People frequently express their thoughts on the subject of love—whether in word, songs, or even in prayers. For example, last week, within which Valentine’s Day occurred, was filled with syrupy thoughts of love. Dionne Warwick sang about the need for love in a 1960s song written by Burt Bacharach entitled “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love.” The song’s lyrics went on to say, “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” This semester, Interim President D. Jeffrey Bingham has, on more than one occasion, concluded his closing prayers in chapel with the petition: “Lord, let us love one another.” The church of Jesus Christ could indeed use some “love”—love for one another—which in turn is very attractive to the world. Indeed, Christians are commanded to love one another (1 John 4:7–12). However, before we can know what it means to “love one another” as the Bible tells us, we need first to talk about love.
What is love? The word for “love” in 1 John 4:7–12 is agapē, one of several Greek words meaning “love.” Other words denoting “love” include philos, usually a loyal or fraternal love, love for family, friends, or those dear to us. Erōs (not in the New Testament) is an intimate, sensual type of love. Agapē is a godly type of love, referring to a volitional choice to meet the needs of others whether or not there is any reciprocation. Agapē love is distinguished by an unconditional attitude of love not necessarily related to feelings like pleasure or excitement, etc. That being the case, we can be commanded to love one another. Our feelings, however, cannot be commanded. No one can command you to be thrilled about something or someone—say, the New England Patriots—you either are or are not. However, our will or volition can be commanded because agapē love is an action, which explains how we can love the unlikeable and the unlovely in an agapē manner. We may not feel any emotional attraction toward others. Sometimes we may feel the opposite way. All of us can think of people with whom we perhaps cannot stand to be in the same room over the course of 30 seconds. But, we can “will” to meet their needs and “love” them by treating them as precious people for whom Christ died. Now, a feeling of fondness and attraction often develops when loving in this way, but this aspect is not particularly characteristic of agapē love. An illustration of this occurs in Ephesians 5:25, where Paul commanded husbands to “love” their wives (agapaō, the verb form of agapē). What did his command mean? In this case, the imperative “love” is further spelled out by the words “just as also Christ loved (agapaō) the church and gave Himself for her.” The agapē love command here is to love like Christ did. Jesus committed to do the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). His love, despite our sin, took action: He went to the cross on our behalf to die for our sins.
Couples having marriage difficulties will often say, “I just don’t love him/her anymore.” That expression reflects a misunderstanding of what it means to “love” someone. When airing such sentiments, people usually mean that they no longer feel any attraction or thrill for their spouse. However, they have altogether missed the point. A Christian is to “love” whether or not there is any emotional or physical attraction or response. You can still love in this sense: to want the very best for others regardless of their attitude toward you. Christians need to obey the Word of God, and if you love in the agapē sense, maybe the feelings will also eventually follow.
To be sure, true Christians love God and one another (1 John 4:7-12). The Apostle John emphasized the criterion of loving fellow believers as a necessary mark for assurance of genuine Christian profession (cf. 5:13). He commanded his readers to “love one another” because “love is from God” (4:7). That is to say, agapē love comes from God; He is the source of all true love.
John maintained that believers must love one another because this is God’s nature (4:8). Anyone who does not display this nature of love does not know God. The Greek construction of “God is love” (4:8b) makes love a description of God—not a definition. In other words, “love” is not all that God is. He is also holy, righteous, sovereign, etc.
Moreover, John urged his readers to love others because God demonstrated His love for them in the death of Christ (4:9–11). Believers can know that God loves them because He sent His Son to be the propitiatory sacrifice (hilasmos: “satisfaction”) for their sins (2:2). And because of that act of love, they ought also to love others.
Furthermore, John instructed his readers that if they loved each other, they would make the presence of God, whom no one can see, a visible reality to others (4:12). That is to say, when believers in Jesus love one another, it shows that God has indeed come to dwell in them, and that is how God’s love is being perfected, i.e., brought to its goal or proper end (4:12). When followers of Christ practice loving one another, it is evidence that God is at work in their lives because agapē love is God’s love fulfilling its ends and bearing fruit.
People talk a lot today about love, but unfortunately, much of it is superficial. We need to guard against such superficiality. Even a person outside of Christ can recognize phony love. I have visited many churches over the years. Several folks in those churches would describe themselves as a loving church, or as a church whose members love one another. If that’s indeed true, then that is laudable, because you are practicing what Scripture teaches! For love involves action, not just talk. If you really love folks in an agapē manner, you will not quit loving and caring for people the first time they displease you, because whether they please you is not the reason for your love. Remember that agapē love seeks to meet the needs of others and loves them without reciprocation. We love because Christ first loved us (cf. 4:10) despite our sin, quirks, and faults, and despite our displeasing Him. Know this: people are profoundly impressed whenever they meet a group of believers in Jesus who truly love one another and genuinely love them. This should come as no surprise, because Jesus said, “All people will know by this that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Lord, may it be so in our lives. Amen.
 This essay greatly reflects the excellent teaching on 1 John of my friend and former professor, William E. Bell, Jr. He loved his students, and we loved him.
 All Bible translations in this article are mine.
 In Greek, the word agapē does not occur with the definite article.
 The last four paragraphs were borrowed from a section written by me on 1 John in my co-authored book, Faithful to the End: An Introduction to Hebrews through Revelation, with J. Daryl Charles and Kendell Easley (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 194–95.
I am the father of four children ages 6 to 12. Children are an immense blessing from God (Psalm 127:3-5) and a sincere privilege to disciple (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). However, parenting my children is also a weighty responsibility, especially in light of the milieu of today’s culture. The past two months of news have led me to anger, grief, fright, and intense prayer, all at once. Here’s just a snapshot of what has confronted all of us recently:
- Abortion and Infanticide. In January, New York passed the Reproductive Health Act, allowing abortion up to birth, with standing ovation and thunderous applause and the One World Trade Center lit in pink. On the heel of this came Virginia’s House Bill 2491 that would have permitted third-trimester abortions. The abomination of abortion and infanticide continue to roll off the tongue easier and easier in society. We continue to sacrifice our children to our modern day Molech.
- Child Sexual Abuse. This week, the Houston Chronicle released a three-part series highlighting sexual abuse within churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, where children were among those abused. This sin of sexual abuse has been demonstrated in other religious denominations and secular organizations over the past few years as well. Beyond our home, the church should be the safest environment for our children, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ. However, this is not always so. The statistics of child sexual abuse are sobering—1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18.
- Child Pornography. Every week throughout the U.S., the news reports of individuals—teachers, coaches, ministry leaders, church members—arrested for viewing and possessing child pornography. In one study, 78 percent of images and videos assessed depicted children under 12 years old, and 63 percent were children under 8 years old. Child pornography is a form of sex exploitation that naturally leads to pedophilia and sexual abuse.
- Child Sex Trafficking. The border wall debate and Super Bowl LIII have reminded us of the ever-present specter of human sex trafficking, where up to 50 percent of the 40 million victims trafficked globally are children. Children are viewed as a commodity rather than as made in the image of the Creator. Roughly 50 children per day in the U.S. are reported to be taken. I imagine the unreported number is much higher. It’s real; it happens. My wife personally spoiled the attempted abduction of one of our children.
- Domestic Violence. We are surrounded by broken families, and children are exposed to or are victims of domestic violence. At the end of last month, a report was released stating an estimated 4.5 million to 15 million children a year are exposed to varying forms of physical violence in the home. How can children learn who God the Father is when earthly fathers are involved in domestic violence? How can children learn about the relationship between Christ and the church when parents are involved in domestic violence?
Has your heart been troubled of late as well? To be sure, society is losing its value for life and for children. Parents, 1 Peter 5:8 warns us to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert. [Our] adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” He wants to devour our children. Satan wants to pervert the image of God and destroy the family, the first institution created by God. You must be ever diligent in your responsibilities to “be on the alert.” Here are some brief suggestions:
- Pray. Pray for your children’s protection. This is a spiritual battle, and you need the Holy Spirit’s assistance. Pray for government leaders to make the correct laws and to uphold justice. Pray for our churches to make wise decisions. Pray for the countless victims.
- Prevent. Teach your children in age-appropriate manners that evil exists, and teach them how to be safe in the world and online. Implement appropriate behavior boundaries (e.g., “always stay in my line of sight at the mall,” etc.). The internet opens your up home to all that is in the fallen world. So, protect your digital devices using best practices, filters, and accountability so that predators cannot reach your children.
- Parent. Parent well and actively. Don’t assume anything—ask questions of the church, friends, neighbors, family, etc. so that you understand the environment your children are in. Ask your children questions and maintain lines of communication. You do not have to be a helicopter parent, but you do have to parent.
- Prepare. Be informed of the world around you. Are you aware of how many registered sex offenders live around you? Are you aware how your church vets Sunday School teachers and volunteers? Do you know what internet sites your children visit or what apps they use? Do you know where they are during activities?
- Proclaim. Proclaim the Gospel message. The Gospel alone can change the hearts of predators who would stalk our children. Be active in evangelism and discipleship to a dark and decaying world.
Heavenly Father, protect our children from the enemy and this fallen world. Help us as parents to “be of sober spirit, be on the alert” (1 Peter 5:8) and to raise our children so they increase “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Embolden us to proclaim the Gospel so that sexual abusers may repent and be transformed, and so that victims of sexual abuse may be renewed.
“If you were to die to today, where would you be?” No doubt those of us who have engaged in evangelism have asked this important question. Being saved from the punishment of hell and being reconciled to God are essential elements of the doctrine of salvation. There should be a desire in every believer to be reconciled with God. We can say with Paul that we “long to depart and be with Christ—which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). However, too often that is the only vision that we have; we do not hear Paul’s next thought, “but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” In our desire to be with God, have we forgotten the present context in which we live? Is our longing for heaven more of an escape from our present, sinful situations?
Too often our desire is for the hereafter (and sometimes not even on Jesus!), and it leaves us to have little concern for the present, temporal world around us. It is true that we should have a concern for the spiritual eternity of others in our world, but if there is to be an engagement with the present world, how do we do it? Many in church history and in our time have addressed this question; however, I would like to look briefly at an approach to this concern from the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Though many know Dietrich Bonhoeffer because of his involvement as a pastor in the resistance movement during World War II, he was a trained theologian and wrote on many topics, especially Christology, ecclesiology, and ethics. Toward the end of his life, he was working on a manuscript on the topic of ethics that has since been published in a variety of forms. In these writings, he takes up the concept of the present society in a variety of places, most famously his Mandates. He also speaks of it in terms of that which is reconciled and that which is not. We can think of this in terms of that which is perfect and that which is imperfect, or we can use his language of distinguishing (and relating) that which is ultimate and that which is penultimate.
The ultimate is that which is found in justification. It is the reconciliation found in Jesus Christ. In Bonhoeffer’s theology, Christ is the center of reality and thus helps define what is the ultimate. Paul’s longing to be with Christ is an example of seeking and finding this ultimate. The penultimate is that which comes before the ultimate. It is imperfect and in need of reconciliation.
Bonhoeffer points out to us that, too often, we separate these two ideas. There is the perfect realm with God and the imperfect realm apart from God. In seeing these things as separate, one can run into danger and misapply God’s will. In the context of the church, this is especially the case. Too often Christians and churches mistake their understanding of the ultimate so that there is a disdain of the penultimate, meaning that there is a desire for being with God while having a dislike of the world around us. Bonhoeffer highlights this through what he calls radicalism:
When evil becomes powerful in the world, it simultaneously injects the Christian with the poison of radicalism. Reconciliation with the world as it is, which is given to the Christian by Christ, is then called betrayal and denial of Christ. In its place come bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for human beings and the world. Love that believes all things, bears all things, and hopes all things, love that loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), becomes—by limiting love to the closed circle of the pious—a pharisaical refusal of love for the wicked.
In response to this, Bonhoeffer points to the centeredness of our reality in Jesus Christ, where the tension “between the ultimate and penultimate is resolved.” This is seen through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection wherein Christ comes as the ultimate to the penultimate to bring reconciliation of all. Bonhoeffer summarizes the type of Christianity that results from this understanding: “Christian life means being human in the power of Christ’s becoming human, being judged and pardoned in the power of the cross, living a new life in the power of the resurrection.” This type of Christianity is such that it is not merely biding the time until Christ returns, nor does it practice a mere evangelism that sees little use for the fallen, yet created, world around them. It is a Christianity that engages not only others with the Gospel that leads to salvation, but it also engages the present, temporal reality of the penultimate in which we live.
Though there is much more to glean from Bonhoeffer’s work on the ultimate and penultimate (and his entire Ethics for that matter), allow me to offer four beginning thoughts about how to better engage the imperfect world around us.
First, find your centeredness in Christ. There is no way to live as Christians apart from the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. Individually, we are united to Him, and He has given us His Spirit. Corporately, we exist as the church, with Christ as our head and the Spirit in our midst. To understand our reality apart from Christ is not only wrongheaded, but a path to destruction.
Second, live in repentance. This repentance is not a mere apology, an “I’m sorry for _____.” Too often these are forced and hollow. Repentance is an act that leads to change. It is a direction from where we are in the penultimate to Christ in the ultimate. It is the persistent activity of the Christian, individually, and the church and churches, collectively, to orient themselves back to the centeredness in Christ. It can be humbling and even humiliating, but from here, healing occurs.
Third, preach the Gospel. The affirmation that we need to be concerned about the present, material world around us does not mean that we are moving toward a lessening of the Gospel and our evangelism. Too often we have an either/or mentality. Having a concern for the needs in the present is not mutually exclusive from having a concern for a person’s ultimate end. If we are living out from the center of Christ, we will be proclaiming His message, which is Himself and results in salvation.
Finally, take care of others. As the previous point makes, evangelism and concerns for the present, material world are not at odds with one another. We can do both. We should do both. As we received grace when we were low and destitute and in need, so we take care of others who are low and destitute and in need. This kindness bestowed upon us is not merely spiritual. We are not gnostic Christians. We should have a concern for all of creation. Bonhoeffer further states, “It would be blasphemy against God and our neighbor to leave the hungry unfed while saying that God is closest to those in deepest need. We break bread with the hungry and share our home with them for the sake of Christ’s love, which belongs to the hungry as much as it does to us.”
 The volume I will be engaging is from the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works in English, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005).
 Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 155-56.
 Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 157.
 Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 159.
After His resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ gave His last instructions for the expansion of the Gospel:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The task of evangelizing and discipling all of the ethnic groups (in Greek panta ta ethne) is very clear in the command of the resurrected Christ. We also see here the task of teaching the believers all the things that Jesus taught His disciples. In the book of Acts, we find that the disciples took very seriously what Jesus had commanded: “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (2:42).
As we study the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we find out that he also took very seriously the training of leaders for the work of the ministry. To Timothy, whom he personally trained, Paul gave instructions on how he, in turn, should train others:
You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary takes the Great Commission very seriously. In all of its classes (especially the missions, evangelism and discipleship classes) and in chapel, the task of making disciples is continuously emphasized. Every week, under the direction of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, groups of students go out to evangelize in homes, shopping centers and universities that surround the seminary.
One of the ways in which Southwestern Seminary is addressing the “ta ethne” dimension of the Great Commission is by making extraordinary efforts to train leaders to reach the Hispanic population in this country. To accomplish this, Southwestern Seminary has designed a Master in Theological Studies degree that is totally in Spanish, totally online and astonishingly affordable. This degree plan, which consists of 12 courses of 3 credit hours each, provides biblical and theological instruction that sets a solid foundation for ministry. The response has been so enthusiastic that today there are more than 400 Spanish-speaking students enrolled.
The U.S. Hispanic population continues to grow rapidly every year. In 1970, there were 9.6 million Hispanics in this country. In 2017, the number of Hispanics surpassed 58 million. The projections are that by 2050 there will be 128 million Hispanics, which will be a third of the population of this country. A very encouraging fact is that the Hispanic population in the U.S. is responding more favorably to the Gospel message than at any other time in the history of this country. Today, close to 25 percent of Hispanic Americans identify themselves as Protestant/Evangelical. With regard to Hispanics, we can truly say that “the fields are ripe unto the harvest.”
In light of the explosive growth of the Hispanic population and their unprecedented response to the Gospel, it is truly encouraging that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is taking extraordinary measures to train the largest number of Spanish-speaking persons possible to provide the leadership that is so desperately needed in the Hispanic churches and ministries.
For information on Southwestern’s Spanish-language courses, visit swbts.edu/espanol or call 817-923-1921, ext. 2700.
In the wake of Nobel laureate James Watson’s public scrutiny over his comment about IQ, I wondered what the big commotion was about. He discovered the double helix of the DNA, and at 90 years of age, he was reporting the findings of IQ studies. In the end, it was Watson’s reference to race and IQ that kindled the public’s ire and judgment on him. Never mind the science or history behind it.
IQ has been used to determine people’s ability and aptitude for adapting. I had an interesting run-in with IQ in junior high. I was in the seventh grade when I went to see my counselor in hopes of taking gifted and talented classes. She told me that I first had to take a test. OK, sure. The results came in, and she gave me the news: I was neither gifted nor talented.
I was at a loss. I wrote a letter to my elementary school teacher back in California (I was in Texas at the time). She wrote back telling me that she went through my records and it was true: I did not qualify for the gifted and talented program there either. Schools in both Texas and California were unanimous in their assessment of me at the age of 11. My father wasn’t around—he had passed away that year. My mother wasn’t fluent in English. So, so much for helicopter parents. I was on my own. Not gifted. Not talented.
My future was caving in on me. My limitations were in plain sight. The news was devastating, but in retrospect, it was the best news that I could have received. Nothing was a given for me. I didn’t have the natural gifting for schooling, but I was still there, and I remember loving my time in school. I stayed after frequently to talk to my teachers—to pick their brains. Thinking back, I didn’t know how selfless my teachers were in giving up time with their families to talk to me. My underachieving IQ score didn’t seal my fate; it only made me hungrier with an appetite to learn.
We live in a world that wants to determine people’s worth through gifting and usefulness. Churches make the mistake of assessing the quality of people by what they can bring to the table—or the offering plate. It’s almost as if there’s an SQ (spiritual quotient) test that can be administered to evaluate people’s value to ministry. There is not. Certainly not for increasing numbers, attracting more talent, or stimulating spiritual growth.
I’m keen on reminding students that I do not measure their worth by how they do in my class. If anything, I don’t remember test scores, though I will remember what they wrote in their papers from time to time. I tell them God has shown me repeatedly that He can use anyone—regardless of their capacity, regardless of who they are or what they’ve faced. Everyone is a wild card.
Why? Because the Apostle Paul saw his inadequacy in himself firsthand. He faced the intimidating congregation in Corinth. He wrote to them telling them that he did not come with lofty words or wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1). He came in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling (2:2). He reminds them of where many of them came from. Not wise. Not powerful. Not from noble birth. But the beauty of what God has done to redeem His people is evident in His power:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29, emphasis added).
Over the course of my life, I may have picked up a few fancy degrees that offer a redemptive narrative of some sort. In my mind, I’m still the same kid who was told nothing will come natural to me. No innate gifting. Not special. As my IQ score revealed, I am the embodiment of the foolishness that Paul describes. I have not shamed the wise or the strong (at least to my knowledge), but I’m sure that I can only boast in what Christ has done. He is still redeeming the lost. He is still raising up pastors who heed the call and humbly lead his church.
God is still equipping leaders today. The work continues as He masterfully engineers the character of men and women to reach the lost and minister to the broken. Not with metrics. Not with fancy strategies or fanciful thinking. But with His wisdom, He reaches beyond all understanding and into the hearts that yearn for more in this world.
Join me in this labor to advance His Kingdom. Let us boast in His work. Let us boast that we know Him:
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, emphasis added).
And so we strive. He is still working in our midst.
The image of God is a discussion that has gathered some attention in recent days. Christians should be thankful for this renewed discussion. Conversations surrounding the doctrine of the image of God have furthered appreciation for the sanctity of life, the dignity of all of humanity, and the responsibility to be an advocate on behalf of the oppressed.
Genesis 1:26-27 presents humanity as being created in God’s image, and thereby being the pinnacle of God’s creation. Though there are varying opinions regarding the doctrine of the image of God, we should at least agree that the divine image gives every person value.
Sin marred the image of God in humanity, but it did not destroy the image of God. God acted through Christ to redeem and restore those created in His image.
Though humanity is created in the image of God, Jesus Himself is said to be the image of God.
In Colossians 1:15, Jesus is introduced as the image of God and is shown to be the One who redeems us (vv. 13-14), the One who rules over creation (vv. 15-20), and the One who reconciles us to God (vv. 21-23).
Christ, the image of God, is presented as both the Creator (v. 16) and the Re-creator of believers into Christ’s own image. In other words, hope is given as people are reconciled through Christ, who renews us to a true knowledge according to His own image (Colossians 3:9-11).
With that brief discussion, I would like to offer three applications of how the divine image of God should affect our Christian conduct as we are being renewed according to His image. In sum, the doctrine of the image of God has implications evangelistically, socially, and eschatologically.
First, knowing Christ as the image of God should strengthen our public witness. Christians should understand that the only way for the image of God to be restored is through the transforming power of the Spirit of Christ. By God’s design, Christian witness is an irreducible link between the One who is God’s image and the ones who need to be restored into God’s image. Our conduct is critical no matter the medium through which our witness is presented.
The social media explosion has provided great opportunity for witness while simultaneously presenting temptations that would destroy our witness. Social outrage has become such a phenomenon that a quick search of the Chronicles of Higher Education returns almost 900 articles written on outrage through social media as it relates to higher education.
James 3:9 appeals to the people of God to be careful that their speech not “curse men who have been made in the likeness of God.” There are certainly times when anger may be the appropriate response to situations of injustice. However, diminishing the value of another person through treating them in an unseemly manner on social media is harmful to our witness of Christ’s work.
In a world that is overwhelmed with outrage, it should be Christians who come to the forefront as voices of reason, pointing others toward the dignity of humanity that is presented through God’s act in creation and Christ’s work in His incarnation.
Outrage tends to deafen the ears of our audience. We should be mindful that any indignation comes from a Christlike mindset that desires the restoration of the image of God within ourselves and within those around us. Otherwise, our witness will be drowned in a sea of un-Christlike anger.
Second, recognizing the image of God should encourage social responsibility. Jesus—the perfect image of God—acted on behalf of those who were created in God’s image. His primary action was to provide for their salvation, yet He also showed concern for their current situations of life. Carl Henry demonstrates that we can still prioritize evangelism and proclamation without sacrificing social concern. Indeed, social concern provides various avenues for evangelism.
Concern for the pre-born, the elderly, the opposite gender, or the immigrant should not be based primarily upon economics or politics (though these are important) but upon recognizing the dignity of every human life and seeking to alleviate their suffering with the hope that we might point them to Christ.
Jesus said that when we contribute to those who are in need, it is as if we are doing the same for Him (Matthew 25:40). He elsewhere states that He has come to be the fulfillment of the prophetic promise to preach the Gospel to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and set free those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). Jesus cared for the oppressed because they, too, are made in God’s image. There is certainly an eschatological thrust to His words, but is there not also a compassion for those who are presently suffering?
Finally, the doctrine of the image of God should deepen our eschatological hope. There is a forward-looking hope that uniquely belongs to those who have been reconciled to Christ through faith. Our hope is not limited to a new dwelling place but also to a renewal; the renewal of bearing God’s image—“We will be like him, because we will see him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Until that time, the commission given to the Christian is to invite everyone to come and receive the hope and forgiveness provided through Christ. As Christians, the integrity of our witness is inseparable from our public conduct and our concern for those who are broken.
Those who are created in God’s image matter to Jesus. They should matter to us, too.
 Jerry M. Ireland, Evangelism and Social Concern in the Theology of Carl F.H. Henry (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015), 5.
Corporate worship is one of the fundamental purposes and actions of the church. Unfortunately, that which should unite us together in praise of the triune God often serves as a wedge to divide the people of God across fault lines of age, socioeconomic status, and personal preference. We often make decisions concerning the various aspects of corporate worship without searching the Scriptures to determine the priorities that God places on this central action of His body.
In His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus emphasizes the divine priority of worship when He utters the incredible statement, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). Here, Jesus describes authentic worship as that which is offered to the Father in spirit and in truth. Astoundingly, the Father is searching for those who will offer Him this type of worship. We must continually evaluate and adjust our worship practices in light of these Scriptural mandates.
Throughout his letters to the churches in Asia Minor, Paul continues to unpack the meaning of Christian worship. In the Epistle to the Romans, he locates the fundamental problem of humanity in its false worship whereby “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). He spends considerable time correcting faulty worship attitudes and practices throughout 1 Corinthians. It is the twin Pauline passages found in Colossians and Ephesians that speak of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” that provide us the best vantage point from which to examine the Pauline understanding of biblical worship through song.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:16-17).
This passage demonstrates that the Word of Christ—the truth of the Gospel about Christ—should indwell the music of the church. This means that the Gospel should permeate the lyrical content of what we sing together as believers. In the School of Church Music at Southwestern Seminary, we train men and women who will serve God in a variety of capacities, with many of them serving as worship and music leaders in their churches. One of the priorities that we emphasize countless times is the pastoral responsibility they bear as they place the Word of God on the lips of the people of God.
Music possesses tremendous power to guide the thoughts and affections of those who listen and, more importantly, actively participate. Singing the truth of the Word of God drives these doctrines deep into the minds and hearts of the congregation. It is necessary and beneficial for the people of God to express their love, devotion, and need for God, but often the music of the church can lack the revealed truth of the Bible. Just as we urge preachers to “let the Word speak,” so also must we “let the Word sing”!
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21).
This parallel passage in Ephesians similarly emphasizes singing to the Lord with thankfulness, but the prominence shifts from the work of Christ to that of the Spirit. Here, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit as we address each other and sing to the Lord. Paul concludes by instructing believers to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. These dual mandates teach us a powerful truth: Worship is corporate in nature, and the Spirit uses our times of worship to shape us into the image of Christ.
Corporate worship is not just a collection of individuals who happen to be worshiping God in the same room. When we lift up our voices to praise the Lord together, we are united in spirit and in faith. In fact, corporate times of singing are the only times when we are all doing the same thing at the same time. The Spirit of God uses these experiences to mold us into the body of Christ, where we set aside our stylistic preferences for the good of the body and the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Sing praise to the Lord, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name (Psalm 30:4).
Let the Word of God be on our lips as we sing praises to Him, and let the Spirit move among us as He becomes more and more the object of our worship!
For years, I’ve heard of the joys of pilgrimaging to the holy land, but I had no opportunity to visit until now. Joining a large group from Prestonwood Baptist Church led by Pastors Jack Graham and Jarrett Stephens, we crisscrossed our way through the Promised Land to various biblical sites, including Caesarea, Capernaum, Jericho, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, and, of course, Jerusalem. Walking these sites did much more than satisfy my love for history; it was a spiritual experience that stirred in me a love for pilgrimage.
In its simplest form, pilgrimage is “voyaging to see and pray at a specific holy place,” and there is a long history of this practice. In Genesis, God calls Abraham to journey to a new land (Genesis 12:1) and then, years later, uses Moses to lead the Hebrews out of exile to the same place. When he delivers the Law, Moses stipulates that the nation should pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year for religious festivals (Deuteronomy 16:6). As they traveled, they sang the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134), and it’s not hard to imagine their emotions as they approached the temple singing, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem…”(Psalm 122:1-2).
In the New Testament, we see pilgrimage in the journey of the magi who come to visit the newborn king. Then, at the age of 12, Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, pilgrimages to the temple for the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-42). After the Lord’s resurrection, we also find the Ethiopian eunuch traveling to Jerusalem, where he meets Philip and discovers the true identity of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. These stories illustrate the reality that all Christians are “sojourners and exiles” journeying toward the Kingdom that is to come (1 Peter 2:11).
In the early church, pilgrimage to holy sites dramatically increased. Origen and Eusebius, for example, resided in Caesarea, and Eusebius boasts that Origen’s knowledge of Scripture was supported by visits to important biblical sites. It was the Christianization of the empire under Emperor Constantine, however, that truly paved the way for the expansion of pilgrimage.
Not everyone was impressed with the developing culture of pilgrimage. Gregory of Nyssa warned against it because of the dangers in traveling to these sites. Egeria, a fourth-century nun, lamented that many sites were “being touted, with dubious historicity, by local monks who already witnessed to the ‘tourist trade’ element of pilgrimage.” These criticisms were recycled by the Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther, who in his Address to the Nobility of the German Nation condemned the abusive practices, saying, “All pilgrimages should be done away with. For there is no good in them, no commandment, but countless causes of sin and of contempt of God’s commandments.”
While many shared Luther’s feelings, others found the concept of pilgrimage helpful, the most famous being John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress. Like Bunyan, Christians from Anabaptists to Puritans continued to draw on the theme of pilgrimage as they imagined the Christian life as a progressive journey of sanctification toward the Kingdom of God.
With its biblical examples and spiritual allure, it seems that Christians cannot escape the attraction to pilgrimage. For all its problems, pilgrimage is deeply rooted in the evangelical yearning for relationship and communion with God. It offers a form of spiritual discipline that educates and edifies the faith of the believer.
After returning home and reflecting on my own travels, I see many benefits in Christian pilgrimage. First, pilgrimage undoubtedly sheds new insights into the events of Scripture and Christian history. It reminds us that Christians are decidedly anti-Gnostic and devoted to the work God accomplished in time and space. To stand in a synagogue in Magdala, where Christ most likely taught, or to stroll among ruined walls of the temple in Jerusalem, where Christ certainly walked, is a staggering reminder of the wonder of the incarnation. These stones, fields, seas, and rivers heard His voice and bowed to His miraculous works.
Second, pilgrimage sets aside concentrated time to reflect on the work of the Lord for spiritual renewal. Pilgrimage is a form of spiritual discipline that nurtures prayer and contemplation. Just as the Lord “would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16), so does pilgrimage offer a kind of retreat from the daily routines and troubles of life. As I walked the seaside where that the Lord restored Peter in John 21 or gazed out over the Judean wilderness where the Lord was likely tempted, I found myself praying, reading Scripture, and remembering the His works.
Finally, pilgrimage, especially with a group of fellow Christians, generates a deep sense of Christian community and fellowship. As we traveled, we joined together with so many Christians over the centuries to celebrate the works of God. I will never forget gathering in the fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem, where the shepherds heard the angelic voices, and joining in a chorus of Christians singing together, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
While pilgrimage has a rather checkered history, the allure of journeying to holy sites continues to edify the Christian pilgrim. Few if any in our group from Prestonwood left Israel unmoved by what they experienced, and I can only hope that many more will have the opportunity to share in the joys of Christian pilgrimage. When they do, my prayer, following the sentiments of N.T. Wright, is “that they may make the right use of their time journeying: to learn new things, yes, to pray new prayers, yes, but most of all to take fresh steps along the road of discipleship that leads from the earthly city to the city that is to come, whose builder and maker is God.”
 John A. McGuckin, “Pilgrimage,” in the Westminster Handbook of Patristic Theology, 274.
 John Gatta, “Toward a Theology of Pilgrimage,” Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University, 2016, accessed at: https://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/270260.pdf.
 For a similar discussion of the benefits of pilgrimage, see N.T. Wright, The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today, Eerdmans, 2014; or Ted Olsen, “He Talked to Us on the Road: The Surprising Rewards of Christian Travel,” April 3, 2009, accessed at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/april/15.23.html.
 N.T. Wright, The Way of the Lord, 11.
Are you up for an adventure?
It’s not like seeing the Grand Canyon, nor is it like going to an acclaimed restaurant for the first time. This is an adventure of the soul.
You can venture into it wherever you may be. It’s an adventure into the supernatural, into wholesomeness.
If it knocks your socks off, so to speak, it likely will be in a tender, quiet way. This adventure takes place in your mind and heart and in Scripture.
It begins when you pick a passage from the Good Book, as they call it, whether one verse or several, and read it from time to time, perhaps daily or whenever you have a moment. Start with the first phrase or sentence. In a few days, or longer (there’s no hurry), you may be able to repeat it in your heart. Then add the next phrase, then the next until the passage begins to become part of your consciousness.
As the adventure unfolds, you may notice a word, or a few words, or a thought in the passage that begins to affect your life and connect you to the heavenly Father. As you become intimately familiar with the words of the passage, the Holy Spirit may begin to use it to enhance your thoughts, your relationships, your endeavors.
Sometime later, you may gain another revelation or two from the passage. You may sense that it is helping to undergird your life, as if helping you to stay afloat amid the flow of your daily experiences.
You may be stirred to repeat this adventure with another passage, then another, perhaps on different topics such as prayer, your integrity as a person, your hurts and struggles, the quality of your friendships, your readiness to help others.
At some point, whether early on or later in the journey, you may be stirred to know how all this relates to God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, how faith is a core dynamic in human well-being.
Far different than the Grand Canyon or an extraordinary meal, this adventure can be continuous, transforming you into a precious child of God, a tender soul always ready to venture into new revelations of divine, eternal significance.
Como los cristianos confunden el tema de la heterosexualidad (What Christians Get Wrong about Heterosexuality)
Preston Sprinkle republicó un ensayo de 2017 por Greg Coles: “You don’t need to pray that God makes me straight” (“No hay que rogar a Dios que me haga heterosexual”). Salió recientemente en el Center for Faith, Spirituality, and Gender. Coles rechaza fuertemente la idea de la heterosexualidad.
El mensaje de Coles se une a un grupo grandísimo de libros y coloquios que animan los cristianos para involucrarlos en los asuntos LGBT. Se supone que deben compartir “la verdad en amor.” Hay líderes destacados de este movimiento con vínculos en instituciones cristianas. Por ejemplo Mark Yarhouse es catedrático en Regent University.
El Center de Sprinkles se parece a Love Boldly, Faith in America, Reformation Project, Revoice, Spiritual Friendship, New Ways Ministry, y LivingOut. También hay los Metropolitan Community Churches. Hay gente famosa que colabora con ellos, como Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, Karen Swallow Prior, Wesley Hill, y Sam Allberry.
Estos grupos quieren hacer puentes entre dos perspectivas opuestas. Una adapta la exégesis bíblica a la cultura posmoderna. Cuando toma en cuenta la cultura homosexual de hoy, dicha perspectiva apoya la identidad, el deseo, o hasta los actos homosexuales (lea aquí para estudiar “Lado A” versus “Lado B”.)
La otra perspectiva distingue las culturas de hoy valorizándolas por la autoridad de la Biblia. Siguiendo lo que dice la Biblia, considera pecados las identidades, los deseos, y los actos actuales homosexuales (aquí hay un argumento que relaciona los movimientos sexuales posmodernos con la historia bíblica de Sodoma.)
Coles dice que son parecidas la heterosexualidad y la homosexualidad porque las dos son igualmente rotas y llenas de pecado. Él declara, “gay o straight, somos todos vulnerables a los comportamientos lujuriosos.” Él presenta una decisión entre dos opciones distintas:
- rechazar toda la sexualidad porque toda es igualmente pecaminosa, o
- ofrecer la misma gracia a todos deseos sexuales.
La primera opción les negaría a los cristianos los placeres y la procreación de sexualidad normal. Esto es imposible y no es conforme a lo que manda Jesús (Él glorifica las relaciones íntimas entre hembras y hombres dentro del matrimonio en San Mateo 19:4-12 y en San Marcos 10:6-12.) Les lectores se obligarán a escoger la segunda opción.
Entones la gracia a toda sexualidad se convierte de facto en apoyar el deseo homosexual. Esto es retórico pero no es bíblico.
Si se borran las diferencias entre la heterosexualidad y la homosexualidad, se fortalecen varias creencias pro-LGBT:
- Los deseos son “normales,”
- Los deseos hacen una “identidad,” y
- Es “discriminación” esperar que los homosexuales superen sus deseos, si no esperamos lo mismo con respecto a los heterosexuales.
Aceptadas estas creencias, es muy difícil seguir una ética casta, hasta si tenemos los motivos más puros. Estudien el caso de Julie Rodgers en Wheaton College.
Mientras tanto, los contextos católicos y seculares, homosexuales y heterosexuales, todos dan razones a los evangélicos para tener muchísimo cuidado con esta retórica. La iglesia católica sufre consecuencias catastróficas debidas a los abusos sexuales por sacerdotes. Entre estos ochenta y cinco porciento ocurrieron entre el mismo sexo. También el movimiento MeToo enfocó abusos heterosexuales causados por la pérdida de fronteras sexuales. Los límites ciertos importan. Sin embargo el movimiento para “verdad en amor” se hace siempre más popular.
¿Qué está pasando? En vez de analizar todas las reacciones cristianas a la homosexualidad, uno puede encontrar más ilustración si uno estudia porqué los evangélicos no entienden muy bien la heterosexualidad.
Fui redactor del libro Jephthah’s Daughters (2015). Se incluyó en él un capítulo mío titulado “Problema de Mujeres.” En Norteamérica, muchas veces la fobia del sexo produce un miedo varonil de mujeres y un miedo femenino de hombres. Entonces los hombres evitan las mujeres y las mujeres evitan los hombres. El resultado es una cultura que separa los sexos uno del otro. Nathaniel Hawthorne no inventó por nada sus historias del temor que los puritanos sentían acerca de la sexualidad. De “Rip van Winkle” a Walden, se encuentra una historia muy larga de norteamericanos que huyen de la heterosexualidad doméstica (también investigo este enigma en varios capítulos de Colorful Conservative.)
¿Coles presenta una nueva idea? De verdad tiene siglos. Él y la mayoría de los demás en este movimiento empiezan con una idea equivocada. El gran desafío para los cristianos de hoy no es “¿cómo reaccionamos a la homosexualidad?” sino “¿cómo cultivamos una heterosexualidad bíblica?”
En Génesis 1-2 Dios diseña los machos y las hembras para que acompañen y beneficien uno a otra (y una a otro) por medio del acto sexual. El quinto mandamiento en Éxodo 20:12 presenta “madre” y “padres”—papeles relacionados al acto sexual y a la procreación—como personas que se deben respetar igualmente, para que la “tierra” entera encuentre prosperidad. Rechazar un sexo es rechazar el diseño de Dios en la escritura.
Dios no creó orientaciones sexuales. Él creó sexos. Dios dio a cada sexo un cuerpo capaz de regalar placer físico e hijos al otro sexo. Todos son heterosexuales porque todos nacen en cuerpos de hombre o mujer. Esta verdad no cambia hasta si uno tiene sentimientos muy difíciles contra los cuales uno debe luchar. La homosexualidad no tiene nada que ver con la heterosexualidad y la primera no equivale a la segunda.
Hay gente que sienten deseos poderosos hacia el mismo sexo. Así narra Greg Coles en su ensayo. Pero no cambia la verdad que ya son heterosexuales porque Dios los creó así, así que la Biblia nos cuenta. Los hombres en tal situación tienen que dejar de analizarse a sí mismos para adivinar si pueden hacerse straight—basta ya con aquel debate muy cansado. Necesitan maestros que pueden ayudarlos a invitar muchachas para ver si pueden casarse con una.
Los ministerios deben ayudar la gente a prepararse mentalmente, físicamente, y espiritualmente para el noviazgo deliberado del otro sexo. Coles relata sus propios fracasos cuando no pudo sentir deseo al ver imágenes pornográficas de mujeres desconocidas. Allí él pierde su hilo. Dios creó el cuerpo de este hombre para que sea atractivo a una mujer. Entonces Greg Coles tiene un regalo que debe compartir. Los ministerios deben animar los cristianos a utilizar sus anatomías dadas por Dios. Su anatomía sexual les otorga un talento que se debe compartir según su diseño, no negárselo al otro sexo.
Hemos gastado demasiado tiempo enfocando la cuestión de si el cristianismo prohíbe la homosexualidad o no. En 2019, necesitamos un nuevo discurso sobre una heterosexualidad:
- que sea un bien inherente, si no se abuse,
- que sea incomparable a la homosexualidad, y
- que sea la meta de cualquier ministerio para los cristianos identificados como LGBT.
Los hombres y las mujeres—de hecho todos humanos—tienen los derechos y las obligaciones iguales a estar en tal discurso. Todos deben dejar de decir “la heterosexualidad no es santidad.” Ese refrán es incierto y engañoso. Es un non sequitur. Dios nos diseñó. Su diseño para nosotros es sagrado. Su diseño para nosotros es heterosexual. Hasta un celibato tiene que reconocer la belleza y valor intrínseco del otro sexo. Nadie puede vivir su vida creyendo que el otro sexo no merezca cariño y gozo.
A los que son como Greg Coles, permítanme decirles, “dejen de pensar en la homosexualidad y sean machos como Dios los creó!” Si vuelven sus pensamientos a la oscuridad, oren y llenen sus mentes y corazones del Espíritu Santo.
Preston Sprinkle republished a 2017 essay by Greg Coles: “You don’t need to pray that God makes me straight” at the Center for Faith, Spirituality, and Gender. Coles boldly rejects the idea of heterosexuality.
Coles’s message joins an enormous genre of books and conferences exhorting Christians to engage LGBT issues by speaking the “truth in love.” Key players in the discussion hail from Christian institutions, most notably Mark Yarhouse of Regent University.
Sprinkle’s Center resembles Love Boldly, Faith in America, the Reformation Project, Revoice, Spiritual Friendship, New Ways Ministry, and LivingOut, not to mention the Metropolitan Community Churches. They partner often with Christians like Jackie Hill Perry, Rosaria Butterfield, Karen Swallow Prior, Wesley Hill, and Sam Allberry.
These groups aim to bridge clashing worldviews. One worldview adapts Biblical exegesis to postmodern culture. In noting homosexual culture today, this worldview condones homosexual identity, homosexual desire, or even sodomy itself (see here for “Side A” versus “Side B”.)
The other discerns today’s cultures according to the Bible. Based on what the Bible says, it deems today’s homosexual identity, desire, and intercourse wrong (see here for an argument linking postmodern sexual movements to the Sodom story.)
Coles equates heterosexuality and homosexuality as equally broken and sinful, stating, “Gay or straight, we are all drawn to lustful behaviors.” He offers an either/or choice:
- reject all sex as equally sinful or
- offer the same grace to all sexual inclinations.
The first would deny Christians the pleasures and procreation of normal sex. Since this is impossible and conflicts with Jesus (who glorifies male-female intimacy within marriage in Matthew 19:4-12 and in Mark 10:6-12), readers must choose #2.
Consequently equal grace to all sexuality becomes a de facto endorsement of homosexual desire. This is rhetorical but not Biblical.
The leveling between heterosexuality and homosexuality reinforces LGBT tenets:
- the desires are “normal,”
- the desires form an “identity,” and
- it is “bigoted” to ask that homosexuals repudiate their desires if we do not ask heterosexuals to abandon theirs.
These tenets make it difficult to uphold chastity, even with the best intentions. Study the case of Julie Rodgers at Wheaton College.
Catholic and secular, homosexual and heterosexual contexts all provide grounds for evangelicals to approach such reasoning with caution. The Catholic Church faces catastrophic fallout over sex abuse by clergy, of which 85% was same-sex. A MeToo movement spotlighted heterosexual abuses resulting from the loss of sexual boundaries. Clear limits matter. Yet the “truth in love” movement grows in appeal.
So what’s going on? Rather than scan the Christian responses to homosexuality, one can gain greater insight by examining evangelicals’ failure to understand heterosexuality.
In Jephthah’s Daughters (2015), I included a chapter called “Problem of Women.” In America, fear of sex has often led to a male fear of women and a female fear of men. In response, men avoid women and women avoid men through social arrangements that become sex-segregated. Nathaniel Hawthorne did not construct the Puritans’ fear of sexuality from nothing. From “Rip van Winkle” to Walden, one finds a long history of Americans dreading heterosexual domesticity (I explore this conundrum at length in The Colorful Conservative as well.)
While Coles appears to present a new idea it is actually old. His starting premise, like the premise of most others in this movement, errs: the major challenge facing Christians is not how to respond to homosexuality, but rather how to cultivate a Biblical heterosexuality.
In Genesis 1-2 God designs males and females to fulfill each other through sexual intercourse. The fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12 places “mother” and “father”—roles based on intercourse and procreation—as figures whose respect bestows flourishing on “the land.” Rejecting one sex goes against God’s design in scripture.
God did not create sexual orientations. He created sexes. God gave each sex a body equipped to provide physical pleasure and children to the other sex. Everybody is heterosexual because everyone is either male or female, regardless of what feelings they may grapple with. Homosexuality has nothing to do with heterosexuality and cannot be cast as its corollary.
Some people feel powerful same-sex desires, as Greg Coles narrates in his column. This does not change the fact that they are heterosexual already, because God made them that way, as the Bible tells us. Men in his situation need to stop self-analyzing to see if they can become straight—that is a moot point. They need coaching to help them date marriageable women.
Ministries should help people prepare themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually for deliberate courtship of the opposite sex. Coles relates his own failures to feel desire at random images of women. That misses the point. God created his body to be desirable for a woman, so he has a gift to share. Ministries should encourage Christians to use their God-given anatomies. Their sexed anatomy grants them a pleasurable talent to be shared according to its purpose rather than denied the opposite sex.
The focus on whether Christianity forbids homosexuality has taken too much energy. For 2019, we need to begin a new discussion of heterosexuality as:
- a good in itself, provided that it is not abused,
- incomparable to homosexuality, and
- the necessary end of any ministry for Christians who identify as LGBT.
Males and females—indeed all humans—have equal right and duty to engage in such discussion. People should stop saying “heterosexuality is not holiness.” That statement is vague and misleading, a non-sequitur. God’s design for us is holy and His design is heterosexual. Even a celibate person has to acknowledge the beauty and intrinsic value of the opposite sex. Nobody can live life believing that the opposite sex does not deserve affection and pleasure.
To people like Greg Coles, I can only say, stop thinking about homosexuality and apply your male body to its God-given purpose. If your thoughts go back to dark places, pray and fill your mind and heart with the Holy Spirit.
Our youngest daughter has been longing for a certain Christmas gift for weeks. She placed it on every Christmas list she prepared. She told everyone that she wanted a particular doll for Christmas, but somewhere along the way, she got the idea that she would not get it. Her second grade teacher told my wife the other day that our daughter thought we didn’t take her request seriously. All the while, this doll had been hidden away for weeks in anticipation of Christmas.
Since we travel to visit family every Christmas, we celebrate a few days early with just our family of six. All throughout the day, our youngest daughter talked about the doll and how much she wanted to get it for Christmas. My wife and I would occasionally catch each other’s eye and smile. Finally, the time came for our annual family Christmas celebration. After dinner, we distributed gifts and directed each child which gift to open first. Although she was excited to open her first couple of gifts, our daughter kept asking about the doll. Finally, we told her to open her last gift, and there it was. The sheer joy and excitement on her face was indescribable!
Our daughter had spent weeks hoping for one present. Most of her conversations revolved around the possibility of receiving this gift for Christmas. Once she received it, she continued to talk about it. But now she talks about this gift in different terms. She wants everyone to see the doll. She wants everyone to know that she got the doll for Christmas. She wants everyone to enjoy her doll as much as she does.
Is this not how we should feel about the greatest gift ever given? Should we not find great joy in the fact that God has given us the precious gift of His Son?
At this time of year, I like to reflect upon some of the prophecies in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah. In many ways, they remind me of the anticipation that my daughter expressed for receiving the one gift that would make her Christmas special. One of my favorites is found in Isaiah.
In Isaiah 7, God offers Ahaz a sign of His promise. He says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
I can only imagine how Ahaz received this prophecy. Did he anticipate this child would come immediately? Did he inquire about the circumstances of every birth from that point forward? Did he expect to meet Immanuel personally? We may never know the answers to these questions, but we do know that this prophecy was fulfilled very specifically.
Fast forward to the Gospels, and we see a couple—Mary and Joseph—who had an unusual experience. These two were betrothed to be married, but Mary was found to be pregnant. Luke 1:26-38 tells us that the angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary to tell her of the special circumstances of this child’s birth, but Joseph was still unaware.
Imagine with me what a conversation might have looked like between Mary and Joseph the next day. Mary finds Joseph at his carpentry shop and asks him to step outside for a quick conversation. She tells him that she is expecting a child. In shock, he asks her how this could be. She tries to reassure him that all is well because an angel had appeared to her the night before, telling her that she was carrying the Son of God. Joseph must have been flabbergasted and convinced that his soon-to-be bride had lost her mind. Matthew tells us that Joseph even considered sending her away secretly—a righteous act considering that her apparent infidelity could have brought public shame. However, Matthew goes on to report that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph to reveal to him that his betrothed wife was telling the truth. This is where we are pointed back to the prophecy of Isaiah. Matthew records:
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:20-23).
From the days of Ahaz until the angel revealed to Joseph that his betrothed wife would bear a son, the prophecy of Isaiah was mostly a mystery. Yet that mystery was revealed in Matthew 1:23. The fulfillment of this prophecy gives us great hope. God has come to us. He has made a way for us to be in relationship with Him.
How should we respond? I pray that our joy would be revealed just like the joy on my daughter’s face when she received her most anticipated gift. We do not anticipate this gift any longer; however, we should find great joy in telling others about the gift we have received. May this Christmas be filled with reminders of God’s precious gift and the joy we have in both receiving it and telling others about it.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is an intriguing figure in the history of intellectual thought. His is a story of unquestioned genius and remarkable ingenuity. He not only made major contributions to the fields of geometry, probability theory, and various fields of science, but was also an inventor of one of the first calculators. All this before his untimely death at the age of 39! Having lived most of his life as a nominal Christian, in his mid-30s, Pascal had a profound religious experience, sometimes referred to as a “night of fire,” and he thereafter gave his life to the Christian faith.
What’s interesting about Pascal is, even though his magnum opus was to be in Christian apologetics, he saw a limited role for apologetic arguments. He once observed, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”
Speaking specifically about apologetics, he says:
The metaphysical proofs for the existence of God are so remote from human reasoning and so involved that they make little impact, and, even if they did help some people, it would only be for the moment during which they watched the demonstration, because an hour later they would be afraid they had made a mistake.
Mere intellectual belief versus a confrontation of the heart
What Pascal meant by “proof” here is the (often very complex) formal arguments given in an academic setting. He was not necessarily discounting the value of these arguments in all respects. He was simply making an observation that these formal arguments have a limited value for actually convincing people.
Now, despite the fact that I specialize in philosophy and apologetics, and I see great value in apologetic arguments, I think he’s right! Almost no one in the history of the world has come to believe in Christianity purely on the basis of formal arguments. You can’t, as it is sometimes said, argue someone into heaven.
Pascal thought genuine knowledge of God must involve more than merely being convinced intellectually of its truth. For Pascal, it is knowing in a deeper way. Pascal thought of this as a knowledge of the heart. Heart knowledge, for him, is not simply emotions or desires, but the deepest form of knowing reality, including our intuitive knowledge of first principles. Peter Kreeft has said, “Like Augustine, Pascal knows that the heart is deeper than the head, but like Augustine he does not cut off his own head, or so soften it up with relativism and subjectivism and ‘open-mindedness’ that his brains fall out.”
Why isn’t head knowledge enough?
The reason head knowledge is not enough is, unless there is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, we tend to believe what we want to believe. In most cases, if we don’t want to believe something, we won’t. We will find ways (often very subtly) to shut ourselves off from the force of arguments. It definitely happens, from time to time, that one succumbs to an argument that keeps us up at night. But this, it seems to me, is the exception.
When it comes to changing our worldviews, it takes a richer confrontation.
A good example of someone reluctantly coming to Christianity is C.S. Lewis. He says, in his autobiography:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?
Lewis’ full conversion to Christianity came some time later. An important step toward his conversion was coming to see Christianity as a “true myth.” As a literature scholar, Lewis loved the myths of the ancient Greek gods. He found them inspiring and deeply moving. But when it came to the Gospels, though they did not read as myths, they had, in a way, the same kind of depth. After an almost all-night discussion with a couple of his close friends (including J.R.R. Tolkien), it was suggested that the Gospel was like a myth in the sense that it provided a narrative to live by, but, as he says, “with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” This brought together his rational desire for the truth and his desire for meaning and purpose. But it wasn’t an argument. It was a way of understanding the Christian claims that made a huge difference on his journey toward becoming a Christian. Christianity became something to which he was drawn and yielded his life.
The Value of Arguments
This is not to say that apologetic arguments are unimportant. To the contrary, I think they are part of making Christianity attractive. Arguments were certainly important for Lewis in his journey. People have intellectual roadblocks, and it is the arguments that can address these roadblocks. I have known people who think certain objections (e.g., textual issues, the problem of evil, etc.) are simply insurmountable. However, when they see the objection addressed in a thoughtful way, they are intellectually freed up from something that had previously stood as a barrier. This can be a powerful and important moment. But the point is, it is one step in the journey.
No one is simply argued into heaven because this is not the intended purpose of the apologetic arguments. They have great value along the journey of faith, but it takes a lot more than just arguments. Let’s be clear: they don’t save. It is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves (Romans 1:16).
Seminary Hill Press is the publishing arm of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, publishing books, pamphlets, tracts, and other Christian resources by the institution’s faculty and alumni. In 2018, the press produced multiple titles that would make great Christmas gifts for theologians and laypersons alike. Here are the year’s top five must-have books:
1. Mobilize to Evangelize: The Pastor and Effective Congregational Evangelism, by Matt Queen
Based on his own pastoral experience in the local church, Southwestern Seminary evangelism professor Matt Queen has written a practical guide for pastors who want to champion evangelism in their congregations. Mobilize to Evangelize provides pastors with tools they need to understand and to assess how evangelism is conceived, practiced, and perceived in their congregations. It offers realistic ideas they can implement to mobilize their congregations to evangelize. (Available here.)
2. Let the Text Talk: Preaching that Treats the Text on its Own Terms, by Kyle Walker
God desires His text to do the talking in your sermons. Are you willing to let the text talk? This volume aspires to show you how. It is a humble attempt to help preachers do their best to present themselves approved and unashamed as they handle the Word of God. (Available here.)
3. 31 Truths to Shape Your Youth Ministry, by Richard Ross
Designed to guide adults who value teenagers into a deeper walk with King Jesus, this devotional book aims to shape the hearts of youth leaders so that they, in turn, may shape the hearts of teenagers, turning them into lifetimes disciples of Jesus. The book champions teenagers who adore King Jesus in the power of the Spirit for the glory of God; parents who embrace their call to be the primary spiritual leaders to their children; teenagers who have heart connections with all the generations in the congregation; and churches that equip teenagers and then mobilize them to be the church today. (Available here.)
4. Christian Education on the Plains of Texas, by Jack D. Terry, Jr.
In 1915 on the plains of Texas, Southwestern Seminary established the Department of Religious Pedagogy, which became the first school of religious education anywhere in the world of academia. Founded specifically “to touch the lives not only of the special educational students who will come to study Sunday School work but also the lives of all the students who come to study here,” the school, over the next 100 years, developed into a crucial piece not only of Southwestern Seminary, but of the eternal Kingdom work that would be accomplished by its students.
This volume recounts the first 100 years of this school’s history, covering how the budding department ultimately developed into the Terry School of Church and Family Ministries, as it is known today. (Available here.)
5. In Praise of a God who Saves: 110 Stories of Everyday Evangelism, edited by Alex Sibley
Since Southwestern Seminary was founded in 1908, its students, faculty, and alumni have strived to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This volume comprises 110 stories—one for each year since the seminary’s founding—of the Gospel going forth through the witness of these Southwesterners, with many of them seeing people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. These stories will both encourage and convict readers in their evangelism, and above all, the stories will inspire them to praise our amazing God for being a God who saves. (Available here.)
To learn more about these and other Seminary Hill Press titles, visit SeminaryHillPress.com.
In recent days, several authors have received attention in the media for proclaiming that the “evangelical purity culture” has harmed young people. One of those authors, a former pastor, invites adults to send her their discarded purity rings so she can melt them and form a sculpture of female genitalia. The sculpture will be used to promote her new book.
Since (humanly speaking) I am considered a cofounder of True Love Waits, I must consider the possibility that this movement harmed rather than blessed a young generation. Ignoring the criticisms that sincere writers have raised would be intellectually dishonest.
If I were a woodworker and if my daughter loved playing softball, I might use a lathe to create a custom bat for her. However, what if a mugger stole that bat and then bashed a girl while taking her purse? I would deeply grieve that something I made was used to harm someone. I would grieve, but I would not feel guilty.
Inviting teenagers into a lifetime of sexual holiness and purity, if consistent with Scripture, is a beautiful thing. When someone takes that message, twists it, and then uses it to bash the young, I grieve—probably more than anyone. But I do not feel guilty, nor do I second-guess the rightness of the original message.
I am well aware that, using the words “True Love Waits,” some leaders twist the beauty of sexuality and present it as dirty and ugly. Others proclaim that all the responsibility for chastity rests with girls and that they alone bear the shame for all sexual failures. Others want to banish all those who stumble to a lifetime of guilt and self-loathing.
I have spent 49 years seeking to bless a young generation. I grieve that distorted messages have harmed some teenagers. And I doubly grieve when I learn that some have carried pain into their adult years. But that grief does not cause me to doubt the beauty and the rightness of the original True Love Waits (TLW) message.
In 1992–1993, Jimmy Hester and I were employees at LifeWay Christian Resources. In those days, the culture was focused on reducing the social and personal consequences of teenage sexual involvement. In the faith community, teenagers and their parents and leaders were looking for something positive and proactive rather than only reactive.
The idea for TLW came to Jimmy and me during several coffee break conversations. Because we were on break, all we had on which to record our ideas were cafeteria napkins.
At the same time, I was serving as a part-time youth pastor. Jimmy and I agreed that I would present the core TLW message to the teenagers and parents in my church. Fifty-three teenagers responded positively to the original message and indicated that they wanted to be identified with a new movement. No one could have guessed that the movement would sweep through 100 denominations and national student organizations in the U.S. and 100 countries worldwide.
If you strip away the distortions, here is the original TLW message:
- TLW is an invitation to sexual purity and holiness among teenagers who believe that God exists, that He defines ultimate truth, that He is the author of the Bible, and that the Bible communicates ultimate truth without error.
- TLW is an invitation to teenagers who believe that God came to earth in human form, that He died on the cross to pay the cost for sin, and that He now offers forgiveness to all because of His sacrifice.
- TLW is an invitation to teenagers who have accepted the forgiveness Christ now offers by faith, repenting of their sins and turning from a life centered on self to a life centered on Him.
- TLW affirms the biblical standard that all sexual expression should take place only between a husband and wife in a biblical marriage. Expressions that involve sexual organs are sexual expressions.
- TLW affirms that Christ-followers embrace and follow biblical standards related to sexual expression because they love, respect and adore Him; because they have decided to follow Him; and because they are full of gratitude for His sacrifice on the cross.
- TLW affirms that a life of sexual purity and holiness is prompted by the greatness of Christ and the power of the Gospel and not by moralistic instruction or behavior modification.
- TLW affirms that children need to hear from birth about the goodness of sex as one of God’s best creations.
- TLW affirms the biblical standard that Christ-followers do not dwell on lustful thoughts toward someone to whom they are not married.
- TLW affirms that boys and girls have an equal responsibility to follow biblical standards in all relationships.
- TLW affirms that no one follows God’s callings perfectly, including the leaders and participants in the TLW movement. We serve a God of second chances.
- TLW affirms that Christ’s death on the cross makes forgiveness for sexual sins possible. God continually picks up His children, dusts them off, and sets them on their way again without shame.
- TLW affirms that Christ-followers who never marry can have rich and full lives and exalt Christ as they live a lifetime without sexual expression.
Multitudes of adults report that the TLW message was an important factor in their sidestepping sexual sin in their teenage years. Multitudes of single adults continue to embrace and live out that message. Multitudes of married adults report that the absence of scarring from their teenage years is a major factor contributing to the beauty and joy of their current sexual expressions. Christ be praised.
¿Qué otras implicaciones podrían extraerse de la narrativa de Babel (Gén 11:1-9), además de saber que es el evento que causó la confusión de los idiomas? Bueno, una aplicación puede ser dirigida a los ministros, que no deben hacerse un nombre famoso, ni construir torres, sino que se les anima a edificar el reino de Dios. Génesis 11:1-9 continúa la demostración profunda de la naturaleza pecaminosa de los hombres al resaltar su intención de construir una ciudad y una torre tan grande que se hagan un nombre por sí mismos. Uno puede preguntarse por qué construir una ciudad y hacerse un nombre famoso es tan malo. Bueno, este evento demuestra el problema del hombre, que continuamente desea una vida aparte de Dios. El hecho es que si esta antigua ciudad hubiese sido construida, habría ido contra el mandato de Dios al hombre en Gén 1:28. En Gén 1:28 el hombre es bendecido y se le ordena, “llenen la tierra.” La idea de promulgar la raza humana sobre la faz de la tierra es la implicación que se desprende de estas tres palabras en Génesis 1. Sin embargo, en Gén 11:4, se lee de la rebelión del hombre contra el mandato de Dios de extenderse sobre la faz de la tierra.
El propósito de construir una gran ciudad y una torre en la tierra de Sinar era para obtener fama (Gén 11:4). La expresión, “nos haremos famosos” es otra forma de buscar el reconocimiento. Hoy los ministros, luchan con este problema. Los cristianos normalmente tienden a pensar en la fama en relación con las estrellas de cine, conducir autos exóticos y vivir en mansiones. Sin embargo, hoy en día la fama o el deseo de reconocimiento debido al éxito ministerial ha crecido considerablemente. Años después de una cruzada en Corea donde un millón de personas escucharon el evangelio, el Rev. Billy Kim vino a los Estados Unidos para visitar al Rev. Billy Graham. El Rev. Kim fue el traductor del Rev. Graham en Corea. El Rev. Graham le preguntó: “¿Deseas tener un ministerio exitoso?” El Rev. Kim respondió: “¡Sí!” Entonces el Rev. Graham le dijo: “Nunca hables de ti mismo.” Vivimos en una sociedad done el ser humano está más preocupado por hablar sobre sus logros, habilidades, capacidades, y el auto-promoción que por elevar el nombre de Cristo.
¿Es válido hacernos famoso como ministros del Evangelio? La respuesta a esta pregunta se puede encontrar en Génesis 12. La historia introduce un nuevo personaje: Abram. De las muchas bendiciones de Dios sobre Abram una de ellas fue que Dios hará su nombre famoso (Gén 12:2). Como resultado Abram llego a ser conocido como el padre de las naciones (Abraham), Gén 17:5. Entonces, ¿Qué diferencia hay entre los hombres de Sinar (Génesis 11) y Abram (Génesis 12)? Claramente, Dios es el que otorga grandeza. Abraham no buscó tener un gran nombre, pero se le concedió debido a su temor y obediencia a Dios (Gén 22:12, 18). ¡Qué verdad tan relevante para nuestro tiempo! Como ministros del Evangelio, nuestro propósito es temer y obedecer a Dios. Desafortunadamente, hoy en día muchos desean construir torres como los hombres de Sinar, para el reconocimiento. Qué gran tentación está a la puerta de cada ministro del Evangelio. Cada hombre y mujer de Dios se enfrentará con el reto de edificar el reino de Dios o construir su babel. El reto en si es ¿Quién se lleva la gloria? Que el Señor ayude a cada ministro a considerar el propósito de edificar el reino de Dios en lugar de sus propias torres.
What implications can be drawn from the narrative of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9, apart from knowing that it is the event that caused the confusion of languages? Well, one application can be directed toward ministers, that they are not to make a name for themselves, nor build towers, but are encouraged to build God’s Kingdom. Genesis 11:1-9 continues the deep-seated demonstration of the sinful nature of men by highlighting their intention of building a city and a tower so grand that they would make a name for themselves. One may ask why building a city and making a name for oneself is so wrong. Well, this event demonstrates the problem of man, that he continually desires a life apart from God. The fact is if this ancient city would have been built, it would have cut against God’s command to man in Genesis 1:28, where man is blessed and commanded to “fill the earth.” The idea of promulgating the human race across the face of the earth is the implication drawn from these three words in Genesis 1. Yet, in Genesis 11:4, one reads of man’s rebellion against God’s command of spreading over the face of the earth.
The purpose of building a grand city and tower in the land of Shinar (Gen 11:1) was to obtain fame. The expression in Genesis 11:4—“let us make for ourselves a name”—is another way of saying, “Let us become famous.” Fame is one of the struggles that ministers face today. Christians normally tend to think of fame in relation to movie stars, driving exotic cars, and living in mansions. However, fame or the desire for recognition because of ministerial success continually creeps up. Years after a crusade in Korea where a million people heard the Gospel, Rev. Billy Kim came to the states to visit Rev. Billy Graham. Rev. Kim was Rev. Graham’s translator in Korea. Rev. Graham asked him, “Do you desire to have a successful ministry?” Rev. Kim replied, “Yes!” Then Rev. Graham told him, “Never speak about yourself.” We live in a world where many are preoccupied with speaking more about their accomplishments and seeking self-promotion than they are with lifting up the name of Christ.
So is the aspect of “making a name for yourself” out of the question for ministers? The answer for this question can be found in the next chapter. Genesis 12 introduces a new individual, Abram. One reads of God’s many blessings upon Abram. Out of the many blessings directed toward Abram, one was that his name would become great. In time, Abram became Abraham, the father of nations (Gen 17:5). But what is the difference between the men of Shinar in Genesis 11 and Abram in Genesis 12? Clearly, God is the one who grants greatness. Abraham did not seek to have a great name, but it was granted to him because of his fear and obedience to God (Gen 22:12, 18). What an important point to drive home. As ministers of the Gospel, our aim is to fear and obey God. Unfortunately, today, many desire to build, as the men of Shinar, towers for themselves for recognition. What a great temptation crouching at the door of every minister of the Gospel. Every man and woman of God will face the reality of either decreasing in stature so that God’s name increases, or suppressing God’s work so that ministerial towers may be built that have no lasting effect, but are worthless babel before God. May the Lord help ministers to be mindful of building God’s Kingdom rather than one’s own towers. If you desire to accomplish great things for God, you must place your eyes upon Him and off yourself.
Recently, I have found myself and others engaged in debates over the components of the biblical Gospel. Some may question why such conversations still persist after 2,000 years of Christianity. After all, the core message of Christianity is the Gospel. However, Christians do not always agree on the necessary components of the Gospel. Numerous Christians articulate the Gospel as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. However, more and more evangelicals are articulating the Gospel in terms of Scripture’s story over Jesus’ story. This emergent articulation of the Gospel comprises four areas: 1) creation, 2) fall, 3) redemption, and 4) restoration. Why are they articulating the Gospel as a set of stories comprising a grand meta-narrative? Why is Jesus’ sacrificial atoning death, His burial, and His glorious resurrection only part of what comprises the Good News?
A Shift from Christ Event to Meta-Narrative
In their attempts to discover the Missio Dei, proponents of this meta-narrative form of the Gospel have adopted a missional hermeneutic of the entire Bible rather than investigating the early church’s proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, these proponents conceive the Gospel message preached by the early church as a component of the Bible’s meta-narrative. Christopher Wright, one of the proponents, states,
The Bible presents itself to us fundamentally as a narrative, a historical narrative at one level, but a grand narrative at another. It begins with the God in creation, moves on to the conflict and problem generated by human rebellion against his purpose for creation, spends most of its narrative journey in the story of God’s redemptive purposes being worked out on the stage of human history, and finishes beyond the horizon of its own history with the eschatological hope of a new creation.
Consequently, Wright and others holding the same position broaden the Gospel to an outline of the Bible: Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration.
Is Christ Part or All of the Gospel?
Proponents who articulate the Gospel in meta-narrative form frequently utilize the Christ event as part of a group of stories that constitute the Gospel. Although Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration serve as frameworks to help unbelievers understand the Gospel better, must the personal evangelist articulate each component part of the meta-narrative in order for redemption to take place?
The sermons of the early church found in the book of Acts do not include all four themes. For example, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 does not mention the creation or the fall stories. However, the Bible reveals that redemption took place when it states, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).
The early church did not perceive that their good works and their preaching of the Good News would restore this world to a golden age in order to usher in the return of their King. Instead, they preached the Good News in order to bring people into His Kingdom so that Jesus could restore all things upon His return (e.g., Acts 1:6).
The Early Church’s Use of the Gospel
A brief look at the early church’s proclamation is vital to understanding how to articulate the Gospel. The Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Gospel derives from two sources. First, Paul stated, “I received it [the Gospel] through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12b). Second, he understood the same Gospel to appear in Scripture. He articulated the Gospel according to Scripture when he stated,
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Paul acknowledged that the Gospel emphasized the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, Paul, as well as the other apostles, understood the Gospel message to contain essential points that emphasize the historicity of Jesus Christ. What were these essential components of the early church’s Gospel proclamation?
What Should the Gospel Message Contain?
The early church fulfilled the Great Commission by evangelizing with a Gospel that included specific truths. Thus, the message consists of the fulfillment of Old Testament promises (cf. Acts 2:16; 3:18, 10:43; 13:32-33). Second, the Gospel places emphasis on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 2:30; 3:20.). Third, the message concerning Christ offers forgiveness leading the hearers to repent and believe (cf. Acts 2:38).
Theological liberalism was birthed when scholars started focusing on the reliability of history over the supposed mythology of Jesus’ story. While those who utilize a meta-narrative Gospel over the concise Gospel should not be charged with theological liberalism, my fear is that they are adopting a similar method with a different application. In this construct, His story gets lost in history. Therefore, let meta-narrative proclaimers remind us proclaimers of the simple Gospel that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” along with the history that these elements contain. But may they also be reminded of the old hymn that says, in telling the “old, old story,” we must focus on “Jesus and His love.”
Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 64.
Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost presents the previously mentioned elements as well as those that followed.
When my wife and I were rearing our sons, some of the most exciting times when they were very young was when we measured their height and then marked it on the back door jamb to see how much they had grown since the last time we measured. As they got older, we attended their school functions and sporting events as proud parents. Before we knew it, they had all too quickly grown up to become young men. Along the way, we also had the privilege of leading them to salvation in Jesus Christ. As parents, we have been proud over the years to watch our sons grow not only in physical stature, but especially as followers of Christ.
The apostle Paul thought of himself as a father to those in the Corinthian church, which he started (1 Corinthians 4:15). And as their spiritual father, he wanted to see them grow spiritually. He provided for them some ways to do so in 1 Corinthians 3:1-17. However, many problems existed among the Corinthian Christians that hindered their growth in Christ, and Paul chided them for it.
One of the problems in the church was that its members were divided into factions following different leaders—Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ (1:11–12; 3:4–5). As a result, jealousy and dissension were present in their lives (3:3). Paul called the Corinthians spiritual “infants” and “fleshly” (3:1–3). He had given them “milk to drink,” rather than “solid food,” because they were immature (3:2).
Paul essentially told the church: You can grow spiritually when you stop acting like babies. The same is true for us. Nothing is wrong with being a baby Christian. We all are spiritual babies when we first place our faith in Jesus. Something is wrong, however, with remaining a spiritual infant and not growing in Christ; something is awry when we cannot progress beyond basic Christian teaching to more meaty doctrine due to immaturity. Just as the lives of infants are focused on themselves, so also many folks have “me-first” disease and are concerned about their own comforts, agendas, and needs, not the needs of others.
The Corinthians had a misconception about God’s messengers. Paul chided the church’s members and principally told them: You can grow spiritually when you worship the Lord and not His servants. Paul did not reject the need for leaders, but he did point out that centering our Christian lives upon various preachers or leaders was an immature thing to do. The remedy for the Corinthian misconception regarding God’s messengers (for example, Paul and Apollos) was to recognize that they were servants of God accountable to Him (3:5–4:5). They were servants He used in accomplishing His work (3:5–9).
Too many people today ardently follow various preachers and leaders, sometimes seemingly more so than they do the Lord. If not flat-out idolatry, it appears fairly close to it. Christian “celebrityism” of this sort does not please God. Paul focused instead on the Lord, the One who assigned to each messenger his ministry (3:5). God’s messengers have various roles; some water and some plant, but only God causes the growth (3:6–7). God’s servants are His fellow workers who work on His building and will receive a reward in accordance with their work (3:8–9). We need to realize these truths as we seek to advance the Gospel together. We all have our different and important roles in ministry as we serve God, and no one should be exalted above the Lord, for He provides the growth.
You can grow spiritually when you build on the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Paul compared his visit to Corinth with a wise master builder who laid a foundation while others built on it (3:10). We must be very careful about how we build upon the foundation that has been laid down, that of Jesus Christ and Him crucified (3:11; cf. 2:2). We should do so out of pure motives (3:12)—selfless service that is valuable and will stand (“gold, silver, precious stones”) rather than self-seeking efforts that are worthless (“wood, hay, straw”). Know for sure that at the judgment on the Last Day, our work done in God’s name will be revealed and tested for what it actually was (3:13–15).
You can grow spiritually when you build up and esteem God’s temple, the church. Paul spoke of the church as God’s temple; the Holy Spirit indwelt them (3:16). He permanently resides in believers. He also strongly warned that if anyone seeks to destroy the church, God will destroy that person (3:17). Paul further explained that God’s temple is holy (3:17); it is set apart by God for His purposes. The Lord loves His church, and this caution emphasizes the need for us to build up and esteem God’s church—not tear it down. Be careful and tremble if you seek to undermine the church. It does not do you or anyone else any good, and in fact, works to your eternal detriment.
Do you want to grow spiritually? Some ways we can grow spiritually are if we stop acting like babies, worship the Lord and not His servants, build selflessly on the foundation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and build up and esteem the church.
Lord, help us to grow in Christ, we pray. May we be regarded “as servants of Christ” and “stewards” of the Gospel. As stewards, we ask that you empower and help us by your Spirit to be found “trustworthy” (cf. 4:1–2).
Lord, we are grateful to you for all things. We are especially thankful for our salvation through Jesus. Help us to grow in Christ, we pray. May we be regarded “as servants of Christ” and “stewards” of the gospel. As stewards, we ask that you empower and help us by your Spirit to be found “trustworthy” (cf. 1 Cor 4:1–2).
Churches have practiced a ministry model for years that moves people of similar age, life experience, or grade into groups together, leaving them devoid of significant intergenerational relationships. Some intentional and strategic ministry and teaching among such groups can be and is warranted. However, the practice of too many churches makes hyper-age stratification the norm and intergenerational connectivity the exception, resulting in a lack of meaningful, discipleship-focused relationships between generations.
Student ministries, along with other next-generation ministries, often resemble this structure as teenagers gather with peers during planned meeting times with a few adult volunteers. Sunday morning worship services can be the only time the generations of the church are together. Even then, these services are often not conducive or focused on fostering intergenerational relationships.
Hyper-age stratification ministry has left the church and younger generations worse, not better. This practice has been responsible, in part, for harming the faith of the next generations. Chap Clark claims, “The loss of meaningful relationships with adults has been the most devastating to developing adolescents.”
David Kinnaman reveals that 18- to 29-year-olds with a Protestant or Catholic background “do not recall having a meaningful friendship with an adult through their church, and more than four out of five never had an adult mentor.” The impact of these missing relationships was revealed by the Barna Research Group, who indicated that only 31 percent of millennials who dropped out of church stated they had a significant adult friendship in the church, while 59 percent of millennials who did not drop out of church said they did have a meaningful relationship or mentorship with an adult in the local church.
We cannot say that the singular cause of young people dropping out of church is the lack of significant relationships with adults. Yet, we cannot deny for those who remained in the church that these relationships were crucial in their continued engagement in the faith community of the local church. Therefore, Kinnaman asserts, “This is true of enough young Christians that we must ask ourselves whether our churches and parishes are providing the rich environments that a relationally oriented generation needs to develop deep faith.” Of all people, places and organizations in this world, the church ought to be a family of people who live in reconciled communion with God that makes possible the intergenerational relationships with one another forged by the cross of Jesus Christ. The following are a few reasons we must embrace these relationships.
1. Intergenerational relationships are biblical.
Scripture must be the rule of our faith and practice. From the beginning, we observe that all people were made to live in relationship to God and one another. Parents were blessed to be fruitful and multiply, thus bringing into existence an intergenerational relationship between parent and child. Though sin has fractured our relationship to God and one another, Jesus Christ came to restore what sin destroyed. John Stott writes, “[God’s] plan, therefore, is not to call independent, unconnected individuals to return to Himself in isolation from one another, but to redeem a people for His own possession.” The picture of the New Testament church is a people joined “together,” living life in intergenerational relationship one to another.
2. Intergenerational relationships image God.
Living in community is one way we fulfill being image-bearers of God. God is one God in three distinct persons, with each member having a distinct role, though each Person is equally God. Bill Clem notes, “The God of the Bible is an eternal, triune community, loving each other and living in worshipful, belonging relationships.” The church is to be reflective of God’s own relationship with Himself through living in community, including intergenerational community. When the church, in spite of differences and diversity even of age, lives in loving relationship and unity to one another by the Gospel, we more faithfully reflect God’s own nature.
3. Intergenerational relationships are necessary for the Great Commission.
Parents have been called to make disciples of their children beginning in Genesis. This first and primary intergenerational relationship was a Great Commission relationship for the purpose of leading children to follow God in worship and obedience as image-bearers of God. Even more, Paul’s letter to Titus called the church to intergenerational relationships, with older men and women teaching the younger men and women. Younger generations need older generations who are seeking to make disciples of younger generations. Kara Powell reports, “Specifically, churches with close intergenerational relationships show higher faith maturity and vibrancy.”
4. Intergenerational relationships push back against rising loneliness.
Forty-six percent of Americans expressed a feeling of loneliness either sometimes or always, while 43 percent said they feel isolated and that their relationships are not meaningful. Sixteen- to 24-year-olds indicated feeling alone more than three times that of people age 65 and older. Though connected by various technologies of the digital age, young people are missing relationships with parents and other adults. Tragically, only 10 percent of individuals seek community in a local church, perhaps because they do not expect to find it there.
All Christians, especially the next generations, need intergenerational relationships among believers in the church. What can we do to push back against the hyper-age stratification and foster these relationships?
 Chap Clark, Hurt 2.0 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 35.
 David Kinnaman, You Lost Me (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 121.
 “5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.barna.com/research/5-reasons-millennials-stay-connected-to-church/#.UlQIwRBjMSS.
 Brad House, Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 201), 32.
 John Stott, Basic Christianity (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 105.
 Bill Clem, Disciple (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 130.
 Kara Powell, Jake Mudder, and Brad Griffin. Growing Young (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 130.
 Jayne O’Donnell and Shari Rudavsky, “Young Americans are the loneliest, surprising study from Cigna shows,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/ 2018/05/01/loneliness-poor-health-reported-far-more-among-young-people-than-even-those-over-72/559961002/.
 Sean Coughlan, “Loneliness more likely to affect young people,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-43711606.
 “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” n.p. Retrieved online 18 October 2018: https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/#.UzwMlq1dW7o.
1. La Escritura no lo enseña. La Biblia habla de “declarar” en el sentido de “hacer claro,” explicar y proclamar un mensaje ya dado por Dios para que nosotros lo sigamos y obedezcamos en adoración (Salmo 19:1; 50:6; Daniel 10:21; Mateo 13:35; Juan 4:25). Pero, “declarar” en el sentido de forzar que ciertas cosas pasen no es significado que aparezca en la Escritura, es más bien una practica que emula la magia pagana tan detestada por los profetas bíblicos (ej. 2 Reyes 23:24; Isa. 8:19; Jer. 27:9).
2. La diferencia entre la fe bíblica y la pagana consiste en reconocer que mi vida está en las manos de Dios y no en las mías. Intentar asegurar mi futuro por medio de afirmaciones mías, aun usando el vocabulario bíblico, es falta de fe en Dios, y excesiva confianza en el hombre.
3. Creer a pesar del mundo. La fe bíblica tiene que ver principalmente con creer en lo que Dios ha prometido en su palabra–y por eso es necesario conocerla profundamente sin torcerla como algunos comerciantes lo hacen para amontonar dinero (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2). La fe bíblica es confiar a pesar de que el mundo no cambie hoy. Es creer contra la realidad presente aun en medio del sufrimiento y aún cuando personalmente no vea su cumplimiento (1 Tes. 3:1-9; Job 19:25).
4. Creer solo en lo que Dios promete. La fe bíblica NO enseña que cualquier cosa que el creyente espere le será concedido si tan solo lo cree ciegamente y “lo declare.” La “convicción de lo que se espera” de Hebreos 11:1 no es lo que el creyente se proponga esperar. Es más bien lo que Dios dice que debemos esperar (Hebreos 10:36-38). Es decir, la segunda venida de Jesús y su juicio para el malvado.
5. Asalto directo contra la verdadera oración. “Declarar” al estilo de muchos predicadores y cantantes hoy en día es un asalto directo, y sustituto barato, a la oración cristiana (Lucas 11:2). En lugar de orar en confianza de que Dios tiene mis necesidades bajo control, y esperar en su voluntad, el “creyente” es motivado a cambiar su realidad vía el optimismo humanista. ¡No se trata de pedirle a Dios “que venga su reino,” según esta distorsión el creyente puede hacer que baje el reino solo mandarlo!
6. Copia de la filosofía secular. Este “declarar,” la llamada “palabra de fe,” es la versión religiosa de la filosofía deconstruccionista secular en la que el mundo es creación del lenguaje humano. La idea a fondo es que si cambias el lenguaje terminarás cambiando la realidad. El feminismo antibíblico que cuestiona la paternidad de Dios y propone una diosa amante del ser humano es el ejemplo más claro.
7. Antesala de la apostasía. El “declarar” de varios predicadores de la prosperidad es un atentado directo contra el esperar en Dios. Es una exhortación para tomar nuestra vida en nuestras manos y afirmar nuestro valor frente al mundo. Esta es una espada de dos filos porque, aunque sea enormemente atractiva para la baja autoestima humana y para los que necesitan provisión urgente, también es una fuente de desanimo, depresión y apostasía cuando lo declarado no llega.
8. El confesar bíblico. El “confesar” sinónimo del “declarar mágico,” en la Escritura se da en un contexto de expresar nuestro pecado (Salmo 32:5; 38:18), nuestra conversión (1 Reyes 8:33; 2 Cro. 6:24), nuestra limitación, y confianza en que Dios tendrá la última palabra. Lo central de la confesión cristiana no es reconocer mi capacidad para cambiar la realidad. Es reconocer que el que decide es “el Señor,” no el creyente (Rom. 10:9); confesar el nombre de Dios, hablar de su grandeza–y no de la nuestra– para que las naciones lo busquen y adoren (Nehe. 9:3), aunque los siervos del altísimo sufran el rechazo mientras tanto. No es mi palabra la que cambiará mi mundo, sino el Hijo del Hombre en su venida quien confesará los nombres de sus santos, haciendo pública así la razón y la dignidad que siempre han tenido (Lucas 12:8; Apoc. 3:5).
9. Buscar sólo el decreto de Dios. ¿Y qué digo de la estupidez del “decretar” del creyente? Sólo el Soberano tiene derecho a decretar, y así lo ha hecho eternamente. En la Escritura, la única vez en que los humanos decretan algo son los reyes paganos. Dios los ocupa porque forman parte de su decreto eterno (Daniel 4:17). Todas las otras veces tiene que ver con obedecer los mandamientos y estatutos escritos de Dios. El ha decretado que se deba obedecer su palabra solamente, y que se deje de estar buscando y oyendo otro tipo de “decretos.”
10. Evangeliza y no “arrebates.” “Arrebatar” o “atar” para ordenarle a Satanás es una infantil interpretación de los pasajes que ocupan esa terminología. Mateo 11:12, por ejemplo, como aparece en Reyna-Valera es ambiguo. La versión Dios Habla Hoy traduce mejor: “Desde que vino Juan el Bautista hasta ahora, el reino de los cielos sufre violencia, y los que usan la fuerza pretenden acabar con él.” Así también: NBV, NTV, PDT, etc. Este verso no enseña que los creyentes deben “arrebatar” nada, y menos a Satanás. Mateo 16:19 no es fácil de interpretar—según la mayoría de buenos comentarios bíblicos. Lo claro es que el pasaje no dice nada de ligar o atar a ningún humano o a Satanás. Más bien, prescribe la entrada al reino de los cielos. La iglesia es la encargada de abrir la puerta al reino de Dios. Todos los que entren por la puerta del mensaje del evangelio, serán acogidos en los cielos.
Por esto y por mucho más: No “declares,” No “decretes,” No “confieses,” no “arrebates” no “ates o desates”. ¡Es mejor conocer a fondo la Escritura, y honrar a Dios obedeciéndola!
1. It is not something taught by Scripture. The Bible speaks of “declaring” in the sense of “making clear,” explaining and proclaiming a message already given by God for us to obey in adoration (Psalm 19:1; 50:6; Daniel 10:21; John 4:25). But “declaring” in the sense of forcing certain things to happen does not appear in Scripture. It is rather a practice that emulates the pagan witchcraft so detested by biblical prophets (e.g., 2 Kings 23:24; Isaiah 8:19; Jeremiah 27:9).
2. The difference between biblical and pagan faith consists in recognizing that my life is in the hands of God and not in mine. Trying to secure my future through affirmations of mine, even using the biblical vocabulary, is evidence of a lack of faith in God and an excessive trust in man.
3. We should believe in spite of the world. Biblical faith has to do mainly with trusting in what God has promised in His Word—and that is why it is necessary to know it deeply without twisting it as some merchants do to accumulate money (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). Biblical faith is to trust in God even though the world does not change today. It is to believe against real suffering and even when I do NOT get to see what God will bring at the end (1 Thessalonians 3:1-9; Job 19:25).
4. We should believe only in what God promises. Biblical faith does NOT teach that whatever the believer expects will be granted to him if he only believes it. The “conviction of things not seen” in Hebrews 11:1 is not what the believer wants. It is rather what God has promised (Hebrews 10:36-38), that is, the second coming of Jesus and His judgment for the wicked.
5. It is a direct assault against true prayer. “Declaring” for many preachers and singers today is a direct assault, and a cheap substitute, for Christian prayer (Luke 11:2). Instead of praying that God may provide for my needs, the “believer” is motivated to change his reality via humanistic optimism. It is not about asking God “thy kingdom come,” but “making” the kingdom come down by just commanding it!
6. It is a copy of the secular philosophy. This “declaring,” the so-called “word of faith,” is the religious version of secular deconstructionist philosophy in which the world is the creation of human language. The idea is that if you change the language, you end up changing reality. The anti-biblical feminism that questions the paternity of God and proposes a goddess who seduces the human heart is the clearest example.
7. It is a prelude to apostasy. The “declaring” teaching of several preachers of prosperity is a direct attack against waiting on God. It is an invitation to take our life in our hands, affirming our value in front of the world. This is a two-edged sword because, although it is attractive to those who suffer from low self-esteem and are in need of provision, it is also a source of discouragement, depression, and apostasy when the thing “declared” does not become reality.
8. It is contrary to biblical confession. Many preachers and singers use “confession” as a “magical spell” to change reality. However, in Scripture, the term occurs in contexts for expressing our sin (Psalm 32:5; 38:18), our conversion (1 Kings 8:33), our limitations, and our confidence that God has the last word for my problems. Confession is not about my ability to change reality. It is about recognizing that the one who decides is “the Lord,” not the believer (Romans 10:9). We are to speak of God’s greatness—and not of ours—among the nations so that they may worship Him too (Nehemiah 9:3), even if the servants of the Most High may suffer rejection in the meantime. Christian confidence does not change the world; rather, the Son of Man, at His second coming, will confess the names of His saints, thus making public the dignity they have always had (Luke 12:8; Revelation 3:5).
9. We should seek only the decree of God. And what do I say about the stupidity of the believer “decreeing”? God the Sovereign is the only one with the right to decree, and He has done so eternally. In Scripture, it is only pagan kings who decreed. God uses them because they are part of His eternal decree (Daniel 4:17). All other times in which “decree” is used in the Bible refer to obeying the written statutes God has given to His people. He has decreed that only His Word should be obeyed, and that we should stop looking for other kinds of “decrees.”
10. We should evangelize, not “snatch.” “Snatching from” or “binding” Satan is a childish interpretation of the biblical passages that occupy that terminology. Matthew 11:12, for example, in Reyna-Valera is ambiguous. Dios Habla Hoy translates better: “Since John the Baptist came until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and those who use force seek to destroy it” (compare NBV, NTV, PDT, etc.). We cannot say on this verse that believers are commanded to “snatch” anything from anyone, least of all from Satan. Matthew 16:19 is not easy to interpret—check major biblical commentaries—but what is clear is that the context says nothing about binding any human or satanic being. Rather, it is related to the entrance to the kingdom of heaven. The church is responsible for opening the door, presenting the entrance to the Kingdom of God. All who enter through the door of the Gospel message will be welcomed into heaven.
For this and much more: Do not “declare,” do not “decree,” do not “confess,” do not “snatch,” do not “bind or loose.” It is better to know the Scripture thoroughly and honor God by obeying it!