Tag Archives: Bible

R-Rated Texts for an R-Rated World

I don't know how you set the parental controls on your cable TV. I don't even have cable, but if I did, I'd filter certain episodes to protect my three sons. Of course, we could similarly restrict some scriptural episodes due to explicit content not suitable for all audiences. Maybe that's one reason many churches censor parts of the Bible for being too crass, violent, or sexual.

Who wants to hear the sex laws of Leviticus 18 at 11 a.m. on Sunday while sitting next to your mom? Or what mom wishes to cradle her newborn as she listens to Psalm 137 bless those who dash their enemies' babies on the rocks? And what teenage girl desires to sit next to pubescent boys as she hears how Abraham circumcised his whole house in Genesis 17? What kind of church would preach this stuff?

My church has preached each of these texts over the past few years, and I want to encourage you to do the same. Why? Because I believe Christians and non-Christians alike need these R-rated texts to make sense of their R-rated world.

Christians Need R-Rated Texts

God's Word is entirely sufficient to equip Christians for "every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17). Whole believers need the whole Bible. But the principle of sola Scriptura ought to drive the vision not just for our personal quiet times, but also for our corporate gatherings. As a pastor, who am I to suppress the parts of Scripture that cause me to tremble a bit as I read them publicly? What if I'm concealing the exact words God would use to incite revival in my church? What if hiding these texts is actually creating a people so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good?

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I've been struck time and again by the responses of the children of light to the darkest parts of Scripture. Initially, the congregation becomes restless with the horrors of sin and eager for some glimmer of hope. Then, as I unveil Jesus in the sermon, it feels like he's being unleashed on the darkness. The hearts of saints rejoice as they see their Savior once again entering the shadow of death as a flash of brilliant, unstoppable, conquering light.

Non-Christians Need R-Rated Texts  

While edifying believers is our primary goal in corporate worship, we must strategically and passionately engage non-Christians as well. Have you considered that unbelievers might need the texts we're most hesitant to teach?

For example, if we avoid sexually explicit texts, how will the girl who's broken and bitter at God for being raped know he hates sexual sin even more than she does? Where will she hear of the redemption and restoration the gospel delivers or that a healthy sexual relationship with her spouse is possible? That's why I'm no longer surprised when new believers join our church and vocalize their appreciation for preaching that moves through whole books of the Bible.

I think Sunday morning boredom often results from sermons that aren't as gritty as our lives---or the Bible. God gave us R-rated texts because we live in an R-rated world. Think about it. It's hard to relate to Abraham, David, or Paul if you imagine them as spiritual Supermen living in a world without kryptonite. But a closer look at these heroes of faith reveals lives riddled with dark sins---stories that dare me to hope that if God can work through them, then maybe he can work through me. Pausing to reflect on the horrific failures of God's men excites us to look for God's man---Jesus Christ.

6 Tips for Preaching R-Rated Texts to an R-Rated World

To be sure, preaching R-rated texts is tough. I've experienced the pain of people walking out during difficult sermons. I've felt the sweet sting of brotherly correction over botched attempts. So let me invite you to learn from my failures with six suggestions for preaching these passages.

1. Be sensitive to cultural expectations of the congregation.

This caution is especially true as a newer pastor. You probably shouldn't preach about dashing babies on the rocks on Mother's Day.

2. Preach expositionally.

A complete series on unnerving texts sounds weird. Sure, I've thought about ways to do it. But people are less likely to think the pastor's a creeper if they understand your larger motivation is to preach the whole Bible---even when it's hard.

3. Label parental advisories clearly.

Parents hold different perspectives on what they want their children exposed to, and I think that's okay. At our church we print sermon cards months in advance so people can know what's coming. We also have a pastor warn parents of explicit content prior to the sermon. If you don't have a children's program during your service, you may want to organize something special for that day.

4. Call a spade a spade.

People need to know gross sins are gross. They also need to know why they are gross and how they mangle a human identity meant to image our Creator God. A world that revels in spiritual disfigurement needs to hear that gross sin is gross because it mars the intrinsic value with which God has endowed all of us.

5. Don't diminish grace.

I'm familiar with Monday morning discouragement over Sunday's failure to communicate grace. In fact, the same grace I failed to preach gets me out of bed those mornings. Friends, put your back into preaching grace. Don't preach Leviticus 18 saying, "Look at these nasty sexual sins. Moses lists these sins because this is what they were doing. Things haven't changed much, huh? Oh well. Stock up on water and crackers. Build a bunker. Stop sinning. Amen." Don't be surprised by the Israel-like horrors lurking behind the veneers of smiling faces in your congregation. They're desperate for grace to meet them in the specific sins showcased in Scripture. If we diminish sin's severity, we diminish Christ's provision. But if we shine light on gross sins while leaving Christ in the dark, we've failed as ministers of the gospel. It would be better if we didn't preach at all.

6. Avoid false hope.

The question isn't if but when justice will ultimately arrive. God fights for justice. Justice finally wins. Any progress we make in alleviating injustice in this world pales in light of the justice that will arrive when Christ returns. A healthy doctrine of Christian suffering, then, helps to counterbalance any over-realized eschatology that would erect unrealistic expectations for ushering in the justice only Christ can.

If you preach the whole Bible publicly, expect conflict. People will still walk out. But when done prayerfully and thoughtfully, expect it to bring life from death and light to the darkest places.

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I Love My Black Letter Bible

With the way some Christians talk, you might be forgiven for wondering why the canon includes more than four books. Sure, the Old Testament is useful in tracing the development of human reflection on the divine, and the New Testament in conveying the thoughts of some of Jesus' earliest followers. But if you really want to know what God thinks about something, you hear today, you'll need consult the recorded thoughts of Jesus. And if you want to do that, you'll need to stick to the "red letters." In other words, flip to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (or that less traversed terrain, Revelation 2-3) and stay put.

To be sure, I understand the impulse. It makes some sense in light of the differences between the sinless Son of God (on display in the Gospels) and the bona fide sinners who penned most of the rest of New Testament (unbelieving James and Jude, denying Peter, blaspheming Paul, and so on). Dubious résumés, to say the least.

Nevertheless, Christians have always recognized the God-breathed character of their words. The miracle of inspiration means the whole Bible is the voice of God. While central and foundational, the fourfold Gospel witness is no more true or reliable or relevant or binding than the black letters that precede and follow. Indeed, when we treat the red letters more seriously than the black ones, we muzzle the Son who speaks in all of them.

The Pages in Black Fulfill the Promise in Red

It's foolish to downplay the Bible's black-lettered pages if for no other reason than they're fulfilling a red-lettered promise. Consider Jesus' words to his apostles:

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I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15, emphasis added)

Now ponder the words of Paul:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12, emphasis added)

Did you catch the parallel? Christ's promise finds fulfillment in Paul's teaching. The ministry of the Savior marches on in the ministry of the apostle. Jesus said that he had more to say. He promised further revelation of truth to his apostles through his Spirit. Paul is just Exhibit A.

As John Murray put it:

Prior to his ascension, Christ's teaching was directly by word of mouth. But afterward he taught by a different mode . . . by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers. The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus' ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh. How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus' spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture. The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension. . . . The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus' own speaking. (Collected Writings, Vol. 1, 40)

The apostle Peter goes so far as to say the prophetic word of Scripture is a revelation "more sure" than even Christ himself in transfigured glory (2 Pet. 1:19). That's a stunning claim! He then exhorts us to recall the "commandment of our Lord and Savior through [the] apostles" (2 Pet. 3:2; cf. Acts 2:42). No wonder Paul enjoins his protégé to heed the "sound words you have heard from me" (2 Tim. 1:13) with no less urgency than the "sound words of our Lord Jesus" (1 Tim. 6:3). Or elsewhere claim his instructions are "the Lord's command" (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:15) imbued with heaven's authority (2 Thess. 3:14).

When I write, the result is a tweet or a blog post. When Paul wrote, the result was holy Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16).

Is the church's authorized foundation, then, Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11) or the Bible (Eph. 2:20)? Yes.

The Word of God: Jesus or Scripture?

Another related mistake is the popular tendency to imply that since Jesus is the Word of God, Scripture must be something else. But once again this is a false dilemma. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God's Word (e.g., John 1:1-2; Heb. 1:1-2; Rev. 19:13) and that it is God's Word (e.g., John 10:35; Acts 17:11; Heb. 4:12; 13:7). The urge to wrest an "either/or" out of a "both/and" smells more of Enlightenment rationalism than biblical Christianity. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

As Kevin DeYoung observes:

God's gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated Word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out Word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.

Diminishing the integrity of the Word inscripturate in the name of upholding the integrity of the Word incarnate is, ironically enough, the quickest way to domesticate and diminish him.

Jesus Blinders

I recently heard a remark that only in Jesus do we see God "as he is." While this statement may sound profound and even have a ring of truth—Christ is the "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3) and the point of the biblical story (Luke 24:27, 44)—it is finally misleading since it does not reveal the whole picture. The Lord's self-disclosure was not exhausted by the Son's earthly life. Jesus' appearing neither nullified the revelation that came before (Matt. 5:17-18) nor rendered redundant the revelation that followed after (John 16:12-15).

On the surface, "Jesus shows us what God is really like" language appears pious and even Jesus-exalting. In reality, it betrays a tragically truncated view of the Jesus of the Bible. We see God "as he is" by gazing with the eyes of faith on the pages of his Word—all of them.

One day, our faith will vanish into sight, and we will at last behold the king in his beauty. Until then, however, we live and move and have our being in the age of the ear. "For now," Augustine taught 1,500 years ago, "treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence."

If you love Jesus, you'll love his voice wherever it appears—even in the black letters.

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."

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20 Quotes from DeYoung's Taking God at His Word

The following 20 quotes caught my attention as I read Kevin DeYoung's tremendous forthcoming book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway), now available for pre-order. Thanks to Tony Reinke for inspiring the 20 quotes idea.

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"Surely it is significant that this intricate, finely crafted, single-minded love poem—the longest in the Bible—is not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself. . . . Psalm 119 is the explosion of praise made possible by an orthodox and evangelical doctrine of Scripture." (10, 14)

"As the people of God, we believe the word of God can be trusted in every way to speak what is true, command what is right, and provide us with what is good." (16)

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"No one who truly delights in God's word will be indifferent to the disregarding of it." (18)

"There is no calamity like the silence of God." (19)

"The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. . . . May God give us ears, for we all need to hear the word of God more than God needs any of us to defend it." (22-23)

"The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ mean our Savior must have sinned." (35)

"Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool's errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine is at the heart of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God's word is to commit the sin of unbelief. . . . Finding a halfway house where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible's own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet." (37-38)

"You can think too highly of your interpretations of Scripture, but you cannot think too highly of Scripture's interpretation of itself. You can exaggerate your authority in handling the Scriptures, but you cannot exaggerate the Scriptures' authority to handle you. You can use the word of God to come to wrong conclusions, but you cannot find any wrong conclusions in the word of God." (39-40)

"Of the four attributes of Scripture, [sufficiency] may be the one that evangelicals forget first. If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians." (43)

"The finality of Christ's redemption for us is intimately tied to the finality of his revelation to us. . . . If we say revelation is not complete, we must admit that somehow the work of redemption also remains unfinished. . . . Scripture is enough because the work of Christ is enough. They stand or fall together." (44, 48-49)

"If we learn to read the Bible down (into our hearts), across (the plot line of Scripture), out (to the end of the story), and up (to the glory of God in the face of Christ), we will find that every bit of Scripture is profitable for us." (52)

"Nowhere do Jesus or the apostles ever treat the Old Testament as human reflections on the divine. It is instead the voice of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25; Heb. 3:7) and God's own breath (2 Tim. 3:16)." (64)

"Counselors can counsel meaningfully because Scripture is sufficient. Bible study leaders can lead confidently because Scripture is clear. Preachers can preach with boldness because their biblical text is authoritative. And evangelists can evangelize with urgency because Scripture is necessary." (90)

"Our Messiah sees himself as an expositor of Scripture, but never a corrector of Scripture. He fulfills it, but never falsifies it. He turns away wrong interpretations of Scripture, but insists there is nothing wrong with Scripture, down to the crossing of t's and dotting of i's." (100)

"In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zerephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history." (102)

"Jesus may have seen himself as the focal point of Scripture, but never as a judge of it. The only Jesus who stands above Scripture is the Jesus of our own invention. . . . It is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did." (105)

"The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this 'red letter' nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important words in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. . . . If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus." (116-17)

"No one succeeds at the highest level in sports without working out. No one makes it in music without lots of practice. No one excels in scholarship without years of study. And no one makes it far in the school of holiness without hours and days and years in the word." (119)

"In a world that prizes the new, the progressive, and the evolved, we need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And since he remains the same, so does his truth. Which means sometimes consistency is the better part of valor." (120)

"Ultimately we believe the Bible because we believe in the power and wisdom and goodness and truthfulness of the God whose authority and veracity cannot be separated from the Bible. We trust the Bible because it is God's Bible. And God being God, we have every reason to take him at his word." (122)

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You Asked: Does God Harden a Believer's Heart?

Editors' note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to ask@thegospelcoalition.org along with your full name, city, and state. We'll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition's Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

An anonymous commenter asked:

What does it mean that God hardens human hearts? And will he do that to a believer?

We posed the question to Tony Reinke, content strategist for DesiringGod.org in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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hard-heartThis is a serious and important two-part question, but it is really six questions in disguise. Though human speculation could not touch it with a javelin pole, God's revelation helps to unfold the answer. None of us is made modest by tiptoeing past this question if the Bible offers us answers.

I'll try to unfold the six questions and answer them briefly in this (woefully short) article.

1. What is a hard heart?

A hard heart is an obstinate and calloused heart that fails to respond to God or obey him. A hard heart is blind to the precious value of the gospel and refuses to embrace Christ (Rom. 11:8). Most precariously, a hard heart is synonymous with spiritual ignorance and alienation from God (Eph. 4:18).

2. But does God actively harden the hearts of sinners? And if so, why?

Without question, the answer is yes, he does. The Bible speaks of God's active agency in hardening hearts with unmistakable bluntness.

Maybe the clearest example is Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. God hardened his heart in obstinacy on purpose. "Not once in Exodus 4-14 is the assertion of God's hardening of Pharaoh grounded in any attitude or act of Pharaoh. Instead, again and again the reason given for the hardening is God's purpose to demonstrate his power and magnify his name," as Paul explains in Romans 9:17 (John Piper, The Justification of God, 174).

We find another example in John 12:36-43, showing Jesus unmistakably connecting unbelief in his day with the hardening of God. But before we go much further it's vital to hear four key qualifications from D. A. Carson on this text:

If a superficial reading finds this harsh, manipulative, even robotic, four things must constantly be borne in mind:

(1) God's sovereignty in these matters is never pitted against human responsibility;

(2) God's judicial hardening is not presented as the capricious manipulation of an arbitrary potentate cursing morally neutral or even morally pure beings, but as a holy condemnation of a guilty people who are condemned to do and be what they themselves have chosen;

(3) God's sovereignty in these matters can also be a cause for hope, for if he is not sovereign in these areas there is little point in petitioning him for help, while if he is sovereign the anguished pleas of the prophet (Is. 63:15-19)—and of believers throughout the history of the church—make sense;

(4) God's sovereign hardening of the people in Isaiah's day, his commissioning of Isaiah to apparently fruitless ministry, is a stage in God's "strange work" (Is. 28:21-22) that brings God's ultimate redemptive purposes to pass. [Carson, John, 448-9]

God has his ways and his prerogatives in divine hardening, and those prerogatives are just and right (Rom. 9:14-24).

At the same time, a hardened heart always reflects the willful, self-hardening, and rejection of God by the sinner (Rom. 1:26-28). Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15). God also hardened Pharaoh's heart (Ex. 7:3) for God to display his wrath and power.

But this answer raises another question: is the hardening work of God now passed? Was it only a stage in redemptive history to bring out the cross and the ingathering of Gentiles? Or, to ask the question another way:

3. Does God harden Gentile hearts, and does he still harden hearts today?

Further evidence in the epistles leads me to answer yes and yes. We know God's hardening will one day manifest in the Gentile world on earth at a future point leading up to the return of Christ (2 Thess. 2:1-12).

But even more tangibly, the hardening of God is made manifest in two ways: in the continued rejection of the Messiah by ethnic Israel (Rom. 9-11), and in the celebration of homosexual sin by Gentiles (Rom. 1:26-28). In both cases, broadly speaking, God's hardening is made visible to modern eyes.

4. So whose hearts are hardened?

As the New Testament makes clear, the whole world is ultimately divided into two groups, the gospel-embracers and the gospel-rejecters, or more specifically, the elect and the non-elect. In the end, these categories divide the entire population. There are vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath (Rom. 2:5). There are "elect" and there are "the rest" (Rom. 11:7). God "has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills," and those two categories cover all human beings. The hardened in this passage include a Gentile Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17-18).

Taking this point even further, based on the contrast in Romans 11:7, I believe we can say every one of the non-elect will experience God's active hardening at some point, to be shut up in a condition that excludes one from salvation. God's hardening is a feature of his activity with the "vessels of wrath."

5. So does God harden the heart of a believer?

Now we get to the main question, one where even Reformed theologians seem to disagree. Some say yes, God could harden the heart of the pre-converted elect in their sin but then reverse that hardening later in regeneration. The case of David is cited as an episode where a child of God may have experienced a circumstantial divine hardening (2 Sam. 24:1).

And this possibility raises questions about what ultimately happened to Pharaoh. Did he convert after the Exodus? Possibly, but this would seem to contradict Paul's use of Pharaoh as an example in his discussion of election in Romans 9-11. It seems more likely that Paul uses Pharaoh as an example of a "vessel of wrath" who was never converted.

But I think the best answer to this question is no, because in the argument of Romans, God's act of hardening is permanent. As one commentator puts it:

It is unlikely that the hardening to which Paul refers is reversible (Rom. 9:18, 21-23; 11:1-10). One is the object either of God's mercy or of his hardening (9:18), and there is not the slightest hint in 9:21-23 that the vessels of wrath may become vessels of mercy. Instead, Paul argues that the vessels of mercy will appreciate God's mercy when they see his just anger inflicted upon the vessels of wrath. (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 618)

Based on Romans, it seems best to say God hardens only the vessels of wrath (non-elect), never the hearts of the vessels of mercy (elect), either before, or after, conversion. God's hardening of a heart is a judicial act that is never overturned. Therefore I think it's best to say, no, the true believer is never the object of God's hardening.

6. But has my heart been hardened?

Often this question comes from Christians suffering spiritual numbness in their heart. They don't feel joy in God like they want, or like they did before. Their Bible reading plan is less fruitful on a daily basis than they desire. But all believers feel and lament this sort of coldness in their hearts. All believers struggle with occasional callousness in their affections—but this feeling is not the same thing as a hard heart. A truly hard heart cannot feel or lament its own hardness, and there's the key difference.

Hardness of heart leads the non-elect to feel increasing confident in their sin; hardness of heart in the redeemed makes us feel weak and needy.

So how do you know if God has hardened your heart? Well, have you hardened your heart to God (Heb. 3:7-19)? The beauty of God's divine drama is that we don't immediately know who is a vessel of mercy and who is a God-hardened vessel of wrath. The Jewish man who currently rejects Christ may eventually come to faith in Christ by an act of God's sovereign grace overriding his self-hardened heart. And the practicing homosexual sinner may turn from her sins and live by an act of God's sovereign grace overriding her self-hardened heart.

This is why gospel preaching is so amazing. We offer the gospel to all. We let the gospel-lion out of its cage to do its work in separating sheep from goats, vessels of mercy from vessels of wrath. "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (non-elect), but to us who are being saved (elect) it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

In the end, each of us must answer one question above all regarding the condition of our heart: Do I embrace Jesus Christ as the greatest treasure in the universe?

The Danger of Forgetting How to Read the Bible

In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I've been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.

young man reading small bibleOnce again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I'm liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul's admonition: "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.

But how can we repent quickly and keep from hardening ourselves to God's voice as he calls us back to himself?

Leaders stumble for many reasons, and while I could argue that a zealous seminarian has little in common with a vain or depressed middle-aged leader, there is at least one common thread: My peers and my students can both stop reading the Bible as we should.

Technical and Devotional

A new Christian's Scripture reading tends to be naïve and devotional. New disciples devour Scripture, underlining word after word in their new Bibles. We often feel that God is speaking directly to us in every word.

After a few years, a budding leader's reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. We still feel that God speaks to us in the text, but as we learn basic principles of interpretation, we increasingly give our attention to Scripture's literary, cultural, and historical contexts. We own and use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. We know the translation strategies of competing Bible versions and begin to use that knowledge to get at the original text.

Most future church leaders go to seminary, where we become technical readers. We read Greek and Hebrew and consult scholarly sources. We respect the distance between our world and that of Scripture. Zeal to describe biblical history and theology grows. As we pursue what the word originally meant, we are tempted to neglect what it means today, to us.

When students become interns at a local church they remember that study should edify the church. We continue to read technically, but now we share our findings with others. We become technical-functional readers. Our reading may still be detached, personally speaking, but we store and organize our discoveries so we can offer them to others. While this phase may help us rediscover the proper use of Scripture, we may still be professional readers. We can present God's truth to others, while blocking his word to us.

Student and pastors need, therefore, to become technical, devotional readers. Here every exegetical skill remains, yet we also read like children, letting the word speak to our hearts again. We can find what Paul Ricoeur called a "second naiveté." We are both technically astute and spiritually receptive. Our study lets us to explain and apply God's Word to the church and to ourselves. Then we hear God's Word, so it does its work in us once again, so we purify our hearts, cleanse our hands, and walk in the ways of the Lord.

A Bible Reading Plan for Readers

With the new year approaching, prepare yourself for the onslaught of Bible reading advice. "Slow down." "Savor the Scripture." "Whatever your plan, stick to it for the whole year."

Such advice sounds good for those who prefer Peter Jackson to J. R. R. Tolkien or who would choose a locally anaesthetized lobotomy over any sort of reading assignment. Non-readers show courageous faith when they commit to regular patterns of Bible reading at predictable intervals, and I laud their desire to draw closer to the Lord.

But what about those of us who enjoy reading? Why limit ourselves to a few chapters (or a few verses) 10 minutes a day?

Perhaps you were one of the geniuses who devoured Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows within two weeks of its publication. Maybe a Kindle deal puts a spring in your step. You always have one or more books going, and you have to set boundaries so blogs don't take over your life.

You, like the non-readers mentioned above, love the Bible as God's Word. And you think following Jesus is more than a passing fad. You love to read, and the Bible is a book.

Here's my advice: Read the Bible.

Go for It

Just go for it. Read all of it. Read the Bible like you would watch the Olympics. Delightfully. Astoundingly. In large doses over a few weeks. As though your hope of world peace depends on it. With an eye to the spectacular drama.

I dare you to read the entire Bible this year, and to read it as fast as you can.

I've done it for three years now, and I plan to keep doing it. My practice has been to drop all recreational reading (fiction, non-fiction, magazines) on January 1, at which point I read nothing but the Bible until I've finished it. My goal is to finish more quickly than I finished the previous year, or by all means to beat the first day of spring. (After that point, I don't set the Bible aside but reinstitute a more measured pace and reintroduce other books into my literary diet.)

For each year's sprint, I've read a different translation. I've used a different reading sequence (chronological, historical, canonical). I use a mobile-compatible app—I like YouVersion—so I can read anywhere at any time and be able to pick up where I left off.

To be clear, the kind of reading I suggest is not mindless but voluminous, and for a season. The Bible expects us to read meditatively (Pss. 1:2, 119:97, etc.), and while meditation may involve a small chunk of text read at a slow pace, it doesn't have to. Just as we can meditate on nibbles, so we can meditate on gobbles.

For example, upon reading Deuteronomy in one or two sittings I'm floored by the absolute necessity but innate impossibility of worshiping Yahweh as the only true God. This theme saturates the entire book, and for months after reading it I'm driven to meditate on both my need for a new heart and also my hope of glory, Christ in me (Col. 1:27).

Happier with Him

I don't perform this annual romp through Scripture to make God any happier with me; I do it because it makes me happier with him. It does this in a number of ways.

1. It helps me grasp the overall story of the Bible. Though the Bible contains 66 books written by numerous human authors, it's also one book with one divine author. The story begins well, declines quickly, and builds tension through the Old Testament. It climaxes in Jesus and resolves with much hope. Consuming the whole Bible in a short period of time keeps the big picture prominent.

2. It reminds me the Bible is a work of literature. All year long, I get plenty of time to analyze short passages of Scripture in detail. But for this short season, I loosen my literary inhibitions and succumb to the glory of the most influential book on the market. I saturate myself in the biblical text, frolicking through it like a well-fed dolphin in open water. I learn to see the Bible more as a collection of books than a collection of chapters, and the rhetorical intent of each human author comes alive.

3. It gets me through the difficult parts more easily. Ridiculing books like Leviticus and Chronicles is pretty hip these days. But with a speedy reading plan, they go by quickly and make more sense in light of the whole. Chronicles tells humanity's epic tale from creation to Israel's restoration from exile, and it empowers a new generation to rebuild the nation and re-engage with the Lord. Leviticus shows the wilderness generation how to draw near to God and live in community. A rapid reading plan helps us not to belabor the minutiae, so the "boring" parts of the Bible aren't all that boring.

4. It heightens my anticipation for Christ. When I consume the Old Testament in large gulps, my spirits rise and fall with the fortunes of God's people. And there's more falling than rising, especially in the prophetic books, where oracle upon oracle yields darker condemnation and more violent opposition to the people's social injustice, rebellion, and idolatry. But the promise of a dawning light pushes me on. When I finally hit the transition from "lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction" (Mal. 4:6) to "the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1)—I'm not exaggerating to say my heart sings. The four Gospels blaze pure light like a God-man on a mountaintop, and I delight anew in the hottest piece of work on the planet. There's a reason it's called "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

If you like to read, you won't find a better book than the Holy Bible, the unbreakable Scriptures, the sword of the Spirit, the living and abiding Word of God. Take it for a test drive this year, and see if you don't have the time of your life.

Can an Atheist Make a Good Bible Movie?

For almost as long as the movies have existed, moviemakers have turned to the Bible for inspiration. From the 1903 Pathé production of Samson and Delilah to this year's popular miniseries The Bible, the Good Book has been a fixture on the silver screen and, often, a box office boon. Cecil B. DeMille was perhaps the first filmmaker to recognize the epic scope and inherently cinematic nature of the Bible. Through films like The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), and The Sign of the Cross (1932), he helped pave the way for the genre, which today includes the likes of The Prince of Egypt (1998) and The Passion of the Christ (2004).

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Ridley Scott

Soon to be added to the genre are two films slated for release in 2014: Exodus, starring Christian Bale as Moses and directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator); and Noah, starring Russell Crowe as Noah and directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain). Both films are said to be epic in scope (watch the Noah trailer here) and both feature major Hollywood talent. Christians should be excited, right?

Not so fast. Early Noah test screenings for faith-based audiences produced "worrisome results," according to the Hollywood Reporter. After reportedly seeing the script, Christian screenwriter Brian Godawa wrote that Noah would be "an uninteresting and unbiblical waste of a hundred and fifty million dollars." Little is yet known about Scott's Exodus other than its impressive cast; however, when asked about the film in October by The New York Times, Scott said, "I'm an atheist, which is actually good, because I've got to convince myself the story works."

What does it mean that the director of a movie about a sacred biblical text is himself an avowed atheist? Should that fact alone make Christians question his ability to tell the story well?

Both Exodus and Noah raise interesting questions for Christians about how they respond to films about the Bible when they are made by "secular" filmmakers—filmmakers perhaps more interested in their own aesthetic vision than faith or fidelity to Scripture. Noah's director, Darren Aronofsky, is culturally Jewish and has long been fascinated by the Jewish narrative tradition surrounding stories like Noah's ark. But he's also a boundary-pushing auteur whose last film (Black Swan) was a psychotropic nightmare featuring grisly violence and lesbian sex. No wonder Paramount Pictures is a bit worried that Aronofsky's vision of the Noah story won't connect with evangelicals.

For many Christians who watch films based on Bible stories, the most pressing question is, What'd they get wrong? It's the same phenomenon for hardcore fans of comic books or fantasy novels when those are made into movies. Doubtless the new Hobbit movie will incur the wrath of a million blog rants spelling out each and every thing missed, distorted, or changed from the original.

I'd like to suggest that, whether it's Tolkien or the Old Testament, the more important questions are: Is it a good movie? Does it convey beauty, truth, goodness? Is the filmmaker's vision clear, focused, compelling?

Even if their adaption of a beloved text is less than faithful to the source material, I try to give the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt. If a source text is powerful enough (and the Bible fits that bill I think), it invariably inspires a variety of passionate perspectives and disparate interpretations. Christians should be open to hearing what others see in the text or what various artistic visions it inspires. I like what Peter Chattaway wrote recently in his assessment of Noah's controversies:

[Christians] need to be able to approach each film with a willingness to discern which bits come from the Bible, which bits don't, and how God might be speaking to us through both. Let's hope the studio allows Aronofsky to make his film the way he envisioned it. And let's hope that Christian audiences, instead of demanding a piece of mindless entertainment that leaves their souls untouched, will allow the film to challenge their ideas about faith, love, justice, mercy, stewardship, heroism and all the rest of it—assuming, of course, that the film is good enough to warrant that sort of attention.

Christians assessing Bible films should certainly consider what's "right" or "accurate" in the fact-checking sense. Even more, they should consider whether the films succeed as art that communicates something valuable; art that moves us; art that, in its very beauty, brings glory to God. In the best of both worlds we get films of both quality and accuracy. But given the choice between a mediocre filmmaker committed to accuracy and an exceptional filmmaker committed to beauty, I might be more interested in seeing the latter's version of the Exodus story.

In his book Art for God's Sake, Philip Ryken says this:

The doctrine of creation teaches that by God's common grace, the gift of art inevitably declares the praise of its Giver. Thus non-Christian as well as Christian artists can represent virtue, beauty, and truth. It is important to remember, as Nigel Goodwin has said, that "God in his infinite wisdom did not give all his gifts to Christians."

This is the core of it. Christians need to understand that, through common grace, even the most unregenerate heathen can create something good; something we should take seriously.

As I discuss in my book Gray Matters, the concept of common grace is hugely important in any conversation about Christian appreciation of art. The concept is similar to Calvin's notion of sensus divinitatis (a sense of the divine), the idea that God implanted in each person an inherent understanding of himself that complements the revelation of creation in which God "speaks to us everywhere." Calvin believed that "the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God's excellent gifts" (Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 2, Section 15).

What does this view mean for Christian filmgoers? It means we open our minds to the possibility of truth, beauty, and goodness shining forth in films from even the most secular filmmakers. It means we see other interpretations of biblical history not as threats but as testaments to the enduring wonder of God's story. And it means we should celebrate an excellent movie about Moses or Noah for being excellent, even if it's made by an atheist.

3 Common Ways to Read Scripture

I'm always a little skeptical when I hear people talk about reading Scripture "devotionally" rather than, say, "academically" (or vice versa). Who says we have to choose? I wonder.

But while my false dichotomy radar isn't always bad, I have to remember people are wired differently. Humanity is not a sea of sameness. We aren't clones. In fact, as Christians we are "stewards," Peter says, of God's "varied grace" (1 Pet. 4:10).

It shouldn't surprise me, then, when Christians gravitate to Scripture with slightly different aims. For some, it's easy to approach the Bible with a more "devotional" posture. For others of a more academic bent, though, a studious approach may come more naturally.

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Almost two decades ago, Richard Longenecker wrote an article for Themelios (the entire archives can be accessed for free at TGC) titled "On Reading a New Testament Letter—Devotionally, Homiletically, Academically." In it he outlines three common ways of reading Scripture, pinpointing strengths and dangers particular to each. (Longenecker limits his focus to New Testament letters, but I think his basic rubric applies to the whole of Scripture.)

Longenecker isn't opposed to any one of the three readings—just to there being only one. "My thesis," he explains, "is that each of these ways of reading [is] legitimate in its own right, but that all three must be ultimately brought together for a proper understanding."

Reading Devotionally

The chief focus of devotional reading, Longenecker suggests, is "spiritual direction and edification." And for most of us, this is where it all began.

What enables devotional reading is the clarity and power of God's Word. Consider the myriad groups who disseminate Bibles with the simple conviction that the combination of the Word and the Spirit will bring persons into saving union with Christ. "And the results of their wide distribution," Longenecker observes, "have repeatedly vindicated their confidence."

Among other things, devotional readings remind us that the Holy Spirit isn't shackled to human scholarship. Illumination and regeneration are miracles he accomplishes—often through study aides, yes, but not always. Woe to us if we ever denigrate a devotional approach to God's clear and mighty Word.

Devotional readings aren't immune to pitfalls, however. It's possible, Longenecker observes, to "impose one's own concerns, issues, and ideas onto the text" and so read it as only reflecting some personal situation or confirming some previously held position. Moreover, even when we understand we often hesitate to put into practice what we've read, for "such a response would require a reorientation of life such as we are not prepared to make." We manage to grasp, in other words, but we fail to do (cf. Matt. 7:24-27; John 13:17; James 1:22).

But these dangers by no means invalidate devotional readings, since the Scriptures "feed the Christian soul" and are "the means God uses to give spiritual nourishment to his people." So if you're wired more academically, strive also to grow in reading your Bible devotionally. Sit down, slow down, and implore the Holy Spirit to tenderize your heart to his encouraging (Rom. 15:4), nourishing (Matt. 4:4), reviving (Ps. 19:7), gladdening (Ps. 19:8), convicting (Heb. 4:12), sanctifying (John 17:17), and precious (Ps. 119:127) Word.

The health of your soul depends on it.

Reading Homiletically

If the focus of a devotional reading is edification, the focus of a homiletical reading is proclamation. Careful attention is given to translating, packaging, and applying the passage to a particular audience. Homiletical readers, then, naturally ask questions like, How would I communicate this passage to others? How could I best teach this?

Regardless of how you're wired, to read with a view to proclamation is to read with a view to obedience. The risen Lord Jesus commissioned each of us, after all, to be about the work of teaching (Matt. 28:20; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:3-4).

What perils, though, tend to threaten homiletical readings? Imposing our own organizational structures on a passage instead of letting it speak for itself is a common one. We've all heard preachers, for example, who bury the text beneath their alliteration-happy, rhetorical flourish. Additionally, it can be tempting to search too quickly for contemporary relevance or allow "relevance itself to be the only criterion of truth, so turning Scripture into only a modern commentary on our times." This is but another form of silencing God's Word with our agenda (cf. Prov. 18:13). Finally, reading Scripture "only in terms of what can be proclaimed to others, without feeding devotionally on [the] material for one's own spiritual nourishment" is a typical trap. Homiletical perusals divorced from a devotional posture will, over time, prove spiritually lethal.

Potential snares notwithstanding, however, homiletical readings are vital. "Without proclamation," Longenecker warns, "the Christian and the church becomes stagnant, always taking in but never giving out."

Reading Academically

There's also a third kind of reading—an academic one—that informs the foregoing approaches and can bring believers into "deeper understandings of Scripture and heightened appreciations of their faith." A scuba diver will make discoveries the water skier will never see.

Of course, many dangers threaten to spoil academic readings as well. Longenecker admits "pride of accomplishment, laziness after having to some degree attained, and resting on past laurels without always pushing ahead in the quest for understanding" are perennial dangers for the scholar. It's also easy to become so engrossed in one realm of study that you fail to appreciate insights gained from other areas. This is the risk of specialization. Finally, it's tempting to become so preoccupied with academic readings that you either neglect to read devotionally (thus severing ourselves from spiritual nourishment) or neglect to read homiletically (thus retreating from gospel proclamation).

Helpful Triad

Longenecker's trifold rubric isn't exhaustive, but it does provide useful categories for self-examination. Rather than pit various readings against one another, we should acknowledge our particular leanings, build on our strengths, and grow in our weaknesses. Indeed, whatever our interests or expertise, we as God's people should strive to synthesize these approaches with a view to cultivating a more balanced approach to his precious Word.

Amid our beautiful diversity, may the Lord grant each of us the grace to read and enjoy our Bibles as careful students, faithful teachers, and vibrant followers of King Jesus.

What I Learned from a Tattooed, Cussing—and Now Bestselling—Fundamentalist Outcast

Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber's memoir of her journey from alcoholic comic to Lutheran minister, is a poignant read. Her sarcastic delivery drew me in easily, though I got bogged down a bit in the later chapters of her story. Pastrix tugs at the emotions, especially in the early chapters. Nadia tells about being raised in the Church of Christ, struggling with the physical effects of Graves' disease, walking away from the faith as an angry, bullied kid, then eventually becoming the default spiritual leader of a group of her down-and-out comic friends after one committed suicide.

It feels inappropriate to attempt a traditional review of Nadia's book—picking apart the positive and negative aspects of her life story. However, reading Pastrix did leave me with strong burdens, and I can't write about it without getting into how it affected me. So consider this a non-review review.

I reacted emotionally and spiritually to Pastrix differently than I would to a book with a deliberate agenda aimed at changing my beliefs on certain subjects. Does Nadia have an agenda? Probably. Nevertheless, it's her story, and I can't invalidate her story simply because I have differing convictions. But I can learn from her story about the questions others have and the places they're hurting so that I can minister grace to the next young person working to reconcile similar experiences. Most of all, I want my life and discipleship to draw young people toward receiving Scripture as the trustworthy revelation of God to us. There's a growing group of vocal teachers who find spirituality apart from confidence in the Word, and I am burdened—not so much for them, but for the long line of young people waiting after their presentations for these teachers to sign their books. Many are seeking, and I want to be prepared to meet them in their questions and concerns.

Cradle of Christ

Nadia specifically discusses her beliefs about the Bible when she lists five core doctrines that drew her to her Lutheran pastor's church. My head nodded in strong agreement with four of the five, which articulated both our sin and also God's great grace toward us. But it was the fourth point that struck me:

The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

This analogy has it backwards. The Bible is not Christ's cradle; instead, Christ is the Bible's cradle. He is the lens through which all of the Word makes sense. He is the supporting structure, not the other way around. He is the enfleshed Word—God with us—who holds the key to understanding his written Word. Communicating such truth is one of my deep and heavy burdens. May God help us explain his Word to the next generation of angry, bullied seekers in an accessible way they can understand.

Conservative evangelicals sometimes talk about a war on marriage or a war on orthodox Christianity, but that isn't the foundational issue as I see it. The problem is that people don't understand the Bible—and I mean more than just not understanding specific things it says. People don't understand the overarching story of the Bible itself. Ghandi famously said he liked what he knew of Christ but not what he knew of Christians. But I see an even bigger problem—when people like what they know of Christ but not what they know of Scripture. How can we can know him without confidence in the primary historical document that speaks of him? I've written some about this challenge over the last year (here and here), but my burden has been solidified after reading Pastrix. Believers need to understand the whole of Scripture that they may have confidence in its trustworthiness.

Prove a Point

If you're someone who needs to prove a point or win an argument, I don't recommend reading Pastrix. You'll likely just get frustrated and angry with the perceived misconceptions and illogical jumps in reasoning. But if you like to listen to others—especially those who believe differently than you do—there is much to consider in Pastrix. I gained insight that will be helpful as I have opportunities to disciple young, angry, cynical women. I want to walk with them through their struggle and listen with open ears to the burdens they carry. Nadia's descriptions of her internal battles were helpful to me. If you don't personally resonate with her story, her description may nonetheless be helpful for understanding people who do. She offers remarkable insight into the motivation of a not-quite-atheistic alcoholic comic from a Church of Christ background.

Along with renewing my burden to disciple young believers in the trustworthiness of God's Word, reading Pastrix also reminded me how vital it is for believers to consistently admit their own mistakes and correct wrong teaching or practice. Our politics, personal struggles, and biases tug us away from God's truth, and again and again we must self-correct. We must regularly re-evaluate ourselves in light of the Word, since our hearts are so prone to wander. When angry, alcoholic cynics latch on to our inconsistencies and recognize what's truly sinful, we must lay down defensiveness and make corrections for the sake of the testimony of God's Word.

I identified with a lot of what Nadia wrote—not because I'm a tattooed, cussing fundamentalist outcast, but because I love many who are, and I long to walk with them wisely through their struggle as a good friend who points them to Christ and the trustworthiness of his Word. All of Scripture points to Jesus, and Jesus points to all of Scripture. He didn't come to rip apart the Old Testament but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). He affirms every jot and tittle, even while showing how little of it we can understand until we see it through the lens of himself. May we love the Word as he did and disciple others in the same way.