David Roach

About David Roach

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press in Nashville, Tennessee, and a contributor to both BibleMesh and Kairos Journal. He holds a philosophy degree from Vanderbilt University and earned his PhD in church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His writings have appeared in academic journals and various Southern Baptist denominational publications.

8 Biblical Responses to Worry

WorryMost of us know that the Bible says not to worry. Jesus put it memorably when He said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). But often that’s easier said than done. Anxiety can feel uncontrollable when finances are tight, when relationships are strained, and when there doesn’t seem to be enough time to fulfill all of life’s obligations. Does the Bible provide any specific strategies for avoiding worry? Fortunately it does. Try the following next time anxiety feels unavoidable.

Go deeper with Christ. God wants to walk with His people like He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. In fact, He “takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). In times of great worry, depend on Jesus as a personal friend and return to your first love (Revelation 2:4-5). Experiencing His friendship is often the only force more powerful than life’s overwhelming cares.

Serve others. Ministering to others can help us get away from the self-focus of worry. Despite their own “severe test of affliction,” the Corinthians experienced an “abundance of joy” by turning their energy toward assisting someone else (2 Corinthians 8:2).

Pray. Paul advised the Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer … let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Sometimes the best antidote to troubled stewing over life’s problems is to translate the stewing into specific requests for the Lord.

Go to church. One reason God commands Christians to be part of a local church is that being with His people provides encouragement and “stirs” us up “to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Attending a worship service, small group Bible study, or prayer meeting can provide a needed lift of spirit.

Sing. This can be a powerful alternative to worry. Think about the Psalms of lament where King David soothed his cares with worship songs. When his own son usurped the throne and sought to kill him, David sang, “You, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Spend time with family. Scripture has much to say about the joys of family, whether biological (Proverbs 12:4; Psalm 127:3-5) or spiritual (1 Timothy 5:1-2). To put the subject of your worry aside momentarily and enjoy time with loved ones can markedly reduce anxiety.

Seek wholesome entertainment. “A joyful heart is good medicine,” according to Proverbs 17:22. The next time you’re anxious or stressed, try watching an uplifting movie or television show, reading a book, or attending a play. Entertainment of the wholesome variety is among God’s gifts to lighten troubled times.

Meditate on an uplifting thought. Paul told the Philippians to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). The possibilities are almost limitless, and you can’t think about such things while also mulling over your stresses.

Thankfully the Bible doesn’t just give us abstract commands, but also provides concrete strategies for doing what God says. Avoiding anxiety is a case in point. The next time your stress level elevates, remember that Jesus cares about your troubled heart and provides all the strategies needed for those “who labor and are heavy laden” to experience His “rest” (Matthew 11:28).



 

Can Theology Be True If It’s Self-Contradictory?

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) took the curious step recently of adopting an “Authoritative Interpretation” (AI) of its constitution that blatantly contradicts the document it purports to interpret. Passed by a vote of 317-238, the AI allows PCUSA ministers to perform gay wedding ceremonies in the 19 states where the practice is legal. But the PCUSA constitution states (at least for now)1 that “marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man.” How can a document that defines marriage as a heterosexual institution be “interpreted” to permit homosexual marriage? When a commissioner at a PCUSA committee meeting raised this issue, his point was ruled “not well taken” in parliamentary rules.2

contradictorySad to say, this is not the only instance in recent times of a prominent theological or ethical assertion that involves foolish contradiction. Fortunately, Scripture tells us how to respond to such assertions in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit . . .” The Louw and Nida Greek lexicon explains that the phrase translated “empty deceit” refers to a “misleading or erroneous view concerning the truth” related to “a complete lack of understanding.” Though Paul likely had a broad array of errors in mind, contradictory statements certainly fall under that umbrella. Of course, some doctrines taught in the Bible (like the Trinity and creation ex nihilo) are mysterious and may seem unreasonable at first blush. But nothing in the Bible is a true contradiction. We accept biblical mysteries by faith as we pursue a fuller understanding. But any assertion that involves irreconcilable contradiction is unbiblical and must be rejected, lest it “take you captive.” Consider the following examples:

Atheist ministers. A 2010 study by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola profiled five Protestant “preachers who are not believers.”3 The study described the supposedly victimized atheist ministers as “ensnared in their ministries by a web of obligations, constraints, comforts, and community.” These five individuals may have served in church-related vocations, but it is a contradiction to claim that any atheist is a true minister of the gospel.

Gay marriage. Though it’s a common phrase these days, it’s a contradiction. God defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Relative truth. “All truth is relative,” some postmodernists claim. But a statement is either true or relative, not both at the same time in the same sense.

No-fault divorce. Since the late 1960s this has been a common legal designation. But Jesus said there is always sin on at least one spouse’s part when the covenant of marriage is dissolved (Matthew 19:1-9).

Errors in Scripture. The Bibles says, “all Scripture” is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Either the Bible is Holy Scripture or it contains errors, not both. Yet some supposed Christians claim the Bible both errs and is God’s Word.

Human non-persons. Abortion advocates have employed this term in attempt to justify the killing of unborn children. But all humans are persons, knitted together by God in the womb (Psalm 139:13).

When discussions of theology or ethics become self-contradictory, some may regard it as a move toward sophistication and enlightenment, a casting aside of outdated truisms. Yet those who believe the Bible know better. They will take care to shun such “empty deceit” and in so doing will find themselves “established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7).

 

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Endnotes:

1 The General Assembly approved an amendment to the PCUSA constitution redefining marriage as between “two people” rather than “a woman and a man.” But the amendment must be approved by a majority of the PCUSA’s 172 presbyteries, which is expected to occur. Until then, the AI contradicts the constitution.

2 Carmen Fowler LaBerge, “Calling Their Bluff—With the Hope of Keeping the General Assembly From Erring,” The Layman Online, June 19, 2014, http://www.layman.org/calling-bluff-hope-keeping-general-assembly-erring/ (accessed June 26, 2014).

3 Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” Evolutionary Psychology 8, no. 1 (2010): 122-150, http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP08122150.pdf (accessed June 26, 2014).


Do You Have to Believe in God to Go to Heaven?

Last year, Pope Francis wrote a long, open letter to the founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, addressing a list of questions Scalfari posed about Christianity. News outlets highlighted one passage from Francis’ letter in particular because it raised the question of whether people who don’t believe in the Christian God can go to heaven. “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith,” Francis wrote. heaven“I start by saying—and this is the fundamental thing—that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.” This ambiguous passage led to rampant speculation that the pope was denying the need for faith in God. But we shouldn’t be so quick to assume Francis was overturning traditional Christian doctrine—because both the Bible and historic Christian confessions are plain regarding this matter.

For 2,000 years Christians have taught that no one who refuses to believe in the God of the Bible can go to heaven. The fourth-century Athanasian Creed affirmed that “whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.” The Church of England’s 39 Articles state, “Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.” According to the Westminster Confession Faith, “The wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments.” More recently, the Baptist Faith and Message put it this way: “There is no salvation without personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.”

The Bible is as clear as the confessions.1 It says God counts humans as worthy of heaven—even though we’re not worthy in ourselves—if we believe specific content about Jesus known as the gospel. In particular, we must believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He died to pay the penalty for humanity’s sin, was buried, rose from the grave, and ascended to heaven, where He reigns and saves. Peter outlined this message on the Day of Pentecost, and all who believed it and turned from their sins received forgiveness (Acts 2:38). Likewise, Paul said people are “saved” from eternal judgment if they “hold fast” to this message (1 Corinthians 15:2).

Many other Bible passages also teach that a person must believe in order to have eternal life in heaven. In every instance, the implied content to be believed is the gospel: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Of course, good deeds are required of every believer, but those good deeds are inevitable fruit of Christian faith, not a means of earning salvation (James 2:14-26).2

Can someone who doesn’t believe in the Christian God go to heaven? No. Some may consider this bad news. In reality though, it’s the best news imaginable because it opens heaven’s doors to even the worst sinners if they will only turn away from their sin and trust God’s Word.

 

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Endnotes:

1 Confusion can arise, at least in part, because some Scripture passages speak of people going to heaven or hell based on their deeds. For example, John 5:29 says that “those who have done good” will experience the “resurrection of life” and “those who have done evil” the “resurrection of judgment.” If such passages were the only teaching we had on eternal life, we might infer that a non-believer could go to heaven if he or she just did enough good deeds and abstained from enough bad deeds. But the Bible says more, warning that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10) and describing all humankind as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). In other words, it is theoretically possible to earn a spot in heaven by righteous deeds. But in practice, no one is good enough to do that. It would require moral perfection (Matthew 5:48).

2 The life of Paul illustrates the inability of good deeds alone to save. Before Paul came to personal faith in Jesus Christ, he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.” But all those things were “rubbish” to Paul with regard to their ability to earn him eternal life (Philippians 3:2-11).


What Does the Bible Teach About Singleness?

A biblical view of singleness has been hard to come by in church history. At one extreme, some have regarded the unmarried life as an elevated spiritual realm, a blessing that only the godliest can handle. At the other extreme, singles groups in some churches are seen as mere holding tanks where believers remain only until they can marry. In contrast, the Bible presents a third way of viewing singleness in 1 Corinthians 7, one that the church needs to recover.

SinglenessSingleness is a calling. Regarding marriage and singleness, Paul told the Corinthians, “Only let each person lead the life . . . to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17). The word translated “called” is the Greek verb kaleo. It means “to choose for receipt of a special benefit or experience.” In the New Testament, being “called” by God to anything is an overwhelmingly positive experience. Believers are called to God’s kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12), to “eternal glory in Christ” (1 Peter 5:10), and to eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12). At times, God’s people are also called to an office of service (Hebrews 5:4). By placing singleness in this category of calling, God is obviously not classifying it as a position of second-class citizenship in His Church.

At the same time, singleness involves struggle. Paul’s statement that singles must exercise “self-control” and his accompanying exhortation, “It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9), indicate that unmarried Christians face a battle to abstain from sexual intimacy outside marriage. God created humans as sexual beings, and singles are no exception. They experience sexual desire but are expected to fulfill the root need for intimacy by drawing near to Christ and being totally known only by Him. Yes, sexual abstinence can be a struggle. But obedience brings great blessing, and God empowers His single children for their calling. (Incidentally, Paul said married Christians also have unique struggles that singles don’t face [1 Corinthians 7:28-35].)

For some, singleness is a temporary calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:40, Paul advised widows to remain unmarried. But earlier in the chapter, he made clear that while their husbands are alive, God calls women to stay married (1 Corinthians 7:10). It would seem then, that Paul believed Christians can have different callings at different stages of life. God may call a believer to singleness for a season of life and marriage for another season. Because He has called you to singleness at age 30 doesn’t mean you will still be single at 40 or 50. As some have wisely counselled, “Run as hard as you can toward God, and if someone keeps up, introduce yourself.” Conversely, just because He called you to marriage at 20 doesn’t mean He won’t call you to live the final 20 years of your life as a widow or widower. The Lord has a perfect plan for each portion of each believer’s life.

Singleness is a gift that should be used to serve the church. In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul calls singleness a “gift” (Gk. charisma) from God. Interestingly, this is the same word the New Testament uses to describe spiritual gifts, which are to be used for serving others in the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10). Most likely, that is part of what Paul has in mind here, because he also speaks of singleness as an assignment (1 Corinthians 7:17) and an opportunity for “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). Indeed, single Christians generally have more freedom to serve others in and outside the church because they don’t have as much responsibility to care for their own families. So during your season of singleness, take advantage of God’s gift by serving your church in a variety of ministries.

Of course, marriage is also a gift and a calling. Married believers are not on a lower spiritual plane than singles. Still, it’s time for the church to rediscover the calling and gift of singleness so that unmarried believers don’t feel like they’re in a holding pattern until “real life” begins.


How Many Bible Passages Speak to Homosexuality?

On a predictably regular basis, someone publishes a book claiming that the Bible only speaks to homosexuality in a handful of places and that if those references are explained away, Scripture can be viewed as “open and affirming” toward same-sex relationships. Most recently, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian focused on six Scripture passages that condemn homosexuality.1 Similarly, Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible references five passages that depict same-sex intimacy. In 2012, homosexual bibleactivists produced the Queen James Bible, a version of the Bible with eight key verses edited to prevent “homophobic interpretations.” Before that, Jay Bakker’s Fall to Grace identified three “clobber passages” in the New Testament that are used to “beat people over the head” regarding homosexuality. The list could go on—you get the idea.

But is the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality limited to just a smattering of references? In short, no. All of these “open and affirming” interpretations do violence to the plain meaning of the verses in question, and Christian scholars have demonstrated that to be the case.2 Yet there is a broader issue. Not only do specific passages condemn homosexuality; many of the Bible’s major themes, metaphors, precepts, and commands assume that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the norm. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible leaves no doubt about God’s intentions regarding marriage and sexuality. Consider the following:

– The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:1-6) depended on God’s people marrying and producing offspring for its fulfillment.

– In the Decalogue, the fifth, seventh, and tenth commandments all assume a backdrop of traditional family structure, with a husband, a wife, and children (Exodus 20:12, 14, 17).

– The entire book of Song of Solomon assumes the inherent beauty of male-female marriage. In at least two places, the book depicts a man describing his wife’s female anatomy in admiring detail (Song of Solomon 4:1-5; 7:1-9)—a phenomenon with no homosexual parallel in Scripture.

– In both Testaments, God’s relationship with His people is compared to the relationship between a husband and wife. Whether it’s Isaiah 1:21, Jeremiah 2:1-37, Ezekiel 16:1-63, or Hosea (chapters 1-3) in the Old Testament or Paul in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22-33), the authors of Scripture believed heterosexual marriage provided an apt metaphor for God’s tender care of His people and their gracious commitment to love Him.

– The New Testament’s pervasive references to the church as God’s household presumed that a traditional family structure was normative. In Paul alone, the terms “brother” and “sister” are used 139 times; “Father” is used 63 times in reference to God; and Christians are referred to as “sons” 17 times.3

– The character of candidates for church leadership was to be gaged by the faithfulness of their participation in heterosexual marriage (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

– The relationship between the persons of the Trinity is reflected by the intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Corinthians 11:2).

So don’t let anyone convince you that the Bible’s case against homosexuality is dependent on just a handful of verses. Marriage lies at the heart of Scripture, providing the best earthly analogy of God’s passion for His people. When we accept any distortions of God’s plan in this area, we begin to lose our understanding of what it means to have intimacy with Christ.

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Endnotes:

1 For a biblical response to Vines, see R. Albert Mohler Jr., ed. God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines (Louisville, KY: SBTS Press, 2014), http://www.sbts.edu/press/ (accessed May 7, 2014).

2 See, for example, Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001).

3 Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 77.


The Decline of Biblical Languages

In 1816, Harvard University published a circular letter in response to enquiries about admissions standards for ministry students. Candidates for admission, it said, “must be thoroughly acquainted with the grammar of the Latin and Greek languages” and “be able properly to construe and parse any portion” of the Greek New Testament.1 Fast forward to the year 2000, when it was only “recommended” that candidates for admission to Harvard Bible_GreekDivinity School have an “elementary” knowledge of one ancient or modern language. To graduate with a master of divinity, the main graduate degree typically sought by pastors, a student needed only to demonstrate “intermediate” proficiency in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, German, or Spanish.2 Apparently being able to ask “¿Como está usted?” had become as valuable in ministry as being able to read Romans in its original Greek.

Harvard isn’t an anomaly. Across America, there has been a marked decrease of biblical language training for Christian ministers over the past 200 years. Consider Princeton Theological Seminary, where as recently as 1950 candidates for the bachelor of divinity (the precursor to the master of divinity) were required to take exams in Greek competency before beginning their course of study, and take remedial classes if they didn’t pass.3 By 2013 though, language study was no longer even a required portion of the master of divinity curriculum at Princeton.4 Indeed, one of the main accrediting bodies for theological schools in the US and Canada, the Association of Theological Schools, does not require a seminary to offer Greek or Hebrew in order to have an accredited master of divinity program.

The most powerful preachers and theologians of ages past likely would regard this as ministerial malpractice. For, instance, Augustine of Hippo, the great theologian and North African bishop, said men who “speak the common tongue” need “two other languages for the study of Scripture: Hebrew and Greek.” The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said that “we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages . . . the sheath in which the sword of the Spirit is contained.”5

Of course, language study is not required of all faithful ministers. For example, a bivocational pastor who works 40 hours in a factory on top of shepherding a church and leading a family may not have time to study Greek. And doing so might keep him from more important responsibilities. Or there may be ministers with learning disabilities that prevent them from grasping language study. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary founder James P. Boyce rightly observed that learning “interpretation of the text in the English version” is “all that is actually necessary to . . . preach the gospel.”6 Still, Boyce would have agreed with Charles Spurgeon that every minister who is able should aim at “tolerable proficiency” in Hebrew and Greek.7

But aiming at “tolerable proficiency” is a far cry from what’s happening today. Some ministers who have opportunity to study biblical languages opt instead to study managerial techniques and advertising methods—both of which have their place, but neither of which feeds the church spiritually like biblically faithful preaching generated from study of Greek and Hebrew texts. Two surveys of preaching from the 1990s found that only 24.5% of sermons had content and organization determined by the biblical passage under consideration.8 Surely, the percentage would rise if more pastors took their cues from the original languages.

Those who spend years studying for ministry yet avoid the languages need to rethink their educational priorities. Refusing to study a topic that helps them teach Scripture more effectively contributes to the ministry’s becoming what one author has called a “new order of sacred fools.”9

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Endnotes:

1Circular Letter Relating to Harvard University,” The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review 3 (1818): 297, (accessed April 21, 2014).

2 Harvard Divinity School Catalog, 2000-2001 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2000), 47-48.

3 Princeton Theological Seminary Catalog, 1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1950), 15-16.

4 Princeton Theological Seminary Catalog, 2012-2013 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2012), 35.

5 See video at BibleMesh Biblical Languages homepage, (accessed April 21, 2014).

6 James Petigru Boyce, “Three Changes in Theological Institutions,” an inaugural address delivered before the board of trustees of Furman University, July 31, 1856, (accessed April 21, 2014).

7 See video at BibleMesh Biblical Languages homepage, (accessed April 21, 2014).

8 David F. Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 251.

9 Ibid., 245.