Politics 2012 — Michele Bachmann on wifely submission and homosexuality

Denny Burk, a Baptist college professor in biblical studies, has posted a handy compilation of Michele Bachmann’s responses to sharp questions from the press about her Christian faith. She was quizzed on her views of God’s guidance, submission of a wife to her husband, homosexuality, so-called same-sex marriage, and the potential appointment of atheists or homosexuals in any Bachmann administration.

By making such a direct appeal to evangelical voters, both Bachmann and Rick Perry will get these questions for certain. Burk correctly pans Bachmann’s claim that a wife’s “submission” to her husband means “respect” in texts like Ephesians 5:22. In most other cases he gives her a passing grade on her responses, except that he wonders if being even more direct might work better politically. By trying to hit some happy medium, a candidate can fail to hold supporters from either side of the argument.

While I think government without compromises is a ticket to national ruin, those compromises cannot be made by contradicting what the Bible plainly says. Homosexuality is sin without a doubt, and a Christian candidate for president should never say otherwise. But the United States is not a theocracy and presidential appointments should focus on competency rather than theological purity. Bachmann said that neither atheism nor homosexuality would rule out a person for appointment.

It would be wise to remember Judas Iscariot, who had charge of the money held by Jesus and the twelve disciples (John 13:29). Since we must all live in the world, it would serve us well to remember the words of Jesus: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). Christian candidates for president should think carefully about what Jesus said.

Copyright © 2011 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Model for Christian Life – Part 2 of 3

[Part 1 ended with a metaphor of a mental “map” which represents our understanding of God and the created reality in which we live.]

Distortions in Our Maps

Our individual, mental maps have distortions and omissions which make our journey more difficult. These map errors arise from several sources. For example, the family into which a child is born passes its own flawed maps on to the child who knows no other reality. Selective attention also plays a role in producing map distortions. And misinformation can prove worse than none at all!

As a result of these factors, some people become adults with a map that approximates a US topographic map while others have something like a pirate-treasure map from a grade-B movie. What can be done about getting a better map?

“What is truth?”—Pontius Pilate

The dilemma we face is one of finding a reliable standard against which we can correct our maps. To achieve some correction, we can compare our mental maps with those of others through probing discussions. Or we can consult an expert. But it would be naive to accept such input as absolutely reliable. Centuries ago the greatest minds in France advised their king that the Black Plague had been caused by a conjunction of planets. They were completely confident and totally wrong!

Human beings currently suffer from a plague — a plague of subjectivity that resists attempts at a cure. That’s exactly why it makes so much sense for God to communicate with man by means of a Bible which is inerrant in its original manuscripts. As Christians, we need an objective reality-base which can be trusted as we attempt to correct our mental maps.

Improving Our Maps

God has always had access to all available information. No wonder he has the only accurate map. But we still face the distortions that subjective humans introduce during translation and interpretation of the biblical text. So while the Bible is totally true, our personal perception of it is not.

God works from the outside and the inside to refine the map within us. The Bible and the created world both serve as external standards, while the Holy Spirit works within a Christian’s mind to prompt the admission of information. The Spirit does this in a non-forcing way to leave us responsible for what we learn and what we believe.

As the life-manager actively expresses love and seeks biblical knowledge, he or she will grow through changes in the perceptual map of reality. This search for increasing levels of truth will take the form of an uninterrupted series of approximations to actual reality. (I say “actual reality” to distinguish it from the “subjective reality” we each have.) This mental map will draw nearer to truth over time because of the Holy Spirit’s work, assisted by God’s revelation in the Bible.

In effect, the Bible serves as a travel guide, or a mission order, for the Christian’s journey. It can help tremendously, but it cannot substitute for traveling. Too many Christians conduct their spiritual journey by memorizing their travel guide instead of living out love, freedom and life-management. Nor was the Bible ever intended to be a Christian’s sole source of truth, though all other sources require additional validation.

The entire process involves a measure of struggle which continues throughout the journey. In fact, the absence of struggle over a prolonged period probably indicates that the traveler has abandoned his journey by favoring safety over progress. Inevitably, the changes we have described will result in interpersonal differences with those who do not share a similar map.

Filling in the Blank Areas

While many Christians have an accurate map of the path to salvation in Jesus Christ, a lot fewer have an understanding of what the Lord has mapped out for their growth toward Christian maturity. I intend to offer my view of that plan.

Before I start on the biblical basis for the model, one additional matter needs attention. I do not join those who see the Christian life as a grim, lifelong struggle against sin. Theologian B.B. Warfield called this “miserable-sinner Christianity.”[1] Rather, I believe that Christians are new men and new women in Christ who can please the Lord by performing their life-management using all the resources God has already provided through Christ. All of what follows is part of what such a manager must know.

The Goal of the Christian Development

As I understand the New Testament, the goal of Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ. I arrive at that conclusion through verses such as the following:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” (Gal. 4:19).

“until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).

However, some believers have not advanced beyond infancy (1 Cor. 3:1–3) and others are still at a beginning level of Christian truth (Heb. 6:1–3). These are not managing their lives effectively for Christ, and they can expect little, if any, reward.

Our Identity in Christ: Life-Manager

As Christians we are those in whom Christ dwells (John 15:4–5; Col. 3:11). Alternatively, one may describe believers as those in whom the Holy Spirit lives (Rom. 8:13). Perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing.

In addition to describing us as life-managers for Christ, the New Testament also refers to us as the “new man” and as the “people of God.” These aspects of our identity will be further developed below [in Part 3]; they are part of what we must be in Christ.

I have previously presented the role of life manager for Christ as a useful metaphor for understanding Christian life. Bible references related to this role are: Gen. 1:26–28; Matt. 25:14–28; Luke 19:12–27; Matt. 24:45–51.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Part 3 will conclude the series with more about our new identity in Christ.

[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 1:113-301.


A Model for Christian Life: Part 1 of 3

Long ago, when we were children, someone taught us how to assemble a puzzle. It was hard at first, frustrating. In time we learned that each piece has a specific shape that fits a hole somewhere. That helped, but it still took a while to try out each piece in the hole.

Finally our minds developed to the point where we could use the biggest clue of all — the picture on the front of the puzzle box. That made things so much easier! Soon we were able to do the whole puzzle without even using the picture. Our minds had learned a pattern, a picture of wholeness.

Our Christian lives are a puzzle of staggering complexity. Many spend a lifetime trying to bring the many parts into a coherent whole. That’s where this article fits in. It gives a sketch of the picture on the puzzle box—a vision of wholeness and maturity in Jesus Christ.

Toward a Better Conception

What many Christians desperately need today is a change in their frame of reference. To understand what I mean by “frame of reference,” consider an example from history. Until the sixteenth century scientists shared the belief that the earth was the center of the solar system with all other heavenly bodies moving around it. But then Copernicus and Kepler found that astronomical observations matched the assumption that the sun was at the center rather than the earth. That totally changed people’s frame of reference.

The important point is that the old earth-centered system was eventually replaced by a new, different and more useful one. But that didn’t happen easily or quickly.

Like those who wrongly believed the earth was the center of the solar system, Christians often reach a block in their growth because they are still using some simplistic frame of reference for their Christian life, a frame that cannot integrate the complexity of their lives. Seemingly useful alternatives such as “let go and let God” or “you must die to self” eventually lead to disappointment for many Christians. Other inadequate alternatives include perfectionism and the teaching that a second work of grace makes you mature in Christ. I do not accept these alternatives as the biblical means for achieving maturity in Christ.

Other ideas divide the nature of man into either two or three parts. The first approach is often expressed as a two-part model of body and soul. The three-part model is usually expressed as the combination of body, soul and spirit. In my view, these concepts lead to psychological/spiritual speculation that cannot be adequately supported by biblical revelation. Instead, I find it more useful to view redeemed man as a whole person, the “new man” of Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and Romans 6 (more on this later).

A Metaphor To Express Our Life Situation

All of us take cues from our situation to help us know how to behave. A football player acts one way and a chess player quite another. A gardener exhibits certain behaviors and a father holding a new baby shows totally different actions. People who get their situations and behaviors mixed up (e.g. a football player trying to dance at the forty yard line) usually wind up in institutions. So it’s vitally important to fit our behaviors together in a sensible way with our context.

I believe that Christians can use one, central metaphor that will describe all their activities. This single metaphor provides a master conception that will guide our behavior in situations where limited formulas about Christian life break down. The guiding metaphor for Christians is that we have been appointed life-managers on behalf of Christ.

The biblical basis for this metaphor starts with Gen. 1:26–28. Jesus imposed this duty on his followers while they await his return (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27).

Naturally, the life you manage is your own, although as a parent you may help manage children’s lives for a time. Even our physical lives come as a delegated resource from God. He also provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), which includes such resources as the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our own capable minds and our Christian relationships.

Though our first priority is to love God, he redirects our attention toward obedience and the expression of love. As life-managers for Christ, we enjoy wide latitude of choice and action. Part of our responsibility includes the active pursuit of Christian growth, but the most frequent focus of our management falls on the expression of love toward others, whether by kindness or evangelism. By using all these resources wisely, we bring lasting benefit to Christ’s kingdom and ourselves. And he generously rewards us for such efforts. On the other hand, any disobedience or sin results in discipline from our Master.

Life-Management during Christ’s Ministry

During Christ’s earthly ministry, the practice of managing another person’s wealth or estate was common. We can best view the arrangement as a capital-services partnership with one partner supplying the capital and the other partner providing the expertise in making a profit.

A servant could function as his master’s financial manager and the servant’s actions were legally binding on his master. In other words, the servant/manager had broad authority to act on his master’s behalf.

In those times it was entirely possible to turn a minimum profit of 100%, and even 1000% was not beyond reason. A servant who returned no profit at all would actually represent a loss to the master who was paying for the servant’s daily living expenses. A servant who made a profit would share in that profit and would likely be given even more to invest or manage in the future.

These typical arrangements stand behind the parables Jesus told about stewards: the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27), the parable of the shrewd steward (Luke 16:1–15) and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23–35).

Approaching Our Goal

No one starts Christian life as an effective life-manager for Christ. Over time, God intends that we move from spiritual infancy into adulthood (Gal. 4:19; Eph. 4:13).

We can illustrate the development of Christian faith with a journey metaphor. No one ever took a journey by standing still! First, a person accepts the need for the journey and then moves out. But even that is not enough. Without an accurate map, a person can wind up farther from his intended destination than when he started; which leads us directly to the role of truth in spiritual development.

Truth and Spiritual Development

It will also prove helpful to use the metaphor of a map for our journey toward Christian maturity. First, we can imagine the reality in which we exist as a vast land. Our mental “map” represents our understanding of that terrain.

We all have such a map. For example, our map contains the concept of grocery stores. Unlike people in some parts of the world, we do not fish, hunt or raise crops to get our food because we know we can get it at the grocery store. But if we tried to use that part of our map while traveling in central Greenland, we would be in for a rude shock!

Sticking with the metaphor, I can define “truth” as God’s map of the terrain. The challenge each Christian faces is to get his internal map to look more like God’s. This happens by transforming our minds (more on that later) and by gaining a greater understanding of what God has revealed through Christ and the Word of God.

Part 2 will show how God helps us correct our “map” of reality.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Torah Observance by Christians – Part 2

[See also Part 1]

The Law of Moses in Relation to Contemporary Christians

The discussion above [see Part 1], principally from Hebrews, raises an important question. NT scholar Harold Hoehner says: “Does this mean that there are no laws in the Mosaic law that the believer of today is obligated to obey? Only those that have been reiterated in the NT. We are under the new covenant, and the old covenant has been done away.”[1] For example, murder is prohibited in both the Law and the New Testament, but the dietary regulations of the Law were not reinstituted under the new covenant (Acts 10). We are required by God to obey the commands given in the New Testament.

Many scholars believe this question of required Christian obedience to the Law of Moses was settled forever in Acts 15 when a similar controversy disturbed the church in Antioch. Luke said, “While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ” (Acts 15:1, NLT). Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed, and the matter was referred to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). In Jerusalem some believers who were Pharisees said, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, NLT).

However, Peter led in a different direction by saying, “Why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10, NLT).

In the end, the elders in Jerusalem wrote to Antioch saying: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29, NLT). The Law of Moses was not required of the Gentiles.

Although the Law of Moses separated Israel from the nations, it proved unable to achieve righteousness because that was not its purpose. The author of Hebrews says that the law received through Moses was but a shadow of the good things brought by Christ because it was completely unable though its continual sacrifices to perfect those who came to worship (Heb. 10:1).

The Greek verb for “to sanctify” [better “to set apart as holy”] is hagiaz?, and it occurs 28 times in the New Testament. For example, sanctifying (Greek hagiaz?) Christians does not take place through keeping the Law but did take place through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10). The author of Hebrews also says, “For by a single offering he [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified [Greek hagiaz?]” (Heb. 10:14). In fact, only judgment and punishment await those who reject the blood of the new covenant that sanctified [Greek hagiaz?] them (Heb. 10:29).

The above ideas lead to a conclusion: Sanctifying Christians does not take place through keeping the Law but instead took place through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10).

Indeed, rather than sanctifying us, the Law kept us enslaved until Christ redeemed us and gave us full rights through our adoption as sons of God with the Spirit indwelling us (Gal. 4:1-7). Going back to keeping the Law has a disastrous effect. Paul says that taking on the obligations of the Law is rejection of freedom in Christ in favor of slavery (Gal. 4:21-5:1).

It is ominous to say, but anyone who puts themselves under the Law is obligated to keep the whole Law (Gal. 5:3; James 2:10). For reasons discussed below, the only way for a contemporary Christian to keep the Law is through a large number of reinterpretations and excuses (e.g. “we don’t need to make the required sacrifices when no Temple exists”).

Some Reasonable Expectations

If some Bible teachers were correct in thinking that all Christians are required to obey all the laws given by Moses, then it seems reasonable to expect we would find certain things in the New Testament:

  • A New Testament command to keep the Law received through Moses; there is none!
  • A New Testament statement that keeping the Law is essential for sanctification or growth in Christ; there is no such statement!
  • Statements in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament that Christians were going to the Temple — still standing until 70 AD — to make sacrifices according to the Law received by Moses; there are no such verses!
  • A New Testament command to keep the festivals of Israel; none exists.

There is just one way for those who believe in Torah observance by Christians to overcome this lack of evidence supporting their view, and that is to say that we are obligated to imitate Christ, who kept the Law.

The idea of imitating Jesus in all things has been popular in certain parts of Christian history, but it has some serious limitations. Just to pick a few easy ones, who among us can be born of a virgin or die to atone for the sins of the world? Are you able to create the church or send the Holy Spirit? Which of us can stand up and say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18)?

It should not surprise you that imitating Christ in all things is not put forth in the New Testament as the method for Christian sanctification. Instead, New Testament authors occasionally call on believers to imitate Paul or their spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 4:16; 2 Thess. 3:7; 3:9; Heb. 6:12; 13:7), to imitate God in terms of love (Eph. 5:1-2) or to have the save self-sacrificing attitude as Jesus (Phil. 2:1-11). The sanctification of Christians is not based on keeping the Law or imitating Christ but on the finished work of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:10).

What Jesus Knew

One reason that Jesus did not command the keeping of the Law given to Moses may be that he knew that Jerusalem, including its Temple, would soon be utterly destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). The Roman general Titus carried out these terrible acts in 70 AD, when the church was in its infancy.

The idea that Christians must keep the Law runs headlong into serious problems. There is no Temple or priesthood to support required sacrifices; nor is there any provision in the Law saying that it is okay to lapse on those parts if no Temple or priesthood exists.

Consider too that no one other than Jesus ever was able to satisfy the requirements of the Law. To say that Christians must keep the law to be sanctified is setting them up to fail. The new covenant operates on a completely different principle than keeping the law — grace.

The Law of Christ

Paul says of himself that “I am not free from God’s law but [I am] under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, NET). He also says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). James 2:8-13 is also worthy of close study in regard to the centrality of love for one’s neighbor. There is no doubt whatever that the Holy Spirit is central to living under the new covenant (Romans 6, 8).

Christians today are not required to obey the laws of Moses in Genesis to Deuteronomy (so-called “Torah observance”). For instance, we are free from dietary restrictions and are not required to celebrate the Jewish feasts. We summarize with Paul’s ringing words to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1, NET).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 376.