Saturday, December 29, 2018

Why the Virgin Birth Matters: Responding to William Lane Craig's Interview in the New York Times

Permit me to begin by plugging my book 25 Christmas Myths and What the Bible Says, which came out on Christmas Day at Yes, I'm such an expert marketer, I released a book on Christmas Day instead of well beforehand, which would have been smarter. You can click here to order it in print, or click here to download it to your Kindle. In the book, I address in greater detail some of the things I'm going to respond to here in this blog.

On Saturday a week ago, The New York Times published an interview between Pulitzer prize winner Nicholas Kristof and apologist William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is a world-renowned theologian, scholar, and an expert debater. He's the founder of the ministry Reasonable Faith, giving a defense of biblical Christianity. The first question asked of Craig was if it's reasonable to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, and other theological questions follow. I present the article in full with Kristof's questions and Craig's answers in bold, and my responses follow.

Kristof: Merry Christmas, Dr. Craig! I must confess that for all my admiration for Jesus, I’m skeptical about some of the narrative we’ve inherited. Are you actually confident that Jesus was born to a virgin?

Craig: Merry Christmas to you, too, Nick! I’m reasonably confident. When I was a non-Christian, I used to struggle with this, too. But then it occurred to me that for a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal! Given the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe (for which we have good evidence), an occasional miracle is child’s play. Historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism. So what’s the problem?

Now, that's certainly reasonable. If you can believe Genesis 1 and 2, you have enough reason to believe the rest of the Bible. I love the point Craig made that the virgin birth "is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism," contrary to the claims of those pushing the Horus and Mithras myths. But why should I believe it? What difference does it make if I believe the virgin birth or not? Why believe in God at all? These are some of the questions Craig rarely ever answers, and he doesn't answer them in this interview either.

Kristof: Why can’t we accept that Jesus was an extraordinary moral teacher, without buying into miracles?

Craig: You can, but you do so at the expense of going against the evidence. That Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms is so widely attested in every stratum of the sources that the consensus among historical Jesus scholars is that Jesus was, indeed, a faith-healer and exorcist. That doesn’t prove these events were genuine miracles, but it does show that Jesus thought of himself as more than a mere moral teacher.

Well, Jesus wasn't a faith healer—there's no such thing. Jesus didn't need faith, and sometimes the people He healed didn't have faith (see John 5:1-9). The miracles that Jesus did attested to whom He is—God incarnate. That was the reason He did miracles—to show that He is the eternal Son who was sent by the eternal Father to redeem His people from their sins.

Jesus is the Word who put on human flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He came to lay down His life and take it up again, dying on the cross for our sins and rising again from the grave, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life. He was born of a virgin, conceived of the Holy Spirit, and therefore free from the sin of Adam. If Jesus was not virgin born, then He can't be the spotless Lamb of God who takes away our sin. All who are born of Adam by natural generation are born into sin (Romans 5:12). But by being born of a virgin, Jesus was born without sin. He alone lived a sinless life, and He alone can take away our sins. This is why the doctrine of the virgin birth matters.

When a young man asked Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:17-18). Jesus wasn't saying He wasn't God. He was challenging the young man's motives, as if to say, "Do you understand who I am?" If Jesus was not virgin born, He is not good. If He is not good, He is not God. It doesn't matter if He was "an extraordinary moral teacher."

Kristof: You don’t believe the Genesis account that the world was created in six days, or that Eve was made from Adam’s rib, do you? If the Hebrew Bible’s stories need not be taken literally, why not also accept that the New Testament writers took liberties?

Craig: Because the Gospels are a different type of literature than the primeval history of Genesis 1-11. The eminent Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen described Genesis 1-11 as history clothed in the figurative language of mythology, a genre he dubbed “mytho-history.” By contrast, the consensus among historians is that the Gospels belong to the genre of ancient biography, like the ‘Lives of Greeks and Romans’ written by Plutarch. As such, they aim to provide a historically reliable account.

Here is an example of where Craig's "reasonable faith" is inconsistent. He said at the beginning, "For a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal!" So that reasoning can explain the virgin birth, but it can't explain the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, or the Tower of Babel? Notice that he's just deconstructed the very platform he was standing on to defend the virgin birth—I should believe the virgin birth because of Genesis 1-2, but if Genesis 1-2 is mythological, how does it defend the virgin birth?

Craig's "reasonable faith" needs better theology. Facts are important, but if they're not backed by biblical orthodoxy, facts are just pieces of a puzzle laying in a box. What good is having all the facts if you don't know how they fit together? Craig is great at defending the facts (well, unless it's Genesis 1-11), but he doesn't do as great at helping people see the big picture. He's said of his own ministry, "We're not doing theology. We're doing apologetics" (Reasonable Faith Podcast, March 26, 2017).

Jesus said, "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). If you know the Bible, you know the facts. You've got all the pieces of the puzzle. Now what are you going to do with them? You must repent of your sin and worship God.

Kristof: How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?

Craig: I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity. Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians. What really matters are questions like: Does God exist? Are there objective moral values? Was Jesus truly God and truly man? How did his death on a Roman cross serve to overcome our moral wrongdoing and estrangement from God? These are, as one philosopher puts it, the “questions that matter,” not how Judas died.

If inerrency doesn't matter, the Bible doesn't matter. If the Bible doesn't matter, "mere Christianity" is a cuckoo bird chirping in a clock shop. You will ask, "Does God exist?" the rest of your days and never find the way to God, Jesus Christ, according to the Bible. You will ask, "Are there objective moral values?" and not know what they are because you have no objective moral authority outside of yourself that dictates what is true—the Bible.

You won't even bother to ask, "Was Jesus truly God and truly man?" because no one asks such a question unless they've heard what's written in the Bible. You will not care how His death on a Roman cross overcomes our estrangement from God because the answer to that question is only found in the Bible. If the Bible errs, God errs. If God errs, He is not God. But there is no error with God, and His word is true. It meets every challenge and has been proven to be reliable.

That said, Matthew and Acts don't contradict each other concerning the death of Judas. Matthew 27:5 says that Judas returned the silver he was paid for betraying Jesus by "throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple... and he went and hanged himself." Acts 1:18 merely says Judas fell "headlong into a field and his bowels gushed out." Acts is clear that he fell, not that he threw himself over the cliff. He fell because he was already dead. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, Judas hung himself by a rope over a cliff, and then his body fell into a field. It's as simple as that.

Kristof: Over time, people have had faith in Zeus, in Shiva and Krishna, in the Chinese kitchen god, in countless other deities. We’re skeptical of all those faith traditions, so should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality when we encounter miracles in our own tradition?

Craig: I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions? I champion a “reasonable faith” that seeks to provide a comprehensive worldview that takes into account the best evidence of the sciences, history, philosophy, logic and mathematics. Some of the arguments for God’s existence that I’ve defended, such as the arguments from the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe, appeal to the best evidence of contemporary science. I get the impression, Nick, that you think science is somehow incompatible with belief in miracles. If so, you need to give an argument for that conclusion. David Hume’s famous argument against miracles is today recognized, in the words of philosopher of science John Earman, as “an abject failure.” No one has been able to do any better.

Again, Craig does great with defending the facts, but how is he helping people come to faith? There must be truth, but there must also be exhortation—repent and believe the truth. The truth is so compelling that it changes your life and you obey what it says. Craig's answers are like he's spilling pieces of a puzzle on a table and grinning over them, but he's not telling you what to do with them or giving you the boxtop so you know how they fit together.

The Bible addresses those other faith traditions Kristof asked about. In Exodus 20:3, the Lord said, "You shall have no other gods before me." In Isaiah 44:6-7, He said, "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me." In 1 Kings 18, Elijah, a prophet of God, challenged the priests of Baal to a duel—whoever's God lights their altar with fire from heaven, He is the true God. Guess who won?

All other gods are false gods made by human hands. They cannot nor have they ever produced the evidence that has been shown to us by the one true God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus is that one true and living God. All of this is attested to by the eyewitness accounts of thousands upon thousands of people who were there when these things were written down for our benefit and instruction.

Peter said, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:16, 19).

Kristof: You’re an evangelical Christian, and let me acknowledge that religious people donate more to charity than nonreligious people and also volunteer more. But I’m troubled that evangelical leaders have sometimes seemed to be moralizing blowhards, focused on issues that Jesus never breathed a word about — like gays and abortion — while indifferent to poverty, inequality, bigotry and other topics that were central to Jesus’ teachings.

Craig: Yes, I hear you. I sometimes cringe at the people that the media trot out as spokesmen for Christianity. The media shun intelligent and articulate Christians in favor of inflammatory preachers and televangelists. Just know that the Christian church is involved not only in defending the sanctity of life and marriage but in a whole range of social issues, such as combating poverty, feeding the homeless, medical care, disaster aid, literacy programs, fostering small businesses, promoting women’s rights and drilling wells, especially in the developing world. Honestly, Christians have gotten very bad press.

In Matthew 15:19, Jesus said, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander." There's abortion and homosexuality addressed in one verse. (To elaborate further, watch this 90-second video on Jesus and the sanctity of human life, and this video and this video on what Jesus said about homosexuality.)

Central to Jesus' teaching was to, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Everyone will stand in judgment before the throne of God. Only those who believed in Jesus Christ and did the will of His Father will be saved and enter into eternal life. Those who did not believe and did the works of Satan will be cast into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. You have the facts. Now what are you going to do with them?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Jesus Calling for Christmas Special

Hey, Pastor Gabe

We are looking for your "Jesus Calling" responses and can't find them for some reason. Can you help?

Rob, FL

Sure thing. In fact, I'll share everything I've written after reading through Jesus Calling, the flagship title of Sarah Young's bestselling devotional series. Publisher Thomas Nelson recently rolled out their latest title, Jesus Calling for Christmas, joining others in the series like Jesus Calling Morning and Evening, Jesus Calling for Kids, Jesus Calling for Little Ones, Jesus Calling Bible Storybook, Jesus Calling for Graduates, Jesus Calling for Athletes, Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, and Jesus Calling: Deluxe Edition with teal imitation leather. Spin-offs and sequels have included Jesus Always, Jesus Today, Jesus Lives, and an assortment of Jesus Delicious candy bars.

A Tale as Big as a Kite

At the start of the year, I posted a blog about the book God Calling by Two Listeners, Sarah Young's chief inspiration for her bestselling devotional. The two anonymous women behind God Calling likely never existed—author A.J. Russell invented them to give his own writing the appearance of being verified by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Nevertheless, Young followed the method for receiving messages from God detailed in the introduction to God Calling.

Like Russell and his two anonymous women, Young said that she did not feel whole with simple Bible study and prayer. Those were ways you know about God, she thought, but it's not how you get to know Him intimately. She wanted something more. Young had a specific room where she would go and listen for God to speak to her. She started by praying that her mind would be protected from any distractions, distortions, or deceptions. She only wanted to hear the voice of Jesus and understand clearly every single word He meant for her to receive. She said, "Help me, Holy Spirit." Then she sat patiently and listened.

Phrases and sentences began coming to her mind, and she wrote them down. It was Jesus speaking! Er, calling! Or something! She would later clarify, likely in response to criticism, that this was not an audible voice she heard—she "heard" Him in her mind (to the best of my knowledge, she's never explained how the voice of Jesus sounds different than her own thoughts). During these sessions, she would take breaks and read what she'd written, encouraged by such fresh, new words from the Lord.

"This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day," Young wrote. She had changed her prayer time from monologue to dialogue—she said something to God, and He said something back to her. Which she just had to write down and get published, right? Her writings became the bestselling daily devotional Jesus Calling. And then Jesus Lives. And then Jesus Today. And then Jesus Always. Et cetera, ad nauseum. (By the way, you knew I was kidding about the Jesus Delicious candy bars, right? Don't get any ideas, Thomas Nelson.)

But as with God Calling, when tested with the Scriptures, there's no way Jesus Calling could be the voice of Jesus. Someone might say, "Well, maybe Sarah didn't actually hear Jesus's voice, but at least the content is still biblical, right?" No, it's really not.

Do You Hear What I Hear

Just like God Calling, most of Jesus Calling is spiritual marshmallowy fluff: "Shimmering hues of radiance tap gently at your conscience, seeking entrance" (January 8). "Your prayers and petitions are winged into heaven's throne room when they are permeated with thanksgiving" (February 25). "I speak to you in love-tones, lifting you up" (March 19). "Take time to rest in the Love-Light of My Presence" (May 12). "Sit quietly in my Love-Light while I bless you with radiant Peace" (June 3).

Then there are passages that are downright weird. Consider these quotes from July: "As you spend time soaking in My Presence, you are energized and lightened" (July 1). "Throw off this oppressive burden with one quick thrust of trust" (July 15). "As you listen to birds calling to one another, hear also my Love-call to you" (July 25). "Let My Love seep into the inner recesses of your being... Wounds that you shut away from the Light of My Love will fester and become wormy" (July 28). July was apparently a very strange month for Young.

Apart from the bizarre, what really does the book in are its theological issues. The most obvious problem (at least it should be the most obvious) is that Young believes she heard the voice of Jesus. This places her on the level of the prophets and the apostles who gave us the Scriptures. Bet let's set that point aside for now. Just taking at face-value the theology she presents in her writing, problems abound. Since Young claims these are the words of Jesus, we must ask, "Would Jesus actually say that?" and test Young's words with the Bible.

Not the "Jesus Calling Devotional Bible," as seen on the far right.

Young's Jesus said, "I am your Father-God. Listen to me" (July 6). No where in the Bible does Jesus refer to Himself as Father-God. This is flirting with heresy. It's way too close to the false teaching of patripassianism, which claims that God the Father and God the Son are the same person within the Godhead (I've addressed that particular false teaching here).

Now, in the footnotes to that July 6 devotional, Young included the reference to Isaiah 9:6. You probably hear this verse a lot around Christmastime: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (emphasis mine).

This is not the same as calling Jesus our Father-God. Isaiah was illustrating that the coming Messiah, Jesus, will be King. As King, He will be our Wonderful Counselor who makes wise plans; our Mighty God which is the title of the Lord Himself; an Everlasting Father, meaning that He is our federal head in place of Adam; and Prince of Peace, meaning that He is the ruler who will destroy His enemies and make peace.

My point is this: if Jesus had actually spoken to Young, He would not have referred to Himself as Father-God. If Young had a doctrinal point to make, she should have made it in her own voice. Writing as though her words were Christ's words causes confusion, and God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Maybe Young isn't a heretic. Maybe she does believe God is Triune, and Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. At best, her reference to Jesus as Father-God is heterodoxy, meaning that she distorts sound teaching concerning an essential biblical doctrine like the Trinity of God.

Young's Jesus said, "I look for persistence—rather than perfection—in your walk with me" (June 23). Again, this is not something Jesus would have said. What He did say was, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). As Christians, we have been given a righteousness that is not our own, and we are to pursue that righteous perfection and make it our own. Paul said, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (Philippians 3:12).

Young's Jesus said, "Stop judging and evaluating yourself, for this is not your role." On the contrary, we are instructed, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul also told the Corinthians, "Let a person examine himself," and he told the Galatians, "Let each one test his own work."

Do You Know What I Know

Young's Jesus said, "I abhor the use of guilt as a means of motivation among Christians. Some pastors try to whip their people into action with guilt-inducing sermons" (September 7). Again, this is not something Jesus would say. In fact, it's contrary to what Jesus said and did. Gospel-preaching pastors preach to convict the heart of sin because Jesus preached that way, addressing both believers and unbelievers.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples, "Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22). He said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Yet wasn't Jesus loving and gracious when He preached such things?

John Piper addressed this in his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Regarding the doctrine of hell, Piper referenced the great puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards who said, "This doctrine is indeed awful and dreadful, yet 'tis of God." Piper added, "Edwards could not remain silent where Jesus was so vocal. Hell awaits every unconverted person. Love must warn them with the threats of the Lord" (Pg. 92).

The Apostle Paul's letters to the Corinthians confronted specific sins in a body of believers to bring them to guilt so they would repent. Paul said, "This is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything" (2 Corinthians 2:8). Convicting sermons that warn about the fires of hell are a loving test of obedience. In chapter 7:8-11, Paul went on to say:
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.
Let me shoot straight with you—when I preach about sin and judgment from the Bible, I want my hearers to feel guilty so they would stop sinning and know the grace of God! I want them to feel bad about the evil that they have done. It's not because I enjoy making people feel miserable. I do it out of love. And I don't try to make anyone feel like dirt. My responsibility is to preach the gospel of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). I desire that none should perish but that all should reach repentance.

James said, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you" (James 4:7-10).

What makes Jesus Calling all the more objectionable is not just in what it says but also in what it doesn't say. Young does not confront any kind of serious sin in her book. She addresses things like being prideful because you skipped your quiet time with Jesus, or because you spend more time planning your day instead of reading a page of Jesus Calling (so much for "I abhor the use of guilt"). But sins like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander, which Jesus did confront in the hearts of his hearers (Matthew 15:19), are never mentioned.

Listen to What I Say

Young's Jesus said, "Your gravest danger is worrying about tomorrow" (February 27). Seriously? Your gravest danger is that you worry about tomorrow? That's what people go to hell over—they worried about tomorrow too much? Young's Jesus also referred to worry as "wolves" (March 4). The real Jesus reserved the word "wolves" for false teachers and the wicked who are out to devour the flock of God. He said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15, 10:16).

In the voice of Jesus, Young said, "I will have no other gods before me" (June 5). Specifically, the commandment says, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). For Jesus to say "I will have no other gods before me" doesn't even make sense—there are no other gods (Isaiah 45:5, 14, 18, 21-22). The command is addressed to you so you would worship God and Him alone; with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Do not make an idol of anyone or any thing by desiring it more than God.

John Calvin said, "Man's nature is a perpetual factory of idols" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter XI, Section 8). It is in our nature to worship something other than God. Whatever we value more than God, that becomes an idol—which is why the Apostle Paul said that even coveting is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Do not dare soften the truth of the nature of your heart, lest you fall into the devil's snares. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:7-8).

Jesus Calling appeals heavily to the self-centered nature of the reader. Young's Jesus said, "Because I am omnipotent, I am able to bend time and events in your favor" (February 10). And, "Because I am infinite, I am able to love you as if you and I were the only ones in the universe" (September 29). No, God does not bend time and events in your favor, and He doesn't love you as if you were the only person in the universe to love. I hear statements like this all the time, but it's not at all the reality of God's plan of redemption.

Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). The Bible says Jesus gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people, plural (Titus 2:14). By His death, we've been reconciled not only to God but also to the people of God (1 Peter 2:9). The bride of Christ is the church, not you by yourself (Ephesians 5:25). We are to strive to excel in building up the church, not puffing up ourselves (1 Corinthians 14:12).

Jesus intends for you to be in regular fellowship with other Christians. Yes, Christian, you have to go to church, and you are to build others up that we all may grow in maturity together. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints" (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

On every page of Jesus Calling, there's a looming sense of irony that the book is never able to shake. Young's Jesus said, "You must learn to discern what is My voice and what's not" (March 3). Right, take your own advice, Sarah! Her Jesus said, "Your pretense displeases Me, especially when it is in my ‘service'" (July 22). Pretense is an attempt to make something appear true that isn't.

Young's Jesus said, "I have instructed you to trust in Me, not your own understanding" (August 7). Yet when tested with the Bible, it is evident Jesus Calling is not the word of Jesus, but it comes from Young's own understanding. She wrote, "Many voices proclaim, 'This is the way for you to go,' but only My voice tells you the true way" (November 17). Young listened to one of those "many voices," not the voice of Christ.

Finally, Young's Jesus said, "Bookstores abound with books about 'taking care of number one,' making oneself the center of all things" (October 26). Young's voice is the center of Jesus Calling, not God's. Her own words condemn her. Jesus Calling has failed its own test. None of Sarah Young's books should be sold in any Christian bookstore anywhere.

Pray for Peace People Everywhere

Someone might say, "But Brother Gabe, there are good parts of the book, are there not?" No, there are not. "You mean to say it's all bad?" Yes, that's exactly what I mean to say. "But what about where she quotes Jesus saying, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.' Isn't that true?"

In the context of Jesus Calling, it doesn't matter. As John Owen said, "If private revelations agree with Scriptures, they are needless. And if they disagree, they are false" (J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, Pg. 86). So if someone says they've received a vision or a voice from God, and we test it with the Bible, and we find that it contradicts God's word, it's a lie, throw it away. If we find that it is in God's word, you can still throw away this person's special revelation because we don't need it—we have it in the Bible.

This is a very serious issue, so I have to be this harsh, but I say it in love—Sarah Young is blaspheming God with every word she writes in the pages of Jesus Calling. She is taking the Lord's name in vain. She is claiming to speak the thoughts of God that are not the thoughts of God. Therefore, none of it is good. It should all be discarded.

I will give you another example. On July 11, in the voice of Jesus, she says the following:
Worship me only. Idolatry has always been the downfall of My people. I make no secrets about being a jealous God. Current idols are more subtle than ancient ones because today's false gods are often outside the field of religion. People, possessions, status, and self-aggrandizement are some of the most popular deities today. Beware of bowing down before these things. False gods never satisfy; instead, they stir up lust for more and more.
Now, that all seems true, right? God is a jealous God, and we can make anything into an idol, exalting to the place of God something that we value above God. Here's the looming, unshakable irony: Young is lampooning idolatry in the voice of a god of her own making! If Young had said this in her own voice, it would have been fine. But it wouldn't have been a bestseller. The reason Jesus Calling has sold umpteen million books is precisely because it's written in the voice of Jesus. Remember, Young doesn't do that for mere flare—she believes and has claimed these are the words of Jesus given to her.

There are millions of Christians who will eat this up because they feel the same way that Young does: "Bible study and prayer just don't do it for me." These are the gifts that God has given us for communicating with Him: He speaks to us through the Bible, we speak to Him through prayer. But for some, that's just not good enough: "My thoughts are just as good as God's thoughts. After all, He gave them to me, right?" Yeah, flip to Numbers 12 and see how God responded to Miriam, Moses's sister, when she said something similar.

This attitude of exalting one's own thoughts is born out of a failure to understand that the human heart is selfish and corrupt. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) Jeremiah calls the human heart "deceitful." It deceives us. It deceives us into thinking that we can think thoughts as high as God's thoughts. But God said, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

The only way our thoughts can be conformed to the mind of God is by reading the word of God. But Young has all but outright rejected that part from her meditation. I know she said Jesus Calling is supposed to be read with your Bible open, and she confessed the Bible is the only inspired word, but she does not believe it's sufficient. She said herself that Bible study wasn't enough, and she presented her book as the inspired word of Jesus. As far as Jesus Calling is concerned, she does not demonstrate that she truly believes the Bible is the only divinely inspired word of God.

In fact, Young is so not satisfied with God's method that she's resorted to mysticism. Remember, Young quietly meditated with pen in hand, waiting for something spiritual to come into her mind and being guided to write down whatever she "heard." This is exactly the practice of automatic writing. It's new age, akin to fortune telling or interpreting omens. A Christian using tarot cards is still practicing paganism, even if they call them "destiny cards" and claim that Jesus is speaking through them.

Young is not listening to Jesus. She is listening to herself, and claiming her thoughts are the thoughts of God. Those thoughts have clearly been influenced by years of Christian teaching and missionary work. Fragments of the Bible are scattered throughout Jesus Calling. But those clippings are often taken out-of-context or she has altered the wording—other sure signs that this word of hers is not the word of Christ.

He Will Bring Us Goodness and Light

Now, I might sound overly cynical with this last point. You may dismiss it as my own opinion, but I promise this statement is relevant. Here it is: Jesus Calling is a really, really, really boring book. It is the same thing over and over and over again. Though not a very long book, it was a bear to read. I had a difficult time getting through it.

Why is that a significant argument? Because remember, Sarah Young was unsatisfied with Bible study and prayer. So were the two anonymous women who wrote God Calling, so was A.J. Russell, and so was Dr. Frank Buchman who inspired him. If Jesus Calling is supposed to be a step-up from regular Bible study and a time of prayer, why are the results so terrible? Why so dull and lifeless? Why so flat and repetitious? And why is the theology so stinking bad?

The book of Hebrews begins, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:1-4).

I find that news neither dull nor unsatisfying. That is the most exciting thing you could ever tell me on any day of the week! God Himself put on flesh and dwelt among us, "and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Apostle Paul wrote, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Love His word. Delight in His word. Rejoice in His word. And accept no imitation.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Is Yoga a Sin?

Dear Pastor Gabe

I had a suggestion [for a video]. I have spoken out about yoga and other things that have invaded the church. More often than not, I get lots of disagreement with my standpoint and the views of good preachers and Bible teachers.  Inevitably I hear some form of the phrase “it's about our hearts” or our intentions. I heard Voddie Baucham preach several years ago about how that is rubbish. He brought up the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7. I just thought this might be a great topic for WWUTT to cover. Praying for your ministry.

In Christ,

Thank you for your e-mail, Cherry! This may come as a surprise considering how strict I get accused of being: When it comes to yoga, I'm a little more permissive than most. Yoga is exercise. Though this particular kind of exercise has origins in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Janism, the stretches and poses common to yoga are not inherently pagan.

There are many every-day traditions with pagan origins we don't pay any mind to. All of the calendar months are pagan: January is named after the god Janus; February is named after a purification ritual called Februa; March gets its name from Mars, the Roman god of war; and so on. Should we stop using calendars? Should we Christianize the names of the planets and constellations? Should we not celebrate birthdays? Should we not wear wedding rings? Every mention of dogs in the Bible is negative. Should we not own dogs?

The kinds of exercises common to yoga can be beneficial to the body. Where a person goes wrong is when they start using yoga to make themselves "one" with everything. That's what the word yoga means: to "yoke" or unite oneself with everything around them. Doing yoga the traditional way would involve some kind of transcendent meditation. But the yoga class at your local gym is probably not doing that. For the mystic yoga, you'd have to go to a place that specializes in that kind of spiritualism, and then they likely do their exercises outside to be "one" with nature. If you go into a yoga class and they have a bunch of spiritual nonsense or symbolism around, they're not just exercising.

I've run track and played sports, and the person leading us in stretching incorporated yoga poses into our warm-ups. At the time, I didn't even know what yoga was. Was I inadvertently sinning, or was I just stretching? If you've ever seen a statue of Shiva, the idol is sitting in the lotus position which is a yoga pose. Should we never sit with our legs crossed like that, lest we be accused of worshiping Shiva?

A few members of my congregation have attended yoga classes. When someone in my church has asked my thoughts on that, I've said, "If you're asking because you feel guilty, you shouldn't do it." But if they don't believe they're doing anything that would displease God, I tell them not to mention it to anyone else. Not that they should be sneaky or lie about it, but they need to be careful not to cause anyone else to stumble. Someone whose conscience is weak, who considers yoga to be more than merely exercise, might see a Christian practicing yoga as permission to dabble in other religions.

Regarding Dr. Baucham's comment and his reference to 2 Samuel 6:7, I'm not sure in what context he was speaking. (The guy does Brazilian jujitsu, so I'd be surprised to hear this had to do with yoga.) There are certainly some things our intentions don't purify; for example, if a man looks at images of nude women and excuses this behavior by calling it "art." No, he's leering at porn, and it's immoral. There are some movies, shows, music, and books we have no business investing ourselves in -- not our minutes, money, or minds. The content corrupts our thinking, which we are to commit unto the Lord (Philippians 4:8-9).

I don't believe yoga exercises are corrupting. This discussion falls into the Romans 14 category of Christian liberty. We read in 1 Timothy 4:4, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." Someone might argue, "But that's about food!" Sure, and Romans 14 deals primarily with food and holy days. But the principle being presented there remains: we must deal graciously with one other and not quarrel over opinions regarding those things the Bible doesn't expressly forbid. If you think it's wrong, don't do it; but don't look down on a brother or sister who isn't convinced it's sin.

Now, having said all of that, women need to stop wearing yoga pants in public, or she must wear some kind of warm-up pants over them. Just as a Christian needs to consider that practicing yoga might cause someone else to stumble, a Christlike woman needs to keep in mind that exercise pants are very form-fitting, and a man's mind works differently than a woman's does. Some of those yoga poses can also be... let's just say awkward. A woman is instructed to adorn herself in "respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control" (1 Timothy 2:9). There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this, sisters: be considerate and cover your bum.

All of us must live disciplined lives, giving our whole selves unto God, worshiping Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Romans 12:1-2 says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

I hope this was helpful, Cherry. For another take on Christians doing yoga exercises, I recommend watching this video from Wretched. God bless!

Friday, November 9, 2018

The United Methodist Church Plan to Accept Homosexuality and Divide the Denomination

This week, a friend of mine e-mailed me the United Methodist Church's "Plan of Salvation." Okay, so they're not calling it that. It's called The One Church Plan (OCP) concerning how the church will save itself from division over the hotly contested issue of homosexuality. They will do this by accepting homosexuality and dividing the church. Really.

The intention is to split into two different denominations -- the Connectional Conference consisting of Methodist churches that approve homosexual clergy and conduct same-sex "marriages"; and the Traditional Conference consisting of churches that still teach what the Bible says about human sexuality. Supposedly this division will save the UMC from division.

The United Methodist denomination has leaned liberal for quite some time. It was over 60 years ago that they accepted the appointment of women into the clergy, contrary to biblical instruction and what the denomination's founder, John Wesley, taught on the subject. Yet when it came to joining the sexual revolution, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the mainline Presbyterians of the PCUSA have all preceded the UMC in appointing gay clergy and conducting gay "marriage." It's surprising really that the UMC has been slow to join.

There are two reasons for this. First, the UMC General Conference is held every four years. There are smaller, more local conferences annually, but the General Conference is where official doctrine and practices are determined for the whole denomination. Any progression on any issue would be extremely slow-moving when the assemblies are four years apart. Second, the General Conference includes every Methodist church from all over the globe, not just the U.S. Methodism is big in Africa, where churches are much more conservative and much more resistant to the gay agenda.

As it stands, the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline reads, "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." This is the part of the church's doctrine liberals want to upend. They know that they're not going to win at the General Conference, which doesn't meet again until 2020 in Minneapolis. So the gay agenda is being pressed in the smaller, more local, more regularly occurring conferences.

The One Church Plan was proposed in May of this year in Chicago. A special session to receive the plan will be held this February in St. Louis. The four day special session will "take up proposals related to church unity and homosexuality." Specifically, they're trying to figure out how they can approve of homosexuality in the church without dividing the church.

The Connectional Conference Plan, which is the part of the plan that means to ordain gay clergy and conduct gay marriages, is two-and-a-half pages. The Traditional Plan, the part that remains opposed to the acceptance of sexually immoral behavior, is two paragraphs. Here's the gist of their plan.

The One Church Plan

The One Church Plan refers to the gospel as a social mission, not the good-news message of salvation for all who believe in Jesus Christ. "The evangelistic mission of the church," it says, is "inviting them to the spiritual life. It's at the margin that we offer our ministries of mercy, service, and justice to relieve suffering, seek peace, and reconcile people. The role of leadership in the church is to direct the attention of the church toward those contexts, and therefore toward the mission."

As an example, the plan refers to the Apostle Paul, who became "all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:22-23, NRSV). They use this passage to make "space" for part of the church to connect with people who identify as LGBTQ, and part of the church to remain "traditional" for those who don't agree with that agenda. That way, they can be "all things to all people."

Here's what becoming "all things to all people" actually means: Paul became as a Jew unto the Jews and a Gentile unto the Gentiles. Even though Jesus fulfilled and nullified the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law (commands pertaining to diet, cleanliness, the Sabbath, etc.), Paul maintained those practices when he was with the Jews so not to cause anyone to stumble. To the Gentiles, Paul did not keep such practices so they would not feel burdened to keep them. All of this was for "the sake of the gospel," to open a door to preach Christ and Him crucified.

In no way does "I became all things to all people" mean we must tolerate and encourage sinful behavior that will keep a person from the kingdom of God. Just three chapters earlier, Paul said, "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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

How does the OCP deal with language like this? Well, they don't. The UMC is going to push forward with this agenda regardless of what's in the Bible or their own Book of Discipline. They state:
"The One Church Plan is built on the belief that it is possible to live with more space while we focus on our common mission. The One Church Plan has no impact on conferences outside the U.S. that are located in countries where same-sex marriage is illegal or whose members desire for the current language of The Book of Discipline to remain applicable in their context."
Consider what's being said here: the UMC is driven by culture, not the Bible, nor their own statement of faith. The reason why other churches in other areas are not on board with LGBTQ inclusion is because their cultures are different than ours.

Hilariously, the document goes on to say that "our current impasse over marriage and ordination of homosexual persons does not rise to the level of a church dividing issue." Clearly it does -- for the purpose of the OCP is actually to divide to church into contradicting factions, and this is solely on the issue of homosexuality.

By accepting of the practices of "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) persons," the document states, the framers of the OCP believe the church will be able to continue its mission to alleviate suffering. How do LGBTQ persons suffer? "Currently they suffer as they are unable to live into God's calling on their lives to ordination or lay leadership."

No, God's calling on their lives is to repent of their sin. If they don't repent, the suffering they will face at the judgment seat of Christ will be far, far worse than whatever self-inflicted angst is currently causing them to gnash their teeth. What the United Methodist Church is doing is not a mission of love. It's a death-sentence. It's encouraging sin God has promised He will judge.

The Connectional Conference Plan

So now we get to the two factions of The One Church Plan -- the Connectional Conference and the Traditional Conference. But again, this is to maintain unity and not divide the church (tongue firmly implanted in cheek).

The Connectional Conference Plan begins by arguing that John Wesley would be in favor of ordaining gay clergy and marrying men to other men. Yes, I'm not kidding. To the best of my knowledge, Wesley never dealt directly with the issue of homosexuality. Nonetheless, he affirmed the primacy of Scriptural authority, followed by a secondary but lesser authority of tradition, reason, and experience.

Wesley's convictions have been expressly rejected by the framers of the OCP. Again, by their own admission, appeasing the culture is the driving force here. Throughout the document, Bible references are piece-mealed out of context to argue for the acceptance of the LGTBQ agenda. Likewise, fragmented quotes from Wesley's sermons, all having to do with "love," are given to present a false image of an otherwise God-fearing man who would not have tolerated such sin in his church.

Yet the framers of the OCP recognize that "Faithful Christians have come to different and contradictory understandings of God's will in relationship to the affirmation of sexual relationships between people of the same-gender." They go on to say, "The challenge before us is how to structure the United Methodist Church so that it embodies and spreads [what Wesley called] 'the fire of heavenly love over all the earth' given this diversity and contradiction in conviction and context." See, contradictions don't mean someone's right and someone's wrong. It's a diversity of ideas!

What follows is a series of Scriptural abuses, taking more verses out of context to justify the ordination of gay clergy and acceptance of gay "marriage." In attempting to justify themselves, they actually condemn themselves.
  • "So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!" 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • "Look! I'm doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don't you recognize it?" Isaiah 43:19
The OCP framers think this means, "Hurray! We're celebrating a new thing now! Gay marriage!" But these passages mean that if you truly follow Jesus, you will stop behaving in your old, sinful ways and walk in the new life God has given you. Paul told the church that you are to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Here's another passage taken out of context in the OCP:
  • "No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes because the patch tears away the cloth and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the wineskin would burst, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, people pour new wine into new wineskins so that both are kept safe." Matthew 9:16-17
The OCP framers explain, "New structures and relationships are needed for a new time in our Church. Keeping the old structures in place could result in a fracturing of our church." You mean like fracturing it into the Connectional and Traditional conferences?

In Matthew 9:16-17, Jesus was responding to John the Baptist's disciples who asked Him, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus was saying that He didn't come to patch up the old religious practices that the Pharisees had torn up with their legalism. Instead, He came to bring real growth in the kingdom of God and His righteousness, which was like pouring new wine into new wineskins.

The framers of the OCP are worse than the Pharisees. They're not merely tearing up tradition. They're leaving Christianity altogether and behaving as the heathens and pagans. Again, encouraging homosexuality will send a person to hell, not bring them into the kingdom. Romans 1:32 says, "Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

Another passage the framers of the OCP take out of context is this fragment:
  • "I am the vine, you are the branches." John 15:5
The framers acknowledge Jesus is the vine, but the branches are the Connectional conference and the Traditional conference. Oh, brother. When you read the fuller context of this passage, it's rather alarming: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned" (John 15:5-6).

In verse 10, Jesus said, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love." Among His commandments, God said that a man shall not lie with another man as one lays with a woman, for it is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22).

Here's another passage:
  • "Christ is just like the human body -- a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many... You are the body of Christ and parts of each other." (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)
The framers of the OCP state that "we are gifted differently" and their plan "creates space for those different gifts to be expressed in ways that honor conscience, while still maintaining connection to the body." Are they really arguing that homosexuality is a gift?

The Apostle Paul warned against false teaching, "for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16;17). The picture here is that false teaching causes parts of the body to rot and fall off. That's what the framers of the OCP are encouraging -- not love of God, but love of the world.

Oh, but the framers believe that ordaining gay clergy will increase the reach of their church body to the world:
  • "Then He said to His disciples, 'The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for His harvest.'" (Matthew 9:37-38)
The implication here is that if we tell gay clergy that they're unqualified, there won't be enough workers for the mission field. Yet by ordaining gay clergy, the United Methodist Church is recruiting wolves to devour the flock of God. Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits... Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 7:15-16, 19).

"In conclusion," the framers state, "The Connectional Conference Plan attempts to find a way of structuring the life of The United Methodist Church so that it can embody the divine love in the midst of our diversity and disagreement."

Embracing and encouraging homosexuality, they say, is divine love. Blasphemy. Malachi 2:17 says, "You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, 'How have we wearied Him?' By saying, 'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them.'"

The Traditional Plan

While The Connectional Conference Plan was full of Scriptural references and quotes from founder John Wesley, the Traditional Plan doesn't contain any of that. It's relegated to Appendix 3 of The One Church Plan and is exactly six sentences long, a total of 142 words. The closing sentence is this: "We should see the formation of a new Wesleyan denomination as an opportunity for a different type of unity created for the sake of mission." In other words: we must divide to stay united.

In Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier, the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be held in Minneapolis in 2020. The location of the conference is the Minneapolis Convention Center. In 2009, in exactly that same building, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America changed their policy to accept persons who practice homosexuality into the clergy. (At the same time they were considering such a move, a tornado hit the convention center -- in Minnesota!)

It seems history is repeating itself. Who didn't think the United Methodist Church was going to follow the ELCA and the PCUSA into the LGBTQ agenda? It was a less a question of "will they" and more a question of "when will they." Sin always divides. Prior to coming to Christ, we were "hated by others and hating one another" (Titus 3:3). The decision to divide the denomination and call it unity is a farce. They need repentance. Then there will be unity.

Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Revelation 2:5).

For those persons who do not repent, which will include liars, the idolatrous, and the sexually immoral, "Their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Vice President Pence Isn't Pharaoh

I'll be Frank, you be Surely (Shirley?). I did not care for Vice President Mike Pence's speech at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas yesterday. When he came to the platform, I stood to applaud, and likewise when he stepped down. It's proper etiquette -- he's the Vice President of the United States. But his speech didn't belong at the SBC annual meeting.

Oh, the speech had its high points. He quoted from the Bible a few times and shared his faith in Christ. He thanked the convention for their prayers and hard work. He spoke about the massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX last November and referenced their pastor who was in attendance. We stood and applauded Pastor Pomeroy. That was a touching moment.

Otherwise, Vice President Pence's address was a Stump-for-Trump speech: President Trump is the greatest this and no other president in history has ever done that. Yes, we even heard that he wants to "Make America Great Again." Thousands in the convention hall stood and applauded with each political point as though we were attending a rally. The speech was as political as they get and, quite frankly (I said I'd be Frank), it was embarrassing for the convention.

Welcoming Vice President Pence to address the convention was poor judgment. As I understand it, the Vice President was the one who reached out to the convention, but whoever accepted the invitation should have politely turned him down. Instead, it looks like we got played.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a politician addressing a gathering of Christians. As Thomas Kidd pointed out, the SBC has a long history of politicians speaking at the convention, some good and some bad. Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke to the convention on Monday. Senator Ben Sasse addressed the Gospel Coalition's biennial meeting last year. But the SBC should have been more discerning before they let a representative of Trump's administration speak to the convention.

"There will always be questions of wisdom at play in decisions like these," said Dr. Jonathan Leeman in an article for TGC (that has since been published in the Washington Post). However, he went on to say, "But the criteria I'm offering are, how does it comport with the biblical pattern of prophetic speech; and how will it affect the mission, witness, and unity of the church?"

Though Dr. Leeman believes matters such as welcoming a politician to address the saints of Christ requires discernment, he also argued that the biblical criteria is clear-cut. This is how he started his article:
"Here's a question for my fellow Southern Baptists and evangelicals more broadly: can you name a place in the Bible where God sends a ruler of a (non-Israelite) nation to speak to God's people?"
It's a rhetorical question, as though there isn't such an instance. Actually, there is. In fact, there are a few.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to know the fear of God and wrote the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel. Neco, Pharaoh of Egypt, addressed Josiah, king of Judah, with words "from the mouth of God" (2 Chronicles 35:22). Cyrus, King of Persia, told the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it (Ezra 1:3). And let's not forget that in the midst of Israel's spiritual darkness, it was magi from the east following a star who came to worship the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).

Now, I agree with Dr. Leeman that the pattern of address in the Bible is typically the opposite: the man of God addressed the pagan king rather than the pagan king giving a message to God's people. Continuing his example, he said, "Moses challenges Pharaoh. Daniel confronts Nebuchadnezzar. John the Baptist Calls out Herod. And Paul appeals to Caesar."

But here's the problem. In using this analogy, Dr. Leeman is making it appear as if the Southern Baptist Convention is Moses, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul, while Vice President Pence is Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, or Caesar. A thousand times no. As I've been wont to say to my own congregation, "You're not David, and your problems aren't Goliath."

Vice President Pence is a brother in the Lord. He is a Christian. I've been told he's even attended Dr. Leeman's church in Washington D.C. It is ungracious to compare him to a murderous oppressor like Pharaoh or Herod. We are not under the President's captivity. We are set free in Christ. By the Vice President's own confession, we have every reason to believe he is set free in Christ as well.

Within Christianity, both sides of the political aisle practice this kind of eisegesis -- imposing one's own will onto the text of Scripture. The people who love President Trump compare him to David, Solomon, or Samson, while the people who hate him think he's, well, Pharaoh, Herod, or Nero. President Trump is an unrepentant sinner by his own admission. I believe he's a judgment on this depraved land, and I pray he repents. But he's not Nero.

Dr. Leeman cautioned against the temptation to desire political access. That's good advice. He agrees it's a matter of wisdom as to whether or not a politician should, say, speak to the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe then that it would have been more proper for Dr. Leeman to appeal to the wisdom books of Scripture rather than making a comparison to oppression under pagan kings.

Proverbs 23:1-3 says, "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food." Proverbs 29:4-5 says, "By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down. A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet."

Or how about the always popular Proverbs 29:18 which says, "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law." We would have done well to pay more attention to the Bible during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. We are blessed to have God's word. We don't need the blessing of a politician.

Edit: Immediately after the Vice President was the convention sermon (which was originally supposed to be given by Paige Patterson who dropped out due to the recent scandal). The morning ran long and it was already lunch time. Thousands got up and left the meeting hall after the Vice President spoke. Maybe they were hungry, and maybe they were protesting something related to Patterson. But it made it look like the SBC was more interested in a politician's speech than biblical preaching.

Yes, we were played at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention. But not just by the Trump administration. Dave Ramsey was given the stage twice, boasted in himself, favorably quoted a heretic, gave a horrible illustration which he claimed was biblical, took Scripture out of context, and stumped for his business. Our lack of biblical vitality was taken advantage of in a lot of ways.

Let us be wise to the ways of the world and the ways of the Word. Be convicted and follow the wisdom of our great King, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shared His mind with us. It's in the Bible. Quite frankly, the SBC should pay more attention to it.