A View: The conservative – progressive evangelical landscape

I do my best to stay on top of what’s going on in the world of Christianity in general and in evangelicalism in particular.  So much is happening that remaining current is not at all easy.  Tons of  materials pour into the hopper every day so that when I encounter something that sorta pulls things together I very much appreciate it.  Such is the case with the following informative and nicely stated article by a Christian writer I follow and admire, Derek Rishmawy. The article appeared at Mere Orthodoxy and at Derek’s own Reformedish blog.  Derek is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, where, as he puts it, “He wrangles college kids for the gospel.” He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UC Irvine and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at Azusa Pacific University. His passions are the church, theology, cultural criticism, and some philosophy. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition and Out of Ur blog. He is a staff writer at Christ and Pop Culture. You can also follow him on Twitter as:  . 

This article is written from the standpoint of Reformed theology which is generally considered synonymous with Calvinism and most often, in the U.S. and the UK, is specifically associated with the theology of the historic church confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Three Forms of Unity.  The following summary of Reformed theology, or what it means to be Reformed is taken from Theopedia.com:

What does it mean to be Reformed?

Reformed Theology

Reformed Theology

  • It means to affirm the great “Solas” of the Reformation. (See the Five Solas)
  • It means to affirm and promote a profoundly high view of the sovereignty of God.
  • It means to affirm the doctrines of grace. . . to see God as the author of salvation from beginning to end. (See Calvinism)
  • It means to be creedal. . . to affirm the great creeds of the historic, orthodox church. (See e.g. the Nicene Creed)
  • It means to be confessional. . . to affirm one or more of the great confessions of the historic orthodox church. (see e.g. the Westminster Confession)
  • It means to be covenantal. . . to affirm the great covenants of Scripture and see those covenants as the means by which God interacts with and accomplishes His purposes in His creation, with mankind. (see Covenant Theology)
  • It means to take seriously the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. . . to affirm the primacy of mission and understand that mission.
  • It means to have a distinctly Christian worldview that permeates all of life.

With that background regarding Reformed theology in mind I was easily able to see how much of this article applies to evangelicalism in general.  I hope you find it a useful guide to what is happing in the evangelical church these days.  RMF

The Progressive Evangelical Package


Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy

It’s no secret that Reformed Christians have built their own wing of the internet where they spend their time chatting among themselves. They police certain key boundaries and dissent from some of these can (rightly or wrongly) bring about serious criticism. While there is more diversity among the Reformed than critics usually want to recognize, there can also be a heavy pressure to conform to the ‘standard’. Given the more consciously confessional (and I do use the term somewhat broadly) ethos among the Reformed, it’s rather unsurprising that this should be the case.  Continue reading

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How durable is the Christian understanding of marriage?

The following article states a point of view that I hope is true, i.e., that the Christian view of marriage will endure in the hearts and practice of Believers.  The article by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry appeared at The Week.  Mr. Gobry is an entrepreneur and writer based in Paris, and a frequent columnist at The Week. His writing has appeared at Forbes, The Atlantic, Commentary Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Federalist, Quartz, and other outlets.  RMF

Why so many Christians won’t back down on gay marriage

A traditional view of marriage is about much more than today’s politics. It’s deeply woven into the 2,000-year-old ethic at the heart of our faith.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

Over several millennia, Christians have continued to uphold their religion's most important tenets.Over several millennia, Christians have continued to uphold their religion’s most important tenets. (Glowimages/Corbis)

majority of Americans already favor same-sex marriage — and most everyone agrees that same-sex marriage will continue to be accepted by an ever-bigger majority.

In many urban and progressive circles, it’s beyond impolitic to oppose gay marriage. Indeed, there’s a movement underfoot to make opposition to same-sex marriage akin to support for racism. That is to say, anyone who expresses opposition to same-sex marriage would be ostracized, with many progressives hoping to employ a variety of social and governmental means of coercion to force gay-marriage opponents to the margins of society. Whether this movement will succeed or not is an open question. But regardless, it’s important to understand that this movement is based on a premise that is based on a misreading of history. And this misreading could drive the movement to ends it wouldn’t desire.

The false premise goes something like this: Christianity, as a historical social phenomenon, basically adjusts its moral doctrines depending on the prevailing social conditions. Christianity, after all, gets its doctrines from “the Bible,” a self-contradictory grab bag of miscellany. When some readings from the Bible fall into social disfavor, Christianity adjusts them accordingly. There are verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality, but there are also verses that condemn wearing clothes made of two threads, and verses that allow slavery. Christians today find ways to lawyer their way out of those. Therefore, the implicit argument seems to go, if you just bully Christianity enough, it will find a way to change its view of homosexuality, and all will be well. After all, except for a few shut-ins in the Vatican, most Christians today are fine with sexual revolution innovations such as contraception and easy divorce.

Look, there’s obviously some truth in all that. Not every single bit of Christian morality has held constant over a history that spans two millennia, every continent, and almost every culture. And as Christians will be the first to admit, many strands of Christianity have been very accommodating of the idiosyncrasies of its host societies.

But this premise is also fundamentally mistaken, because the history of Christian ethics actually shows that the faith has been surprisingly consistent on the topic of sexuality. Christian opposition to homosexual acts is of a piece with a much broader vision of what it means to be a human being that Christianity will never part with.

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The story Christians have been telling for 2,000 years goes something like this: The God who made the Universe is also, by his very nature, Love, and he made human beings with a very lofty vocation. Humans are meant to reflect His glory in the world; to be like God, that is to say, to be lovers and creators. Everything in the Universe has been put here to be used by God’s children to reflect his loving glory — and to teach them about God’s love. This is particularly true, or so the story goes, of the unique sexual complementarity between men and women. The sexual act is meant to reflect God’s love by fostering a union at once bodily and spiritual — and creates new life. The complementarity of the persons in a marriage reflects the complementarity of the Persons of the Trinity, and the bliss of marital union is an inkling of the bliss of the union of the Persons of the Trinity. The fruitfulness of the marriage act reflects that God is a creator and has charged man to be an agent of his ongoing work of creation. And, finally, if God’s love means total self-giving unto death on a Cross, then man and wife must give themselves to each other totally — no pettiness, no adultery, no polygamy, no divorce, and no nonmarital sexual acts. According to the story that Christianity has been telling for 2,000 years, Christianity’s view of sexuality isn’t some encrusted holdover from a socially conditioned patriarchal era on its way out, but is instead deeply connected to its understanding of who God is and what human beings exist for.

Christianity’s opposition to homosexuality is not the product of some dusty medieval exegete poring over obscure Old Testament verses. From the beginning, what set apart the new and strange sect called Christians from the rest of their culture was their strange sexual ethic. They refused polygamy. They refused the sexual exploitation of slaves by their owners. They refused prostitution, premarital sex, divorce, abortion, the exposure of infants, contraception — and homosexual acts.

As the British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe noted, in this Christianity was a great equalizing force: Because of the fact of pregnancy, most premodern cultures enforce sexual restraint on women. Where Christianity’s bizarreness lay is that it insisted on the same restraint on the part of men — whether gay or straight. Christians held a bizarrely exalted view of (lifelong, monogamous, fertile, heterosexual) marriage as reflecting the image of God himself, but, even more bizarrely, held up lifelong celibacy as an even more exalted state of life. From the start, alongside the refusal to worship the Roman emperor as a god and Christians’ supererogatory care for the poor, this was what set Christians apart, and goes a long way toward explaining why Pagan writers could scorn Christianity as a religion of “slaves and women.”

Of course, like all ideals, this was very often observed in the breach, but such is the lot of human nature. Human beings, societies, cultures, and religions have a worldview that includes moral “oughts,” and that they only partially live up to, as anyone who has tried to stick to a diet knows.

But the point is clear: From the start, Christians embodied a different way of life. From the start, they understood a particular sexual ethic to be a keystone of this way of life. And they understood the logic of this ethic as prohibiting (among other things) homosexual acts.

Over its 2,000 years of existence, Christianity has been surprisingly consistent in holding the line on what our faith views as fundamental precepts of Christian ethics, some of which make same-sex marriage an impossibility.

Today, many gay-marriage proponents don’t just want a live-and-let-live relationship with Christianity — they want to force Christianity to affirm same-sex marriage. They do this, I think, because they believe very strongly in the rights of gays to marry, but also largely because they think that it will only take moderate prodding to get Christianity to cave in. History and Christianity’s own self-understanding suggest, however, that such an outcome is not in the cards.

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Good old fashioned reading is good for you

There are a couple of recurring themes in my life these days; the need to de-clutter my life with all its “stuff” and pointless activities and the need to slow down and focus on the significant people and interests in my life.  The problem is that there are so many distractions that pull and tug and demand attention.  I realize that discipline is the answer and to date I’ve witnessed precious little in my daily routine.  So, when I ran across this Wall Street Journal article by Jeanne Whalen it grabbed in interest.  I’m going to give it a try.  RMF

Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress

At Least 30 Minutes of Uninterrupted Reading With a Book or E-Book Helps

Members of a Wellington, New Zealand, club gather weekly to read slowly.
Members of a Wellington, New Zealand, club gather weekly to read slowly.
Jeanne Whalen

Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.

The point of the club isn’t to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading.

Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore.

“I wasn’t reading fiction the way I used to,” said Meg Williams, a 31-year-old marketing manager for an annual arts festival who started the club. “I was really sad I’d lost the thing I used to really, really enjoy.”

Slow readers list numerous benefits to a regular reading habit, saying it improves their ability to concentrate, reduces stress levels and deepens their ability to think, listen and empathize. The movement echoes a resurgence in other old-fashioned, time-consuming pursuits that offset the ever-faster pace of life, such as cooking the “slow-food” way or knitting by hand.

The benefits of reading from an early age through late adulthood have been documented by researchers. A study of 300 elderly people published by the journal Neurology last year showed that regular engagement in mentally challenging activities, including reading, slowed rates of memory loss in participants’ later years.

A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships. A piece of research published in Developmental Psychology in 1997 showed first-grade reading ability was closely linked to 11th grade academic achievements.

Yet reading habits have declined in recent years. In a survey this year, about 76% of Americans 18 and older said they read at least one book in the past year, down from 79% in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.

Attempts to revive reading are cropping up in many places. Groups in Seattle, Brooklyn, Boston and Minneapolis have hosted so-called silent reading parties, with comfortable chairs, wine and classical music.

Diana La Counte of Orange County, Calif., set up what she called a virtual slow-reading group a few years ago, with members discussing the group’s book selection online, mostly on Facebook. “When I realized I read Twitter more than a book, I knew it was time for action,” she says.

Screens have changed our reading patterns from the linear, left-to-right sequence of years past to a wild skimming and skipping pattern as we hunt for important words and information.

One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an “F” pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.

Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. Advocates recommend setting aside at least 30 to 45 minutes in a comfortable chair far from cellphones and computers. Some suggest scheduling time like an exercise session. Many recommend taking occasional notes to deepen engagement with the text.


Some hard-core proponents say printed books are best, in part because they’re more visible around the house and serve as a reminder to read. But most slow readers say e-readers and tablets are just fine, particularly if they’re disconnected from the Internet.

Abeer Hoque, who has attended a few of the silent reading parties in Brooklyn, N.Y., said she plans to read a book on her phone next time, but turn it to airplane mode to stop new emails and social-media notifications from distracting her.

When Ms. Williams, who majored in literature in college, convened her first slow reading club in Wellington, she handed out tips for productive reading and notebooks for jotting down favorite words and passages. Each time they meet, the group gathers for a few minutes to slowly breathe in and out to clear their minds before cracking open their books, as in yoga.

Roughly 20 to 30 readers have shown up for Sunday evening sessions, Ms. Williams says. Most new members fill out a brief survey on their experience with many describing it as calm, peaceful and meditative, she says.

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Beyond proof texting and “concordance reflex”

Dr. Albert Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  This article is a deeper and to me more insightful and persuasive argument for a more traditional and conservative approach to sexual morality than what one normally encounters in contemporary Christian writing on the topic.  The article appeared at: albertmohler.com as Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis. RMF

Dr. R. Albert Hohler, Jr.
Dr. R. Albert Hohler, Jr.

Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis


Western society is currently experiencing what can only be described as a moral revolution. Our society’s moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a particular issue has undergone not small adjustments but a complete reversal. That which was once condemned is now celebrated, and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned.

What makes the current moral and sexual revolution so different from previous moral revolutions is that it is taking place at an utterly unprecedented velocity. Previous generations experienced moral revolutions over decades, even centuries. This current revolution is happening at warp speed.

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry. 

Why the Concordance Method Fails

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible word of God. We understand that, as B.B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.

There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.

It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations that are essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Needed:  A Biblical Theology of the Body

Biblical theology is absolutely indispensable for the church to craft an appropriate response to the current sexual crisis. The church must learn to read Scripture according to its context, embedded in its master-narrative, and progressively revealed along covenantal lines. We must learn to interpret each theological issue through Scripture’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Specifically, evangelicals need a theology of the body that is anchored in the Bible’s own unfolding drama of redemption.

Movement One — Creation

Genesis 1:26–28 indicates that God made man—unlike the rest of creation—in his own image. This passage also demonstrates that God’s purpose for humanity was an embodied existence. Genesis 2:7 highlights this point as well. God makes man out of the dust and then breathes into him the breath of life. This indicates that we were a body before we were a person. The body, as it turns out, is not incidental to our personhood. Adam and Eve are given the commission to multiply and subdue the earth. Their bodies allow them, by God’s creation and his sovereign plan, to fulfill that task of image-bearing.

The Genesis narrative also suggests that the body comes with needs. Adam would be hungry, so God gave him the fruit of the garden. These needs are an expression embedded within the created order that Adam is finite, dependent, and derived.

Further, Adam would have a need for companionship, so God gave him a wife, Eve. Both Adam and Eve were to fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth with God’s image-bearers by a proper use of the bodily reproductive ability with which they were created. Coupled with this is the bodily pleasure each would experience as the two became one flesh—that is, one body.

The Genesis narrative also demonstrates that gender is part of the goodness of God’s creation. Gender is not merely a sociological construct forced upon human beings who otherwise could negotiate any number of permutations.

But Genesis teaches us that gender is created by God for our good and his glory. Gender is intended for human flourishing and is assigned by the Creator’s determination—just as he determined whenwhere, and that we should exist.

In sum, God created his image as an embodied person. As embodied, we are given the gift and stewardship of sexuality from God himself. We are constructed in a way that testifies to God’s purposes in this.

Genesis also frames this entire discussion in a covenantal perspective. Human reproduction is not merely in order to propagate the race. Instead, reproduction highlights the fact that Adam and Eve were to multiply in order to fill the earth with the glory of God as reflected by his image bearers.

Movement Two — The Fall

The fall, the second movement in redemptive history, corrupts God’s good gift of the body. The entrance of sin brings mortality to the body. In terms of sexuality, the Fall subverts God’s good plans for sexual complementarity. Eve’s desire is to rule over her husband (Gen. 3:16). Adam’s leadership will be harsh (3:17-19). Eve will experience pain in childbearing (3:16).

The narratives that follow demonstrate the development of aberrant sexual practices, from polygamy to rape, which Scripture addresses with remarkable candor. These Genesis accounts are followed by the giving of the Law which is intended to curb aberrant sexual behavior. It regulates sexuality and expressions of gender and makes clear pronouncements on sexual morals, cross-dressing, marriage, divorce, and host of other bodily and sexual matters.

The Old Testament also connects sexual sin to idolatry. Orgiastic worship, temple prostitution, and other horrible distortions of God’s good gift of the body are all seen as part and parcel of idolatrous worship. The same connection is made by Paul in Romans 1. Having “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom 1:22), and having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25), men and women exchange their natural relations with one another (Rom 1:26-27).

Movement Three — Redemption

With regard to redemption, we must note that one of the most important aspects of our redemption is that it came by way of a Savior with a body. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; cf. Phil. 2:5-11). Human redemption is accomplished by the Son of God incarnate—who remains incarnate eternally.

Paul indicates that this salvation includes not merely our souls but also our bodies. Romans 6:12 speaks of sin that reigns in our “mortal bodies”—which implies the hope of future bodily redemption. Romans 8:23 indicates part of our eschatological hope is the “redemption of our bodies.” Even now, in our life of sanctification we are commanded to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in worship (Rom. 12:2). Further, Paul describes the redeemed body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and clearly we must understand sanctification as having effects upon the body.

Sexual ethics in the New Testament, as in the Old Testament, regulate our expressions of gender and sexuality. Porneia, sexual immorality of any kind, is categorically condemned by Jesus and the apostles. Likewise, Paul clearly indicates to the church at Corinth that sexual sin—sins committed in the body (1 Cor. 6:18)—are what bring the church and the gospel into disrepute because they proclaim to a watching world that the gospel has been to no effect (1 Cor. 5-6).

Movement Four — New Creation

Finally, we reach the fourth and final act of the drama of redemption—new creation. In 1 Corinthians 15:42-57, Paul directs us not only to the resurrection of our own bodies in the new creation but to the fact that Christ’s bodily resurrection is the promise and power for that future hope. Our resurrection will be the experience of eternal glory in the body. This body will be a transformed, consummated continuation of our present embodied existence in the same way that Jesus’ body is the same body he had on earth, yet utterly glorified.

The new creation will not simply be a reset of the garden. It will be better than Eden. As Calvin noted, in the new creation we will know God not only as Creator but as Redeemer—and that redemption includes our bodies. We will reign with Christ in bodily form, as he also is the embodied and reigning cosmic Lord.

In terms of our sexuality, while gender will remain in the new creation, sexual activity will not. It is not that sex is nullified in the resurrection; rather, it is fulfilled. The eschatological marriage supper of the Lamb, to which marriage and sexuality point, will finally arrive. No longer will there be any need to fill the earth with image-bearers as was the case in Genesis 1. Instead, the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Biblical Theology Is Indispensable 

The sexuality crisis has demonstrated the failure of theological method on the part of many pastors. The “concordance reflex” simply cannot accomplish the type of rigorous theological thinking needed in pulpits today. Pastors and churches must learn the indispensability of biblical theology and must practice reading Scripture according to its own internal logic—the logic of a story that moves from creation to new creation. The hermeneutical task before us is great, but it is also indispensable for faithful evangelical engagement with the culture.

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More than Missiles

Much is written about ISIS crisis, how it emerged and how to deal with it.  The following is the best commentary I’ve come across which approaches the issue with clarity and wisdom.  The article is comprised of the testimony of Thomas F. Farr and appeared at www.firstthings.com.  Mr. Farr is director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. He was the first director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. RMF

First Things
First Things
Thomas F. Farr

Thomas F. Farr

The following testimony was given before Sub-Committees of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, September 10, 2014.

Tomorrow we mark the 13th anniversary of the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. What we are facing in Iraq and Syria today has deeply troubling similarities to 9/11, both in its origins and its threat to American national security.

There is, of course, at least one major difference between now and then. While Christians in the Middle East were under mounting pressure in 2001, today their very existence is at risk. We are witnessing the disappearance of Christians and Christianity from Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East—a religious/cultural genocide with terrible humanitarian, moral, and strategic consequences for Christians, for the region, and for us all.  Continue reading

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The Really Big Question

There are lots of questions.  To me one of the biggest and most profound involves origins.  In particular, how did we get here? I’ve read tons on the issue.  And, the following article by John C. Murphy is the best, most concise I’ve read.  It is especially good at defining the issue and, while clearly taking a position, is respectful in tone to those who may hold contrary views.  I hope you will enjoy it.  The original appeared at The Poached Egg.net and at exploregod.com.  RMF

Poached Egg Banner

A Deeper Look at If Evolution Is True

By:  John C. Murphy

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There is much talk around the topic of evolution. But one question is key to everything: Is evolution true?

The evolutionary debate is complex on its own, but it is often further complicated by the use of a logical fallacy known as equivocation. Equivocation occurs when someone uses a term with more than one meaning in a misleading manner by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time.1  

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Death of a Celeb.

There are probably few topics more distasteful in popular culture than death and in particular any serious discussion regarding what happens to the deceased.  Typically there are simply inane comments based on nothing more than “feel good” popular speculation and the baseless hope that there is something good awaiting in the afterlife, presumably except for Hitler and a few other notoriously evil folks.  As a former minister who has officiated at and attended funerals where there was scant evidence of any type of relationship whatsoever between the deceased and a deity of any stripe, I confess it is very easy to put the best possible spin on the situation.  And, it is true that only God knows the complete truth regarding the deceased.  And God is merciful and good and the god of grace.  So, we can always hope.  But, that said, it is foolish for us in the land of the living to depend on chance or wishful thinking regarding our eternal destiny.  A friend and former pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky addressed the issue in an article I believe you will appreciate. The article appeared first at www.bobrussell.org.  RMF

Joan Rivers & the hope of life after death


Bob Russell

Bob Russell

Bob Russell

Comedian Joan Rivers, who was 81, died this past Thursday.  She was a very funny lady.  Her humor was frequently edgy and irreverent, but she was certainly a relentless worker and an icon in the entertainment world.

After Rivers’ death there were numerous tributes to her from famous celebrities.  One Hollywood actress tweeted, “Bon Voyage, Joan.”  A well-known entertainer said, “With all the bad news in the world, God needed a laugh, so he called for Joan Rivers.”  Another wrote, “I loved Joan Rivers.  A trailblazing, funny lady.  Have fun up there.”

Joan rivers

Joan Rivers

It’s interesting that when faced with the unexpected death of one of their peers, even those who are normally irreligious grasp for some hope of life after death.  Some who have ridiculed faith all their lives will express a faint hope that there is something beyond the grave.  What they may sneer at in the routine of everyday life, they long for when the life of someone close to them ends.  It’s as though they just can’t resist having a hint of hope to soothe their sadness.

I know very little about the personal life of Joan Rivers, and it’s not my assignment to determine the eternal destiny of anyone.  God alone decides who is in heaven and who is in hell.  As a minister of the gospel, it is my task is to communicate what Jesus did for us on the cross and what He said about the hope of eternal life.  Here’s what Jesus taught about life beyond the grave.

There is definitely life after death.”  Jesus proved that by personally conquering the grave.  He promised, “Because I live, you also will live. (See John 14:19.) Our confidence that heaven is for real isn’t based on a movie of child’s life-after-death experience but on the historical fact of Jesus Christ raising from the dead after being crucified and buried for three days.

The majority of people will not go to heaven.  Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

The hope of heaven is available only through Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Jesus alone proved by His miracles that He was God in the flesh.  Jesus alone died an atoning death for our sins.  Jesus alone conquered the grave proving it can be done.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…” (John 11:25).

The promise of heaven is based on faith in Christ, not our good works.  Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).

Salvation is a gift we receive by faith; it’s not a reward we earn by good works.  Jesus came to save us because we were already condemned in our sin.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).   And “… the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 – see also Ephesians 2:8-9).

Faith that is sufficient to save is expressed by repenting of our sins and being baptized into Christ.  Jesus promised, “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Simon Peter concluded the first gospel sermon about Jesus by saying, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Few have tried harder to continue to look and act young than Joan Rivers.  However, in the end, all the plastic surgery and youthful laughter in the world didn’t really stave off aging or the relentless death angel.  Joan Rivers discovered like every person that…man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Thankfully, Jesus has provided a way to a land where we will never grow old…where there will be no more tears or death.  And, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”

“How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).

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