Biblically Correct on Kindle for $1.99 Starting Thursday

My recent Bible study, Biblically Correct: Engaging Culture with Truth, will be available on Kindle at a special price starting Thursday. Rather than $6.99, you can get it for $1.99 Thursday through Sunday (July 10-13). After Sunday, it will return to regular price. If you are looking for a Bible study for your church small group or personal use and you want to learn how to address some of the most pertinent topics of the day, this is a great opportunity to preview the study on Kindle.

If you have any questions about the study, feel free to ask me in the comments section or send me an email via the address linked in my faculty profile on the right. If your church would like 10+ copies of the print edition, contact me for special pricing.

*Stay tuned in coming weeks for the release of my next study, Biblically Sound: Embracing Doctrine for Life.

**If you have already , I would love to have more reviews on Amazon. Just log on and write a review. Thanks.

On Choosing Books: Reading from the Other Side

stack_of_booksIt’s that time of year again when I have to submit book requests to our campus bookstore for the upcoming semester (technically, it is past time, but the bookstore is always gracious to those of us who miss the initial deadline). For many of my classes, I have developed a standard list of books that I revisit every couple of years to see if there are any better ones. However, each of the last few semesters, I have taught at least one class that is new to my teaching repertoire. This fall it will be Selected Issues in Life and Death—basically a class dealing with various cultural issues of life and death, such as abortion, euthanasia, and human genetic engineering.

When selecting books for this class, I have decided to do something a little different. I have chosen a significant text edited by someone with whom I ardently disagree on these issues. My goal is to have students interact with and engage the best thinkers on the other side of the debate.

I generally survey fellow ethics colleagues at other seminaries before choosing books for new classes just to see if I am missing a key text. While interacting with my PhD mentor on my selection of texts for this class, I mentioned the book I planned to use from the other side of the debate and told him the names of some of the contributors. His response was priceless. He said, “I really like the names you’ve listed for your purposes. [Author X] is scary. Thus a good read.”

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions. My approach to this in the past has been to bring in their works and read/present selections to the students in class. This is the first time I have made a concerted effort to ask my students to buy and read something so diametrically opposed to a Christian perspective on an ethical issue.

By the end of this class, my students will understand the arguments of those who want to promote abortion at any cost, euthanize the weak and poor, and produce designer babies. With appropriate guidance from their professor, I hope they will also be able to critique and combat those arguments.

Far too often Christians find themselves wrapped in their bubble of Christian books and Christian arguments hearing tales of what people on the outside believe. I want my students to read firsthand what people outside our Christian bubble think. That is the only way we can truly know how to engage the culture.

The task will not be easy, but it should be a fun ride. As one of my former professors used to say, “Strap on your helmets, boys, we’re going to war.”

_________________________

For those of you wanting to know, the book I chose is Bioethics: An Anthology edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer. Singer is famous for believing that humans have no right to life until at least 6–12 months in age (but possibly as late as 3 years). At the same time, he believes we could control the population by euthanizing all the elderly and infirm. And his is not the most extreme view in the book.

Hobby Lobby Wins Religious Freedom Victory

Supreme_Court_US_2010*Co-authored with Trey Dimsdale

In the highly anticipated decision of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court issued a victory to closely held for-profit corporations on the issue of religious liberty. While the decision was not as sweeping as some may have wanted—or as Justice Ginsburg claimed in her dissent—the Court’s decision upheld the idea that Americans need not check their right to religious liberty at the door when they enter the business world.

At issue for the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby and Mardel, and the Hahn family, owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, was the fact that the government compelled them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by providing abortifacient birth control drugs and devices to their employees as part of their employer-provided healthcare plans. The Greens and Hahns specifically believe that life begins at conception and any measure that extinguishes the life of a human embryo is a violation of that belief. As such, the Health and Human Services birth control mandate would cause them to violate their consciences.

One of the key issues before the Court was whether or not for-profit corporations fit the legal definition of a person for the sake of exercising religious liberty. In the summary of their decision, the majority of the Court noted, “Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

In a further explanation of this protection, the Court noted the Third Circuit’s argument that for-profit corporations “do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors.” In response to this conclusion, the Court stated, “All of this is true—but quite beside the point. Corporations, ‘separate and apart from’ the human beings who own, run, and are employed by them, cannot do anything at all.”

In making these statements, the Supreme Court tied the actions of closely held for-profit corporations directly to the actions and beliefs of their owners. Specifically, the Hahns and Greens can exercise their belief that life begins at conception through excluding certain types of birth control from their insurance plans.

The heart of this decision is in the Court’s determination that a corporation is a “person” under the meaning of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). RFRA establishes a very specific test which federal courts must apply in cases that deal with government action that infringes on a person’s free exercise of religion. HHS argued, and at least one appellate court agreed, that corporations are not “persons” capable of exercising religion. In that case, the RFRA would not apply to the issue before the Court. The Supreme Court, however, held that (in at least the case of closely held corporations), corporations areentitled to the protections offered by RFRA. The fact that corporations are not capable of participating in religious activities is irrelevant. In short, the Supreme Court recognizes that Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties are legitimate vehicles for the exercise and expression of their owners’ religious convictions.

This is a clear victory for business owners who believe that life begins at conception and that the HHS mandate violates such a belief. In keeping with the First Amendment and RFRA, owners of closely held corporations can exclude abortifacient birth control measures from their healthcare plans.

A second issue presented in the Court’s decision is that the government cannot determine certain religious beliefs are invalid because they do not like them. The Court argues, “Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question [i.e., that providing these birth control measures enables the commission of an immoral act], HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.” Thus, HHS claimed it had the right to determine if the Greens and Hahns held a valid religious belief. The Court clearly held that is not the job of the government. The majority went on to say, “Similarly, in these cases, the Hahns and Greens and their companies sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial. Instead, our ‘narrow function . . . in this context is to determine’ whether the line drawn reflects ‘an honest conviction,’ . . . and there is no dispute that it does.”

If the government had its way, the Court argued that it could have excluded religious owners from the business world. According to the government’s argument, no insurance coverage mandate would have violated the RFRA, including third-trimester abortions and assisted suicide. The Court responded, “The owners of many closely held corporations could not in good conscience provide such coverage, and thus the HHS would effectively exclude these people from full participation in the economic life of the Nation.” Thankfully, the Court disagreed.

What does this mean for Christian business owners? Specifically related to the HHS mandate, owners of closely held corporations cannot be compelled to provide abortion-inducing drugs and devices as part of their healthcare plans. The Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is only applicable to closely held corporations. These are businesses which are organized under state law as corporations but are owned by a small number of individual shareholders. The companies involved in this case are all closely held, family-owned businesses. This is different from publicly held corporations that may have any number of shareholders who have invested money in the business.

Many people in our churches are likely to be part of such businesses. While they may not always have the number of employees that require mandatory health insurance coverage, there is potential that their businesses could grow to that point just as Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties.

This case could also foreshadow how the Court may decide other related cases, such as the cases involving the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious educational institutions. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions could extend similar religious freedom protections and exemptions to other types of organizations that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby does not.

We can rejoice in today’s victory for the Greens and Hahns, but there is still much work to be done in protecting religious liberty for people of faith in the marketplace.

_________________________

Trey Dimsdale, J.D., serves as Research Fellow in Law and Public Policy for the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also one of my Ph.D. students in ethics.

Is There Such a Thing as a Christian Prenuptial Agreement?

PrenuptialAbout six weeks ago, I was contacted by Patricia Hartman asking me to read and review her book The Christian Prenuptial Agreement. She had read an earlier post in which I had disagreed with Dave Ramsey’s premise for prenuptial agreements. She sent me a copy of the book, challenging me to read it and change my mind on the issue. As part of the agreement for receiving the free book, I agreed to write a post about the book—positive or negative. So here it is. As you will see below, the author has offered some interesting ideas, but her book has not swayed my opinion that prenuptial agreements are unbiblical.

Hartman approaches the task of writing her book from a very practical standpoint. She is a forensic CPA aiding clients who are going through divorce. Also having experienced “losses when [her] ex-husband had left [her] years earlier” (7), it is clear that she wants her readers to avoid the struggles and pain that she and her clients have experienced. There is no doubt in my mind that Hartman wants to protect marriage, but it appears that her personal experience is driving her conclusions.

The author places a great deal of importance upon the prenuptial agreement. She notes:

Your Christian prenup may be the very document that holds your marriage together when life gets tough. (8)

Your prenup has the ability to release an amazing power and energy into your marriage. (35)

Your prenup gives you the opportunity to thwart Satan’s attempts to derail your marriage and is your greatest insurance policy against his attacks. (58)

Unfortunately, I believe this trust in the prenuptial agreement is misplaced. She has elevated the prenuptial agreement to the place of a covenant and fails to distinguish the practical effects of what she calls a “Christian” prenuptial agreement from the effects of a secular one.

A Biblical Mandate?

Is the prenuptial agreement a biblical mandate? Hartman states:

Based upon God’s revelations in Scripture, Christians have a duty to write a prenuptial agreement to acknowledge their vows and covenants that follow God’s laws and precepts, rejecting the counter-Christian laws and culture as a witness to the glory of God. We have a duty to right the wrongs that exist or may be imposed by the government. Further, God recorded His covenants as a witness to His commitment and love for us in His Word. In the same way, we have a duty to record our covenant agreements as a witness to our commitment and our commitment and our love for one another. (25)

Building on the idea that talk is cheap and most couples do not understand the implications of their verbal vows (235–236), Hartman argues that couples ought to have a prenuptial agreement that includes their vows. In addition, she claims that God’s covenants are written and we should follow suit with marriage.

By contrast, most of the covenants recorded by Moses, God’s “first official scribe” (23), were verbal covenants in force for generations before Moses ever wrote the Pentateuch. The first explicit covenant in Scripture—God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:1–17—was a verbal covenant that was binding hundreds of years before Moses ever recorded the words. In fact, most covenants were not written in the Old Testament until long after they were established. To apply the standards of the OT covenants to marriage today, one need only express the covenant verbally, and it is binding. Sure, there are advantages to recording one’s vows, but there is no biblical mandate to have a legal document drafted by separate attorneys and signed before a covenant is biblically established.

A Lack of Trust

Hartman correctly notes that trust is a major issue for prenuptial agreements. She writes, “One of the most common objections to prenups is that they imply a lack of trust. That is indeed true for a secular prenup, but if we truly grasp the depravity of man, should we trust our fiancé?” (45). She goes on to explain that our sinfulness makes it difficult for someone to trust us. Since God is the only one we can trust fully, she believes that a prenuptial agreement reminds us that God is the only one we trust.

The problem with this perspective is that the prenuptial agreement effectively places trust in the legal process in case of problems. It does not point to trust in God but trust in the courts. When surveying the sample Christian prenuptial agreement in the book, the vast majority of it describes remedies for the court in case of separation or divorce. This does not put trust in God’s provisions; instead, it trusts the court and the prenuptial agreement to make provision for the parties in case of marriage failure.

The sample prenuptial agreement is actually the most intriguing part of the book for the issue of trust. Besides a testimony section, vows, and some references to Scripture, most of it looks much like a secular prenuptial agreement. It spends three pages addressing provisions for divorce, another page on separation, and significant portions on how much each spouse is going to work, how finances will be handled, and how to divide the estate upon death.

The section on divorce opens by saying, “The parties agree not to use violation of the terms of this agreement as a basis for filing divorce” (264); however, it immediately proceeds to discuss the grounds on which divorce can be filed and how the process will play out. Despite a critique of the lack of trust in secular prenuptial agreements, the Christian version offers little more in the way of trust.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

The final area of critique for the Christian prenuptial agreement presented by Hartman is an overwhelming focus on details. There are a host of issues that most engaged and newly married couples do not yet grasp about marriage. Pre-marital counseling can certainly help them see some of these issues in advance; however, Hartman’s book provides a list of details to be discussed (and many included in the prenuptial agreement) that could be overwhelming to a couple. Included in the prenuptial agreement are decisions about how much each spouse will work, investment goals, how to educate children, and the sale of property owned before marriage. In addition to some of these details in the prenuptial agreement, the author directs engaged couples to make decisions on issues such as how to use vacation time, how often to have sexual intercourse, whether to give children allowances, and what types of food to keep in the house. These are details that often come up over time in a marriage, but are not of the utmost importance to a successful marriage. Many of the decisions related to these issues could change a number of times just in the first few years of marriage.

With such a focus on the minutiae, I fear that Hartman has lost the larger picture of marriage. The covenant of marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church. When we first come to faith in Christ, we do not have a full picture of all the details. As we grow in our faith, we recognize the sacrifice of this covenant relationship and how it impacts every aspect of our lives.

Helpful Hints

Up to this point, my discussion of the book has been rather critical; however, I want to close with a few positive points about the work. First, there are a number of questions and exercises in the book that are beneficial for pre-martial counseling. In addition to some standard discussions of faith, finances, and in-laws, I found her suggestion to discuss medical history quite helpful. Most young couples do not even think about family medical history, but a tragedy could make such information very useful to a spouse.

Second, I appreciate Hartman’s desire to end the cycle of divorce. While I do not agree that a Christian prenuptial agreement is the solution, I can appreciate her heart for seeing marriages thrive.

Third, her discussion of God’s desires for married couples in chapter 6 was encouraging. Apart from just a couple minor disagreements, I believe she clearly articulated the biblical expectations for men and women in marriage. She is to be commended for her focus on these theological matters.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I stand where I have stood for years on the issue of prenuptial agreements—they do not accurately depict the biblical vision of marriage. When a man and woman come together in marriage, they reflect the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church. In giving himself for the church, Christ gave up everything. The church then submits herself to Christ. This is the model of marriage found in Ephesians 5:22–33. As Christians we are called to depict this relationship in our marriages. Even as sinners, we are called to holiness. Our faith in Christ is enough to unleash the power of marriage. No legal document is necessary to protect God’s design for marriage.

I close with this admonition for those who may face difficulties in marriage and wonder what to do.

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

Christ had everything to lose entering into a “marriage” with the church. He knew we would be unfaithful, but “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” When all hope seems lost, trust in the fact that Christ remains faithful—that is the motivation you need to unleash the power of marriage.

Book Review: God and the Gay Christian

*The following book review will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Southwestern Journal of Theology. Published here with permission of the editor.

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. By Matthew Vines. New York: Convergent, 2014. 213 pages. Hardcover, $22.99.

Same-sex marriage, gay rights, and alternative sexual lifestyles seem to dominate the public consciousness today. From professional sports players coming out as gay to judges overturning marriage laws to allow same-sex marriage, the conversation regarding homosexuality is constantly around us. In most of these instances, the conversation pits Christianity against a secular worldview hoping to affirm homosexual identity. However, a highly anticipated book recently changed the focus of the conversation from “Christians against the world” to an in-house discussion among self-proclaimed evangelicals. In God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines attempts to reform the historic teaching of Christianity on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Vines proposes that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” (3). In order to support his thesis, the author sets out to debunk the traditional interpretation of the six main biblical passages that have been used to condemn homosexuality. In addition, he seeks to show that celibacy for the person struggling with homosexual desires is a damaging state that undermines their expression of the image of God. Finally, he desires to show that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships are on par with traditional heterosexual marriage and should be supported by the church.

In order to make his argument, Vines works from a few key assumptions. First, he assumes that suffering is inherently evil. In his opening chapter, Vines draws on Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:15–20 regarding a tree and its fruit. He compares any pain or suffering brought to homosexuals through the condemnation of their sexual activities to be bad fruit brought forth by a bad tree. By contrast, he considers the affirmation of homosexual activity to be good fruit produced by a good tree.

Vines’ second assumption is that Scripture and its authors know nothing of sexual orientation. As a result, none of the traditional interpretations of Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10 are valid for contemporary discussions of sexuality. He believes that modern understandings of sexuality as immutable and unchosen dismiss any interpretation that condemns homosexual behavior for any reason other than gross excess.

The author also assumes that biological difference and role complementarity have nothing to do with marriage and sexuality. Vines believes that Scripture does not speak of biological difference as valid for sexual expression. He also holds that any discussion of role complementarity is grounded in a cultural hierarchy that understands women to be less than fully valuable. As a result, he builds a vision of sexual expression and marriage on commitment and covenant-keeping.

Using these assumptions, Vines builds his case that Christian teachings need to be modified in order to support same-sex relationships. In modifying these teachings, Vines embarks on a dangerous hermeneutical path that leaves some questions unanswered and creates some problems that he does not foresee.

First, Vines elevates his personal experience above Scripture as a source of authority. This is not a critique of which he is unaware. In fact, he says he was confronted by a church member early on with this exact critique (13). Even though he claims not to do so, he in fact affirms this very thing. He states, “I had a second reason for losing confidence in the belief that same-sex relationships are sinful: it no longer made sense to me” (12). His own experience of trying to affirm his lifestyle with the text of Scripture led him on a journey to reinterpret the Bible in light of his own experience. We see this throughout the book from his basic desire to have same-sex relationships no longer be called a sin to his condemnation of expecting celibacy from Christians who struggle with same-sex desires. His personal experience and desires do not fit that biblical expectation, so he believes it must be wrong.

Second, Vines fails to defend his position that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships are equal to marriage. The biggest failure in his argument is that he does not explain why such relationships have to be monogamous. He dismisses the idea of the potentiality for procreation as a key aspect of marriage (137–141); thus, he can no longer claim any natural extension of parenting as a reason to limit marriage to only two people. He considers the key element of marriage to be covenant-keeping, yet he fails to provide an argument why this would limit marriage to two people. As a result, he assumes marriage is monogamous but provides no real reason for such a limitation. His choice of monogamy is arbitrary in light of his definition of marriage.

Finally, Vines neglects to realize that his claims regarding homosexuality open the door for misunderstanding the Christ-Church relationship. While discussing the text of Ephesians 5 and its implications for marriage, Vines argues that the authority and submission structure in the text is built on ancient patriarchy. He notes the connection to slaves and masters in Ephesians 6 as evidence that we can no longer justify role complementarity since we do not affirm the institution of slavery. However, there are two serious failings of his argumentation. First, he ignores the fact that parents and children are also mentioned in Ephesians 6. The authority of parents over children, and the subsequent submission of children to parents, would also have to be overturned by Vines’ argumentation; however, he does not even mention those verses. In addition, Vines’ argumentation requires elevating the church to be equal with Christ. In doing so, one steps into the realm of heresy since Scripture states that the church is in submission to Christ. Vines’ cultural hermeneutic fails to protect against this logical conclusion to his own argument.

While this book has been highly touted by a number of pastors and theologians, the arguments fall short of making a biblical case. Instead, Vines sets out to make Scripture align with his own desires rather than conforming himself to the truth of Scripture (Romans 12:2).