Blog Archives

Homosexuality and the New Testament

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The Bible

OK, so yesterday I said I wanted you all to come with me on a journey so that you could understand how I can to hold the opinion that I do about Christianity and homosexuality. To begin that journey, let me tell you a bit about where I came from. (You can read this story in more detail beginning here.)  I grew up in an evangelical Southern Baptist Church in Tennessee. I was raised in Bible Buddies, Royal Ambassadors, and Vacation Bible School. I learned about the importance of the Scriptures from a very early and read them vociferously. I first finished reading the Pentateuch (the Torah, those first five books of the Old Testament) while in Middle School out of my own curiosity. I would assume that by now through devotions, personal exploration, academic study, lectionary reading, and preaching that I have encountered the vast majority of biblical texts several times. They shape my narrative consciousness and greatly inform the way that I process and understand the world.

I tell you all that to say that I think the Bible is important. I am not saying that because the book is thousands of years old depending on its constituent parts that it is irrelevant to modern life. I am not saying that the Bible has nothing to do with homosexuality. I am not saying that I can ignore the parts of Scripture that I don’t like. I am not saying that we can just do away with the parts of our Scriptures with which we are uncomfortable. Far from any of that, I think the Bible is an important source of God’s revelation to us, a record of God’s revelation to God’s people throughout time. The Bible contains the record of supreme revelation of the Divine — The Gospels of Jesus Christ. This is an important book, one that I grew up with and to this day cherish. I still have my first children’s Bible (an illustrated NIV, 1984) sitting on my bookshelf next to my Greek New Testaments.

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All that said, I think the Bible is the place to begin this journey. You had a little bit of narrative there at the beginning but — fair warning — the following discussion is going to get highly technical. I don’t believe in handling the Bible without rigor, without care, without the full breadth of our intellectual capacities. It deserves that kind of close attention. Therefore, I am going to use a lot of Greek in this discussion of the New Testament and a lot of classical context. These are things that you can look up and independently verify if you so choose. I don’t just pull them out of a hat because I am finishing a degree with concentrations in religion and classics.  Read the rest of this entry

Building our Idols

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This week, Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition published an article on their website entitled “When did idolatry become compatible with Christianity?” In his article he wonders when it became acceptable for Christians to “embrace and endorse homosexual behavior.” His answer is that there is no specific date, but it is part of a wider idolatrous movement in the church. He characterizes the issue like this:

At its root, the issue has more to do with idolatry than marriage, since same-sex marriage could not have advanced in America if believers had not exchanged the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the God of faux-love, cultural acceptance, and open theism.

This idolatry, he says, takes two  forms. The first is essentially libertarian. Some Christians believe that because we live in a pluralistic society, and we do not have anything but a religious objection to marriage equality, we can’t really say it should be illegal. Carter says to do so is to replace

Jesus’ commandment—”You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—with the guiding motto of the neopagan religion of Wicca, “Do what you will, so long as it harms none.”

The second form of idolatry is  essentially just liberal theology he doesn’t care for. He says that they have “completely rejected the authority of Scripture and embraced the idol of open theism, a god who changes his mind over time.” He proceeds to use Rob Bell as a punching bag, which is becoming a pastime for Reformed theologians, I think.

He concludes that Christians who agree with him (as opposed to the idolatrous Christians who don’t) need to speak up. He concludes:

We fear that if we point out too clearly or forcefully that you can’t both serve God and endorse sin that they may leave our congregations. We seem more concerned with losing the volunteer for the Sunday morning nursery or the regular check in the offering plate than we do with the souls of those in open and unrepentant rebellion against God. We seem more worried about the judgment of the kids in the youth ministry than we do with the judgment of a wrathful and holy God. We are so troubled by the thought that same-sex advocates will fall away from the faith that we fail to see that they’ve already rejected the faith of historic, orthodox Christianity and replaced it with an idolatrous heresy—one that is as destructive and hateful as any that has come before.

I don’t need to tell you that I have problems with this article, but let me outline them.

Read the rest of this entry

Fear and Trembling

[[This is an article I wrote for the Samford Crimson, the student newspaper of Samford University.]]

From rachelheldevans.com

The latest book to cause a stir in the often echo chamber-like Christian blogosphere (of which I am, for better or worse, a part) is Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In it, Evans spends a year trying to live up to the supposed imperatives and models the Bible has for women. She tries to become the fabled Proverbs 31 woman, she learns to cook and sew, she covers her head when she prays, and she even praises her husband Dan at the city gate (i.e. holds up a sign that says “Dan is AWESOME“ just outside Dayton, TN). However, at the end of the day, Evans’ point is not just about womanhood. It is about the Bible.

Evans has received no shortage of criticism since the publication of her book. Kathy Keller, wife of pastor Tim Keller, wrote a scathing review of it. Trillia Newbell, writing for John Piper’s blog, said Evans undermined the truth of Scripture. LifeWay ostensibly dropped the book for its use of “vagina,” but I think it probably had more to do with Evans’ thoughts on gender. Needless to say, plenty of people in evangelical circles call Evans a heretic, but I am increasingly finding that to be an admirable quality in people. Read the rest of this entry

Biblical Opinion Writing

[[I wrote this column for the Samford Crimson last week and thought I'd share.]]

My least favorite word in the English language is not too hard to spell, difficult to pronounce or obscure to reference. Rather, we hear this word more often on our campus and in our “Christian” culture than perhaps any other adjective—at least when it comes to anything “important.”

How often do you hear about biblical lifestyles, biblical marriage, biblical economics, biblical education and biblical manhood (or womanhood for that matter)?

I hate the word “biblical.” Strictly speaking, the word “biblical” should only refer to the text of the Bible. However, people often use “biblical” to justify their own position regardless of whether it has anything to do with the Bible at all. Even if their opinion (note: opinion) has something to do with the Bible, using the word “biblical” to describe their position automatically shuts down discussion. “Biblical” suggests that one opinion is final, absolute, infallible, and unquestionable. There is not room for dialogue when someone plays the biblical card. The game is over.

Using the word at all also suggests that Christians all agree on what they think about certain issues. The biblical position on gay marriage, for example, seems to be that we should be against it. However, in October 2011, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 46 percent of American Christians favored it, while 44 percent opposed it.

What about the death penalty? 64 percent favor it and 29 percent oppose it. What about evolution? The official positions of the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church do not see evolution and the Bible as incompatible. However, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and Southern Baptist Convention clearly do not agree. On almost every controversial issue, there is no Christian consensus.

Just as Christians do not agree with each other on everything, the Bible itself does not agree with itself on everything either. James’s letter contends with some points Paul makes in his letters. Martin Luther found this disagreement so problematic that he wanted to remove James from the canon.

The Gospels tell different stories about Jesus. That is unsurprising, but in some cases, the Gospel accounts disagree with each other over particular details or perspectives. However, the Church rejected early attempts to harmonize the Gospels into one book. Instead, the early Christians chose to canonize Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as the Pauline letters and James. From the beginning, the Bible has been a canon of difference.

Christians should disagree with each other, and that should be acceptable. There should be dialogue, discussion and argument. These exchanges sharpen our perspectives, or worldviews. They either strengthen our own opinions or turn us to better ones. Disagreement is good and we should condone it—nothing, after all, is more biblical.

Thought for the Day

The Bible mimics life.

Better perhaps, the Bible mirrors life.

Like our lives, the Bible has its messy moments, the parts where things just seem wrong, but in the middle of it comes Jesus. In his coming, he redeems and reorients. He straightens and narrows. He heals and corrects.

It’s in this relationship that Jesus is still present in our lives by the Spirit enacting the will of the Father.

Like the Bible, our lives are messy places where heaven meets earth.

Like the Bible, our lives are places where things get made new again.

The Bible mimics life.

Words, words, words.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” -Inigo Montoya

If you are a follower of the Christian blogosphere (God help us all), you may have noticed a postby Jared Wilson of The Gospel Coalition that has caused some commotion. The post consists mainly of a quote by Douglas Wilson (not related, I believe):

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

I think the sure target of criticism in that is readily apparent whether you agree with someone like Wilson or not. The line about men and women in sex is most objectionable to readers and other bloggers. For the record, I agree wholeheartedly with their horrified glances. Multiple writers have asked (publically or not) for The Gospel Coalition to take down the post because it is offensive. Rachel Held Evans put it well here:

There is so much about this passage that I, as a woman, find inaccurate, degrading, and harmful that it’s hard to know where to begin.  That Wilson blames egaliatarianism for the presence of rape and sexual violence in the world is ludicrous and unsubstantiated.  His characterization of sex as an act of conquering and colonization is disturbing, and his notion that women are little more than the passive recipients of this colonization, who simply “accept” penetration, is as ignorant as it is degrading.  What is perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that even after multiple women expressed their concerns in the comment section, both Jared Wilson and Doug Wilson repeatedly dismissed these concerns with exasperation and condescension, ridiculing the commenters’ lack of “reading comprehension.”

Wilson’s refutation of comments on the piece and the reaction of other Christian writers is one of slight condescension and stern resolve.

In the final analysis, I come back to my original analysis, which is that Douglas Wilson’s view of women is that they are to be cherished and protected and served humbly by men, even men in authority over them. This is the kind of authority the Bible prescribes, the kind that edifies and helps wives to flourish, not wither. That is my view of complementarian relationships in the home and the church, as well. I am a proponent of marriages that mutually edify, marital sex that is mutually submissive, and Christian relationships in general that “serve and protect” rather than “devour.” If someone keeps finding that sickening, horrifying, deplorable . . . well, I’ll just keep finding that bewildering.

So, now you are caught up to speed. Now that you know all that, I want to talk about a foundational issue I see present here. Read the rest of this entry

The American Hermeneutic

From the office of Dr. Stanley Hauerwas.

Americans face a peculiar problem this year, I would imagine. The Fourth of July is on a Wednesday sandwiched right there in the middle of the week. So, American Christians, which Sunday is patriopolooza? A truly tough predicament, this one is. The particular church in which I found myself this Sunday chose today for its patriotic celebrations. Any of you who have met me or read anything I have written probably know the problems I have with Fourth of July Sundays. I am a Baptist who holds to the (theological!) position of the separation of Church and State, so these Sundays make me uncomfortable. I do not think the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, America the Beautiful, etc. should be congregational song. However, I try to leave peaceably so I do not make too much noise about it, because the praxis of singing these songs in worship comes out of a deeper issue that I have with the American Church.

Worship praxis is a matter of artifacts. The practices themselves do not exist with inherent value unto themselves. Instead they are born out of the lived experience of the congregation (hopefully, at least). How we worship stems from how we view and experience the world, in other words. I heard a statement in a worship service today that defined this way of experiencing the world quite succinctly. I do not mean to criticize this person specifically in any way, the statement just serves as a good summation of what I will call the American Hermeneutic.* Read the rest of this entry

The Southern Baptist Doctrine Problem

Since the 1970s, a vicious tug-of-war has plagued the Southern Baptist Convention. Early in the battle, on one side there was a fight for doctrinal uniformity (specifically regarding the nature of Scripture) as determined and enforced by the Convention. On the other side, many (who may or may not have agreed about the nature of Scripture) thought the Baptist thing to do was to leave such doctrinal matters up to the local congregations.  As the tug-of-war became an all-out brawl, many on one side raised their hands in surrender and took their toys to go home. These Baptists remained quieter voices in the SBC, founded new Baptist organizations, or left Baptist life entirely. The newly crowned tug-of-war champions for the inerrancy of Scripture (primarily) enjoyed their newfound position of power and went about reshaping the Convention and its auxiliary bodies (e.g., seminaries, publishing houses, committees, etc.). Some tug-of-wars are not supposed to finish like that, however, and now Southern Baptist chickens may be coming home to roost.

The debate this time is not about the nature of Scripture (though that may lie somewhere at its foundation), but about Calvinism. Recently, Eric Hankins (First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi) released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” The preamble details the problem “New Calvinism” (or the “Young, Restless, Reformed” Movement) poses to Southern Baptists. The New Calvinist element in the Convention, Hankins says, has been pushing for an alteration of the Convention’s stance on theology. No longer are they content, he says, with the status quo of a plurality of theologies existing side-by-side. Instead, they are pushing their own soteriology as the one and only way to understand salvation (sound familiar?). Hankins proposed a “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology that all could affirm, and that is what follows in the document. Problem is … it denies certain key tenants of Calvinism (e.g., the denial in Article One rejects some forms of election and Article Two repudiates total depravity … there are more.) Signees of Hankins’ document included former veterans of the great tug-of-war Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson among scores of other Southern Baptists.

Southern Baptist leader, theologian, seminary president, and beneficiary of the great tug-of-war Albert Mohler celebrated its intentions but could not sign the document for theological reasons. Nevertheless, he followed that statement with an interesting train of logic in Baptist theology. First, he called the document (at least in part) “beyond Arminianism” and “semi-Pelagian” (terms few Calvinists have ever used properly, in my opinion). Secondly, he then asserted that surely the signees (all of whom he knows) did not actually believe what they had signed. “Surely, they’re smart enough to agree with me!” he seems to think. Then, he does something interesting, worth quoting. After he condemns “theological tribalism,” he says,

…we must recognize and affirm together that we have already stated where Southern Baptists stand on the great doctrines of our faith. The Baptist Faith & Message is our confession of faith, and it binds us all together on common ground. The BF&M does not state doctrines comprehensively, but it defines our necessary consensus. Every Southern Baptist is free to believe more than the confession affirms, but never less.

I found these statements somewhat confusing. As I grew up in a Southern Baptist environment, my leaders taught me that being Baptist was about freedom. There were several principles that comprised being Baptist theologically including (but not limited to): the priesthood of every believer, the competency of the soul before God, and the autonomy of the local congregation. Mohler’s words and his use of the BF&M seem to contradict every one of those principles at their core. Being Baptist is no longer a free enterprise about theological liberty but about uniformity and consensus. Yes, consensus is somewhat necessary, but Southern Baptists have always been non-creedal, that is, no document other than the Scriptures is necessary for an affirmation of faith. What Mohler did by saying that “Every Southern Baptist is free to believe more … but never less” than the BF&M was to make the BF&M into a creed. It is precisely this attitude that reinforces theological tribalism. New Calvinists can ardently back up their claims with the words of one of their own (Mr. Mohler, who, by the way, served as a primary architect for the current BF&M) as psuedo papal decree. When did a Roman hierarchy replace the Baptist congregationalism that has made our Church so distinctive for so long? (Answer: When Al started citing Humanae Vitae to support his new position on birth control.)

Southern Baptists are now at an impasse. Perhaps in the days to come, there will be another great tug-of-war. On one side, there will be a fight for doctrinal uniformity and on the other the stalwart defenders of the local congregation. Problem is, I have little sympathy for my Southern Baptist brethren and their new predicament, because they created it themselves. Now, they have to deal with the consequences.

Links:

Dr. Eric Hankins Statement

Al Mohler’s Blog

Jerry Vines’ Response

ABP News Article

Christian Curse Words

A lot of people are very bothered by curse words, cuss words, or whatever you’d like to call them. Sometimes they bother me, other times they don’t. However, I think the concept could be somewhat useful for the current Church — the idea that certain words are either inappropriate for most contexts or entirely inappropriate for much use at all. In fact, there are a couple words in the American Christian vernacular that I think would be best relegated to this category of “Christian Curse Words.” Here are a few examples:

 

The Word: Biblical — this word has become one of my least favorite in the entire English language

The Original Definition: The word originates in a seventeenth century theological text referring to anything relating to or contained in the Bible. Strictly speaking, all the word means is what might be in the Bible. Seems innocuous, right?

The New Definition: The Word now means something akin to “whatever I think is right.” For example, “My way of spending money, shopping, watching movies, handling healthcare, and voting is biblical.” Or again, “My understanding of politics, academics, science, and marriage is biblical.”

Why to Get Rid of It: Because we do not mean that what we think comes from the Bible or is contained therein. We certainly allege that most of the time, but what we really mean is that our view is right and his/her/your/their view is wrong. “Biblical” no longer has much to do with the Bible at all but only with our own preconceptions, assumptions, and positions. To say something is (or is not) “biblical” is to circumvent argument, discussion, and cooperation.

Read the rest of this entry

We Love the Church

I know it’s been a while since Bethke’s video about hating religion but loving Jesus came out. But when it did, a group of us got together (digitally) from around the country (including one in London, too!) to put together our own celebration of the Church and Jesus addressing some of the concerns we had with the other video. We don’t have expensive cameras or high post-production value, it’s just a few of us and our webcams, but enjoy.

Peace be with you.

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