Posts by EC

RECORD: Spring 2017

(PDF version available here.)

“Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P”.  This was The New York Times headline on April 22, 2016.  Given the LGBT anxiety over the election results – Columbia professors even wrote, “the cluster of suicides this month can have no other meaning” [since retracted] – it would be useful for both the Left and the Right to gain more accurate perspectives on Trump’s history and LGBT issues.

Before the election, Times’ political correspondent Maggie Haberman pointed out that Trump’s “views of gay rights and gay people are what most distinguish Mr. Trump from previous Republican standard-bearers.”  She noted, for example, that, “Elton John and his longtime boyfriend, David Furnish, entered a civil partnership on Dec. 21, 2005, in England under a law the country had just enacted granting recognition to same-sex couples. The congratulations poured in as the two men appeared at a joyous ceremony at Windsor Guildhall, amid a crush of paparazzi.  Donald J. Trump, who had known the couple for years, took to his blog to express his excitement.”

According to the Times, Trump “has nurtured long friendships with gay people, employed gay workers in prominent positions, and moved with ease in industries where gays have long exerted influence.”  Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans president is cited: “He will be the most gay-friendly Republican nominee for president ever.”

The Times’ article went on to state that Trump’s “history with the gay community is a long one.  He donated to charities focused on the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.  In 2000, when he briefly considered running for president, he gave an interview to The Advocate, a gay magazine, in which he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to “include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.”  The Times notes that, “sixteen years later, gay rights advocates are still trying to persuade Congress to pass a similar measure.”  She quotes Trump’s saying: “I know many, many gay people. Tremendous people!”  The Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rauch, who calls himself “an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual”, affirms that Trump has long “spoken more inclusively about LGBT people than have previous GOP nominees”. Read more →

REVIEW: Spring 2017

“Religious Freedom for Me but Not for Thee?” by Paul Crookston, National Review, February 21, 2017;  “Europe’s Islam Problem and U.S. Immigration Policy” by Shannon Gilreath, Washington Blade, January 19, 2017.

 by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

National Review’s Collegiate Network Fellow and Gordon College graduate, Crookston, rightly notes: “America’s enshrinement of religious freedom is as exceptional as it is valuable”.  Here, he reports on disputes within the Southern Baptist Convention over an amicus brief filed by SBC’s International Mission Board and SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Along with similar support from the National Association of Evangelicals and Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, this brief has backed the right of Muslims to build a mosque in New Jersey.  The court has ruled in the Muslims’ favor.

Baptist opposition to religious freedom flies in the face of historic Baptist support for such freedom in the founding the Rhode Island colony as a haven for Baptists, as well as for Quakers, Jews and all others, safe from persecution by intolerant Puritans.  Yet, an angry SBC preacher objects: “I want no part in supporting a false religion.”  Of course, in America, his right not to hold what he takes to be false belief exists alongside another’s right to hold that belief.  So Crookston rightly assesses the angry protester to be mistaken.

Ironically, though Crookston doesn’t refer to it specifically, the Federal government is assaulting the religious liberty of his own alma mater through its Title IX restrictions on the college’s views on homosexuality.  He does note: “Unfortunately, many on the left snidely put ‘religious liberty’ into scare quotes, arguing that it’s time to put florists out of business in order to assert the state’s absolute right to legislate progressive morality.” Read more →

RECORD: Winter 2017

(PDF version available here.)

The 2017 Evangelicals Concerned calendar includes our 30th Presidents Day Winter Weekend Bible Study, our 75th ConnECtion and our 15th Fall Preaching Festival. 

   The Presidents Day Weekend Bible study will be February 18-20 at The Turning Point at Kirkridge Retreat in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

ConnECtion2017 will be June 2-4 at The Nelson Lodge atop the mountain at Kirkridge.  Todd Komarnicki, film producer and Sully screenwriter, will keynote, as will actress Jane Bradbury, who’ll read from Amy Carmichael’s devotionals.  Ralph Blair will also speak.     

The Fall Preaching Festival, in grateful celebration of the Luther 500th, will be October 6-8 at Ocean Grove on the Jersey Shore.

Gay marriage and an Islamist’s mass murder in an Orlando gay club ranked 9th and 10th among lifetime events that Americans say impacted them most.  This Pew Research found that Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 slaughter was the event that most impacted Americans’ lives.

Christian country superstar Carrie Underwood has voiced wholehearted support of marriage for same-sex couples.  In January, she gave an impromptu performance at Passion 2017, a major 3-day evangelical event where over 55,000 members of the collegiate generation packed the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  Afterwards, she tweeted: “What an incredible night!  Thanks for letting me be a small part of it!”

But Wesley Wildmon, a heterosexually married grandson of the founder of the Religious Right’s American Family Association, wasted no time in sending out his open letter publicly protesting her presence on stage.  AFA’s 27-year-old Director of Outreach blasted the evangelical organizers of Passion 2017 for permitting the appearance of one who supports “those who practice homosexuality”.

Jen and Brandon Hatmaker are two more evangelicals who support marriage for same-sex couples.  Co-stars of a popular real-life family series on HGTV, they’ve now learned how very quickly there can be a costly backlash to such empathy and support.

Jen’s public comments came in response to a question from Religious News Service’s Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical who is same-sex attracted though committed to celibacy.  He asked if she supported marriage for same-sex couples and she replied: “I would never wish anything less for my gay friends”.  She explained, “Just like the rest of us, [they] need marriage support”.  Her husband then defended the position on Facebook.  Ever since, bookstores, e.g., Southern Baptist LifeWay Stores, have refused to carry her books.

Christianity Today’s Kate Shellnutt notes that Jen’s position is consistent with her overall approach, though applying it to same-sex issues was too much for many other evangelicals to accept.  Shellnutt says: “Jen is very sensitive to the outsider … she is so passionate about including others: cultural outsiders, the homeless, racial minorities, people who have been hurt by the church”.  She adds that Hatmaker’s recent comments only “clarify and update what she’s said previously.”

Read more →

REVIEW: Winter 2017

“Keller, Moore, De Young on How to Speak to Our Culture About Sex”, Ryan Troglin, ed., The Gospel Coalition, August 23, 2016.

 by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

In 1954, C. S. Lewis was asked about homosexuality.  He recalled 1918, when he was an atheist and his closest friend, a devout Christian, confided that he was homosexual.  He’s said that Arthur “fulfilled the Gospel precept: ‘he judged not’. …  I learned charity from him and failed, for all my efforts, to teach him arrogance.”  Lewis dedicated Pilgrim’s Regress to him.  After their lifetime of letters, Lewis could reply to his recent inquirer: “All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it.”  In 1955, he noted the “hypocrisy” and “nausea” on the topic, adding, “I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment.”  He wrote: “Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”  In 1960, he assured a homosexual artist that he stood with him and with all his kind against the antigay “busybodies”.

Four Gospel Coalition busybodies now share their antigay views while biblically and historically ill informed and up against the revisions of their fellow “Reformed and ever reforming” Christians.  Presbyterian Church in America pastor Tim Keller, the Southern Baptist political ethicist Russell D. Moore, mainline Reformed Church in America pastor Kevin De Young and TGC editor Ryan Troglin, a 2015 Southern Seminary graduate, do show some nuance here, but they’re all held hostage to ignorance and church politics. Read more →

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

The 2016 Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove Preaching Festival

Columbus Day Weekend

October 7-9, 2016

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

“1516, 1616, 1716, 1816, 1916”

John Foxe   John Owen   John Berridge   Francis Asbury   J. C. Ryle   Eugenia Price

 Including Three Sermons by Dr. Ralph Blair
“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”, “Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us” and “Participating in His Providence”

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On the last day of October, 1517, a 33-year-old Wittenberg University theologian, Martin Luther, took his courageous public stand for the Gospel. He posted ninety-five arguments against what he contended were Rome’s unbiblical teachings, such as the papal “indulgences” that he saw as simply scams for enriching the church hierarcy through fiancial payments for the forgiveness of sin. He argued that these shameful shakedowns mocked our “treasury of merit” in Christ alone.

Having long agonized over his own sins, and having finally found full relief in God’s unmerited mercy in Christ, he committed himself to confront the ecclesiastical establishment and comfort the ecclesiastically exploited.

In his liberating discovery of God’s grace in Christ alone, clearly revealed in the Bible, he was moved to provoke a return to the Christian witness of the early apostles and to move that witness forward into the future.

As we look forward to the Luther Quintcentenary in 2017, we pause here in 2016, to gratefully reflect on that 16th-century revival’s fruit in continued preaching of God’s Good News through each generation since Luther’s day.

Tonight, we’ll glimpse the ministries of six faithful Christians whose work sprang from the influence of that historically biblical Reformation. These faithful Christians were born or died in 1516, 1616, 1716, 1816 or 1916.

 

John Foxe (1516 – April 18, 1587)

In Germany, in the year before Luther posted his call for Gospel purity, there was a call for purity of another staple on Luther’s table. He’d quipped: “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, doesn’t sin; whoever doesn’t sin, enters Heaven! So, let’s drink beer!” Germany’s Beer Purity Law, Das Reinheitsgebot was adopted in 1516. It became the world’s longest lasting food quality control for more than four and a half centuries – until 1987, when it was ditched by some bureaucrats in the European Union.

Over in England in that same year of 1516, a boy named John Foxe was born. It was the year that England’s Master of the Posts, predecessor of the Royal Mail, was set up and the year that Thomas More finished Utopia, his fictional “nowhere”, so often mistaken as a “good place”. Over at Basel, Erasmus was publishing his Greek New Testament, Hieronymus Bosch, the artist of intoxicating triptychs, died, and the cleric and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced the latest of his world maps. His 1507 version had depicted a newly discovered continent that he designated, Americi.

In Venice, Jews were being forced to reside inside a district called the “Venetian Ghetto”, ever after lending its name to all restrained residential neighborhoods. The Ottoman Empire declared war on other Muslims in Egypt and Syria and defeated the Muslim owned slave-soldiers of Gaza.

Luther died when Foxe was 30 years old, so, Foxe’s more immediate contemporaries among the Protestant Reformers were really Calvin, Beza and Bullinger.

We honor Foxe for his life’s consuming work, Actes and Monuments. It’s a multivolume history of centuries of persecuted Christians. First published in Latin at Basel in 1554, and reprinted for centuries since, it’s known today as, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. For many years, among the poor, it was the one book they owned besides the Bible. A century later, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress would become the third volume in those little libraries.   Read more →

Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One

“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Martin Luther said: “The Bible is alive. It speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold of me.”  The very most significant legacy of the Protestant Reformation is the prominent position of the Bible in Christians’ everyday lives ever since.

Having, last night, noted this biblical importance in several ministries over the centuries since Luther, today and tomorrow we’ll look into this same biblical influence in our time, through what, evidently, are our day’s three most popular Bible verses.

In the spring, Christianity Today published a report, “Scripture as Spam”. We were told that, “of the 200 billion messages sent on Twitter in 2015, 40 million featured Bible verses.” Who knew that, out there in the Twitterverse, there were also Twitter verses?

Every generation of this weekend’s honorees – back to the 16th-century – was familiar with birds that were said to “twitter”. They also knew that nervous people were said to be “all atwitter”. But none of them ever heard of the “Twitter” that comes to our minds when we hear that word. Even I know more about Twitter than they did, and I’ve never ever twittered or tweeted or whatever. Even in the late 20thcentury, Eugenia Price did not use an electric typewriter. She hammered out all of her letters, her many devotional books and her over-700-page best-selling novels on her manual Underwood. And just in case the manufacturing of new manuals might be discontinued, Genie had bought herself an extra manual.

Earlier generations probably were more familiar with Bible verses than many Twitter aficionados are today. Of course, many probably misunderstood what they read, but to misunderstand something, one has to know at least something about it, even if only to recite it. The biblically illiterate can’t even misunderstand what they’ve never ever heard or read.

   The most frequently tweeted Bible verses were found to be, from first place to third: Philippians 4:13, John 3:16, and Jeremiah 29:11. Maybe you can quote John 3:16, but can you quote the Philippian and Jeremiah verses?

It also was found that, of 1.6 billion page-views of searchable online Bibles at BibleGateway.com, with more than 160 million visitors, these very same three Bible verses were the top three searched, though they ranked in a different order. At BibleGateway.com, John 3:16 led as the most frequently searched, followed by Jeremiah 29:11 with Philippians 4:13 ranking third.

There’s no doubt that “Post-Christian” Americans can’t quote these verses, though even they might make a stab at John 3:16. Sadly, many have never even heard these verses, or could easily understand them if they heard them. They’d have no reasonable context for understanding them. However, none of this means that the biblically illiterate don’t have know-it-all opinions on all they know nothing about – a common symptom of ignorance complicated by self-serving self-righteousness, especially on anything about the Bible.

Still, it can be surprising to us who live in the isolation of a secular center of elitists such as New York City, that Barna Research finds that twenty-five percent of American teenagers read the Bible at least once a week and ten percent spend 45 minutes or longer reading the Bible at one sitting. Thirty-five percent of teenagers believe that the Bible “contains everything a person needs to know, to live a meaningful life”. Sadly, though, this “is a statistically significant drop in six percentage points” from a year ago. Read more →

Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us

“Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version here)

Along with Philippians 4:13, Tim Tebow’s favored eyeblack is John 3:16, the second most tweeted Bible verse and the most searched verse at BibleGateway.com.

On Sunday, January 8, 2012, in the NFL AFC playoff game in Denver, Tebow led the Broncos to an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He did it with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. Time magazine said it “left the Steelers and the watching world simply stunned”.  But the reporter could not resist labeling this “out” Christian quarterback, “polarizing”.  Of course, had Tebow been an “out” gay player, “polarizing” would not have been the politically correct adjective.

Tebow had set an NFL playoff record by throwing three hundred sixteen yards, 31.6 yards per completion.  316?  31.6? John 3:16! And wait, there’s more!  The CBS rating peaked at 31.6.  31.6? John 3:16! Wait, there’s more!  CNN noted that Tebow had “John 3:16” painted under his eyes when, three years to the day before this Denver play, he led the Florida Gators to their national championship.

Well, Bible numerologists were off and running. And alongside them, it’s not surprising that, the next day, Google Trends’ top three searches were: “John 3:16”, “Tebow” and “Tim Tebow”.

But, as you know, neither John nor any of the original writers of the Bible divided their texts into numbered verses.  These numbers were first inserted in 1551 by the meticulous printer, Robert Stephanus.  So, even Luther would have been stumped had he been asked to quote “John 3:16”.  He’d died five years before.  And, of course, “John 3:16” wouldn’t have rung a bell for John himself.  We shouldn’t read into strings of 3-1-6 what’s not in the text.

But, what’s been in John’s Gospel from the beginning, is so infinitely more significant than all the sports trivia and supposed numerical codes that get fussed over by folks with too much time on their hands, is this utterly earthshaking – indeed, Heaven’s shaking earth awake: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever trusts in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

No sentence in the whole Bible better sums up the basic message of the whole Bible than John 3:16.  The world has never received better news than this Good News encapsulated in the words of John 3:16.

Trivialized, even mocked, by those who may seem to have no clue as to its true meaning, but then, possibly may suspect something of its true meaning, they reject it with defensive fury.  Meanwhile, its eternal truth has been and is still received with eternal awe and eternal praise by all who know even a bit more than something of its amazing grace, even while in this world.

Popular black contemporary gospel singer Kirk Franklin has been apologizing to gay people for antigay attitudes in black churches.  He says: “More than anything, I’m trying to peel back those layers [that] keep people away from God and keep people away from experiencing the love of God and knowing God’s love as a father.  I’m trying through [my recent] album to erase the dogma and the ideology that gets in the way of the true essence of one of the most simplest things we could ever say to somebody: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  Whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’.” Read more →

Participating in His Providence

“Participating in His Providence”

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.”  

Jeremiah 29:11

(PDF version here)

Each of the three top-tweeted Bible verses reveals that God initiates our relationship with Him and invites and empowers our response to Him.

Yesterday, we looked into our sufficiency in the all-sufficiency of God in Christ. (Phil 4:13)  We also looked into our affirming God’s affirmation of us in Christ. (John 3:16)  This morning we look into our participation in God’s providence, assured that His love in Christ reaches out to us, even from everlasting to everlasting.

In this morning’s text, Jeremiah the prophet conveys God’s providential words to Israelites in Babylonian captivity.  There’s good news: “ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  Well, it’s easy to see why folks today are so favorably disposed to use this text – without its context – and frame it to footnote all their fondest fantasies.

But there’s good reason Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet”.  He deeply experienced the pain of fellow Israelites in captivity for their sins.  And he suffered pain in their pushing back against his preaching the truth.  And, as far as it’s even humanly possible, he identified with and anguished over God’s grief over this wayward people.  Jeremiah’s head was so clogged with tears that he wished his eyes were great fountains to relieve such great grief.

As we attempt to look into this text from Jeremiah’s prophecy, we’d be wise to begin our thoughts on God’s providence by recalling the sage advice of John Owen: “There is and always was, much about God’s providential management of this world, that even the most improved reason of mere men cannot reach into.”

In attempting to look into God’s providence, humility is surely the only appropriate starting point. And humility is surely the only appropriate way to wend our way through such inquiry. Finally, humility is surely the only appropriate way to conclude our inquiry – humility under the everlasting sovereign grace of the God of all providence.

These words of caution are especially important if we’re stuck in a systematic theology of whatever stripe, for in such cramped and crowded quarters, we easily mistake that trap for the whole truth or fruit of the Spirit. Read more →

REVIEW: Fall 2016

“Sexuality and Gender” by Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, The New Atlantis, Fall 2016.

 by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

Plain Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy in England, a 1728 tome, blamed tea and the  “pernicious influence” of Italian opera.  Today, there’s still alarm over the growth of what folks still confuse with that ancient xenophobic gang’s attempted rapes at Sodom.  During the intervening centuries, same-sex orientation and relationship for which we’ve not been adequately prepared has been blamed on astrological quirks, demons, masturbation, fluoride, trauma in utero, genes, smothering mothers, distant fathers, child sex abuse, “lifestyle choice” and almost anything else but the kitchen sink.

A conservative policy group focusing on “crucial moral and political questions” has published this survey of selected studies culled by Mayer, a psychologist, and McHugh, a psychiatrist, though the authors claim not to be dealing with “morality”.

“Born that way” is an oft-repeated catchphrase that does catch the fact that everyone – whether heterosexual or homosexual – feels “born that way”.  But these authors’ assumed purpose is that, in the case of homosexuals, “born that way” must be debunked.

Also, the authors reject the view that, “homosexuality or heterosexuality is in any given person unchangeable and determined entirely apart from choices, behaviors, life experiences, and social contexts.”  But, the data from many decades of failed “ex-gay” efforts and prior decades of psychoanalysis indicate the immutability of the orientation of one’s sex drive, at least in males, whatever fluidity some females may experience.  Of course, one’s circumstances, e.g., religious scruples or the unavailability of a preferred sex partner, may prompt a male homosexual to marry a woman or a heterosexual prisoner to rape a cellmate.  But neither case demonstrates any “fluidity” of sexual orientation.

Oddly, the report claims the term, “orientation”, is itself, “highly ambiguous” and that it “can refer to a set of behaviors, to feelings of attraction, or to a sense of identity”.  But, the very common, everyday use of the term is for the direction of one’s involuntary sexual attraction.  All who tried for so long and failed to get rid of their sex drive’s same-sex direction, still sense their orientation as anything but ambiguous. They chose to change their behavior and identity but that never changed their involuntary sexual orientation. Read more →

RECORD: Fall 2016

(PDF version available here.)

Kirk Franklin, black contemporary Gospel singer, is apologizing to gays for the homophobia in the black churches.  Says Franklin: “More than anything, I’m trying to peel back those layers [that] keep people away from God and keep people away from experiencing the love of God, [and all that] gets in the way of the true essence of one of the most simplest things we could ever say to somebody: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’.”  Referring to the “hurtful and painful things that have been said” about gays in the black churches, he says: “It is horrible that we have made it where the Bible is a homophobic manual.  That’s not what the Bible is.  I mean, you want to talk about things that God gets at – pride and jealousy and envy and arrogance.  But what we also see is God sending his son to save us all, because we are all, straight, gay or whatever, lost and in need of a savior, and there’s room at the cross for all of us.”

Sammy Rhodes blogs: “An Apology to LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters from a Theological Conservative”.   He is a college chaplain in the Reformed University Fellowship of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America.

After the mass murders in Orlando, Rhodes humbly confessed his and his fellow evangelicals’ silence: “I’ve (often) cared more about my theology appearing ‘correct’ and orthodox than I have about loving millions of LGBTQ brothers and sisters.  … I’m speaking mainly for myself, although I hope I’m not alone.”  He asked for forgiveness for, among other things, the hate and injustice, for jokes, for not listening and “for being more like Job’s counselors than anything resembling Jesus.”

Rhodes has also written a book, This is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection. The Religious Right’s World magazine reviewed the book with a note of caution.  Jen Wilkin said his “discussions of sexual dysfunction may be too much information for younger teens” and his “quotes from movies like Brokeback Mountain might also be construed as recommendations”.  Yet, his book addresses college students, not “younger teens”.

A “Shame List” of the “absolute worst” Christian colleges for LGBT students is meant to point up “harmful and shameful acts of religion-based prejudice and bigotry”. “Shame List” schools have requested or received religious exemptions to the Obama administration’s interpretation of Title IX.

Yet, for decades, some administrators, professors, students and alumni of these “Shame List” schools supported gay students.  But much of that was certainly unofficial, under the radar and before the muscle of the Religious Right began to be exercised and scared off likely donors. Read more →

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