After serving for thirty-three years as the Professor of Old Testament at DBTS, Dr. Robert McCabe will retire at the end of the 2016 spring semester. During his tenure he established the seminary’s solid foundation in biblical languages, OT hermeneutics and exegesis, and biblical creationism. An avid supporter of six-day creationism, he is nationally recognized for his expertise in defending a literal understanding of Genesis 1-3. He is also a leading scholar in Ecclesiastes with a forthcoming commentary.
In addition to scholarly pursuits, Dr. McCabe has invested in the lives of many DBTS students and alumni through his years of service. Outside the classroom, he enjoys chatting about theology, current events, his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, and his family. In retirement, Dr. McCabe and his wife Linda will move to the Phoenix area where they can enjoy the fellowship of family and grandchildren. Dr. McCabe will continue serving in the local church, working on writing projects, and speaking on creationism.
We thank Dr. McCabe for his many years of faithful service to his Lord and the DBTS community, and we wish him all the best in the days ahead.
When I was an associate pastor, I remember “Grandma” Audrey, an eighty-year-old woman, asking me why Jesus required His disciples to keep His true identity a secret (e.g., Mark 8:29-30). I was thankful that she had been reading her Scripture in such a way that questions were naturally generated. I trust that you likewise have faced this question. So did Jesus, the Light of the World, seek to put it under the bushel? (I feel compelled to say, No!)
The answer to this question is complex, and so the responses here may not exclude others. Nevertheless, some answers are clearly illegitimate. A gospel critic at the turn of the twentieth century, William Wrede, argued that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah. After Jesus’ death, the early church sought to connect Jesus to Old Testament prophecies, making Him a Messiah figure. That Jesus never claimed to be Messiah was clearly a problem for the church. To overcome this obstacle, the early church fashioned a messianic secret whereby Jesus suppressed statements of His true identity. Consequently, the only reason for the Messianic secret in the gospels is to mask the historical inaccuracy that Jesus’ claimed to be the Messiah.
Before giving some inspiration-compatible reasons for Jesus’ “messianic secret,” let’s recognize that Jesus’ Messianic identity is not always presented in a masked way. This is clear in John’s gospel where Jesus makes explicit His Messianic identity to the woman at the well (John 4:25-26). Further, even the synoptics portray Jesus as openly declaring His Messianic identity (Matthew 21:7; Luke 4:21). Any answer, therefore, that always makes Jesus’ identity a secret fails to follow the biblical data.
Here we will provide two answers to why Jesus would limit the spread of His messianic identity. First, an open declaration would have changed the entire chronological landscape of Jesus’ death. Let me explain. Remember Jesus’ Nazareth sermon? This sermon certainly occurred late in Jesus’ ministry, but Luke, as a capable and intentional writer, situated the sermon early in his gospel because it foreshadowed the response Jesus would receive from the Israelites. By placing this sermon first, Luke summarizes some of the main points of his gospel. In the sermon, Jesus read from a passage in Isaiah that was widely interpreted to refer to the coming Messiah, boldly declaring that it referred to Himself. However, when Jesus indicated the limitations of His Messianic task (being limited to those with faith) and the scope of His Messianic task (the gospel will go to the Gentiles), the people sought to kill Him. The point of importance for us is the response of the audience. Having heard that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, their expectations were aroused, and when their expectations were not met, they sought to kill Jesus (4:29).
So, to repeat, Jesus, in declaring His Messianic identity, aroused expectations that when not met resulted in threats to His life. It is clear that Jesus had a perfect timetable for when He would die. This plan, wrought in eternity, did not lack in specificity. The millennium, decade, year, day, hour, and moment were planned with precision. Jesus knew the vitriolic responses that would come from His claims and actions, and He planned the open revelation of His identity to be progressively revealed until the appointed time had come. This explains why Jesus was willing to enter Jerusalem on a donkey. This is the only time Jesus is recorded to have ridden an animal, and so the meaning is quite clearly to fulfill the Messianic prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. In sum, an open declaration of His Messianic identity would have prematurely hastened the path to the cross, preventing much of Jesus’ teaching and other ministry.
A second answer also pivots on the expectation of Jesus’ audience. While it is no longer popular to suggest that Messianic expectation included a conquering hero who would free the Israelites from the bondage of the Romans, there is much historically and biblically to support this position. As such, declaring oneself Messiah had significant political overtones. Certainly Messianic texts do speak of Jesus’ kingship, yet the progress of revelation revealed that there would be two aspects to the Messiah’s activity. In fact, when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus’ response was designed to correct Peter’s false expectations (Mark 8:29-31). Instead of conquering as a King, Jesus would suffer as a Servant. The request to keep His Messianic identity a secret, then, had less to do with masking His identity than with allowing the messianic identity to be defined by Jesus’ actions. Too much misunderstanding would result from a simple declaration.
I think this second point explains another strange element of the Gospels; namely, why doesn’t the early church pick up Jesus’ favorite designation of Himself, the Son of Man? I think the answer lies in the masked nature of the self-identification. On the surface, the title might simply refer to a son of a man—a rather innocuous title. On the other hand, its use in Daniel 7 to refer to the Son of Man who will come with the clouds of heaven to receive His kingdom is not innocuous. Nevertheless, the data we have for Jesus’ historical context suggests that “the Son of Man” was not used widely as a designation concerning the Messiah. But did Jesus use this title in reference to Daniel 7? Consider Jesus’ response to the question by the high priest concerning whether Jesus was the Messiah: “I am, and You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62, NIV). The early church’s use of Son of Man is no longer needed after the death of Jesus, since no one could then misunderstand His Messianic purpose to be primarily political. After this point, the church’s favorite designation of Jesus is Christ, that is, the Messiah.
In sum, it appears that Jesus’ “Messianic Secret” was historically intentional. It prevented misunderstanding and allowed a longer timetable for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus never denied His identity; rather, He carefully guarded this identity, preventing others from interpreting it falsely. In this way, the actions of Jesus—not the expectations of others—provide the definition of the Messiah’s activity in His first advent.
 William Wrede, The Messianic Secret, trans. James C. G. Grieg (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1971).
Back when I was in seminary, one of my professors used to warn us seminarians to be neither “more pious than Paul” nor “more Christian than Christ.” Such a stance might win us halos on earth, but no crowns in glory. This instruction was never more vivid to me than when I read John Piper’s pacifist critique of the Second Amendment.
Piper makes a few helpful points. For instance,
- He rightly encourages believers not to develop a disposition of violence. Christians should not be a pugnacious people who rabidly seek multiplied occasions for legal expressions of force.
- He reminds us most helpfully that believers should not be in the revenge business, a point made throughout both testaments of Scripture.
- He also affirms that the Christian message must never be advanced by means of the sword, noting the damage to the Gospel that has been caused by error in this regard.
- Finally, Piper makes an excellent case for submitting to religious persecution without violent retaliation.
All good. But here’s the thing. There are other reasons than these for carrying and using a gun—reasons that are biblically commendable. In addition to just war (which is not really the point of the article—Piper allows, it seems, for governments and their duly constituted armies to bear the sword), there is the matter of self defense. To make preparations to defend my life or my family’s in the face of assault or physical threat is not to adopt a “disposition of violence.” Nor is it to sanction revenge. Nor is it an attempt to advance the Gospel by means of the sword. Nor is it an attempt to meet religious persecution with violence. It is the exercise of my God-given obligation to function responsibly in civil society as a good husband, father, neighbor, and citizen. As such, I would argue that almost none of the passages cited by Piper has any bearing at all on our exercise of the constitutional right to bear arms.
One passage, however, Luke 22:35–38, does speak immediately to the issue. It suggests that believers, even in the broad exercise of religious duties, should take necessary precautions to use capital force (a sword) to meet personal violence. In fact, it was Christ’s explicit command that they do so! Christ does add qualifiers: (1) self-defense shouldn’t be an obsession (two swords are fine for a dozen apostles) and (2) capital force in the face of legalized persecution is inappropriate (so vv. 49–51). But for what other reason than self-defense would Christ command his disciples to carry swords, pray tell? To pare their fingernails? I think not.
The problem, I believe, lies in a failure to discern God’s multiplex purpose for the present age—a failure to recognize Calvin’s “two governments of God” (or Luther’s “two kingdoms”)–in lieu of a Neo-Kuyperian merger of all God’s purposes into one monolithic monstrosity. Piper makes clear that there is but one goal for believers in the present age—to advance the Gospel. Anything we do that impedes the Gospel (e.g., in Piper’s article, killing a violent man who is raping my wife and thus cutting off his opportunity to repent and embrace the Gospel) is therefore wrong. This is absurd. The Gospel may be the Church’s mission, but it is not the whole of God’s plan for the universe. God is also concerned for the civil advance of justice, order, peace, and civil society—causes that quite often are achieved only with a sword.
There is “a time to kill and a time to heal,” so says the Preacher. It is impossible, in the name of Christian piety, to eliminate the former and cling only to the latter. The complexity of this issue is much too great for such a simple solution.
Six months ago the Lord led my family to make a surprising move. I was teaching at a University in Wisconsin and believed the Lord would leave us there for many years to come. When the Lord led us to seriously consider moving to Detroit, a few things needed to be examined, but one was primary. A number of years ago a wise man gave me the advice to never make a career move without first researching the churches in the area. If it were not for Intercity Baptist Church and the consistent, biblical, expositional-centered ministry philosophy evident here, we would not be at the seminary.
In fact, I believe one of the greatest strengths of our seminary is the intimate connection between the seminary and the church. I could develop why I think having a seminary as a function of a local church is a wise idea, but here I simply want to note the advantage it is to our students. While ministry philosophy can be communicated in the classroom, it is far superior to also see that same philosophy displayed in a local church. I am reminded here of the taught/caught distinction. When the material is simply covered in a lecture or course notes, the content has been taught. When students also see that same philosophy implemented in the local church context, the content can be caught.
Of course not every student at DBTS attends InterCity Baptist Church, but for those who do there is harmony between the ministry of the seminary and that of the church. The other day one of my students mentioned that he enjoyed taking Dr. Doran’s preaching classes because he frequently observed the principles taught in class used effectively in the Sunday morning sermon.
I realize this blog post sounds like a plug for the seminary—well, in part it is. When you are excited about something you want others to know! But more importantly, I want to introduce you to the expositional-centered ministry of the seminary and Intercity Baptist Church. The best way to see this is through one of our graduates, who is also currently the pastor of the church—Dr. David Doran.
Unfortunately, my family missed Dr. Doran’s two-year, verse by verse exegetical study of the book of John which was completed at the beginning of this summer (see the entire series here). But we were able to hear his helpful exposition of 2 Peter, which was just completed. For the Christmas season, Pastor Doran has focused on a passage little used during this time of year, but one that is powerful in expressing the purposes of the incarnation. His central text, Hebrews 9:23-28, focuses on the high priestly ministry of Christ. It organizes that ministry into three “comings” of Christ that are broadly analogous to the activity of the High priest on the Day of Atonement:
- 9:26 indicates that Jesus appeared on earth to take away sin (analogous to the High Priest making the sacrifice for sins). The proposition for the message was, “The incarnation of God’s Son made a fully sufficient sacrifice for sins possible.” You can view the sermon here or listen to it here.
- 9:24 indicates that Jesus appeared in heaven for us as intercessor (analogous to the High Priest taking the blood of the offering into the Holy Place). The proposition for that message was “The incarnation of God’s Son makes it possible for Him to intercede for us.” You can view the sermon here, or listen to it here.
- 9:28 indicates that Jesus will appear on earth a second time to bring salvation (analogous to the High Priest returning to the people, indicating that the sacrifice was fully accepted for the people). The proposition for that message was “The incarnation of God’s Son makes it possible for Him to rescue and reign over creation.” You can see the video here, or listen here.
These sermons are not the exception to the rule—as though I have picked three of Dr. Doran’s best messages. Rather, these sermons are normal weekly examples of an expositionally-centered ministry philosophy played out in a local church. Ultimately, I can think of no greater aid to a seminary than a solid, exegetically focused church body supporting it. I trust you will benefit from the sermons as my family has.
DBTS professors Dr. Bruce Compton and Dr. Tim Miller attended the 67th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) on Nov. 17-19 in Atlanta. The conference theme – “Marriage and Family” – was timely considering the Supreme Court’s recent departure from the biblical definition of marriage.
In response to Matthew Barrett’s book “Salvation by Grace,” Dr. Compton presented a paper discussing the relationship between faith and regeneration in the ordo salutis (order of salvation). Over 80 people attended his presentation. In addition, Dr. Compton moderated a session on Hebrews.
“I appreciate the intellectual and academic stimulus ETS provides,” he says. “It’s a joy to fellowship with faculty from sister schools and with those from broader evangelical circles. I also appreciate the opportunity to present, publish and have some influence within the evangelical world.”
An ETS member since the 1980s, Dr. Compton has presented papers five times during the past five years and moderated two sessions.
Christmas is associated with giving, and many organizations take advantage of the season to urge people to donate. Sometimes the giving is encouraged because it is the end of the year and the final chance to give for tax purposes. Often, though, the push to give is specifically tied to Christmas. We’re accustomed to seeing people dressed up as Santa ringing bells next to Salvation Army kettle or being asked to use our Christmas shopping to donate gifts and toys to needy families.
A few years ago a news headline caught my interest. It said something like “Song writer apologizes for writing one of worst songs in the world.” The story was about Bob Geldof, who in 1984 wrote the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to raise money for Africa. It was recorded by several star musicians on the Band Aid track and raised a significant amount of money (it was the best-selling single in the world at the time) and you can hear it often at Christmas. The words encourage us to take time at Christmas to consider those who do not enjoy all the things we are enjoying. It ends with a repeated refrain to “Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time.” According to this song, we let people know that it is Christmas by feeding the world. (I apologize for getting one of the worst songs in the world stuck in your head now!)
But it’s not just songs designed to raise funds for charity that tie Christmas with giving to the poor. One of the most popular Christmas stories is Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. You’re aware of the story (and if not, spoiler alert and go read it right now!): Scrooge is a stingy man who hoards all his wealth and treats others with contempt. However, he is visited by 3 spirits (Christmas past, present, and future) who warn him of his future fate of being bound in chains through all eternity because of his cold-heartedness. After understanding his predicament and the true nature of Christmas, Scrooge determines to change and promises to honor Christmas in his heart and to keep it all year. As part of his determination he makes a large donation to the poor in the city and brings a gigantic turkey to provide a feast for his impoverished employee. Apparently, honoring Christmas in our heart and keeping it all year includes giving to those who are in need.
So, I’d like to consider the question: How is Christmas connected to helping those in need? In order to answer this question, let’s look at a passage that is not always associated with the Christmas story but is definitely connected to it: 2 Cor 8.
In 2 Cor 8–9, Paul is writing to the Corinthians to urge them to complete their collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem. He had given them instructions in how to gather the money in 1 Cor 16:1–4. Though the Corinthians were originally eager to participate, their desire had waned so they never finished the task. So Paul writes for them to complete the task before he returns, and sends Titus to help make sure it happens.
In giving them this instruction, Paul begins by pointing to the example of the Macedonians in 8:1–7. They were so poor that Paul did not originally plan on having them participate, but they were so intent on giving that they begged Paul and out of their overflowing joy God’s grace worked through them to provide a generous gift. In verse 8, Paul clarifies that he is not calling the Corinthians to participate on the basis of his command but as a test to prove the sincerity of their love. The reason Paul could call on them to prove the sincerity of their love by participating in this gift is given in verse 9, and is the verse that will help us to answer our question.
Christ was rich. The riches described here refer to Christ’s pre-incarnate state. As God, he possessed everything. He needed nothing from man because the whole earth is his. But is the focus here on material wealth? No, because Paul talks about believers being made rich, but the Macedonian believers experienced deep material poverty. Therefore, the concept is primarily about spiritual riches. Christ was rich spiritually in that he enjoyed the glories of heaven. He experienced perfect, sweet, and intimate fellowship with the Father and Spirit. He possessed infinite majesty and glory and enjoyed the praises of all heaven. Christ was immeasurably rich.
Christ became poor. This is a reference to Christ’s incarnation, the event we celebrate at Christmas. It is true that Christ became physically poor at the incarnation. He was not born to a wealthy family and did not enjoy great material provision during his life. However, the focus here is not really on material poverty, but on spiritual poverty. In his incarnation, Christ became poor by becoming human. He poured himself out by adding a human nature to his divine nature. He shared in our weaknesses and frailties.
Why did Christ become poor? Paul’s focus here is on the fact that Christ’s becoming poor was for the benefit of others. It was for your sake and mine that he came to earth. He left the glories of heaven to suffer on a cursed earth because of you.
Why would he become poor for our sake? Christ became poor so that we could become rich. As I pointed out earlier, Christ did not become materially poor so that we could become materially rich. Rather, he became spiritually poor so that we might become spiritually rich. What does it mean to say that we are spiritually rich? It means that we now share in the glories of Christ. We are seated with him in the heavenly places.
But how does that happen? I think the answer is found in an earlier section of 2 Corinthians that reflects similar phrasing. In 2 Cor 5:21, Paul teaches that Christ became sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. In 6:1, he refers to this transaction as receiving the grace of God. So, his poverty means riches for us, because he became sin so that we might be made righteous. Thus, the ultimate act of becoming poor was to die on the cross, taking God’s wrath for our sin.
Why would Christ die to make us righteous? Christ became poor because of his grace. All of this is because of God’s grace. We were not people who deserved anything from Christ. Rather, we were people who deserved death. We were not spiritually rich—we were spiritually poor. We were destitute spiritually, and yet only by God’s grace are we made spiritually rich.
So why does Paul bring up Christ’s incarnation and death as a demonstration of his grace in this section? The reason that Paul brings this up is to ground his call for them to prove their love by giving to the poor believers in Jerusalem. Their understanding and experience of God’s grace was a key motivating factor for their participation. Jesus’ incarnation and death serve as a basis for our giving. What are some implications of that truth?
- Our giving should not be done based upon the worth of the individual or what they can do for us, since God did not give to us because we deserved it.
- Our giving is a tangible demonstration of our love for Christ and others. Sometimes it’s not the thought that counts! It doesn’t mean that a gift is the only means of expressing your love, but it is a tangible means.
- Our giving is a tangible demonstration that we don’t love material goods. When we give to others, it shows that we value them more than material goods, because we are willing to give our goods away.
- Our giving is a tangible demonstration that we realize we are debtors to God’s grace. We give because we realize that we have been given to.
- We don’t seek to meet the needs of others out of guilt, duty, or to benefit ourselves. Band Aid and Dickens miss the real significance of Christmas in relation to giving to those in need.
- Christian giving stems from the satisfaction we have in Christ. Because we are already rich in Christ through no doing of our own, we can gladly give to meet the needs of others. We are merely sharing in the grace given to us.
Christmas is a great time to consider how Jesus’ birth is related to giving to the poor. Christmas provides the proper understanding for giving to those in need: Our riches through Christ’s grace motivate us to give to others. We don’t give to others because we have a lot and they don’t. Nor do we give simply to honor Christmas and avoid a horrible future. We give because we are content and joyful in the riches we have received from Christ and gladly long to meet the needs of others. Because we “know the grace of God. That Christ, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor. So that we, through his poverty, might be made rich.”
No doubt all of us are aware of the disparaging remarks that were made about prayer in the aftermath of last week’s shooting. Among others the New York Daily News discouraged prayer on December 3rd with an article entitled “God Isn’t Fixing This.” So we’ve reached another tipping point: people are annoyed with Christian prayers because they are ineffective and get in the way of real progress. Indeed, we even might be tempted to agree! Things are, as expected, “waxing worse and worse” in accordance with God’s sovereign will, so why bother making a public display of prayer? The following apologia for prayer attempts to answer this question (and also to add a few correctives about how and why we pray) from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13:
- “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” This first line reveals that the primary need of the present order is not to be temporally “fixed,” but to acknowledge God for who he is. We pray that through the carnage men will see God with illumined minds and appraise him accurately. We pray because none of us unceasingly regard him as we ought and we need to remedy this fault. This is the first function of prayer.
- “Thy kingdom come.” The second line makes us uncomfortably aware that God has not promised to to “fix” the present world order, or perhaps better, that his ultimate fix will not be an irenic but a savage one. The world will become more broken as time passes, not less, and it will finally be consumed. We pray here not for a patching of the present order, but for the advent of a kingdom that is not. This is the Christian’s great hope, and it is in these most awful of times that the Christian is most drawn to reflect upon and pray for the realization of that hope.
- “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Here God assures us that temporal relief is not entirely elusive. God can and does act in his providence to sustain the present order through the civil acknowledgement of God’s moral will (not his sovereign will), such that we may “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim 2:2) and receive “our daily bread” (not the magazine, mind you, but the physical sustenance of food, shelter, and safety). We pray that it will be God’s pleasure to effect this temporary fix right now—after all, our times are in his hands (Psa 31:15).
- “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Here is perhaps the most abused line in this prayer, leading at times to odd, unsolicited assurances of passivity toward unrepentant killers and violent terrorists: “We forgive you!” say the signs in San Bernardino. This response seems noble, but actually reflects something of a miscarriage of justice and atonement that confuses more than it clarifies the Christian message. We must generously forgive as Christ forgave us (so here and also in Eph 4:32, etc.), but not more generously than he (see an outstanding treatment of this point here). But let us not lose the primary request in the clarification of the secondary: we pray because we need to confess our sins—sins that, both individually and societally, stand directly in the way of chief end of man. Prayer most definitely does fix this.
- “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We are reminded at times like these that our responses to violence are often clouded by sentiments of rage, vengeance, frustration, and irrationality that lead to imprudent words and actions (on both sides of the aisle). We pray that we and those in authority over us will not fall under the spell of the evil one and give into the kinds of reactionary evil and imprudence to which we are presently vulnerable. It’s not a matter of “praying versus doing” but praying before doing, lest we do what is short-sighted, rash, or outright wrong.
In a sense it is true that “God isn’t fixing this”—at least in the self-serving way that pagans want him to fix it. But we don’t pray simply for God to fix things to the satisfaction of American idealism. We pray because we are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world, and we pray from the standpoint of a worldview that we do not share with our detractors. But we do pray. And we should pray.
It’s that time of year when complete strangers ask children what they want a dead guy to bring them when he sneaks into their house in the middle of the night. And it’s also a time when Christian parents struggle to help their children answer such people in a way that is both accurate and appropriate. Amidst the cultural clutter that surrounds the legend of Santa Claus, the story of St. Nicholas has been largely lost.
The Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches have their separate lists of saints, but one man whom they both acknowledge is St. Nicholas of Myra (aka, St. Nick or the man who would be Santa Claus).
Nicholas was born to Greek parents in Asia Minor in the late-third century. Growing up in a middle class home, Nicholas received a solid Greek education. He may well have read classics such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Under unknown circumsta
nces (plague?), Nicholas lost both of his parents as a teenager and inherited significant wealth. But rather than squandering it, he was apparently moved to share his wealth with others. And so due to a number of incidents in which Nicholas aided those in financial difficulties, he became associated with the giving of gifts and especially gifts to children.
As an adult, Nicholas became a bishop or pastor in the coastal city of Myra (in modern-day Turkey). A number of legends have grown up around his life. But by many accounts Nicholas took part in the Council of Nicaea in which the doctrine of Christ’s full deity was defended against the teachings of Arianism, and by “took part” I mean there’s even a legend that Nicholas punched the famous heretic Arius at the council (this legend, incidentally, has given rise to one of my favorite non-traditional depictions of Santa Claus).
Although many details about Nicholas’s life are unknown and some of what is “known” about him borders on the mythical, Nicholas was by all accounts a generous early church leader and a faithful defender of orthodoxy, and so there’s really no reason for Christians to knock the historical “St. Nick”. Though, as Ben Edwards pointed out a while back, we should tell our children the truth about Santa Claus, and perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to also tell them about the real St. Nicholas who lived some 1,700 years ago.
After the shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last Friday, several have placed blame on pro-life advocates who have been campaigning against Planned Parenthood. Their campaign has become more aggressive since undercover videos revealing Planned Parenthood’s values and practices were released earlier this year. Many have urged pro-life advocates to tone down what they call extreme rhetoric, inflammatory language, and hateful speech.
Are pro-life advocates to blame for this shooting? Should we tone down our rhetoric? While we must always keep in mind that we are accountable to God for every word we say (including on social media!), the argument being touted against the pro-life rhetoric suffers from several flaws.
Those claiming that pro-life rhetoric leads people to act violently do not apply this argument to other situations. If harsh rhetoric is what leads people to mass violence, what rhetoric was to blame for the mass shooting in Oregon earlier this year? Or the other mass shootings that have occurred in the last several years?
When the Mormon Church affirmed they would not baptize children of gay couples, the rhetoric against them was shocking. But there have not been any mass shootings at Mormon Temples yet. In fact, some of the rhetoric of Planned Parenthood defenders has been pretty extreme and often false. Pro-life advocates are labeled extremists who do not want women to have access to health care. Some have even compared them to terrorist groups. Will that lead to some unstable feminist going to the Right to Life headquarters and opening fire? Why is it only this instance in which rhetoric leads to violence?
When does the rhetoric cross the line into “extreme”? If the pro-life movement was campaigning with slogans like “Go to any length to stop abortion” or “Stop abortion by any means possible” then they should rightly be charged with encouraging vigilante action. But the phrases that are being opposed are ones like “abortion is murder” and “Planned Parenthood sells baby parts.” Are those extreme? They may seem that way to those who defend abortion, but do they get to decide where the boundary lies? Many blaming pro-life rhetoric would only be satisfied when the slogans are things like “Abortion is complicated, but we are personally opposed to it” or “Planned Parenthood has received compensation for fetal tissue.” It’s easy to throw out general accusations of extreme rhetoric and inflammatory language, but without providing specific examples or parameters it is ultimately unhelpful.
The argument that pro-life rhetoric is to blame for the Colorado Springs shooting could be summarized like this. Pro-life rhetoric has made it seem like Planned Parenthood is an evil organization that is responsible for horribly evil actions. Thus, it should not surprise anyone that someone would want to take matters into their own hands to stop this organization. Therefore, pro-life advocates should stop portraying Planned Parenthood as an evil organization that is responsible for horribly evil actions.
If that argument is true, it could be used against those blaming pro-life rhetoric. They have made it seem like pro-life advocates are an evil group that is responsible for horribly evil actions (violence against abortion providers). Thus, it should not surprise anyone that someone would want to take matters into their own hands to stop pro-life advocates. Therefore, they should stop portraying pro-life advocates as an evil group that is responsible for horribly evil actions.
If their argument that pro-life rhetoric leads to violence is true, they should refrain from making the claim in public. “But,” you say, “we have to let people know this group’s actions are leading to violence in order to get them to stop.” Exactly. Which leads to the final flaw.
Begging the Question
Many blaming pro-life rhetoric for the shootings in Colorado Springs are just trying to score political points. But some are genuinely concerned about the loss of human life. They want to do what is necessary in order to guard against human lives being wrongfully destroyed. But that is exactly what pro-life advocates are trying to do.
Imagine a corporation in your city that is pumping toxic waste into a local river, risking the lives of individuals in the area as well as the environment as a whole. Let’s say you started a public campaign against this corporation, with slogans like “This company is killing our city” and “This company loves money more than people.” Suppose some insane person decides to take matters into his own hands and goes to the board meeting to try to kill the CEO. The company blames you for this action, urging you to tone down your rhetoric. Yet you know they are continuing to dump their toxins into the river. Though you would certainly be upset that someone tried to kill the CEO, and you would publicly condemn that action, wouldn’t you have to continue letting people know what this company is doing?
To ask us to stop saying that abortion is murder only makes sense if abortion is not the wrongful termination of a human life. But it is murder, so we have to continue to call it what it is. We grieve that 3 human lives were taken last week in the shooting, and we grieve that Planned Parenthood ends almost 900 human lives every day. We grieve that 11 people have had their lives destroyed through attacks on abortion clinics since Roe V. Wade, and we grieve that over 55 million babies have had their lives destroyed in that same amount of time. And because we care about human life, we must continue to speak out.
- Christians should be personally sympathetic to the plight of those who are truly persecuted and traumatized by the effects of war, especially those who are innocent of and vulnerable to the atrocities of war. Further, Christians should personally extend benevolence, as they have opportunity, to such persons, giving priority to believers (Gal 6:10).
- The OT speaks well of kindness to disenfranchised “strangers” or foreigners (Exod 22:21; 23:9, etc.). Tempering this fact, however, are dispensational considerations relative to the theocratic state. While the OT surely cannot be used to forbid international benevolence by sovereign nations in the modern era, neither can we use Scripture to require it.
- The OT also speaks to the idea of caution in such situations, too, even approving of holistic ethical cleansing of persistently vicious people groups—including their women and infants (Deut 20:16–18, etc.). Part of the concern seems to be that the children of God’s enemies were likely to grow up to subvert the Jewish nation and scuttle its prevailing religion (Deut 7:1–5). This must of course be understood through a theocratic lens as well, however, and falls far short of a commendation of such action in the modern era. This consideration cannot, however, be wholly dismissed.
- Human governments have in every biblical era had as their foremost biblical obligation the bearing of the sword in the defense and policing of their own constituents (Gen 9:6; Rom 13:1–5), and cannot simply lower this sword in the face of suffering.
- Believers should have mixed sentiments about the current crisis. The situation is far too complex to resolve with hasty arguments ad baculum on the one hand or ad misericordiam on the other.
During two days in mid-October filled with preaching, teaching and fellowship, 175 people attended the 2015 Mid-America Conference on Preaching at Inter-City Baptist Church. The entire DBTS community and many guests enjoyed the ministry of four main session speakers:
- Dr. David Doran, pastor of Inter-City Baptist Church and president of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke about church revitalization and the need for churches to explore church planting.
- Dr. Steve Pettit, president of Bob Jones University, preached about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of God’s sovereignty.
- Mr. Jim Tillotson, president of Faith Baptist Bible College, shared ways to serve God joyfully in ministry.
- Dr. Lukus Counterman, a church planter in Salt Lake City, defined what successful ministry looks like.
“I feel like so much of what is happening today in church planting is this cheapened form of religious niche marketing,” said Counterman. “We’re the hipster, cyclist, vegetarian, reduce-your-carbon-footprint ministry. We’re the home school, old red hymnal, fundamentalist, culottes ministry for people transplanted from the South. Or we’re the contemporvant, creedal arts, ancient-modern, subtle-yet-out-there ministry for thirty somethings.”
MACP workshop topics ranged from the practical to the academic:
- Church planting in cities
- A critique of Wayne Grudem’s two levels of New Testament prophecy
- A survey of the life of Arminius
- Being a man of character
- Caring for missionaries
As always, MACP encouraged and refreshed us through the Word and fellowship. If you missed the conference, make your plans to attend next year!
We’ve been hearing a lot of warnings these last few years about the coming persecution of Christians. And a look around the globe reveals that public sentiment really is turning perceptibly against Christians—chiefly abroad, but with fresh harbingers here on American soil. Unfortunately, these warnings have fostered a troubling response among some well-meaning believers. Rather than making “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity,” because “this is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Tim 2:2–3), a rather sizable group of believers have begun, rather unquietly and unpeacefully, to incite persecution by saying and doing ungodly and undignified things. Which is to say they are doing something bad that displeases God.
The Starbucks Coffee Cup fiasco is just the latest in a whole string of these efforts by such Christians. Because Starbucks is no longer putting snowmen, Santa Claus, and Christmas ornaments on their coffee cups, it seems that some angry and belligerent fellow has posted a video tirade about the coffee shop’s participation in the “War against Christmas.” Now, to be fair, I’ve seen hardly any Christians join this cause, and for that I am grateful. Still, this season will see more than one frustrated blog post and Facebook blurb on this topic, and even a tense moment or two at the local department store between some “Christian” shopper and a clerk who, despite her weariness, cheerily says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Dear Christian, please do not do this! Note the following:
- It is not civil society’s responsibility to acknowledge Christmas, and you cannot force them to do so. Christianity has already tried this more than once and it did not turn out well. Remember what happened when Rome baptized not only their own armies but also the Gauls and Goths and company under duress? Bad move. If a store or a clerk or a gas station attendant doesn’t like Christmas, you can’t compel him to do so! It will only make him hate Christ more, and with good reason. Please stop. You are hurting the Gospel.
- What the world celebrates as Christmas has almost nothing to do with Christ. We’re much better off extracting Christ from what the world does. You do realize, don’t you, that when stores use Jesus and Christmas in their advertising it’s just a marketing ploy, right? Same with Santa Claus and decorated trees and sparkly snowflakes. I am rather relieved that stores are gradually weaning themselves off the use of Jesus as cheap advertising. Seeing Christ associated with this selfish rumpus has long been grotesque to me, and I’m rather happy to see it end. So if you are agitating to keep Christ in that expression of Christmas, please stop. You are hurting Christ.
- When Christians start demanding privileged status for their faith, then whine about being “persecuted” when they don’t get it, this radically emboldens the antipathy that secular culture already harbors toward us, and accelerates the onset of true persecution (which is why I’ve labeled the war for Christmas an expression of Christian masochism). In 1 Timothy 2, Paul calls on believers to pray for tolerance, not for privilege. Christians who agitate for Christian privilege through a militant defense of Christmas in civil society are not only wrong; they also exhaust every shred of accumulated sympathy that they might otherwise receive when real persecution finally arrives in America. Please stop. You are hurting the Church.
I fully sympathize with those who worry about the secularization of society. It is in a way sad to see Christmas go the way of prayer and Scripture in school or the way of the Decalogue on the front lawn of the local courthouse. But the privileging of all things Christian in civil society has never been a right, and has historically been something of a bane for the Church. The war we ought to wage is not an belligerent war for Christmas, but an earnest struggle for the souls of men, the furtherance of the Church, and the glory of Christ.
As an instructor in Systematic Theology I sometimes have conversations (whether formal or informal) over the merits of some point of theology or biblical application that end rather oddly with an appeal to “convictions.” The idea seems to be that if a person holds “personally” to some position or practice with less tenacity than he holds to an essential doctrine of the faith, and cannot provide adequate warrant for his position, then he can classify that point as a matter of “conviction” and honorably withdraw from a discussion without censure.
For instance, someone will ask a ministerial candidate in an ordination council to defend his position, say, on sign gifts or the extent of the atonement or drinking alcohol. The candidate will fail to make his case, but then add something like, “But it’s only a personal conviction of mine,” with the apparent expectation that the interrogator must withdraw his question: “Oh, that’s just a conviction? Well in that case, I’ll let it go. So sorry to have asked.”
The idea of “convictions” as a theological category rises, it seems, from the conflation of two key terms for “convict/convince” used in the NT Scriptures (there are other terms too, most notably πείθω/πιστόω—to persuade, but the two below seem to be our culprits):
- The most common and technical term for conviction (ἐλέγχω and its derivatives) appears 17 times in the NT (Matt 18:15; Luke 3:19; John 3:20; 8:46; 16:8; 1 Cor 14:24; Eph 5:11, 13; 1 Tim 5:20; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:15; Heb 12:5; Jas 2:9; Jude 15; Rev 3:19) and consistently means to convince someone of the objective truth of some claim or of the objective morality of some deed, usually in a negative sense (i.e., it communicates that a person has been convinced that he is wrong, and should change). The work of conviction is predicated of the Holy Spirit (esp. John 16:8, the locus classicus for the doctrine of conviction), but is usually mediated through another believer and/or the Christian Scriptures. But the idea is consistent: conviction, as communicated by this term, is an intensification of the objective, Christian warrant for some doctrinal or ethical reality.
- The second term for “conviction” that comes into play in our discussion derives from Paul’s puzzling use of the term πληροφορέω (which normally means to “fulfill”) in Romans 14:5. The context is one of believers who are “weak in faith,” and thus unwilling to believe what the Bible clearly teaches, viz., (1) that special holy days are no longer obligatory in view of the end of the Law, and (2) that eating meat is a wholesome activity in view of the highly publicized revelation received by the Apostle Peter in Acts 10:15. Paul pulls no punches in calling these believers “weak” and “faithless”; however, he also sees eating vegetables and observing holidays as innocuous of themselves and matters unworthy of schism. On this basis, he argues that each of his readers should be “fully convinced”(πληροφορείθω) in his own mind (v. 5) and act according to the dictates of his conscience—even, amazingly, if his conscience is demonstrably and objectively wrong (vv. 22–23).
Unfortunately, what Paul allows (and rather ambiguously) in this very narrow context has exploded into a whole separate category of theology: convictions. These elusive entities are somewhat hard to define, but usually carve out a shadowy existence between “doctrinal essentials” and “personal preferences.” They are non-essential beliefs and standards that I personally embrace and of which I have been personally convinced (1) by the Spirit (after all, he is the agent of conviction, so if I have a conviction it must be attributable to him) but (2) without sufficient warrant. As such, my “convictions” emerge as my own little block of personal truth (vis-à-vis public truth) comprised of things that matter a lot to me, but a defense for which is unnecessary and even impossible. And for this reason (harking back to my opening introduction), they are off limits in an ordination council.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognize that there are a great many “slots” into which one may insert doctrine and practice: essential doctrines/practices, important doctrines/practices, prudent doctrines/practices, disputed doctrines/practices, tentative doctrines/practices, dubious doctrines/practices, errant doctrines/practices, heretical doctrines/practices, blasphemous doctrines/practices, etc. Some are more defensible than others and some are more worthy of defense than others. We also have theological corollaries, theological applications, theological implications, theological principles, theological nuances, theological misgivings, theological concerns, theological hesitations, etc. But at the end of the day we have but two basic categories of Christian doctrine and practice: warranted Christian beliefs/practices and unwarranted Christian beliefs/practices. There is no valid tertium quid of “convictions” that get a free pass. This rogue set is unhelpful at best and more often a bit dangerous. It really has no meaningful place in theological discourse.