I made a change to the site last week, something I’ve put off for six (has it really been that long?!) years. I added a plugin so that all the Bible verses listed on the site can be hovered over and have the passage made visible. Alan Jacobs has pointed out that an important principle of blogging is making the blog as easy to read and use as possible, and this addition was clearly something that would assist in that.
Why did I hold off for so long? Partially because I didn’t want to commit to a specific translation on here, and had some hesitations about the English Standard Version, the translation I ended up using.
The ESV is a fine translation, but it makes some egregious errors in places and the instincts it follows to get there are bad. Now, I have no problem using the ESV or preaching from it…
This was originally posted in February, 2022 but I edited and wanted to re-up the essay.
Starting from the position that Jesus here, in what is often called the Great Commission, appoints every individual Christian to go and share the gospel as the central mandate of the church and Christian life ignores Matthew on his own terms. The 11 apostles are specifically identified as the ones who received this command from Jesus; the question is, What does that commission have to do with the church today? What does it mean to be a Great Commission church?
We see two things are given here. The first is the authority that Christ has received over all heaven and earth. The second is the command given by Jesus to disciple all the nations. The command to disciple is linked to the authority given to Christ. Because Jesus has received authority, he is giving the task of discipleship. The task given and those who received the task is intertwined with the nature of the authority Christ received….
Below is a report I wrote in 2021 assessing my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, remaining a member of the global ecumenical body the World Communion of Reformed Churches. I wrote this as a member of the EPC’s committee on theology to assist our committee on Fraternal Relations to think through that membership in light of the EPC’s revised endorsement policy. At the 2022 General Assembly, the committee on Fraternal Relations was instructed (at their request) to formally evaluate the EPC’s membership in the WCRC and to bring a recommendation for action to the 2023 GA. While the official recommendation has not yet been made public, the expectation is that it will encourage us to end our membership in the WCRC. The WCRC is more aligned with mainline and liberal churches in North America and Europe (such as the PCUSA) than evangelical churches, and the North American and European contingents dominate the ethos and meaningful leadership of the WCRC. This is the real reason the EPC would consider leaving: the WCRC is not a good fit for missional partnership.
I believe the EPC should remain a member of the WCRC, though only if we’re willing to actually engage it. There is a significant shift happening on a global level in the church (e.g. the changes in the Anglican Communion and among the Methodists) where the leadership is moving towards evangelical churches in the majority world. I think the EPC could stand to benefit from being part of global council of churches committed to the Reformed tradition, especially as things are changing. So below is a lightly edited version of the report I submitted in July 2021.
In 2011 the EPC instructed the Fraternal Relations Committee to evaluate all of our fraternal partnerships. This included the WCRC. At the time, part of the concern over the WCRC was our sharing a membership with the PC(USA), which had just revised its ordination vows to accommodate homosexual relationships. The FRC’s report, adopted by the GA in 2012, said this about the WCRC…
Mark Jones has an article up at reformation21 on how same-sex attraction is itself sin. In general the article is solid, but Jones makes two crucial missteps that handicap its overall usefulness.
First, after Jones spends a larger portion of the article arguing that desires and temptations for sinful things arise from our sinful nature, he begins to address how the sinless Jesus was tempted. He says “Given the above, I hold that Christ was not ‘liable to temptations from within.’ If I may summarize the basic view of Reformed theologians, I would argue the following: Our temptations typically arise from within us, as we are lured away by desires that give birth to sins such as unbelief and sinful lust…” That “typically” gives away the whole argument. Yes, temptations to sin usually arise from a sinful nature within us, but not necessarily and not always.
Which dovetails into the second mistake, which is that Jones equivocates temptation, desire, and attraction :”If temptation is understood this way, then a proposal towards that which is evil (e.g., same-sex attraction) is sinful.” And,
Homosexual lust, even if it is not acted upon, is sinful. Even homosexual attraction must be mortified because it is not natural, but rather unnatural. It is a temptation towards that which is evil. So not just the act itself, but also the “deliberation” that arises from the “inclination and propensity” is sinful and needs to be mortified (Rom. 8:13). Inclinations need to be reoriented so that propensities are reoriented. In this way, the justified child of God is freed more and more from resolutions to sin.
Of course anything sinful arising from within our corrupted nature, including sinful thoughts, desires, and temptations needs to be repented of and mortified. And same-sex desire can fall into that category. However, gay Christianity’s Side-B (which acknowledges/embraces same-sex attracted identity in some form while also committing to chastity in the historic, orthodox sense of the term) argues that same-sex attraction is a temptation or condition that arises from outside us just as Jesus also faced temptation that arose from outside himself. Jones is either refusing to engage with Side-B thought, which means that he is not addressing their real arguments or concerns and is therefore talking past them, or ignorant of the specifics of their arguments.
In practice, the difference in application is whether we tell people they need to repent of the temptation or mortify the temptation. But telling people they are sinning without even acknowledging their theological framework means they probably won’t hear anything else you have to say.
Smoking Spiritualized. II
Ralph Erskine (1685–1752)
WAS this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the plant of great renown,
Which Mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 5
Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what ’s the power
Of Jesse’s flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 10
The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon’s rose:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 15
In vain the unlighted pipe you blow—
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heavenly fire
Your heart inspire:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 20
The smoke like burning incense towers;
So should a praying heart of yours
With ardent cries
Surmount the skies:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 25