Thursday, November 20, 2014

Finding Space for the Bible in "Generous Spaciousness"

By Janie Bont

This month, I got a chance to attend an event sponsored by New Direction Ministries. The ministry helps people deal with different sexual issues, particularly same-sex attractions. I attended with the goal of becoming better informed of New Direction's ideas, and their reasons that our churches should accept those who engage in homosexual behaviour. I was very disappointed to discover that this meeting was not about discussing the various views regarding this issue. Rather, it appeared to me to be about promoting the view of New Direction in order to recruit "straight allies." We were basically told to suspend our perspective, listen deeply to the other perspective, and resist insisting that our beliefs are the only way to look at it.

What is Generous Spaciousness?

Generous Spaciousness is the name of a speaking tour by New Direction Ministries. New Direction was a ministry that was started to help people struggling with sexual identity issues, including people with same-sex attractions. It used to hold a traditional view of sexuality, that sex is only honourable between a husband and wife. The ministry no longer holds that view.Today, New Direction seeks "to equip church leaders and followers of Christ to navigate the reality of a pluralistic cultural context in the interaction between faith and matters of same-sex sexuality." The concept of "generous spaciousness" is a "relational posture that acknowledges the reality of diverse perspectives on the question of faithful discipleship for same-sex oriented people. . . . Generous spaciousness seeks to build bridges, to find unity in our diversity, and to pursue peace," and is "unapologetically Christ-centered."[i]

New Direction Ministries believes that the promotion of generous spaciousness is needed because differences within the body of Christ on same-sex sexuality are discrediting its witness, alienating people from the church, and working against Christian unity.

Meetings to promote generous spaciousness are being held across Canada. A meeting was held in Calgary on November 10.

Wendy Gritter, the Executive Director of New Direction, gave a talk in which she said we should all come on board by having conversations with the LGBTQ community and hearing their story. In fact, she said that there are many interpretations of the Bible, and no one really has the truth on this issue, so we should just welcome these wonderful people to our Christian communities because they really love the Lord. In other words, she was claiming to have the truth and wanting us to agree with her interpretation by accepting pro-LGBTQ theology into our churches.

This tour also makes the point that they aren't trying to change anyone's mind. They simply want Christians to acknowledge that there are diverse interpretations of the biblical passages on homosexuality and therefore we can't take one side or the other. But this is disingenuous.

It's obvious from the presentation that their true goal is to get churches to embrace their theological perspective. That's why Gritter compared the debate over homosexuality to the debate about eating food sacrificed to idols. Just as at one time the "weaker" brothers believed it was wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols and no one believes that now, the "weaker" brothers and sisters today believe sex should only be between a husband and wife. It seems they only say that that they want both sides to be respected so they can get into Evangelical churches and seminaries that don't agree with their view.

So is there a correct interpretation of the biblical texts that give teaching on homosexual behaviour? I like what Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason says about this:

In order to interpret any biblical text, you have to understand its meaning. There's only one correct meaning to a passage. It's the one that author had in mind when he wrote. That meaning doesn't change over time or from person to person. As a result, there are right interpretations and there are wrong interpretations.[ii]

The following Bible verses make it clear what God has to say:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)[iii]

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Unfortunately, none of these passages or the four other biblical passages that explicitly talk about homosexuality were even dealt with that evening. When one of my colleagues attended the New Direction event the next day for pastors, he was told that these passages were explicitly excluded from the tour. According to Gritter, the purpose of the event was not to "debate" these Bible passages so they were not brought up during their entire tour across Canada.

In other words, there seemed to be no "generous space" for the Bible in a tour about generous spaciousness!

But given this clear teaching of God's Word, how do we love the LGBTQ community?

New Direction would have us believe that loving the LGBTQ community means accepting their homosexual behaviour, because they love the Lord and their interpretation of the Bible is just as valid as anyone else's. Is this true? Does God accept us despite sin in our lives simply because we say we love Him?

Ezekiel 33:7-9 says:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, "You wicked person, you will surely die," and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.

It is clear that we are to warn others about their sin. We are also told to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3: 15).

We need to stand firm in the truth. We need to speak the truth and be grounded in the truth. We cannot compromise the truth. New Direction Ministries has "exchanged the truth about God for a lie," and since they identify themselves as being Christian, we must point out their fault as Matthew 18:15-17 instructs us to do:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

It is also important that we become aware of their reasons for what they believe. Since there were no reasons given at this meeting, I have done some research as to what their interpretation might be. Matthew Vines, founder of The Reformation Project,[iv] has written extensively on this and I would recommend that we all become familiar with his arguments, talk about them and inform ourselves as to how to refute them.[v] Faith Beyond Belief will be hosting a seminar on how we can dialogue with compassion but without compromise on this issue in January.

The only way to truly love the LGBQT community is the same way to love any community, which is to speak the truth. We can't compromise the truth that those who continue to engage in any sexual behaviour outside of marriage between a man and woman will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Do we care enough to speak this truth? We have the Good News! Jesus died for those who will acknowledge Him as Lord, repent and turn away from their sin. God will walk with us through all the struggles we face!


[i] "New Direction Ministries—Nurturing Generous Spaciousness in the Church," New Direction Ministries, accessed November 20, 2014, http://www.newdirection.ca/about/generous-spaciousness/.

[ii] Alan Shlemon, "My Most Controversial Teaching," Stand to Reason, April 23, 2013, accessed November 20, 2014, http://www.str.org/articles/my-most-controversial-teaching; italics in the original.

[iii] All Scripture passages are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

[iv] The Reformation Project (www.reformationproject.org) is described as "a Bible-based, Christian non-profit organization that seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity."

[v] See, for example, http://www.matthewvines.com/transcript/ or http://www.str.org/Search?q=homosexuality.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

If There Is a Good God, Why Do We Have Wars?

By Lawren Guldemond

Short days ago, we Canadians observed our annual Remembrance Day in honour of our country's fallen military personnel. We paused to remember those who served and died in the line of duty, defending our country and our country's allies. It was especially poignant this year, as we remembered Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, two soldiers recently slain at home by ISIL sympathizers. It struck a personal chord with me, as I once served in Cirillo's regiment, although many years earlier than he.

We honour our warriors as heroes in recognition of the magnitude of the dreadful dangers they faced for our sake. We laud the valour and bravery of all those who went forward in the face of grave perils. Many were sent to the grave by those perils. Those who run the gauntlet and survive are often emotionally scarred and psychologically troubled. War is a dreadful, miserable, and grisly ordeal to go through. It is a great scourge by which humanity has plagued itself throughout history.

Skeptics and unbelievers often point to all the suffering and evil in the world as evidence that it could not be created and governed by a good God. The innumerable brutalities of our endless wars offer ample ammunition for anyone seeking subject matter to support this argument. It is true that the repeated occurrences of war in this world must have some implications which bear on the nature and character of God. However, the implications are not what the skeptics imagine, chiefly because they cannot fathom or comprehend the plans and purposes of God regarding this world and those that dwell in it.

The occurrence and prevalence of war in human history also has implications that bear on the nature and character of humanity. When man's vicious behaviour toward man is held up as proof against the existence of God, attention is directed toward the wrong party. From the observation that people are sometimes brutally and lethally hostile to other people, the first thing we should deduce is that humanity has a catastrophic moral deficiency. Looked at from this angle, does this present a conundrum for Christian theology? Not at all. The Bible has an explanation for why we are the warmongering race that we are.

The Bible gives us the fundamental facts of the history of our existence. It tells us, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. . . . And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."[i] The very first couple of people on earth, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God.[ii] In so doing, they revealed that they did not wholly believe and trust in the goodness of God. For if indeed God is good, and everything He says and does and is, is true, and you knew and believed this, then you would obediently do what He told you to do, wouldn't you? All of our sins—Adam's, Eve's, yours, and mine—are rooted in a malicious unbelief regarding the perfect, virtuous, benevolent, and steadfast character of God.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they initiated a war of rebellion against God, and all of their offspring have continued this rebellion ever since. In the prophecy of Isaiah, God delivers this indictment: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me."[iii]Throughout the Bible, there are multitudes of passages in which God indicts various people and nations for being sinful, wicked, and ungodly. Lest there be any doubt, there are didactic summary passages, such as Romans 3:9-19, which pronounce all of humanity guilty of being sinners, and therefore under condemnation. In Romans 5, the Bible plainly labels us all (before redemption in Christ) as enemies of God.

This is our story, our history. This is who we are; it is our collective identity as mankind. We are creatures in a state of rebellion and war against our Creator, the Most High God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, fount of life and every good thing, most excellent and glorious, the Righteous judge of all the earth, the good and gracious King of Kings, who alone dwells in light unapproachable.[iv] We defy His commandments and despise His holy name, using it as a swear word. He sent His Son, Jesus, to reconcile us and bring us to Himself, and we mocked Him, beat Him, and crucified Him. That is what the Bible tells us about what kind of creatures we are. Is it any wonder, then, that we go to war against one another?

The reason that we have plagued ourselves throughout our history with wars and atrocities is that we are rebels against the good God who made us all. The old saying, "there is no honour among thieves," captures a profound truth that is very applicable here. Those who steal from others cannot be trusted to forbear from stealing among themselves. Likewise, those who are evil in their dealings toward God, who is good and worthy of all honour, reverence and obedience, will never be perfect and good in their dealings toward each other. As long as mankind continues to be at enmity with God, there will be no enduring peace among us.

The final chapters of the Bible present a prophetic picture of the end of the ages. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the residents will be those from every tribe and tongue and nation who were reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."[v] Neither shall there be any more war, once there is no more sinful rebellion against God.


[i] Genesis 1:31 ESV.

[ii] Genesis 3.

[iii] Isaiah 1:2 KJV. Knowledgeable readers might insist that this divine indictment was spoken specifically of the particular nation of Israel, not of all mankind. While the exegetical case for this might have good merits, I nonetheless think it is valid to consider it to have an additional and extensive application to all of humanity.

[iv] Daniel 5:21, Colossians 1:16, Jeremiah 17:13, Genesis 18:25, Revelation 19:16, I Timothy 6:16.

[v] Revelation 21:4 KJV.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Context of God's Judgment As Portrayed In The Old and New Testaments

By Dr. Ron Galloway

Many critics of the Bible, such as Richard Dawkins, declare the God of the Old Testament to be an angry God of vengeance. In one sense, neither the critics or Dawkins are entirely wrong. When God sees sufficient evil, he does become angry and he does avenge the oppressed (Psalm 94:1; Isa.34:8, 35:4, 61:2).

God is also a jealous God. But for people who take the time to understand the Old Testament, and the context, they will come to understand that God is jealous, not because of some irrational possessiveness, but for our sake. For God, as portrayed in both Testaments, is life and peace, and those without him are dead in their sins, cut off from the life God so deeply wants to give them, if only they will turn from evil and walk towards him (Isa. 1). At times God commanded Israel to destroy entire nations, but only because those nations had steeped themselves in collective evil (Gen. 18:19, 15:13-15). Samples of their collective evils are cited in Deuteronomy 18.[i] They include practices such as sorcery, consulting mediums, fortune telling, real witchcraft, and other forms of divination. In both the New and the Old Testament, the pathology of collective evil always begins with the nations tuning from their Creator, worshipping and deifying themselves, or the formative energies of nature, or both. The next step in collective evil is contact with the spirit world and drawing on the energies, powers, and benefits such evil grants, but only at the expense of the very mind, heart and soul (personality) of the practitioners. In Scripture these practices are referred to as forms of idolatry (Deut. 32:16; Ps. 78:8; Ezek. 23:39).

Romans 1 describes this pathology in marked clarity. Romans declares that as an integral consequence of turning from their Creator, the personalities of people undergo radical change. For a time there may be lip service to God, but whether or not the lip service lasts, the hearts of such people eventually become so distorted that they begin to view evil as good and good as evil, or entirely deny the existence of either. Eventually such a nation defines oppression or injustice as any law that gets in the way of their preferred lifestyle, however perverted. The chapter then describes ranges of collective evil that eventually lead God himself to give these people up to their own self-destructive pursuits. They then begin to commit every imaginable kind of injustice. Lying becomes a lifestyle, as do cheating, stealing, wife-swapping, sleeping around, sexual orgies, men sleeping with men, and women with women. Thinking themselves wise, these people become senseless in their reasoning, never giving thanks to the God of Israel, who even amidst their evil, still sends his rain upon the just and the unjust (Romans 1).

However, both Old and New Testament Scriptures warn that when collective evil reaches the point of no return, when injustice and human cruelty and corporate selfishness move beyond that point, God will bring that nation and that people down. For God, despite his wondrous longsuffering, will not allow evil to go on indefinitely. Indeed, what thinking person would ever expect that a God of genuine love would? Ironically, that point-of-no-return evil eventually becomes an inevitability for every nation, and every individual, if they cut themselves off from God. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Christian writer and thinker, warned us may years ago about how great collective evil becomes when a nation rejects its creator. Without God, Dostoevsky's antagonists assert in The Brothers Karamazov, everything is permitted.

In 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Israel. The prophets of Israel warned of this many times, and the destruction finally came when the collective evil of Israel was full-blown. On more than one occasion, the prophets of Israel, such as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, declared that the evils of Israel exceeded those of any Gentile nation. Eventually, however, the collective evil of Babylon, too, grew to such an extent that the Prophets declared that Cyrus the Persian would be sent by God to bring an end to the pride of Babylon, and so Babylon was also brought down.

Disregarding the claims of naturalistic critics who suppose that everything the prophets predicted came after the fact, the prophets themselves speak of what they see in visions of the future. In their visions, the prophets describe the atrocities that are part of war, whether then or now. The prophet Amos makes clear that God will punish methods and devices used in war that exhibit abnormal cruelty on the part of conquering nations. Even a cursory reading of the book of Amos makes it clear that God takes account of every inhuman atrocity one nation forces upon another. People who never tire of renouncing the God of vengeance of the Old Testament are, as a rule, individuals who never take the time to seriously examine the historical context of the writings of any of the books of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the historic books, the books of wisdom, or any Old or New Testament book for that matter. Those who take the time will find that compared to God’s pervasive concern for justice, we are all like shadows longing to become concrete.

People who ask why God doesn't prevent the evils of the present are really asking for God to judge all evil and end all oppression right now. The Judaeo-Christian answer to that is as follows. If people, who continue to shun God’s offer of love, mercy and pardon, take time to examine their own hearts, they will be grateful that it hasn’t happened yet. The New Testament letter 2 Peter teaches that God does not want any human being to experience eternal separation from his love and presence. Biblically understood, that is what it is to perish: to be cut off from the life of God. In the New Testament and the Old, such a state equals a living death (Eph. 2:1-6). That is why, the letter continues, God has not yet brought an end to this world. There is still a little time before God sets in motion the power and movement that will end all evil, pain, and suffering forever (Rev. 21).

In both the Old and New Testaments, God is viewed as the judge of the living and the dead. No one escapes. No evil in history ever remains hidden. In the imagery of the book of Revelation, the Holy City of God (the New Jerusalem) is portrayed as coming down from God (Rev. 21). Collective humanity set apart from God is the Beast; it cannot create the Holy City it seeks to create. The cities of men are all viewed in Revelation as part of the whore Babylon (Rev. 17). The builder and maker of the Holy City is portrayed as God himself (Heb. 11:10). The city coming down from heaven announces the end of all evil and all tears. From that time on there will never be oppression again. Humanity will no longer bring tears to the heart of God, or to each other. At last, God will come for the bride he loves, all those who love the appearing of Jesus Christ when he returns, or who longed for his coming while they lived.[ii]

When we read about the actions of the God of Israel, it's important that we understand the context around them. When we take the time to examine the circumstances and motives that God himself has revealed for his actions, we can see that they are not motivated by blind vengeance or a juvenile temperament, as Richard Dawkins and his disciples portray him. Rather, they are motivated by divine love and justice.


[i] Amidst such horrid collective no evil is missed. In the Noah account, God sees the human heart has become only evil continually. This means parents abusing children, child sacrifice, and incest with children would also be universal. What parent with a conscience would want a child raised amidst such monstrous parents and relatives in a nation where iniquity has reached its fullness? People are horrified that all the children died in the flood with the parents and relatives. But this is surely a far better state than the former. It should always be borne in mind that death is not a problem for God . God can bring anyone back to life when he wants. The great sorrow for God is the evil of the human heart.

As for the fate of children who die only short hours or months after tasting mortal life, we have the words of Jesus, the same God made incarnate, that great "I Am" who delivered Israel out of bondage to Egypt and us out of bondage to sin: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 19:14 KJV). Besides this, there is a warning to proud arrogant hearts: "lest you become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3).

[ii] See the masterful work on the city by Jaques Ellul, The Meaning of the City (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970).