Category Archives: Gospel

Emphasising what’s important to our children

At a recent get-together for young mums, I was asked to share some of the ways I try and point our children (currently 4 years, 2 years and 4 months) towards the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ. That my personality is disorganised, anxious and perfectionistic works against me. Yet Christ makes all things new! What a wonderful gospel to speak to our children.

To emphasise the gospel as of first importance, I need to de-emphasise everything else. So most of my day’s work falls under these two categories: de-emphasise everything else (to make room for the gospel), and emphasise (i.e. find space) for the gospel.

In Ephesians 4:22-24 it says:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

While it’s not exactly what I’m talking about, the principle off “putting off” and “putting on” is there. De-emphasise and emphasise.

Some ideas for de-emphasising everything else:

  1. I restrict my own hobbies and interests. I have so many of them: knitting, painting, comics, sketching, ink, poetry, sign language, learning languages, making sourdough, making charts, crochet, sewing, reading – these are just a few! But I am reminded that time spent doing these things could be spent on the essentials (you know, making dinner, looking after the girls), or thinking of ways to emphasise the gospel (more on that below).
  2. I lower expectations for essentials. For example, making multiple meals ahead of time. Freezing meals. Instead of cooking from scratch every night, I can serve the same thing with different starch, or season it with a different cuisine’s flavours (e.g. Mexican, Italian). Or add something crunchy. It’s amazing how far chicken and rice can go. When putting the laundry out – just get it done. Accept help from your husband and your toddlers – it’s OK if the pegs aren’t colour-coded perfectly!
  3. I simplify the daily format. I try and plan one main activity each day. There is also an afternoon nap for everyone – myself included. If time is pressing, just let go of the non-essentials. What if you’ve run out of time even to make dinner? That’s OK – what else are takeaways for, right?

 

Ideas for emphasising the gospel:

  1. Make a specific time for it. Right now, breakfast time is when we read a gospel-lit Psalm. William reads it and we talk about what we found interesting and how it might point to the God’s undeserved gift in Jesus. Or you could have a storytime while your kids are having snacks. If your children can sit still, a book like the Big Picture Story Bible is very good.
  2. Peg it onto an existing hook. The last time I made bread, we got to talk about how Jesus is the Bread of life. Just as without food we die. While tidying the house, I can make compare our sin with disorder. Things don’t get tidy on their own! Likewise, our sin needs intervention from a loving authority (God) to bring it back to order. Or when we write cards, we can practise considering the interests of others and loving them, something we don’t naturally do on our own – but Jesus did! (Philippians 2:1-11).
  3. Use unexpected activities to rehearse it. We’re running late for an activity. A dog appears suddenly and scares the children. There’s an argument about who the toy belongs to. We can process all these things intentionally, in light of the gospel. Highlight the law, our sin, and then the mercy/grace/forgiveness found in Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

So to emphasise the gospel as of first importance, I need to de-emphasise everything else. Do you more experienced parents have other ideas on how to do this? I’d like to hear them.

Confessions – Cheryl

23 July v10


I have always been selfish, proud and self-reliant. Even worse, my heart is deceitful, constantly trying to disguise my sin, or deflect the blame. I usually succeed in deceiving others, and always myself. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

I worked hard to maintain my deception. I had the praise of others. I took the moral high ground. I was a straight A student. “I’m a Christian, from a Christian family, I’ve even been baptised. Don’t tell me what to do.”


Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

During this time, God placed me in churches where I began to hear the gospel. Though it didn’t inspire repentance, I became familiar with verses such as Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Quite a few years later, I dropped out of my law degree, then failed my Masters in Speech language therapy. This was because my uni lecturers wanted me to get diagnosed for, as it turns out, anxiety and Aspergers, among other things. Around the same time, I was trying to hide a trail of relational breakdowns in my personal life. I was increasingly disobedient to my parents. The divisions already tense in my family were made worse by my callous disregard of anyone else’s feelings. Once I scribbled hatred with a ballpoint pen over my parents’ painted walls. I also had an ongoing internet gaming addiction. I went to great pains both to feed it and to hide my tracks. At one point, I was clocking 16 hour gaming days behind my parents’ backs.


My academic failures upturned my delusions of self-sufficiency. I had gone from a straight A student to a law school and Masters dropout. Also, because the diagnoses were now out there for anyone to see, I could no longer use deceit to hide my various other sins.

In truth, the psychiatric world could only label behaviours it thought were dysfunctional. I realised those were just the tip of the iceberg. For the first time I saw that it was my sin that often caused the unresolved arguments, unspoken resentments, the sun gone down in anger so many times. Everywhere I looked was sin upon sin, a mess of devastated relationships I could not untangle.


Even now, I still marvel at the elegance of God’s grace. He fed me His Word over the years so I would know the gospel. He showed me the extent and horror of my sin. He arranged my life so that I could not conceal my sin; I had to confess it. My only hope was to trust in Christ’s righteousness, death and resurrection.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


So why am I here today? Haven’t I already been baptised? As an 18 year-old feigning holiness, I got into that pool and I got wet all right. But I was dead in my sin, there was no repentance, and my heart was hard to Jesus. I was not a believer.

So today, I am not getting re-baptised. I am being baptised for the first time, as a forgiven sinner, in submission to Jesus, a new creation in Christ.

Film Review: Risen

risen_poster

I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Christian” or faith-based movies. Perhaps it’s the need for mass-market appeal, or the pressures of getting a box office success. But not only are most faith-based movies not that good artistically, they’re often theologically suspect. The Prince of Egypt calls the viewer to a vacuous “there can be miracles if you believe” (in what? yourself?). The Passion of the Christ’s main inspiration is from a Catholic mystic’s fanciful dreams and meditations. Then there are the flat-out untrue depictions of biblical stories and characters on the big screen – Russell Crowe as Noah the eco-terrorist, Christian Bale as Moses the schizophrenic barbarian, and the myriad of actors as shampoo-commercial Jesus. While the power of film make these portrayals emotionally compelling, I find it hard to get excited about them.

Risen – directed by Kevin Reynolds has just been released in time for Easter. It’s a novel premise – Roman soldier Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is a battle-hardened veteran fighting to keep the peace in Roman-occupied Judea. He witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, but three days later is tasked  by Pilate with job of detective: finding out why Jesus’s body is missing from the tomb. It’s cleverly written in that this skeptical Roman soldier is woven into many familiar Biblical narratives of Jesus’s death and post-resurrection appearances, and meets many of the same characters in these eyewitness accounts (e.g. the centurion, Barabbas, the Romans guarding the tomb, Pilate, Jesus’s disciples, and eventually Jesus himself) Spoiler alert: Jesus is alive!

After watching it yesterday morning with low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. In summary, while it’s not for everyone, it’s a pretty good film and a great conversation starter for both Christians and skeptics alike.

There are already some thoughtful reviews from Christians (here and here), but here are some of my own specific observations.

  • For a $20 million budget, Risen came across as well-produced, with a high-calibre cast and crew. The Roman characters in particular were well cast and portrayed convincingly. There’s a good battle scene, and some nice special effects, and moments of breath-taking cinematography. It didn’t look and feel like a cheesy Christian movie, except at a few points (usually when Jesus and the disciples showed up).
  • It wasn’t too long – I thought it was going to be 147 minutes but it was only 107 minutes. Great.
  • The script had some great questions (all posed by the skeptical Romans). Clavius is the character you identify with the most. He asks the questions that we would ask ourselves about the resurrection story (is it true? how do you reconcile the facts? what does it mean?). He expresses hopes and dreams that all of us harbour. And he has my favourite line of the film: “What is it you seek Clavius?” “Peace. Certainty. A day without death.” All hopes that we have, whatever our backgrounds. And all hopes that the Christian gospel gives a satisfying answer to.
  • The plot weaves in all the different possibilities and explanations that were given for the tomb being empty (e.g. disciples stole the body), and how Clavius investigates each one and finds them to not to be true. These are great conversation starters.

Some cringe moments or things to be cautious of:

  • The portrayal of the disciples was pretty mediocre. You’d think after having the Scriptures opened up to them they’d have understood that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’s] name to all nations…” (Luke 24:36-47) But they don’t mention any of that. Instead, there’s vague talk about becoming more loving and peaceful. The movie depicts one of the disciples in particular as becoming changed, yes – but changed into a crazy, Ned Flanders-type Christian, just a little bit too unhinged to be convincing. And for someone who was the first to see the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene just seemed to be away with the fairies.
  • Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is in the movie. He even seemed like petulant Draco. I guess you can’t leave some characters behind.
  • It was a bit weird seeing Jesus portrayed by Cliff Curtis from Once Were Warriors (and now the first Nuzilund Jesus it seems). This would also an issue if you believe the portrayal goes against the 2nd commandment (not to make a graven image of God).
  • The crucifixion scene is portrayed in the first 15 minutes, and it’s gruesome (though thankfully it’s not as gratuitous as the Passion of the Christ)
  • There’s a bit of war violence and scenes with dead bodies being dug up (no zombies though)

I think Risen is good enough to watch, whether with Christians or non-Christians. It’s a great starting point for a further conversation or exploration of the historicity of the biblical accounts, but also the spiritual significance of these events. Perhaps after the movie, you’d want to affirm people’s deep desires, and wrestle with the evidence that Jesus did rise. But ultimately, this movie (or any movie) can’t do the job of answering the question of why the resurrection matters. For that, you’d need to do what Jesus did:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27

Risen is a film that poses great questions about the historicity and significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection – timely as we approach public holidays in his honour. But only the good news of Jesus, explained in the Bible, can provide the best answers to these questions, and satisfy our longings for peace, certainty, and a day without death.

Unpacking Baptist Hui 2015

Photo: Pakuranga Baptist Church, facebook page

It’s been a couple of days since the 2015 Baptist Assembly/Hui, held from Thursday to Saturday in Tauranga, New Zealand. While there was a well-thought out and interesting programme around the theme “humility, unity and intimacy”, the key issue on the table was a discussion and vote regarding same-sex marriages on Friday 6 November.

The outcome was that the Baptist Union of New Zealand voted in favour of three resolutions: upholding a biblical definition of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman; affirming that NZ Baptists will not conduct same-sex marriages or allow our properties to be used for same; and not nominating marriage celebrants who conduct same-sex marriages to the Registrar of Marriage (in the first instance).

Even before mainstream media outlets reported on this, the results (including voting percentages) had already been leaked online in an article titled “Baptists add threats to gay marriage opposition”:

The first resolution says “The Baptist Union of NZ Assembly 2015 continues to uphold the sanctity of the biblical understanding of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman”. It passed with a 97 per cent of the vote in favour.

The second resolution affirmed that no Baptist Church will conduct same-sex marriages or allow properties to be used for same-sex marriage services. This resolution passed with 83 per cent of the vote in favour.

The final resolution, passing with 78 percent of the vote in favour, and perhaps the most revealing of all three, stated: “If a Baptist celebrant conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony, the marriage celebrant, in the first instance, will no longer be nominated to the Registrar of Marriages by the Baptist Union of NZ.”

There’s lots of things spinning around in my head and my recall isn’t that fantastic, so please don’t see what follows as an official account of what took place (I hope the BU will publish an official statement soon). I’ve chosen not to name names and churches (except my own) – please also note that I’m not speaking on behalf of my church here. This is my own attempt at thinking through a complex, difficult issue that involves real people, real families and real communities. Also, apologies for any typos or grammatical mistakes – I’m rushing through a whole bunch of writing today.

Background

In April 2013, the New Zealand parliament voted to pass into law the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, making New Zealand the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage.

Intending to protect Baptist churches concerned about being forced to perform a marriage between same-sex couples, the Assembly Council (an elected body representing Baptist churches in the Baptist Union of New Zealand) brought to the annual gathering of BU churches two motions for ratification:

  1. That Baptist pastors do not conduct same sex marriages or use their properties for the same.
  2. That a Working Party would be established to canvas Baptist churches about the issue of same-sex marriage and autonomy

During the November 2013 business meeting (held in Manukau), the first motion was immediately amended from a prohibition to a “recommendation”, which was subsequently voted through (I wasn’t at this meeting; you can read more about it here).

Over the next 2 years, the Working Party received verbal and oral submissions, produced a report, from which the Assembly Council brought three resolutions to this year’s meeting.

What happened at the meeting

Interest for the meeting was high, with over 600 delegates registered (more than double the usual attendance – certainly more than last year’s Assembly at Waitangi). Registered delegates were permitted into the meeting room. I met quite a few people who had come along just to watch the debate (“I’m here for the bunfight”, said one person in jest). It was probably wise that they weren’t allowed into the meeting room (there was a live feed available instead). Journalists were explicitly asked to leave the meeting, and filming was prohibited. As voting delegates, we were each handed a green A5 sheet with the resolutions on one side, and Yes / No boxes on the reverse to indicate our vote on the resolutions as framed during the discussion.

Three resolutions were tabled, and delegates were allowed to speak to each one (we only learned this on the day). Ian (one of our elders) had the opportunity to speak on Resolution 1, while I spoke on Resolution 2 (you can read it here). Over 30 different speakers took the floor – I think in general, people were a lot more prepared compared to the 2013 discussion.

Voting was by secret ballot at the end of the meeting. HBC’s delegates voted in favour of all three resolutions, in line with our church’s stance on the issue.

During the discussion I tried to note down who spoke and the positions expressed.

For Resolution 1 (what the biblical definition of marriage should be), 8 delegates spoke in favour of the resolution, 3 spoke against the resolution (and in favour of same-sex marriages performed in Baptist churches), with one unclear. The main arguments in support were an appeal to the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, a need to hold God’s love and holiness together, and a need to uphold the historical, orthodox view of marriage. The main arguments against Resolution 1 were that “it was a secondary matter of faith” that churches in Union could disagree on, that we are all sinners, and that it would be unconstitutional and un-Baptist to legislate against what a local church had decided on. To be honest, I expected the speakers against to bring forward more arguments concerning the Biblical texts, instead of focusing largely on autonomy, constitution and procedural issues.

The discussion on Resolution 2 (therefore, Baptists will not conduct same sex marriages etc) turned out to be where much of the manoeuvring and debating took place. There were 15 speeches in total during this section. Half of those who spoke on Resolution 2 opposed and/or wished to amend Resolution 2. Some disagreed with it in line with their opposition to the first resolution, but for quite a few others, the point of contention was that while they were not in favour of same-sex marriages, they felt it went against the spirit of “Baptist autonomy” to make a binding decision affecting other churches who disagreed. “Why can’t we be both/and?”, said one speaker. The argument that came through in support of Resolution 2 was that “it’s better to be Biblical than Baptist”, i.e. the principle of autonomy should not override the clear teachings of Christ.

During the discussion on resolution 2, a proposed amendment to change the wording from “will not conduct same-sex marriages” to “recommend that we not conduct…” was tabled (it was quite nerve-wracking having to speak straight after this pastor!) It got a bit complicated after this but the Chair was helpful, explaining that speeches needed to address the amendment.

After a nervous wait, the amendment was eventually voted down on a show of hands. Here’s the enduring image from the meeting etched into my mind: a sea of green voting papers, raised into the air to oppose the amendment, flags held high by the silent majority. I think that was the moment when you felt like the three resolutions were going to make it through.

There was another amendment on resolution 2 for minor word changes (affirms rather than agrees together; buildings to properties) that did go through. I felt the person who made the amendment broke standing orders though (he started with a “point of order” and then proposed the amendment – essentially jumping the long queue of people who had been patiently waiting to speak).

I found it harder to follow the discussion on resolution 3 (pastors who conduct same-sex marriages would no longer be nominated to the list of BU celebrants) – perhaps because I was hungry for lunch! I think there were about a half dozen speakers. The first was an amendment that tried to take out the phrase “in the first instance” from the wording; that was voted down. Following that, there were a few more speakers both for and against, with the last one being particularly upset that Baptist delegates were so interested in this issue but not others.

Encouraging things

In no particular order, here’s what I found encouraging:

  • The process wasn’t rushed. Someone once complained to me that it was ridiculous for the Baptist Union to take 2 years to “work out” an issue that was crystal clear in the Scriptures. And while his point had merit, I do think that by taking the time and inviting as many churches and individuals to participate in the process, we ended up with a result that truly reflected the majority NZ Baptist heart and mind concerning autonomy and same-sex marriage, and therefore a much stronger mandate for the resolutions.
  • There wasn’t a hateful attitude towards the LGBT community. Throughout the debate and in the months prior, I didn’t see anything that could be described as “gay-hating” (as one delegate put it). The mover of the three motions noted from the start that we have often not loved our LGBT friends and family as we ought. One speaker, representing the LGBT community as a practising homosexual, was warmly applauded. The majority of speakers were clear, compassionate and gracious in tone. In fact, the most strident and angry-sounding speakers tended to be those opposed to the resolutions (particularly towards the end of the meeting). Many spoke of how this issue affected them personally, with friends, family, and members of their churches. In particular, one speaker for resolution 2 explained that all of us had sin to repent of, and that we would do well to adopt Jesus’s approach of loving someone and calling them to turn from idolising something (e.g. the rich young ruler in Mark 10 – “Jesus looked at him, and loved him” – then called him to give up the wealth he treasured above everything else). It was explained in such a loving and kind way – you could hear a pin drop in the room. It was good to have this kind of civility during such an emotionally tense discussion.
  • Belated ethnic voices. The working party report noted the missing voice of non-NZ European churches in the submissions it received. There weren’t many that spoke who could be considered non-Caucasian. But it was good to hear from one pastor who shared that his international congregation (including Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African Christians) wanted certainty and clarity from all this discussion and supported all three resolutions. It’s reminded me that in many other denominations, it’s the Global South and countries like China and India that comprise the majority of active Christians. So I really appreciated that.
  • The meeting was well-run. Other than the point-of-order queue jump earlier on, I think the meeting was run quite well. Not an easy task for the Chairperson and the timekeepers. Volunteers helped to count votes and usher people to the right seats. All these little touches helped to make the meeting go more smoothly.

Concerns

Here are some concerns and questions I have coming away from the meeting (again, in no particular order).

  • Forgetting the missing category – I wish someone could have floated a fourth resolution along the lines of: “Baptists should sympathise with those who struggle with same-sex attraction, and with their families, even as we continue to encourage all Christians to live godly lives that conform to the clear teachings of Scripture.” (copied verbatim from our church’s members statement). We need to acknowledge that there’s another category between the sin of gay pride (in the vein of Glee) and the sin of homophobia/hate crime (in the vein of Westboro). While some speakers did well with this, I felt the underlying assumption for several speakers remained that same-sex attracted individuals were cases to be cured, rather than image-bearers whose biggest problem was unbelief, needing (like all of us) to repent from self-centredness and to find satisfaction in Christ alone. I personally know individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction but accept the gospel and strive to follow a life under the lordship of Christ. Sometimes I cringe at what we as Christians communicate in our category assumptions. Sam Allberry says it best: “All of us are sexual sinners.”  I love the work that goes on with groups like Livingout.org and individuals like Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield. I think their perspectives are largely MIA in our discussions.
  • The autonomy sacred cow – I found it concerning the number of speakers who appealed to the autonomy of individual churches as an irreversible trump card for the whole situation. Others have spoken well on this (e.g. here). The other line of thought frequently referred to during the debate was that the resolutions were illegal and unconstitutional. Is it illegal/unconstitutional for a voluntary association to set rules around its member churches? And maybe we’ve forgotten that Jesus was terribly unconstitutional (in the Pharisees’ eyes at least) for healing on the Sabbath, for forgiving sin, and ultimately for raising dead hearts to life. One speaker rightly suggested that perhaps autonomy is our denomination’s corban issue, where we’ve “let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions”. Autonomy shouldn’t override the clear teachings of Christ on the gospel, marriage, sexuality and faithfulness. That’s not autonomy; it’s anarchy.
  • The next generation – It seems like the under-30 age group was under-represented – both at the meeting itself and during the Working Party process. (Other than myself, there were only a handful of speakers that could be considered young adults). In addition, the younger generation that spoke during the meeting were mostly against the 2nd and 3rd resolutions. I feel like in 10-15 years time I’ll be in the minority group amongst my peers (not that it’s necessarily a bad place to be).
  • Carey cone of silence – Other than the Chair of the Working Party (an adjunct lecturer), not a single lecturer or staff member from Carey Baptist College spoke up during the meeting, or contributed publicly to the Working Party process. For a discussion that involved much theological wrestling, you would think that the NZ BU’s official theological college would have wanted to enter the discussion publicly, or to resource churches with their submissions and discussions in some way. It’s possible I’m wrong and that Carey did lots of speaking and teaching on this issue behind the scenes, or in individual churches. Maybe they were asked not to participate in the discussion. But I felt it was a noticeable cone of silence during the meeting itself, and in the lead-up. I hope in future the College plays a more active role (even to the general public) on other issues (e.g. euthanasia, poverty, refugees, sex slavery) – that would certainly help.

Standing firm within your denomination

I didn’t choose to be a Baptist – I pretty much fell into this denomination after becoming a Christian. Since then I’ve heard a range of views regarding the pros and cons of participating within a denomination that our church finds itself at odds with on a range of second-level issues (e.g. church leadership, spiritual gifts, nature of missions, etc). I’ve heard people who I respect implore us to “come out and be separate”, and other voices I respect that have encouraged us to “stay and influence”. It’s hard to say which is better at this point in time. But as long as our church can in good conscience remain in the Baptist Union, I think it’s important for us to be engaged as much as we’re able to in areas of shared belief and practice.

The discussion highlighted that many in the Baptist family are still focused on proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners. If that’s the case, then it’s worth being involved. I think the value is not in picking fights with the most strident voices in opposition, but to network and learn alongside the moderate majority, the brothers and sisters in the middle who are doing their best with what God’s given them in their area of God’s vineyard, who could be open to a more robust mutual confession. It’s much harder to do all that from the outside looking in.

The cost of following Jesus

I’m tired now, so I want to close this off. I write this with family I deeply love that affirm a gay lifestyle. I write this with friends who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. I write this as a dad struggling to raise my children to love the Lord completely – heart, mind, soul and strength. I write this as a sexual sinner myself. In Christ, there is forgiveness for all sins.

I write all this recognising that to the eyes of the watching world, much of the discussion and decisions regarding the same-sex marriage issue will sound punitive, vindictive and offensive. I’m very sorry if it reads this way. Three statements on paper looks very impersonal and clinical without the context of men and women who dialogued prayerfully, extensively, and graciously on the subject. Once the decision goes public, Baptist leaders and churches will be pilloried and mocked. I’m sure the media will be unforgiving.

But maybe that’s exactly where God wants us to be. After all, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:26). And we’re warned: “Do not be surprised if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Christians have never been promised an easy ride – “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Our Saviour was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53).

For our Christian friends on the outside looking in, please remember Baptist leaders, pastors and churches in your prayers in the weeks ahead. And fellow Baptists, let’s also pray for those in other denominations wrestling through the same issue in their contexts (e.g. Anglicans with Motion 30).

Finally, I hope in all this, all of us remain fixed on the goal of clinging to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the only remedy for our sins – sexual or otherwise, and that we encourage one another to live godly lives that reflect the glory of Christ.

 


 

“…Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

 

 

Book review: Is God anti-gay?

Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction

by Sam Allberry

is-god-anti-gay-cover

Genre: Christian living / Social Issues

Size: 93 small pages. Short and sweet.

What’s the big idea: Written by a pastor who struggles with same-sex attraction, the book explains what the Bible teaches about the good news of Jesus, marriage, sex, homosexuality and how to apply all this as individual Christians, as a church community, and how to commend all this to the world around us.

Along the way, Sam takes the time to answer the most commonly asked questions on this topic, including:

  • What does the Bible say about sex and marriage?
  • What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?
  • Can I be a Christian if I struggle with same-sex attraction?
  • Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?
  • But Jesus never mentions homosexuality, so how can it be wrong?
  • Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?
  • What should we do if a gay couple start coming to our church?
  • What can the church do to support Christians facing this issue?
  • Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?
  • What should I do if a Christian comes out to me?
  • How should I respond when my non-Christian friend tells me that they’re gay?
  • What’s the best way to share Christ with a gay friend?

Easy to read? Yes. Done in a few hours.

What I appreciated: There are plenty of books out there on this topic (and more being published each month it seems). This one is unique because it’s winsomely written by someone for whom homosexuality isn’t just an abstract issue.

The thing I appreciated the most is that within the first 3 pages, Sam explained that the gospel message of Jesus was something everyone needed:

“[The gospel is] the announcement that, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be put right with God; that we are being offered a fresh start to begin to live as God always meant us to. This is his message. And it’s his message for all people. When Jesus burst onto the scene, he didn’t subdivide humanity into categories and give each one a separate message…

God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone.Repent and believe. It is the same invitation to find fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love.” (p.9-10)

In the chapters diving into the Bible’s specific teachings on marriage and sexuality, Sam covers all the important passages. He also brings into the discussion a few other passages which I hadn’t considered before, such as Jesus’s teaching on celibacy in Matthew 19:11-12, and Revelation 2:20-21 on the issue of tolerance and whether we can just “agree to disagree” with other churches whose teaching leads people into sexual sin.

Sam is sharp on the question of whether Christians pick and choose from the Old Testament. He explains that Jesus fulfils all of the Old Testament (Matt 5:17), but fulfils the various elements in various ways. He declared all foods clean, fulfilled the requirements of all the temple-related regulations as the true Temple, and remade the people of God from nation-state to church. The Old Testament’s teaching on sexual ethics, through its restatement in the New Testament, means that it’s still binding for Christians today.

The chapter for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction is full of pastoral wisdom and encouragement. Sam reminds us that same-sex attraction doesn’t disqualify us if we’re united with Christ, and it doesn’t define us. He also has a really helpful section commending singleness for those who are unable to marry.

Sam also gives really helpful advice for churches so that they’re able to help Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction: make it easy to talk about, honour singleness, remember that church is family, deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, and provide good pastoral support.

Who I’d recommend it to: Any Christian needs to pick this up to help them engage perhaps the most challenging issue in our time. This isn’t so much a book for the atheist who has no interest in an orthodox Christian view on sexuality, but for someone in the church who is, or knows of individuals who are struggling in this area.

Notable quotes:

“It is the same for us all – ‘whoever’. I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying ‘no’ to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up a cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit. It is laying down your life for the very reason that your life, it turns out, is not yours at all. It belongs to Jesus. He made it. And through his death he has bought it.

Ever since I have been open about my own experiences with homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: ‘the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me’, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything out of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.” (p.11-12)

“We live in a culture where sexuality is virtually equated with identity: “You are your sexuality”. We are encouraged to think that to experience homosexual feelings means that you are, at your most fundamental core, a homosexual. It is very easy for Christians to lose a healthy perspective on this. We can think that SSA is the issue in our Christian life, as though no other sins or struggles warranted serious attention … Yes, it has a significant effect on a number of defined areas of life, but it does not define your life.” (p.46)

When a gay couple start to come to your church:

“…It makes no difference if [the newcomers] are a gay couple, a straight couple, or anybody else. All are sinners, and all need God’s grace.” (p.64)

“…I want that conversation [about their sexuality] to take place in the context of the gospel, rather than start with their sexuality and try to get from there to the gospel. They need to know who Jesus is before being landed with what he requires.” (p.65)

On singleness:

“Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness. Our fellowships need to uphold and honour singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it. Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends or need tying up. Nor should we think that every person is single because they’ve been too lazy to look for a marriage partner.” (p.68)

On a non-Christian friend coming out to you:

“Wouldn’t it be great if, of all people, it was their Christian friend they felt most able to approach? Telling us about their sexuality could be an opportunity for the friendship to deepen rather than drift apart. And taking a genuine interest is more likely than anything else to prompt questions about how we think about these matters as a believer.” (p.75)

On being an effective witness to the world:

“Key to our witness and credibility on this (or any) issue is the quality of our life together, and the clarity of our message.” (p.77)

Verdict: Highly recommended. Give it out to everyone you can at church to think through this issue with truth and love.

More info:

  • A lot of what’s in this book and more can be found on this excellent site – www.livingout.org