Will the moral line hold?

If secular, humanistic, materialistic philosophies have failed to prevent moral decay, on what basis do we think that other examples of immorality can be halted?

If the post-christian worldview that has gained ascendency since the middle of the 20th century wasn’t able to provide a hedge against such self-serving sins as sex before and outside of marriage, cohabitation without marriage, homosexuality and gay marriage, it will also be unable to keep further pleasure-seeking dominoes from falling. Whether we’re talking about polyamory, polygamy, or, heaven forbid, pedophilia as an “orientation” similar to homosexuality, there’s really no objective moral basis on which to deny such pleasures or declare them wrong.

10 years ago, the Harvard Medical Health Letter published an online article entitled, Pessimism about Pedophilia. In it, one of the summary points was, “Pedophilia is a sexual orientation and unlikely to change. Treatment aims to enable someone to resist acting on his sexual urges.”

The larger question that we will begin to see raised is this: if this is truly an orientation like other sexual orientations, why should we even talk about “treatment?” It’s only a matter of time before the humanistic implications will come home to roost, and these other things will vie for acceptance and normalcy.

There is literally no objective basis outside of God and the Bible to condemn anything.

Paul warned us of such times. “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Will the moral line hold? Not on the basis of any thought that denies the existence of God and the truth and sufficiency of the Bible, any thought that loves pleasure rather than God.

Paul goes on in this passage to instruct young Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed,” reminding him of the God-given origin of the “sacred writings” (3:14-17). So, our first response to this inexorable march is to firmly align ourselves with the teaching of Scripture. All the evil in the world cannot prevent believers from following Paul’s example in his “teaching…conduct…aim in life…faith…patience…love…steadfastness…persecutions and sufferings” (3:10-11).

Paul’s further instruction is for us to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching….always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:2, 5). Our second response is bound up in preaching the gospel to a world that desperately needs it.

The moral lines may continue to fall. In the face of this, we must remain steadfast and preach the word.

Preaching depth to a shallow generation, part 1

Deep part 1

It began in late April 1998.  It ended 8 years, 7 months and 28 days later, on Christmas Eve 2006.

It is John Piper’s sermon series on Romans, presented to his church during Sunday services.  225 messages.

Romans is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and I have been listening off and on to this remarkable series, especially his treatment of chapters 5-9.  I have repeatedly been amazed at Piper’s willingness to tackle tough theological issues and go deep into the text, sometimes spending three or four weeks on a particular passage.

But there’s something even more amazing.

His church let him do it.

A generation accustomed to the shallow end

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” –2 Timothy 4:3-4

It’s been well documented that “content” has been in decline all across the spectrum of our culture. As E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has pointed out in his book The Knowledge Deficit, “Disparagement of factual knowledge as found in books has been a strong current in American thought since the time of Emerson.” (p.9)

Unfortunately, this “disparagement of factual knowledge” is not exclusive to the mainstream; it has also infected the church. The modern church by and large has become a purveyor of practical principles and applications with a few Bible verses tacked on (from whichever translation or paraphrase says it just the right way) to give them credence. Some pastors have come to embrace the cultural disdain for content by discarding even the attempt to teach doctrine from the pulpit.

Thus, my amazement that Piper’s church stuck around for over 8½ years of deep, theological teaching from Romans. Many an elder board would have asked him to “tone it down,” or worse, asked him to leave and then counseled the next pastor to “keep it simple” or “be more practical.”  To be fair, Piper himself addresses this from time to time by intentionally bringing his current text to bear on the practical implications for the Christian life, or by frequently tying it to how it fits with the great “Therefore” of Romans 12. But he never shies from the hard truths of his text, even when there’s not an immediate “application.”

As a result, what we have in this archive of sermons is a true gift to the Church at large. Whether you agree or disagree with Piper’s theology is beside the point.  What he created there was not only a blessing for his congregation, but also a platform of influence to Christians everywhere.

May more pastors have the desire and the courage to go deep and take their flock with them.  And may many more congregations demand it.

[In subsequent parts of this series, I’ll examine the common approaches churches take on this matter, and how God uses his Word in our lives. Stay tuned.]