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.

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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Salvation belongs to the Lord: A response to Dr. Ken Boa (part 1)

This began as a single post I started some time ago, but it has grown until it has simply become far too long for a single blog post, so I’ve decided to carve it up into parts and post more of it as I write it.

I’ve had the opportunity to teach for an ongoing discussion group/class my church has been hosting, going through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.  I recently was given the opportunity to teach on the doctrine of the Trinity, an opportunity I was extremely excited to take advantage of.  The discussion was good and I was very gratified to spend an extended period walking through large chunks of the Gospel of John to see how the doctrine is revealed by God’s Word: not in a singular verse that says “God is one being made up of three persons,” but by the manner in which God reveals Himself, the perfect cooperation of Father, Son, and Spirit in calling God’s people to Himself in salvation and completing that work perfectly.

And it is about that work, and about that call, that I wish I write.  In our discussion group our leader posted a link to this paper by Dr. Kenneth Boa on the question of God’s sovereignty in salvation versus human responsibility before God.  Dr. Boa says much with which I can agree; it is by no means a thoughtless screed like those so often written against the reformed position, and he goes to great lengths to insure that Scripture is looked at as a whole.  He does not deny God’s election of His people, nor the power of God to save.

Nevertheless, there are a few things I wish to consider in this paper, to discuss at some length and respond to in good faith and brotherly love.  I will argue that Dr. Boa has a tradition that is driving him to certain positions in opposition to what the Scriptures reveal, and I want to try to walk through the relevant texts to demonstrate that.  Not because I have a driving desire to spend my every moment defending reformed theology, but because I take the doctrine of God’s freedom to save His church to His own eternal glory very seriously, and I take just as seriously the doctrine of the depravity of man.

These two doctrines are analogs, they inform each other and are seen, I will argue, very clearly in Scripture: man’s complete inability to turn from his sin and the rule of his desires over his heart to his own ultimate destruction, and God’s perfect ability to take a man in that state of slavery and spiritual death and turn him into a man whose heart beats for the glory of Christ.  I consider myself an example of this by God’s grace, and therefore will say before any reader that the only boasting that will be done here will be done in the cross of Christ.  I believe that Dr. Boa would agree to this as well, and I hope that, should he actually read this, he sees that this is written in a tone of respect and a desire to glorify God by honoring the full measure of God’s revelation.

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