From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 1): Five Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05On Sunday, with the assistance of one of our elders, I finished a five-part series on justice from Psalms 97–101. So far, I’ve included additional notes on each sermon, minus the one I didn’t preach (Psalm 100). You can find those notes here, here, and here. In what follows, I want to share ten more truths about justice from Psalm 101—five today and five tommorow.

While each Psalm (97–100) has contributed to our understanding of justice, this psalm above all the others gives us instruction for pursuing personal righteousness and public justice. In fact, that is how the psalm breaks down. In verses 1–4, the king pledges himself to personal righteousness. Then in verses 5–8, he pledges himself to spread such righteousness through the land by way of exercising his rule to establish justice.

In these eight verses, we find a wealth of wisdom about seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Let’s consider these in turn and what it means for us to be righteous seekers of justice. Continue reading

A Tragic Irony: What Blacks Lives Matter Means for the Family

Perhaps you have seen this Speak for Yourself  video about the NBA’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the basketball courts in Orlando. I saw this video last week, as it was sent to me by a handful of family and friends. It’s worth watching, especially the first section with Marcellus Wiley. Here’s the core of what he had to say (You can find a transcript of Wiley’s whole statement here):

I don’t know how many people really look into the mission statement of Black Lives Matter, but I did. And when you look into it, there’s a couple of things that jump out to me. And I’m a black man who has been black and my life has mattered since 1974. And this organization was founded in 2013 and I’m proud of you but I’ve been fighting this fight for me and for others a lot longer.

Two things: My family structure is so vitally important to me. Not only the one I grew up in but the one I am trying to create right now. Being a father and a husband, that’s my mission in life right now. How do I reconcile that with this, the mission statement that says, “We dismantle the patriarchal practice. We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.”

When I know statistics, when I know my reality, forget statistics, I knew this before I even went to Columbia and saw these same statistics that I’m going to read to you right now.

Children from single-parent homes versus two-parent homes. The children from the single-parent homes — this was in 1995 I was reading this — five times more likely to commit suicide. Six times more likely to be in poverty. Nine times more likely to drop out of high school. Ten times more likely to abuse chemical substances. Fourteen times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home.

I knew that. You know why I knew it? Because a lot of my friends didn’t have family structures that were nuclear like mine, and they found themselves outside of their dreams and goals and aspirations. So when I see that as a mission statement for Black Lives Matter, it makes me scratch my head.

The irony in this statement is thick. Not only does it bring to the forefront the difference between affirming the statement, “black lives matter,” and rejecting the organization Black Lives Matter, a distinction Albert Mohler has helpfully noted. But Wiley’s point also gets at one of the chief aims of the organization, which is to “disrupt” the family and “dismantle” the place of fathers leading in their homes. In this concern, along with others, Black Lives Matter sets forth objectives which have proven devastating to families in and out of the black community. Continue reading

How Autonomous Individualism Leads to Societal Anarchy: Or, What Herman Bavinck Has to Say about Critical Race Theory

tower“Autonomy becomes a principle that undermines every authority and all law.” 
— Herman Bavinck —

Solomon teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun. The sins and struggles of one generation morph and change in the next, but because the root cause of sin and struggle remains the same, human misery is never novel. Indeed, as Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us, “God made man upright, but he has sought many schemes.” Yet, such schemes are only variations on a handful of themes.

For this reason, God’s completed canon (the Bible) is more than sufficient to supply us with wisdom for today. And often, Christian sages from other centuries—those saturated by God’s Word—are better able to address modern maladies than contemporary writers. An example of this is Herman Bavinck, a Dutch pastor, theologian, and ethicist. In his recently translated book, Christian WorldviewBavinck addresses some of the most difficult issues confronting us today.Christian Worldview_1

In three chapters on epistemology, ontology, and ethics, Bavinck confronts the materialism of his day. In response, he provides a thorough-going Reformed view of the world. As anyone familiar with his Reformed Dogmatics knows, his argument style rarely devolves into mere proof-texting. Rather, he shows vast knowledge of philosophy and science and argues his points by dismantling the incoherence of their views. Indeed, by focusing on the philosophers of his day, Bavinck provides an enduring argument against all who deny the wisdom and authority of God. And we do well to learn from him. Continue reading

Going to the Movies with Habakkuk and Haggai: What the Prophets Have to Say to Modern Moviegoers

conner-murphy-363916In the last three years, I’ve seen three movies in the theater. I share that to say, I’m not an avid moviegoer. But for reasons of cultural interest and paternal pressure, my sons and I have gone to see the last three Star Wars in the theater. And thus, I offer a belated reflection on the movie.

Only, I will not commend or critique Rian Johnson and his interpretation of the Star Wars canon. I am not nerdy enough, I mean, knowledgeable enough to do that. Rather, I want to make a few observations about the whole movie going experience and how a family-friendly movie is far from faith-building unless coupled with intentional, proactive biblical reflection. (This isn’t a scree against movie going, but a call for biblical reflection on all things, especially watching movies). Continue reading

Screwtape in 280 Characters

Circa 2006

Screwtape: “What’s new, nephew?”

Wormwood: “Nothing, uncle. Just a couple guys in California starting something with 140 characters.”

Screwtape: “You moron! This is what our research department has been working on for years.”

Wormwood: (puzzled look)

Screwtape: “With only 140 characters, we will enshrine banality . . .

. . . engender hate . . .

hate

. . .  and take over the world.

trump

Circa 2017

Screwtape: “What’s new, nephew?”

Wormwood: “Nothing really, the guys in California have increased their 140-character thing to 280 characters.”

Screwtape: “Are you as dumb as you look?”

Wormwood: (puzzled look)

Screwtape: “Get away from me. Go haunt someone else.”

Screwtape: Tweet to @Jack.

 

Lesson

*Read* Screwtape Letters, not Twitter.

screwtape

 

Photo credit: Jesus Never Said

 

Preaching to the Late Modern Mind: Five Cultural Narratives to Know

preachingIn his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller addresses how Christianity confronts culture. Wisely he speaks of the way we must (1) affirm truth in culture, (2) confront idols in culture, and (3) show how truth in culture is derived from and only satisfied by the Christ who reigns supreme over all cultures. Thus, instead of just being for or against culture, Keller describes a “Yes, but no, but yes” approach for preaching Christ to culture.

Approaching culture in this nuanced way means understanding the modern world in which we live. In a chapter entitled “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind,” he describes the difference between the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christianity brought dignity and personal value to the West. In other words, before Christianity emerged in the West, the pagan world with its philosophers conceived of the world as an impersonal universe. Belief in a tri-personal God, sovereignly directing history and seeking to redeem humanity changed all of that. And the bounty of the Western world, therefore, is a byproduct of Christianity’s influence.

In one place, Keller nicely summarizes five differences between the pre-Christian world with the Christian West. He then goes on to explain how secularism has taken Christian values to the extreme, making them idolatrous falsehoods. But in explaining how Christian values have gone rogue, he doesn’t include them in his compact table. On page 128, there is one column missing (that would help flesh out his argument on pp. 128–33).

So, I added the third column to the table below to help show the way in which the West has left Christianity behind and distorted many of the values it provided. By seeing in our culture post-Christian culture the traces of Christian thought, we can as Keller points out, begin to lead people back to the source of the values (e.g., science, individualism, personal choice) they embrace today. Indeed, if you value and enjoy science, justice, or personal choice today, it is worth noting where those cultural gifts derive. Keller’s chapter on preaching Christ to culture is an excellent place to begin thinking about that relationship.

Five Chief Narratives of Western Thought[1]

Before Christianity Emerged [in the West] After Christianity Came to the West After Christianity ‘Left’ the West
The body and material world are less important and real than the realm of ideas The body and material world are good. Improving them is important. Science is possible. Science is absolute. Materialism is absolute. Technology is sufficient to solve our problems.
History is cyclical, with no direction. History is making progress. Progress means history is unimportant. Everything novel is superior to the past.
Individuals are unimportant. Only the clan and tribe matter. All individuals are important, have dignity, and deserve our help and respect. Individuals are supremely important. Individualistic expression should never be questioned, even when detrimental to the group.
Human choices don’t matter; we are fated. Human choices matter and we are responsible for our actions. Choice is sancrosanct and must be guarded and guaranteed at all costs.
Emotions and feelings should not be explored, only overcome. Emotions and feelings are good and important. They should be understood and directed. Emotions and feelings are determinative. To feel authentic I must express my desires and never suppress them.

In sum, these “five axes,” which Keller adapts from Charles Taylor (The Secular Age), help diagnose some of the challenges in front of us. Together these five narratives can be classified as follows:

  • rationality (and an explanation of where the world came from and what we can know about it),
  • history (and the meaning of life),
  • society (and the relationship of individuals to groups),
  • morality (and who gets to determine right and wrong), and
  • identity (and where we get our sense of value and purpose).

To be sure, these realities do not drive our exegesis of the biblical text, but in communicating that text to others we must be aware of these ideas. Knowing these cultural baselines helps us affirm and deny the beliefs we find in individuals and in our surrounding culture. Preachers must be aware of these realities to wisely apply God’s Word.

Indeed, all Christians should have a growing awareness of cultural presuppositions. Why? So that we will not be ensnared by them, and so we can communicate the gospel by rightly affirming some cultural desires as finding their telos in Christ and by confronting others cultural idols as errant promises that ultimately lead to death (Prov. 14:12).

In short, Keller’s sections on preaching Christ in a post-Christian culture are worth considering. They challenge the faithful witness to love his neighbor(s) by knowing what his neighbor believes and loves. Therefore, while planting ourselves in God’s unchanging Word, we must also learn how to share Christ with others who embrace various aspects of the aforementioned narratives.

To that end, let us continue to give ourselves the Word and the world, so that we can take the good news of the former to meet the dire needs of the latter.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

_________________

[1] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 128. First two columns are verbatim; the last column summaries Keller’s prose.

Four Exegetical Commitments to Doing Biblical Ethics

ethicsIn his chapter ethics in Progressive Covenantalism, Stephen Wellum lists four commitments necessary for doing biblical ethics. These principles for doing ethics take into account the progressive revelation of Scripture, the progression of biblical covenants, and the unity and diversity of ethical commands in the Bible. In short, they are commitments we should make whenever we seek to be ‘biblical’ in our ethical formulations.

This approach to ethics fits with a larger vision of how to put the Bible together and provides a helpful, “thick” reading of Scripture with regards to Christians ethics. Below are the four commitments drawn from his chapter. I commend them to you and further consideration on how every topic of ethics requires a whole-Bible approach to the subject.

(For two examples of how this approach might be worked out, you can see how I sought to handle racial reconciliation and transgenderism in two recent sermons). Continue reading

On the Transgender Movement in Public Schools: Video and Written Resources

malefemaleThe Prince William County School Board is set to vote again on Proposal 060, the measure postponed last fall. This policy change would add sexual orientation and gender identity language to the non-discrimination policy of the public schools. Since last fall churches in our county have sought to speak with grace and truth in the public square.

Such speaking is not often easy, because it is often perceived that opposition to transgender policies is unloving towards those struggling with gender dysphoria. Yet, the most unloving thing we can do is permit falsehood to reign and children to be deceived by the messaging of the transgender movement. (See there agenda here).

In what follows, you can find a number of video resources about the transgender movement. Below that are written resources that can also be read and disseminated. Continue reading

Finding Life in Leviticus 19: Ten Gospel Notes for Social Justice Warriors

commandments-311202__480The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Old Testament—once in Exodus 20; once in Deuteronomy 5. They are also explicated at least twice. After each list (Exodus 21–23 and Deuteronomy 12–25), Moses specifies and applies the Lord’s “ten words.” This means that we do not need to wait for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) to get an inspired interpretation and application of these commands. There is, within the Torah itself, explanation and application.

In fact, there is one other passage on the Ten Commandments which stands between Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Leviticus 19 Moses records the holy standards of God and makes personal application to the people of Israel. In reading this chapter recently, I took note of ten observations related to the content and context of these laws. I share them here to help us to better understand the good purposes of God’s Law, and specifically to show how many modern desires are best fulfilled by God’s all-sufficient Word.

In short, Leviticus 19 is not an archaic list of do’s and don’ts; it is actually a personal application of the Law which deals with so many of the issues Social Justice Warriors seek out. Only because these “laws” are grounded in the personal, holy love of Israel’s God, they retain their life-giving shape—something that no human set of ordinances can ever do.

Take time to read Leviticus 19 and consider how these laws give life by leading members of God’s covenant to trust in him. Continue reading

Rightly Dividing the Cultural Background to 1 Corinthians 11

corinth

The Corinth Channel

There are a lot of cultural challenges to 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, a passage that invites discussion about the trinity, gender roles, the use of head coverings, and the role of angels in public worship. Tomorrow I will preach on this passage, but today I share a number of quotations from various commentaries related to various cultural and theological challenges in this passage. These quotes provide some background to this enigmatic passage.

Dress

In the context of prayer and prophesy, it makes sense that dress would be considered. For prophets often had a particular dress. Moreover, they often symbolized in their appearance various biblical truths. So for instance, John the Baptist appearance is given as wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). Importantly, this outward dress identified him as a prophet in the manner of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8: “They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’)

Likewise Isaiah 20 records how God commanded Isaiah to walk through Israel naked for three years to indicate God’s coming judgment on Egypt and on those who trusted in that foreign power. This outward expression of God’s will fits other examples too. For instance, the high priest wore garments of beauty and glory to reflect the presence of God’s holiness with Israel (Exodus 28:2); Nazirites did not cut their hair in order to express devotion to the Lord (Numbers 6); and many grieving saints tore their clothing or wore sackclothe and ash in order to express their contrition. So, throughout Scripture, clothing and hair did play a part in expressing worship to God.

Moving from Old Testament to Greco-Roman culture, the same attention to dress is found.

The Greeks’ self-identity arose most from their speech and education, while our Roman often distinguished himself by what he wore. It was not the Greeks eschewed head apparel. Rather it was clear to them and Romans that the habitual propensity of Romans to wear head apparel in liturgical settings stood in sharp contrast to the practice of others. (R.E. Oster, “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11.4,” NTS 34 (1988): 494; cited by Ben Witherington, Conflict and Communion in Corinth24) Continue reading