Sunday, June 14, 2015

Is Josh Duggar redeemable?

A few weeks ago, the internet exploded over the scandal that reality TV star Josh Duggar had sexually abused a number of child victims in his teenage years. It would be purely redundant to rehash the myriad of opinion that's been published over the controversy. But I think it's important to settle on one important question: is Josh Duggar redeemable or will he forever be identified as a molester?

Those who have opposed the Duggar's worldview and beliefs have been fierce with their criticism, but I suspect that's more of an intention to exploit another example of alleged hypocrisy from conservative Christendom in order to oppose it more. I don't think it would be too far off base to say that the injunction against Josh Duggar is ultimately a red herring-- people care not so much his past history as they do his current worldview and values (which is often lambasted by secularists).

It's convenient to paint Josh as once a child molester, forever a child molester, because it enforces the narrative that Christians really are just hypocrites.  Whether or not people can change isn't really the question being discussed. But at the same time, I think this points to a rather interesting tenet of pluralistic religion. People want a tolerant gospel-- one that assumes you will never change-- but not a redemptive gospel-- one that changes you by God's redemptive work.

For Christians, the most fundamental distinction to make is what our identity was and what our identity is. Paul's famous words to the Church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:17 underscores a most important distinctive of the Christian faith: we are made new in Christ-- our old identity in the flesh and in sin has passed away.

The tricky part is that this reality doesn't exactly manifest itself clearly in the Christian's daily livelihood. A saved believer often looks very much like his old self, falling in sin and erring in all areas of life. Theologically, we attribute this to the ongoing battle between flesh and spirit (Gal 5:17). But what does this mean for someone like Josh Duggar?  If he truly believes on the gospel and is made anew in Christ, does it matter what he did?

I think a few things do matter. It's clear that Josh did sin, and rather gravely, for that matter. I can't speak to the intricacies of how the subsequent counseling and discipline were administered, but both a spiritual and legal process need to be carried out when criminal acts occur. And on a broader level, the case speaks to the deep need to protect and guard our vulnerable most carefully.

What I think matters less is seeing his past sin as a defining determinant of his present and future self. To be even more explicit, we only reveal our own hypocrisies when we continually paint Josh as that child molester, when, in fact, true repentance will have flung him away from that if he has indeed trusted in Christ as his Savior and Redeemer.

The road to sanctification is a glorious but treacherously slow one. When I think of this case, I don't settle on the fact that Josh was 14 when he committed the abuse (14 year-olds are absolutely mature enough to know right from wrong). Rather, I tend to think of the elapse of time that has occurred: twelve years in all that have passed without an alleged relapse.

This is not an endorsement of some "time heals all wounds" philosophy but a reiteration of the biblical truth that God finishes his work his people (Philippians 1:6). Time can be one testament to show the progressive molding and spiritual maturation that takes place in a believer. This is no different for Josh than it is for any other Christian. What's important is that his testimony in Christ now trumps his past failures and sins.

In point, we, as Christians, should absolutely believe that God not only saves, but redeems. This is what is so powerful about his gospel-- it doesn't simply love people and tolerate them for who they are, it makes them completely new! That is the difference between child molester Josh Duggar and new-creation-in-Christ Josh Duggar.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Year in review

It's quickly approaching a year since I last updated this blog. No, I didn't jump off a cliff, nor did I enter into a life of monasticism. I simply took a nice long sabbatical just to let life play out without any long blogging excursions.

Over the past year, much has happened and much has been learned. I:
  • Completed a year-long elders-training curriculum
  • Began serving as a pianist and alternate worship leader at church
  • Began co-leading my small group at church
  • Initiated a major multi-team project at work
  • Got engaged...and married to a wonderful godly woman

I think there's much to be said about these milestones having mostly happened within the local church. The trajectory for my life in this particular era of my twenties has largely been one of spiritual growth and the continual adaption of life to a Biblical worldview. In the past, I've habitually gravitated toward compartmentalizing areas of my life-- school, work, family, hobbies, church-- and have often attempted to flourish within each separately.

But all of this has been radically shaken up by an emerging "ministry" philosophy that aims to see all areas of life, secular or Christian, as ministries which revolve around the core mission of giving God the glory.  The practicalities of this aren't always so lucid-- I still wonder how I can think biblically about what seems to be the inherently selfish nature of professional advancement or academic accomplishment.

The bottom line of this is properly understanding the Christian life as all predicated on the Gospel.  If Christ is my worth, then he makes it possible for me to fulfill the priesthood through seeing all areas of my life as service rendered for Gospel proclamation.  Hence, it's always important for me to strive for measurable fruit as the output of God's work in me. 

Theologically, the biggest takeaway of the past year has been a much richer understanding of the Gospel's substance in all of Scripture's outworking.  Context always seems to be the missing suspect in a bad hermeneutic. But beyond simply reading Scripture out of context is a tendency among many Christians to ignore its substance. 

The Bible has one fundamental narrative that underpins two paradigms-- Law, the reflection of the Creator, and Gospel, God's work to redeem the created. Every verse of Scripture is predicated on this very narrative, so that every obscurity in the Bible is understood through the lens of Scripture's substance.  Christians don't see biblical commands as arbitrary imperatives; rather, they see them in the light of the overarching narrative.

For example, Paul doesn't prohibit women from exercising authority over men just for its own sake. He does so because it is an outworking of the creation order-- that men and women are complementary, much as the Trinity is also.  In a similar manner, Paul's curious treatment of tongues and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14 isn't to appraise the competing value of each gift; rather, it is to encourage continual corporate edification through the preached Word.

Understanding this metanarrative not only helps believers answer the question: "why does the Bible say this?", it also puts to rest the tensions that Christians often have to contend with when evaluating the Bible in the context of modern society. This is particularly salient in the hot-button areas, like creationism, marriage, and the like.

What's best about embracing the substance of Scripture is its simplicity. The bottom line is seeing the Bible for what it is and understanding the entirety of its story. But the resolution of questions doesn't just stop there for me-- there must be a more practical outworking beyond just theological hermeneutics. For me, I suspect that it's a better appreciation for what I do in small group ministry, or worship, or my relationship with my wife. Do these reflect, in some way, the scope and power of the Gospel?

As much as I enjoy theology, I think the true dogma of biblical Christianity is seen not just in exegesis of doctrine, but in the Gospel's responsive power. In other words, how has my life changed as a response to God's saving work in my life? If my life is demonstrative of the Biblical narrative, does it not so much more direct people to see the power of the preached Word?