Archives For Christianity Today

Tony Campolo now supports same-sex marriage. For those who know Campolo, this is not really surprising since he has leaned leftward theologically for as long as I have listened to him and read his writings. Interestingly, Campolo and his wife had differing views on this matter with his wife supporting homosexuality and he believing it is sinful. So although his announcement may not be a surprise, it is a shift.

What is surprising and sad, grievous actually,  is that David Neff, former editor of CT, praises Campolo for making this move. Furthermore, in correspondence with Mark Galli, present editor of CT, Neff thinks the church ought to support such relationships.

I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages. 

Writing an editorial on behalf of CT, Galli notes their sadness over Neff’s statement and he also reaffirms CT’s commitment to the authority of the Bible and that marriage is, based on the biblical teaching, “to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman”:

At CT, we’re saddened that David has come to this conclusion. Saddened because we firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God intends the most intimate of covenant relationships to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman. We’ve stated this view explicitly in many editorials, and it is implicit but clear in many of our feature stories. . . . That theology [that undergirds our ethics] has been either assumed or articulated by the great theologians and Christian philosophers in the Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic traditions. . . . We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter. And we’ll continue to be sorry, because over the next many years, there will be other evangelicals who similarly reverse themselves on sexual ethics.

I appreciate Galli, on behalf of CT, standing firm!

In response to this disclosure by Campolo, affirmation by Neff, and editorial by Galli, Al Moher writes of the “moment of decision” faced by each individual believer and every local church, and also every Evangelical institution. We must, he notes, stand firmly on the authority of the Bible regarding “teachings on marriage and sexual morality,” and we must do so with “compassion and conviction”:

This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide. The forces driving this revolution in morality will not allow evasion or equivocation. Every pastor, every church, and every Christian organization will soon be forced to declare an allegiance to the Scriptures and to the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexual morality, or to affirm loyalty to the sexual revolution. That revolution did not start with same-sex marriage, and it will not end there. But marriage is the most urgent issue of the day, and the moment of decision has arrived.

In this season of testing, Christians committed to the gospel of Christ are called upon to muster the greatest display of compassion and conviction of our lives. But true compassion will never lead to an abandonment of biblical authority or a redefinition of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Might we, individually as believers and corporately as the local church, reaffirm our commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, specifically in the realm of marriage and sexual morality, those issues that are presently used to undermine the Bible’s ultimate authority, and might we do so with “grace and truth,” and with courage, compassion, conviction and kindness, speaking the truth of the gospel while manifesting the transformative power of the gospel in our lives.

In the EFCA this is our commitment and this is our prayer.


Clergy and Housing Allowance: Summary

Greg Strand – November 26, 2013 7 Comments

In a lawsuit that was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled this past Friday that the clergy housing allowance for those living in their own homes is unconstitutional: “Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Lew

Crabb claims that the exemption “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.” Furthermore, Crabb concludes that no reason was given by the defendants that proved this tax on housing allowance for clergy was more burdensome for them than most others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses.

Although it is undoubtedly true that taxes impose a burden on ministers, the same is true for all taxpayers. Defendants [referring to the Federal Justice Department] do not identify any reason why a requirement on ministers to pay taxes on a housing allowance is more burdensome for them than for the many millions of others who must pay taxes on income used for housing expenses. In any event, the Supreme Court has rejected the view that the mere payment of a generally applicable tax may qualify as a substantial burden on free exercise.

This would have a significant impact on clergy, certainly including those serving vocationally in ministry in our local EFC churches. Below I include a round-up to get you “up to speed” on the decision, the history and some of the possible implications. I conclude with a summary.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service, “Federal judge: Clergy tax-free housing allowance is unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that allows clergy to shield a portion of their salary from federal income taxes is unconstitutional.

The clergy housing exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others. If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

The suit was filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation on grounds that the housing allowance violates the separation of church and state and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The group’s founders have said that if tax-exempt religious groups are allowed a housing subsidy, other tax-exempt groups, such as FFRF, should get one, too.

Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today, “Judge Strikes Down Housing Tax Break for Pastors

One of the most important tax breaks available to American pastors is unconstitutional.

At least, according to a federal judge’s assessment of an atheist group’s complaint that the IRS’s clergy housing allowance—which will save pastors $700 million this year in income taxes—violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin ruled that the second part of IRS Code Sec. 107, which exempts clergy from paying income taxes on compensation considered a housing allowance, “provides a benefit to religious persons and no one else, even though doing so is not necessary to alleviate a special burden on religious exercise.”

“The significance of the benefit simply underscores the problem with the law, which is that it violates the well-established principle under the First Amendment that ‘[a]bsent the most unusual circumstances, one’s religion ought not affect one’s legal rights or duties or benefits,'” wrote Crabb in a ruling first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

Richard R. Hammer, “Five Takeways from Friday’s Housing Allowance Ruling” I include two of his key takeways.

Third, a ruling by a federal district court judge in Wisconsin is not binding on other courts, and does not apply to minsters in other states. If the ruling is appealed and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it will apply to ministers in that circuit (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). It would become a national precedent binding on ministers in all states only if affirmed by the United States Supreme Court (an unlikely outcome). As a result, churches should continue to designate housing allowances for ministerial employees for 2014, and church pension plans should continue to designate housing allowances for retired ministers.

Fifth, the financial impact of this ruling will be significant, especially for ministers who purchased homes in reliance on the continuing availability of the housing allowance. This impact would be mitigated if Congress eliminates the treatment of ministers as self-employed for Social Security. Most ministers are employees for income tax reporting, but the tax code treats all of them as self-employed for Social Security. This is sometimes referred to as the “dual tax status” of ministers. The financial impact can be significant, since self-employed persons pay the “self-employment tax” which is 15.3 percent of net earnings, while employees and employers split the Social Security and Medicare (FICA) tax rate of 15.3 percent, with each paying 7.65 percent. There is little Congress can do to overturn a federal district court’s interpretation of the Constitution, but it can materially reduce the financial impact of the district court’s ruling on ministers, which in many cases will be substantial, by revoking their mandatory self-employed status for Social Security.

Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), “Federal District Court Rules Clergy Housing Exclusion Unconstitutional

The district court’s decision on the clergy housing exclusion may be appealed to the Seventh Circuit. Since the case was filed over two years ago, attorneys for the federal government have defended the constitutionality of the clergy housing exclusion and have argued that FFRF lacked legal standing to bring the challenge in the first place.

ECFA, “Judge Declares Clergy Housing Exclusion Unconstitutional”

In a decision that is sending shockwaves across the religious community, a federal district court judge has declared a portion of the statue unconstitutional, leaving many ministers wondering what the impact of this case will be.

[If it stands] this ruling in effect would force clergy of nearly every religion across America to pay additional taxes, regardless of faith or creed. This will either force congregations to increase clergy compensation to offset these taxes or require pastors to dig deep to see if they are able to absorb these taxes. In most cases, this will lead to several thousand dollars in additional taxes each year for clergy.

Joe Carter, “Federal Judge Declares Clergy Housing Exemption To Be Unconstitutional

The parsonage exemption, for instance, provides a preference for institutional churches whose ecclesiastical properties are owned by a central governing body (e.g., Roman Catholic). Smaller, independent, local churches often have less money to provide a parsonage. It also presents a bias in favor of wealthy, established churches over younger congregations and church startups. For instance, how could a congregation that can’t even afford a church building afford to buy a parsonage?

Both the parsonage and pastor housing exemption are part of a legal tradition that serve to prevent the entanglement of the state in ecclesiological concerns. By her decision, though, Judge Crabb has — albeit unintentionally — incorporated a form of denominational favoritism into the tax code. In her attempt to prevent an imaginary violation of the Establishment Clause she has inadvertently created a real infringement.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, “ERLC And Guidestone united in protecting pastor’s housing allowance

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and GuideStone Financial Resources stand together in opposition to a ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin, who ruled unconstitutional a provision in US tax code that allows for ministers to deduct their housing allowance.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, reacted to the ruling:

“The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse. The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.”


  • This decision by Judge Crabb in Wisconsin is not binding on other states.
  • Appeals will prolong a decision.
  • If Judge Crabb’s ruling is appealed and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, then clergy serving in States of the circuit would be affected – Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
  • This ruling would become national law affecting all clergy only if it is appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court and they were to affirm the decision, which Hammer notes, is “an unlikely outcome.”
  • In 2014 the housing allowance exclusion will continue as it has. Hammer recommends that “churches should continue to designate housing allowances for ministerial employees for 2014, and church pension plans should continue to designate housing allowances for retired ministers.”

An Interview with Billy Graham

Greg Strand – November 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham 60 years ago, interviewed Graham about his life, ministry and his most recent book: “Q&A: Billy Graham’s Warning Against an Epidemic of ‘Easy Believism‘.” This interview was conducted in conjunction with the “My Hope America with Billy Graham” campaign during the month of November, which accompanies the release of likely his last book, The Reason for My Hope: Salvation.

Since 2002, the “My Hope” crusade has reached 57 countries, America being the 58th, with more than 298,000 churches participating, and with more than 4.4 million Christians serving as hosts. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more than 10 million people have become Christians.

I will highlight a few key statements, though I encourage you to read the whole interview. What Graham says is always worthwhile to hear.

In response to the question of how he refers to himself first, as an evangelical or a Christian and why, he stated that “what really matters is how God sees me. He isn’t concerned with labels; he is concerned about the state of one’s soul.” This is exactly right and refreshing to hear. It reminds me of Paul when he writes to the Galatians, “now that you have God, or rather to be known by God “(4:9a).

Graham tells the story of his own life in which he had previously thought he was a Christian, but realized after he experienced the new spiritual birth that he had not been. He claims that what accompanies is a new birth is a new life.

If there is no change in a person’s life, he or she must question whether or not they possess the salvation that the gospel proclaims. Many who go to church have not had a life-changing transformation in Christ.

He was also asked, “Why, according to the title of your book, is salvation the reason for your hope?,” and his response gets to the heart of his concern, “easy-believism.”

As I approached my 95th birthday, I was burdened to write a book that addressed the epidemic of “easy believism.” There is a mindset today that if people believe in God and do good works they are going to Heaven. But there are many questions that must be answered. There are two basic needs that all people have: the need for hope and the need for salvation. It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you. While I am no longer able to stand in the pulpit and deliver a sermon from the Bible, God laid on my heart a burning desire to put this message in book form—a message that resonates within me every time I switch on the news. When I visit with people from all walks of life the question is asked, “What is happening in the world?”

Asked about topics and illustrations that address people’s needs, Graham noted that there is a great deal of confusion today – about religions, about God, about heaven and hell – and the answer to it all is Jesus Christ.

There are so many religions in the world, and I have never witnessed as much confusion as there is today about where to find truth. We have people preaching that God is a God of love, not of wrath. We have people proclaiming that Heaven is real but Hell is only a figment of imagination. As research was done for this book, my heart ached to hear story after story of people bragging that Hell will be one continuous happy hour; high profile comedians joke that they are happy to know they will one day go there.

This book is written to sound a warning—a loving warning from Heaven—that Heaven is created for those who humble themselves before God and Hell is created for Satan and those who serve him. Christ came to turn mankind away from the hold Satan wants to have in people’s lives. Jesus Christ is the answer for the world—he is the anchor of the soul—he is the God of hope that came in human form to rescue us from Satan’s grip. A seminary professor once made a profound statement to his students: “Never preach Hell without tears in your eyes.” My message is to proclaim that we are all sinners in need of a Savior and ask each one this question: Have you ever been saved?

I thank the Lord for Billy Graham. I am also grateful that the Lord, in His faithfulness, preserved Graham so that he remained faithful to Him in carrying out his call as an evangelist and as evidenced in his commitment to the gospel in proclamation and life.

“A California Christian university,” recently noted, “has asked a professor who was once its chair of theology and philosophy to leave after he came out as transgender.” This was first published through the Religions News Service, and then picked up by Christianity Today, “Transgender Theology Professor Asked to Leave Christian College.” The report states,

Heather Clements taught theology at Azusa Pacific University for 15 years. But this past year, he began referring to himself as H. Adam Ackley. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” he said.

One of the reasons for Heather’s “coming out” was that “he accepted his transgender identify earlier this year after the American Psychiatric Association removed ‘gender identity disorder’ from its list of mental illnesses.” In an article written by Heather, she writes of her past and more recent experience,

most of which I spent in treatment with female hormones and psychiatric medications for gender dysphoria and related symptoms of mental illness. Recent changes in diagnosis and treatment of transgender persons, along with a lifetime of research on the theology and biblical understanding of gender, have helped me live as one who is clearly sane by ceasing to fight my transgender-masculine identity. However, this has caused what has become a very public conflict with my employer, one that is being mediated with outside help and cannot be addressed any further here.

One feels deeply with and for Clements in how some of these matters were addressed and the utter exasperation she felt and experienced. However, one must also question whether or not this is the right “prescription to address the ‘problem.’”

As part of her new identity, she concludes there is a broader understanding of the biblical meaning of marriage, viz., “covenantal partnership between human beings”:

I also affirm in my spiritual life and my teaching that faithful sexual partnership grounded in covenant with God and community is sacramental, regardless of the gender of the couple celebrating that grace-filled sacrament. From the perspective of my biblical faith, I believe very much that God pronounces in the creation account in the first biblical book (Genesis) that it is not good for the human (ha’adam, a being not yet divided into two binary genders) to be alone, and that God thus blesses covenantal partnership between human beings. As a transgender person myself, a person who has characteristics of both of the conventional binary genders, I cannot help but embrace this biblical teaching not as a principle that exclusively upholds heterosexuality but as an affirmation of the importance and blessedness of human partnership.

Then through her cultural and contextual lens, Clements claims that since the authors of the Bible were unaware of these sorts of diagnoses, and therefore since it does not address such present-day experiences, it must be reinterpreted.

not having had a cultural category for queer identity and orientation at the time, the broader spiritual principle underlying this teaching wasn’t made explicit in the Bible: We are not made for partnerships that are unnatural for us, in whatever way we are made. For example, we now know that many of us (though not the majority) are made neurologically, genetically, and hormonally “queer”; in other words, some of us are fearfully and wonderfully made with a gender and sexual orientation that falls somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum from birth. For those of us who are naturally trans* to live as cisgender, and/or for those of us who are only sexually compatible with others gendered most like us, to partner with those we simply can’t would be an “unnatural act” for us, just as performing a homosexual act outside a heterosexual covenant would be “unnatural” for a straight person. Loving one another in the ways that are God-given and natural for each of one of us as we are is the only love that is sacramental.

As most often happens when one’s view of the Bible is prefaced as Clements does, what follows is a reinterpretation of the Bible to support one’s own belief and experience. That is what we hear from Clements.

Another recent example of this occurred at California Baptist University. Domaine Javier, born male and now living  as a transgendered woman, applied to the school as a woman. According to the report,

California Baptist University has rescinded a 24-year-old transgender woman’s acceptance after school officials discovered she had been featured in an MTV True Life episode revealing her transgender identity.

She was accepted to CBU’s nursing program and planned to start classes this month. But in July she received a letter temporarily expelling her for “committing or attempting to engage in fraud or concealing identity,” and presenting false or misleading information during the university’s judicial process, according to the Press-Enterprise of Riverside. Her expulsion was finalized August 30.

“This totally ruined my career path,” Javier told the Press-Enterprise. “I’ve been trying to finish as soon as possible. … I didn’t know [Baptists] were that extreme.”

The most recent update is that “California Baptist University has been sued to a transgender student who was expelled by the academic institute for inaccurately stating that he was female.”

These two recent examples in Christian schools, one a teacher and the other a student, reflect the reinterpretation of the Bible based on the moral tsunami now occurring in our culture. We must stand firmly on the Word of God, “thus says the Lord,” and we must apply it pastorally with wisdom and discernment.

Though these two incidences occurred in Christian Universities, and though they live by different legal requirements than does the church, as pastors and leaders of the church we must prepare God’s people to understand these issues and to know how to respond and engage. We must also prepare our young people to know, understand and live under the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life, including human sexuality. We also must pray for our Christian universities that they will stand firm on God’s truth. And finally we must be prepared as a church to think through these issues and how we ought to live, serve and minister both with and against the grain of this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified existence.

Some of these issues are the reason why we are addressing the theme of “Christian Faithfulness in a Changing Culture” at our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference. Please plan to join us!

This year marks the centennial of the birth of Carl F. H. Henry. Henry was an evangelical giant of last century. He served as an architect of modern day evangelicalism in the United States, was involved in the inception of Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and the Evangelical Theological Society. Henry was also a professor, friend, and supporter of TEDS. While at TEDS, I was privileged to have Dr. Henry as my Systematic Theology professor, one of the last classes he taught.

This centennial provides a wonderful opportunity to remember Carl Henry, the man and his ministry, and to rejoice in the God he loved and worshiped. It also provides an occasion to reflect on Henry’s work and to rekindle the enduring significance of his theological vision for the present and future of evangelical scholarship, continuing the spirit of philosophical, theological and social engagement that Henry lived and envisioned.

Trinity International University will be hosting one of these opportunities through a one-day Conference, sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding: “Remembering Carl Henry: Evangelicalism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”

The Conference will be held on Friday, October 11, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM.  There will be six excellent lectures addressing different aspects of Carl Henry’s life and theology and the important things we can learn from him that will enable us to understand evangelicalism of yesterday and to strengthen it today.

Michael D. White, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Carl F. H. Henry’s Christ-Centered Biblical Interpretation”

Jason Stanghelle, “God, History, and Authority? History and Revelation in the Thought of Carl F. H. Henry”

Keith Yandell, “On Not Confusing Incomprehensibility with Ineffability: Carl F. H. Henry On Literal Propositional Revelation”

Timothy Padgett, “Carl F. H. Henry, the Principled Patriot?”

Owen Strachan, “The Great University Crusade: Carl F. H. Henry’s Vision for Crusade University”

Gregory Thornbury, “Carl F. H. Henry and Cultural Change: Is ‘Transformatinalism’ Dead?”

The lectures will be followed by a banquet beginning at 6:00 PM: “Global Vision: Carl Henry, Evangelicalism, and Trinity’s Enduring Significance.” Guest speakers will be D.A. Carson and Gregory Thornbury.  This will prove a wonderful evening for the Trinity community and all interested persons to recall Carl Henry’s vision, celebrate his life and legacy, and rekindle his relationship to Trinity.

If you are interested in reading more of this, please see the Conference website.  If you are able to attend, you can register here.

I will be attending. I trust many of you will be able to be present as well!