Author archives: David Closson

Thinking Biblically About Loyalty

by David Closson , Laura Grossberndt

April 14, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety“Christian Nationalism”LoveCourageForgiveness, and the Resurrection and the Social Gospel.

In June of last year, news broke that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was releasing a state-approved “translation” of the Bible that would better fit the regime’s ideology. The message the CCP was sending to Christians in China was clear: your true loyalty must be first and foremost to the state. But what is a true biblical understanding of loyalty?

Loyalty can be defined as “a strong feeling of support or allegiance.” A close synonym is “faithful.” People typically think of loyalty as being an admirable quality and are liable to commend a person who exhibits loyalty to their family, country, friends, or authority figures. How should the biblically-minded Christian think about loyalty? Does God want us to be loyal?

A prerequisite to loyalty is the existence of relationships. Scripture leaves no doubt that God created us to be in relationship with Himself and others. First, we know that God is triune and the three Persons of the trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—have eternally existed in relationship with one other. Since human beings are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), we, too, are created for relationships, both with God (John 14:23, Rev. 21:3) and our fellow human beings (Gen. 2:18, John 13:34).

Scripture tells us that healthy, faithful relationships are one of the things that will make the broken road of life easier to navigate. As Solomon writes in Proverbs, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (17:17) and “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24, ESV). In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon also notes the advantages of living life with other people:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecc. 4: 9-11, ESV)

There are many examples in the Bible of people who demonstrated loyalty or faithfulness to each another. Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law Naomi even after her husband had died: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16, ESV). Jonathan was a loyal friend to David and protected him from his father, King Saul, who tried to kill David on multiple occasions. When David asked Jonathan for help, he replied, “Whatever you say, I will do for you” (1 Sam. 20:4, ESV).

God Himself is the greatest example of loyalty in His relationship with us. In 2 Timothy 2:13, Paul explains that being faithful is intrinsic to God’s character: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful— for He cannot deny himself.”

The Bible gives us wisdom and counsel on how, when, and to what degree to be loyal to different relationships. Children are told to honor their parents (Deut. 5:16, Eph. 6:1-3). Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Citizens are told to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1) and to seek the welfare of their city (Jer. 29:7). Christians are told to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2). It should be noted that one instance when our loyalty to people is not required, however, is when being loyal to them would be disloyal to God (Acts 5:24-32). Not only is God our ultimate example of faithfulness, but He is also the only one to whom our ultimate loyalty is due (Ex. 20:3).

Love and loyalty are related. The theologian Augustine said we must “Have rightly ordered loves.” Similarly, we must have rightly ordered loyalties. Strong loyalties to the wrong things will inevitably lead to disloyalty to the right thing. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24, ESV). Where competing loyalties exist, one will eventually win out, revealing our deepest loyalty.

Friends, family, bosses, sports teams, political parties, and even trendy theories are competing for our affections daily. Our ultimate loyalty, as Christ-followers, must be to Christ, “the founder and perfector of our faith” (Heb. 12:2, ESV). We will be loyal to something; if not Christ, then things of this world will command our allegiance (1 John 2:15-17).

The issue of loyalty is immensely relevant for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. For example, the Chinese government recently launched a campaign to make Chinese Christians “more Chinese.” As noted previously, this campaign includes a “translation” of the New Testament that is friendly to communist ideology. The CCP leaders view Christianity as a threat to their regime because they understand believers’ loyalty is ultimately to God and not the state.

Although less explicit, the same thing is happening in the West as people “reimagine” Christianity and adjust long-standing Christian doctrines to make them seem more compatible with prevailing norms and ideologies. When people adjust their religion to fit their politics, it makes it clear where their ultimate loyalties lie.

It is important for Christians to recall 1 Peter 5:8, which says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (ESV). When our affections are misplaced, we lose the ability to be sober-minded. We must be mindful to love what is good in the proper manner and to the right degree lest our judgment becomes impaired, and we find ourselves at war with the truth. 

God wants us to be loyal to Him—to hate what is evil and love what is good. And it is only once we live in true and total loyalty to Him that we can have rightly ordered loyalty in our relationships with one another.

Thinking Biblically About the Resurrection and the Social Gospel

by David Closson

April 7, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety“Christian Nationalism”LoveCourage, and Forgiveness.

Around the world, Christians celebrate Easter as the most important day in history because it is the day Jesus conquered sin and death on our behalf by rising from the dead.

The resurrection is central to the gospel because without it, Christianity is nothing more than a social club. As the apostle Paul explained to the Corinthian church, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).

However, on the day when Jesus’ resurrection normally takes center stage, Raphael Warnock, the Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and Georgia’s junior Senator, took to Twitter to share a very different message. On Sunday, he tweeted: “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”

It is well-known that Raphael Warnock is a liberal politician. He ran on a progressive platform, and in his short tenure in the U.S. Senate, he has voted to confirm President Biden’s most radical nominees and expressed support for policies that would expand abortion and restrict religious freedom. But more than a voting record, Warnock’s since-deleted Easter tweet provides insight into how the reverend’s faith informs his politics, i.e., his political theology.

To be clear, there is nothing “more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ” as Warnock believes. The message of Easter, the very center of Christianity, is that God took the initiative to save sinners because sinners cannot save themselves. As Paul explains in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” However, because of God’s love, verse four says, “when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” As Paul explains elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). In other words, Christ died as a sacrifice for sin. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus reconciled us with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

Jesus is not simply the foundation of Christianity; He is the foundation of reality. Paul, in the book of Colossians, summarizes the centrality of Christ, writing: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). Concerning salvation, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Scripture is clear that we cannot save ourselves by helping others. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Of course, Christians are called to do good works. A verse later, Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” However, the suggestion that “through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves” is contrary to everything the Bible teaches about salvation and strips the empty tomb of its power.

As an American, Raphael Warnock is free to believe and teach whatever he wants. However, as someone who serves as a minister of the gospel, he is not free to say whatever he wants about Jesus, the resurrection, and salvation. Like all who profess to be Christian, he is bound by Scripture. His message of salvation through good works directly contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ which promises salvation on the basis of Christ’s completed work. Faith in Jesus, not works, is the only way to be saved (Acts 4:12).

While Senator Warnock’s assessment of Easter is not biblical, it is nevertheless consistent with competing belief systems like liberation theology and critical race theory. In fact, his tweet is an outworking of theological systems (liberation theology and the social gospel) which prioritize social justice over orthodox doctrine. These systems teach that the greatest problem in the world is injustice and that the solution is political revolution. For example, liberation theology, which reconstructs Christian theology through the lens of “oppressor and oppressed,” identifies different problems and different solutions than the gospel does. In that world, it is possible to “save ourselves” by “helping others” because once we have eliminated injustice we have been saved.

But Scripture has a very different understanding of what our greatest problem is and the solution to that problem. While God hates injustice, injustice is simply the fruit of a sinful, rebellious heart. The real solution is a changed heart, and that is something no political revolution can accomplish. Only Jesus can convert and change sinful hearts. As bad as Senator Warnock’s policy preferences may be, his theology is even worse and likely the source of his confused policies. Simply put, we cannot save ourselves. Therefore, for the sake of your eternal destiny, trust Scripture which says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

For more on this topic, don’t miss the author’s interview on Washington Watch.

You Can’t Twist Scripture to Force Women to Compete Against Men in Sports

by David Closson

March 26, 2021

On Monday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) vetoed House Bill 1217, legislation that would protect women from being forced to compete against biological men in sporting events. In a press conference announcing the veto, Noem said she supported a bill to protect middle and high school girls but argued that extending the same protections to female collegiate athletes would prompt lawsuits from groups like the NCAA.

While most conservatives were frustrated by Noem’s capitulation on the transgender sports bill, one faith group, the South Dakota Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), actually encouraged Noem to veto it. Signed by about 30 church leaders, the short letter read:

Dear Governor Noem:

Grace and peace to you in this season of Lent. I reach out to you today on behalf of the 200 South Dakota congregations, ministry sites and organizations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). As Lutherans, baptized members in the body of Christ, we care about the actions of our government because it is a gift from God intended for the safety and flourishing of human life. Yet, as sinners in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, the gift and power of government is abused. It is why I am urging you to veto HB 1217 that claims to promote “fairness” in women’s sports. In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus asks his disciples, “which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” After the lost sheep is found Jesus says, “rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” (ref. Luke 15:4-6) Meaning that there is no rejoicing until all have found a place in the flock — including our trans siblings of faith. Policies and laws that purposely exclude trans individuals contribute to deteriorating mental health. The Trevor Project reports that 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, and that over 90% of those attempts took place before the age of 25. Looking after the lost one means inclusion and compassion. God the incarnate goes to the far stretches of the Earth to find the lost and calls them home by name, “you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) As people of faith, we are invited to do the same. Please, as a beloved child of God, do not forget about the one child, when you have the ninety-nine with you.

As Christians, it is important to think carefully about current events. When it comes to matters of public policy, there are many issues that do not have a clear-cut answer for how believers should think. This requires restraint and humility. On the other hand, there are some topics—such as abortion—where Scripture speaks clearly. Christians, especially pastors and Christian leaders must be clear about their convictions.

This brings us to the recent letter to Governor Noem. One of the most important responsibilities a minister of the gospel has is caring for hurting people. As Christ’s under-shepherds, pastors are called to serve people with love and care (Acts 20:28). Thus, it is appropriate when ministers discuss legislation they believe will affect their congregants and those in their ministries. However, the recent letter to the South Dakota governor is problematic for a few reasons, chiefly its misuse and appropriation of Scripture.

But first, it is important to note their letter contains some helpful reminders. For example, they are right to acknowledge that positions of leadership, especially in government, can be challenging. They also acknowledged that man is fallen and broken due to sin. Moreover, the desire to love our neighbors who identify as transgender is commendable, as Christ has called the church to love everyone (Mt. 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36). Their reminders along these lines are helpful.

However, there are a few problems about the letter that deserve attention. First, our love of neighbor must be modeled after the pattern of Christ, not the world (Rom. 12:2). We cannot adopt the world’s understanding of love, which demands affirmation of lifestyles and actions contrary to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. According to the leaders who signed the letter, love for their friends who identify as transgender requires accepting transgender ideology which contradicts the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.

Second, the letter misuses Scripture to make its main point. In its proper context, the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:1-7 is about salvation and pursuing lost people (i.e., those who do not have a relationship with God). The shepherd goes after the one lost sheep because it is lost; he rescues it and shows it the way of life. This parable (and the subsequent parables of the lost coin and the prodigal son) discloses Christ’s heart and His redemptive love for sinners. It encourages believers following His example to pursue those who do not have a relationship with God in order to show them the way of life.  

Clearly, Jesus’ intention in telling the parable of the lost sheep was not to make sure “all have found a place in the flock” (if inclusion in the flock means disregarding and flouting clear biblical teaching). Again, the context of the passage is about repentance and salvation. Jesus’ explanation of the parable makes it clear that He is talking specifically about sinners who repent. Moreover, Scripture is very clear about God’s design and purpose for marriage and human sexuality.  

Citing the parable of the lost sheep as evidence that Christians ought to oppose a bill that would protect women and girls’ sports is not a faithful interpretation of Luke 15. Christians are called to tell the truth, and that includes the truth that God made us male and female. It is not unloving or unkind to truthfully (1 Cor. 13:6) point out the many injustices and physical dangers associated with allowing biological males to compete against biological females. 

It is never permissible to misuse Scripture to advance a political agenda. Moreover, there is no reason for Christians to oppose commonsense legislation that protects women and girls at all levels of athletic competition. In fact, supporting legislation like House Bill 1217 is a practical way to protect female athletes. This bill deserves support, not condemnation, from Christian leaders in South Dakota and around the country.

Thinking Biblically About Courage

by David Closson

March 24, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety, “Christian Nationalism”, and Love.

As cultural winds blow ever stronger against biblical orthodoxy on human sexuality, some states are pushing back by passing bills protecting youth from harmful gender transition procedures and protecting women from being forced to compete against biological men in sporting events. One such piece of legislation, South Dakota House Bill 1217, was recently approved by the state legislature and sent to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk. However, Noem shocked conservatives by vetoing the bill.

Noem suggested revising the bill to support protections for middle school and high school girls but not extending the same protections to older women, specifically collegiate athletes. This attempt to craft a “win-win situation” in the face of opposition might seem courageous to some. But the mere presence of opposition from some quarters does not automatically mean you are being courageous—or are doing what is right. A biblical and philosophical examination of courage requires us to dig deeper.

What is courage? The philosopher Aristotle, who believed that moral behavior was found in the mean (or moderate position) between two extremes, argued in his ethical treatise Nicomachean Ethics that courage is the mean between the feelings of fear and confidence. Merriam-Webster defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” In other words, the courageous person has poise and the fortitude to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. Despite potential blowback, the courageous person stays the course and pursues what they know is right.

Is courage a virtue Christians should pursue? Yes. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to trust Him and obey His commandments, regardless of the consequences. Psalm 27:14 reminds us, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” and again in Psalm 31:24, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” We are exhorted to be courageous not because the things we are called to do are easy, popular, or will make us successful in the earthly sense, but because God has commanded us to fear Him rather than men (Acts 5:29).

When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of Israel, he was understandably overwhelmed. Yet God charged him to be courageous: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). The pressure facing Joshua was immense. Leading the quarrelsome and obstinate Israelites into the Promised Land was no small task. Thus, as Joshua stepped into his new role, God called him to be courageous, to exhibit strong moral and mental fortitude as he took on the mantle of leadership.

Queen Esther also had to choose to do the right thing in her time, at great personal risk. Encouraged by her cousin Mordecai, Esther approached the Persian king to petition that her peoples’ lives be spared from genocide. Although nervous, she understood the gravity of the situation and was willing to lay down her life for a noble cause. “If I perish, I perish,” she said before venturing into the king’s throne room (Est. 4:16). By God’s grace, her courage was rewarded, and both she and the Jewish people lived.

Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were commanded by the pagan king of Babylon to bow down to a golden statue and worship. These men knew that it was a sin to worship any man or image other than God, so they refused, and the king commanded that they be burned alive. Before they were led to the furnace, they expressed their belief that God could deliver them. But they told the king, even if God allowed their death, “be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to die obeying God rather than sin in order to avoid death.  

The example of these Jewish exiles is instructive. We are called to do the right thing and be courageous not because God will necessarily save us but because it is what is right and honors Him. Many brothers and sisters in the faith have lost their homes, family, friends, possessions, jobs, and even lives because they chose to be courageous and obey God. Although that was the price their courage required, their reward is much sweeter (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Christ is our ultimate example of courage. Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are, yet He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). Despite constant rejection, criticism, and unbelief, He poured Himself out and ministered to sinners. He exemplified the greatest act of courage when He went to the cross and paid the price for our sin.

Courage requires that we fear God above man, know His word, obey it, and practice wisdom and discernment. Paul exhorts us to take up the whole armor of God so that we will be able to stand firm in the evil day (Eph. 6:13). The late preacher Billy Graham once said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” He’s right. Courage is contagious, and even though most of today’s politicians lack courage, Christians should strive to be courageous because God “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). As we seek to be more like Christ, we can all start by being courageous and doing the right thing for its own sake and thereby encourage others to pursue the virtuous life.

Thinking Biblically About “Christian Nationalism”

by David Closson

March 4, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts Thinking Biblically About Unity and Thinking Biblically About Safety.

The phrase “Christian nationalism” has been receiving a lot of attention in American public discourse recently. Conversations about this ideology predate the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6; however, there has been renewed interest in the topic since these events transpired. But what exactly is Christian nationalism, and is it something that Bible-believing Christians should support or oppose?

First, we must define our terms.

What Is Nationalism?

Webster’s dictionary defines nationalism as “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” Strong identification with one’s nation and its interests signifies a commitment to nationalism. Colloquially, nationalism and patriotism are considered more or less synonymous.

However, an excess of nationalism can have a dark side. It should be noted that, wherever there is strong nationalistic fervor, great care must be taken to uphold individual rights and the interests of those who do not hold political power at a given moment. Enthusiasm for one’s country and culture must never be prioritized over the human dignity of others. At various points throughout history, excessive nationalistic zeal has led to the exclusion, marginalization, or outright persecution of minority groups within nations. This likely describes what is happening today in the Xinjiang province of China, where the communist government has been committing genocide against its Uyghur Muslim minority.

What Is Christian Nationalism?

A broadly agreed-upon definition of the phrase “Christian nationalism” does not currently exist. However, it is commonly used in reference to a person conflating their Christian and American identities. Christian nationalism views one’s Christian and American identities as one and the same; a person’s American identity is inextricable from their Christian one. Christian nationalism considers being a “good American” and a “good Christian” as synonymous.

Some who adhere to Christian nationalist ideology argue that America’s very social fabric is overtly defined by Christianity and believe those in government ought to take proactive steps to keep it that way by force of law. In other words, they believe Christians deserve a privileged position in society. While America was certainly influenced by Christian principles at its founding and owes a debt to Christian notions of equal rights and human dignity, the impulse of Christian nationalism to exclude ethnic or religious minorities for the purpose of accruing more power runs counter to the Bible’s expansive view of religious liberty. 

Keeping these definitions in mind, we can draw a few conclusions:

1. Measured patriotism (defined as a love for the ideals and values of one’s country) is good.

Although not perfect, the United States has arguably been one of the greatest forces for good in world history. Whether it has been supporting democracy around the globe, championing human rights, providing billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian aid, or exporting life-saving technologies, America has been at the forefront of improving the quality of life for many around the world. American advancements in medicine, technology, and science have lifted countless people out of poverty, created cures for diseases, and expanded human knowledge in fields ranging from microbiology to astronomy. James 1:7 reminds us that every good gift comes from God, and American Christians should praise God for how He has used our nation to help those beyond our shores.

As historian Thomas Kidd notes, while Christian nationalism (properly defined) is misguided, “measured patriotism still seems appropriate, and somewhat unavoidable for most Christians.” Within proper bounds, if directed toward morally good ends, patriotism should be encouraged. It is appropriate for Americans to feel love and affection for the honorable things their country has stood for and done. Moreover, rather than viewing everything our nation has done through rose-colored glasses, we should engage in the type of patriotism that calls our nation to be even better. Seeking the welfare of one’s city or nation (Jer. 29:7) is a practical way for Christians to obey the commandment of loving one’s neighbor (Mk. 12:31).

2. Christian nationalism (defined as conflating one’s Christian and American identity) is wrong and ought to be rejected.

When a Christian’s devotion to their country becomes the prevailing and all-encompassing passion in their life, something has gone awry. Like all good things, love of country can become an idol if it supplants the ultimate allegiance owed exclusively to God. Christians should love what is honorable about their country, but their devotion to it should have limitations.  

How do we know when love of country has crossed the line? At what point does patriotism become idolatrous? Thomas Kidd, referring to Matthew McCullough’s work, argues that American patriotism crosses the line into Christian nationalism when it gives “an exaggerated transcendent meaning to American history.” In other words, if the “American nation has taken a central place in our understanding of redemptive history” (emphasis added), we have entered unbiblical territory. As much as America means to us, it must not become the central defining factor in our lives. God’s Word forbids that.

To be clear, Christians should actively participate in the political process. Scripture teaches that believers have a responsibility to engage in “good works” (Eph. 2:10). For American Christians this means stewarding their political responsibilities by voting for and supporting candidates and causes that advance biblical values in the public square.

America has been (and hopefully will continue to be) a great blessing to the rest of the world. Still, Christians must be careful not to ascribe a status to the United States that is not warranted by Scripture.  

3. The broad use of the term “Christian nationalism” is being used in an attempt to silence American Christians.

Christians can engage in the public square without it being Christian nationalism. Unfortunately, the ideological Left has seized upon the “Christian nationalism” buzzword in an attempt to belittle all American Christians and drive them from the public square. In most of their discussions about Christian nationalism, the term is rarely defined. This is by design. In the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol, many on the Left have exploited the disordered nationalism of a few to call the motives of politically engaged Christians into question.

Most American Christians love their country and do not subscribe to a political ideology that seeks to marginalize other Americans based on faith or doctrinal differences. The overwhelming majority of believers do not wish to impose any sort of theocracy on their fellow citizens. However, these realities make no difference to those who wish to cast a shadow of doubt on Christians’ true intentions and beliefs.

For many on the ideological Left, this is the end game. By equating Christians with fanatics and conspiracy theorists, secular progressives believe they can more easily “cancel” Christians and exclude them from society and the political process. By radicalizing the term “Christian nationalism,” many see an opportunity to further the narrative that Christian political engagement is dangerous for America and motivated by evil.

This means that although Christian nationalism (properly defined) ought to be opposed within Christian circles, there is a larger agenda behind much of the recent public condemnation of it. This is a crucial point for Christians to understand. Those who invoke the phrase “Christian nationalism” as part of their political fearmongering have one goal: to scare Christians from engaging on important issues and give others a reason to distrust Christians.

But as Christians who recognize our dual calling as citizens of the City of God and the City of man, we must recommit to speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and living peaceably with our neighbors (Rom. 12:18) when engaging in the public square. Now, more than ever, our witness is needed, and we must not be silenced by those who want to drive us out.

Intentional Christian Citizenry

Debates on Christian nationalism require the very best of Christian thinking. They also require discernment and awareness of the prevailing political and cultural winds. Those who follow Jesus are commanded to take “every thought captive” in order to follow Jesus faithfully (2 Cor. 10:5). This admonition applies to every political and moral question and situation, including Christian nationalism. May our efforts to be intentional Christian citizens be marked with love, faithfulness, and wisdom.

The Equality Act Demands Conformity to Moral Anarchy

by David Closson

March 1, 2021

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, legislation that supporters say is necessary to protect those who identify as LGBT from unjust discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other areas of American life. The bill passed by a 224-206 vote; only three Republicans joined Democrats to support it (down from eight who voted for it in 2019).

While some praised the passing of the bill in the House as a step toward ending discrimination, a careful analysis of the bill reveals that the Equality Act would codify into law the most extreme demands of the moral revolution while stigmatizing anyone who dares to dissent from the new orthodoxy.

On paper, the Equality Act proposes almost 60 amendments to nearly 10 different laws including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the Fair Housing Act. While eradicating discrimination is a commendable goal, it is clear the Equality Act will do nothing to end discrimination. In fact, if enacted into law, the bill will accelerate discrimination against tens of millions of Americans whose beliefs on marriage and human sexuality are informed by science and religious convictions.

While the implications of a bill as expansive as the Equality Act are difficult to calculate, the most immediate effects are clear. For starters, the Equality Act would dramatically expand abortion access, remove religious liberty protections, virtually end women’s and girls’ sports, and threaten Christian seminaries, universities, and colleges.

On the issue of human life, the Equality Act effectively creates a legislative right to abortion. It does this primarily via changes to Title II of the Civil Rights Act regarding “Public Accommodations.” Health care would be added as a “public accommodation” and “sex” would be added as a protected class. “Sex” is redefined to include “pregnancy… or a related medical condition.” Courts have ruled that “related medical condition” includes abortion. Further, the Equality Act has no conscience protections for health care providers who morally oppose abortion or restriction on taxpayers funding of abortion.

The Equality Act also severely undermines religious liberty. First, by expanding the definition of a public accommodation to include any establishment that provides goods, services, or programs to their communities, churches that operate food banks, homeless shelters, and the like, could be compelled to comply with the Equality Act’s requirements in how they run these programs. They would no longer be allowed to have sex-segregated services and programs or private facilities when operating these services and programs. While ministerial exemptions will continue (for now) to protect churches from hiring clergy who openly identify as homosexual, churches could be required to hire people for non-ministerial positions who do not agree with the church’s beliefs on marriage and sexuality. Second, the Equality Act explicitly exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which passed unanimously in the House and 97-3 in the Senate before President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1993. If a religious individual believes the Equality Act has violated their beliefs, RFRA is no longer a claim they can bring in court; if they are sued for non-compliance, RFRA is not a defense they can raise.

Third, the Equality Act virtually ends women’s and girls’ sports. Already, biological male athletes are winning athletic competitions against biological females in places like Connecticut that allow athletes to compete based on their gender identify. For example, since 2017, two biological male runners in Connecticut have won a combined 15 girls state indoor or outdoor championship races. By redefining “sex” to include the contested category of gender identity, competitions reserved for women and girls would have to admit biological males who identify as female. Not only is this unfair to the tens of thousands of female athletes who have little to no chance of beating male athletes, it is also unsafe in high contact sports because biological males are naturally faster and stronger. Therefore, another consequence of the Equality Act is erasing scholarship and recruitment opportunities for female athletes.

Women’s safety and privacy are also sacrificed on the altar of political correctness by requiring the admittance of biological males who identify as female into bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and changing facilities reserved for biological females.

Additionally, if enacted into law, the Equality Act would threaten the existence of Christian seminaries, universities, and colleges that receive any form of federal financial assistance, potentially including federal loans which many students use to pay tuition. By amending Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a “catch all” non-discrimination provision on all federal funds, the Equality Act would require schools that receive federal funding to comply with its sexual orientation/gender identity (SOGI) requirements, including admissions and housing standards. The financial impact of this would be devastating for Christian colleges and many would be forced to shut down.

Given its House passage, the bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where Democrats also have control. It is alarming that a bill which denies the reality of womanhood, expands abortion, and guts religious liberty is this close to becoming law. But hope is not lost—Senate passage is not a foregone conclusion, and Americans should mobilize to ensure it is defeated. Family Research Council has resources that people can use to educate themselves and others about the bill. Additionally, people can contact their senators and inform them of their opposition to the Equality Act.

As those who believe that all people are made in God’s image and possess inherent value and dignity, Christians should oppose discrimination. But despite its clever name, the Equality Act does nothing to advance equality or stymie discrimination. Instead, the legislation would mandate conformity to an ideology antithetical to core tenets of the Christian worldview and codify a host of harmful social policies (detailed above) that touch on nearly every facet of life. Therefore, it should be opposed vigorously. 

Biden’s Cabinet (Part 2): Abortion Hardliner Xavier Becerra Is Not Fit to Lead HHS

by David Closson

February 23, 2021

This is Part 2 of a blog series examining the records of President Biden’s Cabinet picks on abortion and family issues. Read Part 1 on Antony Blinken.

During his inaugural address, President Joe Biden spoke repeatedly about the need for national unity. “With unity we can do great things. Important things,” he declared, adding, “For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”

While these inaugural platitudes about unity and healing were rhetorically effective, the new president has wasted little time in delivering on divisive campaign promises. These include reinstating President Obama’s transgender military policy, ordering federal agencies to redefine “sex” in their sex discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and repealing the Mexico City Policy that prohibited taxpayer money from funding overseas abortions. These policy changes, enacted unilaterally by executive order, offer little comfort to Americans who hoped the new administration would focus less on the culture wars and more on combating the coronavirus, re-opening America’s economy, and protecting the country from external threats.

Unfortunately, Biden’s nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is another example of why uniformity—not unity—seems to be the goal of the Biden administration.

HHS is one of 15 executive departments within the federal government. Although not the largest department in terms of personnel, it has the largest budget—over $1.3 trillion annually (compare that with the Department of Defense’s $721.5 billion budget in 2020). As the department tasked with overseeing health services, HHS has jurisdiction over nearly every aspect of federal policy concerning abortion. Because of Becerra’s record on abortion, his nomination to lead HHS is deeply troubling.

Concerns related to Becerra’s record on abortion are well-founded. During his 24 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Becerra proved to be one of the abortion lobby’s most reliable voters. For example, in 2003, he voted against prohibiting the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion. In 2005, Becerra voted against making the harming or killing of an unborn child during the committing of a violent crime a criminal offense. Becerra also voted for taxpayer funding of human embryonic stem cell experimentation in 2006 and against redirecting said money to more ethical lines of research. More recently, he voted against imposing civil and criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly attempted to commit an abortion on the basis of the sex or race of the unborn child or the race of a parent.

Becerra continued his work to advance abortion when he became California’s attorney general in 2017. Since taking office, he has filed numerous lawsuits seeking to overturn pro-life laws in other states, including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio. In 2019, Becerra sued the Trump administration over an HHS rule that blocked millions of dollars to abortion businesses who refused to separate their abortion business from family planning services. In 2019, he sued the Little Sisters of the Poor, insisting that the nuns should be forced to pay for abortifacients and contraception against their religious convictions. 

As attorney general, Becerra defended a California law that required pro-life pregnancy care centers to provide information to their patients on how to obtain state-funded abortions. The case, NIFLA v. Becerra, went to the Supreme Court, which struck down the law as unconstitutional in 2018. Justice Thomas, who wrote the majority’s opinion, noted that the California law defended by Becerra imposed an undue burden on the First Amendment rights of pro-life clinics and doctors. Becerra also defended California’s abortion coverage mandate that was in direct violation the Weldon Amendment. HHS notified California in January 2020 that its mandate was in violation of federal law. Instead of working with HHS to remedy the issue, Becerra doubled down, telling the Trump administration that they were impeding California’s ability to support women’s right to “reproductive freedom.”

Finally, Becerra continued what his predecessor, Kamala Harris, started by continuing the investigation into pro-life journalists who had exposed Planned Parenthood’s role in selling baby body parts. In 2015, David Daleiden released a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing fees for human fetal tissue and organs. Rather than pursue Planned Parenthood—which endorsed Becerra in 2017 when he ran for attorney general—Becerra harassed and investigated Daleiden. Actions like this demonstrate Becerra’s proven record of shaping the law to fit his ideology. Instead of doing a substantive investigation into the evidence that Planned Parenthood violated federal law, he directly targeted Daleiden because his videos revealed unsavory truths about the abortion industry.

In short, Becerra’s record is known and well documented. Thus, while Joe Biden has preached a message of unity and told his supporters that they shouldn’t treat political opponents as enemies, the nomination of an abortion hardliner like Xavier Becerra sends a clear message: a Biden administration will not be moderate on abortion.

Nominating Becerra, a politician with little experience concerning matters related to public health, to lead the federal agency tasked with public health amid a global pandemic prioritizes political and ideological commitments over public safety. It signals Biden’s readiness to reverse President Trump’s pro-life policies. It also reveals tone-deafness to the tens of millions of Americans who just elected the most pro-life women to Congress in history.

Elections have consequences, and Americans should not be surprised that the most pro-abortion candidate in American history is nominating ideologues committed to promoting abortion. But if there was ever a time to draw a line in the sand over a nomination, this is the nominee, and this is the time. Becerra’s nomination is currently pending before the U.S. Senate, and senators committed to protecting the unborn should do everything in their power to oppose and block his nomination. Incoming presidents generally deserve deference when it comes to assembling their cabinet. However, Xavier Becerra’s extreme positions and advocacy for abortion rights are disqualifying when it comes to leading the department tasked with protecting America’s health.

Year in Review: 10 Stories From 2020

by David Closson , Molly Carman

December 31, 2020

Under normal circumstances, the last week of December provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the last 12 months and a time to dream about the possibilities ahead in the new year. But 2020 was challenging for most Americans, and many likely want to turn the page as quickly as possible. However, before ringing in 2021, it is worth reflecting on some of the highlights from this unique year.

In a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic which brought unprecedented changes into our lives, it is easy to forget what else took place. But there were other significant stories from this past year that deserve our reflection. From the perspective of two Christians working in public policy in our nation’s capital, here are 10 encouraging stories that caught our attention from 2020.

1. Churches Rise to the Challenge

When the coronavirus upended the rhythms of life that most of us had taken for granted, people had to change their modus operandi for almost everything. This included churches across the country that were forced to adapt quickly to how they served their congregations and communities. For example, when they were no longer able to gather, many churches began using live-streaming technology such as Zoom, YouTube live, and other streaming platforms to ensure members could continue receiving weekly encouragement from God’s Word. Some churches held “Drive-In” services where members could stay in their cars and listen to messages delivered by their pastor from a small stage (or even a forklift!) near the front of the parking lot. Many churches looked outward, seeking ways to serve their communities in tangible ways despite limitations on public meetings. Some churches delivered meals to nurses and doctors serving on the front lines; others provided meals and opportunities for people in the community to pray while others turned their facilities into virus testing sites. In an otherwise turbulent year, the faithfulness of churches in 2020 was a bright light.

2. Confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett

In September, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the Supreme Court. She accepted the nomination and sat courageously through an intense confirmation hearing where she was drilled and questioned by senators. Just two weeks before Election Day, Barrett was confirmed and became the youngest of only four women ever to serve on the Supreme Court. Barrett is also the first mother of school-age children to serve on the nation’s highest court. Throughout the confirmation process, Barrett faced opposition to her faith, physical appearance, and judicial philosophy. But as Tony Perkins noted, she showed “calm, poise, and decency” as she navigated the process. Since joining the Court, Barrett has already made an impression, casting the deciding vote in a major religious liberty case involving churches facing unfair restrictions and discrimination.

3. After Difficult Year, Religious Liberty Wins in Court

The coronavirus pandemic affected nearly every aspect of American life in 2020 including school, work, and even church. While many elected leaders tried to navigate the public health challenges of the virus and protect religious freedom, overzealous authorities took advantage of the situation by unfairly discriminating against churches. Although 99 percent of churches ceased in-person gatherings (many before they were even required to), as the pandemic wore on, it became apparent that some officials were holding churches to unfair standards (such as arbitrary attendance caps that businesses, casinos, and other organizations were not required to follow). This prompted several lawsuits. Unfortunately, several of these early lawsuits went against churches (such as Calvary Chapel v. Steve Sisolak), however, the Supreme Court stepped in this fall and issued multiple favorable rulings for churches. This is a welcome sign that courts are safeguarding religious freedom.

4. Trump Administration Accomplishments

Building on accomplishments from the previous three years, the Trump administration advanced a number of policies to protect life and religious liberty in 2020. For example, on January 16, the Departments of Justice and Education issued new guidance for prayer in schools, ensuring that the First Amendment rights of students are protected. Similarly, in September, the DOE published a rule to make sure First Amendment rights are protected on college campuses.

In January, the Department of Health and Human Services approved a family planning waiver for Texas to implement a state-run Medicaid program that excludes abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. This makes Texas the first state to receive Medicaid funding for a family planning program that does not include abortion providers.

On February 5, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance. The Alliance will unite government leaders from like-minded nations to strategize ways to promote religious freedom and protect religious minorities around the world.

On June 24, President Trump issued an executive order to strengthen America’s foster care and adoption system. Among other things, this action seeks to increase partnerships with faith-based organizations to care for children and preserve families.

For a more comprehensive overview of the Trump administration accomplishments (2017-2020) see this list.

5. Major Supreme Court Cases (Good and Bad)

In 2020, the Supreme Court issued several decisions affecting faith, family, and freedom. In one, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court ruled in favor of religious schools, finding provisions excluding religious schools solely because they are religious violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This ruling was a major win for religious liberty. Additionally, although several churches lost religious freedom cases in court this summer, last month, the Supreme Court, in Roman Catholic Diocese v. Cuomo, ruled that New York’s governor could not unfairly discriminate against churches. Since then the tide seems to have turned in favor of protecting the religious freedom of churches.

Unfortunately, not all the Supreme Court rulings were positive this year. In June Medical Services v. Russo, the Court struck down a pro-life law that required doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital before performing abortions. Further, in June, a 6-3 majority ruled that employment discrimination “on the basis of sex”— prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be understood to include actions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By reinterpreting the statute in this way, the Court essentially rewrote civil rights law.

6. Pro-Life Lawmakers Make Historic Gains in Congress

Decades from now, the 2020 election will be remembered as one of the most unpredictable elections in American history. And while many conservatives were disappointed in the outcome of the presidential election, there were historic victories by pro-life candidates across the country. In fact, 89 percent of candidates backed by FRC Action (104 out of 117) won their races. Ninety-eight of 100 incumbents won their races, including all 74 “True Blue” candidates who ran for reelection (“True Blue” is the designation given to legislators who receive 100 percent on FRC Action’s scorecard).

Another noteworthy achievement was the 18 pro-life women who won seats in the House of Representatives. Ten of these women flipped seats formerly held by pro-abortion Democrats. The 117th Congress will have a record 29 pro-life women in the House. Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) continues to refuse even a vote on the Born-Alive Survivor’s Protection Act (a bill that would provide protection to babies who survive a failed abortion), the new pro-life members will continue to fight for pro-life laws that protect women and babies.

7. Launch of Worldview Resources

According to recent research by George Barna, only seven percent of Americans have a biblical worldview. This means that most of our friends and neighbors—as well as many in our churches—are not thinking about today’s major issues from a perspective rooted in God’s Word. To address this need, FRC launched FRC.org/Worldview, a new worldview resources page in 2020. This page includes FRC’s “Biblical Worldview Series” which covers the topics of life, religious liberty, human sexuality, and political engagement. There are now summary versions and prayer guides for each publication; most of the publications are in Spanish as well. Looking forward to 2021, FRC will continue producing resources to equip Christians to faithfully engage the culture from a biblical worldview.

8. FRC Pro-Life Map Resource

In 2020, Family Research Council released a new resource illustrating the progress in states on key pro-life laws. This resource helps inform lawmakers and citizens of the various pro-life bills in their states, in order that communities can stand together in the fight against abortion. The maps feature summaries of bills dealing with born-alive protections, late-term abortions, fetal dignity, and defunding abortion providers.

Since the release of these maps, we have already seen progress in some states. For example, this summer, Nebraska passed a law that banned dismemberment abortions. Remarkably there was a strong concurrence among lawmakers and the final vote came out to 33-8. This demonstrates that the majority took a strong stand to prohibit this brutal form of abortion. By passing this bill, Nebraska joins 11 other states who have also banned dismemberment abortions, which is limiting the number of abortions that occur pass the second trimester. Additionally, West Virginia passed a “Born-Alive” law which shifted the law from “no protections” to “strong protections” on FRC’s pro-life map.

9. A Win for International Religious Liberty

Christians and those of other faiths across the world have faced grave hardships this year as the challenges to religious freedom continue to mount. In China, all religious beliefs are tightly restricted by the government, but this year Uyghur Muslims experienced some of the most extreme persecution from the Chinese Communist Party. This fall, FRC supported an effective bill to address one major aspect of the problem—the widespread use of Uyghur forced labor. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act requires companies that produce goods in Xinjiang, China and import them to the United States to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the goods are not made with forced labor. This bipartisan bill passed the House of Representatives in September. Earlier this year, FRC hosted one young Uyghur woman who shared her story, illustrating just how important it is to speak up for the persecuted in China, and around the world.

10. Honoring Our Nation’s Heritage Through Monuments

When rioters took to the streets this summer, many monuments representing historical figures were vandalized, defaced, and destroyed. While monuments honoring the Confederacy were the initial targets, memorials honoring abolitionists, Union generals, and black soldiers were also razed. 

President Trump was determined to preserve the history of our nation by protecting these monuments and memorials. He called on the National Guard to protect the monuments in the nation’s capital (including the Freedman’s Memorial honoring Abraham Lincoln) which have thankfully stood to see another day. The story of our nation’s values and history are engraved in many of these monuments and memorials. Rather than capitulate to the worst impulses of cancel culture, we should continue to strive toward more fully realizing our founding ideals. For a more in-depth look at D.C.’s monuments, check-out FRC’s summer blog series that focuses on the spiritual heritage depicted in many of these memorials.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 6): How the Servant’s Death Brings the Light of Life

by David Closson

December 25, 2020

This is the final part of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

 

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[the light of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Christmas, the day when Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, is joyful precisely because Jesus succeeded in His earthly mission, namely, securing salvation for all who trust in His saving work. Our study of Isaiah 53 concludes with verses 10-12, which direct our attention to the meaning and significance of the Servant’s suffering and death and help us understand the depth of God’s love for His children.

Verse 10 reveals a startling truth—God willed the terrible death of this innocent Servant. Verse 11 explains why—His death made it possible for many to be accounted righteous. Verse 12 returns to the theme of Isaiah 52:13 and glories in the Servant’s exaltation. Together, these verses marvel at the work accomplished by the Servant and foreshadow Christ’s work on the cross.

Verse 10 opens the stanza with the disjunctive “Yet,” signaling a clear contrast with the content of the previous verse. The focus shifts from man’s sensory experience to God’s perspective on what has unfolded so far. In light of the horrifying miscarriage of justice perpetrated against the Servant, Isaiah’s readers expect God to avenge and vindicate the Servant. Thus, when God’s sovereign purpose is at last revealed in verse 10a, the truth is startling— “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”

The natural response to this statement is disbelief and perhaps even anger. Why would God want to crush this man? Why would God want an innocent person to suffer? On these questions, theologian John Oswalt’s reflections are illuminating:

The faithful God of the Bible would certainly not visit bad things on innocent people, would he? Yes, he would if some greater good would be served. Is it possible there is some greater good than all the terrible things the Servant has endured will procure?… [Yes,] what God wants to come out of the Servant’s suffering is of monumental proportions. He wants human beings to be able to offer this man up on the altar of their sins so that he can be a “full and sufficient sacrifice” for them, satisfying all the unpaid debts of their behavior.[1]

God’s sovereign purpose behind all the suffering of the Servant was to make Him a guilt offering, not for His own sins (He had none), but for the sins of others.

An important note must be made concerning English translations that render verse 10a: “But the Lord was pleased to crush him” (NASB) or “Though the Lord desired to crush him” (NET). Unfortunately, these translations contribute to the faulty understanding that somehow, God took delight in making the Servant suffer. Peter Gentry helpfully clarifies this point: “Here, ‘delighted’ is being used in the context of sacrifice. God is delighted or pleased with the sacrifice in the sense that he accepts it as sufficient to wipe away his indignation, his offense and his outrage at our sin.”[2] Thus, it was not God’s sadistic will to punish an innocent man. Rather, it was God’s redemptive will. This notion is further clarified in the second part of verse 10 with the mention of “guilt offering.” 

The guilt or “reparation” offering in 10b refers to the fifth offering described in Leviticus. Of all the Old Testament offerings, this one covered guilt that had been knowingly incurred by the individual and had to be offered by the individual responsible.[3] Three important benefits of this offering are highlighted in verse 10c: “he shall see his offspring,” “he shall prolong his days,” and “the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” In view of fulfilling God’s glorious plan, the Servant will be successful; he will enjoy offspring and length of days. These should be interpreted figuratively to indicate that despite the bleak future forecasted in previous stanzas, the Servant’s life will be marked by blessing and fruitfulness. This thought is continued in verse 11a with the phrase, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [the light of life] and be satisfied.” Despite not appearing in some English translations, the phrase “light of life” in verse 11 is supported by textual witnesses.[4] Taken together, verses 10c and 11a point to another significant reality—resurrection.

Although the Servant’s death is communicated in stanza four (verses 7-9), stanza five indicates that the Servant is alive. How is this possible? Verse 11a, with its contrast of “guilt offering” and “light,” strongly suggests resurrection, which is implied by the idea of seeing offspring and prolonging days.[5] Faithfully reconciling stanza four and five requires the Servant’s resurrection (taking place between the realities described by each). The reference to “light” in 11a is another clue to resurrection.

Verses 11b-12 conclude stanza five by describing the benefits of the Servant’s death given to the “many.” The use of “knowledge” in 11b should be understood as experiential knowledge of faith.[6] In context, this accurately captures Isaiah’s understanding of the Servant’s accomplishment. People do not benefit by what the Servant knows, but by knowing and believing in what the Servant did.  

Verse 12 explains that the benefits of the Servant’s success will be “divided… with the many.” This highlights the breadth of the Servant’s work. Because the Servant “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many,” he effectively has provided a way for men to have a right relationship with God. Gentry notes this “corporate solidarity” between the one and the many and explains it in terms of the Ancient Near East context of the relationship between a king and his people.[7] In this case, because the Servant represents the people, the rewards and benefits He secured through His suffering and death are transferred to the people. It is striking to discern that all the major words used for sin— “transgressions,” “iniquities,” and “sin”—are in the plural, indicating that the Servant’s sacrificial death is holistic, covering the guilt of the “many.” This is a magnificent picture of substitutionary atonement and points to what Christ did on the cross.

Conclusion

Isaiah 53 is one of the most magnificent messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. In a way that is striking and sobering, this passage blazes forth the glory of Christ and the hope of eternal salvation by teaching that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son as a humble Servant who willingly substituted Himself in our place and bore the full wrath of God for our sin that we might be forgiven.

Thus, at Christmas, it is fitting to read and study Isaiah 53, which clearly captures the meaning and significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Examining the intricacies of this text is not easy, but the reward is worth it. Seeing Christ’s person and work thus depicted—exalted (52:13-15), despised (1-3), rejected (4-6), killed (7-10), and resurrected (10-12)—prompts reverent worship and a profound sense of gratitude. Indeed, praise God for this Servant, this man of sorrows, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 400.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 35.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 402.

[4] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 37.

[5]  Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 802.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 41.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 5): The Lamb of God Is Sacrificed for Our Transgressions

by David Closson

December 24, 2020

This is Part 5 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9)

Our study of Isaiah 53 continues in verses 7-9, which contain the shocking climax of the chapter: the Servant suffers to the point of death. Because the parallels between the Servant’s death and the final events of Jesus Christ’s life are so striking, ever since the first century, Christians have acknowledged Christ’s death on the cross as the fulfillment of this passage. Verses 7-9 are quoted no less than 15 times by New Testament authors.[1]

The two comparisons with sheep (in verse 6 of the previous stanza and in verse 7) are noteworthy and most likely intentional. On this point, John Oswalt comments: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in this poem involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice.”[2] While “we” the people are likened to sheep that have gone astray, the Servant is likened to a sheep led to slaughter. Amid His ongoing oppression and suffering, the Servant is silent, like a sheep before its shearers. Rather than objecting to the injustice of the proceedings, the Servant accepts his role and does not protest. In the same way, Christ was silent before His own accusers (Pilate, Herod, etc.), in fulfillment of this text.

The phrase “by oppression and judgment” in verse 8a presents an interpretive challenge. Professor Gay V. Smith understands “oppression” to mean “restrained,” suggesting that the Servant was arrested and imprisoned. He understands “judgment” as referring to a court or place of judgment.[3] Smith concurs with Peter Gentry, who thinks that a lack of justice in the judicial process (no fair trial) is most likely being implied.[4]

Verse 8 continues by noting that the Servant was “cut off” out of the land of the living, indicating death. Professor Geoffrey Grogan comments, “The phrase ‘cut off’ strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death, but also the just judgment of God, not simply the oppressive judgment of human beings.”[5] Although His death is somewhat expected, given the progression of the text, the fact that the innocent Servant is finally killed hits the reader with force. The miscarriage of justice is infuriating and cries out for retribution. However, the final phrase adds a shocking, revelatory detail that clarifies the motive of the Servant— he was killed “for the transgression of my people.” Oswalt notes that this reveals that the Servant was not killed because of a corrupt legal system: “It is not legal injustice that condemns him but the transgression of my people. If he is treated unjustly, and he is, the author wants us to know that this injustice is not an expression of that all-too-common custom of mistreating innocent people. The Servant was doing this on purpose.”[6] Despite the rejection, sorrow, grief, and shame, the Servant’s death was ultimately the result of an intentional and purposeful plan. This is a staggering statement that will be developed in the final stanza.

Briefly, verse 9 adds details concerning the Servant’s death and place of burial. Gentry argues that the verse should be rendered, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but his tomb was with the rich.”[7]This means that although the Servant was killed with criminals, he was buried amongst the rich. This is exactly what happened at Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was crucified with criminals but buried in the tomb of a rich man. Once again, Christ perfectly fulfills Isaiah’s description of the Servant.



[1] NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Harper Collins, 2015), 1427. Some of these verses include Matt. 26:63; 27:12, 14; Mark 14:60-61; Acts 8:32-33; 1 Cor. 15:3, and 1 John 3:5.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 391–392.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2009), 453.

[4] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 33. Oswalt concurs with Smith and Gentry on p. 393 of The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66.

[5] Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 801.

[6] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 394.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 34.

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