Jay Adams is known as the father of the Christian counseling movement. When people think of “counseling,” they may have images of a contemplative psychologist, pen at the ready, and a comfy couch.
Biblical counseling sounds stuffy, but its really about applying the bible (and its worldview) to real Christian people, with real problems, in real life, in the real world. You can read more about the principles behind this biblical approach here. This is the presuppositional approach Jay Adams brought to the mainstream in 1970, when he published his landmark book Competent to Counsel. This is also the approach many conservative Christian universities and seminaries teach their students to use in pastoral ministry. My own alma mater, Maranatha Baptist Seminary, uses this method. So does The Masters College.
Here, in this excerpt from his outstanding book Solving Marriage Problems, Jay Adams discusses the overriding obligation that comes with marriage:
When a couple takes marriage vows, whether they realize it or not (and often they do not), they are vowing to provide companionship for one another for the rest of their lives; that is what their views amount to. Notice, they do not vow to receive companionship, but to provide it for one another. Marriage itself is an act of love in which one person vows to meet another’s need for life, no strings attached.
That means that when a husband or a wife complains,
“I am not getting what I want out of marriage,”
his or her statement is nonsensical. And you must reply,
“You did not enter marriage in order to get something for yourself. You vowed to give something to your partner. Marriage is not a bargain in which each partner says, ‘I will give so much in return for so much.’ Each vows to give all that is necessary to meet his or her spouse’s need for companionship, whether or not he or she receives anything in return. Therefore, the only question for you is, ‘Are you fulfilling your vows?'”
Many marry for what they can get out of the marriage; but that is lust, not love, and is biblically untenable.
What on earth should a congregation look for in a Pastor? A hip haircut? A charismatic personality? A minimum number of FaceBook followers? A guy who posts cliched Instagram pictures of his open Bible and a cup of coffee, just like this one? A man who looks “relevant” and “edgy,” like this guy? A man who’s “woke,” as they say?
Let’s return to reality for a moment or two; a safe space where the bistro table pulpits are donated to Goodwill, the pathetic posturing is dropped, the virtue signaling ends, and the weird, hipster clothes are burned in a pyre, just like Darth Vader.
Let’s return to the real world, where we need real Pastors who provide real leadership to real people who face real problems, in the real world.
Let’s do the most un-“woke” thing possible to answer this question. Let’s go to the Bible …
Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:13)
Paul taught Timothy everything he knows, with a bit of help from his mother and grandmother along the way. He told Timothy to follow his example about “sound words.” Now, brace yourselves, but Paul is dead.
Yes, it’s true.
He didn’t leave any YouTube videos or mp3 recordings behind for us to find, and Nero deleted Paul’s FaceBook page once he had him executed. This means the only place we’ll find Paul’s words, so we can follow them, is in the preserved Word of God – the Bible
The Bible was written by over 40 men, over the course of 1500 years, and we believe God moved each of those men to record and write exactly what He wanted them to write. As one Baptist confession puts it:
We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried (1833 NHCF, Article 1)
God then preserved these books (through the thousands of copies and their mass distribution, and the reverence God’s people have always had for them) down through the centuries so we could have them on our laps, phones, or tablets today.
So, Paul is telling us a Pastor has to be a guy who’s completely committed to following what the Bible says. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t so obvious. Just consider the four “big questions” I mentioned in the last article; how can you answer any of these questions unless you’re committed to interpreting and following God’s Word, in God’s way?
Creation: how did we get here?
Were Adam and Eve real people, or just story figures created by a writer to make a point? Are men and women really the highest of all God’s creations, and made in His image, with all the implications for human dignity, value and worth this implies? Did God actually create the world, or did it somehow come into being out of nothing? Is our world designed by an intelligent Creator, or the product of random chance?
There are people who claim to be Christian today who deny every one of these things, and some of them even claim to be conservative!
If you believe God’s Word speaks today, and is relevant, then you’ll be laughed at by the world – if a man can’t handle that, and isn’t prepared to have a conversation about why God’s right and the scoffers are wrong (more on that in a moment!), then he can’t be a Pastor
Fall: why are things the way they are? Why do bad things happen?
Does Satan actually exist? Does God have laws, rules, and the power, authority and jurisdiction to hold His creatures accountable for them? Are men and women really ruined by sin, born as children of wrath who are under the power and control of Satan, whom Paul calls the prince of the power of the air? Hurricanes, floods, famines, tsunamis, murders, rapes, domestic abuse, child abuse, robbery, death itself – is all this the way God made the world? Is this what He desires for the world?
There are people who call themselves Christians today, who claim to love and follow God’s Word, who couldn’t answer those questions in a straightforward way
Redemption: how can things be fixed? How can they be set right?
Did Jesus actually exist? For over 100 years, some alleged Christians have argued that we don’t know who the “real Jesus” actually is. Did God really send Jesus to willingly and voluntarily die in our place, as our divine substitute, for God’s wrath to be satisfied, to atone and pay for sins, and to reconcile us to Him?
Some Christians hate the idea of substitutionary atonement, calling it “divine child sacrifice.” Did Jesus really obey God’s law perfectly, because we can’t? Did Jesus really rise from the dead, to destroy Satan’s power over men and women, “and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage,” (Heb 2:15)?
Was He really seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses, and then ascend back to the Father’s side in heaven, to intercede and be the eternal advocate and High Priest for everyone who repents and believes in His message of eternal forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation?
Some “Christians” believe the miracles in the Bible are just “stories,”
Restoration: will things ever be fixed?
Is Jesus coming back to defeat Satan and set things right? Will there be an eternal state, where Satan is in hell, everything is made new and “good” again, and Father and Son rule and reign together, and there is peace on earth? Will there be a final judgment, where everyone will stand before Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords, and give an account for whether He’s obeyed or rejected the command to repent and believe the Gospel?
So, when Paul says “follow the pattern of sound words,” he means Timothy has to commit himself to preaching and teaching the same message Jesus taught, and Jesus’ message is grounded in the Old Testament and all the precious promises it contains!
The Pastor can’t be a slave to church traditions that are unbiblical. He also can’t be an innovator who wants to “update” the Gospel for today’s culture, because we allegedly “know more” than Paul, Peter, John and Jesus did.
Instead, he must be committed to follow the pattern of sound words we find in the Bible:
A Creation that was made perfect in the beginning, to glorify and honor God;
The rebellion that ruined everything in the world, including us;
God’s plan to redeem and remake Creation, and to save some of us from ourselves along the way by way of His eternal son, who lived a perfect life for us in our place and willingly died for our sins, in our place, as our substitute, and rose from the dead to defeat Satan and the curses of sin and death;
And, he must be committed to and believe the promise that Jesus is coming back one day to defeat all enemies, establish His kingdom, and rule over a new and better creation, and all of us who repent and believe in the Good News will be there with Him, to worship and serve Him for eternity.
In short, the Pastor has to be committed to following the Bible!
This series is based on three sermons I recently preached. The audio is below. Here are the sermon notes for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Audio Part 1 –
Audio Part 2 –
Audio Part 3 –
 The various quests for the “historical Jesus” are complicated. I commend folks who spend their scholarly careers interacting with these revisionists, but I don’t feel the need to offer a “nuanced” view of this controversy here.
Paul tells Timothy something very important, and it’s so obvious and so clear that we sometimes take it for granted – a pastor must be a leader, not a coward. In 2 Timothy 1:1-7, Paul reminds Timothy to “rekindle” the pastoral gifts he had, which God had given him through the Holy Spirit. In other words, don’t be depressed. Don’t despair. Don’t give up your fight for the Gospel. Don’t give in to laziness. Let your love of Christ and His Gospel burst into “flames” of enthusiasm, and serve the Lord with passion!
Why was this reminder even necessary? Why did Paul tell this to Timothy? Because it’s natural for a guy to become timid, to slink back, to tuck his head into his shell like a timid little turtle, to start treading lightly as the storm clouds of persecution began to crash out against Christians in the Roman Empire. Remember the apostles immediately after Jesus’ execution!
But, the point here is that God didn’t give Timothy (or any Christian) a spirit of timidity, of cowardice, of fearful fright. Instead, he gave him power. The power of the Spirit, to aid us when we’re afraid. The power of direct access to the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, the captain of our salvation who blazed that trail for us, right through the compartments of tabernacle, past that torn and obsolete curtain, right to the very throne of grace.
God gave Timothy love. This means love for one another, love for the Gospel, love for the Father, love for His eternal Son Jesus Christ, and love for the Spirit who gives us spiritual life and draws us to salvation.
He also gave us discipline or self-control. The self-control to do what’s right, no matter what pressures are brought to bear by the Accuser. The discipline to lead a congregation to follow and worship the Lord in spirit and truth, no matter what the culture says.
Paul continues …
Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:6-7)
Let me be as plain as vanilla ice cream right now, and tell you straight-out:
A Pastor can’t be a coward!
A Pastor can’t be timid!
A Pastor can’t be afraid to stand for the truth!
A Pastor can’t be afraid of people, including Christians!
This is what Paul told Timothy. These are critical times for Christians, and we need leaders in our churches who:
care about the Gospel,
and have the spirit of power,
and have a love for God
and the discipline to be fearless, persuasive, winsome and passionate ambassadors for the Good News of Jesus Christ
You can’t do that if you’re terrified about what people think about you or the Gospel. If you love God, you’ll want to defend Him and proclaim Him to the world. Make no mistake, organizations across this entire land (secular and Christian) are filled with so-called leaders who are cowards. You’ve worked for some in the past. You may even work for some right now. You know what I’m talking about. Christians can be very skilled at spiritualizing incompetence, because we want to be loving and kind.
A man might not be able to teach his way out of a wet paper bag,
might not know Augustine from Anselm,
might have a spine as stiff as a soggy spaghetti noodle,
but if he’s a nice guy who loves the Lord, some congregations are willing to make him their Pastor
Don’t do it – a Pastor can’t be a coward, not with the pressures and challenges he faces every day. He must be a leader. That’s exactly what Paul turns to next:
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me (2 Tim 1:8-12)
Folks, a Pastor can’t be a wilting flower of a guy. He must be mentally tough. He needs to be willing to never be ashamed of the Gospel, and its implications for every single facet of your life.
The Christian life is a worldview, an inter-related network of beliefs and convictions that combine together to inform how we view this world – the Christian faith is a picture and story that interprets reality; that explains “the way things are:”
Creation: how did we get here?
Fall: why are things the way they are? Why do bad things happen?
Redemption: how can this be fixed? How can things be set right?
Restoration: will things ever be fixed?
Every worldview, every religion (yes, atheism and scientific naturalism is a religion; I’m also tempted to believe politics are a religion for some people, too! 😊) has a set of beliefs that seek to explain these four, most basic concepts and, together, they form the skeleton you use to interpret and understand the world around you.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ answers each of these four “big questions” in a way no others can (because it’s the only truth😊), and this message has implications that should echo and reverberate throughout every nook, cranny, corner and closet of your life. If your local church doesn’t have a leader who is willing to understand that, and can’t lead your congregation individually and corporately to impact your community, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and enemies with this picture of reality (the only true picture of reality), then he’s not fit to be a leader of a Christian church.
The Pastor must be a leader – his job is too important.
I preached two sermons on these and eight other “marks of a good pastor.” The notes are here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), and the audio is below:
My description of the Christian worldview as a “picture” or “story of reality,” along with the four “big questions,” are taken from his book. Again, I’ve heard and read this all before, but Koukl did a masterful job of distilling these concepts here.
Every Pastor grows depressed when he reads books about “how to be a better Pastor.” I believe that, if you took five popular “how to be a Pastor” books by conservative authors, and compiled a list of everything these books said, you’d be one depressed guy. Of course, not all of these lists are credible.
For example, one well-known Christian leader posted, just today, that one “warning sign” of a bad pastor is that has a “poor social media witness.” No, I’m not joking. Somehow, I must have missed that requirement in the Bible. Yes, now that I think on it … I’m almost certain the Apostle Paul mentioned a weekly quota for FaceBook, Twitter and Instgram posts.
Competence, not brilliance
But, that madness aside, these lists can be depressing. No doubt about it. But, I want to offer a small ray of sunshine. When it comes to pastoral requirements, I don’t believe God requires a guy to be perfect at everything. He asks for competence, not brilliance; along with a willingness to get better and learn over time.
Let me use a sports analogy. In baseball, the “ideal” athlete is known as a “five-tool player.” This means a guy who can (1) hit for power, (2) hit for a good average, (3) has good base-running skills and speed, (4) can throw, and (5) can field. Most guys aren’t “five-tool players.” Most baseball players can do one or more of these things very well, and are competent at the rest. A superstar is generally someone who can do all five (e.g. Ken Griffey, Jr.).
Some Pastors are “five-tool” guys. They can do everything very, very well. Most guys can’t do that. And, I don’t think God asks for brilliance. But, I think He does expect competence.
Unfortunately, many congregations don’t even ask for that much. Christians are generally very, very good at spiritualizing incompetence, because we want to be “loving” and “nice.” A man might not be able to teach his way out of a wet paper bag, might not know Augustine from Anselm, might have a spine as stiff as a soggy spaghetti noodle, but if he’s a nice guy who loves the Lord, some congregations are willing to make him their Pastor. That is a terrible mistake.
The list …
I believe the Bible teaches a Pastor must meet certain qualifications. I also believe that God gives every believer certain talents, gifts and abilities, and molds and shapes all His children into the people He wants them to be. We can look at the Bible to find these Pastoral qualifications. Most Christians instinctively turn to 1 Timothy 3, or Titus 1, to find these. But, those largely moral requirements. What about performance requirements? What about the skill sets, the competences that allow a Pastor to actually do his job?
I think the book of 2 Timothy has something for us, on that score. At my church, as we prepare the congregation to consider a new Pastoral candidate, I’m walking through 2 Timothy 1-2 and picking out some “marks of a good Pastor.” Here is the list I’m working from:
He must be a leader, not a coward
He must be committed to the Bible
He must be educated, competent and capable – so he can guard the faith
He must train new leaders
He must be totally committed to the Gospel ministry
He must not preach a cheap Gospel, and encourage self-examination
He must be theologically balanced and mature
He must be spiritually and emotionally mature
He must be able to teach
I could have found more, but this is enough. Remember, God asks for competence, not brilliance. We can’t all be superstars. But, we can all be competent. If a guy can’t meet these core competencies, then he isn’t qualified to lead a congregation.
End of story.
In the rest of this series, I’ll briefly elaborate on each of these “marks of a good Pastor.”
This article is a short summary of the oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5, 2017. For those who’ve been following the news, this is the “Christian cake baker case.” Oral arguments are an opportunity for both sides to defend their legal positions in person, and answer any questions the Justices have. The Supreme Court will rule on this case sometime in 2018.
In the article, I provide a few bits of commentary. But, this is primarily a summary. Hopefully, it can spur each of on to consider the issue of soul liberty in the public square in these troubled times.
Philipps’ objection is not with the people who want the cake, his attorney argued. Instead, the objection is the message it communicates. “The First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing people to express messages that their violate religious convictions,” (4:12-19). The back and forth centered on this point. What is “speech?” How do you separate the identity of the customer from the message the product communicates?
Ginsburg opened by asking about off the shelf products; would Philipps provide these to a same-sex couple (4:21-5:4; 10:9-19)? Absolutely, Waggoner said, a pre-made item wasn’t compelled speech (5:5-8). The crux of the issue is intent. When Phillips puts a pre-made product on display “in the stream of commerce in a public accommodation setting, his speech has been completed,” (6:1-4). However, when you consider custom designed cakes, it’s a whole new ballgame (6:7-10). Thus it is with Phillips; “we are drawing the line prior to the compulsion — there can be no compulsion of speech,” (6:4-6). And, this is about more than putting “words and symbols” onto the cake – it’s the act of custom making the product itself (8:8-19).
So, where is the line? Who can claim an artistic exemption on the basis of compelled speech? The justices hammered away on this line. Can a florist (11:9-13)? Yes, Wagonner said (11:14-17). What about a wedding invitation designer (11:18-21)? Of course (11:22). What about hair stylists (12:8) or makeup artists (12:17)?
“Absolutely not,” Waggoner says (12:9).
Justice Kagan is aghast; “Why is there no speech in — in creating a wonderful hairdo,” (12:12-13)?
Waggoner provided a legal answer, but not a particularly logical one. A tailor, a chef, a hairstylist and a makeup artist don’t produce “speech” because they (1) aren’t communicating a message with their product, and (2) their product isn’t analogous to other forms of protected speech (12:9-11; 12:23-13:5; 14:16-21).
This prompted Justice Sotomayor to ask how the Court could protect Phillips’ cake as a medium for public expression, when its primary purpose is to be eaten (15:21-25)!? Simple, Waggoner replied.
“[I]in the wedding context, Mr. Phillips is painting on a blank canvas. He is creating a painting on that canvas that expresses messages, and including words and symbols in those messages,” (16:9-14).
Well, what about sandwich artists (16:24-17:3)? The difference, Waggoner says, is the message being conveyed:
… when we have someone that is sketching and sculpting and hand designing something, that is creating a temporary sculpture that serves as the centerpiece of what they believe to be a religious wedding celebration, that cake expresses a message (17:4-10).
This distinction is the heart of the issue, according to Waggoner. If the very nature of the product is communicative, then you have “speech,” and this speech cannot be compelled. For example, this is why architecture is not “speech,” because “buildings are functional, not communicative,” (17:20-23).
Justice Breyer weighed in:
So, in other words, Mies or Michelangelo or someone is not protected when he creates the Laurentian steps, but this cake baker is protected when he creates the cake without any message on it for a wedding? Now, that — that really does baffle me, I have to say (18:4-10).
So, where on earth is the line (19:1-11)? What should we do? The answer, Waggoner says, is simple: “Is the individual who’s being compelled to speak objecting to the message that’s contained in that speech or the person? And that’s usually a very obvious inquiry,” (20:7-11). This is why Waggoner believes the issue of public accommodation laws related to race are completely different; “we know that that objection would be based to who the person is, rather than what the message is,” (23:3-6).
Here is the dividing line, and it isn’t something a secular Court can decide. Is sexual identity a legitimate category at all, from a Christian perspective? You can’t set theology aside here, because it informs how you answer the question. Everybody has a foundation for his worldview, and the Christian worldview (based on the Scriptures) proclaims that all sexual thoughts, intents and actions outside a monogamous, male and female sexual relationship in the context of a marriage covenant is deviant. To the Christian, “sexual identity” is not a legitimate category, because it isn’t part of the original, “good” created order. Race is, sexual identity is not.
Waggoner, of course, didn’t go there. She simply continued to push the distinction between the racial public accommodation laws (which were about who the person is) and the Phillips case which, she insisted, is about the message, not the people. It’s unclear whether she (and her client) actually believe this, or if it’s merely a convenient legal peg to hang their case on.
How can the State fairly decide whether this message vs. identity distinction isn’t just a smokescreen? This was Justice Gorsuch’s question (24:18-21), and he didn’t receive a satisfactory answer.
Solicitor General’s Response on Behalf of Baker (from Noel Francisco)
Francisco insisted there must be “breathing space” for free speech protections for business owners, so they aren’t compelled to engage in “speech” for an event they disagree with (26:1-8). Dignity interests cut both ways, he argued (28:1-8).
What about a situation in a rural context, where only very limited services are available (28:10-29:11)? Leave that to the individual states, Francisco said (29:12-17).
Where is “the line?” You figure that out, he answered, by applying a two-fold test:
can the “art” in question be analogized to traditional art in a legitimate way, and
“is it predominantly art or predominantly utilitarian,” (41:1-3)?
In Phillips’ case, Francisco observed, “people pay very high prices for these highly sculpted cakes, not because they taste good, but because of their artistic qualities,” (41:3-6).
The goal is the intent of the purchaser. Is it merely a cake to be eaten? Why not go to Safeway? No, they clearly sought out Phillips so he could create, sculpt and fashion a special cake which is analogous to a traditional sculpture “except for the medium used,” (40:18-20). Is the creation’s purpose and effect intended to be (1) artistic, or (2) utilitarian? That is the key to answering the question (42:2-24).
In Phillips’ case, they sought him out for artistic purposes, to create an artistic and aesthetic effect on the wedding guests. Thus, they asked him to “speak” through the medium of the cake, and his “speech” must be protected. Francisco closed with a “slippery-slope” argument:
… if you were to disagree with our basic principle, putting aside the line about whether a cake falls on speech or non-speech side of the line, you really are envisioning a situation in which you could force, for example, a gay opera singer to perform at the Westboro Baptist Church just because that opera singer would be willing to perform at the National Cathedral (46:13-21).
State of Colorado (from Frederick Yarger)
Colorado’s position is simple (47:12-22):
if you are a retail establishment, then
you’re subject to anti-discrimination laws, and
“you cannot turn away from your storefront if you’re a retail store,” (65:21-23).
It really is that simple and, if you’re a retail establishment, the State can require you to serve a customer (50:11-19).
What about, say, a same-sex couple who went to Catholic Legal Services and demanded to be given legal service related to their marriage? Would Colorado force them to provide service (50:21-51:23)? Yes, Yarger says, if Catholic Legal Services were operating in a retail context, “then Colorado would have the ability to regulate them,” (52:3).
Justice Kennedy brought up an interesting point. Colorado’s opinion read, in part, that “freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric,” (52:14-16). Why shouldn’t the Court assume Colorado is prejudiced against religion, and act accordingly? Kennedy asked Yarger three times if he disavowed the statement, and Yarger tap-danced mightily to avoid answering (52:17-53:15). If there were a bias on Colorado’s part, he claimed, of course there would be the problem (54:12-16). But, such was not the case (55:15-23).
Colorado’s issue, Yarger said, is that Philipps’ actions were based on the identity of the customer. Phillips may claim the message is the problem but, Yarger argued, the message here is linked with the customer’s identity, so the argument lacks merit. “[T]he message in this case, Your Honor, depended entirely on the identity of the customer who was ordering the cake,” (62:15-18). So, if the baker chooses to refuse service, he is being discriminatory (63:16-21).
Justice Kennedy, once again, chimed in with some stern words (64:3-8):
Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.
Yarger disagreed, and his position hinges on granting the idea that “sexual identity” is a valid category, on par with race and sex (64:14-65:3). They’re protected by public accommodation laws, so “sexual identity” must be, too.
Attorney for Homosexual Couple (from David Cole)
Cole traveled over much of the same ground Yarger did. Beware the slippery slope; “to accept his argument leads to unacceptable consequences,” (74:20-21). Sexual identity is a valid category, along with race and sex (75:9-16).
Cole dismissed Francisco’s “artistic purpose and effect” argument. If a mom buys a cake for a child’s birthday party, “no one thinks that the baker is wishing happy birthday to the four-year-old. It’s the mom,” (78:1-3). The issue isn’t some alleged “message,” it’s the identity of the homosexual couple. “Because in this case, again, the only thing the baker knew about these customers was that they were gay. And, as a result, he refused to sell them any wedding cake,” (79:4-8).
For Colorado, if you’re in retail, your private beliefs do not allow you to discriminate against a protected class (92:6-10), and sexual identity is a protected class (87:13-19; 89:7-10). Justice Kennedy retorted, “your identity thing is just too facile,” (89:23-24).
The legal arguments hinge on whether the act of making a cake is “speech,” and whether that “speech” can be compelled by the State. Both sides presented valid “slippery-slope” arguments in support of their own positions. On balance, it is doubtful whether you can logically separate the identity of a homosexual couple from the message their wedding cake is meant to convey.
Aside from the legal arguments, there is a more profound question for the Christian – where is the dividing line between one’s right to soul liberty, and the opportunity to share the Gospel in all sorts of negative contexts? Could Philipps have baked the cake, and still made a positive opportunity out of this? Have his actions served to “maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” (1 Pet 2:12)?
Should we allow everyone do what they want, according to their own consciences? Is this the best solution? Os Guinness wrote a book advocating a sophisticated version of this approach, and remarked,
Soul freedom for all was once attacked as naive and utopian, and it is still resisted as subversive. Yet it is not only a shining ideal but a dire necessity today and an eminently practical solution to the predicaments of our time. Truly it is the golden key to a troublesome situation in which the darker angels must not be allowed to dominate.”
But, when it gets down to brass tacks, how do we actually do this? This case is about that question. How do you allow people to express their sincere beliefs, yet crack down on genuine bigotry and hatred? How do you carve out these exceptions, and where does it end?
Guinness remarked that, in the end, soul freedom depends on people thinking and acting like adults, and taking their civic responsibilities seriously. “Reciprocity, mutuality and universality are the key principles of this vision of a civil public square. In this sense a civil public square is the political embodiment of the Golden Rule.” In this day and age, these are not virtues that totalitarians (on either side) are anxious to model. Instead, activists seek to force their views on the public by force of law, not by persuasion and discussion in the public square:
“The constant pursuit of rights through law alone rather than the habits of the heart has caught Americans in the toils of ever-spreading law. On the one hand, it has led to a strengthening of the law at the expense of the habits of the heart, of litigation at the expense of both civic education and the role of parents and schools, and of the lawyers and the lawyer class at the expense of other public servants.
This case is the fruit of this particularly poisonous tree. The Court has been made the arbitrator of morality. How can the Court fulfill this mission? How can it draw the line this homosexual couple wants it to draw? In a moment of candor, Justice Breyer admitted, “I can’t think of a way to do it,” (59:11-12).
 Of course, in the end, the only category distinctions which have eternal significance are (1) believer or (2) non-believer. Or, as the Didache puts it, “there are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” (Didache 1:1).
 Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2013), 14.
I read your last email with joy in my heart! You say your Christian is going through a difficult time; that his wife has left him and run off with her “personal trainer” from the gym. This is excellent news, my boy! You must strike when his defenses are at their weakest – never lose an opportunity to help him doubt the Enemy’s goodness, kindness, mercy and grace.
Make the enemy a tyrant
Don’t tempt him to doubt the Enemy’s providence; his governance over everything that happens. No, Frederick – we want him to keep believing that God (in the words of one of the Enemy Forces’ wretched creeds), “leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.”
You see, we don’t want him to doubt that God governs His creation. He certainly does! What we want, Frederick, is for this young man to doubt God’s goodness. You must do everything you can to make the Enemy seem cold, distant, uncaring and unmerciful. Make the man despise God for allowing this to happen. Poison his mind with bitterness! Instead of recognizing that God governs and controls everything, but people are still morally responsible for their own actions – lead him to believe that God is a cruel despot, a wicked kitten playing with a spider.
He’s the poor spider, Frederick – and God is the kitten who tears off a leg here, smashes his body there and finally (when he grows tired of this play), eats him whole and leaves a few stray bits and pieces on the floor to rot.
Keep the scriptures abstract
You wrote that the young man is trying to find comfort in the Scriptures. You specifically mentioned the book of 1 Peter, where the cursed apostle warned believers that “this is favor with God – if, when you’re doing right and suffering, you endure it. This is why you slaves were called to salvation!” And, when he wrote, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.”
Don’t wait for a moment, Frederick! This is a critical moment for the young man; a turning point. The Enemy teaches that He calls men from slavery to us, sets them free, and calls them to live a life in devoted service to Him. He calls them to worship His Son as their King and Lord. He tells them to trust in His good providence, and to always realize that everything He does is for a good, holy and just reason. No, no, no!
We can’t allow this mindset to last, my boy. The good news is that this mindset is extraordinarily counter-cultural. It goes against every instinct in his body, and your object is to keep this at an intellectual level. Make this a sterile, cold and abstract kind of doctrine. The very word doctrine conjures up images of ivory-towers, thick books, and dreary lecture-halls.
Keep it there. Keep it far away from so-called “real life.” Keep the scriptures academic; don’t let them become practical. Encourage your young man to think he’s special, unique – that the pain he’s feeling is one of a kind, and the scriptures don’t speak to his situation.
Encourage him to keep the old habits
At heart, Frederick, people are narcissists. They’re in love with themselves, and it takes tremendous effort to make them love God more. This process only begins with the so-called “new birth,” when the Enemy gives his new subjects a new heart, soul and mind. He awakens them spiritually (that’s when we lose them, Frederick), and gives them the ability to love him and his son. But the good news is these habits have to be learned. Many of the Enemy Forces don’t bother to cultivate this behavior, so they’re easy prey for us when disaster strikes.
But, always remember – “disaster” for the Enemy is sweet music to our ears!
Farewell, for now …
I must dash. I’ll send you another email in a few weeks. Remember this, and you’ll do well:
Keep him away from the scriptures
Push the doctrine of God’s providence, but crush any thoughts that He’s good and kind. Make God a tyrant, not a loving King.
If he does read the scriptures for help during his suffering, keep everything he reads abstract, cold and distant. Emphasize the dryness of doctrine, and the pain of his personal experience.
Cultivate his bitterness, feed his pain, bury his thoughts of God’s goodness, crush his theological notions of God’s kind providence, and maximize every thought about divine injustice.
Make the young man hate God for doing this to him.
I can’t wait to write again, Frederick. I’m anxious to see what you do with what I’ve taught you! Our Father Below greets you. May the Cursed One be blasphemed forever.
Your loving uncle,
 Some readers will recognize this letter is inspired by C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional set of letters between a high-ranking demon (Screwtape) and his young nephew, Wormwood. In these letters, Screwtape offers young Wormwood some practical advice about how to ruin the life of an ordinary young man who has recently become a Christian.
Lewis was a Christian, and this work functions as sort of a mirror into one’s own soul. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of literature written, I believe. I can’t hope to match Lewis’ style and content, but I can at least give it a shot.
It’s common in conservative Christian congregations to hear a lot of talk about how we ought to help the poor, the downtrodden, the homeless and the disadvantaged. These are all worthy goals, as long as we always keep one thing in mind:
Christian social activism is a means to Jesus’ Good News, not the Good News itself.
This is not a subtle distinction; it’s vital. Consider this:
If a Christian congregation (or para-church organization) provides money and food to the poor, or shelter, food and aid to the homeless (etc., etc.) without also preaching, teaching, explaining and applying the Gospel in a persuasive, winsome and loving way … then all you’re doing is ensuring these people go to hell with a bit more money, food and shelter than they’d otherwise have.
Social programs are vehicles for the Gospel. They aren’t the Gospel. They’re the practical outworking of a desire to bring the Good News of perfect forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation and adoption into God’s family and coming kingdom to this present evil age.
I’m not sure all Christians really understand this distinction. Many times, they appeal to the Scriptures to support their social programs. Unfortunately, I believe they interpret some of these passages incorrectly. I believe most of this is due to a wrong-headed understanding of Christ’s Kingdom, and (in some quarters) a startling ignorance of the context of the various prophetic passages which speak of the peace, justice, righteousness and “social justice” which will characterize Christ’s reign here on earth.
But, all that is a story for another time – to the passage!
Wrongly dividing the word
Many Christians appeal to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount to support this social ethic. I want to gently push back on this. However, because I don’t have the time or energy to tackle the Sermon on the Mount, I’m going to use John the Baptist’s sermon beside the Jordan River as my text.
John fulfills prophesy
John the Baptist came on the scene to prepare the Israelite people to receive their Messiah. The Gospel of Luke tells us “he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet …” (Lk 3:3-4).
Luke went on to quote a passage from Isaiah 40:3-5, which explains that a special messenger will prepare the way for Yahweh to return. Once He does return, Yahweh will lead His people from captivity back to the Promised Land (Isa 40:6-11). That messenger was John the Baptist, who the prophet Malachi told us Yahweh would send before the terrible day of judgment (Mal 4).
So far, so good. John is the fulfillment. He’s the guy Isaiah and Malachi promised would come. And, this is exactly how the Gospel of Mark starts out, too.
John was preaching to old covenant members, not strangers
Here is what you have to keep in mind, and it’s something many Christians seem to forget all about – John came to preach to Old Covenant Israelites.
Why should you care about this? Well, the Old Covenant wasn’t only composed of believers – it was a mixed covenant:
If an Israelite boy was born to proud parents in Capernaum, then he’d be circumcised as an external sign that he’s a member of, and heir to, the Old Covenant promises. Then, he’ll (hopefully) be brought up to know, trust, love and believe in Yahweh for salvation. His parents will teach him about Yahweh’s grace, love, mercy and kindness (cf. Deut 6:20-25). Hopefully, this boy will grow into a young man who loves Yahweh with all his heart, soul and might (Deut 6:5).
Here’s the problem – not every little boy and girl grew up to know, love, trust and believe in Yahweh for salvation. Some did; some didn’t. Those who didn’t either left the Israelite community entirely, or perhaps “played along” by following the rituals, ceremonies and observing the prescribed festivals in a rote, mindless and empty fashion.
The Old Covenant was a mixed multitude. The New Covenant is not.
You have to understand that John the Baptist was preaching to Old Covenant members, and he was calling them to be faithful to the Old Covenant law, to prepare their hearts, minds and souls to receive the Messiah – whose ministry was just about to begin.
Why should you care?
Because John wasn’t preaching to homeless strangers on freeway off-ramps, or to inner-city families who didn’t have enough money to make ends meet. He was preaching to fellow covenant members. This means, if you want to import this text (and John’s commands for right behavior) into today’s New Covenant context, then the only direct parallel is to believers. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t care about the poor or the homeless; it just means they shouldn’t use these texts to justify social programs. The context won’t allow it.
John preaches to the people
Here is his opening salvo:
He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him,
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire,” (Lk 3:7-9).
This is fairly simple, but profound. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem,” (Mk 1:5). This was some crowd!
John began by insulting them, striking right at the heart of the legalistic approach to the law so many of them had. He called them a group of snakes. He told them they had to prove their repentance; an outward, pious “show” wouldn’t do it. They couldn’t count on their Israelite blood, because that had never guaranteed anything. Remember the chart, above – at best being born an Israelite (i.e. Tier #1) meant you’d hear about Yahweh and His mercy and grace, so hopefully you’d become a believer (i.e. Tier #2).
So, the natural question is – what should these folks do, then? What kind of fruit is John looking for?
And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” (Lk 3:10).
Good question. Let’s see …
And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise,” (Lk 3:11).
The most basic expression of real love for God (Deut 6:5) is to love your fellow covenant member just as much as you love yourself (compare Mk 12:28-34). What does this look like, then, at a practical level? Well, it could look like a lot of things, but one good example is to provide clothing and food to folks who don’t have any.
On to the next group:
Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you,” (Lk 3:12-13).
Israelite tax collectors shouldn’t defraud other Israelites. Sounds simple, right?
Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages,” (Lk 3:14).
Jewish soldiers shouldn’t abuse their power and positional authority, and shouldn’t steal.
The answer is pretty simple – he’s looking for them to actually obey and follow the Old Covenant law out of a pure heart. He’s telling them to put the law into practice in their own contexts, in everyday life, starting right now.
Basically, that means loving your neighbor as yourself (see Mk 12:31; Lev 19:18, 34). And, remember, the context of this Old Covenant command was for Israelites and foreign Gentiles who had, in some form or fashion, joined the Old Covenant community. These commands have always been for Covenant people, and also for those on the way to likely becoming part of this community.
John’s preaching is right in line with the Old Testament prophets who pleaded with Israel to return to the Lord and live faithfully:
Her officials within her
are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
that leave nothing till the morning (Zeph 3:3)
The prophet Zephaniah wrote an entire book, where he recorded his own sermons against this kind of externalism. He paints a picture of moral corruption at the highest levels of society in the Southern Kingdom.
Her prophets are wanton,
her priests profane what is sacred,
they do violence to the law (Zeph 3:4)
Yahweh, however, is a stark contrast to their treachery:
The LORD within her is righteous,
he does no wrong;
every morning he shows forth his justice,
each dawn he does not fail;
but the unjust knows no shame (Zeph 3:5)
This message, and John the Baptist’s preaching, is an indictment against this kind of fake “faith.” John’s sermon (and Jesus’ own commands from the Sermon on the Mount) aren’t a manifesto for Christians to sally forth and provide food and shelter or the homeless. It’s a call for God’s true people to return to covenant faithfulness, which means doing what His word says, because we love Him.
“I have cut off nations;
their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
so that none walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely she will fear me,
she will accept correction;
she will not lose sight
of all that I have enjoined upon her.’
But all the more they were eager
to make all their deeds corrupt,” (Zech 3:6-7).
This is the true context of John’s message; a call for God’s people to “prepare the way of the Lord” and “make his paths straight” (Lk 3:4; cf. Isa 40:3) so they’ll be ready for Yahweh to lead them back from exile.
Rightly dividing the word
So, what should Christians do with John the Baptist’s message, today? How do we translate this to a modern context? Well, you have to remember the original context, and accurately translate it to a New Covenant context:
John was preaching to Old Covenant Israelites, and calling them to repent and actually live according to the law out of a pure heart.
John’s commands for ethical behavior must be understood in that context; he’s telling Jews how to live according to the law out of a pure heart, and he agrees with Jesus that the most basic fruit of love for God is to love your fellow covenant members.
So, John is teaching them to show love for one another, according to their own particular context, while they wait for the Messiah to show Himself.
So far, so good – but what about right now?
In a New Covenant context for today, we’d direct this message to Christians in a local church. We’d call them to repent and actually live according to God’s Word out of a pure heart.
The most basic fruit of love for God is to love your fellow covenant members. The New Covenant only has one tier (see the chart, above), and this means you show your love for God by loving the brethren in your congregation most of all (see 1 Pet 1:22 – 2:3)
So, we should use John the Baptist’s message to teach Christians to show love for one another according to our own particular contexts, while we wait for the Messiah to return.
Does this mean we shouldn’t feed the homeless, or help the poor? Heavens, no! It just means these passages don’t teach that. These social programs are good and fine, but they’re nothing more than vehicles for the Gospel. The Good News is all that matters, and we can deliver it in many, many ways. Social programs are one way, but they aren’t the only way.
 Make no mistake, the Sermon on the Mount issue is “complicated,” and it would take a great deal of time to address the topic well. I don’t have that time. My only goal here is to sound a note of caution about a default “social justice” interpretation of the ethical commands in John the Baptist’s preaching, and (by extension) Jesus’ own preaching.