Tag Archives: sin

Quotable: How Not to Talk About Purity | RELEVANT Magazine

By using metaphors that objectify women and girls, we are following the example set by our larger society. While we may not be plastering up images of Victorias Secret models, we are placing the bodies of girls, and with that, the value of their virginity, onto a pedestal. We are reducing women to objects, which may be used and disposed of when their “value” declines.

By a youth pastor telling a group of girls that their value is less because of sex, much like a “chewed up piece of gum,” that individual is guilty of objectifying women, and following in the steps of this world. As others before me have noted, this model of objectification feeds into rape culture.

Please, let that sink in.

When we reduce women to disposable objects or objects of any kind, we are diminishing their humanity. We are taking away their autonomy, their individual will by comparing them to inanimate objects without power. Its easier for a perpetrator to exert force over a victim if the victims body has been objectified. When we, as members of the Church, use these reductive object lessons, we are participating and enabling a destructive culture against the bodies of girls and women.

“Purity culture” needs to be redeemed, and this begins with the Church.

via How Not to Talk About Purity | RELEVANT Magazine.

Some of you will be offended…

… but this is an excellent post and you should read it:

Joffre The Giant: O Christian, Watch Your Tongue.

The issue? Sin is IN ME.  My speech raises a rebellious hand against the Almighty when I refuse to love, when I profane God’s name, when lie or cheat or gossip.  Not just because I use certain words and avoid others.

Joffre’s post is provocative. Go be provoked, and sin no more.

Link: “Why Satan Loved 7th Heaven More Than Breaking Bad”

Man. He nails it!

And each show [7th Heaven] was like a moral lesson, usually ending with some vague inspirational thoughts from Pastor Camden’s sermon that week encouraging us to be good, or kind, or self-controlled, etc. Like when Ruthie got addicted to gum. Remember that episode? She needed to show more self-control with her Juicy Fruit. There\’s a whole lot about being good, but not so much as a whisper about Jesus.   

This is why Satan loves 7th Heaven much more than Breaking Bad: it lies. Walker Percy once said that \”Bad books lie, and they lie most of all about the human condition.\” So does bad TV. It deals with the world not as it really is, and with people not as they really are.

via Sammy Rhodes.

The Devil You Know: Why Readers Love The Screwtape Letters : The New Yorker

Few people understood the breadth of the Christian life, both sin and grace, like C S Lewis.  Enjoy this brief reminder of his insights presented through the mouths of devils:

The Devil You Know: Why Readers Love The Screwtape Letters : The New Yorker.

On Sin: Revisited

Awhile ago I codified some key tenets about a biblical view of “sin.” You can find that entire post here, and it’s pretty short, designed for a quick read. I recommend visiting it before reading on…..
On Sin
It’s been on my mind for a while now to set down some more thoughts about defining sin biblically. Again, nothing I say here is new. This is orthodox, standard theology. But I need to hear it.

And I run into these misunderstandings repeatedly.
In short form:

1. As believers, we must recognize the primary authority of the Word in defining sin.

1a. Another way to say it: God gets to define what sin is. I don’t. Neither does my pastor, the Pope, or anyone else….though I would be foolish to think I can sort this out by myself.

Does the Bible, rightly and carefully interpreted, say any particular action or thought is WRONG?
If not, you don’t have the right to say it’s a sin.

2. The Spirit and the Word govern my conscience, a God-given early warning system. But the system has to be calibrated correctly to work right.

Rightly adjusted, my conscience can properly identify sin. But my conscience or my feelings or my traditions or expectations or experiences are not a substitute for a biblical definition of sin. And my conscience was warped by the Fall, just like everything else.  When you start to do something, does your conscience say STOP? Then STOP.  But go find out if your conscience was reacting biblically because…..
2b. The “weaker brother” gets no medals for being weak.

In fact, demanding a higher standard than God does is a sign of IM-maturity! 

Paul talks a lot about this in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.   He says, If I entice someone with a weak conscience to do something that person feels is wrong, I have overstepped the line.

But notice in both letters, Paul is taking time to ADJUST the weak consciences about the hot button issues of the day from a biblical standpoint. It’s not ok to leave people thinking they have got it all sorted out with their fancy system of rules. Replace “meat offered to idols” with drinking beer, listening to screaming metal music, celebrating Halloween, or smoking … you get the idea. Pastors and mentors are responsible for helping us adjust our consciences so they sound a warning at things that really are sin, not just stuff that bothers us.

3. We should acknowledge the wisdom of experienced Christians and submit ourselves to the elders who shepherd our churches when we choose how to act in the Body of Christ.
Nope, we’re not in this alone. I don’t get to make up my own Bible interpretations.  The entirety of the Body is very important here in preventing people from just going off on their own personal interpretation-wagons and missing the real point.  So my understanding of what God says about sin and righteousness is an exercise in interpretation-within-the-community-of-Faith.

4. If it’s a gray area, then it’s not sin… by definition. 

Biblically, “Sin” means sin. As in…. Wrong. Evil. Twisted. Polluted. Dirty. DONT DO IT.
This should not be confused with “inappropriate,” “unwise,” “dancing too close to the line” or anything in a similar “gray area.

This, folks, is where it all hits home. As you follow the Spirit and the Word and walk in the fellowship of the Body, you WILL come into conflict with other believers’ ideas of sin and righteousness. Are you willing to set aside the condemnation that arises so naturally in each of us when we find people who disagree?

I don’t get to define sin for you, outside God’s commands….which are difficult enough,

Building a fence around the Law to keep yourself or others from breaking it? That’s Pharisaism. No way around it.

A King knows there’s a big lake in the middle of his kingdom which is so dangerous, people drown when they try to swim in it. So he makes a Law for the people: Do not swim in the lake. His overseer comes along and says, “Hey, if we build a fence here, no o e can swim in the lake, so no one will drown!”   So he puts up a nice big fence, and labels it with large signs reading DO NOT APPROACH FENCE.

safe? Sure.

But that’s Pharisaism. And Jesus HATED it.

God says, “do not commit adultery.” Jesus unpacks this command in Matthew 5 and shows how the deep meaning of the command is “Don’t lust.”
What should you do?
Don’t lust.

What about setting a rule for myself that I won’t ever be in a car alone with the opposite sex?
You’re building fences.
It might be the right thing for you to do in this moment of your life. But recognize what you’re doing.

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (Nathan Wilson)

notes-from-the-tilt-a-whirlNotes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World
N. D. Wilson
Thomas Nelson, 2009

Sometimes books, like the authors who write them, prove to be such a tangled mixture of wrong and right, beauty and deformity that I don’t know how to handle them. ND Wilson’s pithy, artistic revel through the problem of evil and good in our world provokes me to put electronic bits to electronic paper in an attempt to sort out how I feel about this book.

Without ruining any surprises for potential readers:  Nate Wilson sets out to discuss (observe? illuminate? illustrate? investigate?) the meaning of CREATION in a world so clearly broken and destroyed by sin.

His thesis is that our world, spoken into existence by the Eternal Word and held together “by His powerful word” (Colossians 1), is Cosmic-scale Art by the Master Artist.  The eternal, infinite God of the Universe stoops to paint Himself, His Image, in the layers and textures of Life in this cosmos, in all of its aspects. Consider the ant. Snicker at the snowflakes which heap themselves up on a winter night. Gasp in  horror at rodents and rabbits eaten by hawks and tsunamis. And Nietzsche.  The Lord God made them all. (Well, maybe not Nietzsche.)  We are all His poem, His Story.

First off, I have to say —  This is a beautifully-written book.  I get tired of people who hound me to read a book that turns out poorly written and ugly in the mouth. Artistry and Truth go hand-in-hand; otherwise, the Truth gets sent out wearing ill-fitting clothes and wondering why everyone is staring at Her as if she has toilet-paper trailing from a mismatched high-heel.  Nathan Wilson offers us soul-searching, thoughtful perspectives on sin and goodness and clothes them in a fresh, fashion-runway wardrobe.  He bounces between narrative, anecdote, quotation, and lightly-theological discussions. Puns abound. Clearly, Wilson observed the Great Author’s style in His Book and followed suit — no one has ever accused God of handing us a systematic theology text (though I get the impression many of my friends wish He had; it would make their inconsequential, long-winded arguments much simpler).

That said, my opinion must divide here.

I *love* Nathan Wilson’s “voice” in his writing.

I agree with so much of what he says, especially the chapters about the life hereafter (end of the book), both positive and negative; his imagery of the dead being “planted” in hope of the coming Life; the beauty of the creation around us as living, colorful, tactile parables of spiritual realities.  You gotta love the man’s chapter titles too: “The Problem of Evil and the Nonexistence of Shakespeare: A Paper by Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.”   I especially loved his personification of unimaginative cosmic materialistic science:  the god “Boom.”  I don’t think a non-theist would ever be convinced by his words, but passages like these were a lot of fun to read (in the same way that the MPs in the British Parliament like to cheer and chuckle when one of their own works over some muck on the other side of the podium):

If the world is fundamentally an accident, if in the beginning, there was no eternal personality, no eternal living Being, merely super-hot, hyper-dense I AM matter (with no space and no universe outside of itself) and if, wandering those hyper-dense, super tiny corridors of the Forever Matter, attending to its normal routine, there happened to be one little chemical that caught its toe and flopped into another very different chemical, and both of them said, “Oh crap,” in tiny voices and went deaf in the explosion, then when did the accident start making sense and why the hell do we have the Special Olympics?
Is it strange that an impersonal accident should start talking about itself, that shards of matter rocketing through space/time would start making burbling noises and pretend that they’re communicating with other shards, and that their burbling truthfully explained the accident? Is it strange to you that an accident would invent baseball and walruses and Englishmen?
If a hypothetical neutral observer had watched the birth of an ever-expanding universe from the womb of an accidental fireball, was he (or she or it) surprised when the explosion invented llamas?
You see, for me, llamas are entirely consistent with the personality of an easily amused God. A prank on the Andes and everyone who ever needed to use the long-necked, pack-sweaters. Surly, pompous, comically unaware of their own looks, spitters. Perfect. Tell me a story about the great god Boom. Tell me how he accidentally made llamas from hydrogen (pp 127-28).

Great stuff, right?

But Wilson and I break ranks almost everywhere he deals with the “problem of evil” (to use the theologians’ phrase).

Applied to daily living, I love what Wilson says. I agree that ants die because I step on them, so what if the tables turn and I’m the ant? OK, you got me. This world is messed up, but God holds the reins and anyone who names Christ and reads the Word learns that God promises He’s got this.  “Can disaster strike a city and God not be in it?” God says in Amos. Hard to argue with that. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” was Joseph’s explanation for his years of slavery in Egypt triggered by his brothers’ sin.

We call this Providence. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was 12, my mom asked for enough years of life to “raise” me. She got about 11 more sun-cycles out of the deal. None of us are bitter.
But the words that sing hope for the suffering soul turn ugly when Wilson uses them to explain God’s role in bringing evil to this planet in the first place. Essentially, “this is the best of all possible worlds.” Ah, Leibniz. Voltaire skewered your worldview 300 years ago.

Wilson, I’m disappointed…..

I won’t clutter this post with a review of the issues; I’ve mentioned it elsewhere on my blog and you can read for yourself in a good systematic theology (try Grudem’s).  Suffice to boil down the millennia of argumentation to this:
a) God is good
b) God is all-powerful (or sovereign or however you want to state it)
c) Evil exists

All argumentation about the existence of “evil” fights on that ground, at least within the ranks of Theism. Most of the time, people “solve” the problem by weakening one of those 3 propositions.  See, we’re left with the knotty problem that no human rationale can reconcile a) b) and c).  We can chuck one (or hide it or soften it) and be ok, but to hold all 3 at once — well, that’s what my professor Bell used to call “trying to carry 3 watermelons at one time.”  We humans just don’t have big enough brains to hold more than 2 at one time.

Wilson pulls a bait-and-switch in his argumentation.  To illustrate God as Author of this cosmos, he tells gripping stories about cute rabbits getting eaten by powerful, beautiful hawks; of Shakespearean characters who don’t understand why they’re in such misery at the pen of their Author; of kittens who eat mice AND remain cute.  And those stories are supposed to illustrate how our lives, at times senseless in their ironic, bitter brokenness, reflect a God who creates both kittens and and rabbits and hawks and violent ocean breakers. See? God’s got it all in His hands. It’s in the Plot. Calm down.

So … It’s not evil as long as it serves a plot-point….?

I wrote about this a couple years ago: some of my Reformed friends don’t realize they soften the evilness of evil in order to maintain God’s power and goodness.  Is Wilson really trying to suggest that child abuse and a hawk’s supper are on the same moral ground?

I appreciate that Nathan Wilson will go to the stake promoting God’s glory and power and goodness — that’s awesome.  But he does it by inventing a 4th proposition (God exists) and defending that (ok, awesome), while diminishing the reality of the curse under which we live in this fallen world. 

Do not resent your place in the story. Do not imagine yourself elsewhere. Do not close your eyes and picture a world without thorns, without shadows, without hawks. Change this world. Use your body like a tool meant to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Better every life you touch. We will reach the final chapter. When we have eyes that can stare into the sun, eyes that only squint for the Shekinah, then we will see laughing children pulling cobras by their tails, and hawks and rabbits playing tag (p154).

With apologies, my friend —

We ARE commanded to envision a world apart from feasting carnivorous predators, without the thorns that tear apart our fingers as we struggle to garden, without the unwelcome visitor Death (who was never meant to be a part of this world — not for humans, for sure).

The Creation waits and groans for the day of its release from its bondage to our sin (Rom 8).  Wilson’s right: we *will* see hawks and rabbits play together (Isaiah), but it comes at the horrific, measureless price of God’s own blood.  Not mine.  My good works on this earth DO count “for real,” but the Power of Redemption flows from God’s Grace, not my blood.

Lewis in the most famous Narnia Chronicle (Lion, Witch, Wardrobe) writes of the “deep magic” that even Aslan cannot violate: To redeem Edmund’s soul of his treachery, the Stone Table must have blood.

There is no “answer” in softening evil so that God can still look good and powerful.  

Child molesters devour the innocent when no one but God knows about it. I can’t explain how that is Just apart from an eternal view of this world and everything that happens in it, but God promises that Justice will thrive on the earth once the Blood has done its work.

People are starving to death on parts of this planet while American farmers are paid not to grow some crops.  God says He’ll break the arms of the oppressors…. in His time.
A hawk will swoop down and snatch a perky fuzzy kitten out of the sight of a screaming terrified toddler this holiday season …. because our sin is *that bad*.

And so I am left with the reader’s dilemma, and I invite you to join me.  Wrestle with ND Wilson’s words. Get out your Bible and search.  Glean the many gems from his pages…. but IMHO Wilson falls off the theological knife-edge in his quest to explain what God Himself makes no apologies for (other than to affirm that He is not the Author of the evil that chews us up from the inside out, apart from blood-bought Grace).

Read it.

PS. I’d love to teach a Sunday School class using this book along with C S Lewis’s The Problem of Pain and Mary Doria Russell’s outstanding fiction pair, The Sparrow and Children of God.

On Sin. [Probably the most important post I’ve ever written.]

I wrote this for Camille Lewis, because she asked for me to explain this all in one place. So here we go.

To echo the esteemed Dr Mike Barrett, nothing I say below is new. “Novelty is not a virtue in this business,” he said to us in seminary. Orthodox teaching on the subject of the Fall and its effects on Creation isn’t hard to find.

Yet people keep asking me to codify what I find myself repeating in so many different contexts, that we Christians tend to mis-define sin (usually by “hedging” the Law) and then apply those fuzzy, imprecise decisions and do much harm.

So, for Camille & others, here is my first, oh-so-brief sketch of the issues, to be fleshed out “later” …

1. Sin is not a THING. 

It doesn’t “exist” as its own entity somewhere, rubbing off like black tar on “good things” … so that we can simply keep ourselves away from the tar…. Sin is a twistedness, a perversion, a brokenness, a falling short. It exists only as the perversion of what is good….

2. and more precisely & biblically, sin exists IN ME. Not in objects. This point is well established in orthodox theological literature. 

Paul writes in Titus that “to the pure, all things are pure.” Jesus says in Matthew (and He was speaking in that context of physical things, and in a conversation with the law-loving Pharisees), it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out from the heart that defiles a man. Jesus locates the problem of sin within humans, not outside of them. We are  “drawn away by our own lusts and enticed” (James 1).

Jesus then goes on to name a representative short-list of sins as His examples.  “Going in” were things like food (reminds me of Paul’s meat discussion). His “coming out” examples are all sins of the heart — envy, hatred, lust, etc.

The sin problem is INSIDE ME.

This is foundational to biblical thinking. As soon as you define any particular thing as sinful, you’ve missed the point…. because we must agree that God Himself sees all things yet does not sin.

So, a test case:
Is the photo of a naked woman sinful?
Well, lusting certainly is.
Adultery is.
The sins of the heart are the point. You can commit the sin of lust without ever opening a Playboy magazine.

Is it the physical photograph of the naked woman in her sensual pose that is the sin?

Jesus could have picked up a porn magazine, flipped through it, and wept over the exploitation of those girls (whether they realize it or not) and such blatant perversion of God-granted beauty… yet never lust.

Don’t misunderstand my point: I’m not suggesting that men go look at porn. I agree with 100% of the godly ministers I know who argue that porn is a huge problem for Christian men. But my point stands that the sin is taking place inside the heart, and the object that stirs up the illicit desires for a wrong kind of sex isn’t the sinful part of this equation. If an unfallen man (or a glorified one) saw a Playboy centerfold, he would not sin.

We sin because we are sinners.
The sin is not in the object.

3. Mature, growing Christians experience a growing freedom of conscience as their knowledge of God and His Word grow. (At least, as the Spirit applies the Word to our hearts, we ought to.) 

Paul never commends the “weaker brother” for his weakness. All of the protections Paul mandates in our interactions with one another (Romans 14, I Corinthians 8-10) are there to prevent the weaker one, the man with the tighter conscience, from being “destroyed” by his uninformed understanding of biblical boundaries.

Implicit in these passages is the expectation that the weaker brother should grow into a mature faith, one that realizes that meat offered to idols is okay; that no day is more important than another … that our external expressions of liberty are NOT where sin resides…

Sin is in the heart.

If I do something despite believing in my heart by conviction (whether I’m right or wrong) that it’s sin, Paul says I sin against my conscience. And THAT is the sin. Not necessarily the activity itself.

4. The battle is never about the top-level, external, surface issues. When it comes to defining sin, the gray areas are actually very small.

You cannot play a game to create some “gray area” which you label “not-sin” yet “still bad.” The Bible never goes there.

Wisdom is justified by her actions, yes, but you’re dealing in different categories (sinful vs unwise). It would not be wise for me to play heavy metal for you at dinner, or in your church service—for one thing, we would have a hard time having a conversation over dinner or paying attention to the message, and that’s unloving. But that action alone wouldn’t be a sin (other than maybe my transgression of the command to “love your neighbor” and “do unto others…”).

If you can’t enjoy screaming heavy metal, fine. Don’t listen.
But understand: NO particular style of music is sin in itself. Period.

If you can’t look at Michelangelo’s David without being bothered by the nudity, fine. But understand — nakedness is NOT a sin.  If you can admire and not sin, great. You’ll weep at the incredible beauty of the sculpture.

5. So…judging someone’s spiritual status by their list of favorite music … movies… TV… books… businesses… where they buy their socks — it’s just silly. 

We are justified.
We are sanctified.
We are made holy solely through the blood of Jesus Christ and the work of the Cross…. nothing else.

I cannot trust God for my salvation and then try to “work my hardest” to “keep Him happy” during the rest of my Christian life! (Read Galatians)

Yes, we are “to be holy” — to be “set apart” indeed. One might argue that Jesus helps us understand that holiness when He calls us to see that the Law’s demands are inward, and not just outward. And that we are to be known, as His followers, by our LOVE. Not by what music we eschew.

We are losers. Gone. Hopeless— APART from God’s redemptive work.
And THAT is Grace:
you are totally sinful, yet totally loved by your Father.

Your actions will never make you any more or less holy. “Righteous Lot” was tormented in his conscience outside Sodom — but God terms him “righteous.” Unbelievable.

Understand what sin is and educate your conscience.  There’s no righteousness in judgment OR license.  “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)