What I Wrote in 2018

These statistics are rather interesting. Yesterday, I revealed what I read in 2018. My total was 36 books, which beats the 30 I read in 2017. Today, however, I wish to reveal what I wrote in 2018. Here it is:

Sermons and adult bible study lesson

I know sermons are just as much about communication as they are about writing, but I decided to put them in this category, anyway. As best I can tell, I preached 84 sermons in 2018. This is far, far below what I had to do as a pastor in rural Illinois, where my preaching and teaching load was twice this amount. You can find most of them at the link, above. Some of them, however, were not recorded and you’ll have to take my word for it!

My own website

I became a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church on 20 May 2018, which is precisely two years after I left my previous pastorate in Illinois. This means I have much less time to write. Even so, I managed to write 46 articles this year. Many of them were excerpts from books I’d been reading. I wish I had time to write more.

SharperIron.org.

I write every week for a website called … (you guessed it) … SharperIron.org. I write two original articles per month, and post one article each week about a theological topic. On this last bit, sometimes I post heretical points of view, and other times just “controversial” stuff to generate discussion. This doesn’t entail any original thought; I just have to find something flashy from which to post an excerpt.

I see I wrote 69 articles for SharperIron in 2018.

Summing up

So, as I figure it, I wrote and preached 84 sermons, wrote 115 articles and read 36 non-fiction books in 2018. That’s not too bad. Not bad at all. And, I happen to be reading four books simultaneously right now! Perhaps I can make it to 40 in 2019 ..

What I Read in 2018

I read 36 non-fiction books in 2018. Most are theological, and the rest are mostly history or biography. Here they are:

The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity by Os Guinness

A wonderful book. I reviewed it here. This is a great book about religious liberty.

With Malice Towards None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates.

A great one-volume biography. Worth reading.

Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible by Mark Ward.

Great book. Ward tackles the King James Version Only (“KJVO”) movement without wading into the quagmire of textual criticism. I interviewed the author here, at length. It strongly complements James White’s book, for those who are looking for answers to the KJVO movement.

1 and 2 Maccabees by Who Knows (RSV translation).

I think the Old Testament apocrypha is very important for pastors to better understand the background and context of the New Testament. Good stuff; especially 1 Maccabees.

1 and 2 Esdras by Who Knows (RSV translation).

More Old Testament apocrypha. These books is usually grouped with the Old Testament Apocrypha, even though that really isn’t accurate. It’s actually a composite book containing three documents. The first is a Jewish apocalypse from the late first-century (also known as 4 Esdras), likely written just after the destruction of the temple in the aftermath of the Jewish Wars. It’s book-ended by two, shorter Christians works; the first from the second century and the other from the third century.

It’s a fascinating work. There are many, clear allusions to New Testament texts in the Christian documents. And, the discussion of theodicy in the Jewish apocalypse is very, very interesting.

A few highlights from 4 Esdras section; (1) the author took a literal, creationist interpretation to Genesis 1-3; (2) the theodicy shows a high respect for God’s sovereignty and has echoes of Job, and makes some excellent theological comments as it summarizes Israel’s sin, and (3) there’s even a Daniel interpretation.

Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement by Owen Strachan.

Good stuff. If you’ve read George Marsden’s classic Reforming Fundamentalismthen you’ll re-tread some of the same ground here. This book takes a slightly different approach. It uses Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry and (to a lesser degree) Edward Carnell as foils to discuss the intellectual awakening which prompted the evangelical movement in the immediate post-World War 2 era. It’s a fascinating, quick read.

It’s also sad, as you see the seeds of the “Gospel-centric” approach to coalition building which inevitably produced a movement characterized by theological Jell-O. As we survey the vast theological wasteland that is “evangelicalism” in 21st-century America, and consider the lessons learned from Ockenga, Henry and Carnell’s naive idealism (particularly Henry’s), we see the necessity for a confessional approach to doctrine. Coalitions and movements cannot exist without a strong confessional center. If that means the movements are smaller, I’m not at all sure that’s a bad thing.

Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation by Zane Hodges.

I only read 40 pages of this book. I have no problem reading folks I disagree with; I do that all the time. But, Hodges’ book is pure trash. No balance. No scholarship. No fairness. Just angry trash. Hodges position, that repentance isn’t necessary for salvation, is a heresy and it’s not the Gospel. It’s very, very dangerous.

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright

I don’t know what I think about this. I largely think Wright is arguing against Reformed straw men. I didn’t trace his textual arguments with my Bible open, so I’d have to re-read that section. My sophisticated opinion is that Wright is thinking way, way too hard. I know that makes little sense, but that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution – 1764 – 1789 by Robert Middlekauff

A great book, from the Oxford History of the United States series.

Overlord by Max Hastings

A great book on the lead-up to D-Day. Hastings is a world-class historian; he brings history down to the popular level without dumbing it down. Outstanding book.

Tobit (RSV translation)

My favorite book from the Old Testament apocrypha, dating from perhaps the 2nd century B.C. I appreciate it because it’s a wonderful story. It’s also a great snapshot of one expression of the faithful Jewish life, in the time before the New Testament era.

Judith (RSV translation)

Judith was one dangerous woman, lemme tell you …

Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle by Henri Blocher.

I was disappointed with this little book. Blocher did have a good point that the common analogy “sin as a virus” unwittingly de-emphasizes the human responsibility for sin, as though it isn’t our fault. Sin is our fault, catching a cold isn’t, and that’s where the analogy breaks down.

Blocher also has problems with federal and natural headship theories about the imputation of sin. His solution is to offer what I perceive to be a sub-set of federal headship. He suggests Adam’s sin is imputed to all of creation, because he was the representative head of creation.  I’ve read this section three times, and I don’t understand how this is different than federal headship.

All in all, this is an academic tome which has little practical connection or value to pastors or, heaven forbid, ordinary Christians. It’s written for the academy and interacts extensively with scholarly literature. I’m temped to donate it to Goodwill straightaway, but … my opinion about this little book is so negative I feel I should read it again in a few months. Perhaps I’m missing something.

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough.

This was a delightful book. I enjoyed it more than perhaps any other I read this past year.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 – 1914 by David McCullough.

Another outstanding book. What an amazing story!

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

This is the first of a three-volume biography Morris wrote about Teddy Roosevelt. This is a marvelous book. The sweep of Roosevelt’s life from birth to the Presidency is extraordinary. The man was a published naturalist, a published naval historian, a New York assemblyman, a rancher, the defacto leader of the U.S. Civil Service Commission for seven years, a Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on the eve of the Spanish-American War, resigned to lead a volunteer band of cavalry in the war and posthumously earned the Medal of Honor for his exploits, returned and was elected Governor of New York, then became Vice President of the United States in William McKinley’s second administration.

When McKinley was assassinated barely six months into his second term, Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States. This volume covers all of this.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.

The second volume of Morris’ biography on Roosevelt. This doesn’t move along quite as fast, but it’s still excellent. Here, we see Roosevelt as a consummate statesman, negotiating an end to the Pennsylvania coal strike and mediating to help end the Russo-Japanese War. We see a portrait of a brilliant man who has come into full and absolute command of his powers.

The Christians as the Romans Saw Them by Robert Wilken

Very interesting. The more background context a pastor can have, the better. I need to read it again.

Solving Marriage Problems by Jay Adams

Jay Adams is the best. His books are great, and very helpful. Pastors should get his material.

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain Murray

This book is not worth the $25.87 that Amazon is currently selling it for. It’s more of a sketch than a full-fledged biography, as Murray admits. The book is hagiographic, with some gentle pushbacks from Murray about MacArthur’s dispensationalism.

Murray makes some unworthy comments about Lewis S. Chafer, and suggests MacArthur believes Chafer’s weak anthropology laid the groundwork for the easy-believism of 20th century evangelicalism. I’ve read Chafer’s systematic theology, and this is a false charge. Chafer’s anthropology, hamartiology and soteriology are first-rate, and are clearly Reformed.

This book is worth checking out from the library, not buying. Its main weakness is that its more a sketch than a biography.

Historical Theology In-Depth: Themes and Contexts of Doctrinal Development since the First Century by David Beale (2 volumes)

Outstanding set; indispensable. I reviewed it here.

David Beale was a professor of church history at Bob Jones Seminary for 35 years. This two-volume set presents key doctrinal themes from church history in chronological format, through 57 chapters. It contains extensive citations and excerpts from the key players he’s discussing. This is probably the best introductory-level historical theology book I’ve ever read. It’s outstanding.

Every pastor should have this set; it’ll be a quick and ready reference for his entire ministry. Beale’s discussion on the early ecumenical councils (e.g. Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus [though, to be fair, this wasn’t a “real” council] and Chalcedon) is particularly good.

Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture by David deSilva

Very helpful. Very good. I need to read it again.

Baptist History in England and America: Personalities, Positions, and Practices by David Beale

A first-rate, profound study of the Baptist story. It’s better than Leon McBeth’s book. It’s might be the best Baptist history in print.

The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez

I read the 175 pages (or so) that dealt with the medieval church, because that’s an area I particularly want to brush up on. It was excellent. This was my assigned textbook in seminary for a church history survey. It’s a very, very good book. I need to buy the revised edition.

Duty by Robert Gates

I have great respect for Bob Gates. He was Director of the CIA, President of the Texas A&M system, and Secretary of Defense under Presidents Bush and Obama. This is an outstanding memoir.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey

A good book about the Christian worldview. I listened to about half of it, but I’ve heard all this before, so I grew bored about halfway through and stopped reading.

The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord

A great book. The story of Dunkirk must be told, and Lord did a great job.

Seapower by James Stavridis

A book about the role of oceans on geopolitics. It’s sort of an updated version of Mahan’s The Influence of Seapower Upon History. Excellent stuff. I have great respect for Stavridis, the former U.S. Navy Admiral and Supreme Commander of NATO.

Relevance by Os Guinness

Guinness specializes in worldview books, and this one is good. Unfortunately, I can’t remember too much of it, right now. I do remember it was good!

Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by John Meacham

I listened to this book after President Bush passed away. Very interesting.

Retribution: The Battle or Japan 1944-1945 by Max Hastings

Great book.

Jews in the Roman World by Michael Grant

Outstanding book that provides context to the New Testament writings.

Herod the Great by Michael Grant

This is an indispensable book for pastors who want to understand the New Testament world.

George Whitefield (vol. 1) by Arnold Dallimore

Whitefield was truly a great evangelist, raised up by God.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

This is a terrifying book. I follow President Trump on Twitter, and I believe every word Woodward wrote. In light of James Mattis’ recent resignation as Secretary of Defense, and comments from Rex Tillerson’s (former Secretary of State) and John Kelly (former Secretary of Homeland Security and White House Chief of Staff), I believe it all even more.

Finished with Sin! (Parts 1 – 2)

1 pet 4(1-2)aIn this passage (1 Peter 4:1-6), the Apostle Peter urges Christians to arm themselves with the same selfless mindset that Christ had; “for Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,” (1 Pet 3:18).

In particular, Peter says the one who suffers in the body (just like Jesus did) is “through with sin,” (1 Pet 4:1). This mindset, attitude and determination is the foundation and bedrock that makes it possible for Christians to have the same mindset Jesus had. In this passage, we’ll look at this passage and what it means for our practical lives, in the real world.

My bible study notes for this passage are here. The first two lessons on this passage are below. As always, the entire teaching series, complete with my teaching notes and audio from the lessons, is here:

Audio – Part 1

Audio – Part 2

The Obligation of Marriage

adams.jpgJay 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.

No.

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 CounselThis 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 ProblemsJay 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.

Ouch.

Sermon – The Coming King (Zechariah 9)

Zech 9The sermon audio is below. Actually, this is a Sunday School lesson. But, the title has been published, so I can’t change it now!

The Book of Zechariah is a neglected book. At 14 chapters, it’s the longest of the so-called Minor Prophets. It’s an obscure book, tucked away in an even more obscure part of the Christian Bible – that wasteland after the Book of Daniel, before the New Testament.

And yet …

This book has perhaps more direct prophesies per column inch about the coming Messiah than any other book in the Bible. It promises a glorious future for the distressed Israelites, a new and better leader who’ll rule over the world in peace and righteousness, promises a new and better covenant, a new and better High Priest, and vows that Israel will be ashamed for betraying and rejecting her Savior. It’s a thrilling book, and a close reading (with a good commentary even closer at hand) will encourage even the most cynical Christian.

This is also the book which prophesies how the Messiah will reveal Himself to the world as King. That prophesy is found in Zechariah 9:9-11 (and following), and it’s what I taught about this morning. It’s a prophesy which bookmarks the start of God’s fulfillment of everything He’s promised to His people, ever since the Garden of Eden.

Letters from Legion (No. 1)

letterDear Frederick:[1]

Well, it’s Christmas – that time of the year when the Enemy’s Forces celebrate the Cursed One’s birth. Because you’re new at this game, I felt it was high time I send you some tips to help you along. I know, from the texts we exchanged this past week, that you think this is a terrible time of year for us; a time for us to retreat to a corner, lick our wounds, and wait for the storm to pass.

You couldn’t be more wrong!

Take heart; Our Father Below knows this is actually one of the best times of year for our work. You see, Frederick, we know much more about Christmas than the Enemy’s Forces do. We were there, you know, in the beginning. They weren’t, and this is their greatest weakness. All this business about incarnation is abstract to them; weird and impersonal. They can’t conceive of it. And, even if some can, it’s still theoretical and conceptual to so many more. Don’t underestimate this advantage.

You’re young, Frederick – but that’s why I’m here. Christmas isn’t a time of despair for our cause; it’s a time of great opportunity. Our Father Below knows this! So, here’s what you should do with your subject:

Forget about the Cursed One

Keep him focused on the presents and the food. Above all, don’t allow him to dwell on the Cursed One for any length of time.

Don’t worry so much about the Enemy’s Pastors; so many of them are in the bag that we don’t really have to worry about them. They’ll drone on about fluffy nonsense this morning, and barely mention the Good News (which, really, is Bad News for us).

Encourage this.

If the thought of reverent worship to the Cursed One even flits across his mind, crush it, smother it and suppress it. This isn’t hard; think of the books, games, movies and trinkets he’s received today. Let him think church can wait. Let the kids whine about wanting to play. Let the wife fuss about prepping dinner.

Do anything you can to keep his mind off the Cursed One, and on the material things. Our Father Below has worked very hard to subvert this “holiday” with stuff. Use it, Frederick – it’s one of your best weapons. If he falters this year, and pushes the Cursed One to the sidelines, you can be sure he’ll do it again next year. And then, my young apprentice, we’ll have his heart forever.

The cold “religion” his parents taught him will be pushed aside; it’ll be something remote, aloof and distant. That’s what we want.

Let him doubt the Cursed One

Every year, Our Father Below makes sure to plant salacious, ridiculous and idiotic stories in the press to distract the Enemy’s Forces. We must do everything we can to undermine any confidence your subject has in the truth of the Scriptures. Doubt and skepticism are the order of the day.

It could be a story about how Jesus was really married. Or, the one about the “secret gospel,” that the church has “kept hidden” for years. Even better, you could use one that says the Cursed One’s birth is actually a myth, copied from ancient pagan sources.

Of course, it’s all nonsense – the Cursed One is just as alive and eternal as the Enemy Himself. In fact, He is the Enemy Himself! We know that, even if so many of the Enemy’s Forces don’t.

The point, dear Frederick, is doubt. Let that worm of doubt creep into his mind. Let it hibernate, like a ticking time bomb. When the time is right, you can use it to your advantage. It’s a Trojan horse. The best kind of Trojan horse!

But, whatever you do, don’t let him come into contact with Enemy Forces who can actually answer these objections. Keep him away from those people; especially from the leaders in his church.

No, let him surf FaceBook, YouTube or Twitter for answers. He won’t find any, of course, but that’s the point. Let this doubt, like a poisonous seed, germinate. Idiots on FaceBook will plant it, Twitter will water it, and Our Father Below will give the increase.

Let them believe in another “Christ”

This one, Frederick, might be the easiest thing of all to do. The Enemy is very specific on who His Son is. And, Our Father Below is just as generic as the Enemy is specific. Some Enemy Leaders are keen on doctrine, on right belief, and on knowing who the Cursed One actually is.

Keep your charge away from these men. They’re infinitely dangerous.

Let him believe lies about the Messiah. Let them believe he came into existence when He was born in Bethlehem. Let them believe He’s really an angel. Let them think He didn’t really die at all. Let them think He and the Father are actually exactly the same, that there isn’t any distinction between Divine Persons. Do everything you can to confuse matters.

If we can make him believe in a false “Christ,” then our work is basically done.

Let him think doctrine is cold, boring and a waste of time. Direct his energies to those FaceBook groups, YouTube comment boxes or Twitter threads. Do anything to keep him away from what the Enemy’s Forces call “right doctrine.”

Farewell, for now

I have so much more to tell you, Frederick. You have so much to learn! But don’t worry – I’ve given you more than enough to get you started. Employ these methods, and see if they don’t have an immediate impact. The goal is to drive the Cursed One away from his mind; to keep Him abstract, aloof and remote from real life. Keep Him “in church,” and not out in the real world.

Times like these are our greatest opportunities, Frederick. You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world. Our Father Below greets you, and wishes you well. May the Enemy be defeated, and the Cursed One be blasphemed.

Your dearest uncle,

Legion

Notes

[1] 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.

Obergefell v. Hodges – An Analysis of the “Gay Marriage” Supreme Court Decision

courtOn Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling about same-sex marriage. Here is what it determined:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.[1]

What does the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution state? Here is Section 1, which is the portion relevant to this discussion:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.[2]

What exactly did this Supreme Court decision determine? What were the legal arguments both for and against the point at issue? This article will introduce these issues and present the legal arguments, from both sides, strictly from the court decision itself.

What was this case about?

This case was an amalgamation of several individual cases from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee – all States which define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The petitioners were 14 same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased. The respondents were officials from the States in question. The petitioners claim the respondents (i.e. the respective States) violated the 14th Amendment by denying them the right to marry or by not recognizing their same-sex marriages which had been lawfully performed in another State.[3]

The petitioners argued they were being denied the right to “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and that they were being denied the “equal protection of the laws,” specifically with regard to the legal benefits traditional married couples enjoyed.

What questions did the court rule on?

Each District Court in each State denied the petitioner’s claims, and dismissed the cases. Each petitioner then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which promptly reversed the District Courts and consolidated all the cases together. The individual States appealed this decision, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments related to two critical questions. These questions are what the Supreme Court decided, and they are:[4]

  1. Does the 14th Amendment require a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the 14th Amendment require a State to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in a State which does grant that right?

The Supreme Court answered “Yes!” to both questions – a moral evolution so profound that President Obama remarked that it was “justice that arrive[d] like a thunderbolt!”[5] Each State in this country is now (1) required to license same-sex marriages, and (2) required to recognize same-sex marriages from other States.

The court on traditional marriage

There is a worldview issue here which cannot be ignored. Is there an objective definition of marriage to turn to, or are we left with social mores? The Christian turns to God’s revealed word. The secularist turns to the shifting winds of culture. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy revealed he has no concrete definition of marriage.[6] He acknowledges that supporters of traditional marriage will be horrified at the Court’s decision, but assures us that the respondents do not seek to demean the institution at all – indeed, they seek to honor it:

To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.[7]

Kennedy went on to state that “new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.”[8] It is obvious Kennedy views the widespread secular acceptance of same-sex marriage with satisfaction, a righteous reversal from a bygone era when homosexuals were not allowed to have “dignity in their own distinct identity” and “a truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken.”[9]

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts cut right to the heart of the matter; “The real question in these cases is what constitutes ‘marriage,’ or—more precisely—who decides what constitutes ‘marriage’”?[10] Roberts believed that it is certainly “no historical coincidence”[11] that human society, across millennia and across cultures, has always recognized marriage as being a union between one man and one woman. He appears genuinely befuddled by this moral revolution, observing “the premises supporting [the traditional] concept of marriage are so fundamental that they rarely require articulation.”[12] He tied marriage to procreation, and observed that it is a basic fact that:

  1. humans must procreate to survive,
  2. this procreation occurs when a male and female have sexual intercourse,
  3. children’s prospects are immeasurably strengthened when the parents form a lasting bond, and
  4. society has recognized that bond as “marriage.”[13]

Individual states, Roberts reminded us, always defined marriage in the traditional, biological way until about a dozen years ago.[14] He fired back at Kennedy’s statement that marriage is an institution of both “continuity and change” by observing that not one Court decision related to marriage in this country’s history has ever redefined the “core meaning” of the institution itself – until now.[15]

The court on its role in society

Is it the Supreme Court’s role to interpret the law as it currently is, or to determine what it ought to be? This was the basic question Chief Justice Roberts asked,[16] and it is really the crux of the matter between the two parties on the Court. What is the role of the Court? The democratic process has been thwarted, he warns: “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law.”[17] He believes the Court is confused about its role, and sees no legal grounds for the majority decision. The Court is not a legislative body which enacts policy.[18]

Roberts believes the Court dangerously overreached on this decision, and most of his ire is directed at this point. Indeed, his entire dissent is not about the validity of same-sex marriage per se; it is about what he believes is a very dangerous overreach of authority by the Court:

Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law. The Constitution leaves no doubt about the answer.[19]

The Court’s rationale for this “overreach” is chilling. Justice Kennedy acknowledged that “democracy is the appropriate process for change.”[20] However, “when the rights of persons are violated, ‘the Constitution requires redress by the courts,’ notwithstanding the more general value of democratic decision-making.”[21] It is the Court’s job, Kennedy believes, to take the fundamental issue of human dignity and rights out of the capricious hands of legislatures, elected officials and majorities, away from the “vicissitudes of political controversy” and establish them as legal precedent.[22] In effect, Kennedy believes in an activist Court. Apparently, so does the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This decision makes it clear the Court is deeply divided not only over issues of morality, but over its basic role in American society.

Roberts’ arguments are both laudable and depressing. They’re laudable in the sense that he points out the absurdity of this wholesale re-definition of a sacred institution:

[T]he Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?[23]

Yet, Roberts’ dissent is also depressing because it betrays the bankruptcy of secular morality, even “traditional” morality. His entire argument is from history, from the “way things have always been.” He has no positive argument to make beyond the issue of procreation. Like Kennedy, Roberts has no objective standard to turn to. Socially-constructed mores function by inertia; they may endure for a long time, but when the brakes are removed nothing can stop it from moving. It may teeter and wobble a bit in its original position for a time, but it will topple sooner or later.

In this country, the God-given definition of marriage has toppled, and conservatives like Roberts who have no objective foundation for morality are left befuddled, frustrated and speechless. Ultimately, Roberts has no answers. All he has is a secular, allegedly “outdated” cultural construct of morality that America in 2015 has left behind.

The court’s legal justification for this ruling

The Court justified its ruling requiring States to both license and recognize same-sex unions on four pillars. They are:[24]

  1. individual autonomy
  2. a two-person union is important to individuals
  3. it safeguards children and families
  4. it safeguards social order

These arguments, and the dissenting opinion, are analyzed below.

Pillar #1 – individual autonomy and liberty

Justice Kennedy’s argument on this point is remarkable because it is not a legal argument at all; he simply made blanket statements as though they were brute facts. “The right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.”[25] His entire argument here, which quite literally consists of three short paragraphs, is that people must be allowed to do what makes them happy. He makes it a point to use the word “freedom,” possibly to establish a subtle link to the concept of “liberty” from the text of the 14th Amendment:

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.[26]

The question is – who gets to determine whether a given construct of “happiness” is socially acceptable? Kennedy anticipates this objection and has no answer. He merely states, “There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.”[27] The Court has decreed that homosexual relationships are dignified, therefore they are. Kennedy does not explain why this is a dignified pursuit and provides no legal rationale for supposing it is one. As Chief Justice Roberts observed, the Court’s decision is a more of a policy statement than a legal document.

Roberts tore into this “freewheeling notion of individual autonomy.”[28] The Court’s position on this is smoke and mirrors, a rhetorical gloss with no legal substance. The Court’s decision is nothing more than a statement of moral philosophy, a naked quest for policy preferences. He marveled that “nobody could rightly accuse the majority of taking a careful approach.”[29]

The truth is that today’s decision rests on nothing more than the majority’s own conviction that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry because they want to.[30]

Roberts’ issue is that no legal argument was actually presented for the redefinition of marriage. No “right to marry” case ever heard before the Court, whether it concerned inter-racial couples, individuals with child-support debts, or incarcerated prisoners,[31] has ever re-defined the institution itself. Every “right to marry” case presupposed the traditional definition of marriage. To Roberts, this is the death blow to the Court’s majority opinion. “None of the laws at issue in those cases purported to change the core definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”[32]

Thus, there is simply no legal precedent for the sweeping claim to personal autonomy championed by the Court. The personal accounts of the homosexual petitioners were “compelling,” Roberts admitted. “As a matter of constitutional law, however, the sincerity of petitioners’ wishes is not relevant.”[33] There is simply no legal basis for a constitutional right to redefine the entire institution of marriage in the name of individual autonomy. “None exists, and that is enough to foreclose their claim.”[34]

 Pillar #2 – a two-person union is “important” to people

Kennedy continues his quest for individual autonomy; “this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.”[35] In essence, Kennedy’s argument here is as follows:

  1. Homosexual marriage is important to the petitioners,
  2. to deny what is important to the petitioners infringes upon liberty and autonomy,
  3. to infringe upon personal liberty and autonomy violates the “due-process” clause of the 14th Amendment,
  4. therefore homosexual marriage must be sanctioned

Couples wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other, and homosexual couples are entitled to the “right to marry” because this is how they define reality.

Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there. It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.[36]

It is not enough to merely de-criminalize homosexual acts, as the Court did in the case of Lawrence v. Texas; Kennedy believes homosexual couples are entitled to the “full promise of liberty.”[37] That full promise means legally sanctioned marriage, because it’s what makes them happy.

Pillar #3 – it safeguards children and families

This is the pillar which will probably surprise Christians. What basis does the Court have to rule that legalizing same-sex marriages actually safeguards children and families? Kennedy offers a handful of reasons:

  1. By granting official recognition and legal standing to homosexual parents, their children can now “understand the integrity and closeness” of their family.[38]
  2. This recognition offers “permanency and stability important to children’s best interests.”[39]
  3. If their homosexual “parents” are not allowed to marry, “their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.”[40]
  4. Likewise, such children will suffer “significant material costs” because of a “difficult and uncertain family life.”[41]

Kennedy hangs his hat on a quote from Zablocki v. Redhail , which stated, “[T]he right to ‘marry, establish a home and bring up children’ is a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.”[42] Kennedy chose a particularly flimsy hook to hang his judicial hat on. Here is the argument:[43]

  1. Homosexual couples exist
  2. They already establish homes
  3. They already adopt and raise children
  4. Because the right to marry, establish a home, and bring up children have each been considered as a “unified whole,”[44] the Court therefore has precedent to extend the “right to marry” to homosexual couples.

This weak and vacuous argument goes far beyond special pleading. Kennedy betrays a pitiful willingness to grasp at any straw, any legal precedent – not matter how tenuous the link is. The Court actually advanced the argument that (1) because homosexual couples already establish homes, and (2) already adopt and raise children, that (3) they should be granted the “right to marry” because these three privileges have been interpreted as being part of a “unified whole” in previous “right to marry” court decisions! The Court missed Roberts’ entire point – no “right to marry” case has ever sought to re-define the institution itself!

Again, the reader is left with the impression that this is not a legal document; it is a poor man’s attempt at moral philosophy. In that light, Roberts’ warnings about judicial overreach are particularly relevant:

Stripped of its shiny rhetorical gloss, the majority’s argument is that the Due Process Clause gives same-sex couples a fundamental right to marry because it will be good for them and for society. If I were a legislator, I would certainly consider that view as a matter of social policy. But as a judge, I find the majority’s position indefensible as a matter of constitutional law.[45]

Pillar #4 – marriage maintains social order

If a society does not pledge to both protect and support married couples, then a critical “building block of our national community”[46] is threatened. If American society withholds formal legal status from same-sex couples, they are “denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.”[47] Basically, society harms homosexual couples by withholding that right from them. By harming them, society thereby damages itself.

Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.[48]

The Court is well aware of Roberts’ objection – no previous “right to marry” case ever sought to re-define the meaning of the institution itself. That, Kennedy argued, is missing the point. The question is not, “Do they have the right to marry?” The question is, “Why don’t they have the right to marry?”[49] This brings us full circle to the historical argument for traditional marriage, which Kennedy brushes aside with breath-taking arrogance. Definitions change, society changes, and “rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era.”[50]

In the end, Kennedy is a good secularist who believes that morality is a shifting target. He personally feels homosexual couples are being denied a fundamental right and “it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”[51] On that note, Chief Justice Roberts warns us, “allowing unelected federal judges to select which un enumerated rights rank as ‘fundamental’—and to strike down state laws on the basis of that determination—raises obvious concerns about the judicial role.”[52]

These four pillars are the sum of the Court’s legal opinion. Kennedy summarized as follows:

It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality . . . The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.[53]

Conclusion – moral revolution?

The Court’s decision on 26JUN15 has only raised more questions.

An activist court

There is no doubt that the Court has bought into a purely secular view of morality, which fueled its activist stance in this case. The Court acted out of what it perceived to be a moral duty, one that could not afford to wait for the democratic process. Chief Justice Roberts was horrified at the Court’s activist stance in this case, especially the cavalier way it simply brushed aside the definition of marriage a millennia in the making. While Kennedy points to referenda, legislative debates, grassroots campaigns, studies, papers, books, and “more than 100 amici[54] as proof that this issue has been debated long enough, Roberts couldn’t disagree more about the Court’s “extravagant conception of judicial supremacy.”[55]

The fact is that five lawyers on the Court personally believed that homosexual marriage is a fundamental right, and ruled accordingly. It was their duty to rule the way they did – justice demanded it. “Of course, the Constitution contemplates that democracy is the appropriate process for change, so long as that process does not abridge fundamental rights.”[56]

What other activist decision can the American people expect, on the basis of some perceived “moral imperative” from a few lawyers in Washington D.C.? As Roberts observed, “there is indeed a process due the people on issues of this sort—the democratic process.”[57]

The legal “slippery slope”

Many observers have warned about the “slippery-slope” the Court’s decision has opened up. What about plural marriages? What about polyamory? The Court has slipped badly here, jettisoning all vestiges of tradition and history, “preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now.”[58] Chief Justice Roberts recognized this, and warned:

If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one . . . It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.[59]

The petitioner’s counsel betrayed his own moral bankruptcy when he was asked, during oral arguments, whether his position opened the door to plural marriages. Counsel dismissed the idea out of hand by stating that no State had such an institution. Roberts then observed that this was precisely his point – no State at issue in this case had an institution of same sex marriage either, and yet the Petitioner was arguing to force them to adopt one![60]

Tax-exempt status for churches and para-church organizations

Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”[61] This is quite true, and it is rather horrifying to see how little thought or care the Solicitor General had given to this potential landmine at the time of oral arguments. I will let the following exchange from the oral arguments speak for itself:[62]

JUSTICE ALITO: “Well, in the Bob Jones case, the Court held that a college was not entitled tax-exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating.  So would the same apply to a university or a college if it opposed same­sex marriage?”

GENERAL VERRILLI: “You know, I ­­ I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I ­­… I don’t deny that.  I don’t deny that, Justice Alito.  It is … ­ it is going to be an issue.”

Going forward, the Court’s ruling has created an atmosphere of immense uncertainty among Bible-believing Christians in the United States. It will take the next several years, and likely decades, to appreciate the full impact of this decision. It also brings to mind the old arguments over what the local church’s role is in political life. Is it legitimate to attempt to “impose” Christian values on a secular state? Should Christians continue to try to have a voice in the political arena, or should local churches simply preach the Bible, keep their heads down and “mind their own business”?

None of these questions are new, but the Court’s decision has given them a new impetus. All these questions will be debated now, and for years to come because of this decision.

Notes

[1] “Syllabus,” in Obergefell et al v. Hodges. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/urIhon. 26JUN15. Pg. 1.

[2] “Constitution of the United States – Amendments 11-27,” from archives.gov. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/BST2fT. 27JUN15.

[3] “Opinion of the Court,” in Obergefell et al v. Hodges, 2.

[4] “Opinion of the Court,” 2-3.

[5] The White House, “Remarks by the President on the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.” Retrieved from https://goo.gl/K6CDO0. 27JUN15.

[6] “The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time,” (“Opinion of the Court,” 6).

[7] “Opinion of the Court,” 4.

[8] “Opinion of the Court,” 7.

[9] “Opinion of the Court,” 7.

[10] “Dissenting Opinion,” in Obergefell et al v. Hodges, 4.

[11] “Dissenting Opinion,” 4.

[12] “Dissenting Opinion,” 5.

[13] “Dissenting Opinion,” 5.

[14] “Dissenting Opinion,” 6.

[15] “Dissenting Opinion,” 8.

[16] “But this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be,” (“Dissenting Opinion,” 2).

[17] “Dissenting Opinion,” 2.

[18] “Although the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling, the legal arguments for requiring such an extension are not,” (“Dissenting Opinion,” 2).

[19] “Dissenting Opinion,” 3.

[20] “Opinion of the Court,” 24.

[21] “Opinion of the Court,” 24.

[22]  “The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act,” (“Opinion of the Court,” 24).

[23] “Dissenting Opinion,” 3.

[24] “Opinion of the Court,” 12-17.

[25] “Opinion of the Court,” 12.

[26] “Opinion of the Court,” 13.

[27] “Opinion of the Court,” 13.

[28] “Dissenting Opinion,” 19.

[29] “Dissenting Opinion,” 19.

[30] “Dissenting Opinion,” 19.

[31] These cases are, respectively, Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail and Turner v. Safley.

[32] “Dissenting Opinion,” 16.

[33] “Dissenting Opinion,” 15.

[34] “Dissenting Opinion,” 17.

[35] “Opinion of the Court,” 13.

[36] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[37] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[38] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[39] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[40] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[41] “Opinion of the Court,” 15.

[42] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[43] It’s worth noting that Kennedy’s legal argument is so vague and badly written that he never actually defends it. He simply states it in an off-hand way in one single sentence before waxing eloquent about the harm being done to children of same-sex couples. His entire legal argument for this pillar is here: “A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education. See Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925); Meyer, 262 U. S., at 399. The Court has recognized these connections by describing the varied rights as a unified whole: “[T]he right to ‘marry, establish a home and bring up children’ is a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause,” (“Opinion of the Court, 14).

[44] “Opinion of the Court,” 14.

[45] “Dissenting Opinion,” 10.

[46] “Opinion of the Court,” 16. “For that reason, just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union.”

[47] “Opinion of the Court,” 17.

[48] “Opinion of the Court,” 17.

[49] “Rather, each case inquired about the right to marry in its comprehensive sense, asking if there was a sufficient justification for excluding the relevant class from the right,” (“Opinion of the Court,” 18).

[50] “Opinion of the Court,” 18-19.

[51] “Opinion of the Court,” 19.

[52] “Dissenting Opinion,” 11.

[53] “Opinion of the Court,” 27.

[54] “Opinion of the Court,” 23.

[55] “Dissenting Opinion,” 25.

[56] “Opinion of the Court,” 24.

[57] “Dissenting Opinion, 22.

[58] “Dissenting Opinion,” 22.

[59] “Dissenting Opinion,” 20.

[60] “Dissenting Opinion,” 21.

[61] “Dissenting Opinion,” 28.

[62] Oral Transcript of 14-556, Question #1, pg. 38. Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/PPtV1U. 27JUN15.