sin

Hell and the God of Love

Hell is a problem.  It makes compassionate Christians uncomfortable.  It makes hateful Christians gleeful.  Some people say that hell is unfair.  Others say a loving God could never create people to send them to hell.  How can hell be reconciled with “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8)?

Let us be careful.  Jesus, who revealed God’s love, discussed hell more than any prophet. (more…)

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Fictional Transgender Before It Was Cool?

Sometimes it is useful to look back to a time before the heated debates of the present were kindled, and see how cooler heads then discussed those issues.  One of the heated public arguments of our time is the place of gender and gender expression in our society, and the degree to which those are God-given, naturally determined, socially constructed, or individually chosen.  This past week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a “Nashville Statement” outlining what they regard as necessary Christian teaching on homosexuality and transgenderism.  Reactions to the statement were covered in all the major and most of the minor media outlets.  And this is only the latest flurry in a discussion which already goes back several years.

I recently read Margaret Widdemer’s 1915 novel Why Not?, written long before the current cultural uproar regarding transgender identity and gender expression.  It includes, solely for entertainment value, a subplot surrounding a woman who wants to be a man, and how that turns out.  In doing so, it raises possibilities that our modern gender pugilists do not consider, or even wish to foreclose.  Let us examine those, looking for an alternative to a renewed culture war.

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Biblical Authority: Yes! Sola Scriptura? Maybe.

The Bible is amazing.  The God who created all the universe and each tiny flower in a mountain meadow decided to communicate with people in their own language, and to inspire people to write it down for future generations to read!  Even the Bible talks about about invaluable and awe-inspiring the Scripture is.  God gave the law through Moses, and after he re-hashed it all to the Israelites in the plain of Moab (Deuteronomy means “second [statement of the] law”), Moses said, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut 32:47).  God spoke through Isaiah, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).  When Jesus quoted a difficult passage of the psalms, he parenthetically remarked, “And the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  The Bible is fully authoritative, life-giving, and amazingly clear (indeed, often far too clear for our comfortable self-deceptions).  I do not think we can speak highly enough of God’s gracious gift of Scripture.  But it is possible to speak inaccurately of it.

“Sola Scriptura” is one of the five Reformation “solas” (the plural ought to be solae, or rather soli, since one of them is masculine).  It is called the “formal principle” of the Reformation, meaning what distinguishes Protestant theology’s method from the theology of Roman Catholics.  But “sola Scriptura” has come to mean many different things to different people.  It seems to me that some of these meanings are true, but some of them are false.  We must evaluate these meanings in turn. (more…)

Judging Christians

Judgmentalism is unattractive in modern, liberal, western culture.  After the accusation that all Christians are hypocritical, the notion that Christians are judgmental (and its frequent companion, closed-minded) is one of the reasons I have most frequently heard for why non-Christians have no interest in Christianity.  Some of the cleverer non-Christians, and many of the more liberal Christians, have even learned to cite Jesus himself, who said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).  So judging is always wrong, right?

The issue of Christians exercising judgment is not so simple.  While the criticism that (most) Christians are too judgmental has merit, I think it is rather that Christians sin by judging in the wrong direction.  Jesus also said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).  Not only does Jesus command not to judge, he also commands Christians to exercise judgment correctly.  Hateful judgmentalism makes obvious a lack of love, but what judgment’s “cultured despisers” often fail to realize is that refusal to condemn sin can itself be a failure to love fully.  But what does it mean to judge “correctly”? (more…)

Sins Big and Small?

One of the issues on which Protestants and Roman Catholics have often chosen to disagree is whether there are gradations in sin.  As Holy Saturday comes to a close, and as we prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection tomorrow, I thought this subject might be worth a few words.  In short, I think both are right, as long as not overstated. (more…)

The Cost of Doing Wrong

It seems that many people have a vested interest in publicly proclaiming that there is no such thing as right and wrong.  Some of them even anticipate making profits out of advertising aimed to convince an audience that doing wrong is fun or in some other way inherently rewarding.  Yet even if morality is a merely human invention (a viewpoint I do not hold), so is language.  So are computers.  That does not make them any less real.  I have been struck recently by noticing the very real cost – in terms of money, time, quality of life, and general happiness – of doing wrong. (more…)

Judaism and Christianity: Together Again at Long Last?

Earlier this month a collection of Orthodox Jewish Rabbis published a manifesto of sorts “toward a partnership between Jews and Christians,” as the document’s subtitle states, on the website of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation.  In doing so they were, they say, “accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters.”

Now I’m all in favor increased mutual understanding, and indeed of partnership toward shared goals, such as peace.  But I found the document disheartening, and in one place misleading.  I thought I would discuss it here, and through it, how Christians might best serve their Jewish neighbors in Christ-like love. (more…)

Teleology Between Christians and Historians

Teleology is both the hope of Christians and the bane of historians.  As a professional historian, I have publicly railed against teleology for the edification of my students.  As a practicing Christian, I have publicly thanked God for his teleology and used it to comfort those who are hurting.  That sure looks like a contradiction.  It struck me as odd recently, as I was buried under a mountain of undergraduate papers and final exams to grade.  I don’t think it’s a contradiction, but exploring why not has clarified for me what historians are trying to accomplish, and the basis on which Christians formulate their understandings. (more…)

You are Not Your Sexuality

In any contentious debate, it is useful to reconsider the views that are taken for granted in order to facilitate dialogue.  This is especially important for views that are shared by both sides, which may by their falsity enforce a sterile debate.  One key tenet in much of the “gay marriage” debates, held by “liberals” and “conservatives” alike, is that each person’s sexuality defines them as a person.  Your “sexual orientation” is an essential trait, perhaps the most essential trait, to your human personhood.  On reflection, this is preposterous, and both conservatives and liberals should jettison the notion.  This will enable much more fruitful discussion on contentious issues.

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The Gospel for Our GLBT Friends

A theological discussion group associated with my local church recently discussed how Christians ought to react to friends who “come out” to them as GLBT.  The discussion used as a prompt a one-page “position statement” on the subject which was pre-circulated.  I thought I’d follow up my previous post on various interesting viewpoints on sexuality by re-posting here (with permission) the one-page prompt from the discussion group.  (The author chooses to remain anonymous.)  Your comments and discussion of these points is very welcome!

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