A Discussion between Rastis and Dave Miller
The Debate Topic
Is Lot an example of moral compromise and its ill effects, or is he a model of cultural engagement? That is what we will be debating today. In a post at sbcIMPACT, Rastis argued that traditional viewpoints regarding the interpretation of the Lot story miss some key biblical elements. He sees Lot in a more positive and exemplary light than the traditional viewpoint. Dave Miller will be arguing the traditional version of Lot’s story – that Lot made some serious mistakes that cost him his family and any chance he had at moral influence.
The real focus of this debate is cultural engagement. How do Christians in American and in nations around the world deal with the cultures in which they live? Do we confront cultures or do we try to adapt to them? The discussion of Lot is meant not so much as an exercise in historical theology, but as a template for a discussion of how we as Christians should live in this world.
Both Rastis and Dave are regular contributors at sbcIMPACT. Dave also contributes here at SBC Voices. Rastis writes under that pseudonym because he is in the process of entering a ministry where his identity must remain secure as he engages a culture hostile to the gospel.
Rastis’ Post: Lot Entered the City to Serve the Lord
I remember the first time I watched The Village. It was terrifying. Not so much because it was actually scary, but because it reminded me of a church I used to attend. The gist behind The Village is that there is a colony of people who have removed themselves from society in an attempt to keep themselves pure from the evil cities. What keeps people in line and in the confines of this small pseudo wilderness? They are afraid of the unnamable creatures which occasionally haunt the village. This was my church. We separated ourselves from the world (some would go as far as not driving on I-10 through Houston in order to avoid billboards—FYI, there is no way to drive through Houston without I-10) in hopes that we might retain personal holiness.
Enters Lot… He was the favorite whipping boy for evangelists, seminars, and youth camp speakers. After all, he typified everything that we were against. He left the “holiness” of the farm for the pleasures of the city, becoming a cosmopolitan man, the first metrosexual. He persisted in his sin in spite of angelic warnings. The city corrupted his ability to lead his family spiritually evidenced by his wife adopting his urban values, he offered his daughters to the angry mob, and, finally, committed incest. So went their bombastic crucifixion of Lot.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it is unbiblical. Sure, the story goes something like that. But the traditional way of casting Lot in the story tells more about us and our view of the world than it does about Lot’s. Scripture explicitly states that Lot was a righteous man who was vexed by the urban sensuality (2 Pet 2:7). I studied twelve commentaries on the Genesis passage and few referenced the 2 Peter passage. The few who referenced it, did so in a dismissive way as though Peter was referencing something other than the account in Genesis. I am indebted to Ray Bakke’s Theology as Big as the City for pointing me in the right direction concerning Lot.
In addition to Peter’s declaration concerning Lot, I believe that the context of Genesis 18-19 provides insight into Lot’s true character. The accounts of Abraham in 18 and Lot in 19 are almost perfect parallels. While not contained in Gen 18-19, the most important link between Lot and Abraham is the fact that Lot left Ur, a center of Moon worship, with Abraham (Josh 24:2) to follow the true God.
Both men demonstrated great hospitality.
- In 18, Abraham is visited by three men. He demonstrated great hospitality.
- Likewise, Lot implored the two visitors to stay at his house rather than sleep in the square. They acted as if they would not heed his advice. Lot “pressed them strongly” and they complied. That is Middle-Eastern hospitality for you; you refuse three times, and then do it anyway. Implicit in this hospitality is food (19:3) and protection, which he provided in a misguided attempt to ward off the mob (19:7-8). While offering his daughters to a sexually perverted mob was wrong, his actions demonstrated his concern and dedication to uphold his hospitality.
Both men acted as intercessors.
- When Abraham learned of the destruction to come upon the cities of the valley he acted as an intercessor.
- When Lot learned of the destruction to come upon the cities of the valley he too acted as an intercessor. He begged for one of the cities in the valley to be given to him as a residence and not destroyed (19:20). The angels granted his request. In addition to this, he interceded on behalf of his guests (19:7-8) and was common fixture in the gates of the city (19:1).
Both men received sons.
- The three visitors clarified the earlier promises of a “great nation” through the promise of a son.
- At the end of 19, Lot receives two sons. While many blame Lot for the incest, it is not as bad as it sounds. First, Lot was drunk when it happened. Second, the law had not been given yet. It is important to note, that this was not pedophilia, as it was at the behest of the women and they were of marriageable, childbearing age. Finally, and most importantly, Lot’s daughters were acting in faith. It is hard to read Genesis through puritan eyes. There is just a lot of weird sexuality in Genesis: Lamech’s polygamy, the whole “sons of God” and “daughters of men” thing, Lot’s incest, and finally Tamar, who just “gets around.” That is not to mention the animosity between Sarah and Hagar, and Rachael and Leah. These examples can only be understood in light of the promise of a deliverer in Gen 3:15. All of these women acted in faith thinking that the deliverer would come in their lifetime. While that expectation went unrealized, many of these women are in the line of Christ.
Chapters 18-19 are parallel even in these details. The nations from both of Lots sons are in the lineage as well. One became the father of the Moabites (Ruth/Boaz-Obed-Jesse-David) and the other became the father of the Ammonites (Solomon sired a son with an Ammonite). If you are still bent on saying it was sin, then it only goes to show that moving to the suburbs and isolating ourselves (e.g. the cave) from those worldly city dwellers (e.g. the inhabitants of Sodom) does not really protect us from sin!
When one views the account of Lot in comparison to Abraham, it becomes clear that Lot is not a simpleton wandering about Vanity Fair. Nevertheless, Waltke points out a great irony between the two accounts: “Lot tries to be a blessing but instead appears as a buffoon. He fails as a host, as a citizen, as a husband and as a father. He wants to protect his guests but needs to be protected by them; he tries to save his family, and they think he is joking. His salvation depends on God’s mercy” (Genesis, 270).
What, then, was he doing in the city? The same thing we ought.
The more wicked a place is, the more it should consume our thoughts. Both Abraham and Lot wished to save the city. Abraham interceded on behalf of the whole city, not just for Lot and his family. Had it not been for the whole town rising up against the two visitors perhaps God would have spared the city. Jeremiah 5:1 says it only takes one person to save a city. This was also true in Lot’s case, albeit, not with Sodom itself. There were actually five cities slated for destruction (Gen 14:2). While neither Abraham nor Lot saved Sodom, Lot did save Zoar.
There is more to intercession than prayer. There is a need for presence and proclamation. As it relates to presence, we should run to the city rather than away from it. Lot did love the city, on this we agree. But he loved the city for the sake of justice rather than “worldliness”. Lot was found in the city gates (19:1). When he confronted the would be assailants, they were quick to remind him that he was an outsider—they were appalled that he was acting like a judge over them (19:9). We should be the salt and the light to the darkest places. There is always a relationship between the presence of the godly and the preservation of the community.
Lot had more impetus to go than we do—especially those of us who think our primary purpose is holiness. One who adopts the ways and philosophies of the world is certainly washed out, but no more washed out than the one who lives in the suburbs or in the country isolated in an enclave of safety and material comfort. Our desire to live where it is safe, small, and segregated puts us harrowingly close to being guilty of Sodom’s true sin. We always characterize Sodom over the homosexual issue. Since that isn’t really a struggle for most of us, we can feel relieved that we are not near God’s judgment. However, a quick glance at Ezekiel 16:49-50 reveals that we commit the same sin for which Sodom was judged (“pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy”) Those who lived in The Village learned the hard way that in spite of their separation from the evil cities, sin is ever present within the camp. The idea that one can avoid sin based on proximity is little more than Christianized humanism. The Bible says that sin comes from within.
What then are we to say about facing the danger of going to the city? The answer is found in Lot’s story. Peter used him as an example to demonstrate God’s faithfulness. 2 Peter 2:7-10 makes the point that God is able to separate between the righteous and unrighteous. While the whole earth should tremble before him, “if he rescued righteous Lot… then, the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials.”
Lot wasn’t afraid to go to the “evil cities.” He wasn’t afraid of what other good people would think of him for going there. He stood in the gates and interceded. I hope to be an urban missionary like Lot when I grow up!
Dave Miller’s Post: Righteous Lot Lost Everything by Compromise
It’s not easy getting older these days. I grew up in a era when church was predictable and comfortable. You sang hymns from the hymnbook, stood for the offering, listened to the special music, then sat through the message, after which we sang several verses of “Just As I Am” and headed home. Men wore a suit, women wore dresses (and, in my early days, some simply horrific hats).
Now, everything has changed. Young whippersnappers think nothing about showing up at church in blue jeans, t-shirts and sandals – and those are the preachers! The piano and organ have morphed into guitars, drums and keyboards. In many churches you can take your coffee right in the sanctuary with you. Coffee, in “God’s House”? Grandpa Pratt is rolling over in his grave.
But I could adjust to all this if you young bucks didn’t keep on trying to change our comfortable and well-known interpretations of scripture. I have known all my life exactly what “lukewarm” meant in Revelation 3. But while visiting my son at Christmas (well, my grandson – but the son was there, too) he told me that they have come up with a whole new meaning for lukewarm. DON”T MESS WITH LAODICEA, you guys! Is it fair to try to teach new tricks to us old dogs?
When I read Rastis’ post at sbcIMPACT on Lot, I had one of those moments of shock. I have heard sermons on Lot all my life and preached them often. We all knew exactly what the story of Lot was about. He “pitched his tents” toward Sodom, then was found living in Sodom, then was in the city gate – he had become part of the life of Sodom. Lot forgot the lesson that any good Christian needs to hear. We are to be “in the world but not of the world.” Lot lost his family, his wife and his home because he did not stand strong for God and against the evils of the culture in which he lived.
And then Rastis showed up, with his new-fangled interpretations. As I understand his point of view, Lot is a model for cultural engagement. Of course, 2 Peter 2:7 describes Lot as a righteous man, which seems to nullify some of the traditional teachings on the life of Lot.
I was intrigued by Rastis’ views and suggested this debate so that we could explore them in more detail. But I am not ready to abandon the traditional viewpoint yet either. It is possible (probable?) that some of the traditional interpretations have held things that are not clearly taught in scripture, and perhaps presented a skewed view of the life of Lot. But I also believe there are some real problems in making Lot into a hero of cultural engagement.
I would make the following points about the life of Lot.
1) Lot was a righteous man, but that does not mean that all his actions were right.
2 Peter 2:6-10 says, “… if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.”
If it were not for this verse, I would have few qualms about condemning the worldliness of Lot. But a writer, under the Spirit’s inspiration, identifies him as righteous – a righteous man who was distressed at the sin, the sensuality, the vile wickedness of the culture in which he lived. His soul was tormented by the immorality he saw all around him.
No doubt that this gives some insight into the life of Lot. But the fact that he was a righteous man does not mean that everything he did was righteous. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about believers and how we build on the foundation of Christ. Some use the right materials to build with. Others use flammable materials and their works are burned up in the judgment. They lose all reward even if they themselves are saved “as one escaping the fire.”
Perhaps Lot was just such a man. He was a righteous man who was genuinely concerned with the spiritual and moral climate of his city. But that does not mean that the actions he took in addressing those concerns were the proper ones.
2) Despair at the evil of the culture is not enough – we must engage effectively.
I know a lot of Christians who spend a lot of time complaining about the evil in our culture. Lot is a good example of the fact that complaining, being upset, even tormented by cultural evil is not enough.
We have to take the proper steps; do the right things in response. I am convinced (at this point) that Lot, while his heart might have been in the right place, did not respond properly to the culture. He made bad choices, even if his heart was right, and the consequences were disastrous.
3) There is an uncomfortable drift towards involvement in a wicked culture.
I know that the progression of Lot toward Sodom may preach better than is warranted by the text. However, there is something there that bothers me. Lot chose (Genesis 13:11) to head to the area of Sodom when he and Abraham made the split. Nothing wrong with that. It was a fertile area at that time (pre-sulphur and brimstone). Some time later, in Genesis 14:11, he is found living in Sodom. But then, in Genesis 19:1, we see the coup-de-grace. He is now “sitting in the gate.” That term indicates that he was deeply involved in the life of the city. He was part of the leadership. He was on the inside.
Was he able to get to that place of honor without compromise? It is hard to imagine. The story reveals the forceful and unrepentant perversion of the men of Sodom. They don’t seem like the kind of men who would take well to a “voice of conscience” in their midst.
I believe that Christians should be part of their communities. I pastored a small town church for four years. If I had it to do over again, I would attend sporting events and join the rescue squad; be more a part of the community. I think it is good (in spite of my words of introduction) that the church fit itself into the culture in which in exists. In our casual, contemporary society a church should not insist on ties and coats and organ-accompanied hymns. But we need to be careful about being so immersed in society that we lose our ability to confront it. We can be culturally relevant without being biblically compromised.
4) The consequences of Lot’s life seem to indicate a problem.
In both Leviticus 27 and Deuteronomy 28, Moses defines the evidence of God’s blessings and marks of God’s discipline on the disobedient. It seems clear to me (though obviously these laws were written later) that Lot’s life gives evidence of the life of disobedience and the discipline of God.
When Abraham bargained with God, he stopped at 10 righteous men. He must have assumed that Lot would have guided his wife, two daughters and their husbands onto the right paths. That meant all he had to have done was impacted 4 more people and Sodom was safe. But he did not impact a single person.
In fact, he lost even his own family. Most telling is verse 14. His sons-in-law thought he was jesting when he told them to leave. This hardly seems to be a reaction to someone who had moral authority.
His wife looked back at Sodom. She was so invested in the wicked city that she could not bear to leave.
And we all know the story of Lot’s daughters. They were not exactly women of virture and grace. They would make the women on reality TV in America blush!
Lot lived his life in Sodom and had an impact on absolutely no one! Not one person. Jesus told us that the kingdom is like a mustard seed. Our little faith brings a great harvest. Can this be the fruit of a life who engaged his wicked culture properly? I do not think so.
The Debate Commences
Well, let the debate begin. I am willing to learn and grow. Maybe this young whippersnapper named Rastis can shake my traditional ways and teach this old dog some new tricks.
I will remind all who read this that the whole point of these debates is to deal with difficult issues with open debate in a godly way. State your opinions clearly, but in a way that honors Christ.