Love and Marriage

A Love That’s God

In Christian contexts, we hear that word a lot.  Love.  It’s everywhere in Scripture from the key teaching in Leviticus 19:18 (reiterated by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels) to God’s description of Himself as “love” in 1 John 4:8.  These are important, foundational teachings to the Christian faith and without them we would not be who we are.  We wouldn’t be Jesus people.  We wouldn’t be Bible people.  This is a doctrine that is integral to the fabric of our faith.

However, the problem comes when that’s the only doctrine of our “faith.”  Allowing the doctrines of sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath to fall by the wayside unquestionably changes the conversation.  This “faith” is no longer Christianity.  This “faith”, to borrow a term from Christian Smith, is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the basic tenets of which are:

  1. A god exists who created the world and watches over everyone.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, fair, and loving to each other.
  3. The goal of life is to be good to other people, be happy, and feel good about yourself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved except when needed to resolve a problem.

This is the primary “religion” of the people in the United States of America.  This is the “god” in which many of us trust.  This is the “god” that many of us believe our one nation is under.  This god is somewhere out there and isn’t coming home for a while and has left a note for the siblings to play nice and when you do you’ll get a warm feeling inside which means you’re a good, loving person.  This is a false religion preaching a false gospel that many have assumed is historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity.  And for this we need to repent.

I could end this post here, hopeful that those who have elevated God’s love above all his other attributes would realize their error and seek forgiveness.

But then Mr. Mainline Love-Machine sputters in. “But but but but but but but…that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that God isn’t sovereign or holy or righteous or just,” he retorts, conveniently leaving one out.  “It’s just that the Bible says, ‘God is love.’  Everything else must flow out of his love, so whatever is loving, that’s what God does.”

And here we have arrived squarely at the issue at hand.  What is love?  Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me…no more.

I agree with the Mr. Machine.  Whatever is loving is what God does.  The natural deduction would be, then, “If God did it, it must be loving.”  This is where Mr. Machine and I would disagree.  You see, we both open the text of Scripture and see God doing all kinds of crazy things.  My sentiment would be what was stated above.  “Whatever is loving is what God does and if God did it, it must be loving,” meaning that I view God’s destruction of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and all the other -ites as loving in the same way that His rescue of the Israelites from captivity and ready defense of the widow, orphan, and sojourner was loving as well.  I think that Mr. Machine and I would deviate at this point.  I have an inkling he would call majority of what God did in the text of Scripture unloving, if you can get him to even admit that God actually did them and they weren’t “just truth-filled stories.”  The judge of love is no longer God, but our own human fancies.

The fundamental difference is that I look at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and then allow Him to judge and define what love looks like throughout the very same text of Scripture.  Mr. Machine looks at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and rushes to find God in everything that he calls loving.  The breakdown is that, by his definition, Mr. Machine not worshiping a God that’s love.  He’s worshiping a Love that’s god.  You see, when we get to define what love is and demand God and everyone else adhere, our definition has just excluded the Prophets, the Apostles, Jesus, and God Himself.

When we deify Love, or any other attribute of God for that matter, we always (for we must) redefine it and make it into something it never was intended to be.  Love no longer can mean anger, wrath, or justice (an inconsistency which I’ve written about here).  It must mean something else.  And once we stand proudly beside our newly defined “god,” we demand that the one true God meet our own twisted, prideful, fallen, sinful, human qualifications of Love.  And when He doesn’t, He is wrong.  “God wouldn’t say that.  God wouldn’t do that.  God wouldn’t require that.  God wouldn’t prohibit that.  That’s not very loving.”  (*New Definition of Love* Read: That’s not very nice.)

This redefinition problem extends far beyond our deification of Love.  One more example.

We have redefined, and arguably inverted, the definitions of arrogance and humility.  I’m certain that whether in public or private, someone somewhere will think me arrogant for blogging in the way that I do, but maybe a hypothetical situation would be easier.

Situation 1: Pastor Evangelly-goo gets up in front of his congregation and spends the entire 20 minute sermon flattering and cajoling and talking about himself, his story, and his experience.  People, then, walk away and say to themselves, “What a humble, transparent pastor we have.”  Why?  “Because he talked about himself the whole time.”

Situation 2: Pastor John (the Baptist, Chrysostom, Knox, Calvin, Flavel, Owen, Piper, MacArthur…take your pick) gets up in front of his congregation and says, “Thus saith the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts…” and then proclaims the Word of God, a message that would have been true if he, the pastor, had never been born because it comes right out of the text of Scripture.  People, then, walk away and say to say to themselves, “What an arrogant man.”  Why?  “Because he didn’t talk about himself at all.  All he did was talk about God and the authority of the Bible.”

Here’s where the redefinition comes in.  We live in a time when to speak a true word based on what God said is defined as arrogance while to hem and haw and equivocate and offer a shoulder shrug making your own doubts, skepticism, and questions the center of the cosmos is defined as humility.

We live in a time when speaking the truth about God’s detest for, restrictions on, and punishment of sin is defined as unloving while calling the very things God did in the text of Scripture unloving and simultaneously demanding He rise to our new definition of Love is defined, somehow, as loving.

There’s only one word that can be said for people like us.  It’s no wonder it was Jesus’ first public message in the Gospel accounts (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15) and the first sermon of the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37-38).

Repent.

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I Did Not Expect This: Confessions of a Paedobaptist

I couldn’t tell you how many people told my wife and I that things would be different once we had a baby.  I reassured them that we were prepared.  My wife is one of seven and had been taking care of kids her entire life.  I was raised around kids and while all the other guys I went to high school with had part time jobs at Domino’s, I spent a few evenings a week playing Thomas the Tank Engine with a 3 year old while his mom went to the grocery store and the laundromat because her husband was in Iraq and she needed and evening to do errands.  I even had the songs memorized.  I was good.  We were prepared.  We had our gameplan.  We knew what we were doing.  However, I didn’t realize how right those people were… but not for the reasons you’re thinking.

You see, from the very beginning of our relationship, my wife and I began to call into question many of the secondary doctrinal issues we had been taught growing up.  (I’ve written about this previously and you can read that here.)  Apart from the fundamental, primary, essential, closed-handed, issues (like Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s Word, Jesus died in our place, Christianity 101 stuff), we called everything else into question and went back and looked at what our position was.  Settling ourselves on Reformed theology was like eating an elephant.  It happened one bite at a time.  Afterwards, we took a breath, sat back, and relaxed.  There were so many things we had worked through in that process and we thought for sure that there wouldn’t be any other secondary issues that needed to be dealt with any time soon.  

Complimentarianism vs Egalitarianism? Done

Single vs. Plural Eldership? Done

Cessationism vs. Continuationism? Later

Pre-Mil vs. Post-Mil vs. A-Mil? Later

Interpretation of Revelation? Later

Paedo vs. Credo Baptism? Later

It was so convenient to write later next to those last 4 because, shoot, we didn’t have to settle that stuff over night.  We had just made these huge strides and differed from the traditions of our parents in fairly significant ways.  We were young, married, childless 20-somethings with all the time in the world to figure that other stuff out.  

What I find the most interesting, though, is how little that last issue mattered to us at the time.  I had been baptized.  My wife had been baptized.  We were good.  If some people wanna baptize babies, cool.  If some people wanna baptize adults, no problem.  If some people wanna sprinkle, sweet.  If some people wanna pour, awesome.  If some people wanna dunk, great.  We were baptismal agnostics and very much okay with that position.

Until we found out we were pregnant.

All of a sudden, the decision we had been putting off (because having kids was step #157 in our 5-Year-Plan) had become priority #1.  We absorbed as much information as we could in a 9 month period.  We read blogs, we listened to debates, we listened to both sides explain their position.  Majority of our conversations were:

Did you read that article I sent you?

No, I was throwing up all morning.

Okay…well… you need to read it.

During this time, we were attending a Reformed Baptist church and were very happy there.  Loving God, loving people, and loving His Church.  Joining that church was an easy transition for us as we settled into Reformed theology.  The denomination we were raised in was credobaptistic and so shifting to a Baptist church was no sweat at all.

However, after 9 months of researching until our heads hurt, we finally came to the determination that we were paedobaptists and wanted to have our daughter baptized.  I remember discussing the decision and it’s implications on a 3 hour drive from Huntington to Morgantown in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve with our 1 1/2 month old sound asleep in the back seat.  Not long after, we met with our pastor and his wife, who were both incredibly gracious and loving during our time of transition and are still great friends today.  Though it pained us, we said goodbye to them and that church family.

487414_638223969533184_1877224497_nOver the next month, God was incredibly faithful and we found a wonderful church family.  We have become members and are both proud to announce that our daughter will be baptized this Sunday, April 14th, 2014.  Palm Sunday no less.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday by singing to, for, and about King Jesus who came to save us, we will simultaneously celebrate the sign of the covenant of God’s people given to my daughter.

People told us life would be different when we had a baby.  I can safely say I did not expect this.

The Woman Whom Thou Gavest

It was all my girlfriend’s fault.

The year was 2008.  I was in college reading Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis.  I had to read excerpts for a class and so I decided to pick up the book and read it in it’s entirety.  I was encountering a lot of interesting things that I discussed on a regular basis with my, then, girlfriend.  One fateful day, in one of our phone conversations, she asked a seemingly simple question.  She asked,

“Isn’t he a pastor somewhere?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “At Mars Hill Bible Church.”

“I listen to his sermons sometimes!” she exclaimed.

“Really?!” I said, equally enthused.

“I think.  I used to listen to a pastor online and I know the name of his church was Mars Hill.”

“Hold on.  I’ll look it up.”

“I will too.  I know that he reminded me of you,” she said with a laugh.  “Here!  I’m on his website.  His name is Mark Driscoll.  It doesn’t say anything about Rob Bell on here though.”

“That’s not the same guy.”

“But his church is named Mars Hill.  Maybe he’s associate pastor or something.”

“I’ll look, but I don’t think so.” 

[I’m sure you’re chuckling by now, but back in ’08, these weren’t the widely popular names they are today.]

The subject changed and we got off the phone not long after.  That’s when I made the fateful Wikipedia click that would change my life forever.

I was raised in a Pentecostal / charismatic denomination.  From the 2nd grade to college, that was all I ever knew, understood, or cared to believe.  Youth group.  Church camp.  Everything was saturated in Pentecostal theology.  I even went to a small, liberal arts college that was sponsored by the Pentecostal denomination I belonged to.  One of the unique things about that school is that it is “Theologically Distinct” yet “Denominationally Diverse” (from their website).  This means that they accept students from many Christian faith traditions, but they approach everything from the Pentecostal distinctives they were founded upon.  For example, it is a requirement for all employees to already be or be willing to become a member of a church in this particular denomination.  (I say this not to bash, but to set the stage for the story.)

While I was in attendance, one of the required courses for all majors was a semester class on this particular denomination’s “Doctrine and History.”  The purpose of this class was to trace the history of the Pentecostal movement in the United States back to the Reformation.  So that’s what my professor did (and he did it quite well actually!).  The interesting part of the story occurred when we started discussing the Protestant Reformation, the English Reformation, and the rise of Wesleyanism.  As I sat in that class, I was a sponge soaking up all the new facts I could considering that 99.9% of what he was teaching me was new information.  What can I say?  I went to public school.  I’ll never forget the day my professor introduced us to this crazy guy named John Calvin.  He talked about the basic tenets of “Calvinism” and contrasted them with the basic tenets of “Wesleyanism” (or Arminianism as he would sometimes say) and it was clear which position he took.  There was no attempt to hide his bias.  This caused a few days of in-class debate, but I remember sitting back wondering what everyone was so riled up about.  I was a Pentecostal which was a branch off the Holiness movement which was a branch off Wesleyan Methodism, so my mind was made up.  Calvinists were wrong.  At the end of those few days, my professor polled the class asking which side we “leaned” toward.  When he asked who leaned towards Calvinism, only one lonely and brave man raised his hand.  I will never forget how he was ostracized.  It was bad news bears coming out Calvinist!  Especially on a Pentecostal campus!

“Here!  I’m on his website.  His name is Mark Driscoll.  It doesn’t say anything about Rob Bell on here though.” 

“That’s not the same guy.”

“But his church is named Mars Hill.  Maybe he’s associate pastor or something.”

“I’ll look, but I don’t think so.”

The subject changed and we got off the phone not long after.  That’s when I did some digging on Wikipedia.

[I typed]

Wikipedia.org

M – A – R – K

D – R – I – S – C – O – L – L

Enter

[I read the bio box on the right to myself]

“Residence: Seattle, Washington.  Well, he and Rob Bell can’t be at the same church cause’ Rob’s is in Michigan.

Tradition or Movement: Reformed, Evangelical.  Reformed?  Wonder what that means…”

[the click heard round the world]

The big black letters stood at the top of that Wikipedia page unconquered like the boss you thought you beat on the previous level.  Strong.  Tall.  Unbeaten.  Begging to be dealt with.  Asking for a fight.

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What was my girlfriend into?!  I had to warn her about this guy and tell her to warn whoever told her!  This was serious stuff!  She couldn’t answer the phone fast enough.

“Hey!”  

“Hey?”

“Hey. Did you know Mark Driscoll is a Calvinist?!”

“I don’t know what that means.  Are you okay?”

“How can you not know what that means?!” I asked irrationally, having only learned a few months before.

“I dunno.  I’ve listened to quite a few of his sermons and I really liked them.  You should just calm down and listen to some and see what you think.”

“Okfinebye.”

I found the church’s website and did more digging.  At that time, Mark was preaching through his “Religion Saves…” series and so I hesitantly went and clicked on the most non-confrontational sermon I could find.  “Grace.”  In the message, he talked about how the hardest part of Christianity for him to believe was grace.  He couldn’t fathom how good and loving and kind and generous and gracious God had been to him in light of all the evil and wicked things he had done.  This was the part of Christianity that always blew him away.  And as he was talking, I started agreeing with him.  And as he was preaching, I saw that he doing so from the Bible.  But this guy was a Calvinist and Calvinists are…are…wrong.  But I agreed with him!  That was a watershed moment for me because from that time on, no belief outside of the Apostles’, Nicene, and Chalcedonian Creeds were safe.  They were fair game.   They were open to scrutiny and questioning.  And it had to start with this whole “Calvinism” thing.  I had to figure out what I thought.

I knew Calvinism had it’s roots in the Protestant Reformation, so I found myself in the library as often as I could, mostly at night, reading everything I could get my hands on about the Reformation.  I finally starting reading some of Martin Luther’s own works.  After that, I knew my church history well enough to know that after Luther and before Wesley came the Puritans.  So I read everything I could find on the Puritans.  And then I started reading some of John Owen’s works.  I can’t say that during all this reading I was convinced, but I wasn’t unconvinced.  The final persuasion came from…you guessed it…my girlfriend.

It was a year or two later and I was still wrestling with all of this.  Up until this point, I was doing so in silence.  One random evening (and for the first time since that conversation about Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell) my girlfriend and I actually ended up talking specifics about this whole Calvinism mess.  I laid out the arguments and presented both sides arbitrarily.  Before I was finished and without even hesitating she said, “Then I’m a Calvinist.”  I was floored.  Until then, I had just assumed that she was an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire.  She didn’t really know what she thought about all of this.  She didn’t have a dog in this fight.  “How can you be a Calvinist?!” I shouted.  “I dunno.  That’s what the Bible teaches,” she said with a wry smile.  I disagreed, loudly, and remained still unconvinced for another few months.  But in the end, I was forced to admit that she was right.

It’s been an interesting journey from there to here with many different caveats I’ll share at different times in the future.  But I can say with complete assurance and certainty that I would not be the person I am today if not for that girlfriend I had back then.  Just as an example, I write to you today as a happily Reformed Evangelical Presbyterian.

And it is all my wife’s fault.  (Yeah.  I married her.)

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