Diet of Nashville

Somewhere between me getting to the boxing gym and sitting down to dinner, social media hounds found the Nashville Statement. For the last two days everyone from every side has launched their opinion on it, given pushback, critiqued, and been offended by it.

But I’ve figured out something about statements like this. When you say something strong and Biblical, everyone has an opinion. Is CBMW perfect? By no means! They still have issues with Trinitarian doctrine. Eternal Submission of the Son is wacky, no matter what Grudem argues. And yes, many Christians have taken complementarianism and turned it into a new patriarchy. So yes, there are issues with the group. But let’s remember that God uses us crooked sticks to draw straight lines.

So now everyone’s coming and offering up these emotional critiques of this statement. Notice I said emotional critiques. Not hermeneutic critiques, not exegetical critiques, not historical critiques. But emotional ones.

This has been the flaw of mainline Protestantism for decades; that there is no real hermeneutic. It is whatever we make it. There are no real standards of exegesis or history because there’s no real doctrine, because there’s no real salvation, because what ails us isn’t in our hearts, it’s what’s outside of us.

Conservative Christians have been saying this for the last sixty years. Isn’t interesting, we are at the the same place we were two generations ago. Culturally, racially, and theologically we are having the same fights. Social media just put it in our face, turned the volume up, and boost the vitriol.

Because the overwhelming arguments have been emotional, I cannot take them seriously. Emotions do not carry the same weight as Scripture.

“But why make a statement about THIS? Who not about white supremacy or racism?” Because these things aren’t mutually exclusive. Because, while yes condemning racism is a good thing and for many denominations(including my former one) still has not happened, we cannot make it an idol. The primary work of the Church is not to condemn racism, but to proclaim the Gospel that calls both racists and the LGBT to repentance and to put their faith in Christ, just as it does for all sinners. But we’ve elevated homosexuality above racism. Here’s what I mean: take Article 10 of the Nashville Statement. Replace the language if homosexualty with “racism”. Any one who pushes back on this new statement gets RIGHTLY condemned and run out of town. So why do we do it with this sin?

Because at the end of the day, we don’t want to just say that homosexuality is a sin.

But my confusion is why the world is so shocked at what has been said. This has always been the orthodox Christian position. The Church has always held that homosexuality is against the teachings of Scripture. It has always taught the heterosexual monogamous relationships are God’s design for marriage. Only for the last half century has this been in question. So yes, I agree, this does strike at the heart of how we will interpret Scripture and form doctrine. One of the critiques I got was that I was interpreting Scripture as a 21st century cis white man; as if I’m inherently flawed because of my skin color and gender indentity. But Augustine, Moses, Paul, Peter, Gregory, Athanasius, Polycarp, John, and Christ weren’t 21st century white men. But Scripture doesn’t change with the culture. We don’t ignore the parts we don’t like. So while my liberal friends like to quote Christ when it comes to taking care of the poor, they seem to leave off the part where he says “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand”

Certainly, Evangelicals need a clear, gracious strategy of ministering to those who struggle with same sex attraction. Yes, absolutely the LGBT are made in the image of God and the hand of the Lord is not short to save. But we have to decide today, right now, are we going to change our doctrine to excuse sin

or are we going to cling again to the Scriptures and say “Here I am, I can do no other. God help me”

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Something You Might Not Know About Trump Supporters, Feminists, and Gay People–Musings on Ontological Equality

I first heard the phrase listening to a recording of Jemar Tisby’s talk at The Charleston Conference. It’s been weeks, and I’m still thinking about it and relating it to an increasing number of ideas and situations. The phrase: “ontological equality.”

Sometimes this phrase relates to the persons of the Trinity, but in this case it refers to the belief that all people are equal in essence and possess inherent worth and dignity. This relates to the philosophical study of anthropology (which asks the question: what is humanity?) and to the theological concept of the Image of God (the belief that all humans are made in the Image of God). In his talk, Mr. Tisby asserted that this doctrine is probably the most important Christian doctrine aside from the doctrines of salvation, and that chaos ensues when we forget or reject it.

So after mulling over this concept for many weeks, here are some of my thoughts on it. To treat a person as an ontological equal means to respect their humanity, even if you don’t respect their character or accomplishments. It means that no matter how much you disagree with someone, you never lose sight of their dignity. It means that no matter how evil a person is, that you seek justice rather than vengeance. It means that you accurately represent who they are and what they think–no straw man arguments or spreading false information. It means that when dialoguing with them, you are assertive rather than aggressive.

Let me clarify what I’m not saying. To respect a person’s equality does not mean that you respect their ideas or their choices. It does not mean that it is wrong to disagree with them. It does not mean that one cannot call out oppression or seek justice. It does not mean that one cannot call out immorality or urge righteousness.

When Mr Tisby spoke on ontological equality, he applied it primarily to the experience of people of color in the United States. He asserted that slavery and Jim Crow happened in large part because so many people denied or dismissed the ontological equality of human beings who were from another land or had a different skin color. And it was when some Americans lost sight of (or purposely and systematically rejected!) the inherent dignity of all people that gross injustice was rationalized and perpetuated.

Race-based discrimination is one of the most extreme examples of what can happen when people deny the equality of other people, but the same principle applies to many other areas of life as well. The belief in ontological equality also means the following…

  • When having discussions with people with opposing political viewpoints, you maintain respect for the person even if you disagree with (or even hate) their positions.
  • Women are viewed primarily as people (instead of “other”) and as equals to men.
  • In a relationship between a child and an adult authority, the most important kind of respect is the adult’s respect for the child’s humanity (rather than the child’s respect for the authority’s position).
  • People are not less valuable if they have less capabilities. A disabled person is not less valuable if they are unable to contribute to society. A child is not valuable only because of their future potential.
  • A person’s age does not make them of lesser value. An old person or an unborn person are equal in worth and dignity to a young adult, and therefore should not have life taken from them.
  • A person’s socioeconomic status does not change their inherent worth. A wealthy person and a poor person are ontological equals.
  • A person’s beliefs do not lessen their humanity. A Trump supporter is of equal value to a feminist. 
  • Any discussion of LGBT issues and people must start with the ontological equality of people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But what about those whose very purpose in life is seemingly to deny justice and equality to others? What about Neo-Nazis? What about evil, murderous dictators? How does a belief in ontological equality relate to them? I think the answer is two-fold. First, it gives us confidence in denouncing their beliefs as wrong and their actions as evil. But second, we are not absolved of our responsibility to treat even them as our ontological equals. We may critique them and seek justice, all while maintaining an awareness of their dignity and worth. (Practically this might look like not physically harming them or not spreading lies about their beliefs or actions.) It is tempting when evil people so blatantly deny the equality of other humans to then want to take away their human rights, to dehumanize them in our minds, and to treat them as if they have forfeited their own inherent value. But this is where, especially as Christians, we are to rise above our baser instincts and honor the humanity even of evil people as we simultaneously call out their wrongs.

I anticipate continuing to mull over the concept of ontological equality. It has been a fascinating study to date! And I have to say, I agree with Mr Tisby that this is one of the most important doctrines in Christianity. It affects so much of life: how we think about and relate to minorities, children, the disabled, people we disagree with, political opponents, and even truly evil people!

In closing, what I would like is for us to rejoice in the great privilege of being human, of being God’s marvelous creations, of being made in His image. And to seek to honor that image in ourselves and in others.

Here’s the link to Jemar Tisby’s entire talk. I highly recommend it!

www.podasterynetwork.com/2017/07/11/bonus-fierce-urgency-now-christian-complicity-racism-imperative-urgent-action/

Dagon in Dixie

In my new city, we are famous for our downtown square. Every month, there is a square party with music, dancing, food, and games. It is a great time to let off a little steam on a weekend. The first Walton 5 & 10 is still there, many good restraunts and coffee shops are scattered around. And then, standing in the direct middle of the square, is a statue of James Berry.

James Berry was an Arkansas politician who served multiple terms as an Arkansas Representative. He was Governor after the civil War and buried here in Bentonville. He is depicted as his first role, a Confederate soldier.

We find ourselves again having a great race debate in this country and part of that debate is asking the questions “What should we do with these Confederate monuments? What message do they send?”

If I’m honest, my first thought is, “They aren’t hurting anyone. They are merely stone, and a statue cannot hurt you.” But I am speaking as a white, Southern Protestant. Two generations of Sawrie’s fought for the Confederacy. I have lived in the South most of my life. And I love being Southern. SEC football is superior to all other types of football. Fried chicken is the perfect Sunday lunch, and I’ve used “y’all, buggy and catty-corner” all my life. I’ve grown up seeing these statues as stone pillars of a bygone era that’s never impacted me.

But the scars of Jim Crow still run deep in the South. We see the black and white photos and forget that segregation is only 60 years behind us. Some of you may still remember segregation. But my family was not harmed by the so called “separate but equal” division that was forced upon us. It was easy to move on because all we had to do was wash our hands and wake up the next day. We got over it. But our brothers and sisters did not. They still know the past, and they still are impacted. While Mr. Crow may have flown the coop, the impact remains. The majority of these monuments were erected either in the height of Jim Crow or the middle of the Civil Rights movement. Yes, different people react to things in different ways. But just because it doesn’t hurt me doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And when I speak to Black Christians, they tell me it hurts.

It’s this subtle reminder of the position they once held. This clandestine statement that they were lesser. This image that they once were not imago Dei. This is something I cannot, I will not understand. I will never be daily reminded of my oppressor because I was never owned. No one ever fought to keep my family in bondage. No one ever tried to lynch my grandparents. They were always allowed to vote. i get scared when a cop is behind me because I don’t want to get a ticket, not because I think I will get shot for telling an officer I have a legal firearm (Philando Castile) or laying face down while handcuffed (Oscar Grant) or playing with a toy gun in a park by myself (Tamir Rice) or offending  a white woman (Emmet Till). Our Christian brothers and sisters have told us, “This is what this means to us and it hurts”

And if we refuse to listen to our brothers and sisters when they say “This hurts us”, we are complicit in their pain. We may not be directly causing it, but we are not caring for them. We may not be tormenting them, but we are allowing their torment. When we march and fight for these symbols of racism to remain, we are the pain.

“But this isn’t about race” you may retort, “This is about our history and our heritage. This is a reminder of our dark past. We cannot forget where we come from.”

But there are museums full of our history, books full of accounts, and battlefields to mark important places, where yes those statues may be appropriate. There are far better ways to remember our past sins. And perhaps honoring and glorifying our past sins isn’t right.

“But it’s my right to fly that flag or to have that statue. I’m an American.” You certainly have that right. But one of the applications that we may take from Romans 14 is that if our liberty is harmful to a brother, it is our responsibility to take care of our brother, not his to get over it. We do not get to flaunt liberty at the expense of our brother.

But we do.

By these excuses and our fighting to maintain these symbols and banners that pain our brothers, the message is loud and clear. “My heritage is more important than your pain. My history, my sinful past is more important.” Or if we really said what our hearts said, “I love this statue more than I love you. You just need to get over the pain and the past, because this monument is more important than that.”

I love the South, and I love you dear Christian. But if you love a monument made in the image of a man more than you love your African American Brother made in the image of God- then maybe we’re more pagan than we’d like to admit. These monuments, our heritage, and our history are the new idol in Dixie. And we continue to elevate them over and above our brothers.

Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to is really your god” and Calvin said our hearts are perpetual idol makers. We may pretend that we would never flay our brother on the altar of Heritage, but we do. We may say that at the end of the day we love them more, but we are liars if we do not show them. They are worth thousands of times more than any monument- and our words say otherwise. We have been called to love fellow Christians above all others. Over every statue, heritage, and ounce of history. More than we love being Southern, and more than ourselves.

So yes, these statues do need to come down, because they have become more valuable to us than the lives of our brothers and sisters. So when they come down, let us not grumble and complain, but rather look to our neighbor and love them again.

Theology in a Dirty Glass

It would do you well to give this article a read.

The High Church Puritan

The insipid cosmopolitan cocktail that is evangelical churchianity is comprised of one part orthodoxy to ten measures of water; shaken, stirred, and cut again with simple syrup. Having all the potency of a feather duster, it lacks both the vigor and viscosity to even make its little pink umbrella stay afloat. Those who imbibe such are nonetheless inebriated, even if only by pomposity, and still prove brazen enough to belly-up with the big boys. “I’ll take mine in a dirty glass,” they bluster. So the barkeeper pours a few strained ounces of weaksauce into a sugar-coated martini glass while the new patron struts upon his stool. This kind goeth not out but by prayer and a much older vintage—a vintage distilled in antiquity—to be served neat without a water back.

In that spirit I suggest that a strong shot of Chalcedonian orthodoxy would clear up most of the christological confusion…

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Christians and Hospice Ministry

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If you see my right arm you’ll notice pretty quickly a tattoo. My tattoo says, very simply, “Imago Dei”. Imago Dei is Latin for “the image of God” and is typically used to express the Biblical fact that every single human being who was or ever will be created is created in the image of God and therefore their life is dignified.

This tattoo has a unique meaning to me nowadays though. I’m twenty-five years old and have worked for two separate hospices in North Carolina. Having worked in Hospice, even though just at a support level, has given me a new understanding of the importance of recognizing the Imago Dei of everybody.

You see, hospices exist to give everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, the care and treatment to die peacefully. Nurses work endlessly to alleviate the pain of the patient and to make sure that the family is taken care of. I interact with countless people daily who tell me how thankful they are for hospice because their family member lived their last days to the fullest extent and they died respectfully.

We live in a world absolutely veiled by discrimination because of the fall and it is saddening. But visit, or better yet volunteer at, your local hospice and you’ll see a glimpse of the depth of the Imago Dei.

There is a sweet sense of peace working in a field where you’re making lasting impressions on entire families. Hospice allows me to take the Gospel, Jesus being the remedy for sin-ridden mankind, and share it in practical ways with hurting families. At some point we all have to face the pains of death. Death sucks. The effects of sin suck, but the Gospel heals.

I want to end this post by encouraging you to talk to your local hospice about volunteering. If you’re a pastor, consider leading your congregation to partnering with hospice. Through hospice you’ll have countless opportunities to magnify Christ. Hospice is much more than end of life care. It is changing lives and impacting the community one life at a time, and in my case, it is fueled by a love for the Gospel and a command of Jesus to make disciples. That starts by ministering to broken people in a broken world in a time when they desperately need the loving comfort of the God who created them.

A Mental Buffet // 19 Aug 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul. This week’s mental buffet includes a sermon from Ronnie Martin, and articles from Chad Bird, Thomas R. Schreiner, and Kyle G. Jones

Drawing Near to God’s Kingdom – Ronnie Martin

In this sermon, Pastor Ronnie Martin speaks about what it means to draw near to God’s Kingdom.

“God wants to draw near to people that constantly reject Him.”

 


Grace is Karma’s Worst Nightmare – Chad Bird

“Grace is lacking in taste and propriety. The same loving lips that kiss away the tears of a repentant whore will turn right around and kiss the lips of a humble queen. The same hands that scrub the vomit out off the clothes of a drunk will shake hands with the teetotaler. It’s never learned the difference between a shack and a mansion. Grace doesn’t know why the color of skin makes one sinner more or less in need of forgiveness than any other.”

 

Sermon: A Building from God – Thomas R. Schreiner

“The gift of the Spirit functions as the guarantee, the downpayment, of our future resurrection. So, Paul concludes in verse 5 where he started in verse 1. We know that we will have a resurrection body in the future. We are assured of this because we have the Holy Spirit. No matter how happy your life is now, you still long for something better. We all naturally think how life could be better. There is a longing in us for perfection. There is a sense of incompleteness and an ache in our lives. We are not fully satisfied or fulfilled. We sense that there is more to life. Those desires are not a bad thing. They remind us that we were made for another world. They remind us that this world is not our home. They point us forward to the resurrection.”

 

Go and Be Dead – Kyle G. Jones

“We sinners share a common problem when it comes to Jesus’ parables. We read them with an eye to our own righteousness. That is, we read them with our eyes peeled for what they might tell us to do. We read them with Law tinted lenses.

While it is true that Jesus’ parables contain Law (commands and demands from God), if we’re to understand them rightly our eyes need to hunt tirelessly for where Christ and his Gospel reside within them. Though not always easy, we must avoid the temptation to make the Law our primary prize while reading or listening to Jesus’ parables.”

 

Here We Have No Lasting City

I can say for sure, I am no fan of our President. I have not heard one policy of his that I can support or get behind. I find him to be reactionary, divorced from reality, and pompous. I find him to say one thing, walk it back, and then double down on the original statement. I believe he has emboldened white supremacists to come to the forefront. I believe many Christians have “baptized” him and his decisions so that, as he said, he could “shoot someone on 5th Ave and wouldn’t lose supporters.” And it is hard.

It is hard because the same brothers and sisters who said that we should “Give him a chance?” will not say “he’s wrong”. Those dear friends who sit opposite me on this issue were furious about President Obama’s golfing habit, but have ignored President Trump’s. They decried executive orders as tyranny, but give President Trump a pass. They accused for years that President Obama was a Muslim, though Trump has not attended a worship service in some time and has even said he doesn’t need forgiveness. The inconsistency is hard. It’s hard because it looks like they’ve traded promise for power, justice for Justices, and sanity for soup.

Its hard because I have to remind myself that my dear, blood bought brothers and sisters are made in the image of God. Like our President.

It is hard to remind myself that no one rises to power and authority outside of God’s sovereign hand, though I know it to be true. It is hard because I cannot understand how someone who rises to power on falsehoods and vitriol is God’s decision. I struggle because I think, “Surely, there is a better way isn’t there? What is going on?” And I’ve come to one conclusion.

I don’t know.

I know, dear reader that this isn’t helpful. To share in my confusion doesn’t help at all. It won’t move the ball downfield.

But let us not act as if we are a people without our hope. Because that is the place that I’ve been. I have, this week, been in a place where I wanted to throw my hands up and say “I quit”. But quitting doesn’t love our neighbor. Being silent ensures that the only voices are those who use the ends to justify means.

I have found for myself two truths that steel my soul. Three firm foundations that  are a comfort for me.

1. God is Sovereign

i. God from all eternity did, by the most wise (Rom. 11:33) and holy counsel of His own will, freely (Rom. 9:15, 18), and unchangeably (Heb. 6:17) ordain whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11): yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin (James 1:13, 17; 1 John 1:5), nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (Matt. 17:12; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28); nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (John 19:11; Prov. 16:33).

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (WCF 3:1&5:1)

This is difficult because the implication is hard. Why God has caused or allowed this to happen is something I neither like nor understand. But we are not called to understand, though we are called to trust Him. Because His faithfulness to His Church has never waned, never faded, we do not have to doubt but joyfully cling to Him. Because we affirm the hymn “Whatere My God Ordains Is Right”, we can hope in Him. Because all Presidents and kings are God’s and are under His authority, we don’t have to fear. Because whatever they do, good or wicked, occurs with God accomplishing His decrees, we can trust Him.

2. America is not the Kingdom.

This is a great relief, because as Preston Sprinkle writes in his book Fight “America could burn tomorrow and the Kingdom never be threatened” Throughout all of time, Kingdoms have risen and fallen. They have grown to the heights and been brought down in the lows. And the Church remains.

Christ has declared that this kingdom is “not of this world” and in this Kingdom everything is upside down. In this Kingdom victory is won by death. In this Kingdom, the heroes are those who’ve walked humbly. In this Kingdom, everything that is sad is becoming untrue and we will beat our swords into pruning hooks. This is the better Kingdom, the eternal Kingdom. we are seeking a better country, for here we have no lasting city. Our citizenship is not America, we are not Americans first. We are Kingdom citizens above all else. Here we are only sojourners.

Throughout Scripture, God promises to care for the oppressed, the widow and the fatherless. He will not forsake us, His people, His Church

The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! – Psalm 146:9-10

So as Kingdom citizens, we live quiet lives. We obey the laws, we speak with grace to all people, so that may see our Kingdom. We care for the oppressed and marginalized. We have balanced scales and call sin sin. We reject power, position, and prestige for something far more better: a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and that will trump all Trumps.

Yes for many of us, it is the dark night of the soul, but dawn will come. The sun will come back. After darkness, light.

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