Controversy Among Christians

controversy
by Sean Perron

I’m finally reading through the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This book is a response to “evangelical feminism” and it is now in its third edition. It is one of those books that I bought years ago. You know, one of those books that you mentally reference, look at on the shelf, admire, want to read… but alas.

I have been convinced for many years with the basic premise and thesis of the book, but now am greatly benefitting from reading through it. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the book is how the authors handle controversy among Christians.

There is no doubt that feminism, headship, submission, etc. are hot topics. Yet these scholars are winsome, kind, and convictional. Below is a section from the concluding chapter that I resonate with regarding how to think about unity vs. controversy. Perhaps you will also find it helpful when it comes to processing controversial issues among believers.

“Yet one of the groanings of this fallen age is controversy, and most painful of all, controversy with brothers and sisters in Christ. We resonate with the Apostle Paul – our joy would be full if we could all be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2:2).

But for all his love of harmony and unity and peace, it is remarkable how many of Paul’s letters were written to correct fellow Christians.… The assumption of the entire New Testament is that we should strive for peace by striving to come to agreement in the truth. Peace and unity in the body of Christ are exceedingly precious… “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17). But it is first pure. Peace is not a first thing. It is derivative. It comes from hearty agreement in truth….

For the sake of unity and peace, therefore, Paul labors to set the churches straight on numerous issues – including quite a few that do not in themselves involve heresy. He does not exclude controversy from his pastoral writing. And he does not limit his engagement in controversy to first-order doctrines, where heresy threatens. He is like a parent to his churches. Parents do not correct and discipline their children only for felonies. They long for their children to grow up into all the kindness and courtesy of mature adulthood. And since the fabric of truth is seamless, Paul knows that letting minor strands go on unraveling can eventually rend the whole garment….

The point is this: We do not love controversy; we love peace. We love our brothers and sisters who belong to Christians for Biblical Equality. We long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But we are bound by our conscience and by the Word of God, for this very cause, to try to persuade the church that the vision of manhood and womanhood presented in this book is true and beautiful. It is a precious gift of God to the church and to the world.” (404-406, second edition)

 

My “Journal Books”: A Reading List

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Some books on my shelf function like journals.  I can remember who recommended it, where I read certain sections of it, and how it changed specific aspects of my life.  The best books I have read are books that read me.  They inform my thoughts, change my feelings, and adjust my actions.  God has used many authors and many books in my life, but these are the ones that have had the “journal-effect” from middle-school onward.  

Middle School

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis.  I believe I was in 8th grade when I read this book for the first time, and reread every year I was in high school.  This was the book God used to help me begin to “own” my faith, and grow in my confidence that the Christian faith isn’t just good, but also true – which is what makes it the most beautiful news any person can hear.  This book also is what inspired me to begin writing.  Lewis’ clarity, beauty, and depth are remarkable and inspired me to want to give my life to sharing this faith that Lewis communicated so beautifully.  

High School

Don’t Waste Your Life – John Piper.  This book had an explosive impact on my life my freshman year of high school.  Piper gave me an all-encompassing vision of the Christian life and an all-satisfying vision of Jesus Christ that changed me forever.  Like many, his chapter “Boasting Only In the Cross” wrecked me in the best way – I can still quote sentences from it.

Jesus Among Other Gods – Ravi Zacharias.  I was first introduced to Ravi Zacharias through his preaching ministry, and was deeply struck by his ability to communicate the truth of Christ with conviction and compassion.  He knew when to be sharp, and knew when to be gentle.  This book contained that same flavor that first attracted me to him, and informed the way I did evangelism in my relationships.

The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis.  This is a strange book, which is what made it so memorable and compelling for me.  It opened my eyes to the reality that spiritual warfare is not primarily a reality of hobgoblins and goosebumps, but rather a war for our thoughts, desires, and loyalties that happen when we gossip with friends, indulge in anger, and immerse ourselves in worldliness.  This book will make you vigilant over your soul and sensitive to the serpents schemes.  

College

Future Grace – John Piper.  When I was in college, I almost walked away from the Christian faith as a result of severe depression and doubt.  God used this book to anchor me to his Word, refine me, and give me a deeper trust in his promises.  This book changed and shaped the way I view the process of sanctification in the Christian life, and daily influences the way I fight sin and strive for holiness.  

Total Truth – Nancy Pearcey.  If I am asked what is the best book on apologetics, I say this book instantly.  Pearcey argues for the Christian worldview as a comprehensive one that gives reasonable and compelling answers to all the objections the world brings its way.  She demonstrates a confidence in God’s Word that I want to mark my ministry and life.  

The Things of Earth – Joe Rigney.  Ever since I read Don’t Waste Your Life, I struggled to find the balance of living a radical life for Christ and resisting worldliness, while still enjoying things like ice cream, laughing with friends, and going on vacation.  Joe Rigney calls them “the things of earth”  This book expanded my view of what it means to live faithfully toward God while also enjoying his gifts.  If you read Don’t Waste Your Life, read this book right after it.  

Do More Better – Tim Challies.  I love thinking about and practicing the best productivity methods.  I read Matt Perman’s “What’s Best Next?” and loved it, but found it difficult to recommend to busy Mom’s, men with full-time jobs, and even college students.  Challies’ “Do More Better” explains basic productivity methods from a God-centered lens – and he does it in under 100 pages!  I’d recommend this to any student beginning college or to a man at the beginning of marriage.  

This Summer

The Reason for God – Tim Keller.  I have been hearing about this book for years, and finally picked up an old copy and am reading a few pages before bed every night.  I’m about halfway through and have found this book compelling, creative, and winsome.  Keller is clear and profound and, in my opinion, very convincing.  I would give this book to any skeptic I know to begin conversations about spiritual things.  Keller speaks the language of our culture.

A Pastor’s Sketches – Icabod Spencer.  I’m finding that this book has not been widely read by many pastor’s today, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Icabod Spencer was a pastor in Brooklyn in the 1800s and has recorded two volumes of his conversations with people inquiring about the Christian faith.  Spencer’s sensitivity to people, commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, and pastoral concern for others is imitable.  

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965.  I’m almost finished listening to the second volume of William Manchester’s magisterial portrait of Churchill.  All the leaders I respect have been influenced in some way by Churchill.  Obviously, Churchill is a very flawed man, but his influence in WWII and his vision, foresight, and courage in the face of evil is remarkable and inspiring.


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

Two New Books: Letters to a Romantic

Dear Readers,

We have some exciting news.

We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.  

The books are called Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement.

The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:

  • Marriage vs. Singleness
  • First Date
  • Should We Be in a Relationship?
  • Do We Have a Bad Relationship?  
  • What if I am not a Virgin?
  • Should I Guard My Heart?

The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:

  • The Length of Engagement
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Loving Your New Parents
  • Should We Elope?
  • Handling Conflict
  • On Birth Control

The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice.  Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.

Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world.  We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.  

We are not relational gurus.  Quite the opposite.  We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost.  We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives.  We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.

In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriage that discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.

As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.

 

Until then,

Sean and Spencer

 

Explore The Garden: Kindling Affection While Dating

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Dating is a complicated dance.  Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.    

For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions.  First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other.  You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care.  You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy.  In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically:  You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy.  You have a body.  You were made for this.  

Enter the second (and opposite) tug.  

Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth.  Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).  Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.  

Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires.  To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms.  “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there”  Although these specific prohibitions are important , they are not the full story.  

Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward?  How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?

Transform How You Think About Boundaries

The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries.  Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden?  Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5).  The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them.  This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.  

How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart?  Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life?  But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship?  Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy?  This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.

The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship.  When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured.  Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”  

To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult.  However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children.  This starts in your heart.  Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries.  You’re storing up pleasure for later.  Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile.  Transform your thinking.

Patterns Become Permanent

Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse.  So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed.  So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden.  The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.

Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship.  When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life:  Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions.  These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship.  Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories.  Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.

Trust The Divine Sequence

In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy.  The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight.  They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4).  The poem is composed of all these elements.  This is the divine sequence.

It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies.  The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures.  And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.   

Deep Roots

In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots.  If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage.  So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree.  Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in.  Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

No Divorce: Sing the Melody

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

There has never been a better time to strengthen your view on marriage. The culture around us is in a continual state of flux on the issue, but the church has to get this one right. We have to hit the nail on the head and pin God’s picture up on the walls of our house. Christ is coming back and we want him to see our marriages as a beautiful mosaic reflecting his gospel.

All of that to ask, what is your view of divorce and remarriage? You must have a biblically informed view or else you will default to someone else’s viewpoint – or you will simply go with what feels right in the moment. We must be tethered to truth or else we will have nothing to hold onto when the gravity gives out under us.

Three Views and Four Gospels

There are many conversations and debates that have been taking place among Christians when it comes to divorce and remarriage. I realize I am flying into this conversation like a NASA shuttle in a meteor shower. I am picking up the conversation mid-flight, but I hope the discussion is helpful in some way.

The three main evangelical positions on divorce and remarriage are the Erasmian, Patristic, and Permanence views.

The Erasmian view allows divorce for adultery and abandonment. It allows remarriage for the innocent party and many Erasmians will allow remarriage for the guilty party as long as they repent of their sin.

The Patristic view allows divorce for adultery and desertion but does not permit remarriage unless the death of a spouse occurs.

The leading Permanence position does not permit divorce and interprets the exception clause (Matthew 19:9) as referring to fornication during the betrothal period. Remarriage is not permitted in the permanence position unless the spouse is deceased.

All of the fuss centers on the exception clause in the gospel of Matthew. It is the star in which all the conversations orbit. If you are not familiar with this universe, I recommend checking out this article here before you leave the launch pad. If you are already geared up in your suit and ready for another space walk, here is one issue for you to consider. I am convinced that the permanence position best reads the gospels horizontally and vertically.

Ladders come before Roofs

Biblical interpreters should seek to harmonize the gospel accounts. The permanence position argues that there is only one exception for divorce in the gospel accounts and this is found in Matthew 19:9 for the cause of πορνείᾳ “porneia”. The permanence position is not opposed to harmonizing the gospel accounts. Rather, the permanence position seeks to harmonize the gospel narrative while also maintaining their individual integrity. The Gospels should be read both horizontally and vertically.

To say it another way, we should climb the ladder before we walk across the roof. We should seek to understand why one of the Gospel authors selected their words – this is a vertical reading of the text. It is widely accepted that Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience while Mark wrote for Gentile audience. Naturally, you would expect these books to be different in style and construction. Mark includes words and experiences that Matthew does not and vice versa.

Reading vertically means reading a writer individually and reading horizontally involves seeking to put the entire story together. To get an accurate picture of the whole, the individual pieces of the puzzle must be examined first.

While harmonization is an important study tool, there is a danger of obscuring the original meaning of an individual text and actually missing the correct interpretation. “Although it is certainly useful to engage in horizontal, comparative Gospel reading, this approach should not be preferred over vertical reading.” (Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely, 149)

Should readers of the Gospels automatically conclude that Mark and Luke intended for their readers to assume an exception clause? The permanence position disagrees with both the Erasmian and Patristic perspective at the point of believing that Mark and Luke assumed their readers would expect an exception clause.

The Erasmian position is not unreasonable in desiring to harmonize the Gospel narratives. A good example of harmonization can be found when comparing the story of Jonah in Matthew and Mark’s gospel. Mark, in typical fashion, gives a more condensed account of the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Mark 8:11-12)

Matthew’s account of this passage is similar, but adds an exception to Jesus’ absolute statement. But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (Mat 12:39 ESV) It is a correct interpretation to believe that Mark shortened the account and assumed an exception in Jesus’ statements.

Yet this example is not a one-to-one comparison with the divorce and remarriage issue. Matthew is not the only narrative giving an exception to Mark’s shorter account in this instance. Luke also records the exception that Jesus mentions regarding a sign to the Pharisees. (Luke 11:29 ESV)

If someone is reading the story of the sign of Jonah vertically before horizontally, they should conclude that Mark is condensing the narrative due to his typical writing style of giving an “immediate” message. When it comes to the issue of divorce and remarriage, it is only Matthew who includes the exception clause whereas both Luke and Mark do not include it.

Hasty Harmonization Harms the Melody

There is nothing in the texts in Mark and Luke that indicate those Gospel authors held to an exception for marriage. The Erasmian position must harmonize something into the text that Mark and Luke did not communicate. In order for the Erasmian position to be persuasive, it requires tangible evidence that Mark and Luke assumed the exception clause would have been common knowledge to their readers. I know we all love a good tune, but let’s not be so hasty in our harmonization – we might mess up the melody.

The permanence position of marriage offers the best horizontal and vertical reading of the gospels. It seeks to understand first who Matthew was writing to and why he would include an exception clause. Given that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, it is understandable that he would be concerned about the issue of righteousness in the Law and the issue of betrothal. It is significant that Matthew is the only Gospel writer who mentions the righteous intention of Joseph to divorce Mary for porneia. If Matthew had not included the exception clause, the readers would have been confused as to how Matthew could have described Joseph as righteous when Jesus prohibited all divorce.

This is one of several reasons why I take exception to the typical view of the “exception clause” and believe the Bible does not permit divorce. We will discuss more in future blog posts, but I hope after this space walk you are at least saying, “Erasmian, we have a problem.” I hope you will continue to explore this issue further and boldly go where you have not gone before.

Old Paths to the New You

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

For many twenty-somethings, we live in the awkward space between college kid and adult.  We journey through college, a manifold experience of uncertainty and discovery, and slowly wake up to the world.  For some, this is  devastating – realizing that their ambitions won’t pay their bills.  For others, this is invigorating – discovering gifts and abilities they never knew they had.  These are the extremes of the pendulum, and many of us find ourselves in the gap inside the gamut.

There is, however, a common discovery for many of us on the dawn of adulthood. We realize that they were right.  

Those ever-present voices of reason throughout your formative years when you thought you knew everything.  And even for those whose parents were absent, or who might as well have been, most of us have a they group. And we realize they were not so unacquainted with “how things really work” in the world.  Whether we like it or not, many of us see our reality beginning to align with those parents, mentors, or that older lady that had you over for lunch every Sunday.

Growing older has a humbling effect.  This comes when new responsibilities and those old voices of reason combine in an important moment of clarity and surrender.  We make the startling realization: I need help.

As we navigate through the new roads of adulthood, we need the voices of older saints to guide us.

The gravity of adulthood compels most of us into two opposite ends of surrender.  Some surrender their responsibilities by avoiding situations that would stretch them.  This is a safe place, and functions as a padded room of pride.  It’s safe, but lonely, and you’ll never know what is outside those four walls of your comfort zone.  Others, however, surrender their pride by admitting their limits and inexperience and recruiting help to understand their world and their place in it.  This is not a safe place; it is a marathon of humility – there are cramps, and aches, and course corrections – but discovery is along this road, and you’ll find your endurance builds as you go.

If you haven’t surrendered yet, you will.  Circumstance may crush you, a relationship will take a complex turn, a responsibility will lead you into uncharted territory.  Which surrender will you choose?

You need them.  The stable voice of a parent, the watchful eye of a mentor, the seasoned view of a counselor.  Although our young ambition is good, it’s often a mile wide and an inch deep.  Our limitations are not meant to cripple us, they are meant to compel us towards becoming life-long learners at the feet of God’s Word, God’s Spirit, and God’s saints found in the local church.

This will be uncomfortable.  These voices will poke, and prod, and press, and sometimes you will want to run.  Stay put.  These older voices force us out of the echo chambers of our peer groups, and enlarge our categories to match the bigness of God’s world.  The avenue of awakening is sometimes awkward. But awkwardness never killed anything, except our pride, and maybe our pride needs to die anyway.  Let your soul steep outside its comfort zone, and you’ll find the sweet taste of sanctification.

But this is not a one way road.  Parents, teachers, mentors, counselors: we need you.  You might feel irrelevant – you’re not.  Your fermented life produces the sweet wine of wisdom.  And we need wisdom to navigate these roads that grow increasingly treacherous as we live.  Your small words – and more importantly your invested time – might have eternal reverberations through our lives.

Let the words of the older generation of saints line the way of your path through life.  Let their testimonies of God’s work, their experiences of God’s world, and their stories of God’s grace spur you towards a deeper and wiser life.  And let the seasoned seeds of the older generation yield its fruit.