Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 29 June 2012 00:00

Can your body make you sin? If so, are you still responsible?

Yes, and yes. However, in answering these questions, we might be missing a better question than that of responsibility, but I’ll get to that later…

I suppose you might like some defense of my position. I will do so both in this post and in the one to follow. Obviously, I’m going to tackle this from a Christian perspective that cares about sin and wants to think carefully about ontology (what it means to be human).

Some background beliefs

1. In the Christian life sin matters. Sin is whatever we do or are that violates God’s definition of holiness. In this life, sin is inescapable. Sin is that which fallen creatures do all the time. Thankfully, God provides a way of escape from the logical consequences of sin via the cross. Despite (no, because of the power of) this gift from God, Christians still care about eradicating sin even though it is not possible. It stands to reason, then, that we should observe the sources of sin in our life in order to stop them.

2. The classic Christian view of human nature is that we are made of two substances: body and soul. We are not just our physical bodies but something intangible was imputed to us when God breathed life into Adam. Our soul allows us to worship God. The bible refers to our soul in various ways: will, heart, desires, etc. The soul is the driver of the will and therefore responsible for the moral direction of our actions. Early theologically oriented scientists (think Descartes) assumed the existence of the soul but looked to explain how the intangible soul connected to the tangible body. Now with the advances in neuroscience we have better explanatory power in describing the action of thoughts, feelings, and knowing. However, the will remains a mystery. While we can explain neural networks and what the brain does when desiring something, we cannot yet explain WHY we want or desire certain things.

Some philosophers and theologians have attempted to deal with classic dualism by suggesting that we are only one substance. I am not capable of succinctly defending this position so I point you to Nancey Murphy and a review of her book here. She does a masterful job defending non-reducible physicalism.

Key questions and a partial answer

Whether two substances or one, the question we raise in this post is whether our bodies, against our will, can cause us to sin. And maybe more importantly, is there anything gained or lost if it is true that our bodies (apart from will) can cause us to sin? Are we culpable for such sins? 

Let me take these two questions in succession:

Question One:

Is it possible that my body (against or apart from my will) might cause me to sin?

Partial Answer:

1. We do nothing apart from our cells. We mediate all worship, desire, etc. through our cells. When we do good or evil, body and will are always involved.

2. Sin is not merely an act, but a disposition. All of me is tainted and not functioning as it was originally intended, including my physical body (and don’t I feel the effects of being over 45!). The dualist position is more in danger of treating sin as only what we consciously choose.

3. I don’t have to know that I broke the law (biblical or federal) to be guilty of violating the law. I didn’t know I was speeding but I still got a ticket. In the OT, lack of intention or knowledge violating the law did not protect against impurity or guilt (e.g., Lev. 4:22; 5:3).

4. If the body is broken and under sin’s curse it stands to reason that our bodies function in ways that are out of accord with our will. If they can move without our control (e.g., Parkinsonian tremors, Tourette-based tics) can they not also move in such a way that violates God’s design for us. We have some scientific evidence of this. Stimulate a certain part of the brain, and you will experience rageful feelings. Stimulate another part and you may have sexual thoughts. Consider a person with Tourettes Syndrome. There is some evidence of temporary volitional control (a surgeon is able to stop a tic during an operation) but other evidence suggests that these same tics (including cursing) burst out of the person despite conscious effort to eliminate.

Saying yes to this question violates our Western sensibilities.

Question Two:

 If we accept that our bodies can act against or without the will, what do we gain or lose? I think the primary concern by many would be that somehow we will either be held culpable for sins we didn’t want to commit or claim innocence for sins we willfully committed. And this gets under our skin here in the West.

We want only to be held accountable for things we did do and not held accountable for things we either didn’t do or didn’t have any control over.

Partial Answer:

It strikes us as evil to be held accountable for that which we didn’t know was wrong. I once got a ticket for making a u-turn on a Chicago city street at 11 pm when no one (but the cop!) was around. There were no signs. I wasn’t familiar with Chicago rules, was lost in an unsavory neighborhood. And yet I still got the ticket. It didn’t seem right. But I did violate the law.

Our American judicial system isn’t the only system that holds us accountable for involuntary acts. Romans teaches us that because of Adam’s sin, all are sinners. I bear the culpability for his sin (and I make plenty of my own as well). I bear the impact of his choices in my entire being. Not only am I culpable, but I may need to confess my forefather’s sins. We see several OT prophets confessing the sins of the community—as if they were their own.

So, in short, I think we can answer yes to the question about whether our bodies can make us sin. They can because we (body and soul) are tainted by the Fall. It doesn’t make us more or less out of sorts with God whether our sin is chosen or involuntary. Happily, God doesn’t forgive only willful sin, he forgives sin period. And he makes it possible to not sin by imputing his righteousness to us.

Is there a better question?

Still thinking about culpability? If so, check back tomorrow for a little vignette to chew on along with a better question than just responsibility for behaviors.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the MA in Counseling program at Biblical Seminary. He maintains a private practice with Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his personal and professional musings at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.comor read more about it at http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.



Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 27 June 2012 00:00

We take an extended, larger family vacation every other year and this year is the “off year.”  So, our vacation this year consists of a number of romantic week-ends and family outings sprinkled throughout the summer. The first of these was supposed to be a “four-day weekend” with just Linda and me, but it got interrupted by a funeral — the spouse of a friend of my wife’s from work died after a long battle with diabetes. 

As you might guess, we felt both obliged to attend the funeral, and glad that we could attend — and gypped out of our planned time together.  We literally laughed and cried about all the above. 

Enough time has passed now that I can reflect more objectively on it all.  “Vacationing at a funeral” is not something we would plan, but, come to think of it, it did have many of the markings of what one does plan when one plots out a vacation schedule.  Think about it: 1) time together, check; 2) break from the normal routine, check; 3) time and place for deeper, substantive conversation, check; 4) fun time to laugh (and cry) with old friends and some new ones, check; and finally, 5) chance to recalibrate and re-gauge one’s deeper life commitments, walk with God, relationship with one another, and re-consider, “Are we living the well-lived life we desire and feel called of God to live?,” check. 

Ecclesiastes says,  It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes itto heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)

I have contemplated these lines before this “vacation experience.” But I don’t know that I really believed them, or lived the truth of these words before now; that is, before attending a funeral as part of our summer vacation.

I have also heard of some people (including my grandparents, as I recall from childhood) taking a Sunday afternoon picnic to the cemetery, spending the afternoon reading, contemplating, and talking about the inscriptions on the gravestones.  It’s a bit morbid, I know — but think Ecclesiastes.  Is there wisdom to be found in such a practice?

So, what do you think — good idea?  Should we plan to incorporate mourning and funerals into our vacation periods more regularly? . . .  

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Todd Mangum Monday, 25 June 2012 00:00

At the end of the spring semester when final projects, final exams, and end-of-year budgeting all come due, I sometimes fall behind in keeping up with the news.  So I just found out last week that artist Thomas Kinkade died Easter weekend — from an apparent overdose of valium (drunk down with alcohol). He was 54. 

Surprised?  Yeah — so was I.  Thomas Kinkade, who sometimes claimed to be “America’s most-collected living artist,” was the guy who painted the idyllic nature scenes, which sometimes appear as desktop computer screen wall paper, with luminescent glows permeating serenely throughout the picture.  One of every twenty American homes is said to have a Thomas Kinkade painting, so Wikipedia says.     

I’ve always thought his art to be populist and designed to be commonly appealing — yeah, art critics are always going to sniff at such lowbrow stuff, but so what?  I still sometimes enjoy a good Southern Gospel quartet or even a country music station, even though all my music teachers in college scoffed at such and claimed a classically trained musician would eventually, inevitably “outgrow” it; I never did. . . .   

But I didn’t think his artwork was any more controversial than that.  Turns out that there is a stream of Christian art critics who find Kinkade art not just trite, but dangerous. Dangerous?!  Yes, you read that right.  

Here’s a line from the Kinkade obituary written by Daniel Seidell: “Thomas Kinkade . . . produced paintings that are far more terrifying than Munch’s [painting of The Scream, 1893] or Holbein’s [painting of The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1522], giving us a world deprived not only of Easter Sunday, but Holy Saturday, Good Friday, and Christ himself.” (Click here for the whole column.)

The objection to Kinkade’s pleasant paradisiacal visions put on canvas is that they offer a world 1) falsely depicted as unfallen; and 2) without need of redemption. In short, like pornography’s offer of the pleasures of sex without the encumbrances of love and relationship, Kinkade’s art is accused of offering a world free of distortion and unpleasantness without the inconvenience of needing to go through Christ, or Christ’s cross, to get it. 

The fear is that this idyllic vision will play and does play all too well and quickly to the already narcissistic and hedonistic sensibilities of affluent American consumers. All the more sinister is Kinkade’s art thought to be given the tortured life, alleged unscrupulous business practices, and then in a final, ironic coup de gras, the unsavory way into the afterlife taken by Thomas Kinkade, the man. 

I have to say that my first reaction when I read this line of criticism was that it was going too deep and being too critical with something that never claimed or aspired to be anything other than superficially pleasing. “Saccharine sweet” is not a compliment, but the occasional Diet Coke will not kill you either.

But the more I think about it — and the more I think about even my own response, my own soul’s visceral reactions to Thomas Kinkade’s paintings — the more I think there may be a valid point of concern here.  How about you?  What do you think?  

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Dr. Derek Cooper Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00

On a recent trip to the Holy Land and the Middle East, I worshiped alongside thousands of Christians from all areas of the world and from all ecclesial backgrounds. I shared sacred space with Ethiopians, Filipinos, Germans, Palestinians, and Australians. I participated in worship services within the different strands of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism. In fact, in several ancient churches like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, I worshiped the Lord Jesus within an ear- and eyeshot of simultaneous services in multiple languages and from multiple theological traditions. 

As I reflect on these experiences in light of a class I am currently teaching entitled World Christian History, I cannot help but be reminded of the universal nature of Christianity. It seems customary – especially as an American evangelical of European descent – to assume that my version of Christianity is the way to practice our great faith. But I would be wrong. Christianity is not just my religion – nor is it just yours. It’s the world’s religion. 

The late Anglican bishop and missionary Lesslie Newbigin once remarked that “the idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the gospel” (Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture 1986: 4). To assume or believe that my version of Christianity is timeless or “pure” is – to take a term from Newbigin’s book – “foolishness” indeed. Christianity – or, for that matter, the gospel – is not a sterilized liquid that is dropped carefully out of a test tube into an uncontaminated culture. It is a fleshly faith – in the good and biblical sense of the term – that is contextualized and incarnated. Sometimes it is practiced reverently, other times it is not; but always it is practiced by limited human beings whose culture neither necessarily consummates nor contaminates the veracity or the vibrancy of the gospel.

Long before there were test tubes or evangelicals or Americans, there was a universal and worldwide Christianity that was practiced widely, divergently, and – all things the same – faithfully.

Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim, the authors of Christianity as a World Religion, delineate some important characteristics of world Christianity, which reveal a religion that is much larger and more inclusive than many of us suppose:

***  Topographically, Christianity is spread across the globe and is not just the religion of one region.

***  Theologically, Christianity claims to be universally applicable and locally inclusive.

***  Geographically, Christianity has always been widespread and practiced locally in different communities across the world.

***  Socio-politically, the worldwide presence of Christianity today is not primarily the result of attempts by powerful churches to replicate themselves worldwide but the result of indigenous responses and grassroots movements.

***  Historically, Christianity does not have one single strand of development, one center, or a linear history but is diffuse, locally divergent, and adaptable to different contexts.

As we consider the reasons why Christianity is a world religion rather than a parochial one, we do well to likewise consider the reasons why Christianity is not just your religion. Christianity survived and – in many ways – thrived in a diversity of cultures, countries, and contexts long before we were here; and it is likely that it will continue to do so long after we are gone.  This does not mean that your version of Christianity is unfaithful – let along “wrong” – but it does imply that another person’s version of Christianity can be just as faithful despite the fact that it is practiced very differently from yours.

Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Manton-Thought-Puritan-Publishing/dp/1596382139/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.



Written by Sam Logan Friday, 22 June 2012 00:00

In the previous two blogs, I have tried to present reasons why and how we should love those with whom we disagree.  I have suggested that, on the model of how Jesus loved us,  this even includes those whom we think are sinning.

But there are some biblical cautions about this kind of love and these must be considered as well. [However, it is intentional that I am identifying only two ways NOT to love while I listed three ways TO love.]

I return to the story with which I began.

Stan Duncan, a pastor and columnist for the Huffington Post, recently cited the following story with approval:

I've been encouraged by the words of a Baptist preacher friend from Dallas who once told me that when he dies and stands before St. Peter at the pearly gates, and he hears a list of his lifetime's sins, he expects to hear a long list. But when all is said and done, he said he would much rather be judged for being too open minded than too closed. "If I'm going to make a mistake," he said, "I suspect God would rather it be a mistake of loving too many people into the kingdom than too few."

 And this was Rev. Duncan’s conclusion from that story:

 I was present the year our church passed the resolution affirming gay marriage, and it was tense. After rancorous study and debates, the majority finally concluded that no matter how much one might argue the differentness of gays from straight people, they couldn't quite be convinced of the wrongness of it. How could God create human beings and then tell them not to love one another? [Emphasis added]

Does the Scriptural command to love one another require us to affirm whatever behavior those others exhibit? 

No, it does not.

And here are two reasons:

1.  Scriptural love must be honest love.

In none of our relationships do we make the assumption that love involves endorsement of everything that the one we love does.  Neither did God’s love for us (“while we were yet sinners”) involve His endorsement of all that we were doing (“while we were yet sinners”). Indeed, it may be argued that meaningful, appropriate love must involve a genuine care and concern for the one we are loving and, if we believe that the behavior in which that one is engaged is wrong, we would be unloving NOT to communicate that belief. 

Of course, we always need to remember point 1. in the first blog in this series – “What I THINK is sin could be no sin at all.”  Humility, especially in interpreting God’s word, must be a hallmark of each and every Christian.   But biblical humility does not mean the abandonment of all convictions and all beliefs.  Even as we must remain open to “further light” in understanding of the Word of God, we cannot jettison all that we do believe; if we were to do that, then there would be no warrant for the kind of love for which I have been arguing in these blogs.

Back to Dostoyevsky again, this time with a focus on Ivan, the intellectual among “the brothers Karamazov.”  Dostoyevsky puts into Ivan’s mouth one of the most famous of all statements in literature – “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”  Of course, many have tried to show the error in Ivan’s logic, but he does have a point, a point which leads him to kill his father (which serves as a powerful symbol of the ultimate Parricide). 

But my point is really a simple one – if I start jettisoning my convictions just because I am finite and sinful and might be wrong about any one of those convictions, then, sooner or later, I could very well come to the conclusion that murdering that abortion doctor is acceptable.  But if I should hold to my beliefs as long as I continue to see those beliefs taught in Scripture, then humility does not require me to abandon those beliefs simply because others, even others whom I love, don’t see those beliefs taught in Scripture.

Indeed, and this brings us back to the matter of honesty in love, to the fact that it would be unloving NOT to continue to oppose, in those whom I love, behavior which I think, on the basis of my present understanding of Scripture, is ultimately harmful. 

This is a widely accepted principle in most parts of our lives – if a loved one were abusing prescription painkillers, I would be regarded as an “enabler” if I stood by and did nothing.   If a friend seemed consumed by bitterness because of perceived mistreatment by others, I would cease to be a “friend” if I did not seek to bring about a change in his perspective and attitude.  And the same principle holds when applied to those whom we think, based on our present understanding of Scripture, are wrong in areas like racism, abortion on demand, and gay marriage. 

All kinds of cautions are needed here, but I have tried to provide those cautions in my second blog in this series.  Arrogance and mean-spiritedness all too often do characterize the responses of Christians when we see what we think is sin.  That is one reason why I structured these blogs as I did.  It is only when we take very seriously the Scriptural mandate to love and the Scriptural description of what Christian love is that we may proceed to oppose behavior which we think is wrong.  Blogs one and two provide the context for blog three, and not the other way around.

But, in the end, we must reject the notion, as presented by Rev. Duncan above, that, if we really love someone, we will never oppose whatever they want to do.

2.  Scriptural love must be focused first on God.

Here, finally, I get to quote my MOST favorite author, Jonathan Edwards.

In his Treatise on Religious Affections, which I happen to believe is the greatest book of any kind written by a human being, Edwards seeks to describe those characteristics which are often THOUGHT to identify genuine Christians (but do not) and those characteristics which really DO identify genuine Christians.

Edwards begins Section 2 of Part III of his Treatise with this statement:

The first objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest.

At first glance, this statement may seem innocuous and perhaps even a bit pedantic.  But as Edwards goes on in the next several pages to unpack his meaning, the truly revolutionary nature of the statement becomes clear.  After discussing at length the tendency of all of us to love God primarily for what He has done for us or for those whom we love, Edwards makes this remarkable statement:

Whereas the exercises of true and holy love in the saints arise in another way.  They do not first see that God loves them, and then see that he is lovely, but they first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious, and their hearts are first captivated with this view, and the exercises of their love are wont from time to time to begin here, and to arise primarily from these views; and then, consequentially, they see God's love, and great favor to them.

 Edwards here is talking about the motivation for our faith in Christ and about everything else in our spiritual lives.  The true mark of genuinely gracious affections is that those affections are truly and primarily focused on the Triune God, not on the benefits we may receive from exercising faith in Him.  If there is no sense at all that my most fundamental reason for placing my faith in Christ is that He deserves it,  then there is the very real possibility that my faith is what Edwards calls “counterfeit.”

Of course, there are blessings for the child of God . . . far more blessings than we could ever imagine!  But if those blessings are what I am really after, then I am not really seeking first the glory of God.  And that is what Jesus Himself told us we should seek first (Matthew 6:33).

In the context of the subject of these blogs, how did Jesus Himself put it?  When questioned about “the most important commandment of all,” Jesus responded this way:

The most important  is, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind  and with all your strength.”  The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no other commandment greater than these. 

The lesson I take from Edwards and, far more important, from Jesus Himself is that, though it is the second most important commandment of all, “Love your neighbor” must always be subject to our love for and obedience to  “the Lord our God.”  If God has given a command, we do not love our neighbor appropriately if we ignore that command, even in the name of love for that neighbor.  In other words, we should NOT love our neighbor in any way that suggests that that neighbor is more important than God.

Of course, we must always be sensitive to point #1 in blog #1 – “What I THINK is sin could be no sin at all.”  Humility is an incredibly important part of truly “gracious” love (see Edwards, Affections, III., 8. and III., 9).

But, as stated in point #3 of blog #1, we also must remember that disagreement does not necessarily make love impossible.  In fact, the greatest love is often shown in the context of such disagreement –

But God shows His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8). 

It wasn’t because He had decided that we were sinless that God make the supreme, loving sacrifice for His people.  In fact, it was because we were sinners, that “God so loved the world.”  That must be our approach to those whom we think are sinning, to those with whom we disagree.  Here, one more time, are our marching orders:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan




Written by Sam Logan Wednesday, 20 June 2012 00:00

I started my previous blog with a story narrated by Stan Duncan, columnist for the Huffington Post.

I start this blog with a story from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (which I happen to believe is the greatest novel ever written):

The more I love humanity in general , the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.

I suspect that one reason why I love The Brothers Karamazov so much is that several of its characters seem to be speaking “the thoughts and intentions” of my own heart.  And that is nowhere truer than in the quotation above.

Of course, I should love my enemies.  No problem!  Except when you expect me to love that person who cost me my job.

Of course, I should love those whom I think are sinners.  No problem!  Except when those people are publically advocating things that I believe are wrong.

Of course, I should love folks regardless of their race or culture or religious conviction.  No problem! Except when you expect me to love those whom I think are seeking to overthrow my country or my school or my church.

What does love in action look like in those kinds of situations?

I have three suggestions – all taken at least in part from the quotation above.

1.  Our love, if it is to be Scriptural love, must be individual.

The world is a big place.  Humanity is a massive concept.  But people come into our lives as individuals.  And that is where love must begin.  Don’t worry about whether you love “Muslims.”  Has the Lord brought into your life an individual Muslim?  If He has, then that is where your love needs to be focused – on the individual man or woman or child with whom the Sovereign Lord has given you contact.

But, unfortunately for most of us, the biblical command seems to me to be even more intense and challenging.  If, for example, the threat of Islamic terrorism seems especially powerful for you and if you feel it part of your calling from God to speak out against that threat, then it may actually be your responsibility to seek out an individual, specific Muslim to whom you can demonstrate the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated for you.  Not a passive love – if a starving Muslim shows up on my doorstep, I will give him a meal.  But an active love – I will seek out a Muslim in order to show him/her the love of Christ.

Remember  the passage from Ephesians 4 and 5 which I cited in my first blog on this subject?  We are to act as Jesus did, and I guarantee you that none would never have experienced the love of Christ if He had waited until we showed up asking him for that love.  It was while we were yet sinners that He died for us.  He sought us out, not the opposite.  That is the sort of love we need to show, especially to those who are part of a group – any group – with which we frequently and publically express our disagreement.

This is precisely the lesson that Alyosha needs to learn in The Brothers Karamazov.   And the fact that he does learn it is reflected in the final three words of the book, “Hurray for Karamazov!”

2.  Our love, if it is be Scriptural love, must include positive presence in the lives of those we are loving.

One of the best books of the 21stcentury is James Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern Worldand the best section of that book is Part III, where Dr. Hunter discusses what he calls “faithful presence.”  Here is what he means by that term:

This, in short, is the foundation of a theology of faithful presence.  It can be summarized in two essential lessons for our time.  The first is that incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution; the erosion of trust between word and world and the problems that attend it. From this follows the second: it is the way the word became incarnate in Jesus Christ and the purposes to which the incarnation was directed that are the only adequate reply to the challenge of difference.  For the Christian, if there is a possibility for human flourishing in a world such as ours, it begins when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, is embodied in us, is enacted through us and in doing so, a trust is forged between the word spoken and the reality to which it speaks; to the words we speak and the realities to which we, the church, point.  In all, presence and place matter decisively.  [Emphasis his.]

Thank God (and I mean that literally) He did not just love us from afar.  He came and dwelt among us – and we call that the Incarnation.  Think of it: the majestic , holy, sovereign Creator entered the world of sin and suffering  and death and lived among those He was in the process of loving into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Talk about “amazing grace!”

Remember the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of Ephesians 5?

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).

This is, in my opinion an inerrant command to the people of God, that they not only love individually but that they also love within personal relationships with those with whom they disagree. 

To apply this to one of the categories which I mentioned in the first blog in this series, if my “cause” is opposing abortion on demand and if I am to obey the command cited above, then I must seek out someone who has performed such an abortion or someone who has had such an abortion and I must be “faithfully present” in that person’s life.  Among other things, this means simply seeking opportunities to be with that person, not in order to argue with them yet again about abortion but, as Jesus did, to “give myself up” for them in love.  Of course, I continue to want that person to change, but, while I am with him, I will genuinely be seeking their good in all kinds of ways.

James Hunter, in the book I mentioned above, spends a good bit of time teasing out the specific implications of Jeremiah 29: 7 [“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”]  Here is one of his conclusions:

The story of Jeremiah 29 comports well with what we learn from St. Peter, who with so many others, speaks of Christian as “exiles in the world” (1:1, 2:11), encouraging us to “live [our] lives as strangers here in reverent fear (1:17).  God is at work in our own place of exile, and the welfare of those with whom we share a world is tied to our own welfare.  In this light, St. Peter encourages believers repeatedly to be “eager to do good” (3:17) and for each person to “use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (4:10).  This understanding also comports with other New Testament admonitions to “never tire of doing right” (II Thess. 3:13), to “let your magnanimity be manifest to all” (Phil. 4:5), and to “look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own” (Phil. 2: 4).  As Paul writes elsewhere, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (I Cor. 12:7).  All of this is in keeping with the instruction that the people of God are to be committed to the welfare of the cities in which they reside in exile, even when the city is indifferent, ungrateful, or hostile.

3.  Our love, if it is to be Scriptural love, must be hopefully patient

Here is how Paul puts it in I Corinthians 13: “Love is patient and kind . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Among other things, this suggests that love, if it is to be Scriptural love, must endure even the reality that it doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.  The person whom I love does not seem to be changing as I think she should.  If, in light of that fact, I give up loving her individually and with a faithful presence, then my love is not the kind of love Scripture commands.

I have to say that, of all the ways that I should love those with whom I disagree, this is the hardest for me.  I am, by sinful nature, extremely impatient.  I love someone and it doesn’t seem to bring about any change after a couple of weeks and I am ready to quit and go on to someone else.  That is not Scriptural love. 

Scriptural love is patient and is based on the absolute conviction that, in the final analysis, there is nothing that I can do that will get a person into the Kingdom.  That’s God’s job.  My job is to love as I have been loved and to trust that, in His time and in His way, He will use my faithful, individual, loving presence, and will keep His promise –

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:11) 

Does this mean that I simply ignore beliefs or behaviors which I really do believe are wrong?  Do I pretend that someone’s racist attitude or behavior is really all right or that any form of sexual behavior is fine so long as it involves “consenting adults”?

No, faithful, individual, loving presence does not mean this.  But this blog has already gone on too long so I will have to wait until the next blog to discuss “Two ways I should NOT love those with whom I disagree.”

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan


Written by Sam Logan Monday, 18 June 2012 06:30

Stan Duncan, a pastor and columnist for the Huffington Post, recently cited the following story with approval:

I've been encouraged by the words of a Baptist preacher friend from Dallas who once told me that when he dies and stands before St. Peter at the pearly gates, and he hears a list of his lifetime's sins, he expects to hear a long list. But when all is said and done, he said he would much rather be judged for being too open minded than too closed. "If I'm going to make a mistake," he said, "I suspect God would rather it be a mistake of loving too many people into the kingdom than too few."

Frankly, I suspect that, if anything, Duncan fails to state strongly enough the Scriptural mandate of love. There is no biblical warrant whatsoever for simply loving “many!”

This is the first of three posts in which I will share some thoughts on the why, the how, and the “how not” of Christian love . . . as I understand these things from Scripture.

I start with the why.

I have titled this blog “Three Reasons Why I Should LOVE Those With Whom I Disagree.”  Part of the reason why I did this is because I often find it harder to love those with whom I agree than those with whom I disagree.  It seems that the fiercest battles in the Christian world are often fought among those who would seem to have the most in common.  I am a Presbyterian and there is good reason why the world often looks at us and just calls us “the split P’s!”  That is tragic and because I have been and am complicit in this, I must repent and seek the help of the Spirit to change.  In a sense, therefore, loving those with whom I largely AGREE is the harder task.  So, admittedly, I am starting with the easier of the tasks.

But another reason for entitling my blog what I have is suggested in Duncan’s blog above – in the story he cites, there seems to be a clear connection between loving and being open or closed minded.  And that is a common concern, both inside and outside the church.

So why should I love those with whom I disagree?  Let’s make it even stronger – why should I love those whom I think are sinning?

Three reasons (out of many):

1. What I THINK is sin could be no sin at all.

I remember growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Until my late teens, I was absolutely convinced that those who promoted racial equality were wrong.  I’m not sure if I would have called their advocacy of integration  “sin,” but, even if I did not, I was convinced that they were acting contrary to numerous biblical passages such as Genesis 9: 18 – 25.  I know, I know!  How could I ever be so stupid/blind as to think that the curse which was laid upon Ham meant that white and blacks must be kept separate?  I now have no idea . . . and more than I have any idea why, for most of the history of the church in the West, similar stupidity/blindness prevailed.

So I must humbly remember my earlier stupidity/blindness when I make decisions about what is right and wrong today – abortion, genetic manipulation, euthanasia, gay marriage, etc.  I certainly COULD be wrong again.  But more on this in my third blog of this series.

2.  What really is CLEARLY commanded throughout Scripture.

Paul wasn’t just constructing a neat linguistic structure when he said, “So now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  He was speaking the absolute and inerrant word of God.

Someday, I would like to hear the following questions asked in a presbytery ordination exam or in a local church membership application interview:  “Tell us exactly how your life shows that ‘the greatest of these is love.’”  This is a bit like many discussions I have heard about the teaching of Genesis 1 – 3.  Of course, it is important to know and to believe what Scripture teaches on the difficult subject of the details of Creation.  But isn’t it at least as important to ask this question – “Exactly how does your life demonstrate that God is  your Creator?”

There are lots of important biblical doctrines (doctrines which we MUST believe) which Jesus Himself did not directly teach.  But there is no question about this doctrine – “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44); “Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another” (John 13:34); etc.  And there is no question about the pervasive presence of this commandment throughout all of Scripture – you can check out your concordance as well as I can.

3.  What brings the greatest honor and glory to the Triune God.

Man was created in the image of God and it is a full return to that perfect “imageness” in which we were created that is one of the central goals of God’s work of redemption.  This is because God Himself, not you or I, is the ultimately central figure in that work.  Not only is He the central figure in doing that work; He is the central figure in where that work is going – as wonderful as it will be to have all of our tears wiped away, the REALLY wonderful thing is that God will receive the honor which He should receive.

And the greatest honor of all will be given to God when we, His creatures, mirror back to Him His own nature.

What is His nature? 

But God shows His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8).

Talk about “those with whom we disagree.”  Talk about the One who REALLY knows what is “godly” or “ungodly.”   Talk about living out what is clearly commanded in Scripture. 

And what Jesus did is to be the model for how we act –

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2).

This is actually the problem with the story which I quoted at the beginning of this blog – that story makes it sound like there is some kind of pre-set limit to the size of the group which I am supposed to love (broad or narrow).  Wouldn’t most of us be in a mess if that was how God loved in Christ?  I know that, no matter how “broad-minded” God might have been, I would never have been included in that love if it were based on anything other than His gracious, sovereign will.  Whoever that Baptist pastor was, my response to him would be, “Think and live bigger!”

That’s the theory.

That’s, in some ways, the easy part.

Words are one thing. 

But what does such love look like in practice?  What does it look like when applied in concrete detail to those with whom I really do disagree?

And what does such love NOT look like?

These will be the subjects of my next two blogs.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship. He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan


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