Saturday, June 25, 2022

How to Have a Civil Discussion on Gay Marriage


(Railroad bridge, Monroe, MI)

(I periodically re-post this, to keep it in play. Over the years I have written several blog posts affirming marriage as between a man and a woman.)

The core issue is one of authority. What is your authoritative text. Whose voice or voices do you bow before? 

Pause here. Everyone has their authoritative text, whether it is written or not. So do you. Most do not reflect on this.)


For a Jesus-follower the question is: Does the Bible affirm sex-same unions? 

If you are not a follower of Jesus, or if you are an atheist, then - of course - this question has no relevance for you. But, again, you still have a worldview. The philosophical question is: Is your worldview correct?  

Is it possible to get beyond a shouting match and have a civil discussion?

I believe so. Here are the steps to take, as I see things. 

Below is my flow chart for having a civil discussion on gay marriage. (BTW - our culture has already decided on this one, sans understanding. But, in matters of Christian understanding, the moral pronouncements of the prevailing culture are irrelevant. It's like using the sport of throwing horseshoes to critique the game of tennis. Within the worldview of Christian theism, this remains a discussable issue.)

This process is a slow-cooker. In my case it has spanned almost five decades of thinking, studying, researching, dialoguing, and praying. You probably do not have the time to do this. But note this: If you are unfamiliar with the relevant literature, then do not hastily judge me. (Like, "How hateful John is!") 

Here's the template. 


On a scale of 0-10, how authoritative is the Bible for you (with '0' being no authority, and '10' being fully authoritative). This is the first matter that must be discussed, without which there will be no meaningful outcome.


If the Bible has no authority, or very little authority, then the Christian discussion is over. Because, of course, we will disagree on same-sex marriage. There will be a kind of "clash of civilizations" (following Samuel Huntington - see below*).

However, I am interested in the person who gives the Bible little or no authority. I want to ask them: "What text (narrative) is authoritative for you? Have you thought about this?"

Again, if someone goes to Step 1a, then the intra-Christian discussion is over. But, since everyone has a worldview, a narrative they live by, what is theirs? And, should one respond "I have no guiding narrative," that itself is a guiding narrative, to which I will ask for some justification.

After years of teaching philosophy, I have concluded that few people understand and evaluate their worldview. And note again: the rejection of all worldviews is itself a worldview. Like, e.g., the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative (contra Foucault, et. al.).


To say that the Scriptures have great authority is to say they guide and influence our faith and life. They are not just occasionally read, but studied and looked to and lived by.


We must handle the Word of God correctly, or rightly.

To do this requires study. Two good books on how to interpret the Bible are:

That is, to enter more fully into this discussion at this point, one should have some understanding of principles of biblical interpretation. Everyone cannot invest decades of study into this. But it helps avoiding horrendous mistakes in reading the Scriptures. For example, context is important in the interpretation of anything, to include interpreting the Bible. Because a text without a context is simply a pretext to say what you want the text to say.


This is the question for followers of Jesus who give the Scriptures great authority.

As Craig Keener writes"My primary vocation is as a Bible scholar, and I need to explain the text faithfully."

Correct. The issue here is: what does the biblical text say, as opposed to what we might wish the text would say.

This is why, e.g., what the prevailing cultural wisdom says is irrelevant to the interpreting of the Bible, and any text, for that matter.


The person who ends up here must justify their interpretation of Scripture, and conclude that God affirms same-sex unions. They might find themselves agreeing with people like Dan Via (presents view #2) and Matthew Vines, et. al., for example.


The person who ends up here must justify their interpretation of Scripture. 

At this point I have long laid out my cards on the table. I'm with Keener (and N.T. WrightBen WitheringtonTim KellerRobert GagnonWesley Hill, Francis Chan, et. al) when Keener writes: "I believe that the biblical passages about homosexual behavior are fairly clear... most exegetes, whether they agree personally with Paul or not, still regard Romans 1 as disagreeing with homosexual practice... I would be happy to be persuaded otherwise, but so far it continues to appear to me that this is where the exegesis strongly points."

Here's where I land on this. This has been our church's position since its inception. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, established by God as the foundation of family and human society reflecting the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love and devotion for His bride, the Church.

Does this mean I hate people who disagree with me? Of course not. (See here.)

Does loving someone mean I affirm all of their beliefs? Of course not. (See here.)

* "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate: 20th Anniversary Edition (p. 3). Foreign Affairs. Kindle Edition.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Getting Into a Relationship Won't Heal the Wounded Heart


(Linda and I, in Cancun (the sun was bright!))

Every heart has its wound. 

Some have multiple wounds. What can mend a broken heart? Not: getting into a relationship. Not: getting married. And not committing emotional adultery. (See here, and here, and here, and here.)

The person with an unhealed, bleeding heart brings their bloody mess into every relationship and, if the other gets close enough, they get bled on. Probably they are wounded too, and that's why, unknowingly, they are attracted to another hurting person. Misery loves company. People that bond in their misery form dysfunctional relationships.

Who a person is pre-maritally is who they are maritally. Unless, of course, they change. But just being in a relationship doesn't bring healing. Often the opposite happens. Old, oozing scars get re-opened. We cannot restore the souls of others.

God, on the other hand, is the Soul-Restorer (Psalm 23:3). Therefore, know and be known by him. I've seen this work, in my own life and others. In relationship counseling Linda and I attempt to bring people back to this.

After countless hours of counseling couples, pre-counseling them, post-marital counseling, and wedding-doing over the past forty-five years, we have seen marriages get restored. This happens when husband and wife stop viewing each other as either "savior" or "destroyer," individually look to God, cry out "Change me, God!", and respond to God's counsel.

Can God use a partner to mediate healing? Of course. But that's God, not the partner (who gets some credit for being a vessel of God, like a mug is to be affirmed for containing a great blend of coffee). God has mediated much healing to me through Linda, and she would say the same about me. But neither of us is The Great Healer. It is bad news relationship-wise if one is viewed that way, or views the other that way. What happens is big-time disappointment.

If you are hurting and lonely, even while married, the answer to your personal hell is not "I need to find someone!" Way too many mistakes are made at this point. Someone dates as a cure for their inner tragedy. Two unhealed people "fall in love." Never date or marry as relief for tragedy. Unless you want to experience hell on earth in a failing marriage, with children.

Every person's story is different, especially in the details. Here's part of mine. I was twenty-one years old. I had just become a Jesus-follower. I tried to get back into a previously failed dating relationship with a girl who was not a Jesus-follower. Eventually, she broke up with me. I thought, "I am messed up." God told me to take a year off from opposite-sex relationships and work on my own self. I did. It was a wonderful year! I thought, should God ever bring someone into my life, and should we get married, and should we have children, I want to be healed of a lot of stuff inside me.

Every person is healable. None of us have it all together, inwardly. Getting in a relationship is not the cure. Success in acquiring a life-partner does not equal a life of emotional flourishing.

In this regard Miroslav Volf, in Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, writes about how "success" fails to bring lasting satisfaction. 

"God delivers us from the melancholy emptiness that sometimes accompanies our very success. We’ve achieved what we wanted—we have gotten the corner office—and we still feel empty. We are like a child who wants a toy and, when she gets it, plays with it for a day or two and then craves another. Melancholy inevitably sets in when we forget that we are made to find satisfaction in the infinite God and not in any finite object." (Kindle Locations 574-578)

We achieved what we wanted. The thrill dissipates. We still feel empty. Bill and Lynn Hybels wrote about this pattern in their still-excellent book on marriage, Fit To Be Tied.

The answer that heals was never meant to be found in another person.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Every Community Excludes


                         (We were in NYC a few weeks ago.)

I'm ready to preach on "The Power of Spirit-Led Community" at our annual Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries conference. 

I'll look closely at the nature of communities, how identity is about location in a community, and how all communities both embrace (if you buy into the narrative) and exclude (if you don't).

All communities exclude.

Amy Chua (Yale) presents this in her book Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

Chua writes:

"Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family. Almost no one is a hermit. Even monks and friars belong to orders. But the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.

Some groups are voluntary; some are not. Some tribes are sources of joy and salvation; some are the hideous product of hate mongering by opportunistic power seekers. But once people belong to a group, their identities can become oddly bound with it. They will seek to benefit their group mates even when they personally gain nothing. They will penalize outsiders, seemingly gratuitously. They will sacrifice, and even kill and die, for their groups."

The Cure for the Entitlement Disease: The Hard Way Principles

(Bald eagle in a tree near our house)

Psychologist John Townsend's The Entitlement Cure is a helpful read. It's guiding me to look closely at areas of "pocket entitlement" that I have. It's giving insights to help others who have pocket entitlement, and even global entitlement.

Here are some things about the entitlement disease.

"Entitlement directs us to judge God for how the world works, for the bad things that happen to us that we don’t understand, and for things that didn’t happen that we desired. Entitlement says, “My way of looking at life is beyond his,” because entitlement creates a deep sense of being special and above it all." (50)

"Entitlement goes deeper than a person thinking, It’s okay if I want to be lazy because someone else will bear my burdens, or I’m so special that the rules don’t apply to me. In fact, entitlement goes so deep that it rejects the very foundations on which God constructed the universe. At its heart, entitlement is a rejection of reality itself." (51)

"Ever since Eden, we humans want to be like God, with all his privileges and power, and — the very definition of entitlement — we feel it is our right. Entitlement infects our brains with the notion, I have a right to more and better; in fact, I am owed that." (52)

All this is unreality. Townsend says that God's principles lie at the core of reality. The more you experience and follow them, the better life becomes for you and those in your life. Townsend calls this "the hard way."

The "Hard Way" Principles are:

1. Humility and Dependence - We Are Completely Dependent on God.

"Humility is simply accepting the reality of who God is and who you are. When you see the reality of his power, his love, and his care, you more easily see yourself as who you are: a loved creature, a special creature, an important creature, but a creature nonetheless. 

Dependence means you look to him for your sustenance, for every breath you take." (54)

Entitlement, however "tells you to be your own boss and determine your own destiny. Entitlement teaches you to say, "You're not the boss of me!" It implies that you can be and do anything you want, demand of the others around you anything you want, and that it’s lame to depend on anyone." (55) 

2. Connectedness - We Are Designed to Live in Connectedness with Each Other.

"We live in a relational world and a relational culture, summarized by Jesus’ teaching: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15: 12). Love comes from him, and we are to love not only him but each other." (56)

The entitlement mentality subverts healthy relationships and community in two ways. 

First, entitlement objectifies. "When one person treats another as a need-meeting object or as a dispenser of some desired commodity, that is objectification. People objectify each other sexually. A good listener may be sought out for her ability, but who remembers to ask how she’s doing?" (56)

"The self-absorbed attitude of entitlement makes it difficult to see people as having needs, feelings, and lives of their own. Forget “walk a mile in my shoes” — entitled individuals can only envision the lives of others as an extension of their own. They can’t enter fully into the experience of the other individual." (58) 

Second, entitlement creates unhealthy self-sufficiency. This is the idea that I don't need others to sustain and support me. "Entitlement is anti-need; it will cut you off from the supplies that your life requires to carry on." (59)

"If connectedness is the fuel of life, then entitlement results in an empty tank for the entitled person. And that causes breakdowns in relationships, love, career, self-care, and spirituality." (59)

3. Ownership - We Have to Take Responsibility for Our Own Choices.

Entitlement builds a huge obstacle to healthy ownership, in two ways: low ownership and externalization.

"Low ownership: Individuals who don’t take ownership of their lives sometimes live as if their actions have no consequences. They tend not to see beyond the present; their concern is for what they need and desire right now. They’re surprised when they lose jobs or relationships. Most of us are aware of the basic principle that “If you sow X, then X is what you will reap,” but not the entitled person." (60)

"Externalization: People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem. Their entitlement prohibits them from taking the beam out of their eye and asking the all-important question: How did I contribute to this latest problem? Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (61) 

"Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." Blame is a life-killer.

4. Accepting the Negative - Your Flaws Can't Be Forgiven and Healed Until You Admit Them.

"God made a way through Christ so that we could live with the negative as it truly is, without denying it or minimizing it. In a relationship with Christ, we feel permission to be who we truly are, warts and all. We don’t have to hide, pretend, or put our best face forward. We are known and loved just as we are by the one who matters most. This enables us to love others the same way. 

The result of acknowledging and accepting the negative is that the negative then can be transformed. When you are okay knowing your failings, you can face them, bring them to God and to the people with whom you feel safe being vulnerable, and heal whatever is driving those feelings. This is the key to great growth. It’s a paradox, but the ones who run from the negative will suffer from it, while the ones who accept the negative will find the power to change it." (63)

Entitlement drives you away from admitting your flaws. The entitled attitude has three directions that destroy the "It Is Well With My Soul" life. They are:

  • Denial. "The person in denial simply turns her back on reality. She refuses to admit her flaws to herself or anyone else, which eliminates any possibility of deep and satisfying relationships."
  • Perfectionism. "The person caught in perfectionism beats himself up for failures, minor or major. His standard for performance is perfection, and he offers himself little grace when he stumbles. He constantly scrutinizes and condemns himself, and never makes it to a point of self-acceptance."
  • Narcissism. "The narcissistic person adopts a grandiose view of himself that hides his flaws, which usually lie buried under deep shame and envy. He is so afraid to see himself as he really is that he reacts in the opposite direction, toward the “I’m special” stance, in which he becomes arrogant and selfish and has difficulty feeling empathy for others."
5. Finding Our Role - To Live Long and Contentedly Find Your Purpose in Life and Fulfill It. 

"Finding your role means that you are giving back to the world over time in a sustained and steady way, and this attitude actually contributes to your living longer. Research indicates that the number one factor in longevity is not social relationships or happiness, but conscientiousness, described as persistence, dependability, and organization." (66)

Entitlement block this in two ways.

  • Entitlement limits the person's goals. "One of the most limiting ideas of entitlement thinking is that the end goal of life is happiness: “I just want to be happy, that’s all.” Entitlement says that the highest good is to be a happy person — but in fact, that is one of the worst endgame goals we can have. People who have happiness as their goal get locked into the pain/ pleasure motivation cycle. They never do what causes them pain, but always do what brings them pleasure. This puts us on the same thinking level as a child..." (66)
  • Entitlement limits the individual's growth. Entitlement freezes development. "It keeps us from growing, learning, challenging ourselves, or trying new things. It whispers to us, “That sounds really hard and it doesn’t look like it’s worth it.” When we listen to this voice, something inside us goes to sleep. We might become couch potatoes, video addicts, chronic partiers, or simply get in a rut and routine that becomes boring and deadening." 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022


The Pauline Thinking Cure and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Harrison, Michigan (Photo by Josh Piippo)

I am interested in connections between Pauline thinking and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

Paul writes:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, 

whatever is true, 

whatever is noble, 

whatever is right, 

whatever is pure, 

whatever is lovely, 

whatever is admirable 

-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy 

-- think about such things 

and the God of peace will be with you."

Philippians 4:8


Examples of Pauline thinking include the "declarations" given by Steve Backlund of Bethel Redding Church, and the identity statements of Neil Anderson. Both are about thinking on identity truths, using verbal repetition. 

 For example, I am God's child and deeply loved by him. As followers of Jesus, that's true, right? So, why not meditate on that truth so that, as Henri Nouwen says, it might descend from our mind into our heart.

 See The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. They advocate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a cure for maladies such as anxiety disorder, depression, OCD, anger, marital conflict, and stress-related disorders. CBT is uncannily similar to Paul's instructions in Philippians 4:8.

 CBT treats cognitive distortions, such as "I'm no good," "My world is bleak," and "My future is hopeless." (Lukianoff and Haidt, 36) CBT breaks disempowering feedback cycles between negative beliefs and negative emotions.

 They write:

 "With repetition, over a period of weeks or months, people can change their schemas and create different, more helpful habitual beliefs (such as "I can handle most challenges" or "I have friends I can trust.")" (Ib., 37) This is remarkably like Backlund's identity declarations. (See also James K. A. Smith's excellent You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.)

 Cognitive distortions empower negative emotions. Put in a Pauline way, repetitive thinking on "whatever is false" distorts our emotions. Lukionoff and Haidt are concerned over our universities and the cognitive distortions they produce in our students. While to my knowledge neither Lukionoff nor Haidt are Christians, they refer to CBT as the "thinking cure." (See here.) I see the Pauline "thinking cure" of Philippians 4:8 as combating these distortions in ways that are similar to CBT. 

 They list nine such distortions. Here they are, direct from the book, with my comments on logical fallacies added. (38). 




Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. 

"I feel depressed; therefore, my marriage is not working out."

(In logic this is an example of the fallacy of false cause.)



Focusing on the worst possible outcome 

and seeing it as most likely. 

"It would be terrible if I failed."

(This is similar to the slippery slope fallacy in logic.)


Perceiving a global pattern of negatives 

on the basis of a single incident. 

"This generally happens to me. 

I seem to fail at a lot of things." 

(In logic this is called the fallacy of hasty generalization.)



Also known as "black and white thinking," 

"all or nothing thinking," and "binary thinking."

Viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms.

"I get rejected by everyone," or

"It was a complete waste of time."

(In logic this is called the fallacy of false dichotomy.)



Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts.

"He thinks I'm a loser."



Assigning global negative traits to yourself or others (often in the service of dichotomous thinking).

"I'm undesirable."

"he's a rotten person."



You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives.

"Look at all of the people who don't like me."



Claiming that the positive things you or others do are trivial, so that you can maintain a negative judgment.

"That's what wives are supposed to do - so it doesn't count when she's nice to me."

"Those successes were easy, so they don't matter."



Focusing on the other person as the source 

of your negative feelings; 

you refuse to take responsibility 

for changing yourself.

"She's to blame for the way I feel now."

"My parents caused all my problems."


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

How to Acquire Wisdom


(Tree, in my back yard)

My child, will you treasure my wisdom?
Then, and only then, will you acquire it.
And only if you accept my advice
and hide it within will you succeed.
So train your heart to listen when I speak
and open your spirit wide to expand your discernment—
then pass it on to your sons and daughters.[a]
Yes, cry out for comprehension and intercede for insight.
For if you keep seeking it like a man would seek for sterling silver,
searching in hidden places for cherished treasure,
then you will discover the fear of the Lord
and find the true knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:1-5
I have spent a lifetime seeking wisdom. Where have I found it?

Not in the media. I look to the media for information, not wisdom. There is not one news reader (CNN, Fox News, etc.) who functions as my moral and spiritual guide.  

I turn off the TV when a journalist goes outside the bounds of raw reporting and puts their spin, their interpretation, on events. Or, when a journalist pontificates ex cathedra on the meaning of it all, or spouts ethics. It's impossible to find untainted, uninterpreted information. It is in principle impossible, since all "facts" are theory-laden. What I am writing is tainted. What you are thinking is tainted. Wisdom is needed to separate the pure from the polluted.

I don't look to science for wisdom. Science studies empirical reality. Wisdom is non-empirical. Which is to say, wisdom cannot be weighed, measured, and quantified. To think it can be is to commit the naturalistic fallacy

For wisdom I look to five sources, two secondary, the other three primary.

One of my secondary sources is philosophy. Philosophy is philo - sophia, the "love of wisdom." I have immersed my being in philosophical literature since 1970, when I changed my university major to philosophy. I have gotten a lot of wisdom from philosophers, even from atheists who, though disagreeing with their core convictions, display intra-worldview intuition.

My second secondary source for wisdom is people who know God, who spend much time with God, and reflect on their experiences with God. In 1970 I became a believer in God and follower of Jesus.  Two books were placed in my hands, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Since then I have not  stopped reading Christian theistic wisdom literature, having up to ten books going at a time.

I know many Jesus-followers who have never written a book, yet possess wisdom. These are people who love God and know God and spend much time with God. God speaks wisdom through them, to me.

My first primary source for wisdom is the Christian Scriptures; viz., The Book. Since 1970, I have been swimming in a sea of wisdom from above, mediated through the words of the Bible. Currently, I am re-soaking in Proverbs and the Gospel of Matthew. Here is deposited wisdom of the ages, illuminated by God the Holy Spirit.

Primary wisdom source #2 is the Holy Spirit. Scripture points me to the living relationship with God's Spirit, who enlightens and guides me. 

Primary wisdom source #3 is the Discerning Community. (The best book on developing a discerning community is by Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.) 

Linda and I are connected with our church community. We have gained so much wisdom over the years from our people!

The Discerning Community expands to certain friends and several pastoral colleagues. It includes Spirit-led authors. They have become, to me, human wisdom mentors. Eugene Peterson, for example, is one of them. Peterson, now deceased, carries much wisdom. Here he points me in the right direction.  

"If we forget that the newspapers are footnotes to Scripture and not the other way around, we will finally be afraid to get out of bed in the morning. Too many of us spend far too much time with the editorial page and not nearly enough with the prophetic vision. We get our interpretation of politics and economics and morals from journalists when we should be getting only information; the meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word." (Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, Kindle Locations 661-668)

Want to gain wisdom and understanding? Begin with the book of Proverbs. In it you'll find nuggets like this.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Proverbs 4:7

My books are... 

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Jasnice Trigg)