Archive for January, 2011

Free Moises Silva Lectures on Galatians

Oh, the wonder of iTunes. 

Earlier this afternoon I discovered that Westminster Theological Seminary has posted 13 free lectures by Moises Silva on Galatians onto iTunes.  Here is the link.  Silva is a fine exegete, so I look forward to listening to these.  He has also written a fine book on Galatians, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method.  They also have a rocking older picture of Silva.  Anyway, I hope you listen and learn.

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Sexual Tension

Tyler Blanski recently wrote a provocative opinion article for CNN: How Christians Should Rethink Sex.  Blanski bemoans how numerous Christians have marginalized sex through constant obsession over rules and boundaries.  The result is what Blanski calls a “chastity cult,” with promise rings, constant confessions of struggles with pornography, and warnings against various slippery slopes.   Sex ends up on a pedestal, an abstraction known better for its traps and dangers than its blessings.  As such, Christians miss the full measure of joy, playfulness and pleasure God intends for marital sex.   Even as I write this, I feel the need to stress the importance of the “marital” modifier on sex.  It seems that caution is the rule of thumb, even for me.

For his part, I think Blanski writes an excellent article that makes a great point:  Christians should have the best sex life possible, full of all the adventure, excitement, joy, and pleasure God intended (coughwithinmarriagecough).  As he writes,

Ever wonder why the middle of the Bible is filled with sexual love poetry? Ever speculate why God created the clitoris? Or why human beings have almost always and everywhere celebrated marriage?

In defense of the chastity cult, however, a few comments are in order:

First,  Blanski might be overstating matters by claiming that “the middle of the Bible is filled with sexual love poetry.”  He’s right if he means Song of Songs, and nothing else.  I would argue strongly that there is no sexual love poetry elsewhere in Scripture.  There is plenty of poetry that uses marriage, prostitution and other sexual language to illustrate, for example, Israel’s violation of the covenant, but no sexual love poetry between God and humankind.  I’d feel more comfortable with “Ever wonder why an entire book of the Bible is filled with sexual love poetry?”  I’m picking nits, but I’ve already tipped my hand: I’m cautious.

Secondly, why am I (and many others) so cautious?  By and large, I think the chastity cult is a reaction to the fact that sex is so commonly misused and abused.  In our (American) world, it is so easy to slip into sexual sin, and so common, that massive efforts abound to warn, instruct, and protect us from it.  We might levy a similar complaint regarding food: there’s the FDA, nutrition labels, billions of diet and nutrition books, and all sorts of warnings against one thing or another.  Why?  Is not food God-given?  Ever wonder why there’s such variety in things to eat?  Why we have millions of taste buds?  God could have just made an non-flavored drink that gave us all we needed to survive and done away with all the fluff, no?  Well, we have the FDA, labels, and all the rest because, frankly, there’s lots of junk and abuse out there.  So also with sex.  There are many books about sexual purity because so many struggle with sexual purity.  There are also many books about weight loss because so many people struggle with obesity.

Finally, we might also balance the culture Blanski paints by noting that there are also plenty of Christian books, conferences, and resources that stress the very things he wishes were more prevalent.  Much of his article is colored by his experience, and the perception that Christians are too prude is a large function of what Christian circles you inhabit.  I would count myself among those who feel plenty of emphasis on both sides of the sexual coin, with its warnings and prohibitions on one side, and encouragements and blessing on the other.

Humankind has a knack for taking God-given goodness and perverting it.  It’s been our story since the beginning.  Sex is no exception to this rule, and millions upon millions have forfeited God’s best for their lives through a depressing variety of sexual sins.  So warnings and prohibitions abound.  But have you ever read the Bible?  While it has its share of positive commands and encouragements (e.g., “Love the Lord your God…”), there are certainly plenty of boundaries and negative edicts (e.g., most of the 10 commandments).  So in the end, I’ll take my chastity cult, thank you, but I’ll also take the Blanski’s of the world to remind me that sex is good.

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Speaking the Truth in Love

I’m thankful I am a part of a church community that takes sin, holiness and accountability seriously.  We try, as much as possible, to foster a community that facilitates confession of sin, as well as gently confronting someone when a persistent sinful pattern or attitude has been observed.  I know I’ve been helped greatly by others hearing my confessions, as well as calling me out when I’m getting off track.  It’s part of what the body of Christ is supposed to do.

One of the biblical phrases most often quoted in our church regarding this topic is “speaking the truth in love,” from Ephesians 4:15.  The point often made is that it’s important to speak truthfully to others, but we must do so lovingly.  We don’t dangle someone’s sin over them, we don’t rejoice that we’ve caught them in the act.  We try to love as Christ does, not overlooking sin but not condemning someone with it either.  “Speaking the truth in love” is a good phrase to sum up what we teach in these situations.

But once in a while, I run across these phrases or verses in their context, and I realize that we might not be using it properly.  This happens all the time, all of us have done it at one point or another (how many times have you heard “where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there” at the beginning of prayer or worship?).  More often than not, it’s no big deal and we’re not in danger of slipping into some heresy. 

Let’s look at the phrase in its immediate context:

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

In its original context, this phrase really isn’t speaking about accountability and personal sin.  Notice the contrast between v14 and v15.  “Speaking the truth in love” is the opposite of “cunning,” “craftiness,” and “deceitful scheming.”  The point is that there are always deceitful people infiltrating the body of Christ, spreading their false teaching in a cunning manner.  But rather than speaking lies in a deceitful way, Christians are to speak truth in love.  Lovingly proclaiming truth combats the lies that are spread throughout the body of Christ.  Those who are caught up in deceit are like little infants.  But when truth is spoken in love, the body of Christ grows strong and mature.

So this phrase is not really about personal accountability.  It’s about how we combat lies in the church.  I suppose it could overlap with the area of sin and repentance, but that’s not the heart of the matter.  Truth vs lie- that’s what we’re dealing with here.

This would be an example of what is sometimes called the “right doctrine from the wrong text.”  It is, of course, important that when we confront someone caught in sin, we do so lovingly- with an extra stress on lovingly.  I guess Ephesians 4:15 just shouldn’t be our go-to verse to make that point.  We can, however, refer to Galatians 6:1, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  Either way, I hope we apply both of these points faithfully in our lives and churches.

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