Justin Bieber and The Meaning of Marriage

There have been many helpful (and unhelpful) books written by Christians about marriage. Tim and Kathy Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, is among the best.

When I woke up this morning to see social media splashed with photos of Justin Bieber holding a copy of the Keller marriage book, I made the unusual step and took a second look at Justin Bieber. I would choose the music of Bach and Mozart over the sound of Bieber any day, but Justin Bieber has chosen a great on marriage

Apparently, the paparazzi have been doing their stalking thing again this week. Justin Bieber’s and Hailey’s Brooklyn’s private life is none of my business, so let’s leave those photos and speculations where they belong, in a bin on a New York City sidewalk.

Justine Bieber did, however, offer a comment to the media, and it was about this marriage book. As photographers asked him about why he and his fiancé had “been looking so emotional”, Bieber held up The Meaning of Marriage.

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my somewhat used copy

 

Great choice Justin and Hailey!

At Mentone Baptist we regularly use The Meaning of Marriage for both pre-marriage and marriage counselling.

The Daily Mail refers to the book as containing “controversial subject matter.” I guess it is controversial, in that Tim and Kathy Keller paint a view of marriage that differs from many of the relationship ideas that are trending.

Even in the way the Daily Mail tries to sum up the book’s teaching, it’s clear how fragmented our understanding of marriage has become. The cultural scene has become so weird that it seems as though journalists are now required (by some unstated code of ethics) to trigger warn readers whenever mentioning Christians and marriage in the same sentence. The now obligatory criticism toward classical marriage was presented in this way,

“it is unclear whether he [Bieber] is following all of the advice in the tome, which also tells men and women to abstain from sex before marriage, suggests that wives should submit to their husbands, and depicts the Bible’s view of marriage as being monogamous and heterosexual.”

Yes, all of these things are unpopular today, but none of these concepts are controversial, in that they are shared by Christians all over the world and have so for millennia. These are aspects of a marriage that are taught and encouraged in the Bible. However what the Kellers achieve (as does the Bible) is to frame marriage relationships in a consistent and attractive way, that helps makes sense of why marriage should be monogamous and why there are gender complementary roles in a marriage. 

Too often we parody and caricature ideas that we don’t like or comprehend, rather than taking the harder and more honest approach, which is to understand concepts on their own terms.

In reading the book, we discover that the Kellers are only too aware of how marriage is being reframed in Western cultures, and while critiquing these trends, they are not sending readers back to the conservative 1950s either.

That’s why it’s worth reading the book; it will surprise. Tim and Kathy Keller are neither mirroring the less than satisfying views of sex and relationships that we find on Netflix and Amazon, neither are they reproducing unhelpful marital myths from previous generations.

Grounding their ideas in the Bible, Tim and Kathy Keller present a compelling portrait of complementary love in marriage. Here are a few examples,

“In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more than fundamentally action emotion”

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” 

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.” 

Am I milking these Justin Bieber photos in order to promote a book that I really like? Yep, and unashamedly so, because The Meaning of Marriage really is a great book for marriage. It certainly seems as though this young engaged couple also believe it’s worth reading. Whether you are a Christian or a skeptic, I think you’ll find its pages intriguing and challenging, useful and surprising.

BTW, I wish Justin Bieber and Hailey Brooklyn all the very best as they prepare for marriage. May God in his grace and love bless your future together.

Tim Keller, Princeton Seminary, and a Christian example

‘We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!’ (1 Corinthians 4:10)

Friend of the Gospel Coalition Australia and City to City Australia, Tim Keller, was due to receive the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, on April 6. It is an annual prize awarded by Princeton Seminary.

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Princeton is one of America’s oldest and most prestigious theological training institutions, and Abraham Kuyper was one of the 20th Century’s leading practitioners of Calvinism.

Anyone who has met, listened to, or read Tim Keller will know he is gracious and perspicacious, winsome and biblically rigorous. It is this God given combination that has enabled his books and preaching to reach such a wide audience, even here in Australia.

In a scene replicating this year’s Acadamy awards, ‘the academy award for best picture…’, Princeton Seminary has changed its mind.

After numerous complaints, the Princeton leadership has taken the unprecedented step of withdrawing this year’s prize. When Abraham Kuyper said, ‘There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’, I don’t think he meant the square inch that is Princeton was exempt.

President of Princeton Seminary, Rev. Craig Barnes, has written an open letter in which he says, giving Keller this annual price might be seen as an endorsement of his views on women’s ordination and LGBTQ people.

Rev Barnes adds that he remains committed to academic freedom and “the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community.” Hmmm. To be fair, while they have rescinded the award, Princeton has kept their invitation for Keller to give a lecture at the Seminary, which he has graciously accepted.

In the case of Princeton Seminary, we are not talking about a secular education institution, or a brewery (Aussies readers will understand), but a Bible College. One critic wrote, ‘we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.’  I am saddened by those words, that the Bible’s teaching on marriage, church, and gender should be viewed as toxic, and calling it toxic should be described as Christian.

Barnes admitted this had been “a hard conversation” but one “that a theologically diverse community can handle.” Clearly, they couldn’t handle it. No one is suggesting Princeton or any theologically egalitarian institution ought to invite complementarians to speak, teach, or be given awards. I’m pretty sure Tim Keller wasn’t petitioning for this or any prize. The lesson for institutions is simple, don’t stuff up by saying you’ll do something and then not doing it. I’m pretty sure there’s a Christian principle behind that one: “let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’” (Matt 5:37).

Sadly, this is not a first. Several years another respected American Christian thinker was in Australia for a series of missiology lectures, and one denomination (who were also sponsors) withdrew their support and invitation to speak, on account of his complementarian theology.

My Australian Christian friends who still believe avoiding these topics is the best policy, are living a fools paradise. We don’t make sexuality the issue, but society has, and it has determined that sexuality is the plumb line of moral truth in the Western world. Silence is not going to cut it, and defensive and angry responses miss the mark. Tim Keller has given us a wonderful model for responding; he has agreed to address a community who have publicly shunned him; that’s an example to us all.

‘when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.’ (1 Cor 4:13)

We live in this world, seeking to serve Christ and to imitate him in order to show the world his glory, truth and grace, and we do so with a sure and certain hope. As the Apostle Paul expressed to Timothy, ‘Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ If God has secured this ‘prize’ for us, we can afford to show grace to those who might identify us with toxicity. 

Two quick words about egalitarians:

It is important to distinguish between evangelical egalitarians and the kind of egalitarianism being proffered by Princeton and the PCUSA which includes affirming GLBT lifestyles and same-sex marriage. I disagree with the former, but the latter lies outside Christian orthodoxy.

This post is not a criticism of ‘evangelical’ egalitarian theology. I love my egalitarian friends and joyfully work alongside them for the advance of the Gospel. Obviously, we disagree on some matters, and we agree that these subjects matter and for that reason we don’t partner on some projects. I suspect though that even they would be disappointed by Princeton’s actions.


photo from The Gospel Coalition

Why I value expository preaching

Yesterday while enjoying a final day of annual leave, as a family we visited another church in Melbourne, which we enjoyed. The preacher took us to Colossians 1:15-29, exhorting us from Scripture to avoid domesticating Jesus and instead capturing a vision of this Lord of creation and Lord of the Church. It was a hot day and the building didn’t have any air conditioning. Did I mention, it was hot?! The poor kids did well, although they let out the occasional groan, as a reminder to Dad and Mum that they were feeling the heat. That aside, it was a joy to hear the Bible being opened, and the truth of Jesus Christ being affirmed and expounded.

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One of the highest and most humbling opportunities I have as a Christian minister is to preach God’s word. Preaching is an exciting yet fearful task. It brings immense pleasure and yet requires great earnestness.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

According to Paul, the aim of preaching is not to mystify people or to promote a personality or to gain profit, rather it is to ‘set forth the truth plainly’.

In one of the most famous charges ever given to a pastor, Paul says to his apprentice, Timothy,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)

This is such a helpful passage for understanding the work of the preacher:

  • We’re told what to do: preach.
  • We are told what to preach: the word.
  • We are given a context for preaching: all the time is the season for preaching. 
  • We are given a set of aims in preaching: to correct, rebuke and encourage those listening.
  • We are given instruction as to the manner in which we preach: with great patience and careful instruction.
  • We are not however given a method. Having said this, I believe the Bible comes closer to methodology than we at first realise, for the content and aim of the sermon must surely drive the method. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there is only one way to preach. There are several valid styles of preaching including topical, doctrinal and narrative. Even among expository preachers we discover slightly different approaches: Dick Lucas, Don Carson, Tim Keller and Phillip Jensen are all well known for their expository preaching and yet no two are alike in their preaching. 

Broadly speaking, all preaching ought to be expository preaching, in the sense that the content of our sermons must come from the Bible. The authoritative, true and sufficient word that God has given to us is the Bible, and as 2 Timothy 4:2 reminds us, it is a God given mandate that our message be this word.

Evangelistic, topical and doctrinal sermons all can and ought to be exposition of Scripture. By this I don’t mean the verse by verse exegesis and application of consecutive passages, but that the point of the sermon must be grounded in and shaped by the word of God. In fact, a sermon may pool together several different Bible passages and yet teach them in such a way that they are being explained and applied correctly.

More specifically, expository preaching is an approach where the preacher takes a self-contained portion of the Bible (usually a book, which is subsequently divided into its constituent sections and then systematically preached over a number of weeks or months). He then explains and applies that passage according to the natural parameters set by the text, which includes genre of writing, the original audience, place in salvation history, its theme and tone. This may take the form of a careful verse by verse exposition, or it may cover several chapters in a single sermon with the preacher teaching and applying the main points that are contained within it.

While this method for preaching is not dictated in Scripture, it is the approach to preaching that I have found most helpful as I seek to be faithful to 2 Corinthians 4:2 and 2 Timothy 4:2.  Here are 8 reasons:

  1. Expository preaching shows that the authority lies in the word not in the preacher
  2. It helps ensure that it is God through his word who is setting the agenda, and not the preacher or the congregation or issues around us.
  3. Expository preaching helps me to be clear in my preaching. There is a structure and message in the text. My role isn’t to create a message, but rather the passage gives me the parameters.
  4. I want to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. All Scripture is God-breathed and is for our benefit, so we should aim to eventually preach through the entire Bible (one very long term project!).
  5. I want the church to value the whole Bible. Scripture is an incredibly rich book and I want people to explore all of it.
  6. Far from creating dull or irrelevant preaching, expository preaching keeps me interested and challenged in my preaching, and it pushes my congregation There are 66 different books in the Bible written at different times in history by different authors, in more than 12 different genres, exploring hundreds of themes. The literary diversity of the Bible also helps the congregation to sustain interest in the preaching.
  7. It helps the church to follow the preaching from week to week as they can read ahead.
  8. It is harder for the preacher to ignore difficult and unpopular topics.

In a season where confidence in God’s word is diminishing as people read the Bible less, and the Bible is less frequently read and preached in Church, expository preaching offers a significant antidote.

There is more to preaching than method, and admittedly, there are potential dangers in preaching expositorily, but they have more to do with the preacher than the method: i.e. a lack of training, limited experience, or a preacher who takes short-cuts in their preparation. If I am aiming for my preaching to be faithful, clear, interesting, and compelling to the hearer, then expository preaching will serve me well.

The preacher’s task is immense: heaven and hell are the outcomes, life or death are on offer. Surely it is wise to pursue an approach that will help our preaching to be as faithful and clear as can be.

Respectful Relationships?

I agree with Daniel Andrews’ recent comments about the evils of domestic violence in our society, and I laud the Victorian Government for adopting strong measures to support victims and convict perpetrators. Domestic violence is a dreadful, dreadful thing: Sexual, physical, emotional, and material abuse is never justified.

In August 2015, Daniel Andrews announced that the program replacing SRI in schools would be Respectful Relationships, which has been introduced into secondary schools, and will be compulsory from kindergarten to year 10 in 2017.

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There are many things to like in the curriculum, but oddly, a significant portion of the material has little to do with domestic violence, but is teaching children how to find partners and have sex.

For example, year 8 students are asked to write an ad, describing what qualities they would like to find in a partner. Is it appropriate to ask 12 and 13 year old children what kind of sexual relationship that would like to have?  Is it healthy for children to be directed to online dating sites, and given examples, such as these found in the curriculum?:

‘hot gay gal 19 yo seeks outgoing fem 18-25 into nature, sport and nightlife for friendship and relationship’

‘lustful, sexually generous funny and (sometimes shy) Tiger1962 seeking sexy freak out with similar intentioned woman.’

Not only are young teenagers taught about what to look for in a partner, they are taught what to seek in sex, and they are taught what to believe about sexuality, even to explore and affirm alternative sexual orientations.

As one of the year 8 sessions explains, it is designed to,

“enable students to explore the concept of gender and the associated notions and expectations that have an impact on sexuality. It also provides them with the opportunity to connect issues of gender to different positions of power central to adolescent sexual behaviour. The activity also aims to extend their understanding of gender by exploring traditional notions of gender in a case study that examines the experience of a young transsexual person.”

Much of the ensuing material explores broadening the horizons of sexual relationships, with the determination of deconstructing the “narrow” view of gender.

It may surprise some people to learn that children can legally have sex in Victoria from the age of 12 (younger in some States), so long as it is consensual and the other person(s) is within the legal age bracket. This may be lawful, but I suspect many parents would be shocked to learn that schools teach our children it is okay for them to engage in sexual intercourse at such a young age.

We are fooling ourselves if we think that exposing children to these ideas will not result in influencing sexual and social behaviour. The fact that Respectful Relationships makes consent unequivocal (a vital point) does not mean the activity is therefore good and okay for the child.

Also astonishing is what is missing. In a curriculum teaching relationships and sex, marriage receives almost no mention. Why is that? Marriage is mentioned on a ‘character card’ where Stephen, a 16 year old Christian attending a Christian college, believes sex should only take place within marriage between a man and woman (got to love the pastiche Christian example!). And there is Maria, a 15 year old girl who doesn’t want to wait for marriage before experiencing sex. Otherwise, marriage is only mentioned as a power structure behind which domestic violence occurs. What a sad and miserable view of marriage. I understand there are marriages where appalling abuse happens, and in my work I have ministered to victims from such circumstances. But marriage is designed to be, and often is, a beautiful thing, and it remains the best model for loving and caring intimate relationships in society.

Is it not a wonderful thing when a couple covenant together for life, ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to love and to cherish’?

There is much sensible and good advice offered in Respectful Relationships, which could be easily taught without the intrusion of particular views on sexuality and without exposing young children to ideas that blemish their innocence. It is a travesty that the issue of domestic violence has been taken captive by sexual libertarian ideology.

Is it the role of Government to absolutise onto children a theory about gender that is disputable and widely contentious? James Merlino has made it clear that this curriculum is to be compulsory in Victorian schools; I wonder, is forcing explicit sexual language and ideas onto children, moral or even legal?

Far from solving the unspeakable horrors of domestic violence, it is ultimately presenting a different version of the me-centric vision of the world. Author, Tim Keller writes, ‘It is possible to feel you are “madly in love” with someone, when it is really just an attraction to someone who can meet your needs and address the insecurities and doubts you have about yourself. In that kind of relationship, you will demand and control rather than serve and give.’ 

Instead of leaning on a failed sexual revolution in order to find a way forward on domestic violence, would we not serve our children better  if we considered a paradigm of sacrifice and service, and where living for the good of others is esteemed more highly than our own gratification?