Monthly Archives: May 2012

Violent Men, Working Women, and Evangelical Gender Norms

My friend Paul Matzko is a doctoral candidate at Penn State studying the intersection of religion and politics in modern America under Philip Jenkins. Paul agreed to do a guest post, writing an immensely helpful article arguing that evangelicals often get their conception of gender roles from cultural norms rather than Scriptural principles. I’m really grateful he’s allowed me to post it here. It’s well-worth your reading.

Lately, the conservative evangelical blogosphere has been abuzz about gender. The underlying question that is being debated is whether or not contemporary evangelicals are allowing culture or Scripture to shape their gender norms. “Gender norms” is the label we give to a group’s understanding of how men and women ought to behave. Every society or sub-culture has a set of gender norms, even if those norms are informally expressed or not openly discussed. Of course, gender norms vary greatly from society to society—from American soccer moms to Maasai mothers—and their ideal forms change over time—from John Wayne to Leonardo DiCaprio. These are just a handful of the thousands upon thousands of variations in gender norms that exist in the modern world.

For the evangelical Christian, a series of logical questions follow: If there are so many different expectations of gender, which is right? Does the Bible mandate a particular kind of manhood and womanhood? Should Christians imitate broader cultural standards of masculinity and femininity? Do my gender norms conform to Scripture?

My purpose in writing this essay is to caution our small conservative evangelical subculture from answering those questions too hastily. It is tempting to fit Scripture to our ideas rather than the other way around. All too often, we try to legitimize our beliefs by ignoring contradictory opinions and rationalizing away inconvenient evidence. As harmful as that tendency is in politics, education, and family life, it is devastating when it shapes our interpretation of the Bible. Moses’s warning that the children of Israel should not add to or subtract from the law (Deut. 4:2) condemned them for allowing anti-Biblical cultural biases to inform their behavior. The blending of Yahweh-worship and Baal-worship was relatively easy to spot in an age in which physical idols denoted divine allegiance.

Our modern day version of adding to Scripture is subtler but just as dangerous. We read back into Scripture (eisegesis) our contemporary cultural biases, informed by a mishmash of questionable tradition, faulty memory, and secular assumptions. When we do so, we allow cultural practices to accrete onto the gospel like battery acid building up around the terminals in your car. Eventually, the accretion becomes so dense that the terminal is completely covered by corruption and the battery can no longer power the engine. When we add to the gospel, we impede its progress in hearts and in society by placing additional burdens on people’s sanctification beyond what the gospel demands. That treads dangerously close to the path of the Pharisees who so swaddled the law in additional rules and regulations that the more important matters of the law—promoting justice, mercy, and faithfulness—were neglected! The Pharisees’ intentions may originally have been honorable, a desire to avoid violating God’s law in even the slightest way, but their good intentions paved the way to heresy and hypocrisy (Matthew 23).

This is not an exhaustive list, but I would like to enumerate two areas of particular danger for modern evangelicals.

We idealize middle class Victorian domesticity. Victorian domesticity promoted a “two spheres” conception of gender in the late-nineteenth century. Society was divided into public and domestic spheres. Men worked, socialized, and politicked in the public sphere, a zone where they might be forced to interact with unsavory people and dangerous ideas. Women—whom Victorians assumed had a more delicate and virtuous nature—were relegated to the domestic sphere where they could avoid besmirching their virtue. This Victorian gender ideal was restricted to the middle and upper classes because these domesticated women did not need to work for pay. Lower class women did. Thus, middle and upper class reformers questioned their virtue, honesty, and basic maternal compassion for their families.

So how does this middle class Victorian domesticity filter down to us today? Modern evangelicals—who are disproportionately middle class suburbanites—continue to idealize the role and virtues of the housewife. Although we accept that many wives will have to work outside the home at some point during their lives, whether to help pay their husband’s way through school or to save for a down payment on their first home, we idealize women who work solely at home. The ideal evangelical wife—often spotted playing the piano at church before her husband preaches—is one who prioritizes the home over paid work. For women, the family should come first. That means only working when absolutely necessary and quickly moving back into the domestic sphere when it is not. The home is the proper realm for women leaving men to engage in the public responsibilities of work, politics, and commerce. Men should provide income while women provide a comfortable and nurturing home.

Perhaps while reading the previous paragraph you thought, “Why is this a problem?” If so, compare the gender norm I have just described with that of Proverbs 31 in which Solomon gives us his picture of the ideal woman. Several of the behaviors and virtues of this ideal woman clash with the Victorian domestic ideal.

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

The Proverbs 31 woman manufactures goods, trades those goods at market, makes capital investments in land, oversees the planting of a vineyard, keeps track of her profit margins, works late into the night providing for the family, and is known for her public charity. All of these actions win her public acclaim from the governing authorities. Today, we rightly quote Proverbs 31 to honor our wives and mothers, yet our subculture discourages many of the behaviors described in this passage! Solomon makes no division between public and domestic spheres for the Proverbs 31 woman. She provides family income, works outside the home, and is a smart businesswoman (and a bit of a workaholic). She is not a housewife in the Victorian meaning of that word.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How do these Victorian separate spheres percolate down into our churches? One example that comes to mind is our tendency to design women’s ministries around the needs and interests of housewives rather than those of careerwomen, perhaps by holding women’s bible studies during the day on weekdays when housewives are able to attend but women with full time jobs are not. Also, I have noticed that women who are unable to attend a church function because of work obligations like a conference or training seminar receive less sympathy than those who are unable to attend a church function because a child is sick. (I have observed no such distinction for men.)

These are just two manifestations of the two-sphere gender norm, but you can probably think of many others. I do not critique the Victorian two spheres gender norm in order to denigrate housewives, who honorably provide for their families, but I do want us to ask ourselves whether the contemporary feminine domestic ideal is being shaped by modern culture rather than by Biblical precept.

We too readily incorporate secular ideas of masculinity and femininity into contemporary evangelicalism. In my introduction, I briefly mentioned that ideal of mid-twentieth century manhood, John Wayne. Tall, commanding, and taciturn, Wayne’s manly cowboy shot first and asked questions later. For Wayne, emotions other than anger were for sissies. The same was true for Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name.”

While writing these thoughts, my mind immediately jumped to Mark Driscoll’s identification of Mixed Martial Arts as an expression of masculinity. Mixed Martial Arts may well be a Biblically-defensible activity, but what I want to draw your attention to is Driscoll’s casual equation of masculinity and violence: “I don’t think there is anything purer than two guys in a cage, no balls, no sticks, no bats, no help, no team, and just see which man is better.” Driscoll’s Biblical justification is slim: “Men are made for combat, men are made for conflict and dominion.” Men are made for combat? Somewhere up in heaven, Jael—praised as the “most blessed of women” for driving a nail through an enemy’s skull (Judges 5:24-27)—is laughing.

Driscoll’s idea of aggressive, violent manhood stands in stark contrast to the manly virtues listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-24. Paul exhorted his “brothers and sisters” in Galatia to walk in the spirit and be filled with “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” rather than the fruits of the flesh, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-24). Neither the fruits of the Spirit nor the fruits of the flesh are gendered. Yet in many churches, we have feminized the fruits of the spirit. We expect women to be kind, gentle, and self-controlled while giving men greater license in those areas.

To return to the original debate between bloggers, Douglas Wilson has argued forcefully that manly worship was worship with martial themes. Wilson posed a series of answers to the titular question “Your Worship Might Be Effeminate If…”, including the following gems:

Your music and sermons almost never contain references to judgment, wrath, battles, enemies, Hell, the devil, or apostasy.

Your music minister is more concerned that the choir trills their r’s correctly than that they fill the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle.

The worship team gravitates toward “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs, and their facial expressions while up front are those of guys in the backseats of their cars, having just gotten to second base with their actual girlfriends;

The minister wears a robe, but the effect is not that of being robed for battle. If that same minister were to wear a kilt, everybody would think it was a skirt from a nearby all-girls private school. But, contrariwise, if the minister were able to wear a kilt in such a way as to terrify sinners with the imagined sound of skirling bagpipes, and the sounds of a small version of Armageddon across the misty moors, and the sermon text were a claymore whistling over their heads, then that kind of man could think about a robe if he wanted.

Notice how Wilson uses words of battle and violence to describe his masculine worship ideal. Those men who do not delight in battle are wussy emoters. To repeat, violence and aggression are manly, intimacy and emotions other than wrath are feminine. Of course, the God of the Bible delights to do battle against his enemies; He is a warrior indeed (Isaiah 42:13)! Yes, Christ will return on a white horse with fiery eyes and a sharp sword (Revelation 19), but he also suffered the little children to come unto him (Matthew 19:14). Nor was Christ afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve; he was a man of sorrows, much acquainted with our griefs. He wept with Lazarus’s friends (John 11:32-36) and sorrowed over those in Jerusalem who would soon crucify him (Luke 19:41-42). Masculinity can be martial, but it can also be tender, emotional, and intimate. Our ideas of manhood should reflect Christ’s robust masculinity, not be reduced to a militant caricature more informed by spaghetti Westerns than by Scripture.

So what is our takeaway from these examples of evangelicals reading culturally-informed gender norms back into Scripture? First, we are fighting the wrong battles. A large segment of conservative evangelicalism has decided to die on the hill of traditional, Biblical masculinity when that hill is neither all that traditional nor necessarily Biblical. Rather than fighting to keep our wives at home, we ought to be showing how the gospel applies to women in the workplace and to men at home. We do not make much of the gospel by shifting the focus of our preaching and teaching to the defense of questionable gender norms. Second, we need to denounce evangelicals who stray into unbiblical rhetoric and behavior because of their elevation of contemporary gender norms to the level of Scripture. Unfortunately, evangelicals were not the loudest voices condemning the recent words of Baptist Pastor Sean Harris. Third, if we want to understand which of our contemporary gender norms are the products of broader cultural influences, then we desperately need evangelical gender historians. As it is, we typically cede gender history to those who are the least sympathetic to evangelicalism. Similarly, we need to send vastly more conservative evangelical women to seminary, training them as professional theologians rather than shunting them off into “Women’s Ministries” degrees. Fourth, let us avoid turning the complementarian position into a kind of “complementarianism+,” which defends culturally-constructed gender norms as vehemently as it does the gospel itself. Male ecclesiastical authority can stand on Scripture alone.

Identifying and Defeating Pride

In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges identified four different types of prides and gives some wise counsel in identifying and defeating pride.

(1) Moral self-righteousness

—Moral self-righteousness expresses itself in feeling a moral superiority with respect to other people (Luke 18:9-14). How can we guard against this?

(a) By seeking an attitude of humility based on the truth that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

b) —By identifying ourselves before God with the sinful society we live in (Ezra 7:10; 9:6).

(2) Pride of Correct Doctrine

Doctrinal pride is the assumption that whatever my doctrinal beliefs are, they are correct, and anyone who holds another belief is theologically inferior.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.” ~1 Corinthians 8:1

We must develop doctrinal convictions that are wrapped in humility and that recognize our own limitations.

(3) Pride of Achievement

The Scriptures teach that there is generally a cause-and-effect relationship between hard work and success in any endeavor (Prov. 13:4; 2 Tim. 2:15).

—However, the Scriptures also teach that success in any endeavor is under the sovereign control of God (1 Samuel 2:7; Psalm 75:6-7; Haggai 1:5-6).

Another aspect of the pride of achievement is the inordinate desire for recognition.

Two principles from Scripture help us guard against this:

—First we must remember the words of Jesus in Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

—Second, we should learn that all recognition, regardless of its immediate source, ultimately comes from God (Psalm 75:6-7).

(4) An Independent Spirit

—This pride of an independent spirit expresses itself in two main ways:
(a) A resistance to authority (Heb. 13:17)

(b) An unteachable spirit (Prov. 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1, 7:1)

Defeating Pride

(1) —Remember Christ, the ultimate example of humility (Phil. 2:1-11).

(2) Ask God to bring to mind ways that you are proud and confess them as sin.

3) —Remember God’s promise in Isaiah 66:2, “This is the one to whom I will look: he is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Prayerlessness Is Spiritual Suicide

I had the opportunity to speak Saturday at a men’s conference on the topic of prayer. I suggested to the men that for many of us our primary need in this area was probably not the need to mature in our prayer life, but simply to pray. Prayerlessness pervades the church. We are too busy to pray. We are too tired to pray. We are too lazy to pray. Worldliness, like an anesthetic, has dulled our spiritual senses. Yet Paul tells us in Colossians 4:2-4 that we must “devote” ourselves to pray and be “watchful” in it. Like a sentry who keenly and alertly watches because lives hang in the balance, so we pray aware that heaven and hell hang in the balance.

Prayerlessness is no small thing. It is spiritual suicide.  Prayer is the very life and breath of a Christian, so that if prayerlessness marks our lives, it should cause us to examine our hearts for faith. Listen to the words of our spiritual forefathers:

Martin Luther

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

John Calvin

“If prayer is of no account to us, that is a sure sign that we are unbelievers, however much we claim to believe the gospel.”

C.H. Spurgeon

“You are no Christian if you do not pray. A prayerless soul is a Christless soul. You have no inheritance among the people of God if you have never struggled with that Covenant Angel and come off the conqueror. Prayer is the indispensable mark of the true child of God.”

J.C. Ryle

“What is the reason that some believers are so much brighter and holier than others? I believe the difference, in nineteen cases out of twenty, arises from different habits about private prayer. I believe that those who are not eminently holy pray little, and those who are eminently holy pray much.”

For the Christian prayer is like breathing–we need it to survive. So by God’s grace let us devote ourselves to prayer this week.

He Meant What He Said

1 Corinthians 2:9-But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

C.S. Lewis gives this illustration:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

If we let Him…He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.

When a person is given new life in Christ, he cannot begin to fathom the depth and breadth of the changes that are in store for him. Christian transformation is entire and complete–every part of us is being changed. One day that growth will find its final consummation and “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

So even though your growth may seem to be moving slowly and you are not changed as much as you would like, remember, “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Heaven Is For Real, But Is The Book?

A church member recently gave me a copy of the book “Heaven Is For Real” and asked if I’d be willing to share my thoughts. The book describes a young boy’s (Colton Burpo) alleged trip to heaven during a near-death experience. After his recovery, he tells his parents all about his trip to heaven, describing things he supposedly didn’t know (the nail prints in Jesus’ hands, meeting his sister who was miscarried, etc). The book was a New York Times bestseller and is part of a larger phenomenon of people having claimed to been to heaven and back (e.g. 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper).

A full review of the book could refer to some of the more unlikely elements of the story (e.g. everyone having wings and a halo and flying), or it could focus on some of the more bizarre elements of the story (e.g. Colton sitting on a small chair next to the Holy Spirit, who is blue) or some of the more puzzling elements of the story (e.g. how did he know his mother had miscarried?). I’ll skip over all these however and just offer a few brief, pastoral thoughts:

(1) The Sufficiency of Scripture

2 Peter 1:3 assures us that through the Word believers are given everything we need that pertains to life and godliness. The author of the book (the boy’s dad) mentions several times that some of the things Colton speaks to are not clear or not mentioned in Scripture. And yet these things “will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering you the chance to see, and believe, like a child.” One wonders why God would leave something of significance out of his inerrant Word which was breathed out by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21), only to later reveal it to Colton.

(2) Paul’s Example

There is one example in Scripture about someone who was caught up to heaven, but interestingly, he was forbidden to say anything about it (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Paul claimed to have heard inexpressible things “that man is not permitted to tell (v.4).” In contrast we learn from Colton that Gabriel sits on the left hand of God, that angels have swords that they use to keep Satan out of heaven, that the angels sing “Jesus Loves Me,” and that while everyone in heaven has wings, Jesus does not.

(3) Source of Faith

Many times throughout the book, Colton’s experience is described as having strengthened people’s faith or given people fresh eyes to see the truth. Some people look to Colton’s experience as a source of confirmation or clarification regarding truth. People want to know if he saw their children there, Catholics wants to know if Mary is there (she is, but bowing to Jesus), etc. And yet a Christian’s sole source of authority must be the Word of God (Sola Scriptura) which did not come from the will or imagination of man (2 Peter 1:20), but from God (1 Thess. 2:13).

One thinks of Luke 16 and Lazarus begging Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers lest they end up in “this place of torment.” Abraham’s response? “They have Moses and the Prophets [Scripture]; let them listen to them…if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:29-31).


Praise God that in contrast to any alleged human experiences, “we have a more sure word of prophecy” (2 Pet. 1:19). Our faith does not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. As the Spirit works through the entirely sufficient Word, we can have hope and confidence regarding eternal realities.

Music in Congregational Worship

In the Spring of 2010 I wrote out a few thoughts to share with our church regarding music in congregational worship. At the time I posted it on our church blog and then simply read the two pages to our congregation. Someone asked me earlier today about getting a copy of the article, so I’ve posted it here for any who may find it helpful.

A Few Thoughts on Music for our Congregation


Yesterday I spent a few minutes discussing with our Newcomers Class why we use the type of music we do in our church. I tried to stress the importance of relying upon Scripture to answer this question. Too often in discussions regarding church music, Scripture is relegated to the back seat, while arguments regarding music theory and the historical roots of musical genres take the seat of honor.

I began by pointing out that when we go to our New Testament for instruction regarding worship in the church we find no passages specifically addressing musical style. This means that any conclusions we draw about musical style must be based on principles. Anytime we are working with principles as opposed to explicit Scriptural statement, we will have differences in application. We must be willing to work through the principles and seek to apply them in a Scripturally faithful manner, while recognizing and allowing for differences in application.

Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-19

The two clearest passages regarding music in congregational worship in the New Testament are Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-19. Paul is addressing churches in these letters and the commands to speak to “one another” and address “one another” in both passages indicate that he is specifically addressing congregational worship. A few observations can be made from the text (the main points are the textual observations, while the sub-points are the applications we are drawing to guide our congregation):

(1) The emphasis is on congregational singing. We are singing to “one another.”

(a) The evident musical emphasis of our worship services will not be on “special music,” but congregational singing.

(b) We should strive to sing music that is accessible to everyone. Any music that demands that you be a classically trained musician or a pop star in order to sing, we will try to avoid.  Further, we will seek to avoid songs with complex rhythms, wide ranges, etc.

(c) The emphasis then, is on the human voice singing. We want to cultivate a kind of simplicity in our singing that emphasizes our voices singing to one another, as opposed to an organ/praise band “blasting grace” from the platform.

(d) We want to sing accessible songs, congregationally.

(2) The result of the singing is that we are taught and admonished.

(a) We must be primarily concerned with the texts of the songs we sing. We want to sing the best songs available to us. We will strive to sing songs that are theologically oriented. We will strive to sings that are in whole or in part, the text of Scripture. We will strive to sing songs that speak of the character of God and the essence of the Gospel in greater proportion than we will sing songs that speak of our own Christian experience.

(b) We will strive to sing songs that are Christ-exalting, Scripturally faithful and Gospel-centered.


When we bring these two observations together, we start to see the goal a bit more clearly. We are looking for singable, accessible, doctrinally-rich, Gospel-centered songs. Historically, this has best been found in hymns. Therefore, the emphasis in our congregational singing is on singing hymns, both ancient and modern. Sometimes we may sing an old hymn of the faith, sometimes we may sing a hymn only recently written (e.g. yesterday morning in our worship service we sang “Come Thou Almighty King” and “O Great God”). In every case however, we are looking for songs that are congregationally accessible and Scripturally faithful.

The best way to describe the style in which we sing these hymns is generally conservative. We have found that this is the best way for us to arrive at unity across generational lines. In a time when church music is often a divisive issue in churches, our desire is to view this issue through the lens of our responsibility “to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

We also must be clear that these are the Scriptural reasons that we choose to use the music we do, in the generally conservative style that we do. We do not base these decisions in music theory, music history, quotes from musicians, or supposed effects of music on the human body. Scripture must drive us in our decisions in this area.

Finally, while this is the application the leadership of our church has settled upon for our assembly, we recognize that among both individuals and other churches there will be differences in application. This is not a problem. We are happy for the individuals in our church to search the Scriptures and through the leading of the Holy Spirit make applications for their families regarding their musical choices. There has historically been a broad spectrum of application on this matter amongst the members of our church and we are happy to maintain this. Paul’s instruction regarding debatable manners was to “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). Nowhere in Scripture is the unity of the church described as being found in monolithic sameness. Unity is found in the Gospel, despite sometimes tremendous diversity in secondary matters. In God’s good providence He has seen fit that in this unity-despite-diversity, His glory is reflected through the church.

Related: “Worship Style: Personal Preferences or Gospel Priorities?”

A Plea For My Fellow Pastors

On Wednesday two significant things happened. One was noticed by all, the other by a few. First, President Obama made history by becoming the first sitting president to claim that he believed homosexual couples should be allowed to get married. Second, he rooted his reasons for believing this in the Christian faith and the teachings of Jesus. The significance of this (very) public announcement, combined with the ongoing, heated debate regarding homosexuality in evangelical circles; virtually demands the attention of pastors. While there is a need for pastoral wisdom in knowing how and when to address this issue in the church, it is almost certain that this coming Sunday homosexuality will be addressed in evangelical pulpits all across the country.

That’s fine. Even good. Probably necessary. Like many other pastors, I plan to speak to the issue this Sunday as well. But I’ve tried to give unusual care to my words, to the extent of manuscripting every word I plan to say. You may not need to write a manuscript, but my hope is that my brother pastors will give particularly careful consideration to their words this Lord’s Day.

It’s no mystery that evangelicals are largely considered homophobic by secular society. In fact, a recent study by the Barna Group that asked 16-29 year olds what word or phrases they felt best described Christianity, found that the number one word was “antihomosexual.”

Now there’s a sense in which this will probably always be the case. Christians who seek to be faithful to the teaching of God’s Word regarding homosexuality will probably continue to be maligned. No matter how whimsical or loving their tone, simply speaking against homosexuality will be enough for many to equate “Christian” with “homophobe.”

But if we’re honest, we have to admit that much of this association is well-deserved. So much of our preaching has lacked nuanced at best, and been spiteful or arrogant at worst. I’ve personally been present in “sermons” where homosexuals were openly mocked by imitating speech patterns, vocal inflections, and physical expressions. I’ve heard preaching that simply railed on homosexuality as a sin, without ever putting it–as a sin– into the context of a broader theology of fallenness, estrangement from God, the cross, forgiveness, and grace through Christ. Much preaching against homosexuality has been moralistic, political, and gospel-less.

And the part that is most heart-breaking is that this crushes people. This sort of preaching is heard by a 15 year old who has just realized his same-sex attraction and whose candle of faith is flickering in the awful wind of fear and dismay.This sort of preaching is heard by a young man with same-sex attraction who is tired of the struggle, the hypocrisy, the loneliness; and wonders if the struggle is even worth it. This sort of preaching is heard by a man with a wife and children who has struggled with same-sex attraction his entire life and as a result of the Spirit’s work is only now finally near seeking pastoral help.

So brothers, by all means preach the Word. Be faithful out of season. Courageously exalt God’s design for marriage as a heterosexual, complementary covenant. Call for repentance from sin. But remember a bruised reed our Savior will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench (Isa. 42:3).

Take care with your words, brothers. You are a shepherd. Remember the weakest of your sheep this Lord’s Day.

When Christians Disagree

In his systematic theology God Is Love, Gerald Bray gives seven suggestions for how we should proceed when dealing with Christians whose beliefs differ from ours:


1. Be persuaded in your own mind that what you do and recommend to others is justified by the teaching of Scripture. People who have doubts about their own beliefs are more likely to be insecure and therefore more defensive and uncharitable in their dealings with others (Rom. 14:5).

2. Never do anything that goes against your conscience, even if others think it is unobjectionable (Rom. 14:23).

3. Do not pass judgment on others or make life difficult for them (Rom. 14:13).

4. Remember that we belong to Christ and that our duty is to please him and not ourselves (Rom. 14:7-9).

5. Keep things in perspective. If something does not touch on the fundamentals of the gospel, do not overemphasize it (Rom. 14:20-22).

6. Try to see the other person’s point of view and to learn from him. None of us is perfect, and we can all benefit from being balanced by our contacts with those who insights and experiences are different from ours (Rom. 14:6-7).

7. Remember that love is the fulfilling of the law; our approach to other Christians must be governed by that spirit (Rom. 13:10).

How Can a Biblical Sermon Be So Boring?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a one day preaching seminar at Five Points Community Church entitled Preaching Christ: The Pastor As Herald of the Gospel. Kevin DeYoung, Stephen Um, and Brent Nelson served us well by lifting up a Christ-centered view of preaching. Kevin DeYoung did two sessions on preaching that were unusually good. If the audio comes available, I’d really encourage any pastors to take some time to listen to them. I took some notes and I’ve copied them below for any who may find them helpful (Note: I took notes on my iPhone, so they probably reflect all the shortcomings that comes with taking notes on a phone).

How Can a Biblical Sermon be so Boring?

Kevin DeYoung

It may be a common experience in churches that it is obvious the preacher loves the Lord and what he’s saying is true, but it’s not relating. It’s not connecting. It’s boring. Lloyd Jones says preachers should not be boring or “heavy.”


(1) The audience is not sovereign.

(2) God works in our weakness.

(3) Our goal is to present the truth, not entertain.

(4) The Spirit must do the work.

And yet, we instinctively recognize that some preaching is more effective than others. And we want to be as effective and fruitful as possible. If our preaching is not effective, it may be that people’s hearts are cold; but it may be that we have passed off mediocrity as a virtue. The very fact that God chose to use preachers to give his truth shows us that God is interested in the personality of the preacher.

How to Avoid Biblical, Boring Preaching

(1) Clarity.

Clarity is king. We want to speak the truth first and foremost, but we want to speak it clearly (2 Cor 4:2). The goal when we preach is to be understood. We don’t want simplistic sermons, but there is a simplicity that comes on the other side of complexity that marks a good teacher. Press through the complexity of study to a discernible, obvious meaning on Sunday morning. In 2 Cor. 14 Paul sets up the principle of maximum intelligibility in worship. We don’t aim for subtlety or artistic expression, but a clear, open statement of the truth. It must also be clearly manifest that what we’re saying is from the text. People must see that it is clearly right there. Are you a laser from the pulpit or a mist? Did I make the light of the truth as bright as possible?

(2) Specificity.

Know who is before you. We tend to preach our issues. The people in front of us are different. We must be pastors who know our people. There is some value in understanding our culture. There is great value in understanding our people. What are you preaching to?

There are four different kinds of people every Sunday:

(a) The weary-they need encouragement

(b) the wandering-they need rebuke

(c) the lazy-they need conviction and exhortation

(d) the lost-they need warning (of a different kind) and help.

If you only preach to one kind of person you will fall in a rut. You will get stereotypical, and people will learn to tune you out. For example, if you grew up legalistic you will tend to think every sermon needs to give all grace and a hug. While some people need that, you will be hugging some people on the way to hell.

Two cautions

(a) Beware of preaching old and largely forgotten battles.

-Not everyone is concerned about the nuanced theological battles raging on blogs or that you learned about in seminary. Your congregation may need a lot of teaching on the emergent church, but they also may not.

(b) Beware of primarily preaching other people’s sins.

-If the sin is always outside the camp, it prohibits people from being self-reflective and breeds self-righteousness. If the problem is always “those liberals out there,” or “those legalists,” or other churches and ministries that are different than you, or “the evils of Hollywood,” then everyone walks away thinking sin is “out there” rather than “in here.”

(3) Authenticity. 

(a) Be yourself. Find your voice. Learn who you are and be ok with it (e.g. If you’re not funny in real life, you won’t be funny in the pulpit. If you’re not intense and dogmatic in real life, it will feel affected for you to be intense and dogmatic in the pulpit).  Some people will be more gifted and that is ok. God uses all of us in different contexts.

(b) Be gripped by the Gospel you’re preaching. People need to see passion. Our sincerity and earnestness matter ten times more than the style of music we use to express our sincerity and earnestness. It must be obvious that this matters to us. If our congregation is dead, is it because there’s a dead man preaching to them? John Murray defined preaching as personal, passionate pleading. We must preach as if nothing is more real, more important, and more glorious than what we will hear on Sunday morning.

(4) Ingenuity.

We must be resourceful and hard-working. Preaching is glorious, but preparation is very hard. With any given text you can explain, apply, illustrate, or defend. Most people won’t remember your points or even your sermon, but they will be fed and they will grow (e.g. How many meals do you remember? And yet you’re fed and you grow). Growth happens slowly and sometimes almost imperceptibly.

(5) Spontaneity.

(a) In planning (vary your approach to the text and sermon)

(b) In preaching (how and when you apply, how you end and bring the sermon to a climax, what you drive home, etc)

(c) In delivery (sermons need to reflect the message of the text but also the mood of the text).

Ill. of the mood of a text: Psalm 23 is encouraging. You shouldn’t preach a sermon on Psalm 23 that says, “God wants to be your shepherd, but some of you out there aren’t letting him! He wants to lead you beside still waters, but you’re resisting him!” It’s encouraging, not challenging.

(6) Authority.

We must have confidence in the need for preaching–both for the church and the world. We must have confidence in the nature of preaching as authoritative proclamation (as opposed to conversation or dialogue). Do you trust in the Word of God to do the work of God? The power of the Word in people’s lives is explosive.