Posts Tagged ‘Kevin DeYoung’

What the Trinity says about God’s loving nature

July 28, 2017

The New City Catechism Devotional continues to bless me. I’m writing down these words about the Trinity from Kevin DeYoung mostly so I can quickly refer to them the next time I teach confirmation class.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most important Christian doctrine that most people never think about. It’s absolutely essential to our faith, and yet for many Christians it just seems like a very confusing math problem. And even if we can figure out what Trinity means, it doesn’t feel like it has much bearing on our lives, much relevance to us.

The word Trinity, famously, is not found in the Bible, but the word does very well at capturing a number of biblical truths. There are actually seven statements that go into the doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. God is one. There’s only one God.
  2. The Father is God.
  3. The Son is God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is God.
  5. The Father is not the Son.
  6. The Son is not the Spirit.
  7. The Spirit is not the Father.

If you get those seven statements, then you’ve captured the doctrine of the Trinity—what it means when we say there is one God and three persons.[1]

Is that clear to you? Would this communicate with 12-and 13-year-olds in confirmation class?

Incidentally, as I’ve mentioned before, I like the ministry of Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who frequently debates world-renown atheists. One of his arguments for God’s existence is the “moral argument”: in a nutshell, the fact that objective moral values and duties exist means that God exists. If there are laws, there must be a law-giver. If there’s no law-giver, then no matter how strongly we “feel” that something is wrong, what we feel is the result of blind, undirected physical forces: to say something is “wrong” is merely to assert one’s personal taste. (For more on this, see this old post.)

But this raises a potential problem, as many of Craig’s opponents point out: Are these objective moral values and duties good because God says they’re good? Or is their goodness based on a standard external to God himself?

Do you see the problem? If we say “because God says so,” that seems arbitrary.

On the other hand, if the standard by which we measure goodness is external to God himself, then God is unrelated to this standard, and the moral argument goes out the window. (In philosophical circles, this problem is often called “the Euthyphro dilemma,” which was raised by Socrates himself.)

Craig would call this a false choice and say something like this: We can be confident that what God commands is good not simply because he says so, but because what God “says” is rooted in his divine nature, which is only good and loving. You can easily Google his argument, and let Craig speak for himself!

Regardless, the Trinity shows how this is true: God, in his very nature, is a loving relationship of three Persons. From eternity past, this relationship, at the center of God’s nature, demonstrates true love, which is the foundation of objective moral values and duties.

Not that DeYoung was addressing the “moral argument” when he wrote the following, but I find it helpful to this discussion:

“[W]hen you have a triune God, you have the eternality of love. Love has existed from all time. If you have a god who is not three persons, he has to create a being to love, to be an expression of his love. But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing in eternity have always had this relationship of love. So love is not a created thing. God didn’t have to go outside of himself to love. Love is eternal. And when you have a triune God, you have fully this God who is love.[2]

God did not have to go outside of himself to love. To be a loving god, a non-Trinitarian god would have to first create someone or something to love.

Not so the God of Christianity. He is loving by nature, in and of himself, such that the apostle John can say, “God is love.”

Therefore, God does not have to “go outside of himself” to find a standard to measure the goodness of God’s commands. What God commands is good because it springs from this loving nature.

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 26.

2. Ibid., 27.

The biblical case for marriage goes beyond “thou shalt not”

March 2, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, a United Methodist theologian named Donald Haynes published an article, “A Biblical Analysis of Homosexuality,” in the United Methodist Reporter, an independent denominational news source. As we United Methodists move closer to General Conference in May, expect more pastors and theologians to publish articles and blog posts such as these, in support changing our church’s doctrine on human sexuality.

Meanwhile, the evangelical United Methodist lobby Good News posted a fine two-part response to Dr. Haynes’s article here and here. This response was written by Rev. Thomas Lambrecht.

Of course, I’ve also responded over the years to the objections that Haynes raises. (Type in “homosexuality” in the search field in the upper left of this page.) But one glaring oversight in Haynes’s argument is that he examines only verses that condemn homosexual behavior; he disregards the positive case that scripture makes for heterosexual-only marriage.

Lambrecht notices Haynes’s failure, too:

One of the most significant shortcomings in Haynes’ article is that he ignores the consistent and complementary heterosexual thread through Scripture based on Genesis 1 and 2, reaffirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12. When asked about the possible circumstances of divorce, Jesus pointed his listeners back to God’s original intention for marriage and human sexuality, quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. God created us male and female, as complementary and equal persons who jointly exhibit the full-orbed image of God (1:27). Out of this gender difference and complementarity, God forges a one-flesh unity in the commitment of heterosexual marriage (2:24). Throughout Scripture, the expression of our sexuality is envisioned to lie only within this God-sanctioned relationship.

It is to heterosexual marriage that Paul turns to picture the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). Here the difference is as important as the complementarity. Christ and the Church are different in many ways, yet the Church aspires to a Christ-like life, and the two find unity in their relationship as Bride and Groom, culminating in the great marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation.

Haynes does not explain how the constant thread of heterosexual marriage from Genesis to Revelation supports the affirmation of same-sex relationships. He also does not explain how such affirmation would affect the theological significance given to marriage as a symbol of the union between Christ and the Church.

To reinforce Lambrecht’s point, I would underline the complementarity of male and female as a prerequisite for sexual activity. In the Garden of Eden, God takes the “rib” (or better, “side”) of the man and forms the woman. Adam, therefore, finds his “missing part” not in a sexual union with another man (who is, after all, missing the same part) but only in a sexual union with a woman. As Kevin DeYoung writes in his recent book on the subject, “The ish [man] and ishah [woman] can become one flesh because theirs is not just a sexual union but a reunion, the bringing together of two differentiated beings, with one made from and both made for the other.”[1]

At this point, theologically progressive United Methodists will often object that Genesis 1 and 2 are not meant to be taken “literally.” I disagree to the extent that they these chapters, alongside the rest of the Bible, are meant to be “taken” the way that the author intends for them to be taken. When the author speaks literally, we take these words literally; when he speaks figuratively, we take them figuratively.

Be that as it may, this progressive Christian objection begs the question: O.K., what do they mean non-literally? Because inasmuch as they are non-literal, they still communicate some metaphorical, figurative, or poetic truth. What is it?

As Robert Gagnon, a mainline Protestant New Testament professor and ordained PCUSA minister at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, puts it in his classic book on the subject: “Even though evaluation of same-sex intercourse is not the point of the text, legitimation for homosexuality requires an entirely different kind of creation story… Male and female are ‘perfect fits’ from the standpoint of divine design and blessing. Male and male, or female and female, are not.”[2]

1. Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 28.

2. Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001), 61-2.

On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 4: Bible translators know more about Greek than we do

June 8, 2015

This is the fourth part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” See my three previous posts for more.

In my three previous posts on this subject, I’ve refuted Rev. Purdue’s “argument from silence”: Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, therefore his silence indicates that he approves of homosexual practice in some cases. Next, I turned my attention to his misinterpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, which he used to suggest that Jesus was open to alternatives to marriage between one man and one woman for life.

Today, I’ll look at the way Purdue handles the apostle Paul’s three references to homosexual practice: Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

Mostly, he doesn’t handle them, unfortunately. Here’s the extent of his words about these passages themselves:

The Apostle Paul speaks about homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, & 1 Timothy 1:8-10. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NRSV) How do we read those three passages? Some scholars assert that Paul’s word usage connotes a casual promiscuous sexuality, not committed monogamous gay and lesbian marital relationships. I leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars. However, we must not ignore or proof-text Paul’s teachings on homosexuality. We must consider the three passages in their context and in light of the entirety of Christian teaching.

Indeed, “some scholars” do assert that Paul’s usage “connotes a casual promiscuous sexuality, not committed monogamous gay and lesbian marital relationships.” Some scholars also deny that Jesus of Nazareth existed. What about it? We can always find a fringe of scholars in any academic discipline that assert any number of deeply eccentric ideas.

It’s only been in the past 40 years, however, in the wake of the sexual revolution and cultural pressure to affirm homosexual practice, that even a small minority of scholars believe that Paul is referring to something other than homosexual practice per se. Interestingly, even many mainstream, “gay-affirming” Bible scholars and historians, who’ve written extensively on the Bible and the practice of homosexuality in the ancient world, agree that the biblical witness against homosexual practice is clear and unambiguous. Here are three that I know of: William Loader, Bernadette Brooten, and Luke Timothy Johnson (from my alma mater, the Candler School of Theology at Emory).

In a Commonweal article written by Luke Timothy Johnson several years ago, in which he advocated for changing church doctrine on sexuality, he writes:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

My point is, if Purdue is sincere when he says he wants to “leave the particular word studies to the Greek scholars,” he ought to be prepared to accept their verdict: there is no ambiguity in the Bible regarding homosexual practice.

After all, Purdue isn’t very different from me (as far as I know). If he went to a UMC-approved, mainline Protestant seminary, much less an official UMC seminary like mine, and earned an M. Div., he isn’t any better prepared to argue the nuances of biblical Greek and Hebrew than I am, much less with scholars in the field. Our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is limited, to say the least. We are, to some extent, at the mercy of scholars who know much more about ancient languages than we do.

But I’ve noticed that my gay-affirming colleagues in ministry—who, again, have a limited understanding of Greek and Hebrew themselves—often make appeals to the obscurity of these languages as a way of saying, “We can’t know for sure what Paul meant when he said these things that seem to relate to homosexual practice. We can’t know for sure the true meaning of these obscure Greek and Hebrew words.”

I disagree. First, if Greek and Hebrew are really so obscure, how do we know anything about what the Bible says—not just the things in the Bible that make us uncomfortable, but also those scriptures that we happen to like? After all, we rely on the same exegetical and hermeneutical resources to arrive at Christian convictions concerning God’s love, grace, and mercy as we do to understand that the Bible condemns homosexual practice in the strongest terms in both Testaments. Why do we think we know something in the former case but not the latter?

Keep in mind: There was absolutely no ambiguity about the meaning of Paul’s words prior to around 1980 or so. There just wasn’t! By all means, every Christian thinker could have been wrong up to that point, but how likely is that?

deyoung_homosexuality_The truth is, while neither Purdue nor I is well-prepared to argue Greek and Hebrew, we don’t need to in the vast majority of cases. Why? Because our English translations of the Bible are a reliable guide to understanding what the ancient Greek and Hebrew are saying.

In his new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Kevin DeYoung makes this point very well in reference to Paul’s words about homosexual practice in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 (emphasis mine).

The English translations are almost always right, especially when they basically say the same thing. Think about it: each of the nine translations listed above [ESV, HCSB, KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV (2011), NKJV, NLT, and NRSV] was put together by a team of scholars with expertise in biblical scholarship and the original languages. That doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes or that we can’t learn new things they missed. But it does mean that after reading a few commentaries and perusing a couple of articles online you will certainly not know the ancient world or Koine Greek better than they did. If the translators thought a specific word really meant X (as seminary students and bloggers are apt to say), they wouldn’t have translated it as Y. Our English translations, imperfect though they may be, are faithful and reliable translations of the original languages. They do not need decoding.

I’ll continue to examine Rev. Purdue’s argument about Paul in my next post on the subject.

† Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 62.

I don’t understand the “Methodist middle” and other thoughts

May 26, 2015

deyoung_homosexuality_Last week, in the wake of the Connectional Table’s proposal to liberalize the United Methodist Church’s doctrine on marriage and sexuality, a clergy colleague in the infamous “Methodist middle” posted on Facebook that he was, in so many words, too busy doing the work of God’s kingdom to worry about the church’s stance toward same-sex sexual practice.

I responded sharply to this person, was rightly criticized by his friends, and apologized. I need to watch my tone if I want to be a constructive voice on this issue. Ugh. I was having a bad day.

After some give and take with my colleague, though, I realized that he sincerely believed that this was a matter of theological indifference. I confess I don’t understand being in the middle on this issue. For the sake of argument, let’s say the other side is right and the church’s nearly two-thousand-year unanimous opinion is wrong (which I don’t believe for a moment), then, by all means, our present doctrine does hurt people who experience same-sex attraction. That pastor in Alabama is right: we’re all drinking from the “colored water fountains” if we don’t stand up for change.

In other words, I stand alongside the left-wing of the church in believing that this can’t be a matter of indifference. Even my liberal acquaintances who accuse me of being “obsessed” with this issue should appreciate that we have this in common: neither side thinks we should be indifferent about it.

I read Kevin DeYoung’s new book on the subject, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, and he nicely explains why people like me can’t be in the Methodist middle on this subject.

It cannot be overstated how seriously the Bible treats the sin of sexual immorality. Sexual sin is never considered adiaphora, a matter of indifference, an agree-to-disagree issue like food laws or holy days (Rom. 14:1-15:7). To the contrary, sexual immorality is precisely the sort of sin that characterizes those who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. There are at least eight vice lists in the New Testament (Mark 7:21-22; Rom. 1:24-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:8), and sexual immorality is included in every one of these. In fact, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (e.g., impurity, sensuality, orgies, men who practice homosexuality), and in most of the passages some kind of sexual immorality heads the lists. You would be hard-pressed to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more seriously condemned in the New Testament than sexual sin.[†]

In the comments section of last week’s post on the subject, a progressive United Methodist pastor (whom I haven’t met, but who is a frequent contributor to the UMC Clergy Facebook page) said the following:

I think gay Christians are owed an explanation why their marriages are sinful. Where is the harm in their marriages? All sin harms somebody. Saying it is somehow against a concept of natural order doesn’t cut it. Where is the harm?

I’ve heard this before, even on this blog. If you agree with me on this issue, how would you respond to his comment?

Here are some of my thoughts: As for the first sentence, “because the Bible tells me so” is a perfectly sufficient answer for me.

If that sounds glib, what I mean is this: If, after we’ve done our best exegetical and hermeneutical work and come to the conclusion that the Bible rules out same-sex sexual behavior per se, and that it doesn’t depend on any quality or virtue of the relationship (i.e., that it is loving, covenantal, lifelong, monogamous, etc.), then in submission to God’s Word, we obey.

And we obey because we believe that God the Holy Spirit guided the writers of scripture to teach us the same-sex sexual behavior is wrong.

Nevertheless, as I pointed out to him, there is logic behind, for example, Jesus’ words prohibiting divorce and remarriage, which also rules out homosexual practice. It’s the same logic that guides Paul’s words about these relationships being “against nature” in Romans 1:24-27. Gay marriage doesn’t exist (regardless what the state says) because two men or two women can’t become “one flesh” in sexual union. Genesis 1 and 2 require as a prerequisite two sexually different human beings in order to create this bond.

I preached about this last Sunday when I talked about 1 Corinthians 6.

Moreover, Paul dismisses as irrelevant the “quality of relationship” argument when he explains why Corinthian Christians can’t sleep with prostitutes, even though from their perspective this is a meaningless physical act: the mere physical, bodily act of a sexually complementary union makes the two “one flesh.”

What we do with our bodies matters a great deal to God, Paul argues throughout that chapter. God has the right to tell us how we use our bodies sexually. We don’t have to “agree” or even understand it; we just have to obey.

Nevertheless, I offered this brief reply to his comment:

As far as the sin of homosexual practice harming someone, we should first approach the question with some humility. Remember Judges? “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes”? Besides, to ask where the harm is, as Andrew Wilson says in the linked video, is begging the question, isn’t it? Doesn’t God get to say what is and isn’t sinful and therefore harmful? Why do you resist the idea that God gets to say how we use our bodies, sexually? If God doesn’t want us to use our bodies in this way, then the harm is in our relationship with God—irrespective of any harm on the horizontal plane of human relationships.

Nevertheless, given the vast difference in life expectancies, the transference of diseases (not only HIV), mental illness, suicide rates, and drug abuse between gay and straight men, for example, an unbiased observer might very well say that there is obvious harm that results from doing something that is against our natures.

As to love, if unrepentant homosexual behavior potentially excludes someone from God’s kingdom, then it would be unloving to say or teach otherwise.

Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 74.