapell explains this point in his introduction to The Gospel Transformation Bible:
Jesus is the chief and culminating figure on this stage. The stage is set for him; all that transpires on the stage relates to him; and we do not fully understand anything on the stage until we have identified its relation to him.
If we want our kids to understand Scriptures, we must help them see Christ in all of it. It’s like giving them a decoder ring. Practical application suddenly has meaning. Self is put in its proper place, and obedience has true, lasting motivation.2. The Bible Tells One Story
Kids don’t typically think “big picture,” so they naturally read the Bible as isolated moral lessons. In his excellent book The Biggest Story, Kevin DeYoung writes, “Our kids can become acquainted with many Bible stories without ever grasping the Biggest Story that makes sense of all the others.” That “Biggest Story” is the gospel. The gospel isn’t just one of many stories in the Bible; it’s the ultimate story of the Bible. Our mission, then, is to help our children understand each individual story within the context of the ultimate story.
But how do we do that? Obviously the name “Jesus” is not on every page. Still, as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it, “Every story whispers his name.” Or as Chapell goes on to say, “Our goal as Bible readers who are interpreting as Christ intends is not to try to make Jesus magically appear in every text, but to show where every text properly stands on this redemptive stage.”
No passage stands alone. Each one has a context within the gospel story—whether predicting Christ, preparing for Christ, reflecting on Christ, or resulting from Christ (Gospel Transformation Bible). If our kids already know what—or in this case, whom—to look for, the Bible instantly becomes easier to understand.Three Questions
Here are three questions to help Bible-reading kids begin to trade self-centered glasses for gospel-centered glasses.
- What does this passage teach me about God?
- What does this passage teach me about human beings (or myself)?
- What does this passage teach me about the need for and the coming of a Savior?
Often the first two questions answer the third. Why not sit down with your kids and try this approach together? Pick a passage of Scripture and ask these three questions.
What about application? It’s coming. But begin by laying the foundation. Once your kids develop a habit of seeing answers to these three questions, they’ll then be able to ask, “What does God want me to do?” We can only apply the Bible properly to our lives when the gospel is the driving force.
So let’s give our kids the tools they need to be not merely informed by God’s Word, but transformed from the inside out.
Sara Wallace graduated from The Master's College, where she met her husband, Dave. They live in Idaho with their five sons. Sara stays busy homeschooling and writing about the daily effect of grace on motherhood. She is the author of The Gospel-Centered Mom Bible study and writes at gospelcenteredmom.com.
Article by: Josh Philpot
In evangelical churches, it’s hard to overstate the effect of several hymns by Keith and Kristyn Getty and their writing partner, Stuart Townend. Their song, “In Christ Alone,” which tells the full gospel story, is hugely popular, even though it was written in 2001. It’s not a one-hit wonder, either; the Gettys have since solidified their mark on modern Christian hymnody.
The Gettys are master songwriters, but their first book isn’t about songwriting. It’s about worship. Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church is full of practical insights to make worship both fresh and faithful to the message of Christ. The Gettys aim to get the church to sing the truth, and to sing it as if it were true (98–99).Biblical and Practical
In the book, the Gettys look to the Bible to discover why we sing in the first place and the effect it has on our hearts and minds. They make it clear that they want to be practical, not prescriptive (xxv; e.g., there is no mention of the regulative principle). This is a wise approach, as many churches have only recently exited a few decades of “worship wars.” That debate seems largely over, and rather than reignite old battles, Sing! provides a positive way forward.
The book is broken into three sections, moving from biblical substance to practical living. In the Scriptures we see Christian people created, commanded, and compelled to sing (chs. 1–3). We should therefore sing with our whole heart and mind, with our families, and with our local church (chs. 4–6). All of this contributes to our witness in the world (ch. 7).
The book concludes with four “bonus tracks,” the core ideas of a larger book the Gettys hope to write (103). The couple highlights several situations where principles outlined in the previous chapters can be applied, especially for pastors, worship leaders, songwriters, and creatives.Worship ≠ Music
Too often, Christians think worship is only or mainly the singing that happens on Sundays (hence the misguided term “worship wars”). The Gettys are quick to address this mistake. The Bible makes clear that worship involves our whole lives, whether at church or at home. In his excellent book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God (Crossway, 2008), Bob Kauflin writes, “Worship isn’t primarily about music, techniques, songs, or methodologies. It’s about our hearts. It’s about what and who we love more than anything” (25).
Congregational singing—both to God and to one another (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)—should be central. God commands it, and when we come together the Spirit moves our hearts in praise, adoration, lament, and thanksgiving. But the imperative to sing also involves internalizing our Bibles (Col. 3), training our children (Deut. 6), and enjoying beauty and creation as people made in God’s image (Gen. 1–2). God commands us to sing, “so we must do it. Not to sing would be to disobey” (13).
And when we sing the great truths of the Bible, we’re changed from the inside out. Singing that is triune—God-honoring, Christ-glorifying, and Spirit-filled—“moves out in concentric circles, changing your heart and mind” (35). In turn this changes our families, our churches, and ultimately our world.
Sing! is a good little book for Christians to pick up for Bible study or personal reading. The Gettys have a wealth of experience in traditional and contemporary churches, so there’s something for nearly everyone. Readers will be motivated to sing with greater passion on Sundays—and hopefully on weekdays, too.
Keith and Kristyn Getty. Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. Nashville, TN: B&H, 2017. 149 pp. $12.99.
Josh Philpot is the pastor for worship at Founders Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He holds a PhD in Old Testament from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Article by: Tom Nelson
Workshop Leader: Tom Nelson
Date: April 4, 2017
Event: The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana
The gospel speaks into every nook and cranny of life, including the work we’re called by God to embrace for his glory and the furtherance of the common good. Tragically, many church leaders fail to adequately equip congregants for their vocational callings. What’s really at stake when our gospel-centered churches fail to connect Sunday worship with Monday work? What changes will lead to greater pastoral faithfulness and more flourishing congregations?
You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here. And pick up Tom’s new book, The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity.
Find more audio and video from TGC17 on the conference media page.
Tom Nelson is the senior pastor of Christ Community Church (EFCA) in Leawood, Kansas, and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. He Is the author of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.