You Should See This Movie…

Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel

I was pleasantly surprised recently when I went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending. That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I expected another predictable Christian film.)

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me. I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. In the near future I’ll post more on this topic specifically.

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a correct perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Speaking of kids, it you haven’t already done so, please sign up on my email list at my kids’ storybook website, RIGHT HERE!

The Genetic Apocalypse of the Human Race Made Simple

Poly-constrained message

Evolutionary theory holds that all of the diversity of life that we see – from dandelions to whales to hummingbirds to Vladimir Putin – all of this descended from a single ancestral genome. By accident. Somehow, life accidentally appeared from dead matter, and that first single-celled organism reproduced and, blindly and mindlessly, eventually led to increasingly “advanced,” “higher” life forms.

The biological process by which this all supposedly happened is this: random mutations plus natural selection. This is considered to be scientific fact in the sense that it is certain enough that it is no longer seriously questioned in secular academia. The assumption is that, over billions of years, the seemingly impossible has occurred innumerable times.

Materialist evolutionists claim that we know evolution is a fact because we can observe it occurring both in the laboratory and in the field. In saying this, they mean that we can observe mutations and natural selection giving rise to new species and newly adapted life forms.

Correcting a Common Misconception About Creationism
No one denies this. Natural selection and speciation are central to both creationist and evolutionist theory, but both worldviews disagree sharply on the role of natural selection and speciation. I would like to correct a common misunderstanding between the two worldviews. Here is where they disagree:

Creationists believe that mutations and/or natural selection can result in change and speciation within a given category of creature, but that there is a limit to what mutations and natural selection can accomplish. Dogs always produce dogs, and salmon always produce salmon. Mutations cannot create new genetic information of the type that is required to move an organism’s offspring in an “upwardly evolving” direction. For example, land bound reptiles could not have accidentally evolved into fully feathered, flying birds.

Evolutionists also believe that mutations and natural selection can result in change and speciation within a given category of creature, but they ascribe almost magical powers to the kind of change that mutations and natural selection can accomplish. Through gene duplication and other biological processes, they believe mutations can indeed add new genetic information of the type that would be necessary to move life from microbes to marimba players. For example, feathers accidentally evolved from scales via mutation, (or perhaps as some novel epidermal structure.)

100 years ago, microbes-to-mathematician evolution seemed like a viable possibility. Scientists had not yet discovered the astounding complexity of life at the cellular level, or seen the amazing complexity of the human genome. Within my lifetime we were told that humans and chimp DNA was about 99% similar. We were told that about 95% of our DNA served no function; that it was vestigial “junk DNA.” New research may be turning the tide of scientific opinion against these assertions.

In 2015, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said in response to a question about junk DNA. “We don’t use that term anymore. It was pretty much a case of hubris to imagine that we could dispense with any part of the genome — as if we knew enough to say it wasn’t functional. Most of the DNA that scientists once thought was just taking up space in the genome turns out to be doing stuff.”

The Inevitability of Genetic Deterioration
I don’t really watch football. Instead, I’ve been a lifelong fan of following the creation/evolution “debate”. I’m no scientist, but I like to think I’m a (reasonably) intelligent designer. I’m willing to be convinced that all of life accidentally, mindlessly evolved from a single celled common ancestor, but I would have to at least be shown some natural process that could accomplish such a fantastical feat.

Probably the most important book I’ve read in the past year has been a book by Dr. John Sanford, entitled Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. I highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of your worldview.

You can Google Dr. J C Sanford to learn his credentials. He was a materialist, evolutionary geneticist for most of his career. He holds over 30 patents, and has over 80 scientific publications. However, his research has led him to conclude that naturalistic evolution as currently taught is scientifically indefensible. His book, Genetic Entropy, claims to demonstrate that the human genome is unavoidably deteriorating, and thus cannot possibly be millions of years old.

Sanford refers to the idea that man is merely the product of random mutations plus natural selection as modern evolution’s “Primary Axiom.” The Primary Axiom is universally taught in academia and repeated in mainstream media.

Here is a brief excerpt from the prologue of Sanford’s book:

Late in my career, I did something that would seem unthinkable for a Cornell professor. I began to question the Primary Axiom…The Primary Axiom is actually an extremely vulnerable theory. In fact, it is essentially indefensible…To question the Primary Axiom required me to re-examine virtually everything I thought I knew about genetics. This was the most difficult intellectual endeavor of my life. Deeply entrenched thought patterns only change very slowly (and, I must add, painfully.) What I eventually experienced was a complete overthrow of my previous understanding.

As to the substance of the book, below is a sampling of one of several arguments against the Primary Axiom. As you read this, bear in mind that a mutation can be simply understood as a misspelling or copying error in the genome:

  1. Poly-constrained DNA
    Most DNA sequences are
    poly-functional and so must also be poly-constrained. This means that DNA sequences have meaning on several different levels (poly-functional) and each level of meaning limits possible future change (poly-constrained). For example, imagine a sentence which has a very specific message in its normal form but with an equally coherent message when read backwards. Now let’s suppose that it also has a third message when reading every other letter, and a fourth message when a simple encryption program is used to translate it. Such a message would be poly-functional and poly-constrained. We know that misspellings in a normal sentence will not normally improve the message, but at least this would be possible. However, a poly-constrained message is fascinating, in that it cannot be improved. It can only degenerate (see illustration above). Any misspellings which might possibly improve the normal sentence form will be disruptive to the other levels of information. Any change at all will diminish total information with absolute certainty…” (p 131.)

I would add a reminder that mutations are passed down to an organism’s offspring, accumulating with each generation. Sanford claims that all “higher genomes” are deteriorating, including ours. Mutations must ultimately move “higher” organisms in the wrong direction, “downward,” rather than in the direction needed for microbes-to-man evolution to occur. Far from solving the issue, deep time simply spells extinction.

Genetic entropy, if true, is not happy news for anyone, regardless of one’s worldview. If Sanford’s description of the world is correct, even a non-scientist can see important implications. From a theological perspective, I find it worth pausing to consider how pervasive are the effects of the fall of creation. Conversely, for those of us who hope in a Savior, it is worth considering how pervasive are the effects of the salvation that He has promised.
‘Got kids in your life that you love? Please sign up on my email list to receive notification when I release  new children’s storybooks, each designed to reinforce a biblical worldview in kids! Sign up here: http://www.BigPicturePublishing.com

New Video Release: The Reason for Christmas

From a human perspective, the coming of Jesus changed the course of human history. From a divine perspective, the sending of Jesus was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited promises, and His final answer to human pain, suffering, and all disunity, including the most profound division of all, which is death.

While on earth, Jesus preached the arrival of His kingdom and the promise of spiritual rebirth and resurrection. We see this now in partial fulfillment, and those who believe look forward to the future “uniting of all things, in heaven and on earth, in the Messiah.” The Judeo-Christian scriptures refer to this as the explicit will and plan of God (Eph 1:7-10.) This plan is in keeping with the Bible’s description of God as Life, Light, and Love.

The specificity and verifiability of biblical prophecy is unique in the world. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the book of Isaiah was indeed written and virtually unchanged for hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus. As knowledge advances in the fields of textual criticism, archaeology, and science, the case for the reliability for the Judeo-Christian scriptures becomes better, not worse. For the honest seeker, the 21st century is a great time to be alive.

A couple of years ago I created a short video with the help of a couple of friends. The video was designed to be an intro for one of my live painting performances, themed around Christmas. Last weekend I performed this piece again and realized that the video could also be viewed as a stand-alone piece, so I am putting it out on Youtube.

If you would be so kind as to view it, this would help my Youtube rankings! I think it might also encourage you. Plus my friend Linda Joy has a really cool accent.

Feel free to share this. If you would like to show it before a large group, such as a church congregation, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. I would like for you to credit me by using my kids’ book website, if you wouldn’t mind: http://www.BigPicturePublishing.com

Speaking of my storybook website. I’m still fulfilling orders for my newest book, The True Story of Christmas. (It is favorably reviewed in the current issue of World magazine!) While this book does not parallel the video, it does tell the Christmas story in the context of the big picture. But it doesn’t include creepy, unusual Christmas imagery like the video does. Like this:

nebuchadnezzars-dream

Image of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as interpreted by the Hebrew prophet Daniel.    From the video, The Reason for Christmas – artwork by Scott Freeman

Okay. Now you know you have to watch the video. You could also subscribe to my Youtube channel while you’re at it.

Video Credits:
Writing, graphic design, and artwork by Scott Freeman
Video editing by Bree Hottinger
Voice acting by Linda Joy

Thanks for your support!
You can view my original children’s storybooks HERE.

Storybooks as Gifts? Yes! (Time to Order.)

watercolor-Scott Freeman

Three years ago I launched a kids’ storybook company. As an artist, writer, and father of five I became very excited about the possibility of producing beautifully illustrated storybooks that would help parents and grandparents instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the children they love.

One thing that is different about my company is that it is all online, through my website. Books are printed “on demand,” as they are ordered, which means I’m not selling my books through stores. (I tried that with my first book, Naomi’s Gift, and it wore me out!) I hope ordering through my website will be more convenient for you as well.

I’m sending this post out now because Christmas is coming, and if you are thinking of giving a storybook as a gift, now would be a great time to order to ensure delivery in time for Christmas! (The official ordering deadline for my storybooks in hardcover is December 3rd.)

My newest book is called, The True Story of Christmas. I wasn’t able to deliver this book in time for Christmas last year, so if you passed on it then, it’s ready to go now.

The concept behind The True Story of Christmas:
Our family has accumulated a nice collection of Christmas books over the years. But I saw a place for a beautifully illustrated Christmas storybook for kids that would
1) place Christmas in the context of the bigger picture and explain why Jesus was born, and
2) tell the Christmas story in fidelity to the biblical narrative.

The True Story of Christmas is the result. The book begins with the story of God’s good creation and the subsequent fall of man, and frames Christmas as part of God’s plan to “fix His broken world”:

“The story of Christmas is about how God still loves us.
Christmas is about His good plan to create a way for us
to receive His love, light, and life again.”

The story continues, briefly introducing children to the nation of Israel and the Hebrew prophets, building anticipation for the coming of a promised child who would grow up to bring salvation and establish a good and eternal kingdom.

prophets watercolor storybooks bible

As for fidelity to the biblical narrative, much of our understanding of the Christmas story comes to us from extra-biblical traditions, Christmas carols, and greeting cards. Without sounding picky or pretentious, The True Story of Christmas aims to remain true to the biblical account while retaining the excitement and charm of the Christmas story.

Perhaps the most noticeable example of an extra-biblical tradition would be the Magi arriving at the manger on the night of Jesus’s birth, rather than at the house of Jesus as a small child in Bethlehem, as the scriptures say.

Watercolor-The True Story of Xmas

Watercolor illustrations of the shepherds, and the wise men, from The True Story of Christmas.

Here are a couple of customer reviews that made me happy:

“This is a remarkable book. It is a children’s book and his presentation of the Christmas story is presented in a way that will be very engaging for children. But the book is also a simple, powerful summary of the whole theme of redemption. It is a good read for anyone. I also love the illustrations, and the Christmas Carol at the end. Really, this is a book every Christian could read through at Christmas to get a reset on what it is we have to celebrate.” – JM

“This book is wonderful and the very best Christmas storybook I have ever read or seen! Everyone should have a copy of this. The script and the artwork are amazing!” – CT

CLICK HERE to order The True Story of Christmas!

Some other Christmas Items:
For those interested, this year I was able to upload some new designs for Christmas cards on the Zazzle site that Mollie and I share. This is a site that takes our original artwork and puts it on nice quality cards and other products. Visit our site and browse around. Also, as a gift idea, I will mention that I have ordered coffee mugs from Zazzle, and they came out GREAT! You can check out my coffee mug designs on the site as well. panda-mug

As you will see, some of the Christmas cards (as well as some everyday cards) use imagery from my kids’ books. Below are some of the new Christmas cards:

scotts-christmas-cards

CLICK HERE to visit our Zazzle store.

An update on my storybook business:
If you’ve been subscribed to my BigPicturePublishing.com site for long, you may have noticed that I did not release a new storybook this year. The reason is that 2015 was an unusually trying year for Mollie and me as we both lost very close family members and experienced a number of other difficulties. Consequently we’ve taken a break from the stress of self-employment for a while, and are both working full time for the first time in 15 years. This has been a great time of catching our breath and catching up, but unfortunately has not allowed me much time to work on new books.

However, my next title, The Friendly City, is written and ready to illustrate. I’m quite excited about it and I’ll keep you posted as the painting begins. I think I’m getting close to being able to start the artwork. If you haven’t already done so, please visit the BigPicturePublishing.com site and sign up in the blue box to receive notification of when new books are ready, as well as an occasional blog post. Signing up does not obligate you purchase anything.

As the world grows more confusing for children and more hostile to followers of Jesus, it’s more important than ever that we instill and reinforce a biblical worldview in the kids that are in our care. I would love to play a part in that task by providing great tools for parents and grandparents. CLICK HERE to see descriptions of all my kids’ storybooks.

Thank you again for your interest and support!
Love rules,

Scott Freeman

How and Why to Not Be Postmodern

Throwing the

Recently I had coffee with one of my adult sons. I wanted to hear his insights about his spiritual development growing up. One unexpected comment came to light as he compared our family’s culture to that of a close friend’s. He observed that Mollie and I had modeled a faith that permeated all of life, and that our values reflected this. By contrast, for some people, faith is something added on, like an extra-curricular activity.

He said, “For you guys, a biblical worldview was like a pair of glasses through which you viewed everything. For my friend’s family it was more like a pair of binoculars that they would pick up now and then.”

This got me to thinking about postmodernism – the cultural state of society that distrusts the very idea of objective truth.

What is Postmodernity?
Philosopher and author Paul Copan describes postmodernity this way:

“French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard said that, simplifying to the extreme, postmodernism is suspension toward a metanarrative, which is a ‘world story’ that’s taken to be true for all people in all cultures and ends up oppressing people…”

So, postmodernity is a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there are many horrific examples in history of people oppressing others over strongly held beliefs – both religious and secular – postmodernity seeks to solve the problem by getting rid of the notion of truth altogether. It’s like John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Copan continues:

“…When people are so certain that they’ve got the truth and believe their system explains everything, then people who disagree with them are on the outside. They end up in Auschwitz or the Soviet gulags. So instead of metanarratives, postmodernism emphasizes mini-narratives. In other words, each person has his or her own viewpoint or story.”

Postmodernity attempts to address a very real problem in the world. It’s true that there are many metanarratives, ideologies, worldviews, and religions in the world that are coercive. But in making all truth relative, postmodernity does the world the ultimate disservice if there is, in fact, an objective Authority who has communicated a true story that includes all of us. Followers of Jesus should confidently and joyfully ignore postmodernism and instead, prove the life giving nature of the story and message of Jesus in our own lives and families.

“All Truth Claims are Wrong!”
Copan points out that the relativism that stems from a postmodern worldview is self-refuting. It simply doesn’t work as a worldview.

“…the relativist believes that relativism is true not just for him but for every person. He believes that relativism applies to the nonrelativist (‘true for you’), not just to himself (‘true for me’). The relativist finds himself in a bind if we ask him, ‘Is relativism absolutely true for everyone?’…There’s no reason to take seriously the claim that every belief is as good as every other belief, since this belief itself would be no better than any other.”

But having noted the self-contradictory nature of postmodernity, what about the problem of metanarratives being necessarily oppressive? Specifically, does the big picture presented in the Judeo-Christian scriptures necessarily marginalize those “on the outside”?

Self Righteous and Holier-Than-Thou?
I don’t buy that. The Bible specifically teaches that self-righteousness is not even possible (Ps 14; Ro 3:10-18.) Salvation is a gift from God and something none of us can claim to have earned (Ro 3:23,24; 6:23; Gal 2:15,16; 3:2-5; Eph 2:8,9; 3:7-9.)

From a biblical worldview Jesus is the only human being who could rightfully claim to be without sin, claim to be righteous in-and-of-Himself, and claim to be unerring in His knowledge of truth. Yet He was the perfect picture of love and inclusivity. His life was characterized by loving, healing , and reaching out to the marginalized: those on the fringe of respectable Jewish culture, women, lepers, the sexually unchaste, traitors, servants, children, Romans and other non-Jews, and so on. He typically did this even though it was inconvenient for Him and often got Him into trouble with His critics.

Not only His actions but also His teachings explicitly taught that following Him must mean reaching out to and welcoming the marginalized in a broken world. Several parables come to mind:
The parable of the Samaritan
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector
The parable of the prodigal son
The parable of the wedding feast and the uninvited guests
The parable of the widow’s offering
The story of the rich man and Lazarus

Rather than oppressing the marginalized, a biblical worldview acknowledges our common humanity. It roots human worth in the idea that all people bear the image of God, and yet it humbles human standing in the idea that all people “fall short of the glory of God’s ideal.” It is notable that two of the most combative personalities in the New Testament repeat the quote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.) Humility invalidates oppression and marginalization. A quote attributed to D T Niles rings true to me:

“A Christian witness is not like a rich man who has a lot of bread which he hands out to the poor beggars who have nothing. He is rather like one beggar who tells another beggar where he has found bread.”

A Bedtime Story
Accordingly, this all affects what we say to our children. As a young father it was my job and privilege to tuck my children in at bedtime. I would sing and pray with them each night. I remember a brief period of time when one of my boys was very troubled. He would tearfully express that he was a “bad boy.” Those are the words he used. He was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was a bit taken aback by this because Mollie and I made a point of never telling our children that they were “bad,” even when correcting them.

He didn’t seem to be trying to confess a specific hidden offense that was troubling his conscience. Instead, he seemed to be expressing a recognition that there was something generally wrong within himself. I remember thinking carefully and prayerfully before answering him, because he expected an answer. Should I assure him that he wasn’t all that bad? Should I point out how favorably he compared to serial killers and drug dealers? This was my first impulse – to minimize his feelings and build up his self-esteem by pointing out all the things on the “good” side of his scale.

But a biblical worldview compelled me to say something different. Instead, I essentially agreed with him. And, holding him close in the dark, I sympathetically let him know that I was also “bad,” and so was every one else in the world; that what he was feeling was accurate. I explained that this is why God sent Jesus to us, because we all need a Savior. My son’s recognition of his own brokenness was simply the first step toward the spiritual rebirth that Jesus offers to us all. Jesus promised to give us His Spirit to live inside of us, and after that we help each other to live a new life in that Spirit.

I’m certainly not recommending that we as parents teach our children that they are pure evil. The truth is more nuanced than that. I think the Bible’s description of the fallen human heart as “inclined” toward evil is helpful (Gen 8:21.) When I think of an incline, I notice it’s possible to roll a ball up an incline, but it takes deliberate effort. A ball naturally will roll down an incline. So it is with our hearts.

There is a world of difference between telling a child that he or she is a “bad person,” and teaching a child that all human beings struggle with corrupted hearts.

Speaking the Truth in Love
I assume there are those who would say it is appalling to say such things to a child. I imagine that a time may come when a secularist government will see fit to intervene in cases where parents teach such things. But truth is that which corresponds to the way things really are. What if a child is taught that he or she is naturally good and perfect? Where does that leave the child when he or she sees within himself or herself a tendency to lie, cheat, and hurt others? I contend that it leaves the child in a truly hopeless place.

The fact of human brokenness should never be used to shame or manipulate others. But neither does a biblical worldview indulge secularist, utopian, wishful thinking about the natural goodness and perfectibility of humanity. In fact, ironically, this kind of thinking is actually dangerous when it comes to granting human beings governmental power over others. This is why we have a dystopian genre in film and literature.

I would like to hear about your experience as a child or a parent. How did you understand the state of the human heart? How was it communicated to you, and what effect did it have on you?

What Jesus Said About Marriage Equality

Jesus-in him all things hold together

The words of Jesus have a way of keeping His followers off the fence. For example, in the ongoing religious freedom and marriage equality “debate,” it is sometimes pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. Therefore, some have argued, perhaps followers of Jesus shouldn’t be saying anything about it either.

However, while it’s true that we have no record of Jesus specifically mentioning homosexuality, we do have an extremely pithy statement from Him about what God intended marriage to be. This is fitting, because today’s marriage equality debate is not ultimately about homosexuality anyway, as the Left and its sympathetic media would have us believe. The debate is and will continue to be about the redefining of marriage.

The statement on marriage made by Jesus is remarkable in its relevance, precision, and transcendence. In three sentences there are at least eight defining aspects articulating what Christians believe the Creator of marriage intended marriage to be. I’ve created a diagram (below) so that this can easily be seen.

But first, I want to examine a meme that has been circulating in discussions on social media. It supposedly shows why the Bible doesn’t support “traditional marriage.” (The white caption is mine because I couldn’t resist commenting.)

How can “biblical marriage” be a thing?
The argument is that marriage has changed over millennia many times, and that the current redefining of marriage to include same sex couples is simply another iteration of an evolving institution. After all, the Bible itself contains many examples of marriages that today’s evangelicals consider to be objectionable, so how can evangelicals argue for “biblical” or “traditional” marriage?” Here’s the meme:

marriage meme fail

There are at least three reasons why this meme fails:

  • Example #1 misrepresents Gen 2:24, which it claims to be describing. None of the 4 points listed in example #1 are true for this verse. In truth, Gen 2:24 describes God’s ideal conception of marriage as it existed before “the fall” – before sin and death entered the world. We’ll return to Gen 2:24 in a moment.
  • The rest of the meme’s examples are post-fall, including references from the Torah of the Mosaic Covenant, a body of law given to instruct and govern a Jewish theocracy in ancient Israel. Jesus states that the Torah contained concessions due to “the hardness of men’s hearts, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8.) In other words, the Torah does not express God’s ideal will or desire for human interaction, obviously. Rather it was a “custodian,” to govern an unregenerate, rebellious body of people, until something better would come in the Messiah (Gal 3:23-26.) The Bible presents a linear, progressive revelation of God. It is a fundamental misunderstanding to assume that old covenant Levitical law represents God’s ultimate ideal, or that New Covenant followers of Jesus are bound by it.
  • The meme ignores the fact that in the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles unequivocally teach a return to the ideal of marriage in Gen 2:24, doing away with polygamy, slavery, religious war, a non-egalitarian standing of women in the church of Jesus, and observance of the written Torah in general (Ro 7:6; 1 Cor 7:1-3; Gal 3:28; Eph 6:12.)

What Jesus said
Jesus begins His statement on marriage by referring, not to Levitical law, but to the unspoiled created order: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” This refers to a passage in the first chapter of the Bible where we find the phrase,

“So God created man [meaning both men and women in Hebrew] in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them”
(Gen 1:27)

Thus Jesus’s defining statement on marriage is rooted in a transcendent basis for the worth and equality of the two sexes: both were made in the image of God, reflecting His likeness.

Proceeding from there, He goes on to either explicitly state or imply the defining characteristics of marriage as God conceived it. Since everyone likes rainbows now, I’ve shown this in the rainbow-colored chart:

Jesus gay marriage equality

As you can see, types of unions that fall outside of Jesus’ ideal of marriage would include homosexual, polygamous, incestuous, promiscuous, “monogamish,” and temporary sexual relationships, to name a few.

Definitions draw distinctions. If marriage has any definition, then it must exclude some people. It is important to note that by focusing on gay marriage, the U. S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision also excludes many consenting adults who at this moment want the legal right to marry but instead suffer discrimination. (Read their testimonies.)

In addition to Jesus’ statements, the New Testament states that marriage is a “profound mystery that refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32.) Throughout both testaments of the Bible God repeatedly uses heterosexual marriage as a metaphor to describe His relationship with His people. In the New Testament, the church of Jesus is often described as His bride. Furthermore, marriage is widely understood to be a reflection of the unity-in-diversity that exists within the loving, generative, triune Godhead itself.

Thus, for the majority of those who follow Jesus and the Bible, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is a profound ideal with both practical and symbolic applications.

Admittedly, Jesus articulated a very high bar for marriage. Of course, this is not to say that people in alternative types of unions should be hated, or executed, or harassed, or fired from their jobs, or generally refused service, or be otherwise excluded from the human family. But their relationships are simply not marriages according to Jesus. Jesus commanded His followers to love everyone, but He also called them to observe His teaching, which He claimed to be truth. It’s really that simple for Christians (John 8:12, 14, 31-32, 47, 51.)

So for followers of Jesus, this is not about hatred or bigotry. Despite what the news media continually says, it’s not even “anti-gay.” (Many same-sex-attracted people agree with and follow Jesus.) The Left is simply using hate-shaming to manipulate the public, move its agenda forward, and attempt to get Christians to shut up and leave the field.

Entitled to your opinion
You may not agree with what Jesus said. You may not agree that Jesus actually said these things at all. You may believe that Jesus was gay. Or you may not believe that Jesus ever even existed. You may think the Bible is a book of fairy tales. You are free to believe whatever you want about God and Jesus, and, according to our Constitution, congress may not make a law that forces you to participate in “an establishment of religion.”

However, neither does our Constitution allow congress to make a law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. For a great many American citizens, marriage is a religiously defined institution. Government may not force these people to participate in an ideological campaign to redefine marriage, sex, and gender.

Yay. This is freedom. It’s a two-way street. The Left is free to march on with its now decades-long, disease-ridden, death-producing sexual revolution. Followers of Jesus are free to not join in the parade for a cause that they believe to be a bad idea that ultimately harms society in general and children in particular. People on both sides can have compassionate reasons for believing as they do.

The bottom line is that followers of Jesus simply don’t believe they have the authority to redefine a fundamental concept that God has so clearly defined. We happen to believe that human government does not have that authority either.

Fine. So why not hold to your beliefs privately and just obey the law?
Because secularism is not a neutral, default position. It’s not as though religious viewpoints are biased while secular viewpoints are somehow unbiased.

For example, abortion-on-demand is not unbiased public policy. Recognizing only gay marriage from among other types of alternative love relationships is biased and discriminatory. The opinion that gender is determined by one’s feelings while sex is determined by one’s body is simply one, unsubstantiated theory. In fact these three examples can be seen as part of an ideological, sociopolitical movement called postgenderism or transhumanism.

In a diverse, pluralistic, and free society, religious viewpoints needn’t be any more private than do secular viewpoints. Followers of Jesus are free to aspire to a higher “supernatural” view of marriage, sex, and life, though they may not impose this on others. In the same way, secularists are free to aspire to a lower, “natural,” animalistic view of marriage, sex, and life, though they may not impose this on others. In all of this, American government should remain as limited as possible, while ensuring basic human rights and freedoms for everyone within the constraints of the Constitution.

Should the state be forcing either of these two groups to participate in the other’s well-intentioned vision? Nope, not in a free society. But…wait…what if lots of celebrity actors and musicians and big corporations say that only “progressive” opinions on marriage and gender should be legally protected? Still nope. The correct answer in America is always freedom and pluralism (meaning the peaceful coexistence of competing ideas in a free marketplace of ideas) within the constraints of our Constitution.

What are the implications of this?
American Christianity is firmly opposed to theocracy. Christians are not seeking to force non-Christians to live as Christians. Or to criminalize sex outside of marriage. Or to criminalize divorce. Or to criminalize gay unions.

This is not what Christians are advocating. Neither is it right for the federal government to redefine marriage along arbitrary, ideological lines, and then impose that definition onto everyone else. Americans for whom marriage is a religiously defined, fundamental, societal institution have a first amendment right not to participate in and associate with an ideological movement they believe to be malignant and morally objectionable.

The point of this post has not been to prove Jesus right. The point has been to simply point out what the gospel writers say He said about marriage. This is the crux of the current religious freedom “debate.” Religious conservatives are not misreading or cherry picking their own text when they disagree with “marriage equality.” Agree or not, there is a large population of the world that will not be going along with the ideological campaign to redefine marriage, and they have compassionate, humanitarian reasons for refusing.

In America, the government cannot force its citizens and their businesses to behave as political liberals, any more that it can force them to behave as political conservatives. We already have a solution to the religious freedom debate: limited, constitutional government.

 

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Did Jesus Become Sin?

2 Cor 5:21 - "sin" or a "sin offering"?

Part of what defines Evangelicalism is the belief in the authority and reliability of the Bible. As with all subcultures, American evangelical church culture has developed certain beliefs through repetition that may or may not be correct. This post will examine one of those beliefs. I don’t see this issue as critical or disastrous to one’s faith, but I now think it affects how one views the God of the Bible.

The question
The issue in question comes from the singular usage of a phrase that the apostle Paul employs in a letter to the church at Corinth:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)

It has become a widespread evangelical belief that part of the mechanics of mans’ salvation is that in order to pay the debt for our sin, Jesus literally somehow “became sin” on the cross, suffering the punishment we deserved, even enduring separation from His Father for a brief time. This is understood to be part of the terrible price that had to be paid in order for Jesus to secure the salvation of sinful humanity. This idea has many respectable and orthodox proponents, foremost among them being Billy Graham, whom I deeply respect. This idea has been central to Reverend Graham’s presentation of the gospel for decades.

I didn’t have a problem with this idea until a few years ago. One morning I was sitting in church, listening to a pastor friend articulate this article of evangelical belief. But he went into a bit more detail, taking the idea to its logical conclusion, and suddenly, I felt that what I was hearing wasn’t true. Here’s what he said:

“…(Jesus) became the adulterer. He became the pedophile. He became the nasty…”

Well…when you put it that way…

I went home and studied the issue for myself. I wondered if there was a better way to understand Paul’s words “made to be sin.” Perhaps this was one of those ideas that gets passed down without having been critically examined. What follows is what I found. You decide for yourself.

I should state that I am not a theological liberal, and that I consider the Judeo-Christian scriptures to be God’s inspired and authoritative revelation to man. My aim is to understand and harmonize what the whole of scripture says, not to get it to say what I think it should say. In interpretation, my aim is to understand a biblical author’s meaning, operating from the underlying assumption that the entirety of scripture is internally consistent.

So…what was Paul’s meaning?
The passage in question illustrates why biblical inerrancy and biblical literalism are not synonymous terms. It is true that in 2 Cor 5:21 the Greek literally says that God made Jesus “to be sin.” However, I now contend that there are strong reasons why we can know that this is not what Paul literally meant, and that it is therefore appallingly incorrect to say, “He became the adulterer. He became the pedophile…” We never see apostolic teaching saying anything like this, 2 Cor 5:21 being the sole exception. The singularity of the phrase is the first red flag.

By contrast, if there is anything we can know with certainty about Jesus from the scriptures, it is that He was and is the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5.) At no point did He take on a sin nature, nor is it necessary to believe this was essential in order for His sacrifice to secure our salvation. Furthermore, we know that YHWH doesn’t change, and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8.) We must allow scripture to interpret scripture where the meaning of a passage is uncertain, as this one is.

As with all conundrums in the Bible, an understanding of its Jewish context is always essential to understanding what is being said. In regards to this question, the Jewish Tanakh (old testament) provides the foundation for properly understanding the sacrificial death of the Jewish messiah. This is not speculation. Indeed, one can argue that His sacrificial death was in view from the beginning, and that many old testament Jewish practices prefigure and foreshadow the redemptive, messianic fulfillment of the acts of Jesus.

There is ample reason to believe that the meaning Paul had in mind was, “He made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf…”

1) The sacrifice of Jesus was SUBSTITUTIONARY, as is prefigured in the Mosaic Covenant. There is no logical necessity or scriptural justification for saying that a sacrifice actually becomes guilty or sinful. If the Passover sacrifice was a prophetic picture of the better sacrifice to come in Jesus, (and it was: Heb 10:1; 1 Cor 4:7,) then in it we can see the nature of a sacrifice: substitutionary and spotless. Furthermore, in Lev 6:25‐27 we see the sacrifice remained holy before, during, and after the sacrifice was made. So it was with the spotless Lamb of God. The sins of the people are imputed/attributed to the sacrifice. The sacrifice must be innocent and free of all guilt to be acceptable, not so that it can literally “become sin,” but so that it can be offered in the place of the guilty. It becomes a sin offering.

2) There are many passages that refer to Jesus’ sacrifice as a “sin offering,” and it seems correct to me to say that Paul had this in mind when he used the shorthand Hebraism, “made to be sin.” (Hebraism = A linguistic feature typical of Hebrew occurring especially in another language.) Examples include:

> “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without (reference to) sin…” (Heb 9:28)

> “And He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…For by one offering He has perfected for all time…” (Heb 10:10-14)

> “For Christ also died for sins once for all, (the) just for (the) unjust, in order that He might bring us to God…” (1 Pet 3:18 NASB. The substitutionary nature of the sacrifice is very clear here.)

> “…sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [referring to the incarnation] and (as an offering) for sin [referring to the atoning sacrifice], He condemned sin in the flesh,..” (Ro 8:3 NASB)

> “Yet it was the will of YHWH to bruise him…when he makes himself an offering for sin.” (Isa 53:10 RSV)

3) Perhaps most convincingly, the Septuagint’s use of the Greek word hamartia, translated as “sin” in 2 Cor5:21, supports the contention that Paul had “sin offering” in mind. When referring to sin offerings in the Tanakh, Jewish translators often used the Greek word hamartia in the Septuagint translation. We know that Paul and the apostles often quoted the Septuagint in their writings, as it was familiar to Greek-speaking Jews, (even though there were technically better translations available.) It seems reasonable in light of the whole of scripture that in this one verse in 2 Cor, Paul was simply employing the Septuagint’s use of hamartia to mean “sin offering.”

4) The wording itself in 2 Cor 5:21 is something of a parallelism, supporting the substitutionary nature of the Messiah’s sacrifice: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (a) that which was sinless became a sin offering; so that (b) that which was unrighteous could become righteousness in Him. In other words, He didn’t actually become sin, and we didn’t actually become righteousness – these things are imputed. We are counted as righteous “in Him.”

5) Finally, some may argue that, while Jesus was indeed a spotless sacrifice, it was necessary for Him to “become sin” in some way in order for Him to fully identify with us and secure our redemption. Similarly, some argue (incorrectly, in my view) that Jesus had to suffer in hell, or die spiritually, or endure separation from the Father in order to fully pay for the sins of the world. But it isn’t so. The scriptures explicitly say it is the blood of Jesus that secures our redemption. And His blood alone was and is sufficient because He is the eternal, incarnate Creator of all flesh, and He remained sinless in the flesh. As Creator, ultimate value resides with Him. It is neither logically nor scripturally possible for a holy God to “become the adulterer/pedophile.” Nor was it necessary:

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot,…” (1 Pet 1:18.)

In fact, Paul describes precisely the extent to which our loving and holy Creator humbled Himself in order to secure our salvation:

…(Jesus) emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Php 2:7,8.)

But notice that Paul stops there. For the sinless Son of God to unjustly choose to die a humiliating, tortuous, criminal’s death demonstrates mind-bending love and humility. It is not necessary, and I would even say it is wrong, to embellish the story further by adding that Jesus literally became sinful, because the scriptures do not say this.

God is light and in Him is no darkness at all – 1 John 1:5
I think we can all confidently agree that the Bible says that Jesus “became a sin offering” in every full and complete sense. By contrast, we can only say that Jesus “became sin” in some figurative, qualified way, (which is what I believe Paul was doing.) Therefore, should say this at all without qualification?

The incarnation – the act of God becoming human – has many implications. Because human beings were made in God’s image, God could humble Himself to become human without violating His essential character. God could not become a monkey or a manatee, for example. This is a mind-blowing truth, illuminating the possibilities of what God created human beings to be. However, the incarnate Jesus entered into a fallen world where sin and its effects had damned the entire human race to disunity, destruction, and death. His life, death, and resurrection were God’s provision to restore us to life in Him. The scriptures repeatedly describe our life after spiritual rebirth as a process of being “conformed to the likeness of Jesus” (Ro 8:29; Eph 4:22-24; Php 2:1-5; 1Pet 1:14,15.)

Jesus arrived announcing the kingdom of God. He specifically claimed to have come in order that we might have life, and that He might reconcile us to our Heavenly Father. His life perfectly reflected the sinless beauty, glory, mercy, love, and justice of God. He did not “get Himself dirty” in the sense of becoming sin. His love and justice led Him to “get Himself dirty” for us in the sense that he humbled Himself, even to the point of laying down His life on our behalf. There is no greater love than this (Jn 15:13.)

 

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