Justice of the heart and Frank Schaefer

frank schaeferThis week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Continue reading

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Is your life NSFJ (not safe for Jesus)?

IMG_1616Please excuse the gratuitous selfie; I couldn’t think of another graphic to use. I was reading a passage in Greek today and it hit me in a different way than it ever has before. It’s 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, which illustrates how Christian morality differs from a casuistic or legalistic moral system. Few Christians are willing to accept how radical Paul is being when he says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” It is a morality that is based not on following a particular set of rules, but on living in such a way that we seek union with Christ. The question is whether our lives are NSFJ (not safe for Jesus). Few Christians are willing to rise to Paul’s challenge so they define their “morality” according to a safe, limited set of rules (often the trinity of “no sex, no drugs, no cussing”) that they don’t have trouble keeping and they can judge others for breaking. Continue reading

A litmus test of Christian morality: the film North Country

north countryMy wife and I wanted to watch a light film at home this past Saturday night and then go to bed early. We made the mistake of putting in the movie North Country, which came out in 2005. It was inspired by a landmark sexual harassment case that took place in a Minnesota coal mine. As I was watching the film, I was shocked by how mercilessly the protagonist Josey Aimes was treated by her co-workers, her family, and even the other women in the mine who were victims of the same sexual harassment. I said to my wife, “This seems a little bit over the top,” and she said, “Oh no, this is what women really deal with.” As I saw Josey standing up for her dignity with the whole world against her, I thought a real test of my Christian morality would be if I had the guts to stand up for her if I were working in that mine.

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Mark Driscoll’s “working class” bloody Old Testament Jesus

Jesus-gunI’m not a pacifist or a pansy (other than the fact that I’m not very good at sports, I don’t own a gun, and I don’t see much value in  gratuitous displays of macho-ness). So I don’t feel attacked by Mark Driscoll’s recent assertion that Jesus is not a pacifist pansy. I really have tried to avoid writing anything about Pastor Mark for a long time since I didn’t like the fact that his name was getting almost as big as Jesus in my tag cloud. But one of the paragraphs in his latest infamous blog post offers a revealing illustration of what Mark Driscoll wants Jesus to look like and why. Continue reading

Wisdom is to rest in Jesus

At our church staff meeting today, we looked at this reading from Matthew 11:25-30:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Continue reading

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and John MacArthur’s #StrangeFire Conference

John-MacArthurMaybe you haven’t heard of John MacArthur. He hosted a conference recently called Strange Fire in which he accused charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” the only unforgivable sin according to Jesus in Mark 3:29. It’s a pretty tremendous accusation to make against half a billion Christians. This has caused quite a stir in the evangelical blogosphere with responses from Adrian Warnock, Trevin Wax, Tim Challies, Michael Brown, Brandan Robertson, and others. So how does Jesus use the phrase “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” and it is it compatible with MacArthur’s accusations? Continue reading

Isaiah 7 & 53: should prophecies be prooftexts?

weigleMy great-grandfather Luther Weigle [pictured here] was the dean of Yale Divinity School and chair of the translation committee for the original RSV Bible. He incurred the fury of the fundamentalists when he chose to translate the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14 as “young woman” instead of “virgin.” They actually burned RSV Bibles and sent the ashes to him in the mail. The reason? Isaiah 7:14 is referenced by Matthew’s gospel as an explanation for Jesus’ virgin birth. But Isaiah 7:14 also refers to the “young woman” who was Isaiah’s prophetess wife and definitely not a virgin. In Isaiah 7 and 8, she bore Isaiah two children with prophetic names related to their immediate historical context. Does the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth depend on translating almah as “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14? Only if Isaiah 7:14 is expected to function as a prooftext for that doctrine, which raises a larger question: to what degree should Old Testament prophecy be used as prooftexts? And if Isaiah 7 is allowed to have less than a perfectly mapped correspondence to the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, then can we apply the same hermeneutical boundaries to the relationship between Isaiah 53 and the circumstances of Jesus’ death on the cross? Continue reading