Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wondering Out Loud about Marriage and the Church

Help me out here.

In the wake of the gay marriage rulings from SCOTUS yesterday (June 26, 2013 for those who will read this in centuries to come, since everything on the internet is permanent … so they say), there are renewed calls for the separation of civil and religious marriage, to “get the church out of the marriage business.” My question is, Would this change anything? Read on to see how it might.

In many countries, civil and religious marriage is already separate. A civil marriage must be performed by a civil judge or magistrate and a religious marriage is performed by a pastor or priest. The only one that counts for civil and legal benefits is the civil marriage. So a couple might get married at the courthouse on Friday afternoon and at the church on Saturday. Thus, they are legally married on Friday, but they are not “married in the eyes of God” until Saturday. My guess is that most pastors in these countries would forbid (as much as they could) a couple from engaging in intimacy on Friday (that particular Friday anyway).

In the US, currently pastors perform civil marriages under the purview of a marriage license obtained from the government. Some say this makes the pastor an illegitimate agent of the state. I disagree, but whatever. Whatever else, the pastors are performing legal, civil marriages.

This raises an interesting (at least to me) issue. In ethical debates about marriage, the issue is sometimes raised of a man and woman who would like to marry. However, said marriage would result in the loss of benefits from now deceased spouses (such as pensions and health benefits, survivor benefits, etc. which, for some, can only be received so long as a spouse does not remarry). But that remarriage is determined by civil law, which is to say that a couple could cohabit under civil law, and maintain the benefits so long as they are not civilly married.

If civil and religious marriages are separated, could this burden of staying single be lifted. If a couple does not intend to apply for governmental marriage benefits (i.e., tax filing, spousal privilege, hospital visitation, etc.), they could refuse a civil marriage. They could however have a religious marriage for religious purposes.

QUICK TRIVIA QUESTION: What do Michigan, Mississippi, and Florida have in common? They are the only three states with laws against cohabitation of unmarried people (though I have never heard of it being prosecuted).

Given that forty-seven states have no civil laws against cohabitation, this couple would not be breaking any civil laws (and thus not be in violation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2). In such a case, they are only prevented from civil benefits that accrue from civil marriage (such as tax filing, social security survivor benefits, hospital visitation, etc., all things which the gay marriage crowd was intent on having).

Since this hypothetical couple would not be violating any civil laws if civil and religious marriage is made a separate issue, could this couple now pursue a religious marriage (a “marriage in the eyes of God”) and live together with all the marital benefits ordained by God, while not having a civil marriage and losing the benefits to which they are entitled?

Up til now, most have said that this couple, if they desire to live together, should get married and give up the benefits. Or stay single and keep them.

Does this provide a solution by retaining the civil status of single/widowed/unmarried, but having the religious status of married?

I am not wild about the idea (yet), but I am curious.

What say ye?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Quick Hits on SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

Remember back in 2000 when the left was all up in arms that SCOTUS overruled the will of the voters. Boy those were the days, weren’t they? Now those same people are rejoicing that SCOTUS overruled the will of the voters. Twice. Just today. Funny how times have changed. Actually, it’s just naked hypocrisy.

Remember all those people who said that the Republicans and Democrats were the same and they voted for some unknown third party candidate or sat it out because it didn’t matter? Well, here’s why you were wrong. Those two justices appointed by Obama would have been someone else. There are no guarantees what they would have been, but there would have been a chance for them to be significantly different. Yes I know that Kennedy was a Republican appointee. And so were Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito. Even if you don’t like either candidate particularly well, you have a moral authority to vote for the better of bad options. And this is why. Your sitting out or wasting a vote on someone with no chance will last far longer than four years till the next time. These court appointments are for life.

Obama apparently said he wouldn’t force churches to marry gays. Huh? Did he actually think he could? Churches can’t marry anyone; only ordained pastors can. And pastors don’t have to marry anyone, much less everyone. Color me really unconcerned about this one. Any attempt to force pastors to perform marriages for homosexuals would likely result in a blanket refusal to perform civil marriage for anyone. A religious ceremony would likely be maintained. This is already the way it is in other countries.

UPDATE: My friend Bill has helpfully reminded in the comments that this may affect our military chaplains, who might be forced to either perform these marriages or leave their posts. He says it could result in there being no evangelical chaplains in the military anymore. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. But it’s a real danger.

So here’s my political prognostication: This brings a Republican landside in 2014. There will be more Tea Party type candidates elected than ever before. And the government will continue to spend way more than it takes in.

Here’s my religious prognostication: Nothing changes for gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving churches. We will go about doing what we have always done. If you thought the government’s laws against homosexual marriage were any part of the hope of the gospel and the church, then you severely misunderstand the Bible and the promises of God.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Failure of Superficiality

I am convinced that most of people tend to think very superficially about the issues of life. We form our opinions about right and wrong without much genuine thought, even though we might use sophisticated words and ideas to express it. This is perhaps because we are self-deceived, thinking ourselves to be wise. It is perhaps because we are hoping that the mere expression of our thoughts will validate them.

Today’s example comes from a traveler, who claims his experiences of school and travel have convinced him to be a humanist, to believe that there is nothing supernatural. In other words, he’s an atheist, though he says he doesn’t like the word. However, another name won’t change the issue.

In the article, he has some thoughts worth thinking about, a bit more carefully than he has thought about them so far.

By way of introduction, he describes himself as from a religious background (Catholic) but claims that going to university had an effect of turning him away from that:

Science (not just physics, chemistry and biology, but even the science of human behaviour; psychology) tends to explain many things about how the world works. There are still some questions left unanswered, but religion never satisfactorily provides those answers to me, over a much more honest “We don’t know”.

This sentence alone raises a few points of question.

It is true that science tends to explain many things about how the world works. But why does science itself work? And why is there any reason to have  confidence in science? And why would that contradict the existence of the supernatural? I would suggest these are questions that must be answered.

It may be true that religion never satisfactorily provides those answers. But what if that says something about you, and not much about religion? And doesn’t the science you appeal to (which explains “many” things, but not all things), also frequently appeal to “We don’t know”? Why is it okay for science to say, “I don’t know” but not okay for religion to say, “I don’t know”?

In other words, at this point, superficial thinking as led you to accept something you have no warrant to trust, which frequently ends up at the same place you don’t like about religion (i.e., “We don’t know), which reveals a double standard. So why is the humanist way any better, particularly given all the failures of humans for millennia?

Our author further muses on the possibility that the lack of religion removes moral restraint, thus allowing one to live however he wants, particularly when traveling in places he is unlikely to return to to experience the outcome of his actions. In response to this, he says,

I don’t need a force [i.e., religion] to punish me for doing evil; empathy is all I need to make sure I don’t leave a place worse than when I got there.

This too raises questions: How does he define “worse”? What standard does he use? He later appeals to a “good moral standing” and being a “good person.” But how does he determine this, particularly in different cultures? If he appeals to some to some tribal or cultural sense of good and morality, then he has no guarantee that his own sense of evil or good has any meaning in the particular place he happens to be. Who is to say that good and evil in place X is the same as in place Y? Or that it is the same in place X today as it will be in place X tomorrow? Should you doubt the possibility, just remember race relationships both now and in times past. It is not the same everywhere now, and it is not the same today as it was yesterday. Without any overarching morality, we have no basis on which to condemn anything—past, present, or future.

Furthermore, what if good in place Y requires him to violate his own sense of moral understanding and satisfaction? After all, he has already appealed to his own sense of satisfaction as the judge of morality and truth. He is now placed in the position of possibly having to deny his own sense of truth in order to do good in light of another person. This would be truly unsatisfactory. It places one in a “no-win” situation.

Yet again, what if, in his travels, he finds that someone’s idea of “leaving the world a better place” means killing this author? Is that acceptable? Why or why not? If the task is to leave the world a better place, and that is decided according to each individual, who can argue against someone else’s idea, even if it means your own death? You have already conceded the fatal flaw—that there is no overarching sense of morality in the universe, or at least there is no reason for one, that would preserve even your own life. And so your own standard, you cannot complain if someone kills you because it leaves the world a better place.

What if, in his travels, he finds that the basic sense of good and evil is the same all over? In fact, this is what we do find, and he agrees when he says, “humans have a lot more in common than we think.” That’s not to say that all culture are identical, but that there is a basic sense of right and wrong in all cultures that is very similar. Sure it is greatly distorted sometimes, but it exists. How do we explain this commonness in all cultures in all times? The answer is actually easy: The image of God in man which mediates a common grace to all cultures. But if you deny the supernatural, you have no explanation for this commonality.

What does he do about negativity and problems? He says,

I very simply try to not think about such negative things. I don’t see the point; every moment I think about the afterlife or lack thereof is time wasted in this life.

This, again, has problems. First, how does he know something is negative if he hasn’t thought about it, or at least thought deeply about it? Perhaps further thought would remove negativity, or create additional negativity. Second, will ignoring problems make them go away? Is  it really wasted time to think about the more significant things in life?

He says,

I only have one life, and I intend to use it wisely; living it, experiencing many things, meeting many wonderful people, increasing my chances of interesting things happening to me, trying to make a place a little better when I leave it, maybe inspiring a few people with this blog, and doing whatever else I can to leave a real mark in the world. That will be my “legacy”.

I would suggest that superficial reasoning has led him to adopt a position that may be true, but has no justification. He can’t explain why anyone should trust science. He can’t explain evil or morals by the value system he professes.

All of which points to a basic truth: He has denied the only thing that can explain anything, even everything, in this universe. Simply put, the existence of God (the supernatural) is the only explanation that account for the world as we know it.

Deny God and you deny any meaning. You have become a nihilist, or at least you should become one. I think this is the position of Francis Schaeffer who talked about the circle and the line of despair. The non-theists attempts to draw a circle large enough to encompass reality failed and led them to fall below the line of despair. The philosophers, and later the theologians such as Barth, Tillich, and Neibuhr, did not actually fall into pessimism, but it was only because they were nonrational.They gave up a unified theory of knowledge, and could not live in the world they created.

Once we deny the supernatural—the one true and living God—we have denied the only thing that can explain anything, even everything.

Of course the Bible prophesies this when it talks of those who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, deny the plain evidence of his invisible power and Godhead which is clearly seen through what has been made, and exchange the truth of God for a lie. They have professed themselves to be wise; they have become fools.

And fools find it very hard to live life in God’s created world.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s a Newsweek article on “The Fight for Black Men.” It came to my attention via Ed Stetzer and it is a great read, worth your time and thought. While you might not like the point of the article, and for reasons having nothing to do with racism, it seems true that many people in our society are living life behind the proverbial 8-ball, and “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” just isn’t going to cut it. It may well be systemic in nature.

At second, here’s a free book from Westminster by Iain Daguid entitled Is Jesus in the Old Testament? It’s a popular topic and this is one contribution. I have not finished this short book, but I highlight it as one contribution. I have found a number of things so far to take issue with, and perhaps I will do that publicly some time.

At third, a rather disturbing yet not unexpected article (highlighted by Religious Affections) about how the producers of a movie on Superman are directly appealing to churches to promote this movie. It is truly shameful that movie producers think there are people in the church who will advertise their movie for free. Dear Pastor, if you are going to do something stupid like promote a movie, at least charge the prevailing advertising rates and take a vacation to Hawaii. While you are there, get someone to actually preach the gospel to your church from the sufficient Scripture and take some time to work on your resume, because you should not be a pastor if you do this kind of stuff.

Last is an article by a rabbi about the necessity of religion in society. He laments the dumbing down of atheism in our culture, but acknowledge that no society can maintain civil decency apart from religion. Is he right? Of course he is right. The problem is his solution: it is only partly tethered to reality. The general notion of God can be enough to spur a society on to basic respect and human decency, but it can never provide an firm foundation for life either now or in the hereafter. Let us as Christians be wary of general notions of God as the foundation of human society. While it is true that these are better than atheism, which is ultimately unsustainable and intellectually incoherent, it will never provide what is necessary for the life God created us to live.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man Up, Boys

A Father’s Day Guest Post by my Wife (It’s a little personal but I like it. So forgive me. I didn’t write it. … And remember, if you are going to be a man don’t blame someone else for stuff.)

Who is teaching our boys of today to be the men of tomorrow?

Social media is splattered with pithy statements of “Just because you are a male it doesn’t make you a man.”

My heart is heavy as I look around our community and realize there are an astronomical number of homes with out a dad these days and so many little ones never know who their “real “ daddy is. Of course, many times when there is a dad present in the home he is often an absentee member of the family for a myriad of reasons…Fatherhood by proxy. There is quite a difference between donorship and ownership; isn’t there?

My heart especially aches for the precious little ones that never experienced the strength and comfort of their daddy’s hand folding around theirs because their mother made a choice. Created in His image and just discarded like common waste. It gives a new and heartsick meaning to one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Oh, what precious precious treasures. Yet, there is a certain comfort knowing that God promised when your father and mother forsake you, the Lord will take you up.

Some fathers, whether in life or death, are promoted to a convoluted form of sainthood. Sometimes because they are missed and memories fade (at least the bad ones) and there is an insatiable need to hold on to the hope that they are in a better place whether they are or not. Sometimes they want what they never had or maybe don’t want to lose what good they did have. Nevertheless, many fathers near Father’s Day achieve merit second only to Superman.

What about my Daddy, you ask? When he passed away there was one word that was reoccurring: Faithful. I know now that was the word he planned on ringing into eternity. Oh, he had a cause for which to be faithful. Faithful to what or to whom? His friends? His work? His church? His child? His wife? The one and only God? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and above all YES! He wasn’t perfect and he never claimed to be. He rested, he functioned, he thrived in the knowledge that he was a poor undeserving sinner snatched up in his Father’s grasp of grace. He taught me what my Heavenly Father looks like—His essence, attributes and character. He opened his heart wide to a little girl that needed the comfort and protection of a home; he provided himself as the example of unconditional love and the longevity and permanency of adoption. That proved useful as I began to appreciate my relationship with God as one of His children. He taught me the power and the patience of prayer. He taught me who my husband would be years before I ever met him … Ironic how they are similar in so many ways. Father’s Day is a celebration but not because of who they are but because of who they are in Christ and what He has done!

As I am writing, my “little man” of 7 years is next door doing yard work for our 80 something-year-old neighbor lady. He wasn’t asked. He wasn’t told. He just offered to help because…well, just because…just because he has witnessed his Daddy countless times help, fix, serve, and honor others without expecting seeking, or even wanting anything in return. I guess you could say, being a man is becoming a family tradition.

We are raising our boys to be husbands one day and ultimately fathers, if God so chooses. And someone out there is undoubtedly raising a little boy that one day will marry our little girl. (A thought that my husband might not want to process yet).

So, please teach your little fella to love God and serve Him with everything that he has; teach him to love his wife as Christ loved the church.

Teach him to be a MAN…a man after God’s own heart! Because we are teaching her to wait for that man.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Michael Horton writes on pastoral task of study and preaching. He warns against farming out one of the primary tasks of preaching, the task of study. Perhaps there’s a fine line between paying someone directly to do research (“Here’s $X; give me a paper on this passage”) and paying someone indirectly (pulling a commentary off the shelf). But as pastors, we need to guard ourselves against the tendency towards shortcuts by preaching other people’s study.

At second, Phil Campbell at Matthias Media has a good piece on the preaching task here. It is well worth your time. A great many of us regular preaching pastors could stand to be tighter and more focused in our preaching. While you might not resort to manuscripting as Phil does, the thoughts he shares will help towards the much needed goal of clarity in preaching.

At third, a dissertation by Jason Allen comparing the “The Christ-Centered Homiletics of Edmund Clowney and Sidney Greidanus in Contrast with the Human Author-Centered Hermeneutics of Walter Kaiser.” It should prove to be a good read. Related to this is a blog article about the dissertation, which I post mostly for the lengthy comment section showing how people interact about the topic. I think what is highlighted there is a major issue—the difference between typology and allegory. While Greidanus and Clowney disavow allegory, I am not yet convinced that their method does not actually lead one in that direction. But I shall read this dissertation with interest. (When’s the last time you heard that line?)

Last, and well worth making it to the end, Thabiti Anyabwile posts about pastoral wisdom in a great little piece called Everything I Know About Pastoral Ministry I Learned Riding with Pastors. Which reminds me of this: The best wisdom and guidance for just about anything in life does not come from long expositions of ideas, but from short conversations with people who have “been there and done that.”

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Baseball and PEDs

The news of a new scandal, or at least recently discovered scandal, concerning performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball is making its way through the news today. Up to twenty players are involved, some of them actually decent players rather than scrubs trying to make it or old guys trying to hang on.

It’s a travesty that it’s come to this. Baseball records are now like photography. I don’t trust it. Too many ways to photoshop … or juice.

If it were just a modern problem, it wouldn’t matter. But it’s a historical problem. When we compare, say Barry Bonds, to Babe Ruth, it is an issue. Ruth’s PEDs consisted of beer and hotdogs. And he looked like it. It is simply unfair to history to compare Babe Ruth’s statistics to Barry Bonds.

To solve the drug problem, or to at least make a dent in it, MLB needs to hit players where it matters … in the pocketbook.

So in the interest of changing the world and making it a better place, here is my solution to the drug problem:

For the first offense, any player caught using drugs (based on a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt) has an automatic one year suspension, and a mandatory and non-appealable fine, consisting of all baseball related income (contracts, endorsements, etc) over and above the league minimum (currently $490,000) for the next five years. To this fine is added all baseball related income above the league minimum salary for the previous five years. This means that the first offense for a drug violation receives a one year suspension and forfeiture of all baseball related income above the league minimum for ten years (five in the past and five in the future).

So for example, Alex Rodruiguez is slated to make $28,000,000 this year on his contract. Under this plan, he would make $490,000 for the next five years, which means his fine is $27,510,000 this year, in addition to all endorsements, plus the same for the next five years. Plus the same for the previous five years. If A-Rod knew that was the consequence, would he have thought twice before using PEDs? I bet he would have. No performance boost it worth over $100,000,000.

For the second offense, a lifetime ban is mandatory, including the immediate canceling of any contracts. This also includes a ban from the Hall of Fame, from any and all participation in any baseball related functions connected with Major League Baseball, including minor league assignments.

Draconian? Sure. But it sends the right message: Baseball won’t tolerate PEDs, and it will hurt if you get caught.

Now, this won’t bother the hangers on or those marginal player looking for an edge to make it. They are willing to take the chance that they won’t get caught. And if they do, they aren’t losing anything they wouldn’t have had anyway.

But it will tell the world, and the fans, that drugs will not be a part of the game.

Will it happen? Of course not, because the MLBPA (the player’s union) doesn’t want to solve the problem. They never have. And MLB doesn’t have the courage or the leverage to solve it.

But a guy can dream, can’t he?


I am in the final stages of my Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (for which my mom and dad will be inordinately proud and my wife will be extremely grateful should I actually finish; my children won’t actually care, which is refreshing and helpful).

As part of the final project, I am conducting research into the preaching planning practices of primary preaching pastors. (The research does not include the predisposition towards or use of alliteration).

Throughout the course of the summer, I am seeking responses to a thirty-two question survey designed to gather information about how pastors plan their preaching. It should take less than a half-hour of your time.

This survey is completely voluntary and anonymous (unless you wish to contact me privately).

There will be no means to track your personal responses to the questions, and your responses will not be used individually unless you make individual comments at various parts of the survey.

They will be compiled into a full report which will be made available here at the conclusion of the project.

So if you are the pastor who carries the bulk of the preaching responsibilities at your church, please consider taking this survey.

In addition, if you have friends or acquaintances who qualify for this survey, please feel free to pass the survey link on to them. I would like to get as many responses as possible from a wide spectrum of pastors.

Thanks for your help. Please let me know if you have any questions.

And feel free to link to this post or repost this link for others to see. You can use the following code if you are willing to link to it from your blog or website.

<a href="">Click here to take survey</a>

Thanks for your help with this survey.

Click here to take survey