Here are short takes on some of the more common questions people inside and outside the church ask me as a pastor. These blurbs are my opinion in plain language, without biblical/theological references.
What is a Baptist?
There are many ways you could define what it means to be a Baptist. I think “Baptist” is primarily a way of looking at the politics of church and civil government. It is the belief that every believer has access to God and a place in the congregation, an emphasis on equality rather than hierarchy, and an emphasis on freedom and responsibility. Baptists historically have treasured the Bible, have sought to have believers’ churches, and have practiced the ordinances of believer’s baptism and communion. There is a great deal of freedom and diversity among Baptists, while holding to these common priorities. Baptists have influenced religious life in America, and take part in the life of many institutions and churches that are not Baptist in name.
Which Bible version is best?
The best Bible is one you’ll read. Nearly every Bible commercially available in the United States is a decent translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Bible. People nitpick various translations and have their personal favorites. I typically use the latest New International Version (NIV), because I like that it is translated by a denominationally and theologically diverse group of scholars, I think it’s a solid translation that makes sense in our language, and most people in the churches I have served use it. I also regularly use and enjoy other translations.
- What’s the Bible for? (posted 1/5/2018)
How did God create the earth?
I don’t know. I wasn’t there and I haven’t seen the DVD. I accept what the Bible says about creation. Faithful believers read the same passage and interpret it differently from each other. My personal belief is old earth and young biology with thinkers like Hugh Ross. The most important thing about Genesis 1-2 is THAT God created all things, not HOW he precisely did it. If we don’t walk away from the Bible with several strong convictions, we’re missing the point:
- God is good and made only good things.
- God is the Creator and we are creatures.
- God made all living things, including a humanity he made in his image.
- God is worthy of our worship and obedience.
What about drinking?
Let’s face it: this question isn’t about drinking, it’s about drinking alcohol. You have to really stretch to say the Bible condemns drinking alcohol across the board. It doesn’t. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness and prohibits it among believers. Whether to drink or not drink alcohol is a question of wisdom that individuals and communities have to make choices about. I think what the Bible has to say about drinking alcohol and living sober lives applies to any substance or practice that has addictive potential.
What about education?
Whether a child is educated through homeschool, private school, or public school, parents are responsible for the education of their children. With so many children who do not have responsible parents, I believe it is our society’s responsibility to provide a safety net in the form of public education. I am concerned generally with the testing-focused approach of so much American education. You could make a better case from the Bible for education which prepares children with skills and wisdom for life.
What about the end times?
I don’t know. This has been a matter of discussion among Christians for a long time, particularly in the last couple centuries. All of this discussion and disagreement takes place in the context of people who have access to the same Scriptures. My personal belief is called post-tribulation premillenialism or classic premillenialism. Although there is much confusion about the end times, the good news is that the Bible does not leave us to guess how to think about the end times. The uniform teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus will return, and that his return is reason for believers to take hope during difficult times, remain faithful and obedient to the Word of God while living in the world, and purify their hearts and lives in anticipation.
What is an evangelical?
Although “evangelical” has come to mean particular political positions in our culture, I still like the word because of what it means and consider myself an evangelical Baptist (or a Baptist evangelical). Baptist historian David Bebbington has described evangelicals by four commitments: a high regard for the Bible, a focus on Christ’s work on the cross, the belief that individuals need to be converted, and the belief that faith should lead to action. In it’s briefest form, “evangelical” means related to the evangel or God’s good news. I believe the good news of Jesus Christ is the heart of the Bible and the heart of our faith.
- What is the gospel? (posted 12/31/2017)
What will heaven be like?
The biggest misnomer I find about heaven among Christians is that heaven is a far-off non-material place somewhere outside the known universe. That may be what heaven is like now. But it is plain as day in Revelation 21: heaven will be right here! Heaven and earth which we now frame as separate realities will one day be remade and reunified right here on earth as a garden city. It’s hard to imagine what heaven will really be like, but I think it will be a lot more like life now than we sometimes realize.
Do you really believe Jesus is God?
I do. We call it “the Christian faith” for a reason. There are facts and feelings involved, but ultimately this is a matter of faith. I can’t prove or argue anyone into believing. Sometimes people mock various things in the Bible such as creation, the flood, miracles, etc. In my opinion, the most controversial thing the Bible teaches is that the whole universe is held together by Jesus. If you could theoretically kill Jesus, according to Colossians 1 the whole creation would fall apart. So there it is. I think I have some pretty decent reasons, but at the end of the day it is a matter of faith.
What about politics?
A couple years ago, someone was asking me questions about the church I served as they researched options. They wanted to make sure that our church did not hammer particular political positions, because they wanted a church that was about God. I completely understand. I believe that biblical faith can find things to agree with and disagree with in any culture and any belief system. I personally am a pro-life libertarian, which means I believe in a more limited/efficient government and that people should have freedom even when I personally disagree with what they choose to do with that freedom. I find in our culture that if you challenge people with the Bible, they often assume you are of the opposite political party (Democrats think I’m too conservative, Republicans think I’m too liberal). We live in a very polarized culture and it is incumbent on pastors to not simply support a particular political party’s constellation of beliefs. I would hate to see someone fail to meet or understand Jesus because a church or a Christian was focused on politics more than Jesus.
What about predestination?
Predestination and election are in the Bible. That still doesn’t tell you what they mean. I reject determinism and compatibilism. I reject the idea that God has determined exactly what will happen, and we only feel an illusion of making choices. God made human beings with a will; the Scriptures assume it throughout. We make actual decisions with real consequences. I do believe in the biblical teaching of election and predestination, which I believe means that God guarantees and will ensure that all who believe in Jesus are ultimately saved. God has big picture goals for creation which will be accomplished, but he does not accomplish his purposes by violating the will of people.
- Are you a Calvinist? (posted 12/30/2017)
What about sex and marriage?
Sex can be a lot of fun and it can cause a lot of hurt. Marriage is rewarding but to be that it takes a lot of work. Depending on who’s asking, this question is more likely to come in the form of “So what about those gays?” or “Are you one of those Christians who hates gay people?” To be up front, I affirm a traditional/historical understanding of what the Bible says about sex: all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and a woman fail to meet God’s standard and fall short of the ideal God created and intended. That said, I believe there are many sexual forms of sin and there are many forms of sin. I do not believe that one sin is worse than any other sin, or that one sinner is worse than any other sinner. I do believe that we are all sinners who stand in need of Jesus. And I believe God has created humanity in his image, which means every human has dignity from God which deserves my respect. I am grateful for my friends who happen to be gay, particularly for their honesty and charity toward me. My goal is to love all people, and I have considered it an honor to be trusted by several gay people who have chosen to come out to me early in their process of becoming more open about their same-gender attraction.