Archive for July, 2006

Retraction

July 21, 2006

No, not a retraction from me (me genoito!). I have never changed my mind on anything.

Well, that is not entirely true; I have changed my mind on many things, but that’s not the point of this post. I recently read this article by Dr. Mohler, which describes his change of mind on the issue of women in ministry. I knew that he had participated in (actually, he led) a protest back in the day against an SBC resolution regarding women in ministry. That was during his student days. I knew that at some point he had a significant change of theological direction. A documentary about Southern Seminary floats the idea that Dr. Mohler’s change was politically motivated. I don’t buy that for a second. If anyone is a man of true, deep conviction, it is Albert Mohler. Besides, as someone once pointed out to me, if Dr. Mohler were only motivated by politics and power in the SBC, then why would he embrace Calvinism? Most Southern Baptists these days think Calvinists are from Mars.

No, Dr. Mohler’s version of the story makes much better sense: a question put to him by Carl Henry changed his life. I encourage you to read the article.

[HT: Justin Taylor]

Regarding Homosexuality

July 12, 2006

Arguments in support of homosexuality (within a Christian context) typically develop along these lines:

1. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality; therefore, we must assume that he would not condemn it.

2. Condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible are found in Leviticus and in Paul’s writings.
a. Leviticus is full of laws that we ignore, so to appeal to the law against homosexuality is special pleading. (A variation on this argument, which I came across recently, is that Leviticus was written by a “priestly source,” as in the JEDP theory, and that the priests were the ones who crucified Jesus; ergo, Leviticus = bad.)
b. Paul is not Jesus, so we should discard whatever Paul says that doesn’t agree with Jesus. (A variation on this argument is that Paul never condemned faithful, monogamous homosexual relationships, but only perversions like pederasty).

3. Homosexuals are born homosexual. Therefore, God made them that way and their homosexuality should be affirmed and celebrated.

With regard to #1, I would first dispute the claim that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. His recorded words give no indication that he addressed the topic directly, but he clearly affirmed the pattern of marriage from the Genesis narrative (one man and one woman) in Matt 19:4-6 (par. Mark 10:6-9), and this clearly has implications for the issue of homosexuality. Furthermore, Jesus also never said anything about child molestation, pederasty, rape, or polygamy, and yet we don’t need a direct word from his mouth to make up our minds about these issues, nor would we assume that his silence on these issues indicates that he condoned such practices.

With regard to #2a, evangelicals do need to revise their argument by showing how the specific law in Leviticus 18:22 is not abrogated but affirmed throughout the rest of Scripture. Looking back to the Genesis narrative, heterosexual marriage is described as the creation pattern, and the same pattern is affirmed, coupled with a denunciation of its perversion through other patterns (including homosexuality), throughout the New Testament. As to the variation on the argument concerning the “priestly source” who supposedly wrote Leviticus, even if we were to grant the JEDP theory (which I am not at all prepared to do), the link between the “priestly source” behind Leviticus and the priests who handed Jesus over for crucifixion is grossly anachronistic, since the P section of the Pentateuch was supposedly finished roughly 500 years before Jesus’ ministry. In any case, judging from his words, we are safe to assume that Jesus, in common with his contemporaries, attributed authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses (see Mark 12:26 [par Luke 20:37]; Luke 16:29-31; 24:27, 44; John 5:39-47; 7:19, 23). This is the main reason why I accept Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, but that is beside the point. The point is, we cannot pit Jesus against Leviticus as though Jesus’ opponents stand behind a portion of Israel’s scriptures. Jesus never would have accepted such an opposition, for he consistently affirmed the authority of Scripture throughout his ministry.

With regard to #2b, neither can we pit Jesus against Paul, for Paul was called by Jesus himself (Acts 9:5; Gal 1:1 and the salutation of every Pauline letter). Nothing Paul writes about homosexuality can be construed as contradicting anything that Jesus ever said, and once we take into account Jesus’ words about marriage in Matt 19:4-6/Mark 10:6-9, then we see a remarkable harmony between the two. As for the argument that Paul never condemned homosexuality per se, this simply doesn’t square with a fair reading of Paul’s own words, but perhaps I could delve into that argument another time, since it would take too much space here.

Argument #3 is, to my mind, the most prevalent of all and has been the most difficult for the church to answer. I want to suggest a rethinking of the way evangelicals should address the argument that God sanctions homosexuality by creating people homosexual.

First, we should understand homosexuality as a social construct, not as an essential aspect of any person. One of the greatest victories won in this debate (by the pro-homosexual side) has been the definition of people as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual.” Once these labels were in place (along with synonyms such as “gay”), the road was paved for homosexuals to argue, “This is who I am.” Homosexual behavior has been a part of human behavior for millennia. However, the idea of the homosexual person is a relatively recent historical development. Evangelicals can first undermine the argument that God’s creation of homosexuals thereby sanctions homosexuality by disputing the legitimacy of labeling anyone by his or her “sexual orientation.” We may use the term “homosexual” for convenience, but we should do so with the understanding that it does not describe the essence of a person, but is merely our society’s way of categorizing people who behave in certain ways (and even what kind of behavior makes a person “homosexual” is unclear, since there seem to be varying degrees of homosexuality).

Viewed this way, we can say that God no more creates a homosexual than he does a Republican, since neither term defines a person’s nature but simply identifies his or her affiliation with a social construct.

Second, we should abandon the “choice” argument and instead approach the issue within the context of the biblical doctrine of sin. Homosexuals often say that they never decided one day to be homosexual, but over time they simply discovered that they were, in fact, homosexual. Evangelicals have often responded by saying that homosexuality is a choice, not an innate quality. To many minds, this “choice” argument safeguards moral responsibility.

However, most evangelicals have largely failed to realize that their understanding of choice (within the parameters of libertarian free will) undermines their theology of sin. Original sin, without which there is no Christianity, stipulates that we are all born sinners who will inevitably sin. We are not free not to sin. Sin is part of our (fallen) nature from birth. We never sit down one day as morally neutral agents and decide to become sinners, though we very well could have gone the other way. That is a heresy known as Pelagianism. We sin because we are sinners, and there is no way we can avoid it (short of God’s grace in Christ, of course). If this is the case with sin in general, why do we undercut our own theology by arguing that homosexuality must result from a choice made from a morally neutral position? It doesn’t sound fair to us that someone could be born with an innate disposition toward homosexuality and still be blameworthy for homosexual behavior, and yet our doctrine of sin in general is precisely that! What we believe in general, we have a hard time applying to specific situations. Libertarian free will simply does not harmonize with the evangelical doctrine of original sin.

So let’s abandon the phony argument that at some point in their lives, homosexuals must “choose” to become homosexual in order to be morally responsible. We won’t win with that, because it’s simply not true. Certainly, there are a number of choices involved in a person’s life that may lead to a homosexual orientation, but I doubt that very many people make one big, all-determining choice to be gay. And interlocked with these many choices are the influences of one’s biology (although to what degree is still up for debate), psychology, and experiences in life, all of which are tainted with sin. Human behavior is the result of a complex web of factors. The idea of a morally neutral agent simply deciding to be homosexual runs contrary to the whole of our Christian theology. We are born sinners, but we are still accountable to God for our sin. This is the biblical teaching, and we should not abandon it in an effort to justify our opposition to homosexuality.

I am not in any way suggesting that homosexuality is an innate quality in the same way that maleness, femaleness, blackness, or whiteness is (that would contradict my argument about homosexuality as a social construct). However, I admit the possibility that there could be some measure of biological predisposition toward homosexual behavior, just as there could be some measure of biological predisposition toward alcoholism (for an excellent survey of scientific research on this, see the book Homosexuality by Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse). Every part of our being has been corrupted by sin, so it should be no surprise to find biological traces of total depravity.

Many faithful, monogamous husbands could argue, on the basis of their attraction to beautiful, scantily-clad women, that they have a predisposition toward adultery, but this would not excuse them if they actually committed adultery. I view homosexual desires the same way: as a struggle with sin in the lives of some people, which must be fought against, not affirmed (Rom 8:12-13). The Paul Coleman Trio asks this question in one of their songs: “They say ‘Just follow your heart,’ yeah, but what if it lies?” That is precisely what I am arguing: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). If this is the case, then it is simply illegitimate for a person to appeal to his or her inmost desires as evidence of divine sanction of biblically prohibited behavior. People who “follow their hearts” all the time follow them right into sin. Human desires, whatever their origin may be, do not indicate divine approval. Is does not equal ought.

I have written this not out of a desire to target those who identify themselves as homosexuals, but rather because this is a major topic of discussion in our courts, in Congress, in the media, and in our churches, with both sides (and every shade of variance on both sides) making their case. Evangelicals have the resources at hand in our theology to uphold the biblical teaching in the face of threats, both outside and inside the church. However, from what I have seen, we have not been using our own theology very well but have been falling back into quasi-Pelagianism when we debate this issue. We must not be ashamed to say what God says about sin: that it is in our Adamic nature from birth, and we are guilty because of it. This is the case for both homosexual and heterosexual sinners, all of whom need Jesus Christ.