Acts 8:26-40: Philip and the Sexual Deviant Part 2 — Responding to Alternate Interpretations

This is the second post in a series (Part 1) explaining Acts 8:26-40. This post in particular is aimed at addressing Brian McLaren’s post “Synchro-blogging on Sexuality.” He begins by explaining:

I knew from my many years as a pastor that sexual orientation was not a choice . . . So, I was uncomfortable with the conventional approach, but I was unsure how to construct an alternative that was equally faithful to Scripture and faithful to the reality I saw in human beings who came to me as their pastor, friend, and family member. Over many years, that alternative has become more and more clear, and surprisingly (to some), it was a passage of Scripture that opened the way for me to see it.

He goes on to tell that “Acts 8 was waiting with a story that is more powerful than many have realized.”

What follows is his explanation of Acts 8:26-40 and its implications for our understanding of human sexuality. Prior to addressing his explanation his motivation must be examined. He begins by explaining that he knew, by means of experiential knowledge, that sexual orientation was not a choice. Furthermore he sought out Scripture which would conform to his experience of reality. Yes, Scripture should accurately describe reality; however, we must also recognize what Scripture has to say about reality as we experience it. It is expressly clear from Scripture that the reality which we experience is a world at war. It is a world where man is at enmity with God, where man is at enmity with his fellow man, where man is even at enmity with himself, and where man is at enmity with creation. Within such a world these questions cannot be answered by experience rather they must be revealed by one who is not plagued by the curse which has beset our world. Answers based upon experience are like developing a theory of human sexuality based upon the horrors of D-Day. McLaren’s mistake is that he views his experience within a fallen world as normative. This thought will be returned to in part 3 of this series.

Turning to McLaren’s explanation of Acts 8 there aspects of his argument that we can agree with, although at points necessary critique will be given. Ironically at the outset McLaren makes much of the eunuch’s inability to fit within “the traditional family,” “to become heterosexual,” and to be “categorized in traditional sexual roles” he also notes that the eunuch exists in a “not-part-of-the-created-order sexual category.” This admission has no bearing upon what follows in his argument; although he admits that this man’s sexual identity has been profoundly affected by the fall he does little to speak of how redemption in Christ addresses this issue. McLaren also notes that:

He [the Ethiopian eunuch] has come to Jerusalem to worship God, but has, no doubt, been turned away- first because of his race and second because of his sexual identity: the Hebrew Scriptures explicitly excluded both Gentiles and people in his nontraditional, not-part-of-the-created-order sexual category.

One would have hoped that McLaren would have done his homework at this point and note the greatness of redemption in Christ, sadly he does not. There is no mention of Old Testament prophecy concerning eunuchs and foreigners or of prophecy concerning the coming Messiah whose inheritance is the nations, whose salvation will be made known among the nations, and around whom the nations will gather in praise. Instead McLaren gives the impression that the Old Testament has nothing to offer except condemnation. Furthermore the text itself paints a far different picture that the one given by McLaren. Rather than being turned away from worshipping in Jerusalem it would appear that he actually worshipped in Jerusalem and obtained a fairly costly scroll containing some or all of Isaiah’s prophecy. This mistake is poor exegesis at best or pure eisegesis at worst.

McLaren continues to explain the text as he tells of how Philip ran to the eunuch’s chariot and asked if he understood what he was reading. Then he explains:

The man invites Philip into the chariot and asks if the writer was writing about himself or someone else – a question that suggests this man feels the prophet is talking about him in his sexual otherness: he too will have no descendants; he too has been rejected, misunderstood, despised, shamed … he too has been brought like a sheep or lamb before people with cutting instruments.

At this point McLaren’s exposition is laughable both in his treatment of the New Testament narrative and the Old Testament prophecy. Even a cursory reading of Isaiah 53 lends itself to quite a different understanding of the text than McLaren’s suggested lamentation of “sexual otherness.” The propitiatory tone of the text is unmistakable. Thus the eunuch’s question becomes one which asks “Who is it that has taken our grief, our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities, and given himself as an offering for our guilt so that we may be accounted righteous and have peace with God? Is it the writer or another of whom he speaks?” McLaren also notes that like the eunuch this “man of sorrows” had no descendants (v.8). Again McLaren has failed to do his homework. The word here means generation (דור) if Isaiah had intended to speak of His descendants he would have used זרע as found in verse 10. He appears to be using the NIV which poorly renders verse 8 and stands at odds with most other translations by translation דור as descendants. What the text is asking is “Did any of his contemporaries, the people of that generation, consider that he had been put to death for their sins?” The text is not mourning his inability to have children. Even more problematic for McLaren’s translation is that verse 10 speaks of how this suffering servant will see His offspring whose iniquities He has bore and whom He has made righteous. The text is clearly at odds with McLaren’s interpretation.

McLaren continues, “Philip explains that this passage can be read to describe Jesus, and he shares the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God.” McLaren so distains exegetical certainty that he must put words into Philip’s mouth at this point as he notes that Philip explains “the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God” as one of many readings of Isaiah 53. This is a messianic prophecy it is not enough to say that it “can be read to describe Jesus” this text describes Jesus, that is what the text is doing and any reading which does otherwise is not faithful to the text.

Ultimately McLaren concludes:

Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. . . That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.

Simply saying that “neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles” fails to do justice to the issue as we find it presented in Scripture. These were big issues that they took time to work through as they grasped the nature of redemption within the New Covenant. So we cannot say that these were non-issues it took time for them to understand the extent of redemption in Christ. At the same time we must recognize that ultimately Scripture declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The gospel transcends the barriers which previously separated humanity, these barriers are still real and yet they have been overcome by the unity brought about by redemption in Christ. Ultimately, however, McLaren’s conclusion is both incorrect and it belittles the Gospel because of its failure to take into account the pervasive affects of the fall and the glorious riches of redemption in Christ.

In the upcoming and third post in this series we will examine the pervasive affects of the fall and the glorious riches of redemption in Christ as we seek to correctly understand what Scripture has to say on this issue.

Bottoms Up: Reflections on Alcohol and the Word of God

Messiah BoldWithin “American Christianity” there is a longstanding tradition of legalism when it comes to the consumption of alcohol; however, this tradition is not as old as you may think. It was not until Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch, a Methodist minister and the founder of Welch’s, developed a pasteurization process in 1869 that it became possible to produce and store unfermented grape juice for use in communion. Welch was a staunch prohibitionist and proceeded to persuade churches in New Jersey to abandon the use of fermented beverages and use his “unfermented wine” when celebrating the Lord’s Supper. His denomination then helped to spearhead the movement that led to the prohibition and now it is fairly normative that churches in America use Welch’s grape juice, or a generic equivalent, for communion.

When one views this phenomenon over the course of church history the current practice is an odd one indeed. From the church’s inception till the early twentieth century, that is twenty centuries for those of you who are mathematically impaired, the normative practice of the church has been to use fermented wine to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not to mention its use in the home and for virtually every other celebration. Furthermore, if one views this phenomenon as it occurs within the global church the practice of most American churches stands out as an oddity as well with our little plastic cups and our unfermented wine. In fact if one were to explain this to Christians outside of America one would be surprised to discover how many would question whether or not our practice is biblical, after all Jesus used wine.

All of that is simply to give you a context in which to understand my reflections. How your church practices communion is neither here nor there; my main concern in this post is addressing the sinful and legalistic mindset that believes godliness necessitates abstinence. Such legalism is just as deadly and far more subtle than drunkenness; especially when it becomes a predominant expression of holiness within the church.

  • Scripture is undeniably opposed to the sin of drunkenness (Romans 13:13; I Corinthians 5:11; 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:18).
  • The priests were forbidden from drinking “wine and strong drink” when serving in the Tabernacle; however, when they were not serving they were commanded by God to drink “the best of the wine,” were to drink it as something “most holy,” and they were to drink it in a “most holy place” (Numbers 18:8-32).
  • Drink offerings were pleasing to the Lord (Exodus 29:38-41).
  • Jesus’ first miracle was to turn 120 to 180 gallons of water into wine at a wedding where the guests were already drunk (John 2:1-11). With this miracle Jesus would have been forbidden to minister by many American denominations; I find this very problematic.
  • Jesus compared the gospel to wine (Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-39).
  • Jesus drank wine and spent so much time eating and drinking with sinners that He was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:18-19).
  • Elders and deacons are not to be drunkards (I Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).
  • Paul, an apostle, instructed Timothy, an elder, to drink wine for his stomach (I Timothy 5:23).
  • When Paul addresses the Corinthian church concerning the Lord’s Supper he rebukes their drunkenness rather than their use of wine. Furthermore, his rebuke speaks primarily to their self-centered gluttony, i.e. he wrote to make sure that all in the church at Corinth were able to partake of the wine rather than a thirsty minority (I Corinthians 11:17-34).
  • The argument that wine during ancient times had a lower alcohol content than the alcoholic beverages of today is an inadequate justification for mandatory abstinence. Regardless of its alcohol content it is clear from Scripture that individuals were able to, and in many cases did, become drunk from drinking it in excess. It is also evident from Scripture that the OT priests, Jesus, the twelve apostles, and the vast majority of the early church were able to drink wine in moderation and avoid drunkenness. In the same way one can drink modern alcoholic beverages in excess and become drunk and one can drink modern alcoholic beverages in moderation and remain sober minded. The key in both situations is not the relative alcohol content of the beverage in question but its consumption in either moderation or excess.

As we approach this issue let us do so with both a wisdom that avoids the deadly dangers of legalism and liberalism. If you choose to discuss please do so with charity.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
—I Corinthians 10:31

The Absurdity of Emergent Rhetoric on Mission

This past Sunday I was reading the “Faith and Values” section of The Lexington Herald Leader and came across an interesting article entitled “Evangelicals must rethink mission.” It was written by Chuck Queen the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY and the title immediately piqued my interest. You can read the article in its entirety by clicking on the link above as only excerpts and critique will be given below.

He begins by urging us to rethink mission an then points the reader to Luke 4:18-19 and explains that Jesus is not mandating “a triumphalistic missionary enterprise that seeks to impose a particular set of beliefs and culture on people who have a different set of beliefs and culture.” Rather the mission of Jesus “was a mission to the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, and the spiritually blind. . . . Jesus realized that spiritual oppression from sin could not be separated from economical, political, and social oppression from the powers that be.”

I agree Jesus did not come to impose a particular culture; however, I always find it odd to hear individuals claiming “Jesus was concerned about the total person” and then reducing his ministry to a mere social ministry. How can Jesus minister to the total person if He comes only to shape their sociopolitical circumstances and not their belief structures as well?

The article continues:
Jesus’ vision for humanity was that of a world under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails. When a crowd of people tried to get Jesus to stay in their town Jesus said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God (God’s vision for the world) to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

Jesus intended his community of disciples (the church) to be an outpost for the kingdom, reflecting the values and characteristics of God’s new world. But the church is not the kingdom, though it is part of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is much broader and wider than the church. So catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.

The kingdom of God as it pertains to humanity is about human beings becoming more truly human; that means becoming the persons and communities God intended for us to be. It is not about propagating a particular brand of belief or doctrine. For Christians, Jesus is the representative, quintessential, revelatory human being on what it means to be human.

At this point I am beginning to wonder if he is just stringing together quotes and pithy sayings to make his version of Jesus sound cool. It is quite ironic that he speaks of Christ’s global vision and global kingdom, even going so far as to describe it as a place “under God’s rule where peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice prevails,” and yet he has the audacity to claim that the kingdom is not about doctrine. Maybe he thinks his readers are not listening or are too dumb to notice that he is giving us a doctrine of the kingdom.

As for the kingdom being larger than the church I agree the kingdom is global, as Abraham Kuyper has so vividly stated, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine’(1)!” However, Queen oversteps his bounds by claiming that “catching people into the net of God’s kingdom may or may not involve catching them into the net of the church.” The church as the body of Christ is an outpost of the kingdom and a witness to the redemption and reconciliation that will extend to the whole of God’s creative order. Such an outpost is necessary because it exists amidst a world in need of reconciliation and redemption; a world of rival kingdoms and rival kings. What is the use of such an outpost within Queen’s theology where both those within and those without are members of the same kingdom? Maybe a kingdom divided against itself can stand after all.

Again I agree Jesus is the ideal human; however, we must frame this within the larger context of the imago Dei. Humanity was made in the image of God, that image was holistically and pervasively corrupted by the fall. Jesus comes as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and so redeemed humanity is being restored into the imago Christi. It is in this sense that Jesus is the ideal human, He is the ideal human in that He is the exegesis of God; in Christ we have the attributes of God demonstrated in concrete form. This is a problem for Queen as it undercuts his theologically amorphous version of God. Queen’s god cannot have his attributes concretely demonstrated because he cannot be described by “a particular brand of belief or doctrine.”

Now for some tidbits on Jesus:
For Christians Jesus is the way that leads to truth and life; though he is not exclusively the way for all people. A God of love would not be so stingy as to exclude vast numbers of humanity who happen to be born into non-Christian cultures.

Is it just me or do you recall Jesus arguing to the contrary of Queen’s statement? What does he mean by “God of love?” Whatever he means he is not using this in the sense that Scripture does (see here for a more thorough treatment of this.)

After all of this he concludes:
The mission of the church is to proclaim, teach, manifest, and work for the kingdom of God, not get people to believe what we believe about Jesus. And yet, as Christians, we invite people to be disciples of Jesus because we know that by following Jesus, God’s dream for the world can be realized.

What is the point? Who cares? If it does not matter what one believes about Jesus then why talk about him at all? If there are other, broader, more kingdom oriented ways to realize “God’s dream for the world” then why limit ourselves to the narrow perspective of Jesus and the church?

This is what makes emergent rhetoric on mission so absurd. After all their talking all and arguing that mission is not about doctrine but “peace, compassion, and distributive and restorative justice” we are left with nothing. We have an inconsequential Christ, a narrow and largely irrelevant church, and a god who is so theologically amorphous that he is hardly worth knowing.

Chuck if there is salvation outside of Jesus then why should your church waste their time looking like bigots by promoting some narrow-minded Jewish messiah who is practically useless to the rest of humanity?

(1) Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998) 488.

You can be Bought and You can be Sold: Exploring the Marvel of Modern Medicine and the Human Commodity

In December Connie Culp became the recipient of the world’s first ever complete face transplant thanks to the skilled doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. You can read the rest of the article here. What seems very hopeful quickly becomes disturbing when we come to read that “The family of a brain dead woman granted [the doctors] permission to use her face. . . . Surgeons sheared out the donor’s mid-facial area including the lower eyelids, cheekbones, the nose, some of the sinus and the whole upper jaw, with the blood vessels.” I posted on a similar topic in 2005 when a team of French doctors performed the first partial face transplant. My thoughts remain the same and I have reposted them below.

Earlier this week in France a 38-year-old woman underwent the world’s first partial face transplant. The CNN.com article Face transplant woman thanks team recounts this amazing medical feat. Of all the ensuing controversy, none of it has dealt with the true issue surrounding this surgery. CNN.com reports, “The donor tissue came from a woman who had been declared brain-dead, with the permission of that woman’s family, doctors said.” This surgery has ushered in a new age in human history, the birth of the Human Commodity.

The Human Commodity is nothing new; black-market organ sales have occurred for a long time and recently embryos have been used as a source for stem cells used in research. What this event represents is the normalizing of the abnormal that occurs due to ecumenism within the monoculture. From the normalizing of homosexuality into merely another alternative lifestyle to the “Dutch Cure,” the monoculture embraces and normalizes the most abhorrent and base behavior.

The issue is that the “donor tissue,” a female face, was removed from a living human being and surgically transplanted onto another. In the September/October 2005 issue of Foreign Policy Peter Singer writes, “During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological, and demographic developments.” He goes on to assert that, “Hence, a decision to remove the feeding tube will be less controversial, for it will be a decision to end the life of a human body, but not of a person.” Singer believes that being alive does not necessarily constitute being a person and thus believes that there is a difference in killing a body and a person. The sanctity of human life is already collapsing and has already collapsed to the point that the organs of a living woman are now a harvestable commodity, with her family’s permission of course. According to the ecumenical monoculture, you are no longer a person you are a commodity, and your life has no intrinsic value.  (Click here to see original posting.)

We have come a long way in the past 70 years. In 1939 with Aktion T4 Hitler ordered the execution of the mentally disabled; now we use them as spare parts.

Faux-Pentecost: Rick Warren Fakes History

In late March Rick Warren announced that he would be attempting to fake make history if he could find 3,000 individuals willing to be baptized by him in a single day. From his blog he offers the following eight reasons for signing up:

  1. I’m personally teaching Class 101 for the first time in ten years.
  2. I’m personally baptizing after Class and you’ll receive a photo & baptism certificate.
  3. You’ll get a free one year subscription to Purpose Driven Connection magazine. (Never offered before)
  4. You’ll get free copy of The Purpose Driven Church book.
  5. Your name will be included in the historical list of Saddleback Pioneer Members who joined in our first 30 years. (This Easter is our 30th Easter and I want you included in this list.)
  6. The class is 1 hour shorter than normal. You can watch session 3 here online now.
  7. You’ll be a part of making Christian history! The largest membership class ever!
  8. We love you & want you in our family. There is no good reason to procrastinate.

I for one am thankful that on this historical day Pastor Warren has decided to stick with the same motivations Peter issued during his sermon at Pentecost. On the day before this watershed moment in church history Warren posted that they still needed 600 more people to make history. I don’t know how this turned out, nor do I care, but if you do I am sure Google can find the answer for you. What are your thoughts?