Psalm 111:2

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”

The Bible leaves no doubt about the greatness of the works of God. Our experience should leave no doubt about the greatness of works of the Lord. And we who delight in God should also delight in what God has accomplished. Psalm 111 was read in church this morning, and I took particular notice of verse two. Here, the psalmist says that all who delight in the works of the Lord study the works of the Lord. The NIV says they “ponder” them, and The Message paraphrases the verse by saying, “God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study—endless enjoyment!” Indeed, for the child of God, to study God’s works is to take enjoyment in them as they reveal with greater depth the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Almighty.

Here is a call to consider, to chronicle, to analyze, and understand the works of God. I do not mean we can fully comprehend the reasons for all God’s works, the methods behind all his acts, the interworking of all his plans—or even discover everything God has done. But we can try our best. So long as we refrain from useless speculation about what God leaves hidden and train our minds to examine the works of God that he has revealed, we are doing the right thing and strengthening our ability to exalt God properly.

Studying the works of the Lord involves, as I see it, two broad branches of knowledge. It may involve more than this, as God is creator of all things, visible and invisible, and the ultimate cause of all history. God’s decree includes all things that exist and all things that occur. Hence history is a subject that deals with the works of God indirectly (i.e., via second causes). But when I think of the study of the immediate works of the Lord, I think of especially of theology and science.

Theology is the careful study of the special (Scriptural) revelation from God to humankind. Of course, theology includes more than God’s actions. It also includes God’s being as well as our relation to God, angelology, ecclesiology, etc. But all Bible study is theological in nature, and therefore to study the works of the Lord in the history of redemption is to study theology. The great miraculous works of God in the history of Israel may be more keenly in the mind of the psalmist here, though perhaps not exclusively. But it is clear that the verse applies to the entire portfolio of God’s works. If you are amazed or comforted by them, then study them. If they bring you wonder and delight, then study them. They speak to us about God’s love, God’s holiness, God’s power to save and to judge, and God’s plan for the ages. Study all the Bible says about what the Lord has done.

Science is the careful study of the general (natural) revelation from God to humankind. As such, as I have said previously, science is a kind of theology in its own right, examining, as it were, the artifacts of God. As R. C. Sproul has pointed out, general revelation is just as infallible as special revelation when it comes to conveying truth. Any fact we glean about nature is a fact gleaned about a creative act of God, and thus about God himself. Our interest in the great “works of the Lord” must extend to all his works, and this includes his works of creation. Certainly we see a biblical precedent for this. I remember the first time I realized that King Solomon was an amateur botanist, zoologist, and ornithologist who composed descriptions of local flora and fauna. This is revealed in a single verse in 1 Kings, which says “he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish” (4:33). The NET Bible puts it in more modern terms: “He produced manuals on botany, describing every kind of plant, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on walls. He also produced manuals on biology, describing animals, birds, insects, and fish.” Remarkable! Christians have reason to be more excited about science than anyone else, because they know the Maker of “all things visible” (the earth, the elements, life, the whole visible universe) and “invisible” (not only spiritual entities, but radiation, gravitation, magnetism, nuclear forces, energy, and possibly dark matter, plus whatever else may be out there). Delight to study these things.

Needless to say, general revelation is subject to misinterpretation, especially when approached from the outset with a rejection of special revelation (which is more explicit). But special revelation is subject to misinterpretation, too. Furthermore, like non-Christian scientists, scientists who do accept the authority and divine origin of the Bible can and do misinterpret natural revelation. This is the nature of science and the need for the scientific method. But this should not discourage the study of science, since it is still the study of the works of the Lord. Both scientists who do and scientists who do not believe the Bible will, as a result of their fallible science-study of infallible natural revelation, get things right and things wrong about God’s works. Likewise, those who are and who are not true children of God will, as a result of their fallible Bible-study of infallible special revelation, get some things right and some things wrong about God’s works. Wrong ideas about God’s works are to be corrected by ongoing study, whether in the realm of science or in the realm of theology.

By God’s grace, human beings have gained very much knowledge about the works of the Lord in creation by Christian and non-Christian scientists alike. Every fact published by any atheistic scientist, every new discovery disclosed in any secular journal by any institute or organization, adds yet another reason to awe at the glory of God. Even many who scoff at theism have discovered by their good research wonder upon wonder performed by God. There is no danger for the Christian in studying those wonders (scientific facts). Praise God for the good science happening globally. Nevertheless, Christians should not be content to leave the studying to the world. No, indeed! The psalmist says the works of God are studied by “all who delight in them.” Christians, that’s us. It doesn’t mean you personally have to be a scientist or a professional theologian. But if you delight in the works of the Lord, delight to learn about them, about all of them—facts about the miraculous redemptive works of God recorded in Scripture, and facts about the creative works of God recorded in the natural world around us. Even facts about the providential work of God upholding the cosmos and caring for his creation. They are all equally works of the Lord, on display for our education and delight.

The Supremacy of God In Hip-hop

A recent evangelical conference associated with the National Center for Family-integrated Churches recently caused an unwelcome stir among believers when a panel of speakers was asked to comment on Christian rap music. I have seen the video of the panelists’ responses and was surprised, upset, and discouraged to hear them one by one in unanimity offer blanket denouncements, sometimes in very strong terms, of Christian hip-hop. Thankfully, there have been a number of appropriate responses by well-respected Christian thinkers, including one by Albert Mohler and a statement approving of Christian rap by Samuel Waldron, who was also a speaker at the NCFIC conference, but not on—and, I believe, unaware—of the small panel that addressed Christian rap. There have also been apologies offered by the host Scott Brown, and by at least one panelist. Additionally, a discussion with Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and rap artist Shai Linne regarding this topic is planned for later today. I happen to know that James White has a positive view of several current Christian rap artists, who produce excellent biblical material.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts of my own. One reason is because I feel strongly about the Christian artisan in general. Another is that I have personally been greatly blessed by the music of several contemporary Christian rap artists. In fact, I have been more blessed by their music than by any other form of Christian pop music. So let me address some thoughts offered at the conference.

It was repeated by a couple panelists that it is not only important what we say, but how we say it. That is, form matters. Form as well as message should be under the authority of Scripture. To this I give a hearty Amen. How this indicts Christian rap was never really explained, and I can’t figure it out myself. It would certainly prohibit handing out tracts at a bikini car wash, even though that might attract more people. It would likewise prohibit using force or violence to evangelize. When it comes to music, this principle becomes a little more esoteric. Certainly, any art produced by a believer should aspire to recreate, as Albert Mohler said, what is good, beautiful, and true. There are some forms of music that I believe are not beautiful. They involve screaming. But even here, I would hesitate to take a dogmatic stance. Mohler further pointed out that even the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who made music explicitly in the service of the Lord, was accused in its time of “using crude structures, lowly themes, and of borrowing from unworthy musical sources.” This does not necessarily mean that no form of music is unacceptable. But anyone who listens to the Christian rap on the market, with an understanding of the genre, cannot accuse it of being ugly. It is well made and a joy to listen to, in addition to carrying a wealth of truth.

Bach, as we saw, was accused of “borrowing from unworthy musical sources.” Here we see another accusation offered by the panel at the NCFIC conference, when the cultural origin of hip-hop was mentioned. Certainly, hip-hop originates from anything but a Christ-centered milieu. Indeed, rap music often entertains some of the most unchristian themes and images in all of pop music. How then can believers in submission to Christ embrace this musical style? They can because the style is not the message. Opera often has very sensuous messages, too, but it does not mean opera cannot be used to glorify God. To see this issue from an alternate angle, let us take the example of the Christmas holiday. A couple years ago, I was confronted by a coworker about celebrating the holiday. She was a fellow believer and had seen some material denouncing Christmas, explaining its pagan origins and the pagan roots of common Christmas symbols such as wreaths and evergreen trees. She asked me to watch the presentation, which I did. Looking for help on this subject, I ran across some articles by the Christian Research Institute (with Hank Hannegraff). In one place he observes that

Sometimes it is urged that to take a pagan festival and try to “Christianize” it is folly. However, God Himself did exactly that in the Old Testament. Historical evidence shows conclusively that some of the feasts given to Israel by God through Moses were originally pagan agricultural festivals, which were filled with idolatrous imagery and practices. What God did, in effect, was to establish feasts which would replace the pagan festivals without adopting any of the idolatry or immorality associated with them. It would appear, then, that in principle there is nothing wrong with doing so in the case of Christmas.

This, now, is actually one of the things I celebrate about Christmas. The holiday, created by the Christian church, supplanted pagan festivities. This is not merely using a pagan practice to facilitate Christian observances, but rather, it is a kind of conquering. This same thing can be done for opera; it can be done for pop-rock; it can be done for poetry; and it can be done for rap. Christians should not only be producing rap—they should be producing good rap, and when they do, they take one more part of the world from the god of this world and there plant the flag of Christ.

One of the panelists said that the only defense he has heard for Christian rap is that it is redeeming rap. He opined that in the Bible, redeeming results in “fundamental change,” (his own words), and that he doesn’t see this change in Christian rap. Let me try to unveil the folly of this opinion, if it is not openly apparent. Redeeming cannot mean a “fundamental” change. It does not mean this in Scripture. Redemption means a buying back. It is a restoration. It is fixing that which is broken, not destroying it and starting over. Now, the Christian rap I listen to is absolutely 180 degrees different in its message, posture, and worldview from the rap on the radio (and the rap on traditional radio is the milder stuff, believe me). The only thing that is the same about it is that it is still rap. If this panelist means that to redeem an ungodly art form, it must be so changed that it is no longer that art form, then that is not redemption at all. It is simple rejection. If God “redeemed” us in that way, then we would all be annihilated and replaced with new people. God does not do that. Instead, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, we are mended—we are restored back to what we always ought to have been, and a fundamental change has not taken place because we are still fundamentally the same persons we were to begin with (again, if we are not, then we have not been redeemed). What this panelist must have really believed is that rap itself is not redeemable. I do not believe that. In fact, I believe that the use of rap for the sake of Christ and the gospel is not only acceptable, but is a manifestation of the dominion of the kingdom of God in the world as rap is taken captive to obey Christ. And I believe this is true in every instance where something good but perverted that was once the domain of Satan is usurped by Christ followers and put in the service of the kingdom of God.

Another objection raised by the panel was that making rap was following the world. Indeed, it was called a cowardly following of the world. Perhaps these panelists were unconscious of the fact that by wearing modern suits and ties, they too were following the world. My point is that once any activity that the Bible does not declare sinful is labelled following the world, where does one stop short of monasticism? Making movies with Christian themes, or using a harpsichord to play a Christian song is also “following the world” strictly speaking, but it is certainly not following the system of the world that is opposed to God. We must be careful to properly define what it means to be following the world. A Christian who makes rap with sensuous, greedy, violent, or boastful lyrics to fit in with his friends or with their expectations is definitely following the world. On the other hand, a Christian who makes rap that declares the true attributes of God is not following the world, even though his music is certifiably rap music. Why? Because the rap music itself is the Lord’s, and it can be used to promote either worldliness or godliness, just as 17th century tunes can be used to promote worldliness or godliness. In fact, I would here like to reiterate that when a Christian makes any artwork, it should be made well, to the best of his ability. The Bible tells Christian musicians to play skillfully (Ps. 33:3, 47:7, Ex. 1 Chr. 25:6,7). Should we expect Christian rap that is well made to sound anything like the rap of the world—say, Jay-Z or Eminem? Yes, of course, because it’s good rap qua rap. As it is evaluated even by those who do not know God but do know rap, it should be deemed quality, because it has been made as unto the Lord.

One of the most encouraging things I could hear that is related to this was from an African American friend of mine at my old job. He was big time into hip-hop music. He read XXL magazine. I introduced him to Lecrae while giving him a ride home one time. Later on, I made him two mix CDs of some of my favorite Christian rap songs from a variety of rappers. Once he got around to listening to the first one, he told me it was “awesome.” He couldn’t believe how good it was. I was so proud to hear it. Friends, that’s how Christian rap ought to impress itself upon the world—as being, not merely tolerated by the church, but attended to with the attention, skill and production value befitting those who labor as slaves of the master Jesus Christ and work their crafts as unto him. I do not say that rap is inappropriate for Christians; I say that poor rap is inappropriate for Christians.

Finally, let me testify to the incredible upsurge of Christian rap withing the last decade or so. Like I said, this music has richly blessed me personally. I have marveled at the quantity and quality of the content of contemporary Christian rap. So much of it has been so theologically rich and accurate, that listening has been like attending mini Sunday school lessons. The true gospel and ecclesiology, soteriology, hamartology, anthropology, etc. that I have heard in the music of rappers such as Flame, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, KB, Tedashii, Beautiful Eulogy, Lacrae, Sho Baraka, Ambassador, and (if you want to get a little old school) Cross Movement, has stunned me. These artists are for the most part Reformed, and familiar with Christian documents that are hundreds of years old, as well as being well taught and articulate in doctrinal truths. It is ironic to me, that such messages have come from such an unexpected place: hip-hop. But it is like the Lord to raise up unexpected sources of clarity, teaching, and edification. I see the sovereign prerogative of God, if not the humor, in what the Spirit of God is doing through the work coming out of so unpredictable a corner of the musical and cultural world.

Let me finally defend hip-hop in particular as a channel for gospel truth. Hip-hop seems specially suited to the task of proclamation for a couple reasons. First, hip-hop songs are all about the words. The beat and the instrumentation are present, are there to be heard, and are an essential part of the production, but unlike a classical piece or most other forms of music, the words are the main focus, the central piece. Take away the words from a rock-and-roll song, and you still have rock-and-roll music. Not so with rap. In rap, the words make the style. Rock is music with words. Rap is words with music. Second, in terms of sheer word count, rap is especially equipped to divulge messages at greater length than other pop music. Rap songs fit many more words in the same amount of time as other forms of sung music, and hence are more able to “preach” than other forms of music.

Upon watching the panel yesterday, I was not only disheartened, but embarrassed. Let me say that I would not be embarrassed if the men making the statements were not my brothers in the faith, at least as zealous as I am for the lordship of Jesus Christ. But I think their answers were informed more by prejudice and misunderstanding than the Bible. To close, I am embedding a few videos of rap songs that have encouraged me in the faith, and I hope will likewise encourage you. These videos merely scratch the surface.

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A brief Dialog About Strage Fire

In the wake of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference on the charismatic movement in the church and the general belief that the revelatory and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are in action today. Tim Challies asked Dr. MacArthur a few questions that people had been wondering about. In the comment section following the interview, I added my opinion to one comment in particular, and got a response. When I tried to reply, I found that comments had been closed. So here it is. A user named RyanJay begins by quoting MacArthur:

RyanJay

 “But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture” – A disrespectful comment to the years and years of pain-staking study these men have undertaken for the church.  I’m saddened by how MacArthur is choosing to spend these golden years of his life/ministry subtly sowing doubt into the works of men like Piper, Grudem, Stroms as well as others who have spent much time defending the reformed continuationists in a sound, biblical and humble way.

Fuller1754

Doubt into the continuationist works of good men like Piper and Grudem—men I respect—is actually quite appropriate in this case. It seems self-evident to me that doubt ought to be cast upon erroneous teaching, while truth ought to be taught and made clear. To contradict anyone is to “sow doubt,” but sowing doubt about long held false beliefs is nothing but liberating. MacArthur’s doing the right thing here, yet doing it with gentleness and respect.

RyanJay

I whole heartedly agree that doubt should be cast upon erroneous teaching, and in fact the way to do this is by speaking the truth and the truth alone.  Your presupposition leads you to state that being a continuationists is an erroneous teaching and long held false belief.  And since you state that you respect Piper and Grudem I must ask you the question – how is that even possible for you to respect these men who hold such erroneous and false beliefs?  And what if these men are teaching the church these so called erroneous and false beliefs?  I think the tricky part for the cessationists is where do you put these men in your thinking.  They preach the word, they love Jesus, they defend the Gospel and yet they have this “continuationists’ thing about them.

Fuller1754 (My unpublished reply)

Let me give another example: I believe dispensationalism is an erroneous teaching, too. John MacArthur is a dispensationalist, but I obviously have great respect for him. If I did not have respect for any Christian teachers I thought adhered to any erroneous belief, my choices would be slim indeed, and my attitude would be all wrong. I don’t know if I can think of almost any major Christian teacher whom I don’t believe holds to some erroneous belief or another—whether it has to do with eschatology, the law, baptism, or whatever.

I respect Grudem and Piper because they are great men of understanding and of faith. Why shouldn’t I? They do preach the Word; they do love Jesus. I own Grudem’s systematic theology, and coincidentally am taking my wife and myself through a John Piper devotional book right now. It seems completely incongruous to me that someone who has a disagreement with a Bible teacher at some point could not also have great respect for that teacher overall—even if it’s a disagreement about something important. Continuationism is no less erroneous and false. I still love those guys. I really don’t see the contradiction.

Now I would have to ask you: must you avoid coming to a conclusion on any topic about which godly people disagree? Because if you assume you cannot respect teachers whom you disagree with, then if you do come to conclusions about these things, you would lose respect for many a respectable man of God.

Protect Hate Speech

People can say stupid things. Some people say stupid things frequently, and others may say things with the intent to inflame or offend certain other people. Especially with that latter group, it may seem that it would be reasonable, whether for the preservation of public order or peace, or to protect groups of people from verbal persecution, to use the law to put a stop to the kind of speech or literature that demeans or ridicules people or portrays them in a false light. Some might even suggest that not doing so would be ignoring the right to privacy or freedom of religion, expression, etc., by creating an environment where a group of people may feel oppressed simply because of their race, beliefs, lifestyles or whatever else.

While people are rightly entitled to legal action against personal slander, libel, and defamation, we must be clear about what kind of proclamations do and do not fall within those categories. It is illegal to say something false about a particular person that damages his reputation or costs him financially. It is not illegal to say something true about a person that damages his reputation or costs him financially.

What else does not qualify as slander or libel is offensive speech or speech that demeans a group of people. If it did, there’d be a line of ex-comedians at the unemployment office. And what even more emphatically does not qualify as slander is the expression of beliefs or the expressed disagreement with someone else’s point of view or way of life.

In England on September 5, Rob Hughes, a street preacher in Basildon, was arrested after a lesbian woman accused him of engaging in hate speech against homosexuals. He was asked by police whether he had said that homosexuality was sinful, as if such a statement would have been hateful. He replied that although he had not said so that day, it was something he would say. Hughes was subsequently arrested, fingerprinted, and detained for seven hours.

Let’s be honest: the statement that homosexuality is sinful and morally wrong is 1) true, and 2) not in itself hateful. However, let us assume someone were saying hateful things against homosexuals. Assume someone were saying hateful things about anyone. What should be done about it? By government, nothing. The right to free speech must protect the peaceful expression of all view points, hateful or otherwise, or it is no guarantee of any right to speech at all. This is especially true since the definition of “hateful” is fluid and often subjective. In fact, the definition has changed so much in recent decades, that the word is now frequently used merely to intimidate and silence those whose views one does not like (see Rob Hughes case above.)

Free speech includes the right to say nasty things about religions, lifestyles, behaviors, beliefs. It means we protect the right of others to say things we do not like or that we find offensive, distasteful, ignorant, or inflammatory, because we ourselves, if we say anything of value, are sure to sound that way to someone else.

Understand, I believe very strongly in civility. I believe in expressing and exchanging ideas and arguments in a respectful, courteous way. But many people falsely believe that “respectful” means you must concede some degree of correctness or value in someone else’s beliefs (it does not). Also, civility is connected to attitude and manner, not to the ideas expressed and furthermore, wrongheaded, ignorant, and hateful speech must be corrected and ended only by citizens of society through counter-argumentation and persuasion and not by the state, because there is no telling what ideas the state may at any time consider “hateful.” Granted, the state must prosecute acts of violence. But if the state begins prosecuting the expression of certain ideas—regardless of how hateful some may think those ideas or how much some may not like them—then our right to free speech is gone with the wind. In a free society, the right to make hate speech must be protected.

Balaam’s Donkey and Animal Cognizance

This is another older entry resurrected from a blog I had years ago. It was originally posted 18 June 2008.

As you probably recall, in Numbers chapter 22 in the Bible, we are given the remarkable story of Balaam, Balaam’s ass, and the angel of the Lord, in which Balaam’s beast actually speaks to her master after turning aside from the angel which had remained invisible to Balaam.  The question of the donkey’s speech is usually at the forefront, but I think there is not so much to ponder there: God supernaturally gave the donkey the capacity for vocalization. That satisfies just fine. I’ll await further details in heaven.

My question, as it relates to this narrative, has to do not with donkey’s vocalization, but with the donkey’s message. That is, with the donkey’s thoughts. Was she given the message by God? There is nothing in the text to indicate that that was the case. Rather, the passage says that “the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey” upon which she subsequently “said [something] to Balaam.”  It appears at first glance, that all the Lord did was give the donkey utterance, and she simply said what was on her mind. I don’t think this is far fetched. I think an animal such as a horse or a donkey could have such thoughts as Balaam’s donkey’s.  Balaam’s donkey 1) wants to know why she was deserving of whipping. She says, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And 2) makes an objection based upon past service. Says the donkey, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” These sentiments are simplistic enough. We do not see the donkey beginning to pontificate the finer points of Aristotelian philosophy.

Notice once again the language. The Bible says that “the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey” as if only so she could say what was already there (in her mind). The passage then uses similar phrasing for Balaam when “the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way.”  When Balaam’s eyes were opened he was made able to see what was already there. Is it that incredible to think that when the donkey’s mouth was opened (i.e., she was given the ability to vocalize), she simply said what she was already thinking? I give the benefit of the doubt to the donkey. I think that she, as just a normal donkey, was thinking the things she spoke before God worked any miracle. The miracle was the vocalization, not the message, of the donkey.  God, the ultimate mind reader, knew what she would say, given the chance, and opened her mouth to get Balaam’s attention.

So what’s the moral of the story, kids?  You’re pets have feelings too.  “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel” (Proverbs 12:10).

My old blog notes that at the time I wrote this I was reading a Michael Crichton novel called Next. Next did have some talking orangutans, as I recall, but I think that was only a coincidence.

The Square Root of Four is Two

Greg Koukl is a Christian apologist and author who frequently lectures on college campuses, attempting to engage students in thought-provoking dialog about how they perceive and comprehend the world, about matters of faith, and about questions of reality. During one such lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, he was conversing with a young man who was so inculcated with relativist nonsense, he could not admit that the square root of four was two. He could only repeat that that was what his culture had taught him to believe.

Hear me: whoever sees a helicopter leave the ground or a man-made probe successfully orbit the moon has witnessed the empirical confirmation that the square root of four is two. He has just beheld the proof that our mathematical abstractions are not cultural conventions, but are expressions of absolute truth. Logic, mathematics—these things are not conventional and local, but universal, immaterial, and absolute.

The young man at Berkeley, though, may have been thoughtful enough to see that an atheistic, naturalist worldview cannot account for such immaterial entities and abstract laws—thus he was forced to junk them, even when the plain reality is that they are absolute truths. In this, he may be more consistent than many other atheists. It is very difficult to account for the world with its intelligibility, our ability to think rationally and communicate with one another and exist in societies with at least some baseline of shared morals, without conceding the existence of one universal, immaterial, absolute lawgiver behind it all. What you see in many young people today is an inconsistent mixture of relativistic subjectivism and objective beliefs; the former because it is what they are taught they must think, and the latter because the image of God still seeps through from the inside and reality still impresses itself upon them from the outside. I pray that Christians would develop the knowledge and the vocabulary to discuss worldview issues so that people who are lost can be shown that there is a lens—the Christian faith—through which the world does make sense.

Further resources: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/category/white-horse-inn/questions-of-faith/

Called not to be the Same

Israel was chosen by God to be his people. From Moses until Christ, the Jews were set apart by God as a special possession for himself, and they served as a living picture, a living parable, for the kingdom of God on earth. As such, they were to be a holy people, differentiated from all the other people groups around them. In fact, some of the laws given to the Israelites were meant to figure this separation and purity, such as those in Deuteronomy 22:9 against sowing a field with two kinds of grain, wearing a garment of mixed fabrics, or plowing with an ox and a donkey together. Israel was a set-apart people. And they prefigured the New Testament church.

Christians—you and I—are the Israel God is now working with. Too many Christians want to minimize or eliminate the differences between themselves and the people around them. There is constant pressure brought upon us to conform to the reining modes of thinking of this age. Such pressure was heavy upon Israel, too, who was always dealing with temptation to worship the gods of the surrounding nations. We are beset with the pressure to worship the gods everyone around us is worshipping. Those gods include fornication, homosexuality, moral relativism, religious relativism, and the concept that God is not really angry at anyone (except child molesters and Hitler). Or the god that there is no God and that human beings are the result of a physics crapshoot. There is pressure to accept all religions as equally valid to Christianity, and not to make moral declarations based on the Bible. There is pressure to say that any sincere belief in God is good enough for him—you don’t have to approach God specifically through Jesus Christ.

But Christians are called to be set apart from the world in their thinking, their practice, and how they see reality. We are called to bring our thoughts into submission to Christ and to declare his truth to the world. We are called not be the same. People of the world hate the light of the Scripture because they love their sin. They love it so much, they will invent all kinds of arguments to defend their way of life and will slander those who say they are wrong, sometimes viciously. We must take courage in those times, trust God, and be faithful to the message he has delivered to us. If the Bible says marriage is a union between a man and a woman only, then so must we. If the Bible says no one can come to God except through conscious faith in Jesus, then so must we. If the Bible says you can’t divorce your spouse except in cases of adultery or abandonment, then so must we.

And we must say these things out loud. Christians are not called to a cloister. We are called to be separate from the world in the midst of the world. And this may be the hardest thing. We have friends in the world; we are not friends with the world. We go about our business in the world; we are not yoked to the world. We participate in civics as citizens of the world; we are wayfarers passing through. It takes courage to have a different mindset than the prevailing mindset of the culture around you. But the cultural mindset leads to death. We must not adjust the message of the Scriptures to accommodate modern beliefs. Instead, we call on the world to change to accommodate God’s message. Christians must stand firm in the face of opposition in proclaiming God’s eternal truths to the world and so save some. That is true love. The truth brings life. Do not be conformed to this present world, Christian, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The Creator and the Creation

A while ago I was thinking about nature and the universe and the things that the universe is made of. What exists now in the universe is what has always existed in it since its beginning. The universe is a closed system—a big one, but a closed system ultimately. When we look around at the stuff of the universe, we see a set of energy and matter that must remain constant. That is to say, energy cannot be added to the closed system of the universe, nor can it be removed. The energy in the universe is constantly being recycled, in a way, as it changes forms, but is never spontaneously generated or annihilated.

This makes sense. You cannot ultimately get rid of something, you can only change it. Even when I try to destroy something, the matter it contained must still go somewhere, it must still be somewhere, even if it’s in a million little pieces. Likewise, when we build something (like a bookshelf) it is only made of preexisting material. When we “generate electricity,” we are only transforming existing energy into a useable form, and once we “use it up,” we have but changed it back into a form we cannot use for mechanical work.

So, enough physics. I was thinking about the material of the universe itself and its creation by God, and as I did so, I realized I could not comprehend the creation of something new from nothing. I cannot understand the emergence of brand new matter or energy. So I wondered if perhaps the universe is an extension of the energy of God himself—if the elements emanate from God’s essence. If they are ultimately part of God. For where else could they come from? They had to come from somewhere, didn’t they?

But I soon realized this was pantheism. The universe, with all its elements and energies, is not an extension of God, but God’s separate creation. God created something other than himself. He created a thing that did not exist before. The Bible says in Romans 4 that God “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Christianity does not teach that the world or human beings are an extension or concrete expression of the divine being or essence, but that God transcends his creation, is above it, is greater than it, and is other than it. God by the power of his word called into original existence things that had no existence before. Indeed, he upholds the creation continuously by his word, so that if he ceased to do so, it would dissolve into a state of inert uniformity in which no energy would be available for use. God is so powerful he could create things out of nothing. I still cannot comprehend it, but God is beyond human comprehension, and so is his act of creation. It is very important, though, that the Creator and his creation not be conflated.

The Broad Pro-life Movement

Yesterday marked a sober anniversary in our nation’s history: 40 years since the Supreme Court made a ruling in the Roe v. Wade case that centered around the right to have an abortion. The 1973 ruling in favor of Roe by 7-2 meant that abortion was considered a fundamental right under the Constitution, subjecting any law to limit abortion to strict scrutiny. It was a moral and legal disaster.

In light of this anniversary there is likely going to be renewed debate over abortion, with people on both sides reaffirming their beliefs and presenting arguments. So let me say as straightforwardly as I can, abortion is a gruesome, barbaric killing of a young human being. It should have no place in a society that seeks to be civilized and free or to value human rights. I am an abortion abolitionist and a pro-life advocate.

But I want to take this opportunity to voice along with others the fact that while the pro-life ideology certainly includes being anti-abortion, it is not synonymous with being anti-abortion. I would remind people that the pro-life movement is built upon a respect for the dignity and value of human life. It involves the need to recognize the inherent worth of all people. It is therefore a comprehensive movement and includes the following.

  • Abolishing assisted suicide and so-called euthanasia
  • Expanding global access to clean water and sustainable food supplies
  • Expanding global access to medical care
  • AIDS prevention thru education
  • Abolishing abortion
  • Offering compassionate alternatives to abortion that respect both the plight of the mother and the life she carries within her
  • Ending child warfare
  • Caring for the earth
  • Promoting world peace

I am not saying that every pro-life individual must be actively involved in all these goals. It is hardly possible for most people to do much or anything to promote world peace or expand access to healthcare in the third world. But there are organizations that are doing these things, and they are things subsumed in pro-life belief. I am not saying that everyone who cares about many of these things is also anti-abortion. Thank God that many pro-abortion advocates are involved in some of these other pursuits, but hear me—these are pro-life pursuits, and those who believe in them but do not believe in abolishing abortion are holding to an ideological inconsistency. On the other hand, I would admit readily that those who fight abortion but do not care, for example, about AIDS prevention or world peace are likewise being inconsistent. I believe all Christians are obligated to hold pro-life views. May God help us do so and do so consistently.

Finally, are you looking for material about abortion? I recommend Desiring God Ministries, keyword “pro-life” or “abortion” and Abort73.com.

Why I Will Never Vote To Recognize Same-Sex Unions as Marriages

In 2008, Californians passed Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment providing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Many called it a gay marriage ban, but the language of a ban was misleading in a couple ways. One, homosexual “marriage” was not legally recognized before. You can’t really ban something that isn’t already happening. Second, the amendment was not banning same-sex “marriage,” and I do not know of any proposition anywhere to ban same-sex “marriage” across the board or to prevent same-sex couples from having a ceremony performed for them and calling it a marriage privately—nor would I support such a prohibition. What Prop 8 does is make plain that same-sex “marriage” simply will not be legally recognized by the state or be of any legal status qualifying such relationships for the legal benefits associated with real marriages.

I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry on their own terms. They may have relationships and call their relationships whatever they want. But these private “marriages” should not be legally recognized nor given the same legal benefits as real marriages. Here’s why.

1.) Same-sex relationships, whatever they may be, are not marriages.

I did not say they should not be marriages. They cannot be marriages. No one can alter that. As I stated, they can be pretend marriages, and I’m certainly not trying to take that away from any couple. But by definition and by nature, same-sex relationships cannot be marriages (regardless if they were legally recognized as such, I might add). Marriage is not an institution that is invented or defined by culture, by society, by government, or by majority opinion. Marriage exists independent of these social infrastructures, and human culture simply expresses marriage in unique ways, through various ceremonies or rites. These rites do not have to look anything alike. You do not have to use the 1549 Book of Common Prayer for a marriage to be valid. You only have to be uniting by solemn vows a man and a woman into an exclusive relationship with each other.

Marriage, I believe, has a natural teleology, or an origin or cause that exists as a built-in part of the natural order. In fact, this natural teleology is easily discerned. There are two sexes, male and female. The proportion of these in the population averages 50/50. A man and a woman are the only pair of human beings that can procreate or start a family. Procreation is only possible for adult (post-pubescent) persons. Marriage, therefore, is the union of an adult man and an adult woman, and these two only. Different cultures and subcultures have institutionalized other forms of marriage, such as polygamy and polyandry, but these aberrant forms of marriage were incorrect. That is to say, because marriage has a natural teleology, a culture can get it right or get it wrong. Marriage is expressed by a culture, not defined by it.

Thus I will never vote for the legal recognition of homosexual relationships as marriages because such recognition is contrary to fact. Public policy should operate in accord with the facts. It should live in the real world. Because marriage is one thing and not another, and is not an arbitrary social construct, same-sex “marriage,” along with other aberrant kinds, although not prohibited among private citizens, should not have any legal standing or special legal recognition.

2.)  Their is no reason for the government to be involved with same-sex relationships.

The state has no interest—social, economic, or otherwise—in encouraging same-sex relationships and should therefore not be involved at all. The government only has a vested interest in encouraging heterosexual marriage because such marriages create families and families make up society—the society that the government is there for. The only familial relationships that should be acknowledged and recorded by the state are those of close kin, and those of husbands and wives. For instance, I have a best friend, but the government takes no particular notice of it. Homosexual relationships should be treated the same way because they are of no more value to the survival of society than my relationship with my friend. We are not barred from being friends—we are just not afforded any special legal privileges for it. The government should recognize only monogamous heterosexual marriages because only these unions can keep a society from extinction by attrition, and because the two-parent home is the best nurturing environment for children, who are the future of any society.

Of course, not all heterosexual couples can procreate and not all choose to do so. Why then should the government recognize their marriages? Because the pattern for marriage in nature is normative. The government’s role is not to granularly pick which people may get married—it is everyone’s right to get married. It is the government’s role to acknowledge and foster the kind of marriage that produces and nurtures the next generation. That kind of marriage is conjugal marriage, heterosexual monogamous marriage. The circumstances surrounding any particular couple do not affect the rule, standard, or pattern established in nature that the government is to acknowledge.

For these two reasons, I will never vote for the recognition of same-sex “marriage.” A public policy that treats homosexual relationships the same way as heterosexual relationships does not make sense in regards to either social policy or factual integrity.  I have one other thing to add: If marriage is ever treated as though it has no basis in nature and is only a societal construct that we define, then marriage will mean anything, and therefore nothing. There will be no compelling moral reason for legal marriages to exclude any kind of consensual amorous configuration of persons (hopefully persons), whether it be polyamorous, pedophilic, homosexual, incestuous,  or whatever. Marriage is the covenantal unifying relationship between one man and one woman. Public policy that does not reflect that is both grounded on false premises and is uselessly involving itself in relationships that are not societally different from platonic relationships.

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