The Biblical Bottom Line
I was watching a television talk show one evening that centered on a discussion between the host, a well-known skeptic, and a spokesman for the “evangelical” left. Political and social issues swirled throughout the conversation, and before long the religious fellow began backtracking. He implied it is appropriate to ignore the politically incorrect parts of the Bible and focus instead on the more palatable principles that Jesus expressed in the Gospels.
Ignoring the fact that Jesus said some profoundly strong, even culturally incendiary things (see Matthew 23:27), the discussion illuminated an important fact: There are always forces that seek to erode the truth of God’s Word, discount its value, and twist its meaning. Yet we must be particularly alert when the compass of our entire culture seems to point toward a false north. Though it thinks itself tolerant, our society is exhibiting a growing intolerance toward historic Christianity.
Religious “progressives,” for example, assert that the true benchmark for biblical ethics is not the Bible, but only what Jesus uttered: His “red letter” sayings. This position creates the comfortable option of alleging that Jesus never discussed homosexuality or abortion—even though He affirmed traditional marriage as the only God-ordained model, never condoned sexual promiscuity though He forgave it, and affirmed the sanctity of life.
There are several problems with this “red letter” approach. First, it shares a commonality with the Jesus Seminar, a group of academic New Testament doubters and radicals who years ago argued that Jesus’ sayings were mostly reliable, but nearly everything else in the Gospels was not.
Second, the “red letter” approach avoids the uncomfortable fact that Jesus often referred to the Old Testament, never distanced Himself from its claims, and affirmed the authority of His apostles whose writings populate the New Testament. Jesus even said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17).
A more frontal attack on the Bible comes from those who would rewrite it. Earlier this year, Tubi Publishing announced the release of its Golden Rule Bible™, an outrageous new translation that, according to press releases, claims to reveal that Paul never condemned homosexuality. Keying into a supposed retranslation of the word homosexual, it is an obviously well-timed publication, considering the explosive debate in America over gay marriage.
As that announcement arrived, an article on theatlantic.com quoted President Barack Obama’s support for gay marriage as an example of “the golden rule.”
Yet any intellectually honest look at the apostle Paul’s Greek text in Romans 1:27 reveals the biblical position: “Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Paul used the same Greek word Mark used, which recorded Jesus saying, “God ‘made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6, emphasis added).
Biblical fidelity and the belief in the authenticity and plenary inspiration of Scripture is becoming increasingly important for the church, particularly as America continues its downward slide from being irritably impatient to overtly condemning those who take the Bible seriously. As things progress, the church will be tempted to avoid clearly teaching the Word.
Recently two influential court rulings have attacked the church. In the first case, a U.S. Supreme Court majority struck down the essential portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. The court took an astonishing swipe at congressmen who had supported DOMA, specifically attacking those who voted for it because of its consistency with “Judeo-Christian morality.”
Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion, gave Americans fair warning that the decision unfortunately means followers of Judeo-Christian principles—those values located in the Bible—are now considered enemies of the human race.
Then the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a Christian photographer had no religious right to refuse to photograph same-sex ceremonies. As one of the justices noted, Christians must “compromise” in order to get along in our “multicultural, pluralistic society”; and that, the justice added, “is the price of citizenship” in America.
The question now before us is whether the church will boldly embrace an honest understanding of all of God’s Word, obey it, and faithfully communicate it to a confused, wandering world. But then, as Genesis 3 suggests, that has always been the real question after all.