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Berni Responds to Bartlet in the West Wing Theology Challenge

Berni Responds to Bartlet in the West Wing Theology Challenge

Wow there’s been quite  bit of discussion on the blog post about the West Wing Theology Challenge – the theological gauntlet that President Bartlet threw down to the Christian talk show host ‘Dr’ Jenna Jacobs on homosexuality. And you know what makes it all so hard?  It’s this: in one respect at least, Bartlet has a real point.

I don’t mean that his conclusions are right. But his process points out an important truth. So, here (in love) is my take on it all:

  1. Changing Social Context: The 66 books of the Bible were written over a period of at least 1,500 years (the last one completed almost 2,000 years ago) by different authors in different situations and contexts – all of which are totally foreign to the world we live in today. That was no accident. God planned to reveal Himself to us in that way. So why are we so surprised that we need to put our thinking caps on to figure out what it all means to us here and now at the threshold of the 21st Century AD? That’s the plain reality. We do need to think this stuff through – honestly, openly and in love.
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  2. The Bible’s Moral Trajectory: There is absolutely no doubt that morals follow a trajectory from beginning to end of the Bible. Polygamy was apparently fine early on in the Old Testament, but forbidden in the New Testament. And as Bartlet points out, a good many of the 613 commandments and prohibitions of the Torah (Mosaic Law or what we now refer to as Old Testament Law) simply cannot be followed today. In fact, even by Jesus’ time things like stoning for adultery was no longer practiced. (That’s what the trap in John’s Gospel Chapter 8 is all about – the religious leaders were presenting Jesus with what they thought was a lose-lose choice for Him. He either had to deny the Mosaic Law, or risk prosecution by the Romans for sanctioning the stoning of an adulteress under that Law). Let’s not kid ourselves that morals and practices didn’t change over time. They did! And they have continued to evolve since then. There’s not a peep for instance in the Bible about criticising slavery (although slave traders are sometimes listed as sinners – who isn’t?!). But are we prepared to use that omission as the basis for sanctioning slavery today? Things have changed.
  3. The Underlying Truth: So, in the face of evolving ethics in both Biblical and post-Biblical times, what do we go with? What is Biblical truth? My answer is that we go with the underlying truth principles (theologians like to call them ‘doctrines’) of Scripture. That doesn’t mean that we water things down because it suits us; because we really would like to have this sin in under God’s list of “okie-dokies” rather than out. What it does mean is that we evaluate difficult issues in the light of underlying Biblical truths. In other words, the Bible should always be used as the primary and authoritative source, for interpreting the Bible. And there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this as Bartlet would seem to suggest.
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  4. The Fatal Flaw in Bartlet’s Reasoning: The flaw in Bartlet’s argument is that he uses Old Testament Law to discredit New Testament beliefs and practices. We’re clearly told through the Apostle Paul that we are dead to the old law, and alive to grace (Romans 7:1-6). As a Christ-follower saved by grace, I am not required to tithe my income (as much as that isn’t a bad starting point) any more than I am required to stone my brother John to death for planting two different crops side by side. The Old Testament Law doesn’t apply. Grace applies. And interestingly, when given the apparent no-win choice by the religious leaders in John Chapter 8, Jesus puts them all to shame, by inconveniently pointing out the truth that all of them have sinned and by applying grace to the woman (note grace does not equal denial).  Have another read.
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  5. Specifically on Sexuality: What does the New Testament teach on sexuality? Actually it doesn’t discriminate. As far as the New Testament is concerned, sexual intimacy is a wonderful thing invented by God, only to be exercised between one man and one woman in a life-long bond of exclusivity that we call “marriage”. Anything outside of that is sin. That includes pornography (which by the way in Jesus’ day was a word used to describe both heterosexual and homosexual conduct outside marriage – e.g. the temple prostitutes of other religions). That includes adultery. There are lots and lots of references, but I like this one the best – it summarises things in a nutshell. And just before we start imagining the one sin is worse than another, check out this list in Galatians 5:19-21 and see all the other supposedly “minor sins” listed right up there alongside the “major ones”. Let’s get a grip here – sin is sin. Who wants to throw the first stone again?
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  6. Speaking the Truth in Love: These three things remain – faith, hope and love and the greatest of these, is love (1 Cor 13:13). Does that mean we sweep things under the carpet? Does that mean that we fold because popular thinking has moved on? Nope. Jesus didn’t. He told the adulteress that whilst He didn’t condemn her, she should go and sin no more. I have a friend who several times has committed adultery. Love him dearly. But at some point, out of my love for him and my concern for him, I shared the truth with him in love. Directly, plainly but gently. It’s not my job to judge him. It’s not my job to wave my bony finger at him. And it’s not my job to change him. I think – correct me if I’m wrong – my job is to share the truth with him in love, and let the Lord do the rest. Sometimes of course that draws criticism. Sometimes it results in name calling. Sometimes it will draw fire from those who want us to believe something that suits their agenda. That’s okay, so long as we don’t shoot back. Faith, hope and love. The greatest is love – and if we love someone, we won’t sweep things under the carpet hoping they’ll go away, nor will we beat them over a head with a Bible, as though that’ll somehow make a difference.

There you have it. That’s my take on things. Please feel free to comment, to criticise, to share. But please, do it in love.


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14 Comments

  1. It is an old post so I don’t know if it’s monitored or still answer… I read your post 3 times and you actually didn’t respond to “President Bartlet”…. You did what any other theologian, Christian, Preachers are doing and avoid the question and answered something totally irrelevant… Why not sticking to the main debate, the main issue, what exactly was said in this interesting episode…. How to explain, what to think of a religion that says that a men should be killed if he works on Sabbath? On one side, (Genesis 1:27) God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God – on the other side, homosexuality is an abomination – So the question is, is God an abomination?

    I can limit the conversation to Genesis and we will have materials for weeks… “16: And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17: 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,… The now consensus is that Alpha Centauri is the closest star to Earth (other than the sun) and is 4.3 light years away…. but your God, your bible says that the stars gave light to the earth immediately… Impressive !

    About this: Genesis 7:6 –> And Noah was 600 years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. Even in the modern medicine we know now… 600 is a bit of a stretch don’t you think… Forget the giant watercraft; Build an aggressive 401k ’cause, inflation and a few recessions and crash will ruin this retirement plan…

    At the end of the day…. it’s getting dark. Once your die, it’s over – no heaven, no hell… just nothing. Peace & Love to you all…

  2. All this is fine if the discussion revolved around a fictitious Television Programme. But the problem is that this is EXACTLY the theology espoused by all of the current contenders for the GOP presidency nomination. Call it reconstructionism, call it dominionism, it is a theology that teaches that the teachings of the NT only apply to a people “under dominion”. That the Bible clearly teaches that as christianm we are to HAVE dominion. A movement that began with such textbooks as “Cinderella with amnesia” some 40 years ago and now carreis the support of a large number of “Christian!!??” leaders -Franklin Graham, (not Biily however, he won’t have a bar of it) James Dobson, Jerry Fallwell and many other respected names.
    The practical results of this theology can be seen in some of the recently enacted legislation in some republican controlled states dealing with the question of abortion and contraception. One blog, rather tongue in cheek, commented thatr the women in those states would be better off moving to Some Arabian Country practicing Sharia Law,
    Having made this comment I would like to cdomment on Romans 1:26-27. I love Paul’s logical reasoning and have preached through Romans a number of times. What must be understood is that Romans 1:18 throught to Romans 3:23 is a single argument, and argument where Paul starts ‘at the big end’ itemising the sins of past history, sins of the gentiles, sins of the Jews until the conclusion “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) that is the key point. An archer eitherr hits the target or misses, whethet by a millimetre or a metre it is still a miss. We ither sin or we don’t, there are no levels.

    • Berni, I appreciate your well thought out response and agree with it 99%. The one objection I have is in hearing Christians say that sin is sin, as if to say that all sins are equal. I personally think that this is a mistake and has dire consequences for the church and our mission within God’s kingdom purposes. So let me share some Scripture to support what I am saying to give some food for thought.

      Obviously Scripture teaches that sin is missing the mark, falling short of God’s standard, no matter if it is by a small amount or a large amount. Further, James 2:10 says that if you break one part of the law you are guilty of breaking all of it, but this is because the law is a unit, like a link in a chain. If you break one link in a chain then the whole chain is broken. James goes on in verse 11 to demonstrate that if one disobeys one point in the law then one isn’t guilty of disobeying every point in the law, but one point of disobedience is enough to make one a lawbreaker.

      Having established that every sin has one thing in common that it causes us to fall short of God’s standard, let me share some Scriptures with you that show that all sins are not equal. Some sins are worse than others because they bring a harsher judgment and worse consequences. By the way, this also translates over into the weight behind God’s laws. I am sure we are all aware of the greatest commandment to love God with our whole being – that this law is the greatest of all. In fact we are told in 1 Cor 13 that the greatest virtue is love above hope and faith. And Jesus even gave us the greatest demonstration of the greatest virtue in John 15:13 that, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his live for his friends.”

      Furthermore, for those who come to Christ, there will be greater rewards in heaven for some than for others by the way they have lived out their lives for Christ (1Cor 3:11-12). In contrast, for those who do not accept Christ, there will be greater punishment for some people than others in eternity where they will be judged according to what they have done (Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12).

      In Matt 5:17 Jesus speaks about how he came not to abolish the OT law but to fulfil it. Then he goes on to teach the intent of the law. God didn’t give the law so that it would be just an outward act but also an inward one (of course this view of obeying the law makes it even harder and shows that we are all guilty before God and need a Saviour). So Jesus addresses the issue by speaking about the law of “do not murder”, saying that anyone who gets angry with his brother is guilty of the sin of murder (Mt 5:21ff). He speaks about the law of “do not commit adultery”, sharing that anyone who looks lustfully upon another commits the sin of adultery. Many have taken this to mean that it is just as bad if you lust over someone compared to actually having illicit sexual relations with someone. There is no doubt that Jesus teaches us that it is the same type of sin, but to say that it is equally as bad is foolishness. The consequences of actually committing sexual sin are far greater, just ask someone who has destroyed their family along with their wife and kids, not to mention their reputation, etc… It is not that God can’t and won’t forgive and restore, but consequences remain. I am sure that I don’t need to illustrate this with the comparison between murder and anger. You get my point.

      Now let me give you some specific examples of sins in Scripture that are worse than others, so we can get rid of this notion that all sins are equal. In 1 Cor 5 we are told of a vile sinful act in the church which required excommunication from the church in order for them to get straightened out through tough love. This is not what happens with every sin we commit or the church would be empty, hence this sin is seen as one that pollutes the church body and needs to be treated publically. In 1 Cor 6:18 Paul says to flee from sexual immorality because it is distinguishable from all other sins in that it is a sin against your own body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 11:30 of believers who were sinning by not taking the Lord’s supper in a worthy manner and as a result were becoming ill and some were actually dying prematurely. 1 John 5:16-17 confirms that all sins equate to wrongdoing but it also speaks about ‘a sin’ that consequentially leads to an early death, showing that not all sins are equal. Then of course there is the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – the unforgiveable sin – that Jesus taught about in Mark 3:29. Without debating on what the nature of this sin is or was, it is quite clear that Jesus saw it as worse than others.

      So why do I bring this up? It is not so someone can look down their noses at others in superiority having not committed certain sins. It is not in order to excuse smaller sins as OK, because all sins bring death and separation from God, which is life’s biggest tragedy. It is not to isolate the sin of homosexuality as the worst sin of all like many Christian circles tend to do. So why bring it up? First of all it is simply Scriptural. Secondly, there are certain sins that do bring significantly higher negative consequences upon our society. This is one reason why Hebrews 13:4 says that, “Marriage should be honoured by all (Christian and unbeliever alike), and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” If we don’t take stands to honour marriage etc… then we will see society spiral down into greater depravity bringing with it a more hostile environment in which to rare children and express our faith. This is contrary to what Paul taught us to pray for in 1 Tim 2:2-3 “For kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quite lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

      Although I have friends who struggle with same-sex attraction and have compassion for their struggle, it seems clear that God describes practicing homosexuality as a depraved type of sin in the NT, describing it in Romans as the degenerating result of allowing depravity to take its natural course. It is described as a logical outcome of rejecting the reality of God and His moral law. It concerns me that many Christians do not consider the seriousness of what it means to accept this sin as ‘normal’ – and how its growing acceptance is an attack upon God’s creation and upon our societal foundations affecting the values of our most vulnerable in our communities – our children. Increasingly this sin is being accepted as the result of a genetic predisposition or a developed hormonal imbalance, yet research does not support this view. We are being bombarded by a minority with the message that it is okay and natural, which is the antithesis of Scripture. As this sin’s acceptance continues to grow unchecked it gives a greater amount of permission to others to experiment with a form of sexual expression, seeing more lives destroyed by it. As this occurs it is becoming less acceptable to speak negatively about it, to live out a Christian world-view. So let’s not think that sin is sin. Yes all sins are contrary to God, but clearly all sins are not equal.

      • Sin separates us from God. How far do we want to be separated? What sin choices do we consciously make every day and convince ourselves “that’s ok, I’m sure it’ll be alright”.

        Seek forgiveness every day and draw closer to God through Christ.

  3. Thank you to all who’ve commented so far – as I read each response, it helps me so much to see things from a hole bunch of different perspectives. We won’t always agree with each other on this detail or that, but we’re the richer for having seen things through other people’s eyes.

    That’s why I called this blog “A different perspective”.

    I’m certainly enriched by the experiences and perspectives of others – I hope you are too. Thank you again for taking the time to think through this difficult issue with me and sharing your thoughts.

    And of course, keep the comments coming …

    Bless ya,
    Berni

  4. Berni, Thank you for daring to touch this delicate theme. I do agree with what you write about homosexuality vs. other sins.
    Concerning tithing: as I see it, Jesus says in Mat 23,23and Luke 11,42 that we should do the one thing: tithing, but with the right heart. And it is not what in itself makes us righteous to God (Luke 18,12). He wants our hearts, not just our belongings.
    Concerning what is written above about God’s love: The Bible does say that God is love (1 Joh 4,8+16), but His love is part of His holiness, which means that the other side of that is His rigtheousness (Rom 3,21-26). We are justified by faith (Rom 5,1), so that when we are in Christ, He is our righteousness (1 kor 1,30). For me it is really important that God loves me unconditionally, but He hates sin, so we need His righteousness to be under His grace. And I agree that it is not right to teach God’s love without His righteousness and the necessity to repent and believe.

  5. Hi Berni,

    Let me first say…, Amen to your response…

    I’d like to provide “a different perspective” an approach that we have almost lost this days…

    Most Christians today answer in terms of God’s love, yet there are surprisingly few references to this in the Bible.

    I think Christians have made a Terrible Mistake of presenting the ideal of “God is love”

    Because the heart of the gospel is not “GOD loves you”

    Where did we get the idea of…GOD loves you unconditionally??
    Where did we get the idea of a Tolerant GOD?

    I challenge anyone to go through the first 5 books of the old testament, there is almost no mention about the Love the GOD. The three Gospels, Mathew, Mark, Luke, there is no mention about Love of GOD. In fact, throughout the whole bible there is hardly any mention of the Love of the GOD. And yet, we use “God is Love” as the biggest tool for non-believers.

    In the bible, Jesus tell us about Hell, and yet We Christians, and Churches don’t talk about it.
    If we start preaching the Love of GOD, then non-believers are going to ask…

    “How can a GOD of love, judge us and sent us to Hell?”

    Throughout the entire bible there is one word that repeats over and and over… and that is..

    Reverence, —> Fear of GOD, which Disappeared from the Church.
    http://www.openbible.info/topics/reverence

    Our GOD is a GOD to be feared, HE could wipe us and the universe in less than a thousand of a millisecond, but today we tend to fear anything else but our GOD…

    We fear cancer, losing our jobs, being in a accident, being financial distress, etc. But we don’t fear our GOD.
    What we don’t know is that the fear of our GOD cures all other fears and so we should worship GOD with reverence, Because GOD is a consuming FIRE.

    Deuteronomy 4:24
    For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
    Hebrews 12:29
    for our “God is a consuming fire.”

    Fearing of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.

    Fearing our Lord then leads to Repentance…, WE accept Jesus…, and then WE receive his GRACE and his LOVE.
    Jesus said.. REPENT AND BELIEVE.

    If we start preaching “GOD loves you” and he loves you unconditional, then

    We’re sending the message of..

    “Come as you are and God will accept you, there is no repentance.
    Be as you like, do what you want, GOD will always love you and forgive you.

    We Christians only seem to mostly preach the Gospel of John and 3:16 to non-believers…
    But the Gospel of John is meant to be for Christians only…, John wrote it for an Christian Audience, and that’s why it’s the last Gospel…, almost 60-80 years after the 3 previous Gospels.

    To extend Berni points…

    Speaking the Truth means to… Reverence, Repent, Faith, Obedience, Hope & Finally Love.

    Our Job is to share the Absolute Truth with everyone…
    GOD as a Consuming Fire and his Judgement, his Grace & Love.
    and Let the Lord do the rest.

    All Glory to God.

    • Hi John. Not sure how helpful it is to argue, but you must be joking when you say “the heart of the gospel is not GOD loves you”. Err, actually it is. I don’t dispute the assertion that there are more references in Scripture to God being a consuming fire than a God of love, but it is incontrovertible that since the beginning, God has revealed himself to people in order that He might be their God, and they might be His people. He calls everyone into relationship with Himself (and this is the key), but because He is Holy and because all have sinned, He sent His only Son. Which cost Him greatly.
      Was His motivation to send Jesus the desire for judgement? Judgement is real,as you say, and sin has to be dealt with (1 John 3:8) but my understanding of the Scriptures is the powerful theme summarised in John 3:16.
      I’m not sure that it follows that telling someone God loves them unconditionally sends the message that there is no need for repentance and forgiveness. Indeed, the first five books of the bible provide evidence that God”s love and His judgement go hand in hand (John 8, as Berni quotes)- they are not mutually exclusive.

  6. thank you Berni for spelling it all out. i must however say that christians today are in grave danger of falling into the trap of ‘Please like me’. Lets deal with the sins Bartlett pointed out. Homosexuality is a grave sin and an abomination plain and simple. Lets not say all sin is sin regardless of what scale we present them on. If we try to place that sin against other ones such as being drunk and disorderly which many have no regard for these days anyway. we should not crucify sinners but we need to make our stance clear. Political correction is killing the church of God

  7. Excellent. Again. thank you!

  8. I wish there were easier ways to answer questions posed by people such as the one displayed by President Bartlet in the show. But I guess one does need to seek God sincerely before one can find Him, even though it is God that draws people to Himself. It shows amazing grace as God does draw His children however. Thank you Berni for your once again amazing insights, put in ways that are yet to down to earth.

  9. Thanks Berni, A balanced and credible response. the Word of God must remain as our final source and foundation of truth. Your reflection on the culture of Biblical times is also important to take into consideration.
    I applaud your take on our role. Not judgemental but directive when it is necessary.

    • Hey Laurie,

      Great hearing from you my friend. Thank you so much.

      Berni

  10. Amen and Amen, I never know how to answer people when they are being critical of God and His Word, but you put it plainly and simply. The Pastor who baptised me said the same thing as you, the Bible is our number one source. Thank you Berni ( I have not really watched the show West Wing, but I wonder why the Christian lady did not refer to us now being under grace not law, but then it might have spoiled the ratings for the episode)

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