Archive for September, 2014

Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014


Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.
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Western society is currently experiencing what can only be described as a moral revolution. Our society’s moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a particular issue has undergone not small adjustments but a complete reversal. That which was once condemned is now celebrated, and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned.

What makes the current moral and sexual revolution so different from previous moral revolutions is that it is taking place at an utterly unprecedented velocity. Previous generations experienced moral revolutions over decades, even centuries. This current revolution is happening at warp speed.

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.

Why the Concordance Method Fails

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible word of God. We understand that, as B.B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.

There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.

It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations that are essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Needed:  A Biblical Theology of the Body

Biblical theology is absolutely indispensable for the church to craft an appropriate response to the current sexual crisis. The church must learn to read Scripture according to its context, embedded in its master-narrative, and progressively revealed along covenantal lines. We must learn to interpret each theological issue through Scripture’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Specifically, evangelicals need a theology of the body that is anchored in the Bible’s own unfolding drama of redemption.

Movement One — Creation

Genesis 1:26–28 indicates that God made man—unlike the rest of creation—in his own image. This passage also demonstrates that God’s purpose for humanity was an embodied existence. Genesis 2:7 highlights this point as well. God makes man out of the dust and then breathes into him the breath of life. This indicates that we were a body before we were a person. The body, as it turns out, is not incidental to our personhood. Adam and Eve are given the commission to multiply and subdue the earth. Their bodies allow them, by God’s creation and his sovereign plan, to fulfill that task of image-bearing.

The Genesis narrative also suggests that the body comes with needs. Adam would be hungry, so God gave him the fruit of the garden. These needs are an expression embedded within the created order that Adam is finite, dependent, and derived.

Further, Adam would have a need for companionship, so God gave him a wife, Eve. Both Adam and Eve were to fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth with God’s image-bearers by a proper use of the bodily reproductive ability with which they were created. Coupled with this is the bodily pleasure each would experience as the two became one flesh—that is, one body.

The Genesis narrative also demonstrates that gender is part of the goodness of God’s creation. Gender is not merely a sociological construct forced upon human beings who otherwise could negotiate any number of permutations.

But Genesis teaches us that gender is created by God for our good and his glory. Gender is intended for human flourishing and is assigned by the Creator’s determination—just as he determined whenwhere, and that we should exist.

In sum, God created his image as an embodied person. As embodied, we are given the gift and stewardship of sexuality from God himself. We are constructed in a way that testifies to God’s purposes in this.

Genesis also frames this entire discussion in a covenantal perspective. Human reproduction is not merely in order to propagate the race. Instead, reproduction highlights the fact that Adam and Eve were to multiply in order to fill the earth with the glory of God as reflected by his image bearers.

Movement Two — The Fall

The fall, the second movement in redemptive history, corrupts God’s good gift of the body. The entrance of sin brings mortality to the body. In terms of sexuality, the Fall subverts God’s good plans for sexual complementarity. Eve’s desire is to rule over her husband (Gen. 3:16). Adam’s leadership will be harsh (3:17-19). Eve will experience pain in childbearing (3:16).

The narratives that follow demonstrate the development of aberrant sexual practices, from polygamy to rape, which Scripture addresses with remarkable candor. These Genesis accounts are followed by the giving of the Law which is intended to curb aberrant sexual behavior. It regulates sexuality and expressions of gender and makes clear pronouncements on sexual morals, cross-dressing, marriage, divorce, and host of other bodily and sexual matters.

The Old Testament also connects sexual sin to idolatry. Orgiastic worship, temple prostitution, and other horrible distortions of God’s good gift of the body are all seen as part and parcel of idolatrous worship. The same connection is made by Paul in Romans 1. Having “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom 1:22), and having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25), men and women exchange their natural relations with one another (Rom 1:26-27).

Movement Three — Redemption

With regard to redemption, we must note that one of the most important aspects of our redemption is that it came by way of a Savior with a body. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Human redemption is accomplished by the Son of God incarnate—who remains incarnate eternally.

Paul indicates that this salvation includes not merely our souls but also our bodies. Romans 6:12 speaks of sin that reigns in our “mortal bodies”—which implies the hope of future bodily redemption. Romans 8:23 indicates part of our eschatological hope is the “redemption of our bodies.” Even now, in our life of sanctification we are commanded to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in worship (Rom. 12:2). Further, Paul describes the redeemed body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and clearly we must understand sanctification as having effects upon the body.

Sexual ethics in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, regulate our expressions of gender and sexuality.Porneia, sexual immorality of any kind, is categorically condemned by Jesus and the apostles. Likewise, Paul clearly indicates to the church at Corinth that sexual sin—sins committed in the body (1 Cor. 6:18)—are what bring the church and the gospel into disrepute because they proclaim to a watching world that the gospel has been to no effect (1 Cor. 5-6).

Movement Four — New Creation

Finally, we reach the fourth and final act of the drama of redemption—new creation. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-57, Paul directs us not only to the resurrection of our own bodies in the new creation but to the fact that Christ’s bodily resurrection is the promise and power for that future hope. Our resurrection will be the experience of eternal glory in the body. This body will be a transformed, consummated continuation of our present embodied existence in the same way that Jesus’ body is the same body he had on earth, yet utterly glorified.

The new creation will not simply be a reset of the garden. It will be better than Eden. As Calvin noted, in the new creation we will know God not only as Creator but as Redeemer—and that redemption includes our bodies. We will reign with Christ in bodily form, as he also is the embodied and reigning cosmic Lord.

In terms of our sexuality, while gender will remain in the new creation, sexual activity will not. It is not that sex is nullified in the resurrection; rather, it is fulfilled. The eschatological marriage supper of the Lamb, to which marriage and sexuality point, will finally arrive. No longer will there be any need to fill the earth with image-bearers as was the case in Genesis 1. Instead, the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Biblical Theology Is Indispensable 

The sexuality crisis has demonstrated the failure of theological method on the part of many pastors. The “concordance reflex” simply cannot accomplish the type of rigorous theological thinking needed in pulpits today. Pastors and churches must learn the indispensability of biblical theology and must practice reading Scripture according to its own internal logic—the logic of a story that moves from creation to new creation. The hermeneutical task before us is great, but it is also indispensable for faithful evangelical engagement with the culture.

Multiculturalism, Islam, and the War on the West

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014


Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

For some reason the Western world has embraced one stupid idea after another, most of which are contributing greatly to the West’s downfall. There are many candidates here which can be mentioned, but the multiculti brigade has to be right up there on top of the list.

It may have had some good intentions early on, such as everyone living together happily and harmoniously, but intentions must always match up with reality. And the reality is, all cultures are not the same; not all cultures are compatible; and some cultures have vowed to destroy other cultures.

islam 33Multiculturalism has especially been disastrous when it tries to deny these realities in regards to Islam. Islamic culture is not the same as that of the West; Islam is not compatible with the free and democratic West; and Islam has declared its intention to destroy the West.

Yet the brainless wonders leading the West think we can just ignore all these inconvenient truths, and still rush full steam ahead with the failed policies of multiculturalism. But with Islam in the West causing all sorts of major problems – including plenty of murder and mayhem – some Western nations are slowly starting to wake up.

Some countries are having a major rethink about all this. Four recent articles from three different nations have all highlighted these truths and are worth sharing parts of. Let me begin in the US with commentator Walter Williams. He minces no words in his title: “Multiculturalism Is a Failure”. He begins:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that in Germany, multiculturalism has “utterly failed.” Both Australia’s ex-prime minister John Howard and Spain’s ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar reached the same conclusion about multiculturalism in their countries. British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that multiculturalism is fostering extremist ideology and directly contributing to homegrown Islamic terrorism. UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the United Kingdom’s push for multiculturalism has not united Britons but pushed them apart. It has allowed for Islam to emerge despite Britain’s Judeo-Christian culture. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the roots of violent Islamism are not “superficial but deep” and can be found “in the extremist minority that now, in every European city, preach hatred of the West and our way of life.”
The bottom line is that much of the Muslim world is at war with Western civilization. There’s no question that the West has the military might to thwart radical Islam’s agenda. The question up for grabs is whether we have the intelligence to recognize the attack and the will to defend ourselves from annihilation. Multiculturalism is Islamists’ foot in the door. At the heart of multiculturalism is an attack on Western and Christian values….
Multiculturalists argue that different cultural values are morally equivalent. That’s nonsense. Western culture and values are superior. For those who’d accuse me of Eurocentrism, I’d ask: Is forcible female genital mutilation, as practiced in nearly 30 sub-Saharan African and Middle Eastern countries, a morally equivalent cultural value? Slavery is practiced in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan; is it morally equivalent? In most of the Middle East, there are numerous limits placed on women, such as prohibitions on driving, employment and education. Under Islamic law, in some countries, female adulterers face death by stoning, and thieves face the punishment of having their hand severed. In some countries, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Are these cultural values morally equivalent, superior or inferior to Western values?

Daniel Greenfield argues that “Moderate Islam Is Multiculturalism Misspelled”. He writes:

I have been searching for moderate Islam since September 11 and just like a lost sock in the dryer, it was in the last place I expected it to be. There is no moderate Islam in the mosques or in Mecca. You won’t find it in the Koran or the Hadiths. If you want to find moderate Islam, browse the newspaper editorials after a terrorist attack or take a course on Islamic religion taught by a Unitarian Sociologist wearing fake native jewelry. You can’t find a moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia or Iran, but you can find it in countless network news specials, articles and books about the two homelands of their respective brands of Islam.
You won’t find the fabled land of moderate Muslims in the east. You won’t even find it in the west. Like all myths it exists in the imagination of those who tell the stories. You won’t find a moderate Islam in the Koran, but you will find it in countless Western books about Islam. Moderate Islam isn’t what most Muslims believe. It’s what most liberals believe that Muslims believe. The new multicultural theology of the West is moderate Islam. Moderate Islam is the perfect religion for a secular age since it isn’t a religion at all….
The true moderate Muslims are secular liberals of loosely Christian and Jewish persuasion who have invented and believe in a moderate Islam that doesn’t exist outside of their own heads. This secular Islam, which values all life, is dedicated to social justice and universal tolerance, is a counterpart of their own bastardized religions. And they are too afraid to wake up and realize that it doesn’t exist.
When American and European leaders insist that Islam has nothing to do with the latest Islamic atrocity, they are not referencing a religion practiced by Muslims, but an imaginary religion that they imagine Muslims must practice because the alternative is the end of everything that they believe in.
Their moderate Islam is light on the details, beyond standing for social justice, fighting Global Warming and supporting gay rights, because it is really multiculturalism wearing a fake beard. When a Western leader claims that the latest batch of Islamic terrorists don’t speak for Islam, he isn’t defending Muslims, he’s defending multiculturalism. He assumes that Muslims believe in multiculturalism because he does. Moderate Islam is just multiculturalism misspelled. Its existence is a firm article of faith for those who believe in multiculturalism.

Moving to the UK, let me quote from a piece on Independence Party Leader Nigel Farage:

According to Farage, much of that can be tied to the United Kingdom’s push for multiculturalism, which has not united Brits but pushed them apart. As he explained, it has allowed for Islam to emerge despite his nation’s Judeo-Christian culture.
“We’ve seen an increased radicalization within the United Kingdom, much of this I’m afraid to say is a self-inflicted wound. We’ve had four decades of state-sponsored multiculturalism. We’ve actually encouraged people not to come together and be British but to live separately, to live apart. … There are similarities [to the United States]. We even have the last Archbishop of Canterbury suggesting that Sharia law be acceptable in British cities. So, I’m afraid we have been weak and we have not been muscular in standing up and saying to people, ‘We are a Christian country. We have a Christian constitution, a Judeo-Christian culture. We’ve allowed our schools to be infiltrated. Our prisons, you know, are now perhaps where jihadism is on the march more rapidly than anywhere else. Much of this we’ve done to ourselves.”

Finally, Australian journalist Piers Akerman explains why it is time to dump multiculturalism:

The war against terror in Australia will count for nothing unless it is accompanied by a war against the culture that permitted terrorism to gain a foothold in the country. That would be the invidious policy of multiculturalism promoted by the Whitlam government’s notorious minister for immigration Al Grassby….
Multiculturalism is a great example of elitist policy-making that should be dumped. Since the Leftist intelligentsia launched the French Revolution, Leftist elites have triggered top-down revolutions with results in Russia, China, South-East Asia and South and Central America.
Grassby and others within the Labor Party and the academia have promoted culturally undermining policies of moral equivalence of which multiculturalism is but one manifestation. Unfortunately for Australian Aboriginals, the ambition to create some form of constitutional recognition, either through a preamble, or by change to the constitution, will inevitably fail as most Australians will view any attempt at creating distinctions between Australian citizens with justifiable suspicion. Yet multiculturalism does just that and taxpayers are required to underwrite an invidious policy that encourages division and repels integration….
The great irony is the Western youth revolutions of the ’60s were all anti-authoritarian. The young then wanted policies that broke strict cultural taboos – and they won. Yet the young terrorists flocking to the death cult’s black flag want to submit to the globe’s most severe form of religious authoritarianism.

All four of these articles are well worth reading in their entirety. Many social and political commentators are starting to get it, as are some Western leaders. But if we don’t want the failed and dangerous dreams of the multiculti clique to be realised, we will need many more of our leaders to wake up, and to wake up fast.

The Intensifying Attack on Christian Institutions

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
The Intensifying Attack on Christian Institutions

By Rick Plasterer

The next stage in the culture war over religion, fueled from the gains of recent years by social liberals in public opinion, a two term liberal Democratic presidency, and liberal judicial appointments, appears to be unfolding in the use of antidiscrimination doctrine to attack Christian institutions. Although threats do exist to the primary religious institutions — houses of worship — it is those that provide social services as a religious activity, namely religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, and charities that are most directly threatened. These have been a refuge for Christians, or other believers, from the secularization of the twentieth, and now twenty-first, centuries. Service to the poor and suffering and the education of the young are both Biblical commands, and thus, in the American rights-oriented context, should be understood as an exercise of religion. Heretofore our legal system has permitted religious education and social service without seriously impinging on their religious character. Now we may be seeing the beginning of the end of educational and social services that are in any serious way religious rather than secular.

For educational institutions, there are three notable areas which could be subject to attack: state aid to education, tax exempt status, and accreditation. State aid involves most notably state financial assistance to students through work-study programs or other assistance, the threat to tax exempt status comes in tying tax exemption to agreement with fundamental public policy objectives, the threat to accreditation represents the ultimate threat short of making specifically Christian educational institutions illegal.

That religious education should be legal at a primary and secondary level was determined by the Pierce decision in 1925, which concerned an effort at that time to suppress Catholic education. Federal law and regulation since that time has protected the right of religious schools to teach a distinctively religious curriculum. The position of anyone who teaches a religious curriculum is exempt from the antidiscrimination regime under the constitutional “ministerial exception,” while such an educational institution is exempt from antidiscrimination considerations as far as matters of religious affiliation are concerned.

What in religious institutions has not been protected from the antidiscrimination regime (except where the ministerial exception applies, as noted by the EEOC) are non-religious categories, race, sex, and now by extension, sexual orientation. It is this circumstance, originally established by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and confirmed by the ominous Bob Jones University case, decided by the Supreme Court in 1983, which has given those hostile to the conservative Christian subculture in the contemporary world, and its possible influence on the wider culture, a weapon to attack that subculture using antidiscrimination law and policy.

The Bob Jones University decision, rendered by the Supreme Court in 1983, determined that a lower court was correct to take away the school’s tax exemption because its policy against interracial dating, although religiously based, was contrary to fundamental public policy. Thus, the key question of the case — does religious freedom prevail when the liberal/left conscience is offended — was clearly answered in the negative. In the thirty years since, this infringement of religious liberty has not caused grave problems, mainly because racial separation is not part of core Christian doctrine, and not doctrine at all for the great majority of believers. But the arrival of sexual orientation as a real or possible antidiscrimination category does present a terrible situation in which the religious character of an institution is gravely imperiled by antidiscrimination law and policy.

The attempt to make sexual orientation a federal employment nondiscrimination category has been advanced for more than a decade by the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act (many states also have their own ENDAs). Fought for many years as a threat to the religious liberty of private employers, it nonetheless had a strong exemption for religious institutions. This became unacceptable in the past year to the cultural left in its polemic against religious liberty as the battle over liberty of conscience for businesses became intense, with the result that the Left withdrew its support for a bill with religious exemptions. But as with many other issues, the Obama Administration has tried to do with executive action what could not be achieved legislatively. While applying only to federal contractors, Obama’s executive order making sexual orientation a nondiscrimination category for federal contracts resulted in an (unsuccessful) outcry for religious exemptions. Among those strongly opposed was the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. From one such appeal, to which the President of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts affixed his signature, there resulted a fierce backlash in the press, as noted by Prof. Denny Burk of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, shortly after the furor erupted. He also noted that no distinction was being drawn between sexual identity and behavior, an essential distinction for Christians that liberal/left partisans refuse to accept. In a separate article, Burk discussed the current claim of leftist legal scholars that antidiscrimination doctrine requires the government to disfavor any religious group which opposes the “equality” doctrine in any of the doctrine’s categories, not just race. This would mean, most importantly, that Christian sexual morality could not be a requirement for students, employees, or faculty (if it can be argued the ministerial exception does not apply to them), since in the liberal/left understanding of antidiscrimination doctrine, there can be no adverse judgments about behavior as well as identity.

Christian sexual morality involves, in addition to its prohibitions, recognition of only the two natural sexes and their separation outside of marriage to ensure their privacy and comfort. This heretofore universal practice, without which many people would consider their privacy intolerably invaded, is also under attack as part of the antidiscrimination program. Currently George Fox University, a Christian institution in Oregon was sued by a transgender student, demanding access to the housing facilities of the sex being transitioned to. Clear in the complaint against the Christian university and a similar one against California Baptist University is the claim that transsexuals may not be refused admission, although a religious school might have a doctrinal objection to sex changes. This refusal to respect mores contrary to the prevailing antidiscrimination regime at private, voluntary, religious institutions was recently supported by the New York Times, which, of course, reflects prevailing opinion of the Left. A somewhat similar situation occurred in 2011, when the Catholic University of America reestablished same-sex dorms. A lawsuit challenging the action was dismissed, but the fact that Catholic University is a private, voluntary, and religious institution, which until the present generation would have made it obvious to all that same-sex dorms were the school’s own business as a matter of religious freedom, no longer counts with an influential part of the population. Only a monolithic culture, that has accepted the sexual revolution, will do.

While the religious character of a Christian institution is seriously impaired, really to the point of not being Christian, if it acquiesces in abandoning sexual standards of behavior, not even this is the end of the line for secularists. The very idea of a Christian institution with an orthodox doctrinal commitment is held to violate “academic freedom,” which requires the “primacy of reason.” This was discussed by Alan Jacobs in a recent article in New Atlantis, who referred to such a claim by University of Pennsylvania professor Peter Conn. Jacobs correctly pointed out that a rationalist commitment (that reason must be unaided) is as much an act of faith as a frank commitment to particular religious doctrine, and that any serious raising of religious doctrine in a secular academic environment is as practically forbidden there as its denial would be formally forbidden in a religious academic institution.

Similar challenges are being seen in more socially liberal Canada against Trinity Western University, as discussed by IRD earlier this year. That school and other Christian institutions in Canada have been under pressure in recent years from educational and professional associations and from the general public, because of their orthodox Christian faith commitments (held to violate “academic freedom”) and social conservatism (held to violate “gay rights”). These Canadian schools have, however, so far prevailed with the authorities ruling on questions at issue to the degree that they are able to function as schools. But as Canadian society has continued to move to the left on social issues, their position is growing more tenuous. As is commonly and most effectively done in these situations, opponents of religious freedom make the claim that the doctrine and practices of conservative institutions are too severe, even “unchristian,” although they are well supported by the Bible and two thousand years of Christian practice. The presenting issue at the moment is accreditation of Trinity Western University’s proposed new law school in light of its opposition to homosexuality in doctrine and practice (people participating at the university sign an agreement to adhere to the prohibitions of Christian morality, including its prohibition against homosexuality). Canadian law societies therefore maintain they will not receive Trinity Western’s graduates. The school has maintained that it should not be penalized for its views, and does not violate current standards in Canada. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also briefly reviewed Trinity Western’s case.

Christian institutions should not continue to function if they are required to compromise in doctrine, or more likely, in practice, on Christian faith or morality. It may be that distinctively Christian educational or social service institutions will not be legally possible in the future. Committed Christians will then have to live out their lives without them, but that is the only faithful alternative, not continuing to function, either individually or corporately, in a compromised way. But even in that situation, we should continue to argue for our duty to God in serving Him according to His own standards and our right of conscience to once again have the free exercise of religion in educational and social services.

Rick Plasterer is a staff writer for IRD concerned particularly with domestic religious liberty. He attended Eastern Mennonite College (now University) receiving a B.A. degree in history and sociology, and an M.S. in library science from Drexel University.

A Sobering Mercy

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
A Sobering Mercy – Lyle Dorsett
The second time I surrendered to Christ, I was on a dirt road with no memory of how I had arrived there

By Lyle Dorsett

One of the advantages of growing older is the perspective it provides. From a vantage point of more than seven decades, I increasingly marvel at the sovereignty and love of God. Only the passage of time enabled me to see that my salvation has been God-initiated.

Two events separated by more than two decades bring into focus an unbroken chain of God’s grace. At the time, they seemed to be singular and unrelated situations coming from a God with whom I had no relationship.

For many years, I believed my initial encounter with God came a few months after my 15th birthday. My parents and I were living in Birmingham, having recently moved there from Kansas City, Missouri. Despite having been baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church, I never understood why it was important to have a relationship with Jesus. My parents must have had similar thoughts, since we attended church sporadically.

Our family’s relationship with the Lord changed greatly one hot Alabama night. Walking home from a summer job, I took a shortcut through the campus of Howard College (now Samford University) and came upon a sight totally foreign to me. A large tent adorned the football field. Inside, a dynamic preacher paced across an elevated platform.

Later I learned that I had come upon a Baptist revival meeting. The magnetic preacher, Eddie Martin, spoke on the Prodigal Son, applying the parable to the congregation gathered. He declared there were some prodigals inside the tent and that they needed to “come home.”

I was not a particularly errant lad, but I knew I was one of those prodigals. I was not inside the tent, however, and when the invitation came, I was not sure I would be welcome. You see, in the 1950s my family and I were outsiders–Yankees. I feared going forward. But before the preacher closed the meeting, he said there were more prodigals there. And if God gave him one more night to live, he would be back with an invitation to “come home to the Lord.”

The next evening he returned, and so did I. Despite my outsider status, I boldly entered the tent. Ushers seated me near the front. I have no memory of the sermon. I sat waiting for the invitation.

The call came and the evangelist led me through a sinner’s prayer. I confessed my need for forgiveness. While being led in prayer, I strongly felt the presence of Jesus Christ. I sensed his love and forgiveness as well as his call to preach the gospel.

My parents were supportive of my experience at the revival. Within a few weeks, we were baptized and became members of Ruhama Baptist Church. We seldom missed a service, and my parents’ faith grew enormously there.

Never before had I experienced such peace and joy. I even met two young men from Howard who took me along when they preached in small mining towns. The students involved me in their ministry at every level, including preaching.

Eighteen months later, everything changed. My father’s work took us back to Kansas City. I never felt comfortable in the church we joined, and I drifted. Although never deliberately turning from God, when I became a college student I sought intellectual respectability and embraced the prevalent materialist worldview. The call to preach sometimes haunted me, but I pursued graduate studies in history and embarked upon an academic career. Soon it became my identity.

Five years after my first academic appointment, Mary and I married. She believed attending church would be good for us. Because her background was Catholic and mine Baptist, we decided that the Lutheran Church might be a good compromise. In Boulder, Colorado, we found a church home where Mary encountered grace, surrendered her life to Christ, and began praying for me.

During the first six years of our marriage, I taught full-time and pursued research. Promotions came quickly, as did publications and grants. But despite the blessings of a lovely wife, two children, and professional success, no rest came to my soul. To fill the void I began to drink heavily. Although most people didn’t know it, I became an alcoholic. I never missed classes and seldom drank during the week, but I often binged on weekends.

Despite the blessings of a lovely wife, two children, and professional success, no rest came to my soul. I began to drink heavily.

Mary continued to pray. And one of my favorite students spent money he couldn’t afford to buy me a copy of G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, then challenged to me read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Simultaneously, my car radio malfunctioned and stuck on a gospel station. I kept the radio on because I needed noise. Gradually the programs began to warm my soul.

Still doubting, I received a year’s leave to write a book. When I finished it early, I rewarded myself with a binge. One evening when Mary implored me not to drink around the children, I stomped out, found a bar, and drank until closing time. I left armed with a six-pack, drove up a winding mountain road, stopped at an overlook, and blacked out. The next morning I found myself on a dirt road next to the old Pioneer Cemetery in Boulder with no memory of the drive down.

Despite the hangover, I realized I had experienced a miracle. In utter desperation I cried out, “Lord, if you are there, please help me.” That same Presence I had met years earlier in Birmingham blessed me again. I knew he was in the car and that he loved me despite my wretchedness. This liberating encounter with Jesus Christ eventually brought healing.

When I sobered up and proclaimed my new birth to our Lutheran pastor, he said, “I think you have finally realized what you were given in your infant baptism and confirmation.” I did not believe him at the time, but sometimes I have flashbacks to the church of my childhood. I can see the choir processioning in; a mural shows Jesus ascending to heaven; I hear the pastor’s call to worship: “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.” The boy who had been marked with the covenant stayed there long enough to sense that our God is awesome.

Way Out in Front of Me

I moved many times, made countless mistakes, and experienced two encounters with the Lord who never gave up on me. He gradually brought healing and restored the years the locusts had eaten. He opened doors for me to witness in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and preach in rescue missions, jails, and convalescent centers. He then called me to full-time ministry, ordination in the Anglican Church, and eventually to the Billy Graham Chair of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, where I had first heard his call to preach.

Over the years God has proved to be a gentle Comforter–like when Mary underwent massive surgery for cancer, and when our 10-year-old daughter died unexpectedly. Occasionally his Spirit illumines Scripture in an amazingly clear way. There are moments during devotions when he brings to mind a person–and the person needed my call and the assurance that it was the Lord’s initiative. Sometimes Mary and I are nudged to give money to a person, and we both “hear” the same amount. The Lord also manifests his Father’s heart by sternly rebuking me for a willful act of disobedience or prideful disregard for his holiness.

Certainly the most humbling and reassuring lesson coming from a three-quarter-century backward glance is his persistence in drawing me to himself. Now I know that God was always way out in front of me, initiating life-giving knowledge of himself. And it was he who pursued me and sustained the relationship when I strayed in ignorant sheeplike fashion, doubted his existence, and then like the Prodigal Son deliberately moved to the far country.

And it is all grace–unearned, un­deserved, unrepayable grace.

Lyle Dorsett is Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School and serves as pastor of Christ the King Anglican Church in Birmingham which is affiliated with PEARUSE (Rwanda) a diocese of the Anglican Church in North America. This article first appeared in Christianity Today and is republished with permission of the author.

The battle for the soul of the Church

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

As the dust settles people are beginning to realise that more was at stake in the debate over women bishops than breaking the church’s glass ceiling? According to Linda Woodhead, ‘the vote for women bishops strikes a blow against sectarian ‘male’ Christianity’. Woodhead, who is President of Modern Church, has emerged as the leading proponent of an ecclesiology that emphasises the need for the Church of England to remain a national Church, in tune with the values and beliefs of a large number of its members who are not active churchgoers. Research undertaken by Woodhead suggests there are four types of Anglicans: a small group (five per cent of her sample) she terms the ‘God-fearers’ who attend regularly and are orthodox in belief; the ‘church mainstream’ (put at 12 per cent), regular in attendance but not so orthodox in belief; ‘non-churchgoing mainstream’ (50 per cent) who share the liberal beliefs of the church pentecost_news1338041413mainstream but rarely attend; and the ‘non-churchgoing doubters’ (33 per cent) who are less orthodox in belief and rarely attend but still claim to be ‘Anglican’. Woodhead would like the church to listen more to its nominal members and not think its mission is to turn everyone into a God-fearer. She claims that, first under George Carey and then under Rowan Williams, the church moved in a ‘sectarian’ direction and tried to emphasise its distinctiveness from secular society. In the 60s and 70s the Church of England was travelling in a broadly liberal direction in tune with the rest of society but the extension of equal rights to women and gay people was hard for the Church to swallow. She hopes the vote on women bishops signals a change although she confesses to worries about Archbishop Welby’s stand on gay marriage and assisted dying. There is a good deal of truth in this analysis of the current situation facing the Church. One of the troubling aspects of the debate about women bishops is that some bishops were apparently ready to introduce the measure into Lords if it failed in General Synod and push it through with Parliamentary approval. After the measure failed in Synod in November 2012, we heard anguished cries from bishops about the future of the establishment and threats from politicians like Frank Field that they would take matters into their own hands. It is interesting to compare the situation with the 1928 vote on the Prayer Book. Then, as now, liberals in the Church were keen to preserve the link between church and nation. So, too, were the evangelicals who did not scruple to appeal to what they saw as a ‘Protestant’ nation over the head of a Church too much influenced by Anglo-Catholicism.

Only the Anglo-Catholics were ready to support the independence of the Church against the state. Today conservative evangelicals have no illusions about the danger of control by a secular Parliament. They have discovered ecclesiology and see the need for a theology of the church that underpins its independence. A much-diminished band of Anglo-Catholics remains faithful to the teaching of the Oxford Movement and they are joined by a small but theologically very creative group who call themselves ‘Radical Orthodoxy’. Rowan Williams is close to this movement, which is why Woodhead puts him in the sectarian camp although she unfairly ignores his emphasis on dialogue with the wider culture. Behind the debates over sexuality and assisted dying lies a battle for the soul of Anglicanism between liberals like Woodhead and those who want to see a Church faithful to gospel and tradition and speaking with a distinctive voice. The same battle is raging elsewhere. In Australia liberals have scored a victory and made a big concession to secular society with the General Synod ruling that the secrecy of the confessional does not apply to serious crimes (including cases of sexual abuse). As one Catholic commentator pointed out on the ABC ‘Religion and Ethics’ site, this undermines the priest’s role as the minister of God’s forgiveness and the church’s calling to be what Pope Francis called ‘a field hospital for sinners’.

Woodhead sees Fresh Expressions and other forms of missionary outreach as attempts to boost the God-fearers. She puts her faith in both the churchgoing and non-churchgoing mainstream. There are several problems with this strategy. With admitted exceptions, clergy tend to be recruited from the committed. As numbers shrink, it becomes more difficult to recruit able candidates, especially able young candidates. Studying American evangelicals, Christian Smith has suggested, teaches us that churches thrive when they have a distinctive message but remain in dialogue with the secular society. What is crucial is that Christians choose the right issues on which to make a stand. Woodhead ignores signs that the number of those who claim church affiliation but are not active members or believers is in decline as more claim to be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’. Woodhead herself has studied this pattern in Kendal. One move would be to make the Church more welcoming of spiritual seekers and turn clergy into what the NHS already terms ‘spiritual care givers’. Questions need to be asked about how far the Church can go in this direction and still be Christian.

Unbiblical Presumption in College of Bishops’ Sexuality Statement

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
 Unbiblical Presumption in College of Bishops’ Sexuality Statement

By Julian Mann

The Church of England’s media statement following the College of Bishops’ ‘shared conversations’ on sexuality this week is biblically unfaithful because, whilst the New Testament teaches assurance, it does not teach presumption. Indeed, the Apostle John’s First Epistle clearly teaches that true assurance depends on professing Christians’ abiding in the truth of the apostolic message:

That which we (the eye-witness Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ) have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1v3 – RSV).

The meeting included diocesan and suffragan bishops and the eight senior women clergy elected last year. Emitting a toxic fume of spiritual and moral relativism, the statement declares:

As part of the conversations the college shared the different responses being expressed in the life of the church and the deeply held convictions and experiences that inform them. In this the college reflected the diversity of experience and view held by the country as a whole. The college also acknowledged that at this stage it was not seeking to achieve consensus nor to make any decisions but rather the purpose was being open to see Jesus Christ in those who took an opposing view to their own position.

For all the Bishops’ attempts to reassure orthodox Anglicans that the introduction of authorised services of same-sex blessing is not a foregone conclusion, this statement is highly proscriptive and indeed dogmatic in its view of revisionist church leaders. It strongly implies that it would be sinful to treat a convinced revisionist as an opponent because he or she must be a real Christian on the basis of their self-perception.

But this approach flagrantly disregards the biblical fact that departing from the New Testament’s teaching that sex is exclusively for heterosexual marriage involves the presuppositional rejection of apostolic authority.

According to 1 John, that is how false teachers are identifiable – by their rejection of God-revealed apostolic truth. Such men and women are not in fellowship with Christ’s authorized witnesses and are therefore not in fellowship with the Father and Son. Such teachers need to be opposed not affirmed. It is unbiblical presumption to think that we can have the Lord Jesus in our lives if our minds and hearts are divorced from the authentic apostolic message.

John’s teaching is harmony with the Apostle Paul’s:

And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he (the Lord Jesus Christ) has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you have heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Colossians 1v21-23).


Church of England may axe 400-year-old sacred law

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Vicars set to reveal secrets of confession: Church of England may axe 400-year-old sacred law to let clergy report sex attackers

By Jonathan Petre for The Mail on Sunday

The former Bishop of Chelmsford John Gladwin is pressing for rules to be relaxed so that clergy can report serious crimes such as child abuse

The former Bishop of Chelmsford John Gladwin is pressing for rules to be relaxed so that clergy can report serious crimes such as child abuse

For centuries the secrecy of the confessional has been sacrosanct, but the Church of England may relax the rules to allow clergy to reveal serious crimes such as child abuse.

Former Bishop of Chelmsford John Gladwin – who last year led an inquiry into clerical sex abuse in the Church of England – is pressing for the changes, along with members of the Church’s ‘parliament’, the General Synod.

But any change will be fiercely resisted by traditionalists who think clergy should retain the trust of worshippers. It will also cause tensions with Roman Catholics, who believe the seal of the confessional should remain inviolable.

Bishop Gladwin’s moves follow a decision by the Anglican Church of Australia to allow its priests to report crimes they hear during confession to the police.

The sacrament of penance, in which a believer privately confesses their sins to a priest, is usually associated with the Catholic Church.

However about a quarter of the Church of England’s clergy hear confessions – usually face to face in a private room rather than in a booth in a church. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby last year urged more Anglicans to adopt the practice, saying the experience could be ‘enormously powerful’.

However Bishop Gladwin, whose report for Archbishop Welby led to an apology by the Church to victims, said: ‘It is very important that anything criminal that involves the abuse of people should not be protected. Action has to happen.’

He said the Church of England had to ensure any reforms were workable, but the Australian Church had provided ‘a very good model’.

For more than 400 years clergy have been banned under Church law from disclosing ‘secret and hidden sins’ revealed by penitents, including criminal offences.

But in July the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia voted to allow clergy to go to the police if the person who confessed refused to do so, saying the safety of victims must be paramount.

These crimes include child abuse, child pornography or other offences that would lead to a jail term of five years or more. Dioceses in Australia are expected to introduce the changes by the end of the year.

And the Rev Simon Cawdell, a member of the Church of England’s General Synod, has tabled a motion calling for Church law to be amended so priests are no longer compelled to keep confessions of abuse confidential.

The issue could be raised at the next General Synod meeting in November, as bishops brace themselves for tough questioning from a Government inquiry into abuse in institutions including the Church.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘The guidelines for clergy are being considered for debate in November at General Synod. The Australian model is one of a number of options which will be considered as part of the ongoing discussions.’

However one senior Synod member said: ‘If we go down the Australian route we have destroyed the priesthood. You should be able to go to a priest and tell them everything. This is the Roman Catholic tradition and we have always followed it. If we did something different now it would upset everybody.’

And the Catholic Bishop of Arundel and Brighton Kieran Conry said a Church of England rule change could put pressure on the Catholic Church to do the same, but added: ‘We will never relax the absolute requirement of confidentiality.’