John Wayne is Not Our Problem

(The title of this post is a reference to the increasingly popular book by Kirsten Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.)

Christians, our failure is not that 81% (based on exit polls) of “white evangelicals” voted for Trump, but that Trump was even a candidate. We are seeing large-scale accusations that the “white evangelical” voting block is really just power hungry. No, what is being seen is the vestiges of a once clear moral sense now in tatters.

The failure of Christians in the application of Christ’s character to civic action, is not in having voted for the lesser of two evils candidate, but of failing to ensure that a character-filled candidate was available. That prior failure is behind the growing chorus of false accusations about why we voted as we did; a chorus increasingly joined by liberal Christians confused about the basics. But of course, conservatives are also confused about the basics (though in different ways) —and that is the point.

Don’t get it twisted: biblical values are under attack, and the solution to our massive moral decline is not to embrace anti-biblical values, but to be truly radical (Latin from radix = root) and return to the character of Christ in every way. Don’t criticize the seemingly incongruous protests of the last 50 years coming from conservative leaders. Instead, get behind a total return to biblical life: which will transform every. single. aspect. of your life: how you eat, how you vote, how you spend, what you watch, what you listen to, etc.

The problem is our complicity with the evil of our culture; the solution is not to join it, but to be truly radical. There is no corner of your life over which Jesus does not declare: that is mine.

This is a gospel issue, because when Christian lives do not display a real alternative to the hopelessness of the world, the Gospel will not be embraced.

What is the fix? Start with you: set your heart to study, to do, and then to teach God’s law. You understand, I hope, that God’s law is nothing more than the application of Christ’s character to human circumstances, and wherever we see it in Scripture—from Genesis to Revelation—it serves to model for us, via application of principle, how we are to live today. Of course we cannot “keep it” so as to accomplish our salvation, but if a failure to imitate Christ’s character condemns us, then having been justified from the reality of that condemnation we are now set free to stumble after the imitation of Christ in our admittedly failure-ridden fashion (the righteous person falls seven times but get up yet again).

One final tip: getting radically Christlike will not make you acceptable to the progressive culture (secular or Christian), so if you’re feeling appreciated and embraced by those in tune with the zeitgeist…something is off.

The Sacrament of Nature

into the mountainsI love being in places where one can recall and receive the sacrament of nature. God’s cathedral engages all the senses. There is over-much to take in for the eye-gate; the foot feels the soft pad of dust and needles. The nostrils fill with the scent of pine or sage, and the ear hears the white noise of water over rocks or the choir of birds and insects.

Grace pervades the soul and the Spirit rushes by in wind and water, and my prayers reach heavenward disguised as sparks from a fir log in the fire.

I watch the the water run over the terraced rocks and wonder whether I am like the ever-running water orterraced water over stones the silently enduring rocks.  The water is every millisecond a different shape, never stopping and always the same, flowing and flowing. The rocks sit stolidly, watching them reveals no change, but year by year they are molded by the eternally running water.

Which is more about life: the rocks or the water? I observe the drop of the land and the twisting course of the river and note that the water shows no sign of having cut the path, but seems to flow as directed, and I muse on the interdependence of leader and follower.

Grace is always available but must be observed and accepted to be received in all its capacity. I think the unconscious effect is never so transformative as when received and welcomed, cherished and imbibed. Nature overflows with grace and yet is inhabited by “red in tooth and claw.” This is the way of our world, I think.

Rain falls on the righteous and the wicked, but only those who notice and practice gratitude receive the full grace. The water falls over the rocks whether anyone sees, but the sprites watch and the angels hear, and sometimes we are there to drink deep and receive the peace.

The dominical sacraments work like this too. They do their work whether we recognize it or not, but the effect is enhanced and expanded by our observation. Start with paying attention and add gratitude into the mix, then watch to see what happens over time. You are the rocks and the elements are the water.

terraced water over stones2

“Christianity is not a religion.”

“Christianity is not a religion.” If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It breaks my heart every time.

Only someone who doesn’t understand what religion is could even consider making a statement like this. Religion is the form of a relationship with a deity. All relationships have form, and we ignore the form to the peril of the relationship.

A marriage, for example, is unmistakably a relationship, but it’s very existence depends upon the form, or the “rules” that comprise and preserve the relationship. Imagine saying, “Honey, I love you, but I just don’t understand why you want me to sleep at home all the time. I can’t handle all these rules, I just want a relationship with you.” Or how about this, “Honey, I know we’re married, and I love you so much, but I want to go out to eat with other women at least twice a week.” How long do you think that relationship is going to last?

What so many who proclaim this platitude actually mean is that Christianity is not an exercise of “legalism.” True enough; emphatically so. As Dallas Willard was fond of saying, however, “Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.”

The existence of your relationship with God depended entirely upon His effort, but the maintenance of that relationship in healthy fashion very much involves you coming into alignment with God’s views on reality and the reshaping of your beliefs and behavior with what He defines as good, beautiful and true. This process of transformation involves intangible realities like “relationship,” but all intangibles are displayed, evaluated, and nurtured via the tangible.

The internal (relationship) and the external (religion) are never supposed to be divorced. Instead, God designed them to be concomitant. The word “religion” comes from the same Latin root from which we get our word “ligament.” Ligare means “to bind,” just as a ligament binds muscle to bone.

…all intangibles are displayed, evaluated, and nurtured via the tangible.

Imagine beginning a relationship without an external (tangible) form. It’s impossible. Whether it begins with a question (speech act), “Will you be my girlfriend?” or a commitment of time together, it is impossible for the relationship to begin or persist without the exercise or avoidance of external acts.

Want to nurture that fledgling relationship? You bind the other to you via externals like writing letters, making phone calls, going places together, and also by externals you carefully avoid: writing letters to different girls, spending time with other girls, etc.

All relationships have and require form. We call the external display/exercise of relationship with a deity: religion. The conduct of a religion simultaneously displays and deepens our allegiance (bond) to that deity. Christianity is very much a religion; in fact, it is the only true religion. It is a religion we delight in because of the existence of our relationship with God, which He provided by grace through faith, so that, we might walk in the good works He prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph 2:8-10).

Final note: in a contemporary culture that suffers from a glut of denominations who first hollowed out their external structures from any internal significance and then crumbled all together so that only the shell of a former profound worship exists, it is easy to disdain the externals and proclaim the exclusive necessity of the internal realities. This is precisely what North American evangelicalism has done. The problem is that hollow, legalistic externals and incoherent, unsupported internal emphases are both equally destructive. We are presently reaping the whirlwind of both errors.

Is it not most irrational to accuse religion because of the scandalous ways of some individuals, while simultaneously completely slighting and overlooking the holy and heavenly walk of many others? Are all who profess godliness loose and careless in their lives? No, some are an ornament to their faith and the glory of Christ. Why must the innocent be condemned with the guilty? Would you condemn the eleven disciples on the actions of one Judas?

John Flavel (d. 1691), ed. Jason Roth. Keeping the Heart: In Modern English (p. 11).

Defining Pornography

  • lurid or sensational material; often used in combination.
  • a description of or treatise on prostitutes or prostitution; hence, obscene writing
  • licentious painting or literature; especially, the painting anciently employed to decorate the walls of rooms devoted to bacchanalian orgies.
  • the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction
  • sexually explicit writing, images, video, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal

I have been reluctant to address this issue because it is so distasteful, but given that it has now become the ‘coin of the realm’, so to speak (meaning that it is not just available, but part of the normative content of our culture), I think it has become imperative to speak in order that we might share a common definition, reject all that tears down rather than builds up, and pursue the ideal that God established.

Here’s a bit of the history that led me to this commentary. Of all things, my 72-year-old mother sent me an article by Dr. Michael Brown addressing a hit song/video by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Now I’m aware that Cardi B exists, but have ignored her as eminently distasteful. I’ve never heard of the other lady.

So I googled up the lyrics to see what all the fuss was about. I do not recommend this, and would caution anyone reading that these lyrics will provoke an emotional reaction similar to what Phinehas must have felt before he drove the spear through the couple cavorting in front of the Tabernacle (Numbers 25:1-9).

Incensed, depressed, and seeking to galvanize the faithful, I posted on my FB page:

“Let us be honest, forthright, and clear. There ought to be no fuzziness here. The hit song WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion is pornography.

The lyrics are pornographic; the video is pornographic. That this is not just tolerated in our society but trumpeted and celebrated, is simultaneously a terrible indictment of our culture’s present disease, and will be an inestimably destructive force on the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our culture: men and women.”

And here’s where the real turn happens…

A dear friend of mine, a former roommate from Bible School, commented, “…It was definitely erotic with a lot of imagery. Can’t say it reaches the level of pornography….”

Yesterday I was depressed; now I am roused to battle.

So let’s talk pornography… what is it, how ought we to define it, and what is its opposite?

This song (WAP) is pornography by very definition. The first use of the word in English that we know of is traced to 1842, but it comes to us from the Ancient Greek, πορνογράφος (pornographos), where it referred to writings about prostitution. It’s a compound word comprised of πόρνη (pornē), “prostitute” and γράφω (graphō), “I write.”

This song begins, “There’s some whores in this house,” repeated four times. This is literally writing about prostitutes.

If we turn to the Scriptures we find that πορνεία (porneia) referred first to prostitution: sex for sale, but quickly came to refer to any illicit sexuality: that is, sex used for purposes or in a manner twisted from God’s intent, marital intimacy and procreation. So, sex used as an exchange, used to procure desired ends, used to covenant with anyone other than a spouse, or in the service of a deity, was all abhorrent: pornographic. The song describes exclusively pornographic exercise of sexuality for anti-biblical, ungodly purposes, and in lurid, sensational, exchange-oriented, control-focused manner. (pornography: lurid or sensational material, often used in combination. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)

The next evolution of the word, was in the Roman period where it came to describe “licentious painting or literature; especially, the painting anciently employed to decorate the walls of room devoted to bacchanalian orgies.” (Collaborative International Dictionary of English). Think, the walls of Pompeii, which I cannot even use here in exemplary manner. Here we find the genesis of pornography being associated with images.

Each of the three women highlighted in this video (Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Kylie Jenner) are dressed like prostitutes, and engaged in lurid, sensational, enticing, and obscene (“abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically, designed to incite to lust or depravity) behavior. The fact that the visual aspect of this song/video doesn’t rise to the extremes of what we now commonly call pornography reveals the depths to which our society has descended, not an inaccuracy of definition. And that is precisely part of what moves me so profoundly to something bordering on despair. As a father, I am filled with slow burning, deep running rage at the devastating harm this pornographic putrescence wreaks upon our children.

We ought now to speak of the “pornographic” nature of non-sexual things. Violence is the other porn of our culture. Here’s the thing: porn is the lurid display of natural but unrestrained passions. We’re all familiar with the term “blood-lust,” but have you considered that in the devolution of mores, culture, of humanity, the perversion of sex comes first and is followed by an even deeper twisting where violence becomes entertainment. Christians, myself included, we have been taken unawares: caught by a more profound perversion while protesting the one that was first waved in our faces.

Revenge-story? Not for Christians. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” John Wick-fan? That’s pornography. Here’s a thought: in ancient Israel, when coming back from war the men had to remain outside the village in order that they not bring the impurity of violence and bloodshed into the home environment. What do we do? We pay for it to be streamed into our living room. Christians ought to abhor the pornographic display of any passion used in a restraint-exceeding manner.

That sounds so tame, so antiseptic, so non-threatening, but our reaction ought to be like that of St. James, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:1-12).

And if the tongue, how much more so the hand raised in violent intent or the genitals lifted in ungodly pursuit of wicked design? If the tongue is a forest fire, the raging hand is a conflagration, and the rebellious genitalia an inferno.

Prescriptive Foundations for the People of God

We must first establish the underlying, persistent authority of the Old Testament and only then ask whether that authority has specific prescriptive application to ourselves. Let us make it clear in no uncertain terms that the enduring authority of the Old Testament is a fundamental requirement for canonicity, for interpretation, and for application (2 Timothy 3:16). In every circumstance we are beholden to the foundational nature of the Torah for our initial guidance. In our individual lives and in history, humans learn what is good and proper by observation first.

The law of God, wherever it appears in Scripture (from Genesis to Revelation), always displays the character of God applied to human affairs. This is as true of Genesis 9 as of Exodus 20, and of Leviticus 23 as of Matthew 5-7.

While a specific case law instantiates a particular enduring ethical principle, the transitory specificity of the case does not obviate the enduring application of the moral law. So, for example, while we no longer use flat roofs for hosting social gatherings, I remain constrained by Deuteronomy 22:8 to salt my sidewalks when icy and to put a fence around my swimming pool, and if it should become the case that roofs once again become a common gathering place, I will once again be commanded to build a parapet around my roof.

Furthermore, this case law has civil import. We are instructed in the proper extent of civil government by Deuteronomy 22:8, which has no penalty for failing to build a parapet, unless someone dies as a consequence of not having done so, in which case the negligent offender is guilty of manslaughter. While it is accurate to recognize that we are no longer commanded that each contemporary government should make it a law that roofs have parapets, each government is commanded to punish those who fail to love their neighbor in such a way that the neighbor is harmed.

Furthermore, that same government is constrained from interfering until such harm occurs: the civil government is given the sword: “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom 13:4).

It is essential we recognize that the Apostolic Scriptures introduce no innovation, rather they reveal what has always been but was not recognized. They amplify what has been previously declared, revealing what has always been the intent. Nothing is overturned by the Apostolic writers, rather the deeper and the broader is revealed, hidden as it were, among the already declared. We see above how Romans 13:1-8 amplifies the content contained in Deuteronomy 22:8.

Jesus’ walk with his two disciples on the road to Emmaus is the quintessential display of the New Testament’s function. At first sight, the two disciples do not recognize Jesus in front of their eyes, but, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).

There is a primary and essential continuity between the Hebrew and the Apostolic scriptures, and there is no division between law and grace except in function. The law on its own multiplies sin and condemns the sinner, but the law when paired with grace is no longer “the law of sin and death” but “the law of the Spirit of life. (Romans 8:2). It is, indeed, the same law, but transformed in function; it no longer condemns but now guides the redeemed and regenerate man, and to the Spirit-enlivened eyes it now illumines the way of Christ. So could David exclaim, “Oh how I love your law,” and “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches” (Psalm 119:97,14). “I will run in the way of your commandments when you set my heart free!” (Psalm 119:32).

No sooner have I penned these words then I hear the forthcoming chorus of “buts.” “But Acts 10.” “But Romans 14:14.” Yes, and but Colossians 2:16-17, but Romans 10:4, and Galatians 3:13. And I might reply “but Matthew 5:17 and Romans 7:12.” BUT, the solution is not in pitting these passages against each other, but in finding the simplest and most contiguous reading that allows these passages to faithfully complement one another. In obedience to the laws of hermeneutics and of logic (that we might not multiply complexity beyond necessity), we ought to read these passages, so far as possible, through the eyes of their initial recipients, never permitting our interpretation to cause contradiction among them, and never allowing our interpretive understanding to undermine corollary principles, e.g., the rules of canonicity, or credulity.

Why the Festivals of the Lord?

The common view is that the Tabernacle/Temple system used to function but now has passed away. The reality is that the Tabernacle system was always a shadow of the real that is in heaven. The functions of the Mosaic system always taught us about the universal reality of who God is and what He is doing across history, and in shadow-form displayed for us what occurs in heaven (the high priestly function of Christ).

In similar fashion, the feasts of the Lord from Leviticus 23 teach and remind us of the historic, present, and future events which comprise what we might call redemptive history. Their didactic, formative, enlightening, celebratory, and anticipatory function has no more passed away than has God’s intent to save the elect. These festivals predict, enflesh, describe, and memorialize the redemptive acts of God in history. How could we possibly ignore them?

Too often these festivals are pitted against Christmas and Easter, as if one must pick between the two sets of observances. Horrors. If you, as I, can’t imagine ignoring the Incarnation or the Resurrection, why would you ignore the Atonement, the Ingathering, or the Wedding Feast of the Lamb?

One of the graces of serving a timeless God is that what He determined in the beginning is as certainly accomplished as what we have already witnessed. Whether we celebrate those acts of God that have already occurred because they make us who we are, or we anticipate those acts of God that comprise our hope, we have been given the great gift of holy days to memorialize the saving purpose of God in history: then backwards and then forwards, as now.

If anyone—before or after Christ’s first advent—looked to the keeping of the festivals as an aspect of justification they will stand condemned at the judgement seat. The same thing was true and remains true of the sacrifices. They functioned temporally to make physical access to the earthly Tabernacle permissible, but have never and will never take away sin (Hebrews 10:4).

Just as being an American is in no way dependent upon celebrating July 4th, but no American can imagine foregoing the memorial of our nation’s birthday, the festivals of the Lord have nothing to do with making us God’s people, but everything to do with the lived experience of being God’s people.

Some History of Anglicanism

from the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer, 2019

Christianity—the fullness of the good news about Jesus Christ—came very early to what would eventually be called Anglia (England) through the witness of soldiers, sailors, merchants, and missionaries. Legend holds that the biblical tomb-giver, Joseph of Arimathea, was among the first of those scattered evangelists.

The early Christian mission in the British Isles was an encounter with pagan tribes and societies. Converts banded together, and in this context communities of common prayer, learning, and Christ-like service emerged, living under agreed rules. Thus “monasteries” became centers of the evangelization of this remote region of the Roman world, and ever more so as the empire disintegrated. Early heroes and heroines leading such communities bore names that are still remembered and celebrated, names like Patrick, Brigid, David, Columba, Cuthbert, and Hilda. Haphazardly, and without a centralized hierarchy or authority, what emerged in Britain, by God’s grace, was a Church that saw herself, in each of her local manifestations, as part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: culturally attuned and missionary adaptive, but ever committed to and always propagating “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

Reform came in various waves, based more in the Roman systems of Diocese and parish. At the end of the sixth century, Augustine, a Benedictine monk and first Archbishop of Canterbury, was sent out from Rome by Pope Gregory the Grea with instructions that encouraged preservation of local customers when they did not conflict with universal practice. Dunstant, 25th Archbishop of Canterbury, great reformer of common worship, and Anselm, 36th Archbishop, early scholastic theologian, were among notable monastic successors of this far more hierarchical Roman mission. Closer connection to the continent and distance from the Patristic era also meant that from the seventh century onward, British faith and order were increasingly shaped by efforts to create a universal western patriarchate at Rome. The Norman Conquest of the 11th century also played a role in diminishing the distinguishing peculiarities of Ecclesia Anglicana. Liturgy also became increasingly complicated and clericalized.

All across Europe, the sixteenth century was marked by reform of the received tradition. So great was this period of reevaluation, especially concerning the primacy of the Holy Scriptures, that the whole era is still known to us as the Reformation.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, 69th Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred at Oxford in 1556, led the English phase of this reform of Church life and Church worship. Undoubtedly Cranmer’s most enduring achievement was his replacement of the numerous books of the Latin liturgy with a carefully compiled Book of Common Prayer. This was a Prayer Book in the vernacular, one which brilliantly maintained the traditional patterns of worship, yet which sought to purge away from worship all that was “contrary to Holy Scripture or to the ordering of the Primitive Church.” The Book of Common Prayer, from the first edition of 1549, became the hallmark of a Christian way of worship and believing that was both catholic and reformed, continuous yet always renewing. According to this pattern, communities of prayers—congregations and families rather than the monasteries of the earliest centuries—would be the centers of formation and of Christ-like service to the world.

For a century, the Church of England matured and broadened as a tradition separated from the Church of Rome. Its pastoral, musical, and ascetical life flourished: Jeremy Tayler, Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and George Herbert are but a few of the names associated with this flowering. Also begun were three centuries of colonial expansion that exported the Book of Common Prayer to countless cultures and people-groups the world over.

The English Civil War of the seventeenth century drove the Church of England and her liturgy underground. Nevertheless, with the Restoration of the Monarchy, the Book of Common Prayer, authorized by Parliament and Church in 1662, became Anglicanism’s sine qua non. Great Awakenings and the Methodist movement of the 18th century, as well as adaptations necessary for the first Anglicans independent of the British Crown, challenged and re-shaped Prayer Book worship, as would the East African revival, charismatic renewal, and the dissolution of Empire in the 20th century. Similarly, the evangelical and anglo-catholic movements of the 19th century profoundly affected Anglican self-understanding and worship in different, often seemingly contradictory, ways; yet the Book of Common Prayer (1662) was common to every period of this development. For nearly five centuries, Cranmer’s Prayer Book idea had endured to shape what emerged as a global Anglican Church that is missional and adaptive as in its earliest centuries; authoritatively Scriptural and creedal as in its greatest season of reform; an evangelical, catholic, and charismatic in its apology and its worship as now globally manifest.

Sphere Sovereignty and Contextual Application

SphereSovereignty

So far as I am aware, this basic concept was first expressed in a manner similar to this by Abraham Kuyper.

God established three societal institutions: family, church, and state. Each of these three institutions have sovereignty (under God) over their own sphere (or jurisdiction). They inevitably overlap, but if the leaders of one sphere attempt to exert authority over another sphere, that is tyranny. As I read it, the 1st Amendment says nothing more than that the State has no jurisdiction over the Church. In matters of civil government the Church must heed the State’s authority, and in matters of religion the State must heed the Church’s authority.

Legislation is the act of applying a morality to governmental issues. Morality is the application of a god’s character to human affairs. How God’s character applies to matters of state is somewhat different than how God’s character applies to matters of religion and family. All law is contextual and cannot be discerned correctly if torn from the situation of its application.

If a YHWH-worshiper sacrificed to an idol this was worthy of the death penalty (“church sphere”); if a Moabite did so the same did not apply. If the Moabite became a sojourner with Israel, however, in that case, “For the [religious] assembly”, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you….” (Numbers 15:15)

Now, in the scope of time, God will hold the “Moabite” responsible for not worshiping Him, but that is God’s prerogative, not ours.

How do we know this was relative to the religious assembly? Context. The entire chapter is about worship regulations, and the immediately preceding sentence says, “And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do.”

So Ruth the Moabitess was constrained by this passage, but her sister, Orpah, was not.

Theology Like Jazz?

Theology is first the activity of thinking and talking about God,[1] and second the applicable product of that activity. We might say, then, that theology is musing about God that enables us to ascertain how He wants us to live in the time and place where we dwell. But this is somewhat puzzling because there is a vast disparity among communities of thoughtful believers in terms of how they walk out their understanding of God’s character.

Perhaps it would be helpful to note that there are multiple faithful communities of Christian understanding and practice who prioritize adherence to biblical instruction, while emphasizing differing aspects of scripture. All of these communities might be described as “faithful,” even though all are also to some degree “faithless,” again in a variety of ways. Recognizing that this reality has persisted across history, I propose that the Bible may serve faith and mission best when it generates a dialogue among faithful readers from varying perspectives.

What if interpretation were understood to function in light of relational fact: all who call upon Jesus as Savior/Messiah share a single identity and primary purpose, but reflect a different utility within the over-arching Body of Christ?[2] Thus conceived, interpretation would provoke a lively interchange among interpreters who speak from the particularities of their unique gifts and experiences, and we might begin to celebrate the contribution of each distinct community. None of whom might be said to faithfully reflect the infinite image of God on their own, but all of whom may highlight a particular facet of His image, which the world is certain to be in desperate need of observing and experiencing.

Old Testament scholar, Daniel Hawk, writes:

As in the musical work, so in interpretation. Strongly held convictions may be fervently expressed, not as a means of bending other voices to a single, agreed-upon melody, but rather as an expression of distinct voices in a complex conversation that becomes greater than the sum of its parts….

Christian interpretation, in other words, is both determined and improvisational, not unlike jazz. Jazz integrates diverse melodies into a holistic musical experience that values the voice of each musician as a necessary component of the unified musical enterprise. Jazz requires that musicians listen carefully to the other musicians in the ensemble and follow the flow of the musical conversation. When this is done well, the result is a unified musical work, which nevertheless preserves the distinct voices in the ensemble….[3]

Undoubtedly, this way of walking might be (and has been) abused and taken too far. However, it seems to me that this practice, if held in conjunction with the foundational conviction that the Word of God expressed in all of Scripture functions as the primary expression of God’s ultimate authority, continuing to instruct the redeemed of every generation, will yield abundant fruit in the lives of God’s people. After all, the best jazz musicians are those who know the laws of music so intimately they are enabled to bend them in a harmonious and melodic manner, consistent with the spirit of music, and in unified relationship with the efforts of the gathered community of musicians.

While the Bible points to God’s ideals, it also describes Christ-like accommodations to sinful brokenness.[4] And, indeed, as Elmer Martens has reminded us,[5] Christ empowered the Christian community to “bind” or “loose” (Matt. 18:15-20), which means that any given Christian community may be more restrictive or more permissive than the exacting expression of Scripture itself. Given that the Holy Spirit has been given to the entire body of Christ, not all community decisions will be universally adopted by all other communities of faith.[6] May we be a people shaped by God’s Word, and committed to relational exegesis and application in concert with other communities of God’s people across both history and geography.

As we forge colonies of heaven in the midst of the surrounding cultures of despair, may God’s word guide us in the shaping of a biblical culture for our time and place. May the watching world say, “What kind of god is this, who gives these people in our midst such wisdom and joy?”[7] And may they discover that it is not a god, but the God who inhabits us and is our Wisdom.


[1] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), pp. xi-xii.

[2] 1 Corinthians 12

[3] L. Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God: Canonical Narrative and Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019), 201-203.

[4] Exodus. 21:1-6; Deuteronomy 15:11-18; Mark 14:7

[5] Elmer A. Martens, “Moving from Scripture to Doctrine,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.1 (2005): 77–103.

[6] this is one reason why reason must precede tradition in the interpretational hierarchy of scripture, reason, and tradition

[7] Cf., Deuteronomy 4:5-8

Hypocrisy at the Supreme Court

I am stunned by the decision of the Supreme Court today in its decision on Bostock v. Clayton County, mostly because it rests upon a demonstrably inaccurate claim. The first paragraph of J. Gorsuch’s majority opinion contains this primary sentence, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” The entire decision rests upon this assertion, which is obviously and undeniably false.

The straightforward fact is that if an employer fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender, what sex that person is has no import on the decision to fire. If a person is fired because they “are” transgender, whether they are a male transgender or a female transgender makes no difference one way or the other. Similarly, if a person is fired because they practice homosexuality, it makes absolutely no difference if they are a female practicing homosexual activities or a male practicing homosexual activities. Sex was not the motivator to fire, but a practice offensive or objectionable to the employer. Whether that is permissible is another question, but this decision rests upon a falsehood.

The second paragraph goes on to acknowledge that the drafters of the Civil Rights Acts did not anticipate their work would lead to this result, but asserts, “the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statue give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”

This intellectual sleight of hand is astonishing in its audacity and transparently disingenuous. To claim the imperative of literal interpretation while simultaneously presuming a revisionist definition for “the express terms of a statute” is so hypocritical as to deserve nothing other than disdain.

The Three-Legged Stool

Anglicanism was given a profound gift in the reflections of Richard Hooker (d. 1600), who articulated a threefold cord that must underlie all informed reflection on the Christian faith: Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. Finding here a hierarchical triumvirate of authority, the Anglican Way has mostly avoided identifying itself with specific theological systems and focused instead on grounding “its judgements in the authority of Scripture and reason illumined by tradition.” [1]

In so doing, the Anglican Way has preserved the primacy of Scripture as the word of God—not man—and of the necessity of semper reformanda in subjecting tradition to evaluation by Scripture-ruled reason. While it is not difficult to find broad agreement on the inclusion of all three legs of the so-called “three-legged stool,” ever since the Oxford Movement there has been a perpetual challenge to the requisite hierarchical ordo of these three authorities, despite the fact that Hooker himself was crystal clear:

“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto, is what any man can necessarily conclude by force of Reason; after these, the voice of the Church succeedeth.”

– Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, 8.2 (London, 1597)

I’ll continue to stand with Hooker on this topic, although not primarily because he said it, but because it is congruent with reason so to hold. It is, however, significant that a voice of tradition backs up the exercise of reason, as it must always do or the tradition is to be rejected.

“[continuing from the above quote]… That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” [2]

Ultimately, I hold that reason must precede tradition in the hierarchy because of the impossibility of the contrary. The expression of the judgement of tradition is itself an exercise of reason in the application of Scripture’s authoritative voice to a specific time and place.

No voice of tradition may exert an authority prior to reason or it becomes Scripture, which alone expresses the reason of God rather than of man, and so speaks in a universal and timeless manner; to be accepted as in accordance with faith and reason, but not established by faith or human reason: the reason of God being transcendent, the reason of man being derivative. To reason otherwise is 1) to be irrational, 2) to accept the place of the Magisterium, and 3) to obliterate the possibility of the validity and necessity of the Reformation. I think you can see, therefore, why I’ll be rather inflexible on this point.

“Primary authority, that is to say, belongs to Scripture as ‘God’s Word written’; but whatever may be deduced from Scripture by the proper use of reason carries a derivative authority with it. As for ‘the voice of the Church’, which is certainly one form of tradition, that was placed by Hooker on the third level of authority, but it carries real authority when it is agreeable to Scripture and not contrary to reason.” [3]


[1] Sykes, Stephen, John E. Booty, and Jonathan Knight. The Study of Anglicanism. London: SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. p. 11.

[2] Richard Hooker, The Works of That Learned and Judicious Divine, Mr. Richard Hooker, ed. John Keble, vol. 2, book 5, 8.2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1874), 34.

[3] F. F. Bruce, “Scripture in Relation to Tradition and Reason,” in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: A Study in the Criteria of Christian Doctrine : Essays in Honour of Richard P.C. Hanson, ed. Richard Bauckham and Benjamin Drewery (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), 35–36.