Reassembling the Wreckage of Religious Freedom: Why Now *Is* The Time For Urging Liberty of Conscience and Supporting Those Seeking Religious Exemptions

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Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?
It is before his own master that he stands or falls.
And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
— Romans 14:4 —

On the backside of a Sharp Top Mountain in Southwest Virginia lies the wreckage of World War II vintage air craft. On a training mission in February 1943, five airmen lost their lives as they flew a “low-level nighttime navigational” mission, a mission that ended with tragedy and the debris of a B-25 littered throughout the wooded hillside.

Today, if you leave the trail on Sharp Top and look for the fuselage, engine, wings, and other parts of the crash site, you will find a plaque memorializing the event. On an otherwise unmarked hillside, this memorial is the only sign explaining the mangled metal left standing in the woods. Yet my point in bringing up this piece of atlas obscura is not to focus on the plane crash, but to liken it to the state of our religious liberty today. Today, we can find scattered pieces of religious freedom in our country, but by and large most Christians do not know how they got there, how to assemble them, or how to make them fly. For instance, the recent TGC article undermining the sincerely held beliefs of Christians is a prime example.

In that article, Christian lawyer, John Melcon, explains “Why Your Employer Can Deny Your ‘Religious’ Vaccine Exemption.” In the article, he explained the way “religious exemption laws” work and cited three bad arguments for seeking a religious exemption: (1) personal autonomy, (2) my body is my temple, and (3) abortion complicity. In his estimation, the abortion argument “is perhaps the strongest case,” but by comparison to the welcome use of other drugs (e.g., “TylenolClaritin, or their favorite anti-aging skin cream“), he insists that this argument is most likely an example of great inconsistency. (N.B. For a quick response to the Tylenol retort, see this Liberty Counsel post).

In his other two arguments, however, the claim is not inconsistency, but denying that personal autonomy or bodily choice is a truly religious reason for seeking a religious exemption. For Melcon, this leads him to reserve religious exemptions for later, greater threats to the Christian faith. It is this argument that I want to address. Instead of addressing his three examples, which are presented with a striking likeness to someone headed for the Emerald City, I want to consider whether waiting for some later crisis is the best strategy. Even more, I will argue that the increasing statism of our country is coupled with a religious fervor that does not call for patient endurance, but bold witness to the truth. Continue reading

The Proof is in the Patterns: How Typology Demonstrates the Trustworthiness of the Bible

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In a few weeks, I will be teaching a class on Scripture at my church, followed by teaching Systematic Theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. In preparation for those classes, I have begun thinking through many of the facets related to the doctrine of Scripture, especially as it pertains to Scripture’s trustworthiness.

For those who question Scripture and its veracity, they often make claims regarding errors in the manuscripts, discrepancies in the text, or immoral teachings in the Law or Paul. Each of these must be and can be answered by a careful reading of the text. But one aspect of Scripture that has repeatedly born witness to its reliability, unity, and even its divine authorship is typology—namely, the way that types and shadows, patterns and persons (in their public actions and offices) are repeated and fulfilled throughout the Bible.

Most recently, I encountered this in the book of 1–2 Kings, where Solomon is presented as a new Joshua. Previously, I had seen Solomon as a new Adam, but in reading again from Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, I found his observations compelling, in that the author of 1–2 Kings presents Solomon as a new Joshua. Continue reading

1–2 Kings Among the Prophets: Learning to Read Ancient History as Gospel Literature

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If you have ever read 1–2 Kings, you may wonder how the two books hang together. What is the main message? And what does this ancient book have to say to us today? Is it simply an historical record of Israel’s kings? Or, being found in Israel’s canon as one of the Prophets, should we read 1–2 Kings as a book of prophetic literature?

Without denying the royal character of 1-2 Kings—“kings” is in the title after all—there are many good reasons for seeing 1–2 Kings as a book with a strongly prophetic message. Making this point, Peter Leithart in his Brazos Theological commentary on 1 and 2 Kingsmakes a number of compelling observations, Continue reading

Taking God’s Word on Offense: Inerrancy, Apologetics, and the Proof of Gospel Preaching

aaron-burden-TNlHf4m4gpI-unsplashIt’s been said that the best offense is a good defense. However, it is also true that if your defense spends too much time on the field, they will eventually fatigue and fold. For that reason, it is equally true that the best defense is a good offense.

And when it comes to apologetics, the art and science of defending the faith, it is important to do more than play defense, but also to go on the offensive. With firm confidence that God’s Word is unbreakable (John 10:35), firmly fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89), unfailing in accomplishing God’s will (Isa. 55:11), and always proving itself true (Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5), there is no reason to merely defend God’s Word. Instead, we should positively proclaim the Scriptures as the living and active word of God.

Articulating this point forcefully with respect to biblical inerrancy, the late Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–90) reminds us that Christians should do more than defend the faith, we must also proclaim the faith positively. Here’s what he says, Continue reading

The Day of Atonement: How Can a Sinner Approach the Holiness of God and Not Die? (Leviticus 16)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedAt the center . . . of the center . . . of the center . . . of the law of Moses, we do not find law but gospel. And what is the good news in the middle of the law of Moses? It is the promise in Leviticus 16:20–22 that your sins will be taken away, never to return.

Thus, the Day of Atonement offers the promise of a priest who can purify God’s house and remove all sin. Such a one-man job made it possible for God to dwell with Israel and Israel with God. And so instead of a bunch of rules for you to keep, Leviticus 16 offers the high point of Israel’s calendar (the Day of Atonement), as an annual day of atonement which would ultimately be fulfilled by Christ (see Hebrews 9).

If you want see this gospel message taken from the center of Leviticus, you can listen to this week’s sermon here. You can also listen to a chapter-by-chapter exposition of Leviticus here. We are currently looking at chapter 20. And finally, for those who can’t get enough of Leviticus, you can listen to the Bible Talk podcast where Jim Hamilton and Sam Emadi are currently talking through the whole book of Leviticus. 

Truly, when read with an eye toward Christ, Leviticus is a book filled with good news. And in this sermon and these other resources, you can begin to see how this book preaches the gospel to sinners in need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Sex and Culture: What Scripture and a Freudian Sociologist Have to Say To Modern America

people gathered near building holding flag at daytime

“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

— Leviticus 18:24–28 —

A few weeks ago, our church restarted its Tuesday discipleship night, which means we have begun again our study of Leviticus. And this week, we looked at Leviticus 18 and its detailed prohibitions against sexual sin. While many parts of Leviticus are foreign to modern readers, this chapter is not. Sadly, sexual sin continues to overrun our world, ransack our families, and invite the judgment of God. And in Leviticus 18, we find a long list of prohibitions that outline ways that men and women deviate from God’s design and invite God’s destruction. And as we will see, that destruction is not just personal, it is also national. Therefore, Leviticus 18 has much to say to us today and the judgment of God that comes upon nations that celebrate and promulgate sexual immorality.

Yet, we cannot make an immediate jump from Leviticus 18 to ourselves, not without seeing how this passage fits in Law of Moses and the rest of the Bible. While initial impressions of this text make it easy to connect God’s judgment on Canaan to the widespread sexual immorality of our day, superficial connections often misapply God’s Word. Moreover, we need to step back and understand how God can bring a judgment on Canaan, or any other nation, when in fact Israel is the only geopolitical nation who has ever been in covenant relation with God. To put it differently, we need to see how Leviticus 18 fits into the larger plans of God’s creation. For this in turn will help us make sense of the way Leviticus 18 finds fulfillment in a passage like Romans 1 and in our world today.

So, in what follows I will (1) set Leviticus 18 in the context of creation, (2) explain from the text what vomiting from the land means, (3) make connections to Romans 1 and God’s ongoing judgment on sexual sin, and (4) illustrate how the Bible finds confirmation in the historical research of a British sociologist, J. D. Unwin. (N.B. We start with Scripture and illustrate with social sciences, not the reverse.) Continue reading

On Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Policy Changes: A Pastoral Rationale for Speaking Out Loud and In Public

patrick-fore-5YU0uZh43Bk-unsplashPhoto by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Over the last five years, Critical Race Theory has become a hot button issue in our country and among Christians. Concerning the latter, local churches are breaking apart, as pastors are—or are perceived to be—adding elements of social justice to the message of the gospel. Larger organizations too—seminaries, denominations, etc.—have had to debate the issue of social justice and Critical Race Theory. And to date, the results have not born the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Part of the reason for this division is that those advocating CRT—in part or in whole—are imbibing a way of thinking that is intended to divide and deconstruct. Conversely, many who respond to CRT do so with the same spirit of anger and division. Hence, the dumpster fire that is the current state of evangelicalism. We will save comment on the church for another day, but suffice it to say, the division caused by CRT is significant and growing.

Outside the church, CRT continues to be just as divisive. For instance, local school board meetings have become battle grounds for what will be taught about America and the history racism. Companies large and small are virtual signaling their wokeness by celebrating equity and inclusion and canceling those who will not join them. And more to the point of this post, federal, state, and local agencies are introducing policies that champion the ideas of CRT and the tools of Intersectionality.

Our county is one of those places where the tenets and tools of CRT are trying to be implemented. And recently, our Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) invited public comment on their new 10-page Equity and Inclusion Policy. As a resident interested in this subject and its impact on the church and its freedom to live and move and have its being in our increasingly secular age, I took time to read the proposed document and comment on it. What follows on this post is my letter to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

I share this as a model of what it might look like to speak up for truth in the public square. As a resident whose convictions lead him to have massive concerns with the proposal, and a Christian who is called to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7), it leads me to speak. I also encouraged other church members to do the same. Maybe I’ll share more of my biblical rationale for that later, but here’s my pastoral rationale. Continue reading

We Don’t Like Theology, Do We? Three Reflections from the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention

2021 Nashville-1500 x 500-Final BWe destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5–6 —

It has been six years since I attended a Southern Baptist Convention, and seven since I wrote about it. But re-reading my reflections on the 2014 convention, I can only begin to describe the difference between those comparatively halcyon conventions and this one. While some reports may focus on the unifying leadership, the conventional conservatism, or the most diverse convention stage to date, as a pastor and theologian I find a host of reasons for concern. These concerns swirl around the refusal to engage theology for the sake of the gospel and the church. To be brief (and Baptist), let me make three points. Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 2)

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In obedience to God, we gather and sing and testify to the risen Lord.

Yesterday, I began a two-part series on 1 Peter 2:13–17. I am trying to answer the question, What does submitting to governing authorities looks like? Especially, what does submitting to governing authorities look like when they are ruling in ways that oppose God and God’s Word? Previously, I have tackled this subject in Romans 13 (see herehere, and here),, but now I am considering the text of 1 Peter 2.

Yesterday, I began by parsing out the fact that submitting to governors means putting God first and obeying earthly rulers as an application of obeying God. Conversely, we do not define doing good as obedience to our governors (full stop). Rather, we are called to consider what the good is from the unchanging and ever-authoritative Word of God. Then, in obedience to God, we promote the good by obeying good laws. And lest it go unsaid, the goodness of the law is decided by God’s standards, not my personal preferences. I am not advocating a hedonistic approach to ethics: “Just do what feels good.” No, we must obey laws that pinch our desires. That being said, to do the good we will at times need to resist tyrants when they enforce laws, rules, and regulations that directly defy the commands of Scripture or lead us to violate our conscience in following God.

That’s where this argument started yesterday. We must put God first. Today, I will flesh out the idea of God’s preeminence by looking in more detail at 1 Peter 2:13–17. In his letter to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, Peter has much to say about obeying the emperor and governors. And when we read his words in the context of his whole letter, and apply them to our own situations, we will gain much wisdom for walking well with the Lord. To that end, let’s look at five truths about obeying God and obeying God’s servants. Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 1)

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Photo Credit: Greg Southam / Postmedia in The Edmonton Journal

Ever since writing on the harm of endless masking, teaching on the limits of Romans 13 (see here, here, and here), and considering how Levitical instructions about quarantine laws might help us think wisely about social distancing and sheltering at home, I’ve received numerous emails expressing deep sorrow for the ways churches have responded to Covid-19. With any such email, I always want to affirm the authority of the local church and her elders, as well as admitting the challenges faced by every church and my inability to speak to the inner workings of another church’s decisions. The problems our church faces are the not the problems that your church faces, and vice versa. Still, across the board, it does seem that one abiding problem that divides many evangelicals is how they understand passages that instruct obedience to governing authorities.

Most recently, a brother asked if our church had preached on 1 Peter 2:13–17. To date, we have not, but going through 1 Peter right now, we will—this weekend, in fact. Thus, leading up to that message, I want to consider again how that passage teaches us to think about the Christian’s obligation to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (see Mark 12:17), or as Peter puts it, to submit to every governing authority (v. 13) and to honor the emperor (v. 17).

Notably, Peter’s instructions are set in a context quite different than Christians in North America, and his words arise from an historical letter, the context of which we must remember in order to get the sense of his instructions regarding the state. So before making five points from the text, let me make a couple preliminary remarks.

Four Notes About the Context of 1 Peter

First, Peter addresses emperors and various governors. Obviously, we do not have emperors, but elected officials. So we must make applications accordingly, including the fact that in a democratic republic the people play a role in governance.

Second, we currently do not have the threat of persecution like the early church did, but neither do we possess the freedoms that we once did to exercise our faith without concern. James Coates’ arrest, the ongoing intimidation tactics of Canada’s health officials (see photo above), the meddling of governors instructing churches how to order their worship, and the need for the Supreme Court to weigh in on churches gathering (see here and here) remind us that religious liberty is on shaky ground.

Third, the command to submit to authorities comes in a letter where the supreme authority of Christ is repeated throughout (see esp., 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11). Christ’s authority relativizes the commands that Peter gives. Peter doesn’t discount obedience to the state, but his letter does orient the church to Christ’s greater authority. The details of this (re)orientation will be outlined below.

Fourth and last, the persecution of the church in 1 Peter assumes a conflict between church and state. In other words, when the Gentiles slander the church, it will include the Gentiles who lord it over the church and exercise authority in ways that contradict the laws of God. For this reason, it is impossible to read 1 Peter 2:13–17 and draw the unqualified application that doing good is doing whatever the governing authorities say. Rather, as we will see, doing good starts with God. And all obedience to earthly governors must be in keeping with our heavenly citizenship and eternal king. To that end, let’s consider five truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17. Today I will focus on 1 Peter 2:13 and the first and most important truth—Putting God First. Tomorrow I will fill in the details from 1 Peter 2:14–17. Until, let’s consider the main overarching truth. Continue reading