Reflections on LGBTIQA+ and Gay Christians: With Some Reference to Revoice

What is my sense of homosexuality, or the so called LGBTIQA+ “lifestyle?” My view is rather straightforward: I believe it represents an incurved-upon-the-self sinful orientation that worships the self-possessed desires and wants rather than God and God’s. If homosexuality is what medievally was identified as homo in se incurvatus, then how can Christians meaningfully attempt to reconcile that, before God (coram Deo), with the idea that it represents a viable ‘orientation’ and lifestyle? How can this be anything other than accommodating to a self-styled and self-possessed societal construct that finds its antecedents in and from the kingdom of darkness rather than the Kingdom of the Son of His Love (cf. Col 1.13)? I am really referring to the movement among “conservative” evangelical Christians known as Revoice. Revoice, for some reason, wants to recognize, along with the rest of the broader cultural moment, that somehow homosexuality represents a real identity that ought to be recognized in the name of being true to oneself. Even if Revoice maintains a ‘traditional’ sexual ethic, in regard to “acting out” on their “orientation,” what is the meaningful point behind forming a group known as Revoice? If we were to follow its logic Christians would form similar groups based on their persistent and abiding orientations: whether that be to lie, steal, get angry, or whatever other sinful predispositions we all struggle with. If this is the case, then what’s the actual point of Christians attempting to chart a via media between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ when it comes to human sexuality? Why not just jump into the mix with the rest of sinners and recognize that we all struggle with a variety of pernicious sins? The sins might very in expression and form, one from the other, but the struggle is real for all of us. It seems like a lot of energy and collective self-loathing, or self-celebrating, as the case might be, could be spent on other more fruitless ventures; like exalting the righteousness and redemption of the risen Christ.

If the goal of things like Revoice is to construct a safe-haven for fellow strugglers with a particular sin, then just brand it that way. But that isn’t the way they brand it: Instead they are seemingly attempting to tap into the cultural moment and celebrate, along with the rest of the broader society, the idea that they just are: Gay! But the Gospel contradicts this sort of thinking, directly! The NT gives us lists of sins, and it doesn’t elevate one over the other; instead it simply lists them together, as affronts to the righteousness of the living God. The NT doesn’t set aside time in the day for celebrating this or that identity, other than being identified in and from and with Jesus Christ. We don’t need to be liberated to name the ‘unseen,’ or to be freed from unspoken taboos; instead we need to be liberated for another reason: viz. to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ as Victor over all else. We aren’t homosexuals. We aren’t liars. We aren’t murderers. We aren’t vagrants. Even if we were. We are Christians, because we are in Christ; we are those who are union with Christ, because Christ is in union with us. This light shed abroad in our hearts, and in the cosmos, overshadows the nooks and crannies we seek to set out for ourselves in the name of recovery and spiritual health. Spiritual health never comes by turning to ourselves; it doesn’t come by settling down with the Law; spiritual health comes as we live and move and have our being, moment by moment, afresh and anew, as we ‘keep in step with the Spirit.’ Revoice pushes people into an identity that is supposed to be mortified, not admitted and lived into. That identity, the one society says should be celebrated and accepted, never stood a chance up against the identity of God in Christ for us. He shook the fabric of the far country with the near country of God’s life for us, such that all other attempts to construct identities in abstraction from His are finally seen for what they are: IDOLATRY.

Yes, this is a rant; but it represents something that has been on my mind lately. Homosexuality, as I read the Bible, is at the very end of God’s patience. It isn’t that He didn’t come to give His life for those who are predisposed to homosexuality, or any other sin; it is that He did! And that He did is the point. There is an in-breaking and Kingdom that has come upon us, and comes upon us in Christ; and it asks us to deny ourselves take up our crosses and follow Jesus. It doesn’t ask us to loiter with our crosses, instead the Gospel calls us to greater ventures: which is what following Jesus entails. Christians aren’t gay anymore than they are liars. Christians might continue to struggle with whatever their particular struggle is, in the arena of sin; but they are first and foremost new creations in the new creation of God who is Jesus Christ. The power isn’t in the cross, it is in the resurrection. The resurrection is the life Christians have been called to live from, not the life that has been put to death. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. This is not to suggest that we are naïve about our struggles, it is instead to recognize that our struggles are just that. We aren’t supposed to camp down in Babylon, not in this moment. The Redeemer has already come, and as such, there is The Freedom of the Christian.

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An Outsider’s Perspective on the SBC’s Resolution 9 and Critical Race Theory

I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am Baptistic, at least with reference to a doctrine of Baptism—grew up as a Conservative Baptist. So, I am somewhat outside of the current dust-up happening as a consequence of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. In this meeting they successfully pushed through Resolution 9, which has to do with the affirmation of so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Intersectionality; both hot-topic realities in the broader cultural moment. For the remainder of this post we will engage with Resolution 9, and offer some critical comment with reference to its appeal to ‘general revelation’ as the basis for justifying its affirmation of CRT and Intersectionality; even as the committee attempts to curtail and delimit CRT and Intersectionality by sub-ordinating it to the authority of Holy Scripture.

Here is Resolution 9 in full:

WHEREAS, Concerns have been raised by some evangelicals over the use of frameworks such as critical race theory and intersectionality; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and inform one’s experience; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture; and

WHEREAS, Evangelical scholars who affirm the authority and sufficiency of Scripture have employed selective insights from critical race theory and intersectionality to understand multifaceted social dynamics; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message states, “[A]ll Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried” (Article I); and

WHEREAS, General revelation accounts for truthful insights found in human ideas that do not explicitly emerge from Scripture and reflects what some may term “common grace”; and

WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences; and

WHEREAS, Scripture contains categories and principles by which to deal with racism, poverty, sexism, injustice, and abuse that are not rooted in secular ideologies; and

WHEREAS, Humanity is primarily identified in Scripture as image bearers of God, even as biblical authors address various audiences according to characteristics such as male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free; and

WHEREAS, The New Covenant further unites image bearers by creating a new humanity that will one day inhabit the new creation, and that the people of this new humanity, though descended from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, are all one through the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:16; Revelation 21:1–4, 9–14); and

WHEREAS, Christian citizenship is not based on our differences but instead on our common salvation in Christ—the source of our truest and ultimate identity; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention is committed to racial reconciliation built upon biblical presuppositions and is committed to seeking biblical justice through biblical means; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the Church seeks to redress social ills, and we reject any conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the gospel of Jesus Christ alone grants the power to change people and society because “he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6); and be it further

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptists will carefully analyze how the information gleaned from these tools are employed to address social dynamics; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches and institutions repudiate the misuse of insights gained from critical race theory, intersectionality, and any unbiblical ideologies that can emerge from their use when absolutized as a worldview; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny any philosophy or theology that fundamentally defines individuals using categories identified as sinful in Scripture rather than the transcendent reality shared by every image bearer and divinely affirmed distinctions; and be it further

RESOLVED, That while we denounce the misuse of critical race theory and intersectionality, we do not deny that ethnic, gender, and cultural distinctions exist and are a gift from God that will give Him absolute glory when all humanity gathers around His throne in worship because of the redemption accomplished by our resurrected Lord; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That Southern Baptist churches seek to exhibit this eschatological promise in our churches in the present by focusing on unity in Christ amid image bearers and rightly celebrate our differences as determined by God in the new creation.[1]

Identifying A Hermeneutical Problem

At first blush it reminds me of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (with its thousands of qualifications). Resolution 9 so qualifies its appropriation of CRT and Intersectionality (CRT/I) that you start to wonder why they feel compelled to even use it as the ‘analytical tool’ they say it is at all. This makes me think that they want to have official space to deploy CRT/I that they wouldn’t have outwith their resolution. In other words, it makes me think that the committee that drafted R9, and the ‘Messengers’ who ratified it through vote, see more value to CRT/I than they are letting on. It is actually really easy to assert that a group of Christians will always subordinate a creed, confession, catechism, or resolution to Scripture; but when it comes to the actual practice of this sub-ordinating, the waters become almost immediately murky.

On analogy I’ll refer us to the Westminster Confession of Faith. For many Reformed churches, particularly the Presbyterian churches, the WCF (and other confessions etc), de jure, are said to be subordinate to Scripture. But when we begin to engage with such Christians what we quickly come to realize is that they maintain that the most faithful and historic reading of Scripture they know of is deposited in and thus regulated by adherence to the WCF. In other words, it becomes almost impossible to critically disentangle Scripture’s teaching, simpliciter, from the WCF’s confessing insofar that the latter is understood to be univocal with the former; at least when we are in orbit with Christians who are confessionally bound by submission to the WCF.

Similarly, I believe proponents of R9 among the SBC have the same problem to overcome; it is a hermeneutical problem, indeed. Who is to say, under the conditions of R9, where the clear teaching of Scripture leaves off, and the analytical virtue of CRT/I pick up? Many of us have heard of what sociologist, Christian Smith, has called Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism (PIP); i.e. the phenomenon of pluriform and multitudinous interpretations of the same respective texts of Scripture. I think it would be safe to say that the SBC is not immune to this phenomenon, as such how will the practitioners of R9 recognize when their exegesis of Scripture is sub-ordinating CRT/I for its analytic value, and when CRT/I is in fact shaping said exegesis of Scripture? In other words, in my view, it seems that R9 opens a can-o-worms in the sense that there is some serious latitude for circular reasoning (petitio principii) to obtain. It seems as if R9 leaves the line between faithful exegesis of Scripture and deployment of CRT/I up to the subjectivities of the respective interpreters. This seems like a real dilemma that needs to be addressed in the resolution itself, but the resolution doesn’t address it. It is a hermeneutical dilemma, which leads me to my next observation/critique.

The Problem of General Revelation/Natural Theology

As an Evangelical Calvinist I repudiate, in principle, the idea of natural theology, or what some more benignly call ‘general revelation.’ It isn’t just Evangelical Calvinists who repudiate natural theology, indeed, there are other classically Reformed Christians who similarly reject Natural Theology; some in a more qualified sense.[2] Yet, the R9’rs make natural theology the basis for their justification of appropriating CRT/I as an analytical tool. The appeal to the axiom ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ But this axiom is rather circular sense it premises that ‘all truth’ is discernable as true apart from establishing said truth as true in critical ways. In other words, axioms or anecdotes like this only work in a superficial way; when we begin to move into critical engagement towards identifying what is true, and what is not-true, we are always pushed up against a hermenutical/epistemological dilemma. In other words, how can we know what is true or not-true; what warrant do we have, for example, for asserting that CRT/I offers valuable analytical tools for critically ascertaining the human experience as that is understood, in particular, among the ‘minority’ and belittled segments of humanity? Does nature itself, bear within itself, the resource for explaining to us what ails the human condition? Or maybe more minimally, as I think the R9’rs would probably maintain: does CRT/I, grounded in nature as it is, present us with categories that help us ‘organize’ and index the problems facing minorities and the belittled better than Scriptural Revelation can? This seems to be the contention of the R9’rs; they seem to think that nature itself has the ratio of God inherent to it. As such, they further seem to think that CRT/I has discovered something latent within nature that can help supplement Scripture’s teaching on race, human sexuality, and other sundry things.

But what if nature isn’t accessible this way? What if the human condition is unable to discover things ‘from on high,’ and instead only are able to discover things from below that find their orientation from the ‘kingdom of darkness?’ How is an R9’r to know whether CRT/I offers analytically-rich contours for navigating through the choppy cultural waters of Race and other related issues? If proponents of R9, within the SBC, believe they are justified in affirming the purported analytical values present within CRT/I; then upon what basis are they claiming CRT/I actually has these values? You see the hermeneutical dilemma, right? You see the circular nature of their reasoning, correct? Their whole justification for affirming even a limited appropriation of CRT/I (although I’m not sure how limited that will be based upon the previous concerns I mentioned, in re: to PIP) is based upon an overly-simplistic axiom that ‘all truth is God’s truth.’ That axiom is fine as far as it goes at a superficial level, but when we press it more critically we come to recognize that identifying what in fact is “truth” is a much more complex venture; particularly as we consider the noetic effects of the ‘fall of humanity.’ Even if we wanted to affirm a theory of general revelation, a theory according to the R9’rs’ logic that maintains that unregenerate humans can discover God’s truth apart from regenerated reason/affections, how can we ever be sure that this ‘discovery’ is in alignment with God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ? Are we going to simply base the answer to that question on utilitarian, consequentialist, and pragmatic conclusions? That seems to be the depth of the R9’rs appeal to general revelation. They seem to be premising that CRT/I has yielded certain ideational consequences to the point that it has become utilitarianly useful as an organizational and analytical tool in regard to parsing out the issues of Race, Human Sexuality and other sundry issues.

Conclusion

I think the R9’rs have opened up a can-o-worms that requires much more responsible engagement. If I was a pastor (or professor) in the SBC I would be utterly confused in regard to how I was supposed to appropriate the ostensible riches of CRT/I that the R9 Committee seems to think is as self-evident as God’s truth is in nature. These are concerning things in my view, and ones that the SBC does not face alone. It is a hermeneutical/prolegomena issue that I think R9 proponents and the rest of the Christian world ought to recognize when attempting to engage with Scripture and culture in the translational effort we are all engaged in as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Are we going to walk by faith, or sight? If we walk by faith I’d venture to say that ‘the Kingdom of the Son of His love,’ that the Kingdom of Christ, apocalyptic as it is, has the capacity to break in on our puny machinations and “discoveries,” and contravene them with an antecedent and strange reality come from heaven above in Christ.

Personally, what I wonder is why the churches feel so compelled to find riches in Babylon, when we have already been set free to a Kingdom that has riches and depth of its own? I mean what is the motive for the SBC’s apparent need for appropriating CRT/I? It seems like revelation itself has other and powerful resources, even analytical ones, that can avoid being interlinked with ‘natural’ discoveries of “truth” as CRT/I purports to be. Sure, it might require greater and deeper theological work than simply appealing to ‘all truth is God’s truth’ offers the practitioner; but the power and love of the Gospel seem to invite the Christian to ‘toil’ (II Tim 2.15) in this sort of depth dimensional work. I don’t see this funding Resolution 9’s manifesto, and as such think it ought to be abandoned, or at least suspended until further and more theologically critical consideration can be given.

 

[1] Source.

[2] See Richard Muller’s PRRD where he treats this issue in and among the early and high Reformed theologians who gave ‘natural theology’ a very denuded place insofar as they believed there was enough general revelation given by God to the level that all people would be left without excuse at God’s eschatological judgment. But as Muller points out, these same theologians did not see a positive role for general revelation wherein a natural theology could be posited to the level that it might supply a material complement to what is given in ‘special revelation.’ This seems to be the way the Resolutioners of R9 are appealing to ‘common grace,’ as if the light of reason has the capacity to complement the light of revelation (to use some of Katherine Sonderegger’s Aristotelian/Thomist framework).

The Impact of the Secular Mind Upon the Christian Mind: Readings With Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor’s Secular Age is a mammoth of a read, but well worthwhile. The first third, at least for me, was sort of a slog, but as you persevere it gets really good. The following just came up as I continue to read through it, and I thought it might be interesting to share. It pretty much describes most of the conflagration we see taking place on a daily basis on theological social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). It is the rift that has obtained between so called progressive Christians and conservative (or orthodox) Christians. It is this rift, among many others, that Taylor is so masterfully articulating and enlightening as he uncovers the intellectually processes through which these shifts and caverns have developed. Here he is referring to the impact that the Enlightenment and the ascendency had upon the various fissures we are currently experiencing now. He writes:

What made Christianity particularly repulsive to the Enlightenment mind was the whole juridical-penal way in which the doctrine of original sin and the atonement were cast during the high middle ages and the Reformation. Our distance from perfection was glossed as just punishment for earlier sin; and our salvation through Christ as his offering satisfaction for this fault, paying the fine, as it were.

There were some repugnant aspects of this just in itself. But it became connected to two doctrines which were potentially deeply offensive. The first was the belief that only a few are saved. The second was the doctrine of predestination, which seemed to be generated inevitably from a belief in divine omnipotence in the context of the juridical-penal model.

Now in fact, opinion begins to move against these doctrines in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the one hand, there is the “decline of hell”, and the rise of universalism; on the other, there is growing revulsion at predestined damnation, even within Calvinistic societies. Of course, these developments were surely not independent of the one I was tracing above, viz., the growth of confidence in the human power to do good. But they add an extra level of motivation, a revulsion at the orthodox formulations, which must either lead to a revised faith, or in certain cases, to a sharp break with it.

Again, as confidence in human powers grows, and in particular, in the powers of reason, the claims of Churches to authority on behalf of a faith which partly consists of mysteries, becomes harder and harder to accept. This is another way in which a modern rationalism based on science can argue that the rise of science refutes religion.

But this still doesn’t capture fully the negative movement, the hostility to Christianity which spread among elites at this time. It wasn’t just the particular doctrines of the juridical-penal model, nor the rationalist rejection of mystery.

We saw that much of the historical practice of Christianity ran afoul of the new ethic of purely immanent human good: . . .[1]

Taylor’s description of things is apropos. He gets further into the sociological and ideational issues that have led to the post-Christian world within which we currently live; as the last clause intimates. But I thought the doctrinal loci he identified, both unconditional election and predestination, along with universalism and the juridical-penal frame of Christian salvation typically associated with conservative Christians and their adherence to the penal substitutionary view of the atonement, is quite prescient. This is the stuff that makes theological social media turn; over and over and over again.

Interestingly to me also, as far as the doctrinal loci he underscores, is how that to one extent or another shapes my own theological inklings about various doctrinal matters. While we can attribute much of what he identifies as a relative to the rise of reason in modernity, as far as society’s turn against Christian theism and the particular doctrines he notes, it can also be said that some of that critique towards these various doctrines has rootage in the Christian patristic past. So these things are a complex.

The shift we see happening in society, the shift into an absolutely secular self, is not just impacting the secular people, but the Christians as well. It does us well to be critically cognizant of just what is shaping our hermeneutical lenses as we approach the translation of the Christian faith in the 21st century; and Taylor’s work helps with that.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap of Harvard University Press, 2007), 262-63 kindle.

Knowledge of God and His Holiness Brings Knowledge of Self: Learning How to Live a Counter-Cultural Life from the Culture of Heaven

I have been thinking lately about how easily we, as Christians, are seduced into the ways of the ‘world’; even when we are vigilantly attempting to live sanctified lives unto God. It is seemingly impossible to not be enculturated, at some level, to the point that our guard is taken down and the world system then seeps into the pores of our lives such that we become blind to the stark reality of God’s otherness and holiness; the holiness that He requires us to live into: ‘Be Holy as I am Holy.’ So what’s our hope? Can we have a daily knowledge of God which keeps us from being sucked into the ‘ways of the world,’ such that we have the capacity to not just resist, but discern the various snares set for us by the enemy of our souls?

John Calvin in the very opening of his Institute of the Christian Religion famously offers his thoughts on knowledge of God and knowledge of self. I think his words are a helpful way to think about our position before God, and how it is that we come to have a genuine knowledge of ourselves; just as we come to have a genuine knowledge of God through union with Christ. I want to suggest that it is as we inhabit this frame, on a daily basis, that we will come to have the proper perspective for doing ‘battle’ in a world system that seeks, at every turn, to take us captive to do its will rather than God’s. Calvin writes (in the 1541, French version of his Institute):

For this pride is rooted in all of us, that it always seems to us that we are just and truthful, wise and holy, unless we are convicted by clear evidence of our unrighteousness, lies, madness, and uncleanness. For we are not convinced if we look only at ourselves and not equally at the Lord, who is the unique rule and standard to which this judgment must be conformed. For since we are all naturally inclined to hypocrisy, an empty appearance of righteousness quite satisfies us instead of the truth; and since there is nothing at all around us which is not greatly contaminated, what is a little less dirty is received by us as very pure, so long as we are happy with the limits of our humanity which is completely polluted. Just as the eye which looks at nothing but black-colored things judges something that is a poor white color, or even half-gray, to be the whitest thing in the world. It is also possible to understand better how much we are deceived in our measure of the powers of the soul, by an analogy from physical sight. For if in broad daylight we look down at the earth, or if we look at the things around us, we think that our vision is very good and clear. But when we lift our eyes directly to the sun, the power which was evident on the earth is confounded and blinded by such a great light, so that we are obliged to admit that the good vision with which we look at earthly things is very weak when we look at the sun. The same thing happens when we measure our spiritual abilities. For as long as we do not consider more than earthly matters we are very pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, and flatter and praise ourselves, and thus come close to considering ourselves half divine. But if we once direct our thought to the Lord and recognize the perfection of His righteousness, wisdom, and power (the rule and standard by which we must measure), what pleased us before under the guise of righteousness will appear dirtied with very great wickedness; what deceived us so wondrously under the guise of wisdom will appear to be extreme madness; what had the appearance of power will be shown to be miserable weakness: so it is when what seemed most perfect in us is compared with God’s purity.[1]

Calvin’s thought here is a prescient word for our current moment in world history. As Christians, in the main, we have firmly planted our feet on the slippery slope of cultural appropriation to the point that genuine encounter with the living God has become fleeting; instead we typically end up encountering self-projections who we have conflated with divinity.

Some may read these words from Calvin, and read: Legalism or nomism. But if that’s the conclusion then Calvin’s point is only proven, not repudiated. Christians are so afraid of being legalists, that they’ve lost sight of the demand of God to be holy as He is Holy. Christians, unfortunately, have wrongly read legalism and God’s holiness and purity together; but this couldn’t be further from the reality. Legalism is a man-made standard, the very standard Calvin is attempting to marginalize and undercut, that elevates human-centered wisdom and righteousness to divine status, and then, if at all, attempts to live up to this artificial standard to achieve favor before God and men. But this is all wrong, as Calvin so insightfully identifies. God’s holiness is sui generis, it is of another sort; another world even. God’s holiness is set apart by His eternal Life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in interpenetrative union. This is the knowledge that sets us free to see ourselves as we are; this is the knowledge that undoes our artificial systems of right and wrong. It is a knowledge of God that sets us free to see the world as it is, as God sees it for us in Christ; a world that, in God’s economy has come to have a cruciform shape, such that to think God rightly first requires a daily reckoning of ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in and from Christ.

It is possible to maneuver the terrain of the current world system as a Christian, and not be fully sublimated by the seductive siren calls of its minions of “light.” But it requires the sort of knowledge Calvin alerts us to. It requires a daily battle that we ourselves have no strength to fight; so it requires that we actively recognize our passive posture before God, with the hope that He, in His mercy, will supply us with the grace sufficient for us to see as He sees. It seems that, by-and-large, the church, even the so called evangelical churches, is failing at this in radical ways. If we are going to be ‘saved’ we must have to do with the real and living God, not with a god who is a manifest destiny of our own making. This is the challenge that Calvin leaves us with: Are we going to battle to seek God while He may be found; are we going to wake up each morning, and reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ? It is only in this Spirit empowered mode of living coram Deo that the Christian will have the resource to be an ‘overcomer’ rather than someone overcome by this world system.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 24.

Pastors Will Be Held to a Higher Standard than Group Think; The Elder Said ‘God just is Wrath’: Miscellanies on FaceBook Posts

This post will attempt to expand and clarify upon two FaceBook posts that seemed to cause some people confusion and even consternation. I mean this is usually the case on such platforms, isn’t it? People share context-less anecdotes, or enthymemic notions that are usually sub a greater and more fulsome context of meaning. This post will attempt to provide some of that for these two little ‘posts.’ Here’s the first one:

Much theology is adopted for purposes of pastoral polity and expediency, not necessarily because it represents the best alternatives critically available.

What I had in mind with this one isn’t all that profound, but here’s the context of thought: Growing up as an evangelical Baptist Christian, particularly as a ‘pastor’s kid’, it has made me sensitive to trends in the evangelical churches; as I’m sure it has for many of us. As someone who has been trained formally to be involved in some sort of Christian ministry, and been involved in pastoral and evangelical ministry over the years, what I’ve come to recognize in the Free churches, is that they are largely driven by trends. Usually because of time and personnel constraints, which is almost always driven by fiscal issues, pastors and leadership teams in churches are simply attempting to stay afloat among the rigors of daily ministry. As a result, there isn’t seemingly a lot of time for doctrinal reflection or development, so they fall back on whatever their ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ has adopted or gravitated towards. In the baptistic oriented churches, if they are wanting some sort of doctrinal bases, they seemingly have looked to outlets and ministries like The Gospel Coalition, John MacArthur’s ‘Grace to You’, Mark Dever’s 9Marks, or even Paul Washer (so on and so forth); but something in this range of theological trad. What, of course, is common to these various outlets is that they are largely shaped directly by what I call soteriological (versus Federal/Covenantal) Calvinism. But this is what is expedient and in the air for those who want to be doctrinally astute, at least at some level. So, the churches are being fed this sort of theological fare, whether that be in a more aggressive or passive way, respectively.

This is really all I was getting at with my FB post. Most local churches, for mostly administrative reasons, and then the way that pastors are trained to think to be pastors these days, are caught in this doctrinal web. If not, then they’ve caught other trends, like: moralistic therapeutic deism, self-help, seeker sensitive, market-based churching. But my basic premise is: That churches, largely because of their pastor[s], end up going along with theological group-think, rather than being critically reflective on what in fact the Bible might actually teach; and then the attending theological grammar and thought that comes along with that. Pastors will be held to a higher standard than ‘group think.’

My second post was this (this one was more doctrinally focused):

We attended a church for a while where one of the elders, as he was going to lead us in prayer stated: we just thank God for His wrath. Everything has a theological background. Do you want to guess the theological background that would lead someone to say something like this, in an abstraction?

Knowing me, this one should be pretty clear already. The theological background I’m referring to is classical Calvinism, of the sort we’ve already mentioned in the last explanation. The stunning thing to me about this pronouncement, from this elder, was that there was no qualification. He just got up, and as a matter of fact, he simply stated what I’ve noted; I’d never heard, not even a Calvinist be so blatant in language like this before (that was actually our last Sunday at this church). Does God have wrath? Yes, but in the sense noted by Thomas Torrance:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]

Or in the Barthian sense that God in Christ is the Judge, judged. The point being that God’s first Word of wrath is one of love. He first loved us that we might love Him, and in this God’s wrath begins to make theological sense. To simply state that we thank God for his wrath without explicitly grounding that first in His life of triune love gives the impression that God just is wrathful, full stop. But we know that this isn’t the case. We know who God is first, as Athanasius says (paraphrase): as Father of the Son; we know Him filially, and familially, as a child knows their parent—but in a primal, ultimate way. To unhinge God’s wrath from His love, from His being that is shaped by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to give the people a No-God; at least not a God who the Christian first has come to know as their Lord and Savior.

Clearly, there is an interpretive tradition this particular elder has been formed by; one that I’ve spilled much cyber-ink over. What this elder illustrated for me once again, is that theologies have consequences; of the sort that could potentially destroy people’s recognition of the true and living God; the God Christians only know, by definition, through the biblical reality who is the Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

 

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

A Quick Response To Union Theological Seminary’s Recent Anti-Christ Twitter-Storm

The following is a “tweet-storm” that Union Theological Seminary recently posted on Twitter. It is actually prompted as a clarification to another tweet-storm they offered in response to John MacAthur’s Statement on Social Justice and The Gospel. Leaving that issue to the side for the moment, what this tweet-storm reveals, not surprisingly though, is the depths that Union has come to. They have been known since their inception of being a bastion of liberal theology, and so this might seem unremarkable to some. I just wanted to comment a bit on it. So read it in full below, then I will offer a brief comment.

Some people have asked why a Christian seminary would say that Christianity is not the only path to salvation. The short answer is that this in no way violates the Christian faith and, moreover, is integral to honoring and respecting our community. 2. For too long, Christians have misread verses like John 14:6 as implying that God is found exclusively through the Christian faith, many going as far as to say that people of other faiths face eternal damnation. This is an incredibly narrow reading of the text. 3. To box God neatly within the Christian tradition is to reveal a profoundly limited understanding of the divine. Who are we to say that God can’t speak to humanity through a multitude of messengers? 4. “No one comes to God except through me,” is simply Jesus’ prophetic announcement that—to know and enter into relationship with God—emulate Jesus: Embrace folk on the margins, stand against imperial abuses, love one’s neighbor. These aren’t exclusively Christian values. 5. And this isn’t a “good people from other faiths are Christians and just don’t know it” argument, just an admission of Christian humility that the way we’ve come to know and follow God isn’t the only path. Admitting this, however, by no means precludes Christian identity. 6. One can still uphold the Bible’s authority, personally; still believe fervently that Jesus is God-made-flesh; still worship in Christian community; still be a Christian in every meaningful sense, without saying anyone who believes differently is destined for hellfire. 7. Union is by no means disavowing Christianity, only admitting it is not the sole way to know God. And, in doing that, we open the door to genuine interreligious engagement that not only deepens Christian faith, but honors others’ religious experience as equally deep and valid. 8. Union now proudly offers programs in Buddhism & Interreligious Engagement and Islam & Interreligious Engagement. In our classrooms, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian students study side by side—exploring their faith together. 9. This is simply not possible in an institution that believes non-Christian students are destined for damnation. And this dynamic, while particularly acute in an educational setting, is just as true for the world at large. 10. We need faith leaders who can cross religious borders to strive together for God’s justice, not ones who demand everyone believe as they do. The globe is stricken with far too much religious violence: We need to deepen interreligious understanding, not add to this pain. 11. And this begins by letting go of narrow conceptions of salvation that harm others, building walls instead of bridges.[1]

Here is how I responded to it on my twitter feed:

I mean honestly there isn’t much to say other than UTS is apostate. They operate under the mythology of something like John Hick’s pluralistic universalism. They also, as indicated in their twitter-storm only make bald-faced, limp-wristed, snowflake like assertions about the traditional view of salvation being too narrow. So what! Really, what does it matter what they or I think?! Has God spoken clearly with force in and through His living Word or not? Is there ‘no other name given under heaven by which people might be saved’ except Christ’s name, or not? They said reading John 14:6 as presenting an exclusive way to God through Christ alone is too narrow and rigid. Really? How did you come to that conclusion, and who allowed you to crawl into God’s mind and tell the rest of the world, and the church catholic what he ‘really’ meant? Don’t you—the authors of this tweet-thread—see the slippery slope you have slid down? Aren’t you aware, historically, of the ideational antecedents that have led you to the sort of neo-Cartesian/Gnostic theory of authority you are operating from when you presume to speak as God? May God have mercy on your ever-self-loving-souls.

 

[1] Union Theological Seminary, Twitter-Storm, accessed 09-20-2018.

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.

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.

Beyond the Culture Wars: Christian Theology and the Hard Sciences in Communicatio

We live in a period of history wherein scientism—the belief that modern scientific progression still has the inchoate capacity to unlock the mysteries of the universe one observation at a time/the belief that science has become the new magisteria, the new authority and foundation upon which human knowledge and progress will flourish—by and large underwrites the confidence of our age; the confidence in the indomitable human spirit to overcome and meta-narrativalize reality (although postmodernity seeks to deconstruct most of that mentality; nevertheless, it is still present, I would contend, in society at large). That said, I wanted to share a word from Thomas F Torrance on how he sees the relationship between the ‘hard’ sciences and Christian theology; it is rather illuminating relative to how the culture wars so often paint things in stark and competitive terms. Torrance writes:

It is towards the encouragement of that kind of dialogue that this book is offered, in the hope that it may help people who are interested in natural science as well as those interested in Christian theology. What is intended here is not that theology should take into its material content ideas that derive from natural scientific knowledge of the universe, any more than natural science should incorporate into its developing stock of ideas distinctly theological conceptions. That would be both unscientific and untheological, and could only bring theology and science into useless conflict with one another. What is envisaged here is an exercise in conjoint thinking where theological science and natural science have common ground with the rationalities and objectivities of the created order but where they each pursue a difference objective. So far as theology is concerned, the claim is advanced that theology cannot be pursued in any proper and rigorous way in detachment from the determinate framework of the spatio-temporal universe with which God addresses his Word to us and calls us to know and love and serve him. It is, I believe, indifference to that framework of objective rationality, or the isolation of theology from natural science, that lies behind the sense of lostness and bewilderment, as well as the sloppiness and ambiguity of thought, so often manifest in contemporary theological literature. On the other hand, it is through that framework seriously that we are enabled to hear the Word of God in such an objective way that we do not confuse it with the creaturely things we tell ourselves about one another and are tempted to project into God. It is through deep-going dialogue with science and submission of our own theological conceptions to the critical questions it addresses to us that we are helped to purge our minds of pseudo-theological as well as pseudo-scientific notions, and so are enabled to build up theological knowledge in a positive way on its own proper ground: God’s self-revelation and self-communication to us in the incarnation of his eternal Word in Jesus Christ.[1]

When you read Torrance, no matter what it is from him, you will always have this underlying sounding of the patristic voice therein. Even here we can get a sense of Torrance’s enjoyment of patristic thought on the logoi derivative of the Logos of God built into the fabric of intelligible reality (intelligible precisely because the order of the universe is contingent upon the living Word of God—creatio ex nihilo). And as is also typical with Torrance, no matter what he writes it will always be conditioned by his concentrated effort to see the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as regulative of all things; that all reality has it teleology from and in the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ. Beyond that, and this is quite fruitful I think (in regard to opening vistas towards a protagonistic relationship between hard science and Christian theology), Torrance wants science and Christian theology to be framed in a harmonious dialogical combine; one which is not currently present for many a Christian and/or scientist. This book (from whence I take the quote), helps offer a way forward for thinking Christian theology and Science together; while at the same time honoring their proper distinctions relative to disciplinary realities and subject/object material.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology&Scientific Culture (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1980), 8-9.

What Hath Benedictine Monks to do with the Mammon of Capitalism?

I just started rereading a book we read in undergrad worldview class back in 1998; the book is the late Neil Postman’s Technopoly. He makes an interesting observation about the invention of the clock and capitalism/mammon. He is noting how there are unseen consequences to the development of technology that can be both good and bad; I like the way he interprets how the clock was turned into a bad as it was put into the service of worshiping Mammon rather than the living and Triune God (which was its original intent). He notes:

But such prejudices are not always apparent at the start of a technology’s journey, which is why no one can safely conspire to be a winner in technological change. Who would have imagined, for example, whose interests in and what world-view would be ultimately advanced by the invention of the mechanical clock? The clock had its origin in the Benedictine monasteries of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The impetus behind the invention was to provide a more or less precise regularity to the routines of the monasteries, which required, among other things, seven periods of devotion during the course of the day. The bells of the monastery were to be rung to signal the canonical hours; the mechanical clock was the technology that could provide precision to these rituals of devotion. And indeed it did. But what the monks did not forsee was that the clock is a means not merely of keeping track of the hours but also of synchronizing and controlling the actions of men. And thus, by the middle of the fourth century, the clock had moved outside the walls of the monastery, and brought a new and precise regularity to the life of the workman and the merchant. “The mechanical clock,” as Lewis Mumford wrote, “made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours and a standardized product.” In short, without the clock, capitalism would have been quite impossible.” The paradox, the surprise, and the wonder are that the clock was invented by men who wanted to devote themselves more rigorously to God; it ended as the technology of greatest use to men who wished to devote themselves to the accumulation of money. In the eternal struggle between God and Mammon, the clock quite unpredictably favored the latter.[1]

While this is noting a negative in regard to the mechanical clock, it doesn’t emphasize the various positives the clock has also brought. Nevertheless, I thought the juxtaposition was an interesting one, and one that we all live under the weight of in our daily lives for good or ill. It illustrates how a medium can be used for good or for bad; in this case the mechanical (now digital) clock served to help revolutionize society as a whole—in such a way that we couldn’t even imagine living in a world without one that is regulated by the Almighty Clock.

[1] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), 14-15.