Wednesday, May 24, 2006 

Mohler on McLaren and The Da Vinci Code

Since we have been discussing Brian McLaren on the blog, I thought it would be good to link Albert Mohler's most recent post on McLaren's words regarding The Da Vinci Code's popularity, which has already been discussed exhaustively in the blogosphere. But, despite that I think Mohler's article is a fresh perspective and one that should be noted. Mohler first points out Brian McLaren's quote in Sojourners magazine in which he says:
We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown's version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church's conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church's conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?
And Mohler responds with this:
This is just not a responsible way to deal with a serious theological challenge. Why did the Gnostic cults prefer their conception of Jesus to that of the canonical Gospels? Is this the fault of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? The church's "conventional version of Jesus," where it needs corrrection, can be corrected only by Scripture.

I think Mohler makes an excellent point here, one that bears more consideration given the state of the Church today and the postmodern challenge. You will have to read the article to see the connection between the Left Behind Series and The Da Vinci Code, but it's quite interesting. Here's the link to Mohler's article:

Left Behind by The Da Vinci Code?

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Offending That Which Is Offensive

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" 4 And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Matthew 11:1-6, NASB).

I used to have one of those "Jesus fish" emblems on my truck, but due to an unfortunate accident my truck suffered at the hands of a friend's knee (don't ask -- it's still difficult to talk about), the emblem is no longer there. But, driving around an area like Louisville, you are bound to see your share of them on the back of cars. And they come in all variations -- some small or large, gold or silver, and some with either the words Jesus or ICTHUS (which is the word for "fish" in Greek, and actually is an acronym, the words of which are Greek and mean "Jesus, Christ, God, Son, and Savior) inside them. I even once saw one on the back of a Cadillac Escalade that said "Jabez" inside of the fish. Guess those guys were expanding there territory so much that they pushed Jesus out of the fish.

Unfortunately though, even as people have celebrated this symbol that once aided in the recognition of Christians in the 1st century while helping them to avoid persecution, there are a number of people who find this symbol to be fun to use to mock Christians. Not understanding its significance in the history of Christianity, all sorts of people display a fish on the backs of their cars with the term "Darwin" on it. It's usually fitted with a pair of feet to emphasize that the driver believes in evolution, as opposed to Christianity. Of course, there are other types of fish parodies as well. Some say "N Chips" or "Bite Me" or even "Sushi."

Every time that I see this on the back of someone's car I have a real desire to go up to them and ask them if they know how offensive those parodies of the FISH are. Do they, for instance, know that upwards of tens of thousands of Christians were killed by the Romans when the symbol of the FISH was employed in order to acknowledge fellow brothers in Christ without running the risk of being killed? Or that the numbers are even worse today, with some estimating that throughout the world as many as 170,000 Christians die due to persecution every year? Or that many more are persecuted by being starved, beaten, tortured, and imprisoned, all because of the name of Christ? When I actually consider the numbers and what the symbol of the FISH meant to the early Christians it does anger me to see it used so flippantly by some Christians and mocked by those who are not of the faith.

But then I have to stop and remember the offense that Jesus said He would be to people. I have to remember that, according to Paul, the cross itself is an offense (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 5:11). The word for "offense" in those passages is "skandolon," from which we derive the English words, "scandal" and "scandalous." Jesus Christ and the cross are scandalous, He is offensive and what He did was offensive. So should we be surprised to see people react to the man and His message with mockery and disdain? Of course not! In fact, we should rejoice that Jesus words noted above are fulfilled even in our day, as they were in His.

When we approach the problem of postmodernism and its emphasis on moral relativity, we cannot be shocked by what a scandal it is to preach truth. Today, many church leaders and pastors are attempting to meld postmodernism with Christianity -- to "contextualize" it to the postmodern culture. But can it really be done? Can something so offensive like Jesus' words of absolute truth, His work on the cross, and His call for His disciples to lay down their lives for Him really be contextualized into a culture that finds it scandalous to proclaim such things? And what about God? Is He surprised that so many people in this new postmodern context reject His message of Love and sacrifice?

I think the answers to the above questions are "NO." The early believers weren't persecuted because they were giving the Romans an alternate choice of gods. Rather, it was because they proclaimed the absolute superiority of Christ to all other choices. They were bold in teaching that the Roman gods were demons or were merely figments of the Romans' imaginations. And as they did this, the Church grew. Read that sentence again -- THE CHURCH GREW! It grew so much despite the culture's rejection of the Christian worldview that Tertuallian, a third century Christian who came to Christ through examining the courage of those enduring persecution, is said to have written, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

So next time you see something like what Madonna did on stage this week, placing herself on a giant mirrored cross as she sang one of her songs, or notice one of those FISH emblems with "Darwin" stuck in the middle on a passing car, let it serve as a reminder of the persecution of the early Christians, the persecution that continues today in places like China and North Korea and Iran, and the persecution that will surely be a part of ours or our children's lives one day. Remember that they are merely offending that which is offensive to them. And let it remind you to be bold, even as those who have lost their lives were, with the message of Christ, not compromising it for the sake of a "contextualization" that will never be as effective as "the blood of martyrs."

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Monday, May 22, 2006 

Mondays With McLaren: "Introduction" to A Generous Orthodoxy

McLaren, Brian. A Generous Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2004. pp. 304.

You may not be a Christian and wondering why anyone would want to be. The religion that inspired the Crusades, launched witch trials, perpetuates religious broadcasting, presents too-often boring and irrelevant church services with schmaltzy music – or else presents manic and overly aggressive church services with a different kind of schmaltzy music – baptizes wars and other questionable political programs, promotes judgmentalism, and ordains preachers with puffy haircuts (and others who are so superficial as to complain about puffy haircuts or whose baldness makes the complaint seem suspiciously tinged with envy) . . . it doesn’t make sense to you why anyone would want “in” on that.

…And so begins Brian McLaren’s controversial book, A Generous Orthodoxy. Provocative as usual, McLaren often sounds more like an opponent of Christianity (or at least some strains of it, particularly those of the Fundamentalist or Evangelical kind) than an adherent of it. Still his description is marginally accurate and likely at least some what reflective of those to whom he says he is writing. But this group is but one among five that he addresses in his introduction and believes might be reading his book. Along with non-Christian seekers, struggling Christians, Christian leaders looking for information on the Emergent movement (uh…I mean, conversation), those “looking for dirt so [they] can write a hostile review,” and new Christians are those who McLaren believes will be most drawn to his book.

The most striking thing about McLaren’s categories, looking at them from a perspective of having read the book in its entirety, as well as quite a few reviews of the book, is that the only group he appears to have been correct about appealing to is those “looking for dirt.” In fact, McLaren’s main audience seems to be his most ardent fans, those who are already well-versed in the Emergent conversation and who are fluent in the “post-“ language (as in post-modern, post-Christian, post-Evangelical, post-foundationalism, etc.). Most of the reviews I read came from either these sorts of folks or those who called McLaren everything from a liberal to a pagan in systematically trashing the book. I doubt, given the title and subject matter of the book, that McLaren was able to reach new Christians, struggling Christians, and especially non-Christian seekers.

The book revolves around a key principle that is McLaren’s rather oxymoronic title, "Generous Orthodoxy." Springboarding off of C.K Chesterson’s classic, Orthodoxy, and borrowing the term from Hans Frei (via Stanley Grenz) who says, “My own vision of what might be propitious for our day, split as we are, not so much into denominations as into [liberal/mainline and conservative/evangelical] schools of thought, is that we need a kind of orthodoxy which would have in it an element of liberalism . . . and an element of evangelicalism,” McLaren explains that:

This generous orthodoxy does not mean a simple merging, mixing, conflating, or reconciling of the two schools of thought, though. Rather it disagrees with both regarding the “view of certainty and knowledge which liberals and evangelicals hold in common,” a view Grenz describes as “produced…by modernist assumptions.” Grenz adds that this generous orthodoxy must “take seriously the postmodern problematic” and suggest “the way forward is for evangelicals to take the lead in renewing a theological ‘center’ that can meet the challenges of the postmodern…situation in which the church now finds itself.”
I find this concept rather interesting, but somewhat naïve. McLaren undoubtedly understands the fraction between liberalism and evangelicalism, yet he often chooses to ignore the divide and instead focus on what each can bring to the table -- a noble gesture for sure. But, unfortunately while liberals can learn a great deal from evangelicals, and vice-versa, there remains a theological gap that cannot be filled merely by coming together underneath the name of Jesus Christ, especially given the fact that the two sides cannot agree on what Christ did on earth, let alone what He does in the lives of Christians today. The centrality of the Gospel is the foundation upon which any "generous orthodoxy" must be built, not upon the idea that both strands of Christianity are simultaneously both right and both wrong and that acknowledging this fact and learning from one another alone will bring fellowship and camaraderie under Christ. It is not "generous" to allow one to die in their rejection of the deity or bodily resurrection of Christ, nor is it orthodox to believe such is an appropriate expression of the Christian faith. The Gospel, when tainted by an acceptance of willful sin and a rejection of the Bible as the sole authority for the believer in matters of faith and life, ceases to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ and could just as well be the Gospel of Buddha or the Gospel of Mohammed or even the Gospel of Scientology.

But yet within greater Evangelicalism, this concept can and should be employed for the furtherance of the Gospel. A great example of this is the recent “Together for the Gospel” Conference held here in Louisville a little less than a month ago. The speakers and conference-goers ranged in tradition from Anglican to Presbyterian to Southern Baptist and even to Charismatic, yet they all enjoyed fellowship under the banner of the Gospel message. They did not, however, pretend that they had no differences, even often celebrating them through jokes and jabs aimed at one another’s theological nuances. But after reading McLaren’s book, it seems apparent that this sort of "generous orthodoxy" is not what he has in mind, but rather the kind that has to ignore glaringly different perspectives on salvation, eternal life, Hell, Trinitarian (or non-Trinitarian) theology, sin, and even the events of the life of Christ. Fellowship that exists in such an environment is not true fellowship, but rather simply a denial that true fellowship is necessary for unity.

In examining how this plays out, notice how two vastly different groups handle the idea of a confessional statement. On the one hand, the Emergent conversation, most of whom would be ardent supporters of McLaren and his concept of “Generous Orthodoxy,” has recently had some discussions regarding devising a doctrinal statement. Tony Jones, considering the possibility, issued a statement on the Emergent-Us website from LeRon Shults on why affirming any doctrinal statement “would be unnecessary, inappropriate and disastrous.” Contrast that with a statement issued by those involved in the “Together for the Gospel” Conference spoken of above. It is a list of 18 Articles on which all involved can agree upon. The statement builds upon the solid foundation of the Gospel, yet includes ample freedom for disagreement between traditions and denominations of the Christian faith. Call me crazy, but the term “Generous Orthodoxy” seems be embodied much more by the TG4 folks who are able to honestly examine their differences and celebrate their similarities than by those of the Emergent stripe who feel such an undertaking would be “disastrous,” despite the Early Church's numerous confessional statements (which later came together as creeds). In the end, I think McLaren’s concept is a noble one, but without the right foundation, fails to meet up to its standards of being BOTH generous and orthodox.

Next week, we examine McLaren’s own critiques of his book set forth in “Chapter 0” and discuss why he wrote this chapter and if he is right about the book’s shortcomings.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006 

Homosexuality and The Apostle Paul: A Study on Romans 1:26-27

As many of you know, recently I have been debating a fellow blogger named Dan Trabue who operates a blog entitled, A Payne-Hollow Visit, on the question, “Does the Bible Teach that Homosexuality Is a Sin?” We have debated in the comments’ sections of two different posts. The discussion on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 can be found under this post and the beginning of the discussion on Romans 1:18-32 can be found under this post. I have decided for a number of reasons, one being that I believe that it is absolutely essential that we properly exegete the text of this passage, i.e., interpret by drawing out of the text its meaning to its original hearers, to post my exegesis of verses 26-27 as a completely new blog post. So, the following is rather lengthy, detailed, and at times highly technical, but I assure you worth reading if you are interested in the subject. I have tried to weave both Greek translation and narrative criticism together as well as summarize the points as I go in order to help those of you who might occasionally get lost to see how the argument fits together neatly into the box of Paul’s overall argument, which is a presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ beginning with this passage highlighting the sin of the idolatrous Gentile culture. Please feel free to ask for clarification by commenting below. And note that in the comments’ section there will be a continuation of the debate between Dan and I, as well as a post on the interpretations of this text by various Church Fathers. So without further adieu, let us begin with verse 26.

Dia touto begins this verse, which translated simply means “For this reason.” This harkens back to the previous verse and indicates that what is about to be said is the result of the idolatrous culture. God has not been worshipped, but rather He has been usurped by the idols of creatures, and even the idol of mankind, itself. This verse is the result of exchanging the truth of God for a lie.

Paradoken – this word is repeated from v.24. God again gives them over to their desires. In v.24, He gave them over “in the lusts of their hearts” to impurity. Morris (NICNT: 1996) notes that this phrasing “shows that those who were handed over were already immersed in sin” (p.110). In v.24, these people already had an inborn desire to sin and were beginning to flirt with impurity. God simply allowed them to do so and they indulged. Likely, the same emphasis is found here in v.26, just as we will see that the same is true of the term for “exchange.”

The next phrase is “to degrading passions” – (eis patha atimias) – literally, “to emotions of dishonor” or “passions of dishonor”. This phrase is parallel to “impurity” in v.24, and while the word for “impurity” was somewhat ambiguous as to whether it dealt with sexuality, this phrase is not. Regarding this Morris says, “Paul’s use of the word ‘passions’ ... makes clear that he refers to illicit sexual passions” (pp.113-114).

“For” (gar) signals that Paul is about to explain in what way these people were given over to “dishonorable passions.” He goes on: “their women exchanged” – the word for “woman” (thaleiai) here is found rarely in Paul. Regarding this, Morris says in a footnote, “Paul’s use of the antonyms thelusi/arsen [female/male] (v.27) rather than, e.g., gune/aner, stresses the element of sexual distinctiveness and throws into relief the perversity of homosexuality by implicitly juxtaposing its confusion of the sexes with the divine ‘male and female he created them.’ For the pair thelus/arsen is consistently associated with the creation narrative (cf. Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6…).” Schreiner picks up on this and adds that in “selecting the unusual words thelus … and arsen … rather than gune and aner … he drew on the creation account of Genesis, which uses the same words.” The same words, that is, in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT that Paul exclusively used in his letters and with which his audience would have undoubtedly been most familiar. Again, this ties together the overriding theme of creation explicit in this passage.

Let’s now examine the word, “exchanged.” Paul uses the same word as he did in vv.23 and 25, again adding to the parallel nature of the passage. He says they exchanged “the natural function for that which is unnatural” – literally “the natural use to the [use] against nature.” This is the crux of the verse, and dare say the entire argument Paul is making regarding what I will later argue is homosexual relationships. The word that is translated “natural” means “belonging to nature, innate, a natural condition.” The word chresin here is translated, “function.” It is used only one time in the NT, and this is it. It is used often though in Greek to denote “sexual intercourse” and is found used this way in works by Lucian, Plutarch, and coincidentally in Plato’s Symposium, which we will get to in just a moment. This seems to again clearly show that this text is dealing with sexual relationships, specifically those of a homosexual nature.

And speaking of nature, the “exchange” (“exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural”) is clearly made from natural sexual intercourse to that which is para physin, or “against nature.” This phrase is incredibly important in this passage. But, first let’s deal with the word physikos, meaning “natural” in this passage. It is used only three times in the NT. Twice it is used in this passage and once in 2 Peter 2:12 where it is used to describe animals. The general definition is “given by, or according to nature” (TDNOT, V.IX, p.271). Now looking at the word, physis, translated “nature” at the end of this verse, is used often by Paul to denote things common to all people. In Romans 2:14 it is translated, “instinctively” and refers to all Gentiles. In 2:27 it again refers to all Gentiles. The same is true of 11:24, 27. In 1 Cor. 11:14 he uses it to refer to a universal principle which is observable in the physical world. In Galatians 2:15, he refers to the fact that all Jews are so by physical ancestry. In Gal. 4:8 he is referring to fact that idols are not “by nature” gods. And Ephesians 2:3 refers to all people’s status as being objects of wrath were it not for the grace of God. So, in every case, Paul uses this term to refer to a universal principle and/or complete group. He is lumping all people or items together into one category. Never does he use it to denote a minority group separate to the majority group. So when one says that this is in reference to the nature of an individual person separate from all women or men, it seems unlikely given Paul’s normal usage. If such a strange reading were legitimate it would be the first time he is using the word in that regard and does not fit with his usage of the word in other parts of the book of Romans, which he likely wrote all in one sitting with one purpose – to lay out the Gospel for the Church at Rome.

Now, let’s deal with the phrase, “against nature” or para physin specifically for a moment. It is used one other time in Romans and no where else in Scripture. In 11:24, Paul says literally, “For if you [Jews] were cut off from what is by nature [kata physin] a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature [para physin] into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural [physikos] branches be grafted into their own olive tree.” The argument goes like this: The Gentiles were grafted into the olive tree of Abraham’s descendants (though they were by ancestry not Jews) by the grace of God through the sacrifice of Christ. This was unnatural or [contrary to the laws of nature] to do so. Still if God is able to do that, then surely He is able to bring those Jews who were by ancestry into their own tree as well. So again, we see this phrase used to express a universal understanding of people (and trees). Again, nothing seems to suggest that Paul is using this phrase to denote the nature of an individual or group of individuals within the larger population.

But, what is most interesting about this phrase is Paul’s use of it in Romans 1:27 when dealing with an issue with obviously sexual overtones. Remember that Paul is speaking to a Gentile audience and that he is a Roman citizen who was educated according to both Jewish law and Greek philosophy (as we seen when he goes to Mars Hill in Acts 17 and his discussion on philosophy in 1 Corinthians, as well as his use of rhetoric throughout his writings).

Knowing this, we find the either phrase “against nature” (para physin) or the effect Paul may be trying to cause with this phrase often in Greek literature. Let’s turn now to Charles Talbert for more on this:

For example, In Plato, Laws 1.2 [626B-C] said same-sex relations were ‘contrary to nature’; Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.758, had a girl involved in same sex love say ‘nature does not will it’; Ps-Lucian, Erotes 19, said female homoeroticism is contrary to nature (Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, Romans, 2002, p.66).
We also find evidence from Hellenistic Judaism. Again Talbert says, “Philo, On Abraham XXVI.135, spoke about men, discarding laws of nature, lusting after one another. In Special Laws, 2.XIV.50, he talked about men lusting unnaturally. T. Naphtali 3:4 said: “Do not become like Sodom, which departed from the order of nature” (which lends evidence to the use of “Sodom” throughout Christianity to refer not just to rape, etc., but to general homosexual practice) (Talbert, 66). He goes on:
Ps-Psocylides 190 exhorted the readers not to transgress sexually the limits set by nature. Josephus [a contemporary of Paul], Against Apion 2.25 + 199, said the law ‘owns no other mixture of sexes but that which has appointed…It abhors the mixture of a male with a male.’ Second Enoch 10:4 regards homosexual practice as a sin against nature.
And then we find this phrase used after the writing of Scripture, by the early Church Fathers to speak of homosexual relationships as unnatural, giving weight to the fact that the early Church believed Paul to be using “nature” and “against nature” in this way. Regarding these examples Talbert offers:

This Jewish contention was by the early fathers. Polycarp, Philippians 5.3, for example, said that those given to unnatural vice would not share in the kingdom of God. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 2.12.55 and 7.10.59, said women who married women acted contrary to nature [see there is talk about homosexual marriage in the early Church]. For him, the Genesis creation narrative laid the framework for understanding nature as gendered. John Chrysostem’s Fourth Homily on Romans treats both male and female homoeroticism as unnatural.
The evidence here is overwhelmingly in favor of a reading of “contrary to nature” as meaning against the nature of all men, with the term “naturally,” as we will see, referring to heterosexuality and para physin (“contrary to nature”) referring to homosexuality.

Turning back to the verse itself, were v.27 to have been omitted by Paul, we would still know that:
1. Paul was describing what results from a culture that has turned away from God.
2. This results in a sinful activity.
3. This sinful activity involves women and of a sexual nature.
4. A natural, non-sinful sexual activity has been exchanged for this sexually sinful activity
5. This sinful sexual activity is wrong because it goes against the nature of all women.

Now that we’ve covered the wording Paul used in v.26, let’s move on to v.27.

“And in the same way” is a phrase that indicates that the men described in v.27 were involved in the exact same type of activity. With just this phrase we can surmise that all five of the summarizing statements regarding v.26 are true of these men he going to describe in v.27.

Next Paul says, “the men abandoned the natural function of the woman.” The word for “abandoned” is best understood as “forsake” or “give up.” We have already covered the word “natural” as it denotes the normal activity of a general group. And we have also dealt with the word for “function” noting that it is used in regards to sexual activity. The phrase “of the woman” denotes a subjective genitive (the case of possession) and could be translated, “the woman’s natural function” or “the woman’s normal sexual activity.” This emphasizes that the men gave up sexual relationships with women, or said another way, they “forsook the sexual activity that they could have had with women” in favor of something else. Like the women they exchanged this “natural sexual activity” for something that was “unnatural.”

These men, abandoning the natural sexual activity of the woman, “burned in their desire toward one another.” This is actually the first main verb in this sentence. So literally, “as they abandoned, they also had a strong desire.” The word here is translated as “burned” in order to catch the emphasis in the Greek construction of the verse. Also, the verb is normally an active verb, but here its form is in the passive voice. Literally, it says, “[the men] were made to have a strong desire in their desire for one another.” This verse seems to make it clear that the men gave up the sexual activity they could have had with women and instead were inflamed with a desire for each other, which would obviously be other men.

But just in case Paul wasn’t clear, he uses the phrase, “men with men.” The first “men” in this phrase is in the nominative case (the case generally given to the subject of a sentence). This is strange for a word in the middle of a sentence to be in the nominative case, but this denotes that it has a specific function. Here it is what Daniel Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 1996) calls a “Parenthetic Nominative,” whose “use is primarily explanatory and is frequently an editorial aside” (p.53). Paul wants his readers to understand what he means by “burned for one another.” He means that men had sex with other men. At this point there is no doubt that he is speaking of homosexual relationships.

Paul doesn’t stop there, but continues adding, “men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” About this sentence James R. White writes,

The mutuality of this desire is emphasized by the phrase “men with men.” The apostle leaves no doubt as to his reference: adult homosexuals. And these are active men: they act upon their desires, accomplishing what Paul identifies as literally “the shameful deed,” or as it is rendered by the NASB and NIV, “indecent acts.” The term comes from an old word that referred to something as “deformed,” and hence flows into the concept of perversion and deviation that is part and parcel of this section of the chapter. There is no possible way of reading this term as referring to anything neutral or simply “unusual” or “out of the norm.” Paul views homosexual activity as shameful or indecent.

And just in case his readers didn’t understand from his argument that these acts were sinful, Paul closes this verse with the words, “and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” Certainly this act was sinful if indeed those who commit such are given their “due penalty.” Scholars differ on what this due penalty may mean. Many point to 1 Cor. 6:9 where Paul condemns certain sins and claims that those who commit such will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This verse is very controversial, however, because Paul uses the term, arsenokoites, which many say is not a legitimate term for “homosexual” given its limited usage in Greek. In fact, there are no known usages of it before the Hellenistic Jew Philo who was likely born just a few years before Paul, though Paul was probably very aware of his writings. So where did the term come from? Likely it came from Philo, who probably found this term in the Septuagint (LXX) and then used the term to refer to male homosexual sex. And then Paul picked up on this himself, for, as we noted earlier, Paul used the LXX exclusively in his letters. What both Philo and Paul would have found was the two words, arsen (men) and koiten (have sex with) in both Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the LXX. But what is striking is that in verse 13 of chapter 20 we find the two words directly next to one another. The verse reads in Greek, hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos. It was very common in Greek, and sometimes now happens in English, to combine two words together to form a new word that carried with it the meaning of the two. As the ancient languages had a limited vocabulary, this practice was the chief way in which words were created and the language was broadened. Often, after the word becomes common, it loses its original meaning and comes to have another one, though still reflective in some way of the two words of which it is constructed.

Another view of the “due penalty in their persons” is that Paul is referring to the fact that once one goes down the path toward homosexuality, he or she will be hooked by it and become fully engaged homosexuals, losing the joy they would have been able to experience in “natural” sexual relations. Whatever the meaning of this particular phrase we can certainly gather the following facts from our study of these verses:

  1. Paul is indicting the Gentile culture for their idolatry.
  2. Paul’s overall argument is based upon the observance of the created order, which the Gentiles were privy to despite their lack of the Law God had given to the Jews. Thus they were without excuse.
  3. He points out that a culture this idolatrous will be given over by God to pursue their depravity.
  4. This depravity is exemplified in at least three ways: They ignored the divine attributes of God despite the witness of the created order, they exchanged the glory of God to worship idols of men and animals despite the witness of the created order, and they exchanged the natural function of heterosexual relationships for homosexual ones despite the obvious witness of the created order.

Specifically, Paul argues in vv.26-27 the following:

  1. Because of the idolatrous culture, God gave the people over to “degrading passions.”
  2. These “passions” inflicted women who exchanged the natural sexual intercourse with men for “that which is contrary to nature”
  3. In the same way, the men forsook the natural sexual intercourse women provided for sexual intercourse with men, leading the reader to understand that in the previous verse Paul was saying that women did the same with other women.

These acts were “contrary to nature,” which cannot be taken as “contrary to their nature” (meaning contrary to their nature as heterosexuals, but not contrary if they were by nature homosexual) for at least eight reasons:

  1. We have no evidence that homosexuality is an inborn trait and thus would be natural to men or women.
  2. We do have evidence that homosexual behavior often comes about because of certain cultural experiences.
  3. To insert such a reading would betray the obvious argument that Paul is building from the created order.
  4. The phrase “contrary to nature” was found in Greek and Jewish literature which Paul would have read and which had a very obvious and consistent rendering as shown above.
  5. Paul’s use of such a phrase would have been familiar to his audience, who would have seen the same argument used in Plato, Ovid, and Lucian. It had a defined meaning and his audience would have known that.
  6. Such a reading would lead to more confusion of his audience since the default position of the early Christians, the Rabbis, and even Hellenistic Jews was that homosexuality of any stripe was a sin.
  7. The verse gives no indication that homosexual behavior of any kind is allowed or acceptable, though Paul would have been familiar with ideas like “male homosexuality, lesbianism, the claims of some to be born as a willing mate of a man, the concept of mutuality, permanency, gay pride, pederasty, ‘homophobia,’ motive, desire, passion, etc” (White, The Same-Sex Controversy) and had he [or the Holy Spirit who inspired the text] so desired, he would have certainly been more clear,
  8. The universal witness of the Early Church, including the Greek and Latin Apologists, the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Church Fathers, and all of Christianity up until the sexual revolution when idolatry once again gloriously reared its ugly head in Western Civilization, suggests that this reading is not in line with Paul’s intentions or those of the Holy Spirit who inspired the text.

So, in conclusion to this rather lengthy post, let me say that it seems unlikely that Paul meant to do anything other than indict the practice of homosexuality as sinful behavior to be rejected by Christians. There is no evidence that can be presented that overrides the testimony of 2000 years of Church History to this passage of Scripture. The burden of proof lies in the hands of those who desire to revise the historical view of the Church and the natural reading of the text. Today, as in the days of Paul, Christians everywhere should reject homosexuality as a legitimate expression of the Christian faith and teach that such a practice is against the natural function and design of human beings, which God our Great Creator gave to us. God’s design from the beginning was for marriage to exist between a man and a woman, producing children and exhibiting the glory of God by being an example of Christ and His Bride, the Church of Jesus Christ. Let me close by offering Paul’s words in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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Monday, May 15, 2006 

Mondays With McLaren

About three weeks ago I finally decided to sit down and read cover-to-cover Brian McLaren's book, A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004). I bought the book shortly after its release in September of 2004 and, while I had often skimmed, scanned, or read whole chapters of the book, until now I had not taken the time to read it straight through. What I discovered is that A Generous Orthodoxy is a dense and provocative little book to say the least and there is much more to it than I have the time or space to discuss in a single post. In the midst of even a single chapter McLaren would surprise, delight, irritate, anger, and challenge me. I know of no other author who can produce such the array of emotions in a reader like myself in only the span of a few short pages. And if I were to inform him of this, likely McLaren would just smile and tell me he was glad to know that his book was performing up to its intended effect. McLaren is truely a complex guy and his books do not betray this fact. For this reason, I have decided to react to the book chapter by chapter or even page by page over the course of several weeks in hopes that we might together glean from McLaren his best and most challenging statements, all the while filtering it through an Evangelical and Biblical Theology, as one might tea or coffee through a strainer. In this way we may be able to produce a beverage that we as Evangelicals will find refreshing and stimulating, one that awakens us to act on behalf of Christ and helps us sustain our calling to be ambassadors of Christ to a world of depravity and darkness.

I will be critical of McLaren. There is no doubt about that. Even fans of the author know that there are glaring problems in his book and with his worldview. McLaren, himself, discusses many of these criticisms early on in A Generous Orthodoxy. In the end, however, maybe McLaren's words can be contextualized into contemporary Evangelical Christianity and there produce "a rich harvest of good deeds." Next week, I will begin with his introduction and hopefully discuss this seemingly oxymoronic phrase he has chosen as the title of his book. And while this discussion might take a while, I hope to eventually move on to his latest book, The Secret Message of Jesus. So readers, with all that said, I present to you "Mondays With McLaren."

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Saturday, May 13, 2006 

Homosexuality Debate Taking Time

Some of you have asked me lately what has been going on with my blog and why did I post something a couple of weeks ago which indicated that I would be blogging more only to not follow through with that promise. Well, currently I am engaging a fellow Louisvillian on the issue of homosexuality and whether or not Scripture reveals it to be a sin if it is practiced in a "loving, committed" relationship. Our debate can be found under my post, "American Baptist Association Votes to Split From the ABC Over Homosexuality". My position is that Scripture clearly reveals homosexuality in any form to be sinful, but my opponent, Dan Trabue, author of the blog, A Payne Hollow Visit, contends that Scripture is not clear in this way and that homosexuality is not only something that cannot be characterized as sinful, but also is a legitimate expression of Christianity and glorifies God in the same way that a committed marriage between a man and a woman does. Currently the thread is topping 100 comments, but we have only discussed Leviticus 18:21 and 20:13 and are, as of now, moving on to dealing with Romans 1:24-27. I encourage you, if you are interested in understanding the current conflict regarding homosexuality within the Church, to at least take the time to examine our closing arguments on Leviticus and follow along as we begin to discuss the central passage in the Bible on homosexuality, Romans 1. Please pray that our discussion would be glorifying to God and that the truth of God's Word would be revealed through our conversation. Whether you agree with Dan or with me, I hope that you will be encouraged, as I have been, to open up God's Word and dig deeply. John Piper is fond of saying that he learned from Daniel Fuller while in seminary that "those who rake always find leaves, but those who dig might find gold." May we find gold for the glory of God!

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006 

The Ethanol Craze Begins

This Sunday there were two special news reports on Ethanol from two of the leading television news magazines, Dateline NBC and 60 Minutes. I watched anxiously to see exactly what would be said about this alternative fuel that has the White House buzzing and the oil industry worried. Dateline's story, "A Simple Solution to Pain at the Pump?" revolved around Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist who immigrated from India in 1976 and was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Khosla is an outspoken advocate of Ethanol who has invested millions of dollars into research and production of the corn-based fuel. Khosla, during most of the interview, acted like a love-smitten schoolboy who wants to sell the world on his infatuation. But mostly he's hoping that the U.S. will buy into his newest venture, making Ethanol THE fuel source of the future. Dateline also traveled to Brazil just weeks after they announced that after only a few years of hard work, the country is now able to cease all importation of foreign oil. In fact, Ethanol, made primarily from sugar cane (of which Brazil has more than enough), has taken over as the country's largest fuel commodity.

The 60 Minutes story, "The Ethanol Solution: Could Corn-Based Fuel Help End America's Dependence On Imported Oil?", also focused on Brazil's booming Ethanol frenzy, but also on American ingenuity. Their story featured a small town no one has every heard of (no one except maybe its 300 residents), Steamboat Rock, Iowa. About a year ago things got so desperate in this farming community that a few residents put their heads together and decided to invest in and build an Ethanol production plant. It converted the corn that they were unable to sell into Ethanol, a product that they believe is the future oil of America. The good folks of Steamboat Rock and many other farmers believe that Ethanol might be the answer they have been looking for to stabilize a declining agricultural economy.

Additionally, both reports looked at Flex-Fuel cars, produced mostly by American car companies GM and Ford, which are highly successful in Brazil. Both companies have pledged to up their production of the cars -- which run on gas, ethanol, or a mixture of the two called E-85 -- in the next year. Today these cars make up only 5 million of the approximate 130+ million cars on America's roads. But the American car companies hope that an Ethanol boom might mean that millions more of their cars find their way to the road in the next few years, healing an ailing American automotive market.

So, what does all this mean for America? Well, this could be a perfect storm for the American economy and the country in general. Were America to aggressively pursue this alternative fuel source, many predict that within 15 years America could be energy independent, even as Brazil has in that same amount of time. Though relatively few cars today are Flex-fuel, any car can be retrofitted to use both E-85 and Ethanol. Add to that Khosla startling revelation that with the advancing technology, prairie grass, leftover wood pulp, and orange peels could be potential producers of ethanol, leading him to predict fuel prices could drop as low as $0.70/gallon using these techniques. Fuel prices that low would inevitably open up travel, increase tourism dollars, and fuel an economy already hindered only by oil prices. And without a dependence on foreign oil, OPEC countries would no longer be in a position to make demands of the U.S., and we would no longer worry that we are indirectly supporting terrorist efforts.

What should the Christian take be on this? Well, I think we should be supportive of any effort that provides jobs for low income families, brings economic development back to rural areas and farming communities, and produces less greenhouse gases which will undoubtedly make our air and water quality better. But we must beware of any utopian fantasies and realize that no technological breakthroughs can suppress evil or bring salvation. Ethanol may indeed bring needed relief to America, but without repentance and revival nothing will save the soul of this country.

About me

Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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