Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Deus Absconditus or Nobiscum Deus? (Do you really believe the Bible?)

Sterling State Park, Monroe

Linda and I recently prayed for someone in a church I was visiting, and they were healed. The people of the church were filled with joy. They are still talking about it, and giving much worship and glory to the God who did this great thing.

When someone is healed like that, we have an event which doctors, in all their expertise, have been unable to effect. And, which money cannot purchase.

A healing can have persuasive power. It gets people's attention. It is beautiful. It's a sign of the inbreaking of God.

At Redeemer we are always praying for people to be healed. This is part of our culture. A healing culture is a profoundly biblical culture. Remember the Gospels, where Jesus healed and delivered many as a demonstration of the rule and reign of God. These healings and deliverances were manifestations of the Kingdom that was invading this present darkness. This is what every church needs: a Kingdom invasion. (See, e.g., James McDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For. What Every Church Can Be. And what about the reality of Satan (the coffee cups begin to nervously tremble)? See how the American Church has been "Scooby-do-ified," in Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted, by Richard Beck)

Sadly, the American Church has lost touch with such things. This detachment is due to acquiescing to the surrounding secular, skeptical culture. The American Church has been reduced to the form of this world. Now all we have to offer is stage lighting, scripted music, blue jeans, and coffee.

My church does not have stage lighting. We definitely do not script our music, since the Holy Spirit is our leader and will not be click-tracked. I have always liked blue jeans. And, I drink too much coffee. But anyone can do that. It's possible, even actual, to have all that cultural stuff and Deus absconditus. (God, absent.)

Where in the heavens is God in whatever we are doing on Sunday mornings? Singing about it is one thing; the God-invasion is quite another thing.

The good new is that hope is on the horizon, in the form of Jesus-followers who have been experiencing the kind of signs and wonders the biblical text attests to. Most of these churches can barely afford new strings for their guitars. All they have, in their midst, is nobiscum Deus. (God, with us)

Theologian John Jefferson Davis (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) writes:

"Some scholars have estimated that by 2025, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians around the globe may number nearly 800 million. "Now exploding in Brazil, Mexico, Russia, and China, Pentecostal Christianity may become the most widespread form of the religion," notes Lamin Sanneh, "with as yet unquantifiable effects on the mainline churches and global politics."" (Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence, Kindle Locations 155-161)

"One outcome of this growth," writes Davis, "is likely to be a challenge from the avowedly supernaturalistic worldview of Christians in the Global South-a worldview in which biblical signs and wonders are considered normal Christianity-to the worldviews and ontologies of North American churches that, from the Southern churches' perspective, seem to be stuck in the naturalistic assumptions of Enlightenment naturalism and materialism. "

Davis asks the American Church some questions: "The idea that the age of miracles ceased with the apostles or when the biblical canon was closed seems strange to majority-world Christians, who seem to be saying to their northern brothers and sisters in the faith, do you really believe the Bible? What universe are you really living in?" (Ib.)

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Spiritual Vacuity of the Entertainment Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

Sterling State Park on Lake Erie, Monroe

I think the Seeker-Driven Church and the Entertainment Church are slowly losing their appeal with a generation that is far more enamored with and take by the accelerating digital productions secular culture offers.

For example:

"Dan Kimball, a youth minister trained at Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, began to notice the different temperaments showing up in the younger generation of students attending his meetings. Students who once had been impressed by the fast-paced programming, dramas, media clips and topical messages were showing less interest. "The special effects in the video games they were used to went far beyond what we could offer," noted Kimball. "Their lives were fast paced as it was; coming to church for yet another fast-paced experience was losing its impact."" (In
John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence, Kindle Locations 396-399)

In contrast, what tomorrow's digital venues will never be able to duplicate or compete with is the earth-shattering, awe-inspiring, numinous presence of God. Sadly, today's Seeker-Driven and entertainment churches, in their spiritual and financial investments to compete, have lost sight of our great distinctive, which requires no money, and which cannot be packaged.

Davis writes: 

"If the biblical Abraham were to visit some of the cozy and comfortable seeker-driven driven worship services of the present day, he might well say of them what he said to Abimelech, the pagan ruler of Gerar: "There is surely no fear of God in this place" (Gen 20:11)." (Davis, Kindle Locations 564-566)

Is that really important?

Without the experiential, existential reality of God's living presence, God-with-us in encounter, power, deliverance, healing, comfort, restoration, grace, mercy, direction, and love..., I would check out of the faith. As will, and as are, the youth Dan Kimball references above.

***

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church will hopefully be out this summer.

Evicting the Wrongdoer From the House of Your Heart

Tree canopy, in my back yard


Yale theologian Miroslav Volf writes of his military service in the Yugoslavian army. Volf was a Christian in an atheist, socialist society (in Yugoslavia atheism and socialism were the same). For his faith, he was punished.

Volf was unaware that many of his fellow servicemen were ordered to spy on him. They collected conversations and papers that would indict him of sedition and insurrection. Ultimately he had to appear before the authorities and was accused of being a spy and a traitor.

While not abused physically or sexually, he was tormented psychologically. So much so that years afterward Volf could not get the fearful memories out of his mind. He writes:

"My mind was enslaved by the abuse I had suffered. It was as though Captain G. [his tormentor] had moved into the very household of my mind, ensconced himself right in the middle of its living room, and I had to live with him." (The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly In a Violent WorldKindle Locations 65-67)

Volf's punishers stayed in the living room of his mind and interrogated him again and again. What could he do to finally evict his accusers from the house of his soul?

The answer was: to not allow evil to win. He writes:

"To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life. In my own situation, I could do nothing about the first victory of evil, but I could prevent the second." (Kindle Locations 91-93)

Evil can be overcome with good (Romans 12:21). This is done by:
  • loving the wrongdoer
  • forgiving the wrongdoer
This is Core Christianity; viz., "to embrace the heart of the Christian faith is precisely to be pulled beyond the zone of comfort into the risky territory marked by the commitment to love one's enemies." (Kindle Locations 101-102) Without this your abusers will take up permanent residence in the house that is your heart.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What's Missing In Most Churches - The "Is-ness" of God

Linda, walking at Sterling State Park on Lake Erie in Monroe

I'm reading Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Presence, by theologian John Jefferson Davis.

Davis is calling for a return, in worship and in the people of God ("church"), for ongoing encounter with God. It's not about the preaching, not about the musicians, not about the stage lighting, not about the coffee, and it's not about you or me.

Davis talks about the transcendent "heaviness" of God, and the comparative "lightness" of all material and human things. He writes: "To say that the God of the Bible is "heavy" is to draw an intentional contrast with the weightlessness of God in much of contemporary culture and church life." (Davis, Kindle Locations 481-482)

Davis refers to Exodus 3:14, where, when asked by Moses for his name, God replies, "I am that I am." Davis writes:

"My colleague Gary Parrett has remarked that in Ex 3:14 God is saying to Moses, in effect, "I am not who you may think I am, or who you may wish that I am; I am who I am, and you need to adjust your thinking accordingly."" (Davis, Kindle Locations 2572-2573)

Davis cites John Durham's commentary on Exodus.

"Durham states that "I AM WHO I AM" also connotes the sovereignty and freedom of God in his self-disclosure: "By revealing himself as `I AM WHO I AM' the Lord had in effect said, `Yes, I have committed myself to you to be actively present with you, but I am not at your unfettered tered disposal. My active presence is mine and mine alone to exercise as when and under what conditions I choose" (p. 70)." (In Ib., Kindle Locations 2574-2576)

Thus, you and I can dispose of any idea that we have power to control God, or control our relationship with God.

God cannot and will not be manufactured, marketed, hyped, billboarded, bought, sold, or controlled. God IS. "This "is-ness" has the sense of "active presence"; this divine presence and reality is not "a bare `is' but a living force, vital and personal." (Ib., Kindle Locations 510-511)

This is what is missing in most American churches, as it was missing in the Second Temple Judaism that Jesus encountered.

***
In my book Praying I have a chapter "Prayer and the Nature of God," emphasizing how our ontological conception of God shapes how we pray.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Progressive Secularism's Orwellian Rewriting of History

Sharp-shinned hawk in my back yard

Anyone interested in the current battle between opposing faith-systems (progressive secularism vs. religious belief) needs to read Mary Eberstadt's It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies. You will see why I am reading, concurrently, 1984.

Here's but one of many examples: Downton Abbey. (See "God banished from Downton Abbey, says show's historical advisor.")

Alister Bruce was in charge of ensuring that Downton Abbey was historically accurate. But this was tricky to do, since an early twentieth-century English family would have been religious.

So, to avoid being accurate, meals on the set were always shown already under way. This avoided seeing the family pray before they ate.

"The word abbey in the show’s title came in for scrutiny, over fear that it could conjure a religious subtext. The dining room table was not even allowed to show napkins folded in the pattern traditional to the time—because it suggests a bishop’s miter, apparently another possible triggering affront." (Eberstadt, pp. 32-33)

Bruce "said that executives in charge of the series had ordered producers to “leave religion out of it”, for fear of alienating an increasingly atheistic public." ("God banished from Downton Abbey," op. cit.)

So much for truth. So much for historical accuracy.

In 1984 Winston, the main character, works for the Ministry of Truth. His job is to dispose of historical facts by tossing them into a "memory hole." And then, he is to rewrite history, to make Big Brother look good.

"This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date." (George Orwell, 1984, Kindle Locations 627-630)


‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.

1984

Friday, January 27, 2017

THE CALL (two sermons)

Pine tree out my window


My two sermons on THE CALL are online.

#1 is HERE.

#2 is HERE. (This one emphasizes dreams and visions.)

God Is Absent in Most American Churches (The Presence-Driven Church)

Image result for john piippo presence of god
Tree, in my back yard

At Redeemer, and perhaps at your church as well, the presence of God is welcomed, taught, made central, and experienced. The one thing we want our people to be saying, as we gather together, is: Surely the Lord is in this place. Without that we're just another entertainment center striving hard to keep the people happy.

Sadly, most American churches leave one wondering where, if at all, is God in all of this programming? This observation is confirmed by Gordon-Conwell theologian John Jefferson Davis, who writes:

"I believe that the problem of the loss of the awareness of the presence of the Holy God and the risen Christ as the central reality of worship is present to some degree in most evangelical churches today, whether charismatic or noncharismatic." (Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence, Kindle Locations 2474-2475)

I'm in the early pages of Davis's book. What needs to be recovered, he argues, is this: 

"The fundamental issue is the recovery of the centrality and reality of God in the worship and life of the evangelical church generally: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead; Jesus is still alive today, and is present here with us in the power of the Spirit to enjoy communion with his people.
It is the recovery-each and every Sunday morning-of the consciousness of this fundamental fact, without which the New Testament church would not have been born, and without which there would have been no new, continuing religion called Christianity.

This is the reality for which I am contending." (Ib., Kindle Locations 94-97)

(BTW, for those of you who like A.W. Tozer - he was contending for this, too.

And, Jesus was contending for this too. That is why he says the Temple is going to fall.)

The Religion of Today's Secular-Progressive Alliance

Monroe County

I am re-reading Orwell's 1984. I'm doing this to gain insight into the Thought Police of today.

The new custodians of the Ministry of Love are filled with hatred. Orwell helps me see this, providing a lens through which to view the New Intolerance.

I am among the religious, and we are being excoriated, in a country where supposedly we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion (and, BTW, secular-progressivism has all the marks of a new, alternative religion, with its many mindless acolytes [viz., the media and the mediatees]).

Side-by-side with Orwell I am reading Mary Eberstadt's It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies. Eberstadt writes:

"Belligerent secularism, not religious traditionalism, is the true heir to Puritanism today.
It is standard-bearers within the progressive-secular alliance, not religious traditionalists, who now enforce dogma on the wider society, who police cultural precincts for heretics, and who shun and shame dissenters. They are the guardians of what has become a secularist substitute faith, concerning the sexual revolution and its perceived moral imperatives. And like the Puritanism of yesteryear, today’s secular version does not tolerate nonconformism. Practicing Christians who refuse to cave are on the front lines of the new intolerance today." (p. 17)

Only the Thought Police mattered.

George Orwell, 1984

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Psalms and Proverbs for Breakfast

My home office

For several months I have been starting the day by slowly reading and meditating on the biblical books of Psalms and Proverbs.

Both books are refreshing antidotes to the prevailing political bleakness. They point me to True North. Psalms leads me into praying and worshiping God. Proverbs directs me to the matters of character and integrity. Proverbs is the ancient text to ponder for wisdom on what and what not to do with my mouth. It is stunning how relevant Proverbs is to the Western amoral atmosphere.

I have an office on the second floor of our house. It is very, very quiet. The window overlooks the two old Norway spruces in my front yard. Blue jays especially like these trees. I see a lot of birds, and an occasional bald eagle flying in front of my window (about one eagle a week).

My computer screen is off to the side. I pull up my Kindle, and my copy of the best study Bible I have ever seen - the NIV Cultural Background Study Bible, edited by Craig Keener and John Walton. (Today this is on sale for Kindle at only $3.99 - incredible!) 

Today I am in Psalm 34, and Proverbs 19. I alternate between them. I read some or all of Psalm 34. God speaks to me. I take notes. I pause. I meditate on what God is showing me, which means, I repeat. Then I do the same with Proverbs 19. Proverbs is so thick with wisdom that I rarely get through an entire chapter in one session.

All this takes, usually, between thirty and sixty minutes.

With my soul enriched, my mind instructed, and my heart renovated, I move into whatever God has for me this day.

***
My current book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Dealing with Anger in Relationships

Istanbul


In every good relationship there are feelings of anger between persons. I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger.


I have angry moments. When I feel angry, what can I do?

I can evaluate my anger. Here's how to do this. 

1. Recognize my anger. “Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify my unmet expectation. Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation ________  was not met."

3. Evaluate my unmet expectation. Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject any ungodly or irrational expectations. If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. But my expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.


Communicate this by using “I” words rather than “You” words. Begin your sentence with “I feel angry…” rather than “You make me feel angry…” Doing it this way asserts without being aggressive. For the other person this feels less like an attack that causes them to rise up in defense.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As I get free of these things I find myself less angry.

Remember that from, the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told never to feel anger. There is a righteous anger, and that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. In all relationships we are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. But in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, the second part of Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation. 

I am thankful that only two, maybe three times in our 43+ years of marriage, have Linda and I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is swept under the carpet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It Is Dangerous to Believe

Image result for john piippo war
The Via Dolorosa, in Jerusalem


In America, and around the Western world, there is a growing hatred and vilification of Jesus-followers. For details, plus the origin of current anti-religious hatred in the sexual revolution, I'm now reading through Mary Eberstadt's It's Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies.

Here are some examples Eberstadt cites.

  • A high school football coach suspended in Washington State in 2015 for kneeling to say a prayer at the end of a game.
  • The American military chaplains who claim to have been reassigned on account of their faithfulness to traditional Christianity.
  • The small business owners working in the wedding industry at a time when vindictiveness in the name of the sexual revolution is apparently boundless.
  • The Christian staffer at a day-care center who would not address a six-year-old boy as a girl, and was fired on account if it.
  • The teacher fired in New Jersey for giving a curious student a Bible.
  • In 2014, Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla and creator of the JavaScript programming language, loses his job after it is revealed that he donated one thousand dollars on behalf of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative in California limiting marriage to a man and a woman (inter alia, the ballot passed in 2008 by 52 percent of the vote). A cyber-shaming war ensues, and Eich resigns.
  • • A thirty-three-year Catholic theology teacher in New Jersey, Patricia Jannuzzi, is fired for posting statements on her Facebook page expressing Catholic teaching about same-sex marriage.
  • An adjunct professor at the University of Illinois, Kenneth Howell, hired to teach a class in modern Catholic social thought, is suspended from the classroom for teaching modern Catholic thought about natural law. The head of the religion department explains that his explication of Church doctrine concerning homosexuality caused accusations of “hate speech.”
  • A Christian pastor in Atlanta renowned for his work against human trafficking, Louie Giglio, withdraws from giving the benediction at President Barack Obama’s second swearing-in ceremony—the day after a progressive “watchdog” group posts a sermon from the mid-1990s in which he tells Christians to “lovingly but firmly” resist nontraditional marriage, and a social media campaign against him leads White House spokesmen to distance themselves.
  • A visitor to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is ordered to remove a pro-life pin on her lapel before entering, because it is a “religious symbol.”
  • In Massachusetts, an inner-city school district votes to sever ties with a Protestant college whose students tutor failing public school students. A committee member explains, “You have to draw the line somewhere. If the Ku Klux Klan, for example, made the best school lunch in the world, we’re not going to hire them to make the school lunch.”
  • The city of Houston issues subpoenas ordering specific pastors to turn over any sermons mentioning homosexuality, gender identity—and/or the mayor.
  • Catholic and other Christian adoption agencies across America are kept under legal siege that drains resources from the poor and destitute people they try to serve—for the sole reason that political adversaries oppose longstanding Judeo-Christian teaching about sex.
  • • At the University of Texas at Austin, the police department issues a disorderly conduct citation to a street preacher after students complain that his words about STDs and sex offend them. The officer explains that it is illegal to offend the students.
  • An evangelical Christian fire chief in Atlanta is suspended for writing and self-publishing a book professing his Christian beliefs, among them that homosexual behavior is wrong.
  •  A U.S. Marine in North Carolina is court-martialed, given a bad-conduct discharge, and denied military benefits because she pasted a motivational passage from Isaiah 54:17 near her office computer (“No weapons formed against me shall prosper”). According to a military judge, the quotation “could be interpreted as combative . . . [and] could easily be seen as contrary to good order and discipline.”
  • A teacher in Great Britain is fired for praying for a sick child—which her managers define as “bullying.”
  • A Christian health worker in Great Britain is disciplined for “bullying and harassment” after asking a coworker if she’d like a prayer (the coworker said yes), and giving the coworker a book about conversion to Christianity.
  • A couple in Great Britain is denied status as foster parents because they will not recant unwanted passages in the Bible. (Richard Scott, “The Foster Parents,” chapter 5 in Christians in the Firing Line (London: Wilberforce, 2013), pp. 65–81.)
  • A delivery driver in Great Britain loses his job for leaving a crucifix on the dashboard. (Scott, “The Van Driver,” chapter 2 in ibid., pp. 35–41.
  • A preschool teacher in Great Britain is fired for refusing to read a book about same-sex parents aloud to three-year-olds.
  • In Great Britain, in 2015 a preacher was sent to jail for speaking “threatening” words from the Book of Leviticus. In 2008, in Canada, the Alberta Human Rights Commission charged a former Alberta pastor with a “hate crime” for a letter he sent to a local newspaper in 2002, criticizing teaching about sexuality in the province’s education system; after seven years in the legal system, the ruling was overturned in 2009.
There is more...

It is dangerous to believe.

I just located my copy of 1984.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Addressing the Two Debates Regarding Same-sex Marriage

(I'm re-posting and re-editing this, to keep the discussion out there among followers of Jesus.)

"We must acknowledge that when some American citizens are fearful of expressing their religious views, something new has snaked its way into the village square:
an insidious intolerance for religion that has no place in a country
founded on religious freedom."


For Christian theists concerned about the way the same-sex marriage discussion has gone in America, I suggest there are two issues: one legal, the other religious.

The Legal Issue
Regarding the legal matter, the issue is about the definition of “marriage.” Might we in America have a civil discourse about this? The truth or falsity of the statement We should allow for same-sex marriage rests heavily on the meaning of the term “marriage.” Some of us, myself included, feel like many of our government leaders have rushed forward to change the meaning of marriage, without discussion. 

The term "marriage equality" changes the definition of marriage, without discussion. Of course if "marriage" is defined as a union between consenting adults, irregardless of their gender, than same-sex marriages should be legally allowed. But that has not been the legally prevailing definition of marriage. If marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, anything outside those parameters is irrelevant, and no injustice is involved in disallowing gay unions to be called marriages. As Ryan T. Anderson has written, "A truth acknowledged for millennia has been overruled by five unelected judges." (Anderson, Ryan T. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, Kindle Location 89) Without allowing for an extended, civil discourse. Any citizen ought to feel troubled by such an act of unrestrained power.

Read the editorial in CNN by Robert George (prof. of jurisprudence at Harvard and Princeton), Sherif Gergis (Princeton and Yale), and Ryan T. Anderson – “Gay Marriage, then Group Marriage?” They write:

“Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.” Please read this entire editorial. 

For a more complete version see their recent, essentially non-religious book What is Marriage? Man and Woman – a Defense. As you read it jump off the cultural bandwagon and think your way through it.

The Religious Issue

There is a second debate going on, this one within religions, and within Christianity. (Irreligous people, of course, will be uninterested in this.) It is over the statement: Does the biblical text disaffirm same-sex unions? I believe it does. 

Stop here. I disagree with Christians who think that, somehow, the biblical text does not disaffirm same-sex unions. I can say this without hating anyone. Disagreement does not equal hatred. Even if I was not a Christian and was asked to look as objectively as I can at what the Bible says about same-sex unions, I would conclude: it does not affirm them; indeed, it speaks against them. One can surely admit this without hating anyone. Again, to disagree is not to hate.

If someone says they are a “Christian,” then I reason as follows.
1. We are obligated to follow God’s will.
2. God’s will is given to us in the Bible.
3. The Bible forbids same-sex unions.
4. Therefore, same-sex unions are against God’s will. 


On P1 (Premise 1): Virtually all Jesus-followers affirm this to be true.

On P2 – again, Jesus-followers will have little problem with this. There may be discussion on the nature of biblical authority. That is another, and important, discussion.
Note again: Let's say you are an atheist. As an atheist you see little or no authority in the Bible. But of course. Christian theism is not your worldview. The Bible means little or nothing to you as a life-guide, just as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion means nothing to me as a life-guide (and yes, I read it, and made about 45 posts in response to it).

But if you are and claim to be a follower of Jesus, then it follows that you place a high premium on the words of the Bible. The Bible is our metanarrative (everybody has a metanarrative, even post-modern theorists who reject metanarratives). For those few billion people in this camp, we can and should have discussions over the meaning of the biblical texts, their interpretation, and the nature of their authority. And, again, we can discuss without hating one another. (A good book on explaining the biblical text as metanarrative is N.T. Wright, The Last Word.)

Re. P3 – this is where the intra-Christian discussion lies. If you want to go straight to the heart of this discussion I can suggest nothing better than Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon. See, e.g., these reviews, which I copy to defend the scholarship contained therein.
“Christians challenged by questions surrounding Scripture on same-sex relations will find an invaluable chart for navigating these confusing waters.” — Joel B. Green, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“Gagnon’s brilliant condensation of his arguments should be a significant asset for clergy and laity, while Via opens new challenges.” — Catherine Clark Kroeger, Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no finer presentation of all the main issues.” — Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no other work that so clearly illumines the biblical issues at the heart of the controversy.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School (endorsement inside book)
“Presents a vigorous, illuminating debate about the implications of scripture for contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality. I strongly recommend this book.” –James F. Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, University of Virginia

Via is pro-gay marriage, Gagnon is against gay marriage. Both are New Testament scholars. But note this. Via agrees that one cannot interpret the biblical text as supportive of same-sex marriage. So he gives us a principle that seems of God to him as a justification for allowing same-sex marriages today.

Note: I have extensively studied and been involved in this discussion since the 1970s. Yes, I have done all the contextual studies and word-studies relevant to the context, plus read everything available by Christians who disagree with me. (BTW - just because someone disagrees with me on this does not mean, in my mind, that they are not a Christian. Disagreement with a person's theology is not equivalent to judgment of a person.) 

For Gagnon’s more complete biblical argument against textual support of same-sex marriage see his The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Interpretation. Of this book reviews include:

“…In its learnedness, [Gagnon’s] book will…be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored….” — Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)
“…the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position….expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly.” — I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)
“…the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological…perspectives on same-sex relations….a tour de force.” — Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)
“Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony….fair and compassionate…a major resource….” — Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate….I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” — C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate.” — Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)
“I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church’s…response to homosexuality.” — Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)
“I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior.” — Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)
“No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book.” — John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
“This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,…indispensable even for those who disagree with the author.” — James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

We have rushed over the cliff without a civil discussion. (Five white Ivy-league lawyers decided on the meaning of "marriage" for our nation. What if there had been a national discussion, and then a national vote?)

I think the area we should be most concerned to address is the legal issue, and not the religious issue. This is because, overwhelmingly, we don’t legislate biblical morality. For example, biblically, gossip and gluttony are sins. Engaged in, they mitigate against human flourishing. But I don't think we should legislate against them. I don’t think we should make a law against gossip, or a law against gluttony. 

Continue to address the meaning of “marriage.” 
Don’t be intellectually seduced by the bandwagon fallacy.

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God's Love Is Enough


Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

Henri Nouwen was open about his struggle with self-hatred. He found the antidote to this heart-disease in a life of prayerful dwelling in God's presence.

Few have written so well about this spiritual battle. I thank God often for Nouwen, and how God has used him to minister to me and lead me out of my own self-obsession.

Nouwen believed, as tdid he apostle Paul, that our pre-Jesus condition finds ourselves with this situation: I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. When we become Jesus-followers this situation is defeated within us, and we discover that God's love now reigns in our hearts. In spite of this, the powers of darkness come to accuse us, even "day and night." This should not surprise us.

Nouwen writes:


"As you see more clearly that your vocation is to be a witness to God's love in this world, and as you become more determined to live out that vocation, the attacks of the enemy will increase. You will hear voices saying, "You are worthless, you have nothing to offer, you are unattractive, undesirable, unlovable." The more you sense God's call, the more you will discover in your own soul the cosmic battle between God and Satan. Do not be afraid. Keep deepening your conviction that God's love for you is enough, that you are in safe hands, and that you are being guided every step of the way. Don't be surprised by demonic attacks. They will increase, but as you face them without fear, you will discover that they are powerless." (Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)


The way to hear what Nouwen described as "the inner voice of love" is to spend much intentional time dwelling in God's presence. When I assign my seminary students to do this, and read their spiritual journals, it is common to see this sentence written: "Today God told me that he loved me." 


Do not expect to follow after Jesus and escape the voices of hatred. Because of this "the more you are called to speak for God's love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of this love in your own heart. The farther the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be." Only when your roots are deep can your fruits be abundant." (Ib.)


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My current book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.