Basic (Biblical) Human Rights

February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

Rights handsIf you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.

Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.

Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:

1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.

We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.


“…among these are Life…” 

God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.


God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.

“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….

God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.


Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.

As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.

The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.

“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.

“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.

“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.

The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.

I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).

So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.

This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.

• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.

And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.

Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.


Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.

Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.

The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.

The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.

There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.


From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.

Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.

1) What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (J. Budziszewski)
2) Rule of Law – Right to the Truth (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)
3) United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
4) United Nations Committee Affirms Abortion as a Human Right (HuffPost)
5) OHCHR Center for Reproductive Rights

Wedding Gift

September 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

I recently had the privilege of marrying a young couple, and after editing some personal details, decided to post the message I delivered during the ceremony here. The objective was to communicate a Biblical perspective on marriage and, of course, the Gospel. Both are gifts of God that require clarification in these times.


What is marriage? 

Did you ever stop to wonder why we have this ceremony where a man and a woman are united in front of a bunch of people and there’s music and flowers and a party afterwards? Isn’t it curious that notwithstanding some differences in tradition, everywhere around the world, every culture throughout all human history has embraced marriage, this joining of a man and a woman in an exclusive and lifelong commitment as a fundamental unit of society, which has proven itself to be the best way to raise a family? Where did this idea come from?

It so happens that marriage wasn’t the invention of any country or government or religion or church, but human beings received marriage as a gift from God. At creation, God gave the first man Adam to the first woman Eve, and said what God has joined together, let no one separate. Marriage is God’s gift to us.

How do we respond to getting a gift? Well, it depends on the gift, doesn’t it? Some gifts we don’t like or end up using. Some of the gifts you get for your wedding may end up in storage, re-gifted for the next wedding you attend, or end up listed on Des Moines Swap for $15. Anyone have a gift like this in mind?

But what about the good gifts? You know what I mean. That prized thing that gets used and enjoyed and cherished for a long time, you take care of, and you wouldn’t give it up for anything. On your thank you note to the giver you include an extra paragraph spilling onto the back of the note expressing your gratefulness for the gift and how you use it all the time!

The wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 18 tells us that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and receives favor from the LORD.” When I’m feeling poetic and remember my own blessings, I refer to my wife Amy as my “good thing.” Consider marriage as a good thing, and a gift from God.

Not very long ago, I did a Facebook poll asking people to post what their favorite wedding gifts were. The top 3 types of gifts were cash (popular with the guys), non-stick cookware, and personal, sentimental type gifts like a drawing, painting, or hand-made quilt. Marriage, in a sense, is like cash. It’s highly valuable, basic and foundational to society. Like non-stick cookware, it’s a reliable gift you keep and care for and it’s a daily part of your life. And like those priceless sentimental gifts, marriage is something you cherish, create memories with and you won’t give up for anything.

One thing you do with a good gift is try to understand it and how best to use it. What was God trying to tell us with the gift of marriage? That it’s the ultimate expression of love between a man and a woman and the best way to bring up the next generation for the good of society? That’s true, but there’s more to it, something eternal: Marriage is also intended to be a picture of the love and commitment Jesus Christ has for us.

It wasn’t long after that first man and woman were joined in marriage that through their pride and disobedience, sin came into the world and stained everything. But even then, God had a plan to redeem us from sin. The God we take these vows before today is one of truth and justice, so He must judge sin, but He’s also a God of love and grace, and He stands ready to forgive anyone who accepts His free gift.

What was that gift? John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This freedom through Jesus is a gift, not something we can earn or buy or even register for. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”

Bad gifts will come and go, but recognize the rare and precious good gift when you see it. James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that every good gift comes from above. God has given us much, hasn’t He? There is also the gift of each other. I know [Groom] considers [Bride] a gift, and [Bride] says the same about [Groom]. And they both agree that any children resulting from this union are a precious gift from God too. You also have the gift of lifelong friends here today who have loved and supported you, and each of you have the gift of a new family to be a part of. And about your marriage, the gift of God we celebrate here today: Use it, enjoy it, cherish it, take care of it, be thankful for it, and don’t give it up for anything. And finally, may the gift of eternal freedom in Christ guide your perspective in all of these other gifts.

That’s my hope for each invited guest here today. Jesus comes where He is invited. [Bride] and [Groom] have both invited Christ into their marriage, and into their individual lives. He wants to be in yours too.

Closing Prayer: Our God and heavenly Father, giver of life and breath and everything else, we thank you for the gift of marriage, and your many blessing bestowed upon us. As the truine God and Creator of the universe, you have made us in your image to seek and value relationships. As we witness this wonderful relationship solemnized in marriage, may we seek your face above all, by the extension of Your love and grace, “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” paying the ultimate price to unite us to Yourself. We pray for [Bride] and [Groom] in their marriage, that You would in Your Spirit strengthen them as husband and wife and parents, and teach them to continually rely on You. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Where Consent Fails

June 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Sexual assault is always wrong. On this, most people won’t disagree, and events like the rape of an unconscious Stanford University student by Brock Turner drive that sentiment home. If someone does not give their consent, having sex with them is wrong. As true as that statement is, the Christian sexual ethic goes further than consent for reasons both spiritual and natural.

Consent covers


Sex isn’t just physical,” says Andy Stanley, author of a very good sermon series on the topic(1). “There’s more to sex because there’s more to you. …You’re more than a body. … You have a heart, a soul, and a mind. There’s an intangible component to you that you may not be able to define, but you would never deny…”(2) A triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—designed sex to be experienced physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Christians understand sex as something God created for a man and a women to enjoy within the context of marriage for the purpose of procreation (Genesis 1:28), but also as a representation of Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). In God’s goodness, He gave mankind a way to bring new life into the world that in a way reflects the kind of relationship God desires with His people—one of intimacy, pleasure and productivity. A husband and wife sacrificially loving each other also points to the Gospel.

Genesis 2:24 says that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” A husband and a wife become one in an emotional sense but also a spiritual sense. We are made to become with one other person, not one with many. Following this blueprint not only works the best, it honors our Creator. Consenting to sex outside of marriage is wrong in the sight of God, grieving the one who redeemed us and the one whose opinion matters the most. 


God-honoring sex can only happen within marriage the way God designed it, but secular-minded people generally don’t care about Biblical morals of sex and marriage or the spiritual consequences of “free love.” Are there natural consequences to consensual sex? The wreckage left from the sexual revolution is hard to ignore, though many still try. For many, consent remains the ultimate arbiter of permissible sexual choices, but consent can’t fix the disastrous real world results.

Consent can’t save millions of adults from sexually-transmitted diseases contracted between willing sexual partners. In the past 15 years, 38.1 million people have become infected with HIV and 25.3 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. While AIDs cases peaked in the early 1990s, STDs are now on the rise in the US, particularly among younger people, gay and bisexual men(3). The World Health Organization estimates 340 million ANNUAL episodes of curable sexually transmitted infections (chlamydial infections, gonorrhoea, syphilis, trichomoniasis) occur throughout the world.(4)

Consent can’t save millions of aborted children. The vast majority of unintended pregnancies come from intended sex. In order to keep future plans intact, the response is in at least 40% of unintended pregnancies, to terminate the future of the resulting child through abortion. Of the 58 million children killed in the US since Roe v Wade legalized abortion, less than 1% of those were pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.(5) The rest are carnage from consensual sex.

Consent can’t save millions of people from destroying themselves with pornography. Empirical scientific study shows that continual porn use alters the brain, and is as addictive as chemicals or alcohol. It’s self-deceptive and distorts a person’s view of healthy sex, ruins intimacy with real partners, and demeans women in particular. Porn has been linked to violent behavior and tears apart families.(6) Porn is never harmless and always involves more than the viewer.

Consent can’t save millions of relationships doomed from cohabitation. A little over half of couples who “try out” marriage by moving in together actually do marry, and the ones who do are at greater risk of divorcing within the first few years of marriage than couples who married without living together first. Government studies report that cohabiting couples earn less money, are less happy, more prone to depression, substance abuse and violent fights, experience higher infidelity, have a separation rate 5 times that of married couples and a reconciliation rate one-third that of married couples.(7)

Poor sexual choices often lead to or coincide with other poor choices—married couples too often mutually consent to divorce. Half of all children experience divorce. Seventy-five percent of children with divorced parents live with their mothers, while 43% never see their fathers.(8) Growing up without a father has been linked to increased rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, incarceration, poverty, job insecurity, relationship issues, substance abuse, social and mental behavioral issues, and dropping out of school. (9) Millions of children suffer the absence a father, whether it’s the result of divorce or the fact that so may children are born to single mothers. In a study tracking the first wave of millennials to become parents, a team from Johns Hopkins University recently found that 64 percent of mothers gave birth at least once out of wedlock.(10) Almost one-half had all of their children without ever exchanging vows.”(11)

One thing that’s important to keep in mind when looking at statistics: When a certain behavior is “linked” to a previous behavior, it may not be caused by it (correlation does not always mean causation). For instance, the act of moving in with your girlfriend does not necessarily produce the higher degree of unfaithfulness that typifies that kind of relationship. What this usually means is that a lack of commitment is the probable cause for both the decision to substitute marriage with cohabitation and the decision to cheat later on. Ultimately, it’s the outworking of a worldview rooted in boundless sexual freedom and self-expression, not one that regards the will of our Creator or seeks the ultimate good of others.Dancing


All sin separates us from God, but sexual sin earns a special category that connects the spiritual and natural consequences. Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 6:18 to “flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” God is particularly interested in our sexual purity because God knows how harmful sexual sin is not only to His relationship to us, but to our own body and soul. A loving God cares what we consent to do to ourselves. Why wouldn’t He?

The good news is that Christ died for the sexual brokenness we all share. While sexual sin has its own category, Christians are not immune from this sin or the natural consequences. We need to remember that when we point to the sins of others.

The sexual revolution didn’t start in the 60s, but in Genesis 3 with mankind’s relentless pursuit of personal autonomy apart from our Creator. Author and FamilyLife Today co-host Bob Lepine notes that “Our souls crave the intimacy and the rightness of the sexual experience God created us for, but we settle for cheap substitutes. And in the end those substitutes always disappoint, because they fall short of what God intended.”(12)

Our aim should be for grace—the kind that we’ve been given—and for truth, God’s design for sex that’s best for everyone. In both, our aim is much higher than consent.

1) Stanley, Andy. “The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating” North Point Community Church, Apr.-May, 2011
2) Braun, Brandon. “Becoming One” Cornerstone Christian Church, 19 Feb. 2015.
3) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “Reported Cases of STDs on the Rise in the U.S.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Nov. 2015
4) Division of STD Prevention (DSTDP). “Chlamydia – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed)” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Apr. 2016.
5) “Abortions in America” Operation Rescue, Inc.
6) Fight the New Drug, 2014.
7) “Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch (DBSB) NICHD Report to the NACHHD Council September 2007” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Human Child Development, 2007
8) Cherlin, Andrew J. “Changing Fertility Regimes and the Transition to Adulthood: Evidence from a Recent Cohort” Johns Hopkins University, 2014
9) “32 Shocking Divorce Statistics” McKinley Irvin Family Law, 30 Oct. 2012
10) Thurston, Jack. “The 9 Devastating Effects of the Absent Father” The Father Code, 2016
11) Weissman, Jordan. “For Millenials, Out-of-Wedlock Childbirth is the Norm” The Slate Group, 6 Jun. 2016
12) Lepine, Bob. “We’re All Sexually Broken” FamilyLife, 2013
Other great resources:
Kreeft, Peter. “Sexual Symbolism”
Stanley, Andy. “A Candid Conversation”, Your Move with Andy Stanley, 5 Jun. 2016
Mohler, J. Albert. “Insanity of ‘Yes Means Yes’ Sex Ed Shows Implausibility of Sexual Morality of Consent (The Briefing podcast)” Dr. Albert Mohler, 16 Oct. 2015.

Marriage Apologetics

November 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Christian apologetics has been around as long as Christianity has, because followers “of the Nazarene sect”(1) have always needed to provide a defense to its skeptics. Marriage, however, has met with very few challengers since its institution thousands of years before Christianity. That is, until recently. Now that there is the need to make a case for traditional marriage in the face of alternatives, we in effect have a use for marriage apologetics.

Mark-What God Has Joined 1920x1080Who are marriage’s great apologists? In my opinion, there are many, and I’ve decided not to attempt a list for fear that I’ll be coming back to add to it time and time again. But all of them provide logical and level-headed reasoning on why the man-woman marriage prescribed in scripture and universally accepted by every culture throughout history is best for society. A good marriage apologist can defend marriage with or without the Bible. As a fundamental relationship of any society, cultures and governments look to marriage as the primary means of family and flourishing and the good of society, and children do better with a mother and father.

But marriage apologetics is far more complete when we don’t leave out the Bible, for the same reason that most marriage defenders are Christian, or at least have a regard for the book of Genesis(2) as authoritative. The religiously faithful are naturally the most ardent defenders of marriage no doubt because of the understanding of its divine origins. From a Christian perspective, if the Bible is God’s Word, then marriage is God’s design, and thus “not ours to alter. It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate.”(3) That last affirmation derives from The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium, a global conference of faith leaders hosted by the Vatican. Lately, there have been a number of big conferences aimed at discussing the importance of marriage, including the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s National Conference(4), where it could almost be said that marriage apologetics is a subset of Christian apologetics. (In fact, the heavy-hitters on the roster at the ERLC conference make up for my lack of a list of marriage apologists.)

The most effective part of apologetics, in my opinion, is personal testimony. At the end of the day I don’t think there is anything more convincing in Christian apologetics than stories of how Jesus Christ has changed a person, and of course what He has saved them from. Likewise, marriage apologists should be telling stories of great marriages. Christian Author John Stonestreet has often said, “We need to tell stories that portray the beauty of lifelong love as well as the power of the natural family. And, we need to tell the stories of those who are being victimized by the so-called ‘right’ to same-sex marriage. There are plenty of stories that fit both of those categories.”(5)

Finally, we can’t overlook the greatest connection between Christian apologetics and marriage apologetics, which is their shared ultimate purpose: the Gospel. According to the Bible (Ephesians 5), God’s larger purpose for marriage is to display the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us, and because this satisfied our debt of sin, it pleased the Father. Christians live a joyful and fulfilling life when they live it in love and submission to God and His word. The greatest joy in a lasting marriage comes from a husband sacrificially loving and leading his wife and a wife joyfully loving and submitting to her husband.(6) In this way, marriage points to something far more evangelical. When we live out marriage the way God designed it, we display the Gospel, and what better mission can a husband and wife engage together?

1) Acts 24:5
2) Genesis 2:24
6) Ephesians 5:21-33

Marriage: What It Is Reveals What It Isn’t (And A Review Of ‘Same-Sex Marriage, A Thoughtful Approach…’)

September 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Whatever side of the same-sex marriage debate you are on, you should be clear about how you define marriage. We have to know what it is to hold any kind of position on what it isn’t.

IMG_5667Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet‘s new book, Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage is a excellent articulation of the definition of marriage, Biblically and otherwise, in light of the normalization and legalization of same-sex marriage. It outlines the challenges the Church now faces and offers a truly thoughtful response to this massive and unprecendented cultural shift. It’s an easy and insightful read with well-footnoted content laid out in a very sensible format.


Helping nail down an objective marriage definition is in my opinion the book’s most immediately accessible feature, and what makes it a much-needed apologetic tool for engaging a culture that is evidently very confused about the topic. It may be surprising to see how similar the definition of marriage put forth in Scripture is to the one recognized by governments and societies all over the world for millennia. Consider first the Biblical definition and purposes for marriage.

What marriage is:
One man and one woman (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5, Mark 10:6)
Permanent (Mal. 2:16; Matt. 19:6Mark 10:9)
Exclusive (see above)

What marriage is for:
Companionship and help (Gen. 2:18, Prov. 5:18)
Procreation (Gen. 1:28, Psalm 128:3; Mal. 2:15)
A picture of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2,10)

What if we leave out the Bible? Over the long span of history, cultures around the world, religious or not, have most highly regarded the very same type of marriage. With the exception of the past few decades in a few countries in the West, the marital union of people of the same sex was virtually unheard of (and still is rare globally). Practically, the complementary relationship between men and women is pretty obvious to most. For thousands of years and in everywhere in the world before the year 2000, one-man/one-woman marriage was simply nature and the norm. Anything else was the exception.

Overall, societies have always regarded marriage unions as permanent. Divorce is ancient, but was never the ideal or the goal in any marriage. Many gay marriage advocates argue that the high divorce rate among heterosexual couples shows that the traditional match-up may not be so ideal after all. The problem with this argument is that divorce is and has always been an example of a failed attempt at marriage. In fact, divorce is not part of marriage; it’s the end of marriage. Divorced people are not married, so divorce can’t really be an argument against traditional marriage. If anything, it’s an argument for the fact that we get many things wrong.

Around the world throughout history, societies have considered the marriage union to be an exclusive relationship. Husbands and wives are not considered free to wander in and out of the commitment. Couples do unfortunately cheat on their spouses, and this is another example of marriage done incorrectly. Marital infidelity is a broken promise. Like divorce, it’s never the ideal and never in the plan at the outset of a marriage.

384665_10151077252490206_580591893_nNatural marriage has always been in part about companionship and how one completes the other for the good of family and society. Love and romance are happy features in most marriages, but it is not a fundamental purpose. Proverbs says to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” but the Bible doesn’t emphasize feelings of love as a condition to lifelong marriage. Likewise in the secular world, what couple applying for a marriage license is ever asked by the clerk, “How do you feel about each other? Are you sure you’re in love?”? As Sean and John note, “The government does not care how a couple feels (its not on the form), but rather how they fit into the larger social context.” (pages 25,158) To the state (here in the US and most other governments), feelings of love and romance take a back seat to other more lasting purposes of the union.

What are the purposes of marriage that the state is really interested in? The fact that most traditional marriages produce children, and the ideal (supported by study after study) that children are better off with both a mother and a father. The companionship of marriage plus children makes a family. Every society seeks good replacements, and so governments encourage and even incentivize marriage as a way to ensure children become good and productive adult members of society. Families are the basic building blocks of civilization. Granted, not every marriage produces children, but every human being on earth comes from a mother and a father (and generally fare better growing up with both).

Secular society will on the whole have little interest in the picture of Christ and the Church that marriage bears, but this picture is the result, not a precondition, for Biblical marriage. The criteria that the Bible sets up for marriage are pragmatic and mirrored almost intuitively by every culture for all time, up until very recently.

photo copy 2And just as you can’t get a pie with just sugar, any of these criteria alone do not make a marriage. The sexual union of a man and woman can be done without being married. All kinds of relationships are permanent (as are markers and glue). Boyfriends and girlfriends can be exclusive. Companionship can be had with any human and most animals. You can hire a “helper.” And we can make babies without, except for the opposite sex pairing, any of the above conditions being met. A marriage is a marriage when all of these are in view or at least categorically possible.

While the case for traditional marriage can be argued very well without using the Bible or religion, we will never really know WHY we have always recognized (not invented) one-man/one-woman marriage without starting at the foundation. Even Jesus, when fielding a question about divorce from the Pharisees (Matthew 19, Mark 10) went straight back to the design phase, quoting Genesis 2.

“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’a and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Notice that the Lord answered a question about divorce (which is not actually marriage) with the fundamental origin and purpose of marriage. If we know what marriage is, we can always identify the many things it is not—divorce, cohabitation, gay marriage, polygamy, or whatever else might come down the pike.

For Christians, our appeal has no real authority without the Word of God as the foundation for marriage, but the fact that societies everywhere around the world have historically validated the same kind of marriage outlined in the Bible is affirmation of God’s design of a very good thing.


That is more or less where my understanding of marriage has landed after a bit of refinement from reading  Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. But back to the book: Get it and read it. In addition to clarifying what marriage is and why it matters, Part 1 of the book outlines the societal shift that has happened in recent decades and recounts the history of recent changes in views on marriage. Part 2, What We Can Do For Marriage goes into the Christian responsibility for marriage, learning from the “gay liberation” agenda, some serious introspection with a call to repentance, things churches can and should do, and answers to common questions.

Throughout the book are brief interviews with with other Christian authors and otherwise notable folks addressing key issues related to marriage. For example, on page 88-89, Eric Teetsel fields several questions on What Same-Sex Marriage Means for the Church’s Role in Culture. Very insightful.

It was very interesting just how influential one book could be to the gay movement. After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s by Marshal Kirk and Hunter Madsen (1989) was a playbook for many in the movement (Chapter 8, pages 90-98), which outlined a 3-step process to change public opinion: Desensitize the public to the gay culture, portray anti-gay voices as bad guys “without reference to facts, logic or proof,” and convert the public through propaganda. It worked. Lessons to learn from this kind of movement are that sometimes a good story is better than a good argument. We have great stories to tell about life-long, natural marriages, and we should be telling them.

The emphasis that the authors put on the need for introspection and repentance by the Church was a surprise for a book written as a defense of marriage, but it’s warranted and appropriate. Christians corporately need to self-examine our motives and our approach, past and present, in how we treat our gay neighbors. Biblically, we are called to tell the truth about marriage and sexuality, but we are called to do it out of love and respect for gay people as fellow image-bearers of God. We need to humbly admit we’ve made mistakes before moving on. Here are a few questions from Sean and John (page 106):

• Have we told inappropriate jokes that slander or dehumanize gays and lesbians?
• Have we condemned another, using their homosexual sin to justify and coddle our own heterosexual sin?
• Have we physically or emotionally abused someone because they identify as gay?

MarriageIsAlreadyEqualThat said, most of the arguments put forth in defense of same sex marriage are flat out fallacious, most notably Strawmen (replacing the actual argument with one that is easier to defeat) and Ad Hominem (attacking a person’s character instead of the argument). We need to be aware of this and respond with well-reasoned answers (but “do so with gentleness and respect.”–1 Peter 3:15). We need to be aware of manipulative buzzwords, like discrimination, and realize that “not all discrimination is wrong. It’s often appropriate and necessary.” (pg. 26) The authors walk us through some “What if” scenarios and close with appendixes providing answers to pertinent questions and common challenges, including “Isn’t opposing same-sex marriage the same as opposing interracial marriage?”, and “Don’t you believe in marriage equality?” and the complex question (a trick question that assumes something not necessarily true), “Why do you hate gay people?” (pages 155-160).

But Christians have had their share of fallacious arguments in this debate. On John Stonestreet’s Breakpoint program, he featured a letter from a Christian condemning something she called “the Argument from Ickiness.” This is summed up in the sentiment “Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worse kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.” Aside from being ignorant and wrong, this argument relies on pure emotionalism and zero rationale. For the past 30 years many who spoke against homosexuality have generally not had a real argument against it, but a childish “Yuck” reaction. After the influence of media and pop culture had finally succeeded in normalizing homosexuality by portraying gays as ordinary people looking for love like the rest of us, it led a lot of people, gay and straight, including our vice-president, to conclude that “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.” The Argument from Ickiness was all many had against the movement, and it didn’t work anymore.

Sean and John’s book brings to light not only a right-headed rationale against gay marriage, but a right-hearted compassion for gay people—a clear answer for the need for both grace and truth that Christ calls us to. Marriage affects everyone eventually, and there is not a single Christian who will escape the question of what marriage is and the need to respond with a definitive position on same-sex marriage. This book is an incredible source for equipping Christians for what is here now and what lies ahead.

Two Bits of Truth from Ruth

October 27, 2013 § 1 Comment

Book_of_Ruth_Chapter_3-4_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)Redemption is the dominant theme in the book of Ruth. Upon a recent reading of this short Old Testament narrative though, two things came to light specifically how that redemption occurred.

First a brief background on the characters in he story. Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Naomi, an Israelite, and both are widows. Ruth was a foreigner (from Moab) who had committed to the God of Israel and vowed to stay with Naomi and care for her (1). In ancient times, a woman without a husband is in a dire situation, and this was true of Ruth and Naomi. The workers in a nearby field agreed to let Ruth follow behind and gather the grain that they missed or dropped as they harvested. The field’s owner, Boaz, showed special kindness to Ruth upon discovering her situation. Naomi realized that Boaz was a close relative, and the opportunity for redemption came in a particular kinsman-redeemer law. A kinsman-redeemer was a guardian responsible for caring for he family interests of the widow of a deceased relative. This provision allowed Ruth to seek his hand in marriage, resulting in the rescue of Ruth and her mother-in-law from their financial and social situation and enabling the continuation the family name and inheritance.

The first observation of Boaz’s redemptive plan was that the request for marriage (2) came from Ruth to Boaz, not the other way around. In God’s redemptive plan for His creation, He allows for us to approach the throne of grace and make our appeal to His Son Jesus. Christ is portrayed as the Groom coming for His bride the church, but it is our place to humbly go to Christ and ask for forgiveness. Ruth was a gentile without a husband, but the door was open for her too, and Ruth became part of the line of David that led to the birth of the Messiah a thousand years later in the very town in which they now lived.

The second observation I found interesting is that the form of redemption in Ruth is marriage and not some other arrangement. It’s hard to think of any other relationship people can enter into that can save us, here on earth, to the extent that a man marrying a woman can. Societies and cultures everywhere fundamentally rely on marriage and the resulting family to carry on humanity, to adequately care for and raise children, and provide a basis for all we know about society. The government of Nigeria, fed up with terrorism arising from its own people, recently took steps to enable mass weddings under the premise that men who marry and start families do not generally become terrorists.(3) Marriage has saving power.

Ruth is pretty foreign to modern ideas about marriage and redemption. Today, it is uncommon for the woman to propose to a man, and I’m not sure why that is still uncommon. But it is increasingly uncommon to see the historic and conjugal understanding of marriage as something that serves the public interest.(4) Marriage is not a social or religious or sexual idea, but a pre-law, pre-political unit of society that law has recognized, not created; one which produces good citizens and fundamentally brings goodness to the world.(5) Marriage and the family it blossoms redeems us from ourselves. When it comes to marriage, liberalism or expressive individualism has brought self-seeking alternatives, but marriage seeks others, the benefit of others and society as a whole. When it comes to redemption, we ultimately will never find this in ourselves.

1) Ruth 1:16

2) Ruth chapter 3

3) Time Magazine, Brides Before Bombs: Nigerian City Fights Terrorism With Mass Weddings, by Nate Rawlings

4), N.J. Supreme Court: ‘No public interest’ in blocking gay marriage, by Salvador Rizzo

5) WORLD News, No ‘public interest’ served by keeping marriage as a one man, one woman institution? Robert P. George

Where Are You, Man?

June 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

My involvement in high school youth ministry includes transporting kids to and from Wednesday night gatherings. In the last couple years, there has very few teens in my van that live in a household privileged to have an involved father and mother in their lives. Where you might expect parents to be interested in when their kids get home, Kali’s parents are rarely even at home when we drop her off. Mark’s dad was at a bar when I took him home. Mikah’s dad died last year while Lexi’s dad kicked her out of the house. Some kids have new maybe-soon-to-be stepfathers and some don’t have fathers at home at all.

616476_72451739The effects of this type of home life are obvious and undeniable as I’ve gotten to see and hear first hand of the issues these teenagers deal with that intact families rarely experience. Statistically, fatherless homes experience more poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, poorer physical and emotion health, higher crime, suicide and teen pregnancy rates, more trouble in school, and more trouble with the law. I’ve seen most of this. Kids need a mom and a dad that stay in the family and are involved.

There are verifiable hormonal changes that occur in adult men who become dads, specifically lower testosterone levels that tend to keep men from doing dumb stuff (self-serving activities) and better suit them for sticking around and caring for their family. But those God-given changes don’t take effect unless they are in the game, actively involved in parenting.

I recent read Eric Metaxas’ 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness, a book I would recommend for any man. Metaxas writes from the premise that in modernity we have forgotten what manhood looks like. What makes the seven men he writes short biographies about so great is that they exemplify manhood and heroism more in the way God intended it. Contemporary culture has defined real men as “macho,” or it has “emasculated” men, pretending there is no real difference between the sexes. These ideas miss the mark and have confused men for the last half century. We need to have a clear view of what being a real man is, and acknowledge the distinctions between men and women, celebrate them and act out our roles, not ignore them.

photo[4]Father’s Day has passed, but I still think a lot about what being a dad means. Many dads take Father’s Day “off”, anticipating a day in front of the TV or on a golf course and away from family routines. Maybe Father’s Day would be better done actually demonstrating fatherhood.

I think manhood is proven in demonstrating effective fatherhood, although there is a heroism and leadership inherent in fatherhood that reveals itself in ways not confined to men who biologically reproduce. In 7 Men, Metaxas observes that “George Washington never had children of his own, and yet Americans call him the father of our country.” He also notes that Pope John Paul II never married or had kids, but “the root word from which we get ‘pope’ is papa–father.” Metaxas points to God the Father and the “picture of someone who is strong and loving and who sacrifices himself for those he loves. That’s a picture of real fatherhood and real manhood.”

Real men are not just good fathers, but also good sons. I marvel lately at my eldest brother who has taken the lead in helping our aging mother into assisted living. He has my respect for the love and self-sacrifice he shows his family.

The local church is a type of family, but is not a sufficient replacement for the family that God intended for us to make at home. The church family shines when it supports the family at home, being a family of families. The church, more than the government, the Supreme Court, or any other entity, should understand the appearance and purpose of marriage (“what God has joined together”) and family (“be fruitful and increase”). God can use individuals to accomplish much for His kingdom, but the family is the arena he uses to do the most: From the joining of Adam and Eve, to the salvation of Noah’s family, to God’s family promise to Abraham, to Jesus Christ brought forth via generations of families, to contemporary family trials and traditions that carry the Christian faith forward. True, the apostle Paul was single, but numerous are the photos of great missionary families stuck to our fridges and church lobby bulletin boards. Both humanity and the Gospel have flourished through our most fundamental unit of family.

Families are designed to be led by men. So getting back to men, real men: You are the leaders of your marriage, your family. The next generation depends on you being all in and committed right now. Children need a dad, your wife needs a husband, the world needs heroes, and God wants you living the role He designed just for you. Be there.

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