There is a new book making waves in evangelicalism with its release today. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships by Matthew Vines sets out to change 2,000 years of church history (and thousands more of Jewish history) regarding Scriptural teaching on homosexuality.
The promotional material for the book claims that it provides a way to interpret key biblical texts related to homosexuality that “honors those who are different and the authority of Scripture.” The unique feature of this book is that Vines claims to hold that Scripture is authoritative on this issue. He writes, “Like most theologically conservative Christians, I hold what is often called a ‘high view’ of the Bible. That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life. While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NRSV)” (p. 2).
Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality.
Vines first reached popularity when the video of his teaching in a church went viral. From that point forward, he has been the “go-to man” for affirming homosexuality within the text of Scripture.
As others have noted, Vines has not actually presented any new arguments for interpreting Scripture in support of homosexuality. Most of his arguments come from well-established books on this issue by John Boswell, Robin Scroggs, and others. The difference, however, is that he claims to believe the inspiration and authority of Scripture—unlike previous authors.
Vines applies a cultural hermeneutic to the text of the Bible, interpreting God’s Word through the lens of the gay rights movement.
In contrast to what Vines claims, this book has the potential to do great damage to people’s faith in the authority and veracity of Scripture. Vines applies a cultural hermeneutic to the text of the Bible, interpreting God’s Word through the lens of the gay rights movement. In addition, he elevates personal experience—specifically his own story—to a place of authority over the text. If Scripture and experience come into tension, he believes that experience must win out.
I have interacted with Vines’ work before in a series of articles that can be found here. While I believe that Vines is wrong on the interpretation of Scripture, we cannot simply ignore his work. He stands to be a major voice for people who want to remove the tension between Scripture and homosexuality.
At the end of the day, however, I am always drawn back to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. He writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
I deal with the terms “effeminate” and “homosexuals” in other articles, but I want to note what Paul says at the end of this passage. After listing a number of sins that are condemned in Scripture, he states, “Such were some of you. . . .” We see here that members of the church in Corinth were former fornicators, former idolaters, former adulterers, former homosexuals, etc. The reason they are no longer these things is that they were washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” These are no longer the behaviors of people who claim to be Christians. This is not where they find their identity anymore. The power of Christ can overcome these sins—including homosexuality.
Below are resources from me responding to Matthew Vines’ views on homosexuality and the Bible.
- Is Being Alone a Sin?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 1
- Are Homosexual Relationships “Unnatural”?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 2
- Does the Denial of Same-Sex Marriage Inflict Undue Pain?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 3
- What Did Jesus Teach about Homosexuality?: Answering Matthew Vines Part 4
- Lillian Kwon, “Theologians Find Vines’ ‘Homosexuality Is Not a Sin’ Thesis Not Persuasive,” The Christian Post, September 28, 2012. (Quoted throughout article)
The first session of the DBTS Summer School begins May 20 and lasts for two weeks (till May 30). Two classes will be offered: 1 Thessalonians (Greek exegesis), taught by Dr. Bruce Compton, and Evangelism and Church Growth, taught by Dr. David Doran. The second session runs from June 3–13 and the class is Kingdom of God, taught by Dr. Sam Dawson. The final session, Old Testament Theology, taught by Dr. Mark Snoeberger, runs from June 17–27. Classes meet Tuesday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. The schedule with complete info can be found here. If you are interested in registering for any of these classes, you can call the seminary at 313-381-0111, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here we are again. It’s Earth Day and, if you’re anything like me, I suspect you wrestle with how to make some sense of the day. Chances are we’re not about to go out on a Greenpeace expedition or going to retrofit our cars to run off used cooking oil. But does the gospel have anything to say to how Christians think about the environment? We see twin pitfalls. On the one hand, we must reject any worldview that idolizes the creation and fails to worship the Creator. On the other hand, we must reject a miniaturized Christianity that implies that King Jesus makes no demand on how we steward his creation.
First, God made us to care deeply about the entire created order. On the sixth day, God finished his work of creation by forming man in His own image. Part of this image-bearing identity was inextricably linked to the first man’s charge to exercise “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:26).
Moses also points out that prior to man the created order was incomplete because “there was no man to work the ground” (Gen 2:5). After forming Adam, God then placed him in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Before sin ever entered the world, God made humanity to exercise care for the earth, to cultivate it and care for it.
While secularized forms of environmentalism seem to suggest otherwise, the Christian story understands that it’s not presence of human beings per se that are the problem with the created order, as if to suggest that everything else would be better off without us. Instead, Scripture is quite clear. Humankind was created and placed in the Garden in large part to care for and to steward the creation. Presumably, Adam and Eve’s righteous labor would have yielded fruitfulness and blessing for flora and fauna alike!
In part, that is why we experience such joy at seeing the earth give up its fruits.
We can’t all be skilled gardeners, but we experience something of the joy of our first parents when we find pleasure in cultivating the earth, when we delight in seeing new crops sprout up and give of their fruit for our own provision. God made us that way. And it is good and right for us to care for the earth and exercise a godly dominion over it. We don’t abuse it, but neither do we worship it. Instead, the Christian worldview liberates us to delight in and care for nature, but also to recognize that it is all a gift and a signal, pointing us to the Creator himself.
Second, the entire created order has been deeply affected by the fall. This becomes evident immediately after Adam and Eve’s sin. In fact, God pronounces a curse that involves the earth. The ground itself is now cursed because of that primal sin such that it will now be cultivated with difficulty, even bringing forth “thorns and thistles” (Gen 3:18).
The apostle Paul understood the pervasiveness of sin, extending its devastating reach even into the created order. He even described it as a “groaning together” because of its “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21-22). So we shouldn’t be surprised to conclude that the earth has been profoundly affected — even at the subatomic level! — by the fall. Our theology of sin and the fall must be appropriately large enough (and biblical) to make sense of what we observe. Not one molecule has escaped the lethal and corrupting effects of the fall. And if that’s the case, then we have a renewed ancient way of interpreting the ecological destruction, degradation, and disaster we see around us.
We can be tempted to so compartmentalize our human existence that we fail to recognize just how far-reaching and devastating sin has been in the cosmos. That first sin in the garden had ramifications for everything in the creation. In other words, the problem of ecological degradation is far worse than we realize. And the secular worldview falls short of understanding just how bad things really are. Water and air contaminants, unsustainable farming practices, and strip mining certainly do have damaging effects. But they’re just symptomatic of a more insidious and devastating reality — sin has damaged and corrupted everything. And if the problem is that much more profound, the solution will have to be much more than government policies, changed behaviors or new technologies. None of those can remedy the core problem.
Third, in the “already not yet” Christians should promote a biblical vision for caring for the created order.
So how does the gospel animate our care for creation? Or does it at all? Clearly it must. We are not materialists, concluding that all the “stuff” around us is all there is and is just to be used as we see best. Christians recognize that this world has been fashioned by God himself and that it exists to bring glory to him. We confess with the Church throughout the ages that the incarnate God-man, the second Adam, walked on this earth, lived a perfect life, and died a substitutionary death to provide atonement for all who would believe. And we recognize that Jesus Christ’s saving work is about the redemption of a blood-bought people for God’s own possession. But that has implications not just for spiritual realities. Instead, the gospel changes everything.
Perhaps one of the closest parallels is how we think about money. The world tells us that if you have it, you can spend it (never mind the debt crisis). Even in the church, this can seep into the way we think about our finances. “I’ve earned it and saved it, so it’s mine to spend as I wish,” we conclude. But the Christian worldview recognizes that we are merely stewards of our financial resources, that they have been entrusted to us by God to use for his glory. So just because it’s in our bank account doesn’t mean we aren’t called to steward it.
In similar fashion, Christians must be careful of failing to see their ongoing responsibility as stewards of the natural resources God has entrusted to us. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s best for us to slash it, burn it, drill it or mine it. Instead, we start from the foundational question: what would glorify the Creator? Christians can and will disagree on a whole host of policy questions in this area, but we should all agree that our starting point must be God-centered.
Fourth, Jesus will one day consummate his Kingdom and the entire cosmos will be renewed.
The gospel frees us from worshiping the creation and gives us a renewed vision for our role as God’s image bearers who exercise loving dominion. But it also propels our vision forward. Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and is indeed sitting at the right hand of the Father as king over the cosmos. But we look around us and see a world that still seems very much under the curse of Genesis 3.
But throughout the Bible, God continually promised a coming day when he would create a “new heavens and a new earth.” Isaiah prophesied of this long ago, declaring the word of the Lord and making clear that God’s salvific purposes for his people would also be linked to a new created order, one that would not just be a recovery of Eden, but would even surpass that original perfection (Isa 65:17-25).
The New Testament continues this expectation. The Apostle Peter wrote that this new heavens and new earth will be one “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 2:13). The vision is perhaps at its clearest in John’s Revelation. He now saw what had been prophesied by Isaiah: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev 21:1). And what is distinctive about this new order? God makes his full and perfect dwelling among his people. His presence is now full and comprehensive, driving away suffering and death, grief and pain, “for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).
Just like Kermit said, it’s not easy being green. But the gospel reminds us that the path of Christian discipleship never is. Perhaps Earth Day can be a helpful day for us as followers of Christ to give thanks for God’s power, mercy, and skill as the Creator. Perhaps it can prompt us to self-evaluation to explore ways in which we have been shaped more by the culture than the gospel. And perhaps most significantly, it can prompt us to praise God for his work of redemption in Jesus Christ.
Matthew J. Hall is vice president of academic services at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A creative series of workbooks for classrooms and churches has recently been released. Following is an interview with the series editor and author of the first workbook, Kenneth Berding.
by Kirk Spencer
Within the warm heart of earth
Bulbs revive and ferns unfurl
Where roots grow deep
And leaf to reach
Promises warm in their wooden beds
Which wake as little leaf-fingers unfolding hope
How quickly they grow
When daybreak swallows the morning star
When firstlight lights a lanterned world
When Stillness wears dew as diamond beads
Until stormbreezes dance with the branches above
Until rowdy birds rioting from tree to tree
Until the first salty tear falls
Pulling down the low storm ceiling
For a moment
The air smells of earth
Silverflash violet bluefadinghaze
The downbeat of woodwinds tares the trees
And cracks the sky and sighs
And moans just under the eves
As on the roof and rafters the angry rain beats
Beats out the rage that pulses inside
Until the tempest finally passes by
And earth breathes out its cool wet breath
Resting exhausted against my skin
Mixing with the wetted dust within
Wrapped in the soft embrace of mists
The bright moon climbs finally above
The muddy clouds of adolescence
“Heart” is a permutation of “Earth” (only the “H” has changed its place, from first to last). The Ancients spoke of a woman’s body as the earth—for both brought forth life. Not so much “Mother Earth,” but the deep earthy mystery of motherhood (and yes it is still a mystery). The heart of a mother is the very image of love and selfless compassion. It is where a child’s roots can grow deep and little fingers reach for a promising future. It is a safe world, full of beautiful potential. Then noontide comes and something happens. Everything is thrown into uproar. The frenzy of preteens chasing each other, like birds, from house to house—not knowing what to do if one ever caught the other. Then the raging tempest of the teen years that comes with a flash and everything seems like it is
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new little book written by Justin Holcomb, titled Know the Heretics (Zondervan, April 2014). At the same time that book was published, a companion volume titled Know the Creeds and Councils was also released. While the volume I mentioned in the earlier post focused on famous false teachers in the history of the church, this second volume discusses a number of the most important creeds and church councils.
Creeds and church councils might sound like fairly boring topics, but for those who care about the Scriptures that should not be the case. The early councils were the places where key doctrinal issues were hammered out by the church, and creeds are simply summaries of Christian doctrine that a group of believers have agreed upon. Both subjects are actually pretty important and at times can be quite interesting.
Like the book on heretics, this volume is fairly short and very readable. If you are wondering about how the early church tried to refute false teachers who taught that Jesus was a mere creature, chapter two on the Council of Nicaea (325) provides the answer. If you are interested in seeing how the Catholic Church responded to the rise of Protestantism, chapter eight on the Council of Trent (1545–63) discusses this. And if you are curious about some of the key changes that took place within Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century, chapter twelve discusses the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Other chapters include discussions of the three great councils that took place in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), an overview of the doctrinal statement of the Church of England, and an introduction to the key doctrinal standard of conservative Presbyterians—the Westminster Confession.
Both this book and the book on heretics appear to be written with the potential for group study in mind. Each chapter concludes with a short list of discussion questions and a brief list of suggested titles for further study. Overall, both of these volumes are handy little introductions to key people, events, and doctrinal developments in the history of the Christian church.
I appreciate the work you do a great deal and it has been personally beneficial to my faith and my ministry. I do have a question, however, concerning the 1st century Jewish expectations of resurrection. You write, and I agree that the evidence points to a Jewish belief in a general resurrection at the end of the age (John 11:24), as opposed to that of a dying and rising Messiah during their own lifetime. This would seem to work as evidence against certain theories that would deny the resurrection, such as it being a hoax, or the resurrection appearances being hallucinations, etc. ...
Third, in God’s plan of redemption, God not only demonstrates that he is sovereign over sin and evil, but also that in his sovereignty, holiness, justice, and grace he is rooting out sin and evil in the cross work of Christ, thus demonstrating that he is perfectly good and trustworthy. Scripture teaches that in redemption, God is not indifferent to our suffering and plight. Even though we do not deserve anything from him but judgment, God has displayed his grace and has acted to defeat sin and evil. In fact, it is precisely because he is the sovereign and gracious Lord that we can have real hope, help, and comfort since he is able to sympathize with us and powerfully to save us. Is this not what Scripture teaches? In the coming of Christ, the promised “age to come” has dawned and in his death and resurrection he has defeated sin, death, and the evil one and won for us our salvation (e.g. Rom 3:21-25; Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Cor 15:56-57; Rev 5). In so doing, God has demonstrated that he is utterly trustworthy, just, and good. We might not know all the mysteries of his ways, yet we do know that the truth of God’s sovereignty and goodness is beyond question. In our redemption, God is not sitting idly by, without care or concern for his people. In the cross and resurrection we have the greatest demonstration imaginable of God’s sovereignty over evil and his willingness to identify with us in order to save us from sin, evil, and death. In our facing suffering there are many questions. But as we think of our sufferings in light of Christ and his cross, we learn how to trust. God the Son has suffered unjust suffering and when we remember this, we learn that God is for us and not against us, and that he stands opposed to sin and evil in a far greater way than we can even imagine. After all, what does the incarnation of God’s Son, his life, death, and resurrection teach us if not that God hates sin and evil and that he powerfully acts to destroy it, even though it is part of his foreordained plan (Acts 2:23). Thus, if we can trust God in using evil for good purposes in Christ, we can certainly trust him in all other events, including our lives.
Fourth, given the biblical balance between God’s sovereignty over sin and evil, creaturely responsibility for it, and God’s goodness and utter determination to defeat and destroy it, we must also fight with all of our might against sin and evil, in line with what God himself is doing. A strong view of divine sovereignty does not negate this conclusion. Scripture teaches both God’s sovereignty over evil and his complete opposition to it and we must hold both together simultaneously without ever letting them go. In this regard, John 11:33-35 is a very important text. As Jesus approaches the tomb of Lazarus in sovereign power to raise him, he is literally “outraged in spirit, and troubled.” Jesus, as God the Son incarnate, is outraged at the death of his friend, and thus sin which has brought death into this world. He is not outraged with himself as the Lord, even though sin, evil, and death are part of God’s eternal plan and why he is going to the cross in the first place. Rather, he is outraged by what sin has wrought by creaturely actions, which he has come to defeat and destroy. Jesus in all of his sovereignty stands in complete opposition to sin and evil, and we must do likewise. When moral evil takes place, we do not blame God or respond in a laissez faire way. Rather, we fight sin and evil by proclaiming the Gospel, and by God’s grace, seeing people made new; by standing for justice and righteousness and punishing evildoers, through the appropriate authorities, for their responsible actions. We never justify sin and wrong actions by appealing to divine sovereignty at the expense of human responsibility, nor do we reduce God’s sovereignty in light of human choices. We hold the depth and breadth of biblical teaching together as we fight with all our might against sin and evil, in line with what God himself is doing.
Fifth, what about specific suffering in our lives? Often when we go through suffering we wish that God would have allowed us to go through something else. Why do we experience specific suffering? Why do some escape specific tragedies and others do not? There are many points that could be noted, but I finish with these thoughts. John 21:15-23 reminds us that God calls all of us to different callings in life. When Peter asked about John’s future, Jesus never answered him directly but instead said, “Follow me.” Our lives are part of God’s sovereign plan and most of the time we do not know what the Lord has ordained for our lives. For us, as Christians, we are assured that even in our suffering in this life, which is part of the fallenness of this world order, God never allows us to experience anything we cannot bear by his grace and power (1 Cor 10:12-13). Sometimes the suffering we experience is due to persecution for the Lord’s name, which we should consider joy (Mk 8:34-38; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 4:12-16). Other times it may be due to the discipline of the Lord (Heb 12:1ff). Yet in many cases, we experience difficulties related to the abnormality of this world and we do not know why the specific events have occurred. However, what we are assured of is this: our God is sovereign and the defeat of sin and evil is accomplished in Christ. We live our lives in full conviction that in Christ, we have every assurance that God is sovereign over evil and that until he returns, we can live confidently, trusting God’s promises and Word.
Stephen J. Wellum is a professor of christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
He received his Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and he is the author of numerous essays and articles and the co-author of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012).
*This article was originally published in the winter 2013 issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
... I’m all in favor of blood moons (awe-inspiring astronomical phenomenon!), tetrads (rare!), Jewish feasts (our overly Gentilized Church calendars should be more dominated by these—as they are fulfilled in Christ), and apocalyptic (it can be literal too—resurrection is a feature of apocalyptic and we all believe in that one). But put them together in yet another sensationalized, factually crazy, books-flying-off-the-shelf spectacle for the world, and I just shake my head. We’re in the same ditch as those who have no hope ...
This week, Prestonwood Baptist Church is releasing Easter Perspectives, daily video devotionals related to Easter. I was asked to give the perspective of the Old Testament on the Passion Week. You can watch the video here. The synopsis of the devotional is below.
All throughout Scripture you see a template of God saving, but saving out of judgment. Adam and Eve sin in the garden, and God saves them. He is actually saving them from His own judgment. You see them leaving the garden covered in skins because God took the anger that He felt toward their sin and He re-directed it toward the innocent animal. This becomes the template that will be formalized in the tabernacle of the children of Israel and later in the temple. Through those weekly sacrifices, the anger that God felt toward their sin was redirected toward innocent animals.
This is a picture of Christ. This is foreshadowing. Think of Christ stepping out of heaven, the glory and light of the Father is behind Him; and as He is starting to step out of heaven, He casts a shadow on the events that precede Him. In the same way you might see someone’s shadow before you actually see him, around every animal that was on an altar you can see an outline of the shadow of Christ who is coming.
And He did come.
Once again, we see God saving, but saving out of judgment. This was not just a man giving up his life. This was not the hapless end to a good prophet. This was the anger and the wrath that God felt toward me and my sin redirected away from me and on to God’s innocent Lamb.
All of this was predicated by the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 53:5,6 says:
But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
The death of Jesus Christ was not just God fixing a problem. This was an explicit fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Someone said it like this, here in “… the bedrock of judgment, God builds a tower of mercy.” 1
Christ died on the cross. Yet, it was fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that He would save us from judgment.
No one goes to heaven because God forgets their sin. They go to heaven because God remembered our sin and punished Jesus instead of us. God’s inability to forget sin speaks to the enduring power of the cross. God knows it all. He sees it all. Yet, He punishes Jesus instead of us.
This is what Isaiah saw years before Christ. This is why we celebrate the Passion Week and Easter.
This article first appeared on Steven Smith’s blog.
by Joshua Crutchfield
I believe that my wife and I have such a unique story that even Nicholas Sparks would want to buy the rights for his next best seller. You see, we have been close friends for nearly sixteen years. We served together in our youth group, of which her father was the youth pastor. We performed skits together. We were in the praise band together. We also dated. We were the familiar story of high school sweethearts; only our story broke from traditional patterns. In Jamie’s senior year of high school, her father took a position and moved his family to Tennessee. This brought the tentative conclusion to our relationship. As a result, I began to identify with all the sob songs of those with broken hearts. My world ended, or at least, that is what my heart wanted me to believe.
The heart is a beastly creature. Jean Jacques Rousseau said of the heart, “Nothing is less in our power than the heart, and far from commanding we are forced to obey it.” No matter how hard we may seek to tame our heart, we find that we are still subjected to its power and driven by its beating desires. The heart pulses our emotions and enforces our steps. Many times, we appear to be bound to its will.
The idea that we should listen to our heart appears conceptually in many songs, books, and films. Notions like “The heart wants what it wants,” “What does your heart tell you,” and “Listen to your heart,” unfortunately, permeates into the thinking of believers. So infused is the belief that the heart is trustworthy that believers would even encourage others to be attentive to the heart’s murmuring, all the while forgetting the sickness this emotive organ possesses.
The Heart’s Deception
Maybe some would like to blame the fat cherub with the bow and arrow for all their troubles, never thinking that their state could be a result of blindly following the throbbing desires of their heart. It would be easy to blame a suave sales person for the weighty debt some may fall under, not realizing that it was the passion of their heart and not the persuasion of a peddler.
In Jeremiah 17:9, we become aware of the heart’s condition. The heart is the ultimate sociopath. Nothing is more deceptively convincing than it. Further, it is gravely sick. There is not a person who can understand it. Though we may not be capable of understanding it, we have no problem following the atrial fluttering of our violent heart. We simply give in to every sinful urge and desire and then justify our actions by stating we are following the drumbeat of our heart.
The passions of our heart tend to lead us down destructive paths. We can look at the declining condition of the heart after the rebellion in the garden (Genesis 3). The violence of the heart proliferated within humanity. Every intention of the heart was resolved in doing evil and carrying out violence (Genesis 6:5). As a result, God brought a flood of change and I don’t just mean the deluge. With the mankind’s condition of spiritual cardiomyopathy, God would provide the ultimate cardio surgery—circumcision.
The Heart’s Operation
As Israel wandered through the desert, God was already speaking of a new, necessary circumcision. Though the sign of their covenantal standing with God was based on a circumcision of the flesh (Genesis 17), God would have to operate deeper than the flesh and circumcise their hearts. Throughout the course of Israel’s time in the desert, it was clear that their hearts longed for anything, but God. Moses commands them to circumcise their heart, but that was a command that they simply could not do (Det 10:16; Jer 4:4). This task would have to be undertaken by a master surgeon of world-renown.
We are called to love our God with all their heart, yet our heart is defective. Remember, our hearts want what our hearts want, and it is not God. Still, God pursues us with His love (the heartbeat of the Gospel), and provides us with a completely new heart—He performs a heart transplant! Though we cannot and will not pursue His with a heart of stone, God will give us a heart of flesh (Ezk 11:19). Through a confession of sin and an admission of guilt, God will not only forgive us, but He will also turn our hearts completely to Him (Deut 30:6; Ezk 18:31–32).
So as the season of “love” and “hearts” approaches us, understand the condition of your heart. It is not something to be trusted. It is vile, wicked, and disturbed. Instead of seeking and justifying your sinful pleasures, seek the Lord. And when you seek him with all your heart, you will find Him (Deut 4:29).
Last week I read a curious piece that purported to identify the exact point at which Pilgrim was saved in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: was it at the wicket gate, at the foot of the cross, or perhaps even at some other point? I confess a measure of confusion on the matter. Like many before me, I’ve had the uneasy sense that the salvation event in Bunyan’s little tome is more a process than a point.
As uneasy as I have been with Bunyan’s allegory on this matter, I am more uneasy still with the explanation offered by Jim Orrick in his blog post. In Orrick’s understanding, Pilgrim is justified when he goes through the narrow wicket gate (i.e., he believes Christ and loses his forensic guilt), and then is relieved of his psychological guilt when he arrives at the foot of the cross and grasps the theological significance of what occurred there. Had Orrick stopped here, I might have been amenable to his theory.
Instead, Orrick goes on to support his theory with the emphatic statement that “the Bible proclaims that a person gets saved when he receives Christ, and the Bible does not say that a person gets saved through believing that Jesus died for him. Christ himself is the proper object of saving faith, not some part of his work.” He adds, “A person is saved not when he believes in right doctrine…but when he believes in the right person, namely Christ. So the object of saving faith is not a doctrine but a person.”
I find this troubling on multiple levels. Firstly, the Scriptures demand more than a mere reception of Christ. They demand that we affirm (1) certain theological facts about Christ’s person—he is Lord (Rom 10:13); he is God’s Son (1 John 5:1, 5); etc.—and (2) certain theological facts about his work—he died (1 Thess 4:14); he rose again (Rom 10:13); he will judge/reward (Heb 11:6); etc. Granted, we don’t have to know every theological nuance about atonement in order to be saved, but there are some basic facts that are non-negotiable: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3–4).
But secondly (and more importantly), I am troubled about the theological implications of divorcing faith in Christ’s person from faith in Christ’s work. If indeed an individual can “receive Christ” for true salvation without affirming even the most rudimentary details about what Christ did, then soteriology is effectively stripped of all but an existential Christ encounter: all else becomes optional. This door has been taken many times in the history of the church, and never to a good end. Let us hope that Orrick’s post is not opening up this door yet again.
First, as an important apologetic point, it is not only Christian theology which must wrestle with the problem of evil; every worldview, Christian and non-Christian alike, must also wrestled with it, albeit for different reasons depending upon the specific view in question. For example, naturalistic/atheistic viewpoints must first explain, given their overall view, how they can even account for the distinction between good and evil. What is the basis for objective, universal moral standards if, for sake of argument, naturalism is true? Naturalists will often raise the problem of evil against Christians, but in so doing, they assume a clear distinction between good and evil and that objective evil exists, which their own view cannot explain. Thus, in order to get their argument off the ground, naturalists, ironically, have to borrow parasitically from Christianity which can account for the distinction between good and evil tied to God as the standard. In this way, as a number of Christian thinkers have pointed out, many non-Christian worldviews, including naturalism, have a “problem of the good” since without the God of the Bible there is neither good nor evil in an objective and universal sense. The same could be said about other non-Christian views but my point is simply this: everyone must wrestle with the problem of evil in light of their own worldview claims. For Christians, our problem is not accounting for the distinction between good and evil. We can make sense of our moral revulsion and condemnation of wicked actions. Our challenge is to make sense of why God plans and allows sin and evil, pain and misery. In answering these questions, we are driven back to Scripture and its entire storyline which unfolds God’s plan of redemption in Christ.
Second, the Bible’s storyline takes seriously the distinction between “creation” and the “fall” and thus the present abnormality of this world. A helpful and common way of thinking through the storyline of Scripture is by the grid: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. When thinking about the problem of evil, and specifically the thorny question of the origin of evil and its relationship to God’s plan, the distinction between “creation” and the “fall” is utterly essential to maintain. Scripture is clear that God created the universe “good” (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) and that everything from his creative hand was good. No doubt, Scripture teaches that sin and evil are part of God’s plan, but Scripture never concludes that God is responsible for evil, nor does it conclude that a strong view of God’s sovereign rule entails this conclusion.
Instead, Scripture distinguishes “creation” and “fall” and it roots this distinction in history. Sin entered the world by our creaturely act of rebellion, first in the angelic realm and then in the human world. Sin is not here because it is a metaphysical necessity tied to our finitude, nor is it here because that is just the way things are. Instead, sin and evil are a reality due to our moral rebellion against God in space-time history, and Scripture nowhere minimizes this fact. In fact, Scripture takes sin and evil so seriously that the entire plan of redemption is to destroy it and to remove it from God’s universe! And, thankfully, because sin and evil are not metaphysically necessary, in removing sin and evil, he does not have to scrap us and start all over again. Instead, God must remove our sin by paying for it in full in Christ’s cross, and then transform us by the power of the Spirit, thus restoring us to our state of goodness even in a greater way in Christ. All of this is to say that the God of the Bible stands absolutely opposed to sin and evil. The same Scripture which teaches that God foreordains all things, including sin and evil, also teaches that sin and evil are an abnormality, an intrusion and a distortion of his good world, which God alone can remedy by the incarnate Son, his cross work on our behalf, and the power of the Spirit to transform us. Furthermore, even though it is true that God makes use of evil in order to bring about his good purposes, Scripture never concludes that evil and sin are less than what Scripture says they are. Evil remains evil: totally, radically, and absolutely, and God stands completely against it as the entire storyline of Scripture makes abundantly clear.
Many application points could be drawn from this point, especially when we confront the reality of evil and suffering in this world. However, the main point is that since Eden and this side of the consummation, all of us live in an abnormal and fallen world, and none of us escape this abnormality. Ultimately, when we suffer it is due to the present condition of this world. This is why all suffering is not related to a specific sin, as the book of Job makes abundantly clear. Yes, it is true that some suffering may be due to our sin (e.g., Acts 5; 1 Cor 11; cf. Heb 12), but it is not always the case. Suffering first is part of the present condition of this world, now awaiting the consummation, which requires that we have realistic expectations when we face suffering. No doubt, we do not often know why specific suffering comes our way; that is tied to the sovereign plan of God. Yet we do know that we will face sin and evil, and when we do, God is not to blame; all blame is first placed back in Genesis 3, and thereafter with every creature who chooses to act contrary to the good commands and purposes of God.
Stephen J. Wellum is a professor of christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
He received his Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and he is the author of numerous essays and articles and the co-author of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012).
*This article was originally published in the winter 2013 issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
The week from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday must have been an emotional rollercoaster for the disciples, Jesus’ friends and family, and Jesus himself. Together they experienced the triumphant celebration of Palm Sunday, the poignant fellowship of the Last Supper, the deep despair of the cross, and the amazing joy of the resurrection. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ezekiel has a vision that takes him on a similar journey from a place of deep despair to a place of incredible hope.
In my last blog, I discussed the concept of how the parent-child relationship is viewed differently from an Eastern Asian style than a Western American style. With this difference comes the difficulty of “leaving and cleaving” as found in Genesis 2:25. This also relates to obedience from parents for a lifetime since being a child is viewed more as a permanent status rather than an age range. This is also coupled with a long-term care of the parents supported by passages such as 1 Timothy 5:8 which states that if one does not care for his family that he is worse than an unbeliever.
The Bible states that we have an enemy that plagues everyone—death. Though we may avoid this enemy for a time, we cannot escape it. Death is certain. No one can avoid death.
And Death is cruel. At its heart, death is separation. Death separates our bodies from our souls. It separates us from this earth and all that is on the earth that we love.
For much of our life we can make ourselves forget this enemy. We busy ourselves with the various aspects of life, never considering that life will end. Perhaps your life will be long, but perhaps yours will be short, like many others before you. However, there are times in our lives when we can no longer forget our enemy, death. We come face to face with it, in all its gruesome reality.
It is as though death stands before us, taunting us: “What is the value of your life? What is your purpose? What have you gained? What do you treasure? No matter what it is, I will take it in the end. You think you are fine now, but one day I will have the victory.”
And so often death does have the victory. Often people do lose all they have lived for at death.
Why is death so cruel? In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul explains what makes death so destructive.“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
The Bible is clear that death is a result of sin. Death is not a natural part of the world, but is an intruder that has entered because of sin. Paul pictures this intruder as a hideous creature with a venomous sting. It is a dangerous enemy.
The heart of sin in the Bible is not allowing God to be God in our life but trying to replace Him. Perhaps we try to replace God with other things—other gods, famous people, family, wealth, work, etc. Often we simply make ourselves to be god—we decide how we should live our lives. In so doing, we go against what we were created for and find cheap substitutes that will never satisfy and will only end up hurting ourselves and others.
Sin ultimately hurts us most by separating us from God. Our greatest good and greatest joy comes in knowing and serving God—doing what we were made to do. But our sin has separated us from God. By our sin we have brought God’s righteous wrath against us.
Sin is magnified by God’s law. We may think that we can determine what is good and what is not, but God is the only one who has that right and the ability. God is the only true lawgiver.
God’s law is written on our hearts. Yet we do things we know are wrong. We do things that we know will be harmful to ourselves and others. And we fail to do things we know would be good, things that would be helpful to others. Thus, we willingly violate God’s law. This transgression magnifies our sin, giving even greater poison to death’s sting.
We rightfully feel as though there should be judgment against sin. We believe in our hearts that wrongs in this world should be dealt with. The problem is, when we are honest with ourselves we are forced to recognize that we deserve judgment for the wrongs we have done.
And the judgment for the wrongs we have done is death. We experience spiritual death in this life because we are separated from that which is truly life—the life found in Christ. One day, we will face physical death, the separation of our bodies from our spirits.
If we have built our life on anything other than God, we will be separated from what we built our life on. Our fame will fade, our possessions will decay, our careers will have ended, and our loved ones will be lost.
We will ultimately face eternal death—eternal separation from God. Instead of seeing God’s face, we will have His back turned to us and will experience all the horrible consequences that entails.
There is no greater enemy than sin and death, and yet we are powerless before them. We possess nothing with which we can fight against death. But are we left to cower before this gruesome enemy? Is there some way by which we can defeat death? Paul goes on to offer the glorious answer in verse 57:“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Unlike every other person who ever lived, Jesus perfectly obeyed God. He always loved God and loved others. Because Jesus never sinned He did not deserve to die. His death was not for His sins, but for ours. He paid the penalty so that we would not have to.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” (Gal 3:13)
Jesus defeated death—demonstrating that He is God and that He made an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Jesus did not remain dead, but after three days he rose from the grave with a glorified body, declaring to all the world that He is who He said He is—the Son of God. And He did what He said He would do—pay for our sins.
“And was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4)
“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)
How do we enjoy the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection? Paul hints at it in verse 57. We give thanks to God, for He is the one who has done all the work. Paul does not say that we thank God while congratulating ourselves on what we have done. We can do nothing for our salvation, because God has done it all. When we turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we are given a new heart that now wants to serve God.
We can do nothing—it is only grace. Of course there is a cost with any gift, but Jesus paid the cost, so there is no cost to us.
Through Christ our sin is removed so that we can have the true joy found in a relationship with Christ. We can have the satisfaction that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
With our sin removed, death no longer has any power. Through faith we are united with Christ, and his resurrection guarantees ours. No other religion or worldview has this claim. Only Christ has conquered death, and only Christ can offer the victory over death. For those in Christ, death is no longer loss—it is gain. For the Christian, death is not death.
So death is an enemy for the Christian, but it is a defeated enemy. Though it may appear as a hideous creature, ready to strike its prey with a venomous sting, Christ’s victory over death swoops in and swallows death up. (“Death is swallowed up in victory!”)
So now, when we come face to face with death, it is we who can stand taunting death: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”
The recent film “Noah” has garnered attention and criticism. I have especially followed with interest the secondary conversation between the promoters and critics of the movie. For instance, in a recent movie review, Dr. Brian Mattson describes “Noah” as a Gnostic recasting of the biblical story. This follows in the line of what some have seen as Hollywood’s trend of pushing Gnostic ideology (e.g., “The Da Vinci Code”), as well as the current scholarly focus on the Gnostic Gospels.
I would like to provide some commentary on a revival of Gnosticism in the broader culture and among scholars. In particular, I want to focus upon the appeals of Gnosticism, recognizing the movie “Noah” as both an obstacle and an opportunity.
Gnosticism has been around since the period in which the New Testament was written. It was a movement that mixed Eastern forms of mysticism with other religions, such as Christianity. Gnosticism as a Christian-related heresy included the teachings of such heresiarchs as Valentinus, who offered a special gnosis, knowledge, which purportedly allowed one to make his or her way to the divine fullness. This gnosis is reserved only for the truly “spiritual.” Marcion, who truncated the Bible in order to excise the God of wrath from it, was also often considered a Gnostic.The Gnostic Revival
While Gnosticism as a particular religion is today small in size, there is little doubt that Gnosticism as an attitude, a way of theological reflection, is making something of a comeback in the West. There are at least three sources for this trend.
- First, the Gnostic-like outlook appeals to the vague spirituality that has ballooned recently in Western culture, especially among those that have been identified as “spiritual, but not religious.” According to Robert Fuller, a substantial minority of Americans are “associated with higher levels of interest in mysticism, experimentation with unorthodox beliefs and practices, and negative feelings toward both clergy and churches” (OUP, 2001). The director and actors themselves have displayed some of these attitudes in their promotions of the movie.
- Second, there are other scholars, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, who have made a whole industry out of introducing and examining the Gnostic Gospels. Ehrman, a former evangelical, has become of late a sort of analyst-evangelist for early Gnosticism as an alternative to biblical orthodoxy. Early Gnosticism, which certain New Testament texts seem to have been written to refute directly, was a secretive form of syncretism (religious mixing) between Eastern Mysticism and Christianity.
- Third, these scholarly trends have symbiotically recognized and encouraged the large number of people who want to have some knowledge about God or things ethereal without committing to any particular belief system. The movie “Noah” as a marketing strategy may be intentionally crafted to appeal to “spirituals” and to others interested in a character recognized the world over in one form or another.
Yes, Gnosticism as a religion or as a religious attitude makes two distinct problematic appeals: it has a Syncretistic appeal and a Secretive appeal.Addressing the Syncretistic Appeal
With regard to the Syncretistic appeal, I would encourage Christians to exercise both evangelism and discernment. We must evangelize the lost, and they will have questions about Noah and the God behind Noah. Use the opportunity of the movie to tell them about God and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, but do so while exercising discernment. Be sure to correct misconceptions about Noah, and especially misconceptions about God. Use the opportunity of the movie, but use it wisely.Addressing the Secretive Appeal
With regard to the Secretive appeal of Gnosticism, I would argue that any group—whether it be based in an academy, or a conference, or a movie studio—that claims it has knowledge about God or spiritual things must be treated with skepticism. Any claim for knowledge about God that goes beyond the texts of the canon of Scripture taps into the Secretive urge of the Gnostic outlook. In response, we note that God the Holy Spirit inspired and preserved for us a publicly available text, which we call the Holy Bible, and it has included therein all that we need to know about God, much less Noah. Yet again, the critical issue is about Scripture and about how we really need to know and speak God’s Word. We must again and again go back to the Bible.
For more on Noah’s Gnostic appeal, read “‘Noah’ recasts ancient heresy, experts say” on Baptist Press.
Over the next couple of days, millions of Americans will endure the filing and, in some cases, the payment of taxes. Taxation has never been particularly popular among Americans, having once incited several dozen Bostonians to dress up as Mohawk Native Americans and toss tea into a harbor. Even in the months that followed the tea incident, not every evangelical Englishman agreed that colonial taxes were unjust. "I am taxed; yet I am no slave," John Wesley admonished fellow Christians in the colonies. "Nine in ten throughout England have no representative, no vote; yet ... they enjoy both civil and religious liberty. ... Who then is a slave? ... You and I, and the English in general, go where we will, and enjoy the fruit of our labors: this is liberty. The negro does not: this is slavery. Is not then all this outcry about liberty and slavery mere rant, and playing upon words?"
Despite feeling a distinctly American inclination to don war paint and drop a few 1040 forms into the nearest harbor around this time of year, the vast majority of us will provide the government with the requested forms on or before the appointed date. And yet, other than avoiding the unpleasantness of penalties and prison, why should Christians pay their taxes? Or should they?
Believe it or not, in the days when Jesus walked the dusty roads of the Levant, taxes were even less popular than they are today, particularly among peregrine — the more-than 90% of imperial subjects who didn't possess the privilege of Roman citizenship. Hatred for taxation ran especially hot in the regions of Galilee and Judea. In the decades that followed the death and resurrection of Jesus, taxation was one of the tensions that triggered a revolt against the Romans. No wonder, then, that some of the religious leaders selected taxation as the topic of choice to trip up Jesus in the New Testament Gospels (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26).
Why some of what you make belongs to Caesar
"Is it lawful," messengers from the religious leadership asked the teacher from Galilee, "for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Luke 20:22). The taxes in question here were not the toll taxes paid to publicans like Levi and Zacchaeus (Luke 5:27; 19:2). The taxes in the messengers' purview were poll taxes that people paid to Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor. These taxes, collected by governors on a regular basis, constantly reminded occupied nations that the Roman Empire ruled their lands. More than a century after the time of Jesus, a Christian orator named Tertullian referred to the poll tax as a sign of slavery.
The question from the messengers seemed tailor-made to cost Jesus either his connection with the crowds or his low profile with the Romans. If Jesus claimed that the Jewish people should pay the poll tax, his popularity among the populace could plummet. Plus, the religious leaders might accuse him of placing Caesar's authority higher than God's authority. If Jesus declared that it was not lawful for his people to pay taxes to Caesar, he might multiply his popularity among those who longed for a leader who would defy the Romans — but any such claim would immediately mark Jesus as a potential revolutionary and the Romans would destroy him.
Jesus refused to answer the question directly. Instead, he asked to see a denarius. A denarius was the typical wage for a day of labor; the image and titles of the Roman emperor were struck on the face of every denarius. Face to face with the emperor's image, Jesus declared simply, "Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."
Caesar's domain was a dictatorship dedicated to false gods. "Some of the taxes given by New Testament Christians," Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, reminds us, "would have gone to pay for crucifixion stakes. Some would have gone to feed wild beasts for the bloody circuses. Some would have gone to buy incense to be burned in honor of the self-proclaimed [divinity] of the Caesar." Throughout the Roman Empire, state-funded temples enshrined prostitution, prophetesses in drug-induced ecstasies, and sacrifices to demonic deities.
Yet no government — not even the Roman Empire — rises without God allowing that state to exist (Daniel 2:21; 4:17). And, part of what human government can legitimately demand from its subjects is a portion of people's income. The verb translated "give back" or "render" in Jesus' reply implied payment of a debt (compare Luke 7:42; 10:35; 12:59; 19:8). What Jesus was declaring was that everyone in the Roman Empire — even those who followed God's law above all other laws — owed the emperor the debt of honor signified by the payment of taxes (see also Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17).
Years later, the apostle Paul would make much the same point when he wrote that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command. ... Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes" (Romans 13:1-6). The denarii and drachmae in the people's moneybags were minted by the Roman Empire. And so, Caesar had every right to demand a cut of this currency from the subjects who lived in his lands. To resist Caesar's demand was to oppose God's command. Christians submit in this manner not only to avoid penalties and prison sentences ("because of wrath") but also to live out the gospel by doing what in right in God's sight ("because of conscience").
From the perspective of the Christian Scriptures, the only foundation for resisting the government is if the state's delegates demand participation in or promotion of practices that defy divine commands; at that point, the paradigmatic pattern is to resist by persisting in obedience to God's Word (Daniel 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). This is the pattern that undergirds the closing paragraph of the Manhattan Declaration, in which a broad range of representatives from the Christian tradition have declared together,
We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.
Even in governments where the people collectively comprise "Caesar," this does not mean that each individual constitutes his or her own ruler, with the right to choose whether and when to render Caesar his due. It is not "methe people" but "wethe people" that constitutes the body politic, represented by elected and appointed officials who determine the size and shape of Caesar's portion.
How all of who you are belongs to God
Yet what about the second part of Jesus' response? What did Jesus mean when he said to "give back ... to God the things that are God’s?"
Just as Roman coins were marked with Caesar's image, something must have been marked with God's image.
What is it that constituted God's image?
Every human being.
At the dawn of human history, God created Adam and Eve "in his own image" and "after his likeness" (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:2; 9:6), and it is this link between God and humanity that calls for every human life to be treated as sacred still today. When Jesus called the people to give Caesar his due, the coins in their purses bore lifeless representations of Caesar's passing reign, but the people themselves were living images of the eternal God.
And yet, what does it mean, practically, to render ourselves to God?
In the simplest possible terms, it means joining with Jesus in fulfilling the mission that Adam and Eve failed to fulfill.
In the ancient near eastern context in which Moses wrote the accounts of humanity's creation, to be made in God’s likeness was to be a son of God and to be created in God’s image was to live as a servant-king — as a vice-regent who serves others and who shapes his domain for the glory of a greater king.
The Garden of Eden was a botanical temple, a context for the glory and worship of God. As the living image and likeness of God, the mission of our primeval parents was to extend the borders of Eden and to raise up more image-bearers until the garden covered the globe and God’s glory filled the earth like waters that fill the seas (Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). Adam and Eve failed in this mission, disdaining their fellowship with God and distorting their role as viceroys of Eden. So, God brought forth a new nation for his glory from the seed of a meandering descendant of Shem and a woman long past her prime. God raised up kings among Abraham’s descendants to exemplify his image and likeness. Yet, one by one, the kings of Israel followed in Adam’s footsteps, until — just as Adam was exiled from the garden temple — the people of Israel were exiled and their temple was torn to the ground.
But then, in the fullness of time, the very God who had planted a garden on the eastern edge of Eden slipped into human history through the birth canal of a Jewish peasant, and nothing would ever be the same again.
This child perfectly exemplified the image of God because he was not only the Son of God and the Servant King but also God in human flesh. It was he who told the men and women on the temple mount to render themselves to God as his image and likeness. Then, he did what no other king could do: having kept the law without flaw, he took the penalty for his people's failure and rose in triumph over death. As people from every nation become joint-heirs with Jesus and participate anew in God's image and likeness, the Spirit of Jesus draws them together even now into a new temple (Ephesians 2:19-3:21; 1 Peter 2:1-5). Through this temple, the glory of God is flooding the earth before our very eyes.
Rendering to Caesar, whether and why
The first part of Jesus’ reply dealt with whether God’s people should provide to Caesar the percentage of their income that Caesar’s representatives request. His reference to the image of God hinted at why.
Followers of Jesus pay taxes because this world matters. Yes, the corruption of our first parents has enslaved this world to "groaning," to a yearning for redemption that no human pleasure can quell (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11; Romans 8:19-23). And still, this planet matters. The entire cosmos swirls and twirls in a celestial dance that proclaims the very glory of God; despite the manifold failures of human government, states and societies reflect God's order and provide a context for the fulfillment of God’s mission. Paul saw the state as an evidence of divine order in a sin-disordered world even during the reign of Nero — an emperor who may have murdered his own mother and kicked his pregnant wife to death (Romans 13:3-5). Even imperfect governments curb human depravity, and this curbing of evil results in greater opportunities for God’s people to proclaim the gospel (1 Timothy 2:1-4) so that God's glory flows over the globe like waters that fill the sea.
Paradoxically, followers of Jesus also pay taxes because this world is not the realm that matters most. None of the numbers on your 1040 form will last into eternity. National currencies, no less than kings and kingdoms (Psalm 75:2-8; Daniel 2:20-22), are tools that God raises up and tosses aside according to his will. It is, of course, foolish to pay more taxes than we rightly owe — but not merely because such payments violate our rights. It is foolish because it leaves less to give away for the sake of a kingdom that will never fade. The cash in my wallet and the currency in my accounts are nothing more than ephemeral signposts of my placement in a world where the kingdom of Christ is not yet fully realized. The values on these statements have no value in any domain that will outlast the moment when Jesus plants his feet on planet earth. Whether my currency is backed by gold or gravel or the government's paper is irrelevant. In the New Jerusalem, the gravel will be gold, and the government will rest on the shoulders of a serpent-crushing King (Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 21:21). When I release my taxes to the government, I am not expressing confidence in the state's competence to right the wrongs of this world. I am being reminded that these resources are a tool that I can release without remorse because any values that are irretrievably tied to these dollars and cents are Caesar's values. They are the fleeting fragments of a kingdom that is, even now, passing away.
I’ve begun reading into the topic of women and men in ministry. I noticed immediately that the concept of “head” stands out in the debate between egalitarian and complementarian interpretations. As a metaphor, the concepts and specific applications intended by Paul can be elusive. For help, I turned to an expert on the subject, my colleague, Dr. Michelle Lee-Barnewall. Below are her explanations of four questions as part of beginning to explore the meaning of “headship.”
by Joe Wooddell
In Jeffrey Ball’s interview with Vaclav Smil (Wall Street Journal Business and Environment page, April 9, “Looking for a Global Energy Solution? Well, Don’t”), Mr. Smil rightly maintains that when looking for energy solutions, “It’s all regional. It’s all local. And we just have to descend to that level to judge it.” That is, there is no one-size-fits-all, top-down solution from the UN, Washington, Kyoto, or wherever. Instead, local geography, weather conditions, needs, and especially local knowledge are the best means for determining what sorts of energy production and policies should be adopted in each region. Mr. Smil errs, however, by implying that Americans are somehow immoral or misguided for consuming 310 gigajoules of energy per capita, while “Japan and rich countries in the EU are about 170.” Mr. Smil asks whether consuming so much energy makes Americans smarter, happier, or live longer than the Europeans or the Japanese. By asking this he seems to assume that being smarter, happier, or living longer are the only good reasons for consuming energy. Finally he asks, “what have we gotten for consuming twice as much energy as Europe?” One answer Mr. Smil fails to see is GDP. By any measurement the United States exceeds its closest competitor (China) in total GDP by almost twice as much. Of course, the EU as a whole exceeds the US GDP (just barely), but keep in mind that total EU population is almost double that of the US.
More precisely, if Mr. Smil is correct, US energy use per capita is 310 gigajoules, while the EU resident uses just 170. So each European is using 55% the energy of an American. We might also add that US GDP per capita is $51,748 while for the European it is just $32,968. So while the European produces 63% of what the American produces, he does so using 55% of the energy the American uses. Another way to make the point: the average US citizen produces only 86% of what a European (presumably) would produce with the same amount of energy.
What can we learn from Ball’s interview with Smil? First, Mr. Smil is right about a top-down approach to energy policy being totally misguided; local knowledge is best. Second, Americans are not quite as efficient overall as EU citizens: while using 80% more energy, they produce only about 60% more goods and services. But perhaps it’s worth it. Which leads to the third lesson: Mr. Smil considers none of this, leaving readers with the impression that if using more energy doesn’t result in a longer, happier, smarter life, then it ought not to be used; but he should consider production as another valid by-product of energy use. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for this conversation, did it ever occur to Mr. Smil to ask which country produces the most energy? Most analyses maintain that while China is a close second, it is the US; and per capita China does not even come close. Perhaps the country that produces the most energy is justified in using the most as well.
Neither Christian believers nor other thinking persons should be swayed by the likes of Mr. Smil’s rhetoric. In the same way that it is not inherently evil to create wealth, to use wealth, or for one who creates more of it to use more of it, it is also not inherently evil to produce energy, to use it, or for a country who produces more of it to use more of it. To be sure, there are ways of creating or using both wealth and energy which could be immoral, but simply creating or using them is not, even when doing so does not result in longer, happier, smarter lives.