The ‘Nashville Statement’ and TF Torrance on Human Sexuality and Same-Sex Relationships

The following is a post I wrote back in January of this year (2017). I thought in light of the so called ‘Nashville Statement’, that came out today, that I would repost this as I think it dovetails with what these Nashville signers were engaging with (as far as human sexuality, so on and so forth). This issue has become a very divisive one that is not going to go away. I think the way we handle this discussion ought to be done with care, and theological nuance; nuance that reflects the thoughtfulness of the church through the centuries. I have read the statement (it’s short and precise), and, in its gist, I don’t think I have to demur at all from what it affirms or denies. The issue I probably do have, theologically and culturally, has more to do with the signers themselves (on other issues). Anyway, I think TF Torrance, as usual, offers good insights on how to proceed with a discussion on this pressing issue facing the church and the world. 

We are a fractured people, the current state of sexuality and gender ideology illustrates this fracturous state. As Christians we have insight on why this is so, that the ‘world’ or secular perspectives do not have access to (or at least they reject their access to it). There is a confusion about what it means to be male and female; the confusion, I submit, comes from a deeply grounded interruption between the ground of being and what it means to be a gendered human coram Deo (‘before God’). This confusion is given all types of expression, whether of the heterosexual, homosexual, or trinitysketchtranssexual form (among other expressions). As is the case for all of reality there is a theological reason that provides explanatory power for our current state; power that has the capacity to break into the confusion and bring clarity. Thomas Torrance describes the source of this sexual confusion this way:

We begin by going right back to Genesis to examine its theological account of the divine purpose of creation and redemption. God made man, male and female, and placed man in a perfect environment. As man and woman they are made to have fellowship with God, and in themselves they are essentially social beings, in harmony with God, and in harmony with their environment. It is as male and female, in the unity of man, that they are made in communion with God, and as male and female, one man, they reflect the glory of God. Man is in the image of God.

Then we discover that the bond of fellowship between God and man is broken by rebellion and sin. It belongs to the nature of sin to divide, to create disorder, to disrupt, to destroy fellowship. What are the consequences of sin? Not only is the bond of communion between God and man broken, issuing in man’s guilty fear of God, but the bond between man and woman is impaired: guilt and shame come in between them, and even the symbol of wearing clothes is interpreted in terms of the hiddenness of man from woman and of woman from man. The man-woman relationship is involved in the broken relation with God. With the bond between them broken, man and woman are individualised, and each is turned in upon himself or herself. But even the unity of man as male, and the unity of woman as female, within the individual heart is disrupted, in the knowledge of good and evil. Each knows that he or she is no longer what he or she ought to be.

Thus the rupture in the relation between God and man, and man and woman, entails a rupture within each between what a person is and the person ought to be. Once the constitutive bond between God and man is broken, every other relation suffers irreparable damage. And so we find the relation between man and the environment broken. Adam and Eve are thrust out of the garden of Eden, and the way back to utopia  is barred by divine judgement. Moreover, man now exists in a state of tension with nature. Man must earn his living by the sweat of his brow among thorns and thistles, and woman has pain in childbirth. Mankind is out of gear with nature, and anxiety characterises their life. But the consequences of broken fellowship with God extend deep into human life and keep spreading. The first brothers fall out with each other, and one slays the other. And so the story of the theological narrative goes on. It is a double story. On one side it is the story of the atomisation of mankind, for the internal rupture results in individualisation and conflict. On the other it is the story of human attempts at re-socialisation, great attempts to mend the broken relations, to heal the internal rupture, to bind divided humanity together again, as at Babel. But all the attempts to heal man partake of our fallen nature and cannot but give new orientation in sin to the broken relationship with God, so that all attempts break themselves on the divine judgement and result in further disintegration. Mankind is unable to re-socialise itself, unable to heal its internal rupture for that which really makes man man is the bond between man and God.[1]

Human sexuality, as TF Torrance rightly understands, is part and parcel with what it means to be created in the imago Dei (‘image of God’). Once that relationship was marred and thrown into disrepute in Adam’s and Eve’s choice to choose their way instead of God’s the fallout of that has become irreversible (lest God become human in Christ).

Realistically what this means is that the gender dysphoria we are seeing unfold in the 21st century is only going to get worse, it will never get better. Yes, there will be individual people who are currently arrested by the current state of gender and sexuality dysfunction, who will experience reversal of all of this in their lives personally as they come to Christ. But the ‘secular’ the profane world we inhabit in this in-between time will only continue its downward spiral into the chaos created by the rupture introduced between the bond of God and humanity in the fall. Yes, there’s hope, and as Christians we are supposed to be spreading that hope as we bear witness to the great reversal of Christ in our own lives; as we bear witness to the eschatological reality of Christ come and coming again.

Let me also submit that the current acquiescence of some Christians to gender dysphoria and the confusion surrounding human sexuality does no one any good. God in Christ has come to re-create indeed, but according to a taxis or order that he has decided to be coordinate with his purposes not ours. So, I think, part of what it means to point people to Christ is to point them to the new creation; a creation that is corollary with the original creation but far surpasses it in its telos in and for Christ. It’s a new-creation and kingdom wherein all its component parts work within the perfectly calibrated and egalitarian way God has always intended. There’s no false binary between the sexes in this new-creation but a new way for twoness to be oriented by the threeness and oneness God.[2]

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 38-9.

[2] See Sarah Coakely, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

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An Easterly Influenced Reformed Theology Rather than a Westerly

The ontological characterizes the theology of Thomas Torrance, as it does, consequently for so called evangelical Calvinism. In brief, the Eastern branch of Christianity has focused on the whole person in salvation in the imago Dei. The problem for humanity in the East is a broken humanity coram Deo (before God), rather than a broken Law (and thus required penalty in need of requite), as we see emphasized in the Western frame—i.e. forensic or juridical models of atonement like what we see in the so called Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory. In passing, Sarah Coakley, as athanasius2she is discussing Trinitarianism in iconography, and shifts her focus from West to East writes this:

All our recent illustrations have traced a Western trajectory, in which a concentration of Christ’s death is one marked feature, and a problematically abstruse didacticism, another. But what of the Byzantine East, with its quite different and well-codified conventions of iconography, its perception of the icon as a non-propositional ‘door to the sacred’, and its tendency to emphasize and Athanasian salvation through Christ’s reconstitution of humanity (rather than through ‘satisfaction’ for sin)?[1]

Torrance was once asked if he was a Barthian; he replied that he was an Athanasian. It is this emphasis that streams through an evangelical Calvinist understanding of salvation; one that focuses on the recreation or resurrection of humanity in Jesus Christ. Khaled Anatolios describes this way of seeing things well:

A helpful way to synthesize the argument of Against the Greeks—On the Incarnation and to integrate it with Athanasius’s later and more explicitly polemical work is to focus on the trintarian-christological-anthropological nexus that forms the guiding motif of the work: only the One who is true Image can renew humanity’s being according to the image (kat’ eikona). The trinitarian ground of this nexus is the immediate relation (though we do not find the later technical vocabulary of “relation” in this treatise) whereby the Son is the Image of the Father. The soteriological consequence of this immediacy is that the Son is uniquely able to grant direct and immediate access to the Father. The statement that humanity was created according to the Image is simultaneously anthropological and christological: to be created according to the Image is to be granted a participation in the one who is the true and full Image of the Father. When humanity lost its stability, which depended on remaining in the state of being according to the Image, the incarnate Word repaired the image of God in humanity by reuniting it with his own divine imaging of the Father. Jesus Christ is therefore both eternal divine Image and restored human image. The saving union of divine and human image in Christ is characterized by immediacy. One foundational principle of Athanasius’s theological vision is this stress on the continuity of immediate connections between God and humanity and a corresponding abhorrence of obstacles and opaque mediations. As perfect Image, the Son is immediately united to the Father and transparently reflects knowledge of the Father; anything short of this immediate and transparent relation would deconstruct our immediate connection with the Father through the Son from the divine side. Through his incarnation, the Son repairs our human participation in his imaging of the Father from within the human constitution; anything short of a full incarnation would leave humans disconnected from both Father and Son. Thus, incarnation and the full divinity of the Son are both integral to the immediacy of our contact with the Father. Far from indicating inferior divinity, the human life and death of Jesus Christ extend the efficacy of is divine imaging of the Father in the face of humanity’s loss of the state of being according to the image. It is a wonderful display of the loving-kindness that belongs to the divine nature as such, the philanthrōpia that is equally shared by Father and Son.[2]

I am not going to quote Torrance directly here, but I have voluminously elsewhere here on my blog. The point I want to get across is that evangelical Calvinism, as an alternative to classical Calvinism, works from a more Eastern direction when it comes to construing things; albeit through Calvinian and Barthian lenses as well. We do have a place for the juridical or forensic, but it is not the frame of things as it is in Western and classical Calvinist trajectory.

If you are a newer reader here, and you’re wondering what’s so different about evangelical Calvinism, you would do well to consider what was just communicated. I have seen many, and understandably so, become confused when they read here and try to interpret things through their Western Reformed lenses; it is time to take those off and put on your Eastern lenses (realizing, again, that we have some decidedly Western influence as well).

[1] Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 234-35.

[2] Khaled Anatolios,Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 107-8.

TF Torrance on Human Sexuality: Gender Dysphoria and its Relationship to God

We are a fractured people, the current state of sexuality and gender ideology illustrates this fracturous state. As Christians we have insight on why this is so, that the ‘world’ or secular perspectives do not have access to (or at least they reject their access to it). There is a confusion about what it means to be male and female; the confusion, I submit, comes from a deeply grounded interruption between the ground of being and what it means to be a gendered human coram Deo (‘before God’). This confusion is given all types of expression, whether of the heterosexual, homosexual, or trinitysketchtranssexual form (among other expressions). As is the case for all of reality there is a theological reason that provides explanatory power for our current state; power that has the capacity to break into the confusion and bring clarity. Thomas Torrance describes the source of this sexual confusion this way:

We begin by going right back to Genesis to examine its theological account of the divine purpose of creation and redemption. God made man, male and female, and placed man in a perfect environment. As man and woman they are made to have fellowship with God, and in themselves they are essentially social beings, in harmony with God, and in harmony with their environment. It is as male and female, in the unity of man, that they are made in communion with God, and as male and female, one man, they reflect the glory of God. Man is in the image of God.

Then we discover that the bond of fellowship between God and man is broken by rebellion and sin. It belongs to the nature of sin to divide, to create disorder, to disrupt, to destroy fellowship. What are the consequences of sin? Not only is the bond of communion between God and man broken, issuing in man’s guilty fear of God, but the bond between man and woman is impaired: guilt and shame come in between them, and even the symbol of wearing clothes is interpreted in terms of the hiddenness of man from woman and of woman from man. The man-woman relationship is involved in the broken relation with God. With the bond between them broken, man and woman are individualised, and each is turned in upon himself or herself. But even the unity of man as male, and the unity of woman as female, within the individual heart is disrupted, in the knowledge of good and evil. Each knows that he or she is no longer what he or she ought to be.

Thus the rupture in the relation between God and man, and man and woman, entails a rupture within each between what a person is and the person ought to be. Once the constitutive bond between God and man is broken, every other relation suffers irreparable damage. And so we find the relation between man and the environment broken. Adam and Eve are thrust out of the garden of Eden, and the way back to utopia  is barred by divine judgement. Moreover, man now exists in a state of tension with nature. Man must earn his living by the sweat of his brow among thorns and thistles, and woman has pain in childbirth. Mankind is out of gear with nature, and anxiety characterises their life. But the consequences of broken fellowship with God extend deep into human life and keep spreading. The first brothers fall out with each other, and one slays the other. And so the story of the theological narrative goes on. It is a double story. On one side it is the story of the atomisation of mankind, for the internal rupture results in individualisation and conflict. On the other it is the story of human attempts at re-socialisation, great attempts to mend the broken relations, to heal the internal rupture, to bind divided humanity together again, as at Babel. But all the attempts to heal man partake of our fallen nature and cannot but give new orientation in sin to the broken relationship with God, so that all attempts break themselves on the divine judgement and result in further disintegration. Mankind is unable to re-socialise itself, unable to heal its internal rupture for that which really makes man man is the bond between man and God.[1]

Human sexuality, as TF Torrance rightly understands, is part and parcel with what it means to be created in the imago Dei (‘image of God’). Once that relationship was marred and thrown into disrepute in Adam’s and Eve’s choice to choose their way instead of God’s the fallout of that has become irreversible (lest God become human in Christ).

Realistically what this means is that the gender dysphoria we are seeing unfold in the 21st century is only going to get worse, it will never get better. Yes, there will be individual people who are currently arrested by the current state of gender and sexuality dysfunction, who will experience reversal of all of this in their lives personally as they come to Christ. But the ‘secular’ the profane world we inhabit in this in-between time will only continue its downward spiral into the chaos created by the rupture introduced between the bond of God and humanity in the fall. Yes, there’s hope, and as Christians we are supposed to be spreading that hope as we bear witness to the great reversal of Christ in our own lives; as we bear witness to the eschatological reality of Christ come and coming again.

Let me also submit that the current acquiescence of some Christians to gender dysphoria and the confusion surrounding human sexuality does no one any good. God in Christ has come to re-create indeed, but according to a taxis or order that he has decided to be coordinate with his purposes not ours. So, I think, part of what it means to point people to Christ is to point them to the new creation; a creation that is corollary with the original creation but far surpasses it in its telos in and for Christ. It’s a new-creation and kingdom wherein all its component parts work within the perfectly calibrated and egalitarian way God has always intended. There’s no false binary between the sexes in this new-creation but a new way for twoness to be oriented by the threeness and oneness God.[2]

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 38-9.

[2] See Sarah Coakely, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Christian Imagination and Creativity Provided Fertility Towards Knowledge of God in Christ by Prayer and Contemplation

I wrote this on FaceBook this evening:

I think the power of reception, when reading the Bible, as far as interpretive and even meaning generation, is more powerful than many might think. At least as I contemplate this this is what is standing out to me. And at some level I would attribute this more to a participatory reading practice embodied by the church through the centuries rather than say something like a meditationPostModern understanding of reader response. I think it has to do with dialogical realities between Christ and His church, and the imagination and creativity he evokes as we prayerfully submit ourselves to Him.

If I casually was scrolling through FaceBook and read this it might cause me a little bit of concern; it might make me think that whoever wrote this (if it wasn’t me) had abandoned the idea of authorial intentionality or the idea that God is a good communicator. But then as I got to the last few clauses I might see what this person was trying to say (if that person wasn’t me).

As Divine Providence would have it I just tonight bought a new book on theology, one written by Sarah Coakley called God, Sexuality, and Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’. Again, as Providence would have it, Coakley addresses exactly what I had in mind when I wrote what I did on FaceBook; and as far as chronology goes, I wrote what I did on FaceBook just prior to reading what I am about to quote for you from Coakley. Coakley helps explicate what I had in mind with my statement; particularly when it comes to ‘creativity’ and ‘imagination’ coram Deo (before God). I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I believed that meaning, relative to God, is not a stable thing, or something unbeknownst to him; instead what I had in mind was from our direction of things. As Thomas Torrance et al. often underscores an ‘order of being’ precedes an ‘order of knowing’; as such, while meaning is fully objectified (and subjectified) in Godself, we only see through a rose colored glass. If this is so, even as we repose in God’s full Self-revelation and exegesis in Jesus Christ, even as we’ve been given new antennae for God ‘in Christ’ (for knowing Him), we still suffer with the polluting effects of sin; we still don’t know fully as we are already fully known in Christ. This means that meaning, instead of my ‘generational’ language in my original FaceBook post, has the ability to be clarified over and over again (as we are changed from glory to glory by the Spirit, cf. II Cor. 3.18). So as Coakley astutely recognizes (along with other people like John Webster, Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth et al.) God draws us closer and closer to Him, and our knowledge of Him, through deepening our horizons relative to who He is within the bedrock parameters He has already provided of Himself as Triune God revealed in and by His Son, Jesus. He ‘illumines’ our imaginations, and allows for the human mind, grounded as it is in the archetypal human mind of Christ for us, to think even more aesthetically and more deeply about who He is (in se), as we encounter Him over and again by the Spirit in the evangel.

Coakley writes this, and it is this that I was originally trying to get at in my FaceBook post. She is referring to her theological approach, one that is grounded in prayer and deep contemplation. She is responding preemptively to the potential charges that hers is a subjectivist approach. It is her response to that where she not only answers for herself, but in her answer she helps to answer for me in regard to what I was attempting to suggest.

Finally, one charge that might be levelled against the theological approach outlined here should perhaps be faced and deflected immediately, at the close of this Prelude. That is, is the appeal to the life of contemplation, or deep prayer in the Spirit, necessarily tainted with subjectivism? Is it just another form of wish-fulfilment or projection, spun out of a misguided inner need for comfort or certainty? My answer to that charge would be a firm no; and at least three reasons will emerge, in this book and its successors, for countering that charge. The first is that, as already intimated, this approach does not involve a philosophically naïve appeal to ‘subjective experience’, as if that were somehow separable from the exercise of biblical exegesis, patient examination of tradition, reasoned theological exposition, and testing by the criterion of ‘spiritual fruits’. Rather, the practice of prayer provides the context in which silence in the Spirit expands the potential to respond to the realm of the Word, and reason too is stretched and changed beyond its normal, secular reach. This can be strangely far from ‘comforting’ as a new undertaking — indeed deeply anxiety-making in its initial impact. It cannot therefore be claimed to be an exercise in mere wish-fulfillment: its spiritual impact far exceeds what it finds to be confirming of original expectation.[1]

The clearest illustration I can think of found in Holy Writ is the story of Daniel; this:

15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter … 28 Here the account ends. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly terrified me, and my face turned pale; but I kept the matter in my mind.[2]

While Daniel is referring to visions, in principle I think it correlates to what Coakley is getting at. While in prayerful contemplation with all the saints we are pushed deeper into the verities of God’s life that opens us further to who He is. Indeed, He is such a consuming fire that our frail frames often lack the capacity to cope with the intensity of who He is; in Daniel’s case it caused psychological and physical sickness.

The point of all this, in my mind, is that our mode before God always needs to be in prayerful contemplation and dialogue with Him. It is through this that the church of Christ grows deeper into the one faith once for all delivered to the saints; it is in this mode wherein who God is in reality (meaning) is opened up further and further, and this modulated through Jesus Christ. This process of knowing God is one that is ‘eternal life’ itself (Jn. 17.3), and it involves the history and witness of the church militant and triumphant. It involves our imaginations and creativeness as those are enlivened by the imagination and creativity of the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2.16) which we are in participation with. In another post of mine, somewhat on this topic, David Guretzki wrote this to me:

Bobby, what if you instead thought of these authors as part (even if not the only) communion of the saints? We do not read scripture as individuals, but as the Church–of which these doctors of the Church are a gift (charism). The Protestant evangelical way of reading Scripture assumes perspecuity (clarity) available to all–that is its strength. But its weakness is that it too often has degenerated into a non-ecclesial way of reading scripture. It is precisely other voices that keeps us from hearing only the echoes of our own thoughts and subjectivities imposed upon scripture. The problem, of course, is that we are too often too selective of the voices we listen to. The danger is not that we read Barth or Aquinas or Augustine, but that we are too apt ONLY to read Barth, Aquinas, or Augustine (or Calvin or Luther, etc. etc.) and thus keep reconfirming too often our own subjectivities and biases.[3]

This is in keeping with what I’m after with this post. We are part of the communion of the saints, and the Spirit has been working in the body of Christ for a long time. We are part of that body, and when we read Scripture we do so in reception of what has already come before through their witness. The body of Christ comes loaded with the mind of Christ spread throughout the centuries, and we can do nothing to disentangle ourselves from that (and of course we shouldn’t want to); thus it behooves us to participate in that great cloud, and actively engage with them through prayerfully engaging with our great God. He is the objective/subjective ground, and it is He, in Christ who regulates and informs our imaginations and creativity towards Him.

 

 

[1] Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 25.

[2] Daniel 7.15, 16, 28 NRSV.

[3] David Guretzki, accessed from this post Sanctorum Communio, The Communion of the Saints and being catholic Thinkers.