In a recent episode of Unbelievable, Andrew Wilson and Rob Bell have an engaging dialogue about the legitimacy of homosexual relationships within Christianity.
This is Rob Bell at his most disingenuous. He wants Andrew to just accept that they have a disagreement on how to interpret some verses and just move on to take communion together as brothers.
Obviously there are a lot of issues that fall into this category: strong disagreement among believers where both positions are still considered orthodox, and where nobody asserts that the other doesn’t “take the Bible seriously”—issues like baptism, eschatology, political engagement, and dispensationalism. And then there are issues that have either always had universal agreement, or issues about which the church has developed a unified theology in the face of a challenge—issues like the Trinity, Christ’s simultaneous full humanity and divinity, and (until recently) the atonement as propitiation. When people challenge the second group, the whole church rallies in defense of orthodoxy. When people challenge the first group, you end up with denominations, but not heretics.
Historically, homosexuality has been in the group of non-negotiables—not because of its central importance, but because it simply wasn’t controversial until the 20th century. Now it’s being challenged, and Rob Bell wants to treat it like baptism. Either he is trying to conflate and flatten these two distinctions using homosexuality, or he thinks that homosexuality should move to the “agree to disagree and move on with our fellowship” category. I think the burden of proof is on him to justify why it should switch. Maybe it could be trans-categorical. But which bathroom would it use?
Obviously homosexuality is not a first-tier, gospel-defining issue, at least not directly. But it’s clearly not “just another issue we can disagree on and remain in fellowship,” right alongside baptism and whether we tithe on the gross or the net. To frame it that way does a disservice to the robust theology that orthodox Christianity has developed about human sexuality and marriage. Our doctrinal conclusions about homosexuality were not composed in a vacuum, cut off and unrelated to everything else in the Bible, fashioned by some stuffy straight theologian who saw two guys holding hands and went “Akkkk—gotta do something about that.” These doctrines don’t just sit off to the side, twiddling their thumbs with no relationship to any other ideas. No. They are not the center of our theology, but they are directly informed by our central doctrines. They aren’t the roots or trunk of the tree, but they are the leaves at the end of a branch. They are connected to the tree, and are dependent on the tree. The orthodox view on homosexuality is like my finger—connected to my hand, which is connected to my arm, and all the up to my torso, my center. It’s not like the lone finger that lady “found” in her bowl of chili at Wendy’s: “Whoa! How’d that get there?!”
The strongest arguments against homosexuality are not contained in the short list of verses that negatively address it (or maybe don’t address at all, if you ask Rob Bell and others). Rather, the strongest arguments are from the verses that positively detail God’s desire and plan for human relationships and flourishing.
Despite the Church’s many failures to love and “accept” (a word that means whatever you want) homosexuals, let’s not forget that we didn’t bring this battle to the cultural front burner; the culture brought it to us and is now demanding that we put up or shut up. There is little to no room left in the public square to even engage in intellectually honest discussion about this issue anymore; it’s all demagoguery about hate and bigotry. The tolerance crowd is anything but tolerant; they are a buzz saw waiting to cut down anyone who opens his mouth with an unapproved point of view, no matter how irenic. Of course, we have passively ignored our responsibility to speak the truth about the sexual revolution (and other things) over the past 40 years, so in a sense it is our fault.
There is a great danger that the church will succumb to secular pressure and roll over on this issue in an attempt to placate the current gods of the age, and of course it won’t work and of course it would be disastrous. But I think the greater danger comes from those within the church who should know better but instead like to ask, just like the serpent, “Did God really say….?”
Fortunately, I don’t think this will actually happen. I think this will be one of the defining issues of our time, as the vestiges of our Christian cultural heritage slowly bleed away. We will be forced to choose, and do so publicly. We will lose some degree of freedom of speech, and quite a bit of religious freedom. But hopefully it will sharpen us and prepare a fresh harvest.
We just baptized a number of gay men in our church recently. It’s just wonderful.— Andrew Wilson
But each one of them is saying, “But now, when I get baptized, I die to the old me. I rise again to the new me that is Christ-shaped, that’s eschatologically-informed and transformed. Resurrection life which is a completely different type of creature. A lot of the desires I have had, a lot of the things which I’ve wanted to do, I – like Paul did in the season in which he wrote 1 Corinthians, and like Jesus did – I put on hold sexual desires. I die to a lot of the things I want, in order to follow Christ. And I rise to new life…”
We look and say, “What does Christ-shaped new creation look like?” We’ve got gay guys in our church (and women as well) who say, “Dying to my old life and being risen again to new life in Christ means dying to all the acts of the flesh, including some of the sexual things that – yes, I wanted to do them, just like lots of people want to have sex with lots of people, some may want to have sex with two or three people simultaneously, that doesn’t mean I’m okay to do that. It means I am just like anyone else (greed or desires to slander or swindle) regarding any number of other sins. We say those things die with me. We repent and get baptized.”
To not put that in front of someone is to say, “You can have the kingdom, but if it costs too much, we’ll just lower the asking price…
Of course, the medieval church had its share of dangerous and scandalous behavior. It had gross libertines and rank heretics. It had false professors and bold opportunists. It had brutal ascetics and imbalanced tyrants. But then, there was no more of that sort of rank heterodoxy than we have today in our Evangelical and Reformed circle. As a result, medievalism was forever a paradox. It was a romantic riddle. On the one hand it was marked by the greatest virtues of morality, charity, and selflessness; on the other hand it was marred by the flaming vices of perversity, betrayal, and avarice. It was often timid, monkish, and isolated; more often still, it was bold, ostentatious, and adventurous. It was mystical; it was worldly. It was tender-hearted; it was cruel. It was ascetic; it was sensual. It was miserly; it was pretentious. It gripped men with a morbid superstition; it set them free with an untamed inquisitiveness. It exulted in pomp, circumstance, and ceremony; it cowered in poverty, tyranny, and injustice. It united men with faith, hope, and love; it divided them with war, pestilence, and prejudice. It was so unstable it could hardly have been expected to last a week; it was so stable that it actually lasted a millennium.— Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth
Darwinism is harsh and crude in its practical consequences, in a degree that sets it apart from all other respectable scientific hypotheses; not coincidentally, it had its origins in polemics against the poor, and against the irksome burden of extending charity to them—a burden laid on the back of Europe by Christianity. The Judeo-Christian ethic of charity derives from the assertion that human beings are made in the image of God, that is, that reverence is owed to human beings simply as such, and also that their misery or neglect or destruction is not, for God, a matter of indifference, or of merely compassionate interest, but is something in the nature of sacrilege. Granting that the standards of conduct implied by this assertion have rarely been acknowledged, let alone met, a standard is not diminished or discredited by the fact that it is seldom or never realized, and, especially, a religious imperative is not less powerful in its claims on any individual even if the whole world excepting him or her is of one mind in ignoring it and always has been. To be free of God the Creator is to be free of the religious ethic implied in the Genesis narrative of Creation. Charity was the shadow of a gesture toward acknowledging the obligations of human beings to one another, thus conceived. It was a burden under which people never stopped chafing—witness this unfathomably rich country now contriving new means daily to impoverish the poor among us.—
YES YES YES. The entire essay is available at the first link above. Click here for some interviews with Robinson.
The Bible doesn’t explicitly endorse one specific system of government over another. It does, however, provide guidance on what the proper roles of government should be, and a word that encompasses most of those principles is limited.
Squashed believes that the Bible is crammed with exhortation to help the poor, tend to the needy and the less fortunate, protect the alien and immigrant, etc. And I agree with him wholeheartedly. But we differ on its individual and collective application.
Squashed believes that societies as a whole are institutionally responsible to provide basic care for “the least of these,” and he cites the famous Mathew 25. But this is one of the most misinterpreted passages in the Bible, as pastor Kevin DeYoung points out, and it is often used (incorrectly) to advocate for government programs as the solution to poverty and other social ills. What the passage actually says is that however Christians treat other Christians, it’s as if they are doing it to Jesus. Of course, by correcting this misinterpretation conservatives sometimes attempt to excuse themselves from participating in alleviating social ills and just end up looking like jerks. Kevin DeYoung notes:
While I admit it can be annoying to hear “the least of these” employed as justification for almost any expansion of the federal government (as if statist solutions are always, or even often, the best way to create jobs and lift people out of poverty), conservatives need to be careful that they are not right on their exegesis for all the wrong reasons. There’s nothing attractive, or biblical, about proving (correctly) that “the least of these” refers to other Christians and then going on our merry way not caring about the non-Christian poor (or probably the Christian poor for that matter).
Government should be limited. It should punish wrongdoers and protect property rights, be a neutral arbiter of disputes, provide basic infrastructure, ensure a fair system of weights and measures in the monetary system, etc.
Corporate duty differs from personal responsibility. Individuals must respond generously to the needs and rights of their neighbors; government must regulate, coercively yet fairly, relations between both righteous and unrighteous men. In short, the contrast is personal virtue versus public impartiality. [emphasis mine]
In addition, the proper role of the institution of government and the proper role of the individual Christian can be fulfilled independently from one another. What I mean is this: individual Christians in China can (and should) fulfill their duty to serve and minister to the poor’s financial, emotional and spiritual needs even when the government is not fulfilling its basic purposes. On the flip side, government that judges impartially and protects the basic rights of its citizens is fulfilling its duty even if miserly John Q. Citizen refuses to give a penny to charity.
There is a lot more here to flesh out….
The evidence for mankind creating our own gods through thousands of years is simply overwhelming, and there’s precisely zero evidence that our divine maker—should there turn out to be one, a concept I’m quite willing to consider, actually—is anything like us at all.—
Oh, I quite agree that man has sought to create his own gods for all of human history. But this doesn’t mean there is not a real one. If anything, your contention strengthens my point rather than weakens it. As C.S. Lewis famously argued, if I find a desire in myself that nothing in this material realm can satisfy, it must be because something immaterial exists that can fulfill it.
An argument is like a tool; you only put it down when the job is done. When atheists stop suspending their moral indignation from their invisible sky hook, then I will no longer amuse myself by pointing out their levitation trick.— Douglas Wilson in God Is: How Christianity Explains Everything
The issues [of atheism] are important, but no sense getting really worked up over it. If we were all sitting in a used car lot, and one of the F-250 trucks began questioning the existence of Henry Ford, we would all think it was a serious situation, but that is not the same thing as thinking it a serious question.—
Douglas Wilson in God Is: How Christianity Explains Everything
This is a very short work, making short work of Hitchens’ well-written but ultimately empty arguments. Wilson presents little new content, but his witty take down of Hitchens (et al) is great fun to read.
Transformation is not optional but mandatory for Christians. This was Lewis’s consistent position. After all, he had undergone his own transformation, discovering “depth under depth of self-love and self admiration” (as he told Arthur right at the beginning of his Christian pilgrimage) and submitting to the lifelong discipline of being purged of such sin. We must die in order to live, lose our lives in order to find them, give up what we think of as ourselves in order to gain our true selves. And this is the most difficult of tasks: as Eustace discovers, our best efforts at self-understanding and self-correction are but feeble; the revelation of who we really are must come from without, and when it does come it devastates us. Then the sin and folly of even our noblest labors and wisest words appear before us with a heartbreaking clarity. For Lewis, Christian unity begins with the recognition that we have all, like Eustace, through our pride and selfishness, made ourselves into dragons. We must then understand that we cannot undragon ourselves—we lack the strength—and after that we must accept that God is ready and willing to undragon us, if we will but allow Him to do so. For Lewis, only those who share this picture of the human predicament and its cure can join together in true unity—can really, and not just nominally, become members of one another in a single Body.— Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (p 219)
via Justin Taylor:
A quote from Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology had a significant impact on me the first time I read it several years ago:
… In criticism it is not sufficient to find flaws in a given view.
One must always ask,
“What is the alternative?”
“Does the alternative have fewer difficulties?”
John Baillie tells of writing a paper in which he severely criticized a particular view. His professor commented,
“Every theory has its difficulties, but you have not considered whether any other theory has less difficulties than the one you have criticized.” (p. 61)
The [above] little clip of Phil Donahue interviewing Milton Friedman is a good example of this principle at play.
My point of posting this is not to defend capitalism (though I believe it can be defended from a biblical worldview.) But the main reason for posting it is that is serves as a nice illustration of the fact that criticizing a theory is insufficient if one’s alternate theory is equally weak or worse. [emphasis mine]
The topic of a Christian understanding of homosexuality and a Christian and pastoral response to homosexuality is related in some ways to a Christian view of singleness. There is a need particularly among Protestant Christians to revisit our view of singleness and how we communicate what it is we value in the local church. If most of our programming is geared toward marriages and families in ways that communicate a devaluing of the single state, we will (perhaps unintentionally) convey to the person who contends with same-sex attractions that they must attain heterosexuality in order to find a spiritual home in the Body of Christ.— Mark A. Yarhouse, “At the Intersection of Religious and Sexual Identities: A Christian Perspective on Homosexuality.” (I’m honored to be quoted in this essay.)
So here is the challenge to mainline churches: go back and read the reports you did on human sexuality and the legitimacy of homosexuality, and see if there is anything there which you might be able to use to argue against incest between consenting adults. If there is nothing, then ask yourselves whether you should object to the members of your church practising the same. Indeed, switch `gay’ or `homosexual’ and their cognates for `incest’ and its variations. Does the logic now fail? Does the argument collapse? Are you comfortable with that? If not, why not? Bigotry? Insecurity? Lack of love towards those whom God made different?— Carl Trueman
As for the rest of us, be prepared to have even your love for your children or your parents sexualised. Remember Lisa Miller’s piece in Newsweek magazine (commented on in Ref21 here), with its undercurrent of accusations of sexual insecurity and bigotry against those who object to gay marriage and its insinuations about the friendship between David and Jonathan? The article works perfectly well, logically and hermeneutically, if you switch `homosexuality’ for `incest’ and replace the paragraph on David with one about Lot and his daughters. Prepare for a world where the language of love of a father for a daughter or son carries inherently sexual connotations, and where denial of the same is a sign of your insecurity.
Here is the basic problem. Why should we resist the encroachments of Sharia law based on our Western values? What is the opposite of Western values? That would be Eastern values, and can anybody give me a reason why we should prefer one position over another on the basis of geography?— Douglas Wilson
Western values only have value if they are a coded way of referring to something else. And that something else cannot be another horizontal fact, like representative government, or womens’ rights, or anything like that. That just pushes the question back a step. Why should we prefer those? And if we say that Western values simply means “our values,” then why should those outrank “their values”? In the ebb and flow of Darwinian struggle, ours sometimes loses to theirs.
“Western values” as an appeal works only if it is a coded references to Christendom, and that only works if Christ is still there. Anything else is arbitrary, jingoistic, and stupid. Anything else is a couple of dogs fighting over a piece of meat.