Author archives: Joseph Backholm

What To Believe About Issues Jesus Didn’t Discuss

by Joseph Backholm

October 15, 2021

A favorite argument of those trying to push the boundaries of Christian ethics is an argument from silence. It usually goes something like this: “Jesus never talked about [insert issue], so that means He doesn’t care.” 

However, arguments from silence are a type of logical fallacy. The lack of evidence for something does not mean the gaps in our knowledge should be filled with assumptions. Furthermore, every parent who has heard their child say, “You didn’t see me do it,” understands that those who depend most heavily on a lack of proof might not be prioritizing the truth.

When it comes to the Christian life, arguments from silence are more than just sloppy thinking. They might also be evidence of a heart that is more interested in getting its own way than trying to live God’s way.

Fundamental to the gospel is the idea of submission. Paul expressed this attitude when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, ESV).

When we justify our morally questionable decisions with an argument from silence, we put the cart before the horse. Our goal should not be to do whatever we want until someone says, “No,” but to affirmatively look for ways to honor God with our lives. 

Instead of asking, “Is it okay if I do this?” we should be asking, “Does God want me to do this?”

The first instinct of a life surrendered to God is to find out what He wants, not to see if we can justify doing what we want. As Christians, everything we do should be viewed through the lens of honoring God. As Paul said, “[W]hatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

The instinct to see what we can get away with is evidence that we don’t always want God to be in charge. We want Him to supervise and provide help when needed, but mostly we want Him to help us have fun. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis described that view of God in this way:  

We want, in fact, not so much a father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”

The God of the Bible demands daily submission for His glory and our pleasure because He loves us and understands that our sinful desires promise joy and satisfaction but deliver neither. 

Even Jesus, who is fully God and an equal member of the Trinity, was primarily focused on what God the Father wanted Him to do. As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).

It is folly to build our moral view of the world around what Jesus did not talk explicitly about. After all, Jesus didn’t say anything specifically about sexual assault or flying planes into skyscrapers, yet we can still know what God thinks about them. As Christians, our desire should be to think biblically about everything. Even though the Bible doesn’t provide explicit instructions on every issue or question we may encounter in life, the answers are not difficult to find if we actually want to find them.  

When considering what Jesus said and thinks, our attitude makes all the difference. Any time we find ourselves saying, “Jesus didn’t say you can’t…” is a good time to take inventory of our motives and make sure that we are really wanting what God wants and not merely trying to justify doing what we want.

Image: Carl Heinrich Bloch, “Sermon on the Mount” (1877)

Critical Race Theory and the Path to Truth

by Joseph Backholm

August 25, 2021

Some see the debate over Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a disagreement between those who think racism is real and those who do not. But this is not the case. Thoughtful critics of CRT understand that it is not merely a tool for understanding the history of racism. Rather, CRT’s oppressor/oppressed framework is a way of understanding and interpreting the world—one that is significantly in conflict with a biblical worldview because it offers a different understanding of truth.

For Christians, God is the source of truth, and His truth is revealed to us in Scripture. But proponents of CRT see truth differently. They see the “right versus wrong” view of the world as part of the oppressive systems they seek to overthrow. Consider the following comments from an advocate of CRT:

Heterosexual white men in this society tend to have a dualistic view of the world: we are either right or wrong, winners or losers. There is only one truth, and we will fight with one another to determine whose truth is right. To understand oppression requires that we accept others’ experiences as truthful, even though they may be very different from ours. To live with equality in a diverse, pluralistic society, we have to accept the fact that all groups and individuals have a legitimate claim to what is true and real for them

– Cooper Thompson, “Can White Men Understand Oppression?” Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, p. 478

From this perspective, experience guides us to truth, and what is truth for me might not be truth for you. From a biblical perspective, this kind of thinking is very dangerous because our feelings about reality often conflict with reality. Scripture tells us that our feelings can deceive us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV). Furthermore, Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mk. 7:20-23).

The Bible constantly reminds us that our feelings can align with reality but often do not. Even though the accuser might condemn us, Scripture says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). In addition, the moments in which we feel most self-satisfied are the moments we are reminded to “humble yourselves therefore before the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Endorsing multiple, subjective versions of truth is not the only way CRT conflicts with the Bible’s understanding of truth. This 2018 tweet from Union Seminary in New York City (not to be confused with other institutions named Union) illustrates that for some, critical theory becomes the standard through which Scripture is interpreted. The seminary said, “While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It was written by men over centuries and thus reflects both God’s truth and human sin & prejudice. We affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God’s.”

When you use critical theory to interpret the Bible, you give it a higher authority in your life than Scripture. 

CRT also encourages us to apply different moral standards based on the racial identity of the people involved. This was made evident in a controversy over a series of tweets from a former New York Times editor named Sarah Jeong.

When the Times hired Jeong in 2018 her Twitter history surfaced, including tweets that said the following:  

Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” July 2014

Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically being only fit to live underground like groveling goblins.” December 2014

At a minimum, these tweets were unkind, and should they have been directed at any other ethnic group, they would have been universally decried as racist. Does directing them at white people make them not racist? By the standards of CRT, yes. This perspective was articulated by Zach Beauchamp, a writer at the left-wing outlet Vox.  Discussing the dustup, he argued that “The underlying power structure in American society” is what differentiates these tweets from “actual racism.” In other words, these tweets weren’t “racist” because they targeted the race that CRT deemed it acceptable to be hateful toward.

This view of morality stands in direct contrast with Scripture, which tells us that God will judge each of us for our actions. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). There are no exceptions or allowances for sin based on our skin color or that of the people we might offend. “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’” (Rom. 2:6, NIV) and, unlike humans, He shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11, 10:12; Col. 3:25).

Because of the persecution faced by first century Christians, Paul told the church to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Rom. 12:14). Likewise, Jesus told us how to respond to those who wrong us: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:44). The reason for this is that loving people who love us is unexceptional. As Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32).

So, we see that CRT is not merely a tool to evaluate the sin of racism. CRT offers a worldview that is incompatible with Scripture and the way God has called us to live.  

How Unmet Expectations Destroy our Faith

by Joseph Backholm

July 21, 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 the Center for Biblical Worldview page.

If you are married, there’s a good chance you did some premarital counseling that included conversations about what to expect in marriage. These conversations hopefully encompassed much more than who is going to mow the lawn and manage the money. Ideally, these conversations fostered an understanding of what “in good times and bad” actually means. In marriage, as in all relationships, disappointment often results when our expectations don’t match reality.

The Christian life isn’t all that different. Many people turn to God because of problems they hope He can fix. Some of us are like the so-called “foxhole Christian” who promises to “live for God” if He will spare our lives and help us survive the battle. Of course, God can meet us in our moments of biggest need, but if we surrender to God because of what He might do for us (instead of what He has already done for us) we run the risk of our expectations not matching reality.

If we expect that serving God will make our lives easier, what happens when serving God makes life harder? Could this help explain why some Christians are walking away from their faith? Here is some research I detailed in a recent publication:

America is becoming less religious and has been for a while. In just the last decade, the number of people claiming to be Christian has declined 12 percent—from 77 percent to 65 percent. Not only is America less Christian as a percentage, the total number of professing Christians has declined from 176 million in 2009 to 167 million in 2019, even as the population increased by 23 million.

Further:

The fastest growing religious category in America is the “nones”—those who claim to have no religion at all. Over the last decade, the number of Protestants declined 15 percent and the number of Catholics declined 12 percent, while the “nones” grew 70 percent—from 12 percent of the population to 17 percent in 2019. That’s an additional 30 million people who now claim no religious faith. Of those, 78 percent grew up in the church. The church is losing its own kids.

Cultural shifts never have just one cause, but it’s worth considering whether people leave the church because, as with many marriages, their expectations didn’t match reality.

When we become Christians, we take sides in a spiritual war that has been raging on this planet since Adam and Eve first sinned. Taking sides in a war—particularly a spiritual one—has consequences. Although this might seem obvious, it is often not highlighted when the gospel is presented.

Of course, submitting our lives to Christ does fix our biggest problem: our sin. But many people are unaware of what their biggest problem is, and in many cases, people are more interested in solving their financial, social, or marital problems than their damnation problem. It’s easy to be more interested in the gifts than the Giver, but from God’s perspective, He is the prize: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).

The Christian life is filled with joy (Ps. 16:11), but the joy of the Christian life is counterintuitive to the world’s ideas about joy. Even our suffering can be a source of joy: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2, NKJV). 

In fact, we are blessed at the moments when life might seem most challenging, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake and the gospel” (Mat. 5:11). Being misunderstood and mistreated can not only be a source of joy but evidence that we are doing exactly what Jesus wants us to do: “Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat. 5:12).

If we come to Jesus because the Lamb is worthy of His reward, we will never be disappointed. If we come to Jesus because we were hoping He could fix a few things, it could be unsettling if our lives become temporarily more difficult.

The reward of the Christian life is not the absence of pain. In fact, becoming a Christian may introduce even more pain and persecution into your life. But one of the rewards of following Jesus is seeing that our pain—even our deepest hurt and suffering—is temporary and that what awaits us on the other side of the pain is more than worth it. This was the apostle Paul’s point when he said, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Moreover, as Christians, we gain the perspective that God is at work in our sufferings and uses them to conform us into the people He wants us to be.

Many Christians did not sign up expecting a war. For many, once being a Christian became more of a liability rather than an asset (culturally speaking), they sought a discharge from the service. If we come to Jesus more focused on this life than the next, it’s possible we’ll be disappointed. Based on the numbers, many people are.

Thinking Biblically About Racism

by Joseph Backholm

June 23, 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 the Center for Biblical Worldview page.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) seems to have captured the public consciousness as of late. Ideological battle lines are being drawn over it—some states are moving to ban it, while some government agencies are looking to mandate it where they can. Local communities are divided over whether or not it should be taught in schools, and school board meetings are becoming the front lines of this new culture war. For something as hotly debated as CRT, it is curious that there does not seem to be a common understanding or agreement about what it is or how it ought to be defined. However, generally speaking, CRT seems to teach that, in America, being a white person is always a problem, and not being a white person is always a sign of oppression.

As with any issue, Christians’ primary goal regarding race and racism should be to view it through the lens of Scripture and try to think about it the way God does. When seeking to think biblically about race, here are some truths that may be helpful.  

1. God made us different on purpose.

In Genesis 1-2, we read that God made mankind in His image, but one only needs to look around to see that He didn’t make us all exactly the same. That means that there is something in our differences that reflects the image of God in different ways. There is no biblical reason to try to minimize or ignore these obvious differences. We don’t need to be “color blind” any more than we need to be “height blind.” Pretending not to notice that the seven-foot man is tall would just be weird. Some people are taller while others are shorter. Some people have darker skin, and some people have lighter skin. We’re different. God made us that way. The problems arise if we start treating people as being lesser than ourselves based on the different ways God made us.

2. God does not show favoritism.

Although God knows we are different, He expects us to love one another (Mk. 12:31) and not look down on each other based on our differences. There are many biblical reasons for racism being bad. Not only is it prideful, unloving, and unkind, it is not considering others as better than yourself, which Christians are commanded to do (Phil 2:3). Beyond that, racism is a show of favoritism, which Christians are repeatedly warned against (Rom. 2:11, Acts 10:34, Eph. 6:9). Racial favoritism isn’t the only kind that God disapproves of; Christians are also forbidden from showing favoritism toward the rich (James 2:2-4). However you think about it, showing favoritism is wrong.

3. God hates oppression.

Although God is opposed to favoritism generally, He is especially opposed to the kind of favoritism that oppresses the vulnerable. In fact, God considers the way we treat the vulnerable to be an indication of what we think about Him.

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Prov. 14:31, ESV)

If we oppress the vulnerable, we are not only propagating injustice, but we are also making ourselves God’s enemy.

Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them. (Prov. 22:22-23)

God told Israel that His blessing was conditional upon their willingness to end oppressive practices.

For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jer. 7:5-7)

4. God wants us to come to the aid of the oppressed.

God not only wants us to avoid being oppressive, but He also wants us to stop others from being oppressive as well.

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4)

We are also supposed to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31:8-9)

For the Christian, believing that something God says is bad is in fact bad is not adequate. God wants us to be part of the solution.

5. The oppressed have responsibilities, too.

Although God hates oppression, being oppressed is not a license to sin. God wants us to treat those who oppress us in the way Jesus treated those who oppressed Him. Paul tells those who are oppressed:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. (Rom. 12:14)

Jesus said:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Mat. 5:44-45)

Jesus also said that an inability to love our enemies is evidence of our own selfishness:

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:32)

We must forgive those who wrong us (Rom. 12:17; Mat. 6:15, 18:21-22; 1 Pet. 3:9) and not seek revenge. As Paul said to the Romans:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19)

God wants us to oppose injustice with a heart of love rather than a heart of bitterness.

6. God cares more about our actions than our skin color.

Today’s culture is fixated on what people look like. Although an intersectional approach gives people bonus points and deductions based on their sex or pigmentation, God will judge us by our actions: “He will render to each one according to his works” (Rom. 2:6). God is most interested in helping His image-bearers to be righteous like Him. As always, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Our skin color is a real and wonderful part of who God made us to be, but it is not the thing that matters most to Him. Therefore, it should not be the thing that matters most to us.

7. Racism is a symptom, not the disease.

Racism is an undeniable evil, but it is not humanity’s primary challenge. Ever since mankind first tried to convince ourselves that we could be like God (Gen. 3:5), we have been trying to make ourselves feel superior to those around us. The strong feel superior to the weak, the rich feel superior to the poor, the beautiful feel superior to the ordinary. Racism is simply another manifestation of pride, and we know God hates racism because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). Speaking through Solomon, God uses even stronger language: “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Prov. 8:13). Even if everyone’s skin color was the same, our sin would still compel us to elevate ourselves at the expense of others.

8. Your biggest problems in life are inside you.

The biggest problem we face is a sinful heart. The apostle Paul described it this way:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom. 7:19)

Jesus explained that this is the function of a corrupt heart:

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mat. 15:18-19)

The prophet Jeremiah explained:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

Our own hearts are a much greater threat to us than systemic injustices. Fixing broken systems will accomplish little if we have not won the battle inside ourselves. However, if each of us wins the interior battle with our hearts, we will find a dramatic improvement in the exterior systems. Let’s make sure we don’t put the cart before the horse.

Thinking Biblically About “Pride Month”

by Joseph Backholm

June 2, 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 the Center for Biblical Worldview page.

If you are on the internet, you likely know that June is “Pride Month.” Your social media feed will be filled with promotions, companies will temporarily change their logos to show that they are down with the struggle, and city streets will be lined with rainbow flags in solidarity with the sexual revolution.  

Meanwhile, many Christians will struggle with knowing how to respond. If you’re one of them, here are a few things to remember.

Pride celebrations are not new.

Although pride parades down the streets of America’s cities are a relatively recent development, people making a declaration of independence from God is so old it is almost cliché.  

In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:2-3). However, Eve, with Satan’s help, convinced herself that doing things her way would help her become like God. Perhaps she decided she was spiritual, not religious.

She observed that the tree was good for food, that it was a delight to the eyes, and that it was desirable to make one wise (Gen. 3:6). She convinced herself that her rebellion would not be rebellion at all but virtue. She found God’s rules to be stifling of her individuality and was ready to chart a new path. Her husband even joined her. They may have even felt a sense of pride as they freed themselves from the bondage of God’s rules.

Basically, Adam and Eve started these parades, and we’ve all participated in various ways and with varying degrees of enthusiasm.     

You can love the way God wants you to or the way the world wants you to, but not both.

Much will be said about love this month. T-shirts, memes, and parade signs will declare that “love is love” and that “love wins.” Whether Christians can agree with these sentiments depends on how “love” is defined. Proponents of the sexual revolution would have us believe that we show love for someone by affirming identities, indulging desires, and encouraging each other to “live your truth.” But God’s definition of love is very different.

Scripture reminds us that “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:4-5). But then it goes on to remind us that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). This crucial verse is where God’s understanding of love and the world’s understanding of love diverge. God’s love forbids the celebration of things God does not celebrate. The world’s understanding of love requires it.

This means that a Christian’s unwillingness to celebrate Pride Month will be seen by the world as an act of hate and by God as an act of love. Christians must choose whose definition of love they will accept.  

Pride comes before a fall.

It’s ironic that those who started “Pride” events used the term “pride” to describe them. They named their entire movement after one of the seven deadly sins; a sin that Proverbs assures us is the prelude to our destruction: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). It is almost as if God was looking to make it obvious what was actually happening here. Just as we would be wise to avoid celebrating “Wrath Month” or a “Lust Parade,” Christians should be wary of celebrating pride. After all, we know what happens next.   

No one is beyond the love or reach of Jesus.

While Christians are right to separate themselves from celebrations of sin, we should be equally careful to avoid a different but equally bad kind of pride—self-righteousness. If Christians have any goodness within ourselves, we do not deserve the credit. After all, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Rather than a sense of self-righteousness, Jesus modeled how our hearts should respond to people who are lost:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mat. 9:36-38).

When we see crowds who are lost, we should be moved to compassion, not self-righteousness.

Don’t be afraid.

This month, some will encounter a city street lined with rainbow flags or unwittingly expose their child to sexual revolutionary propaganda on Blue’s Clues and be prone to despair. Don’t despair.

Fear is never from God (2 Tim. 1:7). Whatever situation you are dealing with, God is not surprised by it, nor is it beyond His control. However, He knows we are prone to worry, which is why Peter encourages us to cast all our anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). The same God who formed the mountains and put the planets into orbit is aware of the situation and handling it.

The good news is that our moments of weakness are the moments God does His best work in us. While the culture takes pride in their independence from God, we should boast in our dependence:  

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Cor. 12:9).

Maybe we should start our own pride parade; it would be kind of the same but also very different.

Why I Don’t Use Preferred Pronouns

by Joseph Backholm

May 21, 2021

Demi Lovato has “come out” as non-binary. While this news caused some to wonder who Demi Lovato is, others wondered what “non-binary” is. Being non-binary seems to mean that someone does not feel entirely masculine or feminine so they choose to be neither male or female but leave room to act like either if they feel like it—non-binary.

If we are trying to be charitable, and we should, the kernel of truth in all this confusion is that there is not one way to be male or female. A man who enjoys cooking is not less of a man nor is a woman who enjoys football and working on cars less of a woman. While stereotypes exist for a reason, there is—and should be—room for each person to be an individual.

Still, the coverage of Lovato’s announcement is just as significant as the announcement itself because her announcement included her new pronouns which she declared to be they/them. What does that mean? It means that she is no longer a “she.” She is a “they,” which, obviously, makes no sense unless we are dealing with a personality disorder. But CNN, in their article announcing the big news, illustrates how it’s supposed to work: “Singer Demi Lovato has revealed they are nonbinary and are changing their pronouns, telling fans they are ‘proud’ to make the change after ‘a lot of self-reflective work.’”  

We now are to refer to a singular person with words that have long implied more than one person. To do otherwise is to “misgender” them, an act which has become the gravest of sins among those who otherwise deny the existence of sin.

This is why I don’t intend to comply.

In my mind, preferred pronoun usage is not a matter of politeness or courtesy. It is more than honoring the wishes of Mr. Jones who says “Please, call me Steve.” It is even more significant than honoring Steve’s wishes when he changes his name to Dave—or even Darlene.

Pronouns contain a statement of belief about the nature of reality. Preferred pronouns are a declaration that there is no authority above me—or you—that has determined my identity. I am the captain of my own soul, the master of my own fate, and the only person to whom I am responsible. My body, my choice.

This is not a scientific claim, this is a philosophical and religious claim. Those of us who disagree don’t only disagree with the idea that a man can become a woman. More fundamentally, we disagree that we determine our own reality. 

How would you feel if you were asked to say “Jesus is Lord” every time you saw someone? If you don’t believe Jesus is Lord, you might even be offended by the request. That’s how some of us feel.

It isn’t just that I don’t believe a man can become a woman, I also don’t believe that decision is within a person’s jurisdiction to determine. You might as well tell me you decided the sun revolves around the earth. I can appreciate your perspective, and I promise to treat you with respect, but my kid is not going to modify their science project just because you’re triggered every time you see a model of the solar system with a big orange ball in the middle.

If you don’t agree with the way I see the world, persuade me I’m wrong, but until we come to agreement, our default position should be mutual respect, not coercion.

Ironically, the pressure to make people say things they don’t believe is coming from the “live your truth” crowd. However, it seems I’m only supposed to “live my truth” if my understanding of the truth is consistent with theirs. Maybe the real goal has always been power, not truth.

If you’re still not persuaded and you still think I should use preferred pronouns as a matter of courtesy, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll refer to Demi Lovato as “they” as long as you say “Jesus is Lord” every time you see me. After all, it will make me happy and I really think it’s true. It’s the polite thing to do.

Thinking Biblically About Judging

by Joseph Backholm

May 19, 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”, Love, Courage, Forgiveness, the Resurrection and the Social Gospel, Loyalty, Identity, Religious Freedom, Communication, and Cancel Culture.

Even people who don’t know the Bible have opinions about it. In my experience, the favorite verse of those who don’t like the Bible is Matthew 7:1, which says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” 

For many, this verse functions like a get-out-of-jail-free card that relieves them of the need to be concerned about anything else the Bible says. “Since God told you not to judge,” they suggest, “your belief that I have done something wrong is the real sin.” Whenever someone plays the Matthew 7:1 card, their sense of satisfaction is tangible. They believe they’ve beaten the Christians at their own game by using the Bible to prove that, if sin exists, it is the Christian who is the real sinner.   

But is it true? Does Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:1 forbid Christians from forming moral judgments about people’s beliefs, behaviors, or ideas?

Of course not.

A fundamental rule of biblical interpretation is that Scripture must be interpreted as being consistent with itself. Most parents have told their children that they should not hit others. Does this mean that a parent is being hypocritical when, in another conversation, they tell their child to kick, scream, and “go for the eyes” if they are ever targeted by a kidnapper?  

In the same way, Jesus was not contradicting the entire moral law when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He was making a different point that, although related, is completely consistent with everything else He said.

The context of Matthew 7:1 is helpful for understanding its meaning:    

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV)

It is clear that Jesus wants us to be more concerned with our own behavior than the behavior of others, and He wants us to live by the same standards we expect of others. In more contemporary terms, don’t throw rocks from glass houses.

But it is unreasonable, considering everything else the Bible says, to conclude that making moral judgments is wrong. The apostle Paul tells Timothy that, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul reminds us that we have a duty to help those who are in sin to get out of it.  “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). None of this makes any sense if we are forbidden from recognizing when someone has done wrong.

Yes, the priority is always on our own hearts, but we cannot be indifferent to what others are doing.

Jesus’ brother James described the importance of helping people walk away from sin: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). The book of Proverbs is dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom, but wisdom is impossible without regularly making judgments about people and circumstances. After all, wisdom is knowledge properly applied.

Far from forbidding moral judgments, Jesus told us how we ought to judge: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). God shows us how to judge rightly when he selected David to be king, despite the fact that David did not have the appearance the Israelites expected of a king. “[F]or God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

In addition, Christians should never condemn or claim moral superiority when making moral judgments. Christianity is egalitarian in the sense that it begins with the recognition that we are all equally guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23) and equally deserving of condemnation (Rom. 6:23). Since any righteousness we have is God’s doing, not ours (Eph. 2:9), there is never a reason to feel self-satisfied.

Therefore, the Christian attitude in making judgments is compassion rather than condemnation or superiority. Paul made this point in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thes. 3:14-15). Although we must oppose evil and stand for truth, we do so out of concern for those in rebellion, rather than condemnation.

But there is another point that should not be missed. Many people who make arguments from Scripture don’t actually care what the Bible says. If you’re in a conversation with someone whose familiarity with the Bible begins and ends with Matthew 7:1, they are probably not trying to understand God’s will for their life. It’s just as likely that they are trying to render God irrelevant by quoting one part of the Bible that they believe nullifies the rest of it.

If that is happening in your world, be aware of it but don’t fall for it. Learn the lesson of Matthew 7 by making sure that you are most concerned with your own holiness. In your interactions with the world, make sure that you have exchanged pride and judgementalism for love and compassion. But, by all means, keep your brain engaged; make good judgments about what is good and evil, helpful and unhelpful. It’s crazy out there.

Thinking Biblically About Communication

by Joseph Backholm

May 5, 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”LoveCourageForgivenessthe Resurrection and the Social GospelLoyaltyIdentity, and Religious Freedom.

Sadly, the polarization of the country seems to be polarizing the church as well. While factions are nothing new within the Christian church, new fault lines appear to be forming based on a host of tertiary issues including immigration, critical race theory, and Donald Trump. Unfortunately, those differences seem to be affecting the way we treat each other and speak to each other.

Even within the Family Research Council community, evidence of these divisions have appeared in the comment sections of our social media pages as people who claim to love Jesus speak to each other in ways that are clearly unloving.

Caring deeply about issues is a good. Ideas matter to God, which is why Paul instructs us to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As Abraham Kuyper described it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” While it is appropriate to have opinions about immigration, critical race theory, and Donald Trump, it is even more important to make sure that our thoughts are motivated by the Spirit and not the flesh.

Ideas matter because ideas can be lethal. As James explains, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Death is often the result of a malignant idea that has had the time to mature.

Nevertheless, the seriousness with which we should take the battle of ideas should not blind us to the fact that there are rules of engagement God expects us to honor. After all, “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Our words have the power to give life: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24). In the same way, harsh words spoken in anger can leave wounds that never fully heal.

The power of the tongue is one of the reasons our ability to control our tongues is foundational to a surrendered life. As James explains, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Solomon tells us in Proverbs that “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs12:18).

An important question for every Christians to ask is this: do my words bring healing? 

Fortunately, there is no shortage of instruction in Scripture on this point: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Also, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ecclesiastes 4:29).

These reminders do not mean that God forbids direct communication or saying things that will bother people. Jesus referred to the Pharisees as a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34) and “whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27-28). He also told them that their father was the devil (John 8:44).

While these are hard truths, they were spoken for the benefit, not the harm, of the hearers. Jesus was not speaking out of anger, pride, or frustration over who they voted for but out of a desire to help them see their situation as it really was so they could repent.

In contrast, though we may speak truth, we do not always speak truth in love. Instead, we are often motivated by a desire to win the argument, exact a rhetorical pound of flesh, or silence someone who has become bothersome. But as Proverbs 29:11 reminds us, “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.”

This is the difference between us and Jesus.

The call to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) is challenging because it is impossible to fake love. What we feel about someone will inevitably reveal itself in our interactions with them. As Jesus reminds us, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Whether we are speaking to other Christians with a different perspective or people who are hostile to the gospel, the key to speaking truth in love is to actually love the people we engage with—even if we disagree with them about everything. In many cases, this requires us to change the way we see the people we engage with.  

If we see someone primarily as a heretic or political enemy, we will inevitably treat them that way. If we see someone as a threat to our children and our way of life, we will treat them as if they are a threat. However, if we see them first and foremost as people made in God’s image—whether they are deceived or not—we will see them as loved by God and therefore deserving of love from us. From this perspective, we will see people who may disagree with us not as a roadblock to our goal but as the goal itself. After all, Jesus came to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

If we win the argument but lose the person, have we really won anything?    

In addition, showing grace and kindness to those we disagree with makes it easier to admit our mistakes when it turns out we were the one in the wrong. If we act pridefully, it’s much more difficult to admit mistakes.

But even when we are right, our highest goal should not be to prove it. The reason we care about ideas is because we care about the impact that ideas have on people. That means people are the priority. The way we treat people, online or otherwise, should always reflect this truth.

Thinking Biblically About Identity

by Joseph Backholm

April 21, 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”LoveCourageForgivenessthe Resurrection and the Social Gospel, and Loyalty.

So many of our political debates are rooted in the concept of identity that there’s now an entire category called “identity politics.”

Some women’s rights advocates argue for “equal pay for equal work,” while others fight for female athletes’ right not to compete against biological males in sports. And although most people agree that racial equality ought to be the goal, there is significant disagreement about what that means. Terms like “white supremacy” and “Asian hate” assign oppressor and oppressed status based on who people are rather than what they have done.

At their core, these political debates flow from conversations about identity. How should we see ourselves? How should we see other people? Of course, identity is complex. Our identity is likely a combination of our country of origin, country of citizenship, the family we were born into, our race, sex, or even our athleticism or ability to sing. Some people define their identity primarily in terms of who they are attracted to.

For Christians, identity should begin with the fact that every person is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). The American experiment was built around a similar presupposition articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

For Christians, our creation is where our identity begins, but it is not where it ends. In the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul describes the identity of a Christian. Paul explains that believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing; we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, grace-lavished, and unconditionally loved and accepted. We are pure, blameless, and forgiven. We have received the hope of spending eternity with God. In Christ, these aspects of our identity can never be altered by what we do (Eph. 1:3-14).

This is what it means to be a Christian, but it is not all that it means to be human. Some of us are male, others are female. We are different races, different sizes; we have different hair colors and eye colors, different abilities, types of intelligence, and interests. But for Christians, those characteristics are of secondary importance. As Paul notes in his letter to the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28, ESV). While not unimportant, Paul believed identity markers such as sex, occupation, and ethnicity were subservient to one’s identity in Christ.

When we make the mistake of making our secondary identity primary, we inevitably create divisions. If I believe the most important thing about me is my sex, I will see those of the opposite sex as primarily different than me. The same is true if my primary identity is determined by my race, athletic abilities, or political affiliations. But if I see myself primarily as someone created in the image of God, I will identify with others by what we have in common.  

Beyond that, the goal of equality is impossible unless our identity is rooted in our creation. There is no other basis on which one could reasonably argue that all people are equal. Consider this: in all other ways, we are different. We are not equally intelligent, talented, attractive, or capable. If our identity, value, and equality are not endowed by our Creator, they are nonexistent. The only other way of assessing human value would be based on our merits—our ability to perform a task, solve a problem, or contribute something meaningful to humanity. In these respects, humans are decidedly unequal.  

Once our identity is detached from our creation, it becomes easy to identify those who are different from us as not just different but inferior.

Misplaced identity explains, in part, why the most vicious and violent governments in history have also been the most secular and explains why eugenicists, past and present, have argued that the lives of people with disabilities are less valuable than the lives of those who have none. If our value comes strictly from our productivity and what we can contribute, those with disabilities are less valuable because they cannot contribute in the same ways other people can. Moreover, those with physical or mental disabilities require more resources from the community. However, if our value is inherent in our creation, those who devalue people with disabilities are tragically and fatally wrong.

The Nazi’s “Final Solution” was made possible by a naturalist, Darwinian worldview that allowed them to identify an entire race of people by how they were different. The Chinese Communist genocide against Uyghur Muslims happening today is made possible because the Communist Party leaders identify Uyghurs first and foremost by the ways in which they are different.

One of the few things that seems to unite Americans today is the belief that we are divided. Part of our division may lie in the way we see ourselves and others. It’s much easier to remain divided if we divide the world in terms of blue or red, black or white, gay or straight. Let’s take God’s advice and start seeing each other primarily as image-bearers of God and see how that goes.

It’s hard to imagine it would get worse.

Thinking Biblically About Forgiveness

by Joseph Backholm

April 1, 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”Love, and Courage.

There’s a tension, it seems, between justice and forgiveness. A world without justice devolves into lawlessness, but a world without forgiveness is cruel and harsh.  

Does justice demand that the perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes, such as the man who bombed the Boston Marathon, receive the death penalty, or is capital punishment a form of vengeance that God forbids? More broadly, our culture’s on-going conversation about race, and the growing popularity of critical race theory, forces us to consider whether forgiveness for past wrongs is required by Christian charity or a way to minimize the significance of past injustice so that current injustice can endure.

In this cultural moment, there is a hesitancy if not outright hostility to the concept of personal forgiveness. The very logic of “cancel culture” is that some ideas and opinions are so repugnant that the offending ideas need to be removed from public discourse and that anyone who holds them must “canceled,” i.e. deplatformed and silenced. Forgiveness is often seen as a sign of weakness or even a threat to true justice.

So, how should Christians think about forgiveness?

We begin with the awareness that since God is both just and forgiving, justice and forgiveness are not in conflict. Forgiveness should matter to Christians because it is part of God’s character. King David proclaimed, “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5, NIV). Since our goal as Christians is to emulate God’s character (Eph. 5:1), that means we must be forgiving.

God is forgiving, but He is also just. His justice requires punishment for sin. It is not cruel or unforgiving to hold someone accountable for their actions. This is what true justice demands. Loving parents forgive their misbehaving children but also discipline them because permissiveness is not loving.

But it is important not to confuse punishment and discipline with revenge. Done well, punishment and discipline are for the benefit of the offender, or possibly, those who need to be protected from the offender. Revenge has a different goal. Revenge is done to gratify the person giving the punishment.

God is pro-punishment, but He does not want us seeking revenge. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). It should also be noted that capital punishment is a power given only to the governing authorities and not to individuals (Rom. 13:4).

Discerning whether we are acting out of a godly desire for justice or a sinful desire for revenge starts with checking our hearts. Are we seeking this person’s good or their demise?

After Paul reminds us that revenge is for God alone, he suggests that forgiveness is evidenced by a genuine desire for their good: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:20-21). In these verses, Paul assures us that we don’t need to take revenge because God will right all wrongs in the end. Since God guarantees justice in the end, we are free to pursue forgiveness.

Forgiveness is essential to the Christian life because forgiveness is what made the Christian life possible in the first place (Col. 1:13-14, Eph. 1:7-8). At the heart of the gospel is the idea that we have been forgiven a debt we could never have paid ourselves (Rom. 6:23, Eph. 2:8-9). Christ extended the ultimate gift of forgiveness and we are commanded to extend forgiveness to others:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32)

Also:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:13)

If we who claim to be Christians find ourselves unable to forgive others, this calls into question our awareness of how much we have been forgiven:

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mt. 6:15)

Also:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)

This does not mean that God’s forgiveness is conditional or dependent on something we must do. After all, we cannot earn our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). However, our unwillingness to extend forgiveness may imply that we do not fully understand our own need for forgiveness—or the heart of the gospel.

God’s promise of future justice and our personal experience with His forgiveness informs how Christians think about both justice and forgiveness. God is just, and even if justice escapes us in this life, we know He will one day right all wrongs. Whether we are debating capital punishment, racism, or cancel culture, forgiveness is not merely a way to improve human relationships but a means to show others what Jesus has done for us. For Christians, a life marked by forgiveness is a sign of God’s grace and a testimony to the world of the gospel’s power.

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