That’s Not Why (Or: The Problems With A Consequentialist View of Sin)

I hate-read (well, not “hate-read” exactly, more like “irritate-read”) a couple of Christian blogs, and in the comments section of a post to do with protecting children from being exposed to things they weren’t ready for, a commenter insisted on the importance of exalting the beauty of marriage and urging children to “save themselves for their future spouse.” It got me thinking. Weird, I know.

I have a problem with people focusing “purity” talk on weird stuff like giving your virginity to your husband just like I have a problem with people saying that lying and slander and gossip are wrong because they’re hurtful. Generally speaking, I have a problem with the implication that not trusting God is wrong because it makes our lives harder when we don’t, because I have a problem with consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the notion that the consequences of an action are the best way to know if the action itself is right or wrong. In other words, if something is harmful, to ourselves or others, it must be bad, and if something is helpful, it must be good.

Consequentialism pervades our culture — “they’re consenting adults” and “I’m not hurting anybody” and “my body, my choice” all point to a conviction that acts are as morally right or wrong as their impact on others. And don’t get me wrong, it’s is useful and indeed vital for a society because it shapes our laws and determines how we punish crime, but it’s a rotten foundation for understanding sin and holiness because it puts the purpose for doing right and avoiding wrong in the wrong spot.

The why of obedience isn’t “because it’s bad for you” or “because it’s bad for other people.” Not ultimately. Don’t get me wrong, here. God’s commands are good (duh), and obedience is for our good (duh). But our ultimate good is not the same as our short-term happiness or blessing. In God’s providence, even our sin is for our good; even our suffering is for our good. Sometimes God graciously defers consequences for sin, for his own good purposes. And you know what? Some people have sex (even lots of it!) outside of marriage and don’t get an STI or a baby in the bargain, and feel no guilt or shame or remorse for their actions. Some people get drunk regularly with no long-term health effects. Some people live genuinely happy lives while making choices Christians would all recognize as sinful. And guess what else? Many Christians are “virgins,” but consumed with lustful fantasies, or addicted to erotic novels or pornography, or simply eaten up with pride over their superior purity. Many Christians have never taken so much as a sip of alcohol, but have a disordered relationship with food, or are addicted to smoking, or look down their noses with disdain at those who enjoy a glass of wine now and again. In this fallen world, actions and consequences are simply not that mechanistic.

If we spend all of our time telling those we teach to obey because they’ll be blessed if they do and avoid sin because they’ll be sorry if they don’t, what happens when the uncomfortable realities of life in a fallen world strike? What happens when the girl you dragged up on stage at your youth event to do the duct tape analogy has sex for the first time and doesn’t feel like de-stickied duct tape at all? What happens when the kid who grew up being warned about inevitable spiritual depression if he stopped going to church stops going to church and is perfectly content with his decision to have brunch instead? I’m convinced that this kind of teaching is a big reason that so many kids leave youth group and the church about the same time. Consequentialist theology leaves them vulnerable to every message about following their hearts. It has the ability to make sin seem not all that bad, actually, as long as it’s not hurting anyone!

So you shouldn’t dress modestly to keep men from lusting after you or assaulting you. You shouldn’t avoid pornography because it’s addictive. You shouldn’t shun drunkenness because cirrhosis is deadly. And on the positive side, don’t read your Bible because it makes you happy, don’t go to church because you get blessed when you’re there, and don’t confess sin because your conscience feels better when you do.

So why do Christians obey God? Why do they seek to kill their sin and live a godly life? Because our sins are paid for, every last one of them. Because we are learning to see our sin more clearly as the years pass, and cling to Jesus in the midst of our failures. Because our King lived perfectly on our behalf. Because we have no fear that our sin will separate us from God ever again. Because we know that our very good deeds themselves come from the Holy Spirit in us, not our own efforts. Because, in short, we are free from condemnation and guilt, from slavery to the law, from the pressure to perform. We can live in that freedom, obeying sometimes, sinning often, failing regularly, confident that no one can snatch us from the hand of our Savior.

That is good news.

Believe that, friends. Don’t settle for the message of consequentialism, and don’t put your hope in the fear of consequences to keep you from sinning. Trust in a God who perfectly holds you and keeps you faithful by his power.

Reasons/Excuses/Fear

So. I started and stopped and started and stopped writing a series last year about feminism and the church and Christians and how we’ve historically been so opposed to the negatives of feminism (and caricatures of feminism) that we’ve thrown out the stuff we could really stand to learn from feminists and ignored the beliefs we share with them. I would read something exciting, get pumped to write the series, do some research, and then freak out because… well, for the following reasons in no particular order.

  1. The Internet is not known for its ability to understand subtle, nuanced arguments; trolls are no fun to deal with.
  2. I don’t want people to think I’m some lefty wacko, or that my views on this subject mean I’ve abandoned historic Christian teaching on God’s will for human sexuality and gender.
  3. (REALTALK:) I don’t want dudes to read this and say, “Ew, I don’t want to marry some man-hating feminazi.”
  4. Not a lot of people want to read about things like sexual abuse, objectification, the male gaze, and other five-dollar terminology that tends to populate the syllabi of Women’s Studies classes at universities across the country… no matter how much I absolutely believe they need to believe rightly about those things.
  5. It’s easier to write about Downton Abbey and the Bible study Methods class I’m teaching and the fun stuff I do on a Friday night (HA!) than about deep, complex issues.

Are those reasons? Are they excuses? Are they nothing but manifestations of my own fear of man? Am I basically permanently walling myself off from marriage by writing about feminism? (No, seriously, am I?)

Anyway, I feel really strongly about this stuff, and I think I’m going to go for it. So I guess the alternate title of this post could be “In Which Laura Psychs Herself Up.”

Eschatology (Gulp) Matters, Part Two

(Important side note before we get started: how you approach a couple of key passages tends to make a big difference in where you land. If you approach apocalyptic literature in the same way that you do a narrative passage — like narrative, but future tense — you’ll probably land in one of the first two views. If you approach it more like you would the Bible’s wisdom literature or even prophecy — filled with imagery and metaphorical language — you’re much more likely to end up in one of the latter two categories.)

OK, so let’s just do a quick overview of the four main views, in very broad strokes (and for all of these, I’m indebted to this site and particularly this one, which includes some outstanding simplified outlines of these views — if you’re a visual learner like me, you’ll want to click through to see them):

1. Dispensational pre-millennialism. This fairly recently-developed view is based on the idea that Daniel 9 and Revelation 20 are to be read as strictly chronological accounts of entirely future events. Things on Earth will grow increasingly dire, then God’s people will be raptured just before a time of great persecution when a human ruler, the Anti-Christ, will have control over the whole Earth. Jesus will return and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand chronological years, after which the Judgment will take place and all God’s people will be then taken together into glory. People who hold to this view tend to be very watchful for Christ’s imminent return as well as world events that line up with prophetic or apocalyptic passages of Scripture.

2. Historic pre-millennialism. While this view shares some of the chronology of the first view, it tends to see some of the events described in Revelation as unfolding in history, not necessarily in a way that obviously links them to the impending return of Christ. People who hold to this position believe that the return of Christ may be in the very-distant future, and hold that the millennium may or may not constitute one thousand actual years. It’s called “historic” because it has been held in some form since the late second and early third centuries, whereas the Dispensationalist version has only been around since the 19th century.

3. Post-millennialism. Post-millennialists believe that the millennium is best understood as a future period (not a literal thousand years, but a long time) of Christ’s special reign over the earth from heaven, marked by a steady increase of the influence of the Gospel until the entire world has been Christianized. When the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God through Christ, Jesus will return in glory to judge and to bring all of God’s people into glory with him. This view particularly focuses on the prophecies given to Abraham about all nations being blessed through him, and the passages throughout the Old Testament that refer to the growing and spreading of the knowledge of the Lord in the last days. Daniel and Revelation are seen in light of their original audience (the Exiles and the first-century Christians, respectively), and most, if not all, of the events of the apocalyptic passages of Scripture are thought to have already taken place — i.e. that they are immediately applicable to their hearers and are meant to encourage us by extension, rather than give us a timeline of future events.

4. Amillennialism. Amillenialists believe that Christ ushered in the millennium at his ascension into Heaven, and that we are now living in it. They tend to focus on the tension in the New Testament between “the Kingdom is at hand/among you” and “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face,” as well as the narrative of the constant expansion of the Gospel to all nations, beginning in Acts. They differ with Post-millennialists on the role of the Church in this “already/not yet” age: where Post-mills see a time when the Church is completely triumphant on Earth before the return of Christ, Amills believe that the Church will continue to be persecuted and suffer until Christ’s return, though there may be times of greater or lesser success as the Gospel continues to go forth to the nations.

Now. That’s a lot. I never realized that there were other views besides the first two until fairly recently, and though I don’t think the first two are untenable, per se, in studying the Scriptures I found myself leaning toward a pretty settled Amillennial position… though with occasional jaunts into Postmillennialism depending on how much Douglas Wilson I happen to be reading and how much the sun is shining and how well things tend to be going in my own life. Personally, I am automatically… not suspicious perhaps, but not really excited to latch onto any view on any Christian doctrine that 1800 years’ worth of really smart believers never thought of, but I don’t think this issue is important enough to argue about too much, so even if you’re firmly committed to the first view, that’s fine. Christians can know absolutely nothing about this issue except to say, “Yup, I believe Jesus is coming back,” and they will be A-OK, and they can disagree with each other about it without breaking fellowship. (I mean honestly, imagine Jesus standing in the room next to you right now: is he cool with you being cold or dismissive or, God forbid, divisive toward your brothers and sisters over the timing of his return? I’m guessing not.)

The bottom line with all this is, the passages of Scripture that talk about persecution or that address eschatology are almost always followed up with an exhortation to the reader to do a couple of things: 1) cling to Jesus, and 2) get off your toches and tell people about Jesus. So whether you think that the Bible teaches that Christ’s return is just around the corner or many thousands of years into the future, whether you see in its pages a literal and eventual thousand-year reign or a time we’re already in, your mission, Christian, is clear: teach your children, your neighbors, your friends, your family about the Gospel. Live it out in your relationships. Don’t spend your time searching charts or pooh-poohing them. Act like you really, truly have been radically transformed by a Victorious and Conquering King who will one day return, on whatever timeline the Father in his good wisdom chooses.

Still Over It

A few more thoughts on this morning’s post, just in the realm of assumptions.

1. Sexual sin is a grievous thing with long-standing consequences. It’s an offense, both against a holy God and against one’s own body, according to the Scriptures.

2. Some sexual sin carries with it more emotional baggage than others, and some carries with it more tangible consequences than others.

3. No sexual sin — or any other kind of sin — is beyond the reach of the forgiveness of God, and no sinner is beyond the amazing transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit.

4. Pre-conversion sin can, as mentioned in #2, have consequences that last throughout one’s life, but these consequences are not ours to enforce. When we see a non-virgin who, by the Holy Spirit’s power, is currently living a chaste life, we should rejoice in God’s provision not shake our heads at the ongoing shame of past unchastity.

5. It is the VERY GRIEVOUSNESS of sin that makes Gospel transformation so amazing, so worship-engendering, so God-glorifying! If I told my friends that the estate of Bill Gates had not only paid off my mortgage and remaining student loans, but also given me ten million dollars, I hope they would be incredibly excited for me and celebrate with me, not say, “Shame on you for no longer living in your former indebtedness!” That, friends, is exactly what Jesus has done for sinners: he has paid off the debt we owe to God and given us every spiritual blessing and resource for godly living.

6. The attitude of “I thank you that I am not like that publican” has no place in the hearts or mouths of those who have been rescued from their (grievous, offensive, disgusting, condemnatory) sin by a merciful God. But for the restraining grace of God, who among us would not have given in to the lowest and vilest of our desires? If you think it’s your own effort and free will that have kept you sexually chaste, then of course you’ll be driven by pride to look down on those who have not been — after all, if I can do something in my own power, why can’t other people? But if you humbly believe that your heart, left to its own devices, is every bit as wicked as that of the worst sinner, and that every bit of good in you is there only because of the kindness of a loving Father who preserves you from falling into sin? Your attitude toward others is going to be very different.

What keeps coming to my mind are the words to one of my favorite hymns.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains!

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away!

You Know What I Wish?

I wish that churches would have parties instead of “outreach events.”

I wish that unbelievers could walk into a church’s football party or Christmas open house or Trunk-or-Treat or summer BBQ and not have to be nervous that they’d have to stop talking to their friends, set down their refreshments, and go into the sanctuary and listen to a “message.”

I wish that every event didn’t have to be baptized or Jesus-ified to be considered church-appropriate.

And I wish that those changes would result from a deep conviction that the proclamation of the Gospel is a task for every Christian, not just for church leadership and pastors; that alienating unbelievers with uncomfortable bait-and-switch drive-by evangelism does more harm than good; and that loving our neighbors actually involves developing a relationship with them, not just programming three worship songs and a twenty-minute devotional in the middle of a Harvest Party.

I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Tebow

Although it’s not Tebow per se, just the tendency of Christians to latch on to ANYTHING that links our faith or values with success. Tebow, yes, but also any public figure who claims the name of Christ. Archaeological findings. Christian music that gets secular accolades. Family-friendly movies. TV shows that use God’s name as a blessing rather than a curse word. Books where the main characters don’t sleep together (but, interestingly, not books where the hero lays down his life for his friends). If it’s successful and seems to line up with our faith or values, we are ALL OVER THAT. And if anybody dares to criticize or question, they get piled on, post haste.

I have seen people, when questioned about the wisdom of letting teenage girls read a book about a young woman whose identity is so wrapped up in a potentially-dangerous man’s opinion of her, act like the foundations of Christian morality are being attacked. I have deleted hundreds of emails forwarded by well-intentioned brothers and sisters claiming that some massive atheist movement is trying to get Touched By An Angel or Seventh Heaven taken off the air, as though those shows’ insipid pseudo-gospel is the key to the salvation of thousands of pagan cable subscribers, or trying to persuade me to boycott this or that book whose author is supposedly a Satanist or Wiccan or whatever (never mind the fact that these things could be debunked with one thirty-second Snopes search). I have watched, incredulous, when a comments section explodes with vitriol below an article that dares to question the artistic merit of Fireproof or the Left Behind movies.

When the so-called “James Ossuary” was discovered several years ago, I remember some Christians acting completely triumphant, as though this archaeological find was the key to people finally recognizing the truth of Christianity. And then when the thing was proven to be a phoney a few months later, those same Christians were crushed. When George W. talked about Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worshipping the same God, many of the Christians who had voted for him because of his faith rushed to make excuses or to agree.

What’s the problem here?

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a Christian (we’ll call him “A” just for the heck of it) who feels guilty because he’s never led a single coworker to Christ. The last time A got a guilty conscience, he invited all of them to screenings of Fireproof, but no one came. He feels pretty shaky about his ability to convince people that the Scriptures are true, because it seems like every time there’s another archaeological finding in the newspaper, three months later it’s proven to be a fake. A’s really worried that the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket, because it seems like atheism is getting more and more popular, immorality is rampant, and his email inbox is full of forwards from friends about the dangers of certain video games, movies, and books. He feels unsettled, always searching for the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to proving that Christianity is true.

Whenever A encounters people who have criticisms of Tim Tebow or Stephen Baldwin or other Christian celebrities, or who roll their eyes about Fireproof or Courageous, he’s frustrated and wonders why people are so nit-picky — I mean, so what if Tebow’s not the best quarterback in the world! At least he’s a Christian! And so what if Courageousisn’t Oscar material! It’s got a great message! Isn’t that what really matters? A really wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to be unashamed of the Gospel, but it seems like “Christian” behavior gets a lot of flak and he wonders where to draw the line. “Tebowing” in the hallways of a public school might not seem all that effective, but surely it must be good if it’s pointing to Jesus!

He just doesn’t know what to do with Christians who disagree with him about that kind of stuff, so he often finds himself in confrontations — even sometimes ending friendships with people he once loved and respected, so he feels increasingly alone in the world. In fact, A recently found out that a friend changed his views on what he thinks is an important issue, and A was incredibly grieved and hurt, and finds himself struggling to relate to his former friend. Sure, it’s not like his former friend renounced Christ, but how can he fellowship with someone with such different views on such an important issue?

Now, imagine a Christian (“B”) who is bold but thoughtful in the way he shares his faith with his coworkers. He has spiritual conversations with them but is never pushy, and has brought a few friends to church and had the chance to share the Gospel with some others. Whenever archaeological findings seem to support the biblical account, B smiles to himself and thanks God, but doesn’t worry if those findings are overturned, because he knows that God’s truth will ultimately be revealed, just maybe not on his timetable. He doesn’t get too caught up in the latest popular book or movie, Christian or not — he sees popular culture of all kinds as something to be discerning about, not something to either accept thoughtlessly or reject thoughtlessly. He watches good movies and listens to good music when they tell the truth about God’s world whether they have a Christian label or not, and he prays and hopes that more Christian artists will make great art, not just “Christian” art.

When a public figure professes Christ, B prays for that person’s faith and testimony, but doesn’t freak out when people criticize, because he knows that Christianity doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t Christians. He doesn’t get too concerned about books, movies, shows, or music that are supposedly going to “destroy young people” or whatever, because he remembers that God’s people have managed to survive Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nero, to say nothing of Dungeons & Dragons and Twilight. B exercises discernment — and teaches those he mentors to do the same — about the latest craze, receiving the good with gratitude to God, and rejecting the wicked or worthless.

B recognizes that believers can differ on matters of conscience and still fellowship with one another — he has different personal convictions than some of his friends but wouldn’t dream of trying to impose his conscience on his friends. When he finds out that brothers and sisters disagree with his views on pop culture or politics or other issues of conscience, he humbles himself and is willing to be proven wrong, especially when the disagreement is with someone he trusts and knows to be a solid, mature believer. When he found out that a friend changed his views on an important but non-salvation-related issue, B was curious, but assumed that, since his friend was a believer and therefore had the Holy Spirit, he’d thought the issue through and prayed about it before changing his mind. B and his friend had a few conversations about it, and although B stuck with his own views, he was convinced that his friend had made the change with a good conscience before God and happily continued hanging out with him. On the other hand, a friend of B’s read a book espousing a dangerous, anti-gospel doctrine, and B knew this wasn’t just a “conscience issue.” So he talked through the book’s issues carefully with his friend, and they read it together, with B prayerfully helping his friend see the errors the author was promoting, without breaking fellowship.

What’s the difference between these two hypothetical Christians? Theology.

More about this tomorrow. Meanwhile… which Christian would you rather be like?

So Much “Christian” Art Sucks. That Is Not OK

Just a couple of thoughts.

With apologies to Tolstoy: All good art is alike; each bad work of art is bad in its own way.

Good art says something true about the world in a way that causes that truth to become real to us by the work’s beauty or skillfulness. It doesn’t have to be big truth; “afternoon sunlight strikes a bowl of fruit in such a way” is as true, logically, as “Christ’s resurrection is the ground of the Christian’s hope,” or “two and two are four.”  “Flowers are beautiful” and “death comes for every man” are equally true. “All is not as it seems” and “these colors look striking together”? Also both true (or at least potentially, in that last case).

In that way, all good art is good inasmuch as its beauty or skillfulness or execution says something true (which is not the same as “real;” not even a little).

Bad art, though, and particularly bad “Christian” art, can fail in a hundred points. It can be vapid. It can be unskillful. It can be sentimental. It can be a bludgeon. It can be propaganda. It can say something false about the world — that the world is all sweetness and light, or that evil is an illusion. Or something false about the Gospel or about God — that the good news of Jesus is mostly about us or our comfort or eventual escape, or that God is something that He’s not. It can be moralistic. It can be pandering.

That’s not OK, even if the focus of the work is something Gospel-related.

Christians Cannot Condone Torture. That’s All.

A nationally-known Christian author whom I respect a whole bunch commented recently that he was disappointed in a particular presidential candidate because the candidate spoke in favor of waterboarding. He said it shouldn’t be a tough call for Christians to oppose torture. The responses were… well, disheartening to say the least. Several people agreed with him, but more said stuff like, Well they’re stoning and beheading people, why shouldn’t we waterboard them, and If it saves lives, I’m all for it. You know what that is? It’s anti-gospel, man. It’s tit-for tat retribution, and it’s pragmatism.

This was my response:

Y’all, you know where the best pieces of actionable intelligence have come from? Not from waterboarding, but from cups of tea, a place to sleep, decent food and human conversation. (Note: read that brief article and listen to the story if you’re not convinced — “enhanced interrogation techniques” didn’t work where rapport-building DID, time and again.)

Terrorists prepare themselves psychologically for all kinds of real torture if they’re captured — electrocution, having their fingernails pulled out, having bones broken and body parts cut off, being raped. They’re told that Americans are monsters. The best way to get them to cooperate is to destroy that preconception of us. In other words, we win when we treat them with dignity, not because their actions deserve it, but because it’s what dignified, civilized people do. We don’t avoid torture because we’re “soft” — we refuse inhumanity because it reflects Truth about our common humanity and OUR commitment to what’s right.

A last thought: even if torture worked (which it doesn’t, as a whole), it’s the way we treat our enemies that tells us who we really are.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” — Jesus

Reverence

I said a couple months ago on Facebook that I think one of the causes of a lot of controversy in the church is a difference of opinion about the meaning (and application) of the word “reverence.” What I mean by this is, every denomination reads the same Bible, you know? And yet we have some denominations whose normal Sunday worship experience looks like a dance party while others’ looks like an evening in the first-century catacombs — and everything in between.

I think you can chalk a lot of those differences up to personality. Some people are naturally drawn to mellow, even subdued worship gatherings, while others are naturally drawn to boisterous, expressive ones. And then I think what happens is that the boisterous folks emphasize that they’re bringing the loud praise and shouts of joy commanded in Scripture, and the subdued folks emphasize that they’re demonstrating the awe and silence a Holy God requires. And then the criticisms begin. Loud Church criticizes Quiet Church for treating God like he hasn’t drawn near to us, like he hasn’t commanded “loud, clashing cymbals,” and for acting as though we haven’t been set free from an incredible burden, as though we have no cause to celebrate. Quiet Church accuses Loud Church of being casual and presumptuous with God, treating his presence like a rock concert, acting like worshiping God isn’t a heavy and sober responsibility. Each thinks the other is being irreverent — Quiet Church by denying joyful expression and Loud Church by ignoring God’s holiness.

But the thing is, they’re both right. Lots of churches on the hymns-only, piano/organ, liturgical, traditional end of the spectrum could stand a swift kick in the Somber Pants, in the direction of loud, expressive joy and delight in their Rescuing God. And lots of churches on the worship-band, rock-and-roll, contemporary end of the spectrum need to seriously dial down the mood swings and the key changes, and remember that they’re singing to the holy God of the universe every week, not their girlfriend.

In heaven, we’ll get this balance right, but in the meantime I think it’s healthy for us to consider how we can (within our own traditions, obviously) move toward more expression or more awareness of God’s grandeur in our worship gatherings.

OK, OK, OK

Earlier this week, I sent out an email to a few friends asking them to pray for me as we enter the winter months and as I approach the big 3-0. I’ve mentioned here before that I struggle with seasonal depression (side note: it wasn’t until I lived in Louisville that I found out Seasonal Affective Disorder was even a thing, and, prominent naysayers notwithstanding, just knowing it exists made me feel so much less crazy), and I wrote a bit of a whine to them, honestly. I felt really low, really sad about life and being single and childless and weeks away from my expiration date thirtieth birthday waaaah waaah waaah, and I was griping at the Lord a little bit.

But he didn’t smite me. Nope. Instead, within 24 hours of sending the email, not only did I get two incredibly supportive replies from two of my dearest friends, these items popped up in my blog reader:

This article by Paul Tripp, on 5 Reasons Why God Calls Us To Wait.

This sermon transcript on feeling like death, and this post on resentment, both by Kevin DeYoung.

This Boundless article on not wasting your disappointment in bitterness or frustration with God.

This profile of one of my favorite poets, William Cowper, who battled depression and schizophrenia but who also co-wrote an amazing collection of hymns for the church.

OK! Geez! I get it!

Pilgrim Hill

Please watch this beautiful short (which made me cry as I saw not only the loveliness of one of my favorite places in the world but also the faces of people I love and miss) about this fantastic hospitality ministry. Maybe you could consider helping move Peirce and Christina’s vision forward by praying or giving!

(Also, isn’t Christina’s hair glorious? And I love how Oz Peirce’s inflections are. Little things like that make me super happy.)

Lent, Day 29? Or something? Maybe?

Thoughts on blogging through Lent, in no particular order:

It was SUCH a mistake to put numbers in the titles of these Lent posts. Yikes.

I don’t know why I ever thought I could be a journalist. I can barely manage to hit “publish” my own dang blog every day (by which I mean “most days”), much less deal with an external writing deadline, with content that matters AND has to be coherent and factual, day in and day out. Thinking about it kind of makes my blood pressure go up.

This spring has been a tough one. Usually by this point in the year, I’m feeling basically free of the winter funk, and I’m busy, rested, and motivated. This year? Let’s just say that the winter funk is persisting.

Not-unrelatedly, a friend and I are reading Russ Moore’s new book Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ.

I’m working on writing up each chapter as I read it. So far the verdict is possibly least-surprisingly-awesome book I’ve ever read. By which I mean, Dr. Moore’s stuff is almost entirely fantastic — convicting, encouraging, focused on Jesus — and this, being no exception, did not catch me off guard with its amazingness. I highly recommend it, not only for the practical theology content, but for the strength of Dr. Moore’s authorial voice. Reading this book is just like being in class with him. He’s funny, relatable, a bit provocative, really, really Southern (in that genteel, coastal South way, not a redneck or hillbilly way), and whip-smart. Oh, and he loves Johnny Cash.

Lent, Day 14: Doctrinal Discernment, Part 1

So. In the field of psychology, there’s this phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance.” In simple terms, cognitive dissonance is when someone holds two contradictory ideas simultaneously without recognizing the contradiction. It’s a mental block, of sorts, that keeps us from noticing or properly evaluating logical incongruities in our own belief systems.

Now, every human post-Fall has been subject to cognitive dissonance, but I think it’s a particular problem in postmodern society. Throw in a slipshod or nonexistent education in the field of logic, and the vigorously pluralistic message preached from every media outlet in the West, and you’ve got a steaming hot, high-octane cup of Doctrinal Issues, Man, just waiting to give you the jitters.

And boy, are we ever jittery about it.

For those of you who don’t know about this brouhaha with Rob Bell in the last month, first, welcome to the internet, and second, let me give you a quick rundown. Since Bell appeared on the scene several years ago with his wildly popular Nooma videos, he’s come across as a basically likeable, incredibly compelling brother with some distressingly squishy positions on a few doctrines, and the typical Evangelical response to him has been equal parts brow-furrowing and eye-rolling, with the occasional rebuke thrown in.

But a few weeks ago, he released a promo video for his new book. And that’s when the proverbial excrement hit the air-conditioning, to borrow Kurt Vonnegut’s phrase. As is typical for Bell, he asked a very provocative series of questions that led a lot of people to believe that he had embraced Universalism. The release of the book a couple weeks later basically served to confirm that suspicion.  (If you want more detail about that business, the Google search bar is right up there at the top of the page; knock yourself out.)

But between the release of the video and now, no real consensus has emerged on how to refer to and think of him and other Universalists. Do we embrace a sort of agnosticism about their salvation? Do we think of them as unsaved, and seek to evangelize accordingly? Do we affirm their salvation and correct their doctrinal errors from inside the family, so to speak?

In other words, is it possible that a person can hold a heterodox position on this sort of issue and still be saved? Can a person’s doctrine be as orthodox as St. Paul’s, with one massive, glaring exception?

Can cognitive dissonance save us?

Lent, Day 11: The Black Dog

This past week I was incredibly productive. I wrote a paper, got my tax stuff organized, worked on (and finished!) grades, cleaned my house, hung out with friends, took care of the last of Mt. Recycling that was in the closet, and did all the normal stuff of the week — teaching, community group, cooking, errands. I feel rested and energized and am looking forward to a whole week of vacation in which to do things and see people and finish projects.

But a few weeks ago, my mood was very different. I could feel myself getting better as the days grew longer, but I was still struggling with what’s probably the number one symptom of my seasonal depression: a knotty anxiety about getting anything accomplished. Even simple tasks like grading student essays look Herculean, and anything larger or more stressful I find absolutely paralyzing. I can even objectively recognize the simplicity of a task, and the necessity of doing it, but then my brain just shuts down when it comes to taking the first step. Churchill’s “black dog” was still sitting ominously in the corner.

And when all this is going on, I am a very, very bad friend. I can handle getting together with friends to chat about trivialities; I can talk theology all day long because I enjoy it. I can certainly recognize my own sin (usually in an unhealthy way), but dealing with it productively in community becomes, again, an almost-insurmountable task.  But when friends are suffering and struggling — and there’s been plenty of that this winter — I retreat in fear.

Whether I’m avoiding grading papers or paralyzed with anxiety about speaking into a friend’s pain, the next thing that happens is a wave of guilt and condemnation. You should be able to do this. You’re being irresponsible. You’re a terrible person, and you’re going to end up jobless, homeless, friendless and alone if you don’t stop it. Do something! And the Black Dog rears his ugly head and says, You can’t. It’s too hard. Why bother?

And then, of course, the cycle starts again, because fear and shame are not good motivators.

But this last week has reminded me again of God’s grace in the midst of this struggle. I don’t know if my mood issues will ever go away or even improve. I don’t know if there will ever be a January and February where dread and guilt aren’t undercurrents. But I do know that in the Gospel I have hope — the kind of hope that doesn’t disappoint.

The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is at work in me, and promises that, as surely as the spring returns every year, the final renewal approaches that will never again cycle back into the bleak darkness of sin and death and despair. A day is coming when there will be no need of a sun to shine because the Lamb will radiate His own glory in the midst of the New Jerusalem.

So, friends, thanks for bearing with me through the difficult months of winter.

Stop It. Just Stop It.

OK, I have officially had enough.

Back in September, Tullian Tchividjian‘s church made the move to one service, from their previous format of one “traditional” and one “contemporary” service.  He wrote an initial post about their kickoff week and a little of the background behind their decision.  At the end of the post, what he didn’t write but might as well have was “Cue Psalms-only, Western-musical-tradition-obsessed, Regulative Principal types: pontificate away, fellas.”

Here are just a few of the many comments that made me want to throw stuff at my computer:

I foresee a time, probably when the current minister of music retires, when the two services will be blended. My hope is that Jesus will return before that happens.

Even the best expressions of blended worship represent a level of compromise

I’m having difficulty understanding why churches insist on dumbing down something intended primarily for God so that we aren’t challenged by it.

Granted, classical music is not as appreciated in today’s society as it has been in the past, but then again, neither is the Gospel.

Hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past” ministered to me and soothed the hurt I felt inside. Trading all that for the moaning and twitching of contemporary worship, the loud praise band and flashing lights, is a thought too horrific to contemplate.

Can we please just take a second (after we’ve all picked our jaws up off the floor) to evaluate the assumptions behind these claims?

1. Modern styled music is something to be dreaded, avoided, and pushed back.
2. The choice of music and style is primarily about my felt needs (oh, the irony).
3. Our only choices are the lovely, rich, comforting old hymns and an overwrought seeker-sensitive rock concert style (complete with “moaning and twitching”?!?).
4. If a long-standing traditional style is denigrated or underappreciated, that’s a theological issue akin to people’s rejection of the Gospel.
5. The culture is changing, so we have to reject change by holding our ground with traditional styles of music.
6. Anything other than a Western classical style represents “dumbing down” of worship.
7. The goal of modern styles of music is that we won’t be challenged by worship.

Seriously, people.  Stop it.  Stop making arguments against your brothers and sisters in Christ based entirely on logical fallacies.*  Stop claiming some special knowledge about how public worship gatherings are supposed to look.  Stop insisting that Western classical musical from 400 to 150 years ago is the pinnacle of all human achievement.  It’s not just silly, it’s xenophobic and exclusionary.  (Notice that I didn’t say that using Western classical music, or even preferring it, is xenophobic and exclusionary — insisting on its superiority [even its spiritual superiority] over all other types of music is.)

We sing theologically rich songs at Sojourn, songs that are full of Scriptural truth. We often sing hymns — in fact, I would guess that a majority of our songs have a hymn structure (i.e., a particular meter in each verse). Four of the five songs we did this past week were hymns.  Two were traditional hymns, two were written more recently.  One of the modern hymns was based on a Puritan prayer from the outstanding Valley of Vision.  We sing a fair number of Psalms (I can think of a dozen or so) and are always up for singing more.  Why, then, do people continue to insist that, because we use guitars and drums, we’re contributing to theological shallowness in the church?

Church music ministers need to be students of their culture and their congregation as well as of the Scriptures.  And, furthermore, it’s absolutely possible to obey the commands of the Scriptures without having to use only piano and organ or orchestral arrangements or Western classical style (thank God — if not, boy, would overseas missionaries be in trouble).  It’s even possible to adhere to the Regulative Principle and still — gasp! — use guitars.  Maybe piano, organ, and classical style are what’s best for your particular congregation.  But why then does everyone else have to agree that it’s better?

If we want to talk about what styles of music best carry theological content in a coherent way, I’m happy to have that conversation (and no, I don’t think all musical styles are equally suited for public worship, just on a practical level, but I also think that particular knife cuts both ways).  If we want to talk about reverence and decency, I’m up for that too.  Attitudes toward our collective history?  Yeah, definitely, let’s talk about that.

But if folks are going to approach this conversation with an attitude of snobbery towards everyone who doesn’t have their “special knowledge” about the superiority of the Western classical tradition, a traditional hymnnodic structure, and the Fill-In-The-Blank Psalter… Well, I’ll just turn off my computer and have a little chat with the doorknob instead, thanks.  ;-)

*In that list, you’ll see a false dilemma (either good thing A or hideously unimaginable thing B must be true), a package deal fallacy (modern music goes together with shallow content and theological inferiority, therefore if you use modern music you’re embracing shallow content and theological inferiority), an appeal to fear (this thing is so dreadful that I hope Jesus comes back before it happens, an appeal to emotion (hymns are comforting; if you want to get rid of hymns you are getting rid of my comfort waaaaaaah), cherrypicking (here is the worst example of how churches can do this, never mind all the good examples), confirmation bias (I believe it will be like X, therefore I will experience as X), tons of bare assertion fallacy (NO IT’S THIS WAY DON’T ARGUE IT IS SO!), and plenty of equivocation (what exactly do these folks mean by “traditional” or “classical” or “hymns” or “contemporary” or “modern”?).

Debates and Apologetics

I think there’s value in debates (note that in Acts Apollos “vigorously refuted” the Jews) even if the person being debated never comes to know Christ.  The debates between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson, for instance, are valuable even if Hitchens never gets saved, for two reasons: they encourage believers regarding the reasonableness and coherence of our faith, and they are a tool of hardening those God wants to harden.  For some reason unknown to us God chooses to reveal his glory in judgment as well as in mercy, and just as the preaching of the Gospel is the means God uses to incline the hearts of the elect toward him, stuff like this can be the tool that God uses to harden the hearts of the reprobate.

Some Actual Thoughts For A Change

Currently on my bedside table are the following: alarm clock, lamp, water glass, and two books.  One book is Bridget Jones’s Diary and the other is John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin.  I fully expect to wake up some morning to find that the two have spontaneously combusted in the night.

I started reading The Mortification of Sin well over a year ago, before it got shuffled around somehow and pushed to the bottom of a pile and sadly neglected.  (Side note: I started reading it while sitting at an airport bar waiting for a flight.  Picture me with a beer in one hand and a Puritan Paperback in the other.  Classic experience.)  I picked it up again recently and have been amazed and blessed by Owen’s strongly-worded caution to those who bear the name of Christ not to deal lightly with our besetting sins.

Chapters 10 (“Seeing Sin For What It Is”) and 11 (“A Tender Conscience and a Watchful Heart”) are particularly rich and full of godly counsel.  Here, a segment from chapter 11 that merits being quoted at length:

Look on Him whom you have pierced, and let it trouble you.  Say to your soul, ‘What have I done?  What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace have I despised and trampled on?  Is this how I pay back the Father for His love?  Is this how I thank the Son for His blood?  Is this how I respond to the Holy Spirit for His grace?  Have I defiled the heart that Christ died to wash, and the Holy Spirit has chosen to dwell in?  [...] Do I count fellowship with Him of so little value that, for this vile [sin's] sake, I have hardly left him any room in my heart?’

As is typical with those dear old Puritans, the counsel Owen urges on his readers is emotionally stirring, grounded in the Gospel, and intensely practical.  Incidentally, I find this to be a great weakness in a lot of modern devotional writing, which tends toward one or two of those three characteristics.  Consider this snippet:

Do you find corruption beginning to entangle your thoughts?  Rise up with all your strength against it, as if it had already started to overcome you!  Consider what an unclean thought desires: it desires to have you immerse yourself in folly and filth!  Ask envy what it aims at: murder and destruction are its natural conclusion!  Set yourself against it as if it had already surrounded you in wickedness!

Or this remarkable reflection on the transcendence of God:

Labour to limit your pride with these considerations: What do you know about God?  How little a portion of His majesty!  How immense He is in His nature!  Can you look without terror into the abyss of eternity?  Can you bear the rays of His glorious Being?  I consider these meditations of great value in our walking with God, so far as they are consistent with our filial boldness in seeking Him at the throne of grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. [...] To Moses was revealed the most glorious attributes that He can reveal in the covenant of grace, but even these are but the ‘back parts’ of God!

It’s definitely kicking my butt.  And I’m just now over halfway through.  Eep!

Evangelism and the Single Girl

I stink at evangelism. Really. I can’t remember the last time I shared the Gospel, or even had a spiritual conversation, with an unbeliever who wasn’t a) related to me and under age ten or b) my student. No, I can, it was probably with one of my neighbors in the apartment complex I lived in two and a half years ago. The only reason I knew my downstairs neighbor, Jasmine, is because she liked to listen to hip-hop while studying at 1 a.m., and the only reason I knew my across-the-hall neighbor is because he was completely insane, not unlike several of the other people who lived there. I don’t think I ever told you about the time that one of the downstairs residents kidnapped (catnapped?) my next-door neighbor’s cat and refused to return it.

Anyway, I digress.

I live by myself in my condo, which I totally love about 75% of the time, particularly when I don’t feel like cleaning. The other 25% of the time, I feel either like a cloistered nun (who, uh, is on Facebook) or a weird recluse. Good thing I don’t have any cats. I’ve met a few of my neighbors, and they’re nice people, but I haven’t felt comfortable going door-to-door and introducing myself or trying to form relationships with them. And herein lies my problem.

I totally believe that God has put me in this place for this time. It’s not an accident that I live here, or that I have the neighbors I have. But what’s a single girl to do? This is a pretty good-size metropolitan area I live in, and while it’s quite a safe neighborhood, you just never know. I honestly don’t feel right about going out by myself to knock on doors — apart from the safety issues, what do you do with the propriety issues that arise, like finding yourself on the front steps of a house full of college-age boys? But how else besides meeting my neighbors am I supposed to even be in contact with adult non-Christians?

It’s a very angsty issue for me, really. I want to be wise and safe, but I must be obedient.

I don’t have any concluding thoughts, because I haven’t concluded my thinking on this subject. If anyone has any suggestions, insights, or practical considerations, I’m all ears. Or whatever the online equivalent of ears is.

Does God Change His Mind?

An email from my favorite theologically minded friend started this post. Recently, Craig Blomberg, a well-known New Testament scholar whose work on the historical accuracy and reliability of the Gospels has been of great help to many a student, pastor, and layman, wrote an article explaining why he is a “Calminian” — a jokey riff on the “Why I Am/ Am Not a Calvinist” books of recent years. Blomberg is basically trying to put himself clearly outside the Reformed mindset once and for all. I’ve read a few expressions of disappointment, and an article agreeing with his position, which is basically what I’m going to attempt to respond to today.

First of all, let me point out that Craig Blomberg is way smarter than I am. I don’t pretend that I can tangle with him intellectually. But despite that, I still think he’s wrong. Second, let me point out that Craig Blomber is also a brother in Christ, despite what I think are his mistakes on this front. I’m not denigrating his faith or his commitment to the body of Christ, nor am I trying to write off his contribution to the Christian community. One of his books sits on my shelf, and it’s staying there! But anyway, here goes.

At one point in his article, Blomberg refers to the story of Joseph’s brothers coming to him in Egypt for help during the great famine. Joseph’s famous line, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good,” Blomberg insists, is not a declaration of God’s sovereignty, but a mere statement of fact. He says: “Two separate agents, two separate wills, at cross purposes with each other, neither described as logically or chronologically prior to the other. Neither is said to cause the other; they occur simultaneously.” What’s really happening, he says, is that both wills operate at the same time, without one being over the other.

Well, hold up. I get what he’s saying. Joseph says to his brothers, “You sold me into slavery out of a wicked intention, but God’s power trumped your evil desires.” In fact, God’s purposes to preserve his people included the brothers’ evil plans and actions. God is so powerful that he can even use human evil — the condition of our fallen nature! — to accomplish his purposes. That’s comprehensive sovereignty. This is a copout. Blomberg’s a great guy, and his work on the historical reliability of the Gospels is priceless, but he just does NOT want to be in the “God is totally sovereign” camp AT ALL. (Plus, calling himself a “Calminian” is cute, but the fact is that there isn’t a responsible Arminian on the planet who wouldn’t totally acknowledge God’s sovereignty in human history. So he’s really a Cal-Open Theist-ian. Which isn’t quite as cute.)

Moving on to broader arguments about God’s sovereignty, I often encounter people who point to the word “relent” in the Scriptures and say, “See? That means that God goes back on his word! If he really is completely sovereign over everything, how can he appear to be influenced by the prayers of his people?” I used to use this argument myself! Well, yes, “relent” means that he will not do what he said he would do, out of a gracious desire to preserve and defend his people. But a couple things:

1) This DOES NOT MEAN that God changes his mind or that he’s fickle or doesn’t know what he’s ultimately going to do. The problem with the argument here is that, while they’re trying to just draw a line around the Reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty, they END UP basing their whole view on the idea that God actually changes his mind. Listen up: this is where guys like Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock got started, and where they end up is saying that God takes risks, that he doesn’t even KNOW the outcome of certain events, and that in some cases WE have more sovereignty over circumstances than the creator of the universe. That’s a pretty stupid place to end up and still call yourself a Christian. It’s just like how the Mormons use the methods of 19th century German liberal philosophers to convince people that the Book of Mormon is ok — the argument might convince people, but you’re cutting off the branch you’re sitting on!

2) Check out this article. There’s some uncool argumentation happening here, and this isn’t the only place I’ve heard this line of reasoning, not by a long shot. You ever hear of “weasel words”? They’re little words or phrases that a speaker or writer slips in, sometimes without even knowing it himself, that unfairly denigrate the other position — it’s like straw man + ad hominem all at once. The one that popped out to me was “real relationship.” Yates and others imply that, unless God limits his own foreknowledge or sovereignty in some way, it’s impossible for him to enter into “real relationship” with his creation. This is nonsense. We don’t get to make up the rules for how God interacts with us based on our experiences with each other. The scriptures are full of the truths of God bringing the dead back to life both literally and figuratively. But does that one-sided interaction, that ultimate demonstration of total sovereignty, mean that God has some kind of counterfeit relationship with those he raises to life? Did Jesus have a more or less “real relationship” with Lazarus when he raised him, single-handed, from death?

3) There’s also some plain old ridiculousness that gets shoveled around. To quote Yates, who is taking up a common anti-sovereignty argument: “The statements that Yahweh will harden the Pharaoh’s heart at the beginning of this process (cf. Exod 4:21; 7:3) are an expression that Yahweh’s purposes will ultimately prevail in this struggle but not that he dictates or determines the Pharaoh’s responses.” Uh… what? What part of “I will harden his heart” is the tough part to interpret? “I will” meaning it’s gonna happen, “harden his heart” meaning that’s what he’s gonna do. Yup. You have to do some pretty sexy contortionism to get around the plain meaning of that sucker.

4) The kicker is the “only a really sovereign God could accomplish his purposes in a universe where he has limited his sovereignty,” also known as the “it’s true because it ain’t” argument. A God who can accomplish his purposes in such a give-and-take, unresolved universe that anti-sovereignty folks try to set up, is truly sovereign? Huh? So only a God who is truly sovereign and omniscient could operate in a universe where somethings are outside his sovereignty and beyond his omniscience? Yeah, that makes sense. What’s the purpose of prayer if the God we’re praying to has chosen this event to be one of the hands-off parts of world history? How are we to know the difference? Or does he wait until we pray and then decide to re-institute the sovereignty he’s chosen to put on hold?

Unlike Blomberg and lots of other people who use these kinds of arguments, I’m happy to live knowing that my choices are BOTH really choices that I really make with my time-bound will and mind AND are mysteriously part of God’s plan. It’s called paradox, and we have to embrace it, largely because our finite brains can’t fathom the depths of God’s will. Let’s not try to eliminate paradox by making God more like us. That’s a pretty dumb Bible study method. Dig?

Abstinence or Chastity?

Ever since the oh-so-wise and ultra-experienced new mom Bristol Palin expressed her opinion about “abstinence” being “unrealistic,” the Christian blog world has been abuzz, with bloggers tsk-tsking, scolding, pontificating, and hand-wringing by turns.

I’ll be the first to admit that the abstinence movement (the stalwart True Love Waits and various smaller efforts) has been a joke and a general failure. A Slate.com article from a while back (one of many on the subject) called such programs a success on a sociological level, in that they motivated participants to delay sexual intercourse by around eighteen months, on average. Wow! Eighteen whole months! What a triumph…

“Joke” might sound like a bit of a strong word. It is. But in the words of Inigo Montoya, “Lemme splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.”

Abstinence is a stupid term. Abstaining is something teetotalers do, something Sylvester Graham touted. However fancy the packaging, the word “abstinence” still feels punitive. It’s the absence of something. And as any dieter will tell you, when you feel deprived, you’re that much more likely to splash out by having an appetizer AND a rich dessert AND a glass of wine.

But a proper view of human sexuality is not supposed to feel like eating celery sticks at the Food and Wine Classic. Sexuality is woven into the created order. It’s got a whole book of the Bible dedicated to it. It’s supposed to be honored and protected. It’s meant to be celebrated by the community of faith. It’s part of our identity as image-bearers of God.

Do you see why it’s completely insufficient to say merely that true love (whatever that means) “waits”?

Waits for what? Waits how? Waits why?

I think we need to completely remove the idea of “abstinence” from our discourse — particularly the discourse we aim at young people — and put in its place the idea of chastity. Chastity is both broader and narrower in its focus than “abstinence.” To abstain is to do without something — in this case, sexual intimacy. To be chaste is to view sexuality and sexual intimacy as something godly, valuable, and noble, to be experienced freely and joyfully in the right context, and to be directed toward that context. It’s not a “don’t.” While abstinence is necessarily temporary, chastity is to be practiced throughout the Christian life.

(As a side note, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians say, “I was sexually pure until I got married.” Hold up! If you’ve only ever been intimate with your spouse, you are STILL sexually pure. I believe this rather amusing and revealing malapropism stems from the idea that sexual purity is for the virgin but not the wife — still perpetuating the old stereotype that sexual intimacy is a malum in se rather than an evil only when misused.)

I signed a True Love Waits pledge as a young teen, and I even wore a promise ring for a while until I misplaced the darn thing (sorry, Dad!). But I did so alongside dozens of friends who went on to forget those foundationless and hastily-written promises, which sounded so meaningful at age fourteen but somehow wore thin over time.

The truth is, we have failed to give young people a compelling reason to direct their sexuality toward marriage. At the same time, we’ve encouraged them to put off marriage, making even compelling reasons ring hollow! We’ve hinted that sex is dirty and sinful. We’ve told them No, No, No, No, and that’s the end of it. We’ve told them they have to conquer the beast of temptation alone. We’ve spoken in hushed and shocked tones of fallen women and p orn addicts and all manner of other sexual sinners, driving the struggling and fainting heart into isolation.

Worst of all, we’ve failed to put before them the blinding glory of Christ and the plan of the Almighty God of the universe for human relationships. We’ve failed to tell them of the provision of Christ for our every need, and for the precious gift of the Holy Spirit who comforts us in our distress and guides us into all truth.

Given all these failures, is abstinence unrealistic for most young people? Of course.

But chastity, grace, and the glory of God? That’s a message well worth our time to tell.