Editors' note: Along with being the senior pastor of the International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo, Dr. Miguel Núñez has practiced medicine in different capacities for more than 30 years. He is board-certified in internal medicine and in infectious diseases. He was also was an assistant professor of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (1989-97) at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey. For this reason we contacted him for information related to the current outbreak of the disease from the medical point of view and to offer some words of pastoral wisdom.
Several days ago I wrote an article on the outbreaks of Ebola. Today I want to provide an update on the current crisis. In the middle of the panic related to the spread of the virus, I want to share with you as an infectious disease specialist some encouraging news that call us to peace without yet claiming victory.
About a month and a half ago, a patient with Ebola coming from Guinea entered the country of Senegal. Known methods of infection control isolation were put in place, and 42 days later (double the amount of time needed for the incubation period), Senegal has not seen a single case of Ebola after this first patient. Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Senegal free from Ebola.
Another exemplary case is Nigeria. An outbreak began in Nigeria when an infected air traveler arrived in the capital city of Lagos in July. Once again, known methods of infection control were implemented, and the number of cases ended at twenty, with eight deaths. Today, the WHO declared Nigeria free of Ebola following the same criteria used in Senegal.
"This is a spectacular success story that shows that Ebola can be contained," a WHO representative told CNN. "Such a story can help the many other developing countries that are deeply worried by the prospect of an imported Ebola case. Many wealthy countries, with outstanding health systems, may have something to learn as well."
As I said in my first article:
1. The virus and its behavior are known; it has been studied for 40 years. We know how it is transmitted, although more is to be known.
2. Known measures of infection control stopped other small outbreaks in the past and even in the present (Senegal and Nigeria).
3. We should be encouraged that developing countries lacking the most sophisticated level of medical care were able to stop the disease at this point.
4. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which classifies countries according to their human development index score (HDI), Senegal ranked 163 out of 166 countries in 2013, while the United States ranked fifth.
5. Nigeria is third among countries with the highest population of extreme poor or people with abject poverty in the world, according to the World Bank. It is the most populous country in Africa, and the seventh-most-populous country in the world. And yet it has been declared free from Ebola.
We have no reason to panic; great efforts are being made in countries with the most advanced medical care. The initial results regarding the availability of a vaccine are promising but still early.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Always remember that we put our hope not in man but in the Lord. And we give thanks for how God is equipping medican personnel and political leaders to contain this outbreak.
The Bible teaches us that, because of sin, suffering and violence entered the world. One expression of sin, seen throughout Scripture and human history, is violence against women. Even today, women around the world continue to experience abuse and oppression in numerous forms: sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, rape in warfare, female genital mutilation, infanticide, child marriages, girl soldiers, and honor killings.
Violence against women is a global epidemic that affects women and girls of all socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, religions, cultures, and ethnicities. Some women and girls, however, are particularly vulnerable to abuse. The phrase “women at risk” or “at-risk women” is used to describe women most susceptible to exploitation and violence, such as women and girls living in poverty and girls younger than 18.
Because life can be tragic for women, it is crucial to have a biblical understanding of how the church can protect and care for women at risk.
Breaking of Shalom
Violence and abuse toward women is a sin against the victims and against God. When someone defaces a human being—God’s image-bearer—it is ultimately an attack against God himself.
Genesis 3 records the terrible day when humanity fell into sin and shalom (the original beauty and harmony of creation) was violated. This was a moment of cosmic treason, when Adam and Eve violated their relationship with God by rebelling against his command, whereby they fell under the curse of sin and bondage to corruption (Rom. 8:21) that we all now experience.
The entrance of sin wrecked the order and goodness of God’s world; it was the disintegration of peace. Sin rejected love for God, choosing idolatry instead; it rejected love for neighbor, choosing exploitation instead.
Biblical Call to Justice and Mercy
The Bible does not hesitate to depict the harsh reality of violence and oppression, and it clearly calls us to fight for justice and mercy for all people as God intended.
The prophet Zechariah portrays a God-given role for God’s people as a nation that practices justice in their society: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:9–10). When Israel failed and continued to rebel against God’s law, God threatened judgment, but then poured out grace and restored them. Zechariah envisions God’s grace leading to true repentance and a people who fervently pursue justice and mercy. The result is that the nations of unbelievers will come asking about the Lord (Zech. 8:20–23). As God’s people are thankful, worshiping God, and working for justice and mercy, they are a light to the nations (Isa. 49:6)—a hope that culminates in the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus’s Heart for the Powerless
At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that these words of Isaiah were fulfilled in him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:17). Jesus then showed throughout his ministry that bringing freedom for captives and relief to the poor and oppressed is at the center of his divine mission. His ultimate act of liberation was his substitutionary death and victorious resurrection, which set his people free from slavery to sin and death. Yet his teachings and his example show us that proclaiming the good news of Christ’s saving work should be accompanied by tangible acts of love, service, and mercy toward our neighbors—if the gospel message is to be recognized in its full power.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus dealt kindly with women, including several who were suffering violence at the hands of an evil world, such as Mary Magdalene, “from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9). He was willing to break taboos by sitting with and ministering to the woman at the well, who was an outcast (John 4). Jesus’s heart for women, children, the poor, the oppressed, and the suffering reflects the heart of God for the poor and the powerless that we find throughout the Old Testament.
Church’s Opportunity to Serve
The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful witness for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God, and by tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, many victims who reach out to churches in times of need receive blame, disbelief, suspicious questions, bad advice, platitudes, and shallow theology instead of care and compassion. Rather than pat answers, victims need practical victim advocacy full of biblical and theological depth.
Churches have a great opportunity to offer victims of violence love, safety, patience, and counseling. Caring for and responding to women at risk is an opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to the epidemic of violence against women is a way the church can follow the charge of James to practice “pure religion” (James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women.
In light of the clear and pervasive biblical truth of God’s care for the oppressed and weak, here are seven practical ways your local church can reflect Jesus’s heart for women at risk:
1. Stand with the vulnerable and powerless. God calls his people to resist those who use their power to oppress and harm others (Jer. 22:3).
2. Believe the women; don’t blame them. Blaming victims for post-traumatic symptoms is not only misguided but also contributes to the victims’ suffering. Research has proven that being believed and listened to by others are crucial to victims’ healing.
3. Respond graciously, offering comfort, encouragement, and protection. Also respond with tangible, practical care. Spiritual and emotional support needs to be accompanied by actual deeds.
4. Get informed and inform others about the prevalence of women at risk. They can be found not only around the world but also right under our noses, in our cities and neighborhoods and in our churches and small groups. The prevalence is staggering.
5. Learn about the effects of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse. The only thing more staggering than the prevalence of abuse toward women is the acute damage done to them. Trauma is not only done to, but also experienced by victims. The internal and deeply personal places of a victim’s heart, will, and emotions need a clear application of the gospel of redemption, along with tangible expressions of love.
6. Clearly communicate the hope and healing for victims that is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the message victims hear most often is self-heal, self-love, and self-help. The church’s message is not self-help, but the grace of God. Grace does not command “Heal thyself!” but declares “You will be healed!” God’s one-way love replaces self-love and is the true path to healing.
7. Get involved with the issue of violence against women. This can include addressing the issue in small group settings, praying about it in corporate prayer, and working toward preventing abuse together with community and national organizations.
As we react to the pain and suffering of women at risk, we must meditate on Jesus’s love and care for women. But God’s love should do more than just make us feel better—it should lead us to imitate his care for children, take action against evil toward the vulnerable, and pray for God’s peace and salvation to cover the earth.
Most people don’t work in places where public prayer is encouraged. They don’t open their business meetings by reading Scripture. But that doesn’t mean prayer and Scripture can’t be applied to our work. “Over the years,” says Lourine Clark, an executive and leader coach based in New York City, “I’ve learned that God’s truth is truth, and it applies everywhere.”
Several years ago, Clark was working with an executive who was on the short list to become the next CEO of his company. While she was preparing his feedback report, she started daydreaming. If I do my job right and give him good feedback, this guy will be the next CEO and I’ll be the power behind the throne. “It was disgusting,” she recalls.
She tried to work on the report, but had ‘writer’s block’ for three days. Finally, she took a break to listen to a sermon that cited Jeremiah’s message to Baruch, a servant of the king: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not” (Jer. 45:4). Immediately, her heart was pierced. “The Lord was saying to me, ‘Stop this. This is all about you. This is my hand against you. Repent. You are seeking your own glory. Seek it not.’”
“This is an example of what the living God can do with us,” she says, “if we’re open to letting him cross our wills and expose the motives of our hearts.” In less than two hours, with the Lord’s favor, she finished the report.
Watch the full 21-minute video to hear David Kim, Executive Director of the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, talk with Clark about other ways she applies Scripture to her work and how she integrates prayer as a habit in her daily life. This was filmed at the 2013 CFW Conference in New York City.
The eagerly awaited second volume of Douglas Kelly’s Systematic Theology does not disappoint. Carrying on from his earlier volume on the Trinity, the professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte approaches the person of Christ from an explicitly trinitarian foundation, focusing on the beauty of God and of Christ. This is a rich and wonderful perspective that is rooted in Scripture yet often overlooked.
Kelly’s overall approach in his project is hugely welcome. He follows the Reformers and Puritans in recognizing the Bible to be the supreme authority but also the past work of the church—in its creeds and confessions, and in its leading and recognized representatives—to be the grid through which Scripture is to be interpreted. This is greatly needed. While Rome has held tradition in equal reverence with the Bible, evangelicalism has largely ignored or rejected tradition. Indeed, in supporting Kelly’s approach in a recent ministerial seminar, I scarcely avoided lynching. By assuming that all truth is limited to a narrow strand of evangelicalism beginning in 1517 or restricted to a small cadre of biblical scholars, evangelical theology has been at best greatly impoverished. Kelly focuses on this point in an important appendix (491–99).
Having said that, Kelly’s treatment of his great theme is largely biblical and expository. He begins with the witness of both Old and New Testament to Christ, considering the names and titles of Christ in each, and then delves into the mystery of the hypostatic union and a range of questions arising from it. This leads into a discussion of Christ’s obedience and sufferings, with a profound treatment of the seven last words on the cross. The volume ends with chapters on Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and heavenly rule.
Reading this book is stimulating theologically and enriching spiritually. Preachers, teachers, and students alike—besides the proverbial intelligent layperson—cannot fail to benefit from it. Kelly is not only committed to biblical exegesis and an appreciative attitude to the theology of the church in all ages and across denominational barriers—Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox—but he also brings to his task a vast range of reading across disciplinary boundaries. Above all, he writes as a disciple of Christ. The book is clearly not intended to display Kelly’s learning but to guide the reader toward a growing appreciation of the beauty and glory of our Savior.
Several striking features distinguish this volume. For a Presbyterian minister in the PCA I was surprised to see no discussion on the extent—or better, intent—of the atonement. On the surface Kelly might appear to support universal atonement in his treatment of 1 Timothy 2 (398–99, cf. 186–87), although his strong defense of penal substitution points in the other direction.
Throughout the two volumes, Kelly cites T. F. Torrance quite a bit. In line with Torrance’s own work on the incarnation and atonement, much of this is helpful and at times scintillating. Kelly’s own criticism of Kant and the aftermath, as well as the deep-seated weaknesses of the Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman, bring to the task a powerful Torrancian argument—a blend of theology, philosophy, and physics.
I’m inclined to think Kelly’s work might better be titled Aspects of Systematic Theology, for many topics one would expect to confront at this stage are noticeable by their absence. In neither volume is there a dedicateddiscussion of the nature of the human being, of sin and depravity, of creation and providence, or of predestination and election (despite the intense debate on election and the Trinity between Paul Molnar and Bruce McCormack). It may well be that Kelly has these things in mind for his third volume, but if so there’s going to be a lot to pack in. Some of these matters do get a passing reference; he discusses sin, for example, in chapter 7, footnote 28.
In effect, what Kelly has given us so far are detailed and extensive discussions of the doctrine of the Trinity and the person and work of Christ. These are the towering pillars of doctrinal truth that direct us to the heart of the Christian faith. All else exists to lead us to the knowledge and love of Christ and to the communion of the life of the Trinity. If one is to be selective, this is the way to go. But there are many other important things—“ships and shoes and sealing wax, cabbages and kings”—that, when neglected, can cause problems. However, I’m involved in a similar project and only too aware that not everything can be said short of a 14-volume Church Dogmatics.
Another matter that could be further strengthened in the final volume concerns interaction with those who disagree with Kelly. There are copious lengthy citations from other writers in support of Kelly’s arguments, but at times one gets the feeling that other perspectives may not have been given sufficient weight, whatever conclusions may arise. For example, when discussing the kenosis theory Kelly summarizes its main points in three sentences without supplying the reasons that gave rise to it; he then proceeds to cite William Temple, Donald Baillie, James Muller, Staniloae, Barth, Jeremias, and R. P. Martin in refutation (163–66). All the guns are pointing in the same direction. Too often for my liking Kelly states x shows that this or that is the case without a significant degree of scrutiny; again, though, the limitations of the genre have to be considered.
These caveats aside, this multi-volume project continues to be a fine achievement. A good number of systematic theologies have been released in recent years, and each brings distinct contributions. I will not hesitate to refer to Kelly’s set for its overall methodology and profoundly trinitarian and Christological focus. It is theology flowing from the gospel and redolent of Christ. Nothing can beat that.
I spent the summer of 1992, or at least a good portion of it, on a school bus. The drive from my small town in central Illinois to a small town in central Ohio seemed to take forever. It was a blistering summer day, and there was no air conditioning. We had been on the road since early in the morning, and the sun had finally risen to the perfect angle where it was directly cooking me through the window. I felt like a turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I wasn’t sure what would melt first, my skin or the vinyl seat it was stuck to.
I put my headphones on and stuck a cassette tape into my Walkman (the old school equivalent of an iPod—kind of).
I wanted to escape: The bus. The youth group. The world.
Gospel In, Gangster Rap Out
My music helped. I listened to some Easy E and Dr. Dre and a little Too Short. So much of what they talked about was foreign to me. I wasn’t from the hood. I didn’t know any real gang bangers. I grew up in a small town on a blue-collar street in a moderately diverse neighborhood. But I liked the beats, and I understood the angst. I was 15, after all.
And then it happened. We arrived. Checked out the scene. Checked out the options. Claimed our bunks and headed into the first service. I glanced around the room to survey the social opportunities for the week. I was distracted. I had no idea what would happen over the next of couple hours.
An old-school fundamentalist preacher waved a white hanky as he walked up and down the aisle. He was shouting.
Everything about my life up to that moment would make you expect to find me laughing, or scorning, or sleeping. But I was glued to this guy who had a weird name, and what would be considered by most today an offensive style. I was captivated by his message. I sat in a rusty aluminum folding chair on the left side of the auditorium, a third of the way back, with one empty chair separating me from the center aisle. And I was enthralled by a simple message I had heard hundreds of times before.
This night was different.
Like John Wesley, my heart was strangely warmed.
So I gave in.
Jesus captured me.
I followed Jesus that night, and he changed my life. It was pretty radical. I still have far to go, but he’s faithful to finish what he has started.
Not only did Jesus capture my heart, he also captured my Walkman. I threw out all of the garbage I had been listening to earlier that day on our road trip to youth camp. I followed Jesus, and as much as I can remember, I thought that meant hip-hop was supposed to be a thing of the past. I was now redeemed. And I was sure that had to mean something for what I put into my ears, into my heart.
Could a Christian really love Jesus and still like rap?
Bright Suits and Emerging Convictions
On the ride home someone gave me a D.C. Talk album, and I had a glimmer of hope God’s will for me might not include an earthly purgatory of listening to the Gaither Vocal Band on perpetual repeat. No offense to Southern Gospel fans, but that has never been my style. But even D.C. Talk wasn’t quite the same genre I had grown to love either. Props to Toby Mac, I have great respect for him, but I preferred the raw nature of a more authentically urban, less pop, sound.
I love rap music; I always have and always will.
I mean by that real rap, not a cheesy, sub-par, pseudo substitute. But I just assumed I had to give that up and try to develop an appetite for twangy quartet music. A few years later in a conservative Bible college in Missouri my initial fear seemed to be realized. We were only allowed to listen to Southern Gospel in our dorm rooms. The rule was enforced with fines.
The cognitive dissonance was the only thing louder than the suit colors on the album covers in my roommate’s music collection. No offense, Brad.
For a short time I thought I was wrong. I don’t think so anymore. I think it’s a human tendency to like for things to fit into neat categories, and it’s easier in a legalistic environment to simply baptize one particular musical genre and act as though it is truly free from cultural influence. I now recognize that this unfortunate rule illustrated a deficient understanding of how the gospel relates to culture.
Later in my journey, my wife and I actually lived in Nasvhille, Tennessee, for a few years (a couple of those years in the house of country music great Tammy Wynette, but that’s another story). Nashvegas, as locals call it, is the capital to both country music and Southern Gospel. There I learned first-hand the similarity of the two genres. And that’s when it clicked for me that some who reject Christian hip-hop because of the urban culture that gave birth to it, or with which it is still associated, have overlooked the fact that Southern Gospel finds its roots in the honky-tonk of Southern taverns.
In other words, they both come from specific subcultures. No musical form descended from on high, untouched by “secular” culture. Sure, the Bible is filled with lyrics, but it offers no sheet music. And Psalm 150 destroys any argument against musical instrumentation. And yes, the final chapter of the Psalms includes drums too.
The gospel is big enough to redeem any musical genre, and God is worthy to have all things subjected to and harnessed for his glory.
Christian rap has profoudly affected my ministry. Once, when I was preparing for a middle school lesson, I had the Christian rapper named Ambassador (one of the pioneers of the Christian rap movement) playing in the background. I worked to prepare my illustrations and jokes and object lessons to impress a single Bible verse upon the minds of young teenagers. Then I noticed something as I focused on the music: there was more theology in one of his three-minute songs then I had planned to sprinkle sparsely into my 30-minute youth group devotional.
I was convicted.
If he could pack so much into just 16 bars, then what in the world was I thinking wasting so much of my time slot with fun and games? I had ten times the amount of time as just one of his songs. In that moment I knew I could do more. I knew I should do more. And I knew my students could handle it.
So I changed my approach. The Ambassador directly affected my preaching. I still think about that change on a regular basis when I sit down to prepare a sermon.
From the Cross Movement, which included Ambassador, I added other guys who were packing theology into short sermonettes with boom bap and record scratching. I learned to love Lamp Mode Records and their thoughtful artists. And then one day I had the welcome surprise of discovering that one of the students in a class I was teaching at Boyce College was actually a Grammy-nominated Christian hip-hop artist.
Each week I started my class off with prayer, and this one student would always request prayer for himself and his wife as they prepared to travel somewhere around the world over the weekend for a ministry opportunity. Finally I asked the inevitable question: Who are you? His name is Marcus, but most know him by his performing name, Flame.
He has since become a good friend and a close partner in the gospel. He wrote the afterword for my recent book Jesus or Nothing, and his label Clear Sight Music produced an album based on the themes of each chapter. I don’t think I can exaggerate how humbled and honored I am to work with him. In fact, I told him that this is the closest I will ever get to achieving my lifelong dream of becoming a rap star.
Drama and Debate
But not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Christian rap. Last year, there was an unfortunate panel discussion by ministry leaders regarding rap music and ministry. An all-white group of men condemned the musical style as unfit for gospel purposes. Debate ensued. I didn’t get too involved, but not for lack of strong opinions on the matter. I did, however, tweet one of my sketches that pretty much summarized my view on the whole thing.
And in recent months another debate, an in-house one this time, has been brewing about the approach that artists, who happen to be Christian, should take with their music. The debate has centered mostly on Lecrae and Reach Records. That difference of opinion has exposed or even created some tribalism and tensions in the movement.
I have a lot of faith in these young men who have put their names on the line and their lives on the road for the sake of the gospel. I’m confident they’ll work it out, and even as some agree to disagree on the issues at hand, I’m thankful Jesus is being preached. As Trip Lee once said, “All I need is one sixteen, to brag on my King.” These guys do a lot of bragging on the king. We should all be thankful.
It’s important for guys like Flame, Ambassador, Shai, KB, Lecrae, Trip, This’l, and so many others, to know the gratitude that we have for their bold ministries. They’re making much of Jesus and taking the gospel to cities around the world. They’re playing a crucial role in fulfilling the Great Commission.
My Journey of Following Jesus Has a Soundtrack
In the words of my fellow Italian, Reach Records artist Andy Mineo, “You can call me a Boom Baptist.” Over the years I’ve learned to understand and embrace the redemption of the musical genre I’ve loved my whole life. And I’ve also learned that I need to give that same grace to my brothers and sisters who prefer to listen to four dudes in purple suits using a bluegrass sound to sing about the Savior.
Like the evangelist who shared the gospel with me, I may not be crazy about his approach, but I’m eternally grateful for the content of the message he preached that humid night some 22 years ago.
Because in the end it’s really about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And of this gospel, may we never be ashamed (Rom. 1:16).
TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed.
Around the Web
City of Houston to Pastors: Show Us Your Sermons
Several pastors in Houston recently received subpoenas asking them to turn over all communication — including sermons and emails to congregants — related to a controversial city ordinance, a petition initiative opposing the ordinance, or Houston Mayor Annise Parker. The subpoenas also required the disclosure of any communications related to homosexuality or “gender identity.”
This summer the Houston City Council, with the support of mayor Annise Parker, passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). HERO extended protections against discrimination to cover homosexuality and transgenderism, a position many local residents, including some pastors in the area, opposed. In response, a citizen initiative was launched to have the council either repeal the bill or place it on the ballot for voters to decide.
Although the initiative was certified by the City Secretary, the mayor and city attorney threw out the petition claiming it was invalid. This sparked a lawsuit by the initiative supporters, Woodfill v. Parker. The city’s attorneys subpoenaed a number of area pastors, demanding to see what they preach from the pulpit and to examine their communications with their church members and others concerning the city council’s actions. Some of the pastors who received the subpoenas were not even involved in the initiative.
On Wednesday the mayor seemed to be defending the action. On her Twitter account, Mayor Parker wrote, ”If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?” But after the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a motion in a Texas court to quash the subpoenas, Parker issued a statement distancing herself from the subpoenas. She said that neither she nor the city attorney had reviewed the documents before they were filed and that she agreed the “original documents were overly broad.” The mayor said the city will move to narrow the scope of the request during an upcoming court hearing.
• Are “black millennials” leaving the church? Is this something about which we should be alarmed? Anthony Carter explains why the young are leaving.
• On Monday a 17-year-old Muslim girl from Pakistan and a 60-year-old Hindu man from India jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people.” Here's what you should know about these defenders of children.
• A canine clarification: No, a 'dog year' isn't equivalent to 7 human years. It's much more complicated than that.
As often happens in theological discussion, we have to start by saying that in one sense glorification is not conditional, if by condition we mean we must earn our place in heaven or that the final salvation of those regenerated and justified hangs in the balance.
The news of Mark Driscoll’s resignation closes a painful chapter in the life of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. This is a time to pray for the Driscoll family, Mars Hill Church, and those who have suffered through various forms of spiritual abuse.
In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.
Coming Next Week at TGC
Church Membership 'Back Home' Is Not Enough | Dave Russell
Should college students join a local church by campus if they have a church membership 'back home'?
Keller on Quiet Times, Mysticism, and Priceless Payoff of Prayer | Matt Smethurst
I asked Tim Keller about mysticism, the problem with quiet times, how he’s taught his congregation to pray, advice for the distracted, and more.
My Love-Hate Relationship with Bible Study Tools | Peter Krol
Modern Bible-study tools are a great blessing—but if you rarely or never study the Bible without them, you’re not only doing it backward, you’re seriously missing out.
TGC Hawaii Regional Conference: On October 18-19, the Hawaii chapter will host its second conference in Kaneohe, HI on the theme, Living in the Overflow.
Join us for our Regional Conference as we celebrate the Gospel, and learn to live in the "Overflow" of God's grace from guest speakers John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Michael Oh.
TGC Bay Area Regional Conference: On November 15th, the Bay Area chapter will host its third conference in Walnut Creek, CA on the theme, Revival and Reformation.
Featured plenary speakers include D. A. Carson, Léonce Crump, Collin Hansen, and Jon McNeff. This team of plenary speakers will take us on a journey to explore how God works through prayer, the Word, leadership and persecution to precipitate gospel renewal and strengthen the church.
Should all of this even matter to those of us who are Protestants? We do not, as Martin Luther put it, accept the authority of popes and councils “since these have often contradicted one another.” And yet, there are some important questions posed here, that we should consider.
Looking back at my undergraduate classmates, it’s clear that their sources of discontent were complex. But one source seemed clear enough: Some of our own faculty actually fostered this dissatisfaction.
Teaching self-control, or the ability to delay gratification, says Columbia psychologist Walter Mischel, author of “The Marshmallow Test,” has enormous philosophical and policy implications, not the least of which is teaching kids how to save.
When a guesthouse belonging to one of Nigeria’s leading Christian pastors collapsed last month, killing 115 mostly South African pilgrims, attention focused on the multimillion-dollar “megachurches” that form a huge, untaxed sector of Africa’s top economy.
Six months since militant Islamist group Boko Haram sparked global outrage by abducting more than 200 girls from Chibok town in north-eastern Nigeria, the government has still failed to secure their release.
Most people have heard that concept by now. But what does it actually mean? It means that racial categories are not real. By “real,” I mean based on facts that people can even begin to agree on. Permanent. Scientific. Objective. Logical. Consistent. Able to stand up to scrutiny.
US religious liberty law is not perfect, but it still deserves our support. Religious exemptions witness to the value of religion as a transcendent good. And nothing in the Supreme Court cases requesting religious liberty exemptions for Muslim citizens undermines that effort.
It’s been fascinating to follow the various interventions, pro and con, surrounding the new “affirmative consent” standard for sexual assault on California’s college campuses and the collegiate approach to adjudicating rape allegations generally.
As women’s colleges challenged the conventions of womanhood, they drew a disproportionate number of students who identified as lesbian or bisexual. Today a small but increasing number of students at those schools identify as something other than a woman, raising the question of what it means to be a “women’s college.”
This is exactly the time when Christians should step forward with a different ideal, the holistic, healthy, and proven model of sobriety always, chastity before marriage, and fidelity afterwards — all because marriage is sacred, our bodies are a temple to God, and we love our spouses more than we love our own lives.
I confess that I do judge books by their covers. Or at least by the back cover. I read (and review) a lot of books and am always careful to read the endorsements on the back and the description on the inside flap. Although endorsements aren’t everything (and are sometimes even misleading), they can reveal quite a bit about where a book is headed. That’s their purpose anyway. In this case of Peter Enns’s new volume, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, the endorsements (and endorsers) reveal quite a bit. One will find blurbs by Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, and Brian McLaren, among others. Interestingly, Tony Campolo also offers one but with the caveat that, “As an old-fashioned evangelical, I have some problems with what he has written.” Given that Campolo is by no means a conservative fundamentalist, his statement does an admirable job preparing the reader for what’s coming.
But perhaps most illuminating was the inside flap, where the publisher describes the book’s purpose: “In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell in Love Wins.”
Not until after I read the book in its entirety did I realize how accurate this comparison actually is. Of course, Bell’s book (also published by HarperOne) challenged a core historical tenet of the Christian faith, namely the belief that hell is real and people actually will go there. Christianity has just been wrong, Bell argues, and we finally need to be set free from the fear and oppression such a belief causes. Bell positions himself as the liberator of countless Christians who have suffered far too long under such a barbaric belief system.
Likewise, Enns is pushing back against another core historical tenet of the Christian faith: our belief about Scripture—what it is and what it does. The Bible isn’t doing what we think it’s doing, he argues. It doesn’t provide basically reliable historical accounts (instead, it’s often filled with myth and rewritten stories). It doesn’t provide consistent theological instruction (about, say, the character of God). And it doesn’t provide clear teaching about how to live (ethics, morality, Christian living). Although Christians have generally always believed these things about Scripture, Enns contends that scholars now know they simply aren’t true. And when Christians try to hold onto such beliefs, it only leads to fear, stress, anxiety, and infighting. Like Bell, Enns is positioned as a liberator able to set believers free from a Bible that just doesn’t work the way they want it to.
Of course, Enns, professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, isn’t the first to make such arguments. In addition to following Bell’s modus operandi (and much of his writing style), Enns relies on standard arguments from Christianity’s critics over the years. There’s little new here, academically speaking. In many ways, portions of the book sound like Richard Dawkins (especially part one) and even Bart Ehrman (especially part two). But here’s what makes Enns different. When it comes to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Enns doesn’t follow either. He affirms the resurrection of Christ and, in a broad sense, affirms that Jesus gave his life on the cross as “a sacrifice for sins” (217).
Enns’s case for why we should change our view of Scripture is divided into three parts: (1) the Old Testament (OT) God is portrayed as a genocidal tribal deity; (2) the Bible’s historical accounts aren’t, well, historical; and (3) its ethical commands are confused and contradictory. I’ll touch on each of these three claims below.
Genocidal Tribal Deity?
In chapter two, Enns makes the standard Richard Dawkins-style case that the God of the OT is a genocidal maniac who enjoys killing women and children (and, in the flood, just about every living thing on the planet). All standard evangelical attempts to explain God’s behavior aren’t going to cut it either. Enns even draws a comparison between the killing of the Canaanites and the colonization of the Americas when indigenous populations of the West Indies were wiped out (in the name of God, of course). Those looking for a good argument against Columbus Day will find it here.
But don’t fear, Enns says, because all of this isn’t really a problem once you understand one simple fact: the real God didn’t do any these things; the Israelites just said he did (61). The OT narratives are just the standard polemic of ancient tribal people who didn’t know any other way to describe their God. “[The Israelites] had no choice,” Enns writes. “That’s just how it was done—that was their cultural language. . . . God lets his children tell the story” (63). Problem solved.
Or is it? The Canaanite conquest certainly presents some difficulties, but Enns’s solution creates even more. I will offer just three observations.
(1) First, an observation about ethics. Enns goes to great lengths to highlight the moral reprehensibility of the Canaanite conquest (and I mean great lengths). But what ethical standard is he appealing to as he makes his case? On what basis is he calling this conquest morally reprehensible? Later, Enns argues that you can’t use the Bible as an “instruction manual” (134) or a “rule book” (repeated ad infinitum) on how to live life since it contains contradictory moral commands about all sorts of things. The Bible isn’t designed to “tell me what to do” (135) because it is “so utterly disinterested in giving straight answers” (135). If so, then Enns finds himself in a dilemma. He either claims to get his moral norms from some other source (what is this mysterious source?), or he must claim to get them from Scripture. But if he gets them from Scripture, one might wonder why all his statements about how Scripture is unclear about ethical norms don’t apply to him too. I suppose Enns could say he doesn’t need to justify why “genocide” is wrong—it’s just obvious to everyone (which is also Dawkins’s argument). But why should Enns get a philosophical “pass” on such a fundamental issue like the foundation for ethics, especially if his main argument is an ethical one?
One other possibility is that Enns could argue the Bible’s ethics are only confused some of the time, but when it comes to things like murder, it’s clear. But, of course, that’s begging the very question at hand. If God himself is going around murdering people (as Enns claims), then apparently the commands against murder aren’t so clear after all. In the end, Enns’s approach to this entire issue is grandly confused. For one who claims the moral high ground in objecting to Scripture, he’ll need to come up with some better answers.
For one who claims the moral high ground in objecting to Scripture, he’ll need to come up with some better answers.
(2) A second observation is about the way Enns dismisses the internal biblical logic for why God is justified in judging people. For instance, he could’ve given more weight to the fact that Scripture makes it plain that due to both original and actual sins, God is entirely justified in judging anyone(not just Canaanites). Romans 1 makes it clear there are no innocent people, and Romans 5 makes it clear all are guilty for Adam’s sin. God owes life to no one. So if he decides to execute his judgment on earth, whether through natural disasters or human armies, how is that a violation of any moral law? Add to this the fact that the Canaanites were a very wicked people group. Enns is correct that other groups were equally wicked (if not more so). But why is God obligated to judge everyone simultaneously? Enns makes it seems as if it must be an all-or-nothing approach with God. Either he must judge all or save all—and at the same moment. In Romans 9, though, Paul makes it quite clear that God can show mercy to some and bring judgment to others.
Moreover, Jesus makes virtually the opposite point Enns does when he’s asked why the tower of Siloam fell and killed a bunch of people. Jesus replied, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5). In other words, these people didn’t have to be the worst of sinners to justifiably receive God’s judgment—and on that basis, Jesus warns others about their coming judgment! I suppose Enns might balk at Paul’s teaching on sin and election—he may even say Jesus is simply wrong about the tower of Siloam (or that Jesus never really said this). But, of course, that would just reveal the utterly circular nature of Enns’s position. He can only say the Bible has no explanation for things like the Canaanite conquest if he gets to choose the passages he thinks are genuine in the first place.
The perfect example of this sort of move is the way Enns addresses the topic of hell. Arguably, if God is morally justified to send people to hell forever (even the nice non-Christian lady next door who seems “good”), he’s morally justified to enact the Canaanite conquest. If you object to the conquest, you’d have to object to hell. Enns conveniently sidesteps this whole argument by simply denying the reality of hell—at least any recognizable historic Christian view of it. Of course, such a move is monumental. Enns basically rewrites the entire history of Christianity on this doctrine, yet glosses over it like it’s no big deal (and with virtually no exegetical discussion of key texts). The reader senses that this all works out a little too neatly for Enns. Can he really take the major hole in his argument, the reality of hell, and dismiss it with a wave of the hand? This also raises issues later regarding Enns’s belief that Jesus died on the cross to save us. If there is no hell, what exactly was Jesus saving us from?
(3) A third concern with Enns’s approach to the Canaanite conquest is its implications for our view of Scripture. His position isn’t just that the Bible gives an incomplete picture of God, or a limited picture, or a picture from just one perspective. Enns’s position is that the Bible gives a picture of God that is the exact opposite of how he actually is. Indeed, according to Enns, the Bible portrays God as a diabolical, genocidal, maniac. It portrays God as reprehensibly immoral and sinful. Thus, he claims, the OT God is portrayed more like Satan than like the real God. With that reality in mind, Enns’s insistence that we can still consider the OT to be the “Word of God” rings a bit hollow.
Enns’s position is that the Bible gives a picture of God that is the exact opposite of how he actually is.
I suppose Enns might respond by saying no one really believed this OT picture of God—everyone saw right through it and knew it was just a literary device. But that simply isn’t the case. It is clear that first-century Jews viewed the Canaanite conquest as real history. And it’s clear that, as a whole, Christians viewed the Canaanite conquest as something that actually happened. If Enns is right, then, it’s only now—in the modern day, with the help of critical scholarship—that we can finally see what Scripture really means. And it turns out that it means the opposite of what Christians (and Jews) have understood it to mean for thousands of years.
There’s actually an early Christian position that was similar to Enns’s. Some early believers were repulsed by the fiery judgment of the God portrayed in the OT and they, like Enns, decided this God couldn’t be the real God. That group was the Marcionites. Marcion—an influential second-century Christian in Rome—believed the wrathful God of the OT was really a false god (a demiurge) who couldn’t be squared with the person and ministry of Jesus. Although Enns’s position is not exactly like Marcion’s (they are different in a number of ways), the similarities are striking.
The Historical Accounts Aren’t Historical
In chapter three, Enns dives into the historicity of the biblical accounts, both old and new. He reminds us the biblical authors “shape” their stories to make a point—they are “not objective observers and don’t pretend to be” (75). And they did so for a reason, namely to address the issues God’s people were facing in the present. Enns is absolutely correct about this point. We shouldn’t have a view of ancient historical accounts in which we naïvely assume they did history like we would today. In the ancient world, historians would often “decide what to include, what order to put things in, how to compress or combine scenes to save time and get the money shot, and so on” (75). So far, so good.
As might be expected, however, Enns goes much further than just correcting modernistic expectations about history. He argues that many of the historical accounts are just “invented” (76), “contradict each other” (76), and engage in “creative writing” (80) and even “myth” (119). The Gospel stories conflict all over the place—from Christ’s birth to his resurrection. Matthew made up the story of the star over the manger (83). He also made up Herod’s massacre of children (84). Luke may have invented the story of the angelic choir at Jesus’s birth (85). The virgin birth may have resulted from Matthew and Luke being “innovators” (82). Matthew “created” the story that Roman soldiers were asked to guard the tomb (87). Samuel/Kings contradicts Chronicles regarding Israel’s monarchy; they “tell two irreconcilably different stories of Israel’s founding kings” (96). The Exodus event never happened; it was probably just a “few hundred” slaves who left Egypt and made their way to Canaan (118). The ten plagues never happened either, but were crafted as a story to challenge Egyptian gods. The flood is a myth, too, as is the creation account itself. Sure, they’re probably rooted in some real events, but the stories as we have them are all reworked to tell Israel’s story. Thus, Enns concludes, “‘Storytelling’ is a better way of understanding what the Bible is doing with the past than ‘history writing’” (128).
Again, it’s difficult in a single book review to know what to do with a laundry list of claims like this. As noted above, none of Enns’s critiques of the biblical stories is new—they’ve been noted by orthodox Christians for generations (in some instances since the very first centuries of the church). And since evangelicals have provided extensive discussions of such issues in other places, there’s no need (nor space) to address each here. What's noteworthy is that Enns interacts with hardly any evangelical responses to these issues. It’s almost like they don’t exist. There are two sides to every issue he raises, yet he seems intent on giving the reader the impression there’s only one. Of course, this approach is rather ironic since it appears in a book where Enns is calling his audience to break out of their narrow view of the Bible and “wrestle” with different perspectives and approaches.
But what’s particularly stunning is that Enns seems to forget his own view of Scripture when he gets to the chapter six, the final section, and begins discussing Jesus. At one point he states confidently and without qualification: “Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and raised from the dead on the third day, on Easter Sunday” (196). But how does he know this? If the Gospel authors shaped, reshaped, embellished, and often created stories from scratch—as Enns spent all of chapter three arguing—then why would he think this part is any different? Why is he now suddenly certain Jesus died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday? Why think Jesus rose at all? Perhaps the story has been modified to meet readers’ expectations. Maybe it’s been reshaped to address the needs of the audience. Maybe the resurrection is just a story that helps Christians remember that their god is “alive” and better than other gods. After all, we must remember what Enns told us earlier—that it is a “wrongheaded premise” to assume Scripture has to “get history ‘right’” (128).
Enns’s newfound certainty doesn’t stop there. Throughout chapter six he often refers to the actions and teachings of Jesus without any qualification about whether these things really happened or were said. Indeed, when it comes to the passages he uses to formulate his own interpretation of Jesus, he seems much less concerned to challenge their historicity.
Indeed, when it comes to the passages he uses to formulate his own interpretation of Jesus, he seems much less concerned to challenge their historicity.
In response, I suppose Enns could argue that standard historical-critical methodologies can be used to reach some relatively certain conclusions about what “actually” happened in the Gospels, such as Jesus’s death and resurrection. But elsewhere Enns insisted that “to ferret out what may or may not have ‘actually’ happened . . . is not only a completely unreasonable quest, but also misses the point” (85). In addition, he admits, “Judging where history ends and creative writing begins is tough, and biblical scholars go back and forth on all that” (80). If that’s the case, then how is he suddenly so sure about all these historical facts about Jesus? It’s not like historical-critical methods would ever conclude the resurrection is historical fact. This is the ultimate example of creatively reshaping a story, modern scholars say. It’s disingenuous for Enns to unapologetically use critical methodology to expose the historical problems with every other biblical story, but then carve out a special exception to this one.
And there is another problem for Enns’s take on biblical historicity: his view is entirely out of sync with almost all ancient approaches to the Bible. Take, for example, the Exodus event he says didn’t happen. Did first-century Jews think it really happened? Yes. Did the New Testament (NT) authors think so, too? Yes. Did Jesus himself think the Exodus happened? Yes. Did the earliest Christians think the same? Yes. Nevertheless, Enns claims, it’s not until the advent of modern archaeology that we know what really happened (or at least what didn’t).
This raises an obvious question: If Enns’s approach is the genuinely ancient way of reading the Bible (as he repeatedly claims), then why did no ancient people read the Bible this way? Enns insists that only he is letting the Bible be the Bible. The careful reader is not so sure.
The Ethical Commands Are Confused and Contradictory
Enns spends much time critiquing the historicity of Scripture, but he doesn’t stop there. He go after its ethics, too. The Bible is not an “instruction manual,” he insists. “Waiting for the Bible to ‘tell me what to do’ means we’ll . . . be waiting forever” (134, 135). Enns then plunges into a lengthy discussion of the incoherence of the OT's moral exhortations, particularly in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Moreover, he argues, the laws given to Israel are contradictory and inconsistent.
But again, Enns’s insistence that the Bible cannot provide coherent moral guidance presents a number of problems for his own position. If it doesn’t provide moral guidance, then why do the NT authors—and Jesus himself—repeatedly treat it as a source for moral guidance? For example, Jesus appeals to the supposedly fictitious story of Adam and Eve and draws moral lessons from it about divorce and adultery (Matt. 19:3–9). Not only did Jesus think this story was real (contra Enns), he thought it provided clear moral guidance (contra Enns). Paul tells us Scripture is profitable for “training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It sure sounds like the apostle thought the OT was able to provide clear moral guidance.
On top of all of this, if Enns thinks the OT isn’t able to provide clear moral instruction, then on what grounds does he declare “sin [is] disobedience to God and unjust actions toward others” (217)? How can sin be disobedience to God if it’s unclear what he’s commanded? How can sin be unjust actions toward others if we have no idea what counts as an unjust action? Enns wants to be able to say we need Jesus since God holds us accountable for sins, but his own beliefs about Scripture’s moral laws (i.e., that they’re contradictory and unclear) undercut the very possibility that God could hold us accountable for sin. How could God hold us accountable for what is not clear?
At a number of points throughout The Bible Tells Me So, Enns moves beyond telling us what the Bible isn’t and tries to express what it actually is. For example, he writes:
As all good stories do, the Bible shapes and molds us by drawing us into its world and inviting us to connect on many different levels, wherever we are on our journey, and to see ourselves better by its light by stirring our spiritual imagination to walk closer with God. . . . The Bible “partners” with us (so to speak), modeling for us our walk with God in discovering greater depth and maturity on our journey of faith, not by telling us what to do at each step, but by showing us a journey of hills and valleys, straight lanes and difficult curves, of new discoveries and insights, of movement and change—with God by our side every step of the way. (136, 163–164)
I confess I have no idea what any of this means. When it comes to critiquing God’s Word, Enns is clear. But when it comes to describing his own positive view, he’s vague. Words like journey and discovery and wrestling pop up a good bit, but it’s hard to understand exactly what he’s positively claiming for the Bible. One gets the impression that perhaps Enns wants to keep things vague. After all, Scripture is not an objective thing; it’s whatever we make it. As he writes, “We’re all free to put the pieces together as we think best” (86).
Having It Both Ways
In the end, The Bible Tells Me So is a book about contradictions. Enns intended it to be a book about contradictions in the Bible. But it becomes quickly apparent that the contradictions are really in Enns’s own worldview. He claims the Canaanite conquest is immoral, yet argues the Bible provides no clear guide for morality. He claims the Bible presents a diabolical genocidal God, yet insists we still “meet God in its pages” (3). He argues Scripture is filled with reworked stories, many of which are made up entirely, yet seems to know which ones really happened and which did not. He claims the Bible provides no clear moral instruction, yet says people are “disobedient” to God and in need of the cross. He claims he’s the one reading the Bible in an ancient manner when, in fact, people in the ancient world didn’t read it the way he does.
All of these inconsistencies stem from one simple reality: Enns has fully adopted the methods and conclusions of the most aggressive versions of critical scholarship, and yet at the same time wants to insist that the Bible is still God’s Word, and that Jesus died and rose again. While it’s clear to most folks that these two systems are incompatible at most levels, Enns is tenaciously trying to insist both can be true simultaneously. While his desire to retain the basic message of the cross is commendable, it stands as a glaring anomaly within his larger system. Somehow (and for some reason), Enns has put a box around the message of Jesus (or at least parts of it)—he protects the integrity of that story while not protecting much else.
For all these reasons, Enns comes across as a man divided. By the end of the book, one senses he’s trying to live in two worlds at once. Such a scenario is ironic in a book purportedly trying to help those who are “holding on tooth and nail to something that’s not working, denying that nagging undercurrent of tension” (7). One wonders if Enns is describing others or whether he is really describing himself.
What happens when you study Leviticus for more than 10 years? I know the types of answers many people would provide:
“You get to know your psychotherapist really well.”
“People stop inviting you to dinner parties.”
Or perhaps the most common:
“Is this a serious question? Who in the world would do this?”
I did. And it changed my life in ways far different from those just named. In my experience, at least four profound things happen when this book begins to seep into your soul.
1. You hunger for God’s holiness more frequently.
I once taught a semester-long seminary class on Leviticus. (Yes, people actually did sign up.) One of the last assignments of the class was to follow as many of the laws of Leviticus as possible for an entire week. This is of course something many Jews do regularly even today, but for Gentile seminary students—most of whom had never thought twice about having bacon with their eggs—this was a daunting task.
During that week, the students had to keep a journal of their experience and turn it in to me. There were understandable frustrations. One student noted, “Leviticus 19:19 says not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. That wipes out my entire wardrobe with the exception of a pair of polyester track pants. This is going to be a long week.” Others made similar observations.
But by far, the most common theme of the journals went something like this: “Every day, I found myself focused on thinking about ritual purity and impurity. Partway through the week, I realized that I was thinking about these things all day long and in every aspect of my life, and that’s when it hit me: God cares a lot about our purity and holiness. Not just from a ritual perspective, but also from a moral perspective. All day long and in every aspect of life, the Lord wants me to pursue purity in my heart, in my life, in my actions. He wants me to reflect his holiness in all that I do. I have been treating holiness way too lightly! O Lord, help me to be holy!” That’s the kind of prayer you begin to pray when you soak in Leviticus.
2. You fear God more greatly.
Leviticus 10 begins by telling the story of Nadab and Abihu. It’s a story my Hebrew students translated last semester. And it affected them deeply.
Nadab and Abihu were priests. This meant they had special duties in terms of leading God’s people in worship. My students resonated because many of them are preparing to be pastors and will also have special duties in leading God’s people in worship. As the story begins, Nadab and Abihu bring an offering the Lord had not commanded (10:1). The larger context shows that they tried to barge into the Most Holy Place—the throne room of the Lord—without being invited. If barging into the throne room of an earthly king was a severe breach of royal protocol and a tremendous sign of disrespect (cf. Esther 4:11), barging into the throne room of the King of heaven was unbelievably blasphemous.
The Lord guards his honor by sending out fire to consume the blasphemous priests (Lev. 10:2) and then gives this warning: "Amost those who approach me, I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people, I will display my glory" (Lev. 10:3). In short, the Lord is telling the entire priestly family, “If you do not set me apart by your actions as the God worthy of reverence, I will use your death as an opportunity to remind all the people that I am indeed the God who is to be revered above all."
There was a moment of holy silence in class that day as this truth began to grip our hearts. It was clearer to us than ever before that we must not trifle with the Lord. And it was clearer to us than ever before that he holds those who lead his people in worship to an especially high account (cf. James 3:1). We could not help but fear him more greatly.
3. You love Jesus more deeply.
I began studying Leviticus when my wife and I moved to England so I could do a PhD in Old Testament under an evangelical scholar named Gordon Wenham. For three and a half years I was focused on what the books of Exodus to Numbers teach about sin and impurity, and what they teach about God’s solution to these things.
About two years into my studies, something new began to happen to me in church. Whenever we sang a song that mentioned sacrifice, or atonement, or the Lord ransoming us from our sin, I struggled to make it through without crying. None of these ideas was new to me; I had been going to church all my life. But Leviticus helped me to see with even greater clarity how far the Lord has gone—in his love for guilty sinners like me—to provide a way of forgiveness.
This became especially clear in a verse like Leviticus 17:11. It explains that the Lord allowed the Israelites to ransom their guilty lives from his judgment by offering the lifeblood of a perfect animal in place of their own. Significantly, the Lord emphasizes his role in providing atonement by adding an extra “I” in the verse: “And I myself have given [the animal’s lifeblood] to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives.” God turns the idea of sacrifice upside down! It was not just what the Israelites gave to the Lord. It was first and foremost something he gave to them, in his grace, as a means of atoning for sin and achieving the forgiveness they so desperately desired.
And it gets even better with Jesus. In the Old Testament, the Israelites still had to bring and present an atoning sacrifice to ransom their lives. In the New Testament, the offended King—in his unspeakably great love—provides the atoning sacrifice on behalf of the ones who sinned against him! Paul summarizes beautifully: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!” (Rom 5:8; cf. John 3:16).
And so, all these years later, I repeat Leviticus 17:11 every time I partake of communion—and I still find it hard to sing songs about sacrifice without tears of thankfulness for Jesus, the one who “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
4. You love your neighbor more fully.
One of the best known facts about the Bible is that it tells us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” One of the least known facts is that this verse is first found in Leviticus 19:18. And when seen in context, it’s about a whole lot more than being nice and mowing our neighbors' lawn when they’re sick.
If we look at the entire verse, it becomes clear that loving our neighbor involves forgiving the wrongs of others as quickly as we forgive our own: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” To love our neighbors means to extend mercy and forgiveness to those who wrong us, and to do so because we follow the Lord, the one who so richly and freely extends his mercy and forgiveness to us (Ps. 86:5; Jer. 3:12; Ez. 33:11; 1 John 1:9).
That's not all. If we look at the surrounding verses, loving our neighbor broadens to include embodying the Lord’s holy character in all of our daily interactions, from business practices (Lev. 19:9-10, 35-36) to courts of law (vv. 15-16, 35a) to family matters (vv. 3a, 29) to proper treatment of the poor and disadvantaged (vv. 9-10, 13-14, 33-34) to social interactions in general (vv. 11-12, 17-18, 32). To put it differently: loving our neighbors is not less than telling them about the glorious gospel of Jesus (the primary way I thought of loving my neighbor as a young Christian); but it does include far much more. Pursuing reconciliation, extending mercy, seeking justice in business dealings and courts of law—all these things become opportunities to love our neighbors by showing them God’s mercy, justice, and love.
So while Leviticus emphasizes the importance of maintaining distinctions between the sacred and the non-sacred, the holy and the non-holy, it also emphasizes that everyday acts of kindness and love and mercy are incredibly sacred, incredibly holy, because they show forth the incredible kindness, love, and mercy of the One who is ultimately sacred and holy.
This is not how I grew up thinking about holiness. But it is how Leviticus thinks about it. It is how Jesus thinks about it (Luke 10:29-37). What would happen in our churches if we all began to think of holiness in these ways?
We need more Leviticus.
Further resources from Sklar on Leviticus include:
If I had a published book for every time I had a certain conversation while working at Southern Seminary, I would have more published works than D. A. Carson. As an academic administrator, I could predict the conversation before it started, because it always followed the same script.
Dan, an energetic new seminary student, packed a U-Haul with his new bride Lisa to shuttle all their earthly possessions, including their wedding gifts and their massive school debts, to venture into a new life of theological training. She would hold off on having kids to find a high-paying job in her field of study, allowing him to focus on his classwork and finish his degree in three to four years.
As Lisa searched for jobs, Dan roared into his academics by day and comforted Lisa at night after another unsuccessful day of job hunting. Eventually, finances became tight enough that she had to settle for a desk job in an unrelated field ("at least it provided health benefits and a mission field").
To make ends meet, Dan took a part-time job that required him to cut back his academic hours. After the first year, they got the unexpected yet joyful news that they were pregnant. To allow her to take maternity leave or stay home with their newborn, he cut his course load in half and scrambled to find a full-time job with benefits, selling mobile phones at a local dealer.
Through sleepless nights caused by the needs of a newborn and the demands of Hebrew class, Dan put his nose to the grindstone to survive financially and make progress on his degree. Just as their “new normal” started to stabilize, baby number two came along. That's when he came to see me.
Dan came into seminary expecting to walk the stage with his MDiv after three or four years. Now, he picks his head up above water long enough to realize that, after four years, he’s only halfway through his degree. He starts to panic and re-evaluate his academic options—quit, get an MA, transfer, finish online?
This conversation happened so regularly with so many students—male and female, American and international—that I began to call it the "mid-degree crisis." It had all the hallmarks of a successful executive's mid-life crisis (the soul searching, the despair, often the balding head), except the shiny new convertible. But the mid-degree crisis provides a perceptive picture of a theology of work for seminarians.
Myth of the Lazy Seminary Student
There are several myths of the lazy seminary student. Seminary outsiders sometimes perceive seminarians as free-wheeling grad students whose only work is mastering Greek flash cards and pontificating about their preferred view of the millennium. Instead, seminarians usually have a relentless work ethic driven by their desire for training. In addition, most of them have jobs to help strengthen their financial ability since, for those who took out loans in college, the average undergraduate student debt is $29,400.
Seminary insiders sometimes perceive working seminarians as distracted, part-time students who are shortchanging their theological training by working too many hours. Instead, most students don’t have this luxury. For the two-thirds of MDiv students who take on debt, 35 percent borrowed $30,000 or more. Life circumstances require many students to have a job to make income for their growing family and to chip away at their swelling debt load.
Since the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program provides a 50 percent scholarship to SBC students at Southern Seminary, we have a much lower percentage of students who incur new debt while in seminary. Yet even at Southern, the life situation of typical students requires them to work.
Those who hold to these myths misunderstand theology of vocation. Rather than a distraction from theological training, the work of seminarians can be an integral part of it. What may be perceived as a soul-sucking inconvenience may actually be an act of soul-shaping valor.
Value of Work in Seminary
First, work during seminary can shape our theology of provision by providing compensation. Although there is no typical seminary student, most of them can use this season of life to cultivate trust in God’s provision—especially when they do not know where their next paycheck will come from. With the modest salaries of most ministry positions, this is a foundational lesson about how God provides for us through our work.
Second, work during seminary can shape our theology of sanctification by shaping our character. While the classroom primarily shapes the mind, the workroom shapes the heart. Whether it's changing the world or changing diapers, God often uses this season to shatter any sense of entitlement, making students more like Jesus. With the demanding work in most churches, this is a key lesson that will prevent students from allowing their giftings to take them where their character cannot keep them.
Third, work during seminary can shape our theology of evangelism by strengthening our compassion for the lost. Co-worker relationships provide fertile ground for gospel conversations. Work can help students move outside the “seminary bubble” and enable them to learn how the culture thinks and lives. With the life patterns of most faith-based, nonprofit positions, this is an instructive lesson that will create a strong evangelistic trajectory for their future.
Fourth, work during seminary can shape our theology of vocation by revealing both the contexts of many of our congregants and the value of the work itself. Regardless of the job, seminarians will be exposed to a variety of lifestyle patterns they will encounter throughout their careers. Also, in their work itself, they can serve their community and promote human flourishing. Dan, for example, could sell a phone that allows someone to call 911 in an emergency or have a last conversation with a loved one. The work itself is good and contributes to a dynamic community.
Though I have had dozens of conversations with students facing mid-degree crises, their responses usually boil down to two options—either give up and look for the path of least resistance or renew their resolve and look for the path of greatest opportunity. Although many myths persist about the work patterns of seminarians, the most important myth to dispel is the one that says work distracts from the "real" training at school. Instead, work during seminary can be a laboratory where God tests and refines students for a lifetime of fruitfulness.
The world, the flesh, and the Devil have a Great Commission of their own—to stir up discontentment in our hearts and lure us away from the gospel. So we fight back in the power of the Holy Spirit, because contentment does not come naturally apart from Jesus.
In a new roundtable video with Nancy Guthrie and Jen Wilkin, Melissa Kruger notes that throughout Scripture we encounter the image of a fruit-bearing tree planted by a life-giving stream. The author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World(Christian Focus) believes this is a vivid metaphor for a heart that’s content in Jesus no matter what the “weather” (circumstances) of life.
“It’s interesting that Paul says he learned to be content,” Guthrie adds, referencing Philippians 4:11–13. It won’t come easily or naturally, in other words. Contentment must be pursued, studied, learned.
“As you become a student of contentment you have to become a student of your own desires,” Wilkin observes. “We want to buy into the lie that it doesn’t hurt to look. But the oldest story of sin in the Bible begins with seeing, and then wanting, and then taking. I think we underestimate the importance of limiting desire-enhancing sources.”
Most of all, Kruger says, “Present contentment is rooted in a past reality and a future hope. It’s hard not to trust a bleeding Savior who will take me home.”
Watch the full eight-minute video to hear these three women leaders discuss Facebook, the three categories of discontent, the challenge of holiday catalogues, and more. Then register to see them discuss various topics at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando.
Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."
Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.
I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.
How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"
In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.
We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.
How did you measure success in the past?
I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...
Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Remember folks: facts are our friends.
I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.
On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...
I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.
How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.
Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.
Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.
Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.
I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.
Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.
Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.
1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.
First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.
Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 16, 2014—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Joint Committee are often on different sides of church–state issues. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas represent two different strands of denominational life. These groups put aside their differences Thursday to stand together in asking Houston Mayor Annise Parker to stop the “improper and unwarranted” subpoena of pastors’ sermons.</p>
<p><span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore, working with <span class="caps">BJC</span> Executive Director Brent Walker, organized the coalition behind the letter and was joined by other Baptist leaders of Texas.</p>
<p>In <a href="http://erlc.com/article/russell-moore-and-other-evangelical-leaders-sign-letter-to-houston-mayor">the letter</a> leaders wrote to Mayor Parker:</p>
<p>“Your Honor, we represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across the political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united.</p>
<p>“We ask you, and the City of Houston, to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.”</p>
<p>Other signatories included:</p>
<p>Frank Page, President, Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention<br />
Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship<br />
Jim Richards, Executive Director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention<br />
Jimmy Pritchard, President, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention<br />
David Hardage, Executive Director, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Jeff Johnson, President, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Gus Reyes, Director, Christian Life Commission, Baptist General Convention of Texas<br />
Robert B. Sloan Jr., President, Houston Baptist University</p>
<p class="notes"><a href="http://erlc.com/documents/pdf/20141016coalitionlettererlc.pdf">Download a <span class="caps">PDF</span> of the letter</a></p>
<p>The Baptist Joint Committee is an advocacy organization comprised of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States devoted to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. The <span class="caps">SBC</span> was a key part of the <span class="caps">BJC</span> until withdrawing from the organization in 1991, reassigning religious liberty advocacy to the body now known as the <span class="caps">ERLC</span>.</p>
<p>The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is a Christian network of nearly 1,800 churches, formed in 1991 after the controversy between conservatives and moderates in the <span class="caps">SBC</span>.</p>
The Honorable Annise D. Parker
Mayor of Houston, Texas
P. O. Box 1562
Houston, Texas 77251
Dear Mayor Parker:
The last several days have brought about intense controversy, as you know, about subpoenas issued to pastors opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), requiring that these pastors submit “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
As of this writing, you have indicated that you did not know about the subpoenas when they were issued, and that you will seek to narrow the scope of the inquiry. At the same time, however, you posted on Twitter the following: “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”
Your Honor, we represent a broad coalition of Baptists from across the political and theological spectrum. We disagree on many things, but, as Baptists, we have a long history of support for religious liberty and separation of church and state. On that, we stand united. Our ancestors stood in the colonial and revolutionary eras demanding the disestablishment of state churches, the end to state licensing of preachers, and the cessation of penalties for religious dissenters. Our forebears—some of whom were imprisoned—petitioned for a First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty, for everyone, because we believe as Baptists that God alone is Lord of the conscience.
We ask you, and the City of Houston, to acknowledge that the issuing of these subpoenas is improper and unwarranted, in order to ensure that such will not happen again. Whatever a church or synagogue or mosque or any other religious body believes about marriage or sexuality, the preaching and teaching of those bodies should be outside the scope of government intimidation or oversight.
This is about more than “walking back” a bad public relations move. This is about something that is fundamental to basic, self-evident rights that are endowed not by government but by nature and nature’s God.
Russell D. Moore, President
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
of the Southern Baptist Convention
J. Brent Walker, Executive Director
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Frank Page, President
of the Southern Baptist Convention
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 14, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says he is “simply stunned by the sheer audacity” of reports that Houston city attorneys have issued subpoenas to pastors who have voiced opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (<span class="caps">HERO</span>), a measure which deals with gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations. </p>
<p>“The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license or bully religious institutions. That right wasn’t handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was recognition of a self-evident truth.</p>
<p>“The churches, and pastors, of Houston ought to respond to this sort of government order with the same kind of defiance the Apostle Paul showed the magistrates in Philippi. A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.</p>
<p>“The separation of church and state means that we will render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and we will. But the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar, and we will not hand it over to him. Not now. Not ever.”</p>
<p>Moore’s full blog post on the issue can be found <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/10/14/houston-we-have-a-constitution/">online.</a></p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Oct. 6, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commented on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny review of seven petitions involving disputes over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.</p>
<p>“The Supreme Court’s refusal to take up marriage cases means an immediate expansion of gay marriage. In terms of response, the church must not jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus handed down to us. And the church must not respond with a siege mentality. We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us.</p>
<p>“Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it. Let’s articulate a Christian vision of what marriage should be, and let’s embody that vision in our churches. Let’s love our gay and lesbian neighbors. Let’s move forward with persuasion and with confidence. This is no time for retreat or for resentment. This is a time for mission.”</p>
<p>The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> will address the changing marriage environment at a national conference in October in Nashville. “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” will feature speakers such as Rosaria Butterfield, Russell Moore, Jim Daly, David Platt and others who will give keynote addresses, participate in panel discussions and address breakout sessions on key issues related to the future of marriage in the current culture. </p>
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Sept. 18, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, urged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today to allow a vote on the nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein as the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom.</p>
<p>“The whole world is on fire on the issues of religious liberty and religious conflict,” Moore said. “This nomination is too important to leave hanging simply because senators want to get back on the campaign trail. Leader Reid controls the Senate calendar and I strongly urge him to allow a vote, up or down, on President Obama’s nomination of Rabbi David Saperstein to the role as U.S. Ambassador on Religious Freedom. We need all the diplomatic and intellectual power we can muster in addressing these critical matters of human rights and global security. That should be more important than politics.”</p>
<p>Moore previously commended Obama for making a nomination to fill this vacancy. Dr. Barrett Duke, <span class="caps">ERLC</span> vice president for public policy and research, expressed that he believed Saperstein would be a “tireless, eloquent, fair-minded, effective champion” for religious liberty. </p>
<p>In December 2013, Robert P. George, recipient of the ERLC’s 2013 John Leland Religious Liberty Award and then-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called upon the Obama administration to appoint a new Ambassador-at-Large. On July 15th, Moore wrote a letter to Obama to nominate another ambassador for this position without further delay.</p>
<p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p>
<p>- <span class="caps">END</span> – </p>
<p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br />
contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br />