The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church

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If you are new to this presentation, we will include the original product description below. We hope you enjoy it! This MP3 of the recording of Dr. Rosenbladt’s presentation is tailor-made for all those folks who are “mad” at and “sad” about Christianity BECAUSE they have been “baited and switched” by the church.

If the Ten Commandments were not impossible enough, the preaching of Christian behavior, of Christian ethics, of Christian living, can drive a Christian into despairing unbelief. Not happy unbelief. Tragic, despairing, sad unbelief. (It is not unlike the [unhappy] Christian equivalent of “Jack Mormons” – those who finally admit to themselves and others that they can’t live up to the demands of this non-Christian cult’s laws, and excuse themselves from the whole sheebang.) A diet of this stuff from pulpit, from curriculum, from a Christian reading list, can do a work on a Christian that is (at least over the long haul) “faith destroying.”

In this staggeringly potent presentation, Dr. Rosenbladt tackles what plagues many ‘recovering Christians’. Sticking to his unchanging theme of 200-proof Gospel, using his own history as an agnostic “outsider” to Christianity, Dr. Rosenbladt delivers the grace of the cross with all its potency, undiluted.

If you’ve struggled with your faith in your church because of what you’re seeing and hearing (and maybe don’t even go to church anymore), you don’t want to miss this powerful address – an unabashed analysis of the church today and what it is doing to many believers – from one who has experienced it himself.

Are we Christians saved the same way we were when we were baptized into Christ, or when we came to acknowledge Christ’s shed blood and His righteousness as all we had in the face of God’s holy law? That all of our supposed “virtue” – Christian or pagan – is just like so many old menstrual garments (to use the Bible phrase)? But that God imputes to those who trust Christ’s cross the true righteousness of Christ Himself? We are pretty sure that unbelievers who come to believe this are instantly justified in God’s sight, declared as if innocent, adopted as sons or daughters, forgiven of all sin, given eternal life, etc. But are Christians still saved that freely? Or are we not? We are pretty clear that imputed righteousness saves sinners. But can the imputed righteousness of Christ save a Christian? And can it save him or her all by itself? Or no?

For all of you who have been given morality lessons instead of the Gospel, hear how Dr. Rod Rosenbladt succinctly presents Christianity as first and foremost a genuine truth claim about Christ as our righteous substitute, instead of a never ending list of popular religious recipes for personal success.

Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on “The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church” from Faith Lutheran Church on Vimeo.

Does The Resurrection Even Make Sense?

empty-tomb-158x280What is Easter all about: bunnies, beautifully decorated eggs and marshmallow treats that could survive a zombie apocalypse? That’s the message we hear: Easter equals spring. But in reality, Easter equals good news for you.

And our world needs some good news. Maybe we’re not even sure what’s wrong, but we know this world is broken. Suffering and death fill the nightly news. Sadly, the television doesn’t keep suffering and death at bay. In addition to all our weekly worries, bigger and more personal problems gnaw at our existence. I know I’ve wronged others. I know I’m going to die. And I know I’m powerless to solve my problems of guilt, suffering, and death. I need rescue.

If you’re drowning in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean, do you need Michael Phelps coaching you on your butterfly stroke, or a Coast Guard helicopter to rescue you? So, when it comes to humanity’s greatest problems, do you need a religious guide, coach or guru telling you what to do and how to behave, or a Savior who’ll rescue you from suffering, guilt, and death? What you and I need isn’t some new spiritual fad, how-to book, or self-help program. We need a Savior.

Jesus—and no one else—claims to take your wrongdoings, shame, and failures and nail them to His cross. Buddha doesn’t promise to die for me. Mohammed doesn’t promise to take away my guilt. Moses didn’t live a perfect life for me. Christianity isn’t about whether or not I’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad, or if I’ve behaved better than someone else. Easter is Jesus’ declaration: ““I’m your Savior. I suffered for you. I was judged for you. I conquered death for you. Heaven is yours.”

It may sound too good to be true. But Christianity’s claim isn’t just another myth like the Easter bunny. Christianity’s claim is unique: a real guy did real things in history.

So why is Jesus’ resurrection such a big deal? Death isn’t the end of the story. Easter joyfully announces: Jesus died and rose for you! And by rising from the dead—that is, by having power over death—Jesus is in the greatest possible position to solve our biggest problems: suffering, guilt, and death. What you couldn’t solve on your own, Jesus has already solved for you. Jesus’ death and resurrection is your rescue. That’s what Easter is all about.

Let’s investigate one of several logical arguments for Christianity’s historical claim of Jesus’ resurrection.

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Did Jesus Actually Rise From The Dead?

Jesus’ death is among the best-attested facts in ancient history. But what about his resurrection? Believe it or not, this issue doesn’t require a blind leap of faith. Rather, Christianity’s central claim is a historical one. Namely, that a real guy did real things in history. And this affects you in the most personal way imaginable. Jesus was crucified, then seen alive again three days later, in real human history. Therefore, it can be investigated like any other historical event.

Investigation must precede conclusion. For example, why do you believe Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865? Because someone told you, or you read it. For trained historians, that’s not enough. Historians must apply objective methods to the events in question to determine their reliability. Apply these same objective methods to Christianity’s claim and see what happens. Although space prohibits a detailed and documented citation of these claims, the argument follows a logical step-by-step process (Not, “God says so, I believe it, end of story.”).

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are reliable primary source documents. Begin by treating them as ancient sources not books of the Bible. These books were written by eyewitnesses, or close associates of eyewitnesses and have been reliably transmitted over time.  This is historical gold: four biographies about the central figure traceable back to his contemporaries. No ancient historical figure has such thorough documentation. Moreover, many non-Christian historians confirm events recorded in the Gospels, and archaeology substantiates many of these claims.
  2. In these primary source documents, the central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, claims to be God in human flesh. This is the primary charge against Jesus in the trial preceding his crucifixion.
  3. Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead proves His deity. When someone says, “I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead,” I ask, “What happened to his body?” I’ve heard numerous theories, but none comport with the evidence acknowledged by a vast amount of scholars. The best explanation that takes all the facts into account is that Jesus rose from the dead.
  4. If Jesus is God, whatever he says is true. Normally, dead people don’t rise from their graves. But if Jesus rose again, He’s in the best position to tell us what His resurrection means. Jesus proclaims that He has power over His death and yours. Therefore, his promise to give you eternal salvation is also trustworthy.

(For more information: garyhabermas.com)

Next, we’ll examine specific historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

Just The Facts!

Is Christianity playing pretend for adults, like believing in the tooth fairy or a flying spaghetti monster? Many say, “Yes.” But in reality, Christianity appeals to facts and historical evidence to support its central claim. Namely, Jesus was crucified; then seen alive again three days later. Not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but in real human history. Every credible historical account begins with facts. Facts are like bricks. Constructing a building requires a solid foundation. Similarly, demonstrating that Jesus’ resurrection really happened requires facts. So, what bricks support Christianity’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead? The following six facts have a pattern of well established evidence for their veracity and acceptance by a wide range of scholars.

  1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
  2. The disciples claimed to experience actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
  3. The apostles’ proclamation of the resurrection dates to within three years of Jesus’ death.
  4. Two people, Paul and James, who did not believe in Jesus during his ministry, were later convinced Jesus rose from the dead.
  5. Despite their counterclaims (i.e. Jesus’ body was stolen or devoured by dogs) no corpse was produced either by Jewish or Roman authorities opposed to Christianity.
  6. The disciples were utterly transformed by their conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus, and were willing to die for this belief. Moreover, tens of thousands of Jews, including priests and Pharisees, converted, undermining Christianity’s opposition.[1]

In court, when the plaintiff and defendant agree, this amounts to the strongest evidence. That both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree on these points, lends trustworthiness to the claim. Moreover, these facts derive from a wide range of eyewitness, both hostile and supportive, which increase their credibility. Finally, these facts appeal to common ground, building an argument solely on data that is known and generally accepted by scholars in this field.

[1] These six facts are adapted from Gary Habermas’essay, The Core Resurrection Data: The Minimal Facts Approach, found in Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery, ed. William A Dembski and Thomas Schirrmacher. B & H Publishing Group: Nashville, 2008, p. 387-405.

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For more on this subject, pick up Dr. Montgomery’s Sensible Christianity in MP3 format now!

Lack Of Nerve – What’s Wrong With Apologetics? (Part 8 of 9)

What's Wrong With Apologetics {{PD-US}}Doctors terrify me. I have to get my wife to make appointments for general check-ups, or else they won’t happen. I’m not afraid of pain, though I am afraid of needles. Rather, I’m afraid of getting diagnosed. If I’m feeling fine on a Tuesday, I don’t want to learn that I’m deathly ill on a Wednesday, so I seek bliss in medical ignorance. Of course, this is the worst strategy imaginable for someone who wants to live a full, healthy life. Nonetheless, my fears overcome my better judgment when it comes to frequenting the physician’s office. So it is for many, when it comes to apologetics. Asking whether one’s beliefs are the right ones is terrifying.

King David statueMoreover, I need to let you in on a secret. For as many folks as I’ve met who came to believe in Christianity after studying apologetic arguments, I know at least three Christian young people who left the faith, after rigorously weighing the evidence. The problem of evil, warfare in the Old Testament, apparent discrepancies between science and religion, and the difficulty of recovering an extra-biblical, account of the historical Jesus have led several young scholars I know to abandon the faith of their childhood. For instance, I’ve known people who claimed they bolted from the church after encountering divergent accounts of the Triumphal Entry (Mark 11, Luke 19, John 12) and contrasting statements about who told David to take a census (1 Chronicles 21, 2 Samuel 24). Others have left after being convinced by the work of the new atheists.

So what is a believer to do? Isn’t it safer to whistle in the wind and ignore any evidence that one’s faith might be misplaced? Yes. It is safer, if by that we mean less unsettling, or less likely to lead to a change of opinion. This is why I think so many Christians—both conservative and liberal—explicitly or secretly fear apologetics. It forces them to be open to change. And change, like divorce, getting a new job, or moving to a new town, produces high levels of stress. In the face of such threats, we back down. We lack the nerve to open our eyes and face the facts.

Where does this lack of nerve come from? A lack of trust that all will indeed be well. A little nagging voice whispers that Jesus might be little more than “Santa Claus” for big people. We’ve invested so much of our lives, given up good biking weather on Sundays to sit in hard pews, and banked everything on eternity. We’ve sunk so much cost into this wager that we can’t fold now, right?

But what if all is indeed well? What if opening our eyes will lead to beautiful landscapes, clarity of vision, and ethical heroism. What, in short, if the evidence points us to goodness, truth and beauty? Even if there is only a slight chance that there is reason to hope, we have the moral obligation to hope.

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Most importantly, however, lack of nerve cannot be an excuse to avoid apologetic questions for three basic reasons.

  1. If you don’t study the tough questions now, it is likely you will be confronted by the same concerns later in life; and if you don’t have good resources at your disposal, you may just fade out of Christianity for no good reason.
  2. If you pretend to believe something you don’t consider as true in any normal sense of the world, you are likely deceiving yourself and don’t actually believe it in the first place. I’m not saying that one can’t be a true Christian without apologetics; there are lots of people who believe true things without intellectual justification. Nevertheless, it’s unclear what one means by calling this phenomenon “belief” in the first place.
  3. I believe that the best explanation of the historical evidence is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

This last claim is momentous, in that its truth value has life-changing implications for a person’s life. Therefore, whether you are a believer or an atheist, by exploring apologetics, you have nothing to lose but your illusions. And there’s something priceless to gain…

Joy and Hope

I’m not talking about Pascal’s wager here: I’m not saying you should wager that Christianity is true because it is a good value bet. I’m not saying you should wager on a belief for no good reason. Rather, I’m merely urging you to wager on investigating whether you should believe. What’s the worst that could happen? So take courage fellow travelers: taste and see whether the Lord is good.

Lego Bricks and Apologetics: Imagination, Art, and Sub-Creation – Part 4

Lego_bricks-225x300This is what children do, they build and then create a story about the train, or castle, or ship they’ve just built. This is what the young boy, Finn, did in The Lego Movie. And in the process, he unlocked not just his father’s imagination, but the viewers’ as well. But there’s more to this movie than excellent Lego graphics and artistic; in other words, imaginative storytelling. The Lego Movie had everything a good story should have: heroes and villains; a world that was in trouble and in need of rescue; a damsel and a people in distress and looking for hope and freedom; and a sacrifice that points to a greater story—to the Great Sacrifice of the one who’s name is also Truth. There was also a great resolution at the end, the happy ending that we all long for.

SPOILER ALERT!!! As it turns out, the entire movie was a sub-created world born of the mind of Finn, the young boy behind all the imagination in the movie. One of his sub-created characters in his story was Emmet, the non-descript construction worker. In an act of sacrifice, Emmet saved the world from Lord Business (played brilliantly by Will Ferrell), and even managed to free his imagination as well. As I mentioned earlier, that makes Emmet the Christ figure of this movie. But this is just one movie. There are countless other examples: Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Disney’s The Jungle Book, and I could go on.

Why do all these stories seem to sound the same? Why do we keep hearing and reading similar themes in movies, books, and drama? How is it that even secular stories like The Lego Movie and countless others give us fragments of the Greatest Story ever told? Because these stories are in some way, shape, or form stealing from the one great true story, the Gospel. They’re intentionally or unintentionally doing what Tolkien said about good stories; they’re writing about Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. They’re giving us glimpses of the great eucatastrophe, Christ’s death and resurrection.

Superman. Batman the Dark Knight. Neo in the Matrix. Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. Harry Potter’s defeat of Voldemort. Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. Frodo and Samwise’s sacrifice to destroy the ring of power. Spock in Star Trek Two. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death to save Luke. The list could go on. But the point is all the same. They’re all stealing from the one great story. It sure makes for a good story, and an even better one since it is true.

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And here is where the apologist can operate. Here is where imagination, Sub-Creation, and yes, even things like The Lego Movie can be useful in the field of apologetics. Christians can and should use these familiar stories to show and teach the great story. We should steal back the examples of redemption, love, and sacrifice and use it to proclaim the true sacrifice, redemption, and love of Christ. We can steal past watchful dragons. Use our imagination and Sub-Creation to point to Christ’s greater salvation for all.

Imaginative apologetics is a vital part of making a defense for the reason for the hope that is within us. Not everyone resonates with a tough-minded defense of the faith. Thankfully the Christian faith reaches both our intellect and our imagination. Christianity is both true and meaningful.

Imagination, art, and sub-creation, are all used to tell us a story. And aren’t these the kinds of stories we should tell our children? I think so. Imagination leads to Art; Art leads to Sub-Creation; Sub-Creation reflect or points to the Primary World, or Primary Art. Sub-Creation also leads to a story. And the story leads to an imaginative apologetic, a defense for the tender-minded.

Everyone is a storyteller. The question is what and who will the story be about? There are plenty of stories that are not worth watching or reading. But the best ones point to the one great story; the one true story that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Corinthians 5:9).

This is the story we need to tell, write, script, paint, sing, and declare: Christ crucified and risen for you. The world needs more Christians engaged in imaginative apologetics, more men and women who see their work or their hobbies as Sub-Creations, secondary worlds based on the Primary World. We need more artists whose work points to the Lord who painted the heavens and framed the earth’s foundations, more writers who point their readers to Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith, more characters like Aslan who bring us into a new world for a little while so that we might know the true Lion of the Tribe of Judah better in our world.

The Magic Kingdom

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret…now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” [1] – C.S. Lewis

[1] C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children, in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc. p. 25

The Night We Defeated God

boxers_in_ring-216x350I want a ringside seat at this fight. So close I can feel the spray of their sweat. It’s not every day you get to see man go toe-to-toe with God. Fight it out. Roll in the dirt. Batter and bruise and body-slam each other. But today’s that day. Finally, we get to see what God is really made of. Finally, he leaves his throne for our gutter. This is the chance we’ve all been waiting for.

Oh, yes, I’ve got a dog in this fight. His name’s Jacob. He’s not my first choice. I don’t care for Jacob. Never have. He’s got too much of me in him. He’s a liar and a cheat. He’s a coward and a user. All the men in the world who could have been the patriarch of the Old Testament church and this loser winds up on top. Married to two gals with a couple more co-wives on the side he employs as baby-makers. His family so fractured it’s the stuff of reality TV. On the outs with his twin brother for years. Here’s a man who seems to embody all my own sins. Not exactly hero material. But beggars can’t be choosers.

That God ever agreed to this fight seems the height of foolishness to me. Why come down from heaven? Why meet Jacob under cover of darkness, on the banks of this river, and wrestle with him through the small hours of the night? It’s not like He had to. He takes it upon Himself. He shows up, dressed in our skin, and picks a fight with the patriarch. You’ve got to wonder: does He have something up His sleeve?

I love the raw fury of the fight. I’ve poured everything I am into that man Jacob. All my own lying and cheating and cowardice. All my own anger and frustration and fears. All the fractures of my family. All my loneliness and hatred of life and feelings of worthlessness. All the stuff about me that I hate. It’s all in Jacob now. I am him and he is me.

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And, miracle of miracles, we’re winning. Even when God pulls a sucker punch and dislocates Jacob’s hip, even then we won’t let go. Not yet. Not after all this. God’s not going to simply disappear back into His celestial mansion. No. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” You tell Him, Jacob. I don’t care if the sun is peeking over the horizon. This fight’s not over.

“What is your name?” God asks. What a question. What is my name? My name is Jacob. And my name is Chad and Kim and Judas and Jezebel. But I also go by Doubter and Killer and Pharisee and Fool. Some call me merely Ex. Some call me Adulterer. Still others call me names best left to the imagination. They’re all true.

My Name Is A Cocktail Of All My Crimes

And to that cocktail we can now add even more. For look at me. All covered in grime and blood and spit and sweat. I’ve fought with God. I’ve fought with faith but also infidelity. I see it now. Dear Lord, I see what I am. I’ve held the Almighty down. I’ve lashed out at Him with all the muscle of meanness that skulks down the dark corridors of my soul. This has had nothing to do with an athletic competition. This has been sinner against Savior. This has been me in all my selfish nastiness lashing out at my Creator. And He’s let me. He’s let me hold Him down, press his face in the dirt of his creation. What is my name? Who am I? I am lying, cheating, running away, deceiving, supplanting Jacob. That’s who I am, that’s all of who I am, and that’s all I’ll ever be.

At least that’s what I assumed. And then, lo and behold, He goes and blows my mind. “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” We have prevailed? Yes. Against God? Yes. You mean to tell me that we have fought against God and won? Yes, precisely.

This is the night we have defeated God. This is the night of the fight that God lost in order that we might win. And in His loss, which is our victory, he gives us a new name. We are no longer Jacob. We are Israel, “he who strives with God.”

We Are No Longer Lying, Cheating, Running Away, Deceiving, Supplanting Jacob—We Are Holy, Righteous, Innocent, Forgiven, Justified, Sanctified, Children of God Named Israel

This is the game-changer that’s a name-changer. And who could have seen it coming? For this is more than a night on the banks of the Jaccok river. This is the night wed to the darkness that brooded from noon till three on the day we finally defeated God for good. We wrestle Him down in the mire of Jerusalem mud and pin Him to the execution tree with flesh-piercing iron. We who grabbed our brother’s heel on the way out of the womb grab the heel of our Brother and raise the hammer high. Sinners against the Savior. Men against God. Jacob against Jesus. All of us against all of Him.

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And we defeat God. Oh the depths of the wise foolishness of the Lord who lets us have our way with Him. There is no God like you. Search if you will the highways and byways of every religion of the world and report back to me which of them has a God who loves his people so much He loses to them that they might win in Him. There is no God like the God of the Friday we call good. Wrestling Friday. Fighting Friday. The Friday that God shows us what he’s really made of—fathomless mercy and limitless love.

That little enigmatic story Moses tucked into Genesis 32 is the Gospel that shatters all expectations. A God who comes to man as a man. A sinner who fights with the Savior. A God who wills Himself to be bested by a creature. A creature who is re-named, re-blessed, redeemed in the victorious defeat of the God who is love.

If you wish to know the depths of the mercy of our God, look no further than this fight. Here is a God who gives up everything to give us everything. Here is the God who loses all that we might gain all. Here is the Lord who has nothing up his sleeve but a heart that pulses with blood that is willing to be shed for those He calls His brothers. In Him we see God face to face. And from that face beams bright the light of salvation that shines on the night we defeated the God who wins us by losing.

A Confident “I don’t know.”

bruce_jenner-330x220I saw an article title online that asked what the church should say to Bruce Jenner. The article counseled compassion (and judging from the comments following it, many sorely needed the counsel!). But compassion was quickly obscured when it seemed like what most people wanted was to have a pronouncement they could deliver to Jenner.

My purpose here is not to convince people to have a specific opinion on Bruce Jenner. I think this is one of those topics where we are short on good information and probably will be into the foreseeable future. Those on either side who claim expert knowledge strike me as taking what they do know and extending it with plausible argumentation. Which is fine, so long as you recognize that the results are not certain. And being wrong in either direction could be gravely damaging. Caution is in order. If this post leaves your favorite theory as to how this condition arises intact, that’s just fine. I’m not certain myself.

I find it imaginable that transsexualism is a real objective problem where the brain is formed with the body map of the opposite sex inside of it. This possibility suggested itself to me after I read V.S. Ramachandran’s book Phantoms in the Brain, which described phantom limb syndrome. Body maps don’t always match the body, and the problem, while it might be said to be “all in a person’s head,” is an objective problem of wiring and not merely the result of faulty thinking or bad psychology. The problem is hardware and not software. Though we don’t have solid proof, I could imagine this was true, and it would fit with how deeply ingrained these beliefs are in people, some of whom seem far too young to have been talked into them.

I also find it imaginable that transsexualism is a psychological error, and that the individuals involved have tragic histories that led them to faulty conclusions as to how they can make their lives better. Most of the time I am not inclined to think this is true of everyone who claims the disorder, let alone most. But before reading Ramachandran, it was my guess for everyone. But maybe I’m wrong now. I could imagine it turning out true, even if it currently appears much less likely.

And there might be the odd individual who wishes to be captain of his or her fate and just have surgery for no compelling internal reason. I think this is the rare exception. I see this individual as dimly as most conservatives.

In any case, I’m not inclined to search for odd theological categories to apply. I read one writer who tried to argue that Jenner’s choices are rooted in Gnosticism, because they don’t take Creation seriously. The answer given, though, seemed to itself assume Pelagianism, because it suggested that we all come out of the womb as perfect as Adam and Eve. Male and female created He them, so any problems in this area are imaginary. Right. Between Genesis 1 and 2 and us is Genesis 3. The fall puts us in a position of not knowing as much as we would like about how Creation ought to look. And sometimes it leaves us desperately seeking solutions that won’t work. The fact that a solution is a bad one does nothing to alleviate the fact that a real problem is being faced.

But even having a theory as to how this might arise doesn’t answer everything. When I have watched documentaries covering several individuals, I often find the wiring theory more plausible for some individuals, and the psychological theory for others. It is conceivable that even if there is an objective problem in the brains of some, others are merely in the grips of a developmental disorder that would respond to therapy. And in other areas of life, we often have such questions. There are mental disorders that might tend to excuse certain behaviors. But even when we acknowledge the existence of a disorder, we can wonder whether the individual in question really does have the disorder excusing their behavior or not. Two people who agree on general theory may apply the theory variously.

This is the current state of my thought on this subject. And it could change, either to the right or to the left, over time. I could imagine new information leading in any number of directions. Perhaps the future consensus will say both sides were wrong for reasons we can’t now guess.

All that said, it has given me a place from which to ask another question. Why do we have to know the answer to the question of how this arises in the first place?

Some would argue that we have to preach the Law to people before they can be ready to hear the Gospel. Therefore we have to be clear this is wrong. Some might even add that it is easiest to stay clear about this if we choose the theory that assigns most blame to the individual. (Ouch!) As a strategy, this seems wrong-headed to me. Whatever the status of such a life course, there are other sins that are probably easier to use to drive guilt home. When St. Paul offers a sin list, he leaves all sinners in one big pile and says, “There is no difference.” Plus, I don’t think anyone has to be perfectly clear on the sinfulness of every one of their sins to be saved. (Who ever has been?) Declaring moral bankruptcy before God might actually involve believing that one’s judgments are corrupted. Jenner may be very ready for the Gospel, whether he is right or wrong in his course of action. And if he is not ready, it might be for very different reasons. Conviction of individual sins is also important, but that often happens over time, as our understanding deepens. New knowledge can serve to convict or excuse in ways we cannot know beforehand.

Saint Paul

Others would argue that we have to know what to counsel people who are in this situation. I actually have more sympathy with this idea, when it is sincere. When I read articles about how self-serving some of the early practitioners were in this field, I shudder. And I tend to believe in some of the grim statistics I’ve read about how these surgeries go. (As a guy, I hate picturing the male to female surgeries. Ouch!) And about regret later. But whatever your or my opinion comes to, we are not the ones who have to make the decision. And after reading even a handful of articles, will we really be as knowledgeable as parents who read article after article, month after month for years, trying to save their kid, while hoping they could avoid anything damaging? What bothers me the most in reading many treatments has been how categorical and final many pronouncements have been, not merely about what people in this situation should do, but how it arises. Some articles would almost have me convinced that the word “chromosome” was in the Bible. Or that early psychodynamic theory was derived from the book of Genesis. Do Christians really have a leg up on everyone else on whose science is most to be trusted? Even if we have an unchanging ethical standard, our knowledge of how the world works is subject to change and correction like anyone else’s.

Still others will say that this is a problem for inside the church, whatever the outside world does. This makes the most sense to me, especially when St. Paul said, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?” (I Cor. 5:12). But if this is the case, then I think what the church says to Bruce Jenner will be a local matter, decided by the pastor of the church he attends, and the laymen around him who get to know him. And they may not all agree with each other. It might even be helpful if they didn’t! When we aren’t sure of things, hedging bets can be a good thing. Jenner may primarily need support, or he may primarily need reproof. Having some who offered nothing but support and others who attempted to reprove might not be the worst arrangement. (I’m sure if they thought hard enough, most people could think of other individuals in their lives where such questions of what to do about so-and-so arose among well-meaning friends!) There is nothing unique in suggesting that life confronts us with some mysteries where we don’t know what is best to say. And afterwards it is often surprising whose words proved to be saving.

I wish that sometimes what the church was willing to say was, “I don’t know.” It is often a fine answer.

The church should teach the Ten Commandments and proclaim the Gospel. It should over the years try to teach the whole counsel of God. How that finally works itself out in the life of an individual is mysterious in all cases. It can be so in one more.

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