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Why Does The Trinity Matter?

THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY: NO CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT IT

The Holy Trinity image

By Kevin DeYoung

If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” More recently, Sinclair Ferguson has reflected on “the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have the world collapse in on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity. If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it!”

Yet, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. One theologian said, tongue in cheek, “The trinity is a matter of five notions or properties, four relations, three persons, two processions, one substance or nature, and no understanding.” All the talk of essence and persons and co-this and co-that seem like theological gobbledy-gook reserved for philosophers and scholars-maybe for thinky bookish types, but certainly not for moms and mechanics and middle-class college students.

So in a few hundred words let me try to explain what the doctrine of the Trinity means, where it is found in the Bible, and why it matters.

First, what does the doctrine mean? The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in seven statements. (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father is God. (3) The Son is God. (4) The Holy Spirit is God. (5) The Father is not the Son. (6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit. (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father. All of the creedal formulations and theological jargon and philosophical apologetics have to do with safeguarding each one of these statements and doing so without denying any of the other six. When the ancient creeds employ extra-biblical terminology and demand careful theological nuance they do so not to clear up what the Bible leaves cloudy, but to defend, define, and delimit essential biblical propositions. The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: “Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons, nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit, still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

The two key words here are essence and persons. When you read “essence”, think “Godness.” All three Persons of the Trinity share the same “Godness.” One is not more God than another. None is more essentially divine than the rest. When you read “persons”, think “a particular individual distinct from the others.” Theologians use these terms because they are trying to find a way to express the relationship of three beings that are equally and uniquely God, but not three Gods. That’s why we get the tricky (but learnable) language of essence and persons. We want to be true to the biblical witness that there is an indivisibility and unity of God, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can all be rightly called God. The Persons are not three gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand what we believe by stating what we don’t believe.

  • Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects monarchianism which believes in only one person (mono) and maintains that the Son and the Spirit subsists in the divine essence as impersonal attributes not distinct and divine Persons.

  • Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects modalism which believes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or manifestations (like the well-intentioned but misguided “water, vapor, ice” analogy).

  • Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects Arianism which denies the full deity of Christ.

  • And finally, orthodox Trinitarianism rejects all forms of tri-theism, which teach that the three members of the Godhead are, to quote a leading Mormon apologist, “three distinct Beings, three separate Gods.”

Second, where is the doctrine of the Trinity found in the Bible? Although the word “Trinity” is famously absent from Scripture, the theology behind the word can be found in a surprising number of verses. For starters there are verses that speak of God’s oneness (Deut. 6:4Isa. 44:61 Tim. 1:17). Then there are the myriad of passages which demonstrate that God is Father (e.g., John 6:27Titus 1:4). Next, we have the scores of texts which prove the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son—passages like John 1 (“the word was God”), John 8:58 (“before Abraham was born, I am”), Col. 2:9(“in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form”), Heb. 1:3 (“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being”), Tit. 2:13 (“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”)-not to mention the explicit worship Christ willingly received from his disciples (Luke 24:52John 20:28) and the charges of blasphemy leveled against him for making himself equal with God (Mark 2:7). Then we have similar texts which assume the deity of the Holy Spirit, calling Him an “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and using “God” interchangeably with the “Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19Acts 5:3-4) without a second thought.

The shape of Trinitarian orthodoxy is finally rounded off by texts that hint at the plurality of persons in the Godhead (Gen. 1:1-326Psalm 2:7Dan. 7), texts like 1 Cor. 8:6 which place Jesus Christ as Lord right in the middle of Jewish Shema, and dozens of texts that speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same breath, equating the three in rank, while assuming distinction of personhood (Matt. 28:19Gal. 4:61 Cor.12:4-61 Peter 1:1-22 Cor. 2:21-2213:14Eph. 1:13-142:1820-223:14-174:4-65:18-206:10-18).

The doctrine of the Trinity, as summarized in the seven statements earlier, is not a philosophical concoction by some over-zealous and over-intelligent early theologians, but one of the central planks of orthodoxy which can shown, explicitly or implicitly, from a multitude of biblical texts.

Third, why does any of this matter? There are lots of reasons, but borrowing from Robert Letham’s work (The Holy Trinity. Philippsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2004) and in Trinitarian fashion, let me mention just three.

One, the Trinity matters for creation. God, unlike the gods in other ancient creation stories, did not need to go outside himself to create the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like his own two hands (to use Irenaeus’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos. God created by speaking (the Word) as the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act, with God working by the agency of the Word spoken and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.

Two, the Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement. I’ve heard it said that the two main rivals to a Christian worldview at present are Islam and Postmodernism. Islam emphasizes unity—unity of language, culture, and expression—without allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity—diversity of opinion, belief, and background—without attempting to see things in any kind of meta-unity. Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.

Three, the Trinity matters for relationships. We worship a God who is in constant and eternal relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is a buzz word in American culture, but it is only in a Christian framework that communion and interpersonal community are seen as expressions of the eternal nature of God. Likewise, it is only with a Trinitarian God that love can be an eternal attribute of God. Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that he might show love and know love, thereby making love a created thing (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.

*Article adapted from the Gospel Coalition blog: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/09/28/the-doctrine-of-the-trinity-no-christianity-without-it/

 

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5 Questions For Christians Who Believe The Bible Supports Gay Marriage

By Kevin DeYoung

symbolSo you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?

Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?

These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.

2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?

After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.

3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?

It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up with a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?

4. What will you say about anal intercourse?

The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.

5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:

Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).

The church has been of one mind on this issue for nearly two millennia. Are you prepared to jeopardize the catholicity of the church and convince yourself that everyone misunderstood the Bible until the 1960s? On such a critical matter, it’s important we think through the implications of our position, especially if it means consigning to the bin of bigotry almost every Christian who has ever lived.

Source: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org (June 17, 2014)

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Current Issues, Worldview

 

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Full of Grace and Truth

grace and truth

By Kevin DeYoung

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

We need to be grace people and truth people. Not half grace and half truth. Not all grace on Mondays and all truth on Tuesdays. All grace and all truth all the time.

When I was being interviewed to be the pastor at University Reformed Church, I had to indicate where I was on a spectrum of issues. One of the lines measured grace versus truth. I wrote something like: “This is a bad question. Seeing as how Jesus came from the Father full of grace and truth, I believe we should be 100% in both directions.” I think they knew it was a loaded question and wanted to see my response.

“Or” Is Not an Option

By personality and upbringing and a whole bunch of other factors most of us lean in one direction or the other.

Grace people are pleasant to be around. They don’t ruffle any feathers. They cut us a lot of slack. They’re easy going. They accept us for who we are. They don’t make demands. They are always welcoming. But without truth, grace isn’t really grace, it’s just being accepting and nice. But affirmation and being grace-filled are not the same thing.

Grace people without truth are pleasant to be around, but we wonder if they really like us or if they are just trying to be liked. They are tolerant, but they often do not know the difference between right and wrong. Or they don’t care to line up one way or the other. Grace people can be cowardly. They often refuse to make tough decisions in life. They demand nothing from others and get nothing in return. They accept us for who we are, but they never help us become who we should be.

And then there are truth people. Truth people are easy to admire. They have convictions and principles. They believe in right and wrong. They set standards. They speak out against injustice, oppression, and evil. They are articulate and well-spoken. But without grace, telling the truth can become an excuse for belligerence.

Truth people without grace are loyal to their cause, but we wonder if they are really loyal to us. They want to change us and make us better, but they don’t allow for mistakes. They are quick to cast judgment on others. They make difficult decisions, but they also make life difficult for others and for themselves. They can be slow to forgive. They inspire us with their courage, but turn us off with their intimidation.

If you are a grace person you are most concerned about being loved. If you are a truth person you are most concerned about being right even it means being unloved. Both have their dangers. Something is wrong if everyone hates you, and something is probably just as wrong if if everyone loves you.

Grace and Truth Walked Among Us

Jesus was all grace. He welcomed sinners and tax collectors and ate with them. He had compassion on the crowds when they were hungry and far from home. He welcomed the little children to come and sit on his lap-gentler and kinder than any department store Santa. He healed the lepers, the lame, and the blind. He saved the criminal on the cross, who, in his dying breath, confessed that the dying man next to him was truly the Son of God.

And Jesus was all truth. He condemned many of the religious leaders of his day for being liars and hypocrites. He talked about hell more than he talked about heaven. He called all his those who would be his disciples to take up their cross daily and follow him. He prophesied judgment on Jerusalem for their unrepentant hearts. He obeyed the law, set standards, and demanded everything from his followers, even their very lives.

Jesus came from the Father full of grace and truth. All grace, all truth, all the time.

But he didn’t come simply to give us an example of grace and truth. He came to save us in grace and truth. It’s only after we’ve been saved and made right with God, the God says, “Alright, now that I have saved through Jesus, you need to know that I have saved you to look like Jesus.” The motivation to be full of grace and truth is not because we need to earn God’s favor, but because being a follower of Jesus Christ, means we look like the one we follow.

We desperately need grace in our lives. We need to hear from Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28) We need to know that God doesn’t expect us to clean up our act before we come to him. He implores us to come, now, today, just as we are–in brokenness, in pain, in humility, in repentance, and in faith. We need to hear that wayward children, who have squandered their inheritance and lived an immoral, rebellious life, can come home into the arms of their heavenly Father (Luke 15:20).

And we desperately need truth in our lives. We need to hear from Jesus “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). And we need to hear from Jesus what this saying really means: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…But if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). We need someone as gracious as Jesus to tell us the truth: you are not okay. You do not need to push away those feelings of guilt that weigh you down. You are guilty. And anyone who tells you otherwise, is not telling you the truth. And because they won’t tell you the truth, you won’t experience the grace you need.

We need truth. We need grace. We need Jesus.

Only Jesus Christ lived in perfect grace and perfect truth.

Only Jesus Christ can save hard-hearted, hard-headed sinners full of lies and deserving judgment.

And only by union with Jesus Christ, can we grow in the same truth and grace that walked among us in the miracle of the incarnation.

Source: thegospelcoalition.org (June 3, 2014)

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2014 in Sanctification

 

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Homosexuality from God’s Perspective

“What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality” by Kevin DeYoung

On Tuesday afternoon, CNN ran an article on its Belief Blog by Catholic priest (sort of) Daniel Helminiak entitled “My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality.”  The article is amazing for including so many bad arguments in so little space. A quick trip through the piece will show you what I mean. Helminiak’s writing will be in bold and then my response will follow.

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

These two paragraphs perfectly depict how many see any Christian opposition to homosexuality or gay marriage. We are undercover (or not!) theocrats trying to impose our personal preferences on the rest of the country. But the charge of legislating our morality is not as simple as it sounds. For starters, the government legislates plenty of morality already—morality about killing, stealing, polluting and a thousand other things we’ve decided are bad for society or just plain wrong. Moreover, the arguments being made in favor of gay marriage are fundamentally about morality. That’s why you hear words like justice, love, and equality. Most gay marriage advocates are making their case based on moral categories, if not religious and biblical.

What’s more, the pro-gay marriage side would like to see the state reject a conjugal view of marriage in favor of a new, heretofore unknown, definition of marriage. And in insisting upon the state’s involvement, they want this new definition to be imposed on all. We may not all have to like gay marriage, but the government will tell us what marriage means whether we like it or not.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

Here we have an example of progressive prejudice, the kind that assumes we have little to learn from the benighted masses who lived long ago. Whether they thought the world was flat has nothing to do with whether ancient people can teach us anything about sexuality. Such a tidbit is thrown in, it seems to me, as a rhetorical cue that these people were as dumb as doorknobs and can’t be trusted. More importantly, Helminiak distances himself from an orthodox understanding of biblical inspiration. Instead of approaching the Scriptures as the word of God, his first step is to position the Bible as a book by ancient people who don’t know all the things we know.

Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

There is really only one argument in the foregoing paragraphs: the sin of Sodom was about social injustice not about sexual immorality. No doubt, there were many other sins involved, as Helminiak rightly observes. But there is no reason to think homosexuality per se wasn’t also to blame for Sodom’s judgment. For example, Jude 7 states that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” Even the NRSV, translation of choice for the mainline (and the version Helminiak seems to be using), says “pursued unnatural lust.” Clearly, the sins of Sodom lived in infamy not simply because of violent aggression or the lack of hospitality, but because men pursued sex with other men.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

This line of reasoning is also common among revisionists. There is little to say in its favor, however, and Helminiak’s argument—that para physin “carries no ethical condemnation”–is particularly weak.

1) He makes the rudimentary error of forgetting that words have a semantic range of meaning. Just because Paul used “against nature” or “dishonorable” in non-ethical settings (sort of), doesn’t mean those words and phrases cannot carry ethical weight in another context. It’s like suggesting that if FDR once said “this soup is terrible” and later said “what the Nazis are doing is terrible” that he couldn’t possibly mean anything more than “what the Nazis did was kind of strange and not my personal preference.”

2) The context in Romans 1 tells us how to understand para physin. Paul has already explained how the unrighteous suppress the truth about God seen in nature and how they exchange the glory of the immortal God for images of created things. In both cases Paul contends that people believe a lie which prevents them from seeing things as they really are (1:25). Then in the very next verse he singles out homosexuality as “contrary to nature.” He is not thinking merely of things that are unusual, but of acts that violate the divine design and the ways things ought to be. For Paul, the biological complementarity of the male-female union is the obvious order of things. A male-male or female-female sexual pairing violates the anatomical and procreative design inherent in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. That Jewish writers of the period used comparable expressions to describe same-sex intercourse only confirms that this is what Paul meant by the construction.

3) Even more obviously, we know Paul considered same-sex intercourse an ethical violation, and not simply something uncommon, because of what he says in the very next sentence. Helminiak conveniently cuts off Paul’s thought halfway through verse 27. Notice what Paul goes on to say: “Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV). When you read the whole verse, Helminiak’s “non-ethical” argument becomes implausible. Paul thought homosexuality not just unusual, but wrong, a sinful error deserving of a “due penalty.”

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: “God gave them up … to impurity.”

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

Helminiak’s argument seems to be: Paul said homosexuality was an impurity; Jesus set people free from the purity requirements of the Jewish law; therefore, homosexuality is not wrong. This reasoning is so specious that it’s hard to know where to begin. Jesus did recalibrate the purity laws, but Mark 7:19 makes clear that the episode in question was about declaring all foods clean. Jesus was not saying for a second that anything previously called “unclean” or “impure” was now no big deal. Helminiak again connects words in a facile manner, suggesting that because Jesus fulfilled certain aspects of the ceremonial code, now anything described with the language of impurity cannot be condemned. Nine times in his epistles Paul references “impurity” and it is always in the context of vice and immorality (Rom. 1:24; 6:19; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:7). Besides all this, Jesus explicitly lists “sexual immorality” (in the passage Helminiak quotes) as one of the things that defiles a person. The Greek word is porneia which refers to “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG), especially, for the Jew, anything condemned by the Law of Moses.

It is simply not true that Paul, or Jesus for that matter, never considered homosexuality an ethical matter. To cite just one more example: in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul uses a rare Greek word, arsenokoites, which is a compound from two words found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Paul thought the prohibition against homosexuality in the Old Testament was still relevant and the sin was still serious.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

These are wild assertions without any corroborating evidence. Whatever one thinks of Leviticus 18 and 20 for today, it’s obvious that the Torah considered homosexual activity an abomination. It’s absurd to think that any ancient Israelite would have any celebrated David or Jonathan or Ruth or Naomi or Daniel if they were homosexual. It is the worst kind of special pleading and reader response to conclude against all exegetical, theological, and historical evidence that any of these Old Testament heroes were gay.

Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the centurion’s servant was his lover. The leading New Testament lexicon (BDAG) gives three definitions of pais: a young person, one’s own offspring, one who is in total obedience to another. If the word somehow means “male lover” in the Gospels, we need evidence greater than Helminiak’s bald assertion.

Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The link between sex and procreation did not have to be articulated by Paul because it was already assumed. God’s design from the beginning had been one man and one woman coming together as one flesh. This design is reaffirmed throughout Scripture, not least of all by Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6) and by Paul (Eph. 5:31). An important aspect of this union is the potential blessing of children. The prophet Malachi made clear that procreation is one of the aims of marriage when he said about a husband and wife, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15).

None of this proves the case against gay marriage as a government injunction (though that case can be made as well). What careful attention to the Bible does show is that the revisionists do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. From the first chapter of the Bible to the Law of Moses to the New Testament, there is no hint that homosexuality is acceptable behavior for God’s people and every indication that it is a serious sin.

This is why I appreciate the candor of honest pro-gay advocates like Luke Timothy Johnson:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says…I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.

Of course, I disagree with Johnson’s approach to the authority of Scripture and his liberal deference to experience. But I commend him for acknowledging what should be plain: the Bible really really calls homosexuality a sin. A sin that can be forgiven in Christ like a million other sins, and a sin that can be fought against by the power of the Holy Spirit, but still a sin. That’s what the Bible says. And as the CNN article demonstrates, it takes a lot of contorted creativity to make it say something else.

About the Author: Kevin DeYoung is the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, right across the street from Michigan State University.  DeYoung has been the pastor there since 2004.  He was born in Chicagoland, but grew up mostly in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.  He roots for da Bears, da Bulls, da Blackhawks, the White Sox, and the Spartans. He is married to Trisha, lives in Lansing and has five young children, and, for some reason, a bunny. He is the author of numerous excellent books including: Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church; What is the Mission of the Church? (co-authored with Greg Gilbert); Why We Love the Church and Why We Are Not Emergent (both co-authored with Ted Kluck); and The Good News We Almost Forgot and the forthcoming The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.

The article above is adapted from Kevin DeYoung’s blog on The Gospel Coalition’s website:  “DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed” – May 16, 2012 blog entry at http://thegospelcoaliton.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

 

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Book Review: Preaching and Preachers (40th Anniversary Edition) by *D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A Preaching Classic Just Got Even Better

 In order to introduce a new generation of preachers to “the Doctor” this book published in 1972 has been reissued. All the material from a series of lectures the Doctor gave in 1969 at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia – and is still very relevant to the times in which we are living in the 21st century. The Doctor was one who knew his cultural climate and ministered in a setting in London, that (especially in comparison with big cities in America) was ahead of its time in terms of a naturalistic worldview and skepticism toward religion and the gospel. However, he never backed down from the primacy and centrality of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ from the Scriptures.

It’s doubtful that very many preachers will agree with everything Lloyd-Jones has to say in this book, but it’s also very probable that you will gain profound insight, wisdom, and be encouraged in your preaching. You will most certainly be convinced of the importance of preaching, the relevance of preaching, and become a better gospel empowered preacher as a result of reading this book.

What’s different about the 40th edition? Well, the 1972 version has been left in tact, but there are several very welcome features:

Several new essays by modern preachers who share what they have learned and applied from the Doctor – Ligon Duncan writes an essay entitled, “Some things to Look For and Wrestle With;” Tim Keller writes an essay called “A Tract for the Times;” John Piper writes on “Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Preacher;” Kevin DeYoung writes an essay on “Preaching for Brand New and Tired Old Preachers;” Mark Dever writes on “What I’ve Learned about Preaching From Martyn Lloyd-Jones;” and lastly Bryan Chapell pens “Martyn Lloyd-Jones: An Uncommon Zeal.”

Another new feature is that each chapter contains several questions for study and discussion that can be useful for students, pastors, or church staffs to use in discussion or small group study. I am so glad that this new edition is finally here, and hope that it will inspire a new generation of preachers to proclaim the gospel from Genesis to Revelation with the unction of the Spirit, knowledge of the Scriptures, love for Christ, and passion of “the Doctor.”

 

*J.I. Packer first heard Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preach when he was a 22-year-old student in London. Upon hearing Lloyd-Jones, Packer remarked that he had “never heard such preaching…[delivered] with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man.” As Packer’s statement suggests, Lloyd-Jones’s life-long ministry had a profound impact not only on lay-people, but on the very leaders of the Christian church as well.

Although Lloyd-Jones was to become one of the great Christian thinkers of the twentieth century, his career began far removed from the Church. Born in Cardiff, Wales in 1899, Lloyd-Jones moved to London with his family at the age of 14. He was driven by a strong desire to be a doctor and attended medical school at St. Bartholomew’s Teaching Hospital in London. A remarkably bright student, Lloyd-Jones earned his M.D. at the age of 22 and immediately began working as the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, who referred to Lloyd-Jones as, “The most accurate thinker that I ever knew.”

However, at beginning his medical career, Lloyd-Jones began reading the Bible and was soon gripped by the logic of the Christian gospel. In his early twenties, he underwent a quiet but profound conversion to Christianity. Feeling propelled by a new desire to share his faith with others, Lloyd-Jones began to think that preaching would provide the best avenue for him to promote the gospel of Christ. But, at the same time, Lloyd-Jones had fallen in love with a young medical student named Bethan Phillips. He felt torn, knowing that if she were to marry him she would need to share his vision of abandoning medicine to pursue the ministry, and he prayed hard for God to work in her heart. Bethan did come to share Martyn’s vision for preaching and she married him in 1927. Together they shocked the press by making a dramatic move from the elite medical community of Harley Street to a small house in Lloyd-Jones’s native country. There, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones began his preaching career at the Bethlehem Forward Movement Mission Church in Aberavon, Wales.

In 1938, G. Campbell Morgan, the Minister of Westminster Chapel, heard Lloyd-Jones preach and decided that he wanted to have him as his successor in London. In the following year, Lloyd-Jones, his wife, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Ann, moved to London. Although Lloyd-Jones began his ministry at Westminster on a temporary basis, his stay there would be anything but temporary. His preaching drew in thousands of people and the congregation responded enthusiastically to his sharp, analytical presentation of the Christian faith. He remained at Westminster for thirty years, faithfully preaching through even the bomb raids of the World War II, and retired from there in 1968. While in London, Lloyd-Jones also had a formative influence on the InterVarsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions by serving as its President for many years. Even today InterVarsity is a thriving world-wide ministry and it owes a large portion of its success to the influential work of Lloyd-Jones.

After leaving the church at the age of 69, Lloyd-Jones was unwilling to simply relax in retirement and he continued to work as hard as he had while he was at Westminster. He published some of his best work during that time and he continued to travel and preach at various engagements. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones worked until in 1981, weakened by illness, he died quietly in his sleep at the age of 82.

 

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Book Review: What is The Mission of The Church? By Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

Balanced Because It’s Biblical In What It Says About The Mission of the Church

As a pastor for over twenty years you see a lot of fads come and go in the way churches seek to make an impact in our communities and culture.  I have never met a pastor (worth his salt) who didn’t want to be pleasing to God and make a difference for the sake of Christ in his community and culture. However, I have become more and more concerned as I see pastors watering down the message of the gospel; focusing more on programs than on the message of the gospel; and being influenced more by the culture, than influencing culture with the message of the Bible. Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse and applaud this latest offering on the “mission” of the church because I think it is an excellent treatment of the relevant biblical passages and how they bear on the issues we are facing in the 21st century on what the mission/purpose of the church should be. It is missional and Biblical; truthful and loving without compromise; theologically profound and culturally relevant.

Without giving away the mission of the church as defined and defended in this book, I can say that DeYoung and Gilbert do a fantastic job of discussing issues like helping the poor, economics and social justice, the Kingdom, the gospel, and how a church can make an impact on the world without sacrificing the truth and absolutes.

The strengths of this book lie in its simplicity and clarity, exposition and insightful interpretation of the Scriptures, and it’s very clear explanation and application of the gospel as revealed in the 66 books of the Bible. I recommend this book especially for pastor’s young and old, leadership teams of churches, missionaries, and Christians who want to know how they can be purposefully a part of the only organization of which the “gates of hell will not prevail.”

At the end of the day – this book is highly recommended because the author’s build a great case for how to be biblically focused, God-centered, and culturally penetrating without sacrificing the most important truths and main story line of the Bible – the centrality of Jesus Christ as Lord and King to whom is all praise, glory and honor forever.

 

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