The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel: Some Thoughts

John MacArthur and company have riled things up with their Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel; indeed, they even pushed Union Theological Seminary to offer a counter statement via a Twitter-storm. I would like to do a more researched post on this, but my off-the-top thoughts will have to suffice for now. Here is the SJ&G’s Introduction:

In view of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church, we wish to clarify certain key Christian doctrines and ethical principles prescribed in God’s Word. Clarity on these issues will fortify believers and churches to withstand an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.” If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.

We submit these affirmations and denials for public consideration, not with any pretense of ecclesiastical authority, but with an urgency that is mixed with deep joy and sincere sorrow. The rapidity with which these deadly ideas have spread from the culture at large into churches and Christian organizations—including some that are evangelical and Reformed—necessitates the issuing of this statement now.

In the process of considering these matters we have been reminded of the essentials of the faith once for all handed down to the saints, and we are re-committed to contend for it. We have a great Lord and Savior, and it is a privilege to defend his gospel, regardless of cost or consequences. Nevertheless, while we rejoice in that privilege, we grieve that in doing so we know we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course. We must remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

The Apostle Paul’s warning to the Colossians is greatly needed today: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The document that follows is an attempt to heed that apostolic command. We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement. Therefore, for the glory of God among his Church and throughout society, we offer the following affirmations and denials.

We aren’t going to get into the body of the statement, but I wanted to at least offer the Introduction as an introduction into my own reflection.

In itself the introduction doesn’t seem out of line with what we should expect from anyone in the church of Christ concerned with maintaining clarity and faithfulness to the whole Gospel reality. In itself I don’t have any problems with the introduction as it stands; I’d doubt anyone would, per se. Okay, so there’s that. But let me share further what I tweeted in response to Phil Johnson (Mac’s right hand man), and Johnny Mac in regard to this very statement:

One of the problems is that *social justice* seems to presuppose a natural law and thus universalizing binding and innate understanding of what justice actually is. For my money this comes back to a question of knowledge of God in general, which indeed makes it a Gospel issue.IOW, this whole morass is a morass because things are not being defined carefully. I think JMac ought to spend more time developing his theory on knowledge of God, and how that implicates how justice is strictly understood from theology proper and the Gospel itself.IOW, so called social justice warriors use the language of *justice* vis a vis God equivocally which invites a defintional understanding of justice on other ideologically derived terms other than God’s holiness and righteousness.It seems that many Christians aligning themselves w/ the social justice movement seem to think that there is an univocal identity between the way they understand justice and the way SJWs understand justice; but it’s only an semantic identity of language.So I don’t, in principle, strangely, disagree w/ JMac when it comes to the problem that social justice presents (ideologically vis a vis the Gospel), but when it comes to theology proper and theory of revelation this is where my critique arises in re to JMac.

Let me expand on this further. If we are going to think about justice from Christian premises then I’d contend that we must do so as Christians in a participatory relationship with God through Christ wherein not only is God known, but his idea of justice can genuinely be conceived of. It is here that I think Johnny Mac is onto something (as I’ve noted). How can an unbelieving world have any sense of what God’s justice/righteousness entails when they have—by definition—rejected the reality of God in Christ for them? How can anyone who has rejected the shed blood of Christ for themselves, who has rejected the new creation who is the resurrected Christ for them, have any light to see the darkness they proclaim to see? Clearly, the ‘world’ can recognize that something is wrong, that there are inequities afoot of the most sinister type; but is their recognition something they have come to themselves, or is it a borrowed recognition that comes from the light of the witness of those who genuinely name the Name of Jesus Christ? If it is a borrowed recognition it is only going to be a mixed recognition of the actual source of darkness and inequities they are seeking to right.

When Jesus confronts people as the Light of the World he doesn’t leave them in their sins; he doesn’t give them half of themselves to mix with the other half of themselves shaped by this world system—the one run by the ‘prince of the power of the air.’ God has come decisively in Jesus Christ to confront us in our sins, and he tells us to REPENT. This is not an unclear exhortation; it comes with the force of the One who holds the world, seen and unseen reality together by the Word of his Power. Can the world genuinely identify the root problems in-built into this ‘evil age’ by social analysis and arrive at not only accurate descriptions but prescriptions in regard to what righting the wrongs actually ought to look like?

It might be because I have such a strong commitment to anti-natural theology, and natural law theory that it sounds like I am agreeing with the Macites. I don’t think non-believers have any ultimate sense of what justice actually is because I don’t think non-believers have any capacity for a genuine knowledge of the true and living God. If they don’t have a capacity for a genuine knowledge of the true and living God, then they can have no true and genuine knowledge of themselves (per Calvin), and as such cannot come to understand the deep problems that are sourcing the darkness they can only tacitly identify (based upon a borrowed witness they live off of as they inhabit the same space that God’s children do in the world). If this is the case, then how can anything good come from something based upon a profane social analysis; further how can justice ever be genuinely thought if it is based upon an ideology sourced from a social analysis grounded in and from the rock hard hearts of a fallen people with no access to the holy of holies of God’s life in Christ?

Okay, so at the above level I can agree, in principle, with the concern of the Macites. But when it comes down to who the Macites think God is this is where I offer a grand critique. Since I’ve spent years making that critique (against the sort of classical theistic five point Calvinist God that MacArthur et al. posits) here at the blog I won’t do that now (since I’ve already gone long). Suffice it to say I don’t think MacArthur et al. has the proper theological proper to follow through on providing a statement that best reflects the heart of the living God as that is understood from a properly framed Trinitarian theology. Further, because of this lacuna in MacArthur’s theological universe, his doctrine of salvation, ethics, so on and so forth also suffers blights that do not allow him to offer the sort of thick and robust theological alternative and critique that he would like to offer as a counter to the so called social justice warriors he is seeking to repudiate and correct.

Do I think there are inequities in the world? Yes, of course! But I don’t think so called social justice offers much more than a pottage of stew concocted from the ingredients that an unbelieving world has to offer. The Gospel distinguishes; it rounds; it draws bright lines; it brings the sword and division. The Gospel does not flatten, it does not universalize, and it particularizes as it identifies the center of God’s reality in the man, Jesus Christ.

 

 

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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.

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.

Mathoma Contra Homosexuality and Other Porneias: A Tweet Involving Virtue Ethics and Human Sexuality

I originally posted this the other day, left it up for a couple of hours, and then took it down. I think I’ll post it again now with some further caveat. As you read the thread itself, by its author, Mathoma, it is very coarse and not full of the love and graciousness that I know Christ would extend to any of us; any of us sinners. It is obviously speaking to the particular sin of homosexuality and other variant sexual sins and idolatries, and the lines that Mathoma appeals to evince some viable ones; I think. Again, the way it is presented is not in a way that I think the Christian should present this to the ‘world.’ But I can also recognize that it comes out of a source of frustration and within the heat of the battle that continues to ensue as the world falls deeper and deeper into the abyss from whence it has been spawned.

If you can’t tell by now I am very traditional when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, and all sins. I believe they need to be repented of, and that we stand before the Holy God who will accept nothing less; i.e. a repentance formed in the heart of Christ for us by the Spirit. It is interesting, Christians have no place to affirm others in what God has clearly made known as sin. Christians aren’t God, God is. Christians aren’t the Lord, the LORD is. This is not simply a matter of ‘positioning’ as if this is a gray-area in the Kingdom of Christ. There are some things that are black and white, and homosexuality and its status as an affront to God’s holiness is a black and white issue. It cannot simply be relativized by asserting that ‘good people on either side arrive at differing conclusions’; this is not a matter of relativity, it is a matter that is clear. The fact that homosexuality just is what it is in the culture does not mean that it ought to be or that it should even be recognized as a legitimate form before God; this is the height of natural theology. 

So I share the following with my own perspective in mind, and with the caveat that I am not affirming the way that Mathoma presents his ideas.

The following is an approximately thousand word tweet tweeted by a tweeter who goes by the name, Mathoma. I don’t know Mathoma, but his tagline says he is a “Medical student by day, wannabe mathematician by night”; and I surmise that he is Catholic from other indicators. The following tweet has been retweeted, as of the typing of this post, eighty-six times, and liked over three hundred times. I am reproducing his tweet by permission of the author. He uses some profanity (as descriptor of liberals), and speaks rather tersely. He is writing against homosexuality and the pervasive sexual promiscuity and porneia that are seemingly ubiquitous in the framing of the global culture. He is presenting things in ways that will offend many, and makes appeal to an Aristotelian-shaped ‘virtual ethics,’ which is strong among Thomist Catholics; along with an Augustinian ‘reproduction argument.’ But I wanted to lift it from Twitter, and present it to anyone who might happen upon my blog, along with regular readers, and see what types of responses it might garner (if any). I haven’t attempted to break it down into paragraph breaks, but left it as one long continuous tweet, as I encountered it on Twitter. Here you go.

Many cannot understand why ‘fanatical’ right-wingers are so strongly opposed to homosexuality. One reason is that homosexuality is a total repudiation of any sane sexual ethics. It rejects the notion that the sexual faculty is for procreation. Because it’s not for procreation, people who can’t even in principle procreate can ‘get married’, so it rejects the institution that safeguards the family and rearing of children. The rejection that sex is for procreation combined with the shitlib idea that just as long as two people consent, anything goes (and make sure you have a good time) leads to promiscuity at insane levels. It’s quite logical. If sex is just for pleasure and homosexuals cannot possibly procreate then why not just cycle through as many partners as you can? The liberal who thinks by enabling *that* he’s going to be making people happy in the long run is quite deluded. Those who have been edified by material more enriching than “American Pie” know that promiscuity eventually leads to despair and self-loathing. The liberals are leading those who practice homosexuality straight into the abyss. And someone who lives that lifestyle can be nothing other than a liberal. The liberal controls the homosexual through base passions (these are the supposed intellectuals, remember) and therefore such a person can be easily controlled and manipulated. Check out E. Michael Jones’ “Libido Dominandi” if you want more on that thesis. That’s why ‘homosexual’ is also a statement of one’s political affiliations and those who live such a life are a political force, not just ‘some guys minding their business’. What they do and believe is necessarily corrosive to society. Another repugnant aspect of the homosexualist (if you will) when combined with our pornographic society is the conflation of ‘philia’ (brotherly love) with ‘eros’ (as in ‘erotic’). C.S. Lewis talks about this in “The Four Loves” if you haven’t heard of this, the other two being ‘storge’ (generic affection) and ‘agape’ (charity/love of God). One is quite blessed if he has a deep friendship with someone of the same sex and have great love (philia) for them. But this does not imply that the friendship turn into a love (eros) affair. In our pornographic society, deep affection is erroneously taken to be ‘eros’. I think Lewis points this out as well, but many when reading old texts will try to accuse people of engaging in homosexuality (I do this too) when they hear they have a deep friendship with someone of the same sex. But we oftentimes only interpret such a thing in this way not because it’s true but because our minds are so polluted in this area. (The ‘I do this too’ in the above tweet refers to the accusing not to the engaging in homosexual practices … ambiguous statement there.) topkek I mean look at the way those living this life are captivated by pornography, like pride parades. When it comes to thinking about ‘love’ these guys have intellects that are filled to the brim with filth. I tend to think the total collapse of virtue, taking chastity and modesty down with it, produces this proliferation of homosexuality; it’s a symptom of a more fundamental disease, not an isolated phenomenon. It along with the other sexual degeneracies such as fornication, co-habitation, contraception, abortion, all have at their root the implosion of virtue, specifically chastity and modesty. It’s just one of many downstream effects. Pornography is a non-starter in a society in which modesty is cultivated. And no pornography means much less filth sloshing around in our minds. Notice the wisdom of virtue ethics (and Church teaching) and notice the utter stupidity of liberal ethics: We have a problem, P: Virtue ethics: Okay, let’s cut off *all* the antecedents to P and develop habits that encourage the associated virtue. We have a problem, P: Shitlib ethics: Well let’s just not call it a problem or remain silent as to whether it’s a problem at all. What we can do is tolerate P and just try to introduce things piecemeal to repair all the mess that P could cause. P: ‘people want to have sex contrary to what happens in a marriage’ Virtue ethics: Subordinate the passions, increase one’s chastity, modesty, and prudence. Notice how the answer applies just as well if one had a desire that, when acted upon, would constitute a homosexual act. Shitlib ethics: Well let them. See what happens. To say ‘no’ would to be quite illiberal and authoritarian. >What happens when they have children out-of-wedlock? Who needs marriage anyway? Get rid of it. And we just could kill the kid before it’s born and give people condoms. >But what happens when people aren’t reproducing at replacement levels and women are so damaged by all this fornication that they cannot remain in a marriage? Just import immigrants from the third-world. Divorce isn’t a big deal anyway, not like the kids don’t take it well. I’ll leave it to another thread to discuss the stupidity of *identifying* with a *feeling*. It’s useful for identity politics and the shitlibs to manipulate people by playing on their base passions though. Feelings are extremely pliable, for better or for worse, and can be thrown all over the place. Let’s remember how Dante depicts the lustful in his “Inferno”: It would seem that the liberals would like nothing more than to make that a reality, where everyone can be thrown around by the hellish winds of lust if ‘muh body’ wants it or ‘muh rights’ permit it.[1]

I am not a proponent of ‘virtue ethics,’ but I think it is possible to reify the principle in virtue ethics or at least abstract its basic premise about the role of virtue in making a virtuous people who make virtuous decisions, and place that in a more Christ concentrated theological-anthropological form, and it would only strengthen such an appeal. But that said, Mathoma offers a line of logic; do you see it? What do you think about this? There are many moving parts at play—again, it’s a tweet, and thus for compression’s sake must be as non-verbose as possible—but as you string them together do you think Mathoma is onto something? Are you concerned that his tact will only make any semblance of an argument elusive to the homosexuals? I actually don’t take Mathoma to be making an argument or appeal (at least with the goal of being persuasive) to proponents or participants in the homosexual or any other sexually immoral lifestyle (Coram Deo); I take what he has tweeted as an expression of his own line of reasoning towards a rejection of homosexuality and other immoralities of like kind. This is not to suggest that Mathoma is not making an argument, but to note that the tact or voice it is made in won’t probably be persuasive to his opponents; although his type of terseness might well appeal to some, even to some homosexuals (even if they end rejecting his line of reasoning, for whatever reason).

I also found it interesting that Mathoma writes this, “The liberals are leading those who practice homosexuality straight into the abyss. And someone who lives that lifestyle can be nothing other than a liberal. The liberal controls the homosexual through base passions (these are the supposed intellectuals, remember) and therefore such a person can be easily controlled and manipulated. Check out E. Michael Jones’ “Libido Dominandi” if you want more on that thesis.” I haven’t read Jones’ work or thesis, so I cannot comment. I do know that there are many ‘conservative homosexuals’, but my guess is that the thesis has something to do with a genetic line of reasoning that leads to a ‘liberal’ or maybe better ‘progressive’ mindset that is associate with enlightenment rationalism and romanticism which finally leads or gives expression in what we now call the ‘sexual revolution’ of the late sixties into the seventies. So it might be counterintuitive to say ‘conservative homosexual,’ even if such homosexuals have a conservative orientation when it comes to politically expedient issues of the day; even so, the thesis that homosexuals are necessarily liberal might simply entail that in order intone the language of “identification” as homosexual means that at as a first step, epistemically, one must have already granted that such things as human sexuality are in fact societal constructs rather than a given from God alone. And so, even if a homosexual identifies themselves, politically, with “conservative” platforms, at a prior level they first, at least in an abstract way, must affirm certain liberal or turn-to-the-subject premises (premises that preclude that God, at an ontological level, is the one who gets to determine what sexuality entails) before they latterly can assert a conservative political identity; which would, in my mind, require some internal dissonance, even if that dissonance is so murky to the adherent of such an approach that they cannot critically identify it themselves.

Anyway, what do you think about Mathoma?

[1] Mathoma, On Homosexuality and Virtue Ethics [title supplied by me], accessed via Twitter 06-04-2018.

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.

Jesus as an Exemplar Reduced to a Principle of Love: Miscellanies on Christian Social Engagement, Human Sexuality, and Holiness

I have just been having a very messy discussion on Facebook with my daughter’s former youth pastor in regard to homosexuality and how Christians ought to relate to homosexuals. His tact was to write a series of posts on Facebook affirming the homosexual community, showing pictures of his own finger nails painted, and melding the lines between how Christians should be accepting of the gay community. He has since claimed, after I pressed him, that he does believe the lifestyle is ultimately sinful, but then his social media presence on this seems to contradict his assertion (most recently he posted a bunch of pictures of him bar hopping with gay friends from gay bar to gay bar eventuating with him watching a drag-queen show with Rupaul). This he claims is Jesus’ way, and how Jesus showed his love to the world; the implication being that if Jesus had a social media account he would be posting pictures like this, without any explanation other than ‘I’m with my new family’, with the reality being that young people (in his former youth group) would be impressed with this picture of God’s love. I finally challenged this former youth pastor, and predictably received all kinds of erroneous push back; one guy even said ‘people who reject you [former youth pastor] are not even of Christ and can expect to have their flesh eaten by the gorging birds on the last day.’ Apparently, I’m on my way to hell because I’ve challenged the approach of this former youth pastor (who was ultimately fired from his position at the church my daughter attends), and his doubling down in this area.

My final response in that thread underscored the reality that we see plaguing much of North American evangelicalism; the most recent example we have is Andy Stanley. There is a Marcionite-like detachment of Jesus Christ from his Old Testament context; a context that provided for someone like John the Baptist to be the forerunner of the Prophet who Moses said would follow after him (cf. Deut. 13; 18). In another discussion, with reference to the way Jesus is conceived of in secular England, my friend Alex Irving (who lives in the UK) wrote this:

Public life needs to talk about Jesus but doesn’t quite like doing it. So, what we do is to treat Jesus as a moral exemplar rather than a representative. Then there is a clever shift where the emphasis shifts from Jesus to the moral principle being exampled (love, peace, &c.) and Jesus gets abstracted from view.[1]

This typifies, in many ways, the up-and-coming generation of evangelicals; it is an approach to Christ that reduces Jesus to an idea or principle, which then gets abstracted further into social causes and activities that ultimately have nothing to do with the living Christ who is Lord, but instead have everything to do with the way we have projected the Christ to be based upon the ‘spirit of our age’ (Ludwig Feuerbach has helpful critique here).

This I would contend is the spirit this former youth pastor and his uninformed friends work from, and it is a mind-set that I believe needs to be challenged. There is no doubt that homosexuals need to be ministered to with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the way to do that is by telling them the truth, as we tell ourselves the truth; that Jesus is Lord, and we are not. That we are all sinners every day of our lives and we need to ‘repent’ and change course in line with our participation and union with Jesus Christ (unio cum Christo). Surely this former youth pastor has many compatriots in the greater world out there, but I would contend based upon a sober exegesis of Holy Scripture that he has no basis for what he is engaging in as that is related to heavenly reality grounded in its human reality in Jesus Christ. God loves us, indeed, the incarnation makes this more than clear. The love of God in the Incarnation also constrains us to recognize that the very virtue of his assumption of flesh confronts us in our sins, and then offers a new way of life in his recreated humanity accomplished in the resurrection and the ongoing priestly session he works for us at the Right Hand of the Father. The bottom line is that Jesus is not a community’s principle, but he is Lord; and in the ultimate and the proximate he tells us to ‘repent, for today is the day of salvation.’

 

[1] Alex Irving, Facebook, accessed 05-22-2018.

Rachael Denhollander and Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross

Like many of you, most likely, I watched Rachael Denhollander’s powerful testimony and statement made at Larry Nassar’s sentencing for his molestation of not only her but of more than a hundred other USA Gymnasts; he was the team doctor. Denhollander, I’ve since found out, is now a lawyer, and I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that she was largely motivated to become a lawyer to pursue Nassar through legal means (I’m sure there is more to her choice to become a lawyer than that). Be that as it may, Nassar was sentenced to over a hundred years for his molestation of countless young female gymnasts under his care for years and years; but he did not leave the courtroom without hearing from many of his victims, and not without hearing most eloquently and forcefully from Rachael Denhollander herself (she was the first one, as I understand it, to break her silence about Nassar and bring charges against him).

Someone else shared a link to this story on Facebook, and here is what I shared there:

It sounds like she has been reading Luther. I watched the video of this earlier (TGC shared it). It is powerful; her words are cutting and right; and she deploys Law/Gospel in a way that I think would make Luther, if not the Apostle Paul proud. Beyond that, it is sobering to hear the power of God—the Gospel—proclaimed in such a context as this.

If you listen, or read her statement you might see why I was left with this impression. Here is the full transcript of the pertinent part of her statement to Dr. Larry Nassar:

You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others and the opposite of what you have done is for me to choose to love sacrificially, no matter what it costs me.

In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well.

Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says:

My argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?

Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.

When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.

I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.

I have been there for young gymnasts and helped them transform from awkward little girls to graceful, beautiful, confident athletes and taken joy in their success because I wanted what was best for them. And this is a joy you have cut yourself off from forever because your desire to help was nothing more than a facade for your desire to harm.

I have lived the deep satisfaction of wrapping my small children up in my arms and making them feel safe and secure because I was safe, and this is a rich joy beyond what I can express, and you have cut yourself off from it, because you were not safe. And I pity you for that.

In losing the ability to call evil what it is without mitigation, without minimization, you have lost the ability to define and enjoy love and goodness. You have fashioned for yourself a prison that is far, far worse than any I could ever put you in, and I pity you for that.[1]

The reason her statement brought Martin Luther’s Law/Gospel and theology of cross thinking to mind, primarily, is because I just finished reading Mark Mattes’s really good book on Luther’s theology of beauty: Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty. Let me share an excerpt, and section that I think is pertinent and corollary with the sentiment that Denhollander expressed in her statement to Nassar. Mattes writes this of Luther’s theology:

Already in Luther’s early theology of humility we see the beginnings of what would be his unique approach to theology: God must kill us as sinners before he makes us alive as new creatures, ones with clean hearts. God forensically regards those who are nothing on the basis of their own merit as the raw material of his new creation. Luther’s whole approach in the theology of humility is one increasingly governed by a forensic approach to the human relationship with God. That is, what counts in the human relationship with God is how God evaluates us. As we admit our nothingness, so are we embraced by God. Through his study of specific mystics, such as Johannes Tauler (ca. 1300–1361), Luther claimed that the core Christian identity before God—as all human identity—is one that is wholly passive. New creations are active with respect to their fellow creatures, their neighbors, by serving others in their need, but before God they know that they are entirely receivers. Hence, the humility of the earliest phase of Luther’s theological career is transformed over time into a theology of the cross, Through various “trials and sufferings” and the accusing voice of the law, God is crucifying the old Adam or Eve so that humans lose confidence in the old being’s claims for its own self-deification and ability to control life. As a result, sinners put their trust in God’s goodness—and beauty—granted in Jesus Christ. But such beauty is hidden. It is grasped by the eyes of faith alone. Smug sinners appear to their own thinking as beautiful but in fact coram deo are ugly. Accused by God’s law, repentant Christians know their complete dependence on Christ, who before the world had “no form or comeliness” (Isa. 53:2 KJV) but who grants them the beauty of his righteousness. Such beauty is trust in God’s word, which as law reduces sinners to their nothingness and as gospel allows them to claim Christ’s righteousness of their own. Thus, rid of self-justifying egocentrism as definitive of the core of their being, they live extrinsically, outside themselves, first in Christ in whom their confidence is centered, but also in their neighbor in whose service they now become “Christs.”[2]

All of the themes we see in Luther’s theology we see Rachael Denhollander hit upon and emphasize in her statement to Nassar. Her statement bore witness to a power not her own, but one that is contingent upon the power of Godself; the power of the Gospel. We see her statement emphasizing the work of the Law, but then the Gospel; we see goodness and beauty hit upon in Rachael’s statement in contrast to the ugliness that the Law reveals. Her statement was powerful because it did not mitigate the reality of what happened, it did not wash away what Nassar did (indeed it magnified it), but it became powerful the moment repentance and the Gospel were elevated as “greater thans” than the evil Larry Nassar perpetrated upon these innocent young girls. The Gospel ultimately brings life, not death; but it doesn’t pretend like death and its ugliness is not a reality, nor present. The Gospel magnifies the ugliness of sin and death by providing light and exposure that the darkness of sin and death cannot finally overcome. This is what Denhollander’s statement eloquently underscored and communicated; it communicated the power of God, the Gospel; and it allowed Rachael to become a “Christ” to Nassar and the watching world.

[1]Source. [emboldening mine]

[2] Mark C. Mattes, Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2017), 85-6.