Interrogating the Metaphor ‘Woke’ and its Social Justice Context vis-à-vis God: Some Reference to Johnny Mac and Oliver O’Donovan

There has been lots of talk lately about being “woke”; mostly in a derisive sense. Johnny Mac&company have been going after the so called social justice warriors; particularly as that has penetrated the halls of places like The Gospel Coalition, and other evangelical hubs (at least according to the MacArthur gurus). Is there a reason to be suspicious about the impact that social justice thinking might be having on the evangelical psyche? Yes, I think so; particularly because of the social component that underwrites the social in the ‘justice.’ So in this sense I might actually have some sort of non-gleeful sentiment towards the Macite concern; but then things quickly slide away as far as critique. I mean being woke is actually a biblical metaphor, and it is important that Christians be awake in regard to the inroads that social constructs have into the shaping of how the Gospel is received and thus presented.

I am of the mind that the Gospel does indeed have capaciousness all its own; as such, I believe it needs to be shown the shrift that Christians ought to give it as their birthright into the Kingdom. In other words, the Gospel has depth, and it has depth, in particular, in the sense that it alone can penetrate the outer wall of stone around the human heart and bring life where there is only death. This is the sort of awakeness Christians should be emphasizing. The Kingdom has its own set of spectacles that open the eyes to an in-breaking reality of freshness and liveliness that the society has no means to construct. If the Gospel is sui generis, if the Gospel has no analogy grounded in the socio-cultural imagination, then we must rely upon the Gospel alone to awaken the Christian mind to the Christian res (reality) who is indeed God enfleshed in the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Oliver O’Dononvan offers some interesting thinking with reference to the metaphor of woke. Let’s read along with him, and then close with some further reflection and comment.

Theology has a further task over and above that of conceptual ordering, which takes it beyond the scope of philosophy. A theological justification for the metaphor of waking will show how it leads moral experience back to its source in God’s purposes. It will account for experience in the light of what is told us of its causes and ends; it will situate it in the narrative of a God who, having made us agents, now redeems and perfects us. Theology has a special interest in the renewing of human agency. It has to tell of conversion, and of how our occasional moments of moral wakefulness may lead into and awakening that will be complete and final; “Awake, sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon you!” (Eph. 5:14). [1]

And further as O’Donovan gets into the eschatological character of what being ‘awake’ looks like for the Revelator:

These synoptic uses lie behind two calls to wakefulness in the Apocalypse (Rev. 3:2-3; 16:15), both on the lips of the risen Jesus and both referring directly to the parables from the synoptic apocalypse. Here the two parables have been conflated: the thief who will come in the night and the Lord who will return in the night are now one and the same, and are, in fact, Jesus himself, who says, “I will come as a thief!” Also from the synoptic context are the words about not knowing the time. The blending of these synoptic elements gives new force to the metaphor. Ignorance of the moment and thief-like suddenness of the Lord’s return are, for John, not merely the universal conditions within which faithfulness must be exercised; they are God’s judgment on unfaithfulness. It is the unwakeful servant who will encounter the Lord as a thief and who will not know the moment of his coming. A new illustrative feature develops this thought: one who stays awake will have clean clothes ready to meet his master (3:4) and will not be caught in an indecent state (16:15).

And so the command to wake is addressed in the New Testament chiefly to the church, which ought to be able to count, if any agent could, on being awake already. It sets the church in a moment of crisis, put on the spot, by relating the achieved past to the future of Christ’s coming and to the immediate future of attention and action. Wakefulness is anything but a settled state, something we may presume on, as we can usually presume we are awake as we go about our business. It brings us sharply back to the task in hand, the deed to be performed, the life to be lived. Waking is thrust on us. We do not consider it, attempt it and then perhaps achieve it; we are claimed for it, seized by it. That is why it is not just one metaphor among many for moral experience, but stands guard over the birth of renewed moral responsibility.[2]

Being awake is being made alive by the in-breaking reality of the Gospel. As O’Donovan emphasizes, being awake is an eschatological reality calling us back and forward to the reality of God. In this reality we are undone over and again by our own brokenness and then revived again by our new found awakeness in the Gospel. Of all people Christians are not only awake to the reality of God, but ought to thus live as those awoken in Christ over and again; afresh and anew.

The Macites are reacting to the whence of being ‘woke’ as it is a social construct non-derived from the contextual reality of God’s Holy Triune life. In that sense I think Mac and the Macites are onto something. But it is just at their observation that things start to come undone; they have a faulty understanding of God in important ways (we will have to get into those at another time). But insofar as woke is being appealed to by the mainstream of evangelical Christians this needs to be critiqued. Unless a robust account and development of what it means to be woke is appealed to in these circles what will be left is an empty hull of starting premises that received their genesis from anyone else but Theology Proper. In other words, as O’Donovan has alerted us to, to be woke, for the Christian, is indeed a Christian reality. Non-Christians cannot be awake by definition; thus they have nothing to offer a broken defunct world-situation. Non-Christians and the premises of their lives therein, are indeed what has brought about the social maladies wokeness is intended to bring remedy to. If the Gospel is sui generis then outwith the Spirit inhabiting someone’s mind and heart how can anyone claim to be ‘awake?’

What counts as being woke in the profane social constructs cannot actually be woke to anything except the incurved self; the self-possessed self. This is why the Gospel is so important; it is the only reality that can actually wake anyone up, and provide the sort of power and reality that people need to counter the forces of darkness that have plunged the world into the mess it is in. Being awake for the world, for the ‘society’ is something they have no resource to provide; just as the universe itself does not have the self-resource to explain its own origination, likewise, the profane ununited person to Christ has no resource to awaken itself to what is genuinely holy and straight (rather than crooked). The power of God is not a social construct; the power of God is the Gospel. The Gospel has the power to penetrate fallen hearts (Christian or non-Christian — one of O’Donovan’s points), and to bring to rights the wrongs of the world; even as the eschaton continuously breaks in upon the world in the face of Christ (the glory of God) by the Holy Spirit’s paracletic work.

[1] Oliver O’Donovan, Self, World, and Time: Ethics as Theology Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 7.

[2] Ibid., 9.

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Responding to “Hey, How is Being a Christian Academic Working Out For Your Spiritual Walk?”

Recently (and this is trendy among many evangelicals) I had an evangelical pastor, on Facebook, challenge me with this question (I paraphrase): “yeah, how is academic Christianity working out for you?” usually, he noted, “those Christians committed to academic Christianity fail at cultivating a healthy Christian spirituality in the process of being academic.” Beyond the typical and pervasive anti-intellectualism that this springs from I see more going on here. There is this constant repose upon a sort of mysticism among evangelical Christians in the main; a mysticism that is coupled with an American (or Western) individualism wherein someone’s Christianity is ultimately a private thing that is based upon their experiences of God that they come to through ‘quiet times’ or more collectively through corporate worship services at church on Sundays. To me this is a tragic posture!

Sometimes I wonder, when confronted with this attitude, especially as that has been directed at me, who these people think I am; or who do they think others (like me) are? Do they think we are some sort of special class or hybrid of Christian (in the negative)? Speaking personally, my drivenness into so called ‘academia’ comes from deep personal crisis. Without getting into the details of those crises (which I’ve done elsewhere) it is indeed such crises that have continuously pushed me deep into ongoing bible reading, ongoing theology reading, and the earning of degrees in these areas. Indeed, it is only in seasons of drought (which honestly these have almost become non-existent for me) where my Christian spirituality has suffered. You see, I believe, and I KNOW, that we are in a spiritual battle (cf. Eph. 6.12), and that the devil’s means are ideas (cf. II Cor. 10; Rom. 12; etc.). To stand fast in the power of the LORD (cf. Eph. 6.10) is not to abstractly name and claim the ‘armor of God,’ instead it is to actively be involved in an attitude and action of doxology (worship). To worship God with all that we are (as the dominical teaching calls for) means that we are actively involved, as part of the priesthood of all believers, in growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3). There is no growth without food, and the food we have been given is the Word of God. But I’m afraid that people have collapsed the Word of God into their mystical individualist experiences and made the Word of God an adjunct of their own petty wants. These accusers, because of their absolute individualism and other insecurities, have failed to recognize the Pauline teaching that the Word of God comes inclusive of teachers (cf. Eph. 4); this is what a proper understanding of sola scriptura entails.

For some reason, or for many reasons, these antagonists of Christian learning have absolutized their laziness and made it a spiritual virtue; and then they deploy this virtue over against anyone who isn’t equally lazy. There are academic Christians, not to be outdone, who have sort of lauded in this sort of classification only to reinforce their status as an academic Christian over-against the antagonists I’m referring to. But why would we do that; why as brothers and sisters in Christ would we accept this notion or classification of academic Christian only as that is based in a lowering of the bar for so called non-academic Christians? Why would we allow the majority of the body of Christ to languish in their individualism when the Lord of the Word calls for repentance for all who sleep? There is no gate-keeper here, but Christ alone!

Ultimately this is a spiritual warfare reality, and it needs to be identified as such and rebuked. Without the cultivation of robust Christian theological ideas in a doxological frame the devil will beat us as Christians to bloody pulps. We have armor, and it is only those who rigorously fight by putting that on through meditation upon God’s Word, making use of the teachers he has provided, who will actually have the possibility to walk in some modicum of victory over the principalities and powers. So I say to my antagonist: Repent! Or: Get thee behind me satan!

The No-God of Jordan Peterson: And the Conservative Evangelical’s Love Affair with Power in the Public Square

Credit: ZachDrawThings

Jordan Peterson, that lightning bolt of a character these days, even for many Christians, just recently tweeted the following on his Twitter account:

God is the mode of being you value the most as demonstrated or manifested in your presumption, perception and action. –Jordan Peterson, June 25th 9:13 pm (Twitter)

In some of my reading I’m doing on Barth’s theology (actually some rereading in this case) I came across the following quote from Harvard theologian, Gordon Kaufman:

The concept “God” arises formally as ground and limit of the concept of “world,” and materially it arises out of the richness of human experience: for example, the experience of creativity, but also that of need and desire. God must be the ultimate reference point for human cultural and moral concerns. The two functions of the concept of “God” thus are the relativizing and the humanizing of the world. Since the concept “God” is not a report on information, and since the concepts that theology scrutinizes are employed to help us solve problems of meaningful moral and cultural living, theology is a practical rather than a theoretical discipline.[1]

As McCormack notes “The influence of Immanuel Kant on Kaufman’s perspective should be clear.”[2]

I couldn’t help but see some similarity between what Peterson recently tweeted and the ethos distilled in the Kaufman quote. For both God is a human projection, something immanent within the processes of the world ‘spirit’ and experience. Which makes one wonder, in some ways, why so many conservative evangelical Christians have become fan boys of Peterson; there seems to be dissonance between what conservatives creedally confess, as Christians, and who they pragmatically affirm in the greater struggle of the culture wars. There seems to be this sense that Peterson represents conservative evangelical values, and as such is worthy of carrying the torch that burns all progressive and liberal opponents at the stake of all that is unworthy in the realm of ideas in the public square.

Yet, ironically, it strikes me as odd, at least, that the poster-boy for conservatives is, in regard to his thinking on God, as progressive and ‘turned-to-the-subject’ as the Progressive and Liberal theologians are; as Kaufman helps to illustrate. Sooner or later Peterson’s commitments, on no-God, will come back to bite the very conservatives who are currently giving him platform and voice.

 

[1] Gordon Kaufman, “Essay on Theological Method,” in Hans Frei, “Types of Christian Theology,” cited by Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 117.

[2] Ibid., 117.

A Critique of the ‘What Would Jesus Do Society’ In Light of the Border Dilemma

Here is a post I originally posted probably eight years ago. I have reposted it multiple times since. I can’t think of a more apropos time to repost this than the times we are facing right now. This current issue at the border is evincing something in the hearts of many so called conservative Christians that needs to be confronted. It is something that has been developing and cultivating for years. The border issue currently underway is now only revealing how deep this heart condition has become. I think the following post helps to confront the problem.

I really like how John Webster describes Barth’s understanding against the Liberal Protestantism of his day. Ironically, I think, that the way Barth understood the Liberal Protestants of his day, could (should) be the way (by and large) that we understand American Evangelicals of our day [please note: I am speaking in generalities, there are obviously many exceptions to this amongst American Evangelicals, just as there was exceptions to the Liberal Protestants in Barth’s day]. In fact, I think this dovetails nicely with the post I just posted on Occupy Wall Street. It gets to the question of how it is that “good” honest hard working (even Christian) people can be duped into thinking that the aformentioned attributes serve as the garb that justifies their place in society (i.e. as good honest hard working folk). There is always room for conviction and self-“criticality;” I know we don’t like this, and I know that much of this ultimately bothers our sensibilities; but we are Christians, people of  love and truth (insofar as we participate in God’s life in Christ).

As I’ve already alluded to, the following is Webster commenting on Barth and his critique of the Liberal Protestants (which I am lifting and applying to American Evangelicals). This is intended to decenter our trust in ourselves, and instead cause us to throw ourselves at the mercy of God in Christ. This is intended to turn our lights on so that we can more critically see how what counts as Christian and Ethical (in America and the West), probably is not as ethical and Christian as we think. This is intended to highlight how it is that “we” so easily become the standard for what is good and right in the world instead of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

[A] large part of Barth’s distaste is his sense that the ethics of liberal Protestantism could not be extricated from a certain kind of cultural confidence: ‘[H]ere was … a human culture building itself up in orderly fashion in politics, economics, and science, theoretical and applied, progressing steadily along its whole front, interpreted and ennobled by art, and through its morality and religion reaching well beyond itself toward yet better days.’ The ethical question, on such an account, is no longer disruptive; it has ‘an almost perfectly obvious answer’, so that, in effect, the moral life becomes too easy, a matter of the simple task of following Jesus.

Within this ethos, Barth also discerns a moral anthropology with which he is distinctly ill-at-ease. He unearths in the received Protestant moral culture a notion of moral subjectivity (ultimately Kantian in origin), according to which ‘[t]he moral personality is the author both of the conduct with which the ethical question is concerned and of the question itself. Barth’s point is not simply that such an anthropology lacks serious consideration of human corruption, but something more complex. He is beginning to unearth the way in which this picture of human subjectivity as it were projects the moral self into a neutral space, from which it can survey the ethical question ‘from the viewpoint of spectators’. This notion Barth reads as a kind of absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness’. And it is precisely this — the image of moral reason as a secure centre of value, omnicompetent in its judgements — that the ethical question interrogates. [John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 35-6]

The ‘Human culture building itself up’ was the German one (for Barth) that ultimately expressed itself in German bourgeois society, and ultimately Nazi Germany. For Barth, for the Liberal Protestant, because of the collapse of the Christian self into the self as the moral self, there no longer remained space for Christ to break in and speak a fresh word of holiness over and against the established norms of what the Liberal Protestant had come to already think of what counted as such. In other words, Barth was against a What Would Jesus Do? society.

I am appropriating this critique from Barth (a la Webster) for the American Evangelical in particular. We have come to think that what counts as moral is captured by the symbol ‘Conservative’. It is this absolutized ‘Conservative Self’ that presumes that what it means to be moral, and Christian is to ask, simply, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ This perfectly illustrates Barth’s critique of the German Liberal Protestant. For them, as for us, to be Christian, was to be nationalist, exceptional, and normal. It is this posture that negates any space for the Word of God to break in on all of these norms or the status quo; since the status quo is synonymous with being Christian. And it is this self-evidential situation which allows for atrocities to take place in the name of Christ; through the “absolute self.”

A Summary of the Issues at the Border by Immigration Lawyer, Scott Hicks: ‘The love of many will grow cold.’

I wanted to share a summary of what is taking place at the southern border. This is the best I have read after reading countless news stories from all the various “sides.” The following is written by an immigration lawyer who is also a Christian pastor, his name is Scott Hicks. He cuts through all the identity politics and identifies what in fact has taken place, and in light of that what indeed is taking place; things have changed. People can continue to dig their heels in, but what Hicks outlines for us, unless you’re an immigration lawyer who can counter, is definitive. He writes:

The Border and the Kids

I wish there was a one or two line explanation of what is going on. But the situation is complex because there are multiple layers and laws involved. Here is my attempt to simplify it enough to be understandable and be accurate.

A number of people are saying, this is an old law. They are correct to a point. Kids simply are not put in jail with their parents when the parent is taken into custody on a criminal charge. The old law point is also correct that crossing the border illegally is a criminal offense and has been on the books for ever. But the history of that law is important for this discussion. For first time offenders, the offense is a misdemeanor. It is only a felony if the person had been caught before or had been deported. Traditionally, the US Attorneys only went after felony charges, and even that was not a large number overall. It made no sense to clog the Federal District Courts with misdemeanors. Everybody understood that was a waste of time and resources.

The current administration though has adopted a zero tolerance policy and the AG has mandated that the US Attorneys prosecute every single misdemeanor case. That IS new. It also means that when these people are placed into custody their children are taken away (see above). The judges see the ridiculousness of this and are sentencing to time served in mass trials. So the criminal aspect is really accomplishing nothing.

Now, it must be pointed out that these people charged with crimes are still allowed to apply for asylum. But they will do so without their children and the children are on a separate track with their own immigration case, even though the case often needs the parent’s information and corroboration, or the parent is the one with the real claim and the child would be a derivative claim.

So, criminal wise, we are just chewing up resources. But that is not the point for the administration. They are using the criminal law to accomplish an immigration purpose. They want to scare people away from even coming. And that is where it truly gets insidious. Because in so doing, we are deliberately trying to scare people away who are trying to flee persecution and seek refuge here. (Of course some are coming just for economic opportunity,) but for many of the Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans, they have been threatened with terrible violence and are fleeing for their lives or the lives of their children. Our laws state that these people have the right to apply for asylum if they are on US soil or if they present themselves at a POE and ask for asylum. But we are routinely turning people away at the border and telling them they can not apply because we are too busy and full. So these desperate people who try to legally present will then often find another way in. There are numerous instances of people crossing over and then looking for a BP agent to turn themselves in to. Before, such people would just apply for asylum. Now they are criminally charged. And the kids taken away.

Not only that, but these people are now being told, if they will just take an order of removal (deportation) they can get their kids back within a day or so, but if they insist on applying for asylum they will be separated from their children for the duration of the proceedings and really, for an unknown time.

All of this is arguably “within the law,” but it clearly is a violation of the spirit if not letter of our asylum laws.

One final note – Obama’s administration also detained asylum seekers, but did so as a family, often for years, in what immigration lawyers referred to as “baby jails.” Also, you may have heard of the Flores Settlement- this applies to unaccompanied minors. So, if a child is without a parent, they can only be detained for a short time. The problem is that the administration is using Flores as a weapon. By criminally charging the parents, they can not keep the child with them. The administration then declares that the child is an unaccompanied minor. It is important to note also that the lawyer who was the lead litigator on the Flores case has come out and said all of this is clearly a violation of the agreement.

Hope this helps.

As always, feel free to share, but do so politely.

I appeal to you conservative Christian and progressive Christian don’t take your eye off of what matters in the midst of this whole scenario. Are there people who have been and are currently abusing the system? Yes. But you don’t punish the masses for the minority (the abusers in this case); more importantly you don’t punish children and their families for seeking a better life for themselves. You say: ‘well, they need to do so through legal means.’ Oh really? You say: ‘if they want asylum they need to do the proper paperwork or come to the border and properly request that.’ Oh really? You don’t think many of these people haven’t attempted to do it ‘legally’; you don’t think many of them don’t even have the proper resources to actually do the paperwork (education, access to transportation, access to communication, access to their local government officials etc.)? Or you don’t think that people haven’t come to the border and requested asylum that way only to be turned away (as Hicks underscores for us)?

Jesus said that in the end ‘the love of many will grow cold.’ He was right.

 

Reflection on the Happenings at the Southern Border

If you aren’t friends with me on Facebook or Twitter then you will have missed all of my posts about the current crisis unfolding at our southern border. It’s not that this is a new crisis; it’s that it is now a crisis that we have all become aware of—the political reasons are non-consequential. I see many ‘conservatives’ taking the position that this is about keeping the law; illustrated by the Attorney General, Jeff Session’s appeal to Romans 13. But there is a greater law; as Christians we are committed to the principled reality of the sanctity of human life. Some people (almost always ‘conservatives’) are attempting to make the erroneous argument that it is the immigrant parents themselves who should be held at fault because they are the ones breaking the law and putting themselves and their children into this scenario. How non-starting can an argument get?! This is circular reasoning of the first order. Or others have been citing statistics making it seem as if the United States has a very liberal immigration policy already. Seriously?! Even if a million Mexican and South/Central Americans are legally admitted into the US each year, on ratio, how does this relate to the multi-millions more that require admittance as well? This isn’t about identity politics, this is about the children who are without a doubt being separated from their parents; it is about children who are being taken from their parents with the potential of never seeing their parents again. People say vote; I say rubbish! Voting and legislation takes years and years; the situation is way more urgent than that! The primary thing is to keep families together. To label these kids’ parents as “criminals” because they are coming to America seeking a better life for their kids and themselves is utterly absurd. This idea that we must wait until immigration law can be modified or changed is utterly absurd! Do you realize how long that takes? Don’t you think that people have been attempting for reforms like this for years? Where has that gotten us?! It has gotten us to where we are currently. Is this just a Trump issue? No. This was going on under Obama as well. So what! Again, this is not about that, this is about the people caught in the middle. Why do you think people feel compelled to leave their countries of origin to begin with? Do you feel compelled to do that as a United States citizen? So there is obviously a reason why people from south of the border are fleeing here by the masses. Maybe it is because they live in the slums and ghettos; maybe it is because they live in the middle of drug cartels and the wars and blood baths they cause innocent people to live in the midst of; maybe it is because these people’s governments are so filthy corrupt that they will not and cannot take care of their own people. In this case why aren’t these people who are indeed fleeing counted immediately as political refugees and granted political asylum the moment they are able to cross into the ‘homeland?’

But we are Christians. We are followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Lord; he is the LORD. We are of a people group that transcends national identities, political associations, and whose citizenry is in the heavenlies with Jesus Christ. We are a people group that is for all human beings, and we thus bear witness to them of that invading reality that is grounded in the Kingdom to come and that has come in Jesus Christ. Our principled reality in Jesus Christ, and in his vicarious humanity, does not concern itself with what might happen to us; we commit ourselves into the hands of the Father. But when we have been given much much is required; when we have an abundance out of that abundance we are to share until we are in need ourselves. This is the way of the Christian. So we don’t ultimately fall back on an ethic that requires us to sustain a sense of national self-preservation or security, instead we push into the reality that all of human life is sacrosanct; precisely because God’s life for us in Jesus Christ is sacrosanct. When I see Christians pushing their heals into the idea that we live in a ‘land of law and order,’ and then see how they are callously using that to dehumanize the situation we are currently presented with at the southern border; I wonder who they think is the ultimate source of the very law and order they pretend to be in submission to. It is as if Nebuchadnezzar has constructed a great golden idol and demands that his citizens bow down to it; as if Christians in such a citizenry have failed to recognize that we are citizens of another Kingdom that has already come and is coming like a great Stone crushing not only Nebuchadnezzar’s idol but all such idols in the world. Unless the Christian has forgotten, we aren’t our own, we have been bought with a price; and the price is the blood of Jesus Christ. If nothing else this precise moment in American history has revealed just how complicit and how conflated the ‘conservative’ Christian identity has become with an outright nationalism rather than with the Kingdom of Christ that stands against such heinous evils. Such Christians cannot consistently repudiate the evil of abortion and at the same time, at best, remain indifferent to the plight of these children and families in the name of ‘law and order.’ I’m sorry (but not sorry), the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is always already an apocalyptic reality; one that in-breaks upon our own kingdoms of self-projected feelings of safety and security and contradicts them. Wanting to feel safe and secure is not an evil—that is the very reality these migrant families are seeking—but it is an evil when an ‘elect’ group of people who have a sense of that in their own country will not extend that offering out to others who seemingly are the reprobate of this world. God damn such evil!

The Confessing Church’s Word Against Jeff Sessions and the Natural Theology of the Trump Administration

The German Confessing Church

Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, as many of us know by now, quoted Romans 13 in defense of the barbarous policy of separating children from their parents as they are seeking asylum from their third world living conditions which are embroiled in gang and drug cartel warfare. These children are being taken away from their loving parents and placed in detention camps (apparently with more to come) with no substantial chance of maybe ever being able to find their parents again. And Jeff Sessions has the gall to quote the Apostle Paul, and make appeal to Christian theology in order to justify this heinous and evil practice. Here is a transcript of his appeal:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful. (source)

Here a “leader” in the so called ‘Free world’ conflates his authority in an absolute way with God’s based upon Paul’s text; a text that is contextually qualified by loving our neighbors and overcoming evil with good. What happens when the government itself, “ordained of God,” is in need of God’s ‘law and order,’ a law and order based upon the kerygmatic reality revealed in God’s life in Jesus Christ? What happens when God’s compassionate heart of love for the other, ‘for the widows and orphans and destitute among us,’ is contravened by governmental policy and practice grounded in perverse, evil, and inhumane principles towards the other; whose law do we follow at that point? Do the ‘ordained powers’ ever come to negate themselves to the point that they ought to be repudiated and ignored in the most activist of terms?

Nazi Germany, the Third Reich made appeal to just the type of perverted hermeneutical practice that Jeff Sessions as representative of Donald Trump’s administration just made. Hitler and company used the national church of Germany, and many of Germany’s finest Christian theologians, to pervert Scripture in its favor; just the way Sessions has done in his appeal to Romans 13. The premise of such action, at one primary level, is based upon a brute natural theology; as if what is ought to be; that simply because the Hitler regime was in ‘power’ that their actions were ordained of God. Similarly, by way of logical corollary, the Trump regime seems to think that just because they are in ‘power’ that they now possess the keys to the heavenly kingdom; which they apparently believe is synonymous with the Trump administration. In other words, natural theology presumes to know God’s designs by collapsing God into the immanent processes of history, and presuming that ‘they’ are on the ‘right side of history.’ Natural theology presumes that God’s ‘goodness’ and ‘righteousness’ can be inferred by an analogy of being latent in heart of humankind. Does someone have to be conscious of these component parts, in regard to natural theology, in order to practice it? No; remember, it’s ‘natural.’

In Nazi Germany a group of Christians who came to be known as the Confessing Church united—we know this movement most as represented by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth—and under the insightful pen of Karl Barth they produced The Barmen Declaration. Given the current state of affairs of our state I thought it would be more than apropos to reproduce in full the whole text of the declaration. One would hope that people like Sessions, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump et al. might be alerted to the contextual reality of the declaration and recognize their own patterns as contravened by the theology declared in this confession made by the confessing church in the Rhineland so many years ago. If you have never read this before you will note its strong antidote against natural theology based as it is on a principled and intensive Theology of the Word.

An Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations and Christians in Germany

8.01 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in our day. With gratitude to God they are convinced that they have been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of our Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany. In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.

8.02 Therefore the Confessional Synod calls upon the congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the Confessions.

8.03 Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers!

8.04 Try the spirits whether they are of God! Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers. If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” Therefore, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the German Evangelical Church

8.05 According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11, 1933, the German Evangelical Church is a federation of Confessional Churches that grew our of the Reformation and that enjoy equal rights. The theological basis for the unification of these Churches is laid down in Article 1 and Article 2(1) of the constitution of the German Evangelical Church that was recognized by the Reich Government on July 14, 1933:

Article 1. The inviolable foundation of the German Evangelical Church is the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is attested for us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the Confessions of the Reformation. The full powers that the Church needs for its mission are hereby determined and limited.

Article 2 (1). The German Evangelical Church is divided into member Churches Landeskirchen).

8.06 We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

8.07 We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible.

8.08 As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the intrrelations of the Confessional Churches.

8.09 In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

8.12 We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)

8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)

8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.

8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)

8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.

8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.) Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.

8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.

8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)

8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.

8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.

8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.[1]

8.27 stands out particularly when thinking of how Sessions appealed to Romans 13. ‘The Word and work of the Lord’ is not at the behest of any human machinations; not even to governments who have a relative power ordained of God. My hope is that Trump&co. will repent and genuinely recognize what it means to properly be instruments of God’s ordination as government officials and renounce the wicked actions they are currently taking toward the very people God in Christ says will inherit the Kingdom.

 

[1] The Church’s Confession Under Hitler by Arthur C. Cochrane. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962, pp. 237-242.

Knowledge of God, Knowledge of Self and the Same Sex Attracted Christian Community

The following is a comment I just published over at another blogger’s site (who I just came across) who is somewhat arguing for an affirmation of Christian homosexuals. His original post is responding to Phil Johnson’s recent posts against Christian homosexuals, with pointed focus on the relationship between temptation, desire, and actual sin. While that is an important discussion I think the issue is more broad than that, and that the greater concern (at least mine) is how many mainstream normally conservative evangelicals are affirming the idea that there is actually a place for such a reality as the ‘Christian homosexual’ in the Kingdom of God in Christ. I argue in my comment, or I at least highlight beginning stages of arguments needing to be made, that there is not a category known as ‘Christian homosexual’ in the Kingdom of God, and to suggest such reflects a mind conditioned by the ‘city of man’ rather than the city of God in Christ’.

Jason,

I don’t disagree with you in re to attending Phil’s church; I’ve visited there a few times myself in years past. I have other qualms with the theology that funds Mac’s/Johnson’s et al theology, but not unrelated in re to the spirit which you are highlighting. My concern is more sociological rather than ecclesial in regard to community, and yet related. In other words, to affirm the homosexual as an actual or legitimate community—rather than simply being a ‘symbol’ for the disenfranchised and marginalized among us—allows for space coram Deo that I don’t think is allowed for. Yes, we are all (of us) confused about a variety of things in re to self-knowledge; but I’d argue that this confusion (and the level of it) is corollary and even commensurate with our knowledge (or lack thereof) of God (to appeal to Calvin’s famous thinking on self knowledge vis–à–vis knowledge of God and vice versa). In other words, the greater the knowledge of God the greater the knowledge of the self before God; and within this matrix a lessening of confusions in regard to the self and our place before a Holy God. If this sort of conception—in re to knowledge—holds true, then I would argue further that the ‘mind of the church’ (or the trad) precludes the types of affirmation that many evangelicals (inclusive of what we see going on in Revoice) these days are giving homosexuals. This type of affirmation, I contend, does not come from a knowledge of God/self dialectic, but instead is a result of the church attempting to clumsily be “relevant” to the world in the name of God’s love in Christ. This should not be so. The church is here to bear witness to who God is, and more, to prophetically speak to and against (in most cases) the principalities and powers that would seek to destroy the lives of as many as possible. In my view, affirmation of the homosexual community, or the softening of our positioning relative to the ‘world’ (like the so called ‘Friendship’ culture) does not reflect a growing, transforming, clarifying knowledge of God and his holiness vis–à–vis the church, but instead reflects a retreat to the impulses of the principalities and powers that Christ came to free us from; a retreat to a culture that is in bondage to self-possessed and generated confusion that is the antipathy of what a genuine knowledge of God provides for.

Should the church catholic love homosexuals? Yes! Does this mean we must recognize the ‘homosexual community’ as an actual community in the way that culture and societies have done and are doing in increasing and more pervasive ways? No! Why isn’t there a politically identified community of adulterers? This is parallel with having a community of homosexuals so on and so forth? The church is affirming this community not because God does; not because God recognizes the “homosexual community” as an actual people group. The church, I contend, is affirming this community because this reflects the mind of much of the modern church today; it is a mind that is not gaining its self knowledge in relation to God, but instead a mind that is gaining its self knowledge by comparing itself with other prevailing knowledges in the culture; which the Apostle Paul says is utterly foolish. Can we love homosexuals; should we? Yes, just as we love any other sinner (including ourselves!). We speak the truth in love without allowing space for sin to flourish. This is the loving thing to do. This is only a complex issue insofar as we allow “Christian homosexuals” and their proponents to assert that this is a complex issue that is not as simple as I’ve just sketched. But who are they? Are they God? Do they have access to my heart, your heart, or their own hearts? No. God alone does and his prescription for dealing with that heart was to put it to death, and now has called us to reckon it so over and over again through a posture of worship and repentance. I don’t see this posture being emphasized in and among proponents of so called Christian homosexuals; instead I see them putting themselves into the place of God and telling people just the opposite of what God has said over and again in Holy Scripture and its attested reality in Jesus Christ.

There are other ways to affirm people without affirming the systemic structures they have attached them to; structures built in the city of man rather than the city of God. Jesus said in order for a tree to bear good fruit the bad root needs to be taken away, and a new root provided for. This imagery works well here in re to Christian homosexuality (or for any deviance). There is no place for alternative identities in the Kingdom of Christ, there is simply One identity and it is Christ’s for us before God. He is the ‘new root’, the ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the ‘firstfruit of God’ for us. This is where all Christians find their identity, and that then spreads through the members of our bodies. Homosexuality, as does any other sin operates from the old order that seeks to assert itself in the domain of the new in Christ. But that old order needs to be reckoned dead, not be given space at the table of the in-breaking marriage supper feast of the Lamb. If we are going to be truly loving and affirming of not only homosexuals but all sinners alike, we will simply tell them what we must be telling ourselves by the work of the Holy Spirit; ‘repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ To me this is the way to affirm people of any walk, to affirm them towards and to Jesus Christ and the identity that he is as the true human for them. In this a person can begin to gain a genuine self-knowledge because they, in Christ, have been put up against a genuine knowledge of God where all righteousness and holiness dwells. What I see happening currently in re to the issue of homosexuality and Christians is a far cry from this type of growing knowledge of God and self.

A Word on Sanctification from the Apostolic Deposit and the Early Protestants in Response to The Revoice Conference 2018

Writing on themes of God’s holiness, repentance, sanctification, and living a mortified and vivified life before God is getting less and less popular; even among many ‘conservative’ Christians. This post will fit into that ‘unpopular’ category, as I want to at least broach an emergent issue that I think is just gaining steam. Before we get into the issue I want to spend a minute sketching what mortification or sanctification before God entails; at least the way I understand that. The issue we will apply this sketch to has to do with the ostensible in-roads that the LGBTQ community is gaining into what normally might be thought of as ‘conservative evangelicalism.’ Bear in mind, this is a blog post, so I will run out of space quickly, but hopefully I will be able to communicate something of my intention in the short space we do have.

Before we get ahead of ourselves let’s read along with the Apostle Paul with reference to a passage of Scripture that touches on our theme; i.e. the theme of mortificatio-sanctificatio-transformatio (just add an ‘n’):

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. –Romans 6.8-14

This seems rather straightforward for someone who may have been a Christian for any amount of time. There is a call, by Paul, for the Christian to live a life of participation in the righteousness of God in Christ. We are to ‘present’ ourselves a certain way; we are to be present before God (coram Deo) as if our lives are as Christ’s. St. Peter in stride with Paul wrote the following in regard to the ground of our life in Christ:

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign youbut they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. –I Peter 4.1-6

These types of motifs on mortification and vivification—the life lived in an active submission and obedience to God in such a way that we are constantly living in a posture of repentance and worship with the dialectical result of being enlivened in and from the life of Christ over and over again in this process of participation—can be enumerated many times over as we read through the Apostolic Deposit (the New Testament). The point I want to drive home, a point that many of us want to run away from or soften, is that God takes his holiness, and his people’s holiness seriously; indeed, this is what he invaded our humanity to accomplish: ‘he became us that we might become him’ (paraphrase of Irenaeus), that we might participate in the kind of set-apart life that he experiences in himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I think from Scripture the case is easily made that sanctification in Christ by the Spirit is a reality that God places a premium on for his covenant people in his covenant man, Jesus Christ. Taking their cue from Scripture the early Protestants held that sanctification involved various aspects in the Christian’s life; Richard Muller defines that for them this way:

sanctificatio.: Sanctificatio, therefore, begins with conversion (q.v.), or conversion, and continues throughout the life of the believer. The mortification and vivification that belong to conversio also belong to sanctificatio as the basic form of Christian life, dying to the world and living the new life in Christ. Since it is the continuation of regeneration or conversion, sanctification is sometimes called conversio continuata (q.v.).

The Protestant scholastics further distinguish between sanctification broadly and strictly defined. (1) Sanctificatio late dicta, or sanctification loosely considered, indicates the entire gracious work of the Spirit in the believer; (2) sanctificatio stricte dicta, or sanctification strictly defined, refers directly to the problem of the corrupted imago Dei and the old Adam in believers and is defined as the negative renovation (renovatio negativa) according to which believers daily die to sin and set aside the old Adam; (3) sanctificatio strictissime dicta, or sanctification most strictly considered, is the actual renewal of the imago Dei or positive renovation (renovatio positiva) of the Christian according to which the believer is actually made holy and, by the grace of the Spirit, cooperates willingly in the renewal of life and willingly does good works (bona opera). The Protestant orthodox, Lutheran and Reformed, are unanimous in their teaching that perfect or total sanctification does not occur in this life.[1]

As Evangelical Calvinists we will want to place a concentrated emphasis upon all of these aspects being grounded in Jesus Christ for us; as would John Calvin in his duplex gratia (‘double grace’) understanding of justification and sanctification. What I want to highlight in particular is what falls under Muller’s second definition, with special emphasis upon the ‘negative renovation’. This aspect most closely aligns with daily mortification of the self before God; i.e. what the Apostle Paul refers to in the passage above. This has seemingly fallen out of favor with many Christians.

Application–Revoice Conference

The Revoice Conference is described on their website as this:

Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.

And:

New Community

Gather together with other gender and sexual minorities and those who love them and experience a new kind of gospel community.[2]

Without getting deep into the details the premise is: that to be an LGBTQ Christian can actually be a reality; that it is a viable expression of what it means to be human before God. Further, this position argues that such dispositions, and thus identities can be ‘morally neutral’ and thus not acted upon (except to act upon identifying as one of the identities that LGBTQ covers). So the premise of the whole movement is that Christians can be gay, transgendered, or any other one of the expressions that they are representing, and that this is a legitimate theological-anthropological category before God; so much so that they use the language of ‘sexual minority’ (which connects them to racial minorities in the cultural and activist lexicon as well). The Revoice conference is sponsored by the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America), and has contributors from The Gospel Coalition as speakers and presenters (Wesley Hill and Matthew Lee Anderson) at the conference. The idea promoted, based on the prior assumption that the identity of LGBTQ is viable before God, is that people with such proclivities can remain celibate in their sexual identities and not act out upon their various sexual orientations; thus keeping them in good stead and purity before God—which is where the morally neutral premise comes in. It goes so far, the “friendship” aspect, that they believe homosexual couples can covenant as ‘friends’ and remain celibate, thus honoring the biblical strictures.

But the question arises, based upon our sketch of Christian sanctification above: is being homosexual so on and so forth really a viable and categorical identity that should be legitimized and recognized before God? What makes homosexuality any different than any other sin? The Apostle Paul provides the following list, with an important qualification in regard to ‘sanctification’:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. –I Corinthians 6.9-11

This is a common passage referred to by folks like me voicing concerns in this area; and the response to this, or the ‘work-around’ is that the term translated ‘homosexual’ isn’t really referring to homosexuality, as we think of it, and has nothing to do with sexual orientation, since ‘sexual orientation’ is a modern societal construct that the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could not have had in mind in his Second Temple Judaic context. On the one hand the Revoice folks might agree with the way I refer to this; as a reference to a reality, a sin forbidden by God. On the other hand I think they wouldn’t  agree with my appropriation of it in the sense that it is a passage that flattens out the idea that being LGBTQ, before God, represents a viable identity category; one that should be celebrated or accepted as a real designation for a purported “people group.” My point in appealing to this is indeed to recognize that for the Apostle Paul homosexuality is just one of many sins that a Christian is to resist and has been rescued from in and through the new humanity, the new creation and identity that Christ has won for us in his vicarious humanity.

Homosexuality is not an identity; there is no such thing as a ‘sexual minority’ before God. Homosexuality so on and so forth is a sin to be resisted not a people group to identify with, and yet this is what Revoice, and that mind is endorsing. They believe homosexuality, simply because of its “isness” in society is indeed a people group, a sexual minority that ought to be celebrated; albeit in chastened and celibate ways. But what makes this sin or this impulse any different than people who have impulses to be involved in pornography or adultery (etc.)? Should we identify new people groups, and establish a minority status for each of these sinful impulses as well? Do some Christian people have same-sex attractions? Yes. Do all Christian people have sinful impulses in all sorts of lurid directions? Yes. What’s the response to that? To resist by standing in the new creation and humanity of Jesus Christ; to stand in the power of the resurrection that the Holy Spirit brings us into union with in Christ (unio cum Christo); and to celebrate our identity in his identity for us before the Father.

Part of the Christian’s vocation in this life is to constantly be in the battle, constantly be militant against the principalities and powers that rule this evil age. This has personal, systemic/societal, and cosmic aspects; in each instance the marching orders are the same. We are to be “daily die[ing] to sin and set[ing] aside the old Adam,” which includes renouncing any other identity than the one we have in Jesus Christ and allowing that to be the witness to the world that a new age has invaded this world and made the crooked straight (the ‘crooked’ being all of us).

[1] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), 270.

[2] Revoice Conference Website.

Miscellanies on How the Order of a Doctrine of Election Affects the Pyromaniacs and The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel is Kingdom initiating, Kingdom grounding; indeed it could be said that the Gospel is the disruptive orientation of the original creation’s ultimate purpose as that is realized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. As David Fergusson has written, “the world was made so that Christ might be born;” this adage captures well the inherent value or the inner reality that the creation itself has. It is one born only in and from God’s reality to graciously be for the world and to do so in himself, in the Son, by the Spirit and thus to pretend as if the Triune reality is not the ground and grammar of ALL of reality—inclusive of morality—is to reduce the Gospel to a pietist individualism that only has to do with me and my salvation/me and my eternal destiny. While personal salvation, its appropriation, is very important, it is grounded more objectively and universally in the reality of redemption that God in Christ has proffered for all of creation, with Jesus being its crowning reality and jewel. In other words, the cosmic reality of salvation, grounded in the humanity and divinity (an/enhypostasis) of the eternal Logos become flesh, Jesus Christ, encompasses all aspects of created reality. It is not simply a matter of sufficiency but of efficacy; in other words, in the Kingdom, in the recreation there is not a delimitation of that to particular parts (i.e. classic election/reprobation) of the creation; no, the Kingdom of God in Christ (which is given reality in the Gospel which is embodied and lived in the Christ) is a macrocosmic reality (Rom. 8.18ff) that indeed disruptively impacts individuals who are willing, by the Holy Spirit’s wooing, to participate in this new created reality in and through the priestly-vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. This is why when people like Phil Johnson want to attempt to reduce the Gospel reality to its more individualistic provenance they end up critiquing work like The Gospel Coalition is engaging in as it sees the whole of reality implicated by the Kingdom Gospel; he fails to recognize that the Gospel is about a broader work and doctrine of creation/recreation than it simply being about ‘fire-insurance’ for an elect group of people elevated over and against the rest of creation (what TF Torrance identifies as ‘The Latin Heresy’ or an inherent dualism that comes to pass when we start denominating parts of creation from the mass of the creation). In this vein note what Johnson recently wrote in critique of The Gospel Coalition and its engagement with popular culture:

The “gospel-centered” movement that many of us were so enthusiastic for just one decade ago has gone with the drift. The Gospel Coalition has for some time now shown a pattern of embracing whatever new moral issue or political cause is currently popular in Western culture by arguing that this, too, is a legitimate “gospel issue.” They are by no means alone in this. Everything from the latest Marvel movie to gun control legislation has been deemed a “gospel issue” by some savvy evangelical writer at one or more of the most heavily trafficked evangelical websites. But if everything is supposedly a gospel issue, the expression “gospel-centered” is rendered meaningless.

As I said in a Tweet earlier today, we must not abandon the focused simplicity of Luke 24:46-47 in favor of a social gospel that encompasses a large complex of racial, economic, and political issues. Every denomination, every educational institution, and every church that has ever made that error has seen a quick demise. I for one don’t intend to watch in silence while the current generation repeats that mistake.[1]

In response to this I have read others on Twitter raise the question of sufficiency; in other words, is Scripture itself sufficient in responding to race or human sexuality questions, or in Scripture’s overt silence on these things are we able and responsible to turn to other resources—latent within God’s good creation (i.e. common grace)—to seek responses to the ills that the fallen world presents us with in an attempt to ultimately point people to the ultimate sufficiency of the living God as that is provided for in Jesus Christ? So the response seems to be: not all things are intensively or directly related to the narrower message of the Gospel, instead they are related but only in an extensive or indirect matter which allows for and even calls for Christian thinkers to respond to questions not explicitly spoken to in Scripture in such a way that honors the general reality of the Gospel; and within that space has freedom to address issues that might not otherwise seem to have to do with the Gospel in any meaningful sense, but in fact are Gospel issues insofar as they are indirectly impacted by the ultimate reality of it (in other words: natural law, or a natural ethic is going to be appealed to—something that in this line of thinking does not undercut the sufficiency of Scripture to speak to what it intends to speak to, but in fact works in a complementary way to Scripture with the a priori recognition that all of creation belongs to God and is within the realm of his Providential care, governance, and sustenance).

There is a certain irony to these views (Johnson’s and Twitter’s). Both of these approaches share a similar doctrine of creation, theologically/soteriologically. They both share a particular view on the sufficiency of the Gospel and Scripture, but apply that differently (because of broader hermeneutical differences). They denominate parts of creation out from the greater mass of creation, believing that one part is the elect of God while the rest is damned. Johnson focuses on the elect part of creation, but dispensationally neglecting the whole of creation, while the other side also focuses on the elect part of creation, but they see that as the seed that ultimately cashes out in the new creation; they place election into a cosmic understanding of salvation and Providence while Johnson places election into an individualistic and pietist understanding of salvation wherein what ultimately matters is not this creation simpliciter, but the legal salvation of an elect people from an eternal hell. The irony is that they share some overlapping soteriological assumptions, in regard to election, but where that doctrine is placed in their respective theologies cashes out differently in the way that they see the Gospel itself implicating the whole of creation. The Twitter-view works from a cosmic doctrine of salvation, while the Johnson view works from a pietistic, individualist understanding of salvation that is discontinuous from creation as a cosmic reality. The difference in the end is that the Twitter view is Covenantal while the Johnson view is Dispensational. The Twitter view reflects a historic confessionally Reformed perspective, while the Johnson view reflects his Calvinist-lite perspective which is the reduction of Reformed theology to the so called five-points.

Just take this post for what it’s worth. I was going to totally go in another direction and refer us to Oliver O’Dononvan and Philip Ziegler (and apocalyptic theology), but the above is what came out instead. It’s just me thinking out loud. But I think there might be something to my theoretical meanderings. And I only think this is a worthwhile exercise because I think it illustrates a substantial theological polarity that is present within the so called Reformed world. I’ll want to return to how I opened this post up, and get into the relationship of the Gospel and the Kingdom within an Apocalyptic Theology and how I think that informs discussions like these.

[1] Phil Johnson, The Root of the Matter, accessed 05-28-2018.