Unplanned hiatus, post-election thoughts

I’ve already mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, but due to an equipment failure unfortunately production on future episodes both of this and the Morning & Evening podcasts are on hold for the time being.  My laptop was apparently damaged somehow in transit while I was on a business trip and the screen no longer works.  If I can’t fix it, I’ll have to replace it, which probably means next month some time.  Apologies to everyone, especially those of you who have been so encouraging through the production of the M&E podcast at Theology Mix (and to the other guys who have produced recordings for it).  I will update as soon as I am able to get everything back up and running.

I have really, really been thinking about if I even want to say anything about the election.  Friends who know me from years past are probably amazed, because they know me as a guy who was always up for a debate, always reading and engaging.  But this election has been absolutely off-putting and bizarre for a lot of reasons, and I do want to enumerate at least a few of those, as well as give a few thoughts on how I want to move forward, as a Christian and as a man who has often identified himself as a conservative and a Republican in one form or another.

This was probably the biggest disaster of an election I could have ever conceived of.  I made the comparison several times on Facebook that for Christians, this election was the equivalent of the infamous Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek.

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On the one hand, you had a candidate who was overtly antagonistic to Christians, whose leaked emails revealed a campaign with not only no regard for believers but who openly opposed them, and intended to continue the Obama administration “pen and phone” efforts to force leftist social changes onto the country.  And on top of all that, before the campaign even began she was carrying enough scandalous baggage to make Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.  So for a lot of Christians, trying to avoid the consequences of Hillary’s victory was a major issue.

On the other hand, however, you had what amounted for many Christians to a big question mark.  Donald Trump mouthed a lot of the right platitudes and shook hands with the right people, he was photographed bowing his head and closing his eyes with American evangelical leaders…but he had a long and unsavory history of being after number one more than anything else, of doing whatever it took to squeeze the last penny out of a business before jumping ship and letting whatever was left sink in bankruptcy court.  And of course there’s this:

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“This,” for the record, is Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife Becki with Donald Trump…and in the background over Becki’s left shoulder is a framed copy of an issue of Playboy featuring Donald Trump.

“So what?” a lot of people said.  “Who cares if Donald Trump isn’t some perfect Christian, we’re not electing a pastor.”  “He’s repented of that and we should forgive him,” others said.  And above all, the droning repetition of “We have to stop Hillary.  If you oppose Trump you support Hillary.  You don’t want her as president, do you?”

But by supporting Trump, many evangelicals stood completely at odds with their own positions on presidents with similar records of debauchery, infidelity and covenant-breaking…who happened to have a D after their names.  Well, name, because we all know who I’m referring to–the husband, ironically, of the candidate who claims to be running to defend the rights of women, who has made a name for himself as a serial cheater and possible rapist.

And so, we have the Kobayashi Maru.  We can enter the neutral zone and find ourselves the targets of Klingon torpedoes with #ImWithHer emblazoned on them, or we can just be on our way and support a man whose behavior and political positions up until recently have really not set him apart at all from Hillary’s husband and…hope for the best?

For the record, I did not vote for either of them.  I have found myself saying many times over the course of the last few elections that my hope does not lie in votes or candidates, and this election perhaps more than any other has forced a realization of the truth of that statement.  In an absolutely stunning turn of events and against all expectations, Donald Trump won the presidency, and my social media feeds have exploded with a lot of different messages.  I have friends all over the political, social and religious spectrum, going back to school days in Minnesota up to today in work and church.

What I have heard has been a range of fear, anger and frustration on one side, and hope, happiness and even some optimism on the other.  What  I don’t see much of, though, is any meaningful interaction between the two.  I don’t say, no interaction at all, because there has been interaction–it’s just been pointless.  One guy going into a thread to call someone else a “libtard” or someone else posting angry screeds on someone else’s wall telling them that they’ve chosen racism and hatred over being a good human being does not make for thoughtful discussion.  It makes for building up walls, it makes for simply digging in deeper to preconceived opinions, and it certainly made for more anger for everyone involved.  Anger from my friends on the left as they continue to perceive their political opponents as racist, hate-filled, and irredeemable.  Anger from my friends on the right as they see their political opponents as completely entrenched and unwilling to think beyond a media message.

And me?  I don’t believe either candidate deserved the position.  My thoughts on this entire matter are probably summed up best by this quote from the 16th century reformer John Calvin:

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Biblically this is certainly true.  God turned the Israelites over to evil rulers, kings and governors and conquerors when they would flee obedience and seek after their own desires, until they repented and He would set them free.  When Jesus came, the Jewish leaders chose to turn Him over to the Roman leaders as an accused opponent of the Roman emperor rather than follow after Him as the true King of all.  And we still see this happening throughout history, as nations embrace the boot that crushes them so many times, before the glimmer of first hope shines in repentance.

So from my perspective, even more so there was no winning with either candidate.  No matter who won, we had a leader who was not a servant of the people, but a ruler who wanted what he wanted.  The only question was which flavor of tyranny the people would choose.

But even with that I have to be careful, because the temptation is to dive headfirst into cynicism and disconnection, from people and from loving others.  The challenge grows ever greater for a Christian who takes the faith seriously to remember: this is not about winning elections.  This is not about “saving the culture” or “advancing an agenda” or any of the other myriad of things people say about political action.  Our goal as believers, saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is to serve, to love and to preach the Gospel faithfully.

If you are afraid, if you are hopeful, if you are simply ambivalent, I’ve found representatives from all these camps in Christ.  And for all of us, the same truth remains:

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I can’t tell you “Feel this way.  Don’t feel that way.”  But I can say, trust your Father, and know that even if what we are seeing is His judgment on a wicked nation, it is a judgment that is happening with us here to continue serving as ministers of reconciliation, to carry the Gospel forth and to love our neighbors.  If you are afraid, remember that not a sparrow falls without your Father knowing it and reigning over even such small consequences.  If you are excited, remember that your God is the one who sets up and casts down kings, and let your worship rest on Him, not on the tools He uses.  In all things, let’s love our neighbors and our enemies, and do good to the ones who curse us.

I need to remember that myself more than anyone.  Friends, I pledge to you that I will do my best to avoid mocking, belittling or ignoring in any way.  That does not mean that I will agree with you, but I will listen to you, and I hope that in the end what we find is a chance to overcome needless division and find peace.

Morning and Evening: an update

We are closing in on the end of our first month releasing audio recordings of the Morning and Evening devotional through Theology Mix.  I wanted to thank Ryan Jackson, Len Flack and Cody Almanzar for being a part of creating these, and I am excited to see this through to the end of the book.  I’d also like to thank Jeremy Lundmark for bringing Spurgeon Audio into the ThM fold and encouraging me as I’ve pursued production of this podcast.

I think I wasn’t quite prepared at first for the scope of a project this size, even if each episode is only a couple minutes long.  But I am glad that it has gone so smoothly to date and I am hopeful that this has a positive impact on listeners.  If you have listened and enjoyed, please share them with your friends and family.  I am planning to keep these available for free download indefinitely.

If you are subscribed to the Spurgeon Audio RSS feed and wonder why you aren’t getting these twice-daily updates, it’s because they aren’t coming through that feed.  You should make sure you subscribe to Theology Mix through iTunes or your favorite podcast catcher, and you will be able to receive these daily, in addition to being able to follow several other excellent podcasts as well.

You can listen to and read all the Morning and Evening episodes released to date here, and don’t forget to follow Spurgeon Audio on Facebook and Twitter.  If there are sermons you’d like to hear recorded, email me and we will add them to our list for the future.

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Hard questions part 4: His creation, His love

Now we get to what I consider the real heart of the matter.  It’s also the part most likely to upset and offend, because it is going to involve directly naming and confronting sinfulness.  However,  at the bottom of it, it involves the question of what makes humanity valuable, what reason anyone would have to believe that humans have an inherent value more than simply the sum of our parts.  So let’s get right to the question that’s been thrown out by many to Christians:

How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

To answer this question, we need to look at the very foundation of the Christian faith and worldview, and we need to go back to the very beginning.  Well, a few days after the beginning:

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Hard questions part 3: Thus sayeth the LORD

All right, let’s get this out of the way right now:

Does the Bible say that Christians are supposed to kill homosexuals?

No, it doesn’t.

Okay, okay, calm down.  There is quite a bit to say on this because I want to make sure I handle the Scripture rightly on this.  Once again, for a subject commonly engaged with a great deal of emotion and where personal experience is valued over transcendent truth, I desire to take it out of that and into the realm of the testimony of the text.

Homosexuality is forbidden in the Mosaic law, in Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”  Leviticus 20:13 gives the punishment for this act: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  But again, as mentioned above with regards to Qur’anic commands to execute homosexuals, this is not a command given to all people anywhere to carry out as they wish.  This is given to the people of Israel, within the framework of the Mosaic law, to be carried out in that legal system.

That system, of course, does not exist any longer in the sense of the ancient nation of Israel.  There is a country called Israel that occupies roughly the same area geographically, but they do not hold themselves under this law.  But what about Christians?  How do we regard these passages?

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Hard questions part 2: What makes a murderer?

I want to start with a couple questions relating to the shooter himself, and his reported faith as a Muslim.  I want to address the issue of what it is that drives anyone, at the root, to such a depraved act.  I also want to talk about what it means for us as we look at our Muslim neighbors and try to understand what they really believe, and how they can live as Muslims and stand opposed to violence like this.

Firstly: What kind of man could do something so horrible to people who have never hurt him?  How can someone commit such an unrepentantly evil act, with so little regard for human life?  Even without the issue of radical Islamic terrorism, such an inhuman act is repulsive to consider.

The answer to the first ties into my answer for the last.  Somewhere in his mind, this man began to see others as less human than himself.  Though he laid claim to a religious identity that made him a creature alongside every other man, in his mind and by his actions he set himself up as the true arbiter of morality.  The picture we are getting of him is becoming broader and stranger with each passing hour.  But the bottom line is that he placed himself above others, he decided that he was fit to carry out judgment against them by his own reckoning, and ended the lives of people who posed no threat to him.  Furthermore, he did it in the name of two organizations that preach the radical message of Salafi Islam, or what is called wahhabism in the West.

The shooter claimed to be a Muslim–was he really Muslim?  Do all Muslims have to act like the shooter?

A discussion of the divisions within Islam is not a simple one and probably not possible within a blog post like this.  I would highly recommend James White’s book What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an for an excellent discussion of foundational Muslim beliefs, but most fundamentally: the organizations that the shooter claimed allegiance to both represent, as I mentioned, an ultra-conservative division within the Sunni denomination of Islam.  Sunnis are the largest branch of Islam, representing over 90% of Muslims in the world.  The Shi’a branch represents the next largest slice, but only at about 5% of Muslims.  The rest is made up of smaller sects like the Ahmadiyya, Sufi, and Druze, among many others.

It is hard to make a simple pronouncement like “he wasn’t a Muslim” because of this action, since there is so much divisions within the religion itself on that subject.  The differences between a Sunni and a Shi’ite is not like the difference between, say, a Baptist and a Presbyterian.  It’s more like the difference between a Baptist and a Roman Catholic: there are fundamental differences that, when you see how deep they run, reveal that they are different religions at their root.

The problem is that the Qur’an is not written with a singular, consistent message.  There are major inconsistencies between early and later surahs, or chapters.  Muhammad moved from being a minority prophet preaching tawhid, or the oneness of God, in the face of polytheistic paganism, to a majority prophet commanding the Muslim armies.  So it’s possible to claim the name of Islam and live at peace in the West (as many do) by resting on certain surahs, while another can claim the name of Islam and march under the ISIS flag.  There is simply no consistent message within the Qur’an to point to from the outside for such a thing.

This is not to say that individual Muslims cannot have a consistent way of living.  But the problem is simply that it’s difficult to ascertain a consistent definition beyond the basics of belief that Allah is God and is one God alone, and belief that Muhammad is his prophet.  So if you want to ask “Was he really a Muslim”, the answer is…it’s not as simple as some want to make it.  He claimed to believe the tenets of the faith, yet it is becoming very clear he did not live consistently with them.

Photo credit: earthnews.in

Indian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against ISIS, an Islamic State group, and the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneswar, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. Multiple attacks across Paris last Friday night left more than one hundred dead and many more injured. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

As to, do Muslims have to do this to be Muslims?  That plays into the question of consistency again, and I would say the answer is clearly no.  There are many Muslims in the West who are able to live, work, and thrive alongside non-Muslims not as secret sleeper agents as some of the more fevered among us imagine, but simply as fellow Americans.  There are also Muslims here who have fallen into the sway of radicals, and unfortunately we have seen the result of this once again.  As Dr. White pointed out on yesterday’s Dividing Line, one can certainly look at the Qur’an and find passages that require the killing of homosexuals, yet those are also intended to be carried out within some sort of system of justice, with a trial and witnesses, not by one assailant carrying out his own brand of justice.  So one could certainly hold the belief that what the Qur’an commands regarding homosexuals is true, without believing that the response to this is picking up a gun and murdering others.

I am planning in the next couple of weeks to have a guest on the podcast to discuss Islam from the perspective of missionary work in an Islamic framework.  I hope to be able to discuss all this and more in greater detail then.  Until then I highly recommend getting Dr. White’s book and reading it.

In the next part we turn to the question of what the Bible says about the subject of homosexuality.

Hard questions part 1: When evil strikes

My wife came up to me yesterday and asked me, “Does the Bible say we should kill gay people?”  I was rather taken aback, since this subject doesn’t exactly come up on a regular basis.  But as we discussed the issue, about what Scripture says and what a Christian response to an evil act like the Orlando nightclub shooting looks like, the discussion turned more to the responses she had seen on Facebook.  And there are many understandable ones: What kind of person does something like this?  How can we hope to stop this from happening again?  Then there are ones that ask very pointed questions of Islam, as the shooter was a claimed adherent of Islam and, according to police, called 911 before or during the shooting and pledged allegiance to both ISIS and al Qaeda.  Then there were some responses that involved Christians, both from the Christian side (such as “How should we be serving these people in their time of pain and loss?”) and from the secular side (most pointedly, “How can you say you love these people and pray for them when you say they are living in sin and condemned to hell?”)

I think these all deserve discussion from a Christian point of view.  Most especially, they deserve discussion because when those around us experience pain and suffering, we should be ready to engage with them meaningfully–not with a pat answer and phony Christianese sunshine, but with the only real answer that matters, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope it provides even in the darkest moments.  I don’t intend to make this “the definitive Christian response” but I want to do my best to answer questions I know many of my friends have.  I highly recommend listening to Dr. Albert Mohler’s excellent Briefing podcast episode from yesterday, as he calmly yet lovingly discusses some of the specifics from this issue.  The Gospel Coalition also has some excellent posts, including one by Nabeel Qureshi, who converted from the Ahmadiyya denomination of Islam and is now a Christian apologist working with Ravi Zacharias’ ministry.

I’ll be putting up several posts over the next couple of days.  I want to let this series of posts stand as a place to discuss the questions, responses, and frustrations of many, both Christian and not.  I may update it as time goes on.  Please feel free to post your own thoughts and anything you would like to see addressed in the comments below.  I do moderate for spam and trolling, but I will never turn away honest and heartfelt questions and disagreement.

I want to divide this up into sections, beginning with the subject of the shooting itself and branching out to broader issues.  For example:

  • What kind of man could do something so horrible to people who have never hurt him?
  • The shooter claimed to be a Muslim–was he really Muslim?  Do all Muslims have to act like the shooter? 
  • Does the Bible say we are supposed to kill homosexuals?
  • How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

This is my prayerful and thoughtful attempt to bring a meaningful gospel response to a horrific and wicked act.  I hope my readers can recognize this, and are willing to engage in that spirit.

Read on…

Spurgeon Audio joins Theology Mix!

Exciting news this week, as this podcast joins forces with the Theology Mix podcast network!  Be sure to visit the website and check out the other awesome contributors.  In future episodes you will start to hear promos for other shows, and I’ll be producing one for them to run for this show.  There are a lot of great podcasts that you should add to your subscription list.

There are also a lot of awesome blog posts, such as this one right here: we’ve also made Calvinist Chewbacca’s list of Chewy Approved Podcasts!  It’s truly an honor, and if that sounds absolutely bizarre…well, it really is an honor.  Seriously, you guys.

The blessings of truth

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I’m going to put my response to Dr. Boa aside for a while, as I have had a few other things come across that require my attention and I don’t want it to be rushed or incomplete.  I also wanted to take time to respond to another issue, one that I have had on my mind frequently due to it being a common one in my area.  It has weighed heavily on my heart and I felt like it was appropriate to spend time writing about it.

A friend of mine on Facebook pointed me to this article at Gawker by Hamilton Nolan, about whom I know literally nothing except what’s written here, wherein he goes to a revival featuring a variety of names from the prosperity gospel/Word of Faith movement, such as Kenneth Copeland, and the man who is apparently over the organization running this particular revival conference, Morris Cerullo.  Naturally, the author goes for vivid descriptions of every grandiose and bizarre experience, from the very excited attendees there seeking the “double portion” of God’s favor, to the lady spending half the conference waving a flag in the back of the room.  But there is a certain starkness to the most detailed moments: the hope and dreams of so many who, multiple times over the course of the revival, make their way up front upon the call of the speakers to give money–large amounts of it.  I can only imagine how much money changed hands there.

My friend wanted me to tear the article apart, and produce what would no doubt be an entertaining screed.  I began a blog post, but got sidetracked and it ended up being put by the wayside.  Yesterday*, however, I encountered another article posted in a few places around the web: Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me, written by Kate Bowler and published in the New York Times, certainly no bastion of conservative theological discussion.  But her article was heartfelt and hit right at the heart of the same issue I saw on display in the first article (albeit in a more satirical style): no matter its claims, the prosperity gospel has at its core idolatry and a human desire to hope that our own works will get us what we want.

Both articles resonated with me not because I stood on similar theological grounds with the authors (as far as I can tell, neither is explicitly a Christian), but because of a recognition of the damage this teaching was doing to their view of the true purpose of the church and the cynicism it breeds among those who come to realize that they will not find what they desire this way.

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A more excellent ministry: A response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 3)

Reminder if you’ve forgotten: you can read Dr. Boa’s paper in full here.

There is a greater issue that must be addressed in light of all this, and is the larger reason why I felt this response was necessary: this is an issue of how we, as believers, view Christ’s work on the cross.  As Dr. James White writes in his book The Potter’s Freedom:

[T]he ransom that Christ gives in His self-sacrifice is either a saving ransom or a non-saving one.  If it is actual and really made in behalf of all men, then inevitably all men would be saved.  But we again see that it is far more consistent to recognize that the same meaning for “all men” and “all” flows through the entire passage [referring to 1 Timothy 2:4], and when we look at the inarguably clear statements of Scripture regarding the actual intention and result of Christ’s cross-work, we will see that there is no other consistent means of interpreting these words….[1]

The doctrine of justification by faith is one that requires an understanding of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross.  The book of Hebrews discusses this at length, and while I won’t walk through the multiple chapters of argumentation here, I want to discuss some key texts and encourage my readers to read the whole book for themselves, to see the majestic work of salvation accomplished perfectly for God’s people in Jesus Christ.

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The importance of context: a response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 2)

In this next section I will address what I view as an incorrect use of Scripture to support his assertion, and show how it has led to a conclusion that is arguably not defensible scripturally.  Dr. Boa writes:

Finally, God’s plan is not always the same as His desires. Although His plan controls what men will be, the product often is not what He desires. This is partly because God has chosen to allow human will to operate. For instance, God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also 2 Peter 3:9). Yet He has not elected all men: “… The elect obtained it. The rest were hardened” Rom. 11:7).

Thus, God’s plan and desires are two different aspects of His will. He has revealed His desire (what men ought to do), but His plan for what specific men will do has for the most part been hidden. This is almost a mystery within a mystery, because there is no way we can conceive of how these two aspects of God’s will relate together in His mind.

Now, the concept of the two wills of God–His decretal will, or God’s plan He will carry out in creation, and His prescriptive will, what Dr. Boa calls “what men ought to do”–are not at all foreign to the reformed believer.  One of my first introductions to reformed theology was through a sermon of Matt Chandler’s when I was first in the process of joining the Village Church some years ago called “Are there two wills in God?”  John Piper has a similar teaching available, and of course there is much discussion of this subject in the extensive writings of the reformers, all available for free online.  The difference, however, is that where Dr. Boa sees a conflict, the reformers saw harmony, and this is arguably a key part of the issue of compatabilism.  That is a subject we shall address later, but I argue that Dr. Boa has created division within God that is not warranted.  A big reason for that is the way he is handling some commonly abused texts here.  1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 are cited here in support of the idea that God’s true desire is to save all of mankind, but I want to demonstrate here that this is not an appropriate exegesis of this text.

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