Jeff Iorg Blog

New Interpretations

Apr 13 2015

My pastor recently described how many people view the Bible today - as a self-help book filled with positive suggestions they can pick and choose from for a better life.  That’s a good summary.  More and more Christians seem to be using the Bible as a nice piece of ancient literature with many good ideas for personal improvement.  They select what they think makes sense to them, and ignore or reinterpret the rest.

Troublesome aspects of the Bible – like what it says about morality – are frequently in the “ignore or reinterpret” category.  The rationale for doing this often includes the justification that Christians have always disagreed over some aspects of biblical interpretation, and this is just the latest example.

Part of that claim is true.  Christians do disagree on some points of biblical interpretation – like whether speaking in tongues is valid, the proper form of church government, or explaining end times events.  But using these disagreements to justify reinterpreting Scripture to whatever you want it to mean ignores the substantive part of the history of biblical interpretation.  There are many issues upon which all Christians agree, and when a person or group does not believe those things, they have always been defined as cultic.

Christians have always agreed, for example, on the nature and sanctity of marriage.  That does not mean we have not violated those tenets, abused the privilege, or rebelled against the strictures of Scripture.  Believers have, for two centuries, maintained a common orthodoxy on the definition and purposes of marriage.  When we fell short of living out those beliefs, we have asked God to forgive us and moved forward – not reshaped our doctrine down to accommodate our actions.

Now, on this very important issue, some claim the Bible has been misunderstood for two centuries and needs the new interpretation they offer.  This defies logic and ignores two centuries of clear, unified biblical interpretation.  If you choose to support gay marriage, you may do so for a variety of reasons.  But please, don’t try to reinterpret the Bible to support your position.  No matter your hermeneutical gymnastics, the support just is not there.


Trying to Keep Up

Apr 06 2015

            The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that Apple has required the contractors building their new campus to fire any convicted felons from their construction crews.  These are not workers with access to proprietary information about Apple products.  They are firing guys who haul concrete and install wiring.

            The absurdity of this puzzles me.  Tim Cook, Apple CEO, took a high-profile position in the recent dust-up in Indiana about the law giving business owners the right to decide who they serve.  Now, he wants the privilege of deciding who another company allows to work on his building – even though felons who have served their time are legally permitted to be employed as building tradesmen.  So, in one case, a business cannot decide who to serve but in the other case one business can tell another business who they can employ.  Wow!  This gets confusing.

            If you deny service to someone because of your moral convictions (costing your company business), that’s not acceptable.  But if you deny employment to someone in a different company, because of your moral convictions (protecting your company’s interests), that’s acceptable.  In summary, the gay guy gets his wedding cake but the reformed drug dealer loses his job.

            Keeping up with what is morally and legally permissible these days is challenging.  These decisions are predicated on ever-morphing standards grounded in relativistic thinking, defending self-interest to the detriment of the greater good.  It’s hard to remember what group or cause is in vogue – whose self-interest gets protected - in any given situation.

            So, what comes next?  Probably an outcry demanding a larger allocation of governmental resources to serve the unemployed!  I guess that makes more sense than letting legally employed workers keep their jobs in the first place.


Legal, Not Smart

Mar 30 2015

            It appears California voters will have a chance to decide about legalizing marijuana in the 2016 general election.  Big mistake if we do!

            In Colorado, I recently had lunch with about a dozen pastors.  I asked them if they had noticed any negative impact on their communities (and any increase in ministry demands) since their state legalized marijuana. There was a simultaneous eye roll, and then they all started talking at once.  They told me story after story of the negative impact legalization has had – particularly on underage teenagers.

            For example, in one pastor’s neighborhood, a man has planted a marijuana farm in his backyard.  Perfectly legal.  Teenagers sneak over the fence and steal the product.  He can’t stop them and the police don’t have the manpower to catch them.  These teens now have a ready supply – both to use and to sell – to everyone else in their area.  This pastor and his other neighbors are now organizing a watch program to try to keep children out of the pot patch.

            I left that luncheon to visit a physician friend.  I told him about my lunch conversation and asked if he had seen any results from legalizing marijuana.  He told me one aspect of his practice – drug tests for local employers – is booming.  He also told me many employers are complaining to him they can’t find workers because of marijuana use.

            Here is an obvious, but seldom mentioned problem.  While marijuana use is legal, employers can still deny employment to users – particularly employees who operate machinery, run equipment, or drive vehicles.  My doctor friend is seeing people fail drug tests in large numbers, while his corporate clients desperately look for sober workers.

            The most frequent argument for legalizing marijuana is “let’s regulate it like we do the alcohol industry – with production standards, distribution rules, and tax revenue.”  My question about this model is simple, “How’s that working out?”  Alcohol use costs billions in lost productivity, inflates health insurance premiums, exacerbates homelessness, mandates costly treatment facilities, wrecks havoc on families, and kills people as a result of drunk driving.

            Brace yourself, California – and the rest of the country in the next ten years.  What alcohol has done for us is a good model of what’s coming.


Staying in the Bay Area

Mar 16 2015

            Last week, in an open letter to the community, the leaders of City Church, San Francisco recanted their biblical stand on homosexuality and agreed to welcome same-sex married couples as members.  This church has been a strong evangelical congregation in San Francisco, looked to by many as a model for convictional ministry in a challenging setting.  Their announcement was a bad day by the Bay.

            The justification for their action was particularly troubling, even insidious.  They claim they are taking the Bible seriously, but have found new ways to interpret the Bible which justify – even mandate – their position.  They carefully articulate their position as being biblical, not a rejection of biblical truth but a redefinition and clearer understanding of it.  They have invented a new hermeneutic to support their experience-driven conclusions that several thousand years of biblical interpretation has been wrong.

            The decision by City Church is not really about sexuality; it’s about biblical authority.  The crux of the matter is this: does the Bible define morality or does our experience define morality?  The answer to that question has far more significant implications than affirming any form of sexual behavior.  The gospel itself is at stake.  If the Bible is wrong on defining sinful behavior, then why should we assume it’s correct when it also prescribes the solution?

            Over the past few months, much has been made of Golden Gate’s decision to relocate its primary campus to Southern California.  Perhaps you missed the second part of the announcement – we are also building a new campus in the Bay Area.  We are staying in the Bay Area, with a significant investment in a new campus, to support the churches here who continue to submit to biblical authority and honor the historic understanding of the Christian faith (and its Jewish heritage).

            We will be sharing the first architectural drawings of our new Bay Area Campus in meetings later this week.  It is a beautiful symbol of our commitment to shaping leaders who expand God’s kingdom in one of the most challenging ministry settings in North America.  It’s also evidence of our commitment to staying by our historic convictions as we train leaders for the challenging work we have to do in this part of God’s world.