Kevin DeYoung

Win the Next Generation with Love

The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians. Granted, good parents still have wayward children, and faithful mentors don’t always get through to their pupils. Personal holiness is not the key that regenerates the heart. The Spirit blows where he will. But make no mistake, the promise of 2 Peter 1 is as true as ever. If we are holy, we will be fruitful. Personal connections with growing Christians are what the next generation needs more than ever.

The evangelical church has spent far too much time trying to figure out cultural engagement and far too little time just trying to love. If we listen to people patiently and give them the gift of our curiosity, we will be plenty engaged. I’m not arguing for purposeful obscurantism. What I’m arguing for is getting people’s attention with a force more powerful than the right lingo and the right movie clips.

We spend all this time trying to imitate Gen-Z culture, and to what end? For starters, there is no universal youth culture. Young people do not all think alike, dress alike, or feel comfortable in the same environments. Moreover, even if we could figure out “what the next generation likes,” by the time we figured it out, they probably wouldn’t like it anymore. I’m now old enough to remember when Gen X was the thing, and then targeting Millennials was the holy grail of ministry. Count on it: when the church discovers cool, it won’t be cool anymore. I’ve seen well-meaning Christians try to introduce new music into the church in an effort to reach the young people, only to find out that the “new” music included “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and “Shout to the Lord.” Few things are worse than a church trying too hard to be fresh and turning out to be cringeworthy and dated. Better to stick with the hymns and the organ than do “new” music that hasn’t aged terribly well or do the new music in an embarrassing way. Singing good new songs well is one thing. But if they’re bad or can’t be done well, don’t force it.

The evangelical church needs to stop preaching the false gospel of cultural identification. Don’t spend all your time trying to figure out how to be just like the next generation. Tell them about Jesus. And love them unashamedly. I think a lot of older Christians are desperate to figure out what young people are into because they are too unsure of themselves to simply love the people they are trying to reach.

Jesus said it best: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus did not say, “They will know you are my disciples by how attuned you are to new trends in youth culture.” Or “They will know you are my disciples by the hip atmosphere you create.” Give up on “relevance” and try love. If they see love in you, love for each other, love for the world, and love for them, they will listen. No matter who “they” are.

Talk to people. Notice visitors. Invite new people over for lunch. Strike up a friendly conversation at the greasy pizza joint. Let your teenagers’ friends hang out at your house. Love won’t guarantee the young people will never walk away from the church, but it will make it a lot harder. It won’t guarantee that non-Christians will come to Christ, but it will make the invitation a whole lot more attractive.

Hold Them with Holiness

Let me make this clear one more time. bout music styles or paying attention to the “feel” of our church or trying to exegete the culture is sinful stuff.

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Antifragile Faith

At the heart of Life in the Negative World is practical advice for individual Christians and for Christian institutions as they seek to be faithful in a changing cultural landscape. Renn groups his advice into three parts: living personally, leading institutionally, and engaging missionally. The outline is easy to follow, and the advice is down to earth and full of good sense.

On June 2, 1987, the National Enquirer published a photograph of Donna Rice sitting on the lap of Gary Hart. When, earlier that spring, rumors surfaced of an affair between the actress and the Democratic Senator, the backlash had been strong enough to end Hart’s promising campaign for president. The photograph captured Hart wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Monkey Business”—that unfortunate phrase being the name of the yacht on which he and Rice had sailed on an overnight trip from Miami to Bimini. Hart’s political career was over. Later that fall, Gail Sheehy was to publish a long expose of the scandal in Vanity Fair. Sheehy wondered, “How could a man so dangerously flawed come so close to persuading us that he was fit to lead a superpower through the perils of the nuclear age?” Sheehy was dismayed that so many people failed to grasp the real issue. “The key to the downfall of Gary Hart is not adultery,” Sheehy wrote. “It is character. And that is an issue that will not go away.”
To read Sheehy’s article today is to visit a foreign land. Written decades before the #MeToo movement, the article refuses to turn Rice into a victim, focusing instead on “the world of Donna Rice [that] is much darker than it seemed.” (It should be said that Rice later returned to her Christian roots and championed, among other causes, the opening of the Museum of the Bible.) As for Hart, Sheehy paints him as a man torn apart by an unhealthy, almost devilish obsession with sexual escapades. Sheehy takes for granted that a president devoid of basic integrity and self-control is a danger to himself, to the country, and to the world. “If character is destiny,” Sheehy opined, “the character issue predicts not only the destiny of one candidate but the potential destiny of the United States he seeks to lead.”
By contrast, when news broke in 1998 of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, much of the country wasn’t convinced that private sex acts had much bearing on whether the president could do his job or not. And in 2016, in the wake of the leaked Access Hollywood tape, most conservatives concluded that Donald Trump’s sexual sins did not disqualify him from holding the highest office in the land.
These three sex scandals are mentioned in the first chapter of Aaron Renn’s new book, Life in the Negative World, and they highlight what he has labeled “the three worlds of evangelicalism”—the transition from a society that retains a positive view of Christianity (1964–1994), to a society that takes a neutral stance toward Christianity (1994–2014), to a society that has an overall negative view of Christianity (2014–present). The different political fallouts for Hart, Clinton, and Trump illustrate well how things have changed.
In the positive world, having an affair or being part of any sex scandal could be a career or campaign killer, even well past the era of the sexual revolution. In the neutral world (Clinton’s time), it would be damaging but probably survivable. In the negative world, violations of traditional Christian moral norms are no big deal unless they involve transgressions of one of the ideological taboos of the new public moral order, such as a feminist stance toward gender relations.
Renn’s argument is not that America used to be Christian or lived faithfully by Christian norms. Critics of Renn’s framework have been quick to point to America’s poor record on race, even when the country was much more “Christian.” But Renn’s “three worlds” thesis isn’t a way to grade the overall Christianity of the country. It’s a framework for understanding how society views the reasonableness of Christian truths, the validity of Christian arguments, and the obligation we all have to live up to a basic standard of Christian virtue. Renn claims that we are living in a negative world, one that is deeply suspicious of Christianity (especially when it comes to issues of sexuality). He makes a persuasive case.
I started following Aaron Renn—listening to his podcast, reading his articles, getting his newsletter—several years ago, a little before his article “The Three Worlds of Evangelicalism” was published in First Things. He’s different from the usual pastors, theologians, and historians I follow. When he veers into theological or church matters, I take his insights with a grain of salt (as people might do when I veer outside of those lanes). But I listen to Renn because he is a serious Reformed Christian layman. With experiences and expertise different from mine, he invariably has opinions and insights I hadn’t considered before.
For example, Renn argues that none of the familiar models of Christian engagement works in the negative world. The “culture war” strategy, as he calls it, specialized in decrying the erosion of our moral character. This strategy is truly effective only if our views are in the majority. In the positive world, it might be possible to raise the standard of Christian virtue and hope that a winning coalition will rally to our side. By contrast, the “seeker sensitivity” strategy argued for maximum personal and ecclesial flexibility so as not to turn off the suburban would-be churchgoer. This strategy often functioned as if aesthetic style and personal relationships were all that stood in the way of non-Christians’ embracing Christianity.
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Empowered Witness Foreword

Through most of Reformed history, the spirituality of the church has not entailed a silence on all political matters but rather a commitment to the uniqueness of the church’s mission and a principled conviction that the eternal concerns of the church should not be swallowed up by the temporal concerns of the state. For all these reasons—and many others you will read about in the pages ahead—I am thankful for this book. Alan Strange has marshaled his considerable expertise in this area to write an accessible introduction to the spirituality of the church. 

In the summer of 2023, at the General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. As a part of the commemoration, commissioners were given a professionally produced replica of a document titled A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World from the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church. The document dates from 1973 and was issued at the founding of the PCA (then called the National Presbyterian Church). The Message to All Churches was named and written as a conscious echo of a previous document. In 1861, James Henley Thornwell issued his Address to All Churches of Christ at the founding of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA). In fact, the PCA deliberately began as a denomination (in Birmingham, Alabama) on December 4, 1973, because the PCCSA had its beginning (in Augusta, Georgia) on December 4, 1861. 
These origins continue to be a source of celebration for some and a source of embarrassment for others. The fact is that the PCA saw itself at its founding—and still sees itself today, in some respects—as a continuing church, as the faithful and orthodox branch of the Southern Presbyterian denomination. And make no mistake, the legacy of Southern Presbyterianism is complex. Take Thornwell, for example. Should he be remembered as a gifted educator, preacher, and writer, as the most influential theologian and churchman of his era? Or should he be remembered as a man who defended slavery and helped give birth to the Confederacy? Undoubtedly, he was all the above. 
Because of Thornwell’s complicated personal history, Christians in recent decades have been largely dismissive of one of his most strongly held convictions. The first point in Thornwell’s inaugural address from 1861 was to explain and defend the spirituality of the church. For most hearers today—including Bible-believing Presbyterians and other conservative Christians—the spirituality of the church means one thing: a wrongheaded and shameful defense of slavery. And it’s true, Thornwell and other Presbyterians used the doctrine to support the “peculiar institution” in the South.
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Act Like Men

Does Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 16:13 tell us anything about the nature of manhood and masculinity? Two cautions and then two points. The first caution is that we should not load too much theology onto one ordinary, non-technical Greek word. Paul did not use andrizomai to establish a blueprint for biblical manhood or to indicate his “high biblical view of the male gender.” Paul wanted the church to stand strong, be brave, and to push back against bad ideas and bad behavior. The second caution is that we should not think that courage is only a virtue to be associated with masculinity.

Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2023 issue of Eikon.
In his final instructions of his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul issues a series of five exhortations: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13–14). The purpose of this article is to examine the third exhortation — “act like men” — and explore whether that command tells us anything about manhood and masculinity.
Understanding Andrizomai
The phrase “act like men” (ESV) translates a single Greek word: andrizesthe, from the word andrizomai. Several English translations render the andrizomai as “be courageous” (CSB, NAB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “be brave” (GNT, NKJV), choosing not to bring out the sense of anēr (Greek: “man”) on which the word is built. By contrast, the ESV and NASB translate andrizomai as “act like men,” while other English translations have “act like a man” (HCSB), “do manfully” (Douay-Rheims), or, most famously, “quit you like men” (Geneva Bible, KJV).
Everyone agrees that Paul uses andrizomai to tell the Corinthians to be brave and courageous. The question is whether the word also implies something about what it means to be a man. Curiously, the second edition of BDAG (the standard Greek lexicon of the New Testament) defines andrizomai as: “conduct oneself in a manly or courageous way” while the third edition defines the word as: “conduct oneself in a courageous way.” Since virtually all the same supporting examples are used in both editions, it seems the editors — perhaps due to changing cultural perceptions — simply chose to eliminate any connection to manliness.
In recent years, suggesting that there is a “manly” aspect to andrizomai has become more suspect. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, for example, warn that “some scholars have taken the etymology of the word as evidence for a high biblical view of the male gender.”[1] The issue, however, is not whether andrizomai suggests “a high biblical view of the male gender” — a view I have not seen any scholar articulate — but whether the word says anything about the possible virtues of masculinity. Even the egalitarian Gordon Fee maintained that andrizomai “means to ‘play the role of a man,’ an idea that is frequent in antiquity as a call to courage in the face of danger.”[2] Surely, Fee is correct. The word Paul chose to use in 1 Corinthians 16:13 was a familiar word (though used only here in the New Testament) that borrowed on ancient notions of manly courage and bravery.
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On Culture War, Doug Wilson, and the Moscow Mood

If you are a mature, grounded Christian in a good church, with a good sense of discernment, you can find a number of helpful things from the world of Moscow. But there’s a difference between snacking on Moscow once you are already full of good Christian discipleship and feasting on Moscow for three square meals a day. I fear that much of the appeal of Moscow is an appeal to what is worldly in us. As we’ve seen, the mood is often irreverent, rebellious, and full of devil-may-care playground taunts. That doesn’t make us better Christians. 

“Each of the great world civilizations,” Christopher Dawson wrote in his classic work from the 1940s on Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, “has been faced with the problem of reconciling the aggressive ethos of the warrior with the moral ideals of a universal religion. But in none of them has the tension been so vital and intense as in medieval Christendom and nowhere have the results been more important for the history of culture.” At the heart of Dawson’s provocative thesis is the insistence that Western European culture was the coming together of two cultures, two social traditions, and two spiritual worlds. The cultural formation of Europe combined “the war society of the barbarian kingdom with its cult of heroism and aggression,” leavened by “the peace society of the Christian Church with its ideals of asceticism and renunciation and its high theological culture.”

Arguably, the Crusades expressed the best and the worst of this synthesis. There were times when the fusion of warrior-heroism and Christian virtue produced something noble and exemplary during the centuries-long effort to reclaim the Holy Land. And there were times when the fusion failed and produced something ugly and lamentable. But even the failures teach us about the aspirational ideals of Christendom. We cannot understand the rise of Western culture without the religious unity imposed by the Christian Church in the Middle Ages, and likewise, we cannot understand the flourishing of Christendom unless we understand that it grew up out of the soil of warrior kings and barbarian kingdoms.

Dawson’s thesis, though concerned with the rise of Western culture in the Middle Ages, is instructive for our own age. For many of us, it looks as if Western culture has been overrun—whether by Muslim immigration in Europe, critical theory in our universities, sexual degradation in our popular culture, violence in our streets, or plain old anti-Western vitriol in the hearts of many Westerners who have no idea how much more miserable the world would be if their deluded wishes came true. If this is the world we live in—or even something generally headed in this fearful direction—the question we in the Christian West are wrestling with (or should be wrestling with) is what to do now.

The Appeal of the Moscow Mood

Which brings me to the reason you are likely reading this article in the first place, and that is the name “Doug Wilson” in the title. “So, what do you think about Doug Wilson?” is a question I’ve been asked many times during my years in pastoral ministry. I’d say the questioners have been pretty evenly split between “I’m asking because I really like him,” “I’m asking because I hope you don’t like him,” and “I’m asking because I’m not sure what to think.” Even now, I’d rather not be writing this piece because (1) it takes a lot of time, (2) I’m not looking to get into a long, drawn-out debate with Wilson or his followers, and (3) I know a lot of good Christians who have been helped by Wilson and by the people and institutions in his orbit. I’m answering the question now in hopes that I might help those who appreciate some of what Wilson says but also feel like something isn’t quite right.

By any measure, one has to marvel at the literary, digital, and institutional output that has come out of Moscow, Idaho in the past several decades. While some internet cranks are wannabees trying to make a name for themselves by trying to tear down what others have built up, Wilson is to be commended for establishing an ecosystem of schools, churches, media offerings, and publishing ventures. For a scholarly and fair assessment of what Wilson has tried to do in Moscow, I recommend Crawford Gribben’s excellent book Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford University Press, 2021).

Wilson also deserves credit for being unafraid to take unpopular positions. True, he often seems to enjoy stating his unpopular positions in the most unpopular ways (more on that later), but no one is going to accuse Wilson of being a spineless Evangellyfish. He offers the world and the church an angular, muscular, forthright Christianity in an age of compromise and defection. On top of that, Wilson has a family that loves him and loves Christ.

Moreover, Wilson understands that opposition to Christ—his word, his gospel, and his Lordship—is not to be taken lightly. Many Christians are witnessing the disintegration of our Western world, and the Christian consensus that used to hold sway, and they are thinking to themselves, “This is terrible. I can’t believe this is happening.” To the Christians with these concerns—and I count myself among them—Doug Wilson says, “Yes, it is really bad, and let’s do something about it.”

I’m convinced the appeal of Moscow is visceral more than intellectual. That’s not meant to be a knock on the smart people in Moscow or attracted to Moscow. It is to say, however, that people are not mainly moving to Idaho because they now understand Revelation 20 in a different way, or because they did a deep word study on ta ethne in the Great Commission, or even because of a well-thought-out political philosophy of Christian Nationalism. Those things matter to Wilson and his followers, but I believe postmillennialism and Christian Nationalism are lagging indicators, not leading indicators. That is, people come to those particular intellectual convictions because they were first attracted to the cultural aesthetic and the political posture that Wilson so skillfully embodies. In short, people are moving to Moscow—whether literally or spiritually—because of a mood. It’s a mood that says, “We are not giving up, and we are not giving in. We can do better than negotiate the terms of our surrender. The infidels have taken over our Christian laws, our Christian heritage, and our Christian lands, and we are coming to take them back.”

Where the Mood Misfires

And yet, for all that is understandable and sometimes commendable about the Moscow mood, there are also serious problems. In my criticisms that follow I’m not going to focus on historical or theological disagreements I may have with Wilson. I won’t be touching on Federal Vision, or paedocommunion, or his views on the antebellum South, or his arguments for Christian Nationalism, or his particular brand of postmillennialism. My concerns are not so much with one or two conclusions that Christians may reach if Wilson becomes their intellectual mentor. My bigger concern is with the long-term spiritual effects of admiring and imitating the Moscow mood. For the mood that attracts people to Moscow is too often incompatible with Christian virtue, inconsiderate of other Christians, and ultimately inconsistent with the stated aims of Wilson’s Christendom project.

Rather than expounding these claims in abstract terms, let’s look at a couple of concrete examples.

Five years ago, Doug Wilson and Canon Press started something they call No Quarter November (NQN). The idea is that during November, in addition to giving away free resources, Wilson and his crew will show no mercy (give no quarter) to their enemies. Each year, in advance of NQN, Wilson puts out a promotional video. They always involve a good deal of fire and more than a little sarcasm.

The 2023 NQN video ends with a Clint Eastwood-style closeup of Wilson puffing a massive cigar, strapping on a giant flamethrower, and setting ablaze an assortment of Disney characters and media logos. Here’s what Wilson says in the first half of the video:

Welcome back to No Quarter November.

For eleven months out of the year, I’m notoriously timid—as cautious and polite as a Southern Baptist raising funds for the ERLC. But the month of November is a time for taking no prisoners and for granting “no quarter.” If you think of my blog as a shotgun, this is the month when I saw off all my typical careful qualifications and blast away with a double-barreled shorty.

Everything we do this month will be focused on one singular goal. We want to help you apocalypse-proof your family.

But why should you listen to me about such things? Well, when it comes to culture war and culture building, we’ve been at this for half a century now—much longer than such things have been cool to talk about in the green room at G3.

Like my parents taught me: a strong family isn’t possible without quick, full, and honest confession of sin, without any wussy excuse making. And especially now, it’s just as important not to confess and repent of things that aren’t really sins, because lying is bad and so is being a wuss.

You really should watch the four-minute video if you haven’t already. Notice several things about the mood.

First, it strikes a tone that is deliberately sarcastic and just a little bit naughty. No one really thinks Wilson is timid and cautious the rest of the year. That’s the sarcasm. The naughty part is that Wilson uses the words “wussy” and “wuss”—adolescent slang for someone weak and effeminate. These are words most Christian parents don’t allow their kids to use, since the terms probably originated as a combination of “wimp” and another word I won’t mention.

Second, the video takes cheap shots at other Christians. Wilson’s sarcastic bite is not first directed toward the wicked, the hardhearted, or the forces of evil in our world. He takes a swipe at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and at the G3 Conference. Both are conservative Baptist groups—groups, we might add, that would be on the same side as Wilson in almost every important cultural battle. It’s fine if Wilson wants to disagree with these groups; they’ve disagreed with him at times. But Wilson doesn’t mention them in the video in order to make a serious argument. He uses them for a punchline. If you like Wilson you are supposed to think “Oh no, he didn’t?! That’s hilarious.” And if you like the ERLC or G3, you are supposed to be triggered, because if Moscow can watch their opponents get triggered, that is also funny. When serious criticism is leveled at Moscow, the response often includes a smattering of mockery and memes. This isn’t Wilson using his famous “serrated edge” to make a prophetic point against a godless culture. This is intentionally making fun of other Christians for a quick chuckle.

Third, the point of NQN is explicitly about culture warring and culture building. Rightly understood, it is good to do both these things. But it is instructive to see that Wilson’s stated aim is to “help you apocalypse-proof your home.” I think it’s safe to say this is what Wilson aims to do not just in November (in an intensified fashion), but during the other eleven months of the year, and in Wilson’s mind preparing for the apocalypse means doing battle against the forces of leftism in our world. Wilson’s public persona is largely about commenting on the culture, pushing back on the culture, lampooning the culture, and getting Christians ready for the coming cultural collapse.

Fourth, the video is squarely focused on Wilson himself. On one level, this is not surprising. Christian institutions and organizations often use their founder, president, or leading voice as the “face” of the ministry. But the focus here is not on Wilson as the conduit of biblical teaching and doctrinal truth, or even as the instrument of helpful cultural analysis.

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Giving Thanks for the Goodness of God

The goodness of God should stir us to grateful worship. For, in God, “infinite cheerfulness attends infinite goodness” (to quote Charnock one more time). “Who will show us some good?” the Psalmist asks. The answer is the Lord who shines the light of his face upon us. “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:6-7). The God of infinite cheerfulness and infinite goodness is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the heavenly Father of all those who call upon him in the name of his Son.

One of the first things we learn about God is that he is good. “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” Many of us grew up hearing this prayer at the dinner table. It’s good theology—simple and true.

It also highlights an attribute of God that is surprisingly hard to define. We think we know what it means for God to be good, until we try to explain it. Then we usually start listing other attributes (God is loving, God is gracious, God is kind) or resort to platitudes (God helps us). It takes some reflection to understand all that we mean—or should mean—when we confess that God is good.

Defining Our Terms

Before coming to a simple definition of what God’s goodness is, we must say what it is not.

By goodness we do not mean that God is relatively good. If we say, “That hotdog is good,” we mean, “Of all the hotdogs out there, this is one of the better ones.” This is not what God is like. God is not good because he compares favorably to other gods. There is none like the LORD; he alone is God (Ps. 86:8–10).

By goodness we do not mean that God is morally exemplary or ethically upright. Of course, that’s gloriously true. But “goodness” should not be confused with “holiness.”

Nor, by goodness, do we mean that God is merciful. We see in Exodus 33 that these two things—goodness and mercy—cannot be separated, but strictly speaking, God’s goodness extends further than his mercy. Mercy may be the ultimate expression of divine goodness, but it is not the only expression. God shows mercy to some, but his goodness extends to all.

So, what do we mean by God’s goodness? Divine goodness is the overflowing bounty of God by which he communicates blessing to his creation and to his creatures. God’s goodness is the opposite of harshness and cruelty. To experience divine goodness is to enjoy the sweetness, friendliness, benevolence, and generosity of God.

Goodness is the broader category encompassing several of God’s moral attributes. His goodness toward those in misery we call mercy. His goodness to forebear with those deserving judgment we call patience. And his goodness to those who are guilty we call grace.

Three Aspects of God’s Goodness

Theologians speak of God’s goodness as necessary, voluntary, and communicative.

God’s goodness is necessary in that God cannot be other than completely, perfectly, and unalterably good. Goodness is what God does, but it is also who he is. Good and upright is the LORD (Ps. 25:8). Good are you LORD, and you do good (Ps. 119:68). Jesus told the rich young man, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). Of course, Jesus didn’t mean that human beings are incapable of doing good things or possessing relative goodness. Jesus meant that only God in himself is originally, infinitely, and immutably good. God is good in the highest degree. His goodness can never increase nor decrease. He is all good and unmixedly good. He is like the sun—all light in whom there is no darkness. That’s what we mean when we say God is necessarily good.

God’s goodness is also voluntary. This may seem to contradict the previous point, but it does not. God’s eternal and intrinsic goodness is necessary, but his will to make known this goodness to others is voluntary. In other words, it was necessary that whatever God would create would be good, but it was not necessary that God create in the first place. As Stephen Charnock puts it in The Existence and Attributes of God, “God is necessarily good in his nature, but free in his communications of it.” God did not have to go outside of himself to be good, nor did he have to create the universe in order to be conscious of his own Trinitarian goodness. The fact that God willed to display divine goodness is a further expression of that goodness.

This leads to the third point: God’s goodness is communicative. Whatever good we have or whatever good we enjoy is because God has willed for his goodness to be known and enjoyed. Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights (James 1:17). Food is good, marriage is good, friendship is good, health is good, peace is good, prosperity is good, work is good, recreation is good, rest is good—because God is good. He is a benevolent Creator, making his sun rise on the evil and on the good, sending rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, every excellent thing is owing to the overflowing goodness of God (Phil 4:8). God communicates his goodness not with miserliness, but with great delight. God loves to make his goodness known. The supply of his goodness is inexhaustible, and the sharing of it knows no end.

Three Areas Where God Displays His Goodness

If the nature of God’s goodness is threefold, so is the manifestation of his goodness. We see the display of God’s goodness chiefly in three areas: in creation, in providence, and in redemption.

First, we see God’s goodness in creation.

Think of the constant refrain throughout the creation week: “And God saw that it was good.” We come to the climax of the sixth day, with the events of Genesis 2 already having taken place—with the creation of the man, and then the creation of the woman, fit for the man—and then we read: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).

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Who Do You Say That I Am?

There’s Yuppie Jesus who encourages us to reach our full potential, reach for the stars, and buy a boat. There’s Platitude Jesus, good for Christmas specials, greeting cards, and bad sermons; he inspires people to believe in themselves, and lifts us up so we can walk on mountains. There’s Good Example Jesus who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you. And then there’s Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for.

The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in his Son. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in his Son. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples is so important: “Who do you say that I am?”
The question is doubly crucial in our day because not every Jesus is the real Jesus. Almost no one is as popular in this country as Jesus. Hardly anyone would dare to say a bad word about him. Just look at what a super-fly friendly dude he is over there. But how many people know the real Jesus?
There’s Republican Jesus who is against tax increases and activists judges, and for family values and owning firearms.
There’s Democrat Jesus who is against Wall Street and Walmart, and for reducing our carbon footprint and spending other people’s money.
There’s Therapist Jesus who helps us cope with life’s problems, heals our past, tells us how valuable we are and not to be so hard on ourselves.
There’s Starbucks Jesus who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid and goes to film festivals.
There’s Open-minded Jesus who loves everyone all the time no matter what, except for people who are not as open-minded as you.
There’s Touchdown Jesus who helps athletes run faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.
There’s Martyr Jesus, a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.
There’s Gentle Jesus who was meek and mild, with high cheek bones, flowing hair, and walks around barefoot, wearing a sash and looks German.
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Is It Wrong to Have Sex before Marriage?

The promises made in marriage matter not just for the bride and groom. The promises matter for the sake of the children that they hope to produce and for the sake of the wider community that benefits when children are born in wedlock and raised by their two biological parents. Sex before marriage undermines all this. Fornication only “works” if sex can be divorced from the promises that constitute a marriage, divorced from the public dimension of marriage, and divorced from the children that normally come from marriage and flourish most in the context of marriage. The Bible teaches that premarital sex is personally selfish and publicly subversive of the goods that marriage is meant to promote and protect.

Not long ago, an American politician found herself in an awkward situation when she mentioned at a prayer breakfast that she was running late for the event because her fiancé wanted to have sex that morning. From her public admission, it was clear that the woman and her fiancé were living together and were in a sexual relationship. What was also clear is that the woman—a professing Christian at an evangelical church (with her pastor in the audience)—didn’t realize she had said or done anything wrong. She mentioned her reason for being late with a smile and with a chuckling assurance to her fiancé that she would see him in the evening and that he wouldn’t have to wait long for his desires to be fulfilled. Later, after getting flack for her risqué remarks, the congresswoman explained that she goes to church because she is a sinner, not because she is a saint.
I mention this story not to draw attention to this particular event or to pick on this particular politician, but to illustrate the reality that sex before marriage, even for many Christians, has lost any sense of stigma. Watch almost any television show or any movie that involves dating or romance, and you will find that sexual activity between non-married persons is completely normal and utterly pervasive. Christians may still get upset when the culture pushes an LGBTQ agenda, but most of those same Christians won’t even notice when popular songs, shows, videos, or movies routinely show, describe, or assume sex before marriage. If worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange (to paraphrase David Wells), then the routine acceptance of sex before marriage is one of the clearest signs of worldliness in our age.
Is It Wrong?
The title of this piece asks, “Is it wrong to have sex before marriage?” so let me start by showing from the Bible that such behavior is clearly a sin. “Fornication” is the (now rarely used word) for sex between two persons who are not married. In traditional terms, adultery has often meant illicit sex once married, and fornication has meant illicit sex outside of marriage. The word “fornication” is used in the King James Version in 1 Corinthians 6:18, but the Greek word there is porneia which includes every kind of illicit sexual activity, from adultery to homosexuality to prostitution to sex before marriage.
The Bible doesn’t dwell on the sin of fornication because such behavior was, in the minds of the biblical authors, clearly and obviously wrong. We see this assumption in several places. According to Exodus 22:16–17, the man who has sex with a non-engaged virgin, should make her his wife, indicating that sexual intercourse is a covenant-forming activity not to be entered into apart from the covenant bonds of marriage. Likewise, according to Deuteronomy 22:13–21, if a woman has sex before marriage, she is put in the same category as a prostitute. The Torah does not allow for sex before marriage.
The New Testament carries forward the same sexual boundaries found in the Old Testament. When Joseph sought to quietly break off his betrothal to pregnant Mary, it is obvious that Joseph considers Mary to have done something wrong and that the whole community will also disapprove of Mary’s behavior (Matt. 1:19). The Bible also considers it important for us to know that Mary really was a virgin (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:34). Most clearly, the logic of 1 Corinthians 7—that it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:9)—only works on the assumption that sexual activity belongs in marriage and not outside of marriage.
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Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

Quarrelsome people stir up strife because, already knowing everything, they have no need to listen, learn, or ask questions. Hit close to home? Look to Christ. He has the power to change us and has made provision to forgive. By the death of the Prince of Peace we can be at peace with God and at peace with one another.

Quarrels don’t just happen. People make them happen.
Of course, there are honest disagreements and agree-to-disagree propositions, but that’s not what the Bible means by quarreling. Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (Prov. 17:14; 20:3). And elders too (1 Tim. 3). These fights aren’t the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome.
So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks? Here are twelve possibilities.
You might be a quarrelsome person if…

You defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. There are no secondary or tertiary issues. Everything is primary. You’ve never met a hill you wouldn’t die on.
You are quick to speak and slow to listen. You rarely ask questions and when you do it is to accuse or to continue prosecuting your case. You are not looking to learn, you are looking to defend, dominate, and destroy.
Your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Or the only Jesus you like is the Jesus who cleared the money changers from the temple. Those are real examples in Scripture. But the Bible is a book, and sarcasm and whips are not the normal method of personal engagement.
You are incapable of seeing nuances, and you do not believe in qualifying statements. Everything in life is black and white without any gray.
You never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context. You put the worst possible construct on other’s motives, and when there is a less flattering interpretation you go for that one.

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When Genuine Obedience Becomes Impossible, Hell Becomes Impossible as Well

So we must have a category of Jesus that doesn’t mean you’ll never be tempted or you’ll never have imperfect motives, but you can live a life of ordinary faithful obedience. One of the problems when we don’t have that category is when we think, You know what? I never really obey. Everything in my life is just polluted, sinful, filthy rags. That is when we need to hear the alarm bells going off. We don’t hear it like we should.

Good Works vs. Obedience
There’s a really important but simple distinction we need to make in thinking about our good works or our obedience. And that is that our good works can be truly good even though they’re not perfectly good. They’re never without some imperfections. They’re always tinged with some kind of selfishness.
I remember a pastoral intern asking me years ago, “Pastor Kevin, how do you know that when you’re stepping up into the pulpit there’s not some part of you that’s doing this to be seen and to be heard or to draw attention to yourself?”
And I said, “That’s a really good question. I’ll let you know when I’m certain there’s no part of that in my heart.”
It’s not to excuse sin, but it’s to say, Yeah, there are layers to the onion of the human heart. So there’s always that presence of indwelling sin. It’s imperfect, and yet the best theologians have said that it can be truly obedient. I think that’s a new concept for some people, though it shouldn’t be, because Paul often praises the churches for their obedience. Jesus, in the Great Commission, said, “Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And there’s no escape hatch that says, Oh, by the way, of course, you can’t really be obedient to anything.
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