John Piper PreachingChristians—evangelical Christians—are those who have a sense of urgency about spreading the gospel. So when a Christian is handed a microphone, he or she knows what to do with it. That microphone, that platform, that position of influence, is to be used for the sake of the gospel.

That’s as it should be. You might say that we know what a microphone is for. And yet, unless we ask how a microphone is to be used, we could be making a big mistake in our zeal for witnessing. In fact, I think we do this very often, and it’s the Christian musicians among us who suffer, it’s their witness that gets restricted and/or diminished, and it’s their place in the mission of the church that gets called into question. All because we don’t know how to use a microphone.

If you’re handed a mic, and God has gifted and called you to preach, then you’d better preach. Speak the work of God clearly. Proclaim it with passion. Too much preaching today skirts the real issues, shrinks back from declaring the full character of God, and minimizes Jesus’ call to die to self, take up one’s cross, and follow. Preach it like it is.

But if you’re handed a mic, and God has gifted you as a musician and called you to glorify him through your music, how do you use that mic? Do you act as a musical preacher, laying your three-point sermon atop four chords? Many Christian musicians have taken a route similar to this, and some have been effective. But is this the only way our Christian musicians can use their God-given gifts to his glory?

How do we ask other types of Christian professionals to use their crafts in their Christian witness? Dorothy Sayers challenges the typical approach:

“The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”

If you want to serve God in your carpentry, then make excellent tables. That’s the first step toward honoring God with the skills he has given us. Yet for many Christians, the first demand we make of Christians with musical skill is that they function as preachers.

Joylissa

Joylissa.com

Truly, the first step toward honoring God as a Christian musician is to make great music. This is an overgeneralization, but too often Christian musicians have sacrificed the quality of the music for the sake of more preachy lyrics. I have seen many great examples of excellent music paired with deeply religious lyrics (here and here, for example). But I have also seen Christian musicians badgered, rebuked, even accused regarding their devotion to Christ—all because they skillfully crafted songs about many important aspects of God’s world; they simply fell short on the “Jesus” quota.

Nobody is questioning the salvation of Christian police officers who don’t insert the Apostles’ Creed as they read a criminal their rights. Nobody is questioning the devotion of a plumber who falls short of his quota of cross-shaped pipe junctions. Yet the presence of a microphone causes us to misunderstand the nature of music and to hold our musicians to the same standard as our preachers.

Music isn’t preaching; it’s art. Preaching is about clarity and conviction. Art is about seeing the world in fresh, challenging, and inspiring ways. It intentionally and powerfully works through indirection. Obviously there is an overlap between these two forms of communication, but until we are ready to appreciate the true artistic nature and value of music, we’re missing the point.

If God has gifted and called you to be a preacher, be a good one. Preach passionately and clearly. If God has gifted and called you to be a musician, be a good one. Stretch your creativity to the limits of God’s gift. Explore his world and the people he made with joy and sorrow. If you’re ashamed of Jesus, that needs to change. If your only goal is to gain popularity, that needs to change. But if you’re singing to God’s glory regardless of the subject matter you believe you should explore, then don’t listen to those who think they know how to use a microphone. Glorify the Giver by enjoying his gift to the fullest and helping others do the same.

And if you find this kind of thing interesting, you might want to check out Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music, which releases next week:

 

Having read several reviews of Vines’ book over the last 24 hours, let me begin my critique on a different note. I don’t assume that Vines is reading his view into the text. Last time I checked, I’m not God and I don’t have direct access to his interpretive motivations. What I do have access to are his vines 1actual biblical and historical arguments, and it is these that I will discuss in these blogs.

I also want to set aside the whole “overturning centuries of tradition” critique. Yes, church tradition is non-affirming of gay and lesbian relationships. It was also non-affirming of a heliocentric solar system until Galileo dared to go against centuries of well-established tradition. I’m unashamedly Protestant; I believe that the God-breathed text can (and sometimes does) overturn tradition. While the tradition argument should be considered and weighed, it’s a bit of a red herring. Vines knows that he’s going against tradition. But 80-90% of his book shows why he believes that the authoritative Bible challenges this tradition. Such a proposal is bold, if not risky. But it’s not inherently wrong—if you’re Protestant.

So again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s not that I don’t like pudding, or that I think Vines is a bad cook. But the pudding he’s served up is missing some key ingredients.

A major thread throughout his book is that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world” (pg. 104; cf. chapter 2), and this is a serious and necessary claim. Think about it. Paul’s language in Romans 1 could be taken to refer to straight people having gay sex—they exchanged the natural function of the male/female. And if Paul didn’t know what we know now, that some people are simply born gay, then perhaps he wouldn’t have said what he did. Or, put differently, since same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world (the cornerstone of his argument), then Paul could not have such people in mind. Paul was only condemning straight people who got bored with heterosexual sex and ventured into new, same-sex territory to satisfy their hyper-lustful urges.

My initial thought is: does it matter? If we were able to bring Paul up to speed with all of our psychological wisdom, would his argument in Romans 1 look different? Or, isn’t it a bit bold to think that we in 2014 have arrived in our understanding of sexual orientation? In 400 years or 800 years, will people look back on our silly and backwoods scientific views, just as some look back on Paul’s (seemingly) patriarchal views? The ever-changing fields of psychology and social science are suspicious starting points for moral arguments.

But let’s grant Vines’ assumption. Let’s say that our modern understanding of sexual orientation is as polished as we think it is and therefore a valid starting point to read the New Testament. Houston, we still have a problem: Ancient concepts of same-sex orientation did exist in Paul’s world.

I’m not sure if Vines ignored or simply did not come across the piles and piles of historical evidence that works against his thesis. Only God knows. In any case, if you’re genuinely interested in this discussion, you need to know that the ancients did in fact have beliefs about what we now know as “same-sex orientation.”

Aristotle for instance said that some homoerotic desires come from habit, but others spring from nature (Eth. 1148b). In other words, some people are born with same-sex desires. Some ancients even speculated about certain biological defects that cause some men to desire other men. One writer explains that males who desire to be penetrated are born with a physiological vines 3defect where semen is abnormally secreted into the anus and sparks a desire for friction (Pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata 4.26; cf. 879a36-880a5; 879b28-30). Soranus, the Greek physician from Ephesus, also believed that same-sex desire is shaped more by nature rather than nurture, but locates the source of the desire in the mind or spirit (De morbis chronicis 4:131, 132, 134).

We can certainly write off such speculations as unscientific, barbaric, and downright wrong. And we should. But the veracity of such claims about orientation is irrelevant. What matters is that ancient writers were making such claims about orientation. It is clear that at least some of Paul’s contemporaries believed that same-sex desires were biological.

Some writers were not as specific—or creative—as the medical texts cited above about such orientation, yet they still seemed to believe in a form of what we would call homosexual orientation. Phaedrus, who wrote his Fable around the time of Paul, presents a mythological account about why some people desire sex with the same gender. He says that the god Prometheus got drunk and attached male genitalia to women and women genitalia to men. In other words, some women are trapped in men’s bodies and some men are trapped in women’s bodies (Phdr. 4.16). The account, of course, is mythical and humorous, but nonetheless reflects ancient assumptions that desire for same sex intercourse is inherent. Less mythical is Lucian’s report of a woman named Megilla who says: “I was born as a woman like the rest of you, but my mind, desire, and everything else in me are that of a man” (Dialogue of the Courtesans 5:4). Today, we would say that Megilla was a lesbian—or transgendered—even if such categories were not available to the ancients.

Bernadette Brooten—an affirming scholar, by the way—has gathered evidence from ancient astrological texts, which suggested that sexual orientation was determined by the arrangement of the stars. One text says: “If the Sun and Moon are in masculine signs and Venus is also in a masculine sign in a woman’s chart, women will be born who take on a man’s character and desire intercourse with women like men” (Matheseos libri viii 7.25.1). Dorotheos wrote her astrological poem, Carmen Astrologicum, right around the time Paul was sending his letter to the Roman church. In it, she says that if the sun and moon are at a particular location when women are born, they “will be a Lesbian, desirous of women, and if the native is a male, he will be desirous of males” (2.7.6). After looking at many more examples, Brooten concludes: “Contrary to the view that the idea of sexual orientation did not develop until the nineteenth century, the astrological sources demonstrate the existence in the Roman world of the concept of a lifelong erotic orientation.”

I could list many more examples of ancient concepts of sexual orientation, but suffice it to say: Vines’ claim that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world,” which is crucial to his entire argument, ignores a wealth of historical evidence to the contrary. Maybe Paul did not have any concept of sexual orientation, or maybe he did. In any case, we cannot appeal to the absence of such a view in his cultural environment and then project it upon Paul as Vines does. When Paul therefore says that “men…gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27), he is not revealing ignorance about sexual orientation.

There’s no reason—no good historical reason—to believe that Paul was unaware of same-sex orientation.

Matthew Vines is fast becoming a significant voice in the church’s debate about homosexuality. Matthew is a young, gay Christian, who has done more research on the Bible’s view of homosexuality than any 10 people I know. A couple years ago, he gave a lecture at a church that summed up his initial findings of his research. The video of the lecture went viral in the Christian world—nearly 1 million views—and now he has written a book that further articulates his vines 1view. God and the Gay Christian (Convergent, 2014) hits the bookstores today (April 22) and it’ll no doubt persuade many Christians to believe that the Bible affirms same-sex marriage.

Matthew’s publisher was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book, so I’ve been combing through it over the last few weeks. Since this is going to be such an important—and debated—book, I want to write several blogs reviewing it. For this first blog, I want to highlight its positives aspects. This is not because I agree with Matthew’s conclusions, but precisely because I don’t. Having been knee-deep in the same research that Matthew has been engaging in, I’m able to follow his argument and research very easily. From Plutarch to Gagnon, Rufus to Martin, Plato to Brownson, and Seneca to Boswell, I’m reading the same stuff. And if Plato is the only name you recognize from that list, it’ll be good to know that many scholars both recent and ancient have been seeking to understand the phenomenon and morality of men and women desiring sex and marriage with the same gender. Vines’ book is one more addition to a very large, and very old, debate about same-sex unions.

So, for the pros. First, from everything Matthew says, he’s clearly committed to the authoritative, inspired, inerrant text of Scripture. Vines destroys the stereotype of someone who wants to be a gay Christian but is much more gay than Christian. I’ve read many appalling essays and books by people who want to maintain some vague notion of faith or spirituality, even though it’s clear that their sexual desires are their god. Matthew doesn’t believe in a Gumby Jesus, whom we can bend and mold however we see fit; rather, Matthew seems to go where Scripture leads him. And according to this book, Scripture has led him to conclude that the Bible affirms (or at least does not condemn) consensual, loving, monogamous gay and lesbian marriages.

I know, I know. “Scripture didn’t lead him there, it’s his inaccurate, biased interpretation of Scripture that wrongly led him to his sinful conclusions,” some will say. Perhaps. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we need to look at his actual arguments before we dismiss them. Plenty of Christians were accused of similar non-traditional interpretations of the Bible. Galileo was condemned for his wrong interpretation of Scripture when he said that the earth revolved around the sun, and many abolitionists were condemned by Christian slaveholders because they were forcing their views that all people are equal upon the text. We are all subject to biases and baggage—misinterpreting the text. The best way to tell is to look at the actual arguments to see if they hold weight. And this I will do over the next few blogs.

Second, Matthew Vines has done more research on the Bible and homosexuality than any traditionalist I have met. His rather short book has nearly 25 pages of footnotes, many of which interact with scholarly sources both ancient and modern. He’s not just citing the latest psychological study, nor just relying on his own experience. He’s carefully weighing historical and exegetical evidence for what the Bible says about homosexuality—and what the ancients believed vines 2about homosexuality. As one who has been combing through the same texts, I can applaud Matthew for doing a ton of grueling work. It’s not easy to pour over a pile of dense literature (some of it written in Greek and Latin) and then try to explain it to a lay audience. But Matthew has. And he’s done a fine job for the most part of explaining, even though he makes several mistakes in the process, as we’ll see in future blogs.

Third, Matthew’s book is incredibly clear. Clarity is not always forthcoming, especially in younger writers. Matthew’s book is quite different and he’s clearly a gifted writer, along with being a very good thinker. Few people can listen in on discussions going on in the Ivory Tower and then climb down to communicate them to the masses, but this is exactly what Matthew has done. Matthew, if you’re reading this: you have a gift and it’s evident from this book.

Fourth, I agree with several points he makes in the book. For instance, chapter 4 “The Real Sin of Sodom” is spot on. Matthew and I have arrived at the same conclusion (though independently) that God condemned Sodom for attempted gang rape, not for pursuing consensual, same sex marriages. Also, Matthew has a good understanding of the Greco-Roman view of sexuality and gender, which of course forms the backdrop for Paul’s references to same-sex activity in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1Timothy; however, as we’ll see in the next post, he still leaves some important aspects out of this discussion. Same thing with his discussion of Genesis 1-2. Many good points, but he still leaves some key features out.

Matthew’s book is definitely a discussion starter and it will, no doubt, trigger a wave of responses. However, my fear is that people will read this book as the last word on the subject. Or, people wanting to affirm same-sex relations will read Matthew’s book without a critical eye (in the same way that conservatives will read Gagnon or whomever without actually looking for the pros and the cons). There are several mistakes in the book that are significant enough to leave his argument resting on a shaky foundation.

BenefitEver since we started Eternity Bible College in 2004, we have been training students to understand deeply the biblical view of the world and to apply that truth in every area of their lives. And we mean every area. While we have proudly sent many of our graduates into the world as pastors, youth pastors, worship pastors, and missionaries, full-time vocational ministry is not our only focus. We have also proudly sent many of our graduates into the world as teachers, musicians, paramedics, youth workers, and a host of other professions.

With that second category of graduates (those working in non-vocational ministry), it’s not that we trained them in the technical side of their field. We offer no classes in music theory, medicine, etc. Yet these students who are leaving Eternity with a degree in Bible are walking into these professions and feeling well equipped. Why? Because we are teaching them how to pursue God’s mission in every area of life. We are helping them see the implications of the gospel for everything they do. So while they still need to learn to teach world history and treat trauma wounds, they’re ready to bring God’s truth to bear in their unique part of the world.

Truly, the gospel speaks to everything we encounter in this world. It transforms every aspect of our lives. The mission of Eternity Bible College is to saturate this generation in biblical truth and give them the tools to change every aspect of the world.

This being our mission, we are pleased to announce our third annual Art & Music Benefit. This year’s benefit will take place:

This Friday, April 25 @ 7pm

Hosted by Cornerstone Church in Moorpark
379 Science Drive, Moorpark, Ca

Jon Kim Painting

One of the paintings we’ll be selling at the event. I’ll let the artist, Jon Kim, explain his heart in making this painting, including the theological significance. We’ll also be selling a series of paintings on the book of Revelation and many other inspiring pieces.

The Art & Music Benefit will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about Eternity Bible College, our students, and our mission. On Friday night, we will highlight some of the art and music that some of our students are creating. These students are thinking through all of life at a deep level, and their biblical worldview shows up in their creativity. We will also be sharing the heart and vision of Eternity Bible College.

If you are anywhere near Simi Valley / Moorpark, we invite you to come spend an inspiring evening with us. Come and learn about what God is doing through Eternity and learn how you can partner with us in our mission. Come ready to enjoy the music some of our students are making, to appreciate and even purchase some of the art, crafts, and baked goods that our students are creating, and to celebrate the vision and mission of Eternity together with us.

If you’re too far away to join us in person, please consider praying for the event. And we also invite you to partner with the school in some way. You can learn more about partnership opportunities here.

 

The following video is from one of our students who will be playing at the event:

To hear music from the other bands performing (also featuring students and graduates) click here (Rosie Harlow & the Tall Tale Boys) or here (Big Flambeau).

My daughter’s great grandfather, passed away while we lived in Scotland. I came home from the University where I was pursuing a PhD to receive the sad news. My little girl began to ask me some big theological questions to help her process Pop’s death. “Can Pop see us right now?” “Does he still look the same age in his new body?” “What exactly is he doing at this moment?”

booksTo these questions and to most of them that followed, I could not answer. I kept saying, “Baby, I don’t know.” “Honey, I’m not sure.” Finally, with a look of frustration mixed with pity, she blurted: “So what are they teaching you at that school?!” Since, I was a post-graduate student in New Testament studies, she expected me to know a lot more than I did (so did my professors there!).

The truth is the Bible doesn’t give us much to go on concerning the Zwischenzustand—the technical word for the “intermediate state” (see I did learn something!). Most of Scripture is even silent with respect to what Jesus was doing from Friday night to Sunday morning. (Although my eight year old son once suggested that Jesus played Angry Birds all weekend.) The passages that do mention Jesus’ activity during this time are apocalyptic and vague.

But the New Testament is clear when it comes to what happened on Easter morning. As the hymn proclaims:

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Because of this resurrection truth, there was one certainty that I could tell my daughter. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those, like Pop, who have fallen asleep in him. The dead in Christ will rise first and we will all be with the Lord forever.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...