The Gospel and Mental Health
Four Evangelistic Talks from John’s Gospel
Four Other Talks
The Gospel and Mental Health
Four Evangelistic Talks from John’s Gospel
Four Other Talks
England beats Australia in the rugby and strangers introduce themselves to me with the words “Three Nil!” (To which I respond, “Eddie Jones, what a genius!”)
The Euros come on TV and the whole nation is on tenterhooks.
“Who do you support?” they ask. “In the football, who’s your team?”
“Umm,” I hesitate. I’ve been here before. “Well I’m Australian but I lived for a while in Highbury, north London. So I suppose I follow Arsenal. At a distance. Sort of.”
“Arsenal?! We STUFFED you on Saturday!” they beam.
“You did?” I look at their shirt. Yep, it’s a dead ringer for the shirts worn by eleven men who, last weekend, bettered another eleven men neither of us have met. But that’s not the way it’s ever phrased. It’s always “We beat you.” When our champions win, we win.
At that point I want to protest: “Who’s we? I know where you were last Saturday. You were glued to the telly, part-man part-sofa, bellowing advice at the greatest athletes in the world. I’m not sure shrieking “Referee!!” every 90 seconds helped the cause. But if you want to claim victory in the name of your champions, who am I to sneeze on your custard?” That’s just how champions work: they win, you celebrate.
During the London Olympics, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, wrote a poem to capture the nations’ feelings about Team GB. She wrote: “We are Mo Farah lifting the 10 000m gold… We are Sir Chris Hoy… We are Nicola Adams.” Of course none of us have made the sacrifices these athletes have made. And if you asked us to compete we wouldn’t have a hope. (Speaking for myself, the most aerobic workout of my day is brushing my teeth). But when Mo Farah wins, the nation celebrates. He is Britain’ champion and his victory is their victory.
Perhaps the epitome of “faith in our champions” is seen in the football transfer market. Here managers, coaches and scouts sift the world’s greatest leagues for that one miracle maker. Pundits speculate, fortunes are spent, millions of fans hold their breath and it’s all founded on the myth of the one man.
The myth of the one man goes something like this: Somewhere, out there, is a player of such extraordinary talent that no price is too absurd, for – so the legend goes – if we have him, then everything will change. He will galvanize the team. He will win every game. He will turn our fortunes around. This man is out there and we must have him.
Of course it’s a myth, but imagine it was true. Imagine your team actually found “the one man.” And in spite of the naysayers, you’d always believed in him – he’d always been your guy. As the season unfolds, he scores the winner in every game propelling your team up the league, through the cup, all the way to Wembley. And there you are at the FA Cup final. His last minute double strike snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. The noise is deafening as he runs over to your end of the ground, arms outstretched. He’s mouthing the words “For you… It’s for you.” There you are amidst the deafening roar. How do you feel?
Remember that you have not assisted in this triumph. In spite of your high quality coaching from the stands, none of it has affected the outcome. Nonetheless, how do you feel? “Over the moon” is the usual expression. But that doesn’t capture it. We’re ecstatic – beside ourselves with joy. We jump, we shout, we sing, we hug complete strangers just because they too share a connection with the one man. Victory, camaraderie, euphoria – this is how Christians feel about Jesus.
Jesus our Champion
Jesus is God’s eternal Son but he became “the one man” to turn our fortunes around. From the very beginning of the Bible, stories about “the one man” were circulating. He was going to join Team Earth and defeat our enemy in a fight to the death (see Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, hype surrounding “the one man” built to epic proportions. Then one day, as a wild and woolly man – John the Baptist – was giving people a ritual “washing”, we got to see our man.
In a scene that opens all the biographies of Jesus (the Gospels), we see him taking a bath – a.k.a. getting baptised. This was the ceremony where Jesus identified with Team Earth publicly and irreversibly. It was like the footballer’s official signing for the club – this was Jesus publicly wearing our colours. The rest of the Gospels reveal his “wonder-season”. He took on the forces that constantly defeat us: temptation, sin, evil, disease, death. These powers always get the better of us, but not Jesus. He “played a blinder”, living up to all the hype.
Then, at the end of his life, we see how deeply our Champion identifies with us. On the cross he took responsibility for everything that belongs to us – even our sins and the godforsaken death they deserve. As he died, the crowd fell silent, wondering if the hype was misplaced. Yet, just when they thought it was all over, Jesus scored a decisive winner against the ultimate “baddy”.
“Death is the final enemy” wrote the Apostle Paul (1Corinthians 15:26). In billions of matches, death has never lost a battle. Without exception it sucks us down into the grave. But Jesus ran headlong into that pit and smashed a hole right through it. On Easter Sunday he burst through to the far side as the ultimate victor. Then, like the triumphant footballer, running to his supporters, Jesus has his arms outstretched to the world and he cries: “For you! This is for you!”
A Christian is someone who has found themselves swept up in this story. We have recognised our place in Team Earth. We have owned our failures and faced the certainty of defeat. But, more than this, we have seen Jesus. We have heard his claims to be the long-promised Champion. We have witnessed his life, his death and his resurrection. We are persuaded that he is who he says he is. And now the penny has dropped: If he is our Champion then his victory is our victory. We know we look like “a bunch of losers” and we know we haven’t expended a calorie of effort in the victory. Nonetheless we sing like we’ve won because, though Jesus our Champion, we have:
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)
I’ve just been asked my thoughts on evangelistic events. Four things spring to mind:
1. If an event is basically a social mixer so that Christians and non-Christians rub shoulders there is a problem here. And the problem goes deeper than the fact that the gospel may be sidelined on the night of the event. The problem is that Christians often don’t socialise with non-Christians unless there’s an evangelistic/pre-evangelistic event put on by church. In other words, they don’t feel able to get out into the big bad world and enjoy life with non-Christians until or unless their Christian leaders give them explicit permission. That’s a big issue in church life. And maybe less events (of all kinds) would actually free people to do more evangelism.
2. I often find that Sunday mornings are the easiest events to invite people to. Other events which we hope might be stepping-stones can be equally, if not more, off-putting to non-Christians. You’d be surprised how many people might be up for giving church a go. Remember Sunday is where the action is!
3. Having said all this, I definitely still believe in events. Because the gospel is an event. And conversion is an event. Sometimes, when people talk about evangelism, they speak in terms of “processes” – they tell you the number of times someone needs to hear the gospel before they’ll convert, they’ll big up the importance of building trust and doing life and loving on people. The thing is, conversion is crossing from death to life. And an event at which Christ is offered and unbelievers are confronted actually mirrors the nature of the gospel we claim to believe. Such events bring people to the event they must consider. So events can be very good ways of serving what we say we believe.
4. If you are going to put on an event, work backwards from the end result you want. If you want folks trusting in Jesus then you better give good time and space to the gospel message. And that better be undistracted time and space. When you work backwards from there you might find yourself designing quite a different event. If you simply want Christians and non-Christians mixing, having a good time and gently leading people on to ‘the next thing’, then, fine, put on a pub quiz and have a 5 minute talk before the results are announced. But if you want people to really consider Christ then clear a space for a talk in undistracted space. I prefer interview testimonies followed by a talk or a ‘meal with a message’, but whatever you do, begin at the end. Imagine the talk you want your friends to hear. Imagine what you want to happen as the speaker draws to a close. Now work backwards.
Last month I was helping out with a number of student missions. One mainstay of the university mission is a “lunch bar.” The Christian Union provides free food, there’s a talk (often with a provocative title) and then the speaker fields questions.
I was not the lunchtime speaker at the last mission I helped with so I got to sit in the audience and watch. What I learnt at those lunch bars has stayed with me because it has implications that go far beyond the student world. Here’s how it unfolded…
The talk titles for this mission were fairly provocative and the Q&A session was facilitated by a roving mic which the questioners held to command the room. Those two facts led to an interesting and perhaps predictable dynamic. Only certain people have the confidence to take the mic and therefore if it’s a particularly hot topic, you are in for a spicy 10-15 minutes at the end.
What happened pretty much every day was that we had a number of Christians from the CU, a number of guests of those Christians, some randoms who came for the food and some randoms who came for the hot topic. We then heard an excellent talk which tried to honour the question but which was basically a presentation of Jesus in 20 heart-warming minutes. Then the questions came. Invariably those who self-identified as unbelieving took the mic first and asked pointed questions. Every now and again a genuine enquirer was brave enough to ask a question on topic, but not often. And by the time our hour was up, we’d gotten well and truly off the beaten track into the realm of “Old Testament genocide” or some other subject equally far from the set topic.
Once the official time was up though the temperature in the room cooled significantly. We would turn to our neighbour and almost invariably their reaction to the event was:
“Hadn’t thought about any of that before.”
“My granddad died last month and it’s made me wonder.”
After every lunch bar we’d have sensational conversations – about the John’s Gospels given out, about the talk, about random “religious questions” they’d always wanted to ask. Very little mention was made about the Q&A and if there was conversation about it, the number one impression they got was how the speaker reacted to the angry questioners. Very few could even remember what was said, even though it was just minutes earlier.
And here’s what I’ve been thinking ever since: Don’t be cowed by the angry questioner with the mic. He doesn’t speak for the room and “refuting” him isn’t the goal. We can try to respond thoughtfully sure. But our deeper goal is to engage graciously and our ultimate priority does not lie with the mockers. They sneered in the Areopagus (Acts 17) and they will sneer today. So what? Paul preached, some sneered, some believed, Paul moved on. Let the sneerers take the hindmost.
How often are we intimidated by those who have the microphone – those who speak loudest in the media – those who set themselves up as spokespeople for the culture? We could spend all our time fretting about the messages that dominate the airwaves. We could waste our days wishing to wrest the mic from others or fantasizing about how we might refute them publicly with devastating smack-downs. Or we could just get on and preach the gospel, ignore the sneers – they will always come – and engage our neighbours who just aren’t where the sneerers are at.
Don’t be deceived – the guy on the mic does not speak for the room. Those in the media do not speak for your friends. Preach the gospel, turn to your neighbour and let’s engage those conversations – the fields are still white for harvest.
This week I’m at the University of East Anglia to help the Christian Union with these events. Last night I spoke on the topic “What do Christians actually believe?” Afterwards there was a great question about faith which I answered so badly I thought I’d have another go on the blog. Here’s what I wish I’d said…
How can God expect us to have faith? It seems so uncertain.
We all live by faith. Whether we are Muslims, Christians, atheists, agnostics, we all live by faith. I mean this in at least two ways.
First of all, we all must trust the testimony of others. Only a small fraction of my knowledge has been attained through direct observation, scientific experimentation or mathematical proof. For the rest, I’ve been told it. Teachers have told me, books have told me, journalists have told me, my parents have told me. I can have all sorts of rigorous standards which I expect these sources to adhere to. But I simply cannot personally fact-check everything I’m told. I have to take it on faith.
I once made this point in a conversation and the other guy said “No, you can check your knowledge scientifically and if you don’t, it’s not certain knowledge.” I said “I can’t scientifically assess the truth claims of my wife.” He said “Yes you can.” I said “No I can’t. If I seek to falsify each of my wife’s statements (falsification being at the heart of the scientific method) I wouldn’t have a wife to assess!!” The scientific method is great for some truth claims but by no means all!
Nonetheless there are things that I know apart from such investigations (i.e. that my wife loves me, that she is trustworthy, that she has always been called “Emma”, that she is beautiful, that she is “right” for me, that she exists, that this world exists, etc, etc!)
So that’s the first point. So much of our knowledge comes to us in ways other than direct observation / scientific experimentation / mathematical proof. We live most of our lives by the testimony of others. In other words we live by faith.
There’s a second sense in which we live by faith. We all have a view of the world that depends on larger commitments to truth, beauty, goodness, etc. You might object and say “I don’t have any larger commitments. I am completely neutral as I build my view of the world from the ground up.” But then I’ll ask you, “Why do you do it that way?” At that point you’ll have to justify that particular method of interpretation and this will reveal a worldview that precedes and shapes your approach to the world. It’s inescapable. None of us can say “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.” Even that turns out to be a kind of worldview. Everyone has commitments of the heart and mind that go deeper than the facts.
Here is the Christian worldview in a 5 minute animation:
Here we find a God who is before, behind and beyond this world. There is a Father loving His Son in the joy of the Spirit (find out more here). This personal, good, truthful, beautiful, loving God is the ground of all being. From this God comes everything else and we are intended to participate in the life of this personal, truthful, beautiful, loving God.
Jesus came as the expression of God lived out in our humanity. He took on Himself the consequences of our vicious, wicked, lying, ugly, hatefulness and then rose up from the dead to offer us His kind of life. Connection to Him puts us in touch with what is most deeply true about reality: that there is Goodness, Truth and Beauty bound together in love. In other words, Jesus reconciles us to God.
This is the framework from which Christians view the world. And I’d like to suggest that it makes sense of reality in a way that no other view does. Here we have a very high regard for truth. We will want to assess the world rationally and rigourously. But we also see that there is a personal, an ethical and an aesthetic dimension to truth that must be explored too. Beneath and beyond the axioms of mathematics and the findings of science, there is love. Here in the Christian view is a grounding for our dearest intuitions – that personal relationships are what’s most important.
We all live as though love is the greatest reality. Only the Christian can ground that intuition in something deeper than wishful thinking. The atheist does not have love as the ultimate reality. The theist-in-general does not have a God who is essentially love (since a single-person God cannot be love). It is Christianity that actually gives to the world a pair of spectacles that brings the world into proper focus.
Christian faith is about adopting these spectacles (rather than any other).
If the question is “Why does God expect us to have faith?”, the answer is: Everyone has faith. What God wants is for us to have the sort of faith that actually fits us, fits the world, fits ultimate reality. He says “See the world like this. Doesn’t that make sense of you, me and everything else?”
C.S. Lewis said this: “‘I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else.”’
This is another way (a much clearer and more succinct way!) of saying the same thing. You can get to grips with the sun in two ways. You can look at it (carefully!) but you can also look at everything else in its light. Both kinds of looking establish the reality of the sun.
The same is true of Jesus (who, incidentally, claimed to be the Light of the world, John 8:12). We can look at Jesus to see this God of love walk the earth. Here is something we can investigate and I urge you to do just that. Pick up one of the four biographies we have of His life, read, pray, chat it through with others. This is what it means to “look at the sun.” At the same time we can look around at a world which Jesus illuminates. You can say to yourself “Could it be true that the Jesus-God is the deepest reality in this world? Could it be true that His kind of truth, beauty, goodness and love are what’s ultimate in the world?”
When you put the two together you have a “Sun” that accounts for the sparkle. You have an Explanation for the light that we prize in this world.
As I look back at my conversion I see these two things going on. On the one hand I was reading the Gospels and in them encountering the unmistakable Light of Jesus. It got to the point where I could no more deny that He was Lord than that I could deny that the sun was bright. There is something self-authenticating about the Light of the world – He recommends Himself just by the force of His own compelling personality. At the same time though, I was listening to the Blues Brothers on repeat: Everybody needs somebody to love. It was striking me forcefully that love was the deepest reality in the universe. And all of a sudden these two things came together: I saw a sparkle in the world and I had found a Sun to explain it. There’s a word to describe this kind of eureka moment: faith!
Why does God expect us to have faith? Everyone has faith. But which faith actually fits? I’d urge you to pick up the Gospels, shoot up a prayer and say “God, if you’re there, shine!” See if the Jesus you meet there doesn’t make sense of everything. It’s worth a shot, don’t you think?
I’ve come across far too many angry evangelists for this to be a coincidence. Out we go, door-knocking, flyering a uni campus or getting into conversations on the streets. (I’m a believer in first contact evangelism so I’m often doing this kind of thing (see here and here).)
Almost always these are two-by-two scenarios, so there I am with a fellow evangelist and we get chatting to someone about Jesus. Within 90 seconds my partner is agitated. This happens all the time. Maybe the non-Christian is showing scant regard for the importance of their own soul. Maybe they’re denying their inherent sinfulness. Maybe they have the temerity to question certain gospel events. But pretty soon the non-Christian turns out to have actual non-Christian views and my Christian partner gets antsy.
Suddenly the Christian turns the conversation towards the conviction of sin, the inevitability of death, the judgement to come etc, etc. All of these have their place – absolutely – but I often wonder whether these are raised out of frustration and the desire to sledge-hammer a way through a conversation that hasn’t gone as planned. I don’t think I’m imagining it. I think that there are a lot of angry evangelists out there. And not just “out there”.
I still remember (with more than a wince) a carols service I preached at 12 years ago. Workers piled into our central London church for a lunchtime sing-song and some mince pies. I vividly recall drawing attention to the carol before my talk: “Do you realise what you’ve just sung? O Come Let Us Adore Him. Adore Him? Such praise of Jesus! Doesn’t that turn your English stomachs?” Yes I used that phrase: “Your English stomachs.” *sigh* I can still picture the looks, the shifting in the pews, the ultra-awkward festive refreshments afterwards.
I was trying to draw attention to the person of Jesus – how incredible that billions would sing adoration to Him even after all these years. But what came out was anger, snarkyness, frustration, superiority. Ugly stuff.
I see this kind of thing quite a bit. Christmas and Easter services are prime examples. The preacher is often found saying: “And where have you been the other 50 Sundays of the year??” with their tone if not their words.
What’s going on?
Several reasons might be given for a Christian’s angry evangelism:
I think these are going on all the time in evangelists, in evangelical pulpits and, let’s face it, in me. And it’s ugly.
But let me here draw attention to something else going on. Essentially it’s a view of evangelism that sees humanity as standing on either side of a “decision for Jesus.”
Now there certainly is a vital distinction between those in Christ and those who are not. But this kind of evangelism revolves around, not Christ, but the decision.
On this understanding an “evangelistic sermon” is not so much a sermon full of the good news. It’s a sermon imploring non-Christians to make a decision. Such preaching makes Christians feel bored (because they’ve already made the decision) and non-Christians feel got-at (because the preacher is clearly not addressing their own flock but taking aim at the visitors).
Let me suggest a far more important line that should define our preaching. This line is between the “life of heaven” and the “life of earth” – between God’s righteousness and our sin.
Only one Person stands on the right side of this line. Only Jesus. The rest of us – Christians and non-Christians – are on the wrong side of His story. In evangelistic preaching then, we don’t speak over the heads of Christians to hit our real targets – the unwashed. We speak to the children of Adam and reveal the problems of Adam. These problems are common to all, but praise God, there’s a solution for all. Jesus is the “life of heaven”, He is God’s righteousness and He’s made available to all. Christians need Him and need to look to Him constantly (not just in a one off salvation-moment). Non-Christians too need Him and need to look to Him for the first time. But the problems addressed are the problems of all and the solution proclaimed is available to all.
But what does preaching look like on that first paradigm…
Someone from the right side of the line condescends to preach to those below. And the essence of their message is an “arrow up” – it’s an exhortation to make a salvation decision (the way that the preacher has already).
So preaching comes from on high and it’s message is for those below to make their way up. Not so on the second model…
Here the preacher is on the side of the hearers – part of the same problem but also offered the same solution. And so this is the essence of the message: arrow-down! In the law, heaven does indeed stand above us and condemn us. What is revealed from heaven is, first, the wrath of God (Romans 1:18ff). But this wrath is revealed to all humanity and convicts all alike of sin. “But now a righteousness from God has been revealed” (Romans 3:21). Here comes the gospel and, once again, it is arrow-down as Christ is offered to lost sinners.
Christians need this gospel. Non-Christians need this gospel. No-one should feel superior. Everyone is humbled. No-one should feel uniquely “got at”. Everyone is lavishly “given to.” What place does anger have on this understanding.
But what understanding do we have? And how does it shape our preaching?
Here’s my dialogue with Adnan Rashid from 2 December 2015. Unfortunately the video seems to have been lost but not the audio.
My opening talk is from 27:08-48:30 and then Adnan and I took questions from the audience before finally questioning one another.
I absolutely loved the evening. We were well hosted by the Postsmouth Uni Islamic Society who provided the refreshments. There were about equal numbers of Christians (from the Christian Union) and Muslims in the audience. At the end scores of Muslims personally requested John’s Gospels. I drove home buzzing. When you talk to Muslims about the gospel you speak about the things that matter: Who is God? Who is Jesus? Is the Bible the word of God? What is salvation? How can I know I’m right with God?
My approach for the opening 20 minutes was to unpack John’s Prologue a little bit (as a taster to encourage folks to keep reading John). In particular I explored Jesus as the divine “Word of God”. If Jesus is the revelation of God then it is not a question of whether He passes the “divinity test” set by others. Divinity is what we see in Jesus. And, as you read through John’s Gospel, what an attractive divinity we see!
The first objection to this would naturally be: What about the Old Testament? But of course John is talking about the Old Testament. He is emphatically not saying that Jesus-the-Word is a New Testament novelty but an eternal reality – since the very “beginning.”
Therefore I took time to demonstrate that Jesus is the divine Word of God from Genesis onwards. I think this is vital in Muslim evangelism. Whenever the Muslim is able (either tacitly or explicitly) to present the Trinity as a New Testament novelty they score a massive advantage. Whenever the Christian is able to demonstrate the Trinitarian Old Testament they make a devastating case. It really is that important.
Of course it’s that important – it’s essentially the question, “Is Jesus really “the Word of God” or is He merely the best Word of God, the seal of a series of improving words about God??” If we falter here then we have begun on the Arian trajectory that, historically, flowered with Islam.
For this reason I pointed people to these 24 Old Testament Scriptures that cannot be understood with a unitarian doctrine of God. Moses and the Prophets were emphatically not unitarians and their writings cannot be understood unitarianly.
A monadic doctrine of God is not primary historically, it is not simple philosophically/theologically and it cannot be basic methodologically. In short, Trinitarianism is not an offshoot of some more fundamental Unitarian understanding. Quite the reverse. Unitarianism is an heretical offshoot of Trinitarianism.
Recently the question has been raised of whether Christians and non-Christians worship the same God. Many who say Yes have based their case on the Old Testament and/or the claim that, of course, we worship the same God as the Jews (e.g. Miroslav Volf and Bruce McCormack). The argument goes, if we’re content to say that Christians and Jews worship the same God, then the door is open to say that those other monotheists – Muslims – also worship the same God.
It seems to me that many evangelicals are uncomfortable with this “same God” position, but they don’t have a sufficiently Christ-centred, Trinitarian understanding of the Old Testament to be able to refute it. I’d urge them to revisit the issue of Christ in the Old Testament (perhaps start with this series of posts). This is not a needlessly divisive distraction but a crucial point about the basic nature of our God.
Look out in the next week or so for a podcast follow up (you are subscribed to The Evangelist’s Podcast I hope??). I’ll discuss the debate and some of these implications in greater depth. But before then, have a listen to the debate. And it might help if you saw the POWERPOINT SLIDES for my opening talk.
Because click bait.
Anyway, here is yesterday’s Reading Between The Lines video: One Flesh
Essentially I just want to clear a space for a distinctive Christian sexual ethic and give some reasons for why we think in the peculiar way we do. In comments, a thoughtful YouTuber made some points (there weren’t any “accusations flying” at all I just put that in my heading to be sensational). “CaptainMikul” (not a Christian) made some excellent points. I’ve interspersed his questions with my answers.
I respect your view that I should have freedom in my own sexual ethic, but I don’t think you get the (rather nasty) sub text of what you are saying…
Marriage, man and woman, sex: Ferrari, beautiful.
Not marriage, man and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Marriage, man and man, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Not marriage, woman and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Hey, thanks for commenting. You’re right that I didn’t go into the male-female aspect of marriage here which I know is a huge issue but I’m trying to keep the videos under 8 minutes.
This means that the Ferrari/Lada analogy is not about hetero/homo-sexuality. I don’t have that issue in view at all in this video. The car analogy is simply about how we use sex. Is sex cheap? Is it for anyone or is it just for that one special person? Christians want to keep sex to “one careful owner” so to speak. That’s the point with the car analogy.
You’re assuming that all Christians must share your sexual ethic. You’re fine with me having my own and don’t want to legislate against it, and I respect that. But to other Christians who have a different sexual ethic to Christians like yourself, who say their relationship is a beat up old car and that Christians believe that, can have a really damaging effect on them.
On the issue of wanting other Christians to agree with me… well there are Biblical texts to be wrestled with. And I think I’m on safe ground to say “This is what Jesus taught about sex” and I think there are interpretations of Jesus’ teachings that are valid and interpretations that aren’t. People are free to believe what they like, but they are not free to re-write what was written. To use an analogy, You can be a free-market capitalist if you like, but you can’t claim that this was the true meaning of Das Kapital. “Marxism” is not infinitely flexible in what it affirms and denies and neither is Christianity.
And then your saying that this is because Jesus gets to dictate what is beautiful in your life. So the Son of God himself thinks that a guy and a guy are not beautiful? Why does he get to decide that, why does He even think that?
Jesus gets to tell us the deal with sex if He created it. I’d totally agree that, if He was just one more wise guru we could weigh His thoughts as an interesting 1st century, Jew. But if He made us and knows how life works then His teaching takes on a different character. That’s why the big question for a non-Christian is not “what do I think about Jesus’ sexual ethics?” but “Who does Jesus think He is to be speaking like this?” That’s the question I’d like non-Christians to be wrestling with.
Why does Jesus think sex operates like this? Well heaven and earth, man and woman, Christ and His people are these parallel pairings throughout the Bible (from the very first verse). And the Bible sees these pairs as “made for each other.” Man and woman coming together is part of a cosmic love story. It mirrors the way God loves the world, the way Christ gave Himself for His people. It’s about equal opposites combining in this life-giving way. No wonder then this how life comes to our species. Man and woman becoming one has been the way of life from the beginning. If man or woman “plays the field” that tells a different story to the cosmic love story. Likewise, Man sticking with man or woman sticking with woman tells a different story. For the Christian, sex means something beyond the sexual desires of the individuals involved. It is a proclamation of profound truths. Once again, I don’t expect you to agree with this sexual ethic because you don’t agree with the underlying “profound truths” but you asked why Jesus would even teach this stuff. And that’s the beginning of a sketch of an answer.
You seem alright, I doubt you have a bad bone in your body, but can you not see the problem of presenting as loving and beautiful a deity who dictates that others relationships are not worthy?
Thanks so much for the tone and thoughtfulness of your comment. I don’t see any problem with “a deity who” tells us what sex means in the world that he has made. The implications of that teaching are that there are more faithful and healthy uses of sex and less faithful and less healthy uses of sex. That seems absolutely consistent with a loving, beautiful God.
Let me finish with an analogy: If I was a Buddhist and this was a 7 minute video on the crazy-beautiful way of vegetarianism, would that be offensive? Imagine if I said in the video that “For Buddhists, meat is murder”? I imagine that most people would be completely fine if I said “Buddhists have a cosmic vision of life and meat-eating does not fit into it, so for us meat is forbidden.” I don’t imagine that there would be comments saying “I eat meat and I’m offended.” Or “Some of my best friends work in an abattoir, how dare you say they are unworthy!” I imagine everyone would shrug their shoulders and say “Fair enough, I disagree, pass me the bacon sandwich.” Why is this video different to that?
I haven’t yet received a response from him. But I’m thrilled that people are interacting on the issue.
I’ve been meaning to do this for ages but I’ve now met the excellent Chris the Witness online and our conversation has prompted me to write a short introduction to the Trinity with Jehovah’s Witnesses in mind:
Here’s a 5 minute gospel explanation where the Trinity is front and centre:
I hope from this video you can see that God’s “THREE-ness” is not weird. It’s good news. God is an eternal Father forever loving His Son in the communion of the Spirit. If that sounds strange, consider four sets of Scriptural evidence:
How God existed before the world began: There are many verses that speak of God’s pre-creation life and they always describe a lively interplay of Persons (e.g. Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Before the world began the Father was loving and choosing and speaking to His Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit (see for example John 17:5, 24).
How God presents Himself to us now: Jesus is constantly presented as “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1; John 20:31). In other words, He’s the One anointed by the Spirit beyond measure, who is also the Son of the Father. To know Jesus is to be introduced to the THREE. But these THREE are clearly ONE. These Persons are united together in the closest possible love relationship. e.g. Jesus speaks of the Father being IN Him and He is IN the Father, and it all happens IN the Spirit (John 14:10, 16-18, 23). You simply cannot understand the Gospels at all without doing business with this united three-ness to God.
How we know God: The Bible is clear about how we know God. Jesus is the Way to the Father. The Father is known only through His Son (Matthew 11:25-27; John 14:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6). This true spiritual knowledge can only happen by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13-16; 12:3). Therefore God is known as a Father revealed in the face of His Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How we are saved by God: The Bible is even more clear about how we are saved. God the Father gave us His Son by the Spirit. If we receive His Son (i.e. believe in Jesus) then we get filled with His Spirit and brought before His Father. According to the Bible, believers are adopted into the very life of God (see John 1:12-13; 2 Peter 1:4).
These shouldn’t be controversial points – it’s basic Christianity. And the shape of it all is triune. When Christians articulate the doctrine of the Trinity they are not trying to impose an alien structure on the gospel but simply to explain the contours of that gospel.
The word “Trinity” is simply a convenient label to describe the truths above. In both Old and New Testaments God is described in terms of THREE-ness as well as ONE-ness. The word Trinity is trying to communicate this. God is a UNITY of THREE – a TRI-UNITY – a TRINITY.
No-one needs to use the word “Trinity” – it would be fine to drop it from our vocabulary. It’s just that we’d soon end up wanting another word to describe what we find in the Bible. If we read the Spirit-breathed Scriptures, we meet the Father in the face of Jesus Christ. This united THREE-ness is foundational to our Christianity.
As we read the Bible it becomes clear that the Three Persons exhibit deity, difference and unity.
Deity: Each Person is God. (cf John 17:3; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 3:17)
Difference: The Persons are distinct from one another. (cf Matthew 3:16-17)
Unity: The Persons are so united that they are “in” one another (cf John 14:10, 16-18, 23)
This last point should be obvious – there cannot be a Father without Him having a Son and the Spirit of the Son cannot be without the Son (cf Galatians 4:4-6). The Three do not simply get on well with one another – they constitute one another and have done so eternally.
One devastating problem for the Jehovah’s Witness account of God is that, for them, Jehovah is not fundamentally Father. If Jehovah has not eternally had his Son then he is not eternally a Father. But for the Christian, God has always been life-giving because He has always had His Son; He has always been communicative because He has always had His Word (John 1:1); He has always been wise because He has always had His Wisdom (1 Cor 1:31); He has always been radiant because He has always had His Light (Hebrews 1:3). As an orthodox Christian I cannot help but think that Jehovah, according to the Watchtower, is life-less, mute, thoughtless and dark.
From Scripture it’s plain that there is a flow to God’s life. The Father sends the Son. The Son never sends the Father. The Son obeys the Father. The Father never obeys the Son. Jesus can say things like “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Paul can say things like “God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Trinitarian Christians have never denied or been threatened by these verses – we rejoice in them. They speak of the flow of God: from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. The Persons take on different roles and there is clearly authority within the Trinity. We can speak rightly of a First, Second and Third Person of the Trinity. All this is perfectly straightforward. The problem comes when anti-trinitarians imagine a completely unwarranted conclusion: namely that such an authority structure makes the Son or the Spirit lesser beings than the Father. That would be a bizarre conclusion for two main reasons:
First, we know in every walk of life that roles and being are very different. If I told you “My boss is greater than I” you’d know exactly what I meant: he has authority over me. You would not conclude that my boss was a greater being than I, I hope! Similarly with the headship point in 1 Corinthians 11. The parallel is with marriage – husbands are the heads of wives as the Father is the head of Christ.
A JW once told me that 1 Corinthians 11:3 was Paul “completely ruling out the doctrine of the Trinity.” I asked him if he thought this verse meant God was a greater being than Christ. He said “Yes.” I asked him if, by parallel, I was a greater being than my wife. He paused and then said “Yes.” Flabbergasted I asked for clarification. He said “Well you call the shots.” I told him he clearly didn’t know my marriage. At this point his female partner was so outraged that he had to pull her away from the door-step and down the street. I yelled after her: “You know that woman are equal in being to men… AND CHRIST IS EQUAL IN BEING TO THE FATHER!!” (They haven’t been back).
It’s obvious that roles and being are different. That’s reason number one that the roles in the Trinity do not make the being of the Son or Spirit lesser. But there’s a second, more fundamental, reason why we can’t conclude that the being of the Son or Spirit is lesser…
Second, the Persons are completely and indivisibly united. We can’t think of the Father without the Son, or the Spirit without the Father. There is no “being” of God underneath or besides the three Persons. The being of God is the one, unified life of love which the Father, Son and Spirit share. And so of course they all share in that life together. There isn’t a separate or separable being of the Father and another of the Son. The Father-Son-Spirit relationship constitutes the unified being of God. There can be no “greater” or “lesser” when it comes to this being, because the Father, Son and Spirit in their life together are the being of God.
Chris tweeted me some verses to consider. I think that what I’ve said already will explain them:
In Revelation 3:12, Jesus calls the Father “my God.” Very good. I should hope so. The Son has always looked to His Father in the Trinity’s united life of worship and joy.
In Colossians 1:15, the Son is called the Firstborn. Does this make Him the first creature? Clearly not, because by Him all things were made so this very verse teaches that Christ is Creator and not creature. “Firstborn” in the Bible is about inheritance – David was the “firstborn” even though, physically, he was the eighthborn! (Psalm 89:20,27).
In 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul calls God the head of Christ. Absolutely. In the same breath he says that husbands are heads of wives. If you think the role of headship entails a greater being then you blaspheme Christ and denigrate all women.
In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says the Father knows the hour of His return but He, as Son, does not. Again, within the flow of the life of God this is exactly what we would expect. The Father sends the Son. Jesus does not do anything of His own initiative. He entrusts all things to His Father and will go when sent. This does not undermine His divine identity but expresses it as the Sent One of the Father.
If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, allow me to challenge you on your doctrine of God assumptions. Perhaps you think that unitarianism is an obvious or default doctrine of God. If you do, I suggest that this assumption comes from Aristotle and not from Scripture. I contend that Moses’ doctrine of God is not and never was the Watchtower’s. Moses and the Prophets spoke of a unified but multi-Personal revelation of God, from Genesis 1 onwards.
If you are a JW I challenge you to study these 24 Old Testament passages and see how a unitarian doctrine of God cannot handle the Scriptures – even the New World Translation. There has always been more than one Person called Jehovah – therefore the question is: to which Jehovah are you witnessing? Jesus is the eternal Son – whose eternal nature has always been to be Jehovah. Jesus is LORD!
Last year I preached on John chapter 1. A JW who was 30 years in the Watchtower came to me in tears at the beauty of the Trinity. He’d never been taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, only the Watchtower straw-man version. I said to him “If Jesus is only a servant of Jehovah then all he can do is bring you into his own slavery.” He said “That’s exactly what it’s felt like: slavery.” I continued… “But if Jesus is the eternal Son, then He’s come to share with you His life of love in the family of God.” We prayed gratefully to the Father and that man was liberated from slavery into the freedom of the children of God.
I pray that you too will know this freedom.