From Character to Personality

I am continuing to benefit and be convicted by David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant. Here Wells is commenting on the shift from a man’s character being most important to his personality being most important. I have seen this become a key issue with ministers as pastors are hired more for their personality than for their character. Earlier Wells noted that, “character is either good or bad; personality is attractive, forceful, or magnetic.” Here is a longer quote on the consequences of this shift.

With this shift have come many consequences, probably few of which were foreseen as these great changes began to unroll. The older vision in which character was paramount produced an understanding of the self that was quite different from what we have now. Then the thought was that personal growth comes through cultivating virtues and restraining vices. Moral limitation through self-control and self-sacrifice was the key to satisfaction and happiness.

By contrast, the vision that grows with the new preoccupation with personality is one of unlimited self-expression, self-gratification, and self-fulfillment. The pursuit of pleasure has taken the place of moral nurture, the expression of emotion that of moral reticence [reserve/restraint]. What is remarkable about this is that people now think happiness has nothing to do with the moral texture of someone’s life and can be pursued as an end in itself. Indeed, many think it can simply be bought. That is what living in our consumer paradise has done to us now that we have vacated the older moral world.

This shift from character to personality has also changed our ideas about success. An earlier generation thought about success in terms of hard work. But not hard work by itself. It was work that was also done well, work that reflected moral virtues like diligence, integrity, conscientiousness, and standards of fairness. People who worked well tended to live more circumspectly. They were more likely to restrain self-indulgence, refuse to make their consumption conspicuous, and express civic virtues in their town and neighborhood. Success in these ways was something that all could attain regardless of what kind of work they did…

When our focus changed from character to personality, so, too did our understanding of what success is. Success was not about living the good life, but about living well, high on the hog, as Americans say. Once others approved of us because of our character and the quality of our work…now it is far more important to stand out simply for what we have and how we can impress others.

Today we may well prefer to be envied than admired. Whereas the older kind of success was durable, this is not. This is fleeting. It is dependent not on its own quality but on the perceptions of others. Perceptions, however, are fickle, changing, quickly superseded, quickly forgotten. Success today, therefore, has to be constantly renewed, burnished, updated, recast, reinvigorated, made even more current, made freshly appealing, dressed up afresh, and reasserted. This is an ongoing project, and if it does not go on, our success begins to evaporate…

When the self began to be experienced through personality rather than within the framework of character, moral obligations that were common broke down. There was no longer a moral world outside each individual that restrained and directed that individual. Now, we have become self-directing, each in his or her own way.

A Distraction

I just finished reading Preston Sprinkle’s book  People to be Loved.  There were numerous flaws with the book. It reminded me of a man throwing a cup of water on a burning a house and claiming he is fighting the fire. If the best you can say about a book on this subject is at least he doesn’t believe men should have sex with men then it is not going to help fight the battle. My goal is to review various sections of the book. I want to begin with one of the more persistent lines you see from the gay Christian movement: same sex attraction is not just about sex.  Here is Sprinkle:

Being gay doesn’t mean you walk around want to have lots of gay sex any more than being straight means that you walk around wanting to have lots of straight sex. Have a same-sex orientation includes a wealth of other virtuous emotions and desires towards members of the same sex; it cannot be narrowly reduced to a volcanic hunger for sex. Same-sex orientation includes the desire for conversational intimacy, same-sex physical touch, emotional bonds, companionship, doing life together, and expressing mutual affection toward members of the same sex.  And if all of this sounds “gay” to you then David and Jonathan really were gay, since I am alluding to 1-2 Samuel.

He goes on to quote with approval lesbian Julie Rodgers

[same-sex attraction is] an overall draw toward someone of the same sex, which is usually a desire for a deeper level intimacy with those of the same sex. Just like a heterosexual orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for straight sex, a gay orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for gay sex. This longing for intimacy is usually experienced as a desire for nearness, for partnership, for close friendship, rich conversation, and an overall appreciation of beauty.

Again Sprinkle:

Most gay Christians I know say the same thing. Same-sex attraction is much broader than just a drooling desire for gay sex. Such attraction includes a virtuous desire to be intimate-in the David and Jonathan or Jesus and John sense of the phrase-with people of the same sex.

I would love to see quotes from Christians who think people who struggle with SSA walk around with a “drooling desire for gay sex.”  Sprinkle does this a lot in the book where he puts words in the mouths of conservative Christians (with no citations) that I have never heard a conservative Christian in the pew, from the pulpit, in an article, or in a book say. Perhaps he is thinking of Westboro and folks like that.  But conservative Christians distance themselves from groups like this over and over.

But besides the condescension towards conservative Christians, he repeats the mistake I often see in gay Christian literature: It isn’t about sex. We can see the problem with this proposition by asking a simple question: What separates SSA from the desire for close, intimate friendship with someone of the same sex? Right. Sex. If there is no sexual component then it isn’t SSA. A man can have a close intimate friendship with another man without it being sexual. Men have done this for thousands of years and Christian men have done this for just as long. They have kissed each other, embraced each other, wept with each other, spent nights together talking, slept in the same bed, swam naked, showered together, etc. without there being a sexual component. The desire for male physical affection and emotional intimacy does not make it same-sex attraction.

Same-sex attraction does not simply mean you have or desire close friendships with people of the same sex. It means the desire for closeness with a member of the same sex that includes a romantic/sexual component. Without that it is just a close friendship between people of the same sex, which all Christians should have and should work for. This is the reason why the sexual/erotic aspect of SSA should be front and center. It is what makes SSA, SSA. The friendship angle pushed by gay-Christian groups is a distraction.  Friendship is part of SSA, just as friendship is part of marriage. But that is not its central or defining trait. Without the sexual/romantic component it isn’t same-sex attraction.

Sexual Orientation or Sexual Temptation?


I have been listening to Tim Bayly’s Shepherds’ Conference on ministering in a post-Obergefell World.  Tim has worked with homosexuals and lesbians in Bloomington for over 30 years. He is not speaking as someone who has read a book or two, watched a couple of Youtube videos, or had a homosexual friend in college. He speaks as a pastor who has prayed with and for sodomites, has loved them, preached to them, cried over them, and seen them repent. He has many stories about working with homosexuals as well as stories about compromise in evangelical circles. These add substance to what he is saying even if it makes him long winded at points.

He makes the suggestion that we drop the term “sexual orientation” and use sexual temptation instead.  So instead of saying “same-sex orientation” we would say, “same sex temptation.” I have thought about the term sexual orientation quite a bit lately as I read Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved.  Terms and words matter. Sprinkle throughout his book nuances words to death. Every word is carefully chosen. He parses out why we shouldn’t use “homosexual,” “gay,” etc.  He knows words matter. Conservative Christians need to understand this as well. What words we use to describe things will often shape the entire discussion.  I like the suggestion of using temptation instead of orientation in connection with homosexuality for several reasons.

First, it will help us see sodomy as one type of the many sexual temptations we all face. Those who struggle with this sin are not worse than us nor better than us nor different than us. Tim talked about his own fornication and how when he got married his wife was pregnant. All of us struggle with sexual temptation of various kinds and to various degrees throughout our life. I saw my first porn magazine (yes real paper) when I was eleven years old. It lay beside the road. My friend from church said his dad, a deacon, had videos with more of that. We went back and watched porn on VHS. This struggled continued through Bible college and the early years of marriage until I was about 25 years old.  I am so grateful there was no Internet when I was young. Many of you I guess have similar stories. Some of you still watch porn on your phones during your lunch break or at night when your wife is asleep.  Some of you slept around in high school and don’t want any of your Christian friends to know. We could do this with any temptation not just sexual ones. The point here is if we label it temptation it puts that sin or the struggle with that sin on level with the sins all Christians struggle with. We are all sinners working, agonizing to fight the lusts which wage war against our souls (I Peter 2:11).  Continue reading

It is a Great Vice to Waste the Sermon

pulpitHere is a section from John Calvin’s sermon on I Corinthians 11:17-19.

It is necessary to consider why the Lord wishes that the Church congregate, that there be a certain place, that there be a sanctuary designated for the invocation of his name and the preaching of his word….There must be some goal in order that whatever God has established among us may serve and be useful for our salvation. No one should return home without having gotten some good from the worship service…we come here to hear the word of God, we offer prayers for and with each other and we partake of the sacraments. Afterwards, each one of us in our own home will have some idea of what to do to manifest our Christianity. We must by no means think ourselves acquitted before God because we have heard the sermon each week, prayed in the company of believers, professed our faith, and participated in the sacraments. We must not, I say,  be beguiled into thinking that God is altogether satisfied if we do those things, but we must consider their end and their utility, profiting by being daily confirmed in the fear of God and by the increase of our faith. In brief, we must show that it is not in vain that we have been to the school of our God, for it is indeed a profanation of the doctrine we hear if we continue in the same condition as formerly. 

[Later he says]: This is an exceedingly great and intolerable vice. The result is that we assemble in worship and our lives do not show any semblance of improvement. We act as if we had never heard a single word, had never been instructed in the will of God. If we differ in no respect from those misfortunates who have received no instruction, do we not thereby show that we scorned God every time we come the sanctuary in his name? It is flagrant hypocrisy and duplicity to claim that it is to offer ourselves sacrificially to God when we come to hear his word and yet depart without having been edified by it.

Continue reading

Presumptive Regeneration as Basis for Baptizing Infants?

Here is an excellent quote by Pierre Marcel on why we do not baptize infants because we assume they are regenerate. All italics are Marcel’s.

While recognizing that children of believers are baptized because they are in the covenant and are, as such, heirs of the promises implying a right to justification and to the regenerating and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, a certain number of Reformed theologians have attempted to add one of the effects of the covenant of grace to the foundation of infant baptism, namely, presumptive regeneration. They have considered that presumptive regeneration could be the ultimate ground of baptism, more so than even the covenant. It must be acknowledged that this attempt has failed. Presumptive regeneration cannot be regarded naturally as the legal ground of infant baptism, for this cannot be anything other than the promises of God contained in the covenant. One cannot baptize on the basis of a presumption. To the question: “Why can you presume the regeneration of the children of believers?” one can only reply: “Because they are born of believing parents” ; or in other words, because  they are born into the covenant. Besides, Scripture and experience afford proof that not all children born into the covenant are regenerated to salvation.

It is obvious that to refuse to consider this presumptive regeneration as the foundation of baptism is not at all the same as saying that it is impossible or unjustifiable to assume that the little children of believers are regenerate: we shall return to this point. But, in accordance with the indications of the Word of God, we do not wish in any way to restrict the divine liberty which acts in sovereign independence when and as it wills, and which is never confined to means. The  promise of the regeneration of the children of the covenant is sufficient for us. It is not for us to define whether this regeneration in view of salvation is found in the elect children before or at the moment of baptism, or sometimes even years afterwards.

Children of Believers are Part of the Church

By a sovereign decree, independently of any human point of view, God decides that the children of believers shall be included in His covenant. In His sovereignty He imposes this relationship upon them. It pleases God to make this covenant with them. He chooses these children as heirs of the promise. God’s decision and the offer of the blessings of the covenant precede the faith of the child. The character of this covenant is sovereignly objective.

The children of believers are the heirs of all the promises of the covenant. In the same way as the baptized proselyte they are separate from the profane world and are placed neither under God’s judgment nor under Satan’s power. God regards them as members of His kingdom. He promises to circumcise their hearts in order that they may love Him and live. He wishes to be their Father, to cause them to enjoy the benefits of His grace, and to lead them to salvation. The children of believers are considered by God as being involved in the faith of their parents; the family, as such, forms a concrete whole. They are members of the Church.

Since the children of believers are “set apart” separate from the profane world, “holy” -to use the Biblical expression-from the moment of their birth; since God includes them in the covenant and they belong to Christ’s body the Church; in short, since they participate in all the promises and all the spiritual realities signified and sealed in baptism, we say that they are fit to receive it; there is no other reason for administering baptism to them. The grace of their adoption precedes baptism which is the sign and seal of it. This basis of the baptism of children is fundamentally objective and rigorously established upon the New Testament. 

The covenant of grace, in fact, remains one and the same in the New Testament, the Church remains the same, and the children of believers are part of it. Christ confirms the spiritual solidarity of the family. In the New Testament we encounter the same effects of the covenant of grace relating to the children of believers. If the effects are the same, so also are the principles. (Pierre Marcel in The Doctrine of Infant Baptism)

The Contented Life


Here are some notes from my sermon on Hebrews 13:5-6.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

The sin mentioned here is internal, not external. It is about what we love, not what we have or don’t have. This is important because we like to look at the externals. We like to draw boxes with sin in the box. Everything in this box is sin and guess who is outside the box; me. The wealthy Christian says, “Oh, God called Abraham and he was wealthy so I have nothing to worry about. Look at those poor people who worry about money all the time.” The simple and frugal say, “Oh, I don’t have a lot of stuff. I watch what I spend. I don’t buy all those luxury items. I must be free from the love of money.” Those who  have paid off their mortgage and have a large savings account say, “God tells us to be wise with our money. I have been wise with my money. Therefore I must be free from the love of money.”  Our hearts are experts at confronting sin in someone else and ignoring it in our own lives.  But the verse does not focus on how much or how little we have or how fat our paycheck or much we have saved or how much debt we have. It focuses on what we love. We can love money and be poor, rich, frugal, free of debt, in debt, live simply, etc. Is our heart gripped by the love of things and stuff? Do we find security in our possessions? Are we content?

Here are some questions to help evaluate our contentment:

  1. Are we always looking to get more stuff? This is the pretty obvious one. That stuff can vary from books to clothes to electronics to fill in the blank. Are we content with the things we have?
  2. If our financial situation never changed would we be happy? A lot of us count on God improving our financial situation. We assume it is going to happen. What if it didn’t?
  3. What if God took away some of our possessions? What if we lost our job or our pay was reduced?
  4. Do we find ourselves dreaming of ways to get money quickly outside of years of hard work? A discontented life is often a lazy life. Proverbs 13:4 says the lazy man craves and gets nothing. We love to imagine wealth coming to us outside of slow, steady labor.
  5. On the flip side do we find that our work is never done? We work and work and work, never taking a true break, not slowing down for the Lord’s Day. We have this nagging guilt that we must do more.  A discontented life can be lazy, but it can also be very active, but active for the wrong reasons. A busy person can have discontented heart.
  6. Does it bother us when God prospers someone else? When we don’t get that raise and our friend does how do we feel? When our neighbor gets a new car and we are still driving a ten year old beater does that bother us?  Are we jealous of God’s gifts to others?
  7. Do we find that when God gives us something good our joy in that good thing is short-lived? We get a new outfit, new book, new TV, or new car and we are excited for a moment, but then we move on and begin to covet something else. Our gratitude for the gifts from God is quickly overrun by our desire for more.
  8. Finally, is our gratitude for all things from God increasing?  A contented life is a thankful, grateful life. A discontented life is characterized by grumbling and complaining. Later in Hebrews 13:15 we are told to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.” Discontent is killed by praise and thanksgiving. When we pray, is thanksgiving to the Lord a large part of our prayers? Do we thank the Lord for His daily benefits or just for the big things? Do we thank Him for his kindness in sending Christ? Do we find ways to praise Him even in the midst of hard and painful things? Whenever the Scriptures tell us not to do something it always implies the opposite virtue. We are told to not love money (ESV) or to keep our lives free from covetousness (NKJV). What is the virtue this negative command implies? It implies gratitude.