Monday, August 24, 2009

Jesus vs. Paul and Counting the Cost

John Piper's blog-post on the recent Lutheran abandonment of submission to Scripture has generated a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and the post so far has garnered over 500 comments. The commenters fall into three general categories - those who agree with Piper altogether, those who agree with Piper on Scriptural authority and sexual morality but disagree with his interpretation of the tornado and then a third group which consists of liberals willing to throw out Scriptural teachings that they find unpalatable. I would lean toward the second group although I see no reason why the tornado couldn't have been a "firm but gentle warning to the ELCA."

Unfortunately I couldn't help but read through a good number of the comments. The only thing I could compare it to would be the inability to look away from a bad car-accident or something like that. And as I read through the comments I saw two arguments from the more liberal-leaning commenters which I've seen time and time again. I've seen these arguments so many times that I sometimes almost find myself starting to think that maybe there is something to them. But when I think about them I come to the conclusion that these arguments are fallacious. The two arguments that I saw in multiple comments included:

1. Jesus was accepting and non-judgmental while Paul and modern conservative Christians are too judgmental.

2. Christians can't say certain things, even if they're true, because they might turn non-believers away.

1. As for the first argument, I think one reason for its popularity is because the church has given a false picture of Jesus. As Mark Driscoll famously claimed, the church has presented Jesus as a "neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell." The people who draw this dichotomy between Jesus and Paul or between Jesus and modern-day Bible-believing Christians are right in believing that Jesus associated with those who were known as notorious sinners in his day. There is no reason to believe that Paul didn't do the same and I know a good number of conservative Christians who do outreach to those who might fit in a category of marginalized "sinners."

The assumption that seems to be made though is that because Jesus spent time with notorious sinners that he wasn't calling them to repentance, that he wasn't calling them to give up their lives of sin. But nothing in the Gospels suggests this. When Jesus saves the woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death he tells her, "go, and from now on sin no more." When the pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with sinners in Matthew 9:11 Jesus responds that it is the sick who need a physician. The pharisees were probably spiritually sicker than any "sinner" that Jesus spent time with, but Jesus still calls the tax-collectors and prostitutes "sick." These sinners were still being called to repentance. If anyone in the New Testament raises the bar on sin and holiness it isn't Paul but Jesus who said that even to look at a woman lustfully was to commit adultery. So the only reason why the argument can be made that Jesus would somehow accept "sinners" in the way that modern liberals do is to ignore the testimony we have about Jesus in the Gospels. Of course Jesus "accepts" all sinners but he also calls all sinners to repentance. In chapter one of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." By calling people to repentance, Jesus was not affirming people in their sins. In his mercy Jesus associated even with the most notorious sinners of his day but he called them to repentance, to cast down their idols, leave their sin behind and follow Him.

2. The second argument claims that Christians shouldn't say certain things, even if they're true, because they might turn some people away. I'm trying to be as generous as possible in the way I state this argument because I think it could also be said that these people are concerned about Christians looking good to the world. The fear seems to be that if Christians are disliked that this reflects badly on Jesus and therefore evangelism will be more difficult.

This second argument is harder for me to dismiss than the first. I think many of the people who make this argument have good motivations. They are concerned for the lost. And I think that in some cases this argument is correct. I have a friend who wants to do missions to Muslims and I know that some of the overblown anti-Islam rhetoric seen among many conservative Christians concerns him. It concerns him that support for the war in Iraq is somehow linked to evangelical Christianity in the United States. I agree with my missionary friend whole-heartedly when people can't separate certain political beliefs, like support for the war in Iraq, from their Christianity. Another case where people might be seen as making Christians look bad is Fred Phelps and his infamous "God hates fags" protests. But political conservatives mixing up faith and politics or a lunatic like Fred Phelps getting undue media attention don't fit into the argument above. The claims of some political conservatives or Fred Phelps come not from sound Scriptural interpretation but from other sources - for the political conservative perhaps from the tradition of American conservatism and for Fred Phelps, perhaps insanity.

But the argument which I saw in more than a few comments on Piper's post was that, yes, homosexual behavior is sinful but we shouldn't talk about it, especially not in the way Piper did because it will turn people away from Christ. This is the argument that even though something is true, Christians shouldn't say it. This argument doesn't seem to fit with anything that I see in the New Testament. Jesus never seemed afraid to say things that would offend or turn people away. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives the "hard saying," "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," and for the person who doesn't do this He says, "you have no life in you." This statement not only shows the exclusivity of Christ, that eternal life is found only in Him, but also that Christ was willing to give hard teachings that would turn many away. The Gospel says that after this many of his followers turned back and no-longer walked with Him. There is no record of Jesus chasing them down and apologizing for his difficult teaching and promising to say nicer-sounding things in the future. Instead we see Christ asking the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Another occasion that sheds some light on this argument is when Jesus sends out the twelve to "proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal." Jesus said that when a town would not receive his messengers that they were to, "shake the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." Jesus doesn't tell the disciples to tweak the message a bit to make it sound nicer. But this seems to be exactly what some are suggesting modern Christians do - change the message a bit, or perhaps just leave out parts, to make the gospel more attractive to modern ears.

But when it comes to unpopular teachings in the Bible I think talking about them less is exactly the wrong thing to do. In Luke 14:25-33 we find Christ telling those who would come after him that they must "count the cost." Those who would follow Christ must look and see what they are commanded by Scripture to leave behind. If we don't teach the full revelation of God in Scripture how can anyone who would follow Christ count the cost of what he must leave behind? If we quit preaching on sexual purity because it is unpopular, we will only be adding to the numbers of false-converts, of nominal Christians who have prayed some prayer and been baptized but who have never actually counted the cost and renounced all in order to follow Christ. We must hold firm to the "faith once-delivered," and expect to be hated by the world for it. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."


Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

How would a fellow net-generation Northwest Anglican get a hold of you other than your fascinating blog? :)

We are on the same track in opposite directions; I grew up in California, moved to the Northwest, and my husband and I eventually hope to move back to California. However, we are involved in the Anglican church planting that is occurring in the Puget Sound area right now, and I always want to connect with anyone who might have a heart for that mission in this area, and who would keep the forming fellowships in prayer.

I hope you don't mind the abrupt introduction. Reading your blog entries and a bit about you just suggests to me to you're a person of like mind and that can be sometimes hard to find. I'd love to strike up a dialog, if you have the time.


Matt Perkins said...

Hey Paige,
It's great to hear about Anglican church-planting in the Pacific Northwest! Maybe someday when I move back there I'll be part of your congregation. I miss Washington state a lot although I'm from southwest Washington, about a half hour north of Portland. May the Lord provide for you as you do His work, guide your steps and use you for His glory!!!
P.S. my e-mail is

Jake said...

Thanks for sharing your
spirit endowed thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Wish that the subject would not include all Lutherans. If we who are not even in the large synods identify ourselves as Lutheran today we always have to make a disclaimer.