Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Slow-boiled frogs in a post-Christian soup? Homosexuality, same-sex marriage, gender & the response of the church

Issues surrounding sexuality, and now gender, have always been hot buttons for Christians. And they aren’t getting any less hot. Instead, they seem to be getting more complex.

Of course, they also tend to be polarizing, outside and inside churches.

Lately, especially inside.

When it comes to homosexuality, the responses of Christians will vary from outright hostility to embracive endorsement.

Others land on every notch between the extremes with views variously shaded by adherence or not to Scripture, alignment or not with orthodox Christian belief and practice, and bending or not to popularized positions.

Into this milieu wades Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with what is essential reading for any thinking, true-believer Christian, We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong (Thomas Nelson).

About far more than sexuality & gender identity

Mohler cuts to the chase in the first chapter, asserting that we are in the midst of nothing less than a “massive revolution” that he likens to a devastating hurricane, where the “Christian church in the West now faces a set of challenges that exceeds anything it has experienced in the past.”

This revolution, states Mohler, is “a complete transformation of the way human beings relate to one another in the most intimate contexts of life.”

But the issue is not just about sex or gender. What’s being undermined is the core of Christian belief, the authority of Scripture, and beyond that, the relevance of God in our lives.

Already, it is clear that even within churches, the clear sanctions of Scripture against homosexual practice (among other things) are being recast as not really what Scripture means.

Mohler states clearly that “churches that reject the authority of Scripture will eventually succumb to cultural pressure and accommodate their understanding of homosexuality to the spirit of the age.”

Why is the Bible and its authority being called into question?

Because, as Mohler explains, “Biblical Christianity is the final wall of resistance to the homosexual agenda.”

As a result, even theologians are being influenced to assert, as did one who is part of a major mainline denomination, that, “The scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value.”

This assessment flies in the face of what the vast majority of biblical scholars over generations have affirmed. Namely, that all Scripture is, indeed, “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV), and this is true across all cultures, all times, all peoples.

If this de-authorization of Scripture is followed to its logical and inevitable conclusion, faith becomes myth and the Bible, as some already believe, is nothing but an interesting book, ignorable in whole or in part.

Common responses defending the acceptance of same-sex marriage and homosexual practice is to claim that it’s all about love, no one is getting hurt, and traditional marriages aren’t damaged.

If these are really true statements, then why is it so important for pro-homosexual revisionists to insist that the Bible is wrong on key points?

As Mohler reveals, those pushing this agenda will admit that “the Bible expressly forbids homosexual practices.” However, a higher authority, so they believe, is in play and thus “the Bible must be abandoned in light of modern knowledge.” This is nothing less than heresy, if not outright apostasy.

For thinking Christians who see past platitudes, false truisms, and meme-like explanations, the ultimate impact on faith, life, relationships, and beyond is clear.

Mohler sounds a clarion call, explaining that the stakes are indeed high and the target is more than merely redefining marriage. He explains that, “Revisionist arguments that focus on the ‘limitations’ of Scripture do not merely relativize the Bible’s authority -- they leave us without any authoritative revelation of what sin is. And without an authoritative (and clearly understandable) revelation of human sin, we cannot know why we need a Savior or why Christ died. Could the stakes be any higher than that? This controversy is not merely about sex. It is about salvation.”

The bottomline is that the very foundations of faith are being decayed. Or, at least, that’s the intent.

The four “horsemen” of this sexual “apocalypse”

However, Mohler argues that, while this change has come on with relative speed, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise to believers. In fact, much of our current dilemma can be traced to past complacency by heterosexual believers on a variety of moral and sexuality-related issues.

He points out that, “We must recognize that we, and many evangelicals before us, have sown the seeds for the very problems we now face.”

He categorizes these into four phases, saying, “Any consideration of the eclipse of marriage in the last century,” says Mohler, “must take into account four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation.”
 
  • Birth control and contraception: Mohler explains how these technologies effectively separated “sex from procreation.” Thanks especially to the Pill, “sex became redefined as an activity that did not have any necessary relation to the gift of children.” This shift in thinking had a profound impact on all of society.
     
  • Divorce: The introduction of no-fault divorce, while seemingly well-intended, moved marriage from a committed covenantal relationship to a mere contract that either party could break. Mohler explains that, “No-fault divorce is a rejection of the scriptural understanding of covenant that stands at the very heart of the Christian gospel.”
     
  • Advanced reproductive technologies: As the Pill allowed heterosexuals to separate sex from the risk of pregnancy, modern reproductive technologies allow anyone to have babies without engaging in sex, and without the necessity of possessing reproductive physiology. As Mohler states, “It has enabled same-sex couples and single persons to ‘have’ children, but not by moral means of procreation.”
     
  • Cohabitation: Once frowned upon, couples living together without the sanction of marriage is now the norm. “Marriage itself became more and more marginalized,” says Mohler, “to the moral equation of sex such that in vast sectors of our society today, the old references to ‘premarital sex’ make no sense at all, since marriage is not even on the horizon.” This enables a free-for-all hook-up culture, endlessly damaged relationships, constant societal instability, and opens the door to a host of additional moral problems.
     
Silence on these issues or even the wholesale acceptance of them has led to serious consequences for the church. Namely, the loss of credibility.

“To put the matter in the clearest possible terms,” says Mohler, “the evangelical abdication of responsibility for divorce [and other issues] set the stage for a loss of evangelical credibility to speak to the larger issue of sexuality and marriage. Quite pointedly, the church now has massive liabilities in terms of credibility when it seeks to speak about the ‘clear teachings of the Bible on marriage” or just about any other issue.

Compassion means telling the truth

From the beginning of the book Mohler makes it clear that, despite this sea change, “the church cannot abdicate its responsibility for Christian truth-telling in a postmodern age.”

Where do we turn? “For Christians, the first question to ask when confronting any issue is, what does the Bible say?”

And there we learn that:
  • Creation, gender, and marriage: “The creator has absolute and solitary right to define the purpose of what he has created.”
     
  • Fallen sexuality: “[T]he fall helps us understand why every dimension of the created order bears testimony to the effects of human sin and God’s judgment upon that sin.”
     
  • Sexuality redeemed: “[O]ut of the reality of redemption already achieved, Christians are explicitly called to live out what it means to be male and female and lead lives of holiness and righteousness.”
     
In other words, “The fundamental axiom upon which evangelical Christians must base every response to homosexuality is this: God alone is sovereign, and he alone created the universe and everything within it by his own design and for his own good pleasure.”

An honest examination of Scripture reveals that “any sexual expression outside of [a] heterosexual marriage relationship is outlawed by God’s command.”

Further, “Our response to persons involved in homosexuality must be marked by genuine compassion. But a central task of genuine compassion is telling the truth, and the Bible reveals a true message that we must convey.”

Mohler pulls no punches explaining that this living and telling of truth will be costly: “We should expect horrifying harm, the decline of human flourishing, and restrictions on our message and the freedom of the Christian church.”

Still, this “sexual revolution presents a monumental challenge to the Christian church, but this is not the first revolution that has demanded a Christian response.” And it likely won’t be the last, if the Lord tarries.

Mohler cautions against moralism, aberrant theology, isolationism, inadequate ministry, and shallow youth discipleship.

He concludes declaring, “We must not exile ourselves, and we certainly must not retreat into silence while we still have a platform, a voice, and an opportunity. We must remind ourselves again and again of the compassion of truth and the truth of compassion. We must look in the mirror and recognize that when we speak to others, we are speaking as sinners saved by grace. We must say all that we know on the basis of all that Scripture reveals and trust that only God can make the message convincing and compelling to our audience.”

Final words: Answering hard questions & more

The book concludes offering succinct answers to 30 hard questions covering such topics as the handling of the Old Testament, how genetics may impact homosexuality, comparing the sexual revolution to the civil rights movement, the challenge of intersex births, the transgender dilemma, government legislation of morality, and whether or not a Christian should attend a same-sex wedding.

Many of the issues addressed in the questions are also addressed in the body of the book.

The final “A Word to the Reader” specifically addresses the recent Supreme Court decision related to same-sex marriage.

This book is a must-read for any Christian seeking to more clearly understand how to respond, from a thoroughly biblical foundation, to friends, relatives, and neighbors on sexuality-related issues. It would make for a challenging resource for a mature small group or Sunday school study.

Mohler has provided an excellent reference on these very hot-button issues that all Christians will benefit from reading.

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Additional reading:


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NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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What do you believe the Bible says about homosexuality? Is there a difference between being gay and homosexual behavior? Do you feel threatened by same-sex marriage? Are you afraid to speak out, as a Christian, against same-sex relationships? Why or why not? 

Many feel that the recent Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage came about suddenly. Kind of like the proverbial frog cooked in a pot of water where the heat is raised gradually. Instead, based on Mohler’s assessment,  the heat of this slow-boil increased because we had our own hands on the stove controls. Do you agree or disagree?

Feel free to share your thoughts on this review and the topic in the comments. All I ask is that you be civil.

In addition to Mohler’s book, these other two make good companions:

 

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