Writings by Dr. Blair

RECORD: Fall 2015

(PDF version available here.)

Tony Campolo affirms same-sex couples. On June 8, 2015, he explained: “I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as [my marriage]. Our friendships with these couples have helped me understand how important it is for the exclusion and disapproval of their unions by the Christian community to end. We in the Church should actively support such families.” He notes: “Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage. … Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.” But, he says, he’s “old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases” against other things we’ve since changed our minds about. “I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again.”

David Neff, Christianity Today’s longtime editor-in-chief and National Association of Evangelicals executive, salutes Campolo’s support for same-sex couples. Neff, who retired in 2013, writes: “God bless Tony Campolo. He is acting in good faith and is, I think, on the right track.” Neff told CT’s current editor, Mark Galli: “I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages.”

Campolo’s announcement wasn’t surprising, but recent shifts on these issues by Neff and other evangelical leaders have caught the conservative religious establishment off guard. Those in charge at Christianity Today, World magazine, conservative churches and other antigay institutions and agencies are frantically pushing back.

Instead, they should be receptive to warnings against, yet again, “making the same kind of mistake” that’s been made repeatedly, and regretted repeatedly, throughout church history. Indeed, what are now seen as atrocities committed by church leaders of the more distant past and cruel and embarrassing mistakes of later eras, even in recent times by CT, World, Southern Baptists, Southern Presbyterians, et al., should be enough of an alert.

Yet, the Religious Right’s Mark Tooley, while easily granting that the church was wrong on issues of women as teachers, slavery, etc., mocks Campolo’s caution: “So …we all know better now and so too on same sex marriage. Let the nuptials begin!” But Tooley misses the point. The words of caution come with sad memories that, in each case, it was always only after the mistakes were made and the damage done that we all admit, “we all know better now.”


Looking Back: Evangelicals and Homosexuality

To put current events in the context of some of the relevant background of evangelical responses to homosexuality – as well as to other social issues in the past and to the shifts on these matters – we interrupt Record’s usual format with the following retrospective.

Much of what’s been written on same-sex issues and evangelical response today suffers from self-serving polemics on all sides and, even more so, by a serious ignorance of history. The following overview is meant to give some corrective perspective.

Bob Jones, Sr. was right: “You can’t move without producing friction.” The moves by Campolo, Neff and other evangelicals are producing lots of friction. Sparks fly as Mark Galli, on behalf of the flagship of evangelicalism, resists these moves. He quickly distanced himself and his employer, Christianity Today, from the empathy shown by Campolo, Neff and other evangelicals who’ve lately joined the evangelicals who, over many decades, have given their support to same-sex couples.

Among these more recent supporters are Baptist ethicist David Gushee, Nashville megachurch pastor Stan Mitchell, former NAE executive Richard Cizik, and pastor Fred Harrell of the (formerly PCA) City Church in San Francisco.

In 1975, Ralph Blair founded Evangelicals Concerned for just such support. He’d written, The Bible is an Empty Closet, and began by saying: “There are no homosexuals in the Bible. Ruth and Naomi were no lesbians. David and Jonathan weren’t gay. Neither were Jesus and John, the men of Sodom, cult prostitutes, slave boys and their masters, nor call boys and their customers. The Bible is an empty closet.” He meant that both antigay and pro-gay propagandists look in vain to find a homosexual in the Bible. Read more →

REVIEW: FALL 2015

“The Supreme Court: Greasing the Slippery Slope” by Eric Metaxas, BreakPoint, July 2, 2015; “Statement on Same-sex Marriage: PCA’s View” by L. Roy Taylor, byFaith, June 27, 2015; Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls (Tyndale, 2015), 240 pp.

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

With the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, “the two words that come to mind” – i.e., Metaxas’ mind – are “anything goes”.  Same-sex couples now can have just as legal a marriage as Metaxas has been enjoying and “anything goes” is what comes to his mind?  How about two other words: “Golden Rule”?  Billions are spent on porn and 40 percent of kids are born outside the stability of a marriage, but same-sex couples are granted the conservative, constraining framework of legal marriage and this means, “anything goes”?

Accusing Kennedy of “a generously-greased slope”, Metaxas slips on his own “slippery slope”.  There’s no causal connection between gay marriage and polygamy, pedophilia or who-knows-what’s in Metaxas’ mind. Polygamy failed long ago; Sarah and Hagar are still at odds. ‘60s “Open Marriage” fads failed, as do all inevitably competitive, jealousy provoking 3-ways. Ashley Madison adultery was designed by a double-incentive deceit since postmodern expectations are egalitarian.  But they forgot about hackers. And, news flash: Three new films reveal that human/android romance is a dud.  Who knew?

Accusing Justices of “making it up as they go”, Metaxas forgets that the Constitution requires interpreting for application in various circumstances – as does the Golden Rule.

2015 marks centenaries of Booker T. Washington and Fanny J. Crosby. Washington told Southern preachers: “If you want to know how to solve the race problem, place your hands upon your heart and then, with a prayer to God, ask Him how you today, were you placed in the position that the black man occupies, how you would desire the white man to treat you, and whenever you have answered that question in the sight of God and man, this problem in a large degree will have been solved.”  Inspired by Jesus’ summing up of the Law and Prophets, Crosby wrote: “Love the Lord, the first command, with thy soul and mind; Love thy neighbor as thyself, both in one combined.” Read more →

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Self-Righteous Enslavement

Dr. Ralph Blair

Evangelicals Concerned 73rd Connection, May 30, 2015

In 1946, a 20-year-old Flannery O’Connor came north to take part in the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. But, privately, she was writing prayers: “Dear Lord, please make my mind vigilant about [loving others]. I say many, many, too many uncharitable things about people every day. I say them because they make me look clever. Please help me to realize practically how cheap this is. I have nothing to be proud of yet, myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule. Please help me to stop this selfishness. … I do not know you God, because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

She wasn’t yet the popular storyteller she’d become before she’d die just 19 years later. Her fellow believer and author, Marilynne Rob­inson, in a 2013 New York Times review of the posthumously published prayers, writes: “The brilliance that would make her fictions literary classics is fully apparent in [these early prayers].”

What else is fully apparent is the young O’Connor’s honest sensi­tivity to her own self-righteousness. But secular reviewers of these prayers tend to miss this. Sadly, that’s largely due to their self-righteous distaste for her serious Catholic faith and her having grown up and remained in the rural and segregated south.

Now, nobody holds the patent on self-righteousness. Human history is the history of self-righteousness. It’s a predisposition of all men, all women, every race, ethnicity, nationality, class, political stripe, ideology, gender identity and sexual orientation. Self-righteousness is rife in secular and religious realms. Even a public mea culpa can be infected and indeed, induced, by self-righteousness. The passive, “mistakes were made,” and similar self-righteously unapologetic “apologies” are the real mistakes.

Well, as Schiller knew: “The history of the world is the judgment of the world.” Aware of this history, Pope Francis says his central concern is “massive amnesia in our contemporary world.” In such stupor, the Right longs for what it romanticizes as the past while the Left lauds what’s replaced what it scorns as the past. Both are but self-serving figments of illiterate imagination – one in the nonsense of nostalgia, the other in the nonsense of narcissism.

As self-righteous know-it-alls, we refuse to accept what we refuse to know. Averting attention from what stares back at us from all the accusing mirrors of our minds, we try manipulating into mantras of “self-esteem.” We try to swallow shibboleths we can’t swallow. We try to think we’re good or, at least, better than “them,” so as to sanitize “us” and disparage “them.” But who needs to sanitize or disparage if we really think we are as good as we pretend to be? There’s something afoot. Read more →

Christ & His Preparation for Cosmic Life

Christ & His Preparation for Cosmic Life

Ralph Blair

When Paul wrote to Colossians, he began with a thankful prayer. He then inserted an early Christian hymn in celebration of Christ’s supremacy over all. Scholars say its insertion here “can be taken as a deft, preliminary counter-blow against a heretical demotion of Christ” (Robert Gundry), for as Richard Bauckham concludes: “the earliest Christology was already the highest Christology.” All the evidence refutes the propaganda of today’s skeptics who push their notions that it took centuries to turn a peasant prophet into a “God.”

This earliest of Christian hymns affirms: “In him all things were created: things in heaven and things in earth, visible and invisible, thrones and powers, rulers and authorities. All things are through him and to him. He’s before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ “is the head of the body, the church; he’s the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him, to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:15-20)

This is no endorsement of the trite talk of the Karen Armstrongs, Bart Ehrmans and John Shelby Spongs. If the earliest Christian reception of the risen Christ had been no more than the lifeless plots of these latecomers, neither they nor we would ever have heard of him.

This weekend, we’ll take a close look at this ancient Christ hymn in the wider context of Hebrew scripture and the New Testament.

We begin this morning by focusing on Christ and His Preparation for Cosmic Life. This afternoon we’ll look into Christ and His Propitiation for Cosmic Liberty. Tomorrow, we’ll consider Christ and His Purpose for Cosmic Love.

Explicitly and expansively, this hymn praises Christ as the manifestation of God himself. He’s over all creation since it all came into being through him and he holds it all together. And it’s all destined for him! Read more →

Christ & His Propitiation for Cosmic Liberty

Christ & His Propitiation for Cosmic Liberty

Ralph Blair

The Christ hymn that Paul passed on to Colossians affirms that, in Christ, everything in the heavens and on earth was brought into being. Then, there’s this striking parallel: in Christ, everything on earth and in the heavens was brought into reconciliation with God. From heaven to earth, Christ brought forth what’s needed for life; from earth to heaven, Christ brought forth what’s needed for liberty from sin and death, what’s needed for new birth, new life.

According to the Talmud, “All beginnings are arduous.” And, as in the chaos of the Big Bang’s birth pangs, indeed, as in all births, the new birth, too, began in a bloody mess, for this new birth into liberty was brought forth in the bloodshed at Christ’s cross. (Col 1:19-20)

The blood of Christ is at the crux of the Good News. And so is his bodily resurrection. Without his blood poured out on the cross and without God’s raising him to resurrection life over death, there’s no Good News.

Says the Torah, it’s blood that’s required for atonement (Lev 17:11) and the book of Hebrews acknowledges: Without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness. (Heb 9:22) Bloodshed shows how very serious a matter sin is.

So, the night before his bloody crucifixion, Jesus took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:27f) These words were, no doubt, distracting, distressing and disgusting to his disciples, and for more reasons than one. Jesus was inviting these men who, all their lives, had avoided any ingesting of blood, to drink what he was calling his “blood” and, in that, was alerting them to his imminent death. Read more →

Fall Festival 2014 – CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos is the text of the teachings Dr. Ralph Blair presented at the 2014 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 3-5, 2014. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on five Christians honored:

The 300th Anniversaries of
Matthew Henry, James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield
&
200th Anniversary of
Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner”

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair


It’s 1714. Isaac Watts is writing words on praise, here and hereafter: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, / And when my voice is lost in death, / Praise shall employ my nobler powers; / My days of praise shall ne’er be past, / While life, and thought, and being last, / Or immortality endures.”
Matthew Henry passes away to “employ [his] nobler powers” of praise, while here, his work continues to bless us. And three boys are born who’ll be evangelical leaders of their generation and beyond: James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield.
England’s Queen Anne dies and the Stuart royal line ends. George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, arrives to be King George, first of four Hanoverian kings – all named George. The last Hanoverian reign will begin in 1837 with Queen Victoria and last until her death in 1901.
Other notable deaths in 1714 include theologian Gottfried Arnold and Sir Edmund Andros, appointed as first proprietary governor of New York, an area including what will later be New Jersey and the state of Maine.
Parliament is offering a reward for an accurate way to determine longitude. It’s worth 10,000 pounds to anyone who can determine a ship’s longitude within one degree and worth double that to anyone who can cut that by half. Read more →

Christ & His Purpose for Cosmic Love

Christ & His Purpose for Cosmic Love

Ralph Blair

Aside from details in today’s troubling headlines, they’d not surprise the Roman historian, Livy. And he died when Jesus was still a carpenter in Nazareth.

Livy gave voice to his world-weary sighs: “We can neither endure our vices nor their remedies.” And, Livy, neither can we. We, too, are weary of the everyday evidence of the failure of fallen humanity and of fallen humanity’s failed efforts to fix what’s failed.

We repeat and repeat: “If only we’d all just get along!” “If only we’d just do this!” “If only they’d just stop that!” These faulty diagnoses and failed cure-alls are full of the same fallacies we’ve fallen for before – whether as “vice” or “remedy.” And confusing one with the other, we’re bound to continue to fail. What’s been will be; what will be has been – unless there’s truly significant Intervention.

But “if only” is doomed from the beginning. It begins with “if” and “if” reveals it isn’t. Anything offered by “if” is a fantasy and a fantasy cannot be counted on.

And “if only” brings up the rear in reductionism. So simplistic, it’s far too complicated. Besides, “if only,” is narrow-mindedly fixated on only what’s intended. It fails to adequately anticipate unintended, but usually rather predictable, consequences. Its own blinkered bias blindsides itself.

“If only” starts and stops in a dead end. So, going the way of “if only” gets us nowhere. We’re out of touch. And, out of touch, we’re out of control. And out of control, we make ourselves frustrated and fearful as we try to do what can’t be done. Trying to get out from under all that frustration and fear, we get hostile. And that means more conflict until we burnout in despair. Read more →

Self-Centered to Serve:

Self-Centered to Serve:

From Selfish Self-Centeredness to Self-Centeredly Informed Service for Others

Ralph Blair’s Keynote for connECtion2014

At the time, it was called the “greatest single event in human history”.  That was in 1964.  Guess what it was!  If you were born in 1964 – that wasn’t it.  Since it was only 50 years ago, you can be sure that it was not the “greatest single event in human history”.

With 1964 came The Civil Rights Act and The Great Society. In Berkeley, the Free Speech Movement was launched – long since gagged by ever-restrictive speech codes. In 1964, 76 percent of us trusted government to do the right thing “just about always or most of the time.”  Today, 19 percent do. Both Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama were born in 1964. The Beatles arrived for their first tour in America as Broadway welcomed Funny Girl and Hello Dolly.  Then, instead of fixating on genitalia as antigay clergy do today, a great evangelical theologian, Helmut Thielicke, affirmed: “Very certainly [homosexuality is] a search for the totality of the other human being.  He who says otherwise has not yet observed the possible human depth of a homoerotic-colored friendship.”  Thielicke urged, a la Jesus’ parable that we think of it “as a talent to be invested so that the homosexual in his actual situation can achieve the optimal ethical potential of sexual self-realization.”

But none of these was what was called, at the time, the “greatest single event in human history.”  So, what do you think it was?

Here’s my self-centered focus. In 1964, I got my MA from USC, got my first full-time job on IVCF staff at Penn, and was soon told I’d not be reappointed since I was advocating evangelical support for same-sex couples.  Those were surely milestones in my life and pointed to my life’s calling, but, to label any of them, the “greatest single event in human history”, would make no sense at all. Read more →

Fall Festival 2013 – Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign

Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign

Jesus’ Parables of God’s Reign is the text of the teachings Dr. Blair presented at the 2013 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 11-13, 2013. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on four Christians we honor in this, their bicentennial year:

David Livingstone – Soren Kierkegaard – Robert Murray M’Cheyne – Jemima Thompson Luke

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair


In the Year of our Lord 1813

It’s 1813 and the War of 1812 drags on – the “wars and rumors of wars” of which Jesus forewarned a fallen race.  The British and Americans battle each other on Lake Erie and Long Island Sound, at Buffalo, Plattsburg and Toronto.  Explorer Zebulon Pike is one of the casualties.  John Lawrence’s command, “Don’t Give Up the Ship”, will become our Navy’s motto.  On September 7th, The Troy (NY) Post creates  “Uncle Sam”.  Other “peace” papers follow. (In 2013, Time magazine will rate “Uncle Sam” as one of the 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.)  James Madison begins his second term as president, the first Federal vaccination law is enacted, Congress authorizes steamship use for transporting mail and patents are granted for rubber and for the making of coal gas.

Three signers of The Declaration of Independence die: Benjamin Rush, Robert Livingston and George Clymer. Among our births of 1813: Henry Ward Beecher, who’ll lead the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn Heights.  On Sunday mornings, ferryboat dockings at Brooklyn’s pier will announce simply, “Beecher!”  Susan Fenimore Cooper is born – the daughter of our first world-renowned novelist. A Christian naturalist, she’ll write against the vote for women!  Others are John C. Fremont, abolitionist and first Republican Presidential candidate, Nathaniel Currier of Currier & Ives, Stephen Douglas, who, famously, will debate Abraham Lincoln.  And, Montgomery Blair is born – Lincoln’s postmaster general who’ll introduce regular city delivery and money orders. Read more →

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

To Reject or Receive God’s Reign

Matthew 13:1-30, 36-43

 

In July, Time magazine published The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.  Editors drew up this list of fictional characters with some help from “contributors” such as F. Murray Abraham, Jodie Foster and Chris Colfer.  The public then voted for its top choices from the list.  Not surprisingly, Santa Claus ranked No. 1.  But James Bond was No. 2?  Sherlock Holmes followed him.  No. 4 was The Dude. The Dude?  Jeff Bridges as The Big Lebowski.  The Good Samaritan was fifth.  The Prodigal Son ranked farther down the list, getting about a third as many votes as did The Good Samaritan.  The Prodigal Son was ranked just ahead of Dorothy Gale but far ahead of Jay Gatsby, Tarzan and Pollyanna.

In his Prodigal Son essay, a sports writer for Time misses the point of the parable. He hails the Prodigal as a “designer of daydreams” and says the older brother “needs to take a few more risks to earn his rewards, just like Baby Bro.” (Sean Gregory)  But, the anonymous comments on The Good Samaritan are on point.  The character’s function as archetype of folks who come to the aid of needy strangers is recognized and the writer says that Jesus asks us “to practice the most demanding act of the Christian faith: to love and help even our enemies in an age in which so many voices urge us to demonize.”  Some get a parable’s point and others don’t.

Well, this weekend we’ll be looking at some of Jesus’ other parables.  But before that, and since Jesus is so poorly stereotyped in the public mind, I’d like to quote from a letter I have in which C. S. Lewis responds to an enquirer, addressing the misconception that was popular in Lewis’ day as it still is in our day.

Lewis wrote: “Of course, ‘Gentle Jesus’ my elbow!  The most striking thing about our Lord is the union of great ferocity with extreme tenderness. … Add to this that He is also a supreme ironist, dialectician, and (occasionally) humourist.  So go on: You are on the right track now: getting to the real Man behind all the plaster dolls that have been substituted for Him.  This is the appearance in Human form of the God who made the tiger and the lamb, the avalanche and the rose.  He’ll frighten and puzzle you; but the real Christ can be loved and admired as the doll can’t.”

Let’s hear God’s word. Read more →

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