Discipleship ≠ Following Christ Your Way

“Jesus is saying to us that, left to ourselves, we are all driving through life the wrong way. And we are about to meet the rush hour of God’s purposes coming in the other direction and, therefore, we need to turn around. If God’s kingdom is about to come and we’re lined up contrary to God’s kingdom, then we need to repent.” — Sam Allberry

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast.


Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.

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Better to Marry Than to Burn With Passion?

What does the Bible mean when it says that it is better to marry than to burn? Does mean that marriage is the cure for sexual impurity?

1 Corinthians 7:9 – But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

9 Things You Should Know About D-Day

This past Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Here are nine things you should know about the battle that changed both the outcome of World War II and the course of human history:

1. On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian military forces launched Operation Overlord, the codename for the largest amphibious invasion in world history. This first day of the invasion—known as D-Day—began the Battle of Normandy on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France.

2. General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force in the European theatre, oversaw planning for Operation Overlord. On the day of the invasion Eisenhower issued an Order of the Day that was distributed to the 175,000-member expeditionary force:

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

3. What does the “D” in D-Day mean? Military historians still disagree about exactly what the letter means. Some claim it merely stands for Day and that the coded designation “D-Day” was used for the day of any important invasion or military operation. Others sources, however, claim that when someone wrote to General Eisenhower in 1964 asking for an explanation, his executive assistant Brigadier General Robert Schultz answered: “General Eisenhower asked me to respond to your letter. Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.”

4. As Prime Minister Winston Churchill said after the invasion, “This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.” Prior to D-Day, about 3,200 reconnaissance missions were launched to take photos of the landing zone. On the day of the battle, which began after midnight, more than 2,200 allied bombers dropped approximately seven million pounds of bombs in what turned out to be a mostly ineffective air bombardment of the beaches and inland. This wave was followed by another 10,521 combat aircraft and 24,000 airborne assault troops (i.e., paratroopers).

5. US troops went ashore on the landing beaches at 6:31 am. Within the first few hours of the invasion the Allies landed more than 160,000 troops at Normandy, which included 73,000 Americans. The heaviest losses were on Omaha beach where US forces suffered 2,000 casualties. In the first hour the chance of becoming a casualty was one in two.

6. While the preparation and logistics of getting to the battle were an impressive feat, the outcome of the operation relied on the men who were fighting. Historian Tony Williams notes that, “whatever the massive logistical build-up, extensive preparations, and impressive firepower of the Allies, the success of the invasion depended upon the individual soldiers.” A postwar study by the 116th Infantry Division found, as historian Peter Caddick-Adams explains, that the success of the invasion was “largely to the initiative and aggressiveness of small unit leaders who made the best of a bad situation. Landing in most cases far off their assigned objectives, with large losses of men and equipment in the water, they had to improvise in order to cope with the strange fortifications to their front.” As Williams adds, “They were citizen-soldiers of a free society who were allowed to take the initiative and debate the best course of action as they fought together in small groups in pursuit of a common purpose.”

7. Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed or wounded on Omaha Beach, most of them in the first few hours. (In comparison, that is almost twice the number (1,833) of those killed in action in Afghanistan over a period of seventeen years.) In total, more than 4,400 Allied soldiers lost their lives during the invasion. Still, this was far fewer than the expected number of casualties Allied leaders had expected. On the eve of D-Day, Churchill said to his wife, “Do you realise that by the time you wake up in the morning, 20,000 men may have been killed?”

8. After D-Day, the fighting of World War II would continue for nearly another year. But as Marc LiVecche says, “D-Day was in many ways the first day of the end of the war in Europe.” By August, 1944, the Allied forces had liberated northern France and began to move into Germany where they met Soviet forces and ended Nazi rule.

9. On the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech in Normandy extolling the courage and faith of the soldiers:

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge—and pray God we have not lost it—that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.”

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause.

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The Issues I Address and the Questions I Answer in my New Book, The Language of Heaven: Crucial Questions about Speaking in Tongues

the-language-of-heaven-sam-stormsMy new book, The Language of Heaven: Crucial Questions about Speaking in Tongues was officially released yesterday, on June 4, and is available now at Amazon. Below is the list of 30 questions about tongues that I seek to answer in the book.

Introduction: Tongues – A Good Gift from the Father of Lights
My First Experience of Speaking in Tongues
(1) What happened on the Day of Pentecost?
(2) Where Else in Acts did People Speak in Tongues?
(3) Does the gift of tongues always and invariably follow Spirit baptism as its initial physical evidence?
(4) Are tongues always human languages previously unlearned by the speaker, languages such as German or Japanese or Swahili? If not, what kind of language is speaking in tongues?
(5) Is the Gift of Tongues primarily Designed for the Evangelism of Unbelievers?
(6) Is it OK to seek one’s own Personal Edification by Speaking in Tongues?
(7) What does Paul mean when he says that the person who prophecies is greater than the person who speaks in tongues? Does this mean that tongues is always inferior to prophecy?
(8) Is Tongues Speech an “Ecstatic” Experience?
(9) Is speaking in tongues a sign of anti-intellectualism or perhaps an indication that people are afraid of the mind and deep theological thinking?
(10) When one speaks in tongues is it primarily directed to men or to God?
(11) If tongues is primarily a form of prayer in words we don’t understand, how can it be helpful to us in our relationship with God?
(12) Is tongues also a way to worship God?
(13) Is it permissible for people to sing in tongues in corporate worship?
(14) Does Paul always insist on interpretation if tongues are used in the public gathering of the church, and if so, why?
(15) Does Paul teach that tongues may be used in private devotional prayer or must all tongues speech take place in the corporate assembly of the church, followed by interpretation?
(16) What is the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues?
(17) Why is Tongues Speech often so Rapid?
(18) Why do some say that speaking in tongues is the least important spiritual gift? Is it?
(19) Is the fact that Tongues is mentioned only in Acts and 1 Corinthians an indication that it was regarded by NT authors as comparatively unimportant in the Christian life?
(20) What does it mean to “pray in the Spirit”? Is this a reference to speaking in tongues?
(21) Does Romans 8:26-27 refer to the gift of tongues?
(22) Can we learn anything about tongues from Mark 16:17?
(23) Can a person pray for another person in uninterpreted tongues?
(24) How might tongues help us in our spiritual battle with Satan and his demonic forces?
(25) Are tongues revelatory?
(26) Are tongues a sign of judgment against unbelieving Jews?
(27) If I don’t have the gift of tongues but want it, what should I do?
(28) Can/Should all Christians speak in tongues? Is tongues a gift that God intends to supply to every believer or is it only given to some?
(29) Do we have good biblical reasons to believe that the gift of tongues is still valid for today?
(30) Did tongues disappear in church history following the death of the apostles only to reappear in the 20th century?

I conclude the book with several fascinating and encouraging testimonies of others who speak in tongues, specifically Jackie Pullinger, to whom the book is dedicated.

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What We Lose When We Collapse the Four Gospels into One

The ordinary Christian adult would struggle to articulate why we have four Gospel accounts rather than one. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we only had one account? Do differences among the four accounts invite unnecessary doubt? Do similarities among the four accounts create unhelpful redundancy?

Many people read the Bible a verse or two at a time, simply looking for a quick dose of inspiration. They might think they’re faithful Bible readers, but they’re barely scratching the surface. They’ve been trained to read small sections—not entire books—of the Bible, and this practice negatively affects their reading experience.

As a father, I see how most resources for young children don’t teach them to read entire books of the Bible, especially when it comes to the Gospels. Children’s books about Jesus tell stories without saying which Gospel account they come from. Books that helpfully summarize the whole Bible, such as The Jesus Storybook Bible or The Biggest Story, collapse the four Gospel accounts into one as well. They don’t explain how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John differ from and complement one another.

So what do we lose when we collapse the four Gospels into one? I believe we lose at least three things: the author’s unique perspective, the artistry of the story, and the apologetic of the life of Jesus.

Author’s Unique Perspective

Each Gospel author had a different experience of Jesus, and those experiences shape how they tell the gospel story. Matthew was a tax collector. When Jesus called him to become his disciple, the Pharisees disdained and disrespected Jesus for his choice (Matt. 9:9–13). Have you ever brought shame to someone by your association with them? If that person loved you anyway, do you think it would affect how you told others about him?

Mark’s family hosted a prayer meeting in their home (Acts 12:12). James had been killed; Peter was in prison. What would become of the community who followed Jesus? Then Rhoda, the servant girl, announced that Peter was at the gate. Peter!? What a miracle! If you witnessed this interrupted prayer meeting, do you think it would affect how you tell others about Jesus?

John was in the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples. He was one of the few invited up the mountain. When the appearance of Jesus changed to blazing glory, he saw it all. Can you see something like that and not be forever marked by it? Can you tell the story of Jesus without reference to his divine, cosmic, supreme glory?

Artistry of the Story

Each Gospel also has its own style and pace that communicate truths about Jesus and his work. The genealogy of Matthew is beautiful. There are repeated names for emphasis—Abraham and David. They both received promises that their descendants would bless others. There are also unusual names for a first-century Jewish genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah. Each of them was marginalized in some way, yet was eventually brought into the family of God.

Matthew introduces the story of Jesus with a reminder of the promise-keeping nature of God and the grace-extending heart of God. Mark has an urgency to his storytelling. There is a strange man announcing the coming of the Lord and calling people to repent. Then, the Lord appears and immediately Satan attacks. Afterward, Jesus says to repent and believe the gospel, and an unclean spirit recognizes him as the “Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). At this point we’re little more than halfway through the first chapter. If your habit is to read only a verse or two at a time, you’ll miss being drawn into the drama of the story as Mark intends.

Luke writes as a thoughtful friend and guide. He personally addresses Theophilus. This opening address, a brilliant single sentence (Luke 1:1–4), is longer than Mark’s account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12–13). The expectation is set to sit back and listen to a story that will unfold at a more leisurely pace. Luke’s pace will allow him to develop subthemes throughout, such as the Holy Spirit, prayer, wealth, and outcasts.

Apologetic of the Life of Jesus

It’s one thing to believe Jesus died on a cross as a historical fact. It’s quite another to be persuaded that Jesus would willingly die on the cross for the eternal good of others. Only a close examination of his life—what he taught, how he treated others, and why he died—could persuade anyone that Jesus really is this type of person. Each Gospel writer understood there’s no way to separate the work of Christ from the person of Christ.

John writes about an encounter that Jesus had with a Pharisee named Nicodemus (John 3:1–15). He follows that story with an encounter that Jesus had with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1–42). Reading these encounters in close succession, as John intends, shows that the good news is for men and women, for well-connected leaders and socially invisible minorities.

Matthew gives us a unique window into Jesus as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Herod ordered the execution of all the male Bethlehemites younger than 2 after Jesus’s birth. Years later, when news came to Jesus that John the Baptist had been killed, Jesus withdrew to a desolate place. He knew pain and suffering before the cross, and he willingly endured the pain and suffering of the cross to bring eternal hope and justice to the senseless evils of this world.

When you see the unique perspective and style of the Gospel writers, and the apologetic of the life of Christ, you will no longer think four accounts are unnecessary or unhelpful. Instead, to borrow and adjust a phrase from Charles Wesley, you’ll long for for a thousand Gospels to sing our great Redeemer’s praise (John 21:25).

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Heaven is Where Christ Is

The Bible often describes heaven not as “heaven,” but as where Christ is. When you think of heaven, do you think of being with Christ? “If I were to go to heaven, and find that Christ was not there, I would leave immediately; for heaven without Christ would be hell to me.” – Thomas Goodwin

The excerpt is taken from the full sermon, “Suffering and the Eternal Weight of Glory“.

Virtue Signaling and Historical Presentism

One of Americans’ favorite pastimes is establishing their moral superiority by denouncing dead people. Every week brings news stories of some politician scoring points, or a university cleansing itself, by removing a name, a monument, or in some other way purifying our historical memory.

Of course, there is broad agreement among Americans that there are certain figures we should not honor (Hitler, Stalin) and fairly broad agreement on some we should (Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman). The trouble comes when elite historical opinion turns against figures who have been revered in the past by many Americans (Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson). Then the purification crusade begins, eliciting a predictable backlash by conservative-leaning folks who want to preserve the honored memory of those we previously revered.

Christians have their own versions of these conflicts. For TGC readers, the most obvious dilemmas come with regard to Christian historical heroes who also were complicit in some historical sin (George Whitefield and slavery, Martin Luther and anti-Semitism, and so on). Can we still revere these figures, who were so obviously used by God, when they also engaged in conspicuous sins?

Christians tend to go to one of two extremes on such questions. One extreme is to say that if a figure engaged in sins that we regard as egregious today, they are no longer of any use to us and should not be revered. The other extreme (again showing up as a backlash) is to say “stop harping” so much on the alleged sins of people in the past, because doing so somehow denigrates or denies what God did through them.

I am aware that mediating positions on difficult subjects are not popular in our social media environment, but I would recommend one anyway. We should be candid and forthright about the failings of people in the past, but we should not flatter ourselves by assuming we would have done better in their situation.

The “stop harping” crowd would seemingly prefer we not be candid and forthright, or perhaps that we can mention it but move on because the sin in question was either not that big of a deal, or the recitation of it devalues the historical event the person was associated with (the Reformation, the Great Awakening, or whatever). But Christians should not treat their historical heroes differently than they would any other figures in the past. We have all seen “special pleading” by interest groups on behalf of their heroes; Christians should not emulate the impulse to excuse or obscure the sins of our preferred champions.

But the “they are no longer of any use” crowd is engaging in a species of what historians call presentism. Presentism is a tendency to assess historical figures based on the norms and habits of today. As Christians, we believe that moral law remains fixed throughout time. Chattel slavery was always immoral, from beginning to end, and it was always wrong for anyone to promote or benefit from any facet of it.

The trouble comes when we imply we are better than the past figure in question because we see that their actions were immoral. We imply that we would have done better than they did, because we are morally enlightened people. This attitude is also a facet of presentism, and it is historically arrogant.

I tell my students in my American history introductory course that they must realize a sobering fact: If they had been born into a white slaveholding family in the South in the Revolutionary period, they would have almost certainly died believing that slavery was morally permissible, if not a positive good. We are no better at thinking outside of our cultural, moral “box” than anyone in the past. We can’t see the culturally permissible sins we surely commit today. But, if the Lord tarries, you can bet that people 200 years from now will gawk at us and wonder, “How could they have thought that [x] was ok?”

So yes, by all means let us be honest about the sins and errors of people in the past, perhaps especially those we admire. But that honesty should not lead us to arrogance or self-satisfaction. It should not become a means of signaling our virtue on social media. Instead, the recognition that our heroes were also sinners should lead to historical humility and vigilance, knowing that any of us can be sucked into sin that our culture overlooks or blesses.

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See also my article “When Our Heroes Don’t Live Up to Their Theology

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20 Quotes on How Your Church Budget Can Better Magnify God

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Jamie Dunlop’s fantastic new book, Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry (Zondervan, 2019).

To understand what really matters to a church, look past its vision statement, past its website, past its glossy brochures, and look at its budget. Follow the money. . . . A church budget is more than spreadsheets and numbers. It’s a window into the heart of a church, illuminating the values and priorities of God’s people. If you care about your church, you will care about its budget because a budget reveals, facilitates, and sometimes calcifies how a church does its work. (15)

A church budget is a spiritual tool with spiritual aims. A church budget has spiritual value when we get it right and does spiritual harm when we get it wrong. As a result, seeing a church’s budget merely, or even primarily, as a financial tool grossly underestimates what it is. (16)

Very little in this book can be put into practice without the support of your pastors. So if your pastor just handed you this book because you’re “the budget person,” you have my permission to hand it back and insist that you will only read it if he does as well. (19)

[God’s] purpose for your church’s budget is that in your church’s faithfulness—that is, in your risk-taking obedience—you show off and reveal how amazing he is. (27–28)

The decision to entrust the spiritually-fraught questions of budgeting to administratively focused committees is at the root of much budget-related dysfunction. (37–38)

I recommend that pastors give leadership to any administrative matters that have spiritual dimensions— including the budget. Pastors should identify the spiritual priorities at stake in the church budget and then lead the process of assembling a budget at whatever level of detail is necessary to address these spiritual priorities. (39)

If on the whole you can’t trust your pastors with your money, why on earth are you trusting them with your soul? (40)

The simple fact that the congregation will be doing the giving suggests that they should have an opportunity to accept or reject the budget—or at least provide feedback before it’s finalized. (41)

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind: Are there items in the budget that non-Christians are interested in funding? If there are, praise God for his common grace! In general, focus your efforts on causes only Christians will get behind. (45)

A budget is full of opportunities to teach about spiritual priorities. Don’t waste that opportunity! (48)

If you’re a pastor, my hope is that you’ll make it your ambition to know the church budget as well as anyone else in the church. You might consider using it as a prayer guide. Perhaps one day each week, pray through a different line item or category of the budget and ask God to accomplish the gospel ambitions that stand behind that money. (48–49)

Since one’s main source of teaching should be their church, the church should be the main recipient of one’s giving. It’s especially important in an age of individualism to submit giving to the wisdom of the church by giving primarily to its budget. (61)

Jesus taught extensively about money, not because he wanted a handout but because he wanted our hearts. (62)

One way you can help your congregation believe that you love them more than their gifts is to insulate the pastors from the knowledge of how much each member gives. 

Don’t be stingy with your staff compensation. What benefit is it to you for your pastor to be distracted from ministry because of financial needs? . . . Pay them for what their work is worth, not how much you think they need. But shouldn’t people working for a church make less money? No. If the laborer deserves his wages, he deserves what his work is worth. . . . Over the long term, adjust your staff size to fit the available budget rather than asking a bloated staff to all work for less than their work is worth. (78, 79)

Sometimes it’s worth the downside to unity to fund a program that serves just a segment of your congregation. But where possible, encourage programs aimed at the whole congregation and that trade on the glory of unity rather than the comfort of similarity. (97)

Sometimes attempts to measure gospel work can damage it quite severely. (105)

If you take my advice about providing better support to fewer missionaries, you’ve concentrated your kingdom investment portfolio. That makes you more dependent on the faithfulness of their work, and as a result, you’re more likely to hold them accountable. Construct your outreach budget so that your supported workers depend on you and you depend on them. (114)

Consider how you might create space that facilitates a Word-oriented schedule. For example, having multiple services because of space constraints designs congregational life around your facility, not the priorities of God’s Word. I know this may sound crazy, but indulge me for just a paragraph. A church schedule that’s dictated by the facility seems backward to me. “We run three services on a Sunday, which means the service can’t be more than 60 minutes, which means the sermon can’t be more than 25 minutes” . . . and so forth. What an odd way to structure the most central aspect of a Word-centered church! Yes, I understand a facility sized to accommodate the whole congregation is expensive. Yes, I understand that people want multiple options in service times. And yet I’m convinced that we give up far more than we realize when we move to multiple services, which is why our Protestant forbearers would have been appalled to see our “mass-like” (in their opinion) multiservice church schedules. In our society, convenience trumps all; let’s not make it so in the church. (131)

The New Testament epistles care about giving not mainly as a means for meeting financial needs, but as an indicator of what we love and whom we trust. (138)

Special appeals for money are often worded as to assume that most people aren’t giving faithfully. For example: “If each of you would skip one latte each week for the next year, we could close our budget gap!” But embedded in that language is the assumption that Christians in your church will normally use their finances in selfish ways and that faithfulness is abnormal. Even if you have doubts about your flock’s faithfulness, do not normalize faithlessness. An appropriate appeal is not, “I know you’re all spending money on stuff you don’t need; please give it to the church instead” but “this is the year to give in ways that you won’t likely be able to repeat year after year.” Communicate an expectation that healthy Christians will be faithful with their money. (144)

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Avoiding False Religion (Part Two)

Hosea 8:1-14

When Ephraim multiplied his altars for sin, they became his altars for sinning. Though I were to write out for him ten thousand points of my instruction, they would be regarded as something strange. Though they offer sacrificial gifts and eat the flesh, the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their guilt and punish their sins; they will return to Egypt. Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has also multiplied fortified cities. I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels (8:11-14 CSB).

They had a religion of self-will. God intends that our lives conform to the standard of the Scriptures (8:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). He expects us to be holy (set apart) as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our way of life from the inside out is to reflect God’s message and great aim, being set apart for his glory. But in Ephraimite (Ephraim is a name for the northern ten tribes) religion, the Holy Scriptures are regarded as something strange, “alien”, having no relevance to one’s life (8:12). The world thinks that godliness, marital faithfulness, self-control, prudence, humility and gentleness are strange things (cf. 1 Peter 4:4). The only relevance it knows is immediate self-gratification. This produces rebellion against God’s covenant law (8:1). Why obey something you think is weird and irrelevant?

When people refuse the Bible as God’s will for their lives, they become their own authority. What is right or wrong is then determined by human preference. Two ways Israel did this:

  • They chose rulers apart from God’s consent (8:4). A parallel in our day would be ordaining ministers apart from the requirements of God’s words; namely, setting up women as teaching pastors or tolerating ministers who do not have a firm hold of the faith once delivered to the saints. Churches look for managers or marketers, because they think their problem lies in their form rather than their substance. Sound teaching that sets forth God and his glory means little to many. “Just tell me enough so that I can live prosperously, and after I die, have a prosperous eternity.” God is forgotten! They tragically are unaware that eternal life involves knowing God and Christ (John 17:3).
  • They mixed themselves among the nations (8:8-10) Today the church mixes herself with the world by adopting unspiritual, ungodly, unbiblical attitudes and practices. How is the contemporary western church, claiming to be God’s nation, different from the world? What of the way she measures success? The way she markets herself? The lifestyle her members live?

They had a religion of empty ritual. Outwardly, everything seemed to be in order. Worshiping in a certain way (that is assumed to be attractive to the current lusts of the culture) is very important in Ephraimite religion. “This is the way we worship here.” Ephraim built altars for sin offerings (8:11). This looks good, doesn’t it? She seemed to confess the guilt of sin. Ephraim offered sacrifices to the Lord (8:13). Wasn’t she confessing her need for redemption and cleansing to the Lord? Do not read too much into what ritual and the recitation of the creeds are supposed to mean. Ask about the understanding of the heart. Is there love for the Lord and his truth? Are we set apart for what the Lord desires?

In reality, Ephraim’s situation was desperate. The altars were merely monuments to her sins, because she did not want to turn from her sins (8:11). It is one thing to sing the name of Jesus and speak of how kind and caring he is to affluent people in all their miseries; it is a very different matter to want to bring your life under his lordship. The Lord was not pleased with her sacrifices. She was ripe for judgment (8:13-14).

Are your sins taken away (Micah 7:18-19)? Do you have a promise from the living God that he will never remember them (Hebrews 8:12)? Such a promise and cleansing is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ and received through faith in him. Don’t build empty hopes on empty profession, your opinions, and religious rituals. Find the lasting, substantial joy of knowing God through Christ. When you come to know the Author of life, then you will experience life.

Grace and peace, David

What Should We Think about the International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) and Mike Bickle? Part Two

Last week I spoke about Mike Bickle and answered some of the questions that people ask concerning him. Today I will address the International House of Prayer for which he provides leadership.

Some of you have never heard of IHOPKC while others have only read about it on the blogs and websites of its most vocal critics. Even fewer of those reading this article have actually visited the house of prayer or spent much time taking advantage of what is offered. Let me begin by highlighting some of the more prominent features of IHOPKC, after which I’ll address some of the concerns people have.

(1) The International House of Prayer is not a local church and by no means intends to replace the church or the mission that God has given it in Scripture. It is a para-church ministry and by its own definition, “an evangelical missions organization that is committed to praying for the release of the fullness of God’s power and purpose, as” they “actively win the lost, heal the sick, feed the poor, make disciples, and impact every sphere of society—family, education, government, economy, arts, media, religion, etc.” Their “vision is to work in relationship with the wider Body of Christ to engage in the Great Commission, as [they] seek to walk out the two great commandments to love God and people.”

There isn’t much to criticize in that, unless you are by nature a cynical and suspicious person. Although IHOPKC is primarily a place devoted to round-the-clock intercessory prayer, it has grown and expanded over the last 20 years into a multi-faceted ministry center.

(2) Virtually all those who join the staff at IHOPKC raise their own support. They live frugal and comparatively simple lifestyles in order that they might devote themselves wholly to prayer, praise, and the study of God’s Word. At the same time, there have been wealthy individuals around the world who at various times have contributed substantially to IHOPKC and have made possible their purchase of numerous properties that now serve to house several prayer rooms, a coffee shop, a bookstore, an apartment complex, and the school where both men and women are being trained in a variety of biblical disciplines.

(3) If you are wondering what the primary focus is at IHOPKC, it is their commitment to prayer, fasting, the Great Commission, revival, and living as “forerunners” whose desire is to call and prepare the church for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Just as John the Baptist served as a forerunner to prepare for the first coming of Jesus, the people at IHOPKC envision themselves as operating according to that pattern. They don’t claim that the Bible explicitly describes them in this way, but they find in John a principle and a precedent that they have adopted and applied to themselves.

(4) Contrary to what many have said, the leaders at IHOPKC do not believe that everyone is called to be an “intercessory missionary.” They do not suggest that others in the body of Christ who have different gifts and callings are any less devoted to the Lord or are operating at some sort of sub-standard level of spirituality. The tendency for some at IHOPKC to draw unwarranted conclusions about their comparative importance in the body of Christ is no different from the same problem we face in local churches worldwide. But I can assure you that if there is any expression of spiritual elitism or pride at IHOPKC, it is not because Mike Bickle or other leaders have promoted it. Mike has consistently over the years maintained a humble posture. IHOPKC is his calling, but he would never insist it is necessarily yours (much less that it is the calling of all Christians).

(5) Having said that, IHOPKC most assuredly believes (as I do; and as I hope you do) that all believers are called to a lifestyle of prayer, fasting, and worship. Not everyone is expected to live this out in the same manner, but these are normal features of any expression of Christian obedience.

Mike and other leaders look to two individuals in the Bible as providing a pattern for what they believe God has called them to do. They are “Anna, one of the first evangelists and intercessors in the NT, who prayed and fasted for over sixty years before Jesus’ first coming (Lk. 2:37), and King David, who organized and paid 4,000 musicians and 288 singers to worship God night and day (1 Chr. 23:1–25:31).”

It’s important to know that some have criticized Mike and IHOPKC for suggesting that the practice of David in 1 Chronicles has been restored or re-established in the form of what happens in the prayer room. This is not true. They are careful to say that what they are pursuing today is “in the spirit” of what we see in the OT. They find in David and what he set in place a pattern that aids them in their approach to prayer and praise.

(6) As for the practice of fasting, some critics have charged IHOPKC staff members with making this a badge of spirituality, as if those who do not fast with the same regularity as they do are falling short in their commitment to Christ. Again, if this mentality exists among anyone at IHOPKC, it is due to their misunderstanding of Scripture and emotional immaturity, not to the teachings of leadership at IHOP.

Those who join staff at IHOP commit to what they have called the Global Bridegroom Fast. It is held the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of every month during the months of January to November, and the first Monday through Sunday of December, making a total of forty days of fasting each year. Careful guidelines for fasting are available, and if anyone is inclined to view this spiritual discipline as a meritorious work that puts God in their debt, the failure is again on their part and not because leadership at IHOP have promoted this misunderstanding.

(7) Those who join staff (somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 at present, which includes staff, students, and interns), commit to spending 50 hours every week in ministry. The time is divided between extended sessions in the prayer room, studies in the classroom, and works of service in the community and evangelism.

(8) In 2009 the leadership at IHOP committed to combining their prayers for justice with works of justice. At present, this includes such ministries as “inner-city outreach with on-site food distribution, discipleship programs, provision of food and clothing for our children’s outreaches, street clean-up, and a prayer room operating in the inner city ten hours a day, working towards night-and-day prayer [called Hope City]. Other outreaches include Children’s Justice Initiative to serve orphans and children at risk, and Exodus Cry helping victims of human trafficking. [They] are partnering with Women’s Life Center, a local crisis pregnancy center helping women who refuse abortion and choose life. In the future [they] plan to provide homes and restoration programs for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence, and prostitutes who respond to the gospel.”

If I may give you one example of the focus at IHOPKC, my wife and I were present a few weeks ago during the Friday morning prayer and praise service. Following worship and a few prayers by leadership, the microphone was made available to anyone who felt led to pray for the orphans and homeless, specifically asking God to raise up families who will either adopt these kids or take them in as foster children. I wish you could have witnessed the 50 or so people, young and old, who prayed fervently for God’s mercy in this regard. Is that the sort of thing you think should be criticized or ridiculed? Would that we all were as equally committed.

I mention these things because some are under the illusion that the only thing they do at IHOPKC is pray. I dare say that I don’t know of many (any?) local churches that incorporate the wide range of ministry and service activities as does IHOPKC.

If that were not enough, IHOPKC is “committed to raising awareness of modern-day slavery and human trafficking and to helping victims of these injustices. Additionally,” they “send donations and relief teams to areas of the world devastated by natural disasters, e.g. Myanmar Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the Haiti earthquake of 2010, and the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.”

(9) The distinctive international flavor of IHOP is seen in their All Nations Prayer Room. This expression of prayer is “staffed by internationals whom the Lord has brought to the International House of Prayer, and currently [is expressed] in nine languages: Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, German, and French.”

(10) If you think IHOP is exclusively for the young, think again, “The Simeon Company is a gathering point for fifty-and-overs, married or single, who desire to give their lives more fully to prayer, worship, service, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of justice.”

(11) Perhaps you wonder what IHOPKC believes in terms of their Statement of Faith. You can read it in full at their website, www.ihopkc.org. But I can probably save you the time by telling you that it was largely written by yours truly! When IHOP first began, Mike adopted the Statement of Faith from Metro Christian Fellowship, where I served on staff for seven years. There are a couple of places in the current document that have been modified to reflect IHOP’s unique theological distinctives, specifically their eschatology (what Mike calls “apostolic premillennialism”). Aside from a few small differences on that point, I can personally and wholeheartedly endorse the Statement as it now exists.

(12) The Bible school at IHOPKC provides tracks of study in numerous areas: theology, music and worship, media (with a focus on film and post-production), preaching, local church leadership, ministries of justice, as well as youth leadership, just to mention a few. They have recently launched a track of study that is taught entirely in Chinese!

(13) Then there is the Night Watch, a team of intercessors who are committed to maintaining intercessory prayer from midnight to 6 a.m., seven days a week. The text that energizes them is Psalm 134 – “Behold, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who by night stand in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord. The Lord who made heaven and earth bless you from Zion!”

(14) Of course, as you would expect, there are numerous opportunities available virtually 24/7 to receive healing prayer and prophetic ministry.

(15) Yes, there is a local church that exists alongside the house of prayer. Forerunner Church hosts services on Friday night as well as two services on Sunday morning. They provide classes for children (ages 1-12) seven days a week, as well as Jr. High and Sr. High ministries (several summer camps are also available). There are small groups to join (called Friendship Groups), evangelistic outreaches in the city, compassion ministries to the hospitals and nursing homes, as well as widows and shut-ins. Other ministries include Codependents Anonymous, a Men’s Purity group, and pre-marital counseling for young couples.

Although I could list numerous other features of the house of prayer, I think what you’ve just read is sufficient to give you a sense for what they are about. Needless to say, over the past 20 years there have been several concerns and criticisms launched against them. I’ll mention those that have been brought to my attention.

Some have accused the people at IHOP of fostering a modern form of Gnosticism. The latter typically takes two expressions. One is a disdain for the routine, mundane tasks and responsibilities of life (holding a steady job, building relationships, getting married and raising children, pursuing an education, etc.) in favor of what is perceived to be a hyper-spirituality. There have undoubtedly been some at IHOP who have put on hold or have altogether forsaken one or more of these pursuits in order to be wholly available to pray and worship. One of the things that supposedly fuels this approach is belief in the imminence of Christ’s return. When that return, or the revival believed to occur in conjunction with it, does not happen, disillusionment can set in.

Once again, though, is this a problem unknown in traditional local churches or other para-church ministries? Probably not. There will always be some who justify their neglect of what we consider to be essential Christian and civic responsibilities, all in the name of one’s single-minded devotion to Jesus. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, it is probably unavoidable. The question is whether or not Mike Bickle and the leadership at IHOP foster and promote this perspective. I am persuaded they do not.

The second feature of modern-day Gnosticism, in keeping with its name, is the idea that a select group of super-saints are made the recipients of a special knowledge or insight into divine matters that are unattainable or unavailable to average Christians. In a ministry like IHOP where the revelatory gifts of the Spirit are in operation one can only expect that some might be inclined to draw such a conclusion. But I doubt if this is much different from the same tendency that occurs in your typical charismatic congregation. Once again, the issue is primarily whether or not leadership endorses this perspective or warns and teaches against it. And again, I am confident that IHOP leadership would strongly deny ever encouraging this way of living the Christian life or this perspective on what we might call “extra-biblical” (but never anti-biblical) revelation.

It’s not uncommon to find an elitist mentality associated with modern-day expressions of Gnosticism. There is always a tendency to think that, because one has devoted one’s life exclusively to spiritual pursuits and practices, one is a member of a unique and highly favored group among God’s people. Have there been people at IHOP over the years who have given the impression that they regard themselves as more holy and more in love with God than ordinary Christians? Undoubtedly so. Have they then judged or treated with a measure of disdain those who appear not to be as committed to Jesus as they are? Undoubtedly so. But there is nothing in IHOP’s belief system or actual practice that would ever give credence to such a perspective.

Then there is the problem of asceticism, or the idea that true godliness consists primarily in what one doesn’t do, eat, drink, or participate in. To deprive oneself of ordinary physical and relational blessings is believed by some to signal one’s superior holiness. This, of course, has been a problem in Christianity for the last 2,000 years! One need only read Colossians 2:16-23 to see Paul’s analysis and denunciation of this form of asceticism. I suspect that even when a person at IHOP does not embrace this take on the Christian life, the mere fact that he/she lives a somewhat more singularly focused daily existence could be interpreted as an implicit judgment by those who don’t, almost as if outsiders are thinking: “Oh, I bet you think you’re better than I am and closer to God than I am because you pray more than I do and worship more than I do, etc.” And that, notwithstanding the fact that the IHOP participant most likely never once thinks any such thing!

Some have criticized IHOPKC, and Mike Bickle in particular, for his openness to certain expressions of Christian mysticism. We dealt with this issue when I was still in Kansas City and on staff at the church. Mike’s approach has always been to look for the best and most helpful elements in all branches of professing Christianity, at the same time he firmly denounces any aberrant or theologically suspect teachings. Whereas some would reject altogether everything in anyone who is Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, Mike has faithfully exercised discernment in his effort to glean what he can from such diverse expressions of religious experience. I’ve often heard him denounce and warn against the teachings in certain medieval mystics, while at the same time identifying in them those elements that could prove beneficial to our own devotional lives today.

A few over the years have taken offense at what appears to be the failure of certain prophetic promises to come to pass. IHOPKC is the fruit of a number of such prophetic words, many of which have been fulfilled in remarkably supernatural ways. Other such “words” have not as yet come to pass. It’s only natural for Christians to react with confusion, even a measure of disillusionment. But to reject altogether the blessings that IHOP has produced and to despise the gift of prophecy itself because there are as yet unfulfilled promises, is to run afoul of Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. Mike has never insisted that every purported prophetic word was genuinely from God. As Paul reminds us, “we know in part and we prophesy in part” until such time as “the perfect” arrives (1 Cor. 13:9).

Another objection frequently heard is the approach to prayer and praise at IHOPKC. Mike has put in place what he calls the “harp and bowl” model for ministry (see Rev. 5:8), in which prayer and singing are intertwined and inter-dependent. Can it become, at times, overly repetitive? Yes. But if that is the worst that one can say about it, I hardly think it is reason to reject the ministry of IHOP.

I also think that much, if not most, of the concerns that outsiders have with IHOPKC is due to the latter’s charismatic theology and practice of the full range of spiritual gifts. Some cessationists probably are not inclined to find anything of good in this ministry for the simple reason that they believe it is founded upon and promotes what they regard as an unbiblical view of spiritual gifts, a view they are persuaded ultimately undermines the finality and sufficiency of Scripture.

IHOPKC has been criticized for believing in and praying for a global revival in conjunction with the second coming of Christ. I simply don’t understand why this is grounds for so much of the angry criticism they receive. You may not believe that Scripture provides warrant for such a belief, but even then, is it not a good and godly thing to pray for? Christians from a variety of traditions throughout history have held similar views of the end times. IHOP’s approach to the question is not outside the boundaries of what has been deemed orthodox belief.

Related to this point is their belief that the intercessory prayers of the church is one of the main instruments God has chosen to employ for the release of his judgments against an idolatrous and spiritually rebellious world. Perhaps you believe that some have taken this to an extreme, but all of us must reckon fully with what we read in Revelation 8:3-5 (read it now!). We read this on IHOP’s website: “This should not lead to a caricature of renegade believers roaming around calling down judgments as some have portrayed it; however, in dismissing such caricatures, we cannot dismiss the scriptures that indicate a connection between prayer and the release of God’s judgement in the Antichrist’s evil empire. John Piper himself has written:

“The utterly astonishing thing about this text is that it portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments. It pictures the prayers of the saints accumulating on the altar before the throne of God until the appointed time when they are taken up like fire from the altar and thrown upon the earth to bring about the consummation of God’s kingdom.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-prayers-of-the-saints-and-the-end-of-the-world)

In conclusion, my mind goes back a few weeks to that Friday morning as Ann and I sat in the prayer room in Kansas City. I looked around and said to myself: “Hmm. What’s going on here? Well, I see the very young, the very old, and a lot of middle-aged folk praying, worshiping the Lord, and studying their Bibles. My, my,” I said to myself, “that’s certainly subversive and spiritually unhealthy. We can’t have that going on.” Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

In a time when so many are pursuing every manner of sexual immorality, lobbying for the right to kill unborn babies, and fomenting racial hatred, couldn’t we use a few more passionate people who love Jesus, believe and obey what’s in their Bibles, and delight in extended seasons of praise? I think so. If you don’t, go ahead and tear apart IHOPKC and Mike Bickle. Launch your angry tirades. Pick them apart for the way they devote themselves to the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel.

In the meantime, as someone once said, “I prefer the way they do it, even if it isn’t perfect, to the way you don’t do it!”

[Note: For more information on where IHOPKC stands on certain controversial issues, check out their Affirmations and Denials at the website, www.ihopkc.org.]

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Transhumanism Is Yet Another Temptation to Play God

Often when we hear about advanced technology like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and genetic engineering, we think of some far-off future with flying cars and robot co-workers. Terms like “the singularity,” “superintelligence,” and “transhumanism” seem irrelevant to the mundane problems we deal with as Christians living in a fallen world. Aren’t there more pressing issues?

In his book Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship, Jacob Shatzer—theology and ethics professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee—provides a clear and pointed critique of the popular concept of transhumanism, showing that it’s yet another expression of humanity’s belief that we are gods in ourselves. We must think deeply about this issue now if we want to pursue true discipleship in our rapidly shifting culture.

Shatzer helps guide believers through the challenging concept of transhumanism in light of a Christian ethic grounded in the image of God. We need to see how technology is already changing us and to wisely respond—otherwise we’re in danger of passively imbibing the cultural narrative that we can fundamentally change our nature.

Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship
Jacob Shatzer


Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship
Jacob Shatzer
IVP Academic (2019). 192 pp. $22.00.

Biblical ethicist Jacob Shatzer guides us into careful consideration of the future of Christian discipleship in a disruptive technological environment. In Transhumanism and the Image of God, Shatzer explains the development and influence of the transhumanist movement, which promotes a “next stage” in human evolution. Exploring topics such as artificial intelligence, robotics, medical technology, and communications tools, he examines how everyday technological changes have already altered and continue to change the way we think, relate, and understand reality. By unpacking the doctrine of the incarnation and its implications for human identity, he helps us better understand the proper place of technology in the life of the disciple and avoid false promises of a posthumanist vision.

Firm Footing

Shatzer defines transhumanism as a movement whose goal is to transform humanity by improving human intelligence, physical strength, and the five senses by technological means. Transhumanism “enables us to overcome our biological and genetic inheritance” (40). Shatzer boils this popular concept down to two fundamental principles. First, optimism that humanity can overcome our own humanity, and second, that each individual has the fundamental right to pursue these enhancements (53).

While this might seem like a sci-fi novel or the plot of a new Hollywood thriller, many in the technology field currently are pursuing a way to overcome the limitations of humanity and enable us to attain god-like powers. Popular thinkers such as Yuval Noah Harari (author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow) and Nick Bostrom predict that we’ll transcend our human limitations or be outpaced by an intelligence greater than ours. Humanity must either upgrade or be left in the wake of progress.

We need to see how technology is already changing us and to respond—otherwise we’re in danger of passively accepting the cultural narrative that we can fundamentally change our nature.

Shatzer describes the three main waves of transhumanism: (1) morphological freedom to change ourselves, (2) use of augmented reality to merge the physical and digital world, and (3) the pursuit of artificial intelligence to finally transcend our human limitations entirely. Throughout the book, he interacts with The Transhumanist Declaration, a summary of transhumanism, as well as with popular groups such as Humanity+ and the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Needed Corrective

Shatzer offers a calm and collected critique of transhumanism based in a rich understanding of how technology can be used to love God and love neighbor. He doesn’t provide a fearful and defensive reaction to transhumanism, but one that is winsome and beneficial for the church. Often in light of emerging technology, we’re quick to adopt the liturgies of this technology without serious thought about how these tools will affect us and the worldview that drives them. Shatzer provides a needed corrective to the false belief that humans are simply machines that need to be upgraded over time to stay useful and retain worth. While humanity was marred by the fall, God’s image wasn’t lost.

Much of the thought behind transhumanism is that humanity is broken and needs upgrading in order to fulfill our true potential. Transhumanists desire to escape our sin-marred bodies and transcend the limitations given to humanity. Some, like Ray Kurzweil, believe that one day we’ll finally be able to overcome physical bodies and upload our minds to escape the brokenness once and for all. Shatzer describes this desire as a symptom of the fall and of our need for the gospel, rather than something to overcome with our own technological innovation (123). Overcoming and transcending humanity is antithetical to both the Scriptures and the gospel. God himself became like us in order to save us. He took on flesh in order to sacrifice his body to save our embodied souls. If we seek to shed our bodies, we lose a fundamental aspect of our humanity and ultimately deny the One who took on flesh to rescue us.

Much of the thought behind transhumanism is that humanity is broken and needs upgrading in order to fulfill our true potential.

While some Christians will recast transhumanism in biblical terms, the movement as a whole is fundamentally opposed to an orthodox and biblical understanding of humanity. Our ultimate need is redemption, not reinvention. Shatzer reveals that many Christian transhumanists operate with at least an implicit debt to open and process theology, which states that God is ultimately open, improving, and adapting, like creation (97). But this theology is at odds with the God who is the unchanging basis for all knowledge and truth. God isn’t open and risky; he’s sovereign and omnipotent. In a world of shifting sand, he is the rock to which we can cling for hope and redemption.

Shatzer wisely points out that “true human flourishing is not found in a technological worldview, but in subordinating our tools to truly human ends” (35). True human flourishing can’t be rushed and is often not convenient or efficient (171). In a culture that prizes those values above all, nothing less than human dignity is at stake in the conversations and debates surrounding technological innovation and progress. Christians see the world differently from transhumanists, since we realize Christ is the one who restores us and our world—rather than us pursuing innovation to ameliorate the effects of sin and our rebellion on creation.

Our ultimate need is redemption, not reinvention.

Christians must reject our culture’s assumptions that true dignity and worth is derived from the economic utility of human life. God’s image is the basis for human dignity. Humanity isn’t something for us to shed or transcend, but something to embrace as ones marked by the bloody and beaten body of a man who overcame death by the power of the Spirit. Christ wasn’t raised from the dead in order for us to transcend our humanity, but rather to restore us to our true humanity—to a right relationship with the unchanging and all-powerful God. Our human limitations are a blessing rather than a curse, for they remind us that there is only one Homo Deus, and his name is Jesus Christ.

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Learn How to Disagree Agreeably

Imagine you’re at your favorite coffee shop. Everything about the place is great, except the tables are a bit too close to one another. This makes it difficult to avoid eavesdropping. Your reading tends to zone you out from the conversations of others, but not today. You can’t help but hone in on a conversation between an ardent Trump supporter and one who gladly voted for Hillary. It’s not the various arguments mustered for one candidate over the other that intrigues you. No, it’s the evident respect each person has for the other even while expressing significant disagreements.

It’s hard to go back to your reading for the day. You become preoccupied with why the kind of exchange you just heard is so rare—even in your local church.

Can’t Christians Disagree Graciously?

It’s humbling to acknowledge that the unseemly disagreements that are standard fare on cable-news networks are also common in the church. Many Christians tell me they can’t talk about political differences with their best friends. What hope then is there to engage a new acquaintance on a substantial issue of disagreement?

I believe we can do much better, not only because we should as Christians, but also because we have some unique tools at our disposal. Here are four things to consider.

1. Have a Biblical View of Human Nature

We should view both ourselves and our opponents accurately. It’s understandable that our initial instinct is self defense when disagreeing with others. It would help us to remember some truths we may not be digesting deeply enough. The doctrine of sin reminds us that we do and think sinfully and are also prone to self-deception (Ps. 19:12; Jer. 17:9). It’s one reason we need input from others. The eminent historian George Marsden observed that “human depravity is a neglected explanatory category” in our culture. And it’s lacking in our churches as well.

As Christians, the doctrine of sin reminds us of the many ways we rationalize, justify, and minimize our own actions and thoughts. When I remember that all humans, myself included, are both capable of great evil and also created in God’s image with God-given dignity, I find stability to navigate the choppy waters where substantial differences threaten to push us far apart.

2. Slow Down and Pay Attention to Words

I recently preached a sermon on how the Bible defines the words faith, hope, and love. When is our understanding of faith moving toward presumption? When is our understanding of hope more akin to wishful thinking? When is our understanding of love more beholden to modern-day therapy than the cross of Christ?

I’ve heard it said A. N. Whitehead believed most debates are fruitless because the opposing sides didn’t think it important to define some of the key words. They assume everyone in the conversation has the same working definition and talk past each other. No wonder J. C. Ryle observed that “the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy.”

As inheritors of a rich heritage of words, Christians can do much better. James 1:19 reminds us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Pastors should model care with words. Slowing down to explain the biblical contours of key words is time well spent. It reminds the rest of us to be careful in our own use of language, particularly when we’re disagreeing with others.

3. Consider Your Own Credibility

Jordan Peterson likes to tell young people that they have no credibility to protest in public unless they first keep their bedrooms neat and tidy. It’s good counsel and one Christians ought to take more seriously. I like to say that we Christians often want to start a landscape company when the weeds in our own backyard need serious attention.

Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Pro-life Christian: I can’t believe that people think partial-birth abortion is okay.

Pro-choice friend: Why?

Pro-life Christian: Because it is the killing of a human being!

Pro-choice friend: Why do you believe anyone two and younger is human?

Pro-life Christian: Because the Bible says so!

Pro-choice friend: Would you show me a few of those Bible verses?

Pro-life Christian: Uh, let me see, I know they are in there somewhere.

I’ve done my own informal survey with various groups of Christians I’ve taught. I first make sure everyone agrees that Jesus being God in the flesh is one of the most important teachings of the Christian faith. Then I ask how many can show me a few verses that describes that doctrine. I tend to get an awkward silence.

Before we engage the important issues of our day, we must put in the necessary study. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be angry and unprepared, a popular combination these days.

4. Read Those Who Make You Angry

I have benefited greatly from reading classic authors like Voltaire, Hitchens, and Ralph Waldo Emerson—the latter being a longtime conversation partner. Skeptics can be invaluable to read because they point out our blind spots and hypocrisy. But here’s one important caveat: Don’t read critiques of Christianity until and unless you are grounded firmly in the Christian faith. Even then, I would recommend doing it with a friend.

In Anger, Don’t Sin

There are certainly times to be righteously indignant, but we must be careful that our anger doesn’t devolve into ungodly frustration (Eph. 4:26–32).

I’m grateful for the terrific resources that the Christian faith offers. As a saved sinner, I need all the help I can get.

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Justice Clarence Thomas Gives America a Lesson on Eugenics and Abortion

The Story: In a recent Supreme Court opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas connected the dots between eugenics and abortion. In response, abortion supporters are attempting to discredit him in hopes that Americans won’t learn the truth.

The Background: Earlier this week the Supreme Court declined to review Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. That case was about an Indiana law that included a provision that would make it illegal for an abortion provider to perform an abortion in the state when the provider knows that the mother is seeking the abortion solely because of the child’s race, sex, diagnosis of Down syndrome, disability, or related characteristics.

In a 20-page opinion, Associate Justice Thomas argued that the law “promote[s] a State’s compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics.” Here are some highlights from the opinion:

The use of abortion to achieve eugenic goals is not merely hypothetical. The foundations for legalizing abortion in America were laid during the early 20th-century birth-control movement. That movement developed alongside the American eugenics movement. And significantly, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger recognized the eugenic potential of her cause.

[. . .]

This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation. From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was particularly open about the fact that birth control could be used for eugenic purposes. These arguments about the eugenic potential for birth control apply with even greater force to abortion, which can be used to target specific children with unwanted characteristics. Even after World War II, future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and other abortion advocates endorsed abortion for eugenic reasons and promoted it as a means of controlling the population and improving its quality. As explained below, a growing body of evidence suggests that eugenic goals are already being realized through abortion.

[. . .]

Abortion advocates were sometimes candid about abortion’s eugenic possibilities. In 1959, for example, Guttmacher explicitly endorsed eugenic reasons for abortion. A. Guttmacher, Babies by Choice or by Chance 186–188 (1959). He explained that “the quality of the parents must be taken into account,” including “[f]eeblemindedness,” and believed that “it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy . . . in which there is a strong probability of an abnormal or malformed infant.” He added that the question whether to allow abortion must be “separated from emotional, moral and religious concepts” and “must have as its focus normal, healthy infants born into homes peopled with parents who have healthy bodies and minds.” Similarly, legal scholar Glanville Williams wrote that he was open to the possibility of eugenic infanticide, at least in some situations, explaining that “an eugenic killing by a mother, exactly paralleled by the bitch that kills her misshapen puppies, cannot confidently be pronounced immoral.” G. Williams, Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law 20 (1957). The Court cited Williams’ book for a different proposition in Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 130, n. 9 (1973).

[. . .]

Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is dutybound to address its scope.

What It Means: While pro-lifers tend to already know about the eugenics movement, many Americans are only hearing about it for the first time. Not surprisingly, this has caused something of a panic among abortion apologists.

For example, The Washington Post wrote an article titled, “Clarence Thomas tried to link abortion to eugenics. Seven historians told The Post he’s wrong.” In the article Paul A. Lombardo, a professor of law at Georgia State University, says, “I’ve been studying this stuff for 40 years, and I’ve never been able to find a leader of the eugenics movement that came out and said they supported abortion.” Lombardo may have missed the fact that Thomas had directly quoted Alan Guttmacher, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and namesake of the Guttmacher Institute, expressing support for eugenic abortions. More likely, though, Lombardo probably assumes that people will read the article in the Post and assume his claim is true. If the Post can’t be bothered to fact check the claims they publish, why will the readers?

Critics of Justice Thomas also claim there is no need for a ban on sex-selective abortion, because they are not occurring in the United States. Michael C. Dorf, a professor of U.S. constitutional law at Cornell, says “when women come to the United States from cultures that practice sex-selection abortion, they do not bring the practice with them. Accordingly, much of the Indiana law targets a non-problem.” Such a claim could only be made by someone ignorant of demographic trends—and who did not read the footnotes of Justice Thomas’s opinion.

One study that Justice Thomas cites is “Son-biased sex ratios in the 2000 United States Census” published in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As the abstract of the article says,

We document male-biased sex ratios among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents in the 2000 U.S. Census. This male bias is particularly evident for third children: If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%. By contrast, the sex ratios of eldest and younger children with an older brother were both within the range of the biologically normal, as were White offspring sex ratios (irrespective of the elder siblings’ sex). We interpret the found deviation in favor of sons to be evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage. [emphasis added]

The article adds, “Since 2005, sexing through a blood test as early as 5 weeks after conception has been marketed directly to consumers in the U.S., raising the prospect of sex selection becoming more widely practiced in the near future.”

Dorf also contends that Justice Thomas misuses the term eugenic when he applies it to “an individual decision by an individual woman to have an abortion” since “eugenics cannot be an individual project.” Yet as Ed Whelan notes, “Dorf does not inform his readers of Thomas’s weighty evidence that individual abortion decisions can collectively have a eugenic impact. For example, ‘In Iceland, the abortion rate for children diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero approaches 100%.’ Dorf also ignores the possibility that there might be weighty systemic biases that influence individual abortion decisions.” Whelan also points out that “the eugenics movement tried to harness the voluntary actions of individuals.”

Again, most of the history Justice Thomas presents will not come as news to informed pro-lifers (see: 9 Things You Should Know About Eugenics). But the reaction by his critics shows that the pro-abortion crowd will go to extensive links to discredit such any connection to the eugenic practices of yesteryear and those of today. They know they will lose credibility when they claim to oppose discrimination based on sex, race, and disability and yet allow the unborn to be killed based on such discrimination.

Justice Thomas is right about the connection to abortion and eugenics, and he’s right when he says the Supreme Court cannot avoid the issue forever. Neither can the rest of America. We need to ensure America knows that all children are worthy of protection because all are made in the image of God.

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We Need to Talk (Part One)

Ephesians 5:22-33

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church (5:32 NIV).

The Biblical passage from which we begin this series is often used to talk about the marital relationship between a husband and a wife. Clearly, it does provide crucial teaching on the sharing of life between the two partners in the marriage covenant. But there is more to these words than the relationship of two humans. Their union is a picture of the greater union of the Lord Jesus Christ and his people. Christ is the husband and the church is his bride. As a man and a woman share life in their marital union, so Christ and his people share life. Marriage is about knowing a person and being known by that same person. Our eternal life with God is about personal knowledge (John 17:3) And knowledge involves communication. So, in this series think of Christ saying to his dearly loved bride, “We need to talk.”

Now on the human side of things, when a man or a woman says to their spouse, “We need to talk,” it is because there is a problem of some kind. Some might be small and others very serious. When one says this phrase, the other might begin to think, “Now what have I done,” and “how can I defend myself?” To ease into this, imagine that a married couple is a party. The husband tells a joke of some sort, that he assumes is simply funny and harmless. But the next thing he knows, his wife comes up to his side and whispers in his ear, “Dear, we need to talk.” Immediately, by her tone, the husband knows he is in trouble! And he is ignorant, and thinking, “Oh no, what did I do or say now?”

In that situation, the husband is probably guilty of some social faux pas. However, we the church are united to the Lord of glory, who is all-wise and never makes mistakes, even when we fail to comprehend his ways. On the other hand, we commit many sins and errors, which require our repentance and faith in his grace to restore our fellowship with him.

For our constant benefit, the Lord Jesus talks to his church through the living Word of God. We don’t need to find a time to talk with him in a busy schedule, which can be difficult for married couples in the busyness of our fast-paced lives. His words are always available, and we can always talk with him (prayer).

This series does not directly speak to the issue of reading the Bible and prayer. A discussion about the latter usually turns into a guilt trip (hardly anyone prays like we all know we should), an excessive concentration on the physical and financial needs of others (who prays for spiritual matters?), or a mystical quest (there are many forms of mysticism in prayer that have little or no connection with the Bible). Dare I even mention attempting to get “Bible believing” Christians involved in reading the Bible regularly? I think it would be easier to encourage believers to wade waist deep through a horrifically smelling swamp for a year than to read the Bible daily for three months! We have a serious problem with distraction or disinterest or disillusionment when it comes to reading God’s word in a consistent manner. Do you think I’m joking? All right… Read First Thessalonians every day for a month. The Spirit might use it to change your life.

Instead, I want to think with you about teachings of the Scriptures that the Lord wants us to pay attention to, as he talks with his dearly loved bride, the church. Christ says to us, “We need to talk;” that is, we need to listen to him about our relationship with him, our worship, our fears, our pride, our lack of passion, our brotherly love, and our need for wisdom. May God our Father give us hearts to listen and grace to change!

Grace and peace, David