A Sound Response to Some Bad Theology

In case you haven’t heard, popular Christian publishing house Waterbrook Multnomah – under the banner of their liberal publishing line, called “Convergent Books” – has agreed to publish a new book titled God and the Gay Christian, which argues (from a supposedly evangelical perspective) that homosexuality is compatible with biblical faith.  The author, Matthew Vines, is a 24-year-old former Harvard student, and left school in order to delve more deeply into studying this topic for himself.  In this book, he (and apparently the publisher) believe that he has maintained a “high” view of Scripture while showing persuasively why the Bible does not forbid homosexual love.

Thankfully, a team of biblical scholars whose knowledge of God’s Word is (I’m convinced) far more comprehensive and sound has already issued a published response to this controversial new book.  Al Mohler and a team of professors from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have already prepared articles which they’ve made available as a free e-book, titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.  More information about this and a link to the free e-book may be found here – http://us2.campaign-archive1.com/?u=881d5069aff43e94a45316e5f&id=9e655c6155&e=1054bcbc16.

Unfortunately, this conversation isn’t likely to be going away anytime soon.  There will always continue to be some people who insist on twisting and manipulating certain portions of God’s unchanging Word in a desperate attempt to vindicate their own radical positions on moral issues such as this one.  Everybody hopes that they can convincingly show others from the Bible that their own favorite sins aren’t, in fact, sins at all – and homosexual people are no exception to this tendency.   Nonetheless, God has already clearly addressed the subject in his Word, and it’s never our prerogative to alter what he says.  So, shame on Waterbrook Multnomah for publishing such a book in the first place – and special thanks to Dr. Al Mohler and his team at SBTS for responding to it in such a timely, articulate, and biblical way!

Crossing the Tracks – Book Review by Dr. David Murray

For those who haven’t seen this, here is a great review of the book that I co-authored with Dolphus Weary and William Hendricks (son of the late Dr. Howard Hendricks, from Dallas Theological Seminary), titled “Crossing the Tracks”.  This review was written by Dr. David Murray, from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and was originally posted on the “Gospel Coalition” website (http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/crossing_the_tracks.) .

crossing the tracks book cover 2

Crossing the Tracks

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks |

Review by: David P. Murray

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks. Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2012. 192 pp. $11.99.

What an inspiring story! As one blurb put it, “[Dolphus Weary’s] journey out of physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty will challenge you to cross the racial divides in your own community and discover what it really means to serve one another.” That’s for sure.

Dolphus’s first book, I Ain’t Comin’ Back, told the story of how God enabled him to escape the poverty and discrimination of 1940-50s Mississippi to become one of the first black students in Los Angeles Bible College and then a missionary in Asia.

Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community is the rest of the story, the account of how God not only overcame Dolphus’s opposition to return to Mississippi but also equipped him to serve its people in gospel ministry.

Earlier in my life, I had fled Mississippi with the vow, “I ain’t never comin’ back.” But then God called me back, and I obeyed. Now to my utter amazement, I was declaring, “I can’t ever leave!” I’d never felt such freedom. (56)

Using the story of his own fascinating life, Dolphus guides us to four action items: (1) Gospel-centered racial reconciliation; (2) Repenting of sins of omission as well as commission; (3) Just affirmative action policies; and (4) Practical bridge-building for Christians and churches.

Gospel-Centered Racial Reconciliation

Racial reconciliation is ultimately a spiritual issue. “Yes, racism manifests itself in ways that are very ugly and obvious,” Dolphus admits. “But if we only work on the social aspects of racism and never introduce the gospel, then we’ll never see complete transformation” (32).

Although Dolphus argues persuasively for political and social action, he always keeps the gospel central. Indeed, God taught him that “proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and working for racial reconciliation were two sides of the same coin” (53).

Sin of Silence

Racism can be a sin of omission as well as commission. Dolphus observes:

You don’t have to be a member of a racist group to practice racism. You don’t even have to feel prejudice against an entire race to practice racism. All you have to do is watch someone from another race being treated unjustly and remain silent. (70)

It’s not enough to not be racist, in other words. There has to be a resolve to oppose racism and promote racial reconciliation. Without that positive commitment, we can be guilty of passive racism.

Just Affirmative Action

I’ve never been a fan of affirmative action as commonly understood and practiced. However, the way Dolphus introduces it, defines it, and works it out in practice is both compelling and convincing. “In its purest form,” he explains, “affirmative action is a policy that considers race after all the other qualifications have been met” (125).

Dolphus insists it isn’t enough to say “Great idea!” Clear policies are essential to make sure the ideal becomes reality. “Policy is a discipline that ensures that we follow through on our good intentions,” he writes. “It’s an objective reminder of what we said we want to do and be” (128). For colleges and seminaries, that means not just having racially and ethnically diverse students, but faculty, management, and staff as well.

Affirmative action is controversial, and, as I mentioned, I initially read this section with deep skepticism. But Dolphus’s version is highly persuasive. Read it before you jump to conclusions. Even if you’re not persuaded, I’m sure you will be convinced of the need for some policies and actions to level the playing field in many spheres of everyday life.

Bridge-Building on the Ground

Apart from its gospel-centered focus, what I liked most about Crossing the Tracks was how it demonstrated that racial reconciliation doesn’t require grand public gestures but can begin right where we are.

“How many Christians do you know who don’t look like you?” Dolphus pointedly asks. He challenges churches to reach out to other congregations of different racial composition, and provides two pages of ideas for how racially different and divided churches can partner together in kingdom work. According to Dolphus, when Christians who don’t look like each other come together in the ways he proposes, three powerful things happen (165-166):

1. They actually address a real need in their community.

2. They show the world what racial reconciliation looks like by coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ and living out the unity Christ desires.

3. Because of that unity they offer a compelling witness to the world that Jesus is Lord of a united people, answering Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

Unique Man with a Unique Calling

I assure you Crossing the Tracks is not an anti-white polemic or a politically correct tract. Dolphus comes across as a kind, gentle, loving Christian man whom God has raised up to call his church to greater Christlikeness in its pursuit of racial reconciliation.

Writing a review of such a good book is easy. Now for the hard part—crossing the tracks.

David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray blogs regularly at Head, Heart, Hand: Leadership for Servants.

Copyright © 2014 by the author listed above. Used by permission.

Remember the Past

While debates persist concerning who actually said it first, most everyone is familiar with the oft-repeated quote, “Those who fail to learn from their past are doomed to repeat it.”  If this is true (and I believe it is), then why do so few people today give any thought to the study of history?  Is it really enough to only learn the newest technology, the most recent ideas – the hottest trends of our day?  Personally, I don’t think so.

There are certain undeniable principles for being a good employee, a good leader, or even a good person…and they’re as true today as they ever were, no matter what new ideas, strategies, and methods may be celebrated in the days to come.  As Ecclesiastes argues so succinctly, “Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’?  It has been already in the ages before us.” (Eccles. 1:10).  The secret to living a truly great life will never be new methods or cutting-edge ideas, but rather learning and applying the ageless principles of wisdom, knowledge, and love as set forth in the pages of Scripture.  One way that God’s Word repeatedly calls upon us to do this is by considering the stories of the saints of old, listening to the accounts of the struggles, fears, and doubts that they encountered throughout their spiritual pilgrimages, and – quite frankly – learning from their mistakes.

Of course, if we desire to learn from history we should always start with the Bible itself.  How will we endure times of suffering if we haven’t studied the book of Job?  How will we handle power in a wise manner if we haven’t heard about Solomon’s shortcomings as a leader?  How will we know what God can do through us – in spite of our imperfections – if we haven’t read about Moses, Joshua, and Paul?  If we truly want to live lives that are rich, full of purpose, and bring glory to God, then we must read, consider, and appreciate the lessons learned by the individuals in biblical history, and commit ourselves to living in a way that avoids the errors in their thinking and builds upon their wise choices.

History isn’t just relevant for biblical study, though – we also benefit from studying more modern historical accounts.  After all, isn’t it important to know who we are, where we come from, and what decisions and actions have helped put us where we are today?  While history strikes many potential readers as nothing more than dull lists of dates, names, and locations, this is not what history (properly articulated) is supposed to be!  On the contrary, it’s the exciting accounts of what God and people have done through history to bring the world to where it is today.  Some of the stories are tragic and heart-breaking; others are magnificent and awe-inspiring; even the less eventful accounts are significant, for they all helped to make our world – and us – what we are today.

Do you want to know the most exciting thing about this?  YOU are a PART of that history!  The things that you and I do – or fail to do – are playing a role in what our history will look like tomorrow.  That’s precisely why we must make history a regular part of our educational diet…so we can learn about the consequences of bad ideas, the blessings of faithfulness to good ideas, and avoid making the same foolish mistakes that those before us have already made!  With this in mind, we should seriously consider making time to learn about the history of our families, our churches, the companies we work for, the schools we consider attending, etc.  Undoubtedly, we wanted to learn all that we could about our spouse’s history prior to marriage (“Have you ever been in love before?”, “What is your greatest memory?”, “Why do you act the way you do in certain situations?”, “What experiences helped make you who you are today?”, etc.), so shouldn’t we have some similar interest in learning about the other significant parts of our lives, too?

If we do not actively work to preserve, learn, remember, and teach our history to the next generation, it will be lost and forgotten and we will have learned nothing from it.  Scripture calls on us to not let this happen.  Consider, for example, the following Old Testament passage reflecting upon God’s promises to his people: “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.  Make them known to your children and your children’s children…” (Deut. 4:9).

Even artists take note of the significance of history, and the roles we play in helping to shape it for future generations.  Consider Walt Whitman’s poem, O Me!  O Life!, in which he contemplates the great ebb and flow of the human story and concludes, “That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”  Do you want your “verse” to count, to be remembered with fondness, and to make this world a better place than it currently is?  Then study history and consider how to build upon the fruitful work of those who came before us.  History is important for all of us, and we neglect it to our own peril.

Who’s Next?!

I’m deeply concerned about the fact that many of our greatest and most biblically faithful preachers and teachers are dying off!  When I think of the most respected Christian leaders in the world at this present moment, I am saddened to realize that many of them have given the last public message that they will ever give, and that – in reality – the new generation of “great” Christian leaders looks vastly different from the great preachers that we are losing.

Our great, beloved evangelist, Billy Graham, has officially retired from public ministry.  Arguably the most effective living Bible teacher, John R. W. Stott, is now 89, in declining health, and living in a retirement community south of London.  Thankfully, Dr. J. I. Packer, who many (myself included) consider to be our greatest living theologian, is still healthy and active….but at the age of 84, for how many more years will he be able to teach others?

Even among preachers, many of the best in our day will soon be retiring.  Consider, for example, Charles Stanley and Ed Young, Sr.  Both of these men preach sermons deeply grounded in Scripture, and both of them are fathers to sons who are also growing in public recognition as pastoral leaders.  Yet, in an effort to reach “their generation” more effectively, Andy Stanley and Ed Young, Jr. both tend to prefer on-stage theatrics and props to faithful, expositional  preaching of God’s Word.

I have seen Ed, Jr. – during his various televised “worship services” – use a live game of “ping pong” to illustrate marital conflict, an on-stage Ferrari to illustrate “a lust for material possessions”, and even a bed – on-stage, with he and his wife sitting next to each other on it – to preach a message about sex.  Does this new style of communication hold more appeal to younger adults?  Apparently, it does, or their churches wouldn’t be filled to maximum capacity and building additional “satellite campuses” (…an increasingly popular trend among young church leaders, I’m afraid) for their churches.  Still…is it better?  Does it honor God – and God’s Word – as well as the preaching of their fathers?  I think not.

In the Falwell family, the “theological baton” has already been passed.  Dr. Jerry Falwell, a faithful preacher of God’s Word (though admittedly a bit more “politically involved” and quick to speak than he might have, at times, needed to be), died very suddenly a few short years ago, and his son, Jonathan, was immediately thrust into the position of senior pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church.  The couple of times that I bothered to watch Jonathan Falwell preach on the church’s TV program, he had a giant, human-sized Blackberry on stage with him, and used the graphics on that machine’s screen as his “power points” for the talks that he gave (I hesitate to even categorize those messages as sermons…).  I can’t speak on behalf of the audience present in the worship service there, but that approach – as well as the content of his presentations – held absolutely no appeal to me whatsoever.  Is this really the future of “evangelical” preaching?  Should it be?

Oh, how I miss the passionate, biblical preaching of the late Adrian Rogers!  I did not agree with Bro. Rogers in every point of his doctrine (primarily in his opposition to a couple of points of Calvinism…), but there are few – then or now – who have been able to proclaim the truths of God’s Word with such clarity and conviction.  Not long before the death of Dr. Rogers, we lost the wonderful, rich preaching and Christian example of Dr. Stephen Olford.  I pray regularly for the Lord to help me grow into a preacher who honors God and His Word as did these two great men of the faith!

Sadly, we also just lost another great biblical expositor – Dr. John Phillips – who wrote so many wonderful biblical commentaries and books that preachers make good use of.  At the risk of planting a rather unpleasant thought in your mind, just how many more sermons will we be blessed to hear from such great expositors as R. C. Sproul….John MacArthur….Jerry Bridges…Haddon Robinson….Warren Wiersbe…or Jerry Vines?

Clearly, time keeps ticking on, and we all are assured to die, so long as the Lord tarries a bit longer prior to His final return.  So, we shouldn’t really be surprised to see these men leaving us – and we shouldn’t too deeply mourn their leaving us, since they are promised such blessings of eternal reward and joy in the life to come, and we will – in the Lord’s time – join with them, provided that our own souls are genuinely entrusted to the love of our Savior.  Still, while I do – in a sense – celebrate the final “homecoming” of these great men of the faith, I can’t help but be increasingly troubled as I see the increasing trends among pastors and church leaders today.

It seems very clear (unfortunately) that young ministers following in the footsteps of the truly great preachers of the past are in frighteningly short supply…and, worse yet, many churches are actually SEEKING leaders who are more attuned to the cutting edge cultural trends of our day than the deeply-rooted biblically-based ones of the past.  As a young minister myself, I certainly appreciate youthful vibrancy, fresh ideas, and new passion in a ministry setting.  However, even I realize that no amount of cultural savvy or insight into the latest “church growth trends” will ever surpass the faithful, consistent, deep preaching, teaching, and application of God’s Word, and I am shocked and afraid to see how few ministers in my age bracket seem to share this conviction.

I am very pleased to say that – in spite of this sad state of affairs – there is still hope!  For me, the hope lies in the fact that there are still many young, yet widely respected, Christian preachers who hold up God’s Word above all cultural trends of our day.  In my mind, that is reflected in the mature preaching and leadership of such men as Alistair Begg, Bryan Chapell, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan (my friend and “pastoral hero” from Mississippi), Thabiti Anyabwile, Steven Lawson, Philip Graham Ryken, Derek Thomas, and – of course – John Piper.  I am also increasingly encouraged by the really young guys (closer to my age) who are already taking bold, biblical stands for Christian truth.  Consider, for example, the two celebrated books by (my new friends) Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, boldly titled, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) and Why We Love the Church (In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion)….talk about a desperately needed breath of fresh “spiritual” air in our day!

And, of course, I am always newly encouraged whenever I meet a pastor – no matter the size of his church or the fame of his name – who knows that the church rises and falls according to its devotion to the Word of God.  I am encouraged in this regard by my new father-in-law, Stephen Rumley, whom I may not agree with on every point of doctrine, but whose commitment to Scripture and biblical church leadership (and family leadership!) keeps me in constant awe.  I am encouraged in this way by numerous other pastors I know who stay true to Scripture in their preaching and lifestyle, even when there’s increasing pressure from their church members to follow a more worldly approach.  And – most of all – I’m encouraged, because God’s simply not finished with all of us yet.  He’s continuing to teach, mold, and mature all of us – me included – into precisely what He wants each of us to be.

The church is STILL alive and well (contrary to what some writers of our day would have you believe), and we are STILL his choice instrument for growing disciples and changing the world increasingly into the likeness of Heaven (however far we still have to go!).  Yes, we are certainly losing some of our most beloved examples of Christian leadership, but their powerful legacies will hopefully linger – through their recorded sermons, books, and the lives that they have personally impacted – long after the Lord has called them home.

I’m convinced (and believe that the Bible teaches) that the greater our faithfulness to Him in this life, the longer the legacy that we leave behind will be a blessing to others – and the longer we will be “remembered” for the ways that God used us.  May we all continue to seek to be biblically faithful in the days to come, may we desire to listen to the preachers and teachers who are most devoted to searching the Scriptures (Even though listening to them might require a bit more effort on our part, it’s ALWAYS worth the effort!), and may we never lose hope that, while the Billy Graham’s, John Stott’s, and J.I. Packer’s are nearing the end of their pastoral journeys, there are still a few undiscovered “David’s” in our midst, and God is faithful to raise up just the teachers we need in just the time we need them.  Praise be to God for His FAITHFUL men!