Sex and the Christian Vision of the Good

Christianity doesn’t guarantee prosperity of every kind for every individual. Struggles in one’s health, one’s marriage, one’s work, and even one’s faith are par for the Christian course (Jas 1:3).

But, overall, we expect the biblical vision of the good life to produce a better life than the non-Christian vision. And (marital) sexuality is included. The Bible doesn’t deny that sin brings pleasure (Heb 11:25), only that the pleasure lasts or is worth having. Sin is always a denial of love for God and man.

So when I read secular sociologists coming to the same conclusion, I make a note, so that I may be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks me for a reason of the hope that is in me:

Hookup culture, strongly masculinized, demands carelessness, rewards callousness, and punishes kindness. In this scenario, both men and women have the opportunity to have sex, but neither is entirely free to love.

—Lisa Wade, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus

What Happens in Greenville…

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This post is not for all readers, just for those who have attended Christian universities in Greenville, South Carolina. Of which there are two. And kind of three. And there are seminaries there. All of which helps make my point.

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Greenville, South Carolina, where I spent 18 years, is a good place to be for conservative Christians—but not if they’re supposed to leave. I’m no extremist, I don’t think they should all make the reverse hajj I made last year. I’m glad I stayed there as long as I did, and I believe I did what was right. I also have family there who are staying, and who appear to me to be following the Lord’s plan for their lives. There are many Christian institutions there which need workers, from churches to those universities and seminaries to mission boards and adoption agencies.

But without blaming any individuals—only God knows—I can’t help but think more of my fellow Christian college graduates should leave that beautiful little gem of a city and scatter out to the churches around the country (or the world?) which would so highly value their gifts and training.

A friend recently wrote to me:

When I was asked to teach adult Sunday school at [large Baptist Church in Greenville in the BJU orbit], that was a real tipping point for me. I remember looking out each Sunday and thinking there’s at least two dozen men here in this little class who could do just as good of a job (and probably better) as I could hope to do.

It made me think of those four lepers feasting in the abandoned Aramean camp and squirreling loads of stuff away for themselves while the whole impoverished and dying city languished in their fear of a defeated foe and their ignorance concerning what God had done for them.

Their words are like a burr that gnawed on me as we made plans to leave:

We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.

While we weren’t looking or even thinking that it would take [so long] to find employment again, the Lord has really used this in our lives. God has brought us to a much more open-handed posture before him, and we’ve marveled how certain evangelistic friendships seem to have been crafted right out of the shared experiences of unemployment and the struggles that accompany that experience.

I have a great deal of respect for this guy. He left Greenville for a needy place with a family and no job prospects to speak of (just his good training to help him). He finally got a job after many months, and both before and after getting work he has given himself to help the pastor of a small- to medium-size church. Some of his friends should probably be there with him.

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All the same, if you’re a freshman at a Christian college in Greenville and you somehow stumbled across this blog post, stay where you are. And don’t go help a small church in the area (I’m sorry, but it’s my soapbox and I get to say what I wanna). Go get the best preaching you can find in the church with the most faith, hope, and love. Don’t leave Greenville until you’ve squeezed out of it all the wisdom and experience and teaching and training you can get. You’re there to give, yes, and you should do so, but you’re mainly there to get. God gave Moses 80 years of “training” before putting him into ministry. You can handle four or five more before leaving Mecca. Get as much schooling as you can. I don’t regret a moment I spent in the classroom.

The needs of the world feel so great, and they are great. They may tug you away before your training is complete. Just do a little math: every year of additional training you get should be multiplied by the number of years it will be used.

And then go wring yourself out a little bit for those who haven’t enjoyed your privileges. Our church would probably take you.

What Happens in Greenville, Make it Leave Greenville.™

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Introduction to the Old Testament for Bibles International

I wrote the following introduction to the Old Testament for Bibles International; it is being translated and placed into Bibles all around the world. Come back tomorrow for the intro to the New Testament.

The Bible tells one story, because God has one plan for all of history (Isa. 46:9–10; Gal. 4:4–6). The 39 books of the Old Testament begin the story but stop just short of the climax.

The Story

The first five books (Genesis–Deuteronomy) set the foundation for the story. God creates the world and declares it “very good.” And He sets apart two special beings who are made in His own image: Adam and his wife Eve. They have abilities no animals share, and they are to use those skills to complete a special task from God: they are to have dominion over God’s world as His representatives.

Very little time passes before Adam and Eve fall and sin enters God’s perfect creation. All creation falls under “slavery to corruption” (Rom. 8:21). But God promises that “the seed of the woman” will one day come and crush the head of the serpent who tempted Eve (Gen. 3:15).

Many years later, God chooses one man, Abraham, to be the father of that seed. God promises that Abraham will become a great nation and receive a special land. And God will bless all families on the earth through him.

But Abraham’s family, the nation of Israel, falls into sin too. They are not the solution to the fall; they are part of the problem (Joshua–Esther).

God, however, refuses to break His promises to Abraham. He swears to Israel’s most godly king, David, that someone from his line will sit on the throne of Israel forever (1 Sam. 7). This king will one day crush the serpent’s head and reverse the effects of the fall!

Wisdom

Wisdom books (Job–Song of Songs) tell believers how to live consistently with God’s big plan. Proverbs tells us where to start: by fearing the Lord. Ecclesiastes and Job demonstrate that that wise living is complex and difficult in a fallen world. The Psalms lead the believer to trust and delight in God.

The New Covenant and The Future

Prophetic books like Isaiah tell of that day when God will restore creation—and man in it—to the way He meant it to be (Isa 11). And even before that day, God tells of a New Covenant He will make which will start fixing the fall where it has done the most damage, in people’s hearts (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36). The prophets also give us precious truth about the Suffering Servant who will bear the sins of many. Who is this Servant? The answer—and the climax of the Bible’s story—comes in the New Testament.

Introduction to the Bible for Bibles International

I wrote the following introduction for Bibles International; it is being translated and placed at the beginning of Bibles all around the world. Come back tomorrow and the next day for intros to the Old Testament and New Testament.

The Bible tells one story.

Just one.

It’s a long one, and sometimes a complicated one. But it’s just one story.

The Bible is the story of what God is doing to glorify Himself by redeeming His fallen creation. That includes four major things to remember:

  1. Creation: God created the world and man to rule it.
  2. Fall: God’s world fell into sin with Adam.
  3. Redemption: God is redeeming (or restoring) this world.
  4. Glory: God is doing all of this for His own glory.

Many important things are left out of this little summary of the Bible’s one story. For example, Jesus Christ does not appear by name, even though He stands at the center of God’s plan to redeem the world. It’s important to add, too, that everything God does for His own glory is also done for the good of His people. And there are good reasons for thinking that the kingdom—God’s rule of the world—is also a major theme of the Bible. God is trying to re-establish His full rule over the world (1 Cor 15:24–28).

But a summary has to be short if it expects to be memorable. Every summary will leave something out, because it can’t be as long as the Bible! And a summary is important, because with such a long book we need something that will help us understand how all the smaller stories in Scripture—Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul—fit into the one big story.

Let’s look at the first three elements of our summary of Scripture. These three are all pointing toward the last one.

1. Creation

God’s creation was originally “very good” (Gen 1). He created Adam and Eve, the first humans, in His image, and He blessed them with the ability to multiply and to subdue the earth (Gen 1:26–28). But those blessings were also tasks: their job was to “image” God to all of creation by ruling God’s world like God would.

2. Fall

They failed (Gen 3). They believed the lies of the serpent, and they plunged both themselves and the world they cared for into what the Bible calls “slavery to corruption” (Rom 8:21). Instead of submitting to God’s rule, all people are now born in rebellion. Even animals suffer and die—and kill. The creation is still “very good,” but it groans, waiting to be redeemed, waiting to be restored to the way God meant it to be.

3. Redemption

The creation didn’t have to wait long for that redemption to start. God promised Adam and Eve that the “seed of the woman” would one day crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). In the middle of the saddest day in world history God brought good news: he was going to fix what Adam broke.

Years later, God chose one idol-worshiper, Abraham, to be His tool for that fix. The promised seed would come through him, God promised. Abraham’s family would be big, and they would get a land of their own (Gen 12, 15, 17).

Abraham’s family became the nation of Israel, the one family with whom God had a special covenant. They were meant to do what Adam failed to do: to image God to everyone else (Ex 19:5–6). God (through the prophet Moses) gave them laws to show them what it meant to be holy like Him (Ex 20). He instructed them to sacrifice animals in order to teach them how seriously their sin offended His great holiness (Lev).

But the story of God’s chosen people Israel became one of continual sin. Adam’s sin had infected them too deeply, and they never loved and obeyed God as they should. Their prophets, their priests, and even their kings failed them. They needed something more.

God promised that more was coming. He told one of their best kings, David, that someone from his line would sit on Israel’s throne forever (2 Sam 7). And he told one of their most important prophets, Jeremiah, that He was going to start writing His laws on people’s hearts so they would not continue their cycle of terrible sin (Jer 31).

The Old Testament ends on a question mark: how will God do all these things? How will the story end?

The New Testament

The New Testament opens with an answer and an exclamation point: Jesus Christ is God’s answer! Where all Israel’s leaders and all mankind have failed, Jesus succeeded. He, God in flesh, lived a perfect life. He died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to start a new era in world history (Rom 4:25).

He then sent His Spirit to instruct and comfort His followers as they established a new institution outside Israel, the church (John 16:1–15, Acts 2). This was the way Jesus chose to spread His rule over Jew and Gentile alike, through local gatherings of believers who come to fellowship, pray, eat the Lord’s Supper, and learn scriptural doctrine (Acts 2:42). The New Testament explains and applies Christ’s work to God’s people. It reveals the Creation-Fall-Redemption story you’ve just been reading about.

God has never set aside His command for mankind to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it. But because so many people fail to worship the God who gave us those tasks, believers have a new task (Matt. 28:18–20). We must spread the message of Christ’s forgiveness to those who do not believe. We must teach everyone to repent and do whatever Jesus has commanded.

The Future

The church and the rest of creation can look forward to the day when Jesus will completely rule the world and death will be no more. These “last days” began, in fact, when Christ conquered death through His resurrection (Heb 1:2; 1 Cor. 15:26, 55–58). God’s grace will restore nature to the way He originally designed it to be. Arctic foxes won’t steal and eat goose hatchlings. Lions will nestle together with lambs (Isa. 11:6). Jesus will renew and restore the whole earth, judge all the wicked, and bring His people to live under His wise rule in His city—the New Jerusalem—for all eternity (Rev 21). People will fill the earth and subdue it as God first planned.

At the end of this age Christ will hand all rule to the Father, and God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). That’s where Creation, Fall, and Redemption all point: to God’s glory. Your great goal in life, by God’s grace, ought to be the same: to point to the glory of God.