If you’re interested in my thoughts on the two chapters in Doctrine, you can read them here and here. In the latter link, you can also read an interesting dialogue I had with an atheist. It is probably the most respectful internet comment thread you will ever read, and if anyone was kind of jerk, it was me.
As far as last night goes, we talked about human origins, the meaning of the image of God, aspects of our humanity, and the nature of the fall. For brief bullet points, here you go:
- Humans are direct, special creations by God (Genesis 2:5-7)
- The “image of God” would be the God-given mental and spiritual capacities that enable people to relate to God and to serve him by ruling over the created order as his earthly vice-regents (NET Bible Notes)
- Man is Body + Spirit = Soul. You don’t have a soul, you are a soul.
- The fall affects both body and spirit (so you are totally depraved) but not to the complete extent (so you are not utterly depraved)
One thing I had prepared but that we didn’t have time for was a discussion of homosexuality. I picked the topic because a) it is a prominent discussion in our culture, b) it deals with the intersection of the fall and humanity in the image of God, and c) we need much more nuanced discussion than the idiot in this video provides. I thought rather than upload the slides (which are up until the homosexuality section mostly just verses) I’d reproduce the notes I had on homosexuality here and then we can talk more next week if we need to. A lot of people missed last night, I am guessing/hoping because it was the last day of spring break and so it wouldn’t make too much sense to go to a class (but major bonus points to you all that did make it!)
We managed to talk through Romans 1:20-32 which I’ll reproduce here:
For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them. – Romans 1:20-32
From a Christian point of view, the normalization of homosexual behavior is a cultural sign of the wrath of God. A sexual behavior is considered normalized when the government will allow it without penalty. When the government will offer privileges (what pop speak calls “rights”) to couples who commit to live a homosexual lifestyle together, the practice has taken step beyond normalization and toward celebration Every culture that has gotten to the celebration stage with homosexuality has collapsed not soon afterward. This is how the wrath of God undoes a society from the inside. If you need a case to oppose gay marriage even though it seems harmless, there you go.
I think if Christians are going to talk about homosexuality from a biblical perspective, this is the place to start. Romans provides not only explanation for the why of homosexuality, it also is pretty clear about its inappropriateness from a Christian point of view. Using this as a starting point, we can actually flesh out why someone identifies as a homosexual with our handy triperspectival categories:
- Normative – worship disorder, fallen nature of man, broken sexual desires (see Romans 1)
- Situational – failure to establish intimacy with same sex parent, abuse, believing cultural lies and/or being preyed upon (see psychological research)
- Existential – hormonal and genetic factors, potential gender dysphoria (not identifying with your anatomical sex), unbridled lust (see biological and sociological research)
Notice what this does. It first eliminates being “born this way” from the equation, but not in a way that eliminates biological factors altogether. There is not a gay gene any more than there is a specific gene for any other behavior. Genetics may play a role, but only in concert with other contributing factors. This also eliminates the ability to claim homosexuality is just a lust or sin problem. It is simplistic of gay activists to just say they are born that way (since that opens the door for everyone to claim that), but it is just as simplistic on the part of evangelicals to treat it as a simple sin issue. Rather, for any given person identifying as a homosexual, there is a “perfect storm” of factors combining in a unique way.
In addition to factors underlying homosexual identification, we must make a distinction between levels of ingression in people, which is to say we need to recognize there are three levels of identification that get progressively deeper:
- People who identify as experiencing same-sex attraction
- People who identify as homosexual in sexual orientation
- People who have their entire identity located in their homosexuality
From a Christian perspective, the last level of ingression is incompatible with professed belief in Christ. You cannot simultaneously locate your identity in Christ and your identity in your sexuality (hetero- or homo-). I think to a certain extent you can identify your sexual orientation as homosexual and still profess faith in Christ. However, I don’t think you can act on that orientation. Likewise, I think as you grow in Christ you will move away from thinking in terms of “orientation,” because that in and of itself is making too much of your sexual desires. Because of the triperspectival model though, it is unrealistic to expect every person who comes to Christ from a homosexual background to never struggle again or to suddenly become “straight.” We do not expect heterosexual people who come to faith in Christ to immediately have sanctified sexual desires. Even as they grow, we recognize that lust is a perennial problem and that godly Christians still have broken sexual desires. This is just as true with people whose sexual desires are for the same sex. God can renew them in the image of Christ by his Spirit, but they may always struggle with their sexuality in that way
In terms of how we can respond to the issue of homosexuality, here are just a few brief thoughts:
- We should treat people who identify as homosexuals with the respect and dignity that an image bearer of God deserves.
- We should be compassionate and gracious to people within the church who are genuinely struggling with sexual sins of all kinds, of which homosexual desires is one kind.
- We should not excuse or take lightly the fact that people who practice homosexual behavior are living a lifestyle of sin. If they are in the church, it is an issue of church discipline. If they are outside, it is an issue of repentance and belief just like it is for any other sin.
- People who come to faith in Christ from a homosexual background may struggle with their sexual desires for the rest of their life since there is no legitimate Christian outlet. We should not treat this struggle lightly.
- But, neither should be cave to the surrounding culture as if we have no spine and say that somehow homosexuality is acceptable in God’s eyes when Scripture is pretty explicit otherwise.
In the end, we need to preach the gospel of grace in Christ to people who identify as homosexuals. There is not a special gospel for them that is different from what everyone else needs. As Christians we cannot endorse the homosexual lifestyle as acceptable. But neither do we need to vilify those outside the body of Christ who live it. People within the church who think it is compatible with Christianity need to be taught what Scripture actually says on the subject, and that the only acceptable form of sexual activity is between a man and a woman who are united in the covenant of marriage. People outside the church need to see us extend grace and love.
This isn’t an issue that’s going anywhere anytime soon, but it is an issue that evangelicals haven’t always handled well. We can improve our handling, but our message that everyone is a broken sinner with broken sexual desires is going to continue to be offensive.
If stops being offensive, it has stopped being faithful.