Today, marks the first day of deliberation between the Supreme Court on the issue of gay marriage. This issue is not a new one. I’ve written on this issue so much because I believe it’s an issue that Christians must stand clearly and loudly on. Following Genesis 1-2, I believe that marriage is established by God. God created man and, therefore, He sets the rules in regards to His creation. When a man seeks to pervert the law of God there will only be destruction. This is because man is not morally or spiritually good but instead bound in his sin with eyes to only see his own point of view instead of God’s. God is the righteous ruler and the only justifier of the wicked.
People today say that we aren’t to judge. By this logic then Jesus Himself should never speak. Jesus judges people. He will hold all men accountable for who they say He is. He will hold man accountable to His demands for them to repent and believe in Him. People today say it’s not fair for God to do this. These are the same people pointing the finger in the sky at God and blaming Him when natural disasters occur. Such perversion demonstrates their depravity. The perverted logic of our culture is on full display in this Supreme Court case. The perverted sexual logic of our culture seeks for permission for its promiscuity while excusing the rights and opinions of others who oppose their viewpoint.
The twisted sexual logic of our culture tells us to do whatever we want, with whoever we want, whenever we want. Then it requires everyone to approve legally of a sinful lifestyle. That, Friends, is exactly the logic that is used to justify pornography and homosexuality. It’s a complete affront to what the Bible teaches.
People today want to live however they want to live. The world tells us that faith is to be a private thing. All the while it parades around what it believes on television, in movie theaters, at the grocery store, and the list goes on and on. There is hardly a place we go to these days where we aren’t confronted with sexual perversion. On nearly every television show, we are confronted with gay and lesbian encounters. In movies, we’re inundated by sexual perversion of every sort and kind. Our culture truly has lost its mind in regards to sexual matters.
Yet, it says when we preach the message of biblical sexuality that God created marriage between one man and one woman that we’re “judging” people. True biblical judgment has God as its focus. True biblical judgement focuses on what Jesus has done in His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul spends the first three chapters of his epistle explaining the depravity of man. On full display in our day is the perversion of man. Man instead of worshiping his Creator has exchanged the truth for a lie. Instead of worshiping Him who created man, man instead consciously and purposefully chooses to worship what is created.
People today say that Matthew 7:1 excuses Christians from judging. If Christians make clear biblical statements, they are accused on the basis of Matthew 7:1 of judging others. If we follow this same logic, Jesus Himself is judging those whom He is speaking to in the Sermon on the Mount. It was Jesus, after all, who spoke more about hell than any biblical figure in the entire Bible. If Jesus cannot speak, as He does clearly and loudly to us, about judgement then we restrict His speech. This means we’re telling the Creator and sustainer of all life, the One who gives us breathe, that He can only tell us certain things about life. This twisted logic is exactly what many people are doing. They have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. They don’t want to consider biblical arguments because their hearts and minds are blinded to the reality of who God is. They have no desire for God because they love darkness rather than the light.
This is why the message of the gospel begins with the bad news of our sin. Jesus taught that what comes out of a man’s mouth demonstrates what’s in his heart (Matthew 15:11; Mark 7:15). This is why Paul emphasized the depravity of man in the first three chapters of Romans. Man apart from Christ is a sinner by nature and by choice. This is the clear teaching of the entire Bible. This position has been affirmed by the Church for two thousand and fifteen years. The Bible doesn’t stop at our sin. It goes on to explain why Jesus came. Jesus the sinless Lamb of God became our substitute on the cross and died in our place. He took upon Himself the full wrath of God and died in our place for our sin. When people today say, “You can’t judge me” because of Matthew 7:1, what people are saying is you can’t tell me how to live. This isn’t what Jesus is talking about there. He’s talking about hypocritical judgment not based upon the facts.
The Supreme Court has a monumental decision that will change the moral and ethical course of our country. Justice Roberts at the Supreme Court hearing speaking about gay marriage said, “You’re not seeking to join this institution but change what this institution is.” That’s exactly what this “debate” is all about– redefining marriage to be something it was never intended to be which was noted by another of the justices as well. Marriage has always been defined as between one man and one woman for the history of mankind. Marriage is a God-ordained institution. Changing that institution to be something other than what God ordains is an abomination and a direct affront to the character and glory of God who created man in His own image and likeness. Furthermore, gay marriage is a disgusting perversion of the order of mankind. God gave man, man-parts and woman lady-parts, not the other way around. This is just another demonstration of the depravity of man and a confirmation that Paul had it right in Romans 1 and in several other places in his epistles about the sexual perversion and the immorality of man.
On full display today in the Supreme Court is the modern notion that one can do whatever they want, whenever they want, with whoever they want, and then get “legal” permission that requires everyone to approve of it. People today say Christians are bigoted because they preach and believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Yet, homosexuals can preach unchallenged their message of absolute equality between the sexes with no distinction. This is the logic of our culture and the battle we face. May the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of those who still have ears to hear and remove the blinders from the eyes of the unrgenerate so that they may hear, see, and know Christ.
In response to the twisted sexual logic of our culture that teaches man to do whatever they want with whoever they want, whenever they want it, we should respond that God will hold them accountable. Christians should respond to the claim that others can make laws to support their promiscuous lifestyles which will make everyone legally approve of their lifestyles with the response that God knows their evil deeds and will hold them accountable for every sinful thought and deed. The same logic, I’m explaining is also used to justify the use of pornography and homosexuality.
This is why we must stand on the Word of God, all the more. No matter what the Supreme Court decides, Christian you must count the cost. There is coming a day very soon likely where in America, we will be persecuted physically over this issue. Settle it in your hearts now to stand in Christ. Settle it in your heart that living however you want is not God’s best for you. Throw yourself upon the finished and perfect work of the Savior who bled, died, rose for you. He is your life. He is your treasure. Look to Christ and live. He is the only One who can open the eyes of those committed to sexual perversion. He is the only One who can open the eyes and hearts of the unregenerate. So preach all the more in faithfulness to God’s Word. Stand firm on the Word of God. Don’t shrink back. God is still in the business of using His Word through His Spirit to open the eyes of the blind so that they can see, know, and delight in Christ.
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The topic of homosexuality has reached an epidemic level in many Christian circles. We are seeing many people cave on this issue and give it up as if the Bible isn’t clear on this issue. In fact, it could be said that the issue of homosexuality among Christians is an issue because of how we view the Bible. The question around this debate is this, “Is the Bible clear on what it teaches about homosexuality? Or is it not?” Christians have long held to the authority, inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, and clarity of the Scriptures. The debate on this issue relates to the sufficiency of Scripture, which relates to the question of, “Do we have to practice what the Bible teaches?”, and, “Does it mean what it says about homosexuality?” In other words, “Is the Bible to be believed when it says homosexuality is wrong?” or, “Can we just make up our own interpretation of the relevant text and revise it to fit our own opinion?” This is what many people are doing. It’s also why a book like Kevin DeYoung’s new book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? is so needed.
As readers of Servants of Grace know this issue is one I’ve addressed quite a bit over the years. It’s an issue I’m very familiar with as there is a large gay community in Seattle where I was born and raised. Even here in the Boise, Idaho, while not as pronounced (it seems to me) as Seattle, there is still a gay community presence here. When I write on this issue I get all sorts of questions and push back about it—more so than any other issue I write on. People genuinely want to know what the Bible teaches on this issue. This is why Kevin DeYoung wrote this book – to clear away this confusion. In part one, he sets forth the biblical teaching on marriage, as between one man and one woman. In part two DeYoung answers objections to the biblical teaching, he presented in part one. Here he tackles head on the revisionists who say that the Bible isn’t clear on homosexuality, “I don’t practice that type of homosexuality”, gluttony, divorce, the church is supposed to be a place for sinners, Christians are on the wrong side of history, your position on homosexuality isn’t fair, and the God of the Bible is “only” a God of love.
The book concludes with a call to faithfulness to the Word of God. DeYoung here says, “Faithfulness is ours to choose; the shape of that faithfulness is God’s to determine. In our time, faithfulness means a patiently winsome and carefully reasoned restating of the formerly obvious: homosexual behavior is a sin” (129). DeYoung also rightly notes throughout his book that we need to bring people to Jesus and Jesus will save them and through the Holy Spirit bring conviction of sin and transformation in this, and every area of their lives.
DeYoung helpful notes, “We must not be naïve. The legitimization of same-sex marriage will mean the de-legitimization of those who dare to disagree. The sexual revolution has been no great respecter of civil and religious liberties. Sadly, we may discover that there is nothing quite so intolerant as intolerance” (142). In the second appendix, he helps pastors and ministry leaders to speak winsomely by noting three building blocks for helping people struggling with same-sex attraction. First, biblically faithful, pastorally sensitive, and culturally relevant. Appendix three gives ten commitments every Christian should commit to all of which are helpful. The book also has an annotated bibliography of helpful books for further study on this issue.
The issue of homosexuality is one that isn’t going away anytime soon. This issue will continue to grow only worse as time goes on. Here soon Christians in America may be forced to not speak on this issue. We must count the cost and refuse to be silent no matter the verdict of the Supreme Court here soon. The authority of the Bible is worth standing upon. God uses His Word to pierce the hearts of hardened sinners and point them towards His finished saving work in the gospel. God is still in the business of removing spiritual blinders. He is in the business of removing people’s objections through the clear and faithful teaching of His Word. This is what DeYoung does so well. DeYoung’s book is a needed book for our times that we’re living in. Many people will say that the teaching in this book isn’t fair. They will object to DeYoung’s answers to objections to the traditional understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for the rest of their lives. They will state that to be tolerant is to be accepting of other people’s positions, even as they are intolerant of our position and try to silence us.
Mention the word “tolerance” and you are likely to get some interesting responses. Most of those responses will focus on how people have the “rights” to think, believe, or act however they choose. In this view, tolerance is all about my rights and thinking on a given topic. At first, that may sound pleasant or even socially acceptable, but, in fact, it is rotten to the core. When people who view tolerance this way apply what they think too real life, the result is to exclude those who believe in absolute truth and absolute morals.
The argument goes, “Faith is private so keep it to yourself”. That sounds good at first glance. Let’s all keep quiet about what we believe. After all, isn’t faith a personal issue? The truth though is no one is quiet about what they believe. Is Oprah quiet about what she believes? Is Ellen DeGeneres quiet about what she believes? It seems like our liberal media can use its bully pulpit to proclaim that everyone has a right to think how they want, but when Christians make exclusive claims about God, the Bible, or Jesus according to the foundations of biblical Christianity, they are immediately discounted and treated as second class citizens. Yet the “enlightened” ones want us to believe everything they say without question and just soak in their magnificentness. The truth of the matter is not only does the liberal media not believe that faith is “private”, they are among the loudest in our culture in regards to proclaiming what they believe.
This is why the language of tolerance isn’t really tolerant, or as D.A. Carson said, “the intolerance of tolerance” in his book by the same title. Tolerance is intolerant because those who advocate for tolerance suggest they are the gatekeepers of truth. Whenever anyone says anything intolerant or if a Christian such as myself speaks or writes about gay marriage or other issues, they are shouted down, told they are wrong and immediately labeled a “bigot”, “misguided” or any number of unsavory labels. Is tolerance really tolerant? If you believe tolerance is tolerant then you are living in a world where truth must be abandoned because your truth is inconsistent. If we apply the standards of truth to the worldview of tolerance, it crumbles like shifting sand. The truth is that the new tolerance is another word for the spirit of this age which longs for teachers who will tickle people’s ears but never give them the truth from the Word of God. This is what DeYoung does so well in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? he keeps bringing the reader back time and time again to the Scriptures where the reader will be confronted with the truth from the Scriptures.
Dear Christian, make no mistake. We are living in days that are challenging, but rest assured that, we also live in a day of great harvest. Stand firm on the authority of the Word of God and declare the message of the gospel. Jesus is alive, the tomb is empty, and He is ruling and reigning as His people’s High Priest. The Holy Spirit is still in the business of opening people’s eyes to the truth about Jesus, of convicting His people of their sin, and pointing them towards the truth of Jesus. The gospel is still the power of God! Preach the gospel all the more in a culture that says tolerance is a virtue and yet rejects its own conviction through its own inconsistency. Shout all the more from the rooftops and declare the sufficiency of Jesus to a culture that would rather celebrate its own pride and self-sufficiency.
I highly recommend What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? It is a book that every Christian must read to understand this issue. This book is a primer on God’s view of homosexuality from Scripture. This alone is no small feat as I’ve outlined in this review. Added to this, DeYoung responds to popular objections raised by Christians and non-Christians alike, making this an indispensable resource for thinking through one of the most pressing issues of our times. This book is well-researched, accessible, and saturated in the gospel. As J.D. Greear said in his endorsement, “This is now the book on this subject for our generation.” Dr. Moore is right, “Every Christian should read this book.” This book will help every Christian to answer the challenge of homosexuality in the church and outside the Church with the Word of God. I highly recommend this book and believe it is DeYoung’s best work to date.
Buy the book at Amazon or from WTS books.
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Few issues are as volatile right now as the issue of ISIS. President Obama has stated multiple times that Islam is a religion of peace. While some strands of Islam may seek to have peace, the statement that Islam is itself unequivocally a religion of peace is a historical inaccuracy. Mohammed was a murderer who slayed not only his own people, but also anyone who got in his path that did not conform to his ideology. The true form of Islam isn’t peaceful; it’s always been violent. Any religion that views others as opponents to be dominated is not a religion that’s peaceful—it’s a religion of war. Islam desires war and to make everyone submit to what they believe. Now I realize that’s not what you hear on TV every day but it is a historical fact.
While Islam continues to be presented as a religion of peace; contrary to historical fact, the truth of the matter is there was once a man who committed terrorist’s acts against God’s people. That man was Saul who later became the Apostle Paul. Terrorists are nothing compared to the sovereign power of God. God can transform a terrorist and turn him into a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did this with Saul, when He turned him into the Apostle Paul, a man who set the ancient Mediterranean world on fire for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christians have been called to love God and to love their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). God’s people have been called to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48). Is it “wrong” for a Christian to pray specifically with regards to how they feel? Regardless, if one is comfortable or not praying the imprecatory Psalms, or whether they become a core of our prayers, such an approach should remind Christians that the world is full of injustice and God is just. With this understanding, the Christian can leave the wrongs that others have delivered to them in the hands of a Sovereign God.
Too often today the love of God is highlighted apart from the holiness and justice of God. The imprecatory Psalms highlight the anger or wrath of God. Furthermore, the Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s justice. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies to offer atonement for the people of Israel. Before the high priest went into the Holy of Holies, the other priests tied a rope around his ankle so if any of the prescriptions and regulations the Lord had established had been violated, the priests could pull out the high priest’s dead body.
The imprecatory Psalms are part of Scripture. God is holy and loving. The God of the Bible is a God of justice who demands retribution to be paid for man violating His law, commands, and statutes. The imprecatory Psalms reveal a God of justice. With that in mind, the reader of the these Psalms needs to know the rest of God’s attributes, along with the fact that the God of the Bible is not primarily interested in smiting people, and sending them to hell.
When the totality of Scripture is examined, the God of the Bible emerges as a God who is loving, just, and holy. His holiness demands that He deal with sin. His love compels Him to pardon sinners who come to Him in faith. While the imprecatory Psalms highlight a crucial aspect of the attributes of God, the reader also needs to know the story line of the Bible which focuses on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 5:43-48 is clear that we are to love our enemies. The supreme command for the Christian is to love God and their neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus in Luke 6:27 declares, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Christians can pray the imprecatory prayers, but they cannot act on what they are praying. For example, someone could pray, “I feel this way about this person God” (insert how they feel here about this person, people group, etc.), but they are not allowed to act on those feelings on their own accord. I would also counsel people to not tell someone that you’ve prayed for them in such a way. The Christian can pray the imprecatory prayers with the understanding that ultimately what they are desiring is God’s sovereignty to reign in that situation. Our goal as Christians should be to love God and one another. With that said the Christian is to “feel” how they feel, but they must express those feelings primarily towards God with a focus on His will to be done on earth.
One weakness of the diary approach to the imprecatory Psalms is it doesn’t take these Scriptures seriously. Imprecatory prayers are more than just a “diary approach” where people share their feelings. Instead, they reveal a God of justice. While the imprecatory Psalms passionately express how the Psalmists felt, they are also part of the Scriptures. As part of the Scriptures, they reveal an essential aspect of God’s character, namely His holiness and justice. Undergirding the imprecatory Psalms is the idea that vengeance belongs to the Lord. The Lord will mete out His justice in His time and according to His sovereign purpose. As such, while the Christian may/should pray imprecatory prayers, they also need to trust the sovereignty of God. When all of this is considered, we come to understand now that He alone will executive His justice on the wicked in His own timing for His own glory.
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The Cruciformed View of Wisdom and Power
Living in a pluralistic society where relativism is the norm it is inevitable someone is going to be offended. Those of us who live as witnesses of the Crucified Christ know all to well that mentioning the statement “Jesus is Lord” is a cultural “no-no.” If you announce this you’ll likely be labeled as “narrow-minded” or just simply someone who hasn’t progressed far enough into the changing culture. Christians must, so the argument goes, stop being judgmental and be more inclusive of others. It is unfortunate that many who claim to follow the Crucified One have bought into that argument. The word of the Cross that was once a scandalous proclamation has been simply reduced to a civilized opinion.
The message of Christianity will cause an offense. The truth claim that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the world, died in the place of sinners on a cross will ruffle the feathers of a secular world. I’m convinced one of the main reasons for this is – to be honest is the message of the cross is utter nonsense to those who don’t believe the gospel. I’ve been asked countless times, “Do you really believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead?” As if by believing in that truth claim, I’ve traded my critical thinking skills for a kindergarten fairytale. To believe in this truth, however, doesn’t require one to empty their mind. Instead, it will require one to surrender their preconceived ideas of power and wisdom.
Folly to the Perishing
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18, ” For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is here that one begins to see the “madness” of the Christian message. Note that the “word of the cross” produces two effects: folly to the perishing and the power of God to those being saved. This message by application puts all of humanity into two categories: those perishing and those being saved. The classification is determined by one’s response to the message.
The first effect that is produced by the gospel is folly to the perishing. The context Paul is writing into is extremely important. The Apostle is writing to the churches in the city of Corinth. A city that was as Leon Morris said, “intellectually alert, materially prosperous, but morally corrupt.” Greek wisdom and philosophy filled the minds of those who walked the streets of Corinth. It is here where we must see the cultural conflict with the gospel. The message of the cross in the Greco-Roman culture was complete madness. While there may have been a few Greco-Roman stories about gods dying and rising again it was ludicrous to suggest that a god would die a criminal’s death on a cross. To advocate “that the one pre-existent Son of the One True God, had appeared in very recent times in the out-of-the-way Galilee as a member of the obscure people of the Jews, and even worse, had died the death of a common criminal on the cross, could only be regarded as a sign of madness” as Martin Hengel concluded. The cross is a complete paradox. It doesn’t make any sense to those who are perishing – it is nonsense. This is why the message of the cross is hard for people to believe. Why in the world would God send His One and Only Son to die on a cross? It is this very point that circumvents our understanding of God and the way He reveals Himself to the world: the cross is the highest revelation of God’s wisdom, which stands in opposition to the wisdom of the world.
The Wisdom and Power of God
The cross challenges our understanding of power and wisdom. In a world that prides itself on human reasoning and strength the cross of Christ pushes against those ideas, redefining what true wisdom and power actually look like. It is in the message of the cross that the power of God is revealed. David Garland explains, “In this case, ‘power’, refers to the effectiveness of the cross to make God known to humankind, to accomplish salvation, to defeat evil, and to transform lives and values.” This salvation wrought in the death of Jesus reveals God’s power and wisdom. The question is asked, “Why in the world would God reveal Himself this way?” The answer is simple: God is wiser and stronger than us. The reality is as sophisticated and relational humans, we seek to save ourselves a different way; a way that doesn’t involve a bloody naked man on a cross. A way that was more civilized; a way that wouldn’t offend anyone. We would write and distribute our tracts proclaiming to all that good moral deeds and tolerance are the requirements for salvation. This is the wise thing to do. That wouldn’t offend anyone. That message is more inclusive.
Yet it is through the foolishness of the cross that God is shown wiser than man. It is in the weakness of the cross that God demonstrates He is stronger than man. We could say that God has “outsmarted” all of humanity by revealing His wisdom and power through the death of His Son on the cross. As we attempt to think of a better way to save ourselves, God has already provided the most powerful instrument of deliverance. The symbol that was once a scandal has now become the symbol of salvation. By Christ taking upon Himself the wrath of God, the sins of His people, and dying in their place, He revealed, His divine rescue mission for the world. The Crucified Christ redefines His people’s understanding of God and the way He works in the world. The all-supreme Son of God condescended to the lowest point of humiliation possible – dying on a cross in the place of sinners. The power and the wisdom of God are revealed in the Crucified Christ.
Cruciformity as a Way of Life
Since the cross redefines our understanding of power and wisdom we have a choice to make. Do we surrender to this biblical understanding or do we continue living our lives the way we always have? This is where the rub occurs. One can only know God through God’s wisdom. Human means – power and wisdom – to God fall short of obtaining salvation. Salvation comes through the exclusivity of the Crucified One. This message is the means through which God saves. Listen to Paul as he said “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God..” Garland once again said:
“the herald’s task is not to create a persuasive message at all, but to convey effectively the already articulated message of another. The message is God’s and it is conveyed by means that look weak, foolish, and unimpressive to the world. Carrying a placard announcing the crucified Messiah as the glory of God in simple unadorned words makes the herald look foolish in the eyes of the world. But such foolishness reveals that God, not the messenger, is to be credited for saving those who believe the message.”
The preaching of the cross is foolishness to the wisdom of the world. This ought to be a great encouragement to those communicating this message in a world that won’t understand in the first place. The means, message, and messenger are to be conformed to the Crucified One. This is the way of cruciformity, which is the practice of increasingly living our lives in conformity to the cross. In a world that proclaims its own form of power and wisdom, we must as people of cross, preach the foolish message as foolish people. It is through this foolishness that God reveals His wisdom. The offensiveness of the gospel in a pluralistic world is unchanging; even as the message is the power of the Crucified Christ to save, sanctify, sustain, and glorify His own people, for His glory.
 Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians TNTO (Downer Groves: Intervarsity Press, 1985), 22.
 Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 6-7.
 David Garland, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 62.
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How do pastors preach on contemporary cultural issues? Or should they? This is a question every pastor faces as he contemplates both the spiritual needs of his congregation, the questions swirling in society, and the weighty commission to preach the Word of God. When I pastored, I constantly wrestled with when to address certain topics, how to address them, and in what format. I’ve also observed and watched pastors of large and small churches organize their preaching. Here are a few ways I’ve seen pastors address contemporary cultural issues:
1) Textual: Personally I feel the most healthy way for pastors to structure their sermons is through the systematic preaching of Bible books. Expository preaching guides a pastor along, presenting to him every Sunday the text he is to preach, not the text he wants to preach. It helps avoid the kind of cut and paste approach we often take to favorite verses and help the hearer soak in the cultural background, the context, and the biblical author’s original intent. There is a richness to studying an entire book. What’s more, it prevents us from skipping over texts that are difficult or controversial. So how does this kind of preaching lend itself to addressing contemporary cultural issues? It simply forces us to address what the text addresses. It’s nearly impossible to preach through a book of the Bible and not hit on a contemporary cultural problems. The key for application is to not apply the text in ways the congregation is already assuming, but in ways they aren’t. We shouldn’t aim for Amen’s from people who already agree, but to find ways in which they will be provoked to think differently. So, for instance, preaching on the Great Commission in Matthew forces God’s people to think through what it means to “make disciples of all nations.” How does this affect our view of different people groups, of immigrants? Preaching through Genesis forces us to think through our views of the sanctity of human life. James confronts our attitudes toward the poor. Peter counsels God’s people about their posture as counter-cultural “exiles” representing the Kingdom of Christ.
2) Topical: Though I favor expository preaching as the majority of preaching content during regular worship, I do believe there are occasions for topical messages on cultural issues, particularly during times of heightened awareness, such as a dominant news story or special Sundays (Sanctity of Life Sunday, etc). I think this can be done in a well-thought out way. Sometimes this kind of message is called for if it is a time of crisis and the particular subject people are thinking about. There are ways to do this well, I think. First, even topical messages should be grounded in a specific text, if at all possible, to prevent proof-texting. Some issues are easier to do this on than others. With some topical sermons on cultural issues, it’s helpful to walk through the development of an idea as it moves through the canon of Scripture. I’ve also seen pastors do a topical series on cultural topics. This can be done well also, but we should guard against picking topics that conform to our own political positions or topics that we know will automatically get Amen’s from our audience. We should be holistic and address topics that the Bible clearly addresses, regardless of how they might be perceived by the audience. I think it’s also important, during a series like this, to teach the congregation that the choice of cultural issues to be discussed is not exhaustive and that the Word of God is driving the messages, not a set of talking points from a political party or movement. Pastors also need to work hard at separating their personal political opinions from what God has declared in Scripture. What God’s people need from the pulpit is to hear from the Word of God not from a carbon copy of what they get from cable news or talk radio.
3) Shoehorn: A shoehorn is a hybrid between a textual message and a topical message and it’s something I was often tempted to do as a pastor. It goes something like this: You have your preaching calendar worked out for the entire year but something big comes up and you want to address it so you find a clever way to make the text you are assigned to preach speak to the current cultural moment. I don’t advise this. People can always tell when you’ve shoehorned something into the text that isn’t there, making the text say something that it doesn’t say. Better to do one of two things: a) if you deem the current cultural moment important enough to address it on Sunday morning, offer a 5-10 minute intro before your sermon where you stop and say something like, “We are going to continue through our current series, but I felt it important to address this . . . .” b) schedule a special time for a talk on the subject or c) send an email or post a blog with your thoughts on the subject. d) if it’s really, really important, change your Sunday morning message and adjust your schedule. I think this option should be used sparingly, otherwise, you become a slave to the news cycle rather than a servant of the text of Scripture.
Other ways to address cultural issues:
There are other ways to address cultural issues than the Sunday morning worship time. For instance, churches could schedule a series of classes or talks on specific issues. Tim Keller has done this with great success at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, building an event around a particular topic. Matt Chandler has also done this at Village Church in the Dallas Fort Worth area with forums on weeknights. I’ve seen other churches do similar things. I kind of like this format. It allows the church to go deep on particular issues in a way that may not fit for a Sunday morning series. It might also allow the church to leverage expertise from the congregation or from outside the church, giving people the opportunity to hear important perspectives from issue experts.
The church may also see fit to partner with other evangelical churches in the area to host a conference on a particularly important cultural issue or point their people to conferences hosted by other Christian organizations. Other ways to educate and inform people is through targeted teaching in small group sessions, book studies, and the use of the church’s online media (blogs, videos, podcasts).
Bottom line: Pastors should not ignore cultural issues, but should shepherd their people well by helping them think through issues biblically. There are ways to do this through faithful application of the text of Scripture.
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We live in a time where we are exposed to more news headlines than at any time in human history. In the ancient days of news, anchors checked the AP newswire for stories and reported on them and people in their homes watched or people in their cars listened to radio. Today, everyone, is essentially checking the wire, all day, through social media. We also live in a time when it’s has never been easier to publicly express an opinion. Before the Internet, if something happened, you might have picked up the phone to call someone or perhaps you might discuss it at work, around the water cooler. But today we are all pundits, all with commentary on what is happening right now.
Quite often this new reality is leveraged for good. If a disaster strikes, more people can be informed than in previous generations. Social networks can be good conduits for raising money for important charity, for networking and communicating with wider groups of people. In many ways, the new paradigm has flattened leadership, forcing organizations to be more transparent and less hierarchical. All this is good.
Still, followers of Christ need to think through how they process the news, particularly how we react to the headlines that come across our screens every day. Here are three tips I think that might help:
1) Don’t react to headlines, get the full story. I think James 1:19 is instructive here. If I could paraphrase, I’d say we should be “swift to hear, slow to tweet, slow to outrage.” We often get it backwards. Two things work against us slowing down and getting the story right: confirmation bias and our need to be the first and most clever to speak. First, because we can tailor our news intake (more on that below) to our specific point of view and bias, we tend to gravitate to news headlines that confirm what we already want to believe about people and personalities we might not favor. Secondly, there is a human instinct to want to be the first to comment and to have the most clever reaction (measured in retweets). There is an inherent danger in being so reactive to headlines. If you have not read the full story and, perhaps, ready other stories about the topic, a quick reaction can make you appear foolish. It also works to divide the Body of Christ. There is nothing wrong with principled, sharp engagement with news stories. Christians need thoughtful commentary on cultural events, but we need it to be critiquing things that actually happened, not caricatures of things that happened. There’s a difference here. Before you start a brushfire online, before you email your allies with damning information about someone with whom you disagree, before you forward and post negative things, make sure you are actually getting the full story.
2) Don’t consume news from only one point of view. It’s a good habit to follow, on Twitter and in our other consumption of news, people from other “tribes” (though I hate that word now) and from other ideological perspectives. It’s good to have a mix of people in your twitter feed: advocates, opponents, and straight-up journalists. This gives you a much more nuanced view of what is actually going on. It also keeps you from tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists that seem to dominate on all sides of various issues. You should also have an operating principle of not reacting to a story unless you’ve read two or three versions of it from diverse news outlets. In other words, don’t just take the news story that best confirms what you already believe about something or someone. Get the full picture here. I can think of one story in particular that I thought was newsworthy, even worth commissioning an article for ERLC. But then I asked a few folks, read a few more articles, and realized there was more to it.
3) Try to see the human side of the news. This is especially important when news stories involve personalities, whether politicians or preachers. There’s a lot of tabloid journalism out there, both in the larger culture and in the church world (unfortunately). Remember that the person you are about to destroy online with a clever hashtag probably has a family who can google their name. Do you want to be the one who caused their daughter pain? Followers of Christ should operate by different principles. This should have two effects on our public witness: First, when expressing public disagreement, we are to consider every person, even those with whom we viscerally disagree, as people created in God’s image and worthy of respect (James 3:9; 1 Peter 2:17). We’re also supposed to be especially charitable to fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10). Finally, to knowingly spread false witness about someone by not getting the facts right says to the world that we don’t value some humans like we value others. It’s also sin. All of us are wise to consider our platforms and how we are influencing those who follow us.