Written by Sam Logan Tuesday, 22 May 2012 00:00

NOTE- This is the first of three blogs on this difficult but important subject.  The next two will appear over the next two days.

Anyone who is “linked in” to the various social media knows that one of the latest “hot discussion topics” has been President Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage.

I find it very difficult to know what to say about this topic because there are so many variables.

In my judgment, of course, some things are NOT variables and, for me, these are the NONvariables:

1) All sexual activity outside a monogamous heterosexual marriage relationship is sinful and this includes (but certainly is not limited to) homosexual sexual activity.  I believe that such Scriptural passages as Romans 1: 18 – 32 make this clear.  I further believe that the Romans 1 passage builds upon numerous other such passages in both the Old and New Testaments and that the best discussion of this subject is still Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexuality.

2) Any activity proscribed by Scripture is sinful.  I believe that the linkage of homosexual activity in Romans 1 with such other activities as covetousness, deceit, and gossip makes this clear.  I further believe that one of the best explications of how the sin of homosexual behavior must be understood in the context of all other sin is Tim Keller’s YouTube interview which is posted at this location -   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTwugmG4hoA

3) Even the smallest single sin causes the committer of that sin to be deserving of the judgment of God.  I believe that Romans 3:23 combined with Romans 6:23 makes this clear.  I further believe that Jonathan Edwards’s explication of why even one sin OF OMISSION warrants God’s judgment remains the best discussion of this matter – see his Treatise on Original Sin, Part I, Chapter I, Section 3.

4) The most fundamental desire of any Christian’s heart must be that God receive the honor and glory and worship which He deserves.  I believe that Matthew 6:33 combined with I Corinthians 10:31 make this clear.  I further believe that Edwards’s Treatise on Religious Affections (the most important work ever written by a human being) provides the best defense of this biblical idea.

The above are, in my judgment, NOT variables.  They have historically been affirmed by the Christian church and, in just the past three years, they have been re-affirmed by a wide variety of global Christian groups.  The following are just three examples of this reaffirmation: 

1.  The Cape Town Commitment of the Lausanne Movement  [http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/ctcommitment.html, See section II  e.  2.

2. The Statement of Faith of the World Reformed Fellowship

http://www.wrfnet.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=20&name=DLFE-46.pdf   See section XI. 4.

3. The Church of England Evangelical Council Statement on Marriage


Nevertheless, many others – indeed, many other evangelical Christians – may disagree with the above statements and with my claim that the above four items are not variables.  And I think that it may be yet another NONvariable that I must not treat such individuals as though they are non-Christians just because they disagree with me on what is or is not a variable.

There are numerous things, however, which do seem to me to be variables from culture to culture and even from subculture to subculture and these are the areas where I need (and am asking for) help –

See tomorrow’s blog for this list –

And don’t hesitate to register your approval or disapproval of the above material.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical.  He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and he is President Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  In addition to his work at Biblical, he serves as International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship ( http://www.wrfnet.org ).  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan


Written by Dr. Bryan Maier Monday, 21 May 2012 00:00

The feeling of arousal that most men experience upon entering a big hardware store is the same feeling I get when I approach the New Non-Fiction shelves at my local library. Recently I found a book with the intriguing title, Closure: The rush to end grief and what it costs us by Nancy Berns (Temple University Press, 2011). It is well worth the read and does a wonderful job unpacking the various meanings of closure in our society. But as a relatively recent widower, I had a very personal interest in the author’s thoughts on closure.  

If I understand Berns correctly, the main thesis of her book is that the term “closure” has gained quite a bit of traction in contemporary society – so much so that the real meaning of the word can be lost in its overuse. Not that Berns tries to stake out her definition; rather she exposes the contradictions and potential misuses of this term. Just one example she offers is the increasing prevalence of “divorce parties” (complete with small representations of one’s ex that can be burned, mutilated, or cast away depending on taste) to provide one with a sense of closure for the end of their bad marriage. Apparently, closure sells.

On a more somber note, Berns attempts to explore what we have come to mean by closure in terms of grief and to what degree this term is helpful. In spite of the contradictions, Berns identifies four characteristics of closure that most who use the term frequently would agree on. However, Berns wonders if any of these four are even true or accurate.  I share her suspicions.

First, most of us believe closure is possible. Simple logic would tell us that if closure is not possible, then the term is of little use. Closure, at its most basic connotation, is the end of something.  What ends at closure? For those of us on a grief journey, it is hard to identify or recognize when closure has occurred. Is it when I stop crying every day? Is it when I “move on” (whatever that means)? Is it when I stop hurting? For many it is remarriage or entering into another relationship. But does that forever shut out the memory of the previous spouse or the pain of their loss? There were many times early in my grief journey when I clung to the idea that one day my pain would end and I would be able to resume some kind of normal life. I wanted to believe something like closure was possible. Now I am not so sure.

Second, whatever closure means it is usually portrayed as something good. Who of us on this grief journey would say closure is bad? Who wants to keep hurting?  Talking to other widowers and widows I tried to find out how they were able to close the previous chapter of their life and begin to write the next chapter. What I found was that there was no one size fits all. I also found that the chapters in one’s life story are not that discrete.

Because closure is good, it is also therefore desirable. We should all look forward to the day when our grief has achieved some kind of closure, shouldn’t we? The first few months after my wife died, I wondered when the pain of her loss would not be my predominate preoccupation. Not only did I believe in closure, I wanted it.

Finally, if all this is true, closure has come to be seen as necessary for grievers to heal. Apparently grief cannot be allowed to just take its course. There has to come a day when closure occurs. Without it, grief can go on indefinitely and no one wants to be around a perpetually sad person. Therefore after a reasonable amount of time, those in grief should start thinking about what closure will look like for them and get busy pursing it (and in my case, worrying if I should have experienced it by now).

As I mentioned, this book has personal interest for me. The author greatly challenged me to think about my own view of closure and where I think it fits on my grief journey. I have done many of the things that count for closure in this culture and yet the loss of my wife continues to be the most dominant and painful event of my life. Maybe Berns is right; maybe closure is just a construct.

However I cannot forget that maybe something close to real closure is indeed promised to those who trust in Jesus. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  I suspect this closure is more than a construct. 

Bryan Maier, Psy. D.  is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.


Written by Dan LaValla Friday, 18 May 2012 00:00

Giving in Light of the Challenges in our Current Economy

Based on current statistics and economic data, chances are good that you and your family probably share many of the financial challenges that are facing me and my family. With decreasing household incomes and inflationary costs of the basics such as groceries, utilities, gasoline, medical care, etc., we, like the majority of Americans, have much less disposable income these days, making it more challenging to give to the church and charities. 

On May 3, 2012 I caught an informative 15-minute interview that Charlie Rose gave to Edward Luce (Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times, London) on his thoroughly researched book, Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent (released April 2012). His book contains much data supporting what many Americans are observing and experiencing. In the interview, he states that the American middle class is being hollowed out at an accelerating rate and is poorer in 2012 than they were in June 2009, which is considered the beginning of the recovery from the Great Recession that started in December 2007. Wages of the jobs being created during this economic recovery are much lower than the wages of the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. Further, this current business cycle is coming off the heels of the last business cycle (2002-2007) which was the first time in modern American history where the median household was poorer by $2000 in 2007 than they were in 2002, a phenomena that looks to be repeating in this cycle. See the interview at http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12335

 No to Tithing; No to Legalism; Yes to Giving Cheerfully and Sacrificially!

There are many perspectives on the issue of tithing and giving. Many state that it is a minimum obligation to give at least 10% of one’s income. Opinions vary on whether it should be calculated on one’s gross or net income. Some teach the tithe is just for the church and other charities should be supported with money beyond the tithe. Many believe tithing is an Old Testament standard (Gen. 14:18-20; Lev. 27:30 and Deut. 14:22-28) that remains relevant for Christians and supported by the New Testament (Hebrews 7:7:-10). However, many Christians believe that Jesus discourages tithing because God is not concerned with religious rules, but concerned about our commitment to justice, mercy, and a relationship with our heavenly Father based on love and faith (Matt. 23:22-24, Luke 11:37-54 & 18:9-14). Many point to Jesus’ parable of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44) as an illustration that it is not the amount of money that we give but that our giving reflects that God is our first priority and that we love Him with all that we have: our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

My wife and I are committed to giving generously and sacrificially to the church and other charities. We look to 2Cor. 9 to help guide us as we budget our giving each year. We see giving as a privilege made possible by God’s provisions of employment and understand that God wants us to give cheerfully and with contentment in what we have and as purposed in our hearts through prayer. We make it a priority to not just give our leftovers, but intentionally make giving a priority. We have tried to teach this to our two sons as they grow.

Our Current Family Dilemma

Overall, we enjoy our giving commitments and budget so that we are able to do so; but at times, we find it inconvenient on a worldly level and even emotionally and spiritually painful. This past year has presented several challenges that have been painful and created many opportunities to discuss the issue of tithing and financial giving with our oldest son who turned 16 this past January. Unfortunately, our current dilemma has challenged our commitment to giving. With the stagnation of our family income over the past six years and the rising cost of core expenses (medical care, gasoline, groceries, utilities, etc.), we are not in a position to handle the increased costs associated with adding him as a licensed driver. This has been heart-wrenching and humbling as parents.

Sometimes I wonder if we should compromise our giving commitments to afford this rite of passage, but ultimately, driving for him is not yet a necessity, but a luxury which cannot justify such a compromise. Sometimes I am concerned whether this experience will have a long-term positive or negative impact on his commitment to giving charitably and in his walk with the Lord. He has already expressed that he thinks giving is something you do if you can afford it. For example, he feels he does not earn enough money with the limited number of hours he works to donate a portion of his income. Whether we agree or disagree or are proud or disappointed with his views and actions, my wife and I will not coerce him about aspects of his relationship with the Lord and how he chooses to express it and serve Christ because there are many ways in which we are proud of his growth in Christ and how he expresses it. Regardless, this is a dilemma that we hope and pray the Lord will eventually provide a means for eradicating.

Your views and opinions?

What are your views on tithing and Christian charity? How would you handle this situation?

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate for Institutional Advancement at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.


Written by Dr. David Lamb Wednesday, 16 May 2012 00:00

On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe, but another serious problem remained.  Due to the ravages of war, roughly 100 million European civilians faced imminent starvation.  It was described by the New York Times as “the most stupendous feeding problem in history.”

Democrat Harry Truman said, “I knew what I had to do and I knew just the man I wanted to help me.”  Who could help Truman avert this humanitarian crisis?  None other than the ex-president who had been vilified by Truman’s popular predecessor, FDR, as the primary cause of the Great Depression. 

Republican Herbert Hoover

Hoover was uniquely prepared for this challenge.  At the end of WWI, Hoover served as Woodrow Wilson’s food czar, saving millions from starvation.  (I’m not attempting to put Hoover in a positive light simply because we share a unique bond—growing up in Iowa and attending Stanford.)  Together Truman and Hoover, despite ideological differences, worked together in 1945 and 1946 to ship five and half million tons of grain to Europe and thus a humanitarian disaster was averted.  Their partnership also served to resist the spread of communism on the continent.  

While both men had been extremely unpopular and both took flak from their own parties for the partnership, in a 1951 Gallup list of Most Admired Men Truman and Hoover ranked #3 and #5.  People appreciated what these two men had accomplished together. 

This and other stories of presidents and ex-presidents working together appears in The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (2012).  In today’s world of partisan politics, it’s hard to imagine overcoming enormous ideological obstacles.  We have a lot to learn from the surprising friendships and partnerships between these Republicans and Democrats who once hated each other.

There may be another realm more divisive than politics.  Theology.  Whereas in the US we only have two main political parties, we have hundreds of denominations.  New ones appear every year and most denominations are deeply suspicious of all the others.  Somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind right before his crucifixion when he prayed that his followers would be one (John 17:20-23). 

Part of what it means to be missional here at Biblical is that we are willing and even eager to partner with people and organizations that we may not agree with, in order to advance God’s mission.  We cannot forget that God’s mission is more important than our theological differences.  While Truman and Hoover weren’t focused specifically on God’s mission (although feeding the hungry is certainly part of it), their attitude of working across ideological differences provides an example of what it’s like to be missional.  

On Saturday April 29, I had the privilege to spend the day with two organizations that have formed missional partnerships across denominational barriers to serve and minister. 


I ate breakfast in Philadelphia with the Urban Priesthood Alliance, a group of urban pastors who graduated from Biblical in 2011.  (Their website is still a work in progress). They come from a diverse range of churches: Baptist, Church of God in Christ, Brethren Assembly, African Methodist Episcopal, as well as non-denominational churches.  As a result of their training here at Biblical, they felt that God was calling them to partnership in order to advance God’s mission together not only in Philadelphia but also the world.  The focus of the morning was to help support the ministry of Brother Peter Odanga in Kenya.  I was proud that this group of pastors graduated from my seminary. 

In the evening, I spoke on topics related to God Behaving Badly at a meeting of the Netzer Network, a group of ministers from Brethren, Baptist and non-denominational churches in the Pottstown area of Pennsylvania (members include Biblical alumni and a current student).  We talked about how to use the problematic passages of the Old Testament to engage atheists, agnostics and seekers with the gospel.  At the end, I shared how difficult it was for me spiritually to spend so much time focused on troubling aspects of God’s character.  Afterward, they gathered around me to pray for me and bless my ministry. 

It’s always a blessing to work together to advance God’s mission. 

What examples of missional partnerships have you seen? 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.


Written by Dr. Derek Cooper Monday, 14 May 2012 00:00

Today marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of the state of Israel. Despite its humble beginnings on May 14, 1948, the country has the distinction of maintaining one of the highest life expectancies in the world as well as boasting the highest standard of living in the Middle East. The country also features one of the most impressive military bodies in the world.

But for many Christians, the allure of the state of Israel lies neither in its good living conditions nor in its state-of-the-art medical care. Instead, it has to do with its elevated status in biblical history as well as its predicted role in the future of biblical prophecy. Indeed, many Christians – particularly American evangelicals – believe that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 was not just a humane response among the United Nations to the Jewish people after the horrors of the Holocaust; it was a veritable act of God in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

This mindset finds expression in the Proclamation of the Third International Christian Zionist Congress held in Jerusalem in 1996. “The Land of Israel,” the Christian Zionist body decreed, “has been given to the Jewish People by God as an everlasting possession by an eternal covenant. The Jewish People have the absolute right to possess and dwell in the Land, including Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan.”[1]

The assumption of this proclamation, of course, is that the land of Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the Golan – an area that has historically been called Palestine – does not belong to those who have inhabited it for the past thousands of years. 

So whose land is it: the Israeli’s or the Palestinian’s? 

Despite the great importance of this question – which deserves careful and diligent consideration from people and groups who know much more about this situation than I do – I would like reflect on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from a different perspective, namely, from a Christian pragmatic one.

Without commenting on the theological basis for or against Israel’s existence as a state, the consequences of its presence in the Middle East have resulted in one apparent fact: There is now a substantially lower percentage of Christians living in this land than there was a half-century ago. Stated more directly, the Christian population in this, ironically, highly visibly part of the world is being extinguished right in front of our eyes.

(Again, ironically, to make up for the hemorrhaging of the Christian populace in the Middle East, the international church is sending more foreign missionaries there than perhaps ever before rather than supporting indigenous Palestinian Christians.)

Here are some statistics: As late as 1947, a year before the formation of the state of Israel, Christians accounted for 20% of the population in the Holy Land.[2] Following the declaration of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, many Christians were pushed out by Jewish armies or settlers and/or fled. Some were killed. Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian whom I was honored to meet on a recent trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories with students in the LEAD MDiv program at Biblical Seminary, chronicles the destruction of his entire village in the late 1940s in his book Blood Brothers.[3]

On our trip, we experienced the difficulties of life as a Palestinian Christian firsthand during a visit to a farm in the Bethlehem area – the owners of which, by the way, have been Christians for generations. Because the Israeli government wants to take control of this land and use it to make more (illegal) Jewish settlements, they have cut off the owner’s water and electricity. After touring the farm for about two hours and learning about the injustices the family has experienced, a group of us returned on foot to our bus, which had to park far away due to the barricade the Israeli government had erected two decades before. To our surprise, we were met by four Israeli soldiers. Although as American tourists we had nothing to be afraid of, the locals in the area had much to fear. As a local Christian later remarked to me about this incident, “This is just another day in the life of a Palestinian. We are punished for no other reason than being alive.”

Due to these types of tactics, the Christian population in Palestine and the Occupied Territories has shrunk to a little more than 1%.[4] In fact, about 600,000 Palestinian Christians alone have left their homeland to live in Chile, while others are scattered throughout many other countries.[5]

As for the state of Israel, the Christian population has also diminished over the years. There are actually more Christians from Jerusalem living in Sydney, Australia than there are living in Jerusalem, Israel.[6] What’s more, the Christian population in Israel has shrunk each decade since Israel was formed as a country. In 1948, for instance, Christians made up about 7% of the population there (but represented 20% of the total population in the vicinity). Today it is a little more than 1%.[7] And Haifa, the third largest city in Israel, has seen an 85% reduction of Christians since the formation of Israel.[8]

So, what are we as Christians to do with the apparent fact that the Christian population continues to die out in the land where Christianity was birthed?

Some claim the reason for this en masse fleeing on the part of indigenous Christians is due to conflicts with Muslims.[9] The statistics I have seen, however, reveal nothing of the sort. Actually, a recent survey conducted by the Palestinian Centre for research and Cultural Dialogue discovered that “78 per cent of Christians who live in Bethlehem say the emigration is because of Israeli blockade.”[10]

These statistics align with anecdotes I have heard personally from Palestinian Christians in the Bethlehem area. “The conflict has nothing to do,” one Palestinian Christian woman said to me, “with Christians versus Muslims. It is about Israeli’s taking our land, erecting a giant wall, humiliating us at check points, and forcing us to flee our homeland.”

Perhaps worst of all, one Christian and Islamist scholar asserts that the Christian population in this part of the world contains “no sign of reversal.”[11]

Now let’s get things straight: I am neither for nor against the nation of Israel. If anything, I have discovered the people of Israel to be kind and gracious. (Of course, I have been the recipient of this kindness as an American tourist.) At the same time, I am decidedly in support of Christians everywhere in the world, the Holy Land included. Can I, as a Christian, act any differently?

But regardless of my personal opinions about whether one should or should not support the state of Israel, the fact remains: The indigenous church in Palestine is perilously close to extinction. As fellow believers, what is our role in this situation?

In the preamble to the Third International Christian Zionist Congress I cited above, one of the primary motivations of the congress was “to demonstrate Christian concern for Israel and the Jewish People.”


But who will demonstrate “Christian concern” for Palestine and the local Christian people living there?

Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. His most recent book is entitled Thomas Manton: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Puritan Pastor: http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Manton-Thought-Puritan-Publishing/dp/1596382139/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1. See his faculty page at: http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/derek-cooper.

[1] http://christianactionforisrael.org/congress.html.

[2] http://wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2101&Itemid=247.

[3] Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers (Grand Rapids: Chosen, 2003).

[4] Heather Sharkey, “Middle Eastern and North African Christianity,” in Introducing World Christian History, ed. Charles Farhadian (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 14.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Christians.

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_Christians.

[7] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/christpop.html.

[8] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/201242517713418510.html.

[9] http://wearewideawake.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2101&Itemid=247.

[10] OpenBethelehem.org.

[11] David Thomas, “Arab Christianity,” in The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity, ed. Ken Parry (Oxford: Wiley-Blacwell, 2010), 21.


Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 11 May 2012 00:00

At the time of this writing, the Trayvon Martin shooting is all over the news, with more details about what happened coming out seemingly on a daily basis. And, the country is polarized — largely along racial lines — over what justice demands. The case made national news when President Obama referenced the incident and sent his condolences to the Martin family with the observation, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” (http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/ 11484426-418/story.html).

There are many things that are unclear in this ongoing investigation, but a few things are clear: Trayvon Martin was unarmed; Trayvon Martin is dead by gunshot; Christians are called upon by Scripture to be a voice of sympathy and solace to the mourning (Rom. 12:15; Jas. 1:27). In this politically charged environment, I’d propose three things for white evangelicals (especially) to say.

1. This is a tragedy. An unarmed teenage boy was shot dead, a young life snuffed out before it had a chance to reach its prime.  That, in itself, is a tragedy.  That he was shot in his own neighborhood with nothing but a bag of Skittles in his pocket adds to the tragedy. The first and predominant sense that anyone should have about this situation is that it is tragic. 

  1. We grieve for and with the Trayvon Martin family. I have a 15-year-old son myself. I cannot imagine the pain of losing him under any circumstance, much less one so abrupt, violent, and seemingly senseless. Our first and most prominent sympathies should be with the Martin family.
  2. We call for justice to be done. If you can say no more than that, then just so that — without presuming to know the facts of the situation, or trying to make judgments from afar about an ongoing investigation.  Nevertheless, an unarmed boy was shot walking home from the candy shop — that, in itself, is an injustice.  SOMETHING is wrong about how that happened. It is OK to note that and raise our voices in support of the cause of justice. 

With a few notable, positive exceptions (including John Piper: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/marchweb-only/john-piper-racism-reconciliation.html; also seehttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-richard-cizik/evangelical-voice-for-trayvon-martin_b_1383205.html), white evangelicals have been mostly quiet, which is a shame.  But more of a shame: evangelicals who joined the bandwagon of voices musing about whether the victim might have done something to warrant the shooting, or urge slowness of comment given the potential for evidence against the victim coming out. That some of these people now urging “restraint of judgment” were the very people who were quite willing just a few months ago to rush to judgment about whether the (self-described Christian) president might actually be a closet Muslim or that his birth certificate was faked, etc., only confirms the impression that a thinly veiled racism is coming into play in these assessments and comments (or lack of comment).

I don’t know what all happened that night in Florida.  I do know that a young man is dead, shot while unarmed, walking home from the candy store.  That’s enough for me to lift my voice and cry out in grief, and to cry out in sympathy for the family, and to cry out for justice — for God’s will to be done including in this situation on earth, as it is in heaven.  This is enough for me to cry, “What a shame!”

Is it not the least we can do to offer condolences to this family in their grief? To recognize the shame of it?  Much less to not add to the shame.

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


Written by Dr. Phil Monroe Friday, 04 May 2012 00:00

We humans have powerful tendencies to label and categorize. It may even be something that Adam passed on to us. Genesis tells us that Adam got to name the animals as he saw fit. Does part of being in the image of God mean that we have an innate drive to name things as they are?

But what happens when things don’t fit our categories? We either have to expand our definitions or shove square pegs into round holes.

The color line comes to mind. Those who are biracial face the repeated question, “What are you?” You may recall that when Tiger Woods came on the national golf scene, he faced pressure to identify himself by race. When he chose not to, he faced criticism from both minority and majority communities.

How about those who don’t fit gender stereotypes? I’ve heard the pain of many who were accused of being gay because they didn’t fit the image of a man or a woman. These labels were so powerful that they caused confusion. “If being a man means [fill in the blank], then I must not be one. Maybe I’m gay.”

We pastors and counselors carry tremendous power when we label. We label right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous. We label idols of the heart. We give names for disorders. When the label is right, it can invite healing.

Beyond Wrong Labels

But, HOW and WHEN and WHY we label are just as important as whether or not our labels are correct. Years ago, my wife and sought the expertise of a top infertility doctor in the city. We were excited to get the best mind working on our problem. Within a few minutes of looking at our records and data, she said in a final and abrupt tone, “Well, it is clear you won’t be having biological children.”

She spoke the truth. She spoke a painful truth, one we had not heard before and were not prepared to hear. Her lack of “bedside manner” made the truth a crushing blow. How we speak matters almost as much as what we speak.

But the how is not the only matter to consider. The temptation for counselors is to label too quickly, before the counselee is ready. If that happens, the counselee may passively receive the label—making the counselor’s label is just one more among a chorus of opinionated acquaintances. Pastors and counselors love others well as they use good probing questions and invitations to prepare a person to hear something that might be difficult to receive.

Another question for us to consider is why we want to give a label. What do we hope to accomplish with our label? Prove our rightness? Hurt? Invite into dialogue?

Take a look at how Jesus interacts with sinners and self-proclaimed holy men. Who is he more likely to label? Who does he engage with deep questions? What are his means for helping others see themselves? Notice how the Pharisees were quick to label what was authentically Jewish and what was not. Notice that the Lord seems less interested in labeling “Jewish” and more interested in connecting others to God. He was not neutral about sin. However, he engaged others in novel ways to show them the righteous path and their need for salvation.

The late Paulo Freire, a liberation theologian from Brazil describes how unthinking, impoverished, people become empowered to name things as they are. They do not, he says (in Cultural Action for Freedom), learn by being filled up with words and labels by dominant culture individuals. If this were the case, then counseling would only be a matter of memorizing the right words and phrases. Even novice counselors recognize that progress happens when the counselee is an active, creative subject in the process of change.

Are we in the habit of helping our ministry targets or counselees have the right labels for what is happening in their lives?

Phil Monroe is professor of counseling & psychology and directs the Masters of Arts in Counseling program. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. You can follow his counseling blog here or read his faculty bio here.


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