Homosexuality and the Love of God: A response to Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty

By Osvaldo and Kristen Padilla

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It has been the suggestion of a number of Protestant denominations that the matter of LGBTQ can be separated from the basics of the gospel. That is, that one can be affirming of homosexual unions (please note the clarification about this at the bottom) but this need not affect the traditional core of the gospel. Or to put it another way, the receiving into the churches of LGBTQ folk who want to continue in those relationships is something that is not in the same sphere as the core doctrines of the church. The acceptance of LGBTQ folk as stated above has nothing to do with the continual upholding of central belief commitments such as are expressed in the Apostles Creed or Nicaea. The reception of LGBTQ people who want to continue actively in those relationships does not at all affect my evangelical identity, to the extent that that identity is determined by certain core, doctrinal beliefs. So the argument goes. We want to suggest that a recent event involving popular Christian speaker and author Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of the evangelical flagship popular magazine Christianity Today, proves that such arguments are entirely incorrect.

The recent event is actually a continuation of an event that occurred two years ago. In March 2014, Hatmaker penned a controversial blog post entitled, “World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through,” in which she left room for those who believe same-sex marriage is OK to be within the tent of orthodox Christianity. Or to put it another way, there was no connection between the basic doctrines of Christianity and same-sex marriage.

Last week Hatmaker spoke out again regarding the issue of homosexuality, causing another stir. In an April 23rd post, Hatmaker writes,

One thing I said was that it is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. … Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing “wrong with you,” or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole.

Standing by itself, her ambiguous post (just what does it mean to love and to open arms wide?) on love does not say much. In fact at first glance her words should be echoed by all of us who love sacrificially and without exception. But what does it mean to be loved by God? Does being loved by God imply a relationship with God? What does she mean by “there is nothing ‘wrong with you’”? In particular, since Christians through the ages have said that repentance is the gateway to a relationship with God, what is the connection between repentance and the love of God?1

Enter Beaty. She provides a defense of Hatmaker’s statements by concentrating on the love of God. The title of her piece is: “What Jen Hatmaker gets right about Christian love.” Beaty’s conclusion is that the angry response to Hatmaker is indicative of a misunderstanding of God’s love.

But the response from both sides of the spectrum also highlights how confused we Christians are about the nature of love—the love that God has for us, and the love we are to have for those who don’t know him.

Beaty sees as the problem with the opponents of Hatmaker that they put a condition for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks. The condition that Beaty sees is repentance. Consider the following statement:

This radical love of God in Christ is precisely what compels us to love God in return and to repent accordingly—not the other way around. And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

To bolster her argument, she quotes from Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. Here is what the latter says about repentance: “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” Yet, “The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace.”

And so we have come full circle to our introduction. In fact, the current debate on same-sex unions depends squarely on our understanding of some of the basic things of the gospel. In this case, repentance.

Now there are some significant problems in Hatmaker/Beaty’s statements about the relationship of God’s love to repentance.

First, Beaty approvingly quotes the view of repentance from Rutledge, “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” The problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. Consider the following passages:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3)

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20; emphasis added)

So, in fact, without repentance there is no salvation. This leads us to a second point.

Second, the problem with Beaty is that she understands repentance as a human work, as self- amendment. She views it as our contribution to salvation. Consider the following:

And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

Is this really what repentance is? Repentance is actually a gift of God, as much a gift as faith and justification. Consider the following passages:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31; emphasis added)

God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26)

This is repentance. It is a gift of God by which he grants us a contrite and broken spirit (Psalm 51), which desperately wants to turn toward a new life. It is not amending our lives; it is a God- given desire to live according to God’s commands. Consider also the following quotation from Beaty:

Prevenient grace is the kind of grace that runs out toward us when we have barely managed to walk down the path toward our father’s house. It’s a kind of grace that wipes off the slop, enables us to stand up straighter…

The Scriptural view is that you couldn’t even walk without God-given repentance, not even barely; you couldn’t even stand up at all (let alone straighter) without repentance. The irony here is that Beaty inadvertently has shown what she believes about grace—that it is a cooperative endeavor in which God meets us “when we have barely managed to walk down the path.” Grace for her is helping us “stand up straighter.” In reality without grace we cannot get off the ground in the first place! But if you understand repentance in the way that she does, of course you are going to make statements like the ones above.

To end where we began: how we view homosexuality—not in the abstract but the very specific issue of same-sex marriage—is not something that can be separated from core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is tied to doctrines such as grace, repentance, and the love of God. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and yet you do not understand the love of God, then you don’t know God. And so the relationship of repentance to the love of God goes all the way down to the very being of God. For your view of repentance, consciously or unconsciously, says what you believe about the love of God.

Can you know the love of God in the abstract without knowing God relationally? And can you relationally know God without repentance? If the answer is no to this second question, then you cannot know the love of God (God is love) without repentance.

Let us be clear, we are not suggesting that a person has to repent in order for God to love them. That would be silly. God loves us no matter what our state is. But we are asking how can you enter into a relationship of love with God without repentance. Is that possible?

 

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1 In Romania, for example, evangelicals are called “the repentant ones.” And in Latin America, repentance is used as a shorthand for the whole experience of salvation.

Osvaldo’s father lives with us. He is not a Christian. We have literally opened our home, hearts, and arms in love for him. We share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him and tell him ad nauseam about God’s love. He also comes to church with us. But he has yet to experience the love of God; he has also yet to repent. If you cannot know God or God’s love behind the back of Jesus, and if Jesus’ greatest act of love was what he did on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, he will not know for himself God’s love until he turns (repents) and recognizes Jesus as Lord. All rationale and stubbornness has him not repenting; that is why we are always praying that the gift of repentance might be granted to him so that he will experience God’s love. His behavior won’t change right away, but we know that in Christ the Holy Spirit works to transform us according to his will. 

Please note that we are not suggesting that Beaty is in agreement of same-sex unions. For Hatmaker we are not sure where she stands. The problem we have is the way repentance as it relates to the love of God is articulated. Scripture teaches us that we are to always correct and reprove and be corrected and reproved so that another gospel, different than the gospel Paul preached, isn’t preached. And in this case we felt strongly that what was being articulated regarding repentance needed to be corrected.

Lastly, this entire post highlights what I (Kristen) have been saying in this blog. Women (and men!) without theological education should be especially careful before making statements about doctrines about which the best Christian thinkers have been reflecting on for centuries. Both Hatmaker and Beaty betray the least amount of acquaintance with robust theological discussion on the nature of repentance and the love of God. Shall we let people who have no formal theological training tell the rest of the church what repentance is and what the love of God is?

Osvaldo Padilla is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Greek and the Gospels and Acts. 

No More Graves

“Behold, the dwelling place is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

There’s an ancient tombstone in Rome that reads, “Stranger, hang on a minute. Stop here; take a look down to your left. That’s where my bones are buried. I was a good man. I was a kind man, and I was a lover of the poor. Please traveler, I beg you, don’t mess with my tomb. Traveler, on your way now. Goodbye.”

For Gaius Atilius, the end of his story ended with his grave, and for a traveler to mess with his grave would somehow interrupt his eternal rest. But God reveals to us in Revelation that for the one in Jesus Christ the end of our story isn’t the grave but an eternal dwelling place with God. We don’t look to an ending where our bones will lay under piles of dirt; rather, we look forward to the day when we will dwell with God in resurrected bodies with no more tears or pain. As my son Philip says, “There will be no more band-aids in heaven.” And this eternal reality is not dependent upon how good we are. For even Gaius Atilius’ best attempt at goodness still ended with him in the grave. Rather, this eternal reality is given to us because of God’s great love for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. So even in these moments and days of tears, sadness, and pain, remember that it is temporary. Our stories won’t end in the grave because Jesus is not in the grave.

Posted earlier today on Dean Timothy George’s blog at beesondivinity.com.

Chipped fingernail paint and the gospel

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This past weekend was one of those tough parenting moments. As an aside, I am thankful for those friends who debunked the myth early on that it’s only the 2s that are “terrible” or else I would be completely unprepared for the 4s! Our son Philip threw the tantrum of the year. We had never seen him that angry. Because he didn’t get something he wanted on Friday night, he lashed out at us in every possible way. He was like a mad dog with his teeth sunk into his anger, and he was not going to give it up. Finally after a long time of us holding his bedroom door shut and telling him to get on his bed and calm down, he gave up. His anger gave way to tears, but the damage had already been done.

 

We grounded him for the first time ever. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because he was grounded, it meant that he missed his best friend’s birthday party on Saturday and the first birthday party of the new school year.

 

Saturday morning after waking up, Philip went into his playroom and played quietly by himself. After some time passed, I went to him and told him how much we loved him but also how much he hurt us by his sin. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, please give me a new heart.”

 

“We know all too well our sins and offenses.”

 

Sunday morning we rushed to church late as usual. Even though I had little time to get ready, my hair and make-up were satisfactory, and I was wearing jewelry and new clothes. Quite a feat for a mom of a little one! Everything about my outward appearance looked put together except for my fingernails. My dark blue fingernail paint was chipped and ugly. My fingernails gave me away that all wasn’t put together on the outside.

 

“It turns out Jesus doesn’t even want the best we have to offer.”

 

One of the main reasons that my husband and I left the Baptist church and have come to the larger Anglican church (our church is actually an evangelical Episcopal church) is because of weekly Communion. In part we love taking weekly Communion as it is a constant, visible reminder of the gospel. But we also love the way in which Communion is taken at the Anglican Church. Instead of little cups of juice and fingernail size crackers being passed to each person individually without ever needing to leave your seat, the taking of Communion in the Anglican tradition involves getting out of your seat and kneeling next to brothers and sisters. Communion isn’t just an individualistic experience but one the church does together. (As an aside, in a way, Communion is also more of an individual experience in the Anglican tradition as the priest or vicar gives each person, individually, bread and wine, looks into their eyes, and says, “Take this and remember Christ died for your sins.”) I remember the first time the significance of the act of taking Communion truly sunk in. I walked forward with open hands, bringing nothing with me, kneeling in reverence and submission, and receiving the bread and wine. This was the message of the gospel. I bring nothing of my own merit to Christ. Instead I kneel at the feet of Christ in reverence and submission waiting to receive from him in faith his body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of my sins. Instead of taking Communion, here I’ve learned to receive Communion just like I have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

“What does Jesus want? He wants you.”

 

Sunday morning after listening to Dean Andrew Pearson’s wonderful sermon of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have been quoting here, Communion was offered. We were sitting on the last row that morning. As I waited for my turn to go to the table, I prayed and watched people of different kinds get up from their pews to receive Communion. Then, a few rows ahead of us, a man on crutches got up and limped forward to the Communion table. He was lame. Yet while he is lame on the outside, it occurred to me we all approach the table of Jesus Christ limping, lame with our own, invisible crutches and bruises. Just like Philip asked me on Saturday, so I, too, that morning came limping to the table asking, “Jesus, please give me a new heart.”

 

When it came for my turn to get up, I looked down at my chipped painted fingernails and was thankful. I was thankful that there was something on the outside of my body that wasn’t perfect, that needed fixing, that was ugly. Because it reminded me that stripped of all of my pretenses and outward appearances, I am one in great need of Jesus. I need a new heart. Every day. I, like Philip, make my Father sad. At times, I, too, sink my teeth deep into sin, into my selfishness and pride and refuse to let go. I, too, need the Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify and make new my heart. I, too, come to God on crutches knowing that he heals the sinner, cures the brokenhearted, and makes new the old. Only in Jesus do we find what we’ve always been looking for – love so perfect, love divine.

 

“Every time we celebrate Communion we issue an altar call. We say, The table is set. This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He has died and is risen again. And he is alive. Come forward and simply receive by faith Jesus Christ. What do you bring when you come forward? Nothing. You just come forward, and whether you are rich or poor, young or old, whether you got it together or you’re a total wreck, whether your bruises really hurt or whether you are still struggling with your bruises, we all take the same posture on our knees and open our hands like beggars and simply receive. We say ‘yes’ to Jesus and surrender our hearts and lives to him.”

 

For the full sermon, listen here.

My unexpected sabbatical: A look back at Cambridge

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There is a clock in the center of Cambridge, England. Actually there are as many clocks in Cambridge as there are churches in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am from). But the clock I am referring to is a special and unusual clock.

The Corpus Clock draws the attention of visitors and residents alike. For one, there are no hands on this clock. In fact, at first glance, one might not know that it is a clock at all! What draws people to it is its unusual appearance. Amongst a sea of brown and grey bricks and stones sits an encased 3-dimensional circle, almost 5 feet across in diameter, plated in 24-carat gold, and worth at least 1 million pounds if not more.

What is even more unusual about this clock is that the time is accurate only once every five minutes. Sometimes the clock slows down and at other times it races forward. Not to mention that what sits on top of the clock is a strange creature that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a locust. This creature, also known as the Chronophage or “Time Eater,” opens its mouth as if he is eating time and occasionally blinks to show his satisfaction.

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Although the clock isn’t always accurate it truthfully represents our perception of time. For often time feels as if it has slowed down: when school or a work day feels like it will never end; when waiting for an appointment; or when waiting for test results. At other times in life time feels as if it is moving too fast, especially as a parent when you watch your children grow. Yet, no matter whether time has “slowed down” or “sped up,” it nonetheless passes and what is in the past will never be present again. This is why the Time Eater makes such an impression. For it illustrates this reality in a haunting way: time is eaten until it is eventually all gone, evidenced by the Latin inscription that marks the top of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passes away and the lust thereof”) from 1 John 2:17.

One year ago my family packed up what we could fit in six suitcases and moved to Cambridge, England, for six months for my husband’s sabbatical. I’m crying now as I write this. Those were some of the best months of my life!

My husband teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and was up for his first sabbatical since being at Beeson Divinity. He was under contract for a new book, The Acts of the Apostles: Essays in Interpretation, History and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming), which meant he wanted to spend his sabbatical at a good, theological library. Cambridge is home to the world’s largest (and best!) evangelical library, Tyndale House, not to mention that by being at Tyndale House he also had access to the Cambridge University libraries.

When our family of three moved to Cambridge, we did so for my husband’s sabbatical. Sabbatical comes from the Latin sabbaticus, which means to cease or take leave from work. You might also recognize the connection with the word Sabbath.

While Osvaldo was taking a paid leave of absence from his work as a theological educator, he wasn’t ceasing from work entirely. Yet, his reprieve from teaching allowed him to do something else that he loved – research and writing.

Then there was me. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom. Moving to England didn’t mean that I was ceasing from my work. I just carried it with me. His name is Philip, and at the time he was three. This won’t be a sabbatical for me, I thought.

What I soon discovered, about a month after being in Cambridge, was that indeed God was gifting me with a sabbatical of my own. But not in the way that you or I would think.

What moving to Cambridge did for me was that it took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a reprieve from expectations, commitments, temptations, cultural priorities, and even idols that came with where I was living. In this way, I was gifted a sabbatical.

The power of contrast allowed me to see those areas in my life and heart that had been controlled by culture or worldly things rather than by God.

Our way of living drastically changed. We were now living in a place without a car, TV, or 4G Internet access away from Wifi hot spots. Our home had no air conditioner, which surprisingly was a problem during the summer months, and no electronic clothes dryer. Part of my daily routine was to hang all of our clothes, towels and sheets! To get anywhere in town we would mostly walk or cycle and occasionally take the bus. This meant spending more time getting around town, which, consequently, meant more time in communication with my son, reflection, and prayer.

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This contrast brought clarity. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see those things in my life back home that were superfluous, that created unrest in my life (the opposite of Sabbath), and that were unpleasing to Him. Like looking at my reflection in the glass window of the Corpus Clock, by living in Cambridge the Holy Spirit allowed me to see myself more clearly. In many ways I had been living like that person for whom the Corpus clock is true – as if time was a limited commodity that I had to utilize before the Time Eater ate it up.

I’ve heard it said, “That’s the thing with idols: when you think you have a control on them that is when they really have control of you.” For me, one of those idols was time.

The ironic twist in my sabbatical was that as life became more difficult (no car, TV, clothes dryer, etc) and thereby in many ways more time consuming, as I spent more time in communion with Him, and as time became less of an idol for me, the more time I had. My days felt longer. I had time for tea. For relationships. For conversations. For adventures. As a result, I experienced more freedom.

Within a month, I noticed a change in my spirit. Burdens that were once there, often placed by me, were gone. Life was simpler. Less time was spent caring what others thought, what others were doing and saying on social media, and trying to keep up with Pinterest, while more time was spent visiting parks. (We visited a total of eight while in Cambridge.)

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We took adventures. My first month in Cambridge, I was invited to a tearoom with other moms and children, whose husbands and fathers were studying at Tyndale. Going would mean cycling with Philip almost four miles one way without having a GPS. I screenshot some maps, packed a backpack and our basket on the front of the cycle, and we were off. With the help of several, kind English people, who gave me directions along the way, that little adventure took us down ivy-grown paths, along a river, past open, green fields, into an apple orchard where I eventually sat down for tea and scones with other women while the children played under apple trees.

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Whereas time before Cambridge was rushed and there never seemed to be enough of it, in Cambridge I was finding more time with the cessation of expectations (i.e., making a wreath for my front door or planning parties), material things, and the need to work and be productive all the time. Whereas my time in prayer and Scripture were rushed and not always made a priority before Cambridge, in Cambridge there seemed to be ample time for me to hear from God through His Word, prayer and Christian friendships.

As I reflect on our six months in Cambridge now that I sit back in our home in Alabama, where we have two cars, a TV, 4G Internet, air conditioner (hallelujah!) and an electronic clothes dryer, I am not the same person. Despite my longing to be back in Cambridge to have that way of life once more, God’s unexpected gift to me (and really to my entire family) of a sabbatical has stayed with me. Although I find myself back in a busier culture with different values and temptations than that of England (which has its own temptations and negative values), God reoriented my mind and heart so that I could discern better and easier between what was important and unimportant, what was good and what was stealing my rest and joy, and what was necessary for life and salvation and what was cultural.

As I think back to the Corpus Clock, it strikes me that the inventor of the clock only put the first part of 1 John 2:17. Either he didn’t know the rest of the verse or didn’t believe it. “The world is passing away along with its desires” would leave anyone depressed. Life is frivolous. Life is just a breath. You’ve heard it said, “Drink, eat and be merry for we may only have the night.” I feel that as Americans we often live in this kind of reality. Live this life to the fullest because we all have just “one life to live.” Perform, do, work. Hurry up! Time is passing, and you only have a short amount of time to accomplish so much before you die. In this way, even for the Christian living in the States, life can be hard, restless and pressed from every side.

Yet this is not how the story ends. In Jesus we have a “salvific but” in this verse. The “but” tells us there is an alternative to the prior reality. For some, there is a period after “the world passes away and the lusts thereof,” but in Christ there is a comma. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” What is the will of God? Jesus answers this question for us in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The world may pass away, but those who do his will – believe – will live forever and will never die.

You see, by Jesus Christ destroying sin on the cross and overcoming death in the resurrection, he destroyed the Time Eater. Those who die with Christ – by faith – will be raised to everlasting life. We won’t need a clock that tells us that time is passing by because time will never end. Instead of a Time Eater, we will have a Time Giver: Jesus Christ.

Before I went to Cambridge, I lived by a clock. Now that I am working outside the home full-time, in some ways, I live by the clock even more! But by the grace and mercy of God, the gift of my sabbatical continues. The reality that Jesus gives us is not one that has to wait until we pass from this life to the next; rather, it is one that begins here and now if we allow Him to be first in our life. You don’t need to go to Cambridge, England, to have this kind of sabbatical. As Jesus continues to reorient our hearts so that it is no longer bent inward toward self, time, and the things of this world, but arched outward to Him, He gifts us with rest, freedom and, ironically, more time.

 

 

 

 

 

What is the love that we Christians have to offer to the world?

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He opened his arms of love upon the cross
And made for all the perfect sacrifice of sin.

 

It was my first brush with real hatred.

 

We had stopped at an international supermarket to pick up some plantains on the other side of Cambridge. Osvaldo had gone into the store to pay while I stood outside with Philip and our bikes.

 

“Who built the two towers?” an older gent asked me. He had darker skin tone, and a scarf decorated as his country’s flag hung about his shoulders. I knew he wasn’t English, and, given some peculiar behavior he had already been exhibiting, I assumed he was probably not all there in the mind.

 

“I don’t know,” was my reply. “Who built the two towers?” he pressed again. “I don’t know who built them, sir.” “Your government, that’s who! The same government that has invaded and destroyed my country.” “What country is that?” “Pakistan. You know, us Muslims.” He walked away just as Osvaldo was coming out of the store. I guess by the look of my face Osvaldo could tell something was wrong.

 

It wasn’t just the mere words that shook me up; it was more than that. It was his expression that wore anger and the way he directed his hate for the States at me. He didn’t care who I voted for President of the United States. He didn’t care to know that I couldn’t control the decisions being made by the heads of state. In fact he didn’t care about his hypocrisy as the all-American brand, Apple, was displayed on his body with earphones hanging around his neck, which connected to a device buried in his pocket. He hated America and Americans. He hated me in that moment simply because of my nationality, a factor out of my control. I saw firsthand for the first time the same kind of hate that has wreaked havoc on so many people, and which has caused the death of many.

 

The world needs love.

 

I have been watching, along with many other Americans, what has been going on in Ferguson, Missouri. While some facts are still unclear, it is obvious that there is a hate problem disguised as racism in that city. A white policeman kills an unarmed black teenager shooting him six times from a distance. A police force, which is 97 percent white in a majority black town, uses rubber bullets, tear gas and militarized weapons against its people, who again are mostly black, protesting. The rhetoric used by Ferguson’s police chief is reminiscent of rhetoric used in the 60s by racist Alabama leaders (read here).

 

Just like this Pakistani hated me simply because I am American, so too many people in the States hate people simply because of their race. Some whites hate those who are black, and there are blacks who hate those who are white. Being married to a Hispanic, I know there are many who hate Hispanics.

 

Those who hate are nonsensical; they don’t listen to reason. Those who hate do not care whether or not a person could control their circumstances, because really it isn’t about them anyways. The problem is with the person who engages in hatred. It’s a massive heart problem, a cancer really, that eats away at and eventually kills the person who has it, and unfortunately, can kill those at whom it is directed.

 

The world needs love, but not just any kind of love – the love of Jesus Christ.

 

I wrote last week about the persecution in Iraq, how ISIS members are killing Christians. Even though I didn’t mention them, there are others, most especially Yazidis, who also are facing death and persecution by ISIS members. Again, there is so much hate.

 

Hate. It was there in the beginning when Cain killed Abel. Hate. It knows no cultural, race, language, sex, or age bounds. We live in a world drowning in hate.

 

Love seems almost too obvious an answer to the problem of hate, but it is an answer held by both Christians and non-Christians alike. We sing the catchy lyrics, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of,” but is the love that the world speaks of the same as what Christians have to offer? In fact, what is love?

 

In 1993, an artist by the name of Haddaway asked the same question in his song, “What is love?” Made popular by Saturday Night Live, the song went like this: “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more.” (Thanks to me, the song is now stuck in your head, isn’t it?!) What is love? Love is how you treat someone. It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do onto you. It is, “Baby, don’t hurt me.”

 

These examples (and there are many more!) assume the answer lies in man, that somewhere deep inside is enough goodness and strength to overcome hate and produce love (Oprah, Dr. Phil, Ellen). Yet, the world cannot answer for us what compels someone to love unconditionally. The love the world speaks of is easy enough for their friends but is it powerful enough to love his/her enemies? From where does the power come to turn hate into love?

 

For the Christians, the traditional love answer has been 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Equally as important to the Christian are the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.

 

The problem when these Scriptures are our starting point for defining love or when we isolate them from the rest of the canon is that we might begin to think that love is determinant on the actions of humans alone. Taken alone, the emphasis on love focuses on our response and behaviors we are to exhibit. And in isolation, this definition of love is not all that different than the world’s. Our definition and their definition collide making it difficult to tell which is which.

 

This is why, then, we must start our definition of love with this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).

 

We can love God and others because He showed us what love is first. He teaches us what love is, and He enables us to love. When we read Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, we must go back to Deuteronomy where the commandment was originally given. What we find there is, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. … You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge …” (Deut. 10:15, 11:1). (See also Deut. 7:7-11.)

 

We love because he first loved us.

 

And how did God first love us? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). It’s the most quoted verse in Scripture for good reason. God’s love for us was not just a lofty idea or principle. It took on flesh. It became concrete. It was active and not passive. It was sacrificial.

 

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us …” (1 Jn. 3:16).

 

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).

 

What is the love we preach and give to the world? It is that while we were God’s enemies fully deserving of death Christ died for us so that in Him we might be reconciled to God and be forgiven. This is love! How can we love God with all we got and love our neighbor as our self? Because we have been transformed by His love. His love compels us to love. His love is at work in our lives giving us the power to love, to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love those who hate us. And once clothed with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us transforming our inability to love to an ability to love — the love that we see in 1 Corinthians 13.

 

The world knows hate. That’s why they must be given and see love as it is defined and personified in the person of Jesus Christ from Scripture: We deserved to be hated by God; we choose to sin and to be His enemies. Yet when we least deserved it, Christ died for us. A love that the world gives will only go so far because we humans cannot find the power to overcome hate and sin within ourselves. We humans can love the lovable on our own – our friends and family – but we do not hold the power to love the unlovable, those who hate us.

 

No amount of good deeds, social justice, and United Nation meetings will solve hate. People need to hear the love of Jesus.

 

This is why, Christians, we are commissioned to preach the cross and are bequeathed a ministry of reconciliation:

 

“For the love of Christ controls or compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17-21)

 

Let’s preach this love to the world. Let’s show this love to the world. Let’s practice this love with one another, knowing that the ability to love doesn’t reside in ourselves but in the power of God who has shown us what love is all about. A love that is preached or demonstrated devoid of the cross is only a poor attempt at and a poor representation of love.

 

I want to conclude with the words of this beautiful Christian hymn:

 

The world’s only loving to its friends,

But you have brought us love that never ends;

Loving enemies too,

And this loving with you

Is what’s turning the world upside down.

 

 

Should we critique where there is heresy?

(For the Introduction, read it here.)

 

Does what you say matter? Are your words of value or importance?

 

I’d like you to think about this. Can we ascribe any weight to words or the people behind the words?

 

I would like to think so! Otherwise I have no reason to talk or to expect anyone to listen to me. When I look at history, I find that this is most certainly the case that words do matter. When we elect a president of the United States, we do so mostly based on words (promises) spoken. We follow authors, speakers and preachers because we like what they say or how they say it (style). Whether for good or evil, nations and thousands of people are led one way or another by words, just look at Hitler for example. And it is their words that tell us something about who they are. Words, among other things, are someone’s ideas verbalized; the origin of words spoken is with the person who speaks them. What someone says is a window into his or her beliefs, heart and personality. Agree?

 

So why is this important? And, how is this relevant to me (our favorite post-modern question!)?

 

A few weeks ago a young evangelical tweeted, “Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas.”

 

This tweet is not just a random, thoughtless belief. Rather, I have been reading this kind of rhetoric and sensing this attitude for quite sometime among many in the young so-called evangelical camp. This tweet is a great, concise example of the idea looming that there is a dichotomy between people and their words. I remember reading a blog once where the author wrote a response to all the criticism she had been receiving about something she said. She was complaining that in their critiques people were missing that she was a good person. She was in fact a different person than what her ideas portrayed her as. What she said was thus different from the person she was.

 

This is an Enlightenment idea, and it is a dangerous idea to hold as it relates to truth.

 

Let’s look at this tweet closer, not to pick on the person who tweeted it, but because, again, it serves as a great and concise example of what is being said and taught by many others. So here it is again:

“Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas.”

 

Questions raised:

1. Are our personhood/identity and our words/ideas two complete and different entities? According to her, they are. She makes a dichotomy between someone’s ideas and his or her personhood. It does not matter what someone says, even if it is heresy, because of their value to God. What someone says and thinks can stand apart and alone from who the person is, and who we are trumps what we say and think. How can she make this case?

First we must ask, What is heresy? Heresy, in church history, was a word used to describe those who subscribed to beliefs contrary to orthodox Christian beliefs. I mentioned two examples in a previous post, but will mention them again. There was Arius, who argued that Jesus was not fully God or divine, and then there was Marcion who argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God of the New Testament. Marcion wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. These men were called heretics. Modern examples of heretical beliefs are those held by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would include beliefs that contradict the deity and humanity of Jesus and the gospel of salvation that says salvation alone is in Jesus Christ and in his death and resurrection. Heresy thus speaks to ideas that debunk the identity and personhood and work of God as found in Scripture. Heresy is anti-triune God beliefs.

Second, What does it mean to be “eternally valued and treasured by God”? Since this language isn’t used in Scripture, I am unsure as to what she means by this phrase. But if I were to take a guess, it would speak of someone who is a child of God through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ. The word eternal means forever, so if God holds someone as his eternal treasure then this is someone who will spend eternity with Him. So how can someone who speaks and holds to ideas that are heretical be someone that God eternally treasures? Wouldn’t this mean then that God is comprising or contradicting Himself?

One way this is possible is by believing that what you say and think stands apart from what you believe or who you are in God. Thus your words and ideas do not change the relationship you have with God through Jesus because your words and ideas take a life of their own. The other way this would be possible is if you accept a universal doctrine that says everyone, no matter what they say, believe or do on this earth, will ultimately be restored to God, i.e. obtain salvation. Therefore it doesn’t matter if someone speaks heresy or if someone preaches a different gospel; what matters most to God is that these are people “eternally valued and treasured” by Him.

The problem with this view is that this is not the view of the Bible (not to mention it is self-contradicting). The Bible describes people as complete beings whose words are a mirror of what is in the heart and therefore what one believes. And what one believes affects the way one lives, and the way one lives gives proof whether he or she is a child of God. In Psalms and Proverbs the one who speaks lies and deceit is a fool. The Bible doesn’t say that the person is “eternally valued and treasured by God” even though what they say is destructive to truth. Rather, what they say is an indictment on who they are — fools!

“The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” Prov. 10:14
“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” Prov. 10:18
“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” Prov. 10:21
“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.” Prov. 10:32
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Prov. 12:22
“A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.” Prov. 12:23
“A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” Prov. 13:1
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1 and 53:1

Clearly words matter in the Scriptural witness. Does calling someone who speaks lies, deceit, and slander a fool, fit within this belief that we shouldn’t critique someone because they are valued by God? Does calling someone who is wicked and a scoffer fit within this belief? No! I bet if we called someone today a fool or a scoffer because of what they were saying, we would receive public shaming. Scripture’s directness does not fit well in our “politcally-correct” world.

The view of Scripture is that we are complete human beings, whose words reflect what is in the heart and what kind of relationship we have to God. If we speak lies and deceit, if we do not listen to rebuke, if we preach something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are fools and fools do not know God (Ps. 14:1, 53:1).

2. Should Christians critique each other’s words and ideas? According to this tweeter, the answer is no. She commands to “rarely critique” because by doing so we are hurting or contradicting the value and relationship he or she has with God. (Actually by tweeting what she did makes it difficult for anyone to critique her or what she said because then we would be opposing God who values and treasures her above what she says or tweets. And I wonder what situation would allow for a critique since she doesn’t say never but “rarely”?) But what does Scripture say?

Scripture makes clear that it does matter what you say, that it is not OK to speak heresy and that we are to constantly rebuke, critique and reprimand in love when what someone is teaching is not in line with the truth and is leading others astray. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Matthew 16:21-23. After Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed but on the third day raised, Peter rebuked Jesus. But Jesus turned the rebuke around to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
  • Acts 13:4-12. While Barnabas and Saul were out preaching the gospel they encountered a false prophet, Bar-Jesus, who “opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” But Saul “filled with the Holy Spirit” rebuked him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
  • In 2 Timothy Paul mentions two men by name and references others who are preaching different gospels and trying to  deceive others. “Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2:17-18). And later in 3:8, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” In the middle of these two references, Paul tells Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2:24-26). Although Timothy is to correct in love and kindness, he is still to correct. And these men who are leading others astray, preaching something contrary to the gospel, are captured and enslaved by the devil, doing his will. Just like the two above examples, anytime someone is opposing the work or Word of God by what they say that person is associated with Satan and his work.

There are many other examples in Scripture of correcting, rebuking and “criticizing” the ideas, words and teachings of others that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see the book of Jude and 2 Peter). What this young tweeter says is actually contrary to the teaching of Scripture. So either you can rarely criticize because you believe that everyone no matter what they say is “eternally valued and treasured by God,” or you can offer critiques when necessary because you know that those who claim there is no God (i.e., Jesus isn’t fully God, there is salvation outside of Jesus) are fools and need to be rebuked.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” And, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

 

3. Does it matter if someone teaches or speaks something contrary to the Word of God, especially when he or she claims to speak as a Christian with biblical authority?

As you read about how Christianity spread after the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament, you will soon notice that it spread as the Word of God went out. Prayers were not necessarily being offered for people to come to know Christ. Rather the prayers in the New Testament centered around the Word of God, that the Word of God might find open doors and go forth (e.g., Col. 4:3-4, 2 Thes. 3:1). For the early church understood that as the Word, which is “the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18) and “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), went forth people would be saved.

So to teach something other than this Word or to contradict His Word is to oppose the One who breathed out the Word and who is the Word.

(For other references about the Word of God going forth or the warnings against false teaching, see Acts 4:3, 29, 31; 6:2, 4; 8:4; 12:24; 13:44, 48-49; Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 1:5-6, 8; 2:2, 8-9, 13; 2 Thes. 1:7-9; 2:1ff; 1 Tim. 1:3-7, 10-11, 18-20; 6:3-5. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a sampling.)

 

Concluding thoughts:

Near the beginning of this post I said that the ideas in this tweet are dangerous to hold as it relates to truth. I hope you see now that this tweet, the ideas implied in it and what it represents is a post-modern belief of relative truth. Truth is relative; in fact it is so relative we shouldn’t critique what anyone says or thinks. Truth is not what matters most to God; we matter most to God. There is no place for judgment, exclusion or harshness in God’s love for us.

 

This definition of love, although not new, is spreading like gangrene among many younger so-called evangelicals. I’ve seen it heavily in Rachel Held Evans, for example. (By the way, my husband comments to me that the sermon preached at that liberal church that I mentioned in the Intro., sounded an awful lot like Rachel Evans. She acts as if her ideas are something new, but they are just really old liberalism.) This definition assumes we are lovable and deserved to be loved and nothing can change our standing with God. It is pleasing to the ears and fits well in our post-modern understanding of truth, but it is not the truth. I don’t know if the person behind our tweet knew what she was saying or if she holds to relativism or universalism. But when we accept pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully or when we put together pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully, we can put forth ideas that are contrary to Scripture and that are life-endangering. Relativism and universalism are gospel killers, and we must expose and oppose them when we see them creeping into our churches and greater Christian community.

 

As Christians, we need the greater Christian community to challenge, correct, critique and sometimes rebuke us in order to keep us — all of us (our ideas, words, beliefs, and actions) — in the center of truth. We need to be sharpened, iron to iron, so that the Word of God might go forth unhindered to those in desperate need of the gospel of grace. We need to be wise sons and daughters who submit to correction and rebuke. Let’s not be fools who refuse to listen or to be reprimanded.

 

We also need to resist the urge to say whatever it is we want to say through social media without carefully thinking through it and examining it according to Scripture. We must be aware that social media is a breeding ground for thoughtless, off-the-cuff soundbites that can spread to thousands within seconds with Retweets (RTs) and Modified Tweets (MTs) here and there. Last time I checked, this tweet had many RTs within minutes by people who, without thinking, thought it sounded good.

 

If what we say matters and if we truly believe that our words carry importance, then we must submit to correction when what we say is not founded in truth. We must resist this desire to be able to say whatever we want to say without ramifications or consequences.

 

Rather, critiques, if given and received well, have the potential to protect us from spreading false teaching, from becoming puffed up or conceited, and from error. Positively speaking, critiques help sharpen us, make us better communicators, and protect us from leading others astray. 

 

For in the end, y’all, it’s not about us. It. Is. Not. About. Us! It is about Him and His gospel of forgiveness of sins, and if we are misrepresenting either of these two then let’s stand corrected. Instead of worrying about being valued and treasured, let’s be called the fools we are when we say foolish things so that we might become wise sons and daughters.

An Intro: Should we critique where there is heresy?

The morning started out hopeful. It was our 2nd Sunday to be in Cambridge, England and we could hear the bells of a nearby church ringing from our 3rd floor bedroom alerting us that the worship service was about to begin. We left our home to walk two blocks over to the parish church. Once at the church, we filed singly behind each other on a little stone path that took us to the church door through its small church graveyard. We were hopeful that this parish church so close to our new home would turn out to be a gospel-centered Anglican church.

 

The service was pleasant as we read liturgy, sung songs from the hymnal, confessed our sins and listened to an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Psalms, and a New Testament reading. All was well until the preacher stood up to give a homily on the Gospel reading — Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, also known as the parable of the weeds. As is well-known, this parable speaks about the eternal destiny of human beings. Those who accept the kingdom of God through Christ go to eternal rest; those who reject, go to eternal torment.

 

She began with an apologetic attitude, that is apologizing for the seemingly harshness of the text. She then gave two possible readings or interpretations of the passage. We could either take an “individualistic” reading and take the text to mean that some are saved and others are not and destined for hell, which she called an “elitist approach,” or we could understand it symbolically that weeds and wheat exist in every person. She took this second reading and said we are to accept the weeds in our life and know that when the Lord comes he will get rid of these weeds. It doesn’t matter then how we are to live but rather we are to live in the knowledge that He loves, forgives and one day will redeem us. In the end, she said we will all be OK, regardless of our beliefs or actions in this life.

 

There we sat witnessing for ourselves what we have read so much about — a truly liberal, universalist church teaching experience. So people like Hitler are saved no matter that he lived like the devil and died unrepentant?, we wanted to ask. So what’s the purpose of church or of Christianity if everyone is saved and if it doesn’t really matter how we are to live? What is the motivation of being a minister? It took everything within me not to storm out or to speak up. After all, according to her label I am an “elitist” because I take Jesus at his word. She can incorrectly label me all she wants, but what burned me up the most was the way she treated God’s Word and twisted it to make it say what she wanted to say. She destroyed the gospel, and she was leading people to hell right along with her. And you know what? That church is dying, because liberal theology destroys the life-giving gospel and takes a road away from God to hell.

 

I just finished writing a blog post that I intended to post today. In God’s perfect timing I would experience for myself the very thing I address in this post! Now more than ever I am determined with fire flowing through my veins to call out liberalism when I see or even sense the beginnings of it. My heart is burdened for the Church that false teaching and doctrine will be brought to light. Brothers and sisters, join with me in praying that we would be protected from this doctrine that teaches that YOU are the gospel, that you are not in sin, that it doesn’t matter what you say or do, that there is no truth but the truth of love that saves you in the end no matter what you believe.

 

The post to follow is long, but it speaks to an issue that God has burdened my heart with greatly and, as I experienced today, is indeed relevant.

 

A Fool Says There Is No God and Many Other Things