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Assorted, Culture Clashes

MODERATION: Where beer and psalm-singing go hand in hand

In his book God Gave Wine, Kenneth Gentry outlines the three positions Christians have has concerning alcohol consumption: PROHIBITION: it’s bad and the Scriptures forbid it. ABSTENTION: it’s bad and the Scriptures allow it. MODERATION: it’s good when used with self-control. The first position is wrong and clearly so – prohibition simply doesn’t stand up to scriptural scrutiny. But what about the second? When a man destroys himself and his family via the bottle it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if he’d never touched a drop. We also know many of our young people regularly drink to excess. So, yes, the Bible allows alcohol consumption, but wouldn’t it be more sensible – wiser even – to simply abstain? Isn’t that the better course of action? We can make a compelling case for abstention. But not a biblical one. As Gentry notes, Christ drank, served, and even made wine. God also repeatedly describes alcohol as something that can be put to good use (Deut. 14:26, Psalm 104:15, Eccl 9:7, etc.). It can be abused, but so can every good thing – it makes no more sense to condemn all alcohol because it can lead to drunkenness than it would to condemn all food because it can lead to gluttony. Abstention undermines moderation This is important. If we get this wrong – if we treat alcohol consumption as shameful – then we are running right up against the true biblical position of moderation. And running up against the Bible is never a good idea. In this case the unhappy result may well be that we’ll contribute to the very drunkenness we are trying to curtail because abstention undermines the teaching of moderation. How so? Well consider this example. I know of a church that wanted to address the very muted way its young men were singing. So the pastor invited the young men down to the church for a psalm-singing kegger – everyone would be given some singing instruction and a tall glass of amber brew. How would you react if such a proposal came your way? I know how I reacted – that is not the sort of thing that ought be done in a church! But why did I think that? Clearly I wasn’t objecting to the psalm-singing. And I knew that a glass of frothy goodness would be an excellent aid in helping young men learn to sing with vigor. So on what basis could I object? It was my closet “absentionism” coming out. I know God speaks of moderate drinking as a good thing, and yet deep down I feel I know better, so when an opportunity comes up for young men to see how a drink can be enjoyed responsibly – when an opportunity comes for them share a cold one with their minister – I want to pass up that opportunity. But could there be a more God-glorifying way to enjoy a glass? Now we all know bush parties happen. We know many of our young people gather at homes or apartments where this is no parental supervision so that they can drink to excess. In that context it might seem reasonable to sound a general warning against all alcohol consumption. But blanket condemnations don’t foster maturity. What our young people really need is instruction in moderate use. They need to learn how to drink to God’s glory. So long as we parents lean in any sort of “just don’t drink” abstention direction are we properly motivated to teach our children how to drink? If we think that it’s more pious to abstain than partake, are we going to teach our children about moderation? When we forbid what God allows, then our children will still learn how to drink, but from peers who don’t care a whit about moderation. Conclusion Of course, Christians don’t have to drink. In God Gave Wine, Gentry rebuts both prohibition and abstention, but he himself has always been a teetotaler, drinking no more than a half dozen glasses of wine a year (and now a medical condition precludes even that). No one needs to drink…and some most definitely should not. But we need to accept what God says and acknowledge that moderate use is not only not shameful but a blessing from God. When we sit around the campfire with a s’more in one hand and a glass of red in the other, and friends all around, it is a wonderful thing. We can drink to God’s glory! Let’s teach our children how.

Culture Clashes

Bruce Jenner & Micklewhite: Adult problems lurk amongst the picture books

It was a beautiful day. The temperature had soared to eighty degrees plus and one of our daughters and four of our grandchildren were over for a few days. Together we watched the Baltimore oriole as he perched on the hummingbird feeder and pecked at a slice of orange. The downy woodpecker showed up as well as the cardinal and an indigo bunting. We carefully tiptoed past a ruffed grouse sitting on its eleven eggs. Here in our backyard was a wonderful array of color and sound made by the fifth-day creatures God has made. And we, the sixth-day image-bearers of Himself were privileged to see and hear them. It was a work-holiday. The kids helped us with raking, gathering up leftover leaves from last autumn, as well as mowing huge swaths of lawn. Our daughter straightened flowerbeds, and weeded. And afterwards there was swimming and splashing in the pool. Children and grandchildren are truly a marvel! After supper, Tirzah, our daughter's youngest child, was ready to curl up on the sofa next to her Mom for some before-bedtime reading. It's my wont to always visit the library prior to a visit, if I know about it, and to stock up on a variety of books. Tirzeh and her Mom were rummaging through the pile and I was putting away some laundry. Half-way up the stairs with an armload of towels, sheets and shirts, I heard my daughter call out. "Mom!!" I paused. Was there a problem!? She called out again. Actually it was more like a yell. "Mom – this is awful!" I turned, descended the stairs, still carrying the laundry. "Have you looked at this book, Mom?" I was in the hall by now, searching my brain as to what she was talking about. Entering the living room the most aghast look of the twenty-first century hit me. "Mom, did you know that you took out a book on cross-dressing?" "No," I responded, and truly I had not known it. Then I recalled that when I had gone to the library the previous Saturday, it had unfortunately been fifteen minutes before closing time. Quickly scanning the shelves, first for literature for the older grandchildren (and becoming rather engrossed in some of these volumes), I had been nudged by the librarian that they were closing and that it was time to leave. Running into the children's section of the branch, I had raced around the room taking all the display books off the racks. I figured that these were likely popular favorites and probably indicated good reading. Obviously it was not a well-thought out assumption! "Mom! This book is horrible! Do you know what it's called?" I shook my head: "No, I don't." "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress!" Cute name, Morris Micklewhite, but the glaring truth was that it was a boy's name – and boys, unless they are Scottish and kilt-oriented, ought not to wear dresses. Deuteronomy 22:5 is very clear on that: "A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman's garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord your God." I'm very thankful that my daughter is a conscientious child of the covenant and that she recognizes evil when it approaches, even under the innocent guise of a child's book cover. There are, sadly enough, a number of Morris Micklewhites in the world. Bruce Bruce Jenner was born on October 28, 1949, in New York. This means that he will be 70 years old this fall. Like all children, Bruce was sent to school when he turned 6. Dyslexic, Bruce had trouble with spelling, reading and grammar and disliked school very much. Not diagnosed until the fifth grade, he had nightmares about the teacher having him read in front of class. Like Morris Micklewhite, he had to overcome certain fears about going to school. But Bruce managed to complete grades one through twelve. Not an academic, he turned all his energies into outdoor activities. He had such a penchant for sports, as a matter of fact, that he earned a football scholarship in 1968 which allowed him to attend Graceland College in Iowa even though his grades were not very good. A knee injury, however, soon forced him to stop playing the sport of football in which he excelled. Worried about losing his scholarship and being drafted into the US army, he changed his sports focus. Having a natural gift for track and field, Bruce made the switch to the decathlon. In 1973 he graduated from Graceland College with a degree in physical education. He married his high school sweetheart, a minister's daughter, and set his mind on training for the Olympics. His wife, a flight attendant, worked, even as Bruce trained during the day, selling some insurance on the side. Although he finished tenth in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Germany, his rigorous day training eventually paid off and he won the decathlon gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Rugged and tough, Bruce was built like a natural athlete. Had he lived during King David's time, he possibly would have qualified as one of his mighty men. But after winning the gold medal, muscular Bruce Jenner settled for being the spokesperson for Wheaties breakfast cereal for several years, posing for the cover of the box. This supposedly encouraged buyers to think, "If you eat this cereal, you could possibly be as brawny and sports-oriented as Bruce Jenner." He also drank orange juice for Tropicana and took pictures for Minolta. Six foot two and 194 pounds of well-distributed muscle, he gradually evolved into a public advertising idol. It paid his bills. It made him rich. Outside of the athletic arena, Bruce Jenner was making more money from winning that single gold medal than any other athlete had before him. He continued to be in demand for countless commercials, promotions, and public appearances. All this publicity took a heavy toll on his marriage – a marriage which dissolved in 1980. In the wake of his broken marriage, Bruce turned to a film and television career, and married again. During the next five years, he also became a successful racecar driver. Then there was another divorce and another marriage. In all, he fathered six children – two by each of his three marriages. Truly the man was a broken puzzle, a sad book to read! The 2015 chapter in Bruce Jenner's life, however, was the saddest one yet - on page April of this chapter he announced that, like Morris Micklewhite of the children's literature, he wanted to wear a dress. In other words, he announced that he was transitioning into a woman, a yearning which, he said, had always lived within himself. Although he had been created a male by the Lord God, Bruce Jenner questioned his Creator's decision, rebelling against it. Changing his name from Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner, he went on to pose, two months later, for the cover of Vanity Fair, as a female. As to be expected, Bruce was praised for his “courageous” action by all those who love evil. That same year of 2015 saw him as the winner of the Social Media Queen award; Glamor magazine named him one of its 25 glamour women of the year; in December he was named “Barbara Walter's most fascinating person of 2015” and he was on the Time's short-list for the 2015 person of the year. Looking back on his athletic career, it would appear that Bruce had been dissatisfied with it, that he'd had no long-term goal for which to aim. He is quoted as saying: "I spent twelve years training for a career that was over in a week." And apparently having no handle on who he is as a male person made in the image of God, he referred to his transition as a “female” by saying: "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self." Conclusion What a sad thing to so blatantly disregard God's good intentions for one's life! Healthy and wealthy, he fell far short of being wise, fell far short of fearing God. Throughout all this there is no doubt that Bruce Jenner is looking for meaning, searching for fulfillment, but he will fall flat on his face unless he acknowledges that the only meaning in life is to be found in our Lord Jesus Christ; that the only fulfillment is to praise God and enjoy Him forever. God have mercy on the Micklewhites of the world. They will never find peace following the intention of their own base hearts and the prodding of the devil's evil strategies. All this to say that no matter how cute little boys can look in tangerine skirts, we do well to remember that the words of Deuteronomy 22:5 are not cute, are not to be dismissed lightly. A person detestable to God lives in darkness and the Micklewhites of the world are heading for eternal darkness....

Culture Clashes, News

ESPN.com Embraces Nudity

Sports Illustrated has been featuring near nudity in their swimsuit edition for years now. Pictures from that annual issue were also featured prominently on their website, so if a fellow wanted to follow the happenings of his favorite team, but didn’t want to see barely clad women, then he’d best idea head to rival sports website, ESPN.com. But no longer. On July 5 the front page ofESPN.com featured a nude picture of Mixed Martial Arts fighter Conor McGregor. The picture was from The ESPN Magazine “Body Issue” in which prominent athletes pose nude. ESPN started the Body Issue in 2009 as competition to the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue, but until this year the nudity wasn’t front and center on the website. Conor McGregor’s exposure was a departure and the website’s Public Editor, Jim Brady, heard from annoyed and disgusted readers. So is ESPN.com going to listen and stick to reporting on sports? Nope. Brady noted that while he had heard a lot of complaints, they seemed to be exclusively from people over 40. And when he polled friends and co-workers he found that no one he knew under 30 thought the pictures were offensive. SoESPN is going to show flesh. And if you’re offended, they’re sorry you’re such a prude. So what’s a sport fan to do when the continent’s two most prominent sports websites are selling sex? Well, there are still other options. In Canada there’s TSN.com, which, while it has ties to ESPN (ESPN has a minority stake), doesn’t have links to the Body Issue on their website. But nudity isn’t the only problem. With the NBA moving their 2017 All-Star Game from North Carolina because the state didn’t want men in women’s washrooms, and the NHL embracing homosexuality with promotions like “pride tape,” and the NFL putting on half time shows that we don’t want our children to see, it’s clear that professional sports are, overall, embracing evil. I love my NBA. But if this league, and the NHL, and the NFL and so many others, and the media that reports on them, are all intent on shaking their fist at God,is it time to tune out? And if not now, when?...

Culture Clashes

There is a Hell. Jesus Says So.

Some theologians, included big names like Rob Bell and John Stott, don’t believe in hell, or at least that it is eternal. Instead Stott suggested that lost souls might be annihilated and seize to exist. However, as Thor Ramsey notes in his bookThe Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, this doctrine does serious damage to our understanding of God’s holiness and justice. And what then are we to make of what Jesus says in Matt. 26:24: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born”? “Jesus is saying for Judas, non-existence – having never existed at all – would be better than something else….Jesus is clearly saying Judas is on his way to hell. But from the perspective of annihilationism the question becomes: Is non-existence better for someone than an eternity of non-existence? Huh? “If annihilationism is true, then what Jesus said here about Judas is pretty much nonsense….Jesus was basically just babbling. And he didn’t do that.” Hell does exist; Jesus says so. And the world needs to be told to turn from their sin and flee God’s coming wrath....

Assorted, Culture Clashes

Did Adam have a belly button?

Why we need to clarify Article 14 of the Belgic Confession In the fourth century a big battle was fought over a one-letter difference. The Church professed that Christ was homoousios – “of the same substance” – as God the Father, while the Arians argued that Christ was homoiousios, or merely “of a similar substance.” The two Greek terms used differed by only a single iota (the Greek “i”) but what was at stake couldn’t have been bigger: the Arians said Christ was like God but was actually a creature. Today we’re contending with an issue that seems quiet small: our battle is over a belly button. On the side are those that profess Adam had no belly button, because he had no mother and because he was never born. As the Belgic Confession Article 14 puts it, ...God created man of the dust from the ground… On the other side or those who say Adam may well have had a belly button and a mom, and ancestors, and may have shared one of those ancestors with the chimpanzees. So this belly button battle quickly shows itself to be about matters much more important. It comes down to whether Adam brought death into the world through the Fall into sin, or whether God used death – millions of years of creatures evolving up from the primordial slime – to bring about Adam. The issue here is every bit as big as Christ’s nature: it’s about the character of God. That’s why Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church has proposed amending Article 14 of the Belgic Confession to clarify that Adam has no ancestors. They propose that the Article begin with these two new lines: We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).  They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans.  There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid. Their addition would add about 40 words to the confession, and remove any doubt as to what should be believed. But is the change needed? Is there really anyone in our church circles that’s confused about Adam’s origins? Yes, and yes. Not only is there confusion in our churches, this same confusion exists in other Reformed churches including the OPC. Canadian Reformed confusion One prominent member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Jitse Van Der Meer, was asked how he could square man and chimpanzees having a common ancestor with what we confess in the beginning of Belgic Confession Article 14 about man being made from the dust. Prof. Van Der Meer answered: I am not sure why you think there is something to square between Article 14 and the idea of a common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans, but let me make a guess. Some have taken Gen. 2:7 to mean that God acted like a potter. If you take that literally you might see a contradiction with the idea that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor. But other biblical scholars reject the literal “potter” interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay? My conclusion is that the text neither justifies nor excludes the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor for the obvious reason that it is not a scientific text. Prof. Van Der Meer manages to take both Genesis 2 and Belgic Confession Article 14 and read them in such a way as to allow for the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had common ancestors. According to this perspective, Adam may have been crafted from the dust, but may still have had a belly button, a mom and dad, grandparents, and much, much more. Confusion in the Christian Reformed churches The Christian Reformed churches also hold to the Belgic Confession. But it hasn’t served as a sufficient safeguard against evolutionary inroads. Almost 25 years ago, in the CRC’s 1991 Statement on Origins they wrote in “Declaration F”: The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of Scriptures and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as image bearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race. That sounds good, right? But this was part of a minority report. The majority had recommended that there be no statements made about human evolution because, “much research remained to be done in that area.” So the majority of the committee, even back in 1991, didn’t want to go as far as to rule out ancestors for Adam. Synod did adopt Declaration F, but attached two notes which rendered the Declaration meaningless. Note 1: Of course, private research, theorizing, and discussions are not addressed by this declaration Note 2: Declaration F is not intended and may not be used to limit further investigation and discussion on the origin of humanity. In other words, even as the 1991 Synod of the CRC took a stand against Adam having ancestors, they specifically allowed for their academics to talk about Adam having ancestors. What the right hand giveth the left taketh away! In 2014, the CRC did away with Declaration F altogether. They still hold to Belgic Confession Article 14, but that is not being understood as an impediment to speculation about Adam having ancestors. Confusion in the OPC Closer to home, confusion about Adam’s origin also exists in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Our sister church was running into trouble way back in 1992 in a case that involved a Calvin College biology professor by the name of Terry Gray. Dr. William VanDoodewaard gives an account of Gray’s case in his book The Quest for the historical Adam: Terry Gray…proposed that both the increasingly accepted hermeneutical alternatives to the literal tradition and what he viewed as the realities of the record of natural history should allow for the possibility that Adam and Eve were created through a process involving primate ancestors. How did Gray address Genesis 2:7, where we are told “…the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground…”? Disagreeing with John Murray’s literal reading…Gray argued that the “dust of the ground” was “a non-technical term” that simply referred to “the physical-chemical constituency of the human body” and that the verse did not address the process by which God formed man. When complaints were first made about Gray’s stance, his session (the OPC term for consistory) “held that the charges were unwarranted.” Fortunately his Presbytery (similar to our Classis) ruled against Gray, and the 1994 OPC General Assembly also ruled against Gray. So the OPC stood strong, right? Not so fast. Gray was suspended from his office as a ruling elder, but as he explained in a blogpost titled “Being an Evolutionary Creationist in a Confessionally Reformed Church” he was restored in 1998 after he admitted “…I did not know how to hold my views about human evolution together with the uniqueness of Adam as taught in the Confessions and in Scripture.” Gray found that what Scripture taught conflicted with his views about evolution. But that did not lead him to reject evolution. Instead he simply stopped trying to revolve the conflict, continuing to hold to evolution, but no longer suggesting as to how it could be fit in with Scripture. That the OPC thought this an acceptable resolution to the issue underscores the need for clarity. If something is found to conflict with Scripture then it needs to be rejected, not sequestered! That’s what it means to live by God’s Word. Gray eventually left the OPC, joined the CRC, and worked with others there to get Declaration F rescinded. Conclusion In the fourth century you can be sure that many wondered what all the fuss was being made over. Just one letter! But the fight was about the very identity of Christ – Who He is – so it wasn’t possible to compromise. The same has to be true today. Some want to position this as only a minor matter. Maybe Adam had ancestors; maybe he didn’t. Can’t we all just get along? But the issue of Adam’s origins impacts every aspect of what we know about God. If Adam had evolutionary origins then he came about through a process of death, disease, and dead ends. Then, rather than Adam bringing death into the world via the Fall, it was death that brought about Adam. If God created using the tooth-and-claw, survival-of-the-fittest, process of evolution which He then called “good” and “very good” that completely changes our understanding of what good is. It changes how we understand our good God. What’s at stake here is our understanding of God’s. So no, we can’t all just get along. We need to help the confused and stop those who are causing the confusion. One very good way to do so would be to adopt Providence’s proposal to revise Belgic Confession Article 14. This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective....