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Thursday, April 24, 2014

God & the Gay Christian?

Given the rapidly growing assault on biblical sexuality and marriage, it is sad but not surprising to see a new book making the dangerous claim that homosexuality and gay marriage are consistent with a high view of Scripture.  On Tuesday of this week, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines was published by Convergent Books, a subsidiary of Multnomah Publishing.  In it, Vines argues that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” 
One of the primary objectives of the book is to reinterpret six key passages in the Bible that “have stood in the way of countless gay people who long for acceptance from their Christian parents, friends, and churches.”  In dealing with these passages (Gen19:5, Lev 18:22, 20:13, Rom 1:26-27, 1Cor 6:9, 1Tim 1:10), Vines seeks to divorce them from overarching Biblical truths about human sexuality and gender roles.  He argues that the opposite-sex relationship through which God created humankind is not an essential component of Genesis 1-2 and that same-sex relationships can be part of God’s good creation.
This book is extremely dangerous for one main reason: it is written by someone who claims to have a high view of Scripture.  Vines writes, “I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life.”  This claim will serve to separate Vines from many who have come before him offering the same arguments but who have not held to a traditional view of Scripture.  In the eyes of many, it will give him greater credibility. 
The growth of support for gay marriage and homosexual relationships even among self-proclaimed evangelicals has been swift.  Many professing believers are motivated to embrace the trend because is it easier to go with the flow than to stand against it.  Nobody wants to be viewed by society as a bigot.  The only thing causing some believers to hold out is the belief that the Bible clearly condemns these things.  When people get wind that there is an “inerrantist” making a biblical case for homosexuality and same-sex marriage, that is all it will take for them to take the more popular position on the issue, even if they don’t take the time to read Vines’ book or understand his arguments.  For this reason, it would not be surprising for Vines’ book to gain a lot of traction in some evangelical circles.
Because of the danger this book poses, Dr. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and four of his colleagues have published an e-book response to Vines entitled, God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.  “Not every book deserves a response, but some books seem to appear at a time and context in which response is absolutely necessary,” Mohler told Southern Seminary News. “The kind of argument that is presented by Matthew Vines, if not confronted, can lead many people to believe that his case is persuasive and that his treatment of the Bible is legitimate. I think that it’s very important that evangelicals be reminded that the church has not misunderstood Scripture for 2,000 years.”
Dr. Mohler and the other four authors – Drs. Jim Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert – are strong and persuasive voices in the evangelical response to current cultural issues.  Each of them contribute important perspectives on Vines’ abuse of Scripture: Dr. Mohler gives an overall critique of Vines’ argument; Dr. Hamilton (who will be speaking at our annual Bible conference in October) addresses Vines’ Old Testament claims; Dr. Burk addresses the New Testament assertions; Dr. Strachan deals with the church history claims; and Dr. Lambert deals with the issue of whether there is such a thing as a “gay Christian.”  Throughout, the authors contend that embracing Vines’ view removes hope from those struggling with same-sex attraction.  Only the transforming power of the gospel can free a sinner from darkness.
This e-book is available for free download at the SouthernSeminary website.  Though it is written by world-class biblical scholars, it reads like a popular-level book.  I highly recommend taking the time to download it and take a look.  You will undoubtedly begin to hear some of Vines’ arguments in your conversations with casual churchgoers and other professing believers.  This book will equip you to not only understand why those arguments are faulty, but how the relevant passages should really be interpreted.  Because it is free, it is a great resource to send to those who have questions on the issue or who may be persuaded by Vines’ view. 
I’m thankful for resources like this one in a time of much theological and moral confusion.  These men have done a great service for the church by providing strong and clear biblical answers in such a timely manner.  May the Lord give us the strength to cling to the truth knowing that only the truth will set the captive free.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

But God Will Redeem My Life...

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. (Psa 49:7-9)
Psalm 49 holds great Christological significance for us as we prepare our hearts for resurrection Sunday.  Verses 7-9 should shatter any hope that it is possible for us to accomplish our own salvation or to preserve ourselves from death. 
The Bible is clear: All people die.  When the Lord warned Adam regarding the forbidden fruit in Genesis 2:17, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” He spoke of a spiritual death that would culminate in physical death.  The death that Adam brought into the world spread to all men because all sinned (Rom 5:12).
The Bible is equally clear that all people face judgment.  Because of sin, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27).  We will all stand before the judgement seat of God (Rom 14:10).  The penalty for sin is death and all men deserve this punishment (Rom 3:10-18;6:23). 
Some may think that it must be a simple matter to rectify this situation.  “After all, everything is for sale.  You just have to find the right price, make a deal with God.  Surely, God can be bought, right?  If not with money, then surely with good works?”  Of course, the Bible does not allow for such bargains, as we’ve already seen in Psa 49:7-9.  Yet many, many people are banking on making a deal with God.   
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, handed every preacher in America a gift-wrapped sermon illustration this week when he said, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”  Though Bloomberg is one of the wealthiest people in the country, he was not referring to the ability to buy his way into heaven with money.  He made the above statement regarding his work to eradicate smoking, guns, and obesity.  That is, in his estimation he has done enough good works to earn his way into heaven.
Most of the noise about his comments this week was not over the bad theology, but that he had the nerve to think he had done enough good works.  That should tell us that Bloomberg is not alone in the belief that a person can earn heaven.  
But the psalmist indicates that this is impossible.  No man can ransom another.  No man can give to God the price of his life.  No ransom can ever suffice, whether in the form of money or good works.  There is not enough money in the world nor enough good works imaginable to purchase our freedom from the penalty of sin. 
Why is that?  Because of the infinite holiness of God every sin that we commit is infinitely offensive to Him.  Our finite good works can never pay off an infinite sin debt.  For that reason, no person has the power to ransom his own life or the life of another.
We might expect the rest of the psalm to be one of complete hopelessness, but it is not.  V15 reads, But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol, for He will take me.  We couldn’t redeem or ransom ourselves, but God could.  He sent His eternal Son to the earth to live as a man.  Perfectly.  Without sin.  By living a righteous life He qualified Himself to serve as a spotless sacrifice for our sin.  He was crucified by sinful men, taking upon Himself the sin of the world.  Three days later He was raised from the dead, proving that His payment was sufficient to buy our freedom from death and sin.
But what about v7 - "truly no man can ransom another"?  So how could Christ ransom us?  He was a man, but He was also God.  And being God, He was infinitely righteous.  And that infinite righteousness was sufficient to pay our infinite sin debt.  Certainly, a normal, sinful man could never ransom himself or another.  But a sinless, infinitely righteous God-man could.  And did.  The sin debt is paid for all who repent of their sin and trust in Christ for salvation.
This Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  May our minds be focused on its significance as we approach Sunday.  What we could never do for ourselves God did for us in Christ.
But God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol… (Psalm 49:15)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will - Part 7

(To read the other articles in this series, click: Part1  Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6 )  In this final article, we’ll deal with a couple of common objections to the view that has been proposed in this series.
“Didn’t God lead the patriarchs, the apostles, and other biblical figures according to the prevailing view?”
There is no doubt that in the OT and NT, God gave supernatural guidance that was much more specific and detailed than the moral will of God (Gen 12; Jonah 1; Acts 9, 10:17-20; 13:1-2, 16:6-10, 18:9-10,22:17-21, 23:11).  But there are a few questions we should consider.  Are these accounts descriptive or normative?  That is, what is the intent of each passage?  Is this guidance incidental to the story or is it intended to teach us how to make decisions?
For example, is it the purpose of the story of Paul’s call to ministry to teach that we should we expect to see a bright light, a voice from heaven, and blindness to accompany a call to the Lord (Acts 9:3-4)?  Should we expect God to speak to us through a donkey (Num 22:28-30)? These examples remind us that while Scriptural examples have real value, they must be interpreted with great care.  If it is not the point of the passage to teach how to find God’s will, we probably shouldn’t regard such guidance as normative for the Christian life.
There are other things to consider regarding this objection.  First, the number of recorded cases of specific guidance is not sufficient to constitute normative experience.  Most of the references above are to Paul, and yet most of the time when he had a decision to make, he had to make it (Acts 15:36, 20:16;Rom 1:10-13; 1 Cor 16:4-9; 2 Cor 1:15-2:4).  The cases of direct guidance are clearly the exception to the rule, even in Paul’s case. This is true of other people in the Bible as well.  The examples of specific guidance are not sufficiently comprehensive.  Guidance was only provided for a handful of decisions.  This does not fit with the view that we are to seek God’s will in all decisions.
Second, all the examples of specific guidance in the Bible involved supernatural revelation, not inner impressions/feelings.  Yet, most people who espouse the prevailing view rely upon the latter without expecting the former. The best that this argument could lead to is that God may give a believer guidance that is more specific than the moral imperatives found in the Bible, but if He does, it will be through supernatural means.
“The view you are proposing is so impersonal.”
First, we need to remember that this is all about God, not all about us. 
Second, this is far more personal than the prevailing view because it shows that God is so closely involved that He is moving our desires and steps.  And He is so intent on accomplishing His will in us that He doesn’t depend upon us to make the “right” decisions.
Third, this view does not mean that we have no daily interaction and dependence upon God.  In my experience, with this view there is greater dependence upon God.  It is more God-centered.  It involves praying for God to give me the desire to obey, that He will help me to recognize temptation before it grabs a hold of me, that He will give me the power to kill indwelling, and that He will provide for my needs.  It involves subordinating my will to His, praying for wisdom, and praying for a greater knowledge of Scripture.  It is focused on God’s revealed will for me, sanctification.
Fourth, the prevailing view tends to lead me away from Scripture, looking for extra-biblical revelation.  It is focused on what God has not revealed (His sovereign will for me) to the exclusion of what He has revealed (that I should strive to be holy).  My attention should be on the holiness that He desires for me and the ways He has revealed for me to pursue it.  

Hopefully, this series has been helpful to you. Search the God's Word. It is sufficient to guide you in all matters of life and godliness. If you truly believe that and live accordingly, you can't go wrong.