Culture

last_supper

I want you to put on your imagination caps for a minute and imagine this scenario with me: its Sunday of play-off season and your favorite NFL team is about to take the field. Prior to the opening kickoff, the head referee takes the field with a basketball, a full set of hockey sticks and a bucket of paint. He announces that the game of American Football is now to be played on a field one-third the size of the current field, and in order to score points you have to hit the basketball with your stick over the field goal posts. How would you react in this scenario? Would you tell the referee he is completely out of his mind? Would this still be American Football?

This scenario sounds ridiculous, but it is exactly the sort of thing pastors and teachers are doing in the realm of Christianity and theology. We are living in an age where leaders are increasingly creating and encouraging new theologies that completely contradict and undermine the very essence of Christianity and what makes it unique in the first place.

Christianity lives or dies on the substitutionary death and atonement of Jesus Christ. Since I am unable to go into a full excursus here on what substitutionary atonement is, I will attempt to briefly define it. Substitutionary atonement is the doctrine within Christianity that teaches Christ took on the penalty of sin for his people. The Bible teaches that we are all dead in our sins, and that in order for us to be made right with God blood must be shed. It is a theme and idea that is prevalent throughout all of scripture. It shows us that God is a merciful and mighty redeemer who doesn’t abandon us to the consqeuences of our actions. Instead, he comes down from his throne and becomes like us so that he can save us and make all things new. Christ lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, and offered up a perfect sacrifice that we couldn’t offer. He was and is the only one who could and can do it. Christ turns away the wrath of God out of his deep love for us. Without this component, Christianity is no different than any other faith that provides good morals, a way of living, and a way to work ourselves to death (see what I did there?) earning God’s favor. The Apostle Paul himself says that the ACTUAL, HISTORICAL death and resurrection is of “first importance” and without it, our faith is absolutely worthless and we are still dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-18).

Unfortunately, despite the Bible’s clear teaching on Christ’s substitutionary death for sinners, entire denominations are being led away by a different belief. It pains me to write these things about the denomination of my youth, but unfortunately the ELCA denomination is leading the way on this very front. Please understand that I am not picking on any one denomination or person, I am simply citing some of the loudest voices of this movement. They just happen to be localized under one denomination. I also don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, as I’m sure there are some ELCA churches today that reject these ideas. I desire to point these things out lovingly and graciously, such that people might be warned and see the error of popular teachings today. I don’t just want to be “another one of those bloggers” who picks on small issues; the issue of substitutionary atonement is crucial and necessary to defend.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an increasingly popular ELCA pastor who likes to use a lot of “F bombs” and describes the 12 Apostles as “a bunch of F* ups” in her new book Pastrix (apparently someone hasn’t read James 3:1-12…). She is one of the leaders on this “new” theology (Which actually means it is an old heresy. In fact, one of the reasons why there are lines in the creeds articulating Christ’s sacrifice for our sin is because it was a public defending of similar heresies at the time.). According to Bolz-Weber,

And just to be clear: The cross is not about God as divine child abuser sadly sending his little boy off to be killed because we were bad and well, somebody had to pay. Because the irony about viewing the cross this way is that the whole thing was about God saying pay attention – don’t avert your eyes from the cross. This this is the logical end of your value system. Here is where it will always end. In the suffering of God.

*To all my credal friends, she would also deny the beloved creeds: “oh my god, nobody believes every line of the creed.”

The sad thing about Bolz-Webers mistaken theology is this: if Christ was not our substitute at the cross because “we were bad” and “somebody had to pay”, then it is THAT god which she has constructed that is merciless, malevolent and unforgiving. If Christ did not willingly and sacrificially lay down his life so that we could be called us friends (John 15:13), then God has officially left us to our own devices. He cannot relate to us (Hebrews 4:15), he does not love us, and he leaves us all to punishment. As much as I would like to say Bolz-Weber is an isolated incident, the fact remains that her teaching is being promoted throughout the entire denomination. Former ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson has this to say about Bolz-Webers teaching:

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks the truth of our humanity that we too often want to deny.

And, just to emphasize that it is not only coming from leading pastors but also seminary professors, Luther Theological Seminary Professor David Lull says this:

” . . .I can’t get past the idea that God had a thirst for innocent blood that had to be quenched, or that God’s justice required a death-penalty for sinners until Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath. Even if Bible passages can be made to support these ideas, I can’t get past the idea that God had been unforgiving before Jesus died. That’s not the God I find in the Bible.”

*I want to note with this above quote that Professor Lull has a severe misunderstanding of the atonement if he believes it teaches that God was unforgiving before Jesus. But that is a subject for another time.

There are numerous errors with these dangerous theologies, too many to discuss in this post. The fact remains, if Christ did not die for the atonement of sinners – then there is no forgiveness of sins. To be clear, if…

…he was not pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:5)

…he did not come to heal sick sinners (Mark 2:17)

…he did not seek and save that which is lost (Luke 19:10)

…he did not die and was not raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-18)

…he did not die for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8)

…he did not die for the forgiveness of sins (Apostles Creed)

…he did not suffer us men for our salvation (Nicene Creed)

Then…

…our sins are not forgiven (Hebrews 9:22)

…we are left to die in our sin (Rom. 6:23)

…we are still whoring after prostitutes and eating from pig troughs (Luke 15:11-16)

…our faith is in vain and we are left in our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-18)

…we have no ability to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)

…there is no once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:27)

…we will die to sin and stay dead to it (1 Pet. 2:24)

What do we do with these kinds of statements? What do we do when an entire denomination or popular teachers lead countless hundreds of thousands of people down a path that no longer looks or sounds like Christianity? What does it look like to say that the substitutionary atonement of Christ is nothing more than the evidence of a cosmic child abuser?

It is my conviction that these things need to be exposed and publicized. The Rob Bells, Bolz-Webers, Osteens, and false teachings of entire denominations need to be made public so people know the truth and danger of what they are teaching. We should pray for those who are being led astray, that they might know the great mercy of their Savior. We contend for the faith, as Jude says in his letter:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. – Jude 1:3

I leave you with a final plea: please, PLEASE, whenever you hear an idea that sounds new or intriguing about Christianity, PLEASE see if it first-of-all lines up with the Word of God and the history of the faith. PLEASE be careful of what you read and digest. PLEASE ask your pastor if something sounds sketchy. Protect yourself, stand on guard. Stay strong in the faith. Watch out for lions in sheep’s clothing. They are everywhere.

My wedding! Courtesy of C-York Photography.

My wedding! Courtesy of C-York Photography.

Many of you know that I recently got married to an amazing and beautiful woman. It has been about a month now, and while not without our own struggles, I thank God every day for this gift of marriage and the gift of having a bride.

I also continually thank God for the grace he had towards us in our dating relationship. While certainly vulnerable to the temptations and lusts of giving into sexual desires, by God’s grace and mercy we remained pure during our dating and engagement relationship. Admittedly, there came a time when we realized even kissing led to too much temptation, and God gave us the wisdom to realize we just needed to stop altogether.

You might be wondering why I would open a blog post with these details. Well, I share this for a couple reasons. One, to be transparent about the fact that even though we were able to remain pure, we were completely aware of the temptations and desires of our flesh. Two, as an example that remaining pure outside of marriage is entirely possible. This leads me into the subject of today’s post.

Sexual sin is pervasive and has completely infiltrated the Church today. It is rampant and it is everywhere.

Before I continue, a clarification needs to be made. When I speak of rampant sexual sin, I am not speaking of the Christian who is genuinely fighting their struggles with pornography and lust. Our daily struggles with sin is something that continues so long as we are on this side of glory. What I am instead speaking of here is the apathy, laziness and general approval of sexual sin that exists in the Church.

The Western culture has reached a place in its progression through time where complete and total freedom in regards to sexuality is one of the fundamental pillars of society. I’d spend time citing examples to prove my point, but just turn to any major news network or prime-time television show and it will make the point for me.

In contrast to the culture, the Church should embody a Biblical and Godly view of sexuality and marriage. What has instead happened has been a remarkable change in what it means to follow God’s Word in this area. People like the idea of Christianity and having a Savior for their sins, but they do not like the idea of having to submit in all areas of their lives. The recent book by the Barna Research Group entitled You Lost Me puts it this way:

“…many perceive the church and the faith to be repressive. One-fourth of young adults with a Christian background said they do not want to follow all the church’s rules (25 percent). One-fifth described wanting more freedom in life and not finding it in church (21 percent). One-sixth indicated they have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them (17 percent). And one-eighth said they feel as if they have to live a “double life” between their faith and their real life (12 percent).

In a culture where sexual freedom is an ideal to strive for, the Church buckles under pressure. Instead of standing for what the Bible speaks on sexuality, sexual freedom is a respectable part of Church culture. Cohabitation, per-marital sex, pornography, adultery, and open relationships have become a norm in many Church settings.

It should be no surprise to us then when Church attendance diminishes, passion for evangelism and outreach ceases, and churches altogether die out. Any brief study of the Bible will show us that in the majority of cases where sin is listed, fighting sexual sin is of utmost importance. Let’s take a look at a few verses:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; – 1 Thess. 4:3

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality – Gal. 5:19

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.1 Co 6:18–20.

Any number of verses could continue to be cited in regards to sexual sin. Have you ever pondered why sexual sin is almost always mentioned first in lists of sins, and seems to generally carry more of a weight than sins of other “categories?”

It is for this reason: sexual sin weakens our conscious and clouds our thoughts in ways that most other sins don’t. Whenever sexual sin is present, we grow apathetic in drawing near to Christ because we don’t want him to overcome our weaknesses. We then grow distant and feel ashamed in our lack of passion for God. Finally, we end up distancing ourselves from other Christians because they don’t want them to know about our sin. Fear, guilt, resentment and anger can only result from apathy towards sexual sin. Therefore, we can expect that where apathy towards sexual sin abounds, faithfulness, conversions and a zeal for God will decrease.

To further the problem of killing our own zeal and passion for Jesus, when we give in to sexual sin as if it is acceptable for the Christian life, it entirely kills our witness to the unbeliever. Nobody wants to join a lukewarm church. Nobody wants to listen to someone who has no passion, doesn’t practice what they preach, and obviously explains away certain principles to make themselves feel better. Either the text as a whole is authoritative, or none of it is.

I am convinced that when people leave the Church, it is normally not for intellectual or other reasons. More often than not, people leave the Church or back away from their communities because they love their sin more than they love Christ and they do not want to expose it. Why? Because in the darkness we can hide our sin, but drawing near to our communities and to Christ means crossing over from darkness to light, and thus exposing our sin.

Ultimately, our apathy towards sexual sin fails to give God the glory he is due, and fails to allow the Bible to be authoritative over our lives as it was meant to.

As a Church, what should our response be? In short, it is crucial we do a better job at a God-glorifying and Christ-exalting view of sexuality. I may write on this more in the future (I guarantee I will), but for now I will leave you with this quote by Tim Keller:

Contrary to the Platonist view, the Bible teaches that sex is very good (Gen. 1:31). God would not create and command something to be done in marriage (1 Cor. 7:3–5) that was not good. The Song of Solomon is filled with barefaced rejoicing in sexual pleasure. In fact, the Bible can be very uncomfortable for the prudish.

Contrary to the realist “sex-as-appetite” view, the Bible teaches that sexual desires are broken and usually idolatrous. All by themselves, sexual appetites are not a safe guide, and we are instructed to flee our lusts (1 Cor. 6:18). Our sexual appetite does not operate the same as our other appetites. To illustrate this point, C. S. Lewis asks us to imagine a planet where people pay money to watch someone eat a mutton chop, where people ogle magazine pictures of food. If we landed on such a planet, we would think that the appetite of these people was seriously deranged. Yet that is just how modern people approach sex.

Contrary to the romantic view, the Bible teaches that love and sex are not primary for individual happiness. What the Bible says about sex and marriage “has a singularly foreign sound for those of us brought up on romantic notions of marriage and sex. We are struck by the stark realism of the Pauline recommendations in 1 Corinthians 7 . . . but [most of all by] the early church’s legitimation of singleness as a form of life [which] symbolized the necessity of the church to grow through witness and conversion.”

The Bible views sex not primarily as self-fulfillment but as a way to know Christ and build his kingdom. That view undercuts both the traditional society’s idolatry of sex-for-social-standing and the secular society’s idolatry of sex-for-personal-fulfillment.

textingwhiledriving1

There’s no theology in today’s post, just a down-to-earth, run-of-the-mill rant.

Well, maybe I could bring in something from Solomon’s wisdom literature to apply. But that’s not the point of this post.

When I use the phrase “texting and driving,” chances are the majority of readers will admit to having done this behavior at some point in the past. Studies show that approximately 50% of the readers of this post text while driving. 77% of you think you can do it safely.

I’ll confess, there was a time in my young and foolish life where I too texted while driving. In fact, you might say I was one of the worst of offenders as I have at times had multiple electronic distractions on in my car at one time. Stupid, stupid Ben. Sometimes, I still fall into the trap of looking at my phone when I’m not at a full stop.

For the last 8 months, I’ve had a new job that has added a significant amount of time to my daily commute. By significant I mean that I used to walk to work in under 10 minutes, now it takes me about 35 minutes to drive each way.

It is a daily occurrence for me to hit a traffic snare caused by an accident. Now, I get it, they’re called “accidents” for a reason – but I don’t think that term can apply when we’re just being stupid. When we herp-a-derp and drive, bad things happen.

Texting and driving is the biggest offense of stupid “herp-a-derp” of our time. Seriously, are the numbers not enough to scare us away from doing it? Studies show that at least 23% of all accidents are caused by texting and driving. Other studies show that 18% of fatal accidents involved driver distraction.

If I told you that you had a 23% chance of getting into a serious accident and possibly death from doing ANYTHING else, would you do it? I would even give up meat and cheese if statistics showed I was 23% more likely to go to the ER from eathing them! If a large percentage like this is enough to make you give up other behaviours, then why not texting and driving?

I would really like to get to work 77% of the time without seeing an accident. I’d also like for you not to die. So please, for the sake of my road rage and the longevity of your life,

STOP TEXTING AND DRIVING.

This is me on the inside.

This is me on the inside.

There are a lot of things that make me cringe. My now-wife once went to Japan and told me about horse sushi – that makes me cringe. When my dog poops on the carpet – that makes me cringe. People talking on their cell phones in public bathrooms (seriously, why are you doing that?) – that makes me cringe. Traffic that appears out of nowhere for no reason – you guessed it, that makes me cringe.

However, there might be nothing that makes me cringe more than “Christianese” lingo that goes around the church. I’ll admit it, I’m a curmudgeon. There is something inside of me that feels like rusty gears grinding together whenever I hear it.

Below I’ve picked five Christianese phrases that really make my ears cry tears of sadness. We’re all guilty of it, so lets confess this sin (it must be a sin to be this painful, right?) together and put it to rest.

1) Guard your heart!

Seriously? What does this even mean!? Guard my heart against what? You say it like it’s the title of a Danielle Steel novel.

2) PTL!

Every time I see this on my computer screen, an angel loses its wings. So much cheese.

PTL! With all the cheese!

PTL! With all the cheese!

3) My Quiet Time

Eastern religions have quiet time. We have Bible time.

4) I prayed about it and…

Now you have free license to do whatever your heart tells you!

5) Let’s raise our hands in worship!

Didn’t you hear me the first time? I’m a curmudgeon. I don’t want to.