Message 9, Questions & Answers with Horton, Godfrey, Nichols, and Thomas :
A questions and answers session with Drs. Michael Horton, W. Robert Godfrey, Stephen Nichols and Derek Thomas.
- Dr. Horton, do you hear a who? (0:02)
- Is it okay if I don’t remember the moment I was converted? (1:09)
- Please define mercy and grace. Are they synonymous or distinct? (2:31)
- When Jesus says from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” does that imply ignorance can save? (3:36)
- Is there a point where we can go too far in confessing our sins to one another? (6:26)
- How can I witness to my friends in college who say they are Christians but their views and actions say otherwise? (9:03)
- Should Christians listen to secular music? (12:57)
- As one who is courting in college, to what extent does my parents’ authority extend? (23:03)
- Did Old Testament believers posses the Holy Spirit the same way as the New Testament believers? (24:55)
- Is there biblical warrant for Sunday evening worship? (30:23)
- Was Luther guilty of anti-semitism? (35:45)
- Since the Bible is sufficient for all of life and living, can we rule out the role psychology in counseling? (39:23)
- Is homosexuality the same as any other sin? (43:57)
- Should I attend a homosexual “wedding” of a family member (51:13)
- What is the greatest threat of the world/to the church today? (53:58)
Note: Answers given during Panel Discussions reflect the views of the individual speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Here is our Statement of Faith.
LARSON: I kid you not, this is our first question. “Dr. Horton, do you hear a Who?”
HORTON: You know, I’ve never hear that one before, first of all, only since I came from the womb have I heard that one. You know, actually, since I hit 50, I hear a lot more than Whos, and it’s kind of sad.
GODFREY: You know, after 50 years of answering that question, you’d think you’d have a better answer. Mike and I teach together, and we sort of are used to behaving badly.
HORTON: We have a great relationship because he doesn’t remember my jokes and so I feel like I’m telling them the first time and so does he. It’s great.
NICHOLS: I love how faculty honor their presidents.
LARSON: I guess we’re just behaving badly while Dr. Sproul’s not here at the moment. First question. “Is it OK if I don’t recall a moment that I was converted?”
LARSON: Moving on. “Please define” —
THOMAS: Well, let me ask the question. When was Samuel converted? When was John the Baptist converted? And, in all likelihood, it was in their mother’s womb. And, you know, I have a testimony, and I can tell you I was converted on December the 28th at about 11:30, 1971.
I was 18 years old. My wife, who’s sitting down here has a really boring testimony in that she never remembers a single moment when she didn’t believe. But it’s not whether we can remember it. It’s whether we are trusting in Jesus Christ right now that matters.
LARSON: “Please define and mercy and grace. Are they synonymous or distinct?”
HORTON: I’ll start and they can clean up what I say. I, you know, it depends on what we’re — the context. If we’re talking, for example, about God’s grace shown to us apart from any deserts in creation. That’s not mercy. God isn’t showing mercy toward us because we’re not sinful. I think, generally speaking, when Scripture’s talking about the grace of God, it is talking about mercy.
It’s talking about God’s attitude towards sinners, not towards man as man. But towards man as sinful, and so it’s not only God giving us what we don’t deserve, but keeping us from what we do deserve.
LARSON: Moving on. “When Jesus says from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,’ is He implying ignorance can save?”
GODFREY: I just don’t know. That was meant to be funny. See, I’m ignorant of — go on snoozing. It’s OK. It’s OK.
GODFREY: I’m an historian. I’m an historian. No, I don’t think it means absolutely that ignorance is an excuse. I think the Scripture teaches that on the last day, we will be, if we’re outside of Christ, condemned for sins we know we’ve committed. I think Romans 1 and 2 are very much about how everyone knows that they are offending God, even if they turn their back on it.
I’m inclined to think, without having spent all the time studying this that I’d like to, that Jesus’ words on the cross are directed particularly against these Roman soldiers that don’t know the particular severity of what they’re doing, and is a sign of His kindness. Have you ever preached on that, Derek?
THOMAS: I have, though I have no memory of it. I think it demonstrates that Jesus in His humanity can pray for something that is an aspiration and a genuine desire on His part, whether it is the will of His Heavenly Father to grant Him what it is He’s asking, the forgiveness of these (let’s say) the Roman soldiers. And perhaps the audience is greater, but perhaps it also includes some of the Jews who had betrayed Him and so on. So, it demonstrates, I think, the aspiration of Jesus, a desire on His part for the salvation of those who may ultimately not be saved.
LARSON: “Is there a point where we can go too far in our confessing sins to one another?”
GODFREY: Can you repeat that?
LARSON: “Is there a point where we can go too far in confessing our sins to one another?”
HORTON: Oh, yeah.
GODFREY: I’ve already answered several questions badly.
HORTON: Well, you’ve set a pattern, so.
NICHOLS: There is, I think there is. If it’s a particular sin against a brother or a sister, sometimes we think, “Well, I’ve confessed that to God. I’m now forgiven of that sin,” when, no, I think we do have an obligation, if it was a particular sin and a particular offense, that, yes, we confessed that sin to God, and ultimately all sins are sins against God.
But we also have that obligation to go to that brother, to go to that sister, and confess that offense and seek restoration and even restitution if necessary so that we can fellowship again within the body of Christ.
But there are also sins that, whether they’re private sins or for others, that really are not benefiting the body of Christ or benefiting a small band of fellowship to air those sins and to voice those sins. There’s probably a need for wisdom, and discretion and judgment and exercising that in those cases.
GODFREY: I would guess perhaps in an English-speaking world we may not often enough avail ourselves of the help and comfort of a brother or sister in Christ when we’re struggling with guilt and keep things too much to ourselves. But — and I think Luther would be the first to say, “When you cannot feel God’s forgiveness, you should ask a brother or a sister in Christ to speak the word of the gospel to you.”
You can’t always preach the gospel to yourself. You need someone else to preach the gospel to you. And that’s important. But obviously you have to do that with wisdom and discretion, and to not further inflame a troubled situation.
LARSON: “How can I witness to my friends in college who believe that they are Christians but their lives and actions say otherwise?”
HORTON: Well, I think it’s hard to know exactly what to say. That’s a very large and difficult problem. I would say the best way into it for someone who isn’t privy to the specifics is to press them on whether they belong to a local church, because if they are professing member of a local church, then they’re accountable to that body.
And, you obviously can’t discipline them as a fellow student. You can encourage and rebuke and so forth, but really, it’s given especially into the hands of the elders to do that, and in an official way. And so I think the first question I would have is, if you claim to be a Christian, are you a member in good standing of a church?
THOMAS: Well, you know, the problem of nominal Christianity isn’t, of course, exclusive to a college setting. There ought to be something about being a Christian that should be attractive and infectious, and perhaps one of the best ways to witness to nominal Christianity — those who may say they’re Christians but their actions don’t match up to their words — is to demonstrate just how beautiful and infectious a thing Christianity is.
It would be, I mean, it’s just a broad question that there are a whole variety of scenarios one can imagine a conversation with a nominal Christian taking place, but the measure of freedom and joy with which you can speak about knowing Christ and having a relationship with your Heavenly Father through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, that has to have some trajectory by which you witness to the emptiness of what effectively nominal Christianity is.
GODFREY: I heard the question as if it were being asked of fellow students that the questioner knew well. Now, maybe I’m reading too much into it. And, so I think what Derek said is certainly a place to start. But I would think with a fellow student that you know well who’s a friend, who professes to be some kind of a Christian, there would be a point to say, “You know, Christians just don’t do that.” And, then invite a follow up conversation in light of that.
Obviously all of us as Christians do things that we know we ought not to have done, and maybe that’s a point to make as well, but I do think that maybe with someone with whom hopefully one already has some credibility as a practicing Christian to press, is this really a behavior, an attitude, that a Christian ought to have. Maybe we can look in the Bible together about that and follow up that way.
LARSON: “Should Christians listen to secular music?”
NICHOLS: Especially opera?
HORTON: Only if it’s U2. If only in a previous incarnation.
GODFREY: I listen to Joan Baez, so that’s even worse.
HORTON: Yeah, right. I’ve heard of her.
GODFREY: Yeah, she just had her 75th birthday party. So discouraging.
THOMAS: Who is Joan Baez?
GODFREY: And he’s not even the youngster on the panel. I mean — a folksinger from my youth.
THOMAS: I was kidding. Sort of.
GODFREY: You never know anymore.
THOMAS: You know, what is secular? Music is music. So if there’s secular music, there’s something called Christian music? Music is math, it’s notes, it’s sounds and silences and rhythm and beat. One isn’t secular, one is Christian, so I’m not quite sure what people mean when they talk about secular music versus — if you mean modern contemporary, the top 15, 20 songs — I was at an event recently and somebody read out the top 20 songs of today, of this past few weeks, and I’ve never heard of any of them or the singers. I was completely in the dark.
But what do you mean by secular music? Music is music. So, if we have a — Mike, you’re the theologian here. If we have a doctrine of common grace — this is a Dutch thing. You would know all about this.
GODFREY: You sound like you’re beginning to drown. Yeah. I suspect there are several things hiding in this question. One would be that the question’s probably not just about music, but about words. So that that adds a significant dimension. Then you don’t just have sounds but you have meanings. And, then I think also the whole question, “Are there styles of music that are, in one way or another, inimicable to Christian piety or practice. That’s a question for you.
But, you know, some of us like opera. I won’t, you know, get into who that might be, but those of us who might like opera would not think that we ought to have opera in the church service. So you can think of a kind of music that you enjoy that you would still say is inappropriate for the worshiping community.
HORTON: Yeah, I think, when it comes to style, one of the big questions is, “Is this helping the Word of Christ dwell in us richly? And is the music what we’re thinking about or is the Word of Christ what we’re thinking about?” And music can be very powerful, as Calvin realized over Zwingli, very powerful in a good way for instilling the Word of Christ.
But when it comes to common grace, I agree with you, Derek. There is no Christian music or secular music. Some of the Christian music out there is just as bad as some of the secular music out there, so we just have to have discretion whatever we’re listening to.
THOMAS: This is, you know, this is a sensitive question for me. So, my first memory, you know, it’s one of my first memories, is as a two-year-old sitting on my grandfather’s knee — he died when I was five — sitting on my grandfather’s knee, listening to Pacini’s ‘Laboum,’ and it’s a vivid memory in my head, and it instilled in me from that moment onwards, just a passionate love for classical music and opera.
So he died and he left all of his records, and he had about 500 LPs, and he was very discerning, and he only bought the sort of best, and so he left them to me. So the week before he died, I’m five years old, he brings me into his bedroom, he died at home, he died of cancer, he was ill for a year or so.
And, he told me, “I’m leaving you” — because there were four children. He could already discern — and my younger brother was three, my older brother was seven, no, nine, and my sister was seven — but he could already discern which of these four would take care of his records.
And, he decided it was me, and I actually didn’t inherit them until I was 15, and when I did, I loved them. I treasured them. I played them on an old gramophone record that you had to lift up the lid, you know, and it was wider than the player, so you couldn’t put the lid down while it was still playing and there was one little, tiny mono speaker, but it was the state of the art. It was cutting edge, and this was in the ‘60s. And then —
GODFREY: Did you have to crank it?
THOMAS: No. We had electricity, but, just about. But I’m saved when I’m 18 and within probably a couple of months of being saved, I meet this guy. He came into my life for maybe six months and then disappeared, and I don’t know what happened to him, but he mentored me for six months and he told me I needed to get rid of all my records. So, the next day, I took them to the market, and sold them all for like five dollars. And, it’s probably one of the decisions I most regret in life.
Now, what he should have said to me was, “Put them away for six months to a year and then come back, and maybe they won’t occupy quite the place in your life that they did at that time.” Because it was a question of priority, but for him, it was a question of this is secular and this is Christian, and you need to get rid of this secular part. So that — I think that’s why I respond fairly emotionally to it.
Now, the words issue, I think I’m with you. When I heard the top 15 or 20 songs that are playing right now, and I heard some of the lyrics, because it was an address to college students, and he was making a point about how every single lyric was about sex in some form or another. I think I’m with you from what you said this morning about not going to the movies. So we don’t listen to modern music either. That’s you and me.
GODFREY: And if we listen to — the first opera I went to I was an 8th grader. I’d never been to the opera, I didn’t know anything about classical music particularly. And I went to the opera with my mother, my father didn’t want to go in San Francisco, and heard Tosca sung by Richard Tucker, who was the reigning tenor of his day, and I fell in love with the opera that night as an 8th grader, because it was so glorious and beautiful. But —
THOMAS: Of course, the lyrics aren’t any better, but they’re in German or Italian so —
GODFREY: That’s the point I was going to make. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker recently that said, you know, all of these opera plots really need to be sent to a therapist, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
THOMAS: Like country music.
GODFREY: Like country music.
NICHOLS: You know, we’re spending a lot of time on this question but I think it’s an important one. As I think about this question, I think it’s the broader — maybe behind it is the broader question of the Christian’s relationship to culture. We think of music as a particular way maybe to get at our entertainment or what we hear or listen to. We’re not left without a guide.
Certainly, as we think about what it means to be a Christian, how we live in the world, we have certainly biblical principles to guide us. We think about Paul speaking of whatever is excellent, whatever has virtue. We should be thinking on these things.
But here’s something I think is especially true of us as Americans. We tend to think about these kind of decisions in ethical categories only without thinking in terms of aesthetic categories. So, we think of truth and goodness and justice. We tend to do that pretty well. We don’t always think of the beautiful and how we spend our leisure time honoring God, honoring the Creator of beauty, in terms of thinking about aesthetics.
Whether it’s what we listen to or read or watch, to think of those categories, and maybe that can help us as Christians, and we think about these things that we devote our time and our energy to, and our leisure time.
LARSON: Thank you. “As one who is courting in college, to what degree does my parents’ authority extend?”
NICHOLS: Who’s paying the tuition? That’s the first question.
GODFREY: My father-in-law always used to say to my wife when she was living in his home, he would say, “My gold. My standard.” We’re on the gold standard here.
NICHOLS: You know, I think it’s an interesting age, obviously. I am very much involved with college students. They’re in the transition moment. This is not, as we look at it, this is not the last time with an adolescent. This is really the first time with an adult.
And so the resistance in which, as college students, as adults, they need to think through decisions, be responsible, and have parameters in their lives, but God has given us this institution of parents, and we have these categories culturally of adolescence and young adulthood, and there is this sort of cultural pressure, this cultural feeling that, you know, at 18, I’m free, and I’m free to make my own decisions and my parents really don’t have a role in my life.
I think we could push back on that and recognize that really — and until either we go or our parents go, we have an obligation to honor them and an obligation to listen to them, and as they are godly and trying to be biblically faithful, they’re not there as a blockade for us, but they’re there as a guide for us. And as a God-given aid to help us as we navigate our way.
LARSON: “Did Old Testament believers possess the Holy Spirit in the same way as New Testament believers?”
HORTON: This is one of the questions that — I just wrote a book on the Holy Spirit and — a very arrogant thing to do. But, really enriched my own experience of the Spirit, as well as thoughts about questions like this, and made me more uncertain of the answers that I had for it. I think, on one hand there’s a danger, and Dr. Ferguson has written on this really well in his book on the Holy Spirit.
There’s a danger on one hand to so defend the unity of the one covenant of grace that we don’t recognize the peaks and the valleys, the differences from old covenant to new covenant. And, then the other danger is the opposite danger to not recognize the unity of that one covenant. And so, in that unity of the one covenant, you have to have — if people are believers, if David is confessing his sin, he’s prompted by the Holy Spirit, he’s repentant, he’s trusting in Christ, he’s born again, you know? He is a justified, converted believer.
And yet you have to recognize that, you know, when Jesus — when John tells us that the Spirit had not yet been poured out, and even when you get to John 20, and you have a sort of mini-Pentecost there with the disciples, it’s clear that that’s not the big thing that happens in Acts 2. That’s why they’re to go and wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out.
This the prophets anticipated. None of it had been fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry, and I think that’s why Jesus says, “Greater things shall you do when the Holy Spirit comes, when I am ascended and the Holy Spirit comes,” because it’s not just that the speaker has to be God, but the one opening our hearts to embrace the speech has to be God.
And that outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was a decisive event in the history of redemption that had never happened before. And ever since, we have been living in a completely different era, and yet one in which we share with our Old Testament brothers and sisters, faith and repentance and renewal.
Now, what exactly that means and the extent to which they — the Holy Spirit was upon them, but maybe not indwelling them, you know, all sorts of questions arise, but the New Testament, seems to me, makes it pretty clear that it — the Holy Spirit came in such a way upon the people of God that fulfilled the request of Moses, that all of the people would be filled with the Spirit of God that had never been done in the history of redemption, but finally at Pentecost that gift of the Spirit came upon the church.
NICHOLS: I think that’s helpful. I think we also need to look at John 3 and Nicodemus. This is always very fascinating. You’ve got John 6, where John gives that editorial, “the Spirit has not yet been given.” But then you have John 3, where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You should have known this. You should know that you need to be born of the Spirit.” So there is this newness to Pentecost, but this continuity, this unity, and looking at those two texts, even just three chapters apart are helpful for us to put that in a good perspective.
THOMAS: Yeah. So I mean, the answer is yes and no. I think if you’re asking the question, “How is a person under the old covenant saved?” then the answer has to be in precisely the same way as a person in the new covenant is saved. By the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, producing faith and repentance, and a promised Christ that was seen in type and shadow. But, you know, Psalm 51, verse 11: “Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
So, yes, Pentecost is epochal. It’s a redemptively significant moment, a unique moment in redemptive history. So, there’s something about the fullness of the Spirit and perhaps the experience of that fullness under the new covenant that is different from the old covenant, but if the question is: Were Old Testament saints indwelt by the Spirit? I think I would have to say yes.
LARSON: “Is there a biblical warrant for Sunday evening worship?”
GODFREY: Yes and no. My own inclination is when people ask, “Should we have two services on the Lord’s Day?” to say that I think we as the people of God ought to rise up in righteous revolt against the parsimony of our preachers and ask, “Why can’t we have three?” The day belongs to the Lord. We rest on that day, we worship on that day, and surely it’s a good thing to have morning and evening worship, and presumably would be an even better thing to have an afternoon service as well.
Now, I’m being a little bit facetious. The spirit may be willing but the flesh may be weak, but, I don’t think there’s a verse, not even Psalm 92 that talks about morning and evening sacrifice on the Sabbath. I don’t think that’s actually a proof text for evening worship.
I do think it’s a prudential matter, and I think if we are committed to Sunday as a Christian Sabbath, which I think we ought to be as a day belonging to the Lord for distinct resting in Him and worshiping Him, then we have to ask, “How should that day be used?” And it ought to be used in rest and in Christian fellowship and service, but also in worship.
And if it’s to be used in worship, then we have to ask ourselves, “How much worship is good for us?” And, speaking as a historian, one of the things that strikes me is that I think you can draw a pretty close corollary between the decline of Sunday evening worship in Christian churches in America and a decline in Bible knowledge, a decline in disciplined Christian living, a decline in Sabbath observance, and a decline of general cultural influence.
I don’t see how any good thing has come out of abandoning Sunday evening worship. What are you all doing with your Sunday evenings? Are you all sitting at home and watching Ligonier DVDs? As long as you don’t buy them on Sunday that might be legitimate.
But, I mean that as a very serious question. If Sunday is the day for the Lord, what are we doing with our Sundays, and how are we using our Sundays to draw closer to the Lord?
And I have met in my lifetime one or two people who did not go to church Sunday night who were home studying the Bible and catechizing their children, and I don’t know that I necessarily want to criticize those people, but most people who are not going to church Sunday night, are not going to church and not doing really spiritual things with that time, and I want to blame particularly, not exclusively, but I want to blame particularly the ministers who too often find life easier if they write one sermon a week instead of two.
Now, they’re giving in to pressure, very often, from people, and I think any of us would know if you went to a teacher of algebra in high school and said, “We want you to produce students knowing just as much algebra as they always learned, but we’re giving you half as much time to teach them” that you’d end up with a lot of trouble. But that’s what we’re doing in our churches, for as far as I can see, no good reason at all.
So, you know, church history isn’t useful for much other than illustrations, but it’s very interesting that the great Synod of Dort, which was an international gathering of Calvinist theologians and ministers in the early seventeenth century, was asked with the question, “What should we do if nobody wants to attend the second service?”
So, at least we can be comforted it’s not a new problem. And the answer of the Synod of Dort was the second service must be held even if only the preacher’s family is in attendance. And that advice was taken and the Dutch Reformed in the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, early twentieth century, became a very Sabbath-keeping, worshipful, Bible-knowing people because of that advice in part being taken.
And so my feeling is, no, you’re not absolutely required to go to church on Sunday but — the second time — but what are you doing with that time? Use it for the Lord with the Lord, and tell your preacher you want two or maybe three sermons a Sunday.
LARSON: “Was Luther guilty of anti-Semitism?”
NICHOLS: You know, this is a question you hear a lot, and I think we’ve got to look at the broad context to Luther and then we need to say that we need to understand him in that context, but we also need to not give him a free pass. So the first thing that we see in Luther is his initial writings to the Jewish people are very favorable. He actually is counter-cultural in that, and he goes against the current consensus and actually favors good treatment towards the Jews.
And as the Reformation went on and the few years went on, Luther fully thought that that good treatment towards the Jews would result in their paying attention to the gospel and coming to Christ, and he was not seeing that happen, and he began to question that perhaps he was too easy on them in his initial writings, and should have pressed more in order for them to be more aware and perhaps be challenged and then come after the gospel.
So his early writings, very favorable. He begins to think through this, though, in his later writings, and the writing that really trips Luther up is his ‘On the Jews and Their Detestable Lies,’ and it’s in that writing that Luther unleashes his rhetoric against the Jews and is very forceful in his rhetoric.
Now, we need to say that he was an equal opportunity offender. It wasn’t just the — that rhetoric was not just reserved for the Jews. He used the same rhetoric for the Papists, for the Anabaptists, for the nominal Christians that he used for the Jews, but he was wrong. He spoke harshly, and I think he abused his influence that he had in speaking harshly, and so we need to say that Luther was wrong in that.
But this isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism. That’s really a twentieth century phenomenon and what Luther was interested is really following the lead of the Apostle Paul and following the lead of the New Testament. He saw this as a betrayal of Christ, as a betrayal of the gospel, as a failure to recognize Jesus’ coming as the Messiah, and so it was not an ethnic motivation that prompted Luther to this. It was a theological one.
So the answer to this is we need to understand him in his context but we should not give him a free pass, and we need to recognize that he has legs of iron but feet of clay, and in this — this is one of those instances where his feet of clay do in fact come through.
GODFREY: Just to add one little thing. That’s exactly right. But the one little thing that should be added is Luther all his life longed that Jews should be converted and join the church. Hitler never wanted Jews to join the Nazi party.
That’s the difference between anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. Luther wasn’t opposed to the Jews because of their blood. He was opposed to the Jews because of their religion and he wanted them to join the Christian church. If you’re really anti-Semitic, you’re against Jews because of their blood, and there’s nothing Jews can do about that. There’s no change they can make to make a difference.
You’re absolutely right. Luther’s language should not be defended by us because it’s violent against the Jews, but it was not against an ethnic people, as you said, but against a religion that he reacted so sharply.
LARSON: “Since the Bible is sufficient for all matters of life and godliness, can we rule out the need for psychology when it comes to pastoral counseling?”
HORTON: Well, I think, you know, this is, again, where reading that quote from Calvin, not that he’s normative, but that quote from Calvin is so helpful that the Anabaptists, the radical Protestants of Calvin’s day, believed that secular learning itself — the secular Christian thing — secular learning itself, secular culture, secular science, secular rhetoric and logic was sinful. We should just study the Bible and get everything out of the Bible.
And the Reformers just were completely opposed to that idea because it was undermining this very doctrine of God’s common grace, that God has graced the world with all sorts of truth, goodness, and beauty, that we cannot destroy, though we would if we could. And that the Holy Spirit is at work, restraining people from being as evil as they could be in their destructive capabilities.
So, Calvin says, you’re insulting the Holy Spirit if you don’t believe this. If you think that a non-Christian can’t contribute anything to medicine, science, the arts, and so forth, then you are discrediting the Holy Spirit. You are insulting the Holy Spirit. It’s a pretty strong statement.
Now, then the question is, “Do we know enough about what the Bible says to know when it’s being contradicted?” And I think there are a lot of people who try to integrate any discipline we could think of, but psychology, especially, the sciences that are closer to theology, closer to making normative statements about the human person, a lot of people have a Sunday School understanding of theology and a graduate school understanding of psychology.
I think it’s really important to have a conversation where you have people who really are saying, “Now, wait, wait, wait. You said sin, but what I’m hearing is dysfunction. Wait, wait a second. You’ve been talking — using the word ‘saved,’ but do you really mean recovery?”
You know, what is the language that you’re using here, and how is it being transformed in ways that aren’t helpful? But then also not to just reject every secular term that’s out there or we would reject, you know, physics, and biology, and so forth.
I have to say there are lots of issues that I’ve seen in people around me, the lives of people around me, where if they hadn’t had a good psychologist and psychiatrist, they would have been in great trouble. If they had had a Christian come and tell them, “You need to pray more and read your Bible more and not see a psychologist (or sorry) psychiatrist,” — I’m talking about one who’s not undermining their faith — that would have been a great disservice to them.
GODFREY: Don’t you think — and I’m no expert in this at all, which obviously isn’t keeping me from talking. But just as if someone has a clear pastoral sin problem, you want to send them to the most theologically reliable pastor you could find. I think part of the problem a lot of us feel when we’re thinking about the usefulness of a psychologist or a psychiatrist is, are we finding (to mix terms) the Calvinist one or the Pelagian one.
And, I think a lot of us feel we don’t know enough about psychology always to make those distinctions, and I think that’s why we struggle. But I think you’re absolutely right. If we can find a Calvinist psychologist that would be the ideal thing, who sort of knows about how our minds are working in ways that go beyond just the category of sin and grace.
LARSON: “Is homosexuality the same as any other sin?”
THOMAS: Yes and no. I mean, no in the sense that it is a particular sin, and it manifests itself in a particular way. But it’s interesting, and I think we do need to heed that Paul in listing homosexuality in Romans 1, lists it in a series of a catalog of sins, of which homosexuality is not the first one. And therefore it is sin just like any other sin, but it has a particular manifestation. It has a particular form, so yes and no.
GODFREY: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Romans 1 recently, and one of the things that has struck me, perhaps incorrectly, and I sit here with better exegetes and theologians than I, but what strikes me is that Paul in Romans 1 is trying to say to the Roman Christians, “You know, sin is really serious.”
And so he starts with two illustrations of the seriousness of sin that he knows the Roman Christians will immediately agree with. You ought not to worship snakes instead of God. That’s fairly obvious. And you ought not to do homosexual activities.
In the context where he’s writing, I think he assumes the Roman Christians will all immediately agree with him, those are sins and serious sins. But I think what he’s also doing in Romans 1 is showing concern that these Roman Christians are a little bit smug and self-satisfied, because they’re not homosexual or snake-worshipers. And so he goes on with that catalog to include things like gossip, and what he’s really saying is before God, who is righteous, the gossip is as sinful as the homosexual.
And I think that’s what Paul is really after in Romans 1. He’s not after exalting homosexuality as the worst sin of all. It’s a sin. But he is trying to say, “You Christians that can see easily that homosexuality is a sin, can you see so easily that your own gossip is a sin? Your own envy is a sin?” It’s a very curious catalog of sins there, from murder to gossip.
And some of the commentaries don’t really see, I think, that I think Paul’s intentionally talking about stuff we immediately see as sinful and stuff we don’t see as sinful, or not really sinful. I’ve always felt that my sins are not as serious as your sins, and I think that’s part of the point he’s making.
So, I don’t think we should appeal to Romans 1 to say homosexuality is the worst sin there ever is, nor should we say homosexuality is not a sin, as some are saying today, and I think we have to say as forcefully, as clearly, and as lovingly as we can to those tempted or involved in homosexuality, this sin too could be covered by the blood of Christ for those who repent and believe.
NICHOLS: I think when you’re thinking about Romans 1 as well, it starts with ingratitude. That’s what starts that downward cycle. And, who among us is not guilty of being ungrateful? The thing I think that’s interesting in this question is if we look at individual sins and our standing before God, there’s also a sense in which there are societal sins, and so we find ourselves in our present moment with this significant cultural shift.
You spoke of the tectonic plates shifting underneath our feet, and we go back to Genesis 1 and 2 and we see there the image of God, we see there male and female, and we see heterosexual marriage. Not — and these are woven into the design, God’s design for the universe.
And then we look culturally, and all three of these areas are under significant attack. And so there is something to say, there’s a heinousness to these sins that are truly aimed at undermining God’s design for His creation, and we see that in those opening chapters of the Scripture.
HORTON: Yeah, I agree with everything that has been said here. The one thing to add is the suppression of the truth in unrighteousness I think is also a very important point that he’s making there, and that these are all example — yes, he’s trying to get them to realize that they are judged by that law too. Stop pointing your fingers. And then he does that to the Jews. You even have a written law and look at what happens.
But I think he’s also making the point that when you give up being thankful and you start worshiping the creature rather than the Creator, lookie at how stupid you can become. You start bowing down to sticks and stones, you think of the mockery in Isaiah of doing that and then burning half of it in your fire to heat yourself, and then — but it’s also — what could be more clear in natural law than that God made marriage for a woman and a man?
What could be more — we don’t need to go into biology and anatomy to make a natural law argument. And they have the law written on their conscience and it just shows us I think, not that it’s the worst sin, but it’s an example.
We could think of other examples. Abortion. You know, we could think of all sorts of examples of how we can look at a baby and kill it. Kill him or her. We could look at a screen, and know that that is a human being and so sear our conscience, and I think Paul is kind of really hammering home the natural law is setting before our eyes, just how decrepit we are, even if we’ve never seen a Bible.
LARSON: “Should I attend a homosexual ‘wedding’ of a family member?” And wedding is put in quotes.
THOMAS: This is a really difficult question, and a simple answer is that I could not. I think that you can — and this is something that happens to family members, so this isn’t a hypothetical question out there. This could be a family member, and — but how can I celebrate that wedding? Which is what attending the service or whatever ritual will be taking place.
I am in effect saying, “I’m celebrating this,” and I don’t think I could do that. I love them. Love them enough to be able to say, “I think that what you’re doing is wrong. It is unbiblical. It is sinful.” Those are really difficult dynamics to handle, but I could not.
GODFREY: Is there — it seems to be there might be an analogy there with would you attend the wedding of a family member who was clearly unbiblically divorced and now remarrying. I think sometimes it’s helpful to think in terms of analogies because what that question reveals is precisely can you enter into the celebration of this new relationship.
The new relationship’s going to take place whether you attend or not, but the key question is, are you saying, “This is good and right and I celebrate with you”? And that’s where I would be inclined to agree with you. This is not something we can actually do. But perhaps trying to explain that we’re not singling out a homosexual marriage as the only kind of relationship that we would not attend, but to see it on a spectrum of trying to uphold God’s standard for marriage.
LARSON: Last question. Emma, who is 16 years old, writes, “What is the greatest threat to the church today?”
GODFREY: The greatest threat to the church today.
HORTON: Not preaching the gospel. The greatest question in any moment is, I think, whether that Word above all earthly powers is being proclaimed by weak and sinful human beings.
THOMAS: You know, from a personal point of view, you know, my greatest threat is always that I lose my love for Jesus. So I lose my passion for Him. I don’t deny the faith. I don’t deny the Apostles’ Creed. I just grow cold and indifferent and Jesus may spew me out of His mouth, to use the analogy of Revelation 3.
NICHOLS: From both of these men, just to add, go back, you mentioned when we started this, talking about Dr. Sproul’s bachelor’s thesis which is on the chapter of the whiteness of the whale. If I remember right, the title was the ‘Existential Implication of Melville’s‘ Moby Dick.’ You knew he was going to be a theologian. But in there he uses the whale, of course, as representative of God, and the whiteness of the whale is the transcendence of God. And he talks about Ahab who charts the whale, and therefore knows the whale, and fails to grasp with the transcendent nature of the whale.
And he has a line in there that he says, “This represents our shallow perceptions of who God is.” And you see in there the seeds that are sown that are going to come to fruition in the holiness of God. But to put this into a fine point, and I’ve heard this by John Piper. So, if it’s in the words of Sproul and Piper, is it true?
God rests casually on the American church. God rests far too casually on the American church. And so a real threat is not to have that vision that we see in Isaiah 6, and that vision of the transcendence and of the holiness of God and of who God truly is and of who we truly are.
GODFREY: Can I just add as a small note because I think it’s been so well-said here, that I’m intrigued as a historian that all three of these threats are internal threats, not external threats. It’s not really the world we have to fear. It’s ourselves.
And as a sort of another angle on these things that have been said, I think a great test for us as Christians is do we love the gospel? Do we love the Lord? Do we love God? And do we do that through His Word? My great concern is a sort of fatigue with the Word. Oh, we know that. We’ve heard that.
Luther used to say, you know, “I want to hear the Ten Commandments every day, because I still don’t know them.” And it wasn’t that he couldn’t recite them. He said, “They still don’t grab me the way they ought to grab me,” and I think a passion for the Word is another real danger that besets all of us, to begin to say we know that. We always have to keep coming back to the Word. And we should because it’s so infinitely interesting.
LARSON: We’re going to go into a book-signing time over the bookstore with Drs. Horton, Godfrey, and De Chirico, over there. Would you welcome — excuse me, would you thank our panelists this afterno