Last night, Maine became the 31st out of 31 states to vote down same-sex marriage. On the other hand, six states have legislated (forced?) same-sex marriage on its constituents through the judicial branch or the legislative branch. Maine’s repeal brings the total number of states that have legalized same-sex marriage back down to five.
I also find it interesting that there wasn’t as much hype about this from grassroots organizations and churches as there was in California last year. It appears that this was a quiet victory for conservatism with not much need for controversial activism. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t happy with some of the behavior by church leaders in California but here in Maine it seems that the churches in Maine were more civil and fair.
It’s also important to note that this is the first New England state that has had an opportunity to vote on same-sex marriage and it was turned down. Four of the six New England states allow same-sex marriage but only because of judges and politicians, never by a state-wide vote.
So, here are some questions for ChurchETHOS readers:
Are Americans living in the Dark Ages or the Enlightenment on this issue? Is same-sex marriage a civil right or not? Has the church responded appropriately to this social issue? How has the church conducted itself in Maine (respect, fairness, intolerance, etc.)? How SHOULD the church wrestle with the issue of same-sex marriage (personally, publicly, politically, pastorally, etc.)?
Please be respectful in your comments whether you are in favor of or oppose same-sex marriages. I will delete your comment if I find it offensive to people on either side of this issue. Therefore, if you want your voice to be heard find a way to do it with respect and grace.
Here are some news stories:
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
That statement is one of the most controversial and hated statements that Jesus ever made. This quote, and other statements in the Bible lead followers of Jesus to conclude that He is the ONLY way to know God. His Truth is the ONLY Truth. His Life is the ONLY way to live.
In a day when many people believe that truth cannot even be known in the first place, how can followers of Jesus suggest that they are right and others are wrong? Can they really claim that the Bible contains the Truth that will lead to eternal life with God?
There are three criteria that philosophers use to determine the trustworthiness of a statement or proposition. Since Jesus’ words are recorded in the Bible, it’s important to apply these criteria generally to the book as a whole and then return specifically to the statement Jesus made.
The Correspondence Theory of Truth
The Correspondence Theory of truth asks if a statement (or statements) corresponds to external reality. The Bible passes this first test. The Bible is externally consistent. In other words, there are no existing external realities that contradict any of the Bible’s claims – not one!
For example, for hundreds of years people couldn’t understand how Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees in ancient times. Apparently, a town called Ur had been found that didn’t correspond to where the Bible seemed to indicate it should be. No problem, wait a couple of hundred years and someone dug up another town known as Ur of the Chaldees that was precisely where the Bible said it would be.
Or what about science. Sure, people got upset with the whole Galileo/Copernicus fiasco. Some had falsely interpreted the Bible and thought the earth was the center of the universe. Science seemed to be saying that the sun was at the center of our galaxy. How would you interpret, “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord shall be praised.”? Have you ever talked about the sun rising or setting? If you are living in the Dark Ages you might be tempted to think that the sun revolves around the earth, but when you know the truth you see that this verse is written from the author’s perspective and not from a scientific background. Today, we use the same language (does the sun really “set”?) but we know the sun isn’t the one rising or setting, we are the ones revolving around the sun.
The first example from archaeology shows how the Bible has proved accurate through the test of time and supposed inconsistencies have been explained by new discoveries. The second example from astronomy shows how science, archaeology, or history can make our interpretation of Scripture better, but doesn’t contradict anything that has been written. The author wasn’t teaching us a doctrine of geocentricity, he was talking about the worth and glory of God. Again, there is nothing in the Bible that does not correspond to external, tangible reality. Books have been written about the “discoveries” made by the Bible hundreds and thousands of years before geology or astronomy or archaeology got around to officially uncovering them.
The Coherence Theory of Truth
The Coherence Theory of truth asks if the statements being made are internally consistent.
The Bible is a collection of people’s glimpses of God through the ages. It is a compilation of 66 books written by about 40 authors who lived on 3 different continents over a span of about 1600 years using dozens of different literary forms. Somebody is bound to write something that contradicts someone else, right?
However, the Bible passes the coherence theory test. It is breathtakingly consistent internally. Outside of the Bible, I don’t know of TWO people writing in the SAME generation who display the same amount of internal consistency! For example, there’s no debate – by ANY scholar that I’m aware of – that the Old Testament predates the New Testament. Sometimes the books in the OT are over a thousand years older than the NT documents. Yet, the OT contains hundreds of prophecies. If just one of those prophecies proved to be untrue, the reliability of the entire document would be forfeit. Instead, we find that many of those prophecies have been fulfilled and all of them are precise in every way to actual events that happened hundreds of years later. On top of that, the overall theology of the Bible is internally consistent.
As we interpret the Bible, we sometimes disagree with others about various points of doctrine but that’s our fault not the Bible. We look at the Bible with cultural, social, and philosophical lenses that color what’s actually there. Again, our modern mistakes don’t disprove the Bible, it just drives us to be more careful with our interpretation and application of what we’ve been given. Which leads us to the final criteria for determining truth.
The Pragmatic Theory of Truth
Finally, there is the Pragmatic Theory of truth. This theory asks if a certain belief or set of beliefs really work. If you apply the truth to your life will it work for you? Again, the Bible passes the test. Incidentally, it could be argued that the world religions pass this test. People seem to be fulfilled in life when they pray to Mecca or help someone in need. Their religious deeds seem to make them happy.
Of course, followers of Jesus know from personal experience that the Bible passes the test because they are living it. We haven’t just taken it out for a test drive, we’ve invested our lives into owning it and driving it to work and to school and to social gatherings. The Bible is the only sacred writing that passes all three tests and it has been proven over and over again. The message of the Bible corresponds with external reality, it’s message is internally coherent and consistent, and it’s practical application brings contentment and joy to the one who trusts that message.
What about Jesus’ Words?
So that brings us back to what Jesus said. We can apply all three of these tests to the Bible generally but we can also apply it specifically to Jesus. Jesus’ path, message, and victory over death are all internally consistent with the broader theme of the Bible. His way, truth, and life all correspond with reality. Those of us who follow His way, heed His truth, and enjoy the abundant life He offers to everyone, recognize the practical implications of doing so: We now have a relationship with the God who caused the earth to revolve around the sun, who spoke to prophets hundreds of years in advance and told them His Son would be born in Bethlehem, and who has given us meaning and purpose and direction in life and has forgiven us for all the times we rejected Him, blasphemed Him, or ignored Him.
It’s ironic that some of the best news that could be heard is often misconstrued as bad news. Jesus didn’t say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” to stick it in your eye. Instead, Jesus is telling us exactly how we can know God and glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. He came in the flesh to prove God’s love for His creation. Jesus isn’t blocking people from knowing God, He’s showing them how they can. He endured torture, shame, and death so that all who believe in Him could know God and enjoy Him forever.
Michael Wittmer has asked some great questions in his book Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough. I’ve been reviewing this book chapter by chapter because the book closely identifies with the content of ChurchETHOS. I’ve been able to give away 5 copies of the book already and you can still get one for free here. So far, Wittmer has asked, Must You Believe Something to be Saved? and Do Right Beliefs Get in the Way of Good Works? In my posts I’ve tried to be fair to Wittmer’s thoughts and I’ve sprinkled the posts with some of my own responses to those questions as well. There have been some great comments so I hope you will go back and check out the conversation.
The Next Question
Today, I want to talk about chapter four of DSB. Wittmer asks, “Are people generally good or basically bad?”
The problem with this question is that we want to believe in the innate goodness of people. Since we want to believe it, we often do and we tend to ignore the more important question of what God thinks about our goodness. This becomes a Big Assumption that holds us and keeps us from recognizing the truth that we are in desperate need of being rescued from ourselves (I don’t care how good you think you are).
There is certainly some goodness in our lives, but there is also some badness. In comparison to Bin Laden I’m a saint. In comparison to Mother Theresa I’m a sinner. But in comparison to God?
Universally Created By God to Enjoy Him Forever
The first question and answer of the Westminster Catechism is:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
There is something that all of us have in common: we were all created by God to glorify and enjoy Him forever. We were created in His image. Our first parents were placed in a beautiful garden. God looked at all that He had made and it was very good. Our common – and very human – love for life, for beauty, for creation, and for our fellow human are part of what it means to be human. Nothing we’ve ever done can remove those sorts of qualities (and others) from our human nature. I’m confident that I can find something good in ANYONE if I spent enough time looking.
Humans do good things. We write checks to charity. We help old ladies cross streets. We generally try and care for the defenseless, the helpless, the hopeless. People are generally capable of doing good.
Universal Rejection of God
We humans have all been created, therefore we are generally good, but we all have something else in common too. Wittmer writes, “Everyone possesses a relative goodness that enables us to help others. But when we lift our eyes above our natural level and compare our goodness with God, we confront a double problem: God’s higher standard and our sinful brokenness.” We were all created, but we also have ALL rejected God, something the Bible calls sin. Some do it willfully, some do it ignorantly, but the fact remains, we’ve all done it.
For those of us who have turned back to God and asked His forgiveness, we must realize that we are no better than anyone else. Wittmer encourages Christian humility and I strongly agree. Just because I’m forgiven and someone else isn’t doesn’t mean that that same grace and love and forgiveness isn’t extended to them by God too. God loves those He has created. He created all of us and He wants us to enjoy Him forever. He extends His grace to ALL who will receive it. He longs for us to be reconciled to Him.
The Fall is what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Ever since then, humanity is living under a curse. Sure, we can do some good things every once-in-a-while, but we can also do some bad things. Some have more discipline than others and though they don’t know God they are able to listen more attentively to their God-given conscience and they restrain themselves from doing too much evil. But we all do it. We all have hurt someone. We’ve all let someone down. This world may be a better place thanks to you, but just barely. A lot of people feel like they’ve got to do more good to offset the bad that they’ve done. That’s noble and is advisable, but God is more concerned with your relationship with Him. You can make a bigger difference in the world if you obey Him.
Even though “obedience” doesn’t sound good what is God asking us to obey? Jesus summed it up into “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) If you could do that perfectly, then you would truly be good with no shred of evil in you. Jesus is the only one capable of that kind of obedience. When we confess our disobedience to God and ask His forgiveness, He begins the process of healing us from the evil that permeates our nature. He begins to show us how to be good again.
So What Is Good?
A lot of people don’t want us to bring up sin and the Fall. They want us to simply celebrate the good that we find in others and accept the bad that sometimes happens. This weakens the need for forgiveness and lets us just live our lives however we deem best (and that’s often not as good as we think). That kind of goodness will never measure up.
Wittmer gives a good example of this:
Yesterday my six-year-old pounded out his first recognizable tune on the piano, and I made quite a fuss about it. “Landon, that is ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’! You are playing the piano! Good Job!” And it was – especially good for a beginner and far better than anything I can play. But compared to my wife or a concert pianist, it was not very good at all. Goodness is a relative term. It depends on what we are talking about.
Again, when we talk about good things people do, I think we can all agree that we are generally good, but in comparison with the God who created us, we all fall short. There is a chasm that we ourselves have dug with our sin that separates us from God, not because of God, but because of us! That’s not good.
Wittmer quotes Tony Jones, another “postmodern innovator” who said, “a common metaphor showed God on one side of a diagram and a stick figure (you) on the other; the chasm between was labeled ‘Sin,’ and the only bridge across was in the shape of Jesus’ cross. But emergents ask, ‘What kind of God can’t reach across a chasm? Chasms can’t stop God!'” Wittmer replies brilliantly to this naive comment: “I am not sure what Jones is objecting to here, for the metaphor’s point is that while the chasm prevents us from coming to God, it does not stop God from reaching across. Perhaps he means that God should be able to reach us in some other way besides the cross? Or perhaps that our sin does not separate us from God?”
For those of us who believe the truth of the Bible, we can already see how God has reached across the chasm. Hey, I don’t like simplistic, cartoon versions of the gospel either but the basic truth is that we ARE sinful and we ARE separated from God. Thanks be to God that He HAS reached across the chasm to reconcile us to Himself!
Is Our Good, Good Enough?
We have to realize that we may do some good things but when it comes to loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves, we just aren’t cutting it. We are in need of an overhaul of our sinful system and God lovingly provides the answer through His Son Jesus. Our good may help a person in need, or bring a smile to someone’s face, but our eternal relationship with God depends on our willingness to give up and confess that we can’t do it without His help.
Wittmer writes, “People are created, and so we may unreservedly love them. People are fallen, and so there is a difference between those who are running their own lives and those who are striving to follow Jesus. Our common creation enables Christians and non-Christians to cooperate, and our response to the Fall explains why we often compete.” Let’s learn how to love each other God’s way. He is the only One who is ultimately Good. We need to be restored to Him and that relationship with Him will help us love others and enjoy Him forever.
This is going to be a very personal and transparent post.
Today I had such a meaningful time with God that I wanted to share it with you to encourage you.
Every once in a while I like to read through large chunks of Scripture in one sitting. This week I had two separate conversations about that practice with friends. In addition to that already being on my mind, this morning I had such a hunger for the Word of God that I sat down and began reading.
I’m currently reading in the gospels but I feel God led me to Romans to read today. I read the first eight chapters in one sitting. I can’t describe to you the joy and amazement I felt as I spent that time worshiping God. I wasn’t just meditating or reading, I was worshiping. His Word came alive in a fresh way.
WHY DID GOD’S WORD COME ALIVE?
Because it was the Word of God.
Obviously, God Himself is the One who makes His Word come alive. The words aren’t the objects of our worship but they are inspired words because they cause me to worship the living God. Not only do the words persuade me to worship but God’s Spirit opens my heart and mind to understand what God is saying to me. Today, my spirit was renewed, my mind was informed, and my heart was softened simply because it was the Word of God and I was reading it.
I love reading books and sometimes an author makes a point that grips my heart or encourages me to live out my faith in a fresh way. Those are good books, but nothing compels me to worship God like the Bible.
Because I was alone with God.
As if God’s Word alone wasn’t enough, there were a few other things that really made my personal time of worship special. Solitude is something we often miss. I can have a great time of worship while reading the Bible at a coffee shop, but what if His Word causes me to jump for joy, weep, or sing? I’m just not that public with my emotions so even if I am moved by the Spirit I might just sit there in silence.
Today there were too places that I broke down and wept/gave thanks to God. After 64 verses of God’s wrath being “revealed from heaven against all godlessness and and unrighteousness” I came to “But now…” How inspiring and captivating are those words:
But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed – attested by the Law and the Prophets – that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)
Reading Romans 5:1-8 brought the same kind of joyful and tearful response from my spirit:
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person – though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Romans 5:6-8)
I’ve heard these sections of Scripture quoted aloud in front of an audience and people shouted and applauded to hear God’s Word. Listening and meditating on God’s Word prompts a response. When we are in seclusion we can be free to respond with joy, laughter, tears, sorrow, or spontaneous eruptions of gratitude. It’s a bit harder to do that at Starbuck’s or even at home if your not alone in a closed door meeting with God.
Because I was reading aloud.
I heard God speak today. God’s Words came to my ears and I heard them. We can’t always read aloud but when we do it adds something. The benefit of reading aloud is that more of your senses are activated to really understand that God is speaking to you. I wasn’t just thinking in my head, I was hearing God speak. He used my voice and His words to speak Truth to my heart.
Again, not something you can really do at Starbuck’s.
Because I matched the tone of my voice to the mood of the passage.
I would encourage you, when you read God’s Word aloud, try to get a feel for the mood of the passage. When I was reading, “This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions…” or “There is no one righteous, not even one” I read it with a heavy heart. Those 64 verses of God’s wrath shouldn’t be read with a big smile on the face.
On the other hand, how would you read this: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I read that section more rapidly with excitement, not to be dramatic as if it were a performance, but because that’s how I felt.
Reading the Bible aloud while matching my tone to the mood helped me to really hear God’s intended message to my heart. I can really grasp the passion or the emotion of a verse in its context.
For example, we all know that Romans 3:23 is bad news when quoted by itself: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But when you realize that this verse is in the context of God revealing His righteousness to those who believe, the mood has changed. Romans 3:23 becomes a part of the good news because we realize that God knows our condition (we are sinful) and that He has taken steps to change that (those who are sinners and who fall short of God’s glory “are justified freely by His grace…”)
This is a cause for celebration! When you read aloud the context, and match your tone to the mood, insights like that spring out of the text and into your heart. God’s Word is alive if we let Him speak to us.
Because of my choice in translation.
Okay, so this one is more preferential than the others. Some enjoy the beauty of the old King James language and that causes the Word to come alive. Others really like the readability of the NIV or the NLT. Still others are appreciative of the accuracy of the NASB or the ESV.
Since I’m describing my own personal experience, I can share that the Holman Christian Standard Bible removes a lot of barriers that might keep my devotions from being more inspirational. I’m not tripping over the grammar or stumbling over “thees” and “thous” but at the same time, the HCSB is also very accurate and less theologically motivated than other translations.
So, all of that to say, find a good translation that you are comfortable with and allow God to speak to you. I’ve found the HCSB to be a reliable choice but my point here is simply that you should find a translation for yourself that allows you to hear the Word of God.
How many chapters are there in the Bible?
What really struck me today after I was finished reading and after sitting there quietly for a few moments was that I had only read eight chapters. If I read that many chapters each day it would take me 5 months to read the entire Bible. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible and I was overwhelmed after only reading 8! There are 1,181 MORE chapters just waiting for me to turn to them and feast on them. And I had read those chapters before and had been inspired and encouraged by them. The feast is always in front of us. I have the rest of my life in front of me to either squander by ignoring God’s Word, or to spend wisely by listening to and meditating on the very thoughts and will of God.
Is God’s Word really living and active? I can’t say that it always feels that way, but on days like today I’m reminded of the power of God and the truth of His Word.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled. (Mt 5:6)
What are the practices you have when spending time alone with God that makes those moments rich and inspiring?
In case you missed it, ChurchETHOS is giving away twelve copies of Don’t Stop Believing by Michael Wittmer! Special thanks to Zondervan Academic for providing eleven of those copies especially for ChurchETHOS subscribers. One book will be given away each week so keep reading and interacting on ChurchETHOS for a chance to get your own copy for free.
The first book will be given away this Friday!
Here’s what you do:
2. Make a thoughtful contribution in response to any post here at ChurchETHOS.
3. After subscribing and contributing a comment, email me your address to officially enter the drawing.
Note: You only need to enter one time and each week you will be reentered in the giveaway. I will announce the winner each week on my blog.
Read my introductory post about the book here and stay connected with ChurchETHOS for the next eleven posts in the “DSB Series”. I will be writing responses to each of the questions Mike Wittmer raises in the book. The final post will hopefully be an interview with the author based on questions my readers raise in the comments to these posts.
I will be blogging about other topics other than the DSB Series over the next few weeks so at the end of the series I will do a recap post to collect all of the posts in the same place. You can also find links to each of the posts on my Book Review page.
Here are the links to all the posts in the DSB series: