Friday, September 21, 2012

Karen Handel and "Planned Bullyhood"

There is a fascinating interview with Karen Handel about her new book Planned Bullyhood: The Truth Behind the Headlines about the Planned Parenthood Funding Battle with Susan G. Komen for the Cure over at Christianity Today.  The lead-in to the interview is:
 Karen Handel's most harrowing assignment came shortly after she started her job as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation's senior vice president for public policy. Asked to discontinue the breast cancer fighter's longstanding funding partnership with Planned Parenthood, Handel found herself squarely within the abortion provider's crosshairs. As a steadfast pro-lifer and a former deputy chief of staff to a pro-life Republican governor, she provided Planned Parenthood a convenient symbolic target. When her employer bowed before the onslaught and agreed to restore the funding, Handel resigned in protest.
In her new book, Planned Bullyhood (Howard Books), Handel recounts the events that precipitated her departure from the Komen foundation. CT editorial resident Melissa Steffan spoke with Handel about the reasoning behind Komen's breakup with Planned Parenthood, the urgency of reckoning with the abortion giant's full range of political activities, and the faith that empowered her to stand resolutely by her moral convictions.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More on "Gospel of Jesus' Wife"

There continues to be analysis and discussion of Karen King's release of the fragment she has called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife."  Below are a few of the posts and links to check out for more on this discovery.  (See UPDATES at bottom of post)

More on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife

The 'Wife of Jesus' Fragment a Day Later: Some Concerns About Authenticity but also see this person's update Two Days Later: Another Evaluation of the Jesus' Wife Papyrus

Harvard Divinity School has set up a site with pictures and Q/A

Karen King's 52 page article for Harvard Theological Review discussing the find

James McGrath has an article with a number of links to other scholars' views

Evangelical Textual Criticism has some good discussion in these posts HERE (which raise issues of authenticity)and a follow-up HERE.

Albert Mohler weighs in with The Gospel of Jesus' Wife? When Sensationalism Masquerades as Scholarship

Ben Witherington's blog has a piece by NT scholar Simon Gathercole Simon Gathercole on the Jesus' Wife Papyrus

Update: September 21, 2012

Dan Wallace gives a very good and thorough overview of facts and possibilities regarding fragment Reality Check: The "Jesus' Wife" Coptic Fragment

Update: September 22, 2012

Francis Watson argues that the new fragment is a forgery and is based off the Coptic Gospel of Thomas 
The "Gospel of Jesus' Wife": How a Fake Gospel-Fragment Was Composed

His summary reads as follows:
Six of the eight incomplete lines of GJW recto are so closely related to the Coptic GTh, especially to Sayings 101 and 114, as to make dependence virtually certain. A further line is derived from Matthew; just one is left unaccounted for. The author has used a “collage” or “patchwork” compositional technique, and this level of dependence on extant pieces of Coptic text is more plausibly attributed to a modern author, with limited facility in Coptic, than to an ancient one. Indeed, the GJW fragment may be designedly incomplete, its lacunae built into it from the outset. It does not seem possible to fill these lacunae with GTh material contiguous to the fragments cited. The impression of modernity is reinforced by the case in line 1 of dependence on the line-division of the one surviving Coptic manuscript, easily accessible in modern printed editions. Unless this impression of modernity is countered by further investigations and fresh considerations, it seems unlikely that GJW will establish itself as a “genuine” product of early gospel writing.

Update: October 2, 2012

Michael Kruger weighs in again with concerns about the back of the fragment and the spacing of the letters HERE.

Update: October 12, 2012

The facts and analysis continues to mount that the fragment is a forgery.

Andrew Bernhard has a site devoted to the fragment.  His most recent essay is entitled How "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife" Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal.

Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism there is a post entitled "Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Final Death Throes?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"The Gospel of Jesus' Wife"--Here We Go Again!

The news will be all abuzz about the unveiling of an ancient papyrus fragment which has Jesus speaking of Mary (presumably Mary Magdalene) as his "wife."  Dr. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School was behind yesterday's announcement of the fragment.  The Smithsonian's coverage can be found HERE and a piece in the Huffington Post can be found HERE.

Some facts regarding the fragment:

1.  It's size in small--about the size of a credit card (4 cm. x 8 cm).

2.  The language is Coptic and is on both sides of fragment indicating it was part of a codex (book) rather than a scroll.

3.  The fragment is dated to the second half of the fourth century A.D. and its place of origins is probably in Upper Egypt according to AnneMarie Luiendijk (professor at Princeton and an authority on Coptic papyri) and Roger Bagnall (a papyrologist who directs the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University).

4.  The front side has eight fragmentary lines and the back side has three words that are decipherable ("my mother" and "three").

5.  There is a chemical test scheduled to determine if the ink's chemistry is compatible with inks from antiquity.  These results are, obviously, not available yet.

From these facts there are a number of inferences and interpretations that are being drawn:

1.  Karen King believes this fragment is a translation from an earlier document that was written in Greek in the second century.

2.  King repeatedly refers to this fragment as a "gospel" but the Huffington Post reports that "King also said that a professor who saw her report asked her if the text on the papyrus could have been a homily and not a gospel, and idea she said she had not considered."

3.  The media refers to this as "sure to send shock waves through the Christian world."  The media love to trumpet these discoveries as somehow upending Christianity as we know it and as, potentially, displacing the portrait of Jesus from the canonical gospels.

Be assured that the popular media will suggest that this fragment intimates that Jesus may have been married.  Buried in the news stories you will eventually find that the fragment tells us nothing, repeat,
nothing, about the historical Jesus. The recent Smithsonian article speaks of this clearly:
But Dan Brown fans, be warned: King makes no claim for its usefulness as biography.  The text was probably composed in Greek a century or so after Jesus' crucifixion, then copied into Coptic some two centuries later.  As evidence that the real-life Jesus was married, the fragment is scarcely more dispositive than Brown's controversial 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code.  (p.2--as printed out)
In the weeks leading up to the mid-September announcement, King worried that people would read the headlines and misconstrue her paper as an argument that the historical Jesus was married.  But the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" was written too long after Jesus' death to have any value as biography--a point King underscores in her forthcoming article in the Harvard Theological Review.  (p. 8--as printed out).
In point of fact, Dr. King thinks the best historical evidence for Mary not being married to Jesus comes from the New Testament because she is referred to by her hometown, Migdal, rather than by her relationship to Jesus--which she would have been had they been married.

So, this new discovery tells us nothing about Jesus.  What does this fragment indicate?  Here there is controversy as well.  For Dr. King the fragment is fresh evidence of the diversity of voices in early Christianity.  According to King, there were alternate versions of Christianity and over time the forces of "orthodoxy" silenced other versions of Christianity.  This is nothing new for Dr. King.  She has been arguing this thesis for a number of years.  For example, in discussing the Nag Hammadi texts which contain a number of Gnostic "gospels" she has written:
These writings are of inestimable importance in drawing aside the curtain of later perspectives behind which Christian beginnings lie, and the exposing the vitality and diversity of early Christian life and reflection.  They demonstrate that reading the story of Christian origins backward through the lens of canon and creed has given an account of the formation of only one kind of Christianity, and even that only partially.  The fuller picture lets us see more clearly how the later Christianity of the New Testament and the Nicene Creed arose out of many different possibilities through experimentation, compromise, and very often conflict.  From her book The Gospel of Mary Magdala (Polebridge, 2003), p. 157 as quoted in Ben Witherington The Gospel Code (IVP, 2004), p. 118.
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington effectively answers this perspective when he responds directly to Karen King:
Did you catch the sleight of hand in this analysis?  Forget altogether the fourth and fifth century councils and the formation of the creeds.  The essential question is, What were the earliest documents (and what do they say)?  The answer is the New Testament itself.  We have no documents earlier than these, and as any good historian knows, the documents closest to the source of a movement are likely to be most revealing about its origins.
The documents written by eyewitnesses or those in contact with eyewitnesses are our primary sources, and these documents happen to be in the New Testament, plus a few other likely first-century documents, such as the Didache and 1 Clement.  There is no good evidence that Gnosticism was one of the dueling forms of Christianity in the first century A.D.  Thus the degree of diversity that King thinks existed in the earliest churches is not historically demonstrable.  There is no evidence of Gnostics or Marcionites in the first-century church.
In King's view the earliest Christians modeled wide diversity, and we are called to "emulate their struggles to make Christianity in our own day."  So the agenda is laid bare: it's our job not merely to rewrite the history of ancient Christianity but to remake modern Christianity.  This clarion call needs to be seen for what it is.  It's not simply a rejection of the canonizing process and creedal orthodoxy but also of the limits of first-century Christian diversity in favor of a much broader and more pluralistic model.  King calls us to reject our earliest historical sources, the New Testament, as the basis of defining the normative character of the Christian faith.  It plays right into our culture's belief that "the new is true."   Ben Witherington The Gospel Code (IVP, 2004), p. 118-119. 
These ancient fragments become, for some scholars and others, vehicles for contemporary agendas.  Again, the Huffington Post reports in regards to Karen King's perspective:
King added that she hopes the discovery will diminish the view outside of academic circles that the debate over marriage and sexuality in the early church is "fixed and over."  In current church debates over issues such as same-sex marriage and marriage among Catholic priests, "having more voices from the early church and a better, more accurate version of early Christianity is more helpful," she said.
So we move from the discovery of a small fragment of a fourth-century Coptic manuscript to engaging the debate over same-sex marriage!  Something more than dispassionate archaeology and historical analysis is going on here.  In the midst of it all, the primary documents giving us the clearest portrait of Jesus and the early church are by-passed in favor of any scrap that can overturn the canonical portrait.  There are profound presuppositional issues at play here.

For more in response to the new fragment:

James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries has written a few thoughts:  Get Ready for a Wave of Gnostic Looniness Once Again and A Note to the Secular Word: Do Your History

Michael Kruger (professor of NT at Reformed Theological Seminary) has written a brief statement with some links to some of his previous writings on similar topics-- The Gospel of Jesus' Wife: Authentic or Not?.  Also Dr. Kruger has an analysis of this new fragment over at the Gospel Coalition website entitled The Far Less Sensational Truth about Jesus' Wife.

Huffington Post is now carrying an article quoting a number of scholars who doubt the authenticity of the fragment.  Jesus' Wife Papyrus Authenticity Questioned by Scholars.

UPDATE: September 22, 2012  Be sure to see my follow-up post HERE which has a number of new links analyzing the fragment and the controversy.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paul's Confrontation with Idolatry

As I finished up a brief three part sermon series on Acts 19 yesterday I attempted to bring out the apostle Paul's varying tactics and tone as he interacted with the idolatry of his time.  I borrowed (heavily) from Christopher J. H. Wright's book The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (IVP, 2006), pp. 179-182 in which he discusses the similarities and differences between Paul's discussion of idolatry to the church at Rome and his evangelistic practice in various pagan contexts.  A few selections from Wright:
Combatting idolatry can take many forms.  The Bible itself prepares us to recognize that different approaches may be relevant in different contexts.  Wisdom in mission calls us to be discerning and to recognize that what may be appropriate in one situation may not be so helpful in another. (p. 179)
Wright goes on to delineate four different aspects or contexts of the confrontation of idolatry:
1.  Theological argumentation as found in Romans chapter one.
2.  Evangelistic engagement as found in Acts 14, 17, and 19.
3.  Pastoral guidance for dealing with the daily dilemmas of paganism such as eating meat that has been offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8-10).
4.  Prophetic warning and denunciation as found in the Old Testament prophets when they rebuked the people of God for compromising with idolatry.
In my sermon I focused on the first two: theological argumentation and evangelistic engagement.  In regards to Paul's theological engagement Wright has these words:
Writing to Christians, and speaking of idolatry objectively as a phenomenon, Paul pulls no punches.  In his sharp analysis of human rebellion against God in Romans 1:18-32, he sets idolatry firmly within the realm of that which incurs the wrath of God.  It is the result of deliberate suppression of the truth about God that is known and available to all humans.  It involves the inversion of the creation order, exchanging the worship of the living God for the worship of images of creation.  It claims wisdom but is rank folly.  It issues in a catalog of vice and viciousness, polluting every aspect of human life--sexual, social, familial and personal.  Idolatry is alienating, darkening, degrading, divisive and deadly.  We must not separate any part of this analysis from the whole.  Paul's attack on idolatry is theological, intellectual, spiritual, ethical and social.  It is a powerful piece of theological argument, preparatory to his exposition of the fullness of the gospel.  (pp. 179-180)
Wright next looks briefly at Paul's tactics and words in his evangelistic campaigns in Lystra (Acts 14.8-20), Athens (Acts 17.16-34), and Ephesus (Acts 19.23-41).
The monotheistic message of the gospel thus challenged popular superstition in Lystra, intellectual and civic pride in Athens and economic interests in Ephesus.  The thrust of Paul's evangelistic tactics in such circumstances--that is, when engaging directly with idol-worshipping pagans as distinct from offering theological teaching to established believers--is forthright and uncompromising but markedly softer and more polite than the language we observed in Romans 1.  
He goes on to articulate some of the emphases of Paul's teaching to substantiate this point.
In the two recorded speeches (in Lystra and Athens), Paul emphasizes God as the one living Creator of heaven and earth (Acts 13:15; 17:24).  In both he stresses the providence of God in giving humans all the necessities of life, even life and breath itself (Acts 13:17; 17:25).  In Lystra he offers this as evidence of the kindness of God, bringing joy even to pagans; in  Athens he offers it as proof that God longs for people to seek him, though he is in fact not far from any of us (supporting this from pagan poetry [Acts 17:27-28]).  In both places, he allows that God has been patient and tolerant of pagan ignorance in the past (Acts 13:16; 17:30).  But in both he also calls for a decisive turning away from the worship of "worthless things" (Acts 13:15), which are hopelessly inadequate for the divine being (Acts 17:29).  This is consistent with his own testimony regarding the burden of his preaching in Thessalonica.  He recalls how pagans there had "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thess 1:9).  In Athens, he goes on to speak of judgment and to link it to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:31).
What we learn from the lips of the pagans themselves in Ephesus is that Paul had argued that "man-made gods" are not gods at all (Acts 19:26--a thoroughly Old Testament perspective).  But what we also learn most interestingly is that Paul had not engaged in specific defamation of Artemis/Diana--the patron goddess of Ephesus.  This is not even a claim Paul makes for himself but is stated in his defense by the city clerk to pacify the riot fomented against Paul and his friends: "They have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess" (Acts 19:37).  Clearly Paul's evangelism was uncompromisingly effective but it was not calculatingly offensive.  (p. 181)
Following Wright's reasoning I put the following chart together:

Theological Argument
Evangelistic Engagement
Romans 1.18-32
Acts 14.8-20; 17.16-34; 19.23-41
Addressed to Christians
Addressed to Pagans
Highlights: Wrath of God (v. 18)
Highlights: God’s kindness (14.17), patience (14.16;17.30) and providence (17.26-27)
Focus: Rebellion and suppression of truth (v. 18)
Focus: Ignorance (17.23,30)
Focus: Wickedness generated by idolatry (vv. 24-32)
Focus: Worthlessness of idolatry (14.15)
Focus: Perverse thinking (vv. 21,28)
Focus: Absurd thinking (17.29)
Blasts idolatry as “a/the lie” (v. 25)
Did not blaspheme Artemis (19.37)

I believe Wright's analysis can help us navigate the tricky waters of evangelistic encounters in our time. His distinction between theological argument and evangelistic engagement can help us make decisions regarding tactics and tone as we approach the world with the gospel.

For example, earlier this year Ruben Israel and his group of Street Preachers went to Dearborn, Michigan to demonstrate at the annual Arab Festival.  They went with signs, some of which read: "Islam is a religion of blood and murder" and "Muhammed is a...liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert."  They also took along a pig's head on a pole to "protect themselves" from any angry Muslims.

This is nothing new for Ruben.  He has dressed as a cow to preach to Hindus and he has waved Mormon underwear in front of the LDS Salt Lake City temple.  And, of course, whenever he is challenged on any of this he argues that he simply speaking the truth of God to people.  He attempts to claim the biblical high ground as he touts how courageous and masculine he is in his endeavors.  Paul's practice as outlined above gives a different way to judge the wisdom of Ruben's approach.  I would argue that Ruben and his cohorts are being "calculatingly offensive" in ways that are not helpful.  The apostle Paul's tone and tactics as illustrated in Acts show a different way.  

It should be pointed out that simply having the above distinctions doesn't settle everything.  There will still, at times, be disagreements among Christians as to the best use of tactics in various evangelistic encounters.  Context is key.  To take another example, last year I went out with the Center for Bio-ethical Reform as part of their Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) that they conducted at Arizona State University.  This involved huge billboard signs with the graphic results of abortion with various signs of text seeking to awaken people to the realities of abortion.  Although this was not strictly evangelistic the principles still apply.

 I know that there are those in the pro-life community that don't like this type of approach.  I support GAP on college and university campuses because it breaks the haze of apathy and slogans.  It allows for an opportunity for a (typically) younger generation that has not known a time without Roe v. Wade to see the reality of what is behind the euphemism of "pro-choice."  I had a number of civil conversations with students that were generated by the pictures.  This approach seems, to me, at least, something that is effective on a college campus in an arena stressing the open market place of ideas.  Having argued that these pictures have a place on college campuses doesn't entail that they are necessarily effective or ought to be used in other venues.  I've been involved with the local 40 Days for Life campaign and I would urge that a different tactic be used.  With 40 Days for Life the goal is to pray and be a presence in front of abortion providing facilities.  This is the last line of opportunity to speak to the women going inside.  I think a different message is needed here--one of compassion, concern, and urgency.  The pro-life message is not compromised.  I've seen some amazing examples of courageous women who engage in the side-walk counseling.  So the issue is not one of  compromise but one of wisdom.  Would the presence of graphic pictures be helpful in such a situation?  I don't think so.  Differing contexts require wisdom.  This is something we learn from Paul's ministry: to be uncompromisingly effective without being calculatingly offensive. 

May God give us wisdom.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Francis Schaeffer on Church Planting

I was in a conversation the other day and was reminded of this quotation by Francis Schaeffer.  It comes from his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century (1970).
I see the second problem of those who left the UPCUSA as a confusion over where to place the basic chasm that marks off our identity.  Is the chasm placed between Bible-believing churches and those that are not, or is it between those who are Presbyterian and Reformed and those who are not?  When we go into a town to start a church, do we go there primarily motivated to build a church that is loyal to Presbyterianism and the Reformed Faith?  Or do we go to build a church that will preach the gospel that historic, Bible-believing churches of all denominations hold, and then, on this side of that chasm, teach what we believe is true to the Bible with respect to our own denominational distinctives?  The answers to these questions make a great deal of difference.  There is a difference of motivation, of breadth and outreach.  One view is catholic and biblical and gives promise of success--on two levels: first, in church growth and healthy outlook among those we reach; second, in providing leadership to the whole church of Christ.  The other view is inverted and self-limiting--and sectarian.  The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century in The Complete Works (vol. 4), p. 99.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Acts 19 and Cultural Controversy

I've been preaching a short series of sermons on Acts 19.8-41 which details some of Paul's ministry in Ephesus.  This past week I focused on verses 23-27.
23 About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 
24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; 
25 these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 
26 “You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 
27 “Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” 

Here are some of the things I mentioned in my sermon:
1.  The reception of the gospel in Ephesus caused controversy.  Verse 23 states very clearly: "About this time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way."  This had its origin in the fact that many people were turning to Christ and forsaking their past pagan practices (see vv. 18-19).  These conversions were marked by real change that produces a different lifestyle.  There is a fundamental change in orientation to life that puts these new believers out of step with the dominant cultural institutions, systems, and symbols.  

2.  There is a financial impact.  After awhile the numbers become noticeable on the economic system of Ephesus.  Demetrius is the ring leader in sparking the controversy.  It is instructive to listen in on his comments and see his perspective.  He is concerned about the potential impact of Paul's message.  He recognizes that Paul is the focal point behind this teaching that is persuading many to re-orient their beliefs and practices.  The important point to stress is that this economic impact was not Paul's chief goal.  He did not enter the city with desires to harm the economic system.  His chief desire was to preach Christ Jesus and the needed response of turning from vain idols to serve the living God.  A by-product of this message and the faithful response it engendered was an economic impact.

3.  It is also interesting to note how Demetrius characterizes Paul's message.  He states it as follows: "gods made with hands are no gods at all."  This is what Demetrius heard.  Of course, Paul's message encompassed more than this.  From what we know of Paul's preaching he spoke of Christ Jesus, the cross of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ.  He did speak of the folly of idols (Acts 14.15; 17.24-29; 1 Thess. 19b) and this is what Demetrius focuses upon since this is the portion of the message that most directly challenges his idolatry.  
Taking these three points from the text it is instructive to seek out contemporary applications in regards to our culture.  As this is done, however, careful attention must be given to the differing cultural contexts of our time and the Paul's time in Ephesus.

Ephesus was a thoroughly pagan environment steeped in institutional idolatry and magic.  This is not true of modern America.  American culture has been fed by the streams of Christendom.  Francis Schaeffer used to speak of America's past as having a "Christian consensus or ethos" (The Great Evangelical Disaster in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer vol. 4, p. 330).  More recently Michael Goheen has written of Western civilization as being "salted and shaped by the gospel to some degree for a long time" (A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story, p. 212).  This fact creates numerous differences between Paul's culture and our in current day America.  Leslie Newbigin, in discussing 1 Peter, drew attention to some of these differences that should be honored.  Michael Goheen summarizes Newbigin's discussion this way:
Newbigin warned of three "vast differences" between Peter's time and ours that makes an application of Peter's words to our situation complex: (1) the church in Peter's time was a tiny minority with no responsibility for the political order, whereas today the church has power and influence in public life; (2) between their time and ours the entire story of the rise and fall of Christendom has dramatically changed the situation; and (3) today's culture allows an element of choice in these institutions, for example, in whom we marry, whom we work for, and whom we elect to positions of political authority.
Goheen then adds:
The church today is a minority and has lost cultural power in recent decades.  Western culture today is more hostile to Christian faith than it was in the past.  Nevertheless, the church still holds a degree of financial, political, and cultural power, and must learn to use that influence precisely as critical participants in culture.  (A Light to the Nations, pp. 188-189) 
With those differences in culture in mind we can take the issue of homosexuality--particularly the battle over "gay marriage"--and watch for some of the parallels that were found in Acts 19 above.  As I mentioned in my sermon, this is not the only issue to be considered but it is a live issue that is before the church and our culture.

First, among some young evangelicals there is growing weariness with the "culture wars."  For example, Rachel Held Evans recently wrote these words in response to North Carolina's passing a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman ("Amendment One" as it was called):

My generation is tired of the culture wars. 
We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for. 

And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-and-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.  
Let's leave to the side the misleading rhetoric of "advancing the kingdom through politics and power."  Let's also leave to the side, for purposes of this essay, her movement beyond "the black-and-white categories of the generations before ours" (like the apostle Paul!).  What Rachel Evans (and those for whom she is a voice) needs to be told--and told gently and in a safe manner--is that the Christian proclamation and faithful responses to it will cause cultural controversy.  This is nothing new as seen from Acts 19.  Brian Mattson accurately responded to Rachel Evans post with these words:
I read Rachel's post with a great deal of sadness.  The dissonance between her sentimentalism and the claims of the gospel in the New Testament is extreme.  Listen: the early church grew in the midst of the Roman Empire.  Can we please stop this whole "things are so different now!" mentality?  Religious pluralism, sexual autonomy and license is nothing new.  The church has faced the situation before.  This is not some unprecedented turn of events.  
And many people were literally fed to lions because they refused to give up their "culture war," opposing things like worshiping the Emperor and gladiatorial contests and polygamy and homosexuality and infant exposure.
Second, and corresponding to point 2 above from Acts 19, the goal is not marginalize individuals or a segment of society.  This is what is usually claimed against those who seek to uphold the traditional view of marriage and stop any redefinition that would include same-sex couples to "marry."  The goal is stand for God's perspective on marriage in the public square.  The church, as Michael Goheen mentioned, still has some cultural and political authority.  It can and should use this to wisely, and, hopefully winsomely, speak the truth about the wisdom and goodness of God's view of marriage.  This view of marriage has been recognized and upheld in our judicial reasoning in the past.  Christians should seek to strengthen those institutions that have upheld and reinforced God's goodness and wisdom.

Third, what is it the world is saying about our message?  We saw above that although Paul preached Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection what the world (Demetrius) heard with clarity was that piece of Paul's message that most clearly and directly challenged the idolatry of their time.  No one draws the conclusion that somehow Paul was failing to preach Jesus or love people simply because there were some (many?) who heard the challenge against their sin.  So it is in our time.  Rachel Held Evans again provides the example here from her post referenced above.  She started out that blog post with these words:
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith
Now to be sure, Christians have not always spoken well when speaking of the faith.  We need to speak more about Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection.  We need to speak in love and demonstrate love in tangible ways.  All that is granted.  Yet, the fact of this statistic as quoted by Rachel Evans is not necessarily indicative of a failure on the part of the church.  Just like Paul, the contemporary evangelical church does speak about Jesus.  We hold to more and speak of more than the ethics of sexuality.  But the fact that the world says it hears our stance on human sexuality (and not our teaching on Jesus) is not necessarily an indication of failure.  It may be the case that the world is hearing with clarity precisely that portion of Christian truth that is calling into question the contemporary idol of sexual anarchy.

In confirmation of this consider this question: Why is it that the first phrase these non-Christians in the Barna study had was not "compassion for the poor?"  The objective facts would tend toward this conclusion.  Last year David French did some research into this issue.  He wrote about his findings in a blog post entitled Are Christians Obsessed with Gays and Abortion?  He looked at the receipts for four "culture war" organizations (Alliance Defense Fund, Family Research Council, National Right to Life, and Americans United for Life) and found that their combined income was $60 million combined.  Even adding in Focus on the Family with their $135 million still yields a total less than $200 million.  Then French looked the receipts for three Christian organizations that are focused on helping the poor and malnourished (World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan's Purse) and found their combined total to be $2.1 billion.  By the measure of what Christians do with their money--and Jesus said this was an indicator of where our heart and treasure are!--Christians are more actively engaged in fighting poverty around the world.  Now why isn't this mentioned?  Why is this not known?  Regardless of the answers to those questions the fact remains that simply because the world tells us that our message, as they are hearing it, is "antihomosexual" it not reason to think that the church is failing in it's gospel proclamation.  As stated above, perhaps they are focusing on that part of God's truth that is most challenging our culture's idolatry.

N. T. Wright Videos

I came across these links to two videos by N. T. Wright.  The first is entitled "Look at Jesus"and the second is about how to read the Bible.  They are both devotionally oriented and I found them to be very moving.

Look at Jesus

The Whole Sweep of Scripture