Guidance Prayer

Stephen W. Hiemstra, First Car, 1975

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

To you be the glory loving father for you illumine our path and peer beyond ever bend protecting us from unseen black-ice and pot holes and inebriated devils that threaten our very existence.

Forgive our habit of taking your provision for granted and acting as if we are in control.

Thank you for blessings beyond measure, the things and people we take for granted, and the luxury of being your people in a prosperous land.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us eyes that see, ears that hear, and an abiding faith that our foot-steps would remain secure in a volatile time and place.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Guidance Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Interpretative Community

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The interpretative problem in ethics arises because every observer of an action may potentially explain the event differently. While pastoral training normally includes instruction in biblical interpretation, the ethical problem is seldom openly discussed and formal training, if provided, is handled as an apprentice activity. Biblical interpretation is, in some sense, easier because the interpretative context is fixed and, given enough effort, can usually be described. Ethical interpretation is harder because the context of an action may differ between observers and may be fluid in a society in philosophical transition.

Shooting Example

Let’s return for a moment to our shooting example.

The interpretative problem in ethics is complex enough that even experienced judges can get it wrong and books are written whose plot hangs on the interpretation. Suppose one man shoots another. Immediately, everyone wants to know details of what happened. Consider these questions:

  • Who were the men? 
  • What were their ethnicities? 
  • What was their relationship? 
  • What roles did they play? 
  • What was going on at the time of the shooting?
  • Has this happened before?
  • What was the motivation for the shooting?

Suppose a judge officiates the trial and a jury finds the shooter innocent (or guilty). What happens if the community riots when the decision is announced? In the case of a shooting, emotions may run wild, but every action is potentially subject to a similar conflict in interpretations.

The Church is an Interpretative Community

While the example of a shooting is pretty extreme, it makes the point that ethical interpretation is less a question of philosophy or individual accountability and more a case where the community plays an important role in interpretation. For Christians, the pertinent community is the church, but the church’s interpretative role arises primarily in teaching; the final word in interpreting events rests mostly with the state. When the church abdicates its interpretative role, state both determines and polices morality.

Key Role of the Bible

the Bible is a book written by adults for adults, yet as biblical illiteracy grows it is increasing obvious that the modern church treats the Bible as a book written primarily for kids. No one would actually say such a thing, but actions speak louder than words. Consider these observations:

  • Sunday school attendance is weak, particularly among adults, and books other than the Bible are often featured in small group study.
  • Even when Bible study is offered, video studies take the burden off leaders and participants to engage scripture deeply.
  • Churches often recruit young pastors with little life experience or biblical awareness with the primary entry point to ministry in many churches being youth group leadership.
  • Sermons have grown shorter to keep worship services no longer than an hour, often feature feel-good topics—God is love—rather than serving to teach biblical awareness or interpretation, and seldom ask listeners to do or remember anything.
  • When the Bible is neglected, spiritual disciplines tend to emphasize spiritual experiences rather than opening us up to receive God’s word for our lives and acting on it.

As biblical illiteracy within the church grows, the church increasingly serves as an interpretative community for particular ethnic groups, economic classes, or gender identities.

Interpretative Community

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/HotWeather_2019

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Ethical Perspective

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Earlier I wrote that if ethics is the study of moral action, then Christian ethics is the study of moral action starting from faith in God. I then proceed to outline a number of philosophical explanations of ethical behavior and decision-making. Yet, what makes Christian ethics unique and simply not a branch of philosophy is the relationship to God.

Vines and Branches

Jesus gives an analogy:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

Today this analogy evokes the picture of an electric appliance that is perfectly useless until it is plugged in—the power is in the cord, not the appliance. As Christians, we rely not on a philosophical approach to determine our actions, we rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, especially as revealed in scripture.

This reliance on the Holy Spirit solves an important ethical problem for the Christian because ethical actions are contextual and, in the absence of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is extremely hard to sort out which philosophical precedents to follow.

Ethical Perspective

Suppose a man gets shot dead. From an ethical perspective, we must immediately ask: what is the relationship between the shooter and the dead man? Was the shooting intentional or accidental, and how do we know? What led up to the shooting? What was the shooter’s emotional state of mind? Where the dead man and the shooter from the same ethnic group? What were their roles in this shooting? From a legal perspective, an public inquiry may be required to sort all these questions out before a court decides what to do about the shooting.

Notice that at least three people are involved in this example: the dead man, the shooter, and a judge. Each will have a perspective on this shooting and the community may be divided on how to interpret this shooting. Ethics always involves interpretation. This implies that the philosophical precedents guiding the shooter could be different from the perspectives of every other participant in this event. The emotional mindset of each participant has a bearing on the interpretation rendered.

In the midst of potentially raging emotions, the Christian guided by the Holy Spirit has a unique advantage in dealing ethically with a situation because God alone knows all the relevant factors to consider and the eventual outcome. Mere ethical knowledge pales in comparison as a guide to behavior because we never control all the factors influencing the ethical interpretation of an event by all the participants. 

It is as if we walk through life as in a room with four different landscapes painted on the walls. One landscape may be a beach; other a bedroom; another an office, and still another a battlefield. Each person we meet may see us against an entirely different landscape, even at a point in time. And we cannot choose which landscape they see or the emotional baggage that they carry with them. We are at the mercy of their projection of these things on us, but the good news is that God is great and his Holy Spirit is our guide.

Ethical Perspective

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/MayBe_2019

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Monday Monologue, Interpreting Scripture, April 30, 2018 (Podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a prayer and a reflection on interpreting scripture.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologue, Interpreting Scripture, April 30, 2018 (Podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Interpreting the Bible

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The critical role of the Bible in Christian faith makes it important to interpret it accurately. The Bible poses at least three hermeneutical (interpretational) challenges to a modern reader. 

Three Hermaneutical Challenges

First, the Bible is only ancient text that most people ever read. The writers of the New Testament wrote roughly two thousand years ago and referenced Old Testament texts written over a period from two thousand to several hundred years prior to that point. Does our inexperience with ancient texts imply that only experts can read the Bible correctly? Historically, the Roman Catholic Church insisted that only a priest could correctly interpret scripture while Protestants insisted that the plain meaning (perspicuity or clarity) of scripture was obvious enough that common people could interpret the Bible.

Second, the ancient source of the Bible implies that these authors lived in cultural contexts vastly different from our own and they wrote in unfamiliar languages—Hebrew and Greek. Both the cultures and the languages therefore require translation that require assumptions to be made that significantly impact the translated text. For example, should the translator translate each word (New American Standard Bible) or translate the meaning of a paragraph (The Message Bible)? Should the translator assume that the text has been written for a high class audience (King James Bible) or is it written in the common language (Good News Bible)?

Third, the Bible is a compilation of books written by different authors in a wide range of genres. Genesis, for example, mostly records historical narratives while the next book, Exodus, combines narrative with law. The witness of the church attributes both books to Moses who, as a major participant in Exodus, might be considered to be writing a kind of memoir. But since the Book of Deuteronomy, another book attributed to Moses, records Moses’ death (Deut 34:5), it might be more appropriate to attribute the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses or the Books of the Law) to the Moses administration. Even though Mosaic authorship was never questioned until the nineteenth century, the meaning of Moses’ authorship requires interpretation. 

Genre Challenges

Similar problems arise in determining genre. For example, what genre are we reading when we read: 

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Gen 3:1 ESV)

Is this verse simple narrative, a metaphor, or a fable? Depending on your prior convictions, you may interpret this verse differently, which is an important reason to pay attention to hermeneutics.

Biblical Keys to Interpretation

Although most Christians discount the importance of hermeneutics (the study of interpretation), hermeneutic concerns defined Christian denominations historically and lie at the heart of numerous controversies today. The mere observation that seminarians require intense training in the languages of the Bible (principally Hebrew and Greek) speaks to the subtly of scripture and the need to understand those subtleties. Less frequently noted, however, are hermeneutical keys given in the Bible itself.

For example, after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (the second time), he describes who he is:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod 34:6-7 ESV)

God’s character is critical in interpreting the commandments wherever a question arises. Note, for example, that God is first described as merciful—not punishing as deserved—then being described as a gracious—rewarding with undeserved blessings. God is a merciful and gracious lawgiver, which is helpful to know if you are charged with implementing God’s law in your own community.

Much like Moses, Jesus gives an interpretative key right after introducing the Beatitudes, the introduction to his Sermon on Mount.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:17-19 ESV)

The term, the Law and the Prophets, is a euphemism for the Old Testament that implies Jesus expects his followers to reference the Old Testament when they interpret his teaching. This admonishment comes as a warning to those who prefer to pick a favorite saying of Jesus and use it to discount Old Testament teaching, as is commonly done today.

The Need for Context

In his book focused on misuses of scripture, Richard Schultz (2012, 41) views taking scripture out of context as the single, most important misuse of scripture. Context, according to Schultz (2012, 40), “refers to the flow of thought in a passage, for example, how a specific sentence is related to the sentences that precede and follow it.” He cites four types of biblical context:

  1. Literary context—the “text surrounding an individual verse or passage”.
  2. Historical-Cultural Context—“biblical authors wrote with a particular readership in mind, who share a common knowledge of key events in Israelite History, religious practices and core theological beliefs…”
  3. Salvation-Historical Context—the Bible “offers one extensive ‘story’ (today sometimes called ‘macronarrative’), which stretches from the creation to the consummation of human history, as we know it, climaxing in the creation of a new heaven and new earth.”
  4. Theological-Thematic Context—“when studying a text, it is helpful to identify its dominant themes…” (Schultz 2012, 52).

The tendency among those who misuse scripture is to ignore the context of the passage being cited and to substitute their own context, which may or may not correspond to the original context in scripture.

Vanhoozer (1998, 25-29) sees the three key contexts for interpreting scripture as the author, other scripture, and the reader. The author’s context focuses on the intent, social context, and audience of the writer. The context of other scripture shares the divine inspiration of any particular text; if something in one place is unclear, perhaps is clearer somewhere else. The reader’s context, when balanced against the other two, provides a valid expression of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in our own lives. Vanhoozer observes: “My thesis is that ethical interpretation is a spiritual exercise and that the spirit of understanding is not a spirit of power, nor of play, but the Holy Spirit.”  If interpretation becomes a power play, clearly divine inspiration is not the prime motivator and the reader’s context may simply be another attempt to insert our own context for that of the text.

How to Interpret Scripture Properly

Schultz goes on to offer seven specific suggestions for interpreting scripture properly:

1. Care about understanding.

2. Catch nuance.

3. Clarify context.

4. Check terms.

5. Consider genre.

6. Consult expert [texts].

7. Correlate application [with text]. (Schultz 2012, 139-140).

Schultz’s first point is instructive. In seminary I found studying scripture in the original languages to be an eye-opener, in part, because the texts were too familiar—I thought that I knew what the text was saying, but often missed the details and main point of a pericope (a self-contained unit of scripture like a parable). Reading in Greek or Hebrew forced me to slow down and consider each word. Scripture is laconic in having a minimum of words so each word serves a particular purpose.

References

Schultz, Richard L. 2012. Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. 

Interpreting the Bible

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Schultz Clarifies Biblical Context and Use

Review of Richard Schultz's Out of ContextRichard L. Schultz. 2012. Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Although most Christians discount the importance of hermeneutics (the study of interpretation), hermeneutic concerns defined Christian denominations historically and lie at the heart of numerous controversies today. The mere observation that seminarians require intense training in the languages of the Bible (principally Hebrew and Greek) speaks to the subtly of scripture and the need to understand those subtleties. Less frequently noted, however, are hermeneutical keys given in the Bible itself. For example, after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (the second time), he describes who he is:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exod 34:6-7 ESV)

God’s character is critical in interpreting the commandments wherever a question arises.[1]The phrase, What Would Jesus Do?(WWJD), is a similar interpretive key, just not one directly focused on scripture itself.

Introduction

In his book,Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible,Richard Schultz describes his objectives with these words:

“The purpose of this present book, similar to the one Augustine wrote at the end of the fourth century, is to correct the common misuse of the Bible by presenting the ABCs of proper biblical interpretation.” (137)

This focus on biblical interpretation is important because the Christian faith fundamentally rests on the teachings of the Bible, an important principle (solo scriptura—Latin for only scripture) reiterated in the Reformation.

Context is Important

As suggested by his title, Schultz view taking scripture out of context as the single, most important misuse of scripture (41). Context, according to Schultz, “refers to the flow of thought in a passage, for example, how a specific sentence is related to the sentences that precede and follow it.” (40) He cites four types of biblical context:

  1. Literary context—the “text surrounding an individual verse or passage”(41).
  2. Historical-Cultural Context—“biblical authors wrote with a particular readership in mind, who share a common knowledge of key events in Israelite History, religious practices and core theological beliefs…”(45)
  3. Salvation-Historical Context—the Bible “offers one extensive ‘story’ (today sometimes called ‘macronarrative’), which stretches from the creation to the consummation of human history, as we know it, climaxing in the creation of a new heaven and new earth.”(49)
  4. Theological-Thematic Context—“when studying a text, it is helpful to identify its dominant themes…” (52).

The tendency among those who misuse scripture is to ignore the context of the passage being cited and to substitute their own context, which may or may not correspond to the original context in scripture.

Who is Schultz?

Richard Schultz is the Blanchard Professor of Old Testament in the Graduate School at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois. His masters of divinity is from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and doctorate is in Old Testament studies from Yale University. Interestingly, he taught for a decade at the Freie Theologische Hochschule in Giessen, Germany.[2] Schultz is widely published.

Organization

Schultz writes in seven chapters:

  1. The ‘Jabez Prayer’ Phenomenon: Flunking Biblical Interpretation 101.
  2. The Roots of Faulty Interpretation: Examining Our Convictions about Scripture.
  3. The Consequence of Ignoring Context.
  4. Divine Truth Expressed in Human Words: Challenges with Language.
  5. Understanding the Literary Menu: How Genre Influences Meaning.
  6. Caution—Prooftexting in Progress: Avoiding Pitfalls in Applications.
  7. What’s So Bad about ‘Textjacking’. (5)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by chapter endnotes.

Proper Use of Scripture

While I found Schultz’s critique of popular twists (such as the Jabez prayer) on scripture fascinating, his advice on how to avoid misuse of scripture is more instructive. He offers seven specific suggestions:

  1. Care about understanding.
  2. Catch nuance.
  3. Clarify context.
  4. Check terms.
  5. Consider genre.
  6. Consult expert [texts].
  7. Correlate application [with text]. (139-140).

Schultz’s first point is instructive. In seminary I found studying scripture in the original languages to be an eye-opener, in part, because the texts were too familiar—I thought that I knew what the text was saying, but often missed the details and main point of a pericope.[3]Reading in Greek or Hebrew forced me to slow down and consider each word. Scripture is laconic in having a minimum of words so each word is there for a reason.

Assessment

Richard Schultz’s Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible is a helpful, accessible, and interesting read. Seminarians and pastors are the obvious audience for this book, but anyone serious about studying scripture will benefit.

[1]The Gospel of Matthew offers another interpretative key in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:17-19). More commonly cited is the admonition on how to use scripture(2 Tim 3:16-17)

[2]https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/profile/?expert=richard.schultzphd.For those unacquainted, German biblical scholars are unparalleled in the Christian world in spite of the secularization of German society. My own year in Göttingen, Germany as an exchange student proved unexpectedly helpful in my seminary studies.

[3]A pericope is a self-contained unit of scripture, such as a story or parable. Usually, a pericope is more than a couple verses but less than a chapter.

Schultz Clarifies Biblical Context and Use

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

When you are lost, how do you find your way home? In my training as a boy scout, I learned to read a map and to work with a compass during the day and to follow the stars at night. Revelation is one of those books in the bible that tests your skills in biblical interpretation.

Role of Genre in Interpretation

One form of interpretation starts by asking a simple question: what kind of writing (genre) are we looking at? Possibilities include: narrative (simple stories or history), Gospel, poetry, song, wisdom literature, prophecy, parable, epistle (a letter), law, genealogies, or apocalyptic. We tend to look at each of these a bit differently and particular books of the Bible often have multiple genre. Revelations, for example, contains prophecy, history, narrative, song, poetry, and even law.

Role of Perspective in Interpretation

Another important aspect of interpretation is to ask which perspective on the text to take: the author’s, the scripture itself, and the reader’s.  When you see a commentary talking about the audience or the historical context, this is an attempt to understand the author’s intent in writing. Or when you hear a pastor citing Old Testament (OT) references that explain a New Testament (NT) passage, this is using scripture to interpret scripture. When you hear someone explain what a particular passage means to them, this is using the reader’s perspective. John Calvin used these three principles of interpretation, but added one more of interest to pastors–use of the texts in the original languages–which leads to word studies, issues of grammar, literary criticism, and other questions of syntax.

Role of Interpretation in Church Controversies

Biblical interpretation is a bit technical and boring, but it is important. Many of the controversies of our day in the church have at their root differences over issues of biblical interpretation. For example, when the Apostle John writes prophetically in Revelations is he writing primarily to the seven churches in Asia Minor or is he writing to us? If you answer the seven churches, then you are taking the author’s perspective. If you answer to us, then you are taking the reader’s perspective.

New Covenant in Christ

An obvious interpretative pallet for understanding Revelation is John’s Gospel. What is striking about John’s Gospel is that John seems to suggest that the New Covenant in Christ is not a written document or teachings, but rather the person of Jesus.[1] So when John gives us a vision of the son of man in Revelations 1:13, an allusion to Daniel 7:13, we find ourselves witnessing an image of judgment under the New Covenant. Christ has returned to take stock of those he left behind. What is perhaps shocking is that John sees this judgment[2] starting with the seven churches.

Why are the seven churches the first focus of this heavenly vision of judgment and not the gentiles, especially not the Romans, John’s jailors at Patmos, who were persecuting the church at his point?

Questions for Revelation 2

  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. Which four churches does John address in this chapter? (vv. 1, 8, 12, 18)
  3. Why does John starts with Ephesus? (Acts 18:9-19:5) Or do we really know?
  4. What are the strong points of the Ephesus church? (vv. 2-3) What are the weak points? (v. 4)
  5. What blessings/curses are attached to the judgment of the Ephesus church? (vv. 5-7)
  6. Who is John addressing in verses 7, 11, 17, and 26-29?
  7. What is the morning star reference about? (v. 28; Matt 2:2, 2 Peter 1:19)
  8. What are the blessings and curses faced by the church at Smyrna? (vv. 8-10)
  9. Read Deuteronomy 4:30. What is prophesied?
  10. Read 1 Samuel 26:22-25 and Matthew 5:44. What is enemy love; what is tribulation?
  11. Who are victorious? What is the second death? (v. 11)
  12. What strong points does John mention in the church of Pergamum? (v. 13)
  13. What weak points afflict the Pergamum church? (vv. 14-16)
  14. What is the sword of the mouth? (v. 16; Rev 1:16, 19:21)
  15. What new name are they to receive? (v. 17)
  16. Who is known from the city of Thyatira? (Acts 16:14)
  17. What strong points are mentioned about the church of Thyatira? (v. 19)
  18. What sins afflict the church of Thyatira? (vv. 20-25)
  19. Read Psalm 2:9. What is the reward for the victorious? (vv. 26-27)
  20. Who is Jezebel and what are Satan’s dark secrets? (vv. 20, 24; 1 Kings 16:30-31)

Questions on Revelation 3

  1. What strong points does John mention about the church at Sardia? (vv. 4-5)
  2. What weak points does he mention? (vv. 1-2)
  3. What metaphor of judgment does John use? (v. 3)
  4. What does it look like to be victorious? (vv. 4-5) What is the metric?
  5. Is this judgment applicable only to the church at Sardia? (vv. 6, 13, 22)
  6. What complaint does John offer about the church of Philadelphia?
  7. What praise does he offer? (vv. 8-10)
  8. What encouragement does John offer Philadelphia? (vv. 8, 10-11)
  9. What open door is John referring to? (v. 8)
  10. How does John describe Christ in verses 14, 19-21.
  11. What complaint does John offer against the church at Laodicea? (vv. 15-18)
  12. How does John’s complaint compare to Paul’s observations in Colossians 2:1-3?
  13. Read Proverbs 10:13 and 13:24. How is Christ’s love expressed? (v. 19)

References

Osborne, Grant R.  2006. The Hermenutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretations. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Thompson, John L. 2004. “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.” Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Edited by Donald A. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vanhoozer, Kevin H. 1998. Is there Meaning in this Text? Grand Rapids: Zondervan. (Review)

Footnotes

[1] Unlike Matthew or the author of Hebrews, John never uses the word covenant, not even in reference to the last supper (John 13:1-14). And John uses the word commandment consistently to refer to the double-love commandment. For example, John writes: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

[2] When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18).

Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

Also see:

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notion that Christianity is irrelevant and extreme feels odd, having grown up at a time when things were different. In the course of one generation, the consensus about how the world worked and our place in it changed dramatically, not only on the street but in the church. Snap, one morning you wake up and, after the coffee kicks in, you realize that the “invasion of the body snatchers”[2] occurred while you slept and pod people now control everything. What do you do now?

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divide their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section (the invasion of the space aliens above). In the next review (part three), I will address the third section. In this review (part two), I will focus on this second section.

Living Good Faith.

Kinnaman and Lyons offer an interesting contrast involving six principles, which illustrates why Christian faith feels so out of sync today.

Cultural principle 1:

“To find yourself, look within yourself.” (57)

Christian principle 1:

“To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself in Jesus.” (60)

Cultural principle 2:

“People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.” (57)

Christian principle 2:   “Loving others does not always mean staying silent.” (60)

Cultural principle 3:

“To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things that you desire most.” (57)

Christian principle 3: “Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others” (60)

Cultural principle 4:

“Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” (57)

Christian principle 4: “The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.” (60)

Cultural principle 5:  

 “People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” (57)

Christian principle 5: “God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.” (60)

Cultural principle 6:   

“Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine.” (57)

Christian principle 6: “God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.” (60)

The scariest part of this observation is that many Christians have bought into the cultural principles, first articulated by Roman philosopher Lucretius one hundred years before Christ, and abandoned the Christian ones (59, 62). People forget that the church has been struggling with pagan philosophies from the very beginning.

How do we live the good faith?

Kinnaman and Lyons write:

 “The secret recipe for good faith boils down to this: how well you love, what you believe, and how you live.” (72)

Double Love Command

This is an old recipe for dealing with an old problem and should come as no surprise to those who spend time with their Bible. The authors point to Matthew 22:37-39, which cites the double love command: Love God; love your neighbor. But most people ignore (or misinterpret) the next verse:

“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40 ESV)

“The Law” is a rabbinic reference to the Books of the Law (of Moses), which are the first five books of the Bible. “The Prophets” is a rabbinic reference to all the other books of the Old Testament. If you understand what Jesus is saying, then what you believe is not up for grabs—you cannot just interpret love anyway you want. The Old Testament context for love is found in Exodus 34:6 where God provides an interpretative key to the giving of the Ten Commandments:

Interpretative Key to Ten Commandments

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exod 34:6 ESV)

In this context, love (וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד; rav hesed) is better translated as “covenantal love”—keeping your promises. Keeping your promises is another way of saying living them out, as Jesus’ younger brother James famously says:  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17 ESV)

Consequently, Kinnaman and Lyons’ secret recipe for good faith is no secret to practicing Christians, who naturally spend a lot of time with their Bible.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers.

 

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Rogers Advocates for LGBT Equality, Part 1

Rogers_review_06162015Jack Rogers. 2009. Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality:  Explode the Myths, Heal the Church.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Goto Part 2).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA; PCUSA) approved ordination of homosexuals in 2012 and gay marriage in 2014. As moderator of the 213th General Assembly in 2001 and in other leadership roles, Jack Bartlett Rogers was an important advocate for these changes[1]. In his book, Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, he lays out the argument for why he believes that:

“We need to give people who are LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] full and equal rights within the church and work for their rights within the broader society. That means that marriage, ordination, and every other right necessary to bring people who are homosexual into full equality with people who are heterosexual.” (107-108)

Because this book was published in 2009, it anticipated changes in the policy of the PCUSA by several years and played an active role in advocating for these changes. As such, readers interested in the genesis of these changes will want to be familiar with the arguments in this book[2].

Who is Jack Rogers?

Rogers is currently Professor Emeritus of Theology  at San Francisco Theological Seminary. While he is the author of numerous books, I am most familiar with his book, Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions (2001), a study both in church history and dogmatics. Dogmatics is: “the study of the arrangement and statement of religious doctrines, especially of the doctrines received in and taught by the Christian church.”[3] Rogers describes himself as “evangelical theologically” which makes sense for a former faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, but probably not for a faculty member at San Francisco Theological Seminary (6).

Outline of Book

As advocacy, Rogers’ Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality can be described as a work in the field of dogmatics. Rogers writes in 8 chapters:

  1. Studying Homosexuality for the First Time.
  2. A Pattern of Misusing the Bible to Justify Oppression.
  3. A Breakthrough in Understanding the Word of God.
  4. Interpreting the Bible in Times of Controversy.
  5. What the Bible Says and Doesn’t Say about Homosexuality.
  6. Real People and Real Marriage.
  7. Recommendations for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
  8. All are One in Christ Jesus. (vi)

Before the chapters are 2 prefaces and acknowledgments. After the chapters are an appendix, a lengthy study guide, notes, and a topical index. Missing is a scriptural index.

Rogers Requires Careful Reading

For example, one of the problems with the term, evangelical, is that the meaning has changed dramatically over the years and is often criticized as being a meaningless term. In chapter 1, Rogers defines an evangelical as:

“someone who accepts three propositions: (1) People can and should have a personal relationship with God through trust in Jesus Christ. (2) The Bible is the final authority for salvation and living the Christian life. (3) God’s grace in Jesus Christ is such good news that everyone should hear about it” (6).

So far so good. Rogers then goes on to distance himself from “fundamentalists” whom he describes as “more politically monolithic and more theologically conservative than evangelicalism.” (7) Fundamentalists have attempted over the years to give theological substance and voice to the evangelical movement.  Yet, Rogers uses them primarily in his book as a foil for criticism.

Rogers as Artful Politician

Chapter 2 is a case in point. Attorneys often cite this old saw:

if the facts support your case, then argue the facts; if the facts don’ support your case, then argue the law; if the facts and the law don’t support your case, then stand and shout.

Here the chain of reasoning is:  homosexual conduct is medically risky (fact) and it is a sin (law) [4], but it is also okay by Rogers (stand and shout).  If biblical interpretation provided a strong case for mainstreaming LGBT persons in the church, then one would expect chapter 2 to lay out the case for homosexuality—it does not. Instead, chapter 2 focuses on how biblical interpretation was misused to oppress blacks and women in the past (17). The art of politics lies in using innuendo—an indirect rather than a direct assault—to make an emotional point (standing and shouting) supporting your case. In this case, he argues that the Bible was misused in the nineteenth century to support slavery and oppress women—now, it is being misused to oppress homosexuals.

The problem is that evangelical Christians in the nineteenth century also successfully led efforts to abolish slavery and promote women’s rights [5].  The fascinating part is that in making these arguments[6] he both lionizes 2 key constituencies (blacks and women) and, by inference, defames his opponents as being in the same league with racists and misogynists from the past who misused the Bible. While this is artful politics, one does not expect this line of reasoning within the church and it does not suggest a strong biblical case for homosexuality.

Rogers’ interest in Christology and his background in neo-orthodoxy are also fascinating. Troubling was the way that he split (much like the earlier split between evangelicals and fundamentalists) Jesus Christ from the scriptural witness—we understand Jesus Christ only from scripture and direct revelation (52-53).   The tradition of the church primarily represents scriptural interpretations rendered over time.  Consequently, because Rogers does not claim a new revelation of God [7],  it is highly misleading to separate Jesus from the scripture witness.

Rogers Departs from Reformed Interpretation

His proposed interpretative technique is laid out in 7 guidelines:

  1. Jesus Christ is the center of scripture.
  2. Focus on the plain text in grammatical and historical context.
  3. Depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Be guided by the consensus of the church.
  5. Let all interpretations be guided by the rule of love—love of God and neighbor [8].
  6. Establish a best text.
  7. Seek the whole counsel of scripture (65).

A key problem with this list is item 6—establish a best text—which is in direct tension with item 7—seek the whole counsel of scripture. Picking a favorite text and reading the rest of the Bible in view of it allows complete freedom to read the text anyway you like—or, if you are a church leader, to control the interpretations of the church with your particular theology in view [9]. In fact, item 5 is an example of a best text (item 6) and an attempt to control interpretation [10].

Missing from this list is a key interpretative technique that Rogers employs repeatedly throughout his book.  He argues that the biblical homosexual prohibitions exist primarily to establish male dominance.  For example, he writes:

“The hosts [in Sodom and Gomorrah] do not seem to think of the attackers as primarily homosexual, or they would not offer women for them to abuse.” (67)

No doubt Moses employs this argument to show the depravity of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah; Rogers employs the argument to defame the hosts as misogynists and to divert attention away from homosexual sin.  Rogers employs this sociological argument repeatedly (e.g. 74-75) which has the unfortunate consequence of undermining the authority of scripture in the eyes of those reading Rogers text—especially women.  How can church unity follow from interpretation techniques that by their nature divide and conquer along gender lines?

The Protestant reformation was launched along with a new interpretative method—John Calvin’s—which focused on the authority of scripture[11].  Without saying so, Rogers discards the interpretative standards of the reformed tradition by substituting his own standards.  The irony of Rogers’ proposed changes in church polity and biblical interpretation follow American culture much the same way as he criticized the church doing in generations past.  The difference is, however, that American culture today is overtly secular, atheistic, and post Christian.

Assessment

Jack Rogers’ Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality is likely to be debated for years to come. It is easy to read and hard to understand. The target audience is broadly the LGBT community, woman’s groups, and minorities within mainline denominations. Rogers may, however, be remembered more widely as re-energizing interest in the study and practice of dogmatics, but perhaps for reasons he may not want to own.

In part 1 of this review, I have summarized of Rogers’ methods of argumentation and interpretation. In part 2, I will take a closer look at the biblical texts which both focus on homosexuality and at the biblical texts which Rogers’ highlights in his final chapter.

Footnotes

[1] Comments supporting this assessment are found on a website:  www.DrJackRogers.com.  Anyone doubting Rogers’ position on this issue will want to read the first blurb on the first page by Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.  Early in chapter 1, Rogers also discusses a group called More Light Presbyterians who have a: “ mission of More Light Presbyterians is to work for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in society.” (www.MLP.org).

[2] Readers interested in the debate over scripture with Robert Gagnon (author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice) can find this online at:  http://bit.ly/1GrGVvz.  Read part 1 of my review of Gagnon at: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-15F.

[3] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dogmatics

[4]  Read part 1 of my review of Gagnon at: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-15F.

[5] See:  Dayton (2005).

[6] At the heart of his argument is a weak analogy.  In fact, the Bible’s arguments about slavery and role of women evolve between the Old and New Testaments in a way that is not true for homosexuality. The weakness in this analogy was the focus of a recent book by Webb (2001).  Read my review at: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Bn.

[7] Rogers’ revelation is more political than spiritual.  He writes:  “I worked through how the church, guided by the Holy Spirit in understanding the scriptures, reversed our prohibitions against ordination to leadership of African Americans, women, and divorced and remarried people.” (15)  The argument goes 1 then 2 then 3 then 4, therefore 5.  The Bible never promoted slavery, even if it acknowledged it; women are clearly in leadership in both the Old and New Testament, although not as frequently as today; and divorce is a sin in the Bible, except in the case of adultery, yet the modern church has mostly looked the other way.  He is confusing what some people in the church have done with a mandate from the Holy Spirit and drawn an inference that cannot be made in scripture, but is now politically popular.

[8] At the heart of this debate over homosexuality is the proper definition of love.  In the Greek, Rogers is using a principle based on the Agape love (ἀγαπάω; love of neighbor) to excuse a sin based on type of Eros love (ἔρως; passionate love).  At a minimum, this argument is mixing apples and oranges.  It is certainly not an inference that could be drawn from Matthew 22:36-40 which is based on Old Testament law (Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18) which also prohibits homosexuality (Lev 20:13).

[9] The usual way that Protestants seek to interpret scripture starts with a focus on the intent of the author which is clarified by the whole counsel of scripture.  Then and only then is the reader’s interpretation brought in.  See for example:  (Vanhoozer 1998).  See my review at: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Yq.

[10] The double love command (Matt. 22:36-40) is certainly important and much beloved among Christians. However, how can a general statement about love overrule specific guidance on the sinfulness of homosexuality?

[11] Thompson (2004, 58-62, 67, 71) viewed Calvin having 4 interpretative principles, including:  1. understand the author’s intent, 2. communicate effectively, 3. consult the original texts, and 4. consider the text and its application in the context of the canon of scripture.

REFERENCES

Dayton, Donald W.  2005. Discovering an Evangelical Heritage. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Gagnon, Robert A. J. 2001. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Rogers, Jack. 1991. Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Thompson, John L.  “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.”  Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin.  Edited by Donald A. McKim.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Webb, William J. 2001. Slaves, Women and Homosexuals:  Exploring the Hermaneutics of Cultural Analysis.  Colorado Springs:  IVP Academic.

Rogers Advocates for LGBT Equality, Part 1

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Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Robert Gagnon, the Bible and Homosexual PracticeRobert A. J. Gagnon.  2001.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

At one point in seminary I asked a professor [1] to outline the biblical case for gay marriage. He responded that the Bible did not offer a strong case for gay marriage; it was just the right thing to do. Evangelicals typically focus on his first point while progressives typically focus on the second point. Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice outlines a detailed interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this issue.

Introduction

Gagnon states his objectives as:

“to demonstrate two main points: First, there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin. Second, there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and experience for overriding the Bible’s authority on this matter” (37).

Gagnon’s conclusion that the Bible treats homosexuality as sin[2] (a theological statement) should surprise no one, but it is not obvious how the church should respond to it (a problem in ethics). Theology is easy because a statement is either true or not; ethics is hard because it necessarily involves trade-offs between multiple theological principles in tension. We are all sinners and stand in need of God’s grace.  This implies that no sin is unforgivable and we are to share the Gospel with everyone.  But, how do we properly love the unrepentant sinner?  And, what is special about witnessing to someone struggling with gender confusion?  These are not hypothetical questions.  Unfortunately, the postmodern church (like the church at Laodicea) has often neglected to teach the doctrine of sin which leaves it with scarce moral authority to provide advice on any particular sin (Rev. 3:14-19).

Homosexuality Contrary to God’s Intent

Gagnon summarizes his book with 4 reasons “why those who engage in same-sex intercourse act contrary to God’s intentions for human sexual relations”.  Those reasons (487-489) are:

  1. “Same-sex intercourse is strongly and unequivocally rejected by the revelation of scripture.”
  2. “Same-sex intercourse represents a suppression of the visible evidence in nature regarding male-female anatomical and procreation complementarity.”
  3. “Societal endorsement of homosexual behavior will only accelerate the many negative social effects [serious health problems, greater pedophilic behavior, erosion in expectations of marriage, annihilation of gender norms, and marginalization of those that speak out] arising from such behavior…”
  4. “The practicing homosexual’s own relationship with the Creator will be put in jeopardy.”

Gagnon’s argues these points thoroughly.  For example, in talking about the health effects of homosexual behavior, Gagnon cites[3] an unspecified health condition and lists all the possible negative consequences of this condition.  Reading about this list, one is suspicious that the condition is homosexuality—it is not—the condition is alcoholism.  The health consequences of homosexuality are much worse (471-473), including:

  • “A significantly decreased likelihood of establishing or preserving a successful marriage.
  • A 25-35 year decrease in life expectancy.
  • Chronic, potentially fatal, liver disease—infectious hepatitis, which increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Inevitably fatal-immune disease, including associated cancers.
  • Frequently, fatal rectal cancer.
  • Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases.
  • A much higher than usual incidence of suicide.
  • A very low likelihood that its adverse effects can be eliminated unless the condition itself is. An at least 50% likelihood of being eliminated through lengthy, often costly, and very time-consuming treatment.” (473)

Having worked in a hospital emergency room, this list is not surprising. I lost a pastoral mentor to AIDS as a young person and personally assisted a number of hospital patients suffering from problems on this list, including HIV, when I worked as a chaplain intern [4].  The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than half a million people have died from AIDS in the United States alone.  Meanwhile, more than a million people are currently infected with HIV [5].  Gagnon’s point is that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is of continuing relevance in postmodern moral teaching.

Pastoral Response

Ironically, pastors and churches that ignore people suffering from gender confusion (or, worse, condone it) are complicit in the Apostle Paul’s assessment in Romans 1:24-27giving them over to their ungodly passions. Gagnon compares homosexuality with alcoholism both because of the medical problems associated (including an addictive character), but also because recovery is difficult.  Clinical studies prior to politicization of the issue reported recovery rates of about 30 percent (28.8%), roughly on par with success rates reported by Alcoholics Anonymous (420-432) [6].  Recovery in this context means we are able to control our responses, not our temptations.

Background on Gagnon

Gagnon is a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He has a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a doctor of philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary [7]. The acknowledgments section of his book reads like a who’s who of evangelical scholars.  The Bible and Homosexual Practice is written in 5 chapters:

  1. The Witness of the Old Testament,
  2. Same-Sex Intercourse as a “Contrary to Nature” in Early Judaism,
  3. The Witness of Jesus,
  4. The Witness of Paul and Deutero-Paul, and
  5. The Hermeneutical Relevance of the Biblical Witness (5-10).

The introduction and conclusions are not numbered.  These chapters are proceeded by the acknowledgments and followed by both a topical and a scriptural index.

Church Response

The response of the church to gender confusion is the defining issue of our day. Until the 1980s, no Christian denomination considered homosexuality acceptable behavior; now, many denominations, including my own, are having trouble establishing spiritual boundaries of any kind—the teaching on homosexuality stands out primarily in that it is the most obvious.  As a consequence,  Christians need to be aware of the arguments being made. In this debate, Gagnon’s research is an important resource.

Assessment

Here in part 1, I have given an overview of Gagnon’s argument and highlighted health effects of homosexuality.  Christians more normally focus on scriptural arguments.  So, in part 2, I will survey his review of Old Testament passages on homosexuality and, in part 3, I will turn to passages on the New Testament.

Footnotes

[1] The professor was on the faculty at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

[2] For example: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22 ESV)  Also: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Rom. 1:26-27 ESV)

[3] This reference is taken from Jeffrey Satinover’s “Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth” (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1996).

[4] The issue of health effects relating to homosexual behavior was in the media only this morning (http://bit.ly/1RqrW7X).

[5] http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/basics/ataglance.html.

[6] Earlier I reviewed the story of a Lesbian conversion:  Butterfield Journeys from PC to JC (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-wj)

[7] http://www.RobGagnon.net.

Gagnon: Bridging the Bible and Gender Confusion, Part 1

Also see:

Fortson and Grams Bible Limits Sex to Christian Marriage, Part 1 

Campbell Turns Gender Confusion into Ministry

Rogers Argues for LGBT Equality, Part 1

Webb: Analyzing Culture in Scripture and in Life

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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