God’s Word is alive and the greatest way to prove its truthfulness is not by building arguments around it, but to unleash it, to proclaim it, to let it go on the offensive and convince all who have ears to hear that God’s Word is true!
It’s been said that the best offense is a good defense. However, it is also true that if your defense spends too much time on the field, they will eventually fatigue and fold. For that reason, it is equally true that the best defense is a good offense.
And when it comes to apologetics, the art and science of defending the faith, it is important to do more than play defense, but also to go on the offensive. With firm confidence that God’s Word is unbreakable (John 10:35), firmly fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89), unfailing in accomplishing God’s will (Isa. 55:11), and always proving itself true (Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5), there is no reason to merely defend God’s Word. Instead, we should positively proclaim the Scriptures as the living and active word of God.
Articulating this point forcefully with respect to biblical inerrancy, the late Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–90) reminds us that Christians should do more than defend the faith, we must also proclaim the faith positively. Here’s what he says,
We who cherish the orthodox and evangelical faith have become too defensive about the Bible; we have grown accustomed to jumping from a worthy premise: “The Bible is the Word of God,” to a conclusion negative in form: “. . . therefore it is inerrant.” This, of course, is not wrong in itself, but suggest that it reflects the position into which we have allowed ourselves to be maneuvered. We must move on to the offensive, boldly wielding this powerful weapon that we know to be the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), as we positively (and, I believe, more biblically) proclaim to the world that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore is living, dynamic, penetrating, and unfailingly effective as it cuts with the edge of redemption for the believer and with the edge of condemnation for the unbeliever (Heb. 4:12). (“The Problem of Historical Relativity,” in Scripture and Truth, 194)
Writing in a book that defends the truthfulness of Scripture, Hughes is clearly not questioning inerrancy. Rather, he is reminding us that the primary task of proclaiming Scripture is positive, not negative. This is seen in the pastoral duty outlined by Paul in Titus 1:9, which says that the overseer “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Notice the order: the faithful pastor-teacher-theologian must positively give instruction and then in service to sound doctrine, he must defend the faith by recognizing error and rebuking those who contradict the truth.
The defense of biblical inerrancy is a necessary endeavor, because there are many who question the complete truthfulness of Scripture. And thus, there is a place for defending the Bible from those who question it. Still, Hughes makes an important caveat, when he turns the defensive posture of biblical inerrantists into a positive proclamation of God’s living and active word. Recognizing the way many advocates for truth overreact and overcorrect in response to error, he observes a weakness in how many argue for inerrancy—namely, by immediately protecting inerrancy in the autographs, now extinct, of Moses, Isaiah, and Paul.
Without denying the important or inerrancy of the original autographs, he questions if immediately appealing to the autographs is really that helpful. Here’s Hughes’ seven-point argument:
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By Doug Eaton — 10 months ago
Though we may deceive ourselves and those around us, God will not be mocked. We may have avoided a few traps, but we have jumped right into the most damning trap of them all, and there is only one way of escape.
If the Greeks had delivered their gift to the people of Troy and said, “This is a huge wooden horse filled with soldiers ready to kill you.” the people of Troy would have known what they were getting. Instead, a real Trojan horse involves deception; it involves treachery you would not see coming.
Here is the problem with deception. As much as we try to see the snares laid out for us, there is often someone more clever than us trying to trap us. What might look like a snare may be a cleverly laid decoy to move us right into another, more dangerous trap.
Take, for example, the temptation to cheat on your taxes. Suppose something came across your path that showed you a way to fudge the numbers and not only avoid paying the government but receive a windfall from them instead. It is foolproof, and after all, we have all heard people say taxation is theft. This act would be a way to take back what is rightfully yours.
After careful consideration, you wisely avoid the temptation. Even if you could get away with it, you realize that it would put your family at risk, destroy your peace, and, more importantly, be an affront to God. You file your taxes as you should, you give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and you breathe a sigh of satisfaction as you do it.
You have successfully sidestepped temptation, and you thank God for it. “Lord, thank you that you have made me righteous enough to avoid these temptations.” As you live out your life, there are many moments like this. Snare after snare, trap after trap, you are a bird that always seems to escape the fowler. You protect your nest, and your family lives a long and joy-filled life because of your decisions and guidance.
Others are not so wise. As you go along life’s journey, you hear story after story of shipwrecked lives on the sea of temptation. As you watch some of them pick up the pieces, you see them beat their breast before God and say, “Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner.” Then they claim to have found it. They claim to be a friend of God. You do not exactly know what to do with those claims, but if it gives them peace, so be it. You are only glad God gave you enough wisdom to avoid their fate.
By Stephen Spinnenweber — 10 months ago
When Overture 23 uses the word “professing” it is clearly modifying the word identity. Confessing on the other hand is admitting that one still struggles with a particular behavior. Professing says, “This is who I am.” whereas confessing says, “This is what I do, but I hate it and my sin does not define me.” Neither overture in any way discourages ordinands from being honest about their wrestling with remaining sin. In fact, the wording of Overture 37 presupposes that every man will continue to struggle with his sin and encourages the candidate to be transparent about God’s work of grace in his life.
In a previous article, we examined the first of the three “U”s leveled against Overtures 23 and 37 (O23 and O37); specifically, the assertion that both overtures are unclear and should not be approved by PCA presbyteries. In this article we address the other side of the “unclear” coin by asking: “Will O23 and O37 exclude any and all who struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA) from ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?”
The First “U”—More on “Unclear”
Much of the “National Partnership Public Advice for Voting on Overtures 23, 37” (PA) opposition to O23 centers on the word “that.” To what does it refer? How far does “that” extend within the overture? Does it extend to that which precedes the first parenthesis or to all that follows thereafter? If I understand their question correctly, the writers are functionally asking:
Would O23 disqualify a man who professes an identity such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms regardless of his Christian conduct? In other words, is professing to be a “homosexual Christian” or a “same sex attracted Christian” by itself enough to disqualify a man from ordination? OR—
Would O23 disqualify only those men who profess such identities and are not “above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character”? If so, then are those men who profess to be “homosexual Christians” or “same-sex attracted Christians” able to be ordained so long as they affirm the sinfulness of their desires, affirm the reality of progressive sanctification, and pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sin?
If my rephrasing is basically correct, then I believe the question itself is guilty of setting up a false dilemma. The two options to which the PA artificially limits the reader are these:
Option 1. Those candidates/fellow elders within the PCA who are honest about their struggle with SSA will be immediately disqualified from holding ordained office along with any others who confess their struggle against “persistent sinful desires.” Referring to Overture 37, which deals with the examination of ordinands on their Christian character, the PA reads
The proposed addition to BCO 21 (O37) fails to provide clarity about what constitutes the disqualifying self-profession. Under these rules, any brother who self-professes any “remaining sinfulness” of “struggle against sinful actions” or “persistent sinful desires” puts his ordination in jeopardy – not necessarily because he is living a sinful life, but because he confesses that he still struggles with lusts, anger, ambition, family/work balance, bitterness, etc. The consequences of adopting this standard into our Constitution is either to tempt every man who wants to keep his ordination to be less transparent, and to put a weapon in the hand of every aggressive person or party that wants to control a church or a presbytery (II. 1).
In essence, the above quote believes that O23 and O37 are doomed to function as cudgels wielded by “aggressive persons” against SSA strugglers, and if passed they will not only force SSA strugglers to be less transparent when examined on their Christian character but also countless others who wrestle with lusts, anger, ambition, family/work balance, bitterness, etc. Needless to say, I respectfully disagree with the first sentence of the above quote; O37 is crystal clear about what constitutes a disqualifying self-profession (but more on that later). The second option the PA offers is:
Option 2. If a man professes to be a “gay Christian” or a “same sex attracted Christian” and is not living in a sinful manner but affirms the sinfulness of his desires, the reality of progressive sanctification, and is pursuing Spirit-empowered victory over his sin, then the phrasing of this overture inadvertently leaves space for ordained officers to continue to identify themselves as “gay Christians” or “homosexual Christians.” The follow up question then would be: “Aren’t these the very terms that so chafe the conservatives who voted up O23 and O37? How then can you vote for an overture that allows for the use of those terms that you categorically deny?”
As mentioned previously, there is a world of difference between identifying sin so as to mortify it and identifying by our sin. Hitching modifiers like “gay” or “homosexual” as sidecars to our Christian identity ought be unthinkable to believers as such terms obscure and minimize the work that Christ has done (justification) and is doing (sanctification) in our lives. If a Christian affirms that SSA itself is a sin, that progressive sanctification is real and true, and if he is pursuing Spirit-empowered victory over his sin, then in what world would it make sense for this person to continue to identify himself as a “gay Christian” or a “homosexual Christian” (or by any other sin for that matter)? For example, would a Christian who left a white supremacist prison gang be wise to refer to himself as a “white supremacist Christian” even after he’d been delivered from the bondage and guilt of that sin? Certainly not! Why? Because white supremacy is absolutely antithetical to what he now believes as a Christian (see Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…”)! Why then would a repentant Christian continue to identify himself as a “gay Christian” even after he’d been delivered from the bondage of that sin? Some may say that I am advocating for language tests, but I am not. I only desire that my brothers on the other side of this issue be as careful with their language as they desire for me to be with mine.
Consequently, the second option can and should be dismissed immediately. If a man refuses to humble himself and refrain from using ambiguous and scandalizing identity language (e.g., “I am a gay Christian,” “I am a queer Christian,” “I am a transgender Christian”) it is either because he does not believe SSA to be a sin, or denies the reality of progressive sanctification, or is not pursuing Spirit-empowered victory over his sin or because he lacks the wisdom, discernment, and maturity requisite for holding ordained office.
Along these same lines, there is an all-important difference between “professing an identity” as a gay Christian and a man who “confesses that he still struggles with lusts, anger, ambition, family/work balance, bitterness, etc” (PA II.1). “Confessing” and “professing” are not identical terms and the PA’s using the two interchangeably reads like an attempt to obfuscate.
When O23 uses the word “professing” it is clearly modifying the word identity. Confessing on the other hand is admitting that one still struggles with a particular behavior. Professing says, “This is who I am.” whereas confessing says, “This is what I do, but I hate it and my sin does not define me.” Neither overture in any way discourages ordinands from being honest about their wrestling with remaining sin. In fact, the wording of O37 presupposes that every man will continue to struggle with his sin and encourages the candidate to be transparent about God’s work of grace in his life. Consider the wording of O37
Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. Each nominee must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending upon this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5; Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-14 11).
O37 does not disqualify a man from holding church office because he is a sinner, it only disqualifies those who are unwilling to pursue victory over their sin. Contrary to specious claims made on the floor of GA, the language of O37 in no way tips its hat to Wesleyan Perfectionism or Keswick theology. The overture goes out of its way to say, “imperfection will remain.” Struggle, not sinlessness is the expectation of O37. So long as a brother who struggles with SSA can demonstrate that he indeed hates his sin, that he is depending upon the power of the Spirit in his fight against that sin and is bearing fruit in an exemplary fashion, then there is no reason to believe that O37 as written will disqualify such a man from ordained office. I struggle to find what is unclear.
The same is the case with O23. If a man denies the sinfulness of fallen desires, the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or fails to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over his sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions, he is obviously not fit for office. However, if a man confesses that he struggles with SSA and affirms the sinfulness thereof, believes that God’s grace not only pardons but gives him power to war against his sin (progressive sanctification), and is pursing Spirit-empowered victory in every sphere of his life then this overture would say that such a man is qualified to rule in Christ’s church.
Therefore, those who claim that all SSA strugglers will be purged from ordained ministry if O23 and 37 pass would do well to abandon that line of argument. Neither the “intention” nor the “words written” set up a second Great Ejection of those ministers who honestly struggle with and mortify their sin.
But, there is another word in O37 that the NP believes to be perilously unclear—reputation. What does “known by self-profession or reputation according to his remaining sinfulness” mean? During the minority report delivered at GA, RE Trevor Lawrence (the lawyer, not the quarterback) explained some of the minority’s reservations surrounding this particular word in O37.
Does the phrase “known by reputation” mean that the candidate must not be publicly known for acting upon same-sex desire or for embracing same-sex attraction as a good or morally neutral aspect of his fundamental identity? Or does the language in question mean that a candidate who discloses unwanted, repented of, and daily mortified same-sex attraction and has this disclosure publicized—whether willingly or unwillingly—is disqualified because his remaining sinfulness has become a matter of public knowledge and, presumably, part of his public reputation?
What if a candidate names his experience of same-sex attraction before his Presbytery and explicitly professes that his identity is in Christ, but an online outlet publishes a report of the disclosure of his same-sex attraction while inadvertently neglecting to mention his affirmation that his identity is in Christ? What if the omission of his affirmation of Christ-rooted identity is the work of malicious actors intending to spread a false report? Would these scenarios constitute a disqualifying reputation?
Or consider this possibility: a man practiced homosexuality prior to becoming a Christian, at which point he trusts the gospel, reorients his self-conception around his union with Christ, and even marries a godly Christian woman. Over the ensuing years, this man writes numerous faithful books to minister to others experiencing same-sex attraction, speaks to large crowds about same-sex attraction and the gospel, and reaches a global audience even as he experiences persistent and unwanted same-sex attraction. If such a man were to pursue ordination, would he be disqualified? He is recognized around the world as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. Though some presbytery members might claim that his fundamental identity is in Christ, could not others reasonably object that this man is “known by reputation…according to his remaining sinfulness”? Would the General Assembly wish to see this man deemed disqualified? What in Overture 37 would prevent it?
I must say that I appreciated this brother’s thoughtful questions. They have tremendous merit and they forced me to think. Below are my answers to the above questions
Question: “Does the phrase “known by reputation” mean that the candidate must not be publicly known for acting upon same-sex desire or for embracing same-sex attraction as a good or morally neutral aspect of his fundamental identity?”
Answer: Absolutely. See O23.
Question: “Or does the language in question mean that a candidate who discloses unwanted, repented of, and daily mortified same-sex attraction and has this disclosure publicized—whether willingly or unwillingly—is disqualified because his remaining sinfulness has become a matter of public knowledge and, presumably, part of his public reputation?”
Answer: No, because every member of the PCA already publicly discloses that he or she is “sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy” when they take their membership vows. To a degree, every Christian’s remaining sinfulness becomes public knowledge. But we mustn’t be known simply by that continued sinfulness, but by our daily repentance, by the work of the Spirit in our life. So even if the particular sin with which this brother struggles does become public knowledge, as long as he bears the marks of genuine repentance, he would not be disqualified from ordained ministry. He would simply be doing that which is expected of a genuine Christian who loves his Savior.
Question: “What if a candidate names his experience of same-sex attraction before his Presbytery and explicitly professes that his identity is in Christ, but an online outlet publishes a report of the disclosure of his same-sex attraction while inadvertently neglecting to mention his affirmation that his identity is in Christ? What if the omission of his affirmation of Christ-rooted identity is the work of malicious actors intending to spread a false report? Would these scenarios constitute a disqualifying reputation?
Answer: No, he would not be disqualified. Even he who was sinlessly perfect was subject to slander and false reports (e.g., Matthew 9:34; Mark 14:56, 59). Being above reproach does not mean that you are immune to accusation or reproach—it means that no amount of reproach will stick because your character is blameless and Christlike. No overture, no matter how precisely worded, can safeguard against every attempt to tarnish one’s good name. To be sure, examining committees and presbyteries need to be extremely discerning if they receive a negative report concerning a candidate’s character. It is imperative that they abide by the wisdom of Proverbs 18:13, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and his shame,” that they hear all sides of a story before taking action. But, in no way does O37 jeopardize this careful, prayerful process or necessitate a rush to judgement. Trust your committees and presbyteries to have the wisdom to discern truth from lies.
Question: “Or consider this possibility: a man practiced homosexuality prior to becoming a Christian, at which point he trusts the gospel, reorients his self-conception around his union with Christ, and even marries a godly Christian woman. Over the ensuing years, this man writes numerous faithful books to minister to others experiencing same-sex attraction, speaks to large crowds about same-sex attraction and the gospel, and reaches a global audience even as he experiences persistent and unwanted same-sex attraction. If such a man were to pursue ordination, would he be disqualified? He is recognized around the world as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. Though some presbytery members might claim that his fundamental identity is in Christ, could not others reasonably object that this man is “known by reputation…according to his remaining sinfulness”? Would the General Assembly wish to see this man deemed disqualified? What in Overture 37 would prevent it?
Answer: No. Notice that the minority report stops at “according to his sinfulness.” This is only half of the sentence and the omission of everything thereafter is significant. The rest of the sentence reads, “but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 6:9-14 11). Again, the defining mark of a Christian is not that he is a sinner, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. Clearly, the above individual has accepted the grace of Christ and is living in dependence upon the His Spirit. He “trusts the gospel, reorients his self-conception around his union with Christ, and even marries a godly woman.” His repentance is seen by all! What more could we ask for? He is exemplifying the kind of Christian character to which all of God’s people ought to strive. If selectively quoted, I can see how one might think O37 would disqualify such a man from holding office, but when the overture is considered as a whole I see no reason why this person could not be ordained and enjoy a fruitful ministry within the PCA.
In the next article we will address the second “U” leveled against O23 and O37— that they are Unnecessary. The PA has much to say about redundancy, the Confession, and the inclusion of time-bound, cultural language into our confessional standards; We’ll consider and answer these objections.
Stephen Spinnenweber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Westminster PCA in Jacksonville, Fla.
 See Romans 7:15-25 for a picture of sanctified honesty and wrestling with remaining sin. See also Carl Trueman’s excellent treatment of identity vs. behavior as it relates to human sexuality in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, p. 51.
 “…with full purpose of an endeavor after new obedience” (WSC Q.87).
 Quote from the PA opening paragraph.
By Joe Rigney — 4 months ago
We too can approach God’s throne with confidence because we know it is a throne of grace. Whatever chastisement and discipline he brings, mercy reigns in the heart of God. He will by no means clear the guilty, but he loves to forgive those who turn to him in humble faith.
Tucked away in the book of Daniel, sandwiched between stories about fiery furnaces and lions on the one hand, and visions of statues, beasts, and rising kings on the other, is an extended prayer with a shockingly immediate answer.
Daniel 9 contains an extended, earnest, and heartfelt prayer by the prophet. And before he even says “Amen,” the angel Gabriel is standing before him, ready to give insight and understanding to the broken-hearted prophet. What did Daniel pray that caused God to immediately dispatch an angel with an answer? And can Daniel’s prayer instruct us today in how to pray?
Plot Against Prayer
Daniel’s prayer is a dated prayer. “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus” (Daniel 9:1). And the particular timing mentioned draws attention to one of the most famous stories in the Bible. At the end of Daniel 5, Darius the Mede conquers the Chaldeans and dethrones Belshazzar. In chapter 6, he appoints 120 local rulers as governors over his kingdom, with high officials overseeing them. Daniel is one of these high officials. Indeed, he is distinguished above all of the high officials because of the excellent spirit (or is it Spirit?) residing in him (Daniel 6:1–3).
Darius plans to elevate Daniel over all the other officials, provoking them to jealousy. They then plot to find fault with Daniel in hopes of bringing him down. After examining his life, they conclude, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5).
Soon enough, they do find a ground for complaint against Daniel — his habits of prayer. Daniel’s custom is to pray three times per day with an open window facing Jerusalem. The jealous officials manipulate Darius into passing an irrevocable decree against praying to anyone except the king (Daniel 6:6–9). And Daniel’s defiance of this decree famously lands him in the lions’ den (Daniel 6:10–16).
What is the relevance for the prayer of Daniel 9? It’s likely that Daniel 9 is the sort of prayer that Daniel was praying with that famous window open. What’s more, if we’re attentive to the whole Scriptures, we can better understand why Daniel was praying with a window open facing Jerusalem.
Solomon, Jeremiah, and Daniel
In 1 Kings 8, Solomon is dedicating the temple of the Lord. As he nears the end of his prayer, he contemplates the possibility (and even likelihood) that the people of Israel will sin grievously against God. When they do, God will, in fulfillment of the warnings of Deuteronomy, give them over to their enemies so that Israel will be carried captive into a foreign land.
Nevertheless, God will remain faithful to his promises and his people, even as he sends them into exile. In Solomon’s request, notice the specific direction his exiled people ought to pray:
Yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, “We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,” if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). (1 Kings 8:47–51)
Solomon specifically mentions repenting and praying from exile toward Israel, toward Jerusalem. Thus, Daniel’s actions make perfect sense. He is following Solomon’s instructions in hope that God will have compassion and restore his people.