The Standard and Source for Wise Counsel

If counseling means “giving counsel,” then where else would we turn for the truth we need to impart to counselees than to the Word of God—the defining standard and source of truth?

I have heard many people argue strongly and passionately that we need to add the wisdom of men to the truths of Scripture in order to counsel effectively. But I believe the Bible, as the only authoritative source of absolute truth, is entirely sufficient for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

We are warned in Scripture not to trust human wisdom for principles for living, understanding human attitudes, motives, and behaviors, and finding a solution for man’s inner problems (Ps. 1:1–2; Pr. 28:26; Col. 2:8). We are warned not to trust our own wisdom because we can be easily deceived by it (Pr. 3:5–6; 14:12; 16:2, 25; 21:2; Jer. 17:9). In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that God’s wisdom is superior to man’s. Therefore, man’s wisdom must not supplant God’s wisdom as our solution to our problems (Isa. 8:19–20; 55:8–11; 1 Cor. 1:20, 25; 2:2–5; 3:20). We are also instructed in Scripture that God’s wisdom is sufficient to counsel the inner man—the soul (Ps. 19:7–11; 119:24, 99–100; Isa. 8:19–20; Heb. 4:12).

In order to convey this, I include this short statement on the sufficiency of Scripture in my doctrinal statement:

I believe that the Bible was designed for our practical instruction and is sufficient to equip and mature believers. It is to shape the Christian’s beliefs, morals, and affections. Being the defining authority for doctrine and discipleship, the Bible, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and the caring body of Christ, is entirely sufficient for every spiritual, relational, or emotional problem.

Find out more about recommended biblical counseling resources here. Learn more about crafting a doctrinal statement here. And read more on the sufficiency of Scripture here.

Christians and Homosexuality [What if they love each other?]

Love, Homosexuality, and Presuppositions

In the last two posts, we talked about homosexual desires and homosexual orientation. Another common argument given to, and by, Christians in defense of homosexuality is by appealing to love. The question is how anyone can rightly prohibit someone from being with someone they love. The argument goes something like this: “God is love, and wants us to love. I love this person and want to be with them. Therefore, it is right that I be with them, and you can’t tell me otherwise” (or, “and God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy”).

Again and again, the central issue is the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. The truth is, that if someone does not have Scripture as their authoritative starting point, then this argument is completely legitimate. If we throw out Scripture, if we throw out a holy God to whom I am morally accountable, than what more is there in life than to seek my own pleasure and satisfaction? But because the Bible is true, I understand that humanity is fallen and corrupt, and that the heart can—and usually does—harbor sinful affection. In other words, the argument from “love” assumes that positive affection for someone or something is always a good thing, and that thing desired or loved must therefore be good. But the Bible tells a different story. As fallen and sinful beings, we often love sinful things.

The argument, “but they love each other,” does not override God’s holy standard, because morality is determined—not by our affections—but by God’s Word.

If my desires and affections are what determines morality, than selfishness, pride, anger, adultery, and a host of other sins could be declared right and good based on my affection for myself or for someone to whom I have no right. A married man may have a strong desire and affection for another woman—perhaps he feels that he loves her—but this in no way makes adultery permissible. Why? Because adultery is clearly stated to be sin (Ex. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:11; Gal. 5:19), and one’s affection does not overturn that standard. Likewise, one may have a strong affection for someone of the same sex, but if Scripture clearly condemns the practice of homosexuality, than one’s sinful desire and affection does not and cannot override God’s holy standard.

The Bible teaches that God’s created design and ordained order for human sexuality is for there to be a complementary relationship between a man and a woman, within the covenant of marriage. Homosexual acts and desires violate God’s creation design and are thus sinful. Therefore, the church today must stand fast upon the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God, no matter the consequences.


Resources:

The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed to Love Homosexuals” – Tim Bayly

Blame it on the Brain?” – Dr. Ed Welch

God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines” – ebook edited by Dr. Al Mohler

A Biblical Response to Homosexuality” – The Master’s Seminary

God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge – A Response to Matthew Vines” – Dr. Al Mohler

Christians and Homosexuality [What if it’s genetic?]

The issue of a constitutional, genetically predisposed, homosexual orientation is a common ground used for the advancement of homosexual civil rights. However, genetic studies have shown that there is no sufficient evidence for a “gay gene” that biologically determines, or even influences, a homosexual disposition. Scientific studies have continually failed to provide sufficient evidence that genetics determines, or even seriously influence, sexual orientation (1, 2, 3). Instead, studies seem to suggest positively that biology does not cause homosexual desire (1, 2). Christian counselors and theologians, such as Ed Welch and Michael Grissanti notably, have argued well against the genetic view, citing the evidence from secular scientists themselves, while approaching the issue from a biblical perspective (1, 2).

Here is the real issue, however. Even if there is some genetic predisposition discovered, this fact would hold little relevance to the question of whether it is right or wrong, because our instinctive inclinations do not define morality—God does. So while homosexuality is not “natural” (it goes against God’s created order), there may very well be instinctive tendencies toward homosexuality in some people, just as some have “natural,” or instinctive inclinations toward anger, or arrogance, or selfishness, because different people struggle with different sinful inclinations, and our fallen bodies may well have an influence in that. The fact that some people are born with an instinctive tendency toward a particular sinful pattern does not mean, however, that what they feel strongly inclined toward is right and good. Dr. Ed Welch says that “Homosexuality is natural, but only in the sense that it is an expression of the sinful nature.” Ultimately, this discussion must continue to drive us back to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word over man’s word.

But what about love? If two people of the same sex truly love each other, who are we to say they shouldn’t be together? God want’s us to be happy, right? Well, we’ll talk about that next time. In the meantime, here is a great resource for further study in this topic — much more thorough than I can be in three short posts.

Christians and Homosexuality

Homosexuality is one of the most controversial issues in America today. As more and more political sanctions are designed to punish Christians and Christian institutions for “discriminating” against persons based on their sexual orientation—or for that matter simply to fail to properly celebrate their sin—it is ever-increasingly crucial for the church to take its stand for the authority of the Word of God, and to submit to that authority no matter how unpopular or punishable. While we must recognize that the Scriptures can be difficult to interpret at times, and even more difficult to apply graciously and faithfully to our time, our every theological proposition must be firmly rooted, not in emotion and trend, but in the clear teaching of the authoritative and sufficient Word of God.

The fundamental issue is that any attempt to soften the Bible’s statements about homosexuality compromises the sufficiency of Scripture. One thing that is absolutely and sufficiently clear from Scripture is that at every mention of homosexuality, the Bible unapologetically condemns it as sin (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9; Jude 7). Proponents of homosexuality will argue that the Bible only speaks to unnatural homosexual practice, but not to natural homosexuality. In other words, Scripture only speaks against the homosexual acts of people who are heterosexually oriented; it does not condemn homosexuality for people who are naturally homosexually oriented.

However, it is critical to recognize the presuppositions involved in this sort of statement, and to recognize that as Christians, our foundation for thinking in every area of life must be Scripture. If we approach the issue with a biblical worldview, we will recognize that what is “natural,” is not defined by what people feel like doing, or by what the majority of people in a given culture do or believe. Rather, nature is that which is built into the created order. In other Words, God defines what is natural by the way He created the world to be. From a biblical foundation, therefore, homosexuality is not natural, but rather entirely unnatural, because it violates God’s created design for man and woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18-24).

If homosexual acts are not natural (because they violate God’s design for the relationship between men and women) what about mere homosexual desire? Many Christians, understanding Scripture to clearly teach that homosexual acts are wrong, believe that as long as someone is not engaging in homosexual acts, that is good enough. This is the focus of much counsel given to those struggling with homosexuality. “Just don’t do it, and all will be well.” The logic is that it is not inherently wrong to merely be tempted; it is only wrong to act on that temptation. However, the reasoning for this position is skewed by several faulty presuppositions. For example, this view assumes a very loose definition of “temptation.” While there are times when the experience of being tempted is not necessarily sin (Christ was tempted in every way), the entertainment of those desirous thoughts is certainly sinful—to allow oneself to dwell on the temptation is to lust after that thing.

Now, technically, the Bible does not speak to a constitutional, homosexual “orientation.” Rather, strictly speaking, it condemns homosexual acts. In fact, in the culture of New Testament times, only the passive homosexual partner was considered “homosexual” and this was shameful. However, the dominant partner (who was often also married) was not considered “homosexual” and this was not viewed with the same shame as the other. But in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul actually coins a term (a composite word that means “men who lie with men”) to comprehensively include anyone who participates in homosexual acts. Paul goes out of his way to teach that any homosexual involvement is sinful. But where does that leave the argument that only the act is sinful? Does it seem like I am strengthening that argument? Well, the Bible has more to say.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus argues against the Pharisaical view that the physical act is all that matters. The Pharisees (and many today) believed that as long as one does not physically commit adultery, they have not sinned. But Jesus states that even if a man merely looks at woman with lust in his heart, he has sinned, because sin is a heart issue before it is ever a physical act (Matt. 5:28). Is being physically attracted to women inherently sinful? No. But to lust after a woman is to dwell on—to entertain—that sexual temptation, or to covet (imagine how one might take) a woman who does not rightfully belong to oneself. Jesus clearly teaches that lust, or covetousness, is a sin whether one acts upon it or not, because the act or thing one is desiring is in itself wrong. Lusting after a woman is wrong because engaging in sexual acts with a woman outside the covenant of marriage is wrong. In short, entertaining the desire to commit a sinful act is itself a sin. Thus, with discussing homosexuality, in finding that Scripture condemns homosexual acts, we also find that because homosexual acts are in themselves sinful and against God’s created design, to allow oneself to entertain thoughts and temptations for those acts is itself a sin.

If a Christian is faithful to admit that homosexual practice is wrong, then he must also hold that homosexual desire is to be battled against, the mind is to be transformed, and every thought is to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:5). But when Christians hold that only homosexual acts are wrong, they inevitably compromise the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture. As Dr. Ed Welch puts it, “The very least that will happen is that the church will back away from the severe warnings of Scripture, such as ‘homosexuals cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:10).” Sinful desires and affections must be battled and rooted out at the level of the imagination.

In the next post, we’ll look at the objection that homosexuality is determined genetically, and thus not a choice that can be argued against, or condemned, or changed.

Is Hell Forever? [part 4: the logic of the thing]

In my previous two posts, I shared some of my interaction with Peter Grice, of Rethinking Hell. I laid out my basic argument against conditional immortality, and shared Mr. Grice’s initial response.

As I mentioned in the last post on the issue, one item that really surprised me in his response was how he shied away from defining death as the cessation of existence. I asked him how he would rather define life and death, and he said this:

I think that the concepts of life and death are normally left undefined, because everybody already understands them. I’m alive right now, and my grandfather is dead… It’s only when we get into theology and philosophy that we start to feel the need for definitions.

I’ve never though of not worrying about a definition for understanding death. If you can’t/won’t define something—do you really understand it?

The reason we “start to feel the need for definitions” when we get into philosophy and theology is because we’re seeking to truly understand things.

Death speaks of separation. Physical death—contra the conditionalists—is not the cessation of consciousness, or the ending of all of that person’s activity. Physical death happens when the soul and body are separated—see James 2:26. Physical death is the separation of the soul and body. Spiritual death is our spiritual separation from God. Again, not unconsciousness… not cessation of existence.

Mr. Grice did not want to define death. He insisted that everyone intuitively knows what we mean. But I disagree. If you can’t define it, how much do you really understand it? One of the most important disciplines in theology is defining your terms.

Perhaps a couple of syllogisms can best demonstrate the formal logic of the issue:

Here is the basic argument of Conditional Immortality syllogized:

  • The penalty for sin is death.
  • Death is the cessation of existence.
  • Jesus bore the penalty for sin on the cross on our behalf.
  • Therefore…

Do you see the necessitated conclusion of the logic? It’s that Jesus ceased to exist (at least temporarily).

Now, Mr. Grice would probably challenge my representation of the second premise above, as he did in his response. But, having received no satisfactory definition in response, and given the way it’s stated numerous times throughout Rethinking Hell, I think it’s fair to say that, no matter the semantic gymnastics, conditionalists are functionally defining death as the cessation of existence.

Allow me to try to put my own argument from the initial post into a syllogism as well:

  • The penalty for sin is death.
  • Jesus bore the penalty of sin on the cross on our behalf.
  • Therefore, however one defines death, Jesus experienced it.
    • But Jesus did not cease to exist.
    • Therefore, annihilation (cessation of existence) is not the penalty for sin.

Another syllogism, taking the above conclusion (and the foundational premise) and applying it to the definition of death then:

  • Death is the penalty for sin.
  • Annihilation is not the penalty for sin.
  • Therefore, death is not the cessation of existence (annihilation).

There are a couple of other ways to syllogize the logic, but I hope this exercise has at least been helpful enough for now. Keep studying!

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Is Hell Forever? [part 3: defining life and death]

In my previous two posts, I shared some of my interaction with Peter Grice, of Rethinking Hell. I laid out my basic argument against conditional immortality, and shared Mr. Grice’s initial response. One item that surprised me in his response was how he shied away from defining death as the cessation of existence. Now, read their defining statement, search around on their site, and see how you think they are understanding life and death. This seems to be one of the basic tenants of their view, and yet Mr. Grice pushed against it. They may want to nuance it more than I am, certainly; but it’s difficult to get around the fact that the basic claim is: death means the annihilation of body and soul; the penalty for sin is death; thus, the penalty for sin is the annihilation of body and soul (destruction/cessation of existence). Well, I sent a short reply to Mr. Grice to see if he would more clearly explain his understanding of life and death. Here it is, with his response, below.

Mr. Grice,

Thank you so much for your response. That was helpful on some fronts. I am curious though: if you would not define death as the cessation of existence (annihilation), how would you define life and death?

Thanks again.

His Response:

I think that the concepts of life and death are normally left undefined, because everybody already understands them. I’m alive right now, and my grandfather is dead. This is consistent with how the Bible speaks. Though the “dead in Christ” could be considered conscious in death, on one view of the intermediate state, nonetheless they are reckoned “dead,” not living. The dead come alive in resurrection (Rev 20:5).

It’s only when we get into theology and philosophy that we start to feel the need for definitions. In Christian theology we often hear people try to define death as separation, as if death is the splitting apart of one thing into two. And maybe that occurs, but that’s no justification for loading it into the definition of death.

When I say that my grandfather died thirty years ago, I do not mean that he split in two, or that half of him died and half didn’t. Rather, I mean that one moment he himself was living, and the next moment he himself was not living.

Hence, death is the cessation of life. That was my working definition below. Life is just what Adam and Eve had in the garden, but do not have until the resurrection.

So to me the cessation of life isn’t about annihilation, or the cessation of all aspects of being. It’s an embodied thing. A human being / living creature is not a disembodied spirit. That’s not how Genesis portrays us at all. Whatever immaterial aspects we may have are only part of what we are, not the whole.

What do you think? Is this a satisfactory answer? The reason we “start to feel the need for definitions” when we get into philosophy and theology is because we’re seeking to really understand things. Do you think that “everybody already understands” life and death if we can’t even define them (without begging the question)? I’ll try to summarize a few of my concluding thoughts in another post. Until then, keep studying, keep doing theology, and keep defining your terms!