Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sex: The New State Religion

Religious Freedom in America is dying.  Though this has been stated often, and ignored just as often, rolling one's eyes at the statement doesn't make it less true.

The biggest irony here is that the vehicle being used--possibly in an unintentional way--to kill religious freedom is the very vehicle everyone in the country was assured would not affect it--laws that now codify our current sexual revolution, and are most visible in cases involving abortion and LGBT rights.

Those who favor these laws have for years assured Christians that these changes in the law would not in any way affect religious freedom, or infringe on the consciences of those who believe these actions to be sinful.  Many of us responded by saying that these moves would in fact affect religious liberty--perhaps in an irreversible way.  Turns out, we were right.

A number of recent examples point clearly to this fact, most recently a California law that now requires churches with group health plans to cover abortion services.  And just last week, there was the debacle surrounding the Mayor's office in Houston, Texas, which in response to statements and petition drives from area churches sought to subpoena sermons and other correspondence.  Though I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Ecclesia Pastor Chris Seay, I found his open letter to Houston's Mayor to be a perfect combination of humility before Caesar, and bold confidence in the God who rules above Caesar.  You should read it here:

Additionally, my friend Tim McKnight, who teaches Missions at Anderson University in my home state, has written a thorough and accurate post on the history of religious liberty, the role of Christians in securing it, and the way it has been turned on its head over the past few decades.  You can read that one here:

In light of so much happening at once on this front, I expect those of no faith to believe and behave as they do.  But I've been particularly disappointed in what seem to be many misinformed Christ-followers who greet these developments with a shrug and a question of "what's the big deal?"

Well, to doctors, insurance administrators, bakers, photographers, coordinators and venue operators who have been sued and threatened with fines and jail time by the government, its a VERY big deal.  Earlier in the year, I wrote on the issue of gay weddings to encourage Christ-followers in those professions to consider serving gay couples as an expression of the love of Christ, but in that same article, I was also clear that such service should not be rendered by orders of the compelling influence of Caesar.

And now, continued threats of fiscal and criminal punishment have been leveled for the first time at ordained ministers who refused to officiate at a gay wedding, merely because they operate a "for profit" wedding chapel.  The message in this one case is clear:  Religious freedom only applies if you are "non-profit."

Yet from the other side, people of faith are told that even as a "non-profit" your free speech is limited.  Rather than deal honestly and straightforwardly with the honest differences we have, the far-left have sought to silence the voice of the church by categorizing certain moral issues as "political," and consequently threatening the church's tax-exempt status for speaking on issues that for centuries have been understood to be the clear domain of faith communities.

In short, the two-sided approach to killing religious liberty is clear:  Punish "for-profit" entities for living their convictions,  punish "non-profit" ones for speaking publicly about their convictions, and do both from a position of power wherein government presumptuously monopolizes the conversation, and silences dissenters.  This is intellectual and political cowardice at its worst.  And when taken together, recent events reveal three clear trends that, if not stopped, threaten the very existence of religious freedom in America.

Followers of Jesus who don't see these trends want to be compassionate--especially toward our LGBT neighbors, and like them, I want to see the church continue on its present learning curve so that these image-bearers of God are increasingly treated with the dignity and respect they are owed as human beings.  But those who shrug their shoulders at concern over our current sexual revolution in the west and its more recent effects on our legal system are looking past some rather ominous shifts.  In particular, this current revolution has resulted in the following:

1. It turns religious freedom on its head. The First Amendment to our Constitution places no limits on individuals, or even corporations--be they for-profit or non-profit--in regard to religious liberty.  Quite the contrary, the Constitution actually limits Congress. I find it incredible that government at any level presumes the right to instruct people of faith--individually or corporately--as to what they can and cannot say inside their houses of worship, and what they can and cannot do (or refuse to do) outside those houses of worship.  Rather than adhering to what the Founders of this country called our "first freedom," they are by legislation and judicial fiat establishing a state religion, and that religion is sex. But what I find more incredible are those who claim to follow Christ who seem to be OK with government attempts to be Lord of the conscience.

2. It defines marriage as a "right." I have dealt before with the misconception of marriage as a "right" here, yet I must admit the highly effective message discipline practiced in recent years by those who use deceptively beautiful phrases like "marriage equality."  Those who aggressively favor homosexual unions have been largely successful in couching their agenda in the verbiage of "civil rights."  If interracial marriage is permitted, for example, then what is wrong with allowing two men or two women to be wed to each other?  In responding to this question, evangelicals have too often accepted the premise of that question.  Rather than speaking of who does and does not have a "right" to marry, we should continue to point out that no one--not even heterosexual couples--have a "right" to marriage.  Historically, this institution has been viewed as a status of privilege, and this truth is functionally proven by the fact that although a clerk of court may be forced by law to issue a license, no public official--minister, notary public, or judge--is required to perform the ceremony(at least, not until now).  Marriage is not a "right."

Consequently, a marriage license is not a statement of "tolerance," but affirmation.  Through a marriage license, the public via their local government is saying "this is a good thing, not only for this couple, but also for society as a whole, which has always benefited from strong families that have a strong marriage as their anchor."    It's one thing to ask for equality in public accommodations, or housing, or employment.  These are rights that should belong to any human being created in God's image and likeness.  But when the homosexual community asks for the privilege of marriage, they are asking for more than mere "tolerance," and we are seeing proof of this in the civil and criminal cases that are now unfolding before us.

3. It illustrates the results of postmodern thought.  Philosophical postmodernism can only ultimately lead to one place:  nihilism.  And, we are seeing the results of that slide before our very eyes.  The ironic foundation of a radically relativistic epistemology comes full circle when those who find themselves in the majority seek to impose one view of what "tolerance" means to them on everyone else using the power of the state.  This is precisely what we are witnessing in our current environment, which says to people of faith "keep it to yourselves, keep it in your church buildings, synagoges or mosques, and don't dare try to apply it outside those realms," and calls such restriction "religious liberty."

In the end, this isn't about the homosexual community.  Its not about "tolerance" and its not about protecting a vulnerable class of people.  Its about a guiding philosophy that is currently taking us on a dangerous, agenda-driven trajectory.  The next issue could very well involve your own church, and/or your own pastor.  It might even involve you merely seeking to follow your own convictions as a follower of Jesus, and facing fines or even imprisonment for doing so.  Followers of Jesus asking "what's the big deal?" need to be cured of their ignorance, pull their head out of the sand, and join pastors like Chris Seay in speaking out before its too late.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Theology Thursday: The Complementarian Conundrum, Part II. How Fathers Can Raise Strong Women

In last week's Theology Thursday, I spoke to the exegetical case for male headship.  This week, I want to focus on one expression of how this teaching is applied in a practical way.  Too often, those who hold to the complementarian position have a rather monolithic cultural expression of that position, and this approach is what often brings the well-known criticism from egalitarians that sounds a lot like "you guys just want to take us back to the 1950s!"  

In short, the monolithic way complementarian teaching is applied in the west often results in complementarianism itself being blamed as the culprit for why women are abused, stereotyped, or raised to be "weak."  What follows us a post I wrote sometime ago that demonstrates how the idea of male headship is working itself out in my own home.  

Can Complementarian Fathers Raise Strong Women?

I believe the Scriptures teach that in the marriage relationship, wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands, as husbands conversely love their wives by ultimately sacrificing their lives for their brides.  That isn't limited to being willing to die for her.  It also includes living for her exclusively, and giving of yourself without thought.  

The cultural description for this position is called complementarianism, and it is the belief that while men and women are essentially equal image bearers of God, they bear functional distinctions that complement each other.  The theological term for this concept is "male headship," and even in many evangelical Christian circles, its about as popular as a Philly steak-laden belch in a crowded elevator.

I dealt with the Biblical and theological rationale for this position last week.  Today, I want to address concerns I've heard lately that ask what kind of women emerge from homes that follow this philosophy of marriage and family.  Many have implied, and a few more have explicitly stated that male headship teaches women to be "weak."

Well, as the father of a 5 year old daughter, I certainly don't have all the answers.  Truth be told, having a daughter has raised many more questions than I had prior to her arrival in our family more than 3 years ago!  Furthermore, I acknowledge that I can't ultimately control the outcomes of my children's lives.  They will all ultimately make their own decisions.  But this doesn't relieve me of my responsibility as a dad to raise them in the fear of the Lord, nor does it justify abdication of setting goals for what I want to help my children accomplish.  

I also admit that for far too many, "headship" is ill-defined as something that benefits dad, and it sometimes takes the form of Dad being a drill-sergeant to the whole family.  Those guys aren't leaders.  They are jerks.  And they aren't practicing Biblical headship.  Instead, they are practicing a form of chauvinistic, gender-specified fascism.  Men, if the way you lead your home makes you more comfortable and your family less secure, whatever you are practicing isn't what the Scriptures call "headship."

So, what is the profile of a young woman raised in a complementarian home?  Well, I'm going to do my best to see the following realized in my little girl.

1. I will teach her to love Jesus.  This is the most important decision any of my children can make.  I want my daughter exposed frequently to the message that she, like the rest of humanity, is fallen in her sin and in desperate need of a Savior.  I want her to learn how to share her faith, and how to present the Gospel above the fray of "comparative religions" so that Jesus is truly seen as being offered to the whole world.

2. I will teach her to be well-read and globally aware.  I want her to be able to have intelligent discussions relative to science, politics, technology, culture, and faith.  And when I say "intelligent discussions," I mean the sort of invigorating talk that will cause her to react with a yawn to tired "talking heads" on TV, or to the over-simplified arguments that are so often given in our current culture-war environment.  I want her to know how the world works--not just our country, but the world!  I want her to be comfortable having discussions about global issues with anyone on the globe! And, I want to instill a compassion in her that will serve as a "pilot light" to ignite the knowledge she gains into action that will serve others in the name of Jesus.

I want her to be comfortable living anywhere in the world, and competent with the cross-cultural skills that should befit any young person whose prime of life will span the mid-21st century.  Most importantly, I want her to develop a genuine love for people of every nation, tongue and tribe.  I want her to have fun exploring the world God created and the people He placed in it.

3. I will teach her to fight.  Unfortunately, we live in a world where too many young men are emerging as barbarians who have no idea how to treat a woman.  Everything from over-sexualized commercials to the trafficking and sex trade itself betrays that even full-blown, tolerant egalitarianism can't wipe away the propensity of some men to treat women like a commodity.  

To be sure, I have no problem being her protector, and in the event that her safety is threatened by said meat-heads, I would have no problem using my own bare hands to pound them into a bloody pulp to the greater glory of God and the joy of all mankind.  But since I'm realistic enough to know that I won't always be there, I intend to teach my princess how to defend herself.  If she needs training that can't be provided by her old man, we will send her to classes.  But at the end of the day, I want my young lady to know how to completely and permanently wash out a guy's kneecap, as well as how to be disabling with a groin shot or pepper spray, and if absolutely necessary, lethally accurate with a 9mm.  

I want her to cherish peace, and stay away from trouble if she is able.  But when confronted with a threat to her safety or the safety of weaker people with her, I want her to be able to take care of business. (and for what it's worth, she's already proving at 5 to have the spunk to do it. Just ask her two older brothers!)

4. I will teach her self-awareness.  I want her to discover how God has gifted her, and help her develop and use those gifts for His glory.  Through everything from choosing hobbies to determining how she will educate herself, I want her to know beyond a doubt who God has created her to be, and I want her to live out the purpose for why she was placed on this planet at this time in history.  

Her mother and I are keenly aware of her "life story" from the time she was born until the moment we met her at a hotel in Lanzhou, China.  There is no doubt in our minds that God gave her to us for the purpose of raising her up for great things.  So, she will need to learn what she is good at, and what she isn't good at.  She will need to learn how to check her own gut, and make sound judgement calls based on Scriptural principles applied to her own self-awareness.  Whatever she decides to do professionally will be greatly enhanced if she does it with a keen sense of self-awareness.

5. I will teach her discernment when it comes to boys.  In some sense, she is in the worst possible environment for meeting boys.  As a pastor's daughter, she will no doubt meet a lot of meat-heads who can fake it really well and talk about Jesus in a way that is so convincing that it seems they actually know Him personally.  But there is a huge, HUGE difference between men of God and "church boys."  And I intend to teach her the difference.

It is unfortunate that in so many churches, young men are allowed and almost blessed to remain immature, unemployed, uneducated, irresponsible, and generally ambivalent about anything in life except their latest high score in Halo.  Additionally, many young men are highly capable of employing "church language" to fool a gal into thinking that they are sincere in their walk with Jesus, when in reality they just sincerely want to take advantage of the girl.  

Regrettably, the church--the one environment where strong men should be ever present and ready to help young bucks with their needed cranial-rectal extractions--is often the place perceived to be filled with women and weak men.  And the result in too many churches can be a minefield of spiritual sounding 30-year-old adolescents who don't have their own act together and are consequently in no way qualified to marry--which means they have no business dating!  As blunt and crass as it may sound, most "Christian" young men are absolutely and completely full of crap.  Egalitarianism won't fix that problem. Real men of God, taking the lead, will fix it.

Fortunately, my little girl has a daddy who was once one of those young men.  I know them well because, well, I WAS one of them.  Thankfully, I had strong men who taught me Sunday School and walked with me in life in my church, which helped me more quickly cross over the bridge of authenticity from "church boy" to "man of God."  I honestly don't know where I would be today without men like Markley Edwards and Bill Merritt, who were straight and frank with me about what God expects from young men who belong to Him.

By the time she is ready to date young men, I want her "Bull meter" to be hyper-sensitive, because I don't want my young lady married to a loser she has to support one day because he is too busy still being an adolescent idiot.  And in the event that said adolescents try to force something on my little girl: well, see # 3 above.  :)

6. I will teach her to have a healthy self-image not defined by men, or by women's magazines aimed at men.  The percentage of young ladies today obsessed with their body image is astronomical, and sad.  So called "women's" magazines--which in reality are no more than rags teaching females how to be everything desired by a middle-aged boy who can shave--simply enhance this crisis of ladies who are implicitly told to interpret the whole of their existence though she shape of their bodies and the aggressive expression of their sexuality.

My little girl knows Dad thinks she is beautiful, and she always will.  But there is something else I think fathers should teach their daughters that is far more important; that GOD thinks they are beautiful just as they are.  As such, no one else's opinion matters.  If they disagree, then they are simply wrong.  From our Creator originates all things, including the base definition of "beauty."  In light of His all-expansive, multi-ethnic, expression of the concept through a myriad of body types, hair colors, and cultural fashion expressions all around the world, a nearly naked, borderline anorexic Victoria's Secret model shouldn't be seen as the "ideal."  If anything, that picture should be beneath our little girls.  And any boys who see that picture as the ideal should be beneath them as well.

Our daughters should have a healthy image of themselves as truly beautiful, and they should be given the creativity within Biblical boundaries of modesty to express that beauty in a way that enhances this healthy self-image.  Furthermore, she should never, ever change her appearance merely to satisfy a male suitor.

7. I will teach her how to be a voice of wisdom.  Though I don't believe God placed the burden of ultimate responsibility on women in the home or the church, I also reject the idea that male headship means that a woman's voice isn't to be highly valued.  I don't want my daughter bearing burdens God never intended her to bear.  But I do want her to be a meaningful contributor, and valued ministry partner with those who are charged with that burden.

I can't count the times I've been "saved" by no more than a gentle touch of my arm by my wife, who pulls me back from the edge, and speaks great wisdom by giving me a broader perspective I did not previously have.  Honestly, the churches I serve has been spared plenty by my hand because I have a godly wife who headed my stupid ideas off at the pass!  (And I'm not the only one who realizes this.  See Ed Litton's post here.)

I want my daughter to be a voice of wisdom like her mother, and I want her to use that voice frequently, whether it is a work, or at church benefiting her pastor, or at home benefiting her husband if indeed God grants her a spouse.

8. I will teach her that she doesn't "need" a man.  Too many women are encouraged to find the lion's share of their future as beginning on their wedding day.  To be sure, its a big day, and certainly a major milestone that should last a lifetime.  But there is a previous step to this vision that is all-too-often missed in many Christian homes:  If she doesn't know herself, and isn't confident in herself, marriage won't fix the problem.  It will make it worse.

I recently met a new leader at one of our churches.  She is my age, gainfully employed as a professional, confident in her role and calling, and has never been married.  She isn't some rabid feminist with a chip on her shoulder, and she isn't bitter toward men.  She simply learned who she was in Christ, and accepts that she can fulfill that role faithfully without a husband.  And she is right!

It is true that most women will get married, and most will want to get married.  That's OK.  At the same time, our daughters should be taught that they don't "need" to get married--at least not in the same way that they need food, shelter and clothing.  Our daughters have a greater daddy than us in their Heavenly Father.  If they are Christian, they have a husband in His Son, and they have a protector/provider/empowering affirming presence in His Holy Spirit.  I want my little girl to know that she is already complete, and doesn't need a spouse to be complete.  

If God grants her a husband, then that is a wonderful thing that she should cherish, and in that event, fairy-tale day dreams about the wedding day are fine. If however, she ends up like Lottie Moon and foregoes marriage for the sake of a greater mission; well, she will be in good company!  

9. I will teach her that men who can accept all of the above might...might be worthy of her submission.  Simply put, I will teach my daughter that men who are too weak to lead a strong woman--men who are intimidated by strong women--aren't fit to be husbands.  Typically, these kinds of men manifest in one of two ways: they are either the obvious "wimp" who never makes a decision and leads the way, or he becomes a "dictator" in his own home; overpowering the voice of his wife by intimidating her because, deep down, he is afraid to admit that sometimes, she might be smarter than he is!  I believe that wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands.  I also believe that women who want to become wives should choose carefully to whom they will submit.

Candidly, this is the point where mate selection breaks down almost irrevocably in our culture.  Cultural pressures encourage young women to try and get the guy with the prettiest eyes, the best hair, or the hottest car.  Books and movies marketed to teen girls enable such surface-level criteria for establishing a long-lasting relationship.  I won't keep my daughter from those movies.  I'd much rather see her roll her eyes in disgust after seeing one.  But the only way that will happen is if Dad teaches her how to think critically and deeply about the kinds of relationships she develops.  If you can't see yourself ever trusting the leadership of a particular young man, then you shouldn't marry him.  And if you aren't going to marry him, then you have no business dating him!

10. I will teach her that it is up to her.  From a purely statistical standpoint, there is a 90% chance that one day, my role as provider and protector of my daughter will come to an end on her wedding day.  More than likely, sometime within the next two decades I will escort her down an aisle, and give her to another man.  In that moment, she will become his responsibility.  In the meantime, I can give advice and counsel.  I can offer my blessing on her relationships when I believe they are wise.  And, I can warn her when I perceive her to be going down the wrong road.  But ultimately, it is up to her to decide who she marries.  Ultimately, it is up to her whether she gets married.

Additionally, her own life decisions regarding education, career, and calling require the guidance of two parents who love her very much.  Yes, my wife and I want a complementarian daughter.  No, we do not want to raise a "doormat."  We want to raise a strong woman.  And by God's grace, and especially within the gender framework we believe He has designed, we believe we can.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Mission Monday: Social Media as a Digital "Mission Field."

In the first church I ever served as pastor, I had a sign conspicuously hung at the exit to the main doors of the sanctuary front.  That sign read "You are now entering the mission field!"  Though well-intentioned, I would realize over the next several years--as most new pastors do--that the real line between church and mission field is not geographic.  Its the line between belief and unbelief--between repentance and rebellion.  And that line can be found within nearly every visible church on the planet.

We now live in a world where lines of segregation with regard to mission are disappearing fast.  One example of this is the line between "domestic" and "international."  More than 120 languages are spoken within a 30 mile radius of my central Maryland home.  And even southern cities like Dallas now boast a foreign-born population that exceeds 40%.  The world is becoming smaller.  And even if you don't live in an area like that, the laptop, tablet or phone you are using to read this article gives you instant access to that world!

With these realities in view, this is a crucial time for churches to understand and participate in the social media revolution.  Last night, the Mid-Maryland Association held its annual meeting, which included a large  breakout session led by my friend Marty Duren on how Christians and churches can be the presence of Christ on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like.  A few in that room are just getting used to the idea and needed remedial help.  Other more tech-savvy folks received some great principles for how to establish your presence, draw an audience, and incarnate the Gospel into a digital atmosphere.

While Marty said many helpful things, the one principle I wish everyone in Christendom had heard last night was this one:

Don't obsess over anything except Jesus.

As he said this, my mind immediately took me to Paul's second letter to Corinth, where he calls Christians "ambassadors for Christ." (2 Cor. 5:20)  Never has there been a more important time for followers of Jesus to wear that identity and responsibility.  And never has there been a more critical place to live out this principle than cyber-space.

We all have our opinions.  We all have our political positions.  And we all have very strong opinions about a lot of things.  And every so often, its OK to let those be known.  If you troll my social media pages, you can probably find out how I feel about a wide range of issues.  But if I am to honor the spirit of 2 Corinthians 5, I need to ask myself whether people have to look very hard to know what I believe about Jesus.  

What about your social media presence?  If the average non-Christian looked at your Facebook page or Instagram site, what would they see?  When they turned off their tablet or closed their laptop, what would they say is your passion?  Your focus?

If you want to use social media as an outlet for evangelism, this question must always be at the back of your mind.  I'm not encouraging you to log-jam your friends' networks with pithy Christian memes (in fact, I'd say that's not 'mission' at all.  Its just very, very annoying, but that's another post for another day).  I"m just asking whether we talk more about Calvinism, college football, gun control, eschatology, Islam, alcohol, marginal income tax rates, gay marriage, Israel, immigration, the world series, patriotism, or Jesus?

In his first letter to Corinth, Paul put it this way.  "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."  Perhaps this morning is a great time to commit ourselves to that very same principle on Facebook.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Theology Thursday: The Complementarian Conundrum

One of the most noticeable cultural characteristics of evangelical Christianity are the counter-cultural elements that set us apart from the world, and there is possibly no more hotly debated topic that the issue of gender roles and relationships.  Where these particular issues are concerned, discussion becomes more heated because there is disagreement even within the body of Christ, and most of this heat is aimed at those who identify as "complementation."  

This group--which includes myself--believes that while men and women are created as equal image-bearers of God, Scripture prescribes a pattern in the home and the church that clearly call for male leadership.  Our egalitarian brothers and sisters attack this position from both exegetical and practical standpoints, and often the accusation is made that the complementarian exegetical case is weak, as well as practically untenable.

Admittedly, as a complementation I find much of the "scholarship" aimed at defending the position I hold to be lacking, and I certainly concede that a more hierarchical application of my position can lead to neglect, disrespect, and even outright abuse of women.  So for the next two "Theology Thursdays," I want to address these two issues as they are raised by my egalitarian friends.  Today, I deal with the exegetical case via an article I wrote years ago responding to Dr. Gordon Fee.  Fee's article "Male and Female in the New Creation," was published in the book Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy.  

My apologies for the length and depth of this post.  It is necessary to be appropriately thorough.

Next week, I will speak (with much more brevity) to the practical application of complementation teaching--specifically as it relates to my own daughter.  My egalitarian brothers--and the rest of the world--may still strongly disagree, but my hope is that they are forced to recognize both genuine scholarship and balanced application of "male headship" in the home and the church.

Equal in Essence, Distinct In Function:  A Response to Gordon Fee's Exegesis of Galatians 3:26-28

Gordon D. Fee is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College. He is a prolific author and articulate theologian, whose exegetical skills have been frequently utilized, most notably in his contributions to the New International Commentary on the New Testament. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, and received his Ph.D. from the University of California.

The classic exegetical argument for egalitarians who believe all ecclesiastical offices and functions should be open to women has its foundation in Galatians 3:26-29. Based on this text, evangelical egalitarians contend that Paul is eliminating all social and ceremonial distinction within the body of Christ and therefore, is eliminating any barrier to service based on the criteria listed in the text. Since the distinction between “male and female” (v. 28) is among the barriers Paul seeks to remove, the classical egalitarian argument has been that to prohibit women from serving as pastors is tantamount to replacing the very wall of separation in Christ’s body that Paul himself sought to tear down.

Evangelical complementarians have historically responded to this rationale by affirming the soteriological implications of gender equality delineated in this passage, while simultaneously contending that the Pauline rationale behind the Galatian correspondence does not address the particular gender functions within the body of Christ. The complementarian hermeneutic of this passage is that while the soteriological principles contained therein require the elimination of distinctions, Biblical principles of ecclesiology place both genders, equal in essence, into distinct functions within Christ’s body. These functions are not described in detail in Galatians because, say complementarians, the primary focus of this letter is not ecclesiological. To discover gender role distinctions in the church, the appropriate place to look is the Pastoral Epistles, which deal more particularly with church order.

In short, complementarians contend that while the Galatians passage indeed makes all of humanity equal in Christ, this equality is only truly realized when men and women work within the church, within their Biblically defined roles. More succinctly, Galatians teaches equality in salvation, while the Pastoral Epistiles commend complementarity within the church.

Yet in his article entitled Male and Female in the New Creation, Fee seeks to overturn the classic complementarian argument by asserting that Galatians is in fact a primarily ecclesiological work. His own egalitarian views are in fact informed by his view that “the specifics of this passage itself indicate that this text has to do with Paul’s ecclesiology” (184). The process by which Fee arrives at this conclusion, and an exegetical response to his contentions, are the subject of the rest of this article.

Fee begins his chapter by introducing the crux of the exegetical debate; namely whether the Galatians passage is “limited to the justifying work of Christ alone, or does it include other aspects of life in the believing community as well?” (172). With this question in view, he proceeds with an isogogical analysis of the surrounding texts as a way of making the case for his view of the primary issue Paul addressed in the letter. Galatians, according to Fee, is Paul’s response to the crisis of “Christian ‘agitators’” who “had infiltrated these Gentile churches insisting that men be circumcised . . .the crucial item of a larger agenda of Torah observance that would have included the Sabbath and food laws as well” (173). On this point evangelicals of both the complemetarian and egalitarian viewpoints agree.

The first point of contention, as Fee sees it, is the particular historical lens through which this text is received. “Traditionally,” he states, “it [the strategy for reading Paul’s response] has been to read it through the eyes of Martin Luther” (173). Fee of course is referring to Luther’s monolithic understanding of Galatians 2:16 as applied to his own 16th century historical context. To view the Galatian correspondence only in this light is, according to Fee, “a slightly skewed reading strategy” (173). While Fee sees the theological concept of justification by faith as a primary theme of the letter, he views this theme alone as insufficient to procure a correct reading of the entire epistle.

As Fee sees it, the larger issue pressed in the letter is that of bringing together Jew and Gentile as one people of God. According to Fee, the bigger crisis in Paul’s mind “has to do with whether Gentiles get in on the promise to Abraham . . .without also taking on Jewish identity; especially those marks of identity that specifically distinguished Jews from Gentiles in the Diaspora (circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws)” (174). In other words, the issue of Justification by Faith is to be viewed within the larger framework of the inclusion of non-“God-fearing” Gentiles among the people of God. To make his case, Paul argues in a two-fold way for the “temporary, thus secondary, nature of the law” (175), and then concludes his argument with the passage currently under consideration, contending that the true heirs of the Abrahamic promise are those who have become “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28b).

After making his case for the primary purpose of Galatians, Fee then proceeds to cast what he sees as the primary issue of this letter within the larger theological motif of the “new creation.” If Jew and Gentile now relate to God on the same terms, then this reality is grounded in Paul’s own conviction “that Christ and the Spirit have ushered in God’s promised ‘new creation,’ which is now awaiting its final eschatological consummation (Gal 6:15)” (177).

Fee proceeds from this point to describe new creation theology, and then moves to draw implications of this theological method for the gender issue under consideration in his article. Primarily, Fee contends that new creation theology implies that “equality” not only applies to salvation, but to the entire created order. Thus, “one must begin by taking Paul seriously with regard to ethnicity, status and gender no longer being relevant for constituting value and social identity in the new creation” (179).

Furthermore, Fee asserts that this new order has a strong eschatological tone, which would have been “the primary way the earliest believers understood their existence” (179). Such thinking, Fee contends, is largely foreign to the Western mind, which is mostly accustomed to a culture of equality and thus, unfamiliar to a large extent with how radically counter-cultural Paul’s statements would have been to first-century readers. Fee states that the “nature of this affirmation, its counter-cultural significance, the fact that it equally disadvantages all by equally advantaging all—these stab at the very heart of a culture sustained by people’s maintaining the right position and status. But in Christ Jesus . . .all things have become new; the new era has dawned” (180)

Fee then spends the next several paragraphs extrapolating from “new creation” texts (such as that found in 1 Corinthians 7) how these implications affected the Christian culture of the first century. Within the body of Christ for example, no preference is to be given for kosher meals, and no disadvantage placed because of one’s status as a slave. Such distinctions “mean nothing in the new creation” (182).

Fee then applies the aforementioned new creation principles to the relationship of male and female, and in so doing, begins moving back toward the text under consideration with this assumption. In the newly created and Christ-centered home, the wife is no longer merely a member of the husband’s home, but is “in relationship to him” (184). Because they are both members of the one body without distinction, Fee contends that husband and wife are, “first of all brother and sister in Christ” (184). Fee’s conclusion on this basis is that “either may prophesy or teach (1 cor. 14:26)—which are matters of Spirit gifting, not gender—as long as some cultural norms that distinguish male and female were maintained (1 Cor. 11:2-16)” (184). I

n short, Fee’s logic is that if one is not disqualified from certain church offices and functions because he is a Gentile, or because he is a slave, then neither should a woman be disqualified based merely on her gender. He concludes this chapter by asserting that “to give continuing significance to a male-authority viewpoint for men and women, whether at home or in the church, is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world” (185).

Critical Analysis of Fee’s Exegesis

Before noting the many points of disagreement with Fee, it serves to point out the many places where Fee and other egalitarians find much common ground with their complementarian counterparts. First of all, there is general agreement regarding the overall theme of the Galatian correspondence; namely, the call for understanding that the people of God, Jew or Gentile, are all “one” in Christ. Though it is an oversimplification to claim this as the central theme, Fee will find no complementarian in disagreement with the notion that because of Christ, all distinctions, social and otherwise, become of no advantage or disadvantage. Paul’s declaration that “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v.28) emphasizes a truth found in both didactic and narrative literature throughout the entire New Testament corpus; all ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross.

Second, Fee is to be commended for his strong emphasis regarding the essential equality of male and female. In Christ, gender is “no longer . . .relevant for constituting value and social identity in the new creation” (179). Though the Scriptures clearly delineate functional distinctions between male and female in the home and church—distinctions which will be defined and discussed later—Fee emphasizes well that because of the Gospel, one’s gender does not add or take away dignity or value, nor is one gender rendered inferior to the other. Contrary to Fee’s assumptions, complementarian theologians gladly stand with him in this contention.

Furthermore, though he apparently (and wrongly) believes that the complementarian viewpoint is one which generically places men above women, Fee is to be commended for reminding the body of Christ that the Biblical “chain of authority” is never to be understood as all women being subject to all men. Such a contention should serve as a solemn reminder to complementarian thinkers that maleness in and of itself does not warrant authority in the church or in the home. The insipid chauvinism this writer has witnessed in a few evangelical churches is a by-product of this misunderstanding, and those within Christ’s body who subscribe to and apply such a faulty hermeneutic should be strongly rebuked.

Third, complementarians can applaud Fee’s emphasis of the first-century, counter-cultural nature of Pauline thought. “It is difficult,” states Fee, “for us to imagine the effect of Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 in a culture where position and status preserved order through basically uncrossable boundaries, and where attempting to cross those boundaries brought shame instead of honor” (180). Indeed, even in the Pastoral Epistles, in the very texts where complementarians make their case for male headship, Paul insists that women “learn” and establishes a discipleship paradigm in which younger women turn to older, seasoned, and theologically-inclined women for instruction. The Gospel injected into a “male-only” culture like that of the first century gives the due respect and honor to being female, and Fee is to be commended for reminding us of this Pauline value.

Finally, Fee’s emphasis on the “new creation theology” of the New Testament and its place in the Galatian correspondence is a necessary reminder that the Gospel brings the male-female roles and relationships into the appropriate balance by redeeming each and setting it back in its intended place. The final application between Fee and complementarian thinkers is very different. Still, Fee’s emphasis on this truth reminds complementarians that the very male authority Fee rejects is given so that men can better fulfill the responsibilities he affirms, and not for the sake of male authority alone.

At the same time, an honest evaluation of Fee’s work on this passage must deal straightforwardly with several inconsistencies and errors. Primarily, Fee’s assumption that the soteriology of Galatians is secondary to its ecclesiology is simply without basis in the text, and when this hermeneutic is expanded, it leads to more error, such as the assumption that the essential equality of male and female in 3:28 predicates the inclusion of women at all levels of service to the church. To be sure, the soteriological themes of the letter naturally have application in the life of the church. At the same time, the letter is written with an almost exclusive emphasis on the restoration of the Gospel at Galatia. How this emphasis informs other issues such as social distinctions and church life are ancillary, if valid, concerns.

Beginning with verse 6 of the first chapter, Paul sets the most serious tone established in any of his letters. In observing the theme of these verses, MacArthur points out the great danger of Jews who had made only a superficial profession of faith, then quickly reverted to Judaism “and sought to make Christianity an extension of their traditional system of works righteousness” (MacArthur 1987, 13). This Judaizing contention that Gentiles must be circumcised was the worst of heresies in the mind of Paul, who cursed those who would promote such a message because it was “another Gospel” (1:6). Thus, the theme of Galatians “is that true freedom comes only through Jesus Christ” (MacArthur, 14). 

Likewise, the late F.F. Bruce contends that Paul’s aim in Galatians is to denounce the teaching of the Judaizers “as a perversion of the true gospel of Christ” (Bruce 1982, 19). These observations, along with a straightforward reading of the text itself, demonstrate that the main focus of the Galatian correspondence is salvation. Thus, Fee’s belief that a supposed ecclesiastical emphasis grants equal access to all offices and functions of the church to both male and female is without textual foundation.

Secondly, Fee contends that the complementarian approach to the gender issue is tantamount to full capitulation to the reality of the fall. To accept male leadership “in the home or in the church is to reject the new creation in favor of the norms of a fallen world” (185). This assumption is shared by other egalitarian authors like Richard Hess, who dedicates an entire chapter to the view that God’s ultimate aim is for equality in function as well as essence, and that any hierarchy is the direct result of the fall.

More specifically, Hess believes that “God’s judgment included for the woman hard work alongside her husband in addition to bearing children. She would also have a desire to rule him, though he would end up ruling her” (94). Fee shares this sentiment, believing that male leadership “usurps the work of the Spirit not only in the wife and her relationship to God but also in the church—the expression of the new order and new humanity that is already present, even while it is yet to be” (185).

Yet the history of the fall in Genesis 3 is precisely the reason for Paul’s prohibition of women from holding a position of church authority in 1 Timothy 2. Though Paul’s later comments in 2 Timothy and Titus seem to negate the possibility that he was seeking to prevent women from any and all teaching roles, Thomas Lea well notes that the “normative principle behind Paul’s directive is that the woman should not carry out the role of senior pastor” (Lea 1992, 100). Furthermore, Paul’s invocation of Jewish primogeniture to establish male leadership in the home appeals to the created order prior to the fall. Therefore, Fee’s contention that asserting male leadership is equivalent to accepting the “norms” of a fallen world is actually found to be inverse to the very logic Paul uses elsewhere in the New Testament to establish male headship in the home and church.

Similarly, Fee’s view that Paul’s instructions regarding male headship were grounded in the culture of the first century is also suspect upon closer examination. As regards male headship in the home, Fee contends that Paul’s ideal is total equality without hierarchy, yet in the same breath states that Paul was willing to concede on certain cultural issues. If indeed Paul intends to eliminate hierarchical roles in the body of Christ, one might ask why he would be willing, as Fee suggests, to “yield on certain cultural matters so as not to predicate the shame on lesser things” (181)? Furthermore, Fee’s belief that Paul capitulates in certain areas on this issue is to suggest, even if unintentionally, that Paul himself is “settling” for the norms of a fallen world rather than embracing the new creation that God intended.

In fact, the preferred and more consistent way to view texts like Colossians 3, Ephesians 5, and 1 Timothy 2 is to see them as their author sees them. Although Fee rightly points out that Paul “radicalizes” the household norms of the first century, he mistakenly views Paul’s establishment of household hierarchy as instruction grounded in the culture of that day. In fact, Paul’s own words put this notion to rest, and clarify that the reason for his emphasis on male headship is that “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). Thus, Paul’s insistence on male headship in the home and church is not grounded in the culture of the first century, or even in the fall. Instead, male headship is grounded in the created order itself, and understood best through the lens of Jewish primogeniture.

Evangelical egalitarianism, unlike liberal feminism, deserves recognition for seeking to make its case under the authority of Scripture. Egalitarians of an evangelical bent have no desire to capitulate to culture merely for the sake of culture. Instead, they sincerely believe their position to be grounded in a sound hermeneutic of God’s inerrant Word. Egalitarian theologians such as Gordon Fee strongly affirm Scriptural inerrancy, the deity of Jesus Christ, the exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation, the necessity of the new birth, and the promise of the life to come. And like their complementarian counterparts, they care much about the church as God’s vehicle of redemption in the world, and forward their arguments because they firmly believe such arguments will help mold the church into a genuine “new creation” community.

With this in view, there is much on which complementarians can agree with their egalitarian counterparts. There is much that can be accomplished when these two groups work together on issues of common concern. At the same time, this debate cannot simply be treated as a tertiary theological issue tantamount to one’s eschatology or view of spiritual gifts. The issues under discussion in the gender role debate go right to the heart of the created order, and color one’s view of a wide variety of issues crucial to the life and health of God’s church.

Those representing the egalitarian viewpoint in Discovering Biblical Equality, including Gordon Fee, also understand the gravity of this discussion. Hence, the forcefulness with which they each make their arguments. This writer considers it a privilege to interact with a brilliant and dedicated brother in Christ. Yet even more important is that a Biblically-sound response be given so that the church can be led as God intends, and consequently, become the community of “new creation” to which Fee aspires.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mission Monday: Michael Frost on Listening to Your Community

"Felt needs" has always been a somewhat controversial concept in evangelicalism, and when the issue is discussed, the "heat" is usually generated by the most extreme expressions of both sides.  On one end of that spectrum are those who chafe at any mention of "scratching where people itch," suggesting that we "just need to preach the Gospel."  On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe the church should always be in the business of giving its community whatever the community wants.

As is usually the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The following clip is from a message preached by Australian missiologist Michael Frost three years ago at Exponential.  I was present for the entire message, and found what he said to be greatly helpful, especially to a western church that too often presumes it has the answers.  And the result is that we often address questions our culture isn't even asking.  Frost's personal story in this clip about American missionaries seeking to engage Australians is particularly convicting.

Approaching any community from the standpoint of a learner is the first step to meaningful engagement.  Enjoy the brief insight this clip provides as to what this posture looks like.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Theology Thursday: Monotheism is Not Enough

"You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble."  -James 2:19

I'm excited that our churches are participating in the upcoming Summit on Faith and Culture!  In our current global environment of civil unrest, ethnic strife and religious misunderstanding, there is no better time for an event that allows us to understand and be understood.  Sometimes I'm asked "why would you invite Jews and Muslims to a conference like this and allow them to talk about their faith? And why isn't this an 'evangelistic' meeting so we can try to bring them to faith in Jesus?"  The answer is quite simple.  Followers of Jesus aren't just called to make disciples.  We are also commanded to work toward environments that promote peace and mutual understanding. (Romans 12:18).  Over the past several years, I've met many friends who subscribe to Jewish and Muslim faith who also want to work toward that environment.  If I am to obey Jesus, I have no choice but to say "yes."

Furthermore, our faiths have much in common when it comes to the practical concerns of life.  During this summit, we will talk about how to stand for each other's religious freedom, how to promote economic justice, and how to combat human trafficking.  And our common concern in these areas is fueled by our common belief in a personal God who created people in His image and likeness, and who desires to bring infinite justice to the world He created.  A friend of mine said to me not long ago, "You guys are forming a monotheistic justice league!"

I'm not so sure about that.

At the same time, we are going to take some time to be fully candid with each other about our differences.  We can work together on a lot of issues where we have commonality, but our differences  are vast and irreconcilable.  I've said many times that I don't believe in "tolerance," because my friends in other faiths deserve more than that.  They deserve my unconditional friendship.  Well, genuine, true friends are honest with each other when they differ--especially when their differences have such eternal consequences.  But occasionally I get a question along the lines of "Why would you even mention your differences in a summit like this?  Why not just talk about where we agree?  Don't we all ultimately worship the same God?  Why not just see our monotheism as sufficient to hold us together?"

My answer to that question is also very simple.  Monotheism is not enough.

To be sure, James' exhortation above praises belief in only one God.  Its certainly the only true starting point for understanding truth and living in freedom.  "You believe that God is one; you do well," James tells us.  No doubt this Jewish apostle from the tribe of Judah has in mind the Ten Commandments, along with the context in which they were given.  God through Moses had just delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt, brought them out into the desert, parted the Red Sea to let them cross, and then drowned their captors.  And here they were in the Sinai wilderness, free for the first time in 400 years.

Problem is, freedom is pretty useless if you don't know how to live as a free person.  And no one among this group had ever seen freedom, or had known anyone who had lived in freedom.  They now have to be taught by a gracious God to live in the freedom they have just been granted, and to enable that freedom, God gives Moses the 10 Commandments.  And the first sets for us the starting point for living in freedom:

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me."  -Exodus 20:1-2

The Israelites had been surrounded for four centuries by people who worshipped multiple gods.  The more gods you have, the more you have to serve, the more offerings you have to give, the harder you have to work--and at the end of the day, you are merely working to please the air.  Polytheism is the clearest example of what it looks like to live in spiritual slavery.  Freedom on the other hand, begins with realizing that there is one, and only one God.  Therefore, the highest duty of human beings is to know that God, and worship Him.

But to know Him in the sense that James describes is not necessarily to truly worship Him.  James continues with this warning: "The devils also believe, and tremble."  Satan himself is a monotheist.  He too believes in the existence of only one God, and he knows from his own experience as a defeated vasal the magnitude and glory of his own Creator.  But that knowledge by itself doesn't bring Satan to worship.  It doesn't redeem him.  It gives him no hope.  Because again, monotheism is not enough.

This text is of course couched within a large section where the Apostle deals with the relationship between saving faith and works of righteousness.  Faith without works, James tells us, is dead.  It is fictitious.  It isn't the sort of faith that saves.  1500 years after James, John Calvin would comment on these words with the following phrase; "Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone!"  But what kind of faith is it that James contends produces the good works of which he speaks?  The answer is in verse 23; "and the Scripture was fulfilled that says "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness.'"

In other words, Abraham didn't just believe in one God.  He believed Him earnestly and perceived him rightly, and this faith is what produced the works which James says vindicated his relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

On November 16, three groups of people--all of whom hold to a deep and sincere faith--will converge to speak honestly with each other.  Its what friends do.  We all believe in one God, but we perceive Him in very different ways.  He is either a Trinity or He is not.  Jesus is either God or He is not. You don't have to believe in the Trinity, or the deity of Jesus to love people and do some great things in the service of humanity.  My Jewish and Muslim friends prove that.  But being in a right relationship with God that secures your eternity is a quite different matter.  And where our perceptions of God are concerned, eternal souls hang in the balance.

This is why we develop the maturity to maintain friendships while speaking openly and honestly about our differences. We want peace.  We want friendship.  And we want to work together in areas where we agree and can have a meaningful impact.  But if we truly love each other, we will also talk about our differences, even  if we have to navigate being uncomfortable to do so.

Because monotheism is not enough.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mission Monday: Speculative Theology and the Great Commission

On October 3, "Left Behind" will debut in theaters across America, and its release will prompt a fresh discussion among evangelicals about our view of the end times.  Additionally, the movie will encourage general discussion about what happens after we die, who goes to heaven, and how they get there.  These are very important subjects, and for that reason, I'm thankful followers of Jesus can use popular movies to talk to their non-Christian friends about the Gospel.

I just hope that's what actually happens.

Full disclosure:  The "Left Behind" movie is based on a particular view of the end times that I don't personally share.  I'm not a Dispensationalist, so while I believe the end of the age will include mass numbers of our Jewish friends coming to realize who their Messiah is, I don't see a distinction in the text between Israel as a nation-state and the church.  Consequently, I don't believe in a pre-tribulational "rapture" of the church.  So it would be easy for someone with my bias to simply dismiss films like this as a waste of time.  But I know too many good and godly pastors whose eschatology matches that of the upcoming film--serious students of Scripture whose theology is far deeper than celluloid and who have a genuine heart for Jesus and the Gospel, and who will use films like this as opportunities to share their faith, and encourage others to do so.

Speculative theology isn't wrong, so long as we realize and admit that it is speculative.  But when it is used in the wrong way, the results can be detrimental to the Great Commission.  For example, if I spend more time pontificating on who the "elect" are than I do calling them out of lostness and into the light of the Gospel, then I've allowed my speculation to devolve into outright disobedience.

This is a particularly dangerous prospect in our current world, where over the last year world events have been the catalyst for heightened discussions about the end of the age.  When does the "rapture" take place?  Who is "the beast" of Revelation 13?  What is the nature of the millennium?  All Scripture is inspired and profitable, which makes these questions valid and worth exploring.  But when set against a 2000-year history that includes three different millennial views, four different interpretive approaches to Revelation, and at least two different perceptions of the prophetic significance of the nation of Israel, we should all hold our opinions loosely.  Otherwise, we risk being driven by speculation rather than by Scripture.  Deuteronomy 29:29 states that "the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever."  In short, explore the unclear, but not at the expense of disobeying the clear!

How should we strike that balance?  I offer the following four principles.

1. Your Primary motivation should be making disciples.  At the end of the day, if speculation about unclear doctrines is more important to you than making disciples of Jesus, you are in a very bad place.  What good does it do to try and identify the antiChrist if you aren't sharing the Gospel so people won't follow him?

Where end times teaching is concerned, it is helpful to remember that these prophecies were originally given to a severely persecuted church as a tool of encouragement.  When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he speaks of the end when those who have passed away prior to the coming of Jesus will be called out of their graves, after which those in Christ who are still alive will join them in the air, being "caught up" (the phrase that translates the greek term from whence comes the Latin concept of the "rapture") to meet the Lord Himself.  He then concludes "therefore, comfort one another with these words."  I've quoted from that passage at innumerable gravesides for exactly that reason!  Studying the Scriptures to discern when this event might take place (before or after the tribulation, for example) is to seek answers to a legitimate question.  But ultimately, these words are given to suffering people for comfort, not speculation.

Eschatology, like any other Biblical subject, is given for the ultimate purpose of making followers of Jesus more like Jesus.  And we don't look very much like Jesus when we are drawing prophecy charts and fighting with each other.

2. You should have a Passion for all people to hear and respond to the Gospel. Since 1948, differences of opinion have existed between Bible-believing Christians as to whether the re-instatement of Israel is a prophetically significant event.  I have many academic colleagues and fellow pastors who are convinced that this is the case.  Count me among those who have our doubts about that assertion.  But since 1830, dispensational and covenantal interpreters of Scripture  have both faithfully proclaimed the Gospel and made disciples.  The problems occur at the extremes of these views.

On the dispensational end of the spectrum, the problem is a kind of Zionism that presents a God who "plays favorites" where the Jews are concerned--to the extent that utter hatred is expressed toward any other Semitic peoples in the middle-east, including many of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.  On the Covenantal end, the problem is a move from seeing the promises of God in the Old Testament as fulfilled in both Jews and Gentiles, to a hermeneutic that sees Gentiles as fully replacing the Jews.  The anti-Semitism that sometimes results from this view is quite frightening.

The bottom line is this:  Both Testaments clearly state that God is not finished with ethnic Israel, and that there is coming a day when great numbers of them will recognize their true Messiah.  I long for that day.  But the same Bible that makes these promises to the sons and daughters of Isaac also clearly reveals a God who loves the sons of Ishmael (see Genesis 16!).  I am for all groups finding Jesus.

3. You must maintain a conviction that all must respond to the Gospel.  Here is where I"m going to speak candidly for a bit.  If you listen to John Hagee, stop!  There is only one label that can be given to a man who has publicly said that sharing the Gospel with our Jewish friends is a waste of time and has intimated that they do not need the Gospel to be saved--and that label is "false prophet." And false-prophecy is always and exactly the result of allowing speculative teaching to overtake the clear teaching of Scripture.

I can work with any follower of Jesus who differs with me on the prophetic significance of Israel as a nation-state.  But I can't work with you if you talk more about Israel than you do Jesus.  Neither ethnicity, or nationality gets you into heaven.  Getting there takes bowing before the reality of a bloody cross and an empty tomb!  Christians have disagreed for centuries about less perspicuous prophetic texts, but Acts 4:12 has never been in dispute!

4. You must remember that its all about Jesus.  Personally, I am wary of any Bible teacher from any school of thought who is not actively sharing his faith with others.  I've known men who spent inordinate amounts of time seeking to "fit" Communism within some prophetic scheme, but who have never crossed an ocean to actually engage someone of that mindset with the Gospel.  I know men who say similar things about Islam, but have spent very little time actually getting to know Muslims. In the end, all my prophetic speculation does nothing to get those people any closer to Jesus, and the last time I read Matthew 28, this was my primary mandate.  So as I explore Biblical prophecy, I need to do so with the realization that all those world events we speculate on have Jesus at the center.  If you don't get to the Gospel, your speculation isn't just useless.  Its sinful.

I don't know exactly how history will end.  But I do know the One who wrote out history before it began.  I may be wrong about the rapture.  Perhaps we will miss the tribulation, or maybe we will go through it.  I don't know.  But I do know that no matter who is right, Jesus gives us the joy to be content regardless of our circumstances.  I have no idea who the antiChrist is.  But I know who Christ is!  So sure, let's have some serious conversations about unclear texts, but let's be sure we don't do it at the expense of our clear mission.