A Christianity So ‘Cool’, It’s To Die For

“For to you it has been granted, for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
– Philippians 1:29a (NASB)


You will forgive my tardiness, but only a few days ago did I come across an article published earlier this month on the website Vice.com entitled: Meet the Woke Young People Trying to Make Christianity Cool Again. It profiles four ‘woke’ young people and their efforts to, as the article states, get Christianity “back in step” on issues such as the environment, racial inequality, and LGBTQ rights.

Notwithstanding the content of the article itself, the title alone seems sufficient to give any true Christian pause. I say true Christian because any person who professes to have been born again, and has lived for any length of time the kind of sacrificial life to which followers of Jesus Christ are called, knows from personal experience, as well as from what the Bible itself teaches, that the last thing Christianity is, is “cool” (Jn. 1:12-13Lk. 6:27-38; 9:23; Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Tim. 4:8-10; 1 Pet. 2:11; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).

But not only are these four individuals so woke as to want to make Christianity cool, they want to make Christianity cool again.

Again?

Since when has Christianity ever been cool, let alone cool again?

In contemplating such a misguided notion, I was reminded of some of the early church fathers; men like Ignatius of Antioch who, having been charged with the crime of atheism (denial of the Roman gods), said these words shortly before being martyred for being so “cool”:

“May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me. I pray that they would be found eager to rush at me, and I will also entice them to devour me speedily and not deal with me as some, whom out of fear they have not touched. If they are unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me; I know what is to my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. Let no one, of things visible or invisible, prevent me from attaining to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocation of bones; let cutting off of limbs; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the evil torments of the devil come upon me; only let me attain to Jesus Christ.”

There is also Justin Martyr who, like Ignatius, was so “cool” that in the year 165 A.D., he was beheaded for it (hence his surname). Before his death, Martyr penned these words:

“And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom. Instead, we speak of that which is with God, as can be shown from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, even though they know that death is the punishment awarded to those who so confess. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we would deny our Christ, so that we might not be killed. We would try to escape detection, so that we might obtain what we hope for. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since death is a debt which must at all events be paid.”

And then there is Tertullian, a controversial figure to some, but who, in speaking against the Roman authorities who were regularly putting Christians to death for being “cool”, boldly commented:

“When Christians are brought before you simply because of their name, is there ever found a criminal of any sort? It is always with your people that the prisons are streaming, the mines are sighing, and the wild beasts are fed. It is from you that the exhibitors of gladiator shows always get their herds of criminals to feed up for the occasion. You will find no Christian there except for simply being one. Or, if one is there as something else, he is a Christian no longer.”

I’ve written previously of my concern that ‘woke theology’ is detrimental to the evangelical church.

This erosion of biblical orthodoxy is, in my opinion, most evident in the casual indifference being displayed by many professing Christians today – millennial Christians in particular – to what orthodox Christianity, that is, the biblical gospel, is and its purpose in our lives, particularly when held against other worldviews. It is a concern that is echoed in the words of the late author and Bible expositor Jerry Bridges who, in his book The Gospel For Real Life, lamented that:

“Most people, even people who have already become believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ. Few people ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God. And most of all, none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are.”

Sadly, Bridges’ estimation is an accurate one.

But what makes Bridges right is not merely what he said, but that what he said is what the Word of God teaches.

At the heart of the Christian message is that humanity is innately sinful and in desperate need of spiritual redemption. It is a universal condition that is remedied only through faith in Jesus Christ, whose sacrificial death on a cross satisfied the wrath of a righteous God against unrighteous sinners like you and me (Jn. 3:16; Acts 4:121 Jn. 2:2).

But that message is being lost under the allurement of another “gospel”, one that preaches that humanity is inherently capable of redeeming itself through socio-political activism – climate change, racial reconciliation, LGBTQ rights – apart from the atonement of Christ which, alone, is sufficient to address mankind’s most fundamental need: to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

To suggest, as the headline of the Vice.com article does, that Christianity must somehow be made palatable as to be acceptable (cool) to the masses, is to completely misunderstand Christianity. It is with that thought in mind that the words of pastor and theologian John MacArthur prove helpful:

“The gospel is good news for fallen humanity regarding how sins are atone for, how sinners are forgiven, and how believers are made right with God. That may not sound very elegant or fashionable. It is certainly not a message suited to appeal to the frivolous fads or cultural concerns of the present age. But our Lord did not commission His disciples to proclaim a pliable message that would need to be overhauled every generation. And the mission of the church is not to win the world’s admiration.”The Gospel According to Paul, Hardcover version, p. 76

Christianity is not about being cool. It is about bearing a cross (Matt. 16:24; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23). As noted author and intellectual C.S. Lewis expressed in his classic work Mere Christianity:

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

‘Woke Christianity’ is not biblical Christianity. It is an ideology that promotes the mirage of social, political, and cultural egalitarianism under the premise that the purpose of the gospel is to bring mankind into a kind of nirvanic state of oneness with the earth and with each other. It is, as the Reformer Martin Luther described as a “theology of glory” as opposed to a “theology of the cross”. The Rev. Dr. Carl R. Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, expands on this thought from Luther, explaining that:

“[The] theologians of glory,”…are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The “theologians of the cross,” however, are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.”

The image above is one with which you may or may not be familiar.

It shows a group of Middle Eastern Christians being escorted along a tranquil and picturesque shoreline on their way to be beheaded for being “cool”. It is a stark and humbling reminder of what still can happen to individuals who, even at the threat of death, would dare to confess the One who died His own “cool” death on a cross more than 2,000 years ago.

Christianity does not exist to push any socio-political agenda (Jn. 18:36; 2 Pet. 3:13). When the Bible speaks about what woke Christians refer to as “social justice”, it doesn’t use adjectives like ‘social’ as qualifiers. In biblical terms, there is only justice and injustice. Period. To apply God’s standard of righteousness equitably to all who bear His image is justice. To not do so is injustice.

It is that simple, really.

The way of Christ is the way of the cross, not the way of the cool (Mk. 15:19-20).

The Middle-Eastern brothers pictured above weren’t beheaded because of their position on climate change or LGBTQ rights or racial injustice. Their lives were brought to a brutally murderous end because of their belief in the only begotten Son of God, who willingly condescended to a world that is innately opposed to His standard of righteousness.

To you who may consider yourselves among the generation of ‘woke’ young Christians who desire to make Christianity cool again, as if following Jesus were a fad that comes and goes as the culture shifts, I challenge you to look beyond the comfort zone of your peer group and remember that Christ did not die for your social justice agenda. He died so that sinners like you and I would not have to spend an eternity in hell for the damnable offenses we’ve committed against Him (1 Tim. 1:15a).

Because, trust me, my brothers and sisters, there is nothing ‘cool’ about hell (Jn. 3:36; 2 Thess. 1:8-9).

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” – Matt. 1:21 (NASB)

In Christ,

Darrell

Related:
You Can Keep Your Cool Church, Give Me Jesus – Peter Heck, The Resurgent
Jesus Did Not Die So You Could Be Cool – Owen Strachan, For the Church

Why ‘Racism’ Isn’t Wrong


In surveying the current socio-cultural landscape in America, it seems increasing numbers of individuals are either identifying as social justice activists or aspire to be one.

What began with the protestations of one individual over perceived systemic “racial” injustices being perpetrated against black people, primarily by those who occupy certain positions of authority (e.g. police officers), has morphed into a global movement with other notable athletes and celebrities remonstrating in solidarity.

Now, before I go on, I want to confess that the reason I placed the word racial in quotations above is because, unlike most social justice activists, I happen to not subscribe to the idea of “race” as an aspect of human identity. In fact, my personal perspective on the subject is more closely aligned with that of the late anthropologist Dr. Robert Wald Sussman, author of The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea who, in a 2014 Newsweek article, declared:

“What many people do not realize is that racial structure is not based on reality. Anthropologists have shown for many years now that there is no biological reality to human race. There are no major complex behaviors that directly correlate with what might be considered human “racial” characteristics. There is no inherent relationship between intelligence, law- abidingness, or economic practices and race, just as there is no relationship between nose size, height, blood group, or skin color and any set of complex human behaviors. However, over the past 500 years, we have been taught by an informal, mutually reinforcing consortium of intellectuals, politicians, statesmen, business and economic leaders and their books that human racial biology is real and that certain races are biologically better than others. These teachings have led to major injustices to Jews and non-Christians during the Spanish Inquisition; to blacks, Native Americans, and others during colonial times; to African Americans during slavery and reconstruction; to Jews and other Europeans during the reign of the Nazis in Germany; and to groups from Latin America and the Middle East, among others, during modern political times.”

Dr. Sussman is right.

And though science continues to provide the world with objective evidence to support his conclusions, it is not necessarily my intent that this blog post serve as an apologetic for Sussman’s, or anyone else’s, epistemology of race.

That said, I find it interesting, if not ironic, that many who do subscribe to the concept of race as a scientific reality, choose to engage in discourse about those who exhibit “racist” attitudes, either overtly or covertly, not from the standpoint of biology but morality.

This, in my mind, raises several questions:

Firstly, how can something whose ontological premise (race) is based solely on skin color become a matter of morality (racism)? After all, if such an attitude (racism) is simply a biological response to what is merely a product of biology (race), should not the remedy for such an attitude also be biological as opposed to moral?

Secondly, and, conversely, if in fact racism is merely a biological response to a biologically-produced attribute of humankind, then, why is racism ever “wrong”? In other words, at what point does morality supersede science?

And, lastly, by whose or what standard of morality would it be determined that racism is “wrong” and by whom?

In answering these (and other) questions, I find especially helpful the words of theologian and author, Dr. John MacArthur who, in his book Think Biblically: Recovering a Biblical Worldview, states that:

“…the doctrine of evolution (if followed consistently) ends with a denial of the reality of evil. If naturalistic evolution is correct and there is no God, neither can there be any inviolable principles that govern the universe. And therefore there is no moral accountability of any kind. In fact, if evolution is true, things are the way they are by sheer chance, for no transcendent reason. Nothing under such a system could ever have any real moral significance. The very notions of good and evil would be meaningless concepts. There would be no reason to condemn a Hitler or applaud a Good Samaritan.”

The book of Genesis records the first murder committed in human history – the premeditated taking of the life of Abel by his brother Cain. We know Cain’s actions were premeditated because prior to carrying out the actual act, God spoke directly – and specifically – to him about the attitude he was harboring in his heart toward Abel:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it. Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother and killed him.” – Gen. 4:6-8 (NASB)

Notice in the aforementioned text that Abel is twice referred to as the “brother” of Cain.

But notice also that it wasn’t for familial, relational, or genealogical reasons that God admonished him. God did not say to Cain, “It is wrong for you to murder Abel because he is your brother.” Nor did He say, “It is wrong to murder your brother because you both bleed the same color.” or “It is wrong to murder your brother because he is a man just like you.”

This is important to note because when it comes to matters of race, and race-relations, the ethno-ethos to which most people subscribe is predicated on our horizontal relationship to one another as opposed to our vertical relationship to God.

In other words, the assertion that racism is “wrong” is based primarily on the egalitarian proposition that we are created in the image of each other (imago homo) rather than in the image of God (imago Dei).

As the renown and highly-esteemed American poet, Maya Angelou, wrote:

“We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.
We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.”

The problem with the kind ethno-moralistic relativism being espoused today by many social justice activists, is it preaches the delusive message of cura te ipsum (“physician heal thyself.”)

This mindset is why countless social justice activists are demanding a so-called “end” to racism because they believe sincerely, albeit naively, that the genesis of racism is biological (melanin) not spiritual (mindset) and, as such, that human beings inherently possess the capacity to “stop” being racist.

Which, again, begs the question: how is it that such a stabile, invariable, and constant characteristic as skin color can so affect the human heart as to result in the egregious maltreatment of others who don’t look like us?

“…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth…” – Acts 17:26 (NASB)

The God of all the universe, in His infinite and unfathomable wisdom, created and fashioned you and me with the specific ethnic qualities we each possess.

Yes, racism is wrong, but it isn’t wrong for the reasons you think.

Racism isn’t wrong because we all bleed red.

Racism isn’t wrong because we all belong to a collective “brotherhood of man.”

Racism isn’t wrong because we all breathe the same air.

Racism isn’t wrong because of our sociological, anthropological, or biological similarities.

Racism – a word I personally loathe but will use for the sake of this commentary – is “wrong” not because you or I declare it to be so, but because it reflects a sinful heart-attitude that disavows the glory of God by deliberately harboring hateful biases toward those who, like you and I, have been created by God to reflect His image to a sin-sick world that does not know Him as Savior and Lord (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 5:13-16).

It is the objective, never-changing truth of the gospel that makes racism wrong, not the subjective, malleable ethics of mankind. So, to those who are calling for an “end” to racism, I applaud you, and I have the utmost respect for you. Nevertheless, I often wonder, do you truly understand what you’re saying when you say that? Do you have any idea what you’re really asking (Matt. 7:2)?

What you are actually demanding, whether you realize it or not, is attitudinal and behavioral perfection from every sinner who resides on this planet (yourself being one of them.) Now, consider, please, my brother and sister, how do you propose to achieve this level of collective holiness? Through more protests? More laws? More social media hashtags? More race-based or socio-economic class-based government programs that will help “level the playing field”?

You know, don’t you, that none of those is really the solution to the concerns you have? Of course you do. And the reason you know it is because you understand fully that the real problem is not the darkness of a person’s skin, but the darkness of their heart (Mk. 7:17-23).

You don’t end racism.

You repent of it.

Like any other sin.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit: galleryhip.com

On Social Justice Protests and Our Misguided Quest for ‘Unity’

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Notwithstanding the myriad reasons professional athletes in America are protesting the national anthem, President Donald Trump, law enforcement officers, the military, or other social, civil, or political issue, entity, or individual, there appears to be a certain degree of naivety connected with the stated goals and objectives of these demonstrations.

Many of these athletes have stated that the protestations in which they are involved are meant to show ‘unity.’ But my question is, unity by whose or what standard of measure?

In Amos 3:3, the question is asked, rhetorically, “How can two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”

The question is deserving of thoughtful and contemplative consideration because unity, however one chooses to define the term, is not an abstract concept. It is not an idea that is devoid of contextual boundaries or parameters. If there is to be unity between individuals, whether three or three hundred million, it is established and maintained on the basis of objective principles that are fixed and immutable, not on precepts or propositions that are subjective and changeable.

I, personally, deem it inexcusable and irresponsible that the President of the United States, regardless of political party or ideology, would refer to any individual, let alone any American citizen, as a “son of a bitch” (as has been reported in the media.) It is with that thought in mind that I believe President Trump should publicly apologize to the individual(s) to whom his derogatory remarks were targeted.

The President of the United States, irrespective of ideological or political differences between himself and those whom he is charged with governing (Rom. 13:4), is nonetheless the representative of all of this nation’s citizens, not merely those who elected him to office. As such, he must endeavor to consistently exhibit a level of personal integrity, maturity, and, as situations warrant, restraint, as is befitting the office which he happens to hold not by his own volition but by the will of the American people.

That said, however, I find the protests being engaged in by these athletes to be somewhat short-sighted, particularly with regard to their stated purpose and intent which, to me anyway, seems rather ambiguous.

You will get no argument from me that the pursuit of unity is an admirable undertaking. But what makes it an admirable endeavor, for the Christian especially, is that the Lord commands and expects it of us.

In 1 Cor. 1:10, the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “Now I exhort you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Conversely, in Rom. 12:18, Paul urges, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

Understanding that the admonitions in the aforementioned texts are directed toward believers and not unbelievers, the point is no less germane to those who are outside the church in that unity, as a pursuit, requires context. In the case of these professional athletes, one cannot say that their protests are designed to ‘show unity’ if there is no objective definition of what ‘unity’ is.

You see, it is one thing to appear unified but another thing altogether to be unified.

This point is underscored in 1 Jn. 2:19 where the apostle John, in addressing believers about imposters within the church, declares, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

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As I observe the current wave of civil disobedience in America, I am reminded that such protestations are nothing new.

The act of taking a knee or raising a clenched fist, among other such gestures, has for decades (if not longer) been embraced by countless individuals as symbols of ideological, political, and religious disagreement and dissent.

As a veteran of the United States military (Army), I consider it both an honor and privilege to have spent six years of my life defending the Constitutional right not only of professional athletes, but of all Americans, to peacefully express such opposition as that of many professional athletes today without regard to ethnicity, sex, socio-economic station, or political ideology or party affiliation.

I took an oath to defend these rights because they are grounded not in subjective propositions but in the objective truth of imago Dei (Gen. 1:27). That is, the biblical precept that human beings are created in the image God and that, as His image-bearers, they inherently possess certain unalienable rights, privileges, and protections under the God-ordained mandate that governments – all of which are established by God – are responsible for ensuring those rights are protected and applied equally and indiscriminately (Rom. 13:1-7.)

As theologian Dr. William Edgar writes:

“Humanity clearly shares certain attributes with God. What is certain is that there is a tacit connection between the image of God and the honor due the human being.”Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture, p. 164

All this to say that, like the idea of ‘rights’, the idea of ‘unity’ must be objectively conceptualized in order to be considered a universally valid argument. It is not enough merely to profess to be “against” injustice apart from an objective definition of what justice is, and it is God, through His Word, who provides that definition.

“Blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times.” – Psalm 106:3 (NASB)

In our efforts to navigate the current milieu on matters of social justice, what we often fail to realize is that at its most fundamental level, the call for justice is essentially a call for human beings to practice God’s standard of righteousness “at all times.”

It is our failure to uphold this standard that has given rise not only to the contemporary protests of today, but also those of the past.

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But the reason you and I don’t practice God’s righteousness at all times is we’re innately incapable of doing so.

As much as we’d like to believe that, as human beings, we innately possess the moral and ethical capacity and ability to change ourselves for the better, the truth is we do not. As God declared to Noah, “…for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21b).”

To subscribe to a paradigm of injustice that is measured against anything other than God’s standard of righteousness is an exercise in futility. Because, ultimately, human-centered solutions will prove insufficient, to say the least, to address what is fundamentally a spiritual problem.

And unless our innate sinfulness becomes central to the ongoing conversation on matters of unity and justice, we will find ourselves right back here again, incessantly engaged in circular tit-for-tat arguments which, ultimately, will prove to be of no real temporal or, more importantly, eternal benefit.

In Christ,

Darrell

Related:
NFL Protests are the Dead End of ‘Resistance’ Culture – The Federalist
An Open Letter to Colin Kaepernick From a Black Pro-Lifer With a Surprising Message – Ryan Bomberger
The Rusher Who Wouldn’t Take a Knee – American Greatness

Image credits:
nbcnews.com
wbur.org
postmoderngentleman.com

The Struggle for Social Justice is a Struggle with Ourselves


There is great emphasis being placed today by Christian social justice activists on remediating the adverse effects of historical and contemporary injustices, particularly as it relates to its generational impact on people of color in America.

I will speak more to that in a moment.

But let me say, parenthetically, that by ‘injustice’ I’m referring specifically to sins, that is, demonstrable violations of God’s objective and equitable standard of righteousness – as revealed in His Word – committed by human beings, either institutionally or individually, against other human beings who, regardless of ethnicity, sex, or socio-economic station, are equal image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26).

I thought it necessary to insert that caveat, as I find context is often missing in the continuing discourse regarding the pursuit of social justice and racial reconciliation.

Words have meaning.

And words like ‘injustice’ and ‘reconciliation’ are used so casually today, that it is often difficult to navigate the myriad arguments being posited by those who are so dogmatic that such pursuits are mandated by the gospel.

Scripture is unarguably clear that we who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, that is, who, by the sovereign will and unmerited grace of God (1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 2:8-9), have confessed faith in Him as Savior (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9) and, consequently, are living lives of deliberate and conspicuous obedience to Him as Lord (Lk. 6:46; Rom. 12:2; Jas. 3:13; 1 Jn. 2:28-29) are to strive to meet the tangible needs of the poor and oppressed for the glory of God (Prov. 14:31; Jas. 1:27), regardless if that condition is the result of methodical or immethodical means.

Perhaps it is our failure to live up to this calling that prompted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lament:

“It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.” A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

Though I sympathize with the sentiments expressed by Dr. King, I find his words problematic as they seem to infer that social change is to be realized only by choosing either to not “wait on time” or to “wait on time” (as if they were the only alternatives toward achieving the ends he envisioned.)

But with all due respect to Dr. King, and to those who share his perspective on these matters, the reason the change he sought after for so long took – and continues to take – time is, ironically, a matter not of chronology but theology. But even that is secondary to the fundamental question of why we pursue social change to begin with.

Though not normally couched in theological terms, the truth is the very concept of ‘social change’ is fundamentally rooted in a God-infused desire within us that we relate to each other, and the world around us, in ways that are consistent with the nature and character of the One in whose image we are uniquely created.

As religion professor James Davison Hunter comments:

“The passion to engage the world, to shape it and finally change it for the better, would seem to be an enduring mark of Christians on the world in which they live. To be Christian is to be obliged to engage the world, pursuing God’s restorative purposes over all of life, individual and corporate, public and private. This is the mandate of creation.”To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

I do not consider myself a social justice warrior (SJW). That’s not a knock against those who identify as such, I simply do not see myself as fitting into that category (such as it is).

Nevertheless, I am not naive that a fundamental tenet of the gospel is that Christians address, in practical terms (Jas. 2:15-16), the legitimate needs of those – believers and unbelievers alike – who have been taken advantage of by systems and structures designed to marginalize their worth and significance as unique creations of God (Prov. 31:8-9; Eccl. 5:8).

But it may surprise you to learn that meeting the material needs of the poor and oppressed – the measure by which many SJWs define a society that is ‘just’ and ‘equitable’ – is not all the gospel is designed to do. In fact, it is not even what the gospel is principally intended to do.

As theologian David VanDrunen writes:

“Because the common kingdom (the world) will remain the common kingdom until Christ returns, and because the objective normative standards for cultural activities will ordinarily be common to believers and unbelievers until the end of the present world, Christians should strive for modesty and honesty in cultural affairs. Christians should be modest in their expectations about what they can accomplish with regard to the cultural institutions of this present world. We can contribute in many small ways to making the common kingdom a better place, and occasionally we can be instrumental in forging large, systemic improvements to our cultural environment. But the fact that the common kingdom will remain the common kingdom should instill a profound modesty and humility in us. Whatever contributions we make, small or great, are contributions to a cultural arena that is temporary and fleeting.”Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture

The gospel of Matthew records that a wrongly-imprisoned John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” To which Jesus answered, “Go and report to John what you hear and see; the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”

It is interesting that Jesus was so specific in reminding John that the poor had the gospel preached to them, as opposed to enumerating the many ways in which He undoubtedly could have made their social station in life more equitable. The SJW-Jesus would have responded to John not that “the poor have the gospel preached to them” but that “the poor have food to eat, clothes to wear, homes to live in, violence-free communities, a guaranteed minimum wage, and a color-blind judicial system.”

On the matter of social justice, many SJWs are quick to focus on how Jesus met the material needs of the poor yet give little, if any, credence to the fact that the spiritual needs of the poor were of much greater concern and importance to Him (Mk. 8:36; Jas. 2:5). But to whatever extent social justice is a gospel mandate, it should never be misunderstood to be the ultimate or sole purpose of the gospel (which, in fact, is what many Christian SJWs have done.)

You see, the works Jesus performed were never for the sake of the works themselves, nor the benefits derived thereof, but to point people to Himself as the Savior of sinners not the Savior of society (1 Tim. 1:15).

We’ve got it backwards, my brothers and sisters.

Collective societal reformation happens only as a result of individual spiritual transformation, not the other way around. The Scriptures warn us that we should never expect perfect justice in a world comprised of those who, because of sin, are inherently unjust.

“If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land.” – Eccl. 5:8-9

What we, as Christians, must understand is what makes the pursuit of social justice a gospel mandate is it is first and foremost a mandate to change hearts not just minds. As theologian John Calvin states so well, those who dispense justice are doing God’s work not merely man’s:

“For to what high standards of probity, wisdom, mercy, sobriety and innocence must they hold themselves, when they realize that they have been ordained ministers of divine justice? How impudent would they be if they allowed the slightest iniquity access to their judgment seat, which they know to be the throne of the living God? How bold they would be if they pronounced unjust sentence with their lips, perceiving that they are meant to be the instruments of God’s truth? With what conscience would they sign some wicked decree with the hand which, they know, ought to write down God’s own verdicts? In short, if they remember that they are deputies of God, they must make every effort and take every care in all they do to represent to men an image of God’s providence, protection, goodness, mildness and justice.” – Institutes of the Christian Religion, Robert White translation, pp. 759-760

There is a lot of kingdom-building being undertaken today under the guise of social justice as a “gospel mandate.”

By “kingdom-building”, I am speaking in the sense that a more just, equitable, and fair society and world is what many SJWs would argue is what the gospel is fundamentally intended to accomplish.

But with that, I would respectfully disagree.

Yes, Christ is building a kingdom, but that kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36).

Societal equity is not the mandate of the gospel.

Racial reconciliation is not the mandate of the gospel.

Gender equality is not the mandate of the gospel.

Equal opportunity is not the mandate of the gospel.

Ultimately, the mandate of the gospel is to make Jesus Christ known to those who do not know Him (Matt. 28:19).

And in coming to know Him, we love Him; and in loving Him, we obey Him; and by obeying Him, we become more like Him; and in becoming more like Him, we more consistently reflect to a world thirsting for righteousness the image of the One in whose image we are all created.

That is what true justice looks like.

Performing the works of the gospel is of no lasting societal benefit apart from preaching the word of the gospel.

Jesus understood this.

And, as His followers, so should we.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Related:
Satan is using social media to distract Christians from our mission – Peter Heck, The Resurgent

Image credits:
theallianceinstitute.org

Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians?

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Located on one of the most historic streets in the United States, particularly for black Americans, Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta, stands the venerable Big Bethel AME Church.

“Big Bethel”, as it is affectionately and reverently known, was founded in 1847, the same year educator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass began publishing his anti-slavery newspaper The North Star, and the slave Dred Scott filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court claiming his temporary residence in a free territory should have made him a free man.

It didn’t.

But, I digress.

For all its notoriety as the oldest predominantly black congregation in Atlanta, Big Bethel is equally renown, if not more so, for a simple two-word message which, for nearly a century, has stood conspicuously affixed atop the church steeple against the backdrop of an ever-expanding Atlanta skyline.

It reads: Jesus Saves.

The message that “Jesus Saves” has been the clarion call of black Christians in America since their earliest exposure to Christianity in the 1600s. It is this unwavering, and perhaps unfathomable, faith in the redemptive power of the gospel that was the impetus for slave-poet Jupiter Hammon, the first black person in America to publish a work of literature (1760) and whose entire earthly existence was as a slave, to attest:

“Now I acknowledge that liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly, and by our good conduct, prevail on our masters to set us free; though for my own part I do not wish to be free, yet I should be glad, if others, especially the young Negroes were to be free. For many of us, who are grown up slaves, and have always had masters to take care of us, should hardly know how to take care of ourselves; and it may be more for our own comfort to remain as we are. That liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white-people, in the late war, how much money has been spent, and how many lives has been lost, to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us. He has done it in some measure, and has raised us up many friends, for which we have reason to be thankful, and to hope in his mercy. What may be done further, he only knows, for known unto God are all his ways from the beginning. But this my dear brethren is, by no means, the greatest thing we have to be concerned about. Getting our liberty in this world is nothing to our having the liberty of the children of God. Now the Bible tells us that we are all, by nature, sinners; that we are slaves to sin and Satan; and that unless we are converted, or born again, we must be miserable forever. Christ says, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, and all that do not see the kingdom of God, must be in the kingdom of darkness.” – An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York, 1787

In excogitating these words of Hammon, the question naturally becomes: what could possibly have possessed a man, whose every breath of his existence on this earth was as someone else’s property, to see beyond his station in life to something that was of infinitely greater significance to him?

I believe this question to be germane to the current milieu in America, as many black Christians have begun to advocate a purely activist theology borne of a soteriology that proffers the idea that the preeminent, if not sole, mandate of the gospel is the pursuit of “social justice”, the manifestation of which is evidenced primarily by the bringing about of such realities as socio-ethno egalitarianism and the eradication of all human suffering and oppression, particularly of those whose melanin happens to be of a black or brown hue.

There are many black Christians today who, believe it or not, would assert that, collectively, the plight of black people in 21st century America is tantamount to that of Jupiter Hammon in the 18th century. This, I believe, is because words like slavery and oppression are applied so flippantly and, dare I say, ignorantly today as to divest them of their historical significance with regard to legitimate injustices that were perpetrated against God’s black and brown-skinned image-bearers (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26).

But at the risk of incurring the wrath of many who will read this blog post, particularly those who self-identify as social justice warriors (SJWs) or “race workers”, not every perceived injustice involving black people can be attributed to ‘racism’ (another term which, like slavery and oppression, is losing its force due to overuse.) Nonetheless, that is secondary to the matter of how blacks who profess to be Christian are to respond when injustice – as defined objectively in Scripture – does, in fact, rear its sinful and ungodly head (Lev. 19:15; Jer. 22:13).

Since the founding in 1773 of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia – the oldest black church in all of North America – the church has served as both the soul and heartbeat of social and political consciousness for black Christians in America. Organized both politically and spiritually, black churches were not only given to the teachings of Christianity but were faithfully relied upon by their members to, under the biblical precept of imago Dei (Gen. 1:27), address specific socio-economic issues that directly impacted them.

This infrangible and abiding bond with the church is conveyed rather soberingly by author Richard Nathaniel Wright who, in his book 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States, declared that: “It is only when we are within the walls of our churches that we are wholly ourselves, and that we keep alive a sense of our own personalities in relation to the total world in which we live.”

Interestingly, if not ironically, the forging of these bonds between blacks and the church was necessitated, to a great extent, by the hypocrisy of people who failed to live up to their own stated ethos concerning the equitable treatment of their fellow human beings. Case in point, on October 21, 1774, the Continental Congress, in an address to the people of Great Britain, declared:

“When a nation, led to greatness by the hand of liberty, and possessed of all the glory that heroism, munificence, and humanity, can bestow, descends to the ungrateful task of forging chains for her friends and children, and, instead of giving support to freedom, turns advocate for slavery and oppression, there is reason to suspect that she has either ceased to be virtuous, or is extremely negligent in the appointment of her rulers.” 

And yet, less than 20 years after those words were spoken, the first Fugitive Slave Act was enacted that outlawed any efforts to harbor or impede the capture of slaves. It was another 70 years until slavery was officially, though not totally, abolished by president Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, only to be replaced by the equally unjust and inhumane peonage system in the post-Reconstruction South.

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But for all the influences that may or may not have been factors in black churches becoming the bastions of social and political activism they were (and are), foundational to that existence was the proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).

The truth is there is no gospel and, conversely, no church – regardless of ethnic composition or denominational affiliation – apart from the life-changing message that ‘Jesus Saves.’ It is that message which, I fear, is being lost as increasing numbers of black Christians become convinced that their primary loyalty is to an ecclesiastical legacy rooted in a socio-ethno missiology that emphasizes societal reformation apart from spiritual transformation.

It is this concern that served as the impetus for my posing the question that is the title of this blog post; a burden that is echoed in the words of esteemed theologian D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who, in his excellent work Preaching & Preachers, remarked that:

“The people, they say…are interested in politics, they are interested in social conditions, they are interested in the various injustices from which people suffer in various parts of the world…so they argue, if you really want to influence people in the Christian direction you must not only talk politics and deal with social conditions in speech, you must take an active part in them…But I have no hesitation in asserting that what was largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain was that ‘social gospel’ preaching…It was more responsible for doing so than anything else…This concern about the social and political conditions, and about the happiness of the individual and so on, has always been dealt with most effectively when you have had reformation and revival and true preaching in the Christian church… My argument is that when the Church performs her primary task these other things invariably result from it.”

At the risk of coming across as facetious, let me remind you that the words “You must be born again” are still in the Bible. Open yours to Jn. 3:7 and you will find those words there (perhaps in red letters.) I point this out because most people’s paradigm of morality is anthropological not theological, which is why we fail to see the futility of trying to fix ourselves (Jn. 3:19).

A social justice-centered gospel will take you only so far (Mk. 8:36).

How can we for whom the gospel was sufficient – and necessary – to change us, expect something other than the gospel to change someone else?

To believe that an innately sinful society inherently possesses either the capacity, or the ability, to bring about the kind of equity so zealously desired by social justice advocates is both unrealistic and naive.

Jesus made this point abundantly clear to the Pharisees when he said to them:

“You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” – Matthew 23:26 (NASB)

As Christians, we must be about the business of changing not only minds but hearts (Eze. 11:19-20).

That said, however, the question remains: Will the gospel in which you profess to believe be enough for you if and when those hearts and minds do not change? Not all of them will, you know.

What, then, will you do?

What will be your response?

Will it be that of a man like Jupiter Hammon who, though a slave his entire life, kept his “eyes on the prize”? Or will it be more in line with Malcolm X, demanding your rights “by any means necessary”?

These questions are not to suggest the “religious fatalism” that W.E.B. DuBois cautioned against in his seminal work ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ but, instead, are meant to reorient us to the fundamental truth that gave birth in the first place to such revered black houses of worship as Big Bethel Church in Atlanta, and Bethel A.M.E. Church in Indianapolis, and “Mother Bethel” A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia – the truth that Jesus Saves.

Such is the essence of the gospel and the message of the church.

Apart from that, everything else is secondary.

Everything.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Darrell

Related:
Hijacking Social Justice (Podcast) – The Mortification of Spin
Darrell Harrison on The B.A.R. Podcast with Dawain Atkinson on “woke theology” and social justice
A Little Ol’ Fashioned Diversity – The Mortification of Spin
Conservative Presbyterian Seminary in St. Louis to Hold Conference Featuring Leftist Teaching on Race – The Tennessee Star

How ‘Woke Theology’ is Weakening the Black Church

“The business of Christianity is not simply to make us feel happier or even to make us live a better life, it is to reconcile us to God.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones


There is a movement afoot, particularly within black evangelical circles, to extol, if not exalt, social justice as the raison d’etre, that is, the most important reason and purpose, of the church today.

I say ‘particularly’ because the aforementioned movement is not restricted only to the realm of black evangelicalism. The truth is there are also certain elements within white evangelicalism which, being motivated to some extent by a collective acquiescence to the idea of “white guilt“, have attached themselves to this movement like a caboose to a locomotive.

The problem with movements, however, is they invariably beget labels (e.g. “social gospel”, “liberation theology”, etc.). And labels tend to subtly, though eventually, reorient our focus from that which is of utmost importance, namely, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, to an ethno-centric “gospel” constructed from a collective worldview espoused by “woke” theologians and philosophers who are considered by many to be the most socially and culturally aware on matters of social and liberative justice.

Again, this mindset is not exclusive to black evangelicalism, and yet it is within that milieu that this movement, I believe, is doing the most harm.

I make that statement neither lightly nor disparagingly. I was raised in the Black Church. The affinity I have for its history and traditions is borne not only from education but experience. I appreciate the invaluable sacrifices and contributions to black ecclesiology of figures like Absalom Jones, Morris Brown, Jarena Lee, John MarrantBetsey Stockton, Henry Garnet, and Richard Allen.

I spent half my life, into my early 20s, as a member of Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, located in Atlanta’s West End in the shadows of such venerable HBCUs as Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta, and Morris Brown, where I worshiped alongside many family members and friends to the music of black gospel stalwarts as Walter and Edwin Hawkins. In fact, to this very day, the Hawkins-penned Changed, a powerful testimonial of spiritual redemption in Christ, remains one of my all-time favorite gospel songs.

It was at Chapel Hill that I witnessed people of all ages “catch the Spirit” during high points of what often seemed unending worship services. It was at Chapel Hill that I watched royally accoutered choirs march slowly into the sanctuary to the uplifting refrains of We Are Soldiers In The Army. It was at Chapel Hill that I passed those faux gold-plated offering plates – you know the ones – with the red crushed-velvet matting, to congregants sitting next to me in pews that, likewise, were fashioned with red crushed-velvet padding as if to match the aesthetics of the offering plates.

It was at that small church on Northside Drive that, Sunday after Sunday, I listened to the verbum Dei, the Word of God, preached – from the King James version of course – from behind an old wooden lectern with the letters ‘IHS’ engraved on the front. And it was at Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church that “the doors of the church” were always open, inviting sinners like me to step out from those crushed-velvet cushioned pews, walk that red-carpeted aisle, sit down in the lone wooden chair placed front-and-center of the sanctuary by a white-gloved deacon or deaconess, and “get saved” as it were.

All this to say that there is nothing about the so-called “Black Church experience” to which I cannot personally relate. Which is why, though I am Reformed – and, thankfully, Reformed theology is slowly but steadily gaining exposure within contemporary black evangelicalism – there will always be a place in my heart for the Black Church and, likewise, an equally heartfelt desire to see a recovery of biblical orthodoxy as its primary raison d’etre.

But, alas, I find what many term “social gospel” to be somewhat prohibitive to that end in that it relegates the central message of the gospel, namely, deliverance from the spiritual bondage of sin through faith in the propitiatory and substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ as secondary to a temporal “deliverance” defined primarily in terms of the socio-economic empowerment of black people (also known as ‘black power‘) and the embracement and affirmation, particularly by white people, of black social and cultural normativity.

It is an ideology that is more anthropocentric (man-centered) than theocentric (God-centered). As Dr. James H. Cone, whom many regard as the founder of black liberation theology, explains:

“Black Theology is a theology of black liberation. It seeks to plumb the black condition in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, so that the black community can see that the gospel is commensurate with the achievement of black humanity. Black Theology is a theology of “blackness”. It is the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism, thus providing authentic freedom for both white and black people. It affirms the humanity of white people in that it says no to the encroachment of white oppression.” – Black Theology: A Documentary History, Volume 1: 1966-1979

Having defined black theology, Cone, in another of his writings, outlines how the Church must apply that construct in bringing about the emancipation he envisions for black people. He declares that:

“The Church cannot remain aloof from the world because Christ is in the world. Theology, then, if it is to serve the need of the Church must become “worldly theology”. This means that it must make sure that the Church is in the world and that its word and deed are harmonious with Jesus Christ. It must make sure that the Church’s language about God is relevant to every new generation and its problems. It is for this reason that the definitive theological treatise can never be written. Every generation has its own problems, as does every nation. Theology is not, then, an intellectual exercise but a worldly risk.” – Black Theology & Black Power: The White Church and Black Power, p. 84

There is much within the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of James Cone with which I disagree. Not that what I think matters to him or anyone else. Nonetheless, there is a degree of dualism in Cone that seems to suggest the belief that the gospel is both sufficient and insufficient at the same time.

Given the extent to which Christianity was leveraged by white people to oppress black people, one would think Cone would argue for a new religion altogether, one whose doctrine would inherently provide greater potential to achieve his stated goal of black liberation completely independent of the cooperation or concurrence of white people. Or, if not a new religion, then, perhaps an existing one would suffice to make up for what Christianity somehow lacks in effectuating the kind of social change Cone, and those who might share his worldview, seek.

But if the gospel isn’t sufficient for all of life, the question then becomes: why believe the gospel at all? If Christianity is to be understood merely as a moralistic prescriptive for the social ills of people who are of a particular ethnicity, or of the world at large, then, what is there to distinguish Christianity from Islamism, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other “ism” that holds as one of its core tenets the equitable treatment of one’s fellow human beings?

“The black man’s response to God’s act in Christ must be different from the white man’s because his life experiences are different.” – James H. Cone, Black Theology & Black Power

The problem with “woke theology” is it emphasizes a teleology of Christianity that is one-dimensional. It does this by reducing Christianity to what Cone described as “worldly theology”. In other words, a theology whose primary raison d’etre has less to do with the spiritual redemption of a sinful people, that is, the world entire, and more with the corporeal redemption of people who are of a particular ethnicity to whom salvation is to be viewed in terms of, as Cone stated, “the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism.”

A recurring thought in the black theology of James Cone is Jesus as the divine “liberator” of black people from the scourge of white oppression. It is a view which, in my mind, begs the question: why does Cone see the God of Christianity – Jesus Christ – as this great liberator and not Allah? Or the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva? Or the Buddha? Or any other religious deity for that matter? The answer is simple, really. It is because only the gospel of Christ deals with that which gives rise to oppression to begin with – our sin.

“Some folks good no matter what dey color, other folks bad.” – Cal Woods, freedman (emancipated slave)

Regardless by what label we choose to call it – ‘black theology’, ‘social gospel’, ‘social justice’, ‘liberation theology’ – any so-called “gospel” that proposes to resolve or redress the injustices human beings inflict upon one another apart from addressing the root cause of those injustices is short-sighted, naive, and destined to fail.

Above all else, the gospel of Christ is a theology that deals with the reality of the human condition (Gen. 8:21; Rom. 3:23). It is a condition which John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, describes as “a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature, which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’ (Gal. 5:19-21).”

“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that your are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” – 2 Cor. 3:3 (NASB)

A ‘woke theology’ that is devoid of hamartiology is weak soteriology. Social change is accomplished through heart change; and heart change is fundamentally what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about (Eze. 11:19-20; Rom. 12:2).

In whatever sense people may or may not view Jesus as a “liberator”, as does Cone, He is first and foremost the Liberator of human beings from the bondage of sin through His propitiatory death on the cross (Rom. 6:10; 1 Jn. 3:5). It is this spiritual liberation that the Black Church – and the Church universal – must again commit itself to preach. For it is only in Christ that we find freedom from the sin that leads to oppression of every kind (Mk. 7:17-23).

“In all likelihood the revival we crave and need will come at a time we least expect through a means we too often neglect: the simple though diligent application of the Word of God to all of life.” – Thabiti Anyabwile, Reviving the Black Church: A Call To Reclaim A Sacred Institution

Now, lest I be misunderstood, none of this has been to suggest that the Church should not be involved in practical ways in advocating for social change that is rooted in the biblical precept of imago Dei (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26). Nevertheless, we must never lose sight of the fact that as much as the gospel of Christ is about life in this world, it is also about life in the next (1 Jn. 5:11-12).

The work that is involved in “working out” our salvation (Phil. 2:12) should never be misconstrued as salvation, for a liberation that is merely temporal and not eternal is not true liberation (Mk. 8:36). It is in light of this reality that I am reminded of the account of a black woman by the name of Eliza Davis George.

History records on February 2, 1911, during the morning devotional hour at Central Texas College in Waco, where Ms. George taught, that she had a vision of black Africans passing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Weeping and moaning as they passed, many of them were saying to Him, “No one ever told us You died for us.”

I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Stay woke.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Related:
Another question: on being woke and Christian – Lisa Robinson
The myth of race – The Cripplegate
How the social gospel is becoming the dominant theology in evangelicalism – Christian Research Network
The Gospel is not social – The Heidelblog
How the social gospel movement explains the roots of today’s religious left – Christopher H. Evans
The Marxist roots of black liberation theology – Dr. Anthony B. Bradley
What is the social gospel? – Nicole Leaman
What we don’t know about black social gospel: a long-neglected tradition is reclaimed – Gary Dorrien
Why the social gospel isn’t the gospel – Tim Falkan
Evangelism and Social Justice – Ed Stetzer
Why your morality will never be enough for God – Silverio Gonzalez

Image credit: imgarcade.com

Your Marriage Is Designed To Kill You (figuratively speaking, of course)


It is a subject that has been – and continues to be – talked about to infinity and back.

That subject is marriage.

More specifically, how to have a ‘happy marriage’ (with ‘happy’ being open to interpretation).

It is interesting in today’s ever-changing social milieu that marriage, despite its myriad definitions, is still viewed by many as a preferred means of achieving lasting satisfaction and fulfillment in life.

Unfortunately, these pursuits are usually undertaken on the basis of such misguided reasoning as: I consent to add you to my life for reasons that are important to me and, likewise, you consent to add me to your life for reasons that are important to you, and voila! – as if pulling a rabbit out of a hat – marital bliss!

But as elementary as this way of thinking may appear, it is rather ironic that the thing that motivates most people to pursue marriage in the first place – personal happiness – is very often the one thing that contributes to the demise of those relationships.

Namely, the failure by one spouse to live up to the unrealistically nirvanic expectations of the other.

Your Choice: Person or Purpose

With few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of people who contemplate marriage embark on their journey toward “living happily ever-after” by making the mistake of putting the proverbial cart before the horse. They do this by creating for themselves a visage of the kind of person they want to marry, without giving due thought and consideration to the purpose of marriage.

To harbor such an inverted view of marriage, one that values person above purpose is, to say the least, unwise. For in doing so we make marriage a self-centered proposition as opposed to a God-centered one; an attitude that leads only to disappointment in and discouragement with both God and our spouse.

This is not to suggest or imply that one should not have any standards or expectations of the person he or she hopes to marry.

Not at all.

God’s word is clear. As followers of Christ we are not to be unequally yoked in our relationships (2 Cor. 6:14). It is a proscription that applies not only to marriage – though many Christians limit it to that – but to every aspect of a believer’s life. And yet, in many ways, marriage is a yoke that a man and woman volitionally choose to take upon themselves; a burden that they each willingly consent to bear up under (1 Cor. 7:32-34).

Even so, a question remains: whose burden is your spouse taking on?

Yours or God’s (Matt. 11:28-29)?

There is a difference.

God’s Goal: Sanctification Not Satisfaction

The importance of placing purpose above person in marriage is underscored by these words from theologian Douglas Wilson who writes that:

“God is preeminent in all things, including marriage. Our marriages are to glorify God. A mature Christian understands these truths and seeks to live them out. Therefore it is necessary to be a mature Christian in order to be a mature spouse.”  – Reforming Marriage: Gospel Living for Couples

Wilson is right.

Nonetheless, “glorifying God” in marriage, or in life in general, is not easy. The reason it’s not easy is because our nature is such that we have no innate desire to glorify God (Rom. 3:11-12). Ask ten unmarried people what characteristics or qualities are most important to them in a potential marriage partner, and I would venture to guess that “a sensitivity to sin” would not be among the traits mentioned. But as pastor and author Dave Harvey reminds us:

“Marriage is the union of two people who arrive toting the luggage of life. And that luggage always contains sin.” – When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage

To glorify God in marriage means the desire of our heart (Ps. 37:4) mirrors the desire of the heart of God, namely, to display His purpose for marriage within the bonds of covenant relationship. This desire is demonstrated as husbands and wives mature in their understanding that:

“Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream.” – John Piper,  This Momentary Marriage: a Parable of Permanence 

The Bible calls this maturation process sanctification.

And our personal sanctification (Phil. 1:6), the means, methods, and, yes, people God uses to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29a), has very little to do with our personal satisfaction.

Saying “I Do” Means Saying “I’ll Die”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard married people say, “Marriage is hard” (as if the institution of marriage is inherently burdensome and oppressive by nature). The truth, however, is to whatever degree marriage seems difficult it is not because marriage itself is hard, but because you and I are (Mk. 7:17-23).

If you are reading this and you are married, or hope to be, my prayer is that you will come to realize that marriage has been designed by God to destroy in you all manner of pride, selfishness, self-centeredness, arrogance, entitlement, and any other sinful attitudes and behaviors that may have led you to believe, at one point or another, that marriage is about you and your personal satisfaction and gratification.

I assure you it is not (Jn. 3:30).

There will be times, perhaps often, when, by God’s grace, you and your spouse will bring joy and happiness to one another. But such moments, regardless how frequent, are ancillary to God’s primary purpose for your marriage which, ultimately, is that you reflect the image of Christ in all aspects of that relationship (word, thought, and deed).

God purposely designed your marriage to kill you.

He did this so that, as the 16th century reformer John Calvin implored, “the invisible kingdom of Christ would become visible in our midst.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

Darrell

Image credit: thegospelcoalition.org