Educated Insolence

Now *that's* funny! A Blog by Zena Dell Schroeder President, Mission Ranch Films

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Dear Friends,

Many of you may remember the debate we were engaged in awhile back, about whether or not we should be screening films (some of them questionable) at church youth events in an effort to better educate and prepare our young people for, well, life. I recently received a very challenging post in reply to this argument that I feel merits a fair hearing. I'm sure many of us struggle with the same issues raised by this mother of a teenage son. I'm afraid I don't have all the answers, but I would like to re-open the dialogue if anyone has insight worth sharing. First I will post Doralynn's response to the original blog, then my response to Doralynn, and then the discussion is open for comments. Here goes:

Doralynn's Response:
As a mother I have blocked certain channels and avoided certain movies. As Christians we are to avoid all appearance of evil; and in the majority of films being produced today, it is not a matter of something appearing to be is evil. If I don't allow my son to see certain movies at home, why would I want him seeing them at church? As to sheltering our youth, how is that possible? Every imaginable evil is played out on the nightly news, blared out in noise masquerading as music, and presented in images hailed as art. It's mind numbing. Taking it a step further...if we should not shelter our children, should we then take them to adult sites on the Internet and point out why God's laws on morality are preferable? I have found that opportunities for discussion on moral issues arise daily...and without the benefit of American Pie. My son knows my "views". He knows why I hold them and from whence they come.

My inadequate response to Doralynn:
Hi Doralynn,

Thank you so much for your comments. Since you are a mother, your views have incredible weight. I have not yet had the privilege (or mighty challenge) to try to raise healthy, Godly, winsome, intelligent and articulate children in the context of today's media saturated culture, so I can't even begin to imagine the challenges you must be faced with. And your post accurately identifies some of the issues and challenges that might arise from screening films in church.

Let me say that I don't purport to have all of the answers. I realize there are issues here that still need to be worked out. My main point, however, is that most of our youth are not being adequately prepared to engage the marketplace of ideas. We are so afraid of what the world offers that we shield our teens, and like you said, for good reason. But the evil the world has to offer is actually not nearly as attractive as the good God has to offer. We need to have confidence that if our children have the opportunity to critically think through the worldviews and philosophies bombarding them everyday, they will be able to honestly choose Truth over lies. But if we're too afraid to expose them in a safe environment, what are we teaching them? To run for the hills and hide? To separate themselves from the world? This is what the Puritans taught. But Calvin and Luther strongly believed that we are to be in the world but not of it. I'm just trying to work out how best to do that.

I'm open to suggestions....

Thanks again,

And now we are open for business, er, comments. Come, let us reason together....

(4) comments
Monday, April 04, 2005
Considering Reform Theology – What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

In today’s climate of anti-intellectualism, where many evangelicals think being informed means keeping up with the latest tabloid gossip on Brad and Jennifer’s marriage, it seems ill-timed at best to try to engage people in a historical discussion about the how’s and why’s of the Protestant Reformation. In an effort to combat the a-historical attitudes of my fellow brothers and sisters, I’d like to share with you some of my discoveries this semester at Biola, which seem to me very important given the political issues challenging traditional Christianity and orthodoxy today. In so doing, I’ll be referring to two texts: Bernard Ramm’s The Evangelical Heritage, and Hugh Kerr’s Readings in Christian Thought. In their unique points of view, they both manage to identify several key issues that lead to the Protestant Reformation.

While there has been much good to come out of the Reformation in terms of theology and doctrine, one of the problems with this break from Roman Catholicism has been the continued schisms that have occurred among the Reformers themselves. As a result, we have a huge number of Protestant sects today, all warring over what might be considered non-essential doctrines. This is the bane of evangelical existence. We tend to major on the minors rather than focus on the majors. Of course, that leads to the inevitable question: what are the majors? While it’s a nice thought to think about being united and open-minded, we must be careful not to be so open minded that our brains fall out. Nevertheless, it is worth an effort to try to isolate those issues that might be considered “major. Indeed, this is what both Ramm and Kerr attempt to do. By identifying the major theological points that characterize Protestant Evangelicalism, they hope not only to educate, but also to even unite the factions within the differing Protestant camps. The first step, of course, is to define the term “Evangelical.” Does today’s Evangelical even know what it means?

Generally speaking, Evangelical Christianity “refers to that version of Christianity which places the priority of the Word and Act of God over the faith, response, or experiences of men” (Ramm 13). This speaks to the meaning of the term “Protestant,” as well. Most people assume it simply means “to protest.” But in reality, the Protestants were not just protesting the Catholic Church, they were also affirming a particular brand of Christianity which they considered to be more true to Orthodoxy. In the view of the Reformers, the Roman Catholic Church of the medieval era was not only corrupt on moral grounds, but also on theological and doctrinal issues as well. To really understand the issues at stake, we must articulate some of the main components of the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages, such as the doctrine of the Pope, the sacramental system, Marion Theology, scholasticism, the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture, and Roman Catholic piety. However, instead of going into each of these doctrines individually, it may be safe to say that the real problem for the reformers was not the individual doctrines, but an overall view of authority or theological hierarchy to which they strongly disagreed.

While the Roman Catholics privileged Tradition and the Church over the word of God, the reformers set the word of God above the church. In doing so, they not only elevated the status of Scripture, but they also rejected flat out the Roman Catholic doctrine of Tradition on the basis that the New Testament provided all the revelation that God intended us to have, and that some of the practices of the Church were in direct contradiction to New Testament teachings. In rejecting the doctrine of Tradition, the reformers were also led to reject the authority of the church fathers and the councils. While the theologians who have come before ought to be respected and studied, men and councils are subject to error, and therefore do not have ultimate authority. Thus, the Reformers insisted that the locus of authority was in the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Sola scriptura became the primary principle. Consequently, other beliefs were challenged, such as the clarity of Scripture. If the scriptures are the ultimate authority, then relying on the church to affirm it as the word of God is nonsensical. The word of God validates itself as the word of God. Moreover, the goal of both Scripture and the Holy Spirit is to put the focus on the person and work of Christ. By denying the reading of Scripture to the laity, then, the Roman Catholic Church was putting itself between Christ and the people. This is what Luther meant when he claimed the Pope was an instrument of anti-Christ. Any man or institution that tries to stand in the place that Christ ought to rightfully hold is going against Christ. The Scriptures and the Holy Spirit exist to lead us to Christ. According to the reformers, the Church puts the focus on itself before Christ, which is a serious error.

It should be noted that Luther himself was a devout catholic before he unintentionally launched the reformation. But his struggles over his own sin, and his lack of faith in the medieval sacramental system’s ability to save him from judgment caused him to seek the Scriptures directly to find peace and assurance of salvation. In this search, Luther re-discovered the Augustinian doctrine of justification by faith alone. Through the doctrine of justification by faith, man cannot merit salvation through good works. Indeed, good works that are not done through Christ are viewed as acts of evil, not good works at all, since they ultimately serve to glorify the man who does them, rather than Christ Himself. Consequently, this doctrine requires not just a new understanding of the faith, but a complete reconstruction of the church. The very purpose and structure of the Church must change. Instead of the church being viewed as a dispenser of grace, it becomes an instrument of grace. The minister now becomes a minister of the Word of God, and the center of the Word of God is the gospel, that is, Christ. Thus, the entire medieval sacramental system must be abolished. It doesn’t mean doing away with all traditions. But it means doing away with any traditions that wrongfully put themselves between God and man. According to the reformers, this means the sacramental system must go.

There were other controversies in need of discussion as well, such as the Eucharist. In the time of the early reformers, this was one of the greatest points of division. Some claimed the wine and bread actually became the blood and body of Christ. Some said it was merely symbolic. Some tried to find a middle ground by allowing that while it remained bread and wine, there was a spiritual element due to the presence of the Holy Spirit. This issue points out that while we must be open today to rethinking our own theological precepts, it is a tricky situation.

The Eucharist conflict is not a mere trifle. They did not want to believe something false and risk being heretical on such a seemingly important theological issue. Today also, we don’t want to become so rigid and dogmatic as to be legalists and Pharisees, and thus, nullify the gospel. The goal is to follow the main tenets set forth by these early reformers, namely, to keep the major traditions of the Christian church when possible, and to respect the minds that have labored over these issues before us, while guarding against creating some new, unknown brand of Christianity. This in turn leads us back to the issue of developing a mature theology through history. Again, most evangelicals lack spiritual maturity and understanding, and a large reason for this is that we have become a-historical. According to Ramm, the best way to find out what is in Scripture in the first place is to approach it from a historical perspective. Evangelicals must know Scripture. They must also know the inner structure or hierarchy of theology. One of the best ways to clearly understand the principles at stake is to know history and to follow the progression of ideas. Of course, we must also know our own culture. The end result is that Evangelicals will constantly be in a state of reform. They will constantly be rethinking the manner in which God is related to the world.

This is a good lesson for us, in terms of learning to major on the majors. To keep the spirit of the Reformation alive, Evangelicals must be open to rethinking their theology. An inability to do so will only lead to more divisions within an already fractured Protestant church family. It was this spirit of openness that led to the production of vast quantities of materials on the part of the Reformers. The goal was to really think through the theological issues and discover truth. While many argue that Protestant scholasticism killed the free spirit and openness of the reformers, that is precisely why we must never rest on the laurels of the doctrines handed down to us. Any principle becomes stale if people blindly accept it. To remain fresh, the truths arrived at by the reformers and those after them must be continually challenged, tested, and affirmed. This requires humility and grace, something alarmingly lacking in many evangelical churches today. The goal should always be to understand truth as precisely and clearly as possible, and to state truth in clear, non confusing terms. But an evangelical must understand the limits of humanity. Thus, we must be open to correction and engage theology with grace and a humble heart.

(3) comments
Sunday, February 13, 2005

Dear Friends and Family,

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY AND NEW YEARS, TOO. I know it's been awhile since my last post, but that's because I've been writing actual projects, so I will have to limit my posts to valuable information from other sources, such as this disturbing article on Same sex marriage and how it causes the dissolution of marriage. Responses?

The Roots of the Dissolution of Marriage

Post-Modern Premise: Marriage is just a legal contract between/among consenting adults, and rooted in affection.

Ø Evidence: Children have adopted this understanding through adults’ rampant divorce.

Ø Therefore, opposition to same-sex marriage appears bigoted and hateful. And it is ... if marriage is just a legal contract rooted in affection.

Ø The Scandinavian experience with de-facto same-sex marriage over the last 10 years demonstrates that same-sex marriage leads to the dissolution of marriage among all parents, even heterosexual parents.

Ø A majority of Scandinavian children are born out of wedlock to parents who will not stay together to raise the children.

When marriage is divorced from child-bearing,
marriage becomes an optional institution.

Ø Less than 2% of gays and lesbians in Holland have married – almost four years after same-sex marriage became legal there. Gays and lesbians desire the social and moral acceptance that comes from the legalization of same-sex marriage, but they do not wish to get married or get the legal benefits of marriage.

Ø Opposition to polygamy, polyamory, and bigamy is bigoted if marriage is just a legal contract rooted in affection.

Ø In time, the right of dissent will be lost. Same with religious freedom. In Canada, it is illegal to describe homosexuality as “immoral” over the airwaves. In Sweden, it is illegal to publish articles against same-sex marriage or to preach sermons about hating the sin but loving the sinner. If same-sex marriage is a constitutional and inalienable right, then speaking against that right is perceived as dangerous, hateful, and illegal.

The Challenge: Use the arts to rebuild the historic understanding of marriage as a covenant with social and spiritual implications, and sex as more than just a physical act – the equivalent of a handshake – but a physical, spiritual, and social bond.

Talking About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions
By Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy

I. Why Does Marriage Matter?

When their mothers and fathers don’t get and stay married, bad things happen to more kids more often: more poverty, welfare dependence, child abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse, physical illness, infant mortality, accidental death, homicide, premature and promiscuous sexuality, early unwed pregnancy, suicide, juvenile delinquency, educational failure, conduct disorders and adult criminality. Children suffer and whole communities pay the cost in crime, social disorder and high taxes as government steps in to deal with the needs created when families fall apart. Family structure matters and the family form that does the best job for kids is the child’s own married mother and father.[1]

Marriage is not created by government. It is older than the Constitution, older than America, older even than the church. It exists in every known human society and it always has something to do with bringing men and women together so that society has the next generation it needs and children have both mothers and fathers, as they need.

II. Top Five Reasons to Oppose SSM:

1. Marriage is about affirming the ideal. And when it comes to children, science and common sense both say: mothers and fathers both matter to children.
2. SSM sends a terrible message to the next generation: alternative family forms are just as good as traditional families, children don’t need a mother and a father, and marriage is about adult desires for affirmation or benefits, not about the well-being of children.
3. It’s just wrong for the law to pretend that two men being intimate are the same as a husband and wife, especially when it comes to raising children.
4. Marriage belongs in the hands of the people. Four judges in Massachusetts have no business rewriting the moral rules our kids are going to live by.
5. Marriage isn’t a special interest, it’s a common good. Every American benefits from a healthy marriage culture. ALL Americans pay the price in increased taxes, social disorder, and human suffering when mothers and fathers fail to get and stay married.

III. Frequently Asked Questions

Don’t homosexual people need the benefits of marriage?

If medical proxies aren’t working, let’s fix that problem. If people need health care, let’s get them health care. Don’t rewrite marriage laws in order to satisfy a small fraction of adults who have personal needs and problems.

Are you saying gays can’t be good parents?

Two men might each be a good father, but neither can be a mom. Children are hungry for the love and attention of both their parents – their mom and their dad. Marriage is about giving children the ideal, and no same-sex couple can provide that.

Aren’t laws prohibiting same-sex marriage the same as laws prohibiting interracial marriage? Aren’t they discriminatory?

Anti-miscegenation laws were about keeping two races apart. Marriage is about bringing two sexes together. Having a parent of two different races is just not the same as being fatherless or motherless.

Why do you want to interfere with love?

Love is not an excuse for adults to do whatever they want and assume the kids will adjust. We need to get back to basics, including the idea that one major goal of marriage is to remind men and women that we have the obligation to do the best we can to give our children the protection of a married home in which they can know and love both their mother and their father.

What about older or infertile couples? If they can marry why not same-sex couples?

Every man and woman who marries is capable of giving any child they create (or adopt) a mother and a father. No same-sex couple can do this. It’s apples and oranges.

Why are you blaming gays and lesbians for the problems of heterosexuals?

Judges are the ones rewriting our marriage laws. People who really cared about marriage and the suffering of fatherless children would not rewrite our marriage law to say that kids don’t need fathers, and that alternative family forms are just as good as a husband and wife raising children together. That’s the message of same-sex marriage. It’s not kind or compassionate to children at all.

Institute for Marriage and Public Policy 1413 K St. NW • Suite 1000 • Washington, DC • 20005 (202) 216-9430 •

The End of Marriage in Scandinavia
The "conservative case" for same-sex marriage collapses.
by Stanley Kurtz 02/02/2004, Volume 009, Issue 20

MARRIAGE IS SLOWLY DYING IN SCANDINAVIA. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty percent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents. Not coincidentally, these countries have had something close to full gay marriage for a decade or more. Same-sex marriage has locked in and reinforced an existing Scandinavian trend toward the separation of marriage and parenthood. The Nordic family pattern--including gay marriage--is spreading across Europe. And by looking closely at it we can answer the key empirical question underlying the gay marriage debate. Will same-sex marriage undermine the institution of marriage? It already has.

More precisely, it has further undermined the institution. The separation of marriage from parenthood was increasing; gay marriage has widened the separation. Out-of-wedlock birthrates were rising; gay marriage has added to the factors pushing those rates higher. Instead of encouraging a society-wide return to marriage, Scandinavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable.

This is not how the situation has been portrayed by prominent gay marriage advocates journalist Andrew Sullivan and Yale law professor William Eskridge Jr. Sullivan and Eskridge have made much of an unpublished study of Danish same-sex registered partnerships by Darren Spedale, an independent researcher with an undergraduate degree who visited Denmark in 1996 on a Fulbright scholarship. In 1989, Denmark had legalized de facto gay marriage (Norway followed in 1993 and Sweden in 1994). Drawing on Spedale, Sullivan and Eskridge cite evidence that since then, marriage has strengthened. Spedale reported that in the six years following the establishment of registered partnerships in Denmark (1990-1996), heterosexual marriage rates climbed by 10 percent, while heterosexual divorce rates declined by 12 percent. Writing in the McGeorge Law Review, Eskridge claimed that Spedale's study had exposed the "hysteria and irresponsibility" of those who predicted gay marriage would undermine marriage. Andrew Sullivan's Spedale-inspired piece was subtitled, "The case against same-sex marriage crumbles."

Yet the half-page statistical analysis of heterosexual marriage in Darren Spedale's unpublished paper doesn't begin to get at the truth about the decline of marriage in Scandinavia during the nineties. Scandinavian marriage is now so weak that statistics on marriage and divorce no longer mean what they used to.

Take divorce. It's true that in Denmark, as elsewhere in Scandinavia, divorce numbers looked better in the nineties. But that's because the pool of married people has been shrinking for some time. You can't divorce without first getting married. Moreover, a closer look at Danish divorce in the post-gay marriage decade reveals disturbing trends. Many Danes have stopped holding off divorce until their kids are grown. And Denmark in the nineties saw a 25 percent increase in cohabiting couples with children. With fewer parents marrying, what used to show up in statistical tables as early divorce is now the unrecorded breakup of a cohabiting couple with children.

What about Spedale's report that the Danish marriage rate increased 10 percent from 1990 to 1996? Again, the news only appears to be good. First, there is no trend. Eurostat's just-released marriage rates for 2001 show declines in Sweden and Denmark (Norway hasn't reported). Second, marriage statistics in societies with very low rates (Sweden registered the lowest marriage rate in recorded history in 1997) must be carefully parsed. In his study of the Norwegian family in the nineties, for example, Christer Hyggen shows that a small increase in Norway's marriage rate over the past decade has more to do with the institution's decline than with any renaissance. Much of the increase in Norway's marriage rate is driven by older couples "catching up." These couples belong to the first generation that accepts rearing the first born child out of wedlock. As they bear second children, some finally get married. (And even this tendency to marry at the birth of a second child is weakening.) As for the rest of the increase in the Norwegian marriage rate, it is largely attributable to remarriage among the large number of divorced.

Spedale's report of lower divorce rates and higher marriage rates in post-gay marriage Denmark is thus misleading. Marriage is now so weak in Scandinavia that shifts in these rates no longer mean what they would in America. In Scandinavian demography, what counts is the out-of-wedlock birthrate, and the family dissolution rate.

The family dissolution rate is different from the divorce rate. Because so many Scandinavians now rear children outside of marriage, divorce rates are unreliable measures of family weakness. Instead, we need to know the rate at which parents (married or not) split up. Precise statistics on family dissolution are unfortunately rare. Yet the studies that have been done show that throughout Scandinavia (and the West) cohabiting couples with children break up at two to three times the rate of married parents. So rising rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth stand as proxy for rising rates of family dissolution.

By that measure, Scandinavian family dissolution has only been worsening. Between 1990 and 2000, Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate rose from 39 to 50 percent, while Sweden's rose from 47 to 55 percent. In Denmark out-of-wedlock births stayed level during the nineties (beginning at 46 percent and ending at 45 percent). But the leveling off seems to be a function of a slight increase in fertility among older couples, who marry only after multiple births (if they don't break up first). That shift masks the 25 percent increase during the nineties in cohabitation and unmarried parenthood among Danish couples (many of them young). About 60 percent of first born children in Denmark now have unmarried parents. The rise of fragile families based on cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing means that during the nineties, the total rate of family dissolution in Scandinavia significantly increased.

Scandinavia's out-of-wedlock birthrates may have risen more rapidly in the seventies, when marriage began its slide. But the push of that rate past the 50 percent mark during the nineties was in many ways more disturbing. Growth in the out-of-wedlock birthrate is limited by the tendency of parents to marry after a couple of births, and also by the persistence of relatively conservative and religious districts. So as out-of-wedlock childbearing pushes beyond 50 percent, it is reaching the toughest areas of cultural resistance. The most important trend of the post-gay marriage decade may be the erosion of the tendency to marry at the birth of a second child. Once even that marker disappears, the path to the complete disappearance of marriage is open.

And now that married parenthood has become a minority phenomenon, it has lost the critical mass required to have socially normative force. As Danish sociologists Wehner, Kambskard, and Abrahamson describe it, in the wake of the changes of the nineties, "Marriage is no longer a precondition for settling a family--neither legally nor normatively. . . . What defines and makes the foundation of the Danish family can be said to have moved from marriage to parenthood."
So the highly touted half-page of analysis from an unpublished paper that supposedly helps validate the "conservative case" for gay marriage--i.e., that it will encourage stable marriage for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike--does no such thing. Marriage in Scandinavia is in deep decline, with children shouldering the burden of rising rates of family dissolution. And the mainspring of the decline--an increasingly sharp separation between marriage and parenthood--can be linked to gay marriage. To see this, we need to understand why marriage is in trouble in Scandinavia to begin with.

SCANDINAVIA has long been a bellwether of family change. Scholars take the Swedish experience as a prototype for family developments that will, or could, spread throughout the world. So let's have a look at the decline of Swedish marriage.

In Sweden, as elsewhere, the sixties brought contraception, abortion, and growing individualism. Sex was separated from procreation, reducing the need for "shotgun weddings." These changes, along with the movement of women into the workforce, enabled and encouraged people to marry at later ages. With married couples putting off parenthood, early divorce had fewer consequences for children. That weakened the taboo against divorce. Since young couples were putting off children, the next step was to dispense with marriage and cohabit until children were desired. Americans have lived through this transformation. The Swedes have simply drawn the final conclusion: If we've come so far without marriage, why marry at all? Our love is what matters, not a piece of paper. Why should children change that?

Two things prompted the Swedes to take this extra step--the welfare state and cultural attitudes. No Western economy has a higher percentage of public employees, public expenditures--or higher tax rates--than Sweden. The massive Swedish welfare state has largely displaced the family as provider. By guaranteeing jobs and income to every citizen (even children), the welfare state renders each individual independent. It's easier to divorce your spouse when the state will support you instead.

The taxes necessary to support the welfare state have had an enormous impact on the family. With taxes so high, women must work. This reduces the time available for child rearing, thus encouraging the expansion of a day-care system that takes a large part in raising nearly all Swedish children over age one. Here is at least a partial realization of Simone de Beauvoir's dream of an enforced androgyny that pushes women from the home by turning children over to the state.

Yet the Swedish welfare state may encourage traditionalism in one respect. The lone teen pregnancies common in the British and American underclass are rare in Sweden, which has no underclass to speak of. Even when Swedish couples bear a child out of wedlock, they tend to reside together when the child is born. Strong state enforcement of child support is another factor discouraging single motherhood by teens. Whatever the causes, the discouragement of lone motherhood is a short-term effect. Ultimately, mothers and fathers can get along financially alone. So children born out of wedlock are raised, initially, by two cohabiting parents, many of whom later break up.

There are also cultural-ideological causes of Swedish family decline. Even more than in the United States, radical feminist and socialist ideas pervade the universities and the media. Many Scandinavian social scientists see marriage as a barrier to full equality between the sexes, and would not be sorry to see marriage replaced by unmarried cohabitation. A related cultural-ideological agent of marital decline is secularism. Sweden is probably the most secular country in the world. Secular social scientists (most of them quite radical) have largely replaced clerics as arbiters of public morality. Swedes themselves link the decline of marriage to secularism. And many studies confirm that, throughout the West, religiosity is associated with institutionally strong marriage, while heightened secularism is correlated with a weakening of marriage. Scholars have long suggested that the relatively thin Christianization of the Nordic countries explains a lot about why the decline of marriage in Scandinavia is a decade ahead of the rest of the West.

Are Scandinavians concerned about rising out-of-wedlock births, the decline of marriage, and ever-rising rates of family dissolution? No, and yes. For over 15 years, an American outsider, Rutgers University sociologist David Popenoe, has played Cassandra on these issues. Popenoe's 1988 book, "Disturbing the Nest," is still the definitive treatment of Scandinavian family change and its meaning for the Western world. Popenoe is no toe-the-line conservative. He has praise for the Swedish welfare state, and criticizes American opposition to some child welfare programs. Yet Popenoe has documented the slow motion collapse of the Swedish family, and emphasized the link between Swedish family decline and welfare policy.

For years, Popenoe's was a lone voice. Yet by the end of the nineties, the problem was too obvious to ignore. In 2000, Danish sociologist Mai Heide Ottosen published a study, "Samboskab, Aegteskab og Foraeldrebrud" ("Cohabitation, Marriage and Parental Breakup"), which confirmed the increased risk of family dissolution to children of unmarried parents, and gently chided Scandinavian social scientists for ignoring the "quiet revolution" of out-of-wedlock parenting.

Despite the reluctance of Scandinavian social scientists to study the consequences of family dissolution for children, we do have an excellent study that followed the life experiences of all children born in Stockholm in 1953. (Not coincidentally, the research was conducted by a British scholar, Duncan W.G. Timms.) That study found that regardless of income or social status, parental breakup had negative effects on children's mental health. Boys living with single, separated, or divorced mothers had particularly high rates of impairment in adolescence. An important 2003 study by Gunilla Ringbäck Weitoft, et al. found that children of single parents in Sweden have more than double the rates of mortality, severe morbidity, and injury of children in two parent households. This held true after controlling for a wide range of demographic and socioeconomic circumstances.

THE DECLINE OF MARRIAGE and the rise of unstable cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbirth are not confined to Scandinavia. The Scandinavian welfare state aggravates these problems. Yet none of the forces weakening marriage there are unique to the region. Contraception, abortion, women in the workforce, spreading secularism, ascendant individualism, and a substantial welfare state are found in every Western country. That is why the Nordic pattern is spreading.

Yet the pattern is spreading unevenly. And scholars agree that cultural tradition plays a central role in determining whether a given country moves toward the Nordic family system. Religion is a key variable. A 2002 study by the Max Planck Institute, for example, concluded that countries with the lowest rates of family dissolution and out-of-wedlock births are "strongly dominated by the Catholic confession." The same study found that in countries with high levels of family dissolution, religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, had little influence.
British demographer Kathleen Kiernan, the acknowledged authority on the spread of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births across Europe, divides the continent into three zones. The Nordic countries are the leaders in cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. They are followed by a middle group that includes the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, and Germany. Until recently, France was a member of this middle group, but France's rising out-of-wedlock birthrate has moved it into the Nordic category. North American rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth put the United States and Canada into this middle group. Most resistant to cohabitation, family dissolution, and out-of-wedlock births are the southern European countries of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, and, until recently, Switzerland and Ireland. (Ireland's rising out-of-wedlock birthrate has just pushed it into the middle group.)

These three groupings closely track the movement for gay marriage. In the early nineties, gay marriage came to the Nordic countries, where the out-of-wedlock birthrate was already high. Ten years later, out-of-wedlock birth rates have risen significantly in the middle group of nations. Not coincidentally, nearly every country in that middle group has recently either legalized some form of gay marriage, or is seriously considering doing so. Only in the group with low out-of-wedlock birthrates has the gay marriage movement achieved relatively little success.
This suggests that gay marriage is both an effect and a cause of the increasing separation between marriage and parenthood. As rising out-of-wedlock birthrates disassociate heterosexual marriage from parenting, gay marriage becomes conceivable. If marriage is only about a relationship between two people, and is not intrinsically connected to parenthood, why shouldn't same-sex couples be allowed to marry? It follows that once marriage is redefined to accommodate same-sex couples, that change cannot help but lock in and reinforce the very cultural separation between marriage and parenthood that makes gay marriage conceivable to begin with.

We see this process at work in the radical separation of marriage and parenthood that swept across Scandinavia in the nineties. If Scandinavian out-of-wedlock birthrates had not already been high in the late eighties, gay marriage would have been far more difficult to imagine. More than a decade into post-gay marriage Scandinavia, out-of-wedlock birthrates have passed 50 percent, and the effective end of marriage as a protective shield for children has become thinkable. Gay marriage hasn't blocked the separation of marriage and parenthood; it has advanced it.

WE SEE THIS most clearly in Norway. In 1989, a couple of years after Sweden broke ground by offering gay couples the first domestic partnership package in Europe, Denmark legalized de facto gay marriage. This kicked off a debate in Norway (traditionally more conservative than either Sweden or Denmark), which legalized de facto gay marriage in 1993. (Sweden expanded its benefits packages into de facto gay marriage in 1994.) In liberal Denmark, where out-of-wedlock birthrates were already very high, the public favored same-sex marriage. But in Norway, where the out-of-wedlock birthrate was lower--and religion traditionally stronger--gay marriage was imposed, against the public will, by the political elite.

Norway's gay marriage debate, which ran most intensely from 1991 through 1993, was a culture-shifting event. And once enacted, gay marriage had a decidedly unconservative impact on Norway's cultural contests, weakening marriage's defenders, and placing a weapon in the hands of those who sought to replace marriage with cohabitation. Since its adoption, gay marriage has brought division and decline to Norway's Lutheran Church. Meanwhile, Norway's fast-rising out-of-wedlock birthrate has shot past Denmark's. Particularly in Norway--once relatively conservative--gay marriage has undermined marriage's institutional standing for everyone.

Norway's Lutheran state church has been riven by conflict in the decade since the approval of de facto gay marriage, with the ordination of registered partners the most divisive issue. The church's agonies have been intensively covered in the Norwegian media, which have taken every opportunity to paint the church as hidebound and divided. The nineties began with conservative churchmen in control. By the end of the decade, liberals had seized the reins.
While the most public disputes of the nineties were over homosexuality, Norway's Lutheran church was also divided over the question of heterosexual cohabitation. Asked directly, liberal and conservative clerics alike voice a preference for marriage over cohabitation--especially for couples with children. In practice, however, conservative churchmen speak out against the trend toward unmarried cohabitation and childbirth, while liberals acquiesce.

This division over heterosexual cohabitation broke into the open in 2000, at the height of the church's split over gay partnerships, when Prince Haakon, heir to Norway's throne, began to live with his lover, a single mother. From the start of the prince's controversial relationship to its eventual culmination in marriage, the future head of the Norwegian state church received tokens of public support or understanding from the very same bishops who were leading the fight to permit the ordination of homosexual partners.

So rather than strengthening Norwegian marriage against the rise of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birth, same-sex marriage had the opposite effect. Gay marriage lessened the church's authority by splitting it into warring factions and providing the secular media with occasions to mock and expose divisions. Gay marriage also elevated the church's openly rebellious minority liberal faction to national visibility, allowing Norwegians to feel that their proclivity for unmarried parenthood, if not fully approved by the church, was at least not strongly condemned. If the "conservative case" for gay marriage had been valid, clergy who were supportive of gay marriage would have taken a strong public stand against unmarried heterosexual parenthood. This didn't happen. It was the conservative clergy who criticized the prince, while the liberal supporters of gay marriage tolerated his decisions. The message was not lost on ordinary Norwegians, who continued their flight to unmarried parenthood.

Gay marriage is both an effect and a reinforcing cause of the separation of marriage and parenthood. In states like Sweden and Denmark, where out-of-wedlock birthrates were already very high, and the public favored gay marriage, gay unions were an effect of earlier changes. Once in place, gay marriage symbolically ratified the separation of marriage and parenthood. And once established, gay marriage became one of several factors contributing to further increases in cohabitation and out-of-wedlock birthrates, as well as to early divorce. But in Norway, where out-of-wedlock birthrates were lower, religion stronger, and the public opposed same-sex unions, gay marriage had an even greater role in precipitating marital decline.
SWEDEN'S POSITION as the world leader in family decline is associated with a weak clergy, and the prominence of secular and left-leaning social scientists. In the post-gay marriage nineties, as Norway's once relatively low out-of-wedlock birthrate was climbing to unprecedented heights, and as the gay marriage controversy weakened and split the once respected Lutheran state church, secular social scientists took center stage.

Kari Moxnes, a feminist sociologist specializing in divorce, is one of the most prominent of Norway's newly emerging group of public social scientists. As a scholar who sees both marriage and at-home motherhood as inherently oppressive to women, Moxnes is a proponent of nonmarital cohabitation and parenthood. In 1993, as the Norwegian legislature was debating gay marriage, Moxnes published an article, "Det tomme ekteskap" ("Empty Marriage"), in the influential liberal paper Dagbladet. She argued that Norwegian gay marriage was a sign of marriage's growing emptiness, not its strength. Although Moxnes spoke in favor of gay marriage, she treated its creation as a (welcome) death knell for marriage itself. Moxnes identified homosexuals--with their experience in forging relationships unencumbered by children--as social pioneers in the separation of marriage from parenthood. In recognizing homosexual relationships, Moxnes said, society was ratifying the division of marriage from parenthood that had spurred the rise of out-of-wedlock births to begin with.

A frequent public presence, Moxnes enjoyed her big moment in 1999, when she was embroiled in a dispute with Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, minister of children and family affairs in Norway's Christian Democrat government. Moxnes had criticized Christian marriage classes for teaching children the importance of wedding vows. This brought a sharp public rebuke from Haugland. Responding to Haugland's criticisms, Moxnes invoked homosexual families as proof that "relationships" were now more important than institutional marriage.

This is not what proponents of the conservative case for gay marriage had in mind. In Norway, gay marriage has given ammunition to those who wish to put an end to marriage. And the steady rise of Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate during the nineties proves that the opponents of marriage are succeeding. Nor is Kari Moxnes an isolated case.

Months before Moxnes clashed with Haugland, social historian Kari Melby had a very public quarrel with a leader of the Christian Democratic party over the conduct of Norway's energy minister, Marit Arnstad. Arnstad had gotten pregnant in office and had declined to name the father. Melby defended Arnstad, and publicly challenged the claim that children do best with both a mother and a father. In making her case, Melby praised gay parenting, along with voluntary single motherhood, as equally worthy alternatives to the traditional family. So instead of noting that an expectant mother might want to follow the example of marriage that even gays were now setting, Melby invoked homosexual families as proof that a child can do as well with one parent as two.

Finally, consider a case that made even more news in Norway, that of handball star Mia Hundvin (yes, handball prowess makes for celebrity in Norway). Hundvin had been in a registered gay partnership with fellow handballer Camilla Andersen. These days, however, having publicly announced her bisexuality, Hundvin is linked with Norwegian snowboarder Terje Haakonsen. Inspired by her time with Haakonsen's son, Hundvin decided to have a child. The father of Hundvin's child may well be Haakonsen, but neither Hundvin nor Haakonsen is saying.

Did Hundvin divorce her registered partner before deciding to become a single mother by (probably) her new boyfriend? The story in Norway's premiere paper, Aftenposten, doesn't bother to mention. After noting that Hundvin and Andersen were registered partners, the paper simply says that the two women are no longer "romantically involved." Hundvin has only been with Haakonsen about a year. She obviously decided to become a single mother without bothering to see whether she and Haakonsen might someday marry. Nor has Hundvin appeared to consider that her affection for Haakonsen's child (also apparently born out of wedlock) might better be expressed by marrying Haakonsen and becoming his son's new mother.

Certainly, you can chalk up more than a little of this saga to celebrity culture. But celebrity culture is both a product and influencer of the larger culture that gives rise to it. Clearly, the idea of parenthood here has been radically individualized, and utterly detached from marriage. Registered partnerships have reinforced existing trends. The press treats gay partnerships more as relationships than as marriages. The symbolic message of registered partnerships--for social scientists, handball players, and bishops alike--has been that most any nontraditional family is just fine. Gay marriage has served to validate the belief that individual choice trumps family form.

The Scandinavian experience rebuts the so-called conservative case for gay marriage in more than one way. Noteworthy, too, is the lack of a movement toward marriage and monogamy among gays. Take-up rates on gay marriage are exceedingly small. Yale's William Eskridge acknowledged this when he reported in 2000 that 2,372 couples had registered after nine years of the Danish law, 674 after four years of the Norwegian law, and 749 after four years of the Swedish law.

Danish social theorist Henning Bech and Norwegian sociologist Rune Halvorsen offer excellent accounts of the gay marriage debates in Denmark and Norway. Despite the regnant social liberalism in these countries, proposals to recognize gay unions generated tremendous controversy, and have reshaped the meaning of marriage in the years since. Both Bech and Halvorsen stress that the conservative case for gay marriage, while put forward by a few, was rejected by many in the gay community. Bech, perhaps Scandinavia's most prominent gay thinker, dismisses as an "implausible" claim the idea that gay marriage promotes monogamy. He treats the "conservative case" as something that served chiefly tactical purposes during a difficult political debate. According to Halvorsen, many of Norway's gays imposed self-censorship during the marriage debate, so as to hide their opposition to marriage itself. The goal of the gay marriage movements in both Norway and Denmark, say Halvorsen and Bech, was not marriage but social approval for homosexuality. Halvorsen suggests that the low numbers of registered gay couples may be understood as a collective protest against the expectations (presumably, monogamy) embodied in marriage.

SINCE LIBERALIZING DIVORCE in the first decades of the twentieth century, the Nordic countries have been the leading edge of marital change. Drawing on the Swedish experience, Kathleen Kiernan, the British demographer, uses a four-stage model by which to gauge a country's movement toward Swedish levels of out-of-wedlock births.

In stage one, cohabitation is seen as a deviant or avant-garde practice, and the vast majority of the population produces children within marriage. Italy is at this first stage. In the second stage, cohabitation serves as a testing period before marriage, and is generally a childless phase. Bracketing the problem of underclass single parenthood, America is largely at this second stage. In stage three, cohabitation becomes increasingly acceptable, and parenting is no longer automatically associated with marriage. Norway was at this third stage, but with recent demographic and legal changes has entered stage four. In the fourth stage (Sweden and Denmark), marriage and cohabitation become practically indistinguishable, with many, perhaps even most, children born and raised outside of marriage. According to Kiernan, these stages may vary in duration, yet once a country has reached a stage, return to an earlier phase is unlikely. (She offers no examples of stage reversal.) Yet once a stage has been reached, earlier phases coexist.

The forces pushing nations toward the Nordic model are almost universal. True, by preserving legal distinctions between marriage and cohabitation, reining in the welfare state, and preserving at least some traditional values, a given country might forestall or prevent the normalization of nonmarital parenthood. Yet every Western country is susceptible to the pull of the Nordic model. Nor does Catholicism guarantee immunity. Ireland, perhaps because of its geographic, linguistic, and cultural proximity to England, is now suffering from out-of-wedlock birthrates far in excess of the rest of Catholic Europe. Without deeming a shift inevitable, Kiernan openly wonders how long America can resist the pull of stages three and four.

Although Sweden leads the world in family decline, the United States is runner-up. Swedes marry less, and bear more children out of wedlock, than any other industrialized nation. But Americans lead the world in single parenthood and divorce. If we bracket the crisis of single parenthood among African-Americans, the picture is somewhat different. Yet even among non-Hispanic whites, the American divorce rate is extremely high by world standards.

The American mix of family traditionalism and family instability is unusual. In comparison to Europe, Americans are more religious and more likely to turn to the family than the state for a wide array of needs--from child care, to financial support, to care for the elderly. Yet America's individualism cuts two ways. Our cultural libertarianism protects the family as a bulwark against the state, yet it also breaks individuals loose from the family. The danger we face is a combination of America's divorce rate with unstable, Scandinavian-style out-of-wedlock parenthood. With a growing tendency for cohabiting couples to have children outside of marriage, America is headed in that direction.

Young Americans are more likely to favor gay marriage than their elders. That oft-noted fact is directly related to another. Less than half of America's twentysomethings consider it wrong to bear children outside marriage. There is a growing tendency for even middle class cohabiting couples to have children without marrying.

Nonetheless, although cohabiting parenthood is growing in America, levels here are still far short of those in Europe. America's situation is not unlike Norway's in the early nineties, with religiosity relatively strong, the out-of-wedlock birthrate still relatively low (yet rising), and the public opposed to gay marriage. If, as in Norway, gay marriage were imposed here by a socially liberal cultural elite, it would likely speed us on the way toward the classic Nordic pattern of less frequent marriage, more frequent out-of-wedlock birth, and skyrocketing family dissolution.
In the American context, this would be a disaster. Beyond raising rates of middle class family dissolution, a further separation of marriage from parenthood would reverse the healthy turn away from single-parenting that we have begun to see since welfare reform. And cross-class family decline would bring intense pressure for a new expansion of the American welfare state.
All this is happening in Britain. With the Nordic pattern's spread across Europe, Britain's out-of-wedlock birthrate has risen to 40 percent. Most of that increase is among cohabiting couples. Yet a significant number of out-of-wedlock births in Britain are to lone teenage mothers. This a function of Britain's class divisions. Remember that although the Scandinavian welfare state encourages family dissolution in the long term, in the short term, Scandinavian parents giving birth out of wedlock tend to stay together. But given the presence of a substantial underclass in Britain, the spread of Nordic cohabitation there has sent lone teen parenting rates way up. As Britain's rates of single parenting and family dissolution have grown, so has pressure to expand the welfare state to compensate for economic help that families can no longer provide. But of course, an expansion of the welfare state would only lock the weakening of Britain's family system into place.

If America is to avoid being forced into a similar choice, we'll have to resist the separation of marriage from parenthood. Yet even now we are being pushed in the Scandinavian direction. Stimulated by rising rates of unmarried parenthood, the influential American Law Institute (ALI) has proposed a series of legal reforms ("Principles of Family Dissolution") designed to equalize marriage and cohabitation. Adoption of the ALI principles would be a giant step toward the Scandinavian system.

AMERICANS take it for granted that, despite its recent troubles, marriage will always exist. This is a mistake. Marriage is disappearing in Scandinavia, and the forces undermining it there are active throughout the West. Perhaps the most disturbing sign for the future is the collapse of the Scandinavian tendency to marry after the second child. At the start of the nineties, 60 percent of unmarried Norwegian parents who lived together had only one child. By 2001, 56 percent of unmarried, cohabiting parents in Norway had two or more children. This suggests that someday, Scandinavian parents might simply stop getting married altogether, no matter how many children they have.

The death of marriage is not inevitable. In a given country, public policy decisions and cultural values could slow, and perhaps halt, the process of marital decline. Nor are we faced with an all-or-nothing choice between the marital system of, say, the 1950s and marriage's disappearance. Kiernan's model posits stopping points. So repealing no-fault divorce, or even eliminating premarital cohabitation, are not what's at issue. With no-fault divorce, Americans traded away some of the marital stability that protects children to gain more freedom for adults. Yet we can accept that trade-off, while still drawing a line against descent into a Nordic-style system. And cohabitation as a premarital testing phase is not the same as unmarried parenting. Potentially, a line between the two can hold.

Developments in the last half-century have surely weakened the links between American marriage and parenthood. Yet to a remarkable degree, Americans still take it for granted that parents should marry. Scandinavia shocks us. Still, who can deny that gay marriage will accustom us to a more Scandinavian-style separation of marriage and parenthood? And with our underclass, the social pathologies this produces in America are bound to be more severe than they already are in wealthy and socially homogeneous Scandinavia.

All of these considerations suggest that the gay marriage debate in America is too important to duck. Kiernan maintains that as societies progressively detach marriage from parenthood, stage reversal is impossible. That makes sense. The association between marriage and parenthood is partly a mystique. Disenchanted mystiques cannot be restored on demand.

What about a patchwork in which some American states have gay marriage while others do not? A state-by-state patchwork would practically guarantee a shift toward the Nordic family system. Movies and television, which do not respect state borders, would embrace gay marriage. The cultural effects would be national.

What about Vermont-style civil unions? Would that be a workable compromise? Clearly not. Scandinavian registered partnerships are Vermont-style civil unions. They are not called marriage, yet resemble marriage in almost every other respect. The key differences are that registered partnerships do not permit adoption or artificial insemination, and cannot be celebrated in state-affiliated churches. These limitations are gradually being repealed. The lesson of the Scandinavian experience is that even de facto same-sex marriage undermines marriage.

The Scandinavian example also proves that gay marriage is not interracial marriage in a new guise. The miscegenation analogy was never convincing. There are plenty of reasons to think that, in contrast to race, sexual orientation will have profound effects on marriage. But with Scandinavia, we are well beyond the realm of even educated speculation. The post-gay marriage changes in the Scandinavian family are significant. This is not like the fantasy about interracial birth defects. There is a serious scholarly debate about the spread of the Nordic family pattern. Since gay marriage is a part of that pattern, it needs to be part of that debate.

Conservative advocates of gay marriage want to test it in a few states. The implication is that, should the experiment go bad, we can call it off. Yet the effects, even in a few American states, will be neither containable nor revocable. It took about 15 years after the change hit Sweden and Denmark for Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate to begin to move from "European" to "Nordic" levels. It took another 15 years (and the advent of gay marriage) for Norway's out-of-wedlock birthrate to shoot past even Denmark's. By the time we see the effects of gay marriage in America, it will be too late to do anything about it. Yet we needn't wait that long. In effect, Scandinavia has run our experiment for us. The results are in.

Stanley Kurtz is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. His "Beyond Gay Marriage" appeared in our August 4, 2003, issue.

© Copyright 2004, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, e.g., Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, 2000. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off Financially; William J. Doherty, et al, 2002. Why Marriage Matters: 21 Conclusions from the Social Sciences (New York City: Institute for American Values).

(1) comments
Friday, December 10, 2004
Happy Anniversary, Todd and Zena

Dear Friends & Family,

Rejoice with me. This week Todd and I celebrated our 8th year anniversary. To some of you, this may seem like a milestone. To others of you, it may seem like a mere trifle. But to anyone who has read my blog or kept up with my life over the past two years, you know that this is a huge and significant achievement.

After a very challenging season in our marriage, Todd and I celebrated our anniversary with absolute reverence. We are well aware that God's Mercy, Grace, Strength and Wisdom allowed us to come out of the desert and into the Promised Land, a land overflowing with milk and honey. As Todd and I sat with each other in our home, surrounded by our kitties and our newly decorated Christmas tree and house, we reminisced about where we had been, what had happened in our lives thus far, and how we had made it to this very special night. Both of us experienced the same heart-felt emotion: Gratitude. How thankful we are for each other. How thankful we are for Grace. How thankful we are for forgiveness and Mercy. How thankful we are that we love each other in spite of our flaws, mistakes, and sins. And Most of all, how thankful we are to God the Father for giving us the gift of renewal. His Spirit transformed anger into thanksgiving, bitterness into peace, and resentment into joy. Great is the Lord.

I share all of this with you in the hopes that my testimony will encourage you. If God can heal the damage in my marriage and relationships, then you, too, may experience renewal. Regardless of the trials you may have gone through this year, or the challenges you may be facing at work, home, or in your spirit, emotions or soul, you must believe that God CAN renew. The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease. They are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.

Todd and I had dinner recently with an older couple from our church. (BTW, I encourage younger couples to do this as often as possible, for there is wonderful wisdom to be garnered from those who have lived and learned). Fred & Winnie have been married for many, many years. As Fred told us about his background--how it was normal for his brothers and him to have to go to the bar and drag their passed out father home at night, how their mother was less than faithful, and how Fred never knew that there were families who didn’t fight all the time until he grew up and moved away -- they shared a wonderful truth with us that I would like to pass on to you. Fred was explaining to us that the past can trap you or guide you. It’s a choice one has to make. He said it this way: Memories are either an anchor or a rudder.

For Todd and I, our memories caused us to seek counsel. We realized things weren’t right, but we also realized it was unrealistic to assume we could just “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and figure things out. We had to get help. Most of us do. If we had the ability to figure it out on our own, we wouldn’t be messed up in the first place. But because we refused to let our memories anchor us, that is, leave us in the same dysfunctional place we had been, we were able to use them as a rudder, and they will indeed be guiding us into a future, one that I am anticipating with peace, excitement and joy.

This Holiday season, may you experience renewal in accordance with God's Will. And may your memories be a rudder, not an anchor.

Love from the gal who has been married for 8 years, (WOO HOO!)
Zena Dell Schroeder

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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dear friends,

Most of you already know this, but I am currently pursuing my Masters in Apologetics at Biola University. (Of course, I only take one class per semester, so it may take me until I’m 80 to actually get the degree.) But in the meantime, I am enjoying each class to the fullest, and I’ve been challenged to brood over some profound questions of faith.

The most recent question came out of a study of 1 Peter 4:12-19: What role does God play in human suffering? This is a weighty question that has been asked throughout the ages, but given the recent events in my life, I couldn’t help but pursue the answer with renewed interest and vigor.

Frankly, I was surprised at some of the things I learned. And perhaps even a little disturbed. But my faith has also been enriched as a result of this diligent and deliberate attempt to discover the truth about the relationship between God’s will and our suffering. I share these discoveries with you now in the hopes that you will be challenged in your faith, so that you might also be strengthened and encouraged to trust God all the more with your life, even in the midst of trials.

NOTE: I'm following the hermenuetical tools I just learned to properly interpret the text of 1 Peter 4:12-19. Feel free to skip sections if you want, and just read the stuff you're interested in. I basically identify 12 questions that arise from the text and attempt to answer them each in turn. Pick your favorite question, and simply go straight to it to see what I discovered. The 12 questions are as follows:

1. What does he mean by fiery ordeal, and what fiery ordeal are the Christians of Peter’s day going through?

2. Are fiery ordeals sent by God to test His people, or is the testing a by-product of the ordeal?

3. To the degree that you share in Christ’s sufferings – What does degree mean? What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings? Can it be measured? Is the word “degree” part of the original text?

4. What is “the revelation of His glory?” What does this mean? What event is actually being described here? Is this a specific event?

5. Are you blessed because you are being reviled for the name of Christ, or because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you? Which one comes first, being reviled, being blessed, or having the Spirit of God and of Glory rest upon you?

6. Was the phrase “on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” in the original text?

7. What kind of suffering were Peter’s readers experiencing, and how might they relate to this verse? Of what were Christian’s accused, or for what did they suffer in the first century?

8. What does “ashamed” mean? What would this statement have meant to Peter’s readers? Was suffering under any circumstances considered to be shameful? Did it mean something to outsiders about God’s judgment or the sin of the household?

9. What does it mean for judgment to begin with the household of God? Are we talking final Judgment? Does it mean God’s own people are the first to be judged? Why start with us in the first place? Are we a standard for others to be judged by? Will we judge others alongside God? Why does judgment start with the household of God? What will judgment look like for believers? How will we be judged if we are saved? Isn’t Christ the reason we escape judgment? What does this mean – and when will this happen?

10. Why is it “difficult” or nearly impossible for the righteous to be saved? What does that mean? “It is with difficulty” is different than “scarcely be saved” or “barely.” One makes it sound nearly impossible. What idea is Peter trying to convey here?

11. What does saved mean? What are we being saved from in this context – eternal salvation, or suffering?

12. What does it mean to suffer according to the will of God? Does that mean it’s God’s will for people to suffer? Does this say anything about God’s character? How could any suffering be according to God’s will?


First Peter identifies its author as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1), the most prominent of all of the disciples. Peter occurs first in all of the lists, indicating his place of leadership within the twelve. The epistle was written while Peter was in Rome, most likely between 60 – 63 AD. (Peter was martyred in Rome sometime between 64 – 68 AD, during Nero’s persecution).

First Peter is addressed to Christians living in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1) – places in the northern and western parts of Asia Minor. The letter was obviously written to believers undergoing trials and persecutions, to give them courage in the face of their adversities. The purpose of the epistle is to encourage those who are suffering. The most essential feature is that suffering can be according to God’s will. This will be discussed further below.

There are four basic genres identified for NT passages: a Gospel, the Acts, an epistle, or the Book of Revelation. Each of these genres contains subgenres or forms that further aid interpretation. First Peter is clearly an epistle, which means simply that it is a letter.

Thematically, First Peter provides a strong combination of theology and ethics. The epistle recounts and reemphasizes Christ’s vicarious sacrifice on the cross for our sins, which is the basis of our hope and redemption. However, the “divine initiative is linked closely with human responsibility” (Ferguson). The idea is that God cares for His people, but He also expects them to do their part. Thus, what Peter says about the atonement arises from essentially practical concerns (Ferguson). As Youngblood points out:

If 1 Peter is an epistle of hope, the accent falls not on wishful thinking, but on present help. No biblical writer shows the connection between faith and conduct in a clearer manner than does Peter. “Conduct,” in fact, is a key word in this epistle. For Peter, practice is the most important thing.

In other words, First Peter is a practical letter regarding daily Christian living, and deals with the way a Christian ought to behave in view of what God has done for him, regardless of trials and in the midst of suffering. Godly conduct must be pursued, and it is possible only as the result of a life reclaimed by the perfect power of Christ. Thus, First Peter “anchors the Christian’s hope not on logic or persuasion, but on the matchless sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow” (Youngblood). By following Christ’s example, we not only please God, but we identify with Christ at a deeper level, enriching the fellowship we have Him.


Verse 12: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;

1. What does he mean by fiery ordeal, and what fiery ordeal are the Christians of Peter’s day going through?

Fiery comes from the Greek word Pyrosis – burning, painful, fiery, literally a burning, as in Rev. 18: 9, 18, a trial by fire. The word was often used in the sense of a purifying or refining fire. The NKJ Bible translates the word Purosis (fiery) to mean, “The fiery trial which is to try you,” and “Calamity as a test.”

Ordeal, on the other hand, comes from the Greek word peirasmos, a word that connotes temptation, trial, or testing. According to Vine, fiery ordeal is used metaphorically in 1 Pet. 4:12, referring to the refining of gold by fire.

As far as what fiery ordeal the Christians of Peter’s day were going through, there was no church wide persecution when Peter wrote this letter. Thus some scholars suggest that the suffering in this passage stems more from alienation than persecution. Brown writes, “Christians are suffering, being reviled & abused by their fellow Gentiles who cannot understand the strange turn that the gospel has produced in the convert’s lives, making them asocial.” The Christians are alienated because they cannot live the way their Pagan neighbors do.

Christians would have constituted a new cult, exclusive and, to the outside world, secretive and subversive – suspect of immorality or even atheism because they did not participate in the public cult and thus insulted the gods. Trial by fire may seem hyperbolic, but it explains the atmosphere of alienation that pervades the letter. The strong stress on the dignity of Christians and their status would be meant to encourage a group being ostracized by their countrymen. (Brown)

Therefore, the fiery ordeal experienced by the Christians to whom Peter is writing was not imperial persecution, but local hostility wherein non Christians spoke badly of Christians, treating them as evildoers, defaming their conduct, vilifying them, and insulting them because of their belief in Christ.

2. Are fiery ordeals sent by God to test His people, or is the testing a by-product of the ordeal?

The simple answer is both. On the one hand, testing is often a by-product of an ordeal since man makes choices contrary to God’s holiness, and the result is painful, or difficult. In other words, God gives man free will, and we often make bad choices. Here, the testing is a by-product because God is not necessarily causing the ordeal in order to test us. But the ordeal nevertheless tests our faith and commitment to God. Will we stand by Him and trust Him as Joseph did even when he suffered unjustly? Or will we turn our back on Him out of anger, distrust, arrogance or ignorance?

On the other hand, there are times when God “tests” His people. The word test here is not used in the sense of God not knowing the result and therefore pushing our buttons to see how we might respond. The word testing may better be understood in the context of being strengthened. As an athlete may be “tested” during training, God will strengthen us in order that we may gain greater ability to trust God and resist sin in the challenging path of obedience. As Grudem points out:

We see this clearly in the life of Jesus, who, though he was without sin, yet ‘learned obedience through what he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8). He was made perfect ‘through suffering’ (Heb. 2:10). Therefore, we should see all the hardship and suffering that comes to us in life as something that God brings to us to do us good, strengthening our trust in him and our obedience, and ultimately increasing our ability to glorify him.

Please see the discussion on suffering according to God’s will for a fuller explanation (Question # 12)

Verse 13: but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.

3. To the degree that you share in Christ’s sufferings – What does degree mean? What does it mean to share in Christ’s sufferings? Can it be measured? Is the word “degree” part of the original text?

“To the degree” comes from the Greek word Katho, meaning “insofar,” or “according to which thing,” i.e., in proportion as. The word “share” comes from the Greek word Koinoneo, meaning “share with, share in,” or “participate.” The NKJ Bible translates the word as “partakers”, and defines Koinoneo as more than just sharing with others, but also to “communicate, distribute, or be a partaker.” The word comes from the adjective Koinonos, signifying having in common. When used as a noun, it denotes a companion or partner.

The Greek word for suffering used here is pathema, which means something undergone; a hardship or pain; an emotion or influence. The word is akin to pascho, the Greek word for suffering used in the other verses in this passage. Pathema denotes one who has suffered, or one who is subject to suffering, or destined to suffer. Where pascho refers to suffering in general as the experience of feeling pain, pathema is used in this last sense (destined to suffer) of the suffering Christ. In context, then, the word refers to what was suffered by Christ.

Persecution refers to the hatred and affliction that follows those who live their lives in conformity with God’s standards. The Old Testament stresses this concept often, and indeed, the Hebrews experienced much persecution as a result of their separateness from other nations. The New Testament teaches that God’s people will suffer persecution, just as the prophets of old experienced.

According to Youngblood, two ideas were taken over from Judaism to express the meaning of persecution in the early church:

The Jewish theologians taught that the death of the righteous sufferer had redemptive value. While this idea was applied primarily to Jesus by the early Christians, the persecution of His followers was seen as a participation in Jesus’ suffering: filling up ‘what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ’ (Col. 1:24).

The idea of the coming Messiah held that the suffering of God’s people was part of the coming of the kingdom – evidence that a person is truly one of God’s own. Therefore, they are blessed and should rejoice and glorify God since the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God (Youngblood). Suffering as a Christian, then, simply means being hated by a hostile world because one’s life is holy and God-pleasing. To the extent that you experience such suffering means you are identifying with Christ, who was also destined to suffer in this way. It means that you are one of God’s own, and you should therefore rejoice.

4. What is “the revelation of His glory?” What does this mean? What event is actually being described here? Is this a specific event?

The word revelation comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, which means “revealed, disclosure, appearing, coming, manifestation, to be revealed, or revelation.” The idea is that something will be made known that is currently hidden. Further understanding can be gained by considering the response Peter wants his readers to have to the revelation of His glory. He admonishes them to “rejoice with exultation.”

The Greek word used for rejoice is chairo, which means to be exuberantly happy, rejoice with rapture, full of joy. This picture of pure delight is an indication that the event taking place is a truly extraordinary one. Further, the word glory comes from the Greek word doxa, which refers to dignity, glory, honor, praise, worship – all of which will be “very apparent,” i.e., obvious to all.

Doxa primarily signifies an opinion, estimate, and hence, the honor resulting from a good opinion. It is used of the nature and acts of god in self-manifestation, i.e. what he essentially does and is, as exhibited in whatever way he reveals Himself in these respects, and particularly in the person of Christ, in whom essentially His glory has ever shone forth and ever will do (Vine).

It is possible that the “revelation of His glory” will be on the Day of Judgment, since all men will see clearly God’s justice, mercy, and perfection. The Day of Judgment will indeed reveal that which is hidden, and we will give glory and honor and praise to God and Christ in response to His revealed goodness.

However, the word Doxa is also used of Christ’s return – the appearing of the glory of our one great God and savior Jesus Christ. Thus, a more likely understanding of the “revelation of His glory” is that it refers to the unveiling or revelation of Christ at the 2nd coming.

The 2nd coming is Christ’s future return to the earth at the end of the present age. Various opinions exist about what is meant by the Second Coming. Some scholars believe it refers to the Holy Spirits descent at Pentecost, while others argue it has to do with the heart of the believer at the moment of conversion. Still others posit that it has to do with Christ’s coming for the believer at the time of their death. However, a close examination of the New Testament reveals that the Second Coming will be an actual, historical event. “The Lord will return in the same manner in which He left. His coming will be personal, bodily, and visible” (Youngblood).

Verse 14: If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

5. Are you blessed because you are being reviled for the name of Christ, or because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you? Which one comes first, being reviled, being blessed, or having the Spirit of God and of Glory rest upon you? Result and reason confusion. Which causes which?

The term “reviled” comes from the Greek word oneidizo, which means insult, heaped insults on, denounce, finding fault, rebuked. The word, used in the LXX for reproaches heaped on God & His saints by the wicked, in the NT becomes associated with the indignities and maltreatment that Christ had to endure.

The Greek word anapauo, used in the sentence “the spirit of God and of glory comes upon you,” means to give rest, or to refresh. The word for “blessed” is makarios, which means supremely blessed, fortunate, or well off. It’s used as an adjective and denotes a pronouncement of blessedness. In other words, it indicates an ascription of blessing rather than a state.

All of this is important in light of the Old and New Testament understandings of suffering. In the Old Testament, suffering is looked on very negatively, as it usually occurs in response to Israel’s punishment for breaking their covenant with God. As Ferguson points out, “The suffering that was the consequence of violating the Mosaic covenant was devoid of mystery.” Cause and effect was quite clear. If Israel sinned, then punishment would follow, and suffering would occur as a result of Israel’s discipline.

Nevertheless, this relationship of cause and effect was not always clear. Sometimes sin went unpunished, or the wicked would actually prosper while the righteous experienced affliction. This speaks to the fact that while suffering results from sin (a moral evil); it is not itself a moral but a physical (or material) evil, for God is frequently presented in Scripture as its dispenser (Ferguson). Thus, the Hebrews were often frustrated and perplexed by their suffering since it did not always seem to follow a straight forward cause and effect. Regardless of cause and effect, however, one thing was clear to the Old Testament believers: tribulations were to be avoided. While a mature and sensitive believer may see the Lord as their ultimate reward, they certainly would not see suffering as an event in which they ought to rejoice.

But Christ, as the suffering servant, shifted not only the paradigm through which suffering was measured, but also challenged the idea of a simple and knowable cause and effect for suffering. As Ferguson writes:

It was not until after the resurrection of the Suffering Servant that those in close communion with God could grasp fully that as co-heirs with Him they were to share His sufferings as prerequisite to sharing His glory.

Taking all of this together, the word definitions and the understanding of suffering that Christians were beginning to grasp, the verse above seems to indicate that the Christians were blessed both because they were being reviled (suffering) for the name of Christ, and because they were being refreshed (the Spirit of glory and of God comes upon you). It’s a new idea to grasp for these Christians. And in light of the suffering of Christ on our behalf, Peter is reinforcing this new way of looking at Christian suffering.

6. Was the phrase “on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” in the original text?

This phrase is found in the NKJ Translation, but not in the NASB or other reliable translations. In the NKJ version, “evil spoken of” is translated from the Greek word blasphemeo, which means to vilify, speak impiously, blaspheme, defame, rail on, revile, or speak evil. The word blasphemeo is used in a general way of any contumelious speech, reviling, railing at, as of those who railed at Christ.

The word glorified in the NKJ version is translated from the word doxazo, which means to render or esteem glorious, to honor, magnify, make glorious, full of glory. It primarily denotes “to suppose,” or to have an opinion. In the NT, it means to magnify, extol, and praise God, especially of glorifying God by ascribing honor to Him and acknowledging Him as to the greatness of His being, attributes, and acts.

The best explanation of the additional clause added to this verse in the NKJ translation is twofold. First of all, the NKJ translation was based on a different underlying text than the NASB or other reliable translations. This does not imply that the NKJ version is unreliable. It simply means the texts used as the basis for translation may have some differences. And indeed, when the NKJ version was translated, there were fewer texts to compare in order to reconstruct the original text. Thus, the primary reason for the difference is simply that the NKJ version used a different underlying text for translation.

However, it is fitting to try to account for the difference. Why should this text contain this addition while the others do not contain it? The best explanation for this sentence is that it was added by a scribe in an attempt to amplify or explain what the text meant. Notice the addition does not change the meaning of the verse. The words used in the added material simply elaborate on the other part of the verse, “fleshing it out” or filling it out for the reader as it were. Thus, it can reasonably be assumed that this was not part of the original text, and more accurate translations wisely leave this addition out.

Verse 15: By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;

7. What kind of suffering were Peter’s readers experiencing, and how might they relate to this verse? Of what were Christian’s accused, or for what did they suffer in the first century?

The answer to this question has been basically explained in the opening section, wherein 1 Peter is considered in its historical context. Nevertheless, there are a few more things that can be said about suffering, or not suffering, as described in the verse above.

The Greek word for suffer in the context above is pascho, which means “to experience a sensation or impression, usually painful.” It refers to the actual feeling or sensation of pain. The word is used of the sufferings of Christ at the hands of men, in His expiatory and vicarious sacrifice for sin.

As was mentioned in a previous answer, the idea that suffering could be a positive thing was new to the early church. That this lesson was not part of the Jewish consciousness at the time of Christ is well illustrated by the tendency to view specific sin as the immediate cause of suffering. That may be one of the things that Peter is trying to address here. Suffering is associated with sin, so Peter lists some of the sins they may couple to the idea of suffering, and tells them not to suffer for any of these.

In essence, then, Peter is reaffirming that identification with Christ in His crucifixion is the spiritual ideal to be realized, as opposed to suffering for the wrong reasons as described above. Thus, to suffer with Christ is an honor, and contrary to their traditional expectations, since it is not the result of wrong-doing, but of living a life worthy of their calling.

Verse 16: but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.

8. What does “ashamed” mean? What would this statement have meant to Peter’s readers? Was suffering under any circumstances considered to be shameful? Did it mean something to outsiders about God’s judgment or the sin of the household?

Ashamed comes from the Greek word aischynomai, which in present imperfect pass means “to put to shame”, or “be put to shame”, “to feel shame for oneself, disfigurement”, i.e. to be disgraced. The word “ashamed” here is used in the Passive voice, and signifies a feeling of fear or shame which prevents a person from doing a thing, the feeling of shame arising from something that has been done. In I Pet. 4:16, there is a feeling of fear or shame for suffering as a Christian.

Why these early believers would have felt shame for suffering harkens back to the previous discussion about the Old Testament understanding of suffering as opposed to the new understanding in light of Christ’s suffering. Namely, the Old Testament belief was that suffering came as a direct result of sin. If someone experienced hardship, pain, or tribulation, the belief was that they somehow deserved it. God disciplines His people for breaking their covenant of Holiness with Him. If their actions were upright, then they would not experience pain. Thus, suffering was absolutely associated with shame, as it was a public attestation of God’s wrath and judgment against an individual or a family. Job illustrates this belief quite well. His friends keep telling him to repent, that he is suffering because of some secret sin or wrongdoing in his life. While Job recognizes he is not perfect, he insists he is righteous and that his suffering is not the result of God’s discipline for doing wrong. Job insists he is suffering “unjustly,” in that there is not a clear cut cause and effect for his afflictions. Job turns out to be right, a lesson that ought to have challenged the Old Testament view of suffering more than it did. Nevertheless, the early Christian belief was rooted primarily in this view of suffering, as a direct consequence of sin, a public humiliation in the exposure of their sins, and therefore a reason for shame.

But Peter challenges this view of suffering and declares that instead of feeling ashamed, one should glorify God in their trials. The word glory is the same as above, doxazo, which means to render or esteem glorious. Thus, in light of Christ’s sufferings, we should glorify God when we ourselves suffer, knowing that while the Old Testament promised prosperity for obedience, Christ expected affliction.

Verse 17: For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

9. What does it mean for judgment to begin with the household of God? Are we talking final Judgment? Does it mean God’s own people are the first to be judged? Why start with us in the first place? Are we a standard for others to be judged by? Will we judge others alongside God? Why does judgment start with the household of God? What will judgment look like for believers? How will we be judged if we are saved? Isn’t Christ the reason we escape judgment? What does this mean – and when will this happen?

“To Begin” comes from the Greek word archo, which means began, beginning, or begin. The construction of the inference is unusual, and may be in apposition of apex. The word “time” comes from the Greek word Kairos, which refers to an occasion, i.e. a set or proper time, convenient opportunity, or due season. When used of time, it signifies a fixed or definite period or season, and sometimes refers to an opportune or seasonable time.

The word “judgment” comes from the Greek word Krima, which refers to a decision, the function or the effect of a decision, for or against, condemnation. It denotes the result of the action signified by the verb “to judge.” It is used of a decision passed on the faults of others, of judgment by man upon Christ, and of God’s judgment upon men through Christ.

Just by looking up the definitions of the words used in the context of this verse, it seems clear that the event being described here is the actual Final Judgment of God at the end of the age. But what is the Final Judgment, and how will it affect believers, or more specifically, “the household of God?”

The Final Judgment will occur after God decisively defeats the rebellion that will take place at the end of the millennium. Of course, God alone knows the exact date or time this event will happen. Nevertheless, scripture provides the general time frame, and makes it clear that Christ will be the Judge. God has given Him the authority to execute judgment. But what will happen at this Final Judgment?

Clearly, unbelievers will be judged, as the verse above indicates. Scripture elsewhere tells us that when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, He will render to every man according to His works. This judgment of unbelievers will include degrees of punishment for their deeds, and the secrets of people’s hearts will be revealed and made public. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be made known.

What about Christians? Will we be judged as well? The Greek word oikos, or house of God, refers to a dwelling, by implication a family, more or less related. In other words, it refers to the family of God - Christians. And even the verse above indicates that we will somehow be judged. Scripture confirms this elsewhere, since we all must give an account of our actions, deeds, or works. But the judgment for believers will be a judgment to evaluate and bestow various degrees of reward. Just as there are degrees of punishment for unbelievers, so will there be degrees of reward for God’s family. Thus, believers need not fear that they will be eternally condemned. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Nevertheless, since nothing will remain hidden, the secret words and deeds of believers will also be exposed and revealed. This should not alarm believers, however, because even the sins made public on that day will be made public as sins that have been forgiven, and will therefore be an occasion for giving glory to God for the richness of His grace.

As far as the role of believers, scripture clearly implies that we will help in the work of judgment. “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3). This verse implies that we will do much more than simply observe. We need to develop skills of careful evaluation and wise discernment, so that we might exercise these abilities in judging the world at the Final Judgment.

It may be appropriate here to state simply the purpose of Judgment. Certainly, God does not delight and will not delight in the eternal condemnation of men. But Judgment is necessary and appropriate. As Grudem points out, it will “display before all rational creatures the declarative glory of God in a formal, forensic act, which magnifies on the one hand His holiness and righteousness, and on the other hand, His grace and mercy.” Judgment begins with believers so that the entire world may witness the extent of His grace and forgiveness. No one will be able to complain or shout, “Unfair!” He will show the entire world how much He has forgiven, and believers will praise Him because they will know that they also deserved punishment and were spared. And then unbelievers will be judged according to their deeds. This fact should cause our souls to be in anguish. It should also inspire us to tell others about Christ before it is too late.

Verse 18: And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?

10. Why is it “difficult” or nearly impossible for the righteous to be saved? What does that mean? “It is with difficulty” is different than “scarcely be saved” or “barely.” One makes it sound nearly impossible. What idea is Peter trying to convey here?

The Greek word molis means difficulty, very rarely, hard, or with difficulty. In other words, it means it happened “with much work” or through a lot of effort.

The word righteous comes from the Greek word dikaios, which means equitable in character or act, by implication innocent, holy. It refers to that which is in accordance with rightness or justice, without prejudice or partiality of the judgment of God.

The idea here is not that Christians are barely saved, and therefore at risk of losing their salvation or other such foolishness. The words do not imply doubt about the salvation of Christians, but emphasize the greatness of God’s effort in saving them. The entire Bible can be said to tell the story of God’s redemption of man, culminating of course in the sending of His son to suffer and die, paying the price for our sin. As the word righteous indicates, we are declared righteous not because of our own works, but because of Christ’s sacrificial act. We are innocent by association. We are holy because He is holy and we are found in Him. If He is innocent, then we have been found innocent by implication. And our innocence was gained through much work on God’s behalf.

11. What does saved mean? What are we being saved from in this context – eternal salvation, or suffering?

Saved comes from the Greek word sozo, pres. Ind. Pass, which means saved, heal, bring safely, cured, delivered, made (make) well. The word saved, is used of material and temporal deliverance from danger and suffering, as well as the spiritual, eternal salvation granted immediately by God to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It also is used of the deliverance of believers at the 2nd coming of Christ for His saints, and being delivered from the wrath of God to be executed upon the ungodly at the close of this age.

As has been discussed already, the sufferings that Christians experience can be divided into several categories. On the one hand, they can be the direct result of grace: “When Christians are persecuted for Christ’s sake, they are experiencing a type of suffering that in its cause and purpose is distinct from anything that the unregenerate suffer” (Ferguson).

Christians also suffer as a consequence of sharing in a fallen humanity in a fallen world. Here, there suffering does not differ qualitatively from that of the unbeliever. We can bring suffering on ourselves by making poor choices. We also experience death, disease, poverty, and sorrow. Thus, Christians are not saved from such suffering. Rather, they are saved in it. While we are just as vulnerable as non-Christians to the experience of pain and suffering, our encounter with it vastly differs because of God’s use of it and our response to it. (Ferguson).

In this verse, the type of salvation in question refers to the work of salvation Christ did for us on the cross. It is speaking of eternal salvation, but not from the point of view of the Christian. See the answer to the previous question for more information.

Verse 19: Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

12. What does it mean to suffer according to the will of God? Does that mean it’s God’s will for people to suffer? Does this say anything about God’s character? How could any suffering be according to God’s will?

The word “suffer” here is the same Greek word for suffer used above – Pascho, meaning “to experience a painful sensation.” The word “will” is translated from the Greek word thelema, which means a determination, choice, special purpose, desire, and even pleasure. Thelema signifies objectively “that which is willed by God.” The fulfilling of his will is a sign of spiritual relationship to the Lord. It may mean the gracious design, rather than the determined resolve of God. Either way, God is in direct control of all earthly events, and it’s hard to get around the fact that in context it means that sometimes it is God’s will that Christians suffer.

Some people argue that suffering according to God’s will is referring to the manner of their suffering. They behave well in the midst of it. According to Grudem, however, “the phrase according to God’s will cannot refer to the manner in which Christians endure suffering, for then it would make the verse say essentially, ‘Let those who suffer while doing right, do right.’ This would make the sentence redundant.” Rather, Grudem argues that the phrase must refer to the fact that these Christians are suffering because sometimes it is His will for Christians to suffer.

This may seem like it calls into question God’s character. How could a righteous God desire His children to suffer? Isn’t that antithetical to His goodness? But this really simply highlights our finality and ignorance. We cannot know all of the reasons why suffering may be good, even while we can affirm that we have often experienced the greatest growth during our own times of suffering. This can at least give us a clue that there might be more to suffering than our finite earthly minds can comprehend. Instead of questioning God’s character, this can cause us to reaffirm the awesome attributes of God reserved solely in Himself, for He alone is all knowing and all powerful, and He alone understands the complexities of the human condition.

It may help at this point to mention the different distinctions or aspects of God’s will: Necessary will and Free Will, and Secret Will versus Revealed Will. God’s Necessary will includes those things that He must will according to His nature. What does God will necessarily? He wills Himself. “God eternally wills to be, or wants to be, who He is and what He is” (Grudem). God cannot choose to be other than who or what He is. God’s essence, therefore, is God’s necessary will.

God’s Free Will, on the other hand, includes all the things that God decided to will, but had no necessity to will according to His nature. For example, He created mankind. He did not need to. He chose to create the world and the creatures therein as an entirely independent act of free will.

Now that God has created us, He interacts with Creation through either His
Revealed Will or His Secret Will. God’s revealed will refers to God’s commands to us regarding righteous behavior. In other words, He has revealed to us how we should live, and what we should do. His revealed will is the obvious stuff that we know about how we should live our lives.

God’s secret will, however, usually includes His hidden decrees, by which He governs the universe and determines what will happen. In other words, it refers to His sovereignty, and the fact that He is ultimately in control of everything that happens. When Joseph confronted His brothers in Egypt who had sold Him in to slavery, He said “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” Providence means that nothing happens outside of God’s permission. He allows men to make choices, and His secret will is to work all things for good.

We have to be careful. There is a danger in speaking about evil events as happening according to the will of God, even though we see this in scripture. God does not take pleasure in evil, even while He is able to use it for His good purposes. Further, we cannot blame God for our sin. Just because God had a good purpose in mind for Joseph’s being sold into slavery does not mean Joseph’s brothers were “off the hook” so to speak. Their actions were still wrong, and they were accountable for them, just as we are responsible for our own evil actions and choices.

In many ways, this is a paradox. God causes all things that happen, but he does so in such a way that he somehow upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices that have real and eternal results, and for which we are held accountable. Exactly how God combines His providential control with our willing and significant choices, scripture does not explain. Nevertheless, the appropriate response is not to doubt the veracity of scripture, but to confirm both things at once are true.

What does entrust mean and what are they entrusting? Right actions? God’s will? Awk. Sentence structure. What does it mean to continue doing what is right?

First of all, the word therefore comes from the Greek word hoste, which means consequently, or as a result. In other words, this word sums up the thought of the entire paragraph. But then Peter says, “Therefore, let those also…” The word “also” here is from the Greek word kai. It introduces a new thought. The sentence structure here can be rearranged to more clearly state the new thought: “Let those who suffer according to the will of God also entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Thus, the new thought being introduced is that of entrusting one’s soul to God.

The Greek word for entrust is paratithemi, which means to set before, commit, distribute, give, put before, deliver over to, or to entrust for safe keeping. The idea here is that of intentionally and deliberately presenting one’s soul as a deposit to God for protection, putting it near or placing it with God and committing it to His charge.

According to Grudem, it helps to see God here in the context of guarding our souls. Grudem writes:

God is continually using his power to guard His people by means of their faith. This guarding is not for a temporary goal, but for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Salvation is used here, not of past justification or of present sanctification, but of the future full possession of all the blessings of our redemption – of the final, complete fulfillment of our salvation.

Being already prepared, it will not be revealed by God to mankind until the time of the final judgment. All of this taken together means that they are entrusting their souls, or their salvation as understood above (the future full possession of all the blessings of our redemption) to God.

As to the other question, “What does it mean to continue doing what is right,” it must be understood in the context of judgment. The Greek word used to convey the idea of continuing to do what is right is the word agathopoiia, which literally means active well-doing, virtue, or to do good. It is used of such activity in general. But understood in light of the certainty of divine justice, believers are called not only to a complete serenity of faith in God, but also to continue behaving rightly in accordance with the instruction God has given us.


This section of scripture applies more to my life than I at first realized. The last two years have been the most difficult and painful time in my life. My husband and I went through a terrible crisis, from which I did not know if we would recover. And of course, all of the pain and hurt that lead to the inevitable culmination of a crisis also needed to be experienced and dealt with. In the meantime, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and within four months, she died. All of her children spent the last six weeks or so caring for her as she approached death. Further, I was terminated from the job I loved for an act of indiscretion that occurred as a direct result of my marital struggles. And then my former boss and friend revealed my struggles in a public way, causing much shame and humiliation.

These struggles are not yet over. But I can honestly say there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is no longer an oncoming train. I say all this only to illustrate that I can relate to the suffering being experienced by these Christians much better now that I have done research. I remember stating in one of my reflection papers that I was not suffering directly for my Christianity, or being persecuted on the basis of my religion, and therefore was having difficulty relating. But having researched the nuances and beliefs about suffering by the Old Testament Hebrews and New Testament Christians, I am able to see my own pain with much more clarity, and I am encouraged by what these texts revealed about suffering. It gives me a greater understanding for how God operates in this world, and more specifically, how God may be working in my life through the suffering He has allowed me to go through.

In response, it seems fitting to take some time to journal about each of the sufferings I’ve experienced. Some of them are the cause of my own bad choices. Some of them are simply the result of living in a fallen world. And yet others of them may be the direct result of God’s will and discipline. On Thanksgiving weekend, I will list the sufferings I’ve had to go through, pray about each one, and try to identify which falls into which category. And then I will simply listen and see if it reveals any truth to me that I can apply to my life. If this turns out to be an exercise in vanity, I will at least thank God for each of these calamities and ask Him to help me to entrust my soul to Him, even in the midst of my suffering. Since prayer has been a difficult thing to engage in during this season of my life, I’m confident that simply doing so will produce a good harvest.

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