By / Feb 11

In this episode, Chelsea and Lindsay discuss the ERLC’s 2022 Policy Agenda, seeking justice, and Valentine’s Day. 

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  1. ERLC’s 2022 Policy Agenda 
  2. Government funding deadline 

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  • Prison Fellowship | Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
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By / Feb 8

Social justice is a polarized topic in these divided times. The issues that are associated within this discussion are important and should be evaluated from a biblical perspective. Dr. Thaddeus Williams, an associate professor of systematic theology at Biola University, helps us do that in his recent book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth. Below, he answers questions about justice, identity politics, and the role of social media in our conversations.

Jason Thacker: Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What got you interested in a lot of these topics, and why did you end up writing this book?

Thaddeus Williams: I teach systematic theology at Biola University, and I’ve always considered myself sort of a generalist fixated on how the lordship of Jesus applies to every square inch of life. So from where I’m coming from, there’s really nothing out of bounds or any territory of reality that Jesus doesn’t declare “mine.” I’ve been interested in literature and art, and with most of my books, I sort of want readers to be confused and ask, “What am I reading? Is this apologetics? Is this systematic theology? Is this church history? Is this literature? Is this poetry?” And the answer is yes, it’s all those things. Because again, if Jesus is Lord over every square inch, then we should reflect that as best we can. 

So when it comes specifically to questions of social justice — which is my latest book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth — I noticed in all the speaking and traveling, I do, some version of the problem of evil [would come up], with the top question being “How can a good God exist when the universe is so messed up?” But in the last four to five years, that’s shifted pretty dramatically. Some version of “How do Christians think biblically about social justice?” has now taken first place. So the first motive behind the book is realizing there are a lot of Christians out there seeking biblical clarity on these questions.

And I’d say a second big reason was seeing a lot of friends and students of mine getting swept up into certain social justice ideologies, and they just slowly became unrecognizable to me. The fruit of the Spirit — love and joy and peace and patience — slowly got replaced with bitterness, rage, resentment, assuming the worst of other people’s motives, and self-righteousness. I was scratching my head and trying to get to the bottom of it. I realized, at the root, there are a lot of very trendy ideas about social justice that are on the rise these days. And I’m convinced a lot of these ideas are a direct assault on a Christian worldview and directly undermine Christian character.

And one of the final reasons is a lot of the stuff I was reading out there was super polarized. For example, if you think racism exists, then [some think] obviously you’re a far-left, snowflake, social justice warrior Marxist. Or, you might think something isn’t as racist as it’s cracked up to be, so you’re [labeled as] an alt-right, fascist, neo-Nazi or something. And I’m only slightly embellishing there. These days, that tends to be the way these conversations go. So, I hoped to put out a resource that could actually draw Christians together to think it through biblically and as charitably as possible.

JT: In the book, you lay out a biblical vision for social justice, and you make the case that social justice isn’t optional for the Christian. Can you help us understand a little bit of a biblical understanding of social justice and the role of the imago Dei?

TW: Just think of how many passages where God doesn’t suggest, but rather commands justice. “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed” (Jer. 22:3). And most of us are familiar with Micah 6:8. It’s not, “What does the Lord suggest of you?” It’s, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This is a running theme from the Old to the New Testament — to do justice. 

So I argue that there’s no such thing as a private injustice or even a private sin that won’t, in some way, affect others. Because both sin, by its very nature, and injustice, by its very nature, are corrosive. They send out a destructive ripple effect on the people around us. So, in a way, all injustice is social injustice in the sense that it affects people around me. And the flip side of that coin is also true. If I’m doing real justice, it’s going to bless the people around me. 

JT: Can we use the term social justice, especially since the term has been co-opted by ideologues? 

TW: The term was invented by a Christian thinker a little over 200 years ago. And if it’s being used and abused today, well, let’s reclaim it and inject those letters with biblical content. Throughout my book, I draw a very basic distinction that runs throughout. On the one hand, social justice, simply defined as the kind of justice that’s compatible with the biblical worldview. But on the other hand, a lot of what’s on the rise these days is what I call “social justice b,” which is deeply incompatible with the biblical worldview. 

So, what are some of the marks of biblical justice? Think of that famous wedding passage where Paul’s describing love (1 Corinthians 13). Paul says that real love is not easily offended. I would say, for example, that’s one mark of biblical justice; it’s marked by a slowness to take offense. This social justice movement that we’re seeing on the rise today is the exact opposite. It actually encourages and inspires people to take offense. By [it’s adherents’] standards, the more offended you are, the more virtuous you are. 

A second point of distinction of biblical justice is going to start with the pride-leveling reality from Paul’s argument in Romans 3 when he says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. A biblical approach to justice isn’t going to play these kinds of inner-tribal identity group games of saying, “Well, I’m in the good group. We’ve been oppressed. You’re in the bad group, and you’re the oppressors.” Rather, it’s sort of like a wrecking ball that smashes far-left and far-right versions of identity politics where my economic status, skin tone, or my XX or XY chromosomes will determine the worth and value of what I have to say. A biblical view knows we’re tragically united in Adam. But then there’s this new identity in Christ that draws people together from every tongue, tribe, and nation. So a biblical approach to justice is going to give us a foundation for real, meaningful unity that you just won’t find in the “social justice B” alternative. 

How does the image of God fit into all that? If I’m starting from a biblical perspective, then even the people I most passionately disagree with are not enemies on the battlefront of a culture war. Instead, I need to see them at a deeper level. I need to see them theologically and through biblical lenses where this person is an image-bearer of God. And when that clicks, it’s really hard to keep playing the name-calling game, the mudslinging, the assuming the worst about everybody who disagrees with me. If you look at the “social justice B” alternative, there just isn’t a category for the imago Dei. It lends itself more readily to being able to use some pretty dehumanizing language to describe people who don’t agree.

JT: Let’s dig a little bit into some of the issues surrounding identity politics and the elevation of group identity over and against biblical categories of being in Adam or in Christ. One of the criticisms that a lot of Christians have of the social justice movement broadly is the elevation of this group identity. Help us to think through some of the valid elements of understanding group dynamics in the ways that certain groups have been disenfranchised over time, and at the same time realizing that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. How do we navigate some of the tensions between those worldviews?

TW: I’m going to resort to my mentor, my friend, the living legend of the Civil Rights Movement, John Perkins, who, as you mentioned, was kind enough to to write the foreword to my book. And he shares four basic points. Number one, we’ve got to start with God. If you don’t start there, then these tribal identities are going to lead to tribal warfare. If we don’t start with God, then we’re not starting with the image of God as the premise of how we engage somebody. 

His second bit of insight is to be one in Christ. Basically, he says, regardless of the melanin levels in your skin cells, recognize that you have been adopted by the same Father into the family of God. You have been redeemed by the same Son, by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and you’re inhabited by the same Holy Spirit. Whatever cultural differences, melanin level difference, XX or XY chromosome differences, or whatever other kind of cultural category we could sort people into, a running thread through New Testament theology is that we are family. And if we aren’t reminding ourselves of that often, then we’re going to fall into these, polarized political traps and start excommunicating each other left and right. 

His third bit of advice is to keep the gospel first — the historic gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says this is of first importance. He cites this ancient — and some scholars think it’s actually the earliest — creed we have on record from the first century church: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, he was buried, he rose from the dead on the third day and appeared. If we get so swept [up] in social justice that the best news in the universe, the saving death and bodily resurrection of Jesus, becomes an afterthought, then Perkins says we aren’t doing justice and forth. 

And finally, he says, just teach the truth. He clarifies and says don’t go with what’s politically in vogue or what’s trendy right now. Don’t go with what politicians and presidents say. Don’t side with the Twitter mob. When we start with God’s Word, it’s going to take us back again and again to the fact that we all need community in Christ. We join an every-tongue-tribe-and-nation kind of community that gives us a foundation for being a true family. Whereas the further and further we drift from the text, the more we get swept up into the political moment, which is all about us-versus-them tribalism. 

JT: Throughout your reading and research, what role [did you discover that] technology, specifically social media, plays in some of these identities and tribalism and polarization? How do you counsel Christians to use these technologies more wisely?

TW: That is a profound and pressing question. The advent of the trifecta of the internet, social media platforms, and smartphones is extremely new in the history of the human race. And that means that I now have at my fingertips instant access to everything horrible happening on planet Earth, with a few swipes. I can quickly be pulled down a rabbit hole of depressing headline after depressing headline. I think a lot of the fallout of the social media and smartphone revolution is that we just don’t know how to cope with scrolling through a news feed and seeing everything horrible thrown into our field of consciousness on a daily basis. That’s part of the problem. 

The second part of it is we need to contextualize the rise of social media. Particularly in American history, we were coming out of the 90s. The internet came to be when I would argue relativism was at its peak in America. Really, the only thing considered sinful in the mainstream 90s was calling anything sinful. Part of the problem is that anything-goes style relativism just doesn’t fit our design. God designed us, according to Scripture, to be part of an epic drama of good versus evil, to fight the principalities and the powers and take every thought captive into obedience to Christ. We’re designed to be part of that grand moral melodrama. And relativism just took that from people, because relativism can’t give you anything bigger than your own personal tastes and preferences. Nobody’s going to die for their favorite flavor of ice cream, right? We don’t die for preferences. So on the heels of that, I would argue that relativism has a shelf life.

As social media has become basically a fixture of life in the 21st century, you have a lot of people who were bored morally through the 90s. Now, all of a sudden, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. So now people think: “I need to to be a warrior, I need to to signal my virtue to the masses, and I need to be able to to hashtag my solidarity or my outrage at every new headline, because that’s a lot more exciting.” In the broader cultural context, part of what we’re seeing is the convergence of a new technology that enables people to voice moral outrage unlike any platform humanity has ever seen, and this is coming on the heels of a stage of extreme moral malaise and boredom. Put those two things together, and you have a recipe for everybody being outraged all the time — at others who either don’t have enough outrage or the wrong kind of outrage. 

So what can Christians do in a moment like that? We don’t want to just write off social media. One of the things the Church has been great at through history is whenever there is a new innovation, new ground is pioneered in communication technology. As soon as the Gutenberg press came out in the late 15th century, Christians were right there at the forefront to say, “Let’s get the Bible out there in a way that it’s no longer under lock and chain in a Roman Catholic cathedral. Let’s get it in the hands of the masses.” During any one of these decisive technological leaps forward, the Church has adapted and often been at the forefront. 

So, as Christians, we don’t want to have [the attitude that] social media is bad. I know people who heard the gospel for the first time through social media. My dad has this mission field in cyberspace where he’s reaching out to Baha’is and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims. He’s been able to have meaningful points of contact and share the gospel. So I would say it’s not something to be afraid of, as much as something to capitalize on for the sake of the gospel.

And let me add a few bits of advice on navigating a technology that can be ambivalent and can pull us in really good or bad directions. Two things immediately come to mind. We need to recognize something that I describe in my book as the Newman effect. I’m borrowing here from a 2018 viral interview between Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and news host Cathy Newman. Any time Peterson makes a point, the response was “so you’re saying,” followed by an inflammatory interpretation of what Peterson was saying. I argue in the book that social media has sort of made Cathy Newman’s out of all of us. So, as we engage this very new technology, [we should] not play by those rules. [Unfortunately], that’s how most conversations that I’ve seen on important questions tend to go as we buy into the Newman effect and automatically assume the worst of other people’s motives. 

Secondly, think of the rise of Millennial and Gen Z folks who don’t identify as religious. There is a clear uptick over the course of the last 10 years. Researchers trying to get to the bottom of it found the number one answer was some version of, “I saw this really hilarious two-minute YouTube video of this guy just ripping Christianity.” People were now settling ultimate questions, eternally-weighty questions based on some two-minute sound bite they saw or some 60-second clip. So, that’s something we want to be very careful of, especially as we deal with complex questions like race, economics, sexism, abortion, or fill in the blank. As Christians, we just can’t settle for soundbites, which means we need to deliberately resist the algorithms that will only send us the kind of stuff we’re already buying into. We need to be very intentional about breaking out of our echo chambers. For Christians committed to truth in the age of social media, we need to be as intentional as possible about getting at the whole truth.

JT: What are some books that you would recommend for folks? Maybe one or two works that help us understand some of these issues, whether from a more historical perspective or more of a practical outworking on some of these?

TW: The one I’ve been going through again recently, that seems like it was written for these crazy times we’re in, was written a couple of hundred years ago. It’s William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity. It’s rightly considered a classic. And what he does there is he’s able to give just rock solid theology. Wilberforce has a clear grasp on the historic gospel of the Christian faith and the implications of that gospel for society, particularly when it comes to questions of justice and social justice.

A lot of social justice causes revolve around questions of gender, gender identity, and sexuality. Religious freedom gets wrapped up in there, too. So, another resource is The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Truman. He does a really helpful job of kind of walking through the history of some of the ideas that used to be in the ivory towers of academia, but have now gone mainstream. If you want to be discerning in this cultural moment and see a lot of the trendy ideology for what it is, I would put his book pretty close to the top of the list.

This article originally appeared here. 

By / Jan 28

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay discuss Justice Breyer’s retirement announcement, latest developments in Ukraine, and Omicron’s slow-down. They are talk about the critical work of pregnancy resource centers, the irony of the transgender revolution, and creation care. 

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Culture

  1. Justice Breyer to retire; Context of the announcement
  2. Developments with Ukraine
  3. Omicron loosening its grip
  4. Jeopardy winning streak for transgender woman 

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  • The Big Wide Welcome // This episode was brought to you by The Good Book Company, publisher of The Big Wide Welcome by Trillia Newbell. Building on the popular book God’s Very Good Idea, The Big Wide Welcome inspires kids to be like Jesus and love others. Grab your copy and some free coloring sheets at thegoodbook.com.
  • Prison Fellowship — Second Chance Month // Every person has dignity and potential. But one in three American adults has a criminal record, which limits their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things they need to reach that potential. Join Prison Fellowship this April as they celebrate “Second Chance Month”. Find out how you and your church can help unlock second chances for formerly incarcerated people who have repaid their debt to society. Learn how at prisonfellowship.org.
By / Jan 7

Today, the three men convicted of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder were sentenced to life in prison. Arbery’s family has waited almost two years for justice for their son after Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and Roddy Bryan mercilessly chased down Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, and fatally shot him while he was running in a Georiga subdivision. This horrible act of violence rightly brought national outrage. 

Arbery’s death renewed calls for racial justice and revived painful memories of racial violence across the South through the painful era of Jim Crow and beyond. Thankfully, unlike so many cases of the lynching and death of black men and women throughout America’s history, a jury of mostly white citizens reviewed the evidence and convicted the three men first, and then a judge handed down just sentences for taking the life of a fellow man.

Rejoicing and lament 

It is appropriate for Christians to both rejoice and lament in this moment. We can rejoice in the justice of the verdicts and sentences. It is right for these three men to be punished for their heinous racial crime that was perpetrated against an image-bearer of the Almighty. Our American system of earthly justice is far from perfect, but in this case, it brought about a just outcome. 

Yet, we should also lament the racial hatred that led to the death of Arbery, who was only jogging through a neighborhood. The guilty verdicts and life sentences, while correct, won’t bring back a son to his grieving parents; it won’t erase the pain they will likely feel for the rest of their lives. 

We should also lament the slow wheels of local justice in this case. When the shooting happened, local prosecutors declined to prosecute before a video leaked and provoked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to investigate. The GBI then arrested the McMichaels before the case was transferred to the Cobb County District Attorney. 

Though America has come far in moving to uphold her promises of “all men created equal,” she has a ways to go. The weight of slavery and the legacy of Jim Crow haven’t exited quietly. They continue to haunt our nation. 

The Christian’s longing for justice 

Earthly justice hits at the heart of Christians for many reasons. We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, knit with care and purpose by God in each womb (Psa. 139). We believe that every drop of innocent blood shed does not escape the watch of the Almighty (Gen. 4:10). Because of this, our hearts were provoked by a good kind of outrage, a demand for justice, when we watched the horrible video showing Arbery robbed of the breath of life.

This longing for justice is not unnatural and has been a feature of the human experience since the entrance of sin in the Garden, when human hearts were corrupted by the enemy and prone to turn in violence on fellow image-bearers (Gen. 3–4). And our imperfect and temporary models of earthly justice point us to a God of perfect justice, a God who turns no blind eyes to racism, hatred, and violence. 

Ultimately, our longing for evil to be reversed, for injustice to be made right, and our cries to “let justice roll on like a river” (Amos 5:24) will not be satisfied in any earthly court. Civil authorities are delegated the sword of justice by God (Rom. 13), but there is only one place where divine justice and wrath against evil was satisfied. It happened 2,000 years ago, on a lonely hill outside a backwater Roman province, as Roman soldiers carried out an unjust state execution of an innocent itinerant rabbi. There, Jesus, human and divine, bore the weight of every unjust act in the universe and the wrath of a holy God (2 Cor. 5:21). No sinful human can pay for their own sin, no matter how long the sentence, no matter how cruel the punishment. Only Jesus, the sin-bearer, can bear this weight. And only God can bring about perfect justice for those who won’t repent. 

And yet it was also in this moment when sin — lynchings, racism, violence, the shedding of innocent blood — and death were forever defeated. Jesus not only satisfies our longings for true justice but also defeats, through his death and resurrection, what creates injustice in the first place. The resurrected Jesus is pointing us toward a day without sin, tears, sorrow, and death (Rev. 21:4). Until, then, we work to make our societies more just, to make injustice less common, and to announce the verdict, “It is finished.” 

By / Sep 8

By now, the controversy in Texas over the Supreme Court allowing its near total ban on abortion to take effect has become part of the public ether. For some, the current moment offers a foretaste of what a post-Roe world could look like. For others, it is a dystopic descent into a religious theocracy. But in this intervening period where the Texas Heartbeat Act is in effect, it is worth wondering if the threat of financial ruin brought on by the prospect of the law will lead to the continuation or a decrease in abortion. Whether it continues or abates is a valuable opportunity to unearth what is really at the center of abortion and why abortion receives the degree of protection it does in our country. In short, it’s a question of justice. Is abortion a natural right worthy of pursuit and protection no matter the cost, or is it something else?

Abortion, justice, and civil rights

There is no right to an abortion before God or before the Constitution. Legal rights are enacted to protect natural rights. Natural rights are those attributes of human personality so essential to human happiness and human flourishing that to deny the exercise of these faculties is to deny citizens their right to basic self-constitution. Abortion fundamentally negates this. Rather than allowing life, it ends a life. In the Christian tradition, abortion is never a right, and the only reason it is in our public lexicon is because “rights” talk has been completely severed from its Christian beginnings.

But that brings us to our central concern: If abortion is not happening with the frequency its proponents demand is essential, it raises the question of whether the cause of abortion is grounded in the sacrosanct category of a right, or whether access to abortion is about something more fundamental, namely, profit.

If abortion access is about a so-called “right” to reproductive justice, it would seem essential that for the sake of justice and the common good that abortion providers break the law, engage in civil disobedience, and pay the consequences for their prophetic indignation

This is what the classic formula is when it comes to engaging in civil disobedience. It is what motivated Martin Luther King Jr. and he appealed to it in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Citing the Christian natural law tradition, he appeals to the existence of a moral law that offers a higher standard to define what is just. “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God,” writes King. “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law […] Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” 

Abortion as predatory and lucractive

If abortion is morally right, it should align with the moral law of God and be pursued regardless of the consequences. In this scheme, a failure to offer abortion services for fear of legal challenge is, in effect, a refusal to honor one’s conscience. But as of right now, there is no push for civil disobedience in Texas. It is likely that abortion numbers will dramatically lessen. Why, though? If the cause is righteous and truly grounded in a right, these so-called enablers of justice should be bursting through the legal barricades to do what they know is right.

But they aren’t.

All of this just exposes the abortion lobby for what it is: a predatory scheme that traffics in “compassion” while garnering rich profits in the form of human death. Abortion providers do not really care about women. They do not really care about rendering justice. They care about the profit margin that an unplanned pregnancy garners them and their investors. It is an unspeakably sordid reality — in America, people are becoming rich off murder.

God is the author of life (Acts 3:15). The truth is that every person is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27). The Bible tells us that. Human embryogenesis tells us this, too. Every person was once a “fetal heartbeat” or “cardiac activity.” We only use such inane, vacuous euphemisms because our morally bankrupt culture has no honest reckoning with teleology.

The problem with culture is not that personhood is not known or apparent, but that we know it is real and suppress this truth with euphemisms, reducing human origins to “electrical activity,” as NPR did. We are a Romans 1 nation drinking from the cup of judgment. Only biblical judgment means getting what we want no matter the cost to ourselves.

By / Sep 2

We live in a pornified culture. From popular television shows to music, and even billboards along the highway, pornographic images and language are pervasive. As it becomes more normal and increasingly ubiquitous, we may wonder: is there any hope for unseating pornography from its cultural position of power and influence?

Ray Ortlund, with his signature optimism, answers with an emphatic, yes! In his new book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, Ortlund pens a letter to young men charging them to do just that — to take up the noble cause of dismantling the pornography industry by the power of the Spirit and with the grace of Jesus. The Death of Porn is unique from start to finish. I suspect it will be a spark that ignites a movement lasting for generations. Ortlund recently talked with us about this and more. Read more below.

Your latest book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility, as the title suggests, tackles the topic of porn. What compelled you to write this book?

I wrote this book because so many of the magnificent young men I know are held back by this one thing: porn. I long to see this generation of men set free, men rediscovering their dignity and purpose, men perceiving women with the same God-given dignity and glorious purpose. And if enough men dare to believe in their true greatness, we will be at a turning point — the death of porn, the birth of revival.

It’s a unique book in that it’s written as a series of letters from you, “an older man” (your words), to your reader, presumably a younger man. What inspired you to take this approach?

I was inspired by a letter from way back in 1791. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a letter to a young politician named William Wilberforce. It was the last letter Wesley wrote before he died. He called Wilberforce and his friends to give their lives to bringing down the slave trade in the British Empire. And they did. It took a lot of courage and many years. But they succeeded. And now it’s time for the young men of this generation to fight for the freedom of everyone being exploited by the predatory porn industry.

The Death of Porn is a book that seeks to help liberate men and women from the chains of pornography, and it does that primarily by pointing to Jesus, our union with him, and the call he places on our lives. Why is remembering Jesus, and remembering who he’s made us to be, a more effective antidote against the pull of pornography as opposed to the “white-knuckling” approach that we often encounter? 

No one is helped by being pressured, cornered, or shamed. The only way we really grow is the opposite — by being dignified, included, and lifted up. I believe that with all my heart. After all, the Bible says, “By grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:7). So let’s move all our chips over onto the square of God’s grace, and let’s find out what only he can do for us — and through us — in this desperate generation!

The tone of the book is overtly optimistic. Considering the cultural behemoth that is the pornography industry, why should Christians share this optimism? Can we really bring about the death of porn?

Short answer: Yes! If the risen Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no right not to be wildly optimistic. I only hope that my book is optimistic enough, given what Jesus can do.

Longer answer: Our risen King loves to inspire social justice. For example, the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s launched schools, hospitals, libraries, orphanages, and labor unions. It awakened Christians who addressed prison reform and poverty and slum housing. They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nothing ever changes in this world. Why even try?” But what cowardice that would be! What a betrayal of Christ himself! The fact is, those brave Christians did make their world a better place. 

Now, in our time, our risen Lord is calling us to be his new resistance movement in a world of injustice, saying a loud no to the porn industry — stigmatizing it, marginalizing it, diminishing it — and saying a loud yes to the worth of every man and every woman. Let’s give our lives to the liberation of this generation, not because we can foresee our chances of success, but because we can see the worthiness of the cause. And we know that Jesus loves to flip impossibilities into actualities!

You talk a lot in the book about nobility. How would you define the term nobility, and what does nobility look like in practice?

Our God-given nobility is a major theme in the Bible. For example, “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands” (Isa. 32:8). There is nothing second-rate in Jesus! All he is for us, all he brings to us, is noble, uplifting, worth reaching for.

Here is what the biblical word noble means: a heart that’s all-in. Not a perfect heart, but a generous heart that cares for others, including every victim of porn.

In practice, it looks like a Christian man reaching out to one other man — any man who wants his freedom back. And that Christian guy nobly shares his heart, his honesty, his vulnerability with that friend. And together those two men begin a journey into a new impact they’ve never dreamed could be theirs. It starts small, but it makes a big difference, because the risen Jesus is right there with those two men. 

To that point, one of the practices that you advocate for in the latter half of the book is the act of confession. You say, “We don’t overcome our sins by heroic willpower. We confess them to death” (89). How does the act of confession diminish the power of sin and the shame that it brings?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer nailed it: “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.” We never do well, when we cover up our sins, hidden in the secrecy that shame demands. 

But when we dare, by faith in Christ crucified, to confess our sins to a faithful brother, we are no longer alone. We step out of the shadows of denial and start walking in the light together (1 John 1:7). We can finally turn to God in prayer and find healing (James 5:16). Any man who lives in ongoing confession will never be alone again. It is so freeing!

As the book’s subtitle suggests, you are not just calling your reader to a life of personal purity, though that’s certainly included. You are trying to convince your reader that “we can make a world of difference.” You say, “Jesus is calling you to build a new world of nobility, to the furthest extent of your influence, for the rest of your life” (103). Can you talk about that?

Porn is a justice issue. Yes, our personal character is on the line. But even more, our social conscience is at stake. Jesus is not saving isolated individuals here and there. He is creating a new community of beauty in this world of brutality. We, in our life together, are his liberating counterculture, and his “holy city” will last forever (Rev. 21-22). He is calling every man in this generation to join with him in building his new world right here, right now.

Relatedly, in the final chapter you offer practical ideas on how to build this world of nobility. As a father of three boys, one of them really hit home for me. You tell the reader to “educate the rising generation in our history and our stories of nobility,” and then you say something striking: “if you don’t fill their imaginations with greatness, porn will fill their mind with ugliness. Our kids long for nobility. God has planted it deep within them. Teach them how to be at their best” (107)! For fathers and mothers and mentors helping raise children in our day, how important is this? Where’s a good place to start?

We grownups can and must invest in our children for their long-term future. How? For starters, let’s read to our children. Every evening after dinner, rather than watch TV or look at our phones, let’s cuddle on the sofa and read good books to our kids. Let’s read aloud the great stories of the Bible — even acting them out together! Wouldn’t that be fun? And let’s read to them The Chronicles of Narnia, the legendary tales of chivalrous knights, the heroic stories of valiant soldiers and sacrificial mothers and courageous reformers and brave explorers. Okay, there’s a time for silly books. But let’s make sure our kids fall in love with the inspiring stories! They’re going to need all the inspiration they can get, when they face the future as adults.

Undoubtedly, there may be some reading this interview who find themselves in the throes of pornography addiction, experiencing shame and wondering if they can put this addiction to death in their own life, much less the society at large. What would you say to that person? How would you encourage them to move forward?

Yes, some readers are thinking that very thing right now. I’m glad to say this: You are not alone. You are not beneath God’s grace. You are not such a spectacular sinner that you can defeat the risen Savior. But there is one hard step you must take. You must call a faithful friend right now and say, “Can we get together? I’m not doing well, and I need help.” And the two of you get together this week. And you pour your heart out. And with your faithful friend, you begin a new pattern of weekly get-togethers for honesty, prayer, and healing (James 5:16). Yes, it can be embarrassing. But your outpouring of confession and sorrow is where the Lord himself will visit you with his powerful grace. Your new beginning is just a phone call away. It’s how you can start a new life — in transparency, honesty, openness. Jesus himself awaits you. So, make the call?

Your book’s dedication page is one of the most beautiful and hopeful I have ever read. When you think about your grandchildren’s generation, knowing the culture they’ll encounter as they grow up, what are your hopes for them?

I hope, most of all, that my grandchildren will feel deep within how good God is, how glorious he created them to be, how bitterly distasteful all sin is, how life-giving Jesus is, how powerful Christian community is, and how they can advance the cause of Christ in their generation. What will matter far more than what they own is what they believe. If my grandchildren, and yours, will believe the gospel in its totality, they will not just cope; they will flourish. And the world they hand down to their children will be a better place, for the glory of God.

By / Aug 18

The Bible is clear that (1) Christians should care about injustice (Micah 6:8, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Prov 20:23) and (2) Christians should respect civil government and laws (Rom 13:1-2, 1 Tim. 2:1-2). Yet over the centuries, Christians have toiled over the dichotomy between a godly passion for justice and the biblical call to submission. 

Believers have often found themselves at odds with the rulers and laws of the land they live in. In America today, laws stand that threaten the lives of the unborn, diverge from the biblical understanding of gender and sexuality, and forsake the widow and orphan. Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering 12 appropriation bills for FY2022 that propose the removal of pro-life riders from the budget such as the Hyde and Weldon Amendments. Thankfully, Christians living in the 21st century are not the first group of believers to find ourselves in disagreement with the laws and norms of their culture. Jesus prepared us to expect as much, when he prayed for the protection of his people in the garden of Gethsemane, “they are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). 

The book of 1 Peter was written as the church faced persecution and focused on instructing Christians about how to live faithfully in a time of extraordinary evil. Peter instructs believers to use good conduct and submission to those in authority as a testament to the gospel (1 Pet. 2:13). We have been made free by the blood of Christ, we must now use our freedom not to bring chaos but instead to show the world the gentleness and servant nature of our Savior (1 Pet. 2:16). This includes submission to human authority (1 Pet. 2:15). Peter gives us a beautiful framework for what living as a servant of God looks like, calling Christians to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:17). 

Honor everyone. 

The first two principles at work in Peter’s framework inform how the Christian is to go about showing honor to those outside the church (the first principle) and those within the church (the second). The first portion reminds believers that we are to honor (or rightly respect) all people, which includes recognizing and standing up for their dignity as image-bearers. The way we treat people should reflect the inherent worth each individual possesses as one created by God. 

Regarding those who are particularly vulnerable, Proverbs 31:8-9 calls believers to: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The Bible is filled with accounts of brave men and women of faith who defied their rulers to hold fast to their faith and protect the innocent: the Hebrew midwives who resisted Pharoah’s command to kill the Israelite babies (Ex. 1), Rahab’s defiance of Jericho’s rulers and protection of the Israelite spies (Josh. 2), and Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets of God from the murderous queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18). This is rooted in the reality that the Lord is a God of justice, who hates abuses of the poor, vulnerable, and powerless.

Love the brotherhood.

The second principle — love of the brotherhood — calls Christians to love one another. This includes within our own local churches and Christian communities, but it also extends to the body of Christ across the world. This should also inform how Christians respond to cries for justice from within the church. It was the Black church and its advocacy, activism, and exercise of peaceful civil disobedience that called the United States to respect the full equality and dignity of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Christians should strive to see an expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We should seek justice in a way that displays the character of God and his compassion for the hurting, and especially those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal. 6:10). We should work to cultivate justice that points to the kingdom of perfect righteousness that is coming.

Practicing this principle can take many different forms. As we look to the Scriptures, we see that Paul spent a great deal of time collecting funds from other Christians for the relief of the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). We also see Paul instructing Philemon to treat Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 1:16). Today, showing love for the brotherhood could mean financially assisting a believer facing a medical crisis, volunteering for a Christian justice or poverty relief ministry, helping to repair a church building damaged by a natural disaster, or providing resources and support for a community of Christian refugees from another country. 

Fear God.

The final two principles are important because the first one controls the second. The fear of God is to take priority over our honor of the emperor, and it’s also our motivation for respecting the rulers he has set in place (Rom. 13:7). The same Peter who writes the epistle is the one who told the Jewish leaders in the early days of the church, “We must obey God rather than human men” (Acts 5:29). When the early church was forbidden from speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, Peter and John refused and said, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). 

Similarly, during the reign of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the young Israelites Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego courageously refused to worship the King’s statue and were thrown into a burning furnace (Dan. 3). Later, Daniel would be cast into a den of lions for his refusal to follow the king’s unjust command forbidding prayer (Dan. 6). 

Again, the Civil Rights Movement illustrates how Christians should be willing to accept punishment and consequences for refusing to obey unjust laws. Those who protested against the prejudiced treatment of African Americans under Jim Crow segregation were willing to face jailing (and often unlawful physical punishment) to demonstrate that the government’s policies were not only unconstitutional but unjust. It was in one such prison that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail as a plea to forsake silence and delayed justice.

Early Baptists in England and North America also faced persecution from the government on account of their religious faith. Men like Thomas Helwys and Isaac Backus refused to attend state-sanctioned churches and suffered retribution from the state. Like the apostles in Acts, because of our fear of God, Christians should be unwilling to submit to unjust laws that deny justice and equality to our fellow human beings. 

Honor the emperor.

First Peter 2:11-17 identifies Christians as sojourners and exiles in this world and urges believers to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” and to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Therefore, Christians should instead give thanks and pray for those given authority over us “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Like Peter, Paul wrote Romans, his letter to the church in Rome, during a period of persecution from the Roman Emperor Nero, making his commands concerning government all the more powerful. Romans 13 clarifies that every person should be subject to their governing authorities because their authority has been instituted by God. Though we are often tempted to forget, government in general is a good gift from God intended to keep order and lead to the flourishing of society. And Paul warns that we risk incurring the wrath of God and violating our consciences when we disobey the civil authorities he has established (v. 5). As Christians, we should honor our rulers, pay taxes, and respect those in authority with our words and actions. And as we do so, we remember that we are actually submitting to and honoring our King.

So what now?

In his commentary of Acts 5, John Stott says, “We are to submit right up to the point where obedience to the state would entail disobedience to God. But if the state commands what God forbids or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God.” 

As Christians, we should default to respect civil authorities and submit to the laws we are subject to. When a civil mandate contradicts our heavenly mandate, our allegiance to God’s kingdom should win. Christians should resist laws that command sin and constantly work within the existing rules to change evil laws and promote righteousness. Above all, we should do so as we remember that our effort and obedience is ultimately aimed at pleasing God.

By / Jul 19

One of the values of Christian history is learning from past role models for the sake of present-day faithfulness. Baptist history is filled with such role models. Though none of them is perfect — who is except King Jesus? — they nevertheless offer a wealth of wisdom for those who are willing to learn from our history.

In recent days, I’ve become convinced that John Leland (1754–1841) is among the most important role models from Baptist history. Leland was a native of Massachusetts, though he spent many of his most fruitful years of ministry in Virginia. He became one of the most important Baptist leaders of his era, a time that coincided with the emergence of Baptists from their persecuted sectarian roots into a national denomination.

Three reasons to look to Leland

There are three reasons I believe contemporary Southern Baptists should look to John Leland as a key role model. 

Religious liberty: First, and most famously, Leland was unwavering in his commitment to what Baptists have often called the “First Freedom” of religious liberty for all people. This principle is a cherished Baptist distinctive that is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In God’s providence, Leland played a significant role in that signal moment in American history.

In 1788, James Madison of Virginia was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Madison met with Leland in the hopes of garnering support from the Baptists in his district. The two men came to an agreement. Leland would encourage Baptists to vote for Madison. In return, Madison would advocate for full religious freedom. Madison won the election and subsequently authored the First Amendment that guaranteed religious freedom for all by rejecting the idea of an established state church. Leland was also a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson, in part because of the latter’s commitment to church-state separation. In 1801, Leland famously gifted President Jefferson with a 1235-pound block of cheese from Massachusetts Baptists. In response, Jefferson invited Leland to preach at a Sunday worship service in the House of Representatives. Jefferson attended the service.

Personal evangelism: The second reason we should look to Leland is because of his zeal for personal evangelism. While Leland is best remembered for his tireless advocacy for religious liberty, he would have identified himself first and foremost as an evangelist. Leland preached over 8,000 sermons and baptized approximately 2,000 converts during the course of his ministry. In fact, one of the reasons Leland was such a strong advocate for religious liberty is because he wanted every individual to have the freedom to believe the gospel without confusion or compulsion. For Leland, defending religious liberty was not about commending an Enlightenment principle but rather was about advancing the Great Commission.

Biblical justice: A final reason Leland is an important role model for contemporary Baptists is because of his advocacy of biblical justice, which he understood to be compatible with his commitment to personal evangelism. In Leland’s day, the greatest public injustice was the system of race-based chattel slavery in the American South. Leland was arguably the most famous Baptist to argue against human enslavement. In 1791, he chose to leave Virginia and return to Massachusetts following the controversy that resulted from a strongly worded anti-slavery sermon. Though his views on how best to end the evil of slavery legally evolved over time, Leland maintained his belief that slavery was incompatible with Christianity and that Christian slaveowners should emancipate their slaves.

Leaning in to Leland’s legacy

Though times have changed, our world is not so different from that of Leland. Religious liberty is under fire in our own day, not so much from the specter of state-imposed religion but rather primarily from the threat of state-imposed secularism and culturally endorsed revisionist morality. The religious freedom of Christian bakers and florists is denigrated as hateful bigotry. Churches are coerced into closing their doors because of government overreach during a pandemic. Roman Catholics are forced to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives or medical procedures that violate their religious convictions. The list could go on. Baptists must remain firmly committed to our historic principle of religious liberty for all people.

Leland lived during the period when the irreligious South was finally becoming the Bible Belt because of the influence of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Today, what was once the Bible Belt may well remain overchurched in some places but it is increasingly underreached. This is even more the case in other parts of our nation. Research shows that across the USA, the share of citizens who claim to be Christian is shrinking while the percentage of “nones” is increasing at a rapid rate. Leland stands out as an evangelistic role model at a time when Southern Baptists are recommitting ourselves to sharing the gospel with all people and planting churches where there is minimal gospel witness.

Finally, our own day is threatened by culturally sanctioned injustice. While race-based slavery is outlawed in the United States and most other nations, various forms of both personal and corporate racism persist. The modern slavery of human sex trafficking harms women all over the world, often in our own communities. Millions of unborn image-bearers are legally murdered because of the tragedy of abortion-on-demand. Too many women are abused by powerful men, far too often in religious contexts by those in positions of spiritual authority. Minority groups are the victims of state-sanctioned genocide in other nations. Countless children are exploited by pornographers. This is just scratching the surface. Leland reminds us that evangelistic proclamation and the advocacy of public justice are complementary ministries.

There is no better time than now for Baptists to become reacquainted with the life and legacy of John Leland. May his holistic commitment to defending religious liberty, spreading the gospel, and advocating for justice encourage us to do likewise.