First, let’s take a look at what the Bible says in general about capital punishment, using this lecture featuring eminent theologian Wayne Grudem.
About Wayne Grudem:
Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. In 2001, Grudem became Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary. Prior to that, he had taught for 20 years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he was chairman of the department of Biblical and Systematic Theology.
Grudem served on the committee overseeing the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, and in 1999 he was the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is a co-founder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He is the author of, among other books, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, which advocates a Calvinistic soteriology, the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the body-soul dichotomy in the nature of man, and the complementarian (rather than egalitarian) view of gender equality.
Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions. Therefore you must look at other factors. If it isn’t moral, don’t do it. If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it. If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.
Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine. People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).
He has a helpful picture posted as well:
This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)
Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.
Who is Rifleman Dodd?
A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.
It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.
I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.
There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.
We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person does whatever they feel like, completely disregarding the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends.
For a lot of people today, Christianity only comes into play after you’ve made a mistake and you’re feeling guilty. For example, suppose you decide to go to a party with your secular friends, then you drink too much, and you do something sexual that you shouldn’t have done. Or maybe you watched some prosperity gospel preacher on TV, then made irresponsible business decisions thinking that God would bail you out and make you rich, and you went bankrupt. Most people think Christianity is for this situation: you’re a Christian so that you don’t have to feel guilty about sin. And so that you can tell people that God forgives you, so that they can’t think anything bad about you, either. You sort of get your idea about what you should be doing in order to feel good from the culture, and God is just there to forgive it all when it blows up in your face.
But in my case, putting myself in a situation like that is not even possible. I’m more likely to try to plan to do something for God. Like, I might try to mentor a young Christian by sending them books. Or, I might try to teach a class in apologetics at my church. These are things that are for God, not for me. I’m not just being dragged along by the culture, and trying to find happiness by feeling good (e.g. – with alcohol) or being liked by non-Christians. And if my plans fail because the mentoree doesn’t grow up into anything, or nobody comes to my apologetics class, that’s when I go to God and say “I screwed up. but can I still be in your army?” And God always says yes to that. You don’t have to be the best player on the team for the Coach to like you. He already likes you.
One of the great things about being a Christian is that you can never lose your identity as a Christian by failing to do something for him that you planned to do. That’s what forgiveness is for. If you set out to do something for God’s glory, and you mess it all up, that’s OK. But I do think that, like Dodd, our ambition should not be about just making ourselves happy, or making non-Christians like us. We should be trying to make plans and carry them out for God.
That’s how I understand forgiveness. It’s not just something that’s there for you to use to fix your feelings when you’ve been irresponsible while seeking your own happiness in secular ways. It’s also there when you’re trying to do something good for God, and you fail. A lot of times in life you try your best, but you fail, and then you lose something that you really wanted. With God, when you try your best for his glory, and fail, you don’t lose your identity as a member of his team. I think that not losing your identity in Christ is even more important than not feeling guilty about selfish decision making.
So, have you got a plan to serve your General? Let’s focus more on what operations we’re planning for God than on being happy and being popular with non-Christians. Your life should not be all about you, with God just there to make your bad feelings go away. Your life should be about God’s goals and God’s interests.
In my last job, I had two interesting encounters, first with a secular Jewish leftist man and second with a New Age prosperity gospel feminist Christian woman.
So let’s talk about the two people.
The man who thinks that conservative Christians are stupid
The first kind of person who tried to shame me for being a Christian is the person who thinks that Christianity is stupid. This kind of person invokes things that he hears in secular leftist pop culture as if it is common knowledge that theism generally, and Christianity in particular, is false. He’s watched a documentary on the Discovery channel which said that the eternally oscillating cosmology was true. Or maybe he watched a documentary on the History Channel that said that Jesus never presented himself as God stepping into history. He presents these things that he reads in the New York Times, or sees on MSNBC or hears on NPR with the authority tone that Ben Carson might take when explaining modern medicine to a witch doctor.
Here is how things usually go with him:
Me: here are two arguments against naturalistic evolution, the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion.
Him: but you don’t believe in a young-Earth do you? I mean, you believe in evolution don’t you?
Me: let’s talk about how proteins and DNA is sequenced, and the sudden origin of Cambrian body plans
Him: (shouting) Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe in evolution?
Me: there hasn’t been any global warming for 18 years, and temperatures were warmer in the Medieval Warming Period
Him: but you don’t deny climate change, do you? everyone on NPR agrees that climate change is real
Me: let’s talk about the last 18 years of no warming, and the temperatures during the Medieval Warming Period
Him: (shouting) Do you believe in climate change? Do you believe in climate change?
He asks these questions so he can either label me as a nut, without having to weigh the evidence I’m presenting, or have me agree with him, without having to weigh the evidence I’m presenting. It’s all about ignoring the evidence, so he can get back to his busy, busy practical life – and get back to feeling smug about being smarter than others. I think a lot of men are like this – they don’t want to waste their valuable time studying, they just want to jump to the right conclusion, then get back to doing whatever they want – like running marathons, or driving their kids to hockey practice, etc.
So how do you respond to a man who gets his entire worldview from the culture, but never deals with peer-reviewed evidence? Well, I think you just defeat his arguments with evidence and then present your own (peer-reviewed) evidence, and then leave it at that. If the person just wants to jump to the conclusion that all the “smart” people hold to, without doing any of the work, then you can’t win. There are atheists out there who believe in the eternal oscillating universe they saw Carl Sagan talking about in their elementary school. You might try to argue for an origin of the universe by citing new evidence like the CMB and light element abundances. But sometimes, they won’t care. Carl Sagan said it 50 years ago, and that settles it. It doesn’t matter that the new evidence overturns the old theories, they don’t care.
Do you think that Christianity will make non-Christians like you?
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
If you have orthodox theological beliefs in this day and age then you are going to be shamed, humiliated and reviled by people. And it’s not just having an orthodox view of who Jesus is that annoys them (e.g. – deity, exclusivity of salvation, morality, etc.). No, their disapproval spreads on into politics, especially abortion and gay marriage – basically any kind of rules around sexuality. That’s what’s really bugging these people, I think.
The woman who thinks Christianity is life-enhancement
This one is especially difficult when you are a young man, because we naturally look to women for approval and respect. You find yourself sitting in church or youth group, hoping for the approval and respect from the Christian women for your sound theology and effective apologetics. Little do you know that many Christian women understand Christianity as life-enhancement, designed to produce happy feelings. God is their cosmic butler whose main responsibility is to meet their needs and make their plans work out. Although you might be keen on sound theology and good apologetics arguments, she doesn’t think that’s important.
So how to deal with this unmet need for approval and respect from women in the church?
First thing, be careful that you don’t attend a church where the pastor in preaching and picking hymns that give you the idea that God is your cosmic butler. Second, read the Bible very carefully, and understand that with respect to God’s purposes for you in this world, your happiness is expendable. You cannot be looking to attractive Christian women that you happen to meet in church to support you, as many of them have long-since sold out to the culture. They are not interested in learning evidential apologetics to defend God’s reputation, or in defending the unborn, or in defending natural marriage, or in defending the free enterprise system that supports family autonomy from the state, etc. Those things are hard and unpopular, especially for those women who were raised to think that Christianity is about life enhancement and peer-approval.
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.
4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.
5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
This is the situation in which we find ourselves, so get used to it. And believe me, I have to deal with this, too. So I have all the sympathy in the world for you. Resign yourself to the fact that no one is going to approve of you for being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ; not secular men, not Christian women. There is no cavalry coming to rescue you.
I overheard a conversation on the airplane coming back from my vacation in Wisconsin. A Christian gentleman was vigorously sharing his faith with a gentleman in the seat directly behind me. There are some things we can learn, both good and bad, from what I overheard and take his effort—which was a good one—and channel it in a little bit more constructive direction.
So I am going to give you eight points of application.
And here are my favorites from his list:
3. Try to stay away from religious language, terminology, and religious affect. This person was very religious in his whole approach. I think this is hard for us as Christians because we are brought up in a Christian environment and it’s natural for us to talk this way, but it sounds weird to people outside of that environment. I think there are a lot of people who may be, in principle, interested in a bona fide, genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ but who are not interested in the Christian religion as they perceive it. This is where I think a lot of the emergent guys have a legitimate bone to pick with Evangelicalism. Let’s try not to sound like Bible-thumping fundamentalists if we can avoid it, even if that’s what we are, because there’s no need to sound that way if it puts people off. Find another way to communicate the message. Just talk in a straightforward manner. Be conscious of using religious language the other person may not understand or may think is strange. Avoid all of that so they can hear the message you’re trying to communicate.
4. Focus on the truth, not personal benefits of Christianity. I appreciated the gentleman’s approach in that he kept talking about truth. One person he was talking to said he liked reincarnation. The Christian man said that even if he liked reincarnation that that didn’t make it true if it’s not true. Liking something is not going to change reality. That’s a great point. He was focusing on the truth claims of Jesus. He wasn’t giving a bunch of promises. He wasn’t saying, “Jesus is my ice cream. He’s a great flavor. Try him to see if you like him, too.” Or, “Try Jesus because he’ll make your life so wonderful.” Focus on truth and not personal benefits.
5. Give evidence. This gentleman was giving all kinds of evidence for his seatmates to consider. Good for him! You should too. You know why? Because people in the Bible did, too. Jesus, Paul, Peter, all the Apostles. If you look at the details of how they communicated their faith they gave evidence for the truth of what they were saying about Jesus. In fact, if you want to get the content of the Gospel, one of the most famous passages for the articulation of the Gospel is the beginning of 1 Corinthian 15. Paul gives all kinds of evidence. It’s all right there as he is explaining the Gospel. We see that all through the New Testament. So give evidences. It’s appropriate. People do respond to that even in a postmodern age.
I remember that I was once working in Chicago, and after a particular good apologetics discussion with a team of engineers, I apologized to them all for being so conservative and confident that I was right. These guys all had MS and PhD degrees in computer science from top schools like Stanford, Purdue, U of I, NIU and Northwestern. I was worried that they would think that I was some sort of fundamentalist because I was so definite about what I believed. They said “you’re not a fundamentalist”. And I said, “but I am ultra-conservative in my theology!”. And they said “That’s ok – as long as you have considered different points of view and you have objective evidence, then somehow it doesn’t sound fundamentalist”.
I think that’s something that we need to work on. When Christianity is about truth, it’s open to investigation using public evidence. At work, I have explained the structure of DNA molecules in the office and had people rolling their chairs out of their cubicles to come and see me draw amino acid chains on a white board, and calculate the probabilities with a calculator. You can be a fundamentalist, without sounding like a fundamentalist. You just have to focus on public, testable evidence.
Make religion about truth – not personal preferences. They respect that way of talking. Don’t talk about your feelings or your spiritual experiences. They can’t test that. Talk to them about history and science. They CAN test that.
Can you be gay and Christian? Matthew Vines says you can and he’s created a viral video and best-selling book defending his view. This Saturday on Up for Debate, Vines joins host Julie Roys to debate author and leading evangelical apologist, Dr. Michael Brown. Is gay monogamy an option for Christians? Is it unloving to reject gay marriage? Listen and join the discussion this Saturday at 8 a.m. Central Time on Up for Debate!
Summary key: Julie Roys (JR), Matthew Vines (MV), Michael Brown (MB)
JR: Why should Christians be open to reinterpreting the Bible on homosexuality?
MV: Consider the lives and testimonies of gay Christians. Here is my personal story.
MV: According to the Bible, a person with same-sex attractions would have to embrace lifelong celibacy. I refuse to do that.
MV: There are 6 passages in the Bible that are relevant to the goodness of homosexuality. All are negative.
MV: None of these passages address gay relationships that are “long-term” and “faithful” that are based on “commitment” and “love”.
JR: You say that it is “damaging” for Christians to disagree with you views, is that true?
MV: Yes. One of my friends declared his homosexuality and he did not feel safe to come home. He felt pain because Christians disagreed with him.
MV: You cannot ask a person with same-sex attractions to be celibate, it causes too much harm to ask gays to abstain from sexual relationships.
JR: Respond to Matthew.
MB: The Bible only permits heterosexual sexuality and in every case condemns homosexual acts.
MB: Matthew is taking his sexual preferences and activities as given, and reinterpreting the Bible to fit it.
MB: Genesis talks about women being made to help men, and to fulfill God’s commandment to procreate and fill the Earth.
MB: The Bible speaks about the complementarity of the sexes when talking about how two become one in marriage.
MB: I am very sensitive to the stories of people who are gay who experience discrimination as “gay Christians”.
MB: You can feel sad for people who have two conflicting commitments, but that doesn’t mean we should redefine what the Bible says.
JR: Stop talking, we have a break.
JR takes a caller for the next topic:
Caller 1: I had same-sex attractions and I was able to change my sexuality.
JR: Matthew, respond to that.
MV: Alan Chambers of Exodus International says that 99.9% of people he worked with had not changed their gay orientation.
MV: Lifelong celibacy is not acceptable to gays, so the Bible must be reinterpreted to suit gays.
MB: Matthew thinks that God himself did not understand the concept of sexual orientation and inadvertently hurt gays because of his lack of knowledge.
MB: There is a solution in the Bible for people who cannot be celibate, and that solution is heterosexual marriage
MB: If a person is only attracted to pre-teen girls, do we then have to re-write the Bible to affirm that so they won’t be “harmed”?
MB: Alan Chambers was speaking for his own group, and his statement does not account for the fact that thousands of people DO change.
JR: What about the Jones/Yarhouse study that found that 38% of reparative therapy subjects were successful in changing or chastity?
MV: (no response to the question)
MV: (to Brown) do you accept that the Bible forces gays to live out lifelong celibacy
Another break, then Brown replies:
MB: Yes. But change is possible.
MV: Do you know of any Christian who acknowledged that this was the consequence of the Bible’s teaching for gays?
MB: Paul’s explanation that the options for ALL Christians are 1) celibacy or 2) heterosexual marriage. For 2000 years.
MV: Paul (in Romans 1) is talking about people who are not “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships.
MV: Paul was not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships at the time he wrote his prohibitions in Romans 1.
JR: How do you know that fixed sexual orientation is true? And that the Biblical authors would written different things if they knew?
JR: Are there any references in the first century to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships?
MB: Yes, in my book I quote prominent historian N. T. Wright who documents that those relationships were known.
MB: Matthew’s view requires that God did not know about sexual orientation when ordaining the Bible’s content.
MB: Leviticus 18 is for all people, for all time. This was not just for the Jews, this was for everyone.
MV: I am not saying that Paul was wrong because he was ignorant.
MV: Paul was writing in a context where “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships were unknown.
MV: NT Wright does not cite first century texts, he cites a problematic 4th century text.
MV: Absence of 1st-century references to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships means that God did not intend to prohibit them.
MB: Whenever the Bible speaks about homosexuality, it is opposed to it – Old Testament and New Testament.
Another break, then the conclusion:
JR: Respond to the Leviticus prohibition, which prohibits homosexuality for everyone, for all time.
MV: It is a universal prohibition on male same-sex intercourse, but it does not apply to Christians.
MV: For example, Leviticus prohibits sex during a woman’s menstrual period. And Christians are not bound by that.
MV: What is the reason for this prohibition of male-male sex in Leviticus? It’s not affirm the complementarity of the sexual act.
MV: The Bible prohibits male-male sex because it is written for a patriarchal culture.
MV: In a patriarchal culture, women are viewed as inferior. That’s why the Bible prohibits a man from taking the woman’s role in sex.
MB: The prohibition in Leviticus is a universal prohibition against male-male sex, applicable in all times and places.
MB: Homosexual sex is a violation of the divine order.
MB: We can see already the consequences of normalizing this: gay marriage, and supports for polygamy and polyamory.
MV: So the earliest reference there is to a “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationship is a 4th century text.
MV: But that gay relationship is not like modern gay relationships.
I have a few comments about Vines’ points below.
Even heterosexuals who have not married are called upon to embrace lifelong celibacy. I am in my early 40s and am a virgin because I have not married. I wouldn’t seek to reinrepret the Bible to allow premarital sex just because what I am doing is difficult. I would rather just do what the Bible says than reinterpret it to suit me. And it’s just as hard for me to be chaste as it would be for him to be. In short, it’s a character issue. He takes his right to recreational sex as non-negotiable, and reinterprets the Bible to suit. I take the Bible as non-negotiable, and comply with it regardless of whether it seems to make me less happy. With respect to the purposes of God for me in this world, my happiness is expendable. If I don’t find someone to marry, I’m going to be “afflicted” with the lifelong celibacy that Vines seems to think is torture, but let me tell you – God is happy with the contributions I am making for him, and if I have to be chaste through my whole life, I am 100% fine with that. I serve the King. And not the reverse.
Notice that he talks about “long-term” but not permanent relationships, and “faithful” but not exclusive. This is important because the statistics show that gay relationships (depending on whether it is female-female or male-male) are prone to instability and/or infidelity. I just blogged on that recently, with reference to the published research on the subject. Vines is talking about a situation that does not obtain in the real world – according to the data. Gay relationships do not normally value permanence and exclusivity in the way that opposite-sex marriage relationships do, especially where the couple regularly attends church. The divorce rate and infidelity rate for religious couples is far below the rates for gay couples, depending on the sexes involved. Vines is committed to the idea that marriage is about feelings, e.g. – “love”, but that’s not the public purpose of marriage. Marriage is not about love, it’s about complementarity of the sexes and providing for the needs of children. We have published studies like this one showing that there are negative impacts to children who are raised by gay couples, which dovetails with studies showing that children need a mother and that children need a father. We should not normalize any relationship that exposes children to harm. We should prefer to inconvenience adults than to harm children.
Matthew Vines made an argument that Christians have to stop saying that homosexuality is wrong, because it makes gay people feel excluded. I wrote previously about the argument that gay activists use where they say “if you don’t agree with me and celebrate me and affirm me, then I’ll commit suicide”. In that post, I quoted a prominent gay activist who made exactly that argument. I don’t find the threats to self-destruction to be a convincing argument for the truth of the view that gay marriage being the same as heterosexual marriage. In fact, this is confirmed by a recent study which showed that features of gay relationships themselves, and not social disapproval, is to blame for high rates of suicide in the gay community.
Vines seems to want to argue that the context in which the Bible authors were writing did not allow them to address the problem of gays in “long-term”, “faithful” relationships. Well, we have already seen that statistically speaking, those relationships are in the minority. One British study mentioned in the post I linked to above found that only 25% of gay couples were intact after 8 years. The number is 82% for heterosexual marriages, and that doesn’t filter by couples who abstain from premarital sex and who attend church regularly. If you add those two criteria, the number is going to be well above 82% in my opinion. Studies show that premarital chastity and church attendancevastly improve the stability and quality of marriages.
In addition, Vines is trying to argue that 1) the Bible authors were not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships and 2) their failure to explicitly disqualify these “long-term”, “stable” gay sexual relationships means that the Bible actually condones them. A friend of mine pointed out that this is a textbook case of the argument from silence, where someone asserts that because something is not explicitly condemned, then it must be OK. Carried through to its logical end, that would mean that things like identity theft are OK, because they are not mentioned explicitly. Brown asserted that there was a blanket prohibition on homosexual acts. He is arguing from what we know. Vines says that “long-term”, “faithful” homosexual relationships are not mentioned, and are therefore OK. He is arguing from what we don’t know. And he is trying to reverse the burden of proof so that he doesn’t have to show evidence for his view. Brown wouldn’t take the bait. The fact of the matter is that no one for the last 2000 years of church history have taken Vines’ view. Every single Christian before Vines, who were closer to Jesus’ teachings than Vines, understood the verses that Brown cited to be providing a blanket prohibition on homosexual sex acts. If Vines wants to claim that the Bible condones what he wants it to condone, he has to produce some positive evidence from the text or from church history or church fathers. He has nothing to support his case that could convince anyone that this is what Christians have believed, and ought to believe.