What Are You Willing to Give Up?

Today’s Supreme Court ruling federally legalizes same-sex “marriage.” It seems obvious to me that we need to prepare our people for persecution, while simultaneously preparing them to speak lovingly, yet truthfully, to the LGBT community. This will not be an easy road. What are we willing to give up? For this decision constitutes America’s attempt to re-define God’s own creation ordinance. This will have massive ramifications that we can only barely glimpse at the moment.

The somewhat provocative title of this post should not be seen as a call to emotional hysteria. All too often, the conversation is characterized by shrill voices on both sides of the debate, thus creating a climate where no one can listen. Evangelicals are rank with fear. Why? And what kind of fear is it? I think we fear to lose the comfortable liberty we have had for such a long time. We fear to lose what is in our bank account. We fear social ostracism. In other words, we fear man, not God. On the other side, we see the LGBT community using emotionally charged words to shout down the opposition. The words “bigot,” “hate-speech,” and “homophobic” are thrown at anyone who does not agree with their agenda. There is no communication going on, only a lot of shouting. The importance of books like Rosaria Butterfield’s masterpiece can hardly be underestimated at a time like this, because no one could possibly accuse such an ex-Lesbian of hate-speech, and yet she also speaks the truth. More books like this need to be written. The most thorough treatment of the exegetical issues is undoubtedly Gagnon’s book. For a smaller, more accessible book (although Gagnon is not too difficult to read), there is now Kevin Deyoung’s book. Butterfield’s book, though, is the most important of the three.

The accelerated pace of the sea-change going on now in America requires some comment. I am constantly hearing of people who think that “such and such thing cannot possibly happen in America.” I am not sure that anything is off the table anymore. The changes are easily fast enough now to make us dizzy. I am preaching this Sunday on Revelation 11. A more timely text could hardly be imagined. The two witnesses I take to be the church defined as a legally valid testimony on Old Testament Deuteronomic terms. The persecution rises against them until the church appears dead. The world rejoices. God will then vindicate those witnesses by raising them from the dead. I know that every era of church history has had people saying that the end is upon us. As a good Amillenial, I believe that they are all correct. The end-times are upon us. As Hebrews 1 says, we are in the last days now (“in these last days God has spoken to us in (or by) His Son”). The American church is about to be seriously pruned. We are about to look a lot more like the house churches in China. Anyone got some nice spacious basements?

What are we willing to give up? We are going to have to be willing to give up forever the idea of being “relevant,” at least in the way that many people mean the term. We cannot adopt the world’s way of doing things. Our way of being truly relevant is to speak the truth to people who do not want to hear what we have to say. We need to be willing to give up prestige, money, land, freedom, and life itself. They will be gone in a very short period of time. Our families will be torn apart. The government will take away everything we value. Welcome to the brave new world.

For the latter half of the twentieth century, Satan has been using the carrot to lure people away from the true church, and away from the means of grace. Satan is changing tools. He will now use the stick. Probably very few of us would have recognized ahead of time that the homosexual marriage issue would be the issue by which this change would take place.

As I was talking with one of my elders this morning about these things, it struck me forcefully that we need to pray for our dispensational Pre-millenial brothers. What is going to happen will knock their theology for a loop. They believe that they are going to escape the tribulation by means of the Rapture. Revelation 11 says otherwise. Even if verse 12 is talking about a Rapture, it clearly does NOT occur until after the death and resurrection experience of verses 7-11. At that time, those brothers will be wondering if God is incorrect in what He said, and what else God might be wrong about. They might very well forget to ask the question about whether they understand the text correctly or not. We need to pray for them that their faith will hold firm.

Do not fear what is about to happen. Above all, do not get hysterical, as if God’s grip on the world has somehow slipped. Instead, rejoice that the end is near. Count it pure joy when you experience trials of various kinds, knowing that the testing of your faith will produce perseverance. Know that the poor, dead-looking church over which the world will gloat will one day rise up again, in spite of the world. The world will then gape in dread and awe of the church as God resurrects it. SCOTUS may think itself the supreme court of the land. Boy, are they in for a shock!

What Is Racism?

Racism is a very serious thing these days. We hear of race riots in America, just when some people thought we had moved past all that. There are blatant forms of racism, and more subtle forms of it. But before we get into that, we need to ask an important question: why is a white guy like me talking about this subject, and what right do I have to do so? There are two ways of answering that question. The first is that racism can be just as much against white people (theoretically) as against any other race. We haven’t seen much of that in America. But it does exist, especially in more subtle forms of racism, which we can get into below. The second part of the answer is that a white person can and should care about what happens to other parts of the human race. Just because I have not been a victim of racism doesn’t mean I can’t say anything about it. I haven’t been a victim of mugging either, but I presume that would not preclude me from saying something about it. I do have an imagination, and I hope all my readers do, too.

The biblical truth is that all humans come from Adam, and all humans come from Noah. As C.S. Lewis might say, that is grand enough to exalt any person, and humble enough to remind anyone that we are but dust. One of the most important features of racism, then, is either a partial or full denial of this fundamental truth. This goes a long way towards a definition. If we are not all from the same origin, then we have room to claim that one race is superior to another. This is one of the biggest problems with the theory of multiple origins of the human race. Evolution and the denial of the historical Adam will have racism as its intended or unintended consequence. Ben Stein showed this quite eloquently in his movie “Expelled,” which you should see if you haven’t yet. Since we are all from one origin, then no one part of the human race can lift itself above any other part of the human race. We are all one human race. The image of God is stamped on every human being. That image of God commands respect and dignity. To denigrate an image bearer, making the person somehow less than human, is therefore a direct attack on God.

There are, however, more subtle forms of racism, and here I am going to get very politically incorrect (as if my statements on evolution were not!). I believe that affirmative action is racist. When it comes to college scholarship and such things, I believe that those who hand them out should be color-blind. However, making a certain quota of African-Americans, or any other minority, is basically saying to them, “You can’t make it without our help.” I know very well the counter-argument: African-Americans have not had access to the kind of schooling that white children have had. But I would remind people of the arguments of Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams (especially the first named): anyone working hard can overcome any obstacles. They have all argued, in one way or another, that affirmative action and the welfare state have wreaked havoc on the black community. The disintegration of the family is another serious factor. These things are harming African-Americans today more than other factors, I believe. The Japanese faced incredible prejudice after World War II. So did the Germans and Italians. They didn’t have access to the best schools either. What did they do? They worked hard and overcame the obstacles. Many African-Americans have done the same. But not all of them have. Many believe that they are owed something for what they or their ancestors suffered. What do I owe them? I owe them the respect and dignity that is owed to all human beings. I do not owe them for what my ancestors may or may not have done. Ezekiel 18 is very important here (I will be writing a post on the relationship of Daniel 9 and Ezekiel 18 at some point in the near future, Lord-willing). The fathers are not responsible for the guilt of the son, nor is the son responsible for the guilt of the father. Acknowledging the sin that someone else has done is one thing, and is very understandable (and can certainly help in the case of race relations today). But that does not mean the same thing as what some seem to be claiming: that there is actual ontological transference of guilt. I have had it said to me that I am guilty of racism simply because I am white. Folks, that is just as much the sin of racism as saying that an African-American is not human because he is black.

What difference does the amount of melanin in the skin make? This is simply micro-evolution. The African-American has more melanin in the skin. Over many generations in the incredibly hot climates of Africa, the people developed darker and darker skin in order to adapt to their surroundings. This is the beauty of the adaptive characteristics of humans. The flip side of this adaptive characteristic is the very pale complexion of Norwegians. They adapted to their frigid climate in the opposite way. If lots of Africans migrated to Norway, over a period of a few hundred years, their skin would lighten quite noticeably. Similarly, if the Norwegian migrated to Africa, his skin would darken quite a bit just in his own lifetime. It is quite silly to make skin color determinative of worth.

The much more difficult question is that of different cultures. It is here, for instance, that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X differed. King was in the south and argued for racial integration and desegregation. The south was segregated (and still is in some ways, though not in transportation and education, the issues that were uppermost in the Civil Rights era). Racism showed itself in exclusion. In the north, however, where Malcolm X mostly lived and spoke, there was no segregation. More subtle attitudes were the problem. This is why (so argues James Cone) King argues for desegregation while Malcolm X argues for segregation. They had different contexts. Which of them is correct? This is not an easy question to answer. There is nothing wrong with desiring to keep a particular culture stable (anyone seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?). Any minority group that comes to America usually desires to keep its traditions alive and well, and those traditions can come into jeopardy when full integration is encouraged. On the other hand, segregation can result in exclusion, which is not healthy. The influence of other cultures is usually salutary, if for no other reason than that one knows one’s own culture better and values it more when compared to other cultures. This comparison itself has pitfalls, of course, because non-moral cultural issues can become a subtle basis for racism quite easily when non-moral issues become “better” or “worse” than what other cultures have.

To conclude, racism as usually understood means a person believes his race is better than another race. This can be blatant, or it can be subtle. We need to be very careful about how we think through these issues, and we need to do a lot of listening. I learned a lot, for instance, about ministering in an African-American context this year at General Assembly by listening to my African-American brothers. Avoiding racism is actually pretty simple: treat each person you meet as an image-bearer of God. That person deserves dignity and respect.

General Assembly Roundup

My thoughts on this year’s GA are not going to be comprehensive, as I was in Overtures Committee, which met for quite a long while simultaneous to the floor of GA itself. I missed the entirety of the Review of Presbytery Records report, for example. However, many of the most important things happened in Overtures this year.

The Overtures Committee (hereafter OC) recommended that GA answer Overture 1 (concerning setting up a mini-SJC for presbyteries) in the negative. There was quite a lot of discussion about this, but the problems with it were just too much. I am against the principle of having any commission being unaccountable to the presbytery that commissions it. I do not regard complaints as constituting full accountability, since complaints have to work against quite a lot of inertia in order to gain traction. The GA went with the OC’s recommendation.

Overtures 2 and 9, concerning the recreation clause, also got quite a lot of discussion, which got a bit heated in the OC. The OC decided, in the end, that our system was not broken, and thus recommended a negative response, which the GA adopted.

Overture 3 (concerning the baptismal vows) also foundered upon the recognition that the language of “dedication” was already covenantal in nature, when one considers the context in which it comes (do you know any Baptist who would be comfortable with BCO 56?). GA followed the committee’s recommendation.

Overtures 4-6 (presbytery boundary overtures) came through other committees besides OC, and they were approved (which means that my presbytery will be multiplying into three presbyteries as of January of 2016).

Overture 7 (concerning compelling a TE to testify) generated a lot of discussion both in the OC and on the floor of GA. The Kuyperian influence seemed rather strong, as quite a few people rather whole-sale imported civil judicial categories into the church (including fifth amendment rights). The vote in the committee was fairly strong on the amended version (which would have narrowed the cases in view to doctrinal cases). However, on the floor, the amended version was narrowly defeated (by about 22 votes, if I remember rightly). This despite the fact that TE David Coffin was the originator of the motion, and argued quite eloquently in favor of it. I think the overture should have passed. We have to be open anyway about what we believe.

In RPR, we won some and lost some. The most important one was won. Philadelphia Presbytery was cited for an exception of substance on their ordaining a man who wasn’t sure that the NT fully excluded women from the church offices. As I understand it, both the man and his church have left for a more liberal denomination. This exception was passed by a rather wide margin.

We lost the Westminster Presbytery vote, and they will have to answer next year’s GA for including language in their standing rules excluding theistic evolution from being an acceptable view.

Eastern Pennsylvania was also lost, concerning the man who had a very FV-sounding exception on paedocommunion (he first stated his difference in such a way as to include all the benefits of salvation to the baptized; on further reflection, he revised his views to state that some of the benefits of the Lord’s Supper accrue to all the members of the visible church, which is not a significant improvement).

The most exhausting thing about GA was the personal resolution offered by TE Sean Lucas and TE Ligon Duncan III on racial reconciliation (the OC spent at least 6 grueling hours on it!). There can be no doubt that this is a timely issue, and a very serious one, given the recent riots in various places in the US. The main issue in the debate hinged on whether the PCA ought to repent now of its racial sins in a less-than-perfect manner, or wait a year and perfect the language and accuracy of the language (and put some wheels on it, so that practical steps might be taken). The African-American Presbyterian Fellowship was not entirely in unison on this issue, thought it seemed that the majority who spoke favored waiting a year, primarily for the practical reasons. Another issue was how the personal resolution came to the floor (skipping the local session and presbytery levels). A more considered and thorough document could be forthcoming if various presbyteries get in the act for next year. Almost the last thing in the GA was a season of prayer for racial reconciliation that lasted well over an hour.

My thoughts on this are a bit mixed. On the one hand, I hate racism with a passion. All people are made in God’s image, and there is no such thing as a second-class citizen among God’s elect. On the other hand, I wonder if we are reacting too strongly to many impulses in the culture that would make white people feel guilty simply for being of the same color as people who have oppressed African-Americans in the past. The personal resolution called on the PCA to confess its sins in its complicity with those who opposed the Civil Rights movement. This was a bit strange to me, since the PCA was not in existence at the time. There are undoubtedly some churches and men in the PCA who were around then who have something of which they must repent. And I have no problem acknowledging that there are such churches and such men in the PCA, and that they need to repent. However, the fact that I am in the same denomination as some of them does not automatically make me guilty of the same sins, any more than I am guilty of teaching theistic evolution, simply because some in the PCA are doing so. I will write more about Daniel 9 in relationship to Ezekiel 18 later, as it really deserves its own post.

On a more personal note, my family came with me this time (7 people in a small hotel room makes our home seem absolutely humongous now!), and I was shocked to discover that I had more energy every day, not less. It was terrific family time that we had, especially in the pool.

Welcome to Babylon! Here’s Your Mark!

[Update: Rod Dreher has another article worth reading (in addition to the one linked at the bottom). In this one he speaks to a political strategist on the reality that some religious liberty is going to be lost in the near future. Consider. Note too his suggestion that the only solution is another Great Awakening. Oh, that the Church would prioritize being the Church. -RDP]

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In July of 2013 I posted on the topic of persecution of Christians in America. At the time the Supreme Court had recently made some decisions allowing same sex marriage. I opined on how I saw this as a key marker that the future would see social persecution of Christians in America because of their opposition to homosexuality. Also at the time (and since) I received a bit of friendly criticism, admonishing me for being an alarmist.

Well, here we go again.

When I first took up this topic I expected that society-wide overt social persecution of Christians would not be wide-spread for at least a few decades. Not being a prophet or a prognosticator, I was engaging in the time honored tradition of looking at history for lessons to apply to today’s circumstances. Admittedly an inexact “science”, I thought I was in the ball park to propose that my children and grandchildren would face at least social persecution for maintaining belief in the Bible’s sexual morality teachings. E.g., I thought my grandchildren might suffer the loss of education opportunities while their parents, my children, suffered the loss of jobs, homes, etc., for simply declining when demanded by the World, “Say same-sex marriage is holy, right, and true!!”

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Given the widespread response to recent events, I’m now expecting such social persecution within the next decade.

Consider Indiana’s passage of its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It is being characterized as a form of a Jim Crow law (Google it: “Indiana RFRA Jim Crow”). Yeah, I know, those are just crazy comments from folks no one listens to anyway. Except for one little problem, what sounds crazy today increasingly becomes “gospel” tomorrow.

Consider the Indiana Pizzeria owners who got tricked into saying they wouldn’t cater a same sex wedding celebration (again, Google it: “Indiana Pizzeria same sex”). The family for whom this is their livelihood has shuttered the business and is thinking of leaving the state due to the amount of death threats they’ve received from those who think any vocalized opinion against homosexuality is tantamount to saying one thinks lynching is an acceptable way of carrying on race relations.

We won’t even talk about the poor grandmother florist in Washington where the power of the state is being used to force her to comply with the new (im)morality or lose her economic livelihood. (Google it: “Barronelle Stutzman”)

After my last post on this topic in which I listed eleven examples of Christians whose economic freedom and well-being was harmed because of their declining to participate in a same sex wedding, I thought I might keep a running list of such examples for the naysayers. But it got too burdensome. There is almost a new example of this every month!

For you who insist on not seeing this as a form of persecution, I’d ask you to read the book of Revelation a bit closer. [Full disclosure: I consider myself a pan-millenniliast: at the core an amillennialist, with a willingness to affirm and adapt insights from the other positions.]

In the Bible Babylon is presented as that world system, that empire of Man, which is fully invested in opposing the Kingdom of God. Life is quite simple in that empire. Publicly affirm your allegiance to the ruling belief system (the anti-Trinity) and your economic well-being is secured. Fail to do so, and punishing you economically is just the start.

(Rev 13:16-17 ESV) 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

So what’s my point? No, I am not predicting the date of the 2nd Coming. I’m not even interested in debating whether or not we’re in the end times of the Last Day.

Instead I’m pointing to a principle. In Scripture the first empire to set itself up against God was Babylon, at the Tower of Babel (Gn 11). Babylon then becomes paradigmatic: it becomes the picture that represents man in his best efforts to prove the lie of Satan, to become like God through his own efforts. In Revelation Babylon is clearly presented as this Kingdom-of-God-opposing empire (cf., Rev 14:8; 16:19; 18:2, 10, 21, and everything in between). It is Babylon, the world in opposition to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is the primary source of persecution for the people who follow King Jesus:

(Rev 17:1-5) 1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.”

Notice that among the chief characteristics of this Empire that economically persecutes the children of God is leading the rich and powerful to engage in sexual immorality. We don’t have to ponder much to see this wedding of possessions-position-power with sexual immorality in the push for moralizing same-sex marriage … and soon to come, its in-bred cousins. (E.g., be prepared for transgenderism to become the latest “gospel” from Babylon. April 24 should prove to be another pivotal point, when Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer is broadcast.)

The upshot? Whether we’re in the end of the Last Days or not is not material. What is material is that in this country, in this generation, or if I am not Chicken Little, within this decade, we should expect to see the overt adoption of laws that persecute Christians for simply declining to affirm same-sex marriage as morally good. Following this we should expect the passing of similar laws forcing Christians to affirm the holiness of other sexual perversions.

Already it is socially unacceptable to speak against these things (e.g., homosexuality, etc.). To do so is to invite the label bigot. Yet, in light of the response of a number of companies to Indiana’s passing of their RFRA, just around the corner is this: not only will you be labeled a bigot, you will also lose your job!

Don’t think so?

Don’t think this is not the new norm? Businesses are moving from being supportive of same-sex employees to demanding that all employees vocally support the gay rights agenda, or risk losing their jobs. Don’t think that they aren’t rationalizing this as just a necessity of doing business. Their profit margin is their holy of holies.

And as businesses threaten the economic well-being of those who disagree with the gay rights agenda, don’t think you’ll find support from your local state representative. Politicians will cave if they think their own future is jeopardized. They will pass laws protecting homosexuality via persecuting Christians in less time than it takes them to flip flop on where their favorite pizza joint is located!

So what does the future hold? Well, if the new norm is to deny the Christian his First Amendment freedom of speech rights (at least with regard to his views on sexual morality), is there anything stopping Babylon from removing Christians’ First Amendment freedom of religion rights? I think not. Indeed, I foresee the not too distant day in this country when even churches are not only not allowed to speak against homosexuality, they will also be forced to openly support this sexual immorality, and all its in-bred cousins.

This is just the way life in Babylon operates. We may not lose our heads, but we will lose our wallets and pocket books. Will we find the strength of faith to remain faithful then? Be prepared for a pruning of the Church:

(Jh 15:2, 6) 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Maybe we can find hope and power in these promises of our King:

(Rev 2:10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

(Rev 2:25-27) 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

Reed DePace

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[Postscript. Yeah, I know, I’m not painting a Kinkade picture here. But I don’t think I’m fear-mongering. You can tell the tenor of the mood of America by looking at the response to those who are paid big bucks to write a weekly opinion column. When they say something that most Americans don’t agree with, that weekly column becomes major news. When they say something that most Americans don’t find controversial, that weekly column is quickly forgotten. It is just economics; the media reports what people are interested in.

Here are three such recent opinion columns related to the Indiana RFRA topic. What concerns me is that these opinions should cause quite a bit of consternation, at least among Christians. Yet I fear these columns are being quickly forgotten – because they just aren’t that controversial at this point!

If so, my cautions are well founded. Prepare brothers and sisters. Worship Him more!

The Main Biblical Problem With Kinism

Kinism believes in racial separation. Oftentimes, kinists believe that Caucasians are a superior race. For instance, Wheeler MacPherson believes that Caucasians are Adamic, while all other races are demonic in origin. In order to be a true Christian, then, Wheeler believes that one must not only have faith, but also must be of the Adamic race. In this, his views are similar to Christian Identity (usually abbreviated CI), which is not the same thing as Kinism.

Now, when reacting to this, we must be much more concerned with what the Bible says, and not react with a “frothing at the mouth” rage. We need to stick to the issues.

The promises made to Abraham include the promise that all nations on earth will be blessed through Abraham’s seed. Who is Abraham’s seed? Paul interprets that seed (through the fact that it is a singular noun) as being Jesus Christ in Galatians 3. The next step of Paul’s interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant is that anyone who has faith in Jesus Christ is a true child of Abraham (also Galatians 3). The Judaizers were saying that the Gentiles had to be circumcized in order to be “real” Christians. In effect, they were saying that race matters to the gospel. So, the book of Galatians is vitally important to this issue.

What does it mean, then, that the promises of the Abrahamic covenant will come to all the nations of the earth? The book of Acts has an example: the Ethiopian eunuch. Here is a clear example of a black man coming to faith in Jesus Christ, being baptized by Philip the deacon, and becoming the first African to join the church. The Bible clearly views this as an act of God, providentially ordered by God. This is a good thing. It seems to me that Galatians and Ephesians both are clear that race is not a qualifying factor for Christianity. What is required is faith in Jesus Christ.

Here is another question: how much Caucasian blood is necessary before someone is qualified to be of the Adamic race? If someone is half and half, is it possible for that person to be a Christian? What about one quarter Adamic? What about one-quarter Cainite? Actually, I believe that all the Cainites were destroyed in the Flood. Only Noah and his sons and daughters-in-law were saved.

Going further back, the Bible claims that our Adamic heritage is sin and death, not salvific privilege (Romans 1-5 is rather clear on this point). The Bible is further clear that all tribes of the earth are Adamic (Genesis 5 and Genesis 10). Even Cain is Adamic. The biblical story is that Adam was the representative for the whole human race. He sinned, thus bringing down the whole human race with him. Jesus Christ, the last Adam, redeemed us from sin and death by His saving work on earth. Saving faith in Him is all that is required (and is also given by God). Anyone from any race can therefore be a part of that world-wide family. God’s family is not genetic, but faith-based.

The Private Biblical Epiphany

I am listening currently to the 3-hour interview that Wheeler MacPherson did with Christian Gray that Sjoerd de Boer so kindly gave me. Wheeler himself has responded to my post, though without addressing the issues of substance.

In the interview, one thing that really struck me was the private biblical epiphany that he describes. This was after he went through the Baptist church and was during his sojourn in the Presbyterian church. He said basically that he wanted to know God Himself, directly, and not through human mediation. So, he decided to read his Bible without any commentaries, and without reference to any theologians. He was seeking to build his theology from the ground up. This seemed to be stimulated by his negative experience with some ugly church politics that he had experienced. As so often happens in these cases, Wheeler rejected the organized church entirely as a result. He currently does family worship in his own house as opposed to organized worship.

It is necessary, in reacting to this, to acknowledge that the church often does not nurture its people very well. Further than that, the church often abuses its members. And, of course, there are no politics as ugly as church politics. Frankly, most secular politicians could take lessons from church politicians. Some have, in fact. However, these problems with the church do not take anything away from what the Bible says about the church. Wheeler seems to think that the gates of Hell have in fact prevailed against the church. A family is not a church. The family does not have elders and deacons. We are not to neglect the gathering together of the saints, as Hebrews says. Whenever we think about the church, we must continue to remember that the church of Revelation 21-22 is the church that needs to hold our gaze. The church of today is often ugly, wart-filled, and full of sinners and hypocrites (who doesn’t look better on the outside than they are on the inside?). But the church of the new heavens and the new earth is the bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

But to get back to the topic of the private biblical epiphany, the only way to avoid completely those who have gone before us is to read the Bible in the original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. If Wheeler is reading an English translation, then he is not avoiding other theologians: the theologians were the ones who translated the Bible into English! I believe firmly that reading the Bible in the way that Wheeler did in order to build his theology without any reference to those who have gone before is dangerous. There is a faith once for all delivered to the saints. There is a pattern of sound teaching. The churches have defined this in the creeds. We cannot avoid the church. It is a biblical principle that iron sharpens iron. It is also a biblical principle that we should trust in the Lord, and not in our own understanding. The Lord has given gifts of perception and biblical wisdom to people all through church history, not just to me. Just because he has had a bad experience with the church does not mean that he should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Wheeler notes that he studied martial arts. A question for him arises out of this: in his theology of Caucasian Adamic descent, presumably the Asians are not descended from Adam. Why would he want to engage in the martial arts that did not originate with Caucasians, but with the Asians?

He believes that Jews, blacks, and other non-Caucasion races are not descended from Adam/Noah. As a result, people of those races cannot be Christian. They are the descendants of demons (literal descendants of demons as per a literal interpretation of Genesis 6). Now, my good readers, suppose you think (as probably the majority of you do) that this is not a correct interpretation of Scripture, and that you think this opinion is sinful. Let me be clear: I disagree with his interpretation of Scripture. However, can’t the Lord save racists? Of course, Wheeler doesn’t believe he is a racist, though he would be counted one by a great majority of people. Nowadays, racism is the unforgivable sin. The American conscience remembers slavery during the Civil War era and the Holocaust, and we feel guilty about these events, and therefore react to positions like Wheeler’s and think that no one could believe these positions and be a Christian. Why is racism the unforgivable sin?

A serious question for Wheeler is this: what does he believe that Galatians 3:28 means? Does he believe that Jews cannot be part of the church? Weren’t Paul and all the apostles Jews? Wasn’t Jesus Himself a Jew? Isn’t Galatians 3:28 saying that race is no longer a factor in the church?

In reading his first post, I wonder how he can get the idea that there are non-Adamic people on earth from Genesis. Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 are extremely emphatic that all human beings are descended from Adam and from Noah. Where did the non-Adamic people come from in Genesis? Regarding his interpretation of Genesis 6, how can demons have physical seed? I would agree that demons can control people who have children. But demons themselves cannot have children. Jesus makes this crystal clear when He says that in the new heavens and new earth, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be like the angels in heaven. Angels therefore do not have children. Demons are fallen angels. Therefore, demons cannot themselves have children. I think that a lot of Wheeler’s views stem from his interpretation of Genesis 6. There are several interpretations of that difficult passage. I think the seed of Satan there is a description of demon-possessed people. Demons can be driven out of some people and enter others. They are equal-race occupiers.

Wheeler believes that racially mixed marriages will lead inevitably to favoring homosexual practice. He uses Tim Keller as an example of this. But there are plenty of people (like myself) who believe that racially mixed marriages are not sinful, but that homosexuality most definitely is a sin. Not everyone is like Tim Keller. (UPDATE: in the comments, it has become apparent that what I have said about Keller here is not clear. I have not heard Keller completely disambiguate his position on homosexuality, and so I don’t know where he stands. My comments here are temporarily assuming for the sake of argument that Wheeler is correct in his assessment of Keller). Now, racially mixed marriages can have some problems related to cultural differences, and these differences should not be overlooked. I wonder if Wheeler can accept the fact that someone could accept racially mixed marriages without accepting homosexuality or pedophilia (which Wheeler believes is the next step in the inevitable chain). I do not see why this is an inevitable slide. Moses married a non-Israelite, and was criticized for it by Miriam and Moses, and yet God vindicated Moses is a rather dramatic fashion. Ruth was a Moabitess, and yet wound up being one of the ancestors of David, king of Israel, and therefore Jesus Christ.

Another son of God movie

Why I’m NOT Seeing the Movie Son Of God

by Reed DePace

Yeah, expect some will disagree with this. Follow this argument with me:

  • Is Jesus God?
  • If you say “yes”, does the 2nd Commandment (Ex 20:4) apply to Jesus?
  • If you say, “yes”, nuff said – you better not go see the movie.

If you say, ‘yeah but” … A common objection to my argument is the idea that the context of the 2nd commandment is about images of God for purposes of worship. I.e., as long as the image made is not for worship (e.g., teaching), its ok. Well, let’s follow that argument:

  • What is the only proper, biblical response to God?
  • Worship (Dt 10:12; Ps 99; Mt 22:37)
  • If Jesus is God (Joh 1:1-5),
  • Then what is the only proper, the biblical response to Him?
  • Uh, worship.

Think about the response on the Mt of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1, ff.) – worship. Think about John’s response on Patmos Island (Rev 1:17) – worship. Think about the response of Doubting Thomas (Jh 20:28) – worship. Think about what Paul says is the proper response to Jesus in light of His great salvation (Rom 12:1)– worship. It is only when folks DO NOT recognize Jesus as God that they give a wrong response (Mt 4:9; 11:31; Mk 6:51; Jh 12:37) – NOT worship.

Think about the response of the 24 elders in heaven, responding to Jesus (Rev 5:8-14) – they worship the ascended, enthroned Jesus. Who are they attempting to picture in the movie Son of God? The ascended, enthroned Jesus!

Even the producers of the movie hope for a worship response to their portrayal of Jesus:

Mark Burnett: “The disciples, they don’t know they’re in the Bible. They’re following their charismatic leader. They later realize it’s the son of God. It’s God on earth. So they fall in love.” (I.e., they worship!)

Roma Downey: [In seeing the movie] “And you get an opportunity to fall in love with him [Jesus], I think. You understand who he is and what he was doing and that he came and did that for us. I think it’s very humbling.” (I.e., worship!)

(http://www.aintitcool.com/node/66327)

Respectfully, I’d ask those who allow themselves this exception, “Images of Jesus for non-worship purposes are not violations of the 2nd Commandment” to re-think their understanding of their relationship with Jesus. Do you really think that even once in the New Heavens/New Earth you will ever respond to Jesus with something less than worship? “Yo! Jesus Dude, hey Baby, how’s it, er, oops, sorry God.”

Do you think there is some exception in the Already/Not-Yet of our present relationship with Jesus? When you preach, teach or witness to people, do you want them to think of Jesus as anything less than God to whom they owe all the love of their heart-soul-mind-strength? I.e., do you want them to not worship Him?

So, no, I’m not going to see this movie. But I don’t think this is not a matter of mere private conviction. I am very concerned that I live amidst a Church in America that thinks so little of the 2nd Commandment that the argument I just made is not even worthy of consideration. “Legalism!” and with a sweeping gesture, the issue is ignored.

In recent preparation for a sermon on Jeroboam II I ran across a comment (can’t find where now) in which the person observed that the reason this king, great in many ways, was still considered evil, was because he followed his namesake in violating the 2nd Commandment (2Ki 14:24). Why is that so bad? Why is it wrong to image God? Because if you get the image of God wrong, you get your understanding of God wrong. If you don’t understand God, who He is, His nature, there is no hope. Remember, true wisdom begins in fear of the Lord. (Pro 1:7) Getting God’s image right requires submission to His own self-description. Nothing is more foundational to this than His command – don’t image God!

I.O.W., blowing the 2nd Commandment results in worshiping God according to your own understanding. Need we be reminded that left to ourselves we worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator? (Rom 1:25, read the context!)

  • So, if Jesus’ self-description is that He is God (Joh 10:58-59), and
  • The only proper response to God is worship (Ps 99; Rom 12:1), and
  • God judges getting His image wrong as an evil worthy of His highest condemnation (Rom 1:18-32),

What might we expect to see in a Church that willy-nilly ignores Jesus at this point of command?

The Church in America is already experiencing the discipline of generations of getting the gospel wrong (the essence of Jesus’ self-description). Could it be that one factor in the Church’s failure is her eagerness to support portraying Jesus on film? Since the first movie went on the reel, one estimate is that there have been over 1,000 movies made about Jesus (IMDB listing, top 30). Over a dozen actors have portrayed Jesus. If putting Jesus on film is so valuable, such a great tool for the Church, why is the Church in America so sick?

Numerous “leading” pastors are actively supporting this movie, seeing it as a great tool for the support of the Jesus they preach and teach (bit.ly/Pastors4SofGmovie). Among them is a man who denies the Trinity. Another teaches the prosperity-gospel heresy. Others are hardly stalwarts in proclaiming the Jesus imaged in the Bible.

Seriously, this is going to be another Passion of the Christ (2004). That movie was so great that a wave of remorse and repentance swept our land; abortion was ended, no fault divorce was reversed, and sexual immorality was reigned in. Oh, wait, um …

God is not mocked. We are reaping what we’ve sown. Even if this movie followed the gospel accounts word for word, it would still violate the 2nd Commandment. Yes, God can draw lines with crooked sticks. But He does that in mercy. He certainly does not use crooked sticks who celebrate their crookedness, and flaunt it as a strength to be used to achieve God’s will.

Think about what Jesus said to Thomas, who would not believe and worship until he saw with his own eyes, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed.” (Joh 20:29)

Don’t put Jesus to the test on this one. Don’t go see this movie. You’ll find He more than strengthens your faith!

by Reed DePace

So Cultured I’m Yogurt

Most of my readers are probably familiar with the categories of Niebuhr regarding Christ and culture. There’s Christ against culture, Christ of culture, Christ above culture, Christ and culture in paradox, and Christ transforming culture. What many pastors claim to be advocating today is the last option: Christ transforming culture. It sounds great, doesn’t it? It sounds like the gospel is doing its work. The problem is that it is not always personal. The shift from personal evangelism to an impersonal “engaging the culture” oftentimes leaves the gospel out of the mix. It is parallel to the social gospel (and in many cases is equal to it) of the old liberal stream. Theoretically it is Christ transforming culture. Functionally, it winds up being the Christ of culture.

The other problem is this: all non-Christian culture is fundamentally idolatrous. All too often, “engaging the culture” is a euphemism for “caving in to the culture.” I am not for a moment claiming that culture always produces bilge. There are a myriad of great works of art out there, fashioned according to the gifts of common grace. They can and should be appreciated. I am referring to more problematic phenomena, like using movie clips as the text of the sermon. Surely, in that case, we have substituted man’s words for God’s words. I suggest that those who are so enamored of culture that they are yogurt need to step back for a moment and ask the tough questions: is this phenomenon I am studying really conducive to evangelism, personal holiness, progress in the Christian walk? Or am I merely using this “engaging culture” mantra as a smokescreen to disguise my own idolatrous fascination with an idolatrous culture? Am I using the mantra “engaging culture” to mask, disguise, and even justify my own sinful propensities?

Most of the time that I see this, I also see someone who is soft on sin. They will typically redefine sin so that what they are doing (conveniently enough) doesn’t fall under the Bible’s strictures. They become functional antinomians.

Now, let us not throw the Christian-in-culture baby out with the idolatry bathwater. Should Christians, in their various fields of art and science seek to produce that which is Christian in those fields? Undoubtedly. Alas that Reformed folk fall so far short of doing these things, most of the time. There are always exceptions. However, one could wish that there were more great Reformed artists, sculptors, musicians, and scientists that would produce work that is Reformed, bringing glory to God. Again, it is not common grace that I am arguing against, nor a Christian’s desire to produce works of art that I would in any way hinder. Rather, it is the sinful fascination with the idolatrous culture that I am seeking to expose.

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

Persecution in America? Chicken Little vs. the Ostrich

by Reed DePace

In the wake of the two same sex marriage decisions from the Supreme Court I wrote to a group of ministerial friends and acquaintances asking for copies of their church’s marriage policies. I did so because I expect churches and pastors will be facing, in just a few years, at least civil assaults via this issue.

Some reaction to my concern was that I was being an alarmist. Another labeled my concern absurd (def.: ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous; having no rational or orderly relationship to human life).

O.k., maybe like Chicken Little I don’t know an acorn from persecution. Yet, before going gaily on your way, I’d ask you to at least consider the discussion a bit more fully. Maybe the following articles will help:

I do not believe the goal is mere legitimization. No, I think that which is pushing homosexuality across our culture is a greater moral goal, one with two components. This goal is to secure the acknowledgement, in all parts of our culture:

  1. Of the moral superiority of homosexuality, and
  2. Of the moral depravity of any who deny this (and so, must be treated as the worst bigots in history, e.g., KKK, Nazis, etc.).

Think I’m Chicken Little? Stanley Hauerwas, “America’s Best Theologian” (Time Magazine, 2001) began to make just such an argument back in 1993. The Bible is already well on its way to being labeled morally degenerate in terms of its moral condemnation of homosexuality. Already opponents of same sex marriage are shying away from making a moral-based argument.

Whether I’m Chicken Little or not, at the very least the homosexual juggernaut (as another friend labels it) is on the move. Where it stops, and what it crushes along the way may be debatable. It should hardly be a debatable point that it is on an (humanly) unstoppable roll.

Will pastors face persecution via the same sex marriage issue? Christian laymen already are:

Oh, and a church has experienced persecution over this issue.

So what should we do in response? I think there are at least three faith-responses we can offer that we can say are both our Father’s marching orders and carry His promise of blessing in response:

  1. Make reasonable preparations (Matthew 10:16; Colossians 4:5; Philippians 2:15). Investigate whether or not you or church has unnecessary legal exposure in the ways in which you offer services to non-members. Take appropriate measures to remove or mitigate this exposure.
  2. Pray for God to send us into these fields that are ripe for the Harvest (John 4:35; Matthew 9:36-38). The truth is that those in homosexuality are destroying themselves. They, their family and friends are suffering the worst of the effects of the fall, just short of what a Christ-less eternity brings.
  3. Love those who consider us their enemies by bringing them the gospel (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-28): God will surely do in our generation what He has done in the past (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Imagine the joy you, saved from your depravity, will experience standing beside your brother or sister who was once your enemy trapped in homosexuality’s depravity.

I do hope I am just warning about acorns. But I don’t think this is the case. So I’ll see the charge that I’m being absurd and raise a “don’t be naïve!” Or maybe I can put it this way: I’d rather be Chicken Little than an ostrich.

by Reed DePace

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