Between Christ and Culture: 7 Books about the Word and the World (December 2021)

assorted books on the shelf

In November I read some books. And as with any book I read or listen to—the majority of what follows are books I’ve listened to and taken notes on—they help me understand God’s Word and God’s world. For matters of personal record-keeping and public commentary, I share a few thoughts on each book. If you have read any of these, or books like them, I welcome your feedback. Please put it in the comment section below.

Bible and Theology

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism by Kevin T. Bauder, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John G. Stackhouse, Jr., and Roger E. Olson. Edited by Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson.

In Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, co-editors, Andy Naselli and Collin Hanson, have assembled a collection of essays that outline the unifying and dividing features of evangelicalism. Admitting the inherent challenges of defining this movement, Kevin Bauder, Albert Mohler, John Stackhouse, and Roger Olson define their positions as Fundamentalist, Confessional Evangelicalism, Generic Evangelicalism, and Postconservative Evangelicalism, respectively. And over the course of this introductory work, the reader is introduced to a number of the complementary, contrasting, and competing views of various evangelicals. As I listened to this volume, here are a number of the points I found interesting and/or helpful. Continue reading

The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

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The Righteousness of God Revealed: A Sermon for Social Justice (Romans 3:21–31)

No justice, no peace.

Know justice, know peace.

For the last few years, the theme of justice has filled city streets, social media posts, and more than a few church pulpits. Yet, for all the attention given to social justice, there remains an insufficient understanding of this precious virtue.

In Scripture, the God of justice, the righteous God of Israel, displays his justice in ways beyond the sending of prophets to decry Israel’s sin. Yes, the Old Testament has numerous prophets condemning Israel for their sins of injustice and idolatry. Just read Isaiah 5 or Amos 5. Yet, the prophets’ main message centers on the coming messiah and the justice, make that the justification, that he will bring (1 Pet. 1:10–12).

Indeed, justice apart from justification is a pronouncement of law without gospel. Not surprisingly, a world that does not know the grace of the gospel will call for justice based upon their fallen understandings of law. For Christians, however, when we speak of justice, we must begin with God and follow his Word until it brings us to Christ’s cross. For on the cross, we see justice and justification. And from Paul’s careful attention to God’s righteousness in Romans 3:21–31 we see what justice truly looks like.

In this sermon, I outline seven truths about God’s justice and justification. Of all the sermons I have preached touching on social justice, this is the one I would recommend to anyone inclined to chase social justice causes. You can also find an entire sermon series on the subject here.

In any case, when it comes to the contemporary cries for justice, we must continue to go back to Scripture to learn what justice is and what it isn’t. Hopefully, these sermons can help.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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

low angle photography of waving usa flag on brown concrete cathedral

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

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

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

Let My People Gather: What We Can Learn from an Ancient Church-State Debate

statues of ramses in abu simbel temple

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the Risen King, ‘Let my people gather, that they may hear my Word, sing my praise, and remember my sacrifice.’ ” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is this Lord, that I should obey his voice and let you gather? I do not know this king, and moreover, I will not let your people gather.” 3 Then they said, “The God who raised the dead has told us, ‘You are to gather every Lord’s Day to proclaim the resurrection and to worship me, lest I bring pestilence or sword on you.’” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you risk the lives of your people and your neighbors? Get back to your homes and love your neighbors.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the cases of COVID are now many, and you want to risk the spread of more diseases!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded his health officials and tax officers, 7“You shall no longer let these people open their businesses, as in the past, or receive their stimulus checks. Instead, let them go and provide for themselves. 8Moreover, their annual taxes shall by no means be reduced, for they are selfish. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go worship our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Exodus 5:1–9 (A Covid-19 Paraphrase)

Few doctrines are more important for churches today than understanding the relationship between church and state and the proper authority of each. In our church, we have taught from the New Testament what obeying the governor means and doesn’t mean, what love of neighbor entails, and how to walk in freely in society without binding the conscience of another. Yet, as I have been reminded by many other pastors recently (e.g., here, here), we also need to look at the Old Testament to find examples of saints standing up for their faith.

As Paul reminds us on multiple occasions (Rom. 4:25; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1–11; 2 Tim. 3:16), the Old Testament is not just for Israel. It was written for new covenant believers, and thus we should consider how men like Moses, David, Elijah and others stood for truth against tyrants like Pharaoh, Saul, and Jezebel—yes, that wicked queen who has been in the news recently.

We need to learn from the faith of the saints, not only because Hebrews 11 tells us too, but because we need courageous models to imitate. As our world continues to press against the church, we need to look beyond the evangelical leaders who tell us to trust that the intentions of government are good, and obey lest we ruin our witness. Instead, we need to look to biblical leaders, who in obedience to God, refused to make decisions based upon some social merit system with the government. Countless Old Testament saints knowingly invited the wrath of the king. Yet, instead of ruining their witness, this became the very means by which God’s power become evident to the redeemed and the unrighteous alike.

Today, we need many lessons in this kind of unqualified obedience to God. And one place where we find great help in this type of obedience is Exodus 5:1–9 and Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel gather at Sinai. Above I have offered a paraphrase of that passage. Though the whole of the chapter, as well as Exodus 6–7, provides wisdom for walking in our world today. For sake of space, we fill focus on these verses and how they apply to our current world. From them, I will list six ways that the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses, or really between Pharaoh and Yahweh, instructs us today and why churches cannot simply wait upon the government to reopen the church. We must obey God and gather at our Sinai, the Mountain called Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).

I know that not all will agree with this application, but that’s why I’m writing. I am prayerful that this appeal to Scripture will provide one more biblical argument for gathering, even as governing authorities say not to and many Christian leaders are saying, “Wait. Be Patient. Don’t lose your testimony.” Yet, as our brother in Canada, James Coates, sits in jail for gathering God’s people to worship God, we cannot be silent and pretend that the governing authorities have the best interest of the church in mind. Rather, with eyes fixed on Scripture, it is imperative for Christians to understand what is going on and what has always been going on (John 15:18–25). With this pursuit of applied wisdom in ind, Exodus 5:1–9 helps us to better see the world around us today and how to gather when pressures and politics outside the church hinder the assembly of God’s people.

May the Lord give us the boldness of Moses and Aaron to obey God and stand before our governing authorities and say: Let my people gather![1] Continue reading

Solus Humanus: Why We Need a Sixth Sola in Our Confused Age

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

It used to be a given that humans, made by God, were assigned a gender based upon their biological sex. As Genesis 1:27 puts it, God made them “male and female.” Culturally, this is no longer the case, however. As documented in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman shows just how modernism has turned the person inward and how psychological man (i.e., the self-directed person) has been eroticized and taught to create a world in their own image.

Most recently and most dramatically, the transgender movement has assumed a view of the world, where the inner feelings of a person outweigh their biology. No longer is gender something that comports with the givenness of the world, or God’s gift of a physical body—made either male or female. Now, individuals are taught that they can create their own fluid identity and they can demand that others recognize their self-created self, even if it does match traditional norms. Everything is queer now.

To say it another way, as gender studies have defined identity as something people can create, gender is no longer biologically determined. This shift away from an essentialist view of gender to a constructivist view is a key change in our society, and one Christians must address in order to share the gospel and to rightly relate to reality. Yet, the trouble goes beyond gender; it relates to the larger question of what it means to be human.
Continue reading

Strong and Courageous: Why Resisting Tyrants is an Act of Love

jon-tyson-UK61KZPnpyY-unsplashLast week, a few members of our church put on our masks, boarded planes, and traveled to the Founders Conference, where we heard from the likes of Voddie Baucham, James Dolezal, Tom Ascol, and the leaders of Just Thinking, Virgil Walker and Darrell Harrison. In short, the trip, drenched in warm Florida sun, was encouraging, and the messages, saturated with biblical truth, were edifying—especially with respect to the subject of standing for Christ in an age that has become increasingly hostile towards Christians.

Addressing that subject and the new religion of universal autonomy and equality, Tom Ascol and Jared Longshore have released a new book called Strong and Courageous: Following Jesus Amid the Rise of America’s New ReligionFalling in line with newer books like Glenn Sunshine’s Slaying Leviathan and Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies, as well as older books like Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto, and even older books like Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex: The Law and the King and Junius Brutus’s Vindiciae Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, this new volume promises to bolster the church at a time when public silence and civil cowardice are spreading faster than COVID.

In other words, this book comes at a time when Christians and especially pastors need courage. And this will be a book I hand to many pastors, as it provides bold and biblical arguments that stand against the online pablum that  undercuts biblical courage with Christian civility (read: niceness). Indeed, when a Christian’s best testimony to his neighbors is found in waiting patiently for governing officials to permit churches to gather again, thus denying Christ’s command to gather, we have a new instance of Corban—replacing the law of God with human traditions. But thankfully, some are seeing through this misguided application of Scripture and are providing solid food for God’s flock. And in Strong and Courageous, Ascol and Longshore do just that. Continue reading