When Biblical Support for the Death Penalty Masquerades as Moralism


Before the topic of terrorism, and other foreign policy news, dominated the airwaves in the early 21st century, the issue of the death penalty seemed more prevalent in political conversation. Most objections to it are reactionary; protests streaming in as a man who still claims to be innocent is strapped the chair and injected with a concoction that will end his life. This time, however, it was a botched execution in Oklahoma which seems to have caused the issue to flare up.

Al Mohler recently posted his thoughts about why Christians should support the death penalty. He presents a list of Biblical references for his support, along with some moral cajoling. 

To start, I’m was really pleased to see Mohler being so outspoken against the economic and racial disparity in the application of the death penalty. Because it isn’t just that you’re more likely to be sentenced to death if you’re black, but also if the victim was white. Nor does he believe that capital punishment should be used all that frequently, or as an instrument of vengeance. 

His use of the Bible, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Mohler goes right for the jugular in Genesis 9:6 where God declares to Noah, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”  Yet, just two verses previous to this, God also states, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Apart from the recent Noah movie, I’m not too sure anybody is making the argument for Christian vegetarianism. 

He then transitions towards the New Testament where Paul writes in Romans 13:4 “for [the ruler] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrong doer.” This is all in the framework of Paul encouraging the Roman church to submit to earthly authority. But in using this quote, however, Mohler leaves himself in a precarious position: What if the government were to abolish capitol punishment? I don’t believe he would suddenly feel obliged to agree with the government position simply because they changed their minds about the Justice system.

There is also a glaring omission in his write up: Jesus. Mohler could have possibly argued that the His acceptance of a crucifixion as an argument from silence. Or that Christ made no attempt to relieve the consequence of the two men crucified beside Him. 

This is because, in reality, Mohler’s position has little to do with a Biblical mandate for capital punishment. We see this when he writes of a larger, cultural context where, “our cultural loss of confidence in human dignity and the secularizing of human identity has made murder a less heinous crime in the minds of many Americans.”

His chief concern is that sin doesn’t feel like it carries the consequence it should in our society. In his mind, the value of human life is decreasing and there is a relationship between that value and our perspective on murder. 

It’s one thing to acknowledge the Bible’s implicit endorsement of capital punishment; it’s another entirely to advocate for the death penalty while simultaneously declaring that it there is racial bias. By acknowledging the unjust nature of the death penalty’s application, however, he’s made a conscious decision to sacrifice justice for (perceived) morality. Should true justice, however, really require a moral sacrifice?

I would certainly hope not!


The Art of Theological Gatekeeping


“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” – Jesus (John 10)

In the world of sports, a gatekeeper is something of a 2nd-class competitor. He’s put years of work into his craft and achieved some level of success. His best years, though, are clearly behind him. Whether that’s due to advanced age of having maxed out his own potential he simply doesn’t have what it takes to be the best any longer. This doesn’t mean he isn’t useful. To the contrary, his new role makes him quite valuable as a measuring stick by which younger competitors can test their own skills; to see if they will surpass what the gatekeeper once achieved.

Within the world of Christianity, and Christian theology, it’s become fashionable to see oneself as a gatekeeper, or watchman. Rather than seeing themselves as 2nd-tier philosophers or theologians, they assume their positions as defenders and protectors of the faith. Their job: to guard the entrance, and exit, to the faith. In the context of theology, faith has a different word: Orthodoxy.

Independent minded folks feel that the pseudo-theological-gatekeeper role is a farce, and should be ignored at all levels. I sympathize with them. Some self-appointed guardians are so fearful and paranoid that they cause more pain to the people they’re supposed to protect than their enemies. They’ve turned their eyes in on the city believing there is more danger to be found within its walls then from the potential chaos outside of it. But this brings up another excellent point: There are actually enemies, from the outside, to be protected from.

So is the solution to dump the gatekeepers? I believe this leaves us with the very problem the so-called gatekeepers have encountered: a lack of accountability.

Sure, the watchmen will claim their accountability is nearly 2,000 years of established, orthodox writings and teachings in regards to the faith tradition. To which those who stand across from them will agree, and then proceed to present their scholarship which has been ignored by them but is equally as old and immense as their counterparts. The “Orthodox” team calls the others heretics and wolves, while the others label them pharisees and legalists.

I think the solution is to actually have gatekeepers…but in the sporting context. Men and women who act as measuring sticks, rather than reenforced steel walls, challenge us in ways that keep us accountable. In this sense, we’re training others up to recognize danger and how to deal with it. This doesn’t mean there will be 100% agreement, nor does this eliminate conflict. The discipleship process, however, doesn’t demand those things; rather, it calls us to follow Christ when we hear His voice.

And sometimes, He speaks through the gatekeepers.

Different Reading Styles, Diverging Theologies


When one reads the Bible, within the context of Evangelicalism, we tend to have a “personal” view of scripture. It’s how verses like Jeremiah 29:11, which were addressed to a particular people in a particular time, can be so inspirational the modern reader. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. The Holy Spirit helps us take away things from the Bible regarding the character of God and the nature of His dealings with us today. But I would also submit that this isn’t a “critical” method of reading scripture, either.

There are two, primary, critical forms of reading scripture: Historical-Grammatical and Historical-Critical. Here’s a quick rundown on them:

Historical-Grammatical – Is a form of reading the Bible that puts a heavy emphasis on literary observation and understanding the writings as, generally, being historical in nature. The ultimate ambition of this style is to take the reading of scripture and make applications based on the “plain” reading of the text. While not explicitly encouraging a literal reading of every verse (after all, there are figures of speech and metaphors in most languages), this method seeks to eliminate any unnecessary, allegorical interpretations from the Bible as possible.

Historical-Critical – Seeks to reconstruct the culture and history surrounding the writings of the Bible and use that to come to a conclusion about the author’s intended meaning. The critical method also takes on information from other disciplines such as science and anthropology, and makes use of their observations and studies and applies it to the text. The interpretation, and subsequent application, can be made when the “direct” meaning of the the Bible can be established from the source material.

There are overlapping and opposing features to both methods of reading. As I’m sure you can imagine, there is a fair bit of mud flung between people who try to use each method exclusively. Those who prefer the critical method of study say that others are making interpretations without all the extra-Biblical facts and coming to interpretive conclusions that are simply untenable by the discoveries of science and other disciplines. Grammatical emphasizers will claim that the critical method undermines the Bible’s authority and inspiration by humanizing the writings at the expense of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Most evangelicals don’t know they are reading the Bible in these particular ways when they pick it up on a Sunday morning. Our presuppositions tend to “fill in the blanks” when we’re reading verses we don’t understand. What’s good to know is how different everyone’s reading of scripture truly is and where many of our difference originate from. If you’re going to read the Bible; or, more specifically, Genesis, as though it were written as a historical document, you’re obviously going to understand the theological doctrine of “sin nature” differently from those who read Genesis as a narrative. Not only that, you’re going to read Jesus’ words, when he recalls events in the Old Testament.

Is it any wonder we end up with such differing understandings of who God is?

Of course, the whole of the Church will likely not agree on how to read the Bible until Christ returns. By that time, I’m not so sure the Bible will be necessary any more. Until that time, I would like people to acknowledge is what some of their presuppositions might be when reading the Bible, and examine them so that, one, we are reminded to submit our reading of Scripture to Christ and, two, when we do disagree with someone on a theological topic, we better understand where and why we’re so different.

Presuppositions and Biblical Reading


Presuppositions. Everyone has them with varying degrees of acceptance. You’re either proud of them, or do your best to work around them. Regardless, our experiences and studies inform us of what is right, and who is wrong.

Presuppositional Apologetics’ primary assumption is the Bible’s infallibility. It is the foundation from which all of their beliefs and arguments are built on. Their claim is that the Bible is superior to fallible, human standards of belief like reason, experience, and feelings. Because of this, they assume no common ground with non-believers. What would happen if you proved the Bible wasn’t fallible, by reason? You can’t. Therefore, presuppositional apologetics becomes the equivalent of a bomb shelter for Christian thought.

But what if I told you that presuppositional apologetics isn’t really about Biblical Infallibility? This all about HOW one reads the Bible, not whether they believe it’s perfect. This is about a historical-grammatical reading of scripture versus a historical-critical reading of it.

I can hear the groans of people who are reading this now, “Garrett, just explain why Genesis does, or doesn’t have to be literal!”

This isn’t as simple as one makes out to be, however. We’re talking about how we, as individuals, read scripture. Which, for the 95.7% of Christians in the world whose primary knowledge of God comes from the Bible, is a really, really big deal.

Join me on Friday and I’ll give a quick overview of some of the ways we all read the Bible and why they are so important to us!

The Opposite of Love is not Indifference


A seemingly mild-mannered British professor walked in on a conversation me and Holly were having on the definition of love. Using a process called Via negativa, we were trying to discern what the it’s exact opposite was in order to better understand.

Via negativa is a practice in theology that you may have seen implemented by C.S. Lewis in his answer to the problem of evil when he claims that evil only exists where good is not (basically, you discover what something is by surmising what it isn’t).

Having both decided that “hate” wasn’t it because it actually required an individual to love in the first place, the general consensus between Holly and I seemed to be that “apathy” was the true opposite of love. It is here that my professor, overhearing our agreement, asked what we were up to and offered an objection.

“Love is a cause [as opposed to an effect, or result],” he said assuredly, “which means its opposite must be one as well. I don’t see how apathy is anything more than a result of self-love.

I knew he was right the second he said it, yet I was slow to agree. Surely apathy was the cause of our sin! All we needed was a passion for Jesus to empower us for right living! At the very least, we needed to will ourselves and do what we knew was right simply because God said so. More self control and discipline was required.

Then it suddenly donned on me why I refused to faced the reality of my professor’s words: If self-love is the opposite of love, that would mean I didn’t love God.

I had submitted to His call to missions, studied theology, and even preached the gospel; yet didn’t really love God. I liked things about Him. That whole forgiveness thing is kind of nice. The reason for my obedience, up to that point, was due to feeling no other choice. I felt shackled and burdened by God; having never understand the transformation from slave to son as Paul outlined in Galatians 4:1-7

I’m relating all of this, before getting into the Biblical definition of love, for this reason: theology has many different starting points.

Most assume that theology is when you pick up a Bible, or some old text from Church history, and make observations about God. The truth is that objectivity doesn’t exist in the Bible. When we read it, we take our experiences with us. This is essential to understand for two reasons: 1. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the men who wrote scripture is the same Holy Spirit that inspires us, and 2. God is the true interpreter of scripture and, therefore, all experiences must go through Him, first.

This does not diminish the Bible’s place in theology. All theology should be held up to scripture. This is exactly what we’ll do next time when we examine the word “love,” in the Bible, in light of my assertion that “self-love” is the antithesis of “love.”

A Proper Relationship w/Theology


My time with Theology, while brief, has been filled with all the ups and downs you’d expect during the course of a relationship. There was that, “love at first sight,” moment in the bookstore that caused me to passionately pursue her. After spending a large amount of time together, I developed a dependency that threatened to ruin all my other relationships. I didn’t know how needy Theology was though, and I started to burn out, and we nearly lost everything we had, as a result. The reconciliation process was slow and, a while later, we decided we should be “just friends.”

Ridiculous metaphors aside, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has engaged in theology, and called it a passion, has struggled with its placement in their life. Most understand that theology is about discovering who God is, not a discovery in it of itself. But if you polled men and women in Bible College and Seminary they would probably tell you their study of the Bible and historical church is, in fact, their primary means of relating with Him. What this leads to, inevitably, are young men and women who become theological theorists; proclaiming ideas of both conservative and liberal persuasions with feeble applications and only a limited capacity to understand why those ideas even matter.

Taking note of this, the average church goer sees the word “theology” and immediately attaches a negative connotation to it. They fear that if you “know” too much, you’ll ultimately lose sight of the Gospel’s simplicity. This happened recently when I expressed to a friend, who has known me for over twenty years, that I wanted to attend Seminary. He made sure to remind me not to get “big headed,” while pursuing those studies. Unfortunately, he’s about the 87th person to tell me that.

While I’m sure 99.9% of professing Christians would say (some begrudgingly) that theology is a good thing, they would also say that “too much of a good thing is bad.”

I’m not so convinced that there is an accurate knowledge/faith ratio curve whereby there is some sort of “balance” to reach. If there was, I imagine it would look something like this.


Rather than trying to guesstimate how much knowledge is too much, it may be better to ask what the task of theology is. If theology is the “study of God, and religious belief” then it can rightfully be said that its purpose is to re-discover what it is God has already said and shown of Himself.

That’s it.

Theology seeks to understand, and to be understood by, the One who it courts. Fortunately, one of those has already been done for us.