Eugene Peterson’s Predicament: The Unintended Consequences Of Compromise

Two facedSo Eugene Peterson, author of The Message paraphrase of the Bible, finally admitted his support of same sex marriage, only to backpeddle the following day after LifeWay announced they would no longer sell The Message. There are so many directions we could go with this story, most of which my fellow bloggers have already covered. I’ve come late to the party, it seems, and therefore have nothing new to bring to the table.

Yes and no. Agreed: The Message already betrayed Peterson’s sympathies toward LBGTQ concerns years ago, softening key passages on homosexuality so much that people in the Gay Christian Movement have embraced this version  as a legitimate translation. But look at his rendering of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as just one example:

9-11 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.

Compare that to the English Standard Version, which is an actual word-for-word translation done by a board of Biblical scholars:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Again, many other bloggers have pointed out how Peterson’s watered down rendition leaves wiggle room for committed same sex relationships. Peterson can assure us that he believes marriage should be heterosexual and monogamous all he wants, but clearly he has no intention of condemning homosexuality as sinful. He needs to straddle between appealing to his ultra liberal denomination (PCUSA) and keeping LifeWay happy so they will sell The Message.

Compromise does catch up with people, doesn’t it? And in Peterson’s case, he’s now lost credibility on both sides. As LifeWay pulls his books, gay Christian Matthew Vines tweets:

Matthew Vines tweet

Either way, Eugene Peterson’s attempts to placate both sides has indeed cost him plenty. Admittedly, taking a  firm stand on either side of the issue would also have drawn criticism, but at least he would have retained some allies. Of course, his liberal theology and his shabby misrepresentation of God’s Word still would have given him much to answer for on Judgment Day, but now he faces judgment from both liberal and conservative Christians.

We must view Eugene Peterson’s predicament with fear and trembling rather than with self-righteous glee. Whether we admit it or not, each of us faces the temptation to compromise the truth. As time progresses,  each of us will have to take a stand specifically on homosexuality and transsexuality. Any attempts we make to please both camps will ultimately result in displeasing everyone. Just ask Eugene Peterson.

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Calvin’s Repudiation Of Personal Revelations

Discernment BibleIn writing about the Reformers each Tuesday, I’ve sought to emphasize their commitment to God’s Word. Present-day evangelicals, for reasons I don’t fully understand, have moved away from the idea of relying on Scripture as the sole means of hearing from the Lord, and instead pursue mystical experiences of direct communication with Him. The Reformers would have found such expectations puzzling.

John Calvin, as a matter of fact, directly refuted the concept of God speaking to anyone apart from His Word. Consider the following quotation of Calvin’s writing on the topic of Scripture’s authority:

Since no daily responses are given from heaven, and the Scriptures are the only record in which God has been pleased to consign His truth to perpetual remembrance, the full authority which they ought to possess with the faithful is not recognized unless they are believed to have come from heaven as directly as if God had been heard giving utterance to them.

As far as Calvin was concerned, the thought of God speaking in any way other than Scripture shouldn’t even be entertained. He insisted that the Lord had spoken with full authority in His Word, and therefore believers could trust that written record of His truth.

But Calvin didn’t stop there in his repudiation of personal revelations. With boldness that would make a modern discernment blogger blush, he unapologetically equated the practice with outright heresy!

The fanaticism which discards the Scripture, under the pretense of resorting to immediate revelations is subversive of every principle of Christianity. For when they boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods.

I doubt John Calvin would show much tolerance in a room full of 21st Century evangelical women off-handedly talking about things they believe God told them. But then, he lived in an age that cherished the Bible, having seen the Roman Catholic Church persecute (and often execute) men and women for simply owning a Bible in their own language. He valued Scripture too much to see its authority supplanted by claims of personal words from the Lord.

According to Calvin, such personal words “buried” the Word of God. Hadn’t the Reformers just excavated that same Word of God that had been buried under Roman Catholic tradition and papal authority for centuries leading up to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses? Why, in so short a time, would Calvin acquiesce to anyone allowing Scripture to then undergo a second burial? And wouldn’t a burial under something as subjective as personal mysticism (which might easily be attributed to too much wine or not enough sleep) be even worse?

Calvin’s words elevating Scripture over personal spiritual experience must echo through our minds today. Like so many aspects of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation, they must remind us to treasure the Bible as God’s Word — His only Word — to His people. They must remind us not to bury such a incomparable treasure under the filthy vestiges of subjective experience.

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A Wrinkle In Theology

Robin Olsen PortraitSocial media definitely gives me a wealth of subject matter! Consider this quotation:

Joy is the infallible proof of the presence of God.  ~~Madeline L’Engle

When that quote showed up on my Twitter feed a few years ago, I vacillated between laughing, crying and throwing up. I have fond childhood memories of Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle In Time, but I rather wish she’d confined her writing to children’s fiction and left theology alone. That quote sounds pretty and poetic, admittedly, but it positively oozes with the sloppy theology that permeates today’s visible church.

L’Engle elevates the subjective emotion of joy as “infallible proof” that God is present. This “reasoning” reminds me of so many professing Christians who validate things like the Gay Christian Movement because they interpret the enthusiasm among “gay Christians” as an indication that He sanctions their misinterpretation of Scripture.

But truth must never be at the mercy of fleeting experience. People often feel great joy in the midst of extremely sinful behavior. Yet God, being holy, neither will nor can grace sinful  behavior with His presence. The joy at a college drinking party may, in some instances (such as celebrating the end of finals), be quite genuine, but any true presence of the Lord would bring the revelers to repentance in short order. Indeed, His presence brought the prophet Isaiah to humility.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” ~~Isaiah 6:1-5 (ESV)
 
Throughout the Bible, actually, God’s presence frequently evoked fear and trembling as people saw the contrast between their sinfulness and His holiness. Sometimes, joy followed. And we definitely will have joy in heaven, where those of us who are born again through His Spirit will be in His presence forever. But humility and repentance serve as much more reliable indicators of His presence for now.
 
Hopefully Madeline L’Engle ironed out her theology before she died.

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Smelly Preaching Wanted

A friend from church posted this picture on his Facebook feed a few years ago. It definitely contrasts the seeker-sensitive posture of 21st Century churches. In our day, we minimize the seriousness of sin (if we mention it at all), sometimes even denying that certain behaviors should even be considered sinful in the first place. After all, we reason, we must make the Lord attractive, so people will actually want to come to our churches (and, as a result, fill our offering plates).

Making church appealing to our friends and family may be good salesmanship, but it doesn’t fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus never told us to sign up young, potentially affluent, wage-earners to fund our building projects. He instead commanded us to make disciples by passing on His doctrine and calling others to obey Him (Matthew 28:16-20). Part of making disciples necessitates helping people acknowledge their sin and move toward repentance.

Such demands repel those people whom the Lord has not called to salvation. But the elect, who mourn over their sin because they know how deeply it offends the Savior, will embrace such preaching as a portal to eternal life. Indeed, Paul and his co-workers observed this very principle, and mentioned it to the church in Corinth:

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? ~~2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)


Preaching, whether in a church setting or in personal evangelism, can’t afford to coddle sin. God’s servants don’t sell a product; we proclaim the truth–including the fact that the Lord, being perfect in Holiness, cannot and will not tolerate sin among His people. Wondrously, He shed His blood to atone for the sin of those who believe, providing us the grace to live in holiness!

Those who don’t understand their desperate need for salvation find the Gospel to be odious. The very suggestion that the Lord would dare to condemn them simply because they refused to depend on His righteousness rather than their own, is a stench in their nostrils. But for those of us who know the weight of our sin, nothing could possibly smell as sweet as the Gospel! May we have the courage to declare the whole Gospel, trusting the Holy Spirit with the results.

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Why Did He Do That?

Spotlight on God

Every now and again, evangelicals get so caught in the details of Christian living that we lose sight of the actual Gospel itself. Quite possibly, this shift of emphasis happens because, from start to finish, the central Gospel message directly assaults self-esteem. We want to believe that God sees something in us worth saving and that we contribute to the salvation process. The Gospel frustrates us by refuting both propositions.

Today, I want to address the Gospel’s position on human worth. Certainly, I adamantly embrace  the pro-life position that, from conception to final breath, every human life has value. We must, as we talk about human worth, maintain a clear distinction between conversation on abortion (and euthanasia) and conversation on our inability to merit salvation. Please remember that these are entirely separate issues!

Some months back, in my blog post, Why Pick On Psychology, I noted that popular evangelical writer Max Lucado once wrote:

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning… Face it, friend. He is crazy about you!”

As wonderful as Lucado’s words sound, however, they leave non-Christians (especially false converts) with the impression that God practically worships us. He joins other post-modern evangelicals who promote the false notion that Christ redeemed us because we were somehow worthy of His love. We’re special, they say, and His sacrificial death merely proves our intrinsic value.

What a perverted view of His gracious love! Scripture teaches that He loves  us because of His grace, not because we possess any attractive qualities. In fact, Romans 5:8 bluntly says that He died for us when we were still entrenched in our sin. We can’t bring a single thing to the table!

Instead of viewing ourselves as the centers of God’s universe and thinking that He waits breathlessly for us to “make Him Lord and Savior,” let’s consider Scripture’s assessment of the situation.

 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. ~~Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)

Not the  most flattering portrait of us, is it? I don’t enjoy knowing that, apart from God’s grace, I would be dead in my sin, and a child of wrath. I’d much prefer to believe that He saw some little spark of goodness in me that made me worthy of His love and His death on the cross. But God’s Word simply doesn’t permit such fantasy.

Ironically, Jesus shed His precious blood on my behalf precisely because I couldn’t do anything to merit His favor. Therefore, my salvation necessarily throws the spotlight back on Him. Despite the stench of my sinful inclinations, the Lord chose to save me from the eternity in hell that I so richly deserve. Understanding the depths of my depravity enables me to rejoice in Christ’s unexplainable and wonderful love for me.

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Frankly, I World Have Preferred The Vacuum

catholic-mass2Today’s post, I’m sorry to say, won’t be the post I’d hoped to write. I’m trying to research the development of Roman Catholic teaching, particularly leading up to 1517, in order to better understand (and thus present to  you) why the Reformation needed to take place. Before you roll your eyes and complain that I’m boring, however, consider that we can better appreciate the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation by knowing why the Church needed reform in the first place.

I’ve learned that Roman Catholicism in general is a very complex religion. The Roman Catholicism of 1517 has added complexities due to its political power and its need to tax the faithful for the purpose of building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I find myself asking where the Papacy came from? How did the doctrine of Purgatory develop? Why did the Roman Catholic Church teach that people had to perform acts of penance?

The Protestant Reformation didn’t happen in a vacuum, but rather it came about by God’s sovereignty as He awakened people to the ways that the Roman Catholic Church had  corrupted the Gospel with teachings that wrongfully made salvation contingent on human effort.  Although Scripture plainly teaches that Christ alone is the propitiation for sin (1 John 4:10, just to name one verse) and that He is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5-6), Catholicism insists on an elaborate system of merit  and priestly authority for its adherents to secure salvation.

Martin Luther originally objected to Roman Catholic doctrine because it exploited poor people by having them pay money so that their departed loved ones could escape Purgatory earlier. But the selling of indulgences was, in actuality, a surface issue. It merely highlighted the sad fact that Catholic teaching deviates from Scripture.

Three years ago, the folks at The Cripplegate blog posted an excellent presentation entitled 5 differences between Catholic theology and the gospel, which offers a brief, easily read, comparison between the two schools of thought. Since I doubt my ability to improve on their post, I’d strongly encourage you to read it for yourselves. Although the writer fails to use Scripture in demonstrating the Biblical gospel, those who are familiar with basic Protestant teaching should be able to see flaws in Roman Catholicism.

The Reformers, like Luther, understood the discrepancies between Rome and the Bible. Yet, he  suffered excommunication and exile, firm in his stance that Scripture must be preferred over both tradition and Papal pronouncements. In his own defense, he said:

Unless I am convinced by proofs from Scriptures or by plain and clear reasons and arguments, I can and will not retract, for it is neither safe nor wise to do anything against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.“On May 25, the Emperor issued his Edict of Worms, declaring Martin Luther an outlaw.

Would that 21st Century Christians had Luther’s unwavering passion for God’s Word!

Along with other great reformers, Luther pointed Christians back to Scripture’s authority, rejecting the notion that the Pope’s pronouncements held equal weight to God’s Word. His cry of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) serves as one of the lynchpins of reformed theology.  Obviously, I’m deeply committed to this lynchpin, and praise the Lord for Luther’s role in making the Bible accessible to all Christians.

In my next post on the Reformation, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Purgatory and the selling of Indulgences to explain why Luther wrote the 95 Theses that ignited the Protestant Reformation. Hopefully, I’ll find time to study the matter. Next Tuesday, however, John has an important appointment in Boston, so I’ll probably just post a video on the subject. At any rate, by October 31st, 2017, all of us should better understand the reasons for celebrating the Reformation.

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They Think Sodom Married Gomorrah

old-bibleThe Word of God has never been as available, especially in developed countries,  as it is today. In addition to a wide variety of print Bibles, people can find a wide  range of Bible software as well as an astronomical amount of online Bibles and Bible Study websites. Thanks to modern technology, Christians (and non-Christians) have never enjoyed so much access to God’s Word.

The availability of Bible software and study materials has definitely benefited me, particularly with respect to my disability. Now, instead of having to depend on others to hand me commentaries, concordances or dictionaries,  I simply tap a few  computer keys with my handy-dandy headstick and voila! What a blessing to use the abundant resources that have been made available (at little or no cost) over the last few decades.

It bothers me, precisely because God has made it so easy to read and study His Word, that so many evangelicals have become Biblically illiterate. Al Mohler, in The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem , writes:

Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.

Secularized Americans should not be expected to be knowledgeable about the Bible. As the nation’s civic conversation is stripped of all biblical references and content, Americans increasingly live in a Scripture-free public space. Confusion and ignorance of the Bible’s content should be assumed in post-Christian America.

The larger scandal is biblical ignorance among Christians. Choose whichever statistic or survey you like, the general pattern is the same. America’s Christians know less and less about the Bible. It shows.

How can a generation be biblically shaped in its understanding of human sexuality when it believes Sodom and Gomorrah to be a married couple? No wonder Christians show a growing tendency to compromise on the issue of homosexuality. Many who identify themselves as Christians are similarly confused about the Gospel itself. An individual who believes that “God helps those who help themselves” will find salvation by grace and justification by faith to be alien concepts.

We want to laugh at the idea that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and  wife, and warped minds like mine might even quip something about them having the only same sex marriage in the Bible, but biblical illiteracy is no laughing matter. When Christians don’t know the clear teachings of Scripture and neglect sound doctrine, they easily believe false teaching and fall for unbiblical practices that lead them into counterfeit religion and, consequently, away from Christ.

As we approach the 499th “anniversary” of the Reformation this coming Monday, we should bear in mind that Luther stood up to the Roman Catholic Church because they had corrupted Scripture. As a result, he devoted himself to translating the Bible into German so that anybody could read it. A few years later, William Tyndale began working on a English translation, an illegal activity (neither the Roman Church nor the Church of England wanted the general public to read Scripture) which caused him to be brutally executed. These men, as well as other Reformers, valued God’s Word above their own lives, risking everything to make it available to us.

Luther and Tyndale would undoubtedly rejoice to see the amazing variety of print and digital Bibles in existence 500 years after their labors. For that reason, however, they would quite likely be distressed by the apathy evangelicals demonstrate toward the Bible. They’d find nothing funny about mistaking Sodom and Gomorrah for a  married couple.

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