Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Planned Parenthood and Gendercide

There is a new video released by Live Action showing a Planned Parenthood worker helping a woman pursue an abortion because she doesn't want a girl.  Planned Parenthood officially speaks against sex selection abortions but they certainly won't refuse to do them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Paul and Cultural Engagement in Philippians

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute,
if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,
dwell on these things.

Philippians 4.8 is a familiar verse to many.  There is a short enumeration of virtues which should occupy the Christian mind.  What may not be so familiar is some of the background to the language being used.  Paul is picking up the language and ideas of the Greco-Roman culture and using it in a distinctively Christian manner. Some standard commentaries bring out the relevant background information.

Gordon Fee (Paul's Letter to the Philippians NICNT) writes:
What is striking about this sentence is its uniqueness in the Pauline corpus.  Take away the "finally, brothers and sisters," and this sentence would fit more readily in Epictetus's Discourses or Seneca's Moral Essays than it would into any of the Pauline letters--except this one.  p. 415
Fee is quick to deny that Paul is a Stoic or is slavishly enmeshed in pagan ethics.
That Paul is not embracing Stoicism or pagan moralism as such is made clear not only by his own theology everywhere but in particular by what he does with the Stoic concept of "contentment" in vv. 11-13 that follow.  There is uses their language and intends the same general perspective toward circumstances as the Stoics.  But he breaks the back of the Stoic concept by transforming their "self-sufficiency" into "Christ-sufficiency."  So here, using language the Philippians would have known from their youth, he singles out values held in common with the best of Hellenism.  pp. 414-415
Gerald Hawthorne (Philippians WBC) writes:
The apostle does this listing in much the same way that the moral philosophers of his day taught by reciting catalogues of virtues and vices.  This fact, added to the fact the many of the words in Paul's list are not elsewhere used by him, or at least not by him in the same sense as here, seems to confirm the suggestion made above that Paul probably at this point has taken over these qualities, these "virtues," from popular moral philosophy familiar to his contemporaries in order to show that there was much in heathen views that might and ought to be valued and retained by Christians.  p. 187
Markus Bockmuehl (The Epistle to the Philippians Black's NT Commentary) writes:
Christ and pagan culture are at odds in many respects, but here Paul shows that Christ nevertheless addresses pagan culture about the world in which it lives and in language it can understand.  In these words, Paul uses familiar concepts of ethics, aesthetics, and (v. 9) instruction by example with which his Gentile Christian readers had grown up, which they brought with them into their Christian catechesis, and which they continue to encounter daily among pagan compatriots.
The implications of this approach are profound--for evangelism, for Christian teaching, and above all perhaps for an apologetic that is prepared to countenance Christian truth as public truth, relevant to a Christian ethic that can at least in part be formulated in openly accessible terms.  p. 250
Paul's Christ-centered gospel reigns supreme even in his appropriation of the language of the surrounding culture.  Everything is seen through the lens of Christ.  Yet it still is noteworthy that Paul seems to very self-consciously use this language that would have had very clear cultural resonance with the Philippian believers.  It might be like if Paul were to write to a church in America and call forth for the believers to dwell on those things that are in line with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  We, as Americans, would recognize those "virtues" as having a certain background--a certain cultural and historical resonance.  These are virtues that could be interpreted and lived within a Christ-centered context.  It would also say something about Paul's approach to our culture.  Namely, that he wasn't demonstrating a wholesale rejection of our culture.  Similarly, this is how it functions for the Roman colony of Philippi.  Gordon Fee attempts to draw some application from Philippians 4.8-9 with these words:
If our interpretation is correct, three things happen simultaneously in these concluding and summarizing exhortations: (a) that they embrace what is good wherever they find it, including the culture with which they are most intimately familiar; (b) but that they do so in a discriminating way, (c) the key to which is the gospel Paul had long ago share with them and lived before them--about a crucified Messiah, whose death on a cross served both to redeem them and to reveal the character of God into which they are continually being transformed.  It is hard to imagine a more relevant word in our post-modern, media-saturated world, where "truth" is relative and morality is up for grabs.
The most common response to such a culture is not discrimination but rejection.  The text suggests a better way, that one approach the market-place, the arts, the media, the university, looking for what is "true" and "uplifting" and "admirable"; but that one do so with a discriminating eye and heart, for which the Crucified One serves as the template.  Indeed, if one does not "consider carefully," and then discriminate on the basis of the gospel, what is rejected very often are the mere trappings, the more visible expressions, of the "world," while its anti-gospel values (relativism, materialism, hedonism, nationalism, individualism, to name but a few) are absorbed into the believer through cultural osmosis. This text reminds us that the head counts for something, after all; but it must be a sanctified head, ready to "practice" the gospel it knows through what has "been learned and received."  p. 421
Consider that are essentially three broad ways for Christians to interact with the culture around them:
1.  Immersion: This is where the church becomes thoroughly entrenched in the culture.  The danger here is accommodation to non-Chistian thought forms to such a degree that the church loses its distinctiveness.
2.  Isolation: This is where the church completely rejects the culture around it.  With this rejection there is a corresponding lose of penetration into and influence upon the culture.
3.  Interaction: There is a path of Jesus-centered engagement with the cultural thought forms.  This is what Fee refers to as "discrimination" in which "the Crucified One serves as the template."  
Paul recognized himself and the church at Philippi as being citizens of heaven (Philippians 3.20) but he also saw himself a citizen of Rome.  In Acts 16, which narrates Paul's first incursion into Philippi, we see Paul defining himself as a Roman (Acts 16.37) and appealing to the legal protections of the Roman civil code in an effort to further the gospel.  The New Testament, and Paul in particular, give us the rudiments from which to build a platform for critical, cross-centered engagement with culture.

Note: Just to head off any confusion--nothing above should be construed to be endorsing a "two-kingdoms" perspective that some in the Reformed community are promoting.  For a brief statement that I find compelling see John Frame's In Defense of Christian Activism.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Exhorting "Post-Partisan" Evangelicals

There are those of the 20-something generation who want to be done with politics and the "culture wars." They argue that Evangelical Christianity has become too ensnared in the battles over homosexuality.  This should stop.  We should, so the thinking goes, focus on Jesus and loving people.  David French at one time held this view.  He has recently written about his movement from this mentality.  His essay An Open Letter to Young, "Post-Partisan" Evangelicals is brilliant.  French details his story in three major movements and it is enlightening to see his thinking develop.  Along the way he drops this item about the relative weight of culture wars among Evangelicals versus the poverty fighting done by this same group.
As I decisively entered the “culture war” I discovered something shocking: there aren’t that many of us.  (What’s that?  Are you telling me that Christians aren’t obsessed with gays and abortion?  That’s what all the polls say!)  As I traveled around the country and spoke at churches, Tea Party rallies, and conferences, I realized that the number of Christians who truly fight the culture war is quite small.  How small?  In 2011, I researched the budgets of the leading culture war organizations and compared them to the leading Christian anti-poverty organizations.  Here’s what I found:
How do those numbers stack up with leading Christian anti-poverty charities? Let’s look at just three: World VisionCompassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse. Their total annual gross receipts (again, according to most recently available Form 990s) exceed $2.1 billion. The smallest of the three organizations (Samaritan’s Purse) has larger gross receipts than every major “pro-family” culture war organization in the United States combined. World Vision, the largest, not only takes in more than $1 billion per year, it also has more than 1,400 employees and 43,000 volunteers.
In other words, Christians are overwhelmingly focused with their money and their time on the poor, not on culture war issues.  Then why are Christians portrayed differently?  Because the media is obsessed with the sexual revolution and demonizes dissent.  If news outlets focus on Christians only when engaged on culture war issues and ignores the much more extensive work we do for the poor in Africa, in Asia, and at home, then it’s no wonder the wider world sees us as politically-obsessed.  Anyone who believes that Christians are in control of their own public image does not understand how public perceptions are created in this country.  No one is in total control of their own image and reputation.  Not even the President — and shame on me for not realizing that in my days of naive rage.
French ends his essay with these words directed at those endeavoring to be "post-partisan":
So, “post-partisan” Christians, please ponder this: First, as the price for your new path, are you willing to forego any effective voice at all for unborn children?  Are you willing to keep silent when the secular world demands your silence?  After all, that is the true price of non-partisanship — silence.  Second, if you believe that a more perfect imitation of Christ (more perfect than the elders you scorn) will lead to more love and regard for the Church, consider this: No one was more like Christ than Christ, and he wound up on a cross with only the tiniest handful of followers by his side.
Follow Jesus, yes, but don’t think for a moment that will improve your image, and don’t be surprised if He takes you down much the same path He took the generation before you.

Back to School Guide on Intelligent Design

The Intelligent Design community has produced The College Student's Back to School Guide to Intelligent Design.  This 24 page essay covers the basics of Intelligent Design and answers the common objections (e.g., "Intelligent Design is not science," "Intelligent Design is a science stopper,"etc.).  Also included are a number of brief bibliographies for further study.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Do Not Be Deceived"

The apostle Paul, as the theologian of the cross of Christ and the free grace of God revealed in Jesus, is always at pains to point out the ethical entailments of the gospel message.  Paul's gospel centered in Jesus Christ is opposed to legalism--all forms of "works righteousness" that would add to the gospel.  His gospel message is also opposed to all forms of antinomianism--a disregard for the moral imperatives that flow from the gospel.  Here are three exhortations by Paul:
      Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.  1 Corinthians 6.9-10 
       Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  Galatians 6.7-8 
      For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Ephesians 5.5-6
 A number of points should be taken note of:
1.  With the repeated refrain against being deceived Paul is showing us that there is the possibility of someone being led astray on this matter.  There is a tendency to want to downplay the judgment of God.  We are prone to deception--perhaps even self-deception-- on this point.  
2.  The context for these statements is (as noted above) judgment.  Nothing less than "the kingdom of God" and "the wrath of God" are at stake.  These are serious matters with eternal consequences. 
3.  The context for these statements concerns sinful behavior.  There are forms of behavior that Paul sees very clearly as being that which brings the judgment of God.   
4.  Each of the above statements is set within an epistle in which the gospel is clearly taught.   Consider Paul's focus on the message of the cross of Christ in 1 Corinthians chapter one.  This message which the world sees as foolish is actually the power and wisdom of God to those who are called (v. 24).  It is by God's doing--his power and activity--that we are in Christ Jesus (v. 30).  Indeed, Paul goes on to speak of how he was determined to "know nothing" among the Corinthians "except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (2.2).  Paul is gospel centered and this gospel centered message is not contradicted by his words later in 1 Corinthians 6.9-10.  In this very passage, Paul goes on to say: 
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
All of the sin and sinful behaviors mentioned by Paul can be taken away by the blood of Christ Jesus.  Cleansing sin is not the same as excusing sin.  Justifying the believer who places faith in Christ is not the same as justifying the sin.  
Or consider Ephesians.  God's gracious gospel centered in Jesus Christ is continually highlighted (1.3-14; 2.1-10).  Our salvation which is of grace and received through faith (2.8-9) issues forth in "good works" (2.10).  The indicatives of gospel grace serve as the foundation for the imperatives of Ephesians.  Consider how Paul stresses the "walk" of the Christian in Ephesians 4 and 5.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner of the calling with which you have been called... (4.1)
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.  (4.17-19) 
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us... (5.1-2)
And then following directly after the passage quoted above (5.5-6) there are these words:
Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (5.7-10)
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.  (5.15-16) 
The people of the gospel of Jesus have a gospel walk.  It is a walk of humility, gentleness, and love.  It is a walk distinctive from the world in that it avoids the darkness of evil sensuality.  It is in the midst of these ethical exhortations that Paul warns us against being deceived by "empty words."  There are kinds of behaviors that bring forth the judgment of God and manifest that one is not an inheritor of the kingdom of Christ and God.  We would do well to remember these words for there are deceivers today who urge the ignoring of God's word and promote behaviors that will instead bring judgment.  Do not be deceived.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Homosexuality: How Bad? Does Scripture Apply?

With President Obama's recent comments endorsing "homosexual marriage" there is a flurry of comments and arguments on the web.  I've mentioned Robert Gagnon's website before as a great resource on the topic of homosexuality and the church.  Gagnon has a short essay (with a long title): How Bad Is Homosexual Practice According to Scripture and Does Scripture's Indictment Apply to Committed Homosexual Unions?  As the title indicates, Gagnon is dealing with two issues.  Regarding the first, Gagnon writes:
How big a violation does Scripture view same-sex intercourse? I believe that Scripture indicates that the only sexual offense more severe is bestiality. Here are three main reasons why:

  1. It is the violation that most clearly and radically offends against God’s intentional creation of humans as “male and female” (Gen 1:27) and definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman (Gen 2:24). According to the story in Genesis 2, the differentiation into man and woman is the sole differentiation produced by the removal of a “side” (not “rib”) from the original human. It is precisely because out of one flesh came two sexes that the two sexes, and only the two sexes, can re-merge into one flesh (2:24). Since Jesus gave priority to these two texts from the creation stories in Genesis when he defined normative and prescriptive sexual ethics for his disciples, they have to be given special attention by us. Paul also clearly has the creation texts in the background of his indictment of homosexual practice in Rom 1:24-27 and 1 Cor 6:9.

  1. Every text that treats the issue of homosexual practice in Scripture treats it as an offense of great abhorrence to God.This is so from (a) the triad of stories about extreme depravity, Ham, Sodom, and Gibeah (which incidentally are no more limited in their implications to coercive acts of same-sex acts than is an indicting story about coercive sex with one’s parent limited in its implications only to coercive acts of adult incest), to (b) the Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic legal and narrative materials that rail against the homoerotic associations of the qedeshim as an “abomination” or “abhorrent practice” (men who in a cultic context served as the passive receptive sexual partners for other men), to (c) the Levitical prohibitions (where the term “abomination” or “abhorrent practice” is specifically attached to man-male intercourse), to (d) texts in Ezekiel that refer to man-male intercourse by the metonym “abomination” or “abhorrent act,” to (e) Paul’s singling out of homosexual practice in Romans 1:24-27 as a specially reprehensible instance (along with idolatry) of humans suppressing the truth accessible in the material creation set in motion by the Creator, labeling it sexual “uncleanness,” “dishonorable” or “degrading,” “contrary to nature,” and an “indecent” or “shameful” act. These views are also amply confirmed in texts from both early Judaism and early Christianity after the New Testament period, where only bestiality appears to rank as a greater sexual offense, at least among “consensual” acts. There is, to be sure, some disagreement in early Judaism over whether sex with one’s parent is worse, comparable, or less severe, though most texts suggest a slightly lesser degree of severity. While Scripture makes some exceptions, particularly in ancient Israel, for some forms of incest (though never for man-mother, man-child, man-sibling) and for sexual unions involving more than two partners (though a monogamy standard was always imposed on women), it makes absolutely no exceptions for same-sex intercourse. Indeed, every single text in Scripture that discusses sex, whether narrative, law, proverb, poetry, moral exhortation, or metaphor, presupposes a male-female prerequisite. There are no exceptions anyway in Scripture.

  1. The male-female prerequisite is the foundational prerequisite for defining most other sexual norms. Jesus himself clearly predicated his view of marital monogamy and indissolubility on the foundation of Gen 1:27 and 2:24, texts that have only one thing in common: the fact that an acceptable sexual bond before God entails as its first prerequisite (after the assumption of an intra-human bond) a man and a woman (Mark 10:6-9; Matt 19:4-6). Jesus argued that the “twoness” of the sexes ordained by God at creation was the foundation for limiting the number of persons in a sexual bond to two, whether concurrently (as in polygamy) or serially (as in repetitive divorce and remarriage). The foundation can hardly be less significant than the regulation predicated on it; indeed, it must be the reverse. Moreover, the dissolution of an otherwise natural union is not more severe than the active entrance into an inherently unnatural union (active entrance into an incestuous bond would be a parallel case in point). The principle by which same-sex intercourse is rejected is also the principle by which incest, even of an adult and consensual sort, is rejected. Incest is wrong because, as Lev 18:6 states, it involves sexual intercourse with “the flesh of one’s own flesh.” In other words, it involves the attempted merger with someone who is already too much of a formal or structural same on a familial level. The degree of formal or structural sameness is felt even more keenly in the case of homosexual practice, only now on the level of sex or gender, because sex or gender is a more integral component of sexual relations, and more foundationally defines it, than is and does the degree of blood relatedness. So the prohibition of incest can be, and probably was, analogically derived from the more foundational prohibition of same-sex intercourse. Certainly, as noted above, there was more accommodation to some forms of incest in the Old Testament than ever there was to homosexual practice. Adultery becomes an applicable offense only when the sexual bond that the offender is cheating on is a valid sexual bond. Needless to say, it would be absurd to charge a man in an incestuous union or in a pedophilic union with adultery for having sexual relations with a person outside that pair-bond. One can’t cheat against a union that was immoral from the beginning.
In regards to the second issue of Scripture's application to committed homosexual relationships Gagnon writes:
Below I offer six arguments for concluding that Paul’s opposition to same-sex intercourse was absolute and not limited only to particularly exploitative forms of homosexual practice. Readers can consult my two books as well as online material for further documentation. Naturally, if I had opened the scope of the investigation below to the whole range of scriptures that address the issue of homosexual practice, the length of my presentation would have increased significantly. 

(1) Paul clearly had in view the creation texts in Gen 1:27 and 2:24 behind his two main indictments of homosexual practice, Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 (cf. 1 Timothy 1:10). There are eight points of correspondence, in a similar relative order, between Romans 1:23, 26-27 and Genesis 1:26-27: human, image, likenessbirds, cattle, reptilesmale, female. This intertextual echo back to Genesis 1:26-27 occurs within a context in Romans that emphasizes God’s role as Creator and the knowledge about God and about ourselves that can be culled from observation of the material structures of creation/nature. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 6:9, in a context in chs. 5-7 that deals with sexual vices, is in close proximity to Paul’s citation of Gen 2:24. These allusions to Gen 1:27 and 2:24 indicate that Paul’s first problem with homosexual practice was that it was a violation of God’s will for male-female pairing established in creation, not that it was typically exploitative. Incidentally, Paul uses the same two texts that Jesus himself defined as normative and prescriptive (with proscriptive implications) for all matters of human sexual ethics (cf. Mark 10:6-9; Matt 19:4-6). So the two most important texts in Scripture for defining sexual ethics, at least in the view of Jesus—Genesis 1:27 and 2:24—were at the heart of Paul’s rejection of all forms of male-male and female-female intercourse.

(2) Paul’s nature argument against homosexual practice in Romans 1:24-27 does not lend itself to distinctions between exploitative and non-exploitative manifestations of homosexual behavior but rather to an absolute rejection of all homosexual bonds. By “against nature” Paul meant that the evidence from the material structures of creation—here the complementary embodied character of maleness and femaleness—gives clear evidence of God’s will for human sexual pairing. Some have argued that this could not have been what Paul intended by his nature argument, despite Paul’s clear statement in Rom 1:19-20 that such matters are “transparent” and have been so “ever since the creation of the world . . . being mentally apprehended by means of the things made.” Yet the historical context also confirms this way of reading Paul, whose views on the matter were no different from Jesus’. “Basic to the heterosexual position [against homosexual practice in the ancient world] is the characteristic Stoic appeal to the providence of Nature, which has matched and fitted the sexes to each other” (Thomas K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents [University of California Press, 2003], 444). “Some kind of argument from ‘design’ seems to lurk in the background of Cicero’s, Seneca’s, and Musonius’ claims [against homosexual practice]” (Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality [Oxford University Press, 1999], 242). Ancient writers “who appeal to nature against same-sex eros find it convenient to concentrate on the more or less obvious uses of the orifices of the body to suggest the proper channel for the more diffused sexual impulses of the body” (William R. Schoedel, “Same-Sex Eros,” Homosexuality, Science, and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture [ed. D. Balch; Eerdmans, 2000], 46). Part of Charicles’ attack on all homosexual practice in pseudo-Lucianic text Affairs of the Heart, a work which contains a debate about the respective merits of heterosexual love and male homosexual love, is the assertion that male-male love is an erotic attraction for what one already is as a sexual being:  
She (viz., Aphrodite) cleverly devised a twofold nature in each (species). . . . having  written down a divinely sanctioned rule of necessity, that each of the two (genders) remain in their own nature. . . . Then wantonness, daring all, transgressed the laws of nature. . . . And who then first looked with the eyes at the male as at a female . . . ? One nature came together in one bed. But seeing themselves in one another they were ashamed neither of what they were doing nor of what they were having done to them. (19-20; my emphasis)

(3) In Rom 1:24-27 Paul emphasizes the mutuality of the homoerotic desires (“inflamed with their yearning for one another,” “their bodies being dishonored among themselves”) so he is clearly not restricting his remarks to coercive, exploitative acts. Moreover, the wording of “exchanging” and “leaving behind” the other sex for the same sex is absolute and clearly inclusive of all same-sex sexual relations.

(4) The indictment of lesbian intercourse in Rom 1:26 does not support the view that Scripture’s indictment is limited to exploitative homosexual acts, since lesbianism in antiquity was not generally characterized by pederasty, prostitution, or abuse of slaves. Indeed, Greco-Roman moralists in antiquity who argued against homosexual practice sometimes cited intercourse between women as a trump card against arguments for men-male sexual bonds (see, for example, pseudo-Lucian, Affairs of the Heart, 28). For consistency’s sake, advocacy of male homosexual bonds necessarily entails acceptance of female homosexual bonds, something few if any men in antiquity were willing to accept. It is a way of making an absolute argument against all homosexual bonds, not merely against particularly exploitative ones.

(5) The terms malakoi (lit., “soft men,” but taken in the sense of men who feminize themselves to attract male sex partners) and arsenokoitai (literally, “men who lie with [koite] a male [arsen]”) in 1 Cor 6:9 are clearly inclusive of all homosexual bonds, as is evident from the following. With regard to malakoi note: (a) its place in a vice list amidst other participants in illicit sexual intercourse, (b) its pairing with the immediately following arsenokoitai, (c) Philo of Alexandria’s (a first-century Jew’s) use of cognate words to refer to the effeminate male partner in a homosexual bond, and (d) occasional Greco-Roman usage of malakoi (and the comparable Latin molles) to denote effeminate adult males who are biologically and/or psychologically disposed to desire penetration by men. With regard to arsenokoitai note: (a) clear connections of this word to the absolute Levitical prohibitions of man-male intercourse (18:22; 20:13), evident from the fact that the word, exclusively used in Jewish and Christian contexts until late in antiquity, was formulated directly from the Levitical prohibitions, that ancient rabbis used a parallel Hebrew term, mishkav zakur (“lying with a male”), to apply to all men-male sexual bonds, and that 1 Tim 1:10 explicitly connects opposition to this vice (among other vices) to the law of Moses; (b) early Judaism’s univocal interpretation of the Levitical prohibitions against men-male intercourse as allowing only sexual relations between a man and a woman (e.g., Josephus, Philo, the rabbis); (c) the singular use of arsenokoites and related words subsequent to Paul in connection with male-male intercourse per se, without limitation to pederasts or clients of cult prostitutes; (d) the implications of the context of 1 Corinthians 5-7, given the parallel case of adult, consensual incest in ch. 5, the assumption of consent in the vice list in 6:9-10, the citation of Gen 2:24 in 1 Cor 6:16 (see also 11:7-9, 12), and the presumption everywhere in ch. 7 that sex is confined to male-female marriage; and (e) the fact that the Greco-Roman milieu considered it worse for a man to have sex with another adult male than with a boy because the former had left behind his “softness.”

(6) A conception of caring homoerotic unions already existed in Paul’s cultural environment and yet even these unions were rejected by some Greco-Roman moralists. For example, in a late first-century / early second-century (A.D.) debate over heterosexual and homosexual bonds, Plutarch’s friend Daphnaeus admits that homosexual relationships are not necessarily exploitative, for “union contrary to nature does not destroy or curtail a lover’s tenderness.” Yet, he declares, even when a “union with males” is conducted “willingly” it remains “shameful” since males “with softness (malakia) and effeminacy (thelutes) [are] surrendering themselves, as Plato says, ‘to be mounted in the custom of four-footed animals’ and to be sowed with seed contrary to nature” (Dialogue on Love 751). Even in the non-Jewish milieu of the Mediterranean basin, “literature of the first century C.E. bears witness to an increasing polarization of attitudes toward homosexual activity, ranging from frank acknowledgment and public display of sexual indulgence on the part of leading Roman citizens to severe moral condemnation of all homosexual acts” (Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome, 383, emphasis added). If even some sectors of the “pagan” world were beginning to develop absolute opposition to all forms of homosexual practice, what is the likelihood that Paul would have made exceptions for committed homosexual unions, given that he operated out of Jewish Scriptures and a Jewish milieu that were unequivocally opposed to homosexual practice, and given too that he was a disciple of a figure (Jesus) who predicated his views about human sexuality on the exclusive male-female model in the creation texts?

Historically speaking, then, the evidence is overwhelming that Paul, like all other Jews and Christians of the period, opposed homosexual practice categorically and absolutely.
Gagnon's essay has more--especially relevant are a number of quotations by those who affirm the acceptability of homosexuality and yet recognize that the biblical texts are against any and all homosexual activity.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Brian Mattson on Rachel Held Evans

Brian Mattson has an a well-time post entitled The Perseverance of a Juvenile Generation in response to a post by Rachel Held Evans in which she is moaning over the passing of Amendment 1 in North Carolina.  Evans believes that the church has fundamentally mishandled the whole issue of homosexuality and the younger generation of Christians are ready to throw in the towel on this issue.

Mattson's piece effectively answers Evans sentimentalism with Scripture.  Here a just a few snippets:
The real root of Rachel's discontent reveals that she wants to quit the culture wars precisely because she's already a fatal casualty in the culture wars.  The architects of the GLBT cultural movement (yes, there is such a movement) purposely planned to shame Bible-believing Christians by relentlessly portraying the GLBT community as the persecuted victims, even while they were aggressively assaulting the broad moral consensus of the culture in media, entertainment, politics and (most importantly) law.  You can read all about it here.  This is the only mode of moral evaluation Rachel knows: GLBT are the persecuted minority and Christians are the bigoted oppressors.  Score one for the opposition.
And he concludes with this:

There really isn't much more to say.  I read Rachel's post with a great deal of sadness.  The dissonance between her sentimentalism and the claims of the gospel in the New Testament is extreme.  Listen: the early church grew in the midst of the Roman Empire.  Can we please stop this whole "things are so different now!" mentality?  Religious pluralism, sexual autonomy and license is nothing new.  The church has faced the situation before.  This is not some unprecedented turn of events.  
And many people were literally fed to lions because they refused to give up their "culture war," opposing things like worshiping the Emperor and gladiatorial contests and polygamy and homosexuality and infant exposure.
It is pathetic that merely being disliked is enough to get Rachel and her whole generation to shut up.
Mattson's piece is worth reading and pondering.  There is a serious compromise among many of the up and coming evangelicals regarding the issue of homosexuality.  It goes beyond the issue of sexuality and touches upon such central concerns as our view of God, the authority of his Word, the nature of sin, and our view of standing firm for the gospel in the midst of a culture that is despising what Christian heritage it had.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gospel Coalition essay on Homosexuality

Collin Hansen has an essay over at the Gospel Coalition website that is well worth reading.  His essay is entitled "How to Win the Public on Homsexuality."  The real benefit of Hansen's article is in showing how there is an underlying problem--a root issue that often times the church does not see.  Here are a few selections from Hansen's article:
Same-sex marriage doesn't radically depart from modern morality; it makes perfect sense according to contemporary mores. Blogger Rod Dreher writes:
The reason gay marriage is so widely accepted by young Americans is not because the media have propagandized them (though it is certainly the case that the media have played a significant role in normalizing it), but because same-sex marriage follows naturally from what young Americansalready believe about sex, intimacy, love, liberty, and the nature of the human person.
The sports world recently illustrated Dreher's point. Last week ESPN's Rick Reilly, one of the most influential sports columnists in America, joined the fray over Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown's statements critical of homosexuality. Reilly profiled "Ron Brown's top recruit," a 24-year-old man named Brett Major who decided he wanted to be a Christian after hearing Brown speak 13 years ago. Then 11 years old, Major remembers thinking, "Wow. He's cool and he's Nebraska football and he believes in God. And that's all it took for me."
Reilly describes Major as the guy next door who loves football and family, as illustrated by the friendly photos accompanying his column. He's a responsible citizen and gifted student working on a master's degree in psychology at Wake Forest. He remains dedicated to the church. And he's gay.
"I know God doesn't make a mistake," Major told Reilly. "He didn't put me on this earth to be banished to hell. . . . I don't have to report to Ron Brown at the pearly gates."
Look no further for our culture's confessional statement in three points:
  1. God made me this way.
  2. He wouldn't deny my natural desires.
  3. And I don't have to explain myself to you or anyone else.
You won't understand the challenge facing Christians regarding homosexuality until you see how these three points permeate our culture. On the surface, we appear to be locked in a battle of rights we can't win. Christians declare our right to speak out and legislate according to religious conviction in defense of traditional institutions. Gays pursue their right to life, liberty, happiness with regard to their sexuality. But homosexuality fronts a much bigger challenge that threatens us all.
He adds this insightful comment:

We're fighting today over authority, yes, but it's not straightforwardly biblical. Many gay-rights advocates have excused themselves behind a professed love of God's Word. You won't likely win a debate with them by citing Bible verses they've been trained to explain away. Rather, we're losing a more fundamental struggle over the very definition of God. Straight or gay, Reggie or Brett, we're not satisfied with a God who calls us sinners. Who calls on us to deny ourselves. Who calls our gaze heavenward to receive his blessing: "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14).
The line that is most impressive to me: "Rather, we're losing a more fundamental struggle over the very definition of God."  This is, of course, exactly in line with Paul's thought in Romans 1.18ff.  When the true and living God is rejected for idolatrous substitutes then sexual anarchy eventually follows.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Calvinists on Arminians

In their book Why I Am Not an Arminian (IVP, 2004) authors Robert Peterson and Michael Williams (both of Covenant Theological Seminary) begin with some good words on how they as Calvinists view Arminians.
Calvinism and Arminianism do disagree regarding significant issues having to do with salvation, issues that we believe Calvinism rightly addresses and Arminianism does not.  We believe that at certain points Arminianism presents a skewed picture of the gospel.  The Synod of Dort was right to condemn the Arminian misrepresentation of the saving ways of God.  Yet we do not think of Arminianism as a heresy or Arminian Christians as unregenerate.  You see, calling someone a heretic is serious business.  Heresy is not merely doctrinal error; it is damnable error.  The heretic so mangles the gospel of Jesus Christ that it no longer communicates the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  Heresy is such a corruption of the grace of God in Christ that it invalidates either Jesus as the Savior or grace as the way of salvation.  The Arminian tradition does neither.  The Arminian Christian believes that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh to save sinners and that the saving work of Christ comes to the sinner by way of the grace of God received through faith.  Whatever issues relevant to salvation we disagree upon, let us agree on this: the Calvinist and the Arminian are brothers in Christ.  Both belong to the household of faith.  The issue of debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contributions of both God and man in human history.  (p. 13)
Later they go on to write:
Polemics often degenerate into name calling or use descriptors in association with Arminians that Arminian theologians do not themselves employ.  Rather than resort to name calling, we will seek to let people name themselves.  Such a goal also demands that we refrain from making charges without clear evidence or from ascribing to Arminian theologians conclusions that they themselves refuse to draw.  We should not push an adversary's position to what seems to us to be a natural consequence of the position.  At best, such consequences might be a danger or tendency of belief if overly emphasized.  People usually live in the middle of their commitments rather than at their logical periphery.  This is so because it is usually the case that one theological commitment within a tradition is moderated by other commitments.  To no small degree, the very heart of the Calvinist-Arminian debate is about the nature of the relationship between divine action in salvation and history, on the one hand, and human responsibility in salvation and history, on the other.  Both traditions seek to relate the human to the divine.  Thus what is said about human agency in history will necessarily moderate statements about God's historical relationships.  It would be easy to take the Calvinist commitment to the sovereignty of God in all things, push it to some "logical conclusion" through inference, and conclude that human beings have no proper role or agency in history, that they are but puppets trapped within an utterly amoral and deterministic stage play.  Yet the characterization would not be one that many Calvinists would want to claim as their own. Indeed, the vast majority of us would strenuously object that we have been misrepresented.  (p. 16)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why "Gay Marriage" is Wrong

Dr. Robert Gagnon has done phenomenal work on the issue of a biblical perspective on homosexuality.  He is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001) and his website is full of articles of varying lengths and sophistication--beginning level overviews to meticulously documented professional essays.  The following link is to a short essay entitled Why "Gay Marriage" is Wrong.  This short piece nicely covers some of the basics.  Those wanting more information are encouraged to check out Dr. Gagnon's site.

"Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the Christian Vote"

A new document entitled "Mitt Romney, Mormonism, and the Christian Vote" has been garnering support from some evangelical leaders.  The purpose of this document is not to tell someone how to vote. Rather, the focus is on making sure that the fundamental differences between the official beliefs of the Latter Day Saints and the broader, historic evangelical church are not watered down.  Here is a portion of the beginning of the document:
For the sake of the Gospel, we, the undersigned, call upon Christian leaders and their respective ministries and organizations, if you plan on endorsing Governor Mitt Romney for the office of President of theUnited States, do so by clearly and unequivocally distancing yourself and Biblical Christianity from his Mormon beliefs.
We believe in the freedom of religion, the free exercise thereof, and the principles of a constitutional republic. Our Constitution does not require a religious “test” for any candidate to qualify for political office. Anyone should be allowed to run for office and serve if elected – regardless of their religious affiliations or lack thereof.
Further, it is not our intention with this call to bind the conscience of any individual by telling them how to vote. If an evangelical Christian chooses to vote for Mr. Romney (President Obama or any candidate), that is a decision between themselves and God.
The purpose of this call to evangelical Christians and leaders is two-fold:
  1. To protect the purity and integrity of the Biblical Gospel.
  2. To seize the opportunity to educate the America Public and Christians to the fundamental differences between historic Christian faith and that of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
 While social and political causes are a vital and important part of the Church’s responsibilities, we believe that our primary function as Christians, both collectively and individually, is to preach and defend the Lord Jesus and His Gospel, as He is defined in the Bible, and has been affirmed in the historic Christian Church, its Councils and Creeds.
In our postmodern era, Christians are taught to believe that truth is relative and sincerity is more important than accuracy. However, we believe that the good news of the gospel – justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – could be compromised if Mr. Romney receives unqualified public endorsements from Christian leaders, their ministries or organizations, thereby potentially confusing the evangelical Gospel with the soteriology (false gospel) of the Mormon Religion.
It is our contention that the general population should not be left with any uncertainty whether the theological cult1 of which Mitt Romney is a faithful member, namely The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and historic evangelical Christianity are one and the same faith.  This we adamantly deny! 
Signers to this document as of today include:  John Frame, Peter Jones, R. C. Sproul Jr., John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Norman Geisler, Kenneth Gentry, Kerby Anderson and a number of individuals associated with various apologetic and counter-cult ministries.