Part 2: Divorce and Remarriage

This is the second post in a two-part essay. In the first essay I considered when is divorce a biblically viable choice: click here to read. What I want to cover here is the challenging subject of whether remarriage is ever permissible after divorce.

It is a challenging for a number of reasons. First, the five New Testament texts that seem to deal with remarriage seem to be saying different things. It is also challenging because divorce runs rampant in our culture; whatever the statistics, many Christian people do it. And finally it is challenging because most pastoral leaders are simply quiet on the issue because of whom they might offend or hurt.

But these challenges should not stop us from entering into these tumultuous waters. Instead, they remind us to tread carefully and humbly. What I will seek to do below is to consider the texts on divorce in light of one another and then see if we can draw conclusions and a biblically-based ethic framework for remarriage after divorce.


The 5 pertinent New Testament texts are:

“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:32‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,”
‭‭Mark‬ ‭10:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“”Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:15‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:39‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Some of reflections on these texts:

First, it is clear from these verses that marriage is a nearly insoluble relationship apart from death except in the most dire of circumstances:

  1. adultery
  2. abandonment.

Just because marriage is hard, feelings have turned neutral/negative, your partner has changed from whom you committed to or any other of the plethora of reasons people give as reasons for divorce today, we can say biblically that none of them give license to get divorced. Such illigetimate reasons for divorce are sin and simply unthinkable in a Christian framework.

Secondly, one will notice from these texts that it is assumed that it will only be a man who would get a divorce. This is because these texts in their cultural context knew that for the most part only men initiate divorce. That being said, today divorce can be initiated by either spouse and we can rightly interchange husband with wife or vice versa without touching the integrity of the text.

Thirdly, the Matthew, Mark and Luke texts are quite similar in language and construction yet the Matthew text seems to give the possibility for remarriage after divorce. In the Matthew text the husband who divorces for legitimate biblical reasons has no outright restrictions on remarriage. It is by far the most expansive view on divorce from the teachings of Jesus. The other two verses are quite restrictive and seem to say that any remarriage after divorce is an act of committing adultery.

What ought we do with this seeming contradiction between these teachings of Jesus? It seems reasonable to go with the most expansive verse. If as a parent I give several instructions to my child and one of the instructions give more freedom than some other instruction, the child is not at fault in any way for following the more freedom-filled instruction. Something similar seems to be happening here. Also, the Matthew text has within it a pastoral accommodation that need not be ignored even though the other two texts don’t have it. The text does not fully restrict remarriage after divorce and this accommodation has a quality of mercy that seems to me to be authentically from the heart of Jesus. My reading of the gospel texts get greater validity based upon the 1 Corinthians text which I cover below.

My final observation of these texts is based upon a close reading of 1 Corinthians 7. This Pauline text along with the expansive position of the Matthew text seem to give permission for remarriage in specific circumstances and is by far the strongest biblical argument for remarriage after divorce. 1 Cor 7:15, in the case of abandonment, the abandoned spouse is no longer bound to the marriage. This word “bound” is used again in
7:39. In vs. 39, “bound” is used by Paul as the clarifying ethical marker of whether remarriage is permissible. If the husband dies, the spouse is no longer bound and is free to remarry. Following Paul’s own logic, if a person is divorced for abandonment or adultery, they are no longer bound to the marriage, just like in death, and are freed to be remarried. This can be seen as a pastoral accommodation given by Paul similar to Jesus in the Matthew text. Taken together, a clear path is given.

Permission for remarriage for adultery or abandonment is not explicitly declared in any of the NT texts but the ethical framework seems fairly clear. One reason, perhaps, why it is not explicitly spelled out is that for Paul  such circumstances, among Christians, will be extremely rare and not a current reality in the Corinth church. For Paul and for us, most couples need to work out their marriage as unto the Lord. The reasons for the textual differences in Jesus’ teaching are less clear. But with the whole New Testament in view, in the cases of adultery or abandonment, a path for remarriage seems to be given.


An ethical framework for remarriage

Assuming my conclusions are correct, below is a biblically based ethical framework for remarriage after divorce.

  • Divorce and remarriage are possibilities allowed only in specific circumstances–adultery & abandonment (for a treatment on abandonment read part one).
  • Almost all married, Christian couples are biblically required to stay in their first marriage and do the work required to stay together.
  • If a couple is in their second marriage for illegitimate reasons they have sinned but since divorce to “fix” the original sin is a sin as well, one must ask which sin causes the least destruction. It seems clear that the couple in their second marriage should repent, accept mercy and seek to have a thriving marriage and not end it. Because God is gracious, we ought to expect God’s goodness to move in this marriage. He regularly does good to sinners. Thank God for that.
  • In the case of divorce where the marriage ended for illegitimate reasons (no longer in-love, fight too much, we no longer know each other, etc.), the divorced couple are commanded to embrace singleness. The marriage season is done and now they are singularly with the Lord and his church. In this relationship with God and his church, they will learn his fidelity and love. No doubt it might be a hard road of suffering. It is a long discipline towards holiness.
  • A christian couple who have divorced for illegitimate reasons but have not remarried to others should seriously consider getting remarried. This is clear in Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth.

I pray these two posts have been helpful. Please comment below on any questions you have or concerns.

Divorce and Remarriage: Part One

As a pastor, one of the hardest things I deal with on a regular basis is walking with couples who get divorced. And secondarily the challenge of helping a person who is divorced walk through the biblical reality of whether remarriage is morally permissible in his or her situation. This is painful, hard work filled with suffering, guilt and doubt. Most Christians want to follow Christ in their marriage but not many know how to follow Christ in divorce and remarriage.

What I want to do in the next couple of posts is describe what I believe are biblically legitimate reasons for divorce, what aren’t, and explore biblical realities of remarriage. The hope is that this can help you personally or be a resource if you are walking with a couple or person navigating some of the most difficult relational/emotional waters of life.

This first post will consider biblical reasons for divorce. The second post will look at whether the Bible ever endorses remarriage after divorce.


Biblical Reasons for Divorce

There seems to be two biblical reasons for divorce.

  1. Adultery is the clearest and strongest reason for divorce by the aggrieved spouse. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus gives adultery as a reason for divorce. It is the clearest and strongest reason for a divorce but it is a relational concession not a command. Marriages can survive adultery and even become more beautiful on the other side. But some marriages are so broken after the affair and the years of pain that made adultery even possible that divorce is a suitable moral decision. For the sake of putting to death a union that has brought death to the couple and those around them, divorce might offer some kind of relief.

The word used here for adultery is porneia. This word is used in the New Testament for all sexual activity outside of the marital covenant. This of course includes physical, sexual relationships and I believe unrepentant, ongoing pornography use as well.

All this is said with a clear gospel caveat. The ethical framework of love which marriage is to embody (1 Cor 13) should be employed if the sinning spouse is convicted and doing the serious work of repentance. Love forgives all things and keeps no records of wrongs. If the adulterous spouse is seeking to follow Jesus, the aggrieved spouse is mandated by gospel love to follow Jesus by seeking marital reconciliation. No matter the sin, if the sinning spouse is repentant, the faithful spouse should seek to see if the marriage can be salvaged. Remember, marriage is for life.

  1. The second reason for divorce is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:15. There, divorce is possible if an unbelieving spouse leaves one’s married partner. In such a case, the believing spouse need not hold on to a marriage which the other has abandoned. Paul says to live in peace. Divorce might make that possible.

I think this reason by Paul is actually an ethical framework for ending a broken marriage. It would be unthinkable for Paul that a believing spouse would ever leave his believing spouse. This is based upon Paul’s belief, expounded in Ephesians 5, that Christian marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. Christ is the faithful spouse even when his bride is serially unfaithful. When she returns, he will always accept her without shame or condemnation. This gracious, kind love should always be on display in marriage. Thus, only an unbelieving spouse would leave his partner for no cause. A believing spouse would endure with Christian hope.

Thus, if a spouse leaves his spouse, he is revealing that he is an unbelieving spouse. Paul seems to say as much in 1 Timothy 5:8. There, Paul makes clear that if a “believer “ does not take care of his family, he is worse than an unbeliever. What can be worse than an unbeliever? A hypocrite–one who says one thing but acts contrary to his profession thus revealing no real faith. In marriage, when a spouse professes faith but serially does not keep his commitments to spouse and family, he is a hypocrite and the very act of not living up to one’s vows reveals that he is an unbelieving spouse. Consequently, it is my opinion that if a believer is left by one’s spouse, Paul gives an ethical concession for divorce.

The word for “leave” in the Corinthian’s text has as its connotation the idea of actively distancing yourself from your spouse. This for sure happens in physical abandonment but it can also happen emotionally too. One can be physically present but has left his or her partner in every sense of the word.

Here I think of the husband who gambles his salary against his wife’s wishes and leaves the bills unpaid. When she confronts him, he berates her as judgmental and nothing ever really changes. This lasts for years. He is acting as an unbeliever and has left his spouse.

I think of the verbally abusive wife who for years belittles her husband for every mistake crushing his masculinity and destroying his soul. She always undermines him and he is reduced to a sheepish boy. He seeks to be faithful and loving but she won’t stop. But after years of trying, it is hell to be with her. Her meanness is one thing, her unwillingness to partner with her spouse to change the dynamics of the marriage is another. She is acting as an unbeliever and has left her spouse.

I think of the addicted spouse who won’t get help. Whether drugs or alcohol, her addiction causes great harm to her partner. He tries to love her but she loves the high more than her commitments. She has become her addiction and has nothing relationally for her spouse. For years she lives in the cycle of her addiction and he pays with his very soul. She is acting as an unbeliever and has left her spouse.

Finally, I think of the cold, harsh, abusive husband who is more tyrant than lover. Everywhere in the familial sphere he goes, he brings contempt and criticism. He belittles his spouse and won’t stop, no matter how many times she begs for them to get counseling or pastoral help. After years of this, she has lost her identity and any semblance of joy. He is acting as an unbeliever and has left his spouse.

It seems to me that it is not incidents or even seasons of “separation” that give legitimacy to possible divorce for Paul. But instead, a settled condition over time in the sinning spouse that declares through actions that his or her heart has left the marriage. Where this has happened, divorce might be warranted.

A couple of caveats. First, divorce is never commanded and need not be chosen. There might be good reasons to stay in a marriage where a spouse has “left”. Perhaps God has given the faithful spouse deep hope, or patience in pain or joy in suffering. In such cases, one ought to endure. For as Paul says, your faithful, committed love might bring about salvation for your spouse (see 1 Cor 7:16). But sometimes, this is not possible or healthy.

So where a sinning spouse has “left” the marriage, how does the faithful spouse decide it is time to end the marriage? First, I think there is an obligation to do all one can to awaken the leaving spouse to his or her commitments. I’m thinking of significant time living out patient love. I also think that when crisis hits, it is imperative to bring in wise council long before one begins divorce proceedings. And if one wise person doesn’t make headway, then bring in another. A competent pastor or counselor can bring help to a marriage the two partners can’t imagine. We should fight for our marriage until there is nothing there to fight for.

What I want to make sure I don’t convey is that the next time your spouse is mean or distant or forgets pay the bills, you can get a divorce. No. Divorce is the last option. It is a horrible option. But sometimes, sadly things need to die. Divorce is to name dead what is horribly ill and has no chance at being resuscitated.

One point of necessary clarification: one should always physically leave a serial, abusive relationship until wholesale change in the abusing spouse has happened and has been verified by trustworthy pastors/counselors and proper boundaries have been put in place. A serial abuser is immersed in patterns of behavior and thought that are not easily broken. In such circumstances, clear boundaries must be set with the help of counselors and pastoral help. It is too easy for love to become a sick cycle of dependency and abuse without outside wisdom. Abusive relationships are serious and need serious intervention. But even with all that said, Christ can redeem anyone willing to nail his/her flesh on the cross. I know. I’ve seen it. Don’t give up easily. Christ can do unbelievable things.

When all this work has been done and the leaving spouse has not returned, the decision to divorce is based upon what will bring “peace” according to Paul. Here peace means the cessation of ongoing conflict. There comes a point where seeking faithfulness just brings chaos, bitterness, soul death and pain. No one can live there forever. When a marriage has degraded to the point of a living hell and the leaving spouse won’t live up to his commitments or even try, divorce might bring peace. However painful such peace might be.


I do not think most Christian marriages that end in divorce have legitimate reasons for divorce. Instead, embracing a cultural belief of romantic love or personal happiness as ultimate ends, couples break life long vows. I think most Christians who divorce give up far too easily. I cannot tell you how many times I have been with couples when the aggrieved spouse declares he or she is done (often for good reasons) but then the sinning spouse finally begins the kind of gospel, personal change that would make the marriage beautiful but the aggrieved spouse won’t seek reconciliation. This is sin, it has life-long consequences and tarnishes the name of Christ.

Life-long commitment to one person is hard work. It is not for the faint hearted. There will be suffering and pain. But also joy, laughter and love. It might be the hardest thing one can do but it is well worth it. In marriage, we become mature in the fire of love. It is worth the work. In it you can experience Christ and become like him.

But for some, the work becomes soul crushing. Unrepentant unfaithfulness or abandonment from an unrepentant spouse over a span of years is something no one should endure. In such cases, divorce is an option. There is little good in it but it is better than the alternative. Sometimes, in this world, this is the best we can hope for.

In the next post we will consider divorce and remarriage.

An Open Letter from Bob Bouwer, Charlie Contreras and Ron Citlau

Dear friends,

Christian community in a broken world with sinful people–ourselves first to admit our sinfulness–is hard! Even among close friends finding the right way to do church is rife with cliffs and chasms. We have learned this first hand.

A few weeks ago Charlie Contreras and Bob Bob Bouwer (& Scott Treadway) representing the Gospel Alliance met with representatives of Room for All and did the hard work of Christian community seeking a way forward for the RCA over issues of the authority of Scriptures and sexuality. It was a hard but good meeting. From that meeting a statement of agreement was worked on and agreed to by both organizations. Ron Citlau read the statement when it became public and wrote a critique of it. Though there was limited communication between the three of us before Ron’s critique, there was not adequate time given to process the original statement or the critique among the three of us. We have been friends a long time and there were hurt feelings, misunderstanding and unneeded wounding. But there is grace and mercy. We have had good conversations, become better friends, and grown deeper in the Lord. We wanted you to know that. We also wanted to share with you learnings and clarifications so our mistakes might serve you in your journey of following Christ:

  1. In Christ, any conflict can be worked through if there is humility on all sides. We experienced this. We saw Matthew 18 work it’s good work.
  2. We all needed to ask for mercy and forgiveness.
  3. Proverbs 15:22 declares, “without counsel plans fail but with many advisors they succeed.” The original joint statement needed more editing before it went public because it doesn’t reflect our views on sexuality and redemption or The Gospel Alliance.
  4. The critique blog post should have been given to GA’s leadership team with time to respond before being published for a chance of doing this all privately and fixing the original joint statement.
  5. All of this hard work needed to be done face-to-face.
  6. We, and the Gospel Alliance, joyfully stand with the traditional Christian view of marriage and redemption. Marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman for life; and Christ redeems sexual sinners. This has never changed for us or GA and won’t, God willing.
  7. Relationships matter. We must not just seek to be right we must treat each other rightly as our master commands. We are more committed to this than ever (Matthew 22:37-40).

Conflicts like this have much to teach us and to grow us if we are willing to learn. We want to grow and learn! We will keep talking, repenting and loving. We deeply care for each other, the local church and our denomination. We will continue standing and fighting for the good. We hope you will join us.

In Brotherly Love,

Bob, Charlie and Ron

What the heck is truth anyway?

One of the interesting realities we now live in is that we cannot agree on what is the basic reality of truth. For some, “truth” is used to ostracize, correct, bully and hurt people. For others “truth” is about what can be described and measured in the physical world. For others, “truth” is a social construct that is a collective consensus about what will make humanity happy. And still others think that truth does not exist at all, or at least its unknowable; they think that truth is a subjective reality and that each person has a right to decide what is true for himself or herself.

And when it comes to religious truth, it is laughed at as not a serious form of inquiry and study. Religious truth for living life and to navigate reality has been marginalized to those poor souls who need an “opiate” for their survival. It is seen as useless as a newspaper horoscope.

Yet, does political truth, scientific truth, postmodern truth, or the truth of utilitarianism actually help us answer the deepest questions of life? At least since the time of Socrates, and I am convinced much earlier than that, humanity has sought to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of human life and why do I exist?
  2. What is goodness and how do I live a good life?
  3. Is there a divine presence that gives order, meaning and purpose to life, and does this divine presence promise life after death?

And for all the good of scientific knowledge, the philosophy of the enlightenment and postmodernity, their answers to these questions leave me fundamentally realizing that they give no compelling answers. At least for me.

At the center of this conversation for two millennia stands Jesus of Nazareth. This marginalized prophet has shaped our culture more than any other man who has ever existed. Hate him or love him, he stands as perhaps the most brilliant thinker humanity has ever had.

Jesus said he embodied truth. One wonders if when Jesus says truth and the folks on tv declare their truth, or the scientist shares the truths from telescopes and microscopes, or the modern or postmodern philosophers share their truths, if everyone is talking about the same thing.

One of the things that I am deeply interested in is to know the truth that Jesus said he represented and to see personally if he answers adequately the big questions of human life. So, I am on a personal crusade to know and challenge the definitions of truth that now flood our minds and compare them to how Jesus defines truth. I want to discern what is the nature of his truth and I want to know how to use “Jesus truth” in the most helpful and appropriate ways. I desire to extract principles for life from what he taught and lived.

First, we need to define truth. I think many of us define truth as objective reality–what can be measured, categorized and dissected. For example when I say, “the moon is up in space, going a certain speed, weighs a certain amount and orbiting around the earth”, I observe the physical world and then make linguistic representations of those observations. This is the truth of modernity. But objective truth (perhaps scientific truth is a better phrase) has its limits. It cannot tell me what is beautiful. It cannot tell me what is the nature of courage, compassion or love. It can describe synoptic firings and sociological stats but it cannot tell me why something is valuable (like why we love Mozart). In other words, it cannot tell me in any adequate way answers to the questions humanity has been asking for millennia. In fact, it has no framework to ask such questions or seek adequate answers.

The philosophers have been seeking truth too. They have been on the journey of defining truth for millennia. To their credit, they have been asking the right questions but their answers have sometimes done more harm than good.

Pre-modern philosophers answered these questions primarily through a deep belief in a metaphysical world. It was a time of myth, magic and mystery. It was also a time of deep human suffering. Everything was a spirit or force and the powerful used the spiritual to do horrendous things. Pre-modernity got many things wrong but it grounded truth in an eternal, spiritual universe. It gave sure answers to the big questions even if it did it at the expense (often but not always) of human dignity.

The modern era brought logic, science and it demystified the world. There weren’t spirits everywhere but atoms and gravity. It was also the rise of individualism, rationalism, and capitalism. And eventually science and rationality usurped truth as a reality and knowledge needed to live well and instead became about observation and individual autonomy. But at some point in the 19th century and surely by the early 20th century, truth as objective reality and a rationalistic endeavor just wasn’t answering the big questions. And this was mostly because our progress in science, rationalism and individual determination had shown (supposedly) that there was no god and we were an accident of accidents and our existence is just a whiff in cosmic time. For all the good of this era (in which we still live), it killed humanity’s eternal soul.

From there postmodernity was born in the quest for truth. Science, rationalism, naturalism and capitalism gave us freedom and a better quality of life but left the big questions unanswered in any compelling way. If god is dead, it must be that each person must answer these questions on her own if it is even worth trying. Truth is relative and unknown. And what might be true for you, might not be true for others. Subjective truth was embraced on a culturally wide scale. If you want to see philosophy in action, try and talk about moral absolutes with a teenager. You might be shocked by what you hear. The results have been catastrophic. There is something in humanity that is driven to find the answers to these questions and if there are no real answers, the only reality is suffering, pain and impending annihilation.

Religion used to give us seemingly good answers, then it was science and rationalism, and then subjectivity. But when these didn’t work, we still kept hunting for the answers. It is as if the questions of existence, meaning and our future is written in the depths of our souls. They demand answers. And so out of profound need, we began to find comfort and grounding by joining groups of those who share a similar truth as we embrace. Gay, straight, conservative, Marxist, atheist, religious, transgender, and the list goes on and on. If you want to understand the current political and ideological groups that permeate culture, you must understand that they are our current answers to the big questions of life. But now the game has changed. Culture has told us that we must make up truth for ourselves. Truth is found not in its universal objectivity but where I can find some comfort, happiness and protection from the winds of nihilism. Ideological groups are the new religion. Here, truth has become synonymous to gaining power for my group, being free to paint truth/reality as I see fit, getting as much happiness as I can grasp in my mortal hands, and protecting myself from other groups who might hurt me or seek to impose their truths on me. The goal is to be among friends like me, enjoying the few decades on this speck of dirt before we are extinguished forever. Hopefully forgetting what we have been told that nothing matters at all except what our imaginations can project as meaning.

This is the best humanity has collectively done in finding truth, in answering the big questions of life.

Depressed yet?


But in the midst of all of this stands Jesus and his truth.

He said things like,
come to me who are heavy burden and I’ll give you rest.

I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Know the truth and it will set you free”.

He defines truth not as a personal journey of self discovery or measurements about the objective world, or a cultural invention but truth for Jesus is this: the knowledge that the human person needs that enables him or her to flourish in human life; it is the truth that enables humanity to navigate the physical world, our time in it and prepares us for life beyond physical death. Truth is the good and purpose-filled life.

It must be stated that His truth is at the center of every serious quest to answer the big questions whether the inquirers hate him or love him. They all know that though Jesus has been relegated to death and comfort, he spoke much more about this life than anything else. Every philosopher, theologian and thinker in western culture for 2000 years has had to reckon with the words, life and worldview of Jesus. He stands in brilliance because he, the man from Galilee is responsible, more than any other, for the framework of truth that has made our civilization possible.

And he says plainly that his truth is testable. He says we can follow him and experience the very life he had. Trust him, follow him and you will find his truth causing your life to flourish just like he said. The New Testament makes clear that the truth of Jesus can be applied right now and you can see results right now. This enables anyone who is a serious inquirer to see whether Jesus has truth or not.

So from Jesus’ point of view, his truth is the reality that I must know and live to do well in this world and the next.


So here are some working principles that I am seeking to live by as I seek the truth that Jesus offers.

— I define truth as the knowledge I need to experientially live the answers to the big questions of life. I know I am living in truth when my life works, I am experienced as good by others and I find satisfaction in my particular life situation. It must work in real life or I haven’t found the truth.

—Truth can be known and it is essential to be known for human flourishing.

—Jesus asserts his truth as the best information on living life and the best answers for the big questions of existence. This necessarily means other truths are less true than his truth.

—I trust Jesus and trust him as the Lord of truth.

—The Bible is where his truth is found.

—I ought to work hard to know HIS truth and apply it.

—I am a pastor so I am to help others discern the truth that will help them flourish.

—This necessitates that I engage others’ truths to discern what is really true for the flourishing of individuals, families, the church and culture.

—The truth of Jesus and the character of Jesus are inseparable. I must share Jesus’ truth in the way he himself shared it. If I do not, then I am revealing that I don’t, yet, fully know the truth he taught.**


Notice that I intentionally reject a group identity schema that pits groups against one another for the sake of power. It is not about idealogical groups that decide who is in and who is out. Truth is not a commodity of power. It isn’t about winning in some political or cultural sense. It is all about helping people find their way in this life and the next.

It also rejects the postmodern assertion that truth is unknowable. I hear this all the time mostly from compassionate but mistaken Christians. If truth is knowledge needed for human flourishing provided by Jesus, then it can be known and we must find it for the sake of our lives and the world.

Finally, this asserts that truth is much more than what can be seen, measured, categorized and observed. For all the good that such knowledge might produce, it cannot help in answering the biggest questions of human existence. If Jesus is right, truth is rooted in his father’s kingdom.

In these principles I embrace the way of Jesus: I am part of a kingdom community of ragtag nobodies bounded not by race, education, economics, moral strength or politics but instead by the crucified and risen Lord. We are following him and learning to live life in the way he intends. He says that such a life is embracing a cruciform life in hope of spectacular resurrection… it is the way to find out personally and collectively the answers to the deepest questions of existence.

We live such a journey humbly because his truth isn’t truth that merely make us right in arguments but his truth is a gift that truly set us free. It enables us to truly live. We aren’t playing the game of ideologies. We are living a life and helping others to do the same.

But we boldly proclaim his truth. Believing in the depths of our being from experience and what he revealed that his truth is the only truth that can help us flourish as human persons and prepare us for our destinies in the eternal cosmos.

In this kingdom all are welcome. He loves everyone and will start with them wherever they are at. This is what he preached and practiced. He is patient, kind and generous in his love. He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to prove he is right. For that I am thankful. But every journey with him is one into truth, reality and human flourishing. His truth is lovingly severe and exacting. It will root out all untruth from our existence or we can’t live his truth. He loves everyone but you can’t know the truth, you can’t know him, until the brightness of reality invades every part of life. And so he says, “follow me” …. “come and die”, “lose your life so that you might find it.”

Sounds like the truth to me.

A Gentle Critique of Gospel Alliance and Room for All’s Joint Statement on Sexuality and the RCA


A few months ago leaders of the Gospel Alliance (GA) and Room for All (RFA) met to discuss the future of the RCA in light of the huge denominational chasm present as it relates to the ethics and theology surrounding gay relationships, ordination of (practicing) gay pastors and gay marriage. At the end of the conversation, they created a joint statement which can be read here: GA/RFA JOINT STATEMENT 

Though the joint statement has a beautiful tone and many commendable elements, there are two areas where I believe it was seriously wrong for GA to put its name in agreement.

Before I get into my gentle critique, my church and myself are proudly committed members of the Gospel Alliance. I serve on the advisory board. Bob Bouwer is a mentor and one of my closest friends. Charlie Contreras is a second father and my first father in the faith. All who signed the agreement are godly and more mature than me. I am sure they have good reasons for the agreement but it has its fault that I think friends can graciously discuss.

The first troubling sentence is this:

We believe that the healthiest way to express human sexuality is through a committed, mutually loving relationship between two people.

This sentence has several semantic errors in my view. The statement bases its conclusion of what is the “healthiest sexual expression” on the word “committed”. What does the word committed mean in this context? A committed dating relationship? A commitment as found in gay marriage? Perhaps the commitment of traditional marriage?  Maybe it is left ambiguous to enfold all three? Or maybe it is an assertion that at least we agree that commitment is better than no commitment at all? In my opinion, “Committed” is too obscure a word without a qualifier to explain and leaves much to interpretation. We are in need of clarity not more confusion.

This particular sentence of the joint statement is further troubling by the chose of using the word, “healthiest”. Again, what does “healthiest” mean? Psychological health? Emotionally satisfying? Or the highest Christian good? When you put the sentence all together it brings no clarity or help. It just leaves me scratching my head. Really? The healthiest? It is as easy to read the sentence as a nod to traditional marriage as it is to say it affirms gay marriage. Are we saying that all of these are the healthiest? I know that all the GA folks who signed understand and believe that the healthiest expression of human sexuality is a life long, bounded-covenantal marriage between a man and a woman.  This is the healthiest expression of human sexuality and millennia of history has shown this to be true. Of course RFA doesn’t agree with such a statement. And there is no way to bridge the chasm. No need for GA to seemingly move on so central of an issue when confusion is the only gift given.

The more troubling sentence in my view that found a place in the joint statement was this:

While all things are possible through God, we do not believe that prayer or conversion therapy can change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

First of all, it is good to stand for the right of the individual to decide his or her destiny and any “therapy” or “prayer” that forces “conversion” is abhorrent to a Christian worldview. I am sure we can all agree on that. But instead of jointly agreeing on something where there is true common ground, the above sentence has profound weaknesses that strike at Gospel hope.

Its first weakness in my view is that it frames the argument in very unhelpful ways. Gender identity as used in modern parlance is code for one’s ability to name his or her gender expression based on a personal choice. The whole idea separates gender identity from biology and is the fruit of postmodern subjectivity and accepts the notion that such a thing as gender identity is up to personal preference. I see this as the madness of our cultural moment. No matter its many flaws, for sure its usuage is not the proper language of orthodox Christians. Or at the very least least it’s usage has profound challenges that need careful consideration and clarifications.

The sentence’s second weakness is the assertion that one’s sexual orientation is fixed and unmovable. As far as I can tell, the best science doesn’t even agree with the statement. Sexual attraction is fluid throughout life, differing substantially among males and females, and certainly isn’t static. The idea of sexual identity being akin to eye color is to give up significant theological ground and to create significant pastoral problems that need not exist.  Sexual identity is a movable point on a spectrum and I am not sure how a Bible-believing Christian could believe that Christ could not move that point and regularly does.

Beyond that, speaking of identity and orientation in these ways is to use non-biblical categories. The Bible only speaks of being a man or a woman with a sexual calling to the other gender. This is the language of sexuality in the Bible. It does this not because it is ignorant on current sociological and psychological research but because this is the reality that God has ordained since the beginning. It is brilliant in its simplicity and straightforwardness. I think it’s the best language to use and build from especially in conversations among professing believers. I encourage my GA friends to stand their ground on the biblical language. It is worth the fight and profoundly refreshing in an age of verbosity without substance.

And one final point, the Bible is filled with numerous  examples of broken men and women being called and transformed. The idea that a gay man called by Christ cannot live out biblical masculinity in marriage is to say that Christ does not have the resources to empower such a gospel life. I am sure no GA member would ever say such a thing.

Sinful sexuality (with all of its expressions) can be wholly transformed. I know and so do countless others. It might not be popular or hip but it is the gospel truth.

I know that my GA friends were seeking to find a way forward  for the RCA. And I trust their hearts and leadership. But these sentences within the joint statement bring confusion and seeming agreement on large, essential issues when there is none.

I hope that there will be clarification in the days ahead.

Why does evil exist?

One of the hardest things to do as a follower of Jesus is to reconcile the idea of a fully sovereign good God with the very real evil experienced throughout the world everywhere.

It does pose several challenges that are serious and possibly insurmountable.

  • Evil exists and produces suffering for every human person. No one escapes it. Does this not reveal the utter maliciousness of the divine? For a sovereign being to allow such horror and not stop it seems to suggest that he endorses it. Does this not signify that God is evil? And that evil is an ultimate aim of existence?
  • Perhaps God cannot stop evil. Then he is no god at all and perhaps evil is even more powerful than he. Or at least it has the possibility of “winning”. What you can’t control has the possibility of overcoming you or at least beating you.
  • Or perhaps evil is the surest sign that there is no god at all. It is surely the strongest proof of non existence. Perhaps the universe has no meaning or benevolence. Suffering and evil is the only reality the universe gives us. And consequently, life should be filled with dread and doom.

These are serious challenges. But I do think there is a substantive answer for why there is evil. The answer in summary is to realize that all these challenges assume a “closed system” where evil’s work is final. A system in which this present life and its joy (or at least the minimization of suffering) is primary because our physical death is the final end. Whatever goodness is, we must experience it now and whatever evil is we must run from it as fast as we can.

But this is not the Christian story. We are eternal beings. We live in an “open system”. One filled with angels, perfected beings, the sovereign Christ, his unstoppable love, and an eternity to bring about all the good he has imagined for his people and the cosmos he has created.

In other words, it is my strong belief that in Christ’s cosmos evil is a temporary reality that fades into an illusion of light in the depths of eternity. If this is true, then Goodness is everywhere.

Here is a thought experiment that shows that it is goodness that reigns and evil is a necessary means into goodness:

Imagine that you are married and have one four-year-old daughter. You are a devoted Christian family. You strive for what is good and love the Lord. You live a happy life. In one moment, this all changes.

While at the park joyfully playing, your phone rings and you look down, she darts into a nearby forest preserve, you look up and can’t find her. Frantically you look for her. You never see her again.

Later, you find out that she was abducted and killed. The killer, you find out, has done this before and was once caught but had to be let go on a legal technicality. You feel all the guilt, anger, pain and loss that comes from losing your only daughter in this way. Your marriage crumbles from the pressure of the pain and anguish from loss and your spouse leaves you. Your career, which was soaring until that day, comes to a stand still and it too dissolves into the wind of sorrow. A year after your daughter’s death you are severely depressed, divorced and jobless. All you want to do is fall asleep and never wake again. The only consolation, if you can call it that is the murderer is tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

If your life and it’s goodness is measured by your physical life, evil has triumphed. But you are part of another world.

One night while laying in bed an angel visits you. He tells you that his aim in his visit is to show you that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. And at the end of the visit, you will be able to choose to keep going in the timeline you are now in or go back to that moment and save your daughter. If you choose to stay in this timeline, you will forget the angel’s visit and all you learn. If you save your daughter, you will remember every detail of the visitation. With hope welling in your heart for the first time in a year you readily agree.

With the angel, you go one billion years into the future. You are in heaven with the angel. You see your future-self with your precious daughter. You run up and hug her in an embrace of deep joy. When you set her down, you look at her and see that it is your daughter but somehow she is radically different. She is not a child, at least not in the normal sense. She is ancient and young wrapped up into the face you remember. She is a person of such nobility and power, beauty and grace that she seems divine. In fact, in a very real sense she is. She asks why you are there. You tell her. And then you tell her how sorry you are. How you know it’s your fault. You’re in agony. Your apology is filled with the fear of someone who has done something that cannot be repaired. You end saying something like, “I wish I could have saved you”.

She laughs. Not the laugh that comes from a joke; nor is it a cruel laugh. It is the most beautiful laugh you have ever heard. It is fierce, innocent and pure. It is a laugh that comes from the depths of goodness and gladness. If the sun could laugh, her laugh was close to that. It was filled with light. And she tells you that on the day of her murder was the most joyous of her existence. In the final moments Jesus was right there. All she can remember is the joy of being held by his hands. And every moment since that moment has been one ever increasing joy. She could imagine nothing better than the eternal life she now lives.

Your angel guide suddenly takes you back to the present plus twenty years. It is your daughter you see, 24 years old in what looks like a university dorm. The angel tells you that what you see is what would happen if she would not have died that day. Your daughter cannot see you. The angel tells you that she has lost her faith as she pursues a PhD in mathematics and she will never have it again. There is a sadness in the angel’s face that is so deep and final that it pierces your soul. Your ache over your daughter’s death is a mere shadow of the pain he conveys.

Then, like before, your a billion years in the future and you are in heaven with your future-self. You look at him. He is unlike anyone you have ever met. He is embodies peace. You tell him your journey and the option the angel told you. You ask him what he thinks. He tells you that those few years of pain broke him. But not in a bad way. He was broken but in the way that enables something new to be made. In fact, the broken places made possible a beautiful existence. A few years after the death of his daughter, his relationship with Jesus would flourish. In the depths of pain, he found real peace. He found the Lord. He never married again. But what he learned in the valley of the shadows gave him a power and substance that gave hope to thousands during his life on earth. And in the billion years since that earthly life, the peace only deepens. He tells you that this one moment of horror made him into the man he always wanted to be. In fact, he learned it was necessary for him to be the man God created him to be. So not only has he accepted God’s willingness to allow such suffering, these days he celebrates God’s goodness in allowing it. There is no doubt but the assurance of a man who deeply knows something true. If a perfect person could beg, you saw such a thing that day. Your future-self tells you that this is the road to goodness and without it, goodness will be lost for you.

You are stunned and confused but also you see the beauty of this future moment. You turn around and you see the murderer. You remember the way he looked in court, cold and malicious. But now he is radiant. And if you had to choose one word to describe him it would be, “safe”. Anger wells up and pain causes your body to convulse uncontrollably. He waits. He begins to weep. Real sorrow. But it is upheld, somehow, in love and goodness. He is sad but not shameful. You look in his face and you see something you have never seen before–love, sorrow, regret and joy infinitely combined into radiance. This radiance is his self. In fact, it would be impossible to divide the light from his soul. They are one in the same. He tells you that he is sorry for his heinous sin, and asks for mercy. You ask how he could even be in heaven. He tells you that in prison, 5 years after the murder, you visited him. You forgave him and shared the goodness of the risen Christ. He accepted and walked with the Lord until the moment he was executed. The story of reconciliation between you and him was told and thousands came to the Lord. He knows from eternity that those thousands would only have come into eternal gladness because of this story of forgiveness. If it did not happen, they would never know Christ. Lost forever.

The angel touches your arm and you are back in your home, in the present, alone. There is a note that reads: I will be back in one week for your decision.

The next week is like the last year, lonely and filled with anguish.

A week late the angel returns. What do you do? Is Romans 8 right? Does God cause all things to work together for good? Can that be true for you and all your pain? Or should you go back in time, with the angel, circumvent God’s plan and save your daughter? Do want to remember and have
Your daughter and marriage or forget and embrace the pain?

Nietzsche believed in hell

I have recently become quite interested in the great 20th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He is the quintessential postmodern deconstructionist. Born into Lutheranism and devout as a child, he slowly lost his faith after the horrific and slow death of his father. He could not see how a good God could allow such a thing to happen. Eventually, personal pain turned into a philosophical pursuit. One that would reshape the Western world.

Nietzsche came to the conclusion personally and philosophically that “God is dead”. In a unique but troubled brilliance, he was able to articulate modern religious belief as a delusion meant to give meaning to the absurdity of existence.

Of course, if one removes metaphysical telos from human existence, you create an existential crisis. Nietzsche’s, “God is dead” removes purpose for life and has the potential to fill one with dread; it did for him and it has for Western culture.

This problem was one he wanted to solve. He desperately desired to give meaning to life and create a philosophical framework that disregarded the need for religious faith and also gave meaningful purpose to life.

Eventually, he created a thought experiment that he thought answered the challenge of meaning and purpose but I think he gave a deconstructionist articulation of hell. He labeled his thought experiment, “eternal reoccurrence”. Nietzsche writes,

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

The purpose of this excercise was to propel the individual to make moral choices and personal decisions of agency in which there would be no regret. In other words, Nietzsche wanted people to not leave anything on the proverbial field of life. By living from this myth, he believed you would personally experience meaning and purpose in life. But he is wrong. This isn’t the road to meaning but the path to hell.

If you had to relive your life over and over again for eternity without the ability to change one point of your existence and have the awareness of this continual loop, I would suspect several things would happen:

  1. Slowly but assuredly the one experiencing eternal reoccurrence would ghoulishly change being faced without respite with an unchanging story line. Consider this thought experiment: pick your favorite movie that you have watched dozens of times. It is important that this a movie you love without equivocation. Now consider how you might feel about yourself, the movie and existence if that was your eternal life. Strapped to a couch, eyes forced to focus, engaged with each frame until it was burned into your mind,  and watching a movie over and over again without rest or new experiences. It seems that the very experience of infinite repetition would change you negatively forever. Over an eternity, the very conclusion of nihilism that Nietzsche was seeking to escape would be crystallized into every pore of existence. Life would have no meaning except this hell of repetition. It would be an eternal life of dread.
  2. The very nature of something being eternally unchangable and having to be relived without relief is as close to a definition of real suffering that the most tyrannical malignant could ever come up with. In such a reality, every point of that life would slowly become infinite points of joy or horror. But in infinite passes of the same events, joy would infinitely decrease and horror would infinitely increase. Until only horror, angst and misery remained. It reminds me of the mythological story of Sisyphus. He was condemned by the gods to an eternity of rolling a rock up the hill only to watch it roll down again. One could possibly imagine the first few dozen times of rolling that he could perhaps find joy, whether in the work or in his mind. But eventually, no matter the strength of mind, he would only know suffering. This is embodied suffering. This is the very nature of hell itself.
  3. Finally, the endless repetition of even the most joyful moments of existence would eventually become places of terror until one’s existence in this eternal loop would just be one of eternal terror. For every moment of happiness, there would be the intense knowing of coming loss, the dread that this is not special but as common as the most mundane activity, eternally so; you would have an eternity to find new faults and failures in those you love with the hell of knowing that they cannot change; and joy would lose its meaning but horror would take on new depths. It would grow with each waking moment until terror was the only world you knew. Hell and terror are the same. To experience eternal terror is to burn forever in the fire that never extinguishes.

Nietzsche wanted to remove God from human existence. Much of the madness of our age finds it’s roots in this endeavor. He was right to seek meaning for existence since it is a deeply human need. But in my opinion he has not answered it, not even close. In seeking meaning, Nietzsche found hell.

No Love For Michael Curry

Michael Curry gave a powerful sermon at Prince Harry’s wedding on Saturday. A few days later, former chaplain to the queen, Gavin Ashenden, wrote this reflection. I posted Ashenden’s reflection because of its depth and Christian beauty. Lots of my Christian friends on fb were critical of Ashenden and in essence said, “Give Curry a break. He was preaching to the world at a wedding…. And love is a good thing.”

I think the larger issue with Curry representing Christ isn’t necessarily what he said but didn’t say. He was preaching to the world. The question is did he preach Christ?

Instead of Christ, he preached love. But what does he mean by it? Curry says, “Oh there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love.” In a world filled with all kinds of “love”, we need to define love. He does not and just says any ole love will do. We are left to wonder if the word love means anything definite at all. Sure, he alludes to love but never states the radical, exclusive Christian message: Christ is love and he died to redeem, save and restore you. It’s not any love that does this (in you or the world) but Christ’s. This is the exclusive and radical message of Jesus. Curry didn’t share that message.

Well, you might say he alluded to it. Not really. Curry declares: “He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world… for us.” Really? Here is his chance to share the gospel of the kingdom but he tells us that Jesus is some kind of lump-of-coal sacrifice that just wanted to do some good in the world—doesn’t want to offend I assume. This is more eastern mysticism than anything Christian. It was for joy that he died. It was to get a bride. He was intentional and passionately focused. That’s the gospel of love.

No talk of sin, the broken soul, or Christ’s ability to forgive and restore. This is what Christ does. Instead, Curry talks of neighborhoods, governments and child hunger. All important issues but are they central to love? Christian love that is?  The way of the cruciform Christ is this: first he transforms individuals and they go in his love bringing his kingdom. Here is the issue: Curry is saying any kind of love can get this done. Just go do it. We will have to see if such advice works. Sounds more like Oprah than the resurrected God.

Finally, just to stir the pot, listen to these words from preacher: “When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.” What do you think he is referring to? Of course we could give it a biblical explanation–God so loved the world…–but Curry, I would bet my right ankle is not thinking of John 3:16 to make his point. This is his truly ‘radical’ assertion of the day and it isn’t Christian. He wants ethics thrown out the window and identity politics be the new national religion. This is the coded language of the “radical left”. Love now means accepting anything–behavior, views and whatever pronoun one decides they are at the moment–and if you stand in the way of “love” then what an awful person you must be.

The way of Jesus, as presented in the scriptures and history, is radically different. Jesus will party with anyone and brings his goodness. But to receive his life they will have to die. To self and yes to ego. This bloody road is the only road to love. And from there comes resurrection life.

Instead, Curry preached the politics of the left. And since this was a Christian marriage, one would hope Christ’s message could at least been presented.

The world is clapping and thankful that now religion endorses their malformed love. But make no mistake, real love was no where to be seen.

Why I think you should join the Gospel Alliance

We are not forming this alliance for any other reason than this. We are tired of waiting. Our lives our short and our ministries even shorter. We want to be a part of something that matters. We also know from our many relationships and friendships that this is the heart of most in our denomination, so we take our stand.
Read the entire essay here: click here