Homosexuality, the Bible, 1946 and all that

I’m just going to say it, no holds barred:  one of the shallowest objections to traditional Christian sexual ethics is that “the Bible didn’t even use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.”  I’m gobsmacked that people actually get taken in by this special sort of tomfoolery.  I know a lot has been written on this canard already, but it can only aid the cause of truth to get one more voice sharing the facts.

Here’s the thing:  it doesn’t matter that the Bible didn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ until 1946.  The point is completely irrelevant.  Let me illustrate with other phenomena.  Consider:

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘evolution.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about Darwinian macro-evolution?

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘transgender.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about the transgender ideology?

No Bible translation has ever used the word ‘racism.’  Does it follow that the Bible has nothing to say about that?

Christians understand that the Bible’s relevance is not bound up with the use of an exact word.  It would be juvenile to take a word designating a topic (any topic), check an online concordance and, failing to find the word mentioned, conclude that the Bible has nothing to say on that topic.  The classic example is the Trinity.  Imagine someone checking a concordance for any mention of the word ‘Trinity’ in the Bible and, not finding it there, concluding that the doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible.  No, the word isn’t there, but the concept or doctrine certainly is.  Christians realize that, to do the Bible justice, we have to take the totality of its witness — that goes far beyond the usage of individual words.

Language is always in flux.  During our family worship, we take turns reading from the Bible.  My wife and kids read from the ESV while I read from the KJV.  I’m always surprised at how words change over the centuries.  For example, the KJV uses the word ‘corn’ in several places.  When we think of ‘corn,’ we think of the crop developed from maize.  It’s a New World crop — it didn’t grow in Israel in biblical times.  However, the KJV simply used the word ‘corn’ to describe any type of grain.  The English language has changed and Bible translations change with it.  Today there’s no corn in modern English translations.

While language changes, biblical truth does not.  Bible-believing Christians didn’t suddenly start seeing homosexuality as a problem in 1946.  Nor did Bible-believing Christians wake up one morning in 1946 and decide that they needed to have a Bible translation that supported their views.  History matters and history testifies that Bible-believing Christians have consistently maintained that homosexuality is contrary to God’s will for humanity.  Let me give two examples to illustrate.

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563 for the teaching of children in the German-speaking region known as the Palatinate.  Lord’s Day 41 deals with the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.”  Someone might read Lord’s Day 41 and note that it makes no mention of homosexuality.  But you shouldn’t conclude that Reformed churches therefore have no problem with homosexuality.  Answer 109 says that God “forbids all unchaste acts.”  One of the biblical proof-texts is 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, a passage which has traditionally been understood to refer, in part, to homosexual behaviour.  Zacharias Ursinus was the main author of the Catechism and he wrote a commentary on it — actually lectures to his seminary students.  While the Catechism addressed to children understandably avoids this subject, his commentary definitely discusses homosexuality.  He speaks of it as being “contrary to nature.”  Homosexuality, according to Ursinus, is a heinous sin and an abominable transgression.  True, he doesn’t use the word ‘homosexuality’ — he couldn’t because it didn’t exist yet!  Nevertheless, the concept is there.

You can see the exact same thing in John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 1:26-27.  Again, Calvin doesn’t use the word ‘homosexual’ and neither should you expect him to.   Yet he still speaks of “the dreadful crime of unnatural lust” and of a “filthiness which even brute beasts abhor.”  Calvin found what we call ‘homosexuality’ to be contrary to God’s will, even though he didn’t use the word itself.  Were he alive today, he would no doubt find it ludicrous that some would argue that the Bible has anything other than condemnation for such things.

What Christians need to learn today is another important word:  revisionism.  In an effort to make homosexuality acceptable to Christians, progressive sorts are constantly trying to revise our theology and history.  This revisionism ought to be self-evidently anti-biblical.  In other words, it isn’t true to the Scriptures.  However, it can appeal to those who, for whatever reason, wish for a happy union between Christianity and homosexuality.  It appeals to those who think:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if our Christianity wasn’t so counter-cultural?”  Yet:  let no one join together what God has put asunder.

Out of the Ordinary

So this morning we woke up to snow on the ground here in Launceston!  This is the first time it’s snowed in our five years here so far.  To put this in context, we live not much above sea level — some of Launceston is really close to sea level; our home is about 130 meters/426 feet above.  Launceston is about 41 degrees south of the equator — about the same as New York City is north of the equator.  Tasmania does get snow each year, especially in the mountains.  In fact, in the mountains we can get snow any time of the year.  About 45 minutes from Launceston, at Ben Lomond, there is actually a ski area.  However, it can be a bit hit and miss in terms of the snow cover each year.

For Canadians this amount of snow would be a non-event.  But here in Launceston, it’s a rare occasion and gets everyone’s attention.  On our neighbourhood Facebook group, folks are posting scads of pictures and videos.

When foreigners think of Australia, I’m sure they don’t think of snow and wintry driving conditions.  I never used to.  On my first visit here, when I had the call to Launceston, I went up to Ben Lomond and saw wallabies hopping through the snow.  It blew my mind.  Australia has a habit of doing that.

Does God Repent?

Christianity teaches that God is immutable.  In other words, he doesn’t change.  Oftentimes when I preach on this biblical truth, I get questions.  They usually come from older folks who’ve studied their Bibles a bit more and they’ve encountered passages which seem to challenge the teaching of God’s immutability.

People sometimes ask about God’s repentance.  There are Bible passages that appear to speak about God repenting or changing his mind.  That could lead us to one of two conclusions:  the Bible contradicts itself or our theology is wrong.  However, there is a third possibility.  Maybe we haven’t understood those passages properly.  In what follows, I want to look at one of those passages:  1 Samuel 15.

Earlier in the book of 1 Samuel, the people of Israel were without a king.  They looked around them at the other nations and they all had kings.  The people decided they needed one too and they agitated for one.  Finally, in 1 Samuel 9 and 10, God gave them a king in the person of Saul the son of Kish.  At first, Saul appeared to be a success.  However, in time his true heart began to show.  He was more interested in following his own will than God’s will.  That comes to a head in 1 Samuel 15.

King Saul was commanded by God to annihilate the Amalekites.  These were mortal enemies of God and his people.  The Amalekites had blood on their hands.  They weren’t innocent victims.  They also represented an ongoing danger to the security of the Israelites.  Saul was to go and attack them and erase their existence from the face of the earth.

Sure enough, he defeated them, but he didn’t obey God’s commands.  He spared Agag the Amalekite king and he also saved the best livestock from the Amalekites.  God noticed Saul’s failure to obey.  He came to Samuel and said in verse 11, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”  God regretted making Saul king.  The same thing is basically said at the end of the chapter, in verse 35, “And the LORD regretted that he made Saul king over Israel.”

The problem for many people comes with Samuel as he confronts Saul.  Samuel tells the king he’s been rejected by God.  Like the torn robe, the kingdom has been torn away from Saul and given to someone else.  That’s where we find the verse many people stumble over, verse 29:  “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”  Do you see the problem?  Verses 11 and 35 say that God regretted making Saul king.  But verse 29 says that God will not have regret because he is not a human being.  So which is it?  Does God have regret?  Does he change his mind or not?

Before I explain this, remember one important thing:  the Bible isn’t a human book.  It was given to us by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is perfect God.  He knows what he’s doing.  We have these words together in the same narrative because the Holy Spirit put them here together.  It’s not an accident.  It’s not because of sloppy human beings who weren’t paying attention.  The Holy Spirit is behind this and he’s teaching us something here.

The same word can be used in the Bible in two different senses.  It happens more often.  As a classic example, you could think of the way Romans speaks of justification and the way James speaks of justification.  Romans speaks of justification as God’s declaration that we are right with him, whereas James speaks of justification as the vindication of our faith before our fellow human beings.  There’s no contradiction between these two when you understand that.  Something similar is happening here in 1 Samuel 15.

Let’s take the meaning of verses 11 and 35 first.  What does it mean that God regretted making Saul king?  It doesn’t mean that he thought he’d made a mistake earlier.  It doesn’t mean that he’s gone back on his decision and revised it in the light of the circumstances.  This language is meant to have us understand how God relates to human beings and how he reacts to them.  The Holy Spirit wants us to understand that God changes his position with respect to the people who rebel against him and reject him.  Because of Saul’s grievous sin, God was no longer pleased with Saul.  The relationship has changed.  God’s eternal decree is not in view here at all.  What’s in view here is how God interacts with human beings in time and space.  There is a real relationship — there is real interaction.  In this relationship, God is grieved.

You have to consider why God would reveal this.  It’s because there is a need for a king who will not grieve God or give him regret.  David would be that king, at least at times.  But even David fell and sometimes horribly.  There was a need for a greater king.  When King Jesus came, God said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  There’d be no regret with that King, and he’s our King.  Not only is he our king, but we share his anointing.  If we are in Christ by faith, we are kings.  If we place our trust in this Saviour, God will never say about us, “I regret that I have made you a king.”

Now what about verse 29?  Here the context is different than verses 11 and 35.  The words in verse 11 were spoken by God to Samuel.  The words in verse 35 were written by Samuel to the reader.  But in verse 29, Samuel is speaking to Saul.  He delivers God’s judgment to Saul.  His kingdom is finished.  And when Samuel says in verse 29 that God does not lie or have regret, he’s saying to Saul that this judgment is fixed.  It won’t be reversed.  This is the way it is.  God has said that and it’s not a warning.  This has been decreed and there’s no getting around it.

So, if we’re thinking about election, verse 29 is more applicable than verses 11 and 35.  Election is an unchangeable part of God’s decree, just like Saul’s loss of the kingdom was an unchangeable part of God’s decree.  You see, verses 11 and 35 are not about God’s eternal decree, but about God’s relations and interactions with human beings in history.  Like in any real relationship, God can and does react to what the other party does in that relationship.  It’s not that it takes him by surprise, but he comes down to our level and uses this human language and the notions of human relationships to help us understand our relationship to him.  I think you’ll find that any place in the Scriptures that describes God’s repentance or regret fits with what we find in 1 Samuel 15.  It’s used to describe a change in God’s position toward someone within the context of a relationship.

Therefore, in his essence, God certainly does not change.  He is immutable.  Human beings are the ones who change.  We’re fickle and mutable.  When we change for the worse, what follows is a change in our relationship to God.  It’s a real relationship and when that relationship sours, we’re the ones who need to repent.

Delilah’s Lap

Frouwe Helenius Venema — portrait from later in life.

They say combat forges a bond between men, makes them brothers.  That was the experience of Dirk Hoksbergen too.  And if there’s anything that can create a chasm between brothers once bonded by combat, it’s a woman.  At least that’s how Dirk experienced it.

In 1833, Dirk was a prosperous dairy farmer near Wilsum, the Netherlands.  His farm was located just a short ferry-ride across the IJsel River from Wilsum, a tiny village not far from the city of Kampen.  By this point, Dirk had been married to Matje Broekhuis for 10 years.  They’d been blessed with several children, but as often happened in those days, some were lost in infancy.

When it comes to Dirk Hoksbergen, put away whatever prejudiced ideas you may have about farmers.  He was relatively well-educated.  From his youth, he’d been an avid reader, especially of Reformed theology.  His devout father Beert Hoksbergen led him to a steady diet of authors like Alexander Comrie, Wilhelmus à Brakel, and John Calvin.  Dirk also knew how to wield the quill.  To him, writing was like walking, even though his style was often rustic.

So on December 19, 1833, Dirk is sitting at the table in his farmhouse, quill in hand.  He’s been thinking for some time about what he’s about to write.  He thinks about everything his father taught him about the Christian faith and what it really means.  He thinks about what’s become of the Church.  Dirk’s blood pressure soars when he reflects on what’s become of the schools where Dutch youth are taught.  It’s all looking like the manure pile on his farm and he’s ready to do something about it.

Now Dirk has heard of someone else with the same concerns.  Over 100 km to the north, in the village of Ulrum, a pastor named Hendrik De Cock discovered the true Reformed faith.  Though he’d been a pastor for several years, he hadn’t become a Christian until his time in Ulrum.  A parishioner witnessed to him and was one of several means God used to bring him to true faith in Christ.  Now De Cock saw with increasing clarity the corruption in the Church.  He began to sound the alarm.  Though Ulrum was only a village, De Cock’s name was becoming well-known among believers in the Dutch State Church.

So Hendrik De Cock’s Ulrum parsonage is the natural destination for Dirk’s letter.  Dirk thinks to himself, “Surely, Dominee De Cock will be a sympathetic ally.  He’ll understand.  Maybe my letter will even embolden him to more action.”  The letter writing goes late into the night.  By the time it’s finished, Dirk has used up 51 pages.  His epistle is soon sent off to Ulrum.

De Cock is impressed with his dairy farmer correspondent.  Here’s a man who knows his Bible, who loves the old Reformed faith, and who can express himself in writing.   He writes to a friend, “The wise and understanding do not see, yes they are blinder than moles, seeing light for darkness; while a simple farmer shows clearly the state of Church and school, based on God’s eternal and infallible Word.”  De Cock has connections.  He sees to it that Dirk’s letter is published as a booklet and he writes a commendatory Foreword.  With this, these two men become comrades in ecclesiastical combat – brothers in arms.

The first major battle takes place not long afterwards.  Rev. Hendrik De Cock is first suspended and then deposed by the Dutch State Church.  This because he called out the Church’s doctrinal corruption and refused to back down.  Thankfully, the Ulrum congregation stands behind him and on October 13, 1834, they secede from the State Church.  This is the official beginning of “the Secession.”  Other individuals and congregations soon follow suit.

On Wednesday June 3, 1835, Dirk Hoksbergen hosts Hendrik De Cock at his farm in Wilsum.  On that summer day, they talk at length about the situation and what needs to be done.  Together they talk tactics and plot the next move against the enemy.  Later that same day the two men call a meeting for concerned church members in Wilsum.  Sufficient numbers attend that the decision is made there and then to secede and institute a new congregation.  Elders and deacons are elected and installed in a worship service.  But Dirk isn’t among those office bearers.  He’s slated for a more strategic place.  After the meeting concludes, Dirk and Rev. De Cock travel the short distance to the city of Kampen.  They stay overnight.  The next day, June 4, they call together the concerned church members of Kampen.  Some 35 people attend the meeting.  As in Wilsum, they decide right then to secede from the State Church.  A worship service is held on this Thursday and elders are installed – one of whom is Dirk.  In fact, Dirk is recognized as a “teaching elder” in Kampen – he’ll be responsible for the edification of the congregation.  At first he reads sermons written by others, but soon he’s preaching his own messages in the local dialect.

So by the end of June in 1835, there’s not only a seceded congregation in Ulrum, but also in Wilsum and Kampen.  Many other concerned pastors and congregations join them.  Soon there are enough secession churches to have a national synod.

The first synod is held in March 1836 in Amsterdam.  Both Dirk and Rev. De Cock were delegates.  Dirk was soon recognized as being head and shoulders above his fellow elders.  He’s appointed to a couple of committees, including one where he’s serving with his friend Rev. De Cock.  Most of the other delegates fondly refer to him as “Uncle Dirk.”  However, this Synod already reveals a rift among these churches.  It centers on Rev. Scholte and his ideas about church government.  Rev. Scholte doesn’t much appreciate the old Church Order adopted by the Synod of Dort.  He’s doing everything he can to see that this old form of government is left in the past.  That aggravates traditionalists like Dirk and Rev. De Cock.  The two of them are convinced that Rev. Scholte is heading down the wrong track.  At Synod Amsterdam, their view carries the day.  That battle was won.

Or so it seemed.  After the Synod, Rev. Scholte doesn’t relent.  He draws up his own church order and persuades local churches and even provincial synods to adopt it.  He acts as if Synod Amsterdam hadn’t decided for Dort!  This raises the dairy farmer’s ire.

And it leads to another Synod in 1837, this time in Utrecht.  Again, both Rev. De Cock and Dirk Hoksbergen are delegates.  Dirk attends with strict instructions from his delegating provincial synod to “maintain the Synod of Dort with its Church Order without any changes.”  Not that he needs those instructions – it’s his own firm conviction too.  Rev. De Cock, his fellow soldier under the cross, shares that opinion.  Together, they’re not going to back down.

They don’t.  The pressure is enormous.  Because of government persecution, the Synod was actually illegal.  Once all the delegates were in the building, they had to stay there.  For days they were locked down together behind those walls.  No one could leave until it was over.  The 24 delegates bicker and battle for days on end.  The Dutch are known to be stoic, but ecclesiastical warfare can bring the toughest Dutchman to tears.

One morning, Dirk wakes up and can’t find Rev. De Cock.  He searches the building and eventually finds De Cock sequestered in a lonely corner.  He’s sobbing uncontrollably.  Rev. De Cock just can’t cope with the acrimonious Church Order debates.  Dirk comforts his friend with 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  Encouraged, they together leave the room resolved to carry on the fight for Old Dort.

But this isn’t a battle they can win.  The numbers just aren’t there – there are only five elders (including Dirk) and one minster (De Cock) on the side of Dort – 6 of 24 delegates.  Rev. Scholte has long been working behind the scenes to convince delegates.  When it comes time for the vote, the Synod says farewell to Dort.  Scholte’s Church Order is accepted.

Dirk and Rev. De Cock travel home together – defeated and disillusioned.  As they sit in the carriage travelling north, it’s Rev. De Cock’s turn to encourage his ally.

“Brother, we mustn’t give in.  There’s too much at stake.”

“But Dominee, how can we do anything now?  Even if we don’t accept this decision, the majority does.”

“Brother, we cannot give in.  We can’t grow weak.  The decision is wrong and we have to stand against it, just like we stood against the State Church.  God will bless our steadfastness.”

“Yes, Dominee, you’re right.  We may have lost this battle, but that doesn’t mean we’ve lost the war.  We must keep fighting for what our fathers gave us at Dort.”

When they arrive in Zwolle, they reach a crossroads and go their separate ways.  Dirk heads to his farm in Wilsum, while De Cock travels back to his church in Ulrum.  Dirk couldn’t have known that this was a parting of ways in more than one sense.

Rev. Albertus Van Raalte had also been delegated to the Synod in Utrecht.  He was on the Scholte side of the Church Order debate.  But he also knew the strategic value of having Rev. De Cock on board – De Cock was hugely influential in the Secession churches.  Even though the Synod had decided, if De Cock was against it, there were going to be issues.

As the Synod concluded, Rev. Van Raalte devised a plan.  Somehow he found a way to make the 200 km journey from Utrecht to Ulrum post haste.  He made it there before Rev. De Cock.  He arrived in Ulrum and went straight to the manse.  There he found Hendrik’s wife, all alone, waiting for her husband’s return.

Frouwe Venema was a sober, serious, godly woman.  She’d been a good helpmeet for Rev. De Cock, supporting him in his battles for the truth of God’s Word.  She was also, as they say, “a force to be reckoned with.”  If anyone could get through to Rev. De Cock, it would be his wife.  She was a reasonable woman and had her husband’s ear like no one else.

Rev. DeCock returns home from Synod.  He walks in and, to his surprise, fresh from Synod too, Rev. Van Raalte is sitting at his table.  He’s been speaking with Frouwe.

“Well, what is this about then?”

“Brother, for the sake of peace in the churches, I came here to speak with your wife.  She’s a wise woman and I think you need to listen to her.”

“No, I think you need to leave.  You and your colleagues have caused enough trouble for me and for the churches.  Go.”

The manse door closes and Rev. Van Raalte begins his journey back to Ommen.  Hendrik glares at Frouwe.

“What were you thinking allowing that man in our home?  He’s a trouble-maker.”

“Hendrik, the Lord teaches us to pursue peace.”

“But not at all costs!  We have to stand for the truth of what the Lord gave through our fathers.”

“Hendrik, there’s been enough fighting.  The churches need peace.  We can’t be constantly dealing with conflict.  Can’t you just give in and give up this fight?  It’s not worth it.”

“My dear wife, I’m tired from my journey.  I need rest.  Enough talking for now, please.”

In short order, Frouwe convinces her husband to accept the new Church Order and give up the fight against it.  Thereafter Rev. De Cock goes on a tour with Rev. Van Raalte to many of the churches still harbouring reservations.  The churches of Wilsum and Kampen weren’t included on this tour.  De Cock and Van Raalte would decidedly not have been welcome.

When word reaches Dirk about De Cock’s change of mind, he feels profoundly betrayed by his co-belligerent.  They’d been through so many battles together.  They’d fought hard against Scholte and his innovations.  They’d strategized together.  They’d wept together.  They were there for one another.  In the carriage home from Synod, they’d agreed that they’d keep fighting.  Now De Cock kicked it all to the side.  All because of his wife.  Dirk’s blood boils at this treachery.  Unlike De Cock he’s not going to relent.  He’s going to still stand with the Dort fathers, no matter what.  Rev. De Cock might compromise, but Dirk never will – and he never did.

Later on in Dirk’s life, the pain of De Cock’s betrayal never subsided.  It was a bitter parting.  In later life, at a certain moment, he writes about how Frouwe persuaded his one-time friend:  “Then he laid his head in Delilah’s lap!”  To Dirk, Hendrik De Cock was Samson robbed of his strength by a cunning woman with Philistines conniving behind the scenes.  To him, it was that kind of betrayal – and it stung.

Book Review: The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church, R. Albert Mohler Jr..  Nashville: Nelson Books, 2020.  Hardcover, 223 pages.

Albert Mohler has a well-deserved reputation as one of Christianity’s best culture critics.  He has a daily radio program (The Briefing) with thoughtful worldview analysis.  His blog (AlbertMohler.com) is on my must-read list.  When Mohler speaks or writes on a topic, you can be sure of two things:  1) he’ll be starting with the Bible as his foundation and 2) he’ll be aiming for the glory of God through the advance of the gospel.

He does it in this book on our contemporary cultural challenges too.  Here he’s addressing the overarching problem of secularism.  At the outset, I should say he’s writing as an American for an American audience.  I read it as an ex-pat Canadian living in Australia.  Some of the material in the book may seem irrelevant to people like me — the Appendix, for example, deals with the American Supreme Court and the role it plays in political decision-making.  You may have to stop and think about how that transfers to the Canadian or Australian situation (I think it does).  That said, Mohler does pay attention to developments elsewhere in the world.  He writes about situations in British Columbia, Alberta, France, and elsewhere.

The book contains both description and analysis.  If anyone has been paying attention, a lot of the descriptive material is going to be familiar.  He describes how secularism is a threatening storm in regard to civilization, the church, human life, marriage, family, and gender/sexuality.  Mohler’s analysis of these trends is where I found the real money for value in this book.

Let me share a few points of appreciation that might whet your appetite.

Already in the Introduction, Mohler explains that secular doesn’t mean “irreligious” or “non-religious.”  It means “that Christianity, which forged the moral and spiritual worldview of Western civilization, is being displaced.”  In the first chapter, he elaborates:

Secular, in terms of contemporary sociological and intellectual conversation, refers to the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief.  It is both an ideology, which is known as secularism, and a consequence, which is known as secularization.  The latter is not an ideology; it is a concept and a sociological process whereby societies become less theistic, and in our context that means less Christian in general outlook. (pp.4-5)

Elsewhere in the book he illustrates how secularism and secularization have religious and theological values.

The second chapter is entitled “The Gathering Storm in the Church.”  Mohler notes how the prophets of theological liberalism predicted that churches would need to adapt to the culture in order to survive.  He quotes a Baptist minister and lawyer, Oliver Thomas:  “Churches will continue hemorrhaging members until we face the truth:  being a faithful Christian does not mean accepting everything the Bible teaches” (p.30).  However, the truth is quite the opposite:  “it was actually liberal theology that lead to the evacuation of these churches” (p.19).  Mohler doesn’t discuss this, but I’d note that we heard the same canard from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands about women in office.  Some from the RCN argued that the church can’t survive and grow while restricting the special offices of the church to men.  I wonder how that’s going for them.  If you look at the Christian Reformed Church in North America, after their decision to allow women in office in 1992, they’ve been on a steady downward trend in membership.  Adapting to the culture is not a recipe for growth.

That same chapter also issues a cry for the need for creeds and confessions.  Says Mohler, “Churches and denominations that have no confession of faith, or have a confession in name only, disarm themselves doctrinally” (p.36).  Quite right!  Historic Christian confessions which faithfully summarize the Bible are indispensable for keeping our doctrinal heads screwed on straight as the storm of secularism starts blowing in.

The chapter on gender and sexuality discusses the infamous Revoice Conference of 2018.  This conference was held to support, encourage and empower “gay, lesbian, same sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”  This illustrates “the revolution’s demand on the church of Jesus Christ.”  One thing Mohler doesn’t mention is the fact that this conference was hosted by a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.  In fact, the epicentre of the Revoice controversy has been in the PCA and how the church and its courts respond to it.

One of the troubling things about the Revoice Conference was the idea that a Christian can identify himself/herself in terms of being gay or lesbian, etc.  In other words, you can be a “gay Christian.”  Mohler dissents.  The most significant problem “is the idea that any believer can claim identity with a pattern of sexual attraction that is itself sinful” (p.108).  Some associated with Revoice argue that the attraction itself is not sinful.  Mohler’s response to this is worth a careful read:

The issues here are bigger than sexuality.  As Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield rightly explain, we confront here a basic evangelical disagreement with Roman Catholicism.  Ever since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that involuntary incentive to sin is not itself sin.  In the most amazing sentence, the Council of Trent declared: “This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin.”  Don’t miss the acknowledgement that the doctrine of Trent is contrary to the language of the apostle.  (p.109)

That was new to me; both the connection to Roman Catholicism, and how explicitly the Council of Trent repudiated biblical teaching on this point.

Finally, Mohler has a great chapter on the challenges facing our young people.  Again, the description is good, but the analysis is better.  But best of all is the way Mohler lays out a way to “apply the gospel power in order to engage the storm gathering over the coming generations.”  He argues that Christian parents have to lay hold of three things:

  1. Because it’s where the gospel is preached, church has to be the utmost and highest priority for Christian families.
  2. Christian parents need to both understand the challenge of technology, screen time, and social media and rise to meet that challenge.
  3. Christian parents have to disciple their children through family worship and quality family time.  (pp.140-141)

If I could add one item to this list:  recognizing the need for and value of Christian education.  After all, public education is one of the primary ways secularism seeks to indoctrinate our children.

I first became aware of The Gathering Storm through its promotion online through Mohler’s blog and other sources.  However, what really led me to buy it and read it was a friend and colleague from Canada who was doing a course for Christian school teachers on the biblical worldview and contemporary challenges to it.  I’d say that it is a must-read for Christian educators.  But no less so for parents and far more so for office bearers in Christ’s church.  I do wonder whether the storm is still gathering or whether it is upon us.  Whatever the case may be, none of us can be doing the ostrich thing.  We need to see what’s going on and then also realize that if we’re truly Christians, we have the solid foundation under our feet to weather it — and even see the gospel advance despite it.