Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Scripture, Sexuality, and Secular Humanism by John Cleveland

In a recent TED talk titled, “Are We Designed to be Sexual Omnivores”, author Christopher Ryan makes the claim that the human desire to leave monogamy is rooted in his evolutionary trajectory.  He argues that we should be more understanding and embracing of homosexuality and polygamy since our hunter-gather ancestors operated in a similar fashion [1].  In other words, monogamy is not the best way, and our ancestors knew this, and so should we.

Clearly, this is secular humanism at its best and it cleverly leaves out any mention of morality or the nature of sin.  But, thinking such as this really has nothing to say on the topic of monogamy or marriage since it has removed God and his promises from its foundation.

Monogamy in marriage is a moral expectation of the christian life that is talked about repeatedly in scripture.  In 1 Corinthians 7:2 Paul says, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (ESV).  In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul even cites monogamy as being an obvious expectation for an elder.  And, of course, the Old Testament roots of these teachings can be found as early as Genesis 2:24 - “... a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV).

In Karl Barth's Life of the Children of God he talks about how our capacity to love our neighbors as ourselves is rooted in the hypostatic union of Christ.  Jesus, in his incarnation, makes himself my neighbor and the resurrection becomes proof of his love [2].  This uniting of God with man is the foundational block for how man should and can love his neighbor.  Similarly, the uniting of God's Spirit with man's is the foundational block for how we are to understand marriage and our sexuality.

We see throughout scripture this clear desire and purpose of God to be united with his creation.  It starts with God breathing his own breath of life into man and then walking with him in the garden, and it continues throughout his repeated promises to be our God and we be his people (Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12).  In Ezekiel 36:26-27, however, we see what is perhaps the most intimate declaration of this promise.  “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ez. 36:26-27, ESV).  God promises to put his Spirit inside us!  Not just his words or something abstract like his love, but the third part of the Trinity … in us!

And the New Testament takes this even farther.  Jesus, who is God and is called our “Bridegroom”, prays in John 17:21 that believers would be united to each other as the Father is united to the Son and they also be united to God.  The union of Jesus to the Father is the union upon which family, sonship and love itself is based, and Jesus wants us to be united to each other and to God in that way.  God clearly desires oneness with his people and monogamy in marriage, two becoming one, is simply a reflection of that.  Our capacity to obey this moral expectation can only be found, therefore, in looking at the fidelity and faithfulness of Christ to his Father and his bride.

--John Cleveland is the Director of Youth Ministries at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 


[1]  “Christopher Ryan: Are we designed to be sexual omnivores?” TED, February 2014, accessed February 20, 2014. http://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_ryan_are_we_designed_to_be_sexual_omnivores.html.

[2]   Barth, Karl.  Church Dogmatics: Volume 1: Life of the Children of God. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, April 2009), 424.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ask Pastor Matt: What Does Paul Mean by "Falling from Grace"?

Pastor Matt,

I was reading in Galatians and came across 5:4 today, "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (ESV). 

The "fallen from grace" language is interesting. Are we to think of a different kind of "grace," or a different kind of "falling away," since we are confident that it doesn't mean losing your salvation?


That's a great question, Andrew. I think that you are perceptive to conclude that Paul cannot be speaking of an individual at one time having salvation, and then later losing it and becoming "unsaved."

When the Bible speaks about individual salvation, it presumes that conversion is something far more profound than an individual simply "making a decision" for Christ, and then later changing his mind later and undoing it all.

No, conversion is a renewal of the inner-man that begins when he is regenerated (literally: made alive again), granted new life in Christ, crosses over from death to life, receives the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14), and is spiritually remade by grace as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Conversion, then is a complete transformation of a man that cannot be lost, stolen, or taken away (Romans 8:28-30; 37-39).

So, as with most difficult passages, context is key for Galatians 5:4.

In the Galatian letter, Paul is concerned that the church at large has been infiltrated with another "gospel" (1:6) that teaches salvation is to be obtained through other means (or in addition to) faith alone in Christ. Specifically, the Galatian church had been infiltrated by a heretical sect or leader (see 1:7; 5:12; 5:7-10). It appears that the inroads made by this false teaching, which apparently placed undue emphasis on circumcision, is putting the entire congregation in jeopardy.

This explains Paul's outrage in 1:6-9. He even calls them fools collectively (3:1)! (Note: Pastors, don't try this at home!) By the time we get to 5:4 (the text in question), Paul is ready to use even more shocking language yet to describe the precipitous danger of turning as a congregation to the slavery of the Law, under which no man is justified (Romans 3:20).

The "falling away" then, would seem to me to be a collective doctrinal failure as a Gospel-preaching church. The Galatians are at risk of becoming a cult, or sect, of true Apostolic Christianity. The grammatical use of the plural "you" in 5:4 makes me think that Paul is warning them as a whole church here, not as individuals whom he fears may get "unsaved."

"Grace" then would seem to me to refer here, not as shorthand for any one person's individual salvation, (although I grant that it is sometimes used that way) but rather the broader "grace" of being a community of believers in covenant with the gracious Christ of the Gospel. By becoming heretical, the Galatians are at risk of losing their position as a light and a witness in the world for the saving Gospel: by faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thanks for the question!

--Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Friday, February 14, 2014

What 'Study Bible' Should I Buy?

Dear Pastor Matt, 

I am looking for a good Study Bible for a younger reader, what edition should I buy? 



Hey Judy! Thanks for writing! This is a common question that I am asked from time to time, so this would be a good opportunity to discuss it in some detail.

Going to a Christian bookstore can be daunting, as there are so many Bible editions to choose from. In fact, there are now more "special edition" Bibles than ever before in the history of the world.

Too many, I might suggest.

One can choose from Men's Bibles, Women's Bibles, Student's Bibles, Soldier's Bibles, Businessman's Bibles, Athlete's Bibles, Patriot's Bibles, Underwater Basket Weaver's Bibles, ad nauseum. (Okay, I made that last one up). There is even a "Green Edition" Bible for those who love environmental conservation! (Not kidding this time). But is this really necessary?  I think not.

In general, I would avoid most of the above versions as they tend to cater towards marketing strategy rather than faithful Biblical explanation. It seems to me that the publishers are angling at a niche market rather than faithful Biblical precision.

A good "study" Bible should have some or most of the following features: cross-references, concept charts, maps, and chronological helps, in addition to an index (or concordance) and some basic introductory explanations of each book's literary background (author, date, and situation). Many go even further and give quite detailed exegetical details on the bottom of the page to help explain the original meaning of the text to the reader.

Other "study" Bibles focus more on "life application" and tend to spill more ink on making the Scriptures practical and relevant for today's readers rather than explanatory (or expository). To me these are a little bit more lightweight and I feel the Spirit does a pretty good job applying the text to convict me on His own! For this reason, I prefer the more technical aspects of the former type above.

Let's begin with the best at the top of the line.

The ESV Study Bible (pictured above) is simply the best one made. Honestly, it has no peers. It contains the notes and contributions of some of the world's best scholars, pastors, and theologians on the planet. Nothing like it has ever been attempted or accomplished before or since. Never before has more excellent explanatory notes, charts, and articles been spliced together between the same two covers. The maps are full-color and highly detailed. Book introductions are excellent. The ESV Study Bible even comes with several dozen theological articles in the back, with very well done treatises on basic Christian doctrine, ethics, and apologetics.

The drawback is it's size. It weighs in at nearly 69 oz. I often joke that I had to rent a new mini-van in order to get it to church. For some readers, too, the sheer amount of additional content (what I like best) will actually be its greatest weakness. It does verge, I will admit, on overkill. I use this version weekly--along with many other helpful tools of my study--for sermon preparation.

A second option is its smaller daughter, the ESV Study Bible Personal Size. (Pictured right). The interior layout is exactly the same with two very significant differences. (1) The size and dimensions of the overall Bible is smaller and therefore it weighs less, at about 43 ounces. (2) It does not come with the extra articles in the back, making it somewhat thinner. Still a beast though. Readers will be just as delighted in the running commentary along the bottom of the page as with the larger edition above. This is what I use for my personal and family devotions at home.

Another version entirely is the Gospel Transformation Bible. (Not pictured). This too is done with excellent scholarly teamwork. One major difference here is that it tends more towards application than exposition. For this reason, it might be a better option for those who do not need (or want) the technical depth of the two versions I just mentioned.

I would recommend this edition to high school students, college students, new believers, or just "regular folks" looking to get a bit meatier with their devotions, but who won't be writing doctoral dissertations any time soon!

Ever want to create your own study Bible? The ESV Journaling Bible is excellent for this. It comes with huge margins on both pages with lines for you to take notes on sermons, or jot down your thoughts. Jonathan Edwards would have loved this because he once tried to create this by splicing together blank paper between the pages of his Bible. I use this for making references to all of those great insights I discover in other reading that I do. Sometimes I think, "Man I really need to remember that when I come to Romans eight!" So even if I'm not preaching from that passage any time soon, I jot that note in the margins. Later, I may return to it after weeks, months, or years. 

Finally, let me suggest the exact opposite of a study Bible. I got turned on to this alternative late last year and it has become a favorite of mine.

The ESV Single Column Legacy Bible has nothing but the text of Scripture. No notes. No cross-references. Nothing. No maps. No charts. Why would anyone want this?

For me the answer is simple, when I am preaching and teaching, I don't want my vision obstructed by all the extra data filling up the page. I just want the text with large, white, spacious margins for my own sermon notes and outlines. This Bible is one of the most visually stunning I have seen for the very reason that it DOESN'T have all the glitz and glamor of today's study Bibles. Nothing like a clean page with just the Word of God on it. Beautiful.

Hope that helps! If you have a specific Study Bible that you recommend, share it in your comments below!

-Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Three Years in the Mind of a Genius: Why I'm Writing My Doctoral Dissertation on Jonathan Edwards' Theology of Joy

"When someone preaches your funeral one day, they outta say, 'It was during the writing of his doctoral dissertation that he encountered the truth that set his whole ministry on fire again and gave him a renewed love of the pastorate!"

That was the advice that I received at the dissertation seminar recently at Reformed Theological Seminary, in Orlando Florida.

I have known for some time that I needed to determine a specific topic for my dissertation. Very specific. I didn't want to choose one too quickly and end up getting bored--or wait too long to get started and waste precious time and energy.

So I began to ponder one simple question: If I had to spend three years of my life in the mind of someone brilliant, someone who could help me the most to shape my worldview and my understanding of pastoral ministry, who would it be? To say it another way, who or what can I study that will renew my own heart, rigorously engage my intellect, and benefit my entire congregation as well?

I knew instinctively it had to be someone who was a pastor. He would have to understand the daily blessings and trials of loving people, leading a local congregation, and engaging Scripture on a profound and worshipful level. 

Almost immediately, I narrowed it down to two men: John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. Both men held high views of Scripture. Both men are in my Christian tradition (Reformed/Presbyterian). I've spent hours in both men already, and read thousands of pages by each to my own soul's great profit.

But then it struck me like a lightening bolt: Edward's view of joy!

Throughout the entire corpus of Edwards' writing, joy (or as he often termed it, 'happiness') pervades. It is everywhere. It is rich like thick oil in his Religious Affections. It smells sweetly and gloriously in his Miscellanies. It blossoms to full flower in many (most?) of his sermons to his own congregation.

Here is an example: 
Wherefore, seeing happiness is the highest end of the creation of the universe, and intelligent beings are that consciousness of the creation that is to be the immediate subject of this happiness, how happy may we conclude will be those intelligent beings that are to be made eternally happy! (Misc. #3).
The glory of God--especially as He reveals Himself to us in the Gospel--is the supreme joy for which we were created.

In the next three years, my goal will be to read as much as I can by and about Jonathan Edwards. There are over 70 volumes in his own writings, so I doubt I will ever run out of material to study. 

I will put his theology, his ministry, his philosophy, his quirks and idiosyncracies (we all have them), as well as his failures and successes under a microscope. I will not make him an idol or put his words on par with Scripture. On the contrary, I will continue to consider him as a man, a fallible mortal, like myself.

But most of all, I will look to Jonathan Edwards' view of joy.
  • What is it? 
  • What is it not? 
  • How do we apprehend it? 
  • Where does it come from?
  • How to we hold on to it in the midst of our struggles? 
  • From what Scriptural basis does Edwards find the most support for his views? 
  • Did Edwards encounter this joy personally, or does he write about it merely theoretically? 
  • Perhaps most importantly of all, how can I share his passion for joy with my own congregation?
Three years in the mind of a genius on the topic of "joy."

Here we go: three, two, one... jump!

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Living Proof of Creationism

I, like many, had the opportunity to watch the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. As usual in debates like these, the two experts were unwaveringly convinced that their way of interpreting the same evidence was correct and the other’s way was wrong. If you are a creationist you probably thought that Ham was the victor and if you are an evolutionist then you were likely more impressed by Nye’s arguments. However, there was one piece of evidence that was overlooked throughout the debate and was briefly alluded to during the Q&A. That evidence is life. Life itself is unexplainable for the evolutionist.

Now, I’m not a scientist and I’m sure the self proclaimed experts could wax eloquently about the progress of biogenesis or abiogenesis, but the fact remains that the greatest minds the scientific community has ever produced have not even come close to discovering the source of life. Since Louis Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation 150 years ago, scientists have presented different hypotheses but have made no progress other than to discover more ways that it did not happen. In short scientific method gives us no answer to the question of life’s origin.

There is, however, one explanation that is completely consistent to the “reasonable man’s” observation of the world around us. That would be the Biblical explanation. Genesis reveals three things, among others, about life that is obvious to the rational mind. The first thing is that life was created by a living being. We know that life can only be produced by life. That is scientific fact. The Bible teaches that God has eternal life in himself and that in the “beginning,” that is, the beginning of time as we know and observe it, he created creatures and gave them life. This is difficult for the humanists to accept because they limit themselves to only the knowledge that they can acquire themselves, and that only of the natural sphere of knowledge. This limited perspective handicaps them from understanding the deeper mysteries of the universe. Since they have no room in their thinking for revelation from the spiritual or eternal sphere, they are left guessing.

The second thing revealed in the Biblical revelation is that life reproduces life after its kind. This is so obvious that it takes a Ph.D. to make it difficult. A flea reproduces a flea, a fish reproduces a fish, a dog reproduces a dog, a horse reproduces a horses, etc. Furthermore we are informed that God created man in his own image, therefore man is unique in comparison to the other creatures. We as humans are unique in our intelligence, our morals, our consciousness, our relationships, etc. Because we are created by God for his purpose we reflect characteristics of his triune existence. We exist to share in his eternal life.

The third thing we learn in Genesis is that life ends because of rebellion against God and his purpose. This is the curse of sin. There is no greater evidence against the evolutionary process than the absolute certainty of death. Everything that is alive is going to die. It is universal and certain. Like a curse on all of creation. That would be the curse of sin. Scientist cannot, no matter how hard they try, figure out how to stop death. We are all moving toward that inevitable end because God has appointed it to us.

However, because God is love, which creates another problem for the evolutionists, he has provided the perfect atonement for our sins and made a way for those of us who believe on the name of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to experience the eternal life that we were created to enjoy. The person and work of Jesus Christ is central to God’ plan for the human race. It is obvious to the rational mind that human history is filled with meaning and purpose. We are moving toward a great end that was designed by an awesome God. The Scriptures command you to turn from your sin and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ so that you may have eternal life. The evolutionary hypothesis leaves no room for this great truth. It gives you no cause, purpose, or life. Choose this day whom you will serve. The Eternal God of the universe, or the ideas of men who will soon die with you.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Prayer for Those Who Pray (February) by Dr. Bellamy

Father, Lead Me Day by Day
Dr. Wilfred Bellamy

As I sat down to write the Prayer for Those Who Pray, an old hymn and its melody began to permeate my thoughts. I sang it in my mind and then out loud, then I checked the words on the internet, and rejoiced in its truth. Essentially it is a prayer that we all can pray. Please join me.
Father, lead me day by day, ever in Thine own sweet way, teach me to be pure and true, show me what I ought to do!
When in danger make me brave, make me know that Thou canst save, keep me safe by Thy dear side, let me in Thy love abide.
When I'm tempted to do wrong, make me steadfast, wise, and strong; and when all alone I stand, shield me with Thy mighty hand.
May I do the good I know, be Thy loving child below, then at last go home to Thee, evermore Thy child to be.
-John P. Hopps.
Father, all of this hymn is mine to pray, but as I come before you today I confess that it is the third verse that has its grip on me. I know what it is to be tempted to do wrong. The enemy of souls is ever vigilant to anticipate my weaknesses and to frustrate your purposes for me. So to ask you for wisdom and strength, and discernment, is the best thing for me to do, that I may see more clearly the way that you would have me to go, and to walk according to it.

The most difficult thing for me is to stand alone. You have taught me to be firm in the faith, to stand strong, to be bold, and never to fear the truth, and for this I am grateful. As I proclaim your truth I sense your pleasure, and sometimes the displeasure of others. It is here that the hymn means so much to me ... "and when all alone I stand, shield me with Thy might hand."

Please help me when I am misunderstood, or I have spoken carelessly and feel your rebuke because of it. I know what it is to stand alone, but give me the courage to do that when truth is at stake and falsehood stares me in the face. Deliver me from the temptation to compromise, or to fear the calumny of others, inside the church and beyond, and "shield me with your mighty hand" when you have given me the peace of knowing that I am doing your will. 

But may this never be a source of pride for me. While I love the sense of the rightness of things that you affirm in me, I cannot claim ownership nor boast in correctness, because this is all of you. I would be humble, faithful, appreciative, and honest in my appraisal of all that happens in my life, and glorify you in it. You are Lord of my life and I honor you. 

It is a miracle of your grace that I was rescued from my life of sin and Hell's destination, and my feet planted on the rock of my salvation, even the Lord Jesus Christ. I rejoice that in Him I have life, and "have it more abundantly". So dear Father, "lead me day by day!" 

I ask this in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

-Dr. Bellamy is an ordained pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and a former missionary to Nigeria.