Category Archives: Interview

matt_chandler_profile

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Matt Chandler

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scences glimpse into their lives as readers.

I talked with Matt Chandler, president of Acts 29 and lead pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, about what's on his nightstand, books he re-reads, favorite biographies, and more.

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What's on your nightstand right now?

I'm reading A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas Oden.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

The first two books put the immensity of God in front of me. They are like a warm blanket to my soul. Lewis's Chronicles have always had a deep effect on my emotions. They profoundly stir my affections for God.

What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?

The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges and Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch have helped shape how I lead and serve others.

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

Bonhoeffer and Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas as well as The Last Lion series on Winston Churchill are my favorite biographies. In each of the them there are extreme peaks and valleys wrapped into fights that were worth having and wouldn't be cheap to win. I need to be reminded of that truth often.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I don't read a lot of fiction (besides The Chronicles of Narnia). This past year I have devoured Cliff Graham's Lion of War series on David's mighty men.

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Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one's Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has "forfeited his own personal privacy" to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God's written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more.

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You claim that "what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus." Aren't you guilty of bibliolatry here? 

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Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, "Well, we worship the 'Word Christ' not the 'word the Bible.'" Which is true in a sense. We don't prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don't worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God's speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most "live" among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture's perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We've seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say "that's just your interpretation" instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God's truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we've misread the Bible, let's see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What's wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It's better to obey the Bible when you don't like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God's will and God's ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he's like.

What do you mean when you claim God's speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don't have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don't have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ's work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture's sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute "most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians"?

It's wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can't be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I'm thinking of people who make their sense of "calling" more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I'm thinking of denominational groups I've been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I'm talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say "yes," but then often live out "no."

Mama's Hands Are Full: Gloria Furman on Treasuring Christ in the Trenches

It was 8:00 a.m., and I already longed for bedtime. I'd refereed two conflicts over toys. I attempted to tackle the mountain of laundry that seemed to quadruple overnight. I repeated instructions multiple times to easily distracted minds. "It's time to brush your teeth." "Keep your finger out of your nose." "Only use kind words." My head and throat hurt, and I could feel a fever brewing.

Motherhood is a life that stretches you both inside and out. It's a daily practice of laying down your will and desires for the care of others. It's an energy-sapping life where you start each day with less energy than you had the day before. Nothing belongs to you anymore—not your space, not your time, not your sleep. Some days feel like a bad version of Groundhog Day, a repeat of the day before.

As a mom, I usually get caught up in the details of my days. I get wrapped up and consumed by the chaos and unexpected situations that come my way. I struggle in my weakness against the current of life's challenges, only to make no headway at all. And most of the time I end up spent, weary, discouraged, and alone.

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On that day, when I felt sick and sapped of all strength, physical and otherwise, Gloria Furman's new book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway) [video trailer], arrived in the mail. It was the perfect word of truth and encouragement my weary heart needed. The title alone spoke to me because my hands are always full. But too often I focus on everything I'm carrying in those hands rather than on my treasure, Jesus Christ.

Gloria's book is filled with gospel wisdom from cover to cover. She reminds us that Christ is with us in every situation we encounter as mothers. Not only that, but we can treasure him amid every chaos, every sibling spat, every sickness, and every cup of spilled milk. These meditations cover situations to which every mom can relate. Filled with examples from her own life, Gloria weaves gospel encouragement into every page, bringing hope to the daily challenges of motherhood.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full reminded me that the gospel is for all of life—including motherhood. Our theology of the cross and the redemption purchased by Christ's blood intersect with bedtime battles, fatigue, and easily distracted children. What Jesus accomplished can be applied to every moment of our lives. Even when our head throbs from the resounding echoes of little voices calling our name all day, gospel peace is always available through Jesus Christ.

I asked Gloria a few questions about her new book to learn how moms can find quiet times, why she doesn't offer more "how-to" advice, and what passages of Scripture have encouraged her lately.

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What inspired you to write this book, and what do you hope women take away from it?

Busy moms have their hands full, and I want them to revel in the hope that comes from the gospel and see how their hands are full of blessings in Christ.

I appreciated your honesty in sharing the challenges you faced in early motherhood with having regular quiet times with the Lord. I remember this struggle myself. Finding quiet and solitude with God is hard. But, as you point out, the Lord is just as near to us in the chaos of our day as he is in the alone times. Do you think that moms can have a tendency to just give up on communing with God because of their season of life?

Sometimes we think that if only we could have peace and quiet in the house then we will have peace and quiet in our heart. How easy it is for us to relegate Jesus' presence to an easy chair in a picture-perfect living room (with an accompanying cup of hot coffee)! For the mom facing that challenge of finding quiet time, I'd want her to know that, solitude or circus, it makes no difference in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to give you everything you need for life and godliness.

In a day where mom blogs saturate the internet with "how-to" counsel and "5 steps to getting your kid to _______," it seems we often clamor after quick fixes and step-by-step advice. Do readers ever complain that your writing is "just too much gospel" and not enough practical "how-to" advice? 

There's no shortage of resources and practical tips for helping moms navigate the challenges they face; I surf these websites for tips all the time. I hesitate to share my practical advice because it really only works for my set of unique circumstances a pitifully tiny fraction of the time, and whenever I give other moms "how-to" advice I have to preface it with that disclaimer.

But I can, however, share the gospel confidently without reservation because the cross teaches us what to expect when we're expecting challenging situations in motherhood—"mercy and grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Of course, solid practical advice is a mercy and a grace, but the cross addresses our deepest and most urgent need, which is to behold our God. In short, we can gain great benefit from practical how-tos, yet the implications of the help and hope we receive from the gospel are inexhaustible.

Is there one passage of Scripture, or a few passages, that have given you particular hope and peace during the often chaotic and busy season of motherhood?

Yes! In this particular season I have been particularly encouraged by Isaiah 40:11, Zephaniah 3:17, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Matthew 28:18-20, and the book of Ephesians.

Deep Before Wide: A Vision for Returning Discipleship to the Church

"I don't know any pastor who has been more personally fruitful in discipleship ministry than Randy Pope," Tim Keller observes. "Nor do I know of any church leader who has had a more sustained, lifelong commitment to making the ministry of discipleship a pervasive force throughout his whole church."

Pope sat down with Mark Mellinger to discuss his vision for and experience with church-anchored discipleship over the past 25 years. "Discipleship is laboring in the lives of a few to give away your life and the gospel," explains the founding pastor of Atlanta's Perimeter Church and author of Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church (Zondervan, 2013) [written interview | TGC13 workshop]. "If you want to see lives change, you've got to do it life-on-life." 

How does this vision get worked out practically? "We start small and invest deeply in the lives of a few," Pope says. "It's important to go deep before you go wide." At Perimeter this process entails small groups that gather weekly to invest time in truth, equipping, accountability, mission, and supplication ("TEAMS").

Watch the full nine-minute video to see Pope discuss leadership development, training clinics, how this vision fuels global missions, and more.

Randy Pope from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

'Non-Shepherding' Pastors: Option or Oxymoron?

Are "non-shepherding" pastors ever legitimate? You know, ministers who, due to other commitments (such as preaching) abstain from counseling and visitation and other life-on-life ministry during the week. Apart from perhaps a brief window on Sundays, they're essentially inaccessible.

"It's never okay to have a non-shepherding pastor," J. D. Greear insists, since you "can't separate those roles [shepherd and pastor] God has joined together." Nevertheless, the pastor of North Carolina's 4,000-plus-member The Summit Church admits, this principle will look different according to context.

"These duties are wed in Scripture," notes Bryan Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. He points to Paul's instructive words: "Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well" (1 Thess. 2:8). Like Greear, though, Chapell admits there will be different "gifts" and "degrees of calling" when it comes to shepherding and proclamation.

"It's good to know your own personality so that you'll be able to work against your weaknesses," adds Mike McKinley, pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia. As an introvert, he's acutely aware that "books are easier to love than people."

Just because you can't pastor everyone doesn't exempt you from pastoring anyone. Indeed, despite the priority of preaching, you won't be "half the preacher you ought to be if you're not individually involved in people's lives."

Watch the full seven-minute video to hear these pastors discuss generational shifts in expectation, the place of preaching, multiplying leaders, and more.

"Non-Shepherding" Pastors from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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Where to Discover Christ in the Old Testament

According to Jesus, the Old Testament is about him (cf. Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39-40, 46). But what does that mean? Is he hiding beneath all 23,000 verses, waiting for interpretive magicians to pull him out—tada!—from under each? As followers of the risen Messiah, how do we read the Old Testament and anticipate Christ in a responsible way?

"We often think of Christ as 'one theme among many' rather than in his central role of tying together the entirety of the Scriptures," observes Reformed Theological Seminary (Washington, D.C.) president Scott Redd in an interview with Mark Mellinger. "We must look for broad patterns which the Old Testament authors highlight—patterns which point beyond themselves to him."

Understanding the unfolding nature of biblical revelation is vital, Redd explains, since the person and work of Christ is progressively revealed over the course of history through all the various genres we encounter in the Old Testament.

Watch the full seven-minute video to hear Redd discuss allegorical interpretation, living in the nation's capital, and more.

Scott Redd from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Restless for More of God: Jennie Allen on Holy Discontent

When we are single, we often desire marriage. Once married, we hope for kids. When the kids come, though they are a blessing, we long for peace and quiet.

Although all of these things (singleness, marriage, kids) are good, we tend to long for something else, no matter the season of life. Even the apostle Paul had to learn to be content in all circumstances. There are also times when, like the preacher of Ecclesiastes notes, we chase and chase for the next big thing like striving after wind. And yet, in other times God stretches us, leading us to make changes in our lives and use the gifts he gave us for the benefit of others.

Jennie_sittingJennie Allen understands the tension between discontentment and pursuing God's calling on ones' life, and she shares her journey in her new book, Restless: Because You Were Made For More. I corresponded with Allen to learn about holy discontent and our longing for more from life.

You write often about surrendering. What might that look like in someone's life?

Surrendering is the laying down of our lives, control, and plans in order to follow Jesus. I am so passionate about this because for so long I missed this, or at least I missed really living this kind of risk-it-all, die-to-self, die-to-control part of following Christ. It turns out that in God's beautiful irony the kind of life we want so badly lays on the other side of death.

The scariest and safest thing I have ever done is to finally and completely surrender my rights—to hand complete control of my life and my dreams over to my God. How it practically plays out involves a thousand little deaths—from forgiving friends who've wronged us, to walking through a cancer diagnosis, to taking initiative for orphans, to fighting those dark sins we just can't seem to beat.

For me, the most common form of surrender is in letting go of playing it safe and starting to risk comfort for God's glory and the good of others.

As you have seen others go through the Restless Project what has been the most significant discovery or change you've seen from someone?

I headed into this study convicted by John Piper's words: "It is possible to waste your life." I wanted to start a corporate discussion on gifts and callings and dreams for God's glory. I was worried that others, just like me, were entangled with fear and distraction and perhaps missing "the good works God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph 2:10). This isn't a quick fix with easy answers. Restless is an exploration of God's story and how our seemingly small stories, gifts, and passions could be a part of that larger story.

It is a wake-up call, a reminder that we are here for just a moment. How we spend that moment has eternal significance. Wanting more out of life is not about a desire to bring more attention to you. It's about wanting to find a way to do more with your life in a form of worship that ultimately brings more glory to God. Just because you desire more out of your life does necessarily mean you are sinfully discontent or denying God's free grace in your life. It is more about embracing a perspective that our creative God has an infinite number of creative plans to make himself known through us, his image bearers, and he provides us opportunities to find joy in experiencing these often-small daily tasks.

Restless follows the life of Joseph in Genesis, and I taught it in Austin last year at my local church. Some of my favorite stories from that time include . . .

My friend Laura connected the suffering of feeling invisible as a young child to a passion to see the invisible suffering people in her world. She recently spent a week beside her homeless friend Linda's hospital bed as Linda went home to meet Jesus. She would say, "I saw how my pain collided with her pain and her need—we all want to be seen."

Bekah connected her love for the other young moms on her block and her passion for exercise and started an early morning bootcamp on her street, which led to coffee dates and deeper relationships.

Karen needed permission and direction to dream. She found deep friends in the journey who are speaking truth to her and giving her space to discover her gifts. She had never had time to think about the unique threads God had given her to make him known.

This isn't a magic formula. It is just sanctification and understanding more fully our part in God's story. Once we understand our new identity as Christians, we should look more closely at our environment and contextualize how it all fits into God's story.

When is restlessness good, and when is it just being discontent? What do you suggest women do when they sense this desire for something else or more?

Great question, because certainly not all feelings of restlessness are from God. Sometimes our feelings of restlessness are a sinful discontentment with the lives we have been given. But there is another type of stirring that feels similar and that I often ignored because I assumed it was sin. No change in our lives or in our world is made without a stirring for something greater—something more.

There is a type of restlessness that grows as we see the emptiness of the American dream and the brevity of our lives. A restlessness to make our lives count and a responsibility to steward all that we have been given for God's glory and other's good.

Restless is not self-analysis for the sake of inner fulfillment, though I believe deeper joy is a byproduct. This is about understanding the story of God and how to play our parts in it, to serve him and his people while we are here. "Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). As we wrestle with how this verse plays out in each of our lives, it takes intention and thought and dreaming and community.

Actually I have seen the sinful discontentment fade in my own life and others as our vision and holy restlessness grows. So long as we are on this earth, we will continue to ache for something bigger, because we were designed for something bigger—something larger and better than ourselves. We are designed for an intimate relationship with God forever. Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."

The Holy Spirit enables us to find that rest and contentment in God, but that doesn't mean we won't long to do more in this life. I believe God often prompts our hearts and motivates us to participate in his unfolding story. There is deep joy and satisfaction in realizing that our insignificant moments often contribute to matters of eternal significance. And even if it proves costly or difficult, it is part of the call on the Christian's life.

You say that we are all made to do great things. How do you encourage women, particularly, not to compare? My great thing may very well be to get my son to school on time and my daughter fed (which you note in your book), while another women's great thing might be to lead a non-profit. Ultimately, we are made to glorify God in all we do. How do we see even our everyday as great things?

We brush against people in checkout lines who will live forever in heaven or hell, and we're all made in the image of God. Try to tell me your life is insignificant. Try to tell me that anything about this life is insignificant.

Your view of your life may be small, but nothing about your life is small. We have souls undone and rebuilt by the Spirit of God. As God surveys this earth, he sees light and darkness. And he sees his light, his Spirit in us, wandering through neighborhoods, offices, schools, Walmarts, playgrounds, and eating breadsticks at Olive Garden.

We are created in the image of God, and the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us! How could we ever be small? Why would we ever waste time comparing when our work is so important and our time so short?

There are no small dreams and no average people. There are no meaningless moments as we go to the gym or cook macaroni or handle shipping orders gone wrong or nurse our babies. If we were sitting across from each other, and you pleaded with me—begged me—to believe you were average, your life is boring, that there is nothing significant to anything you are doing, you could not convince me. You could not. You just may not realize it. The "more" is already built in your everyday life. You just have to see it.

You write that "personal fulfillment is fullest when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves, something for the good of others." How might you apply this to the local church?

Our lives exist within God's unfolding story or redemption in the world. God has given us his church as the vehicle by which we participate with the Christian body within that story. This is the context where we will operate until the return of Jesus—a community of people on mission together helping each other remember God is not pretend, heaven is coming, and we have work to do. This is the church. We won't run far or fast without going deep with the people God has put right around us in our local churches. We need the local church, and through it we are able to serve, grow, be refined, and meet needs.

"One body, many parts" is how Paul describes the church in 1 Corinthians 12:20. God builds us uniquely, issuing different gifts and stories and places and people, then calls us to come together as parts of the whole and to move as one. We live out this great story in our local contexts. The small gets big and the big gets small and together we get to be part of giving people God. How incredible is that?

Reaching Hearts with Hip-Hop

Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins.

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Alex Medina, 28, is the art director at Reach Records and the owner of Stay on Post Productions. Although he and his wife were raised in New York City, they now make their home in Atlanta.

How did you get into the world of hip-hop?

I don't have a musical bone in my body. In fact, no one in my family does. But when we were kids, my sister's friend was a rapper. He once left his two-way pager in my crib, and I saw some of his lyrics. They sparked something in me, and I just started to write. Then my friend Rich Perez and I started making music together. We wrote songs to meet the needs of people in our local church—people who were thinking about suicide, drugs, or whatever. We eventually joined Nicky Cruz Outreach and released an album with their group Truce.

When did you turn from music to art direction?

I've always enjoyed the visual arts and, for a time, I even wanted to be a designer at Pixar. I love Genesis 2:9, which says that God made trees to be "good for food" and "pleasant to the sight." Creation wasn't just about practicality; it was about beauty, too. When our music was working out, though, I set aside graphic design. Now, however, I'm doing less music and more art directing. I'm spending more time in the office than in the studio—although I am excited for the great music I have been able to work on these last few months for Andy Mineo's album Never Land and Lecrae's forthcoming release.

What struggles do you face in your industry?

I wrestle with seeing the success of others and feeling like my values are keeping me from success in certain ways. I could, for example, be more self-promotional or work with popular artists even if I don't think they're creating helpful music. Asaph's words in Psalm 73 resonate with me: "I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." But his heart changes when he goes "into the sanctuary of God." In God's presence, he becomes consumed with the Lord, not himself. That's what I want to do—be self-forgetful. Being in community helps.

Do you consider the music produced by Reach Records as "Christian hip-hop"?

I agree with Greg Thornbury, who recently said, "'Christian' is the greatest of all possible nouns and the lamest of all possible adjectives." So I consider our music as "hip-hop made by Christians," not "Christian hip-hop." The traditional hip-hop culture is pretty misogynistic, prideful, and arrogant. We want to change that. We want to create music from the church, for the culture. Right now, one of our artists is working on an album that's from a Christian worldview, but it's not overtly Christian. We're navigating that, trying to make it accessible to all kinds of people.

Your industry seems to measure success in terms of awards like the Grammys, which air on Sunday. How do you personally measure success?

I'm successful if I'm faithful—faithful to Jesus, my wife, my family, and my local church. I try to work with integrity and honesty, but I leave the results to God. Last year, one of our artists, Lecrae, won Best Gospel Album of the Year at the Grammys. Since 2011, my work has received a great amount of acknowledgement. When public or numerical success come, it's easy for me to think that my efforts have gotten me where I am. But I have to remember that all good gifts come from the Lord and that my identity is found in Christ. Only a strong foundation of faithfulness can weather the storms of prosperity.

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Preventing Sexual Abuse in the Church

Caring for victims of sexual abuse is crucial. But what if it didn't need to come to that? What if we were exercising better preventative care in our churches?

In this roundtable video, Trillia Newbell, Scotty Smith, and Justin Holcomb discuss how churches can more intentionally and effectively preempt abuse.

Education is essential, Newbell suggests, since most people just don't realize the statistics. When child abuse happens, therefore, they're utterly shocked. Moreover, it's vital to equip members with a biblical view of sexuality. "Sometimes the best defense is a good offense," Smith says, "and teaching about the God who designed our delights will help us to be proactive rather than reactive."

Instituting clear policies and procedures is a powerful way of saying We don't put up with this here, adds Holcomb, co-author of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011). "Far from being anti-grace, policies are actually the enactment of grace for our children."

Watch the full seven-minute video to hear the participants consider the role of the pulpit, inter-church collaboration, and more.

How to Prevent Abuse from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Let's Talk About . . . You-Know-What

Excuse me, are you glorifying God with your sex?

That's the incendiary question on the table in Denny Burk's What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway), a new book that traverses delicate territory, to say the least. In it, Burk seeks to bring a Christian worldview to bear on current hot-button issues ranging from gender to homosexuality, singleness to marriage, birth control to intercourse. Rooted in Scripture and written for us sinners, this readable and relevant work engages a confused culture—and many confused Christians—with a God-exalting, joy-inducing vision of human sexuality.

I talked with Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College and prolific blogger, about where this debate is heading, whether pro-life Christians should use the pill, what God thinks of singleness, and more.

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Debates over sexuality aren't new in the church. They've been dividing Christians for as long as any of us can remember. What can Bible-believing Christians say that's new or likely to persuade long-time antagonists? And where do you see these debates headed in the coming years?

The sexual revolutionaries have indeed been long-time antagonists of Christian sexual morality. I think, however, that the challenge is becoming more acute in recent years because of the normalization of homosexuality. Christians are under enormous social pressure to revise the Bible's teaching on the definition of marriage, and there are many so-called Christians who have been willing to accommodate the spirit of the age. But this kind of sellout is not an option for true disciples of Jesus.

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Where are these debates headed in coming years? I think 21st-century American Christians need prepare for a new reality. The so-called "silent majority" of those who hold to traditional sexual mores is no more. Our views on marriage and sexuality draw a sharp contrast with a culture that has imbibed deeply of the sexual revolution. Christian need to embrace their calling to be a counterculture—to bear witness to an increasingly hostile culture. The Lord Jesus calls us to be in the world not of the world for the sake of the world (John 17:15-21).

Do you think pro-life Christians should avoid using oral contraceptives?

The question of contraception for unmarried Christians is pre-empted by the Bible's prohibition on fornication (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:18). The Christian sexual ethic boils down to chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within it. Those pursuing chastity have no use for oral contraception.

Having said that, there's great debate among some evangelicals about whether married couples are free to use hormone-based contraceptives. Our Roman Catholic friends believe each and every sexual act must be equally procreative in intent. Most evangelicals disagree with this position on biblical grounds, and so the primary issue for us is whether hormone-based contraceptives are truly contraceptive. Are there cases in which birth control pills cause the destruction of a human embryo? Some Christians say yes, while others say no.

FDA-approved labels for hormone-based contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills) indicate that these pills work through three mechanisms of action. The first is to prevent ovulation (a contraceptive mechanism). The second is to thicken cervical mucus, thereby making it difficult for sperm to pass through (also a contraceptive mechanism). The third is to inhibit the uterine lining, thereby preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus (an abortifacient mechanism). This third mechanism has caused controversy.

A number of pro-life Christians believe the existence of this third mechanism for the pill is inconclusive. Others claim the third mechanism is in play when women use it. My personal view is that if there's any chance at all the third mechanism comes into play, then pro-life Christians cannot legitimately make use of such technologies.

How helpful are heterosexual marriage arguments rooted in natural law (e.g., the recent book What Is Marriage?)? What are the benefits and drawbacks to this approach?

Natural law arguments are good and helpful. They're based on a teleological approach to ethics, and that's the approach I advocate in my book. God's intention for our sexuality has been clearly revealed through how we have been made. It's obvious, for example, that our biology reveals a heterosexual, procreative purpose for our sexuality. Natural law draws attention to this truth and draws rational implications from this truth that are publically assessable even to those who don't otherwise share our Christian commitment.

Nevertheless, faithful Christians should understand the limits of natural law approaches. Natural law is good so far as it goes. But some truths we proclaim about sexuality aren't apparent to fallen minds through natural law alone. This is why we need to comprehend special revelation as well as natural revelation in framing a sexual ethic.

A case in point is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. In this text, Paul's understanding of natural law is constrained by Scripture and the gospel. Paul wasn't the only one with a teleological understanding of the body. The Corinthians had a teleology as well. They observed the sexual complementarity of male and female bodies and construed from that observation that sex was the purpose of the body. Yet they wrongly concluded that frequent trysts with prostitutes were a legitimate way to use the body according to its purpose. They concluded that just as food is made for stomachs, so also male and female bodies are made for sex.

Here we see the limitations of applying reason to natural revelation. The fallen mind doesn't always make the correct ethical judgments based on observation of nature alone. And that is why teleology and reason are ultimately subject to the witness of Scripture. Paul doesn't refute the obvious sexual complementarity of male and female bodies. Rather, he quotes from Genesis 2:24 to show that promiscuity isn't part of God's design for sex. He also argues on the basis of the gospel that the body isn't for immorality, but for the Lord Jesus who promises to raise and renew physical bodies. Paul does this by quoting Scripture (Gen. 2:24), and by reasserting the gospel truth that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead so also will he raise up believers to blessedness (1 Cor. 6:14).

You describe marriage as a covenantal, sexual, procreative, heterosexual, monogamous, nonincestuous, gospel-symbolizing union. Does the inclusion of "procreative" as a constitutive category risk invalidating, or at least minimizing, marriages of infertile couples or those incapable of sex?

No. The heterosexual purpose of message is not diminished by the results of the fall—which sometimes means that couples must walk the difficult road of infertility. Infertility is known in the scriptures (e.g., Gen. 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Judg. 13:2). Still, infertility is never presented as invalidating God's purposes for the conjugal bond. Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here. The fact that some people are born blind does not invalidate the fact that eyes are created by God for seeing. Blindness is a testimony to the tragic aftermath of living under the curse (Rom. 8:20), not an indication that other people's eyes are no longer meant to see.

In the name of promoting a high view of marriage some complementarians have at times communicated, even if by implication, a low view of singleness. What is the purpose for gender and sexuality outside of marriage?

Jesus and Paul both commend by example and by teaching the nobility of the single life. It is not a second-class mode of existence. Indeed, it's the life that the Lord Jesus chose for himself. It's also the life he sometimes chooses for his disciples as well. This is why Jesus says, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given" (Matt. 19:11). The Lord gives this gift to a select few, and it allows them to leverage their lives for the sake of his kingdom (1 Cor. 7:32). This is a remarkably high calling, and every Christian and every church should recognize it as such.

Singles who have an abiding desire for the joys of conjugal life should pursue marriage. Even though the culture increasingly favors delaying marriage well into the late 20s, Christians who wish to marry should probably consider early marriage as a means to chastity and adulthood. Nevertheless, for as long as God allows a person to remain single, he or she must remain sexually pure. That means abstaining from all sexual activity outside of marriage, including solo sex and the use of pornography. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from fornication" (1 Thess. 4:3).