Tony Campolo changes positions on gay sexual activity

TonyCampoloTony Campolo is a popular author and speaker in the evangelical churches, representing a leftwing perspective while attempting to honor scriptural authority. For many years now, he has famously taught that Christians may not, consistent with the scriptures, engage in homosexual activity. His wife has long taught to the contrary.

Today, Campolo issued a statement declaring that he has changed his position and now considers gay marriage, and homosexual activity within gay marriage, acceptable for Christians. You should read the entire statement, not just the portions that I quote. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Thin Walls

biblepage-781x1024Rather like preparing to bake a cake the old-fashioned way — from scratch — we’ve been adding ingredients to our narrative hermeneutic.

We started with Scot McKnight’s A-B-A’ formulation. We added some elements from John Walton’s Covenant argument.

Next, we need to consider N.T. Wright’s understanding presented in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Wright explains Christianity in terms that make so much sense you wonder why you never thought of it yourself. The idea is that the story of the Bible can be stated in terms of the closeness of heaven and earth. It outlines like this.

In the beginning, heaven and earth touched in the Garden of Eden. They were so close that God walked with Adam and Eve. Continue reading

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The Future of the Churches of Christ: Church Revitalization

churchRevitalThom S. Rainer has long been a leading expert and consultant on church growth. He’s authored countless books, and participated in numerous studies on what works and what doesn’t. He recently posted an article summarizing what works when it comes to revitalizing a church.

Two Foundational Issues

First, the church must have the right leaders on board. Second, the behavioral patterns of the church members must change.

No infusion of methodologies or innovations can take place until these two issues are addressed. Such is the reason most revitalizations fail, and only a few succeed. Let’s look at that reality in light of three approaches.

Leadership and attitudes. It makes sense. No church will change unless someone leads the church to change, and then the church must be willing to follow its leaders. Makes sense. Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: The Covenants

biblepage-781x1024Walton lays out God’s history of covenants in terms that I’d never heard before.

He concludes that the covenant made with Noah is separate from all the others, as it indicates no effort toward self-revelation. God had appeared to Noah and rescued him from the coming destruction. But it wasn’t yet time to introduce the plan that would culminate in Jesus.

That plan begins with Abraham, leading to this
pattern — Continue reading

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The Future of the Churches of Christ: Reflections from the Comments

churchRevitalThe readers are always good to push me to deal more thoroughly with issues through their comments. The following thoughts were originally posted by me in response to these excellent questions by Tina Sergent Seward

Jay, how should we define the word “judge”? I sometimes wonder if, when people use the word “judge”, they are really saying, “Don’t call me out on my sinful behavior.” (Not saying you are doing that.) I think we should call sin, sin–but at the same time, I don’t want to look down my nose at people, because I definitely sin as well.


You’ve put your finger on several challenges that arise in interpreting Paul’s words. Let’s get the context in front of us —

(1Co 5:6-13 ESV) Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler– not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Paul’s insider/outsider distinction should be obvious enough. But who is an “evil person” and what does “judge” mean?

“Evil person”

Well, we all sin, and so we’re all “sinners.” But I think Price correctly puts his finger on the distinction in his comment. The Law of Moses distinguished between intentional and unintentional sin. The text here doesn’t say “sinner” but “evil person” — and the NET Bible translator notes helpfully point out,

An allusion to Deu 17:7; Deu 19:19; Deu 22:21, Deu 22:24; Deu 24:7; cf. 1Co 5:2.

It’s a phrase repeated throughout Deu as the sentence to be passed against someone who has been tried and found guilty of certain sins: idolatry, a false prophet, a son who will not honor the voice of his parents, a betrothed woman and the man with whom she commits adultery against her fiance, someone who refuses to honor the verdict of the priests in a disputed matter, someone who testifies in court falsely out of malice (intentionally), someone who sells a fellow Israelite into slavery.

Now, the language Paul uses is used in these passages. What do they have in common? They are all sins committed with a “high hand” (Num 15:30). These are sins committed by someone well aware that his conduct is sinful and who chooses to commit the sin anyway. Contrary to decades of bad teaching in the Churches of Christ, ignorance of the Law actually is an excuse. In fact, the sacrificial system for obtaining forgiveness was only available for those sins not committed intentionally.

(Num 15:28-31 ESV) 28 “And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them. 30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”

And so, “evil person” doesn’t refer to someone who, in good conscience, worships contrary to your conscience. Nor does it refer to someone who sins unaware of the law he is violating. It’s for those in rebellion (Heb 10:26 ff).

When Paul requires us to disfellowship “the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters,” he is referring to those who violated core teachings of the local congregation (not that God’s law varies, but what we teach clearly enough to know that our members  a understand a given sin to be wrong will vary). What moral commands we teach and emphasize to our churches will vary, but it should be clear to all that swindling others is a sin — making the sin almost automatically high handed. Although, there are cultures where those who steal by being clever are admired. A convert from such a culture would not be high handed unless and until taught better.

[From a comment by John F:

In Asian (Taiwanese in my experience) this cleverness is more clearly seen as dishonoring your family if you do NOT take advantage of a situation. Example, someone foolishly leave the key in their motorcycle; doing so opens the item to theft and dishonors your family. If I see the key, and how you have dishonored your family, I am free (expected) to take advantage for the benefit of MY family.]

On the other hand, as to a questionable matter, such as IM, mailing someone a tract does not make them “taught better” because they very well may, in all good conscience, disagree. It’s about having a heart that obeys what it knows and understands to obey.

Even so, David was forgiven for his high handed sin against Uriah and Bathsheba — despite the fact that no sacrifice was available for such a sin. Rather, we see a new approach to forgiveness of sin in —

(Psa 51:16-17 ESV) 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The point of purging someone from the church by disfellowship is to produce a broken and contrite heart — which will allow that person to be restored. Hence, we are not to disfellowship those who already have a broken and contrite heart. It’s not about retribution but about shaping a member’s heart to be more like the heart of Jesus.

[Further from a comment by John F:

The primary purpose of disfellowship is restoration of the transgressor.

Gal 6:1-3
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. NASU

What too often is missing is “you who are spiritual” and a “spirit o gentleness.”

There is a UNIVERSE of difference in going to someone and telling them they are in spiritual danger — one person may sound like they like the idea of you going to hell, , and another sound like it will break their heart to see you lost. Which approach is likely to be more spiritually effective? (I think I know.)]

So that’s what I take Paul to be trying to accomplish here.

(I’ll not go into detail here, but where a member is working to harm the members, such as by stealing from the gullible or seducing the young, he is to be removed to protect the flock. Jesus’ command regarding a wolf in sheep’s clothing applies, and is a very different case.)

Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: Election

biblepage-781x1024We’re continuing to work through Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan. by John H. Walton.

Never do the biblical writers describe election as a reward. It does not come in response to any attribute or action of Israel. His election did not give Israel a privileged position among the nations so she might gloat. Rather, God chose Israel to serve him and reflect his character and ways to other nations—“that they may proclaim [His] praise” (Isa. 43:21).

(Kindle Locations 257-260).

Thus Israel’s election does not mean God has rejected the other nations. Rather, election creates for Israel the task of representing God among the nations so salvation might come to them.

(Kindle Locations 261-262).

Ahh … finally we can get past the old Calvinist v. Arminian debates about election. Continue reading

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The Future of the Churches of Christ: Church Trends, Part 2


Some takeaways –

* Cultural Christianity is dying. Only about to 20 to 25% of Americans are committed Protestant Christians in the sense of going to church on Sunday and actually allowing Christianity to shape how they live. The rest are increasingly no longer pretending.

As Ed Stetzer wrote in a Christianity Today article, Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: God’s Plan: Genesis 1 – 11

biblepage-781x1024So why does Genesis provide us with the material found in Genesis 1 – 11? These chapters aren’t obviously about God’s self-revelation.

Genesis tells the story of how God created humankind in fellowship with him, but also relates how that relationship was destroyed by the Fall. The destruction of all but Noah and his family in the flood gave humanity a second opportunity to maintain a relationship, but again sin interfered.

The primeval history concludes with the important account of the Tower of Babel. Urbanization in Mesopotamia had provided fertile ground for the development of a new paganism aptly represented in the symbolism of the ziggurat. The Tower of Babel represented the definitive formulation of a brand of paganism that pervaded the ancient Near East in which mythologized deity was portrayed as having all the foibles of humanity. In so doing, humanity remade deity in its own image. Continue reading

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The Future of the Churches of Christ: Church Trends, Part 1

PewStudyThe news has been filled with reports regarding the decline of Christianity in the U.S.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows a 7.8% decline in Americans who self-identify as “Christian.”

Looking more closely at the numbers, we see “Unaffiliated” growing by 6.7% and a growth of non-Christian faiths of 1.2%, which total to 7.9% — about the same number as the decline.

Most of the loss shows up in the Mainline Protestant churches (3.4% decline in 7 years) and Catholicism (3.1% decline despite the immigration of millions of Catholics from Latin America).

But even the evangelical churches are in decline — although by the relatively modest 0.9%. This category would include the Southern Baptists and the Churches of Christ.

And we know from separate studies that both denominations are in numerical decline.

So what are we to make of these figures? How bad are they really? Continue reading

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How to Study the Bible: God’s Plan

biblepage-781x1024So I guess you noticed that the series took a sudden left turn in the last post. We were discussing Bible study tools, and then all of sudden, we’re talking narrative hermeneutics — but hermeneutics are just another kind of tool. And the best hermeneutics are built on the Bible as a whole as a narrative — because that’s what the Bible as a whole is.

So while I’m recovering from back surgery (L5/L4/L3 fusion), I’m re-running some older posts, but in a sequence that establishes a better hermeneutic than most of us were taught.

Long before we get into the nitty gritty of interpreting a particular passage, Greek grammar, cultural backgrounds, and such like, we need to see the big picture, and this is where we have so often gone  wrong.

I’ve found just a handful of sources that provided extraordinary insight into the overarching narrative of scripture. In the last post we considered Scot McKnight’s latest book Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church. Less well known, perhaps, but of equal importance is John H. Walton’s Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan.

Walton is an expert in the cultures that surrounded Old Testament Israel, and this knowledge provides him with insights into the Old Testament text that few others have. But beyond being a historian, Walton does some excellent theology, tying his historical insights into the scriptural narrative with great effect. Continue reading

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