Keystone Habits and Christianity

Image result for keystone in an arch

In his book, The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg talks about something researchers call “keystone habits.”

According to Duhigg, keystone habits are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

Like the keystone in an arch, these habits have a synergistic effect that overflows into other areas of your life.

Exercise is a well-known keystone habit. When people start exercising, it has an affect on many other areas of their lives, including patience and productivity.

Having dinner as a family is another keystone habit which has outsized beneficial effects in areas such as children’s emotional control and performance at school. [1]

Keystone Spiritual Habits

What about spiritual habits and disciplines? Are there any keystone habits when it comes to Christianity? There most certainly are, in fact – most of the spiritual disciplines that are taught in the Bible would qualify as keystone habits, which have effects which overflow into other areas of your life.

See also: The Role of Habits in Transformation & Inputs and Outputs for Growth and Maturity

Giving

For example, giving, both in generosity towards others and to support the work of God through the church, is a spiritual discipline. One pastor I know used to explain tithing and financial giving like this:

“Tithing isn’t God’s way of raising money, it’s God’s way of raising kids.”

His point was that when God calls us to give, it’s not because He needs money, but because we need to benefit from the practice of giving away 10% or more of our money.

Giving/tithing/generosity is a keystone habit; it shapes the way you live in other areas of your life. It shapes the way you think about what you possess, and the purpose of your life. Since money is literally effort and time made tangible, you are making a choice to spend your life on things other than yourself: on other people, and on furthering the work of God.

Jesus told us that where your treasure is, your heart will be also. This is true: if you give towards someone or something, you will be much more interested and invested in what happens, rather than if you did not have any skin in the game.

Another pastor explained it like this: when you give, you are making a conscious choice not to let your money or possessions possess you. You are choosing to love people and use money, rather than love money and use people. You are deciding that you will not let money set its claws into your heart.

Prayer

According to an article about these studies in Psychology Today, praying makes you nicer, more forgiving, more trusting, and offsets the negative health effects of stress. Prayer has also been shown to boost self-control.

Bible Reading

In his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, Drew Dyke cites a study on spiritual growth which surveyed more than 250,000 people in 1,000 churches. Their conclusion was that nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than engagement with Scripture. Their research showed that Bible-engagement is the single most spiritually catalytic activity a person can engage in.

Church Attendance

A 2016 Harvard study found that frequent church attendance actually lowers the likelihood of death over a 20 year period 😮. Studies show that churchgoers are less prone to mental illness, report higher levels of happiness, and have better sex lives.  Students who attend church regularly have higher GPAs on average and are less likely to live in poverty. [2]

See: “After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter’s Lack Of Faith” – from the Babylon Bee

Before it was cool…

Basically, the Bible has been teaching “keystone habits” since before it was cool. What we have now is a large body of research which explains how and why these practices are so effective in shaping us our lives, leading to greater well-being all around.

May we, by God’s strength that he gives us, apply these habits in our lives, for His glory, and our good.

The Least Popular Fruit of the Spirit

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In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

I would venture to say that all of these fruits are very popular today, with one exception: the last one – “self-control.”

Jesus told his disciples that a tree is known by its fruit, i.e.: the way to identify what kind of “tree” (or person) someone is, is by looking at the outward evidences that their life produces. And self-control made the short-list of evidential fruits.

John Stott on Why Self-Control is Essential to Loving Others

“Why do I say that love is balanced by self-control? Because love is self-giving, and self-giving and self-control are complementary, the one to the other. How can we give ourselves in love until we’ve learned to control ourselves? Our self has to be mastered before it can be offered in the service of others.” – John Stott, “A Vision for Holiness”

Self-Control Requires Some Effort on Our Part

Colossians 1:29 describes human effort and divine power working together: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he (Jesus) powerfully works within me”

In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells us that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but then tells us that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Drew Dyke, in his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, describes how God’s power and our effort work together to produce fruit in our lives:

Sanctification is like sailing. Sailors can’t move without the wind, but that doesn’t mean they kick up their feet on the deck and wait to start moving. They’re tying knots, adjusting sails, turning the rudder—all while making sure the boom doesn’t swing across the deck and smack them in the head. Sailing is hardly a passive enterprise—but it’s completely dependent upon the wind. In a similar way, we’re completely dependent on God’s Spirit to make progress. But we’re not passive. Our effort works with God’s power to move us forward.

How to Bring Glory to God

In John 15:8, in the same passage where Jesus tells his disciples that the way to bear fruit is by abiding in Him (and He in them) – Jesus then says this: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit”

Why should we care about spiritual disciplines and spiritual development? Why should we care about being fruitful? Because it brings glory to God – and this is the very reason we exist! It’s what we were made for!

May the Spirit of God move in us that we would produce the fruit of self-control, and may we be those who work with all the energy that God supplies in order to bear much good fruit that brings God glory!

For more on this subject, see: The Role of Habits in Transformation

The Role of Habits in Transformation

white concrete spiral stairway

We tend to use the word “habit” to refer to negative behaviors, such as biting your nails, wasting time online, cracking your knuckles. But not all habits are bad.

In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and BusinessCharles Duhigg talks about the science behind how habits are created, and how to replace bad habits with good ones.

Habits As Vehicles for Transformation

In my recent post Going Through the Motions, I talked about how the biblical metaphor of walking, which describes a pattern of life, implies small, continual actions which lead somewhere. With this in mind, habits can be vehicles for transformation. They help us build practices into our lives that shape us into certain kinds of people.

In his book, Desiring the KingdomJames K.A. Smith pushes back against Rene Descartes assertion that we are fundamentally “thinking beings” who happen to have bodies, and asserts that are bodies play a much more integral part in our formation than many in Western society have tended to think (as a result of Descartes’s philosophy). Thus, the things we do with our bodies have a role in shaping our affections and forming sanctified habits.

“Spiritual disciplines” refer to actions such as prayer, church attendance, studying the Bible, giving generously, serving, taking communion, fasting, and more – which are taught in the Bible and were modeled by Jesus himself. Spiritual disciplines are habits which serve as vehicles of transformation: shaping us through repeated action into certain kinds of people.

See: Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why

Habits Prescribed by God

Drew Dyke in his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, points out how God prescribes routines and rituals designed to build holy habits into the lives of His people:

“God commanded the ancient Israelites to observe seven sacred annual feasts, keep the Sabbath, tithe their income, purify themselves, worship regularly, and present offerings and sacrifices at the temple.

Though the New Testament frees Christians from having to keep the whole Jewish law, there are still sacraments like baptism to symbolize our spiritual rebirth and the communion meal to remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus. On top of this, our weekly gatherings include rituals designed to instill beliefs and behaviors to bring us closer to God and each other.

Even in ‘low church’ settings that don’t use the liturgical calendar or recite ancient creeds, there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers, and preaching each Sunday. There are Sunday school or midweek small group meetings.”

“But We Shouldn’t Be Religious or Legalistic, Right?”

I have met people who say:  “Oh, I don’t want to be religious or legalistic — so I only do those spiritual disciplines sporadically.”

This is not about legalism nor empty religiosity. We do not believe for a minute that any of these things save us. Nor do we do these things in order to manipulate God into blessing us or giving us what we want. That is the definition of legalism: believing that your relationship with God is predicated on your ability to keep rules.

Instead, we do these things in order to be healthy and grow. Eating and sleeping and drinking fluids help us be healthy physically: to do these things only sporadically would be very unwise and cause you to be very unhealthy. The same is true when it comes to a neglect of spiritual disciplines.

Atheism and the Ache for Spiritual Disciplines

Drew Dyke shares in his book about a talk he heard from a man who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms.” “He waxed eloquent about singing Christmas carols, looking at religious art, and the experience of paging through the Bible.” The surprising thing is that the speaker, Alain de Botton, is an atheist.

“We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it…. Religions go, ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the lesson 10 times a day. So get on your knees and repeat it,’” – Alain de Botton

He isn’t being critical of repetition; just the opposite. He acknowledges that Christianity is very good at creating habits which fuel transformation, and recognizes that atheists are poorer for lacking this.

I would argue that these spiritual disciplines cannot be translated into an atheist or agnostic framework because they are tied to Christian theology. Some humanists try to be “good without God” – but what they lack is the foundation of Christian spiritual formation, which is justification by faith: the fact that in Christ we are accepted and loved by God apart from our good works.

Alain, like James K.A. Smith, states that “The other thing that religions know is we’re not just brains, we are also bodies. And when they teach us a lesson, they do it via the body.” He also praised the biblical practice of dividing up time by having repeating holidays such as Easter and Christmas, which force us to “bump into” key beliefs and celebrate them again and again.

Essentially what this atheist man was rightly observing and praising was that spiritual disciplines are designed to help transform through the development of habits.

Spiritual disciplines are “Spirit-empowered, heart-calibrating, habit-forming practices to retrain our loves.”[1]

Video Discussion

Check out the discussion Mike and I had about transformation, and the roles of the hope of the resurrection and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Also, about half-way through I  spill coffee on my Bible…

 

Going Through the Motions

man wearing yellow jacket

It has been said that many of us over-estimate what can be done in the short-term, but we under-estimate what can be done in the long-term.

Recently a friend expressed that he was discouraged because after a week of eating healthy and working out every day he had not lost any weight or seen any results. He was feeling discouraged.

Every near year people make ambitious resolutions, yet statistics show that most resolutions are not only abandoned, but that year after year, the same people tend to make the same resolutions, until many of them give up making resolutions completely.

I’m not against New Years resolutions; in fact I think that setting goals and making resolutions is a healthy part of Christian spirituality. See: Making Resolutions is Not a Lack of Faith, It Can Be an Act of Faith

Why do so many people abandon their resolutions?

One reason is because we often set goals which are too ambitious, or we set too many goals. As a result, we quickly burn out or become discouraged, or get behind and realize we’ll never be able to catch up.

Another reason is discouragement. Like my friend, when intense effort doesn’t produce foreseen results, we wonder whether our effort is pointless.

When I was 17 I tried to learn Spanish by listening to Spanish radio for hours every day. After a few weeks I gave up because all I got out of it was a headache.

We live in a society that expects quick-fixes and instant results. We want “just-add-water” and “microwave dinner” solutions. In other words: many of us are willing to give intense effort for a short amount of time, but if we don’t get the results we hoped for right away, we give up and move on: quitting diets/hobbies/jobs/relationships/churches – as soon as they are hard or not fun. As a result, we often don’t stick with things long enough to see significant impact.

Abide…and you will bear fruit

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Going Through the Motions Can Be Good

People tend to use the phrase “going through the motions” in a negative way, to refer to doing outward actions without heart or passion. However, “going through the motions” can be good if you’re going through the right motions! Getting set in your ways is only bad if your ways are bad! If your ways are good and helpful, then getting set in those ways can be the best thing you can possibly do!

Here’s why: because…

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity every time.” – Bruce Lee

The Power of Walking

One of the metaphors the Bible uses to describe a relationship with God is “walking with God.”

  • Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5)
  • Noah walked with God (Genesis 6)
  • Abraham walked with God (Genesis 12)
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth walked with God (Luke 2)

Walking is used as a metaphor in the New Testament to describe a pattern of life, e.g. walking in darkness / walking in the light.

Walking is an interesting metaphor because it implies small steps, which on their own are not spectacular or glamorous or noteworthy, but over time the cumulative sum of those repeated actions can take you great distances, and to the highest peaks.

Walking doesn’t even elevate your heart rate – but perhaps that’s part of what makes it so powerful: it can be sustained for long periods of time.

Walking is essentially: small, continual actions, which lead somewhere.

For example: If you read just 2 chapters of the Bible per day, in 5 years you will have read through the entire Bible 3 times. Just imagine how well you would know God’s Word with that small effort, sustained over time.

If you read 10 pages in a book every day (about 15 minutes), in 5 years you will have read about 60 books.

What if you devoted the next 5 years to pursuing God?  What if you took small, but continual steps which, over time, would snowball into huge effects in your life?

C. S. Lewis put it this way:

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.132)

For more on this topic, check out this message: A Vision for Your Future

Resisting the Sirens’ Song

Image result for the odyssey sirens

In Homer’s classic epic, The Odyssey, tells the story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, and his perilous journey home after the Trojan War. Along the way, Homer faces many dangers, but perhaps the greatest danger of all are the Sirens.

A Picture of Temptation

The Sirens are seductive, and they sing a beautiful song that sailors cannot resist. However, the Sirens’ song is deadly: when sailors are enticed by it and steer their ships towards it, they are lured to their death, as they crash their boats into the rocks.

The Sirens’ song is a picture of temptation. People are not tempted by things which are grotesque and terrible, but by the allure of something which is desirable and attractive. However, there are things in life which draw us in with a promise that is not only empty, but which will lead to your demise and the shipwrecking of your life.

Two Approaches to Resisting Temptation

In his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain ScienceDrew Dyke points out that the Sirens are not only used by Homer in The Odyssey as a picture of temptation (and how to resist it), but they were also used by Apollonius Rhodius in his epic, Argonautica,  which was written about 500 years after The Odyssey. Interestingly, Rhodius mentioned the Sirens in order to offer a different approach to resisting temptation.

Approach #1: The Odyssey

Odysseus knows about the danger of the Sirens and he is aware of his own weakness. Rather than assuming that he will be strong enough to resist the Sirens’ song, Odysseus makes plans in order to protect himself and his men from lure of the Sirens: he orders his men to tie him to the mast, and tells them not to untie him no matter how much he pleads with them. To make sure the sailors aren’t seduced, he has them stuff their ears with beeswax so they won’t hear the Sirens’ song.

When Odysseus hears the Sirens’ song, he tries to escape the ropes and begs his sailors to free him, but they ignore him and continue sailing. Odysseus’ plan to overcome temptation works and they survive the danger of the Sirens’ song.

The approach to temptation laid out in The Odyssey is akin to asking others to keep you accountable and taking steps to prevent yourself from coming in contact with things that tempt you.

This approach is wise in that it recognizes human weakness. We need more than just good advice, we need help. If all we needed was good advice, no one would be overweight or broke or in experience conflict in their relationships, since a myriad of good advice on these topics is readily available for free. The fact that people still struggle with these things is proof that what we need is more than just good advice: we need help to overcome our weaknesses and do what is right, not only towards others, but even for our own best interests.

For a message on how the gospel is good news, rather than good advice, see: In Thy Dark Streets Shineth)

Approach #2: Argonautica

In Argonautica, the Argonauts have to sail past the same Sirens, but they take a different approach to overcoming temptation:

On board their ship is a musician named Orpheus. When they hear the Sirens’ song, rather than stuffing their ears with wax and tying themselves up to avoid the allure of the song, they rather have Orpheus get out his lyre and play a louder and more beautiful song. Because of Orpheus’ “sweeter song,” the sailors are able to resist the temptation of the Sirens’ song, and they pass by securely.

This approach to temptation does not merely restrain the hand, but seeks to capture the heart.

Dyke points out that while it is wise to recognize your own weaknesses and set up safeguards to protect yourself, the best way to resist temptation and the most powerful means of self-control is to listen to a “sweeter song.”

A Sweeter Song

Augustine of Hippo explained that what defines a person most is what they love. Therefore, in order to change who a person is, we should seek to change what they love.

How do we do that? By showing them a better story and a sweeter song.

That better story and sweeter song is found in Jesus. Ultimately all people are seeking the same things: joy and happiness, relief from suffering and pain, love and acceptance, overcoming the limitations of this physical world, adventure and discovery… the list could go on. However, the ways and the places in which many people seek these things will not only leave them unfulfilled but will dash them against rocks and shipwreck their lives. It is only in Jesus that our deepest longings will be fully and ultimately satisfied.

Jesus and the salvation He gives is the sweeter song. May we help others to see that! There may be times when it is wise to take practical measures to prevent ourselves from giving in to temptation, but ultimately we need our hearts to be won over by the sweeter song. May we listen to it loudly and often, that our hearts may know it and not accept any lesser, competing songs!

Most Listened-To Sermons of 2019

silver iphone x with airpods

Our church’s website was recently updated, including a major overhaul of the sermon archive, which now allows you to browse by series and books we have taught through. Check it out here: White Fields Community Church Sermons

If you haven’t done so yet, you can subscribe to our podcast here, or just search White Fields Community Church in whatever podcast app you use. If you like what you hear, please rate and review us, as that helps boost us in their algorithm, and helps other people discover us.

I recently switched to the Overcast app for listening to podcasts. I like that it cuts out pauses and regulates audio to a consistent level, and allows me to make playlists. Overcast is only available for iOS, but the best app for Android, which has many of the same features is Podcast Addict. My wife’s biggest hesitation with switching to an iPhone recently was that she would lose Podcast Addict.

These sermons I preached in 2019 were listened to and downloaded the most:

10. Amos: Faith that Works

9. Daniel: How to Live a God-Honoring Life in a Hostile Environment

8. How to Be Right When You are Wronged – 1 Peter 3:8-22

7. What is Your Life? – James 4:13-5:6

6. Encouragement for the Fainthearted – 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

5. Count It All Joy – 1 Peter 1:1-9

4. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Condoned Genocide in the Old Testament

3. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Hasn’t Proven His Existence

2. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Does Not Affirm Some People’s Sexuality

1. I Could Never Believe in a God Who: Sends People to Hell

Analysis

A few things pop out at me from this list. First of all, the fact that some of our more recent sermons are in the top ten means that listenership to our podcast is increasing.

Secondly our biographical look at the prophets, called “Remember the Prophets” was a lot of fun. Those books and their authors are often overlooked for various reasons, but their messages are very important.

Finally, our apologetics series “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…” was our second consecutive year doing a series like this, and clearly it struck a chord with a lot of people. These kinds of series are helpful both for engaging with those who might be skeptical about Christianity, and for teaching Christians how to respond well to those who ask questions. Oftentimes many of us who are Christians struggle with questions even though we choose to trust God and believe. As the church we engage with those issues and equip others to do so as well.

What Didn’t Make the List?

Leave me a comment below and let me know which sermon from this year made the biggest impact on you!

If need to refresh your memory, a list of our past sermons from this year can be found here: White Fields Sermons

What Did John Calvin Mean By, “We must remember that Satan has his miracles too”?

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In a recent post titled If Satan Has Been Defeated, Why Is He Still “Prowling Around”?, we looked at how Satan is not God’s counterpart, and certainly not his equal. How then can someone like John Calvin, who has a high view of God’s sovereignty and power, say that “Satan has his miracles too?

Calvin was referring to Matthew 24:24 – where, in his Olivet Discourse, Jesus states that during a time to come of great tribulation, “false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”

The Context of Calvin’s Statement: A Response to Roman Catholic Criticisms About a Lack of Miracles in the Reformation

This statement is only part of a bigger statement by John Calvin. It is found in the “Prefatory Address to the King of France,” at the beginning of Institutes of the Christian Religion. In this section, Calvin is responding to Roman Catholic criticisms of the Reformation, one of which was that the Reformation lacked miracles, which they said proved that the Reformation was not a legitimate, apostolic, work of God.

In his response, Calvin said that the immediate purpose of a miracle like healing was to bring relief to the individual, but the ultimate purpose was to prove that the apostolic preaching was true. Calvin then argues that the Reformation is not a new revelation, but rather the reaffirmation of the original apostolic preaching, therefore it does not necessitate miracles to confirm its validity.

Calvin then takes it one step further by suggesting that many of the supposed miracles reported by the Roman Catholic Church may not be from God, but may instead be of the sort talked about by Jesus in Matthew 24:24, i.e. performed by false prophets by the power of Satan to lead people astray and deceive them.

Interestingly however, Calvin does not disavow miracles entirely, but suggests that there were actually miracles that accompanied the Reformation. He then makes the concluding point that the test of miracles should be what they cause you to worship and trust in. Any miracle which causes you to trust in false doctrines or turn away from the Word of God, he says, are suspect in their origin.

This final point is a good one; you might remember that in Exodus, Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to do replicate some of the miracles which Moses performed. The effect of these miracles was to cause people not to listen to God and repent, but to trust in false gods. I have witnessed a similar phenomenon amongst people in some circles today who seek signs and wonders; sometimes the signs they seek cause them to trust in things other than God, His Word, and the gospel.

You can read a larger excerpt of what Calvin wrote here, but here are some highlights:

In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the apostles ever wrought.

But the mark of sound doctrine given by our Savior himself is its tendency to promote the glory not of men, but of God (John 7:18; 8:50). Our Savior having declared this to be test of doctrine, we are in error if we regard as miraculous, works which are used for any other purpose than to magnify the name of God.

And it becomes us to remember that Satan has his miracles, which, although they are tricks rather than true wonders, are still such as to delude the ignorant and unwary. Magicians and enchanters have always been famous for miracles, and miracles of an astonishing description have given support to idolatry: these, however, do not make us converts to the superstitions either of magicians or idolaters.

But our opponents tell us that their miracles are wrought not by idols, not by sorcerers, not by false prophets, but by saints: as if we did not know it to be one of Satan’s wiles to transform himself “into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).

We, then, have no lack of miracles, sure miracles, that cannot be gainsaid; but those to which our opponents lay claim are mere delusions of Satan, inasmuch as they draw off the people from the true worship of God to vanity.

Source: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, cited in: The Reformation’s Lack of Miracles: A Response by John Calvin

Is Abuse Grounds for Divorce According to the Bible?

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In Matthew 19 we read about a time when some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3)

The Pharisees, as usual, were attempting to trap Jesus with a no-win question, so that no matter what answer he gave, it would cause him to lose some of his followers. In the Law of Moses, Moses had allowed divorce for the reason of “uncleanness.” Human nature being what it is, people took advantage of the fact that the term “uncleanness” was open to interpretation, and they used it as a loophole, which afforded them the opportunity to “technically” keep the letter of the Law, while ignoring the heart of the Law. By the time of Jesus, people were in the practice of saying that basically anything could constitute “uncleanness,” for example: if a man saw a woman who was more beautiful than his wife, he could say that his wife was “unclean” in comparison to the other woman, and use that as grounds for divorce. If a man got angry at his wife, he could accuse her of being “unclean,” because her actions had caused him to sin by being angry.

The Big Two

Jesus combatted this flippant attitude towards marriage and divorce by taking people back to the design for marriage shown in creation, adding that divorce is permissible in cases of adultery.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7:15, gave another justification for divorce: abandonment.

Historically, Christians have recognized these two reasons as the two biblical grounds for divorce. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 24, Paragraph 6 states that “nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church, or civil magistrate, is cause sufficient of dissolving the bond of marriage.”

What About Abuse?

Certainly God hates abuse. Throughout the Old Testament, God shows himself to be a God who is on the side of the abused and opposes abusers. In the prophetic books, such as Amos, when his own people become abusers, God makes it clear to them that because of what they are doing, He is opposed to them, and He calls them to repent and actively work for the welfare of the weak, the vulnerable, and the oppressed.

However, since abuse is not specifically mentioned in the Bible as a grounds for divorce, some Christians have wondered what the protocol should be for those in abusive marriages.

What’s important to note, is that even amongst those who do not believe that abuse is a biblical justification for divorce, almost no one would ever recommend a spouse to stay in an abusive relationship. According to a LifeWay Reseach survey, 96% of pastors recommend at minimum: separation, protection (such as restraining orders), and church discipline (for the abuser) in cases of abuse.

While it is quite alarming that 4% of the pastors polled said that a spouse should stay in an abusive relationship even when violence is present, it is important to note that even amongst those who do not believe that abuse is biblical grounds for divorce, the majority do advocate for separation. Assumedly, those who advocate for separation but not divorce are hopeful that repentance and restoration are possible and are committed to a high view of the authority of Scripture, believing that the Bible only gives the two justifications for divorce listed above.

Wayne Grudem and “in such cases”

Amongst those who have sought to identify a biblical justification for divorce in cases of abuse, most point to 1 Corinthians 7:15, which speaks about one spouse abandoning the marriage. The argument goes that abuse constitutes a form of abandonment. Many people, even those who hate abuse, find this line of thinking to be contrived and unconvincing.

Recently prominent theologian Wayne Grudem, Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary, announced at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) that he had changed his position on divorce in cases of abuse based on his study of 1 Corinthians 7:15.

While he is still not persuaded by the “abuse is a kind of desertion” argument, he believes that another phrase in 1 Corinthians 7:15 presents a compelling argument for divorce in cases of abuse, namely the phrase, “in such cases” (ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις).

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not bound. (1 Corinthians 7:15)

The question is, does this phrase refer to: 1) only cases of desertion by an unbeliever, or 2) cases in which a spouse has done something that has similarly destroyed a marriage?

Interestingly, this Greek phrase does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament or the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), but there are several uses of it in Ancient Greek literature, including 52 from the same time period as the New Testament. There are also several uses of the singular version of the word τοιοῦτος (“in this case”) in the New Testament.

Grudem’s analysis of the uses of these words in the Bible and in other Greek writings from the same time period has led him to the conclusion that “in such cases” refers to the cases in which a spouse has done something which, similar to abandonment, has destroyed a marriage, and that in such cases the latter part of 1 Corinthians 7:15 applies: the abused spouse is no longer bound, i.e. may divorce.

Grudem’s analysis has been met with very little criticism. You can read the outline of the presentation here, which includes a look at the different texts which use this phrase “in such cases” and what it means in those contexts, and why these led Grudem to change his position.

Looking for Loopholes or for the Heart of God

At worst, this could be used in the same way people used the idea of “uncleanness” in Jesus’ day: as carte blanche or a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. The same could be said though of the teachings of grace and forgiveness in the Bible, yet we must not reject nor downplay them just because they might be hijacked or misused – and I believe the same applies here.

Did Jesus Go to Hell?

night dark halloween horror

The Apostles’ Creed, one of the oldest Christian creeds – in continual existence since at least the 4th Century A.D. – contains a line which many people have found intriguing: it declares that Jesus “descended to the dead.”

Older translations of the original text into English sometimes translate this phrase as saying that Jesus “descended into Hell.”

Looking at the creed in ancient languages is interesting as the Greek text says: κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, which means: “descended to the bottom” – and the Latin text says: descendit ad inferos, the word inferos being translated as “Hell.”

More recent translations into English have chosen to say “descended to the dead” rather than “descended into Hell” as “the dead” would be more accurate biblically and theologically than “Hell.” The reason for this is based on a particular understanding of “Sheol” in the Old Testament and the Jewish mind, which was the dwelling place of all souls, being divided (according to Luke 16:19-31) into two parts: Abraham’s Bosom and Hades, AKA: Hell.

Abraham’s Bosom, it is believed, was a place of comfort for those who died in faith, i.e. the “Old Testament saints,” such as those described in Hebrews 11, who died prior to the redemptive actions of Jesus. The theory, therefore, is that 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6, Peter is describing how Jesus went to Sheol after his death on the cross but prior to his resurrection, and declared to the deceased souls held there what he had accomplished in his life and death. This message would have been a message of redemption and release from Sheol, to the immediate presence of God, to those who were kept in Abraham’s Bosom awaiting the redemptive work of the Messiah, and a message of condemnation for those held in the Hades/Hell portion of Sheol.

I have written more about this here: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

I also explain this in some detail in this past Sunday’s sermon from 1 Peter 3:18-4:11 – The Resurrected Life. The part that deals with this topic begins around 17:30.

However, there are several different, and possible, interpretations of these verses which Mike and I discussed and outlined in this week’s Sermon Extra video. It’s worth watching, as we discuss different views, such as that this speaks to Jesus preaching to demons related to the Nephilim in Genesis 6, Jesus preaching through Moses, etc.:

 

This Isn’t About Kanye

Kanye West Jesus is King

“I’m my favorite rapper.” What Kanye West lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in honesty.

Kanye’s conversion to Christianity and his release of an album which reflects that faith, titled “Jesus is King”, is big news right now.

But to look at this and only see Kanye, is to miss the bigger picture.

Christianity is Not Collapsing in America

There has been much talk recently about the decline of Christianity in the United States. However, reports of decline are overstated. I have explained why the numbers alone do not tell the whole story in these posts:

The New York Times published an article this past week about why claims about the “collapse” of Christianity in America are grossly overstated.

On his new album, Kanye is joined by Kenny G, who has also attended his Sunday Service events. Christian rapper NF was recently the best selling musician in the entire US.

Let’s put it this way: Christianity is much more widespread and influential than many would have you believe, and it is not going away any time soon.

Christianity is Thriving Amongst Minority Communities

Why are there fewer Christians were I live, near Boulder, Colorado, than there are in the American South? At least one reason is probably because of the relative homogeny of the  population in this area, compared with the number of people of color in the South.

The type of person most likely to be an atheist in America – and in the entire world – are white males. According to Pew Research Group, 78% of atheists in America are white, and 68% are men, even though white males only make up just over 30% of the US population.

According to one study, for example, at historically black universities 85.2% of students identified as Christian, and 11.2% identified as atheist, agnostic, or none. This is contrasted with a national average in all universities of 60.2% of students identifying as Christian, and 30.9% identifying as atheist, agnostic, or none.

As the major Western countries, including the United States, continue to become more ethnically diverse, it is predicted that we will see the number of atheists and agnostics decline, not increase – due to the fact that atheism and agnosticism are overrepresented by white males. For more on this topic, read: Projections for Belief & Secularization Around the World

If you look at Kanye’s Sunday Services, you will notice many people of color. Christianity is not, nor ever has been, a white, Western religion. African American communities have a rich heritage of Christianity, including Christian music, and it should come as no surprise to see African American people making music with gospel themes; it’s nothing new.

Speaking of the gospel and gospel music, I loved this episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Kanye West – both what Kanye said, and the music the choir sang:

Of course one of the big topics of discussion has been whether Kanye’s conversion is for real. I really appreciated Greg Laurie’s comments on this:

Furthermore, Kellen Criswell wrote a great article for Calvarychapel.com: Eight Things I Would Say to Kanye If I Could

For what it’s worth, here is my favorite song from “Jesus is King”:

To echo Greg Laurie’s words: I am glad for any person who makes a movement toward God, and I think it’s great that he is using his platform to get people talking about Jesus.

This isn’t about Kanye, but I’m glad Kanye is making it about Jesus.