In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo coined the ethical statement, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” and for the past twenty years, many conservative Christians have publicly applied this phrase toward homosexuals. Unfortunately, this approach has yet to change relations with the homosexual community, giving the church a homophobic label. Despite mainstream Christianity’s best efforts to “love” the homosexual individuals, little has been accomplished for the sake of the Gospel in the homosexual community. Floods of books and scholarly articles have been written about the nuanced “theology” of homosexuality, some affirming but
If Christian ethics are an exercise in asking, “How does God call us to behave?” then Christians must collectively repent over how we have treated homosexuals for the majority of the church’s history. Instead of calling people to pursue Jesus, we have cut them out of fellowship, denied them baptism, and demanded they “change” before we allow them to participate in the full life of the church. I find it highly ironic that scholars like Richard Hays will claim, in the same breath, that homosexuality is “sin” but heterosexual Christians must not judge them because all people are sinners. The ecclesiological problem is that we don’t deny heterosexual sinners table fellowship. The approach of Hayes, and others, is not rational, because it advocates for the positive treatment of the gay community based upon the mutuality of everyone’s sin, yet only the homosexual’s sin disqualifies them from leadership and communion. Surely, it is not ethical to claim that the “sin” of same-sex attraction disqualifies a person from leading a small group, while we simultaneously allow individuals with “other” sin issues to be spiritual leaders. This is the problem with the most common position taken by the church today: It is not rational or sustainable to tell gays that we love them, and that God loves them, but regardless, they are not spiritually equal in the church. This approach is unpalatable when we consider the fact that over 70% of Christian men, and over 50% of clergy admit to struggling with pornography. We don’t talk about that, but we are quick to object when a gay woman volunteers for our youth ministry.
There is a reason that Christians ignore the issues of divorce, pornography, and materialism. Likewise, there is a reason that most of the church does not participate in the discussion that questions the theology of homosexuality. By paying attention to the narrative of western Christianity, we can see that the reasons are hermeneutical. The gay narrative allows the church to look outward, successfully avoiding self-reflection and criticism. Materialism, greed, lust, pornography, and divorce, are issues that the majority of the church deals with. If the American church started a conversation about comfort, and how most of us have way more than we need, that would convict a whole lot of people. Homosexuals still comprise a relatively small percentage of society, so it is much safer for the church to turn its condemnation towards them, avoiding more uncomfortable conversations that involve almost everyone else.
Now that I have your attention, allow me elaborate.
I have just read Dennis Hollinger’s Choosing the Good and I was deeply vexed by the question of how we should work out our Christian ethic within such a pluralistic and contextual milieu. If I am being honest, I love what Post-modernity has done for organized religion-I want to reject all metanarratives, and I want to avoid a faith that is private and even more so, a faith that is Authoritarian. I think we need to be MUCH more selective about what battles we choose to fight as Christians, and I certainly do not think a little bit of religious pluralism is going to damage the church. Now, men like John Piper might argue that a lack of “absolute truth” will ruin peoples lives, but I tend to think that absolute hermeneutical authority is nothing but bad news for the church. While I am certainly not a Universalist, I would certainly agree with the notion that reason should play a pretty serious role in ones faith. To be more specific, I think it is good that Post-moderns are open to Muslims possibly receiving salvation…After all, isn’t this a better ethic than burning Anabaptists like we did in the 16th century. I mean…authoritarian religion doesn’t seem to be the resounding message of the gospel.
Pardon my rant. Ultimately, while I appreciate everything post-modernity has brought us, I still find this question deeply compelling: “What does it mean to live according to our Christian faith commitments in this situation (the reality of the 21st century)? Well, Glen Stassen answers the question best- Anything that subverts faithfulness to the way of Jesus, is unacceptable. While our cultural and religious milieu may be changing, the Gospel is timeless. The life of Jesus must be our ethical foundation.
So, while Christian pop-culture hijacked the question WWJD?, the questions actually remains the most important question we could ever ask ourselves. Although the commercialization and dumbing-down of a such a profound question is, unfortunately, stupid, the serious ethical question of WWJD? (As in, “How should the Gospel of Jesus inform my decisions”) is actually the foundation of a solid christian ethic, in my opinion.
Here is short excerpt from my most recent essay on libertarian free-will. What you will find is a succint, yet respectful refutation of the deterministic (Calvinism) view of God.
…Years later I have realized a great irony- Romans 9, when taken in its proper context, does not support determinism (Calvinism, predestination, election, etc.) at all. In fact, if a humble exegete purposes to read the whole scope of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and especially if they endeavor to understand all of the Old Testament references made in the letter, they will instead see that Romans 9 does not teach a deterministic view of God at all. In fact, all of Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly chapter nine, support a robust free-will theology. Context is everything when reading scripture, I submit that when read contextually, when read appropriately, Romans 9 will in fact work against determinism as opposed to being the lynch pin of the doctrine. (Read the whole essay below)
For the past year I have been on such a faith/reason kick that I have been considering getting a Wesleyan Quadrilateral tattoo…for full closure on my teenage fundamentalist years.
Tattoo jokes aside, reason plays an enormous role in my faith, so much so that I would argue that faith without reason is dangerous. I know that Jesus said he valued, “a childlike faith”, but I also cannot imagine him condemning an inquisitive mind. Faith is a gift, technically a spiritual gift. For some, believing is easy and there is no need rationalize faith. However, others need to ask a lot of questions, and for many of us those questions come from a sincere desire to know God more. Again, I believe Faith without reason can be dangerous. Most of the people I know who have left their faith and abandoned Christianity, were people who didn’t seek reason for their beliefs. At some point in their life they had their faith challenged (typically in college) and they had never employed reason to understand what they believed. I wouldn’t say that this is the case for everyone, but I have seen firsthand how useful reason can be when it is partnered with faith. Reason alone is also foolishness (see every argument ever made by a secular humanist or naturalist). Cosmology, quantum physics, and microbiology are just a few scientific avenues that reveal how much is still unknown. There are particles we cannot see or explain, physics gives us as many questions as answers. Cosmology only explains how much we don’t know about the universe. Obviously, there is still a lot of faith needed to understand life and all that exists.
Hebrews has been my favorite book since I was a teenager. This is such a rich book with so much to say about atonement and Christology. I think the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to display both Jesus’ divinity and his humanity. However, while the author clearly supports the dual nature of Jesus, she seems to go into more detail about the importance of Jesus’ humanity, perhaps because the audience was already sold on the divinity of Jesus, or because Paul had written enough about it already. Whatever the reason, the author of Hebrews thoroughly displays Jesus’ human side, but it’s hard to overlook how some of the most profound words about Christ’s divinity open up the letter. I think it is interesting that the author opens up Hebrews with such a profound statements about Jesus, (1:3) but then doesn’t go much further to support the divine nature of Jesus. Rather, the author goes on to compare Jesus to other human figures like Moses.
Clearly, the divine nature of Jesus is important to the author if Hebrews, but it is also so incredible how the author makes statements like that in 2:18. So, all together, Jesus is the exact representation of God, but He also suffered temptation like we do? How could this not be one of your favorite letters in the Bible?
This is also my favorite book because of what it says about the nature of the atonement. I was uncomfortable with Penal-Substitution for a long time, then I read some stuff by Tony Jones and René Girard that made much sense out of the idea of priestly sacrifice and a non-violent view of the atonement. I think Jones and Girard would both say that Hebrews is an excellent contribution to the conversation about atonement and sacrifice. Instead of describing a God who demands sacrifice to forgive sins, Hebrews explains how the sacrificial system never worked in the first place, humans cannot cover their sins with more death and blood. Instead of Jesus shedding the necessary blood, He instead offers Himself to prove that the sacrificial system doesn’t work. He puts an end to the sacrificial system like in a way that only He can do, in a way that only God Himself can do.
I have a place I like to go for prayer and silent reflection, however I rarely sit in this place for more than five minutes. The sacristy in my church is dark and quiet, it has a unique but peaceful aroma, a blend of candles, old albs, and wine. The sacristy has 2 rooms, the front room, which has a sink, cabinets, and closest where batteries and microphones are kept. It’s big enough for 5-6 people, and it is typically where the ushers bring the offering and where the acolytes get ready for service. Behind the front room of the sacristy, there a smaller room behind a heavy door. This is a room where we keep our vestments and where our senior pastor and I get ready for services. There is only closet, a small padded bench, and a mirror. The room is almost too small for two people. In the ceiling of the back room there is a skylight, which provides just the right amount of natural light. Aside from getting vested, or “albed up” as I prefer to call it, I only use this room to pray and sit in silence.
Keep in mind, I have two small kids, a full time job, a wife who works full time, and I take 3 courses a quarter at Fuller Seminary (I know…Boohoo). I only say this to highlight the fact that I NEVER sit still. In fact, I hardly ever do one thing at time. If I am not multi-tasking I feel like I am going to have a panic attack. In fact, I had a legitimate anxiety attack last year when I tried to take two weeks off work. I rarely sleep, I haven’t seen a movie in over two years, and really, I NEVER sit still. I am sure you can imagine the negative effects this has on my prayer life.
The other day I attempted to sit alone in silence for two hours and here is what I learned: the Holy Spirit speaks to us in silence, especially when we ask Him to. Since I never sit still, and I rarely pray without a sense of time urgency, I had forgotten what it was like to just go where the spirit leads.
It was amazing how many people came to mind to pray for, or how many things in my personal life that I became aware of, things I needed to speak to God about. Although two hours in silence was more than I could handle, I became fully aware of how beneficial this would be on a daily basis (perhaps a half hour in the morning). In the very least, I need to sit in silent reflection much more than I do now, which is basically never.
This practice, while obviously beneficial, is not something that contemporary culture, especially Christian culture, promotes. The church and its people (myself included) like to talk- rarely do we listen. I have never heard of a church that promotes this practice, nor do I know any pastors that do this regularly. I can only imagine what a profound impact this would have on individual lives and the life of the church. If our lives are supposed to be lived in obedience to God, than we should be listening to God. If we are supposed to be following God’s plan for our lives, than we need to hear what that plan is.
One of my favorite bits of scripture comes from Romans 8, when Paul is writing to Christians about hope and Patience. After Paul makes a beautiful statement about all of creation awaiting redemption, he then goes on to give us some encouragement as we wait and hope for our own redemption, “Likewise, the spirit helps us in our weakness, even when we don’t know what to say to God, the spirit intercedes on our behalf with groans too deep for words.” Holy cow, what a powerful statement. This is one of the most inspiring trinitarian statements in scripture. The Spirit that Paul speaks of is the Holy Spirit (capital S, definite article, brother from another mother, individual, person of the Holy Spirit). from John 14.