According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NT Wright - Introduction to Paul's New Perspective, Part 1 of 2


 
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Question. Did the Reformation's theologians mis-appropriate Augustine's grace teachings that would lead to the Lutheran/Reformed faith-emphasis on sin and works-righteousness? (see link here).

Observation. Within Protestantism's New Perspective view is the realisation that good works is the natural outgrowth of faith and a life built on grace, and thus both the Reformed arguments of faith-alone stands affirmed alongside the further statements of Paul's New Perspective of faith-works.

- skinhead

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New Perspective on Paul

The "New Perspective on Paul" is a significant shift in the way some scholars, especially Protestant scholars, interpret the writings of the Apostle Paul.

Description

Artist's depiction of Saint Paul Writing His Epistles,
in the 16th Century
(from the Blaffer Fndn Collection, Houston, TX)
Since the Protestant Reformation (c. 1517), studies of Paul's writings have been heavily influenced by Lutheran and Reformed views that are said to ascribe the negative attributes associated with sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism to first-century Judaism. The said Lutheran and Reformed views on Paul's Writings are called the "old perspective" by adherents of the "New Perspective on Paul". Thus, the "new perspective" is an attempt to lift Paul's letters out of the Lutheran/Reformed framework and interpret them based on what is said to be an understanding of first-century Judaism, taken on its own terms. (Within this article, "the old perspective" refers specifically to Reformed and Lutheran traditions, especially the views descended from John Calvin and Martin Luther, see also Law and Gospel.)

Paul, especially in his Epistle to the Romans, advocates justification through faith in Jesus Christ over justification through works of the Law. In the old perspective, Paul was understood to be arguing that Christians' good works would not factor into their salvation, only their faith. According to the new perspective, Paul was questioning only observances such as circumcision and dietary laws, not good works in general.

Development

In 1963 the Lutheran theologian Krister Stendahl published a paper arguing that the typical Lutheran view of the Apostle Paul’s theology did not fit with statements in Paul’s writings, and in fact was based more on mistaken assumptions about Paul’s beliefs than careful interpretation of his writings.[1]

In 1977 E. P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism.[2] In this work he performed an extensive study of Jewish literature and an analysis of Paul's writings in which he argued that the traditional Lutheran understanding of the theology of Judaism and Paul were fundamentally incorrect. Sanders continued to publish books and articles in this field, and was soon joined by the scholar James D. G. Dunn. In 1982 Dunn labelled the movement "The New Perspective on Paul".[3]

The work of these writers inspired a large number of scholars to study, discuss, and debate the relevant issues. Many books and articles dealing with the issues raised have since been published. The Anglican Bishop and theologian N. T. Wright has written a large number of works aimed at popularising the new perspective outside of academia.[4]

The new perspective movement is closely connected with a surge of recent scholarly interest in studying the Bible in the context of other ancient texts, and the use of social-scientific methods to understand ancient culture. Scholars affiliated with The Context Group as well as many others in the field, have called for various reinterpretations of biblical texts based on their studies of the ancient world.

Main ideas

It is often noted that the singular title "the new perspective" gives an unjustified impression of unity. It is a field of study in which many scholars are actively pursuing research and continuously revising their own theories in light of new evidence, and who do not necessarily agree with each other on any given issue. It has been suggested by many that the plural title "the new perspectives" may therefore be more accurate. In 2003, N. T. Wright, distancing himself from both Sanders and Dunn, commented that "there are probably almost as many ‘new perspective’ positions as there are writers espousing it – and I disagree with most of them."[5] There are certain trends and commonalities within the movement, but what is held in common is the belief that the "old perspective" (the Lutheran and Reformed interpretations of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism) is fundamentally incorrect. The following are some of the issues being widely discussed.

Works of the Law

Paul's letters contain a substantial amount of criticism of "works of the law". The radical difference in these two interpretations of what Paul meant by "works of the law" is the most consistent distinguishing feature between the two perspectives. The old perspective interprets this phrase as referring to human effort to do good works in order to meet God's standards (Works Righteousness). In this view, Paul is arguing against the idea that humans can merit salvation from God by their good works (note the New Perspective agrees that we cannot merit salvation - the issue is what exactly Paul is addressing).

By contrast, new perspective scholars see Paul as talking about "badges of covenant membership" or criticizing Gentile believers who had begun to rely on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship.[6] It is argued that in Paul's time, Israelites were being faced with a choice of whether to continue to follow their ancestral customs, the Torah ('the ancestral customs'), or to follow the Roman Empire's trend to adopt Greek customs (Hellenization, see also Antinomianism, Hellenistic Judaism, and Circumcision in the Bible). (This would be comparable with Westernization and the decision faced by modern individuals such as American Indians to follow their native culture or to adopt Western customs and lifestyle, see also Cultural imperialism.)

The new perspective view is that Paul's writings discuss the comparative merits of following ancient Israelite or ancient Greek customs. Paul is interpreted as being critical of a common Jewish view that following traditional Israelite customs make a person better off before God. Paul identifies customs he is concerned about as circumcision, dietary laws, and observance of special days.[7]

Human effort and good works

Due to their interpretation of the phrase "works of the law", old perspective theologians see Paul's rhetoric as being against human effort to earn righteousness. This is often cited by Lutheran and Reformed theologians as a central feature of the Christian religion, and the concepts of grace alone and faith alone are of great importance within the creeds of these denominations.

New perspective interpretations of Paul tend to result in Paul having nothing negative to say about the idea of human effort or good works, and saying many positive things about both. New perspective scholars point to the many statements in Paul's writings that specify the criteria of final judgment as being the works of the individual.
"Final Judgment According to Works... was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works." (N. T. Wright)[8]
Wright however does not hold the view that good works contribute to ones salvation but rather that the final judgement is something we can look forward to as a future vindication of God's present declaration of our righteousness. In other words, [according to Wright,] our works are a result of our salvation and the future judgement will show that[9]. Other [theologians] tend to place a higher value on the importance of good works than the old perspective does, taking the view that they causally contribute to the salvation of the individual.

Old perspective advocates often see this as being "salvation by works" and as a bad thing, contradicting what they see as being fundamental tenets of Christianity. Yet new perspective scholars often respond that their views are not so different. For in the old perspective, God graciously empowers the individual to the faith which leads to salvation and also to good works. While in the new perspective, God graciously empowers individuals to the faith and good works which lead to salvation.


Faith, or faithfulness

An ongoing debate related to the new perspective has been over Paul's use of the Greek word pistis (πίστις, meaning "trust," "belief," "faith," or "faithfulness"). Old perspective writers have typically interpreted this word as meaning a belief in God and Christ, and trust in Christ for salvation with faith that he will save you. This interpretation is based on several passages from the Christian Bible, notably Ephesians 2:8-9, which reads "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Interestingly, E. P. Sanders, a major figure in the development of the "new perspective of Paul", himself notes that Ephesians 2:9 teaches the traditional (or "old") perspective.[10]

By contrast, many recent studies of the Greek word pistis have concluded that its primary and most common meaning was faithfulness, meaning firm commitment in an interpersonal relationship.[11][12][13][14]

As such, the word could be almost synomymous with "obedience" when the people in the relationship held different status levels (e.g. a slave being faithful to his master). Far from being equivalent to 'lack of human effort', the word seems to imply and require human effort. The interpretation of Paul's writings that we need to "faithfully" obey God's commands is quite different to one which sees him saying that we need to have "faith" that he will do everything for us. This is also argued to explain why James was adamant that "faith without works is dead" and that "a man is saved by works, and not by faith alone," while also saying that to merely believe places one on the same level as the demons (see James 2). The New Perspective argues that James was concerned with those who were trying to reduce faith to an intellectual subscription without any intent to follow God or Jesus, and that Paul always intended "faith" to mean a full submission to God.

Another related issue is the pistis Christou ('faith of Christ') debate. Paul several times uses this phrase at key points in his writings and it is linguistically ambiguous as to whether it refers to our faith in Christ ("objective genitive"), or Christ's own faithfulness to God ("subjective genitive"), or even our faith/faithfulness to God like that which Christ had ("adjectival genitive"). There is wide disagreement within the academic community over which of these is the best rendering.[15] The NET Bible translation became the first mainstream English Bible translation to use a subjective genitive translation of this phrase.[16]

Grace, or favor

Old perspective writers have generally translated the Greek word charis as "grace" and understood it to refer to the idea that there is a lack of human effort in salvation because God is the controlling factor. However those who study ancient Greek culture have pointed out that "favor" is a better translation, as the word refers normally to 'doing a favor'. In ancient societies there was the expectation that such favors be repaid, and this semi-formal system of favors acted like loans.[17] Therefore, it is argued that when Paul speaks of how God did us a 'favor' by sending Jesus, he is saying that God took the initiative, but is not implying a lack of human effort in salvation, and is in fact implying that Christians have an obligation to repay the favor God has done for them. Some argue that this view then undermines the initial 'favor' - of sending Jesus - by saying that, despite his incarnation, life and death, Christians still have, as before, to earn their way to heaven. However, others note this is the horns of a false dilemma (all grace versus all works). Many new perspective proponents that see "charis" as "favor" do not teach that Christians earn their way to heaven outside of the death of Christ. Forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is still necessary to salvation. But, that forgiveness demands effort on the part of the individual (cf. Paul in Phil. 3:12-16). [1]

The Atonement


For old perspective writers the atonement theory of Penal Substitution and the belief in the "finished work" of Christ have been central. New perspective writers have regularly questioned whether this view is really of such central importance in Paul's writings. Generally new perspective writers have argued that other theories of the atonement are more central to Paul's thinking, but there has been minimal agreement among them as to what Paul's real view of the atonement might be.

The following is a broad sample of different views advocated by various scholars. E. P. Sanders argued that Paul's central idea was that we mystically spiritually participate in the risen Christ and that all Paul's judicial language was subordinate to the participationary language.[2] N. T. Wright has argued that Paul sees Israel as representative of humanity and taking onto itself the sinfulness of humanity through history. Jesus, in turn, as Messiah, is representative of Israel and so focuses the sins of Israel on himself on the cross. Wright's view is thus a "historicized" form of Penal Substitution.[18]

Chris VanLandingham has argued that Paul sees Christ as having defeated the Devil and as teaching humans how God wants them to live and setting them an example.[19] David Brondos has argued that Paul sees Jesus as just a part in a wider narrative in which the Church is working to transform lives of individuals and the world, and that Paul's participationary language should be understood in an ethical sense (humans living Christ-like lives) rather than mystically as Sanders thought.[20]

Pilch and Malina take the view that Paul holds to the Satisfaction theory of atonement.[21] Stephen Finlan holds that Paul uses numerous different metaphors to describe the atonement but that he fundamentally sees Christ as a martyr and holds that humans are to be divinely transformed into the image of God through Christ (Theosis).[22]

Criticism and rhetoric

The new perspective has been an extremely controversial subject and has drawn strong arguments and recriminations from both sides of the debate.

In 2003 Steve Chalke, after being influenced by new perspective writers, published a book targeted at a popular audience which made comments highly critical of the penal substitution theory of the atonement.[23] This caused an extensive and ongoing controversy among Evangelicals in Britain, with a strong backlash from lay-people and advocates of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.

Both sides of the debate attempt to claim the higher, and more accurate, view of scripture. New perspective advocates claim that old perspective supporters are too committed to historic Protestant tradition, and therefore fail to take a 'natural' reading of the Bible; while old perspectivists claim that new perspective advocates are too intrigued by certain interpretations of context and history, which then lead to a biased hermeneutical approach to the text.

The new perspective has been heavily criticized by conservative scholars in the Reformed tradition, arguing that it undermines the classical, individualistic, Augustinian interpretation of election and does not faithfully reflect the teachings of their founding theologian, John Calvin (as N. T. Wright had asserted). It has been the subject of fierce debate among Evangelicals in recent years, mainly due to N. T. Wright's increasing popularity in evangelical circles. Its most outspoken critics include Calvinists John Piper,[24] Sinclair Ferguson,[25][26] C. W. Powell,[27] Mark Seifrid, D. A. Carson[28], Ligon Duncan.[29]  Barry D. Smith has claimed that the New Perspective's challenge to the traditional view of Jewish faith practice as legalistic is misplaced.[30]

Catholic and Orthodox reactions

The new perspective has, by and large, been an internal debate among Protestant scholars. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writers have generally responded favorably to new perspective ideas,[citation needed] seeing both a greater commonality with their own beliefs and seeing strong similarities with the views of many of the early Church Fathers.

Former Protestant and one-time adherent to the New Perspective, Taylor Marshall, published the first Catholic response to the New Perspective on Paul entitled The Catholic Perspective on Paul (2010). Marshall draws out the continuity and discontinuities between the Protestant New Perspective and the traditional Catholic doctrines of the Council of Trent by emphasizing the doctrine of participation and the believer's union with Christ.[31] From this Catholic point of view, the New Perspective is seen as a step toward the progressive reality of human salvation in Christ. Moreover, passages in the works of many early Church Fathers show that new perspective-style interpretations were widely held among them.[32]

One of the many exceptions is the influential Augustine of Hippo. While most in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox schools would see him as espousing a view of grace and justification in keeping with this new perspective, Augustine is blamed by some for introducing incorrect ideas[citation needed] (some Orthodox would agree that Augustine erred on these ideas, and introduced novelties into the teachings of the Church Fathers[33]).

[One could also argue that it was the Reformation's mis-appropriation of Augustine's grace teachings that led to their emphasis on sin and works-righteousness. - skinhead]
See for further regard: http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2011/09/understanding-new-perspective-on-paul.html 

The increased importance new perspective writers have given to good works in salvation has created strong common ground with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Historic Protestantism has never denied that there is a place for good and faithful works, but has always excluded them from justification and salvation, which Protestants argue is through faith alone, and in which good deeds are of no account, either within or without God's grace. This has, since the Reformation, been a line of distinction between Protestantism (both Reformed and Lutheran) and other Christian communions.

[Within Protestantism's New Perspective view is the realisation that good works is the natural outgrowth of faith and a life built on grace, and thus both the Reformed arguments of faith-alone stands affirmed alongside the further statements of Paul's New Perspective of faith-works. - skinhead]


See also

 

References

  1. ^ Krister Stendahl, 'The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West' in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Jul., 1963), pp. 199-215. Republished in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, (Augsburg Fortress Publishers) 1976.
  2. ^ a b E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1977)
  3. ^ The Brand New Perspective on Paul by James D. G. Dunn
  4. ^ For example, N. T. Wright, "What Saint Paul Really Said" Eerdmans 1997
  5. ^ N. T. Wright, New Perspectives.
  6. ^ For "badges of covenant membership", see N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans part one (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 35-41. 5. For reliance on the Torah to reckon Jewish kinship, see Eisenbaum, Pamela (Winter 2004). "A Remedy for Having Been Born of Woman: Jesus, Gentiles, and Genealogy in Romans". Journal of Biblical Literature (The Society of Biblical Literature) 123 (4): 671–702. doi:10.2307/3268465. JSTOR 3268465. http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/JBL1234.pdf. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
  7. ^ Dunn, James D. 'The New Perspective on Paul', 104, 2005.
  8. ^ New Perspectives on Paul, 10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25–28, August 2003, by N. T. Wright
  9. ^ http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.pdf
  10. ^ Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, p. 167, notes "Sanders has conceded to me that Ephesians 2:9 teaches the traditional view."
  11. ^ Douglas A. Campbell, "The Quest For Paul’s Gospel: A Suggested Strategy", 2005, pp 178-207
  12. ^ David M. Hay, ‘Pistis as “Ground for Faith” in Hellenized Judaism and Paul’ JBL 18, 1989, pp 461-76
  13. ^ Howard, The 'Faith of Christ', ExpTim 85, 1974, 214
  14. ^ Pilch and Malina, "Handbook of Biblical Social Values", 1998, pg 72-75
  15. ^ See, e.g.: for subjective genitive: G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42. For objective genitive: A. Hultgren, “The Pistis Christou Formulations in Paul,” NovT 22 (1980): 248-63; J. D. G. Dunn, “Once More, ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ,” SBL Seminar Papers, 1991, 730-44.
  16. ^ E.g., Romans 3:21-22: 'But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. ...' (emphasis added. Also see Gal. 2:20).
  17. ^ David A.deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, 2000, pg 117
  18. ^ N. T. Wright, "Jesus and the Victory of God"
  19. ^ Chris VanLandingham, "Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul", Hendrickson 2006
  20. ^ David Brondos, "Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle's Story of Redemption", Fortress Press, 2006
  21. ^ Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, "Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul" Ausgburg Fortress 2006
  22. ^ Stephen Finlan, "Problems with Atonement: The Origins of, and Controversy about, the Atonement Doctrine" Liturgical Press 2005
  23. ^ Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Zondervan, 2003)
  24. ^ John Piper, Interview with Piper on Wright, October 11, 2007.
  25. ^ Sinclair Ferguson, What Does Justification Have to do with the Gospel?
  26. ^ Ligon Duncan and Sinclair Ferguson (video resource) Is Wright Teaching Another Gospel?
  27. ^ C. W. Powell, Was There Legalism in First Century Judaism
  28. ^ D. A. Carson Don Carson on the New Perspective, mp3 file of lecture
  29. ^ J. Ligon Duncan, The Attractions of the New Perspective(s) on Paul.
  30. ^ Barry D. Smith, The Tension Between God as Righteous Judge and as Merciful in Early Judaism; id., What Must I Do to Be Saved? Paul Parts Company with His Jewish Heritage.
  31. ^ Taylor Marshall, The Catholic Perspective on Paul, Saint John Press, Dallas, Texas, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0578050164
  32. ^ Irenaeus, "Against Heresy" 4:13-16. Ambrosiaster, "Commentary on Romans". Pelagius, "Commentary on Romans". Origen "Commentary on Romans". Justin Martyr, "Dialogue" Ch 10-11. Clement of Alexandria, "Stromata" 6:6. Ignatius, "Magnesians" 8. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Catechetical Lectures" 4:33.
  33. ^ Fr. John Romanides, The Ancestral Sin, Zephyr Publishing, Ridgewood, NJ, 1998

 

Further Reading



The Gospel as the Story of Jesus

Do We Have the Gospel Wrong? (Review: "The King Jesus Gospel")

by Rachel Held Evans
September 23, 2011
Comments

“I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say ‘the gospel.’ I just don’t think it is what Paul means.” - N.T. Wright

The guy next to me on my flight from Chicago to Santa Ana last week was the perfect seatmate—chatty during takeoff and landing, asleep for the rest of the flight. I was thankful for the quiet time because I got to spend the four-hour flight completely engrossed in a book that revolutionized my perspective on my Christian faith—The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight.

As we were taxiing around John Wayne Airport, the guy (who at the beginning of the flight told me he spent the summer working for Coca-Cola setting up air-conditioned tents at concerts and amusement parks), asked me what I was reading. Oh, um. It’s a book about the gospel,” I said, “about how modern Christians have misunderstood it to be all about personal salvation, when it’s more about the story of Jesus.”

The skill and immediacy with which the poor guy changed the subject revealed to me that he’d probably sat next to a well-meaning evangelist in the past, the kind to whom “gospel” means salvation from hell and “evangelizing” means convincing your seatmate to make a decision for Christ before the plane lands.

As McKnight notes in the book, "Most of evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.”

I didn’t push it. In fact, I was still trying to process what I’d learned upon reading The King Jesus Gospel that day—that somehow I’d managed to be a Christian for twenty-five years without understanding what the writers of the New Testament meant when they referred to the gospel.


The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight




The Gospel as We’ve Known It…

Dallas Willard puts it this way: “For most American Christians, the gospel is about getting my sins forgiven so I can go to heaven when I die.” It’s "the gospel of sin management.”

According to McKnight, “the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about personal salvation.” It’s been reduced to “justification by faith.” Under such a scheme, the Gospels in the Bible are little more than back story leading up to the cross, and Jesus is little more than a mechanism by which our salvation is attained. The cross is the only part of his story that really matters.

In fact, McKnight argues that modern evangelicals seem to have confused the words evangel (Greek for gospel) and soteria (Greek for salvation). Says McKnight, “We evangelicals (as a whole) are not really ‘evangelical’ in the sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead we are soterians…We (mistakenly) equate the word gospel with the world salvation. Hence, we are really ‘salvationists.’ We are wired this way. But these two words don’t mean the same thing…My prayer for this book is that it will revive a generation of evangelicals to become true evangelicals instead of just soterians.” A salvation culture and a gospel culture are not the same, he says.


The Gospel in the New Testament…

I confess I started this book with a bit of skepticism. I’m wary of anyone who claims to have found a succinct summary of something as complex as the good news of Jesus. While I still believe there is an element of relativity to the gospel because the gospel is about Jesus and everyone encounters Jesus a little differently, McKnight reminded me of just how important it is to acknowledge the fact that the writers of the New Testament had something specific in mind when they used the word “gospel.”

And according to The King Jesus Gospel, what they had in mind was “the story of Jesus of Nazareth as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.”

McKnight summarizes his position like this:

1. The gospel is framed by Israel’s story. The story of Jesus—his life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and return—is the completion of Israel’s story.


2. The gospel centers on the lordship of Jesus. He is Messiah and King.


3. The gospel summons people to respond—to repent, to place faith in Jesus, and be baptized.


4. The gospel saves and redeems.

If this sounds a lot like what NT Wright’s been arguing for years, it’s because it is. But, at least for me, McKnight explains this “story-of-Jesus gospel” in a way that is more accessible and applicable to everyday life.

McKnight really gets on a roll in Chapter 6. When speaking of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, he poses the question, “Why did the early Christians call these books ‘the Gospel?”

The answer: Because they ARE the gospel!

“If you want to read the gospel, hear the gospel, or preach the gospel…read, listen to, and preach the Gospels,” he concludes.

This approach broadens the scope of the gospel so that it’s not just about Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s about his life, his teachings, his authority as the Messiah, his death, his resurrection, his lordship over all creation, and his anticipated return. With skill and clarity, McKnight shows how this is the gospel that Paul preached in 1 Corinthians 15, the gospel that was shared in the book of Acts, the gospel taught by Jesus Himself, and the gospel we declare whenever we affirm the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. To share the gospel is to share the story of Jesus—the whole story, not just apart.

Is it any wonder, then, that after the woman anointed Jesus with a jar of costly perfume in Mark 14, Jesus declares “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her”? Her story is as much a part of the gospel as the cross!

This confirms what I only dared suggest in Chapter 15 of Evolving in Monkey Town, that “while I still believe Jesus died to save us from our sins, I’m beginning to think that Jesus also lived to save us from our sins.” Learning that the Bible supports this hope is good news indeed!


A Gospel Culture...

According to McKnight, in the New Testament, “gospeling was not driven by the salvation story or the atonement story” (though that was certainly a part of it). Rather, the gospel was driven by the story of Israel culminating with the story of Jesus.”

So how should evangelicals promote a gospel culture rather than a salvation culture?

We need to tell the whole story of Jesus, he says, not just part. And we need to declare Jesus as Lord.

We must focus on making disciples, not decisions.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this looks like in my life, but what I loved most about The King Jesus Gospel was that it helped harmonize so much of Scripture (from the prophecies of Isaiah to the letters of Paul to the teachings of Jesus to the sermons of Peter), and it made me excited about the gospel for the first time in a long time.

You can really sense McKnight’s passion for this subject on each and every page, particularly his desire to see a new generation of evangelicals declare a more robust and exciting gospel that is faithful to Christ and faithful to Scripture. He’s definitely got this young evangelical on board! (I’m already thinking of fun ways in which we can share the story of Jesus more frequently on this blog.)

In short, I can’t recommend this book enough. It will challenge you, inspire you, frustrate you, and wreak havoc on you—all the things that a good book about Jesus should do.


**********

So what are your impressions of the message of The King Jesus Gospel? Do you think that modern evangelicals are salvation-focused rather than gospel-focused? How do we create a gospel culture?




A Gay Christian Responds to Christ and Culture




Ask a Gay Christian...(Response)

by Rachel Held Evans
September 19, 2011

In our interview series so far, we’ve featured an atheist, a Catholic, an Orthodox Jew, a humanitarian, a Mormon, a Mennonite, an evolutionary creationist, and a Calvinist. When I asked who you wanted to hear from next, many of you requested an interview with a gay Christian.

I’m so glad you did!

Last week I introduced you to Justin Lee, the director of The Gay Christian Network (GCN), a nonprofit organization serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians and those who love them. Justin is also the director of "Through My Eyes," a documentary about young gay Christians, and the co-host of GCN Radio, a popular podcast on issues of faith and sexuality. He blogs at Crumbs from the Communion Table.

Hundreds of questions rolled in from a wide variety of perspectives, with the top three questions “liked” over 100 times. Justin certainly rose to the occasion, answering your questions thoughtfully and humbly. I hope you find his responses as helpful as I did.

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From Justin: Hello, everyone! I'm honored to have this opportunity, and I'm so grateful to Rachel for making it possible. Thanks, Rachel!

As soon as I read through the questions Rachel sent, two things were immediately obvious to me: First, you guys are passionate about this issue and have a ton of great questions! Second, some of the questions were really long. Yikes! I don't want to bore you all to tears, but I also know that short, bumper-sticker answers to deep questions aren't very helpful. So I've tried to be concise, I've edited a few of the questions for brevity, and I'm committing right now to stick around here for at least the next week to keep answering questions in the comments.

Anything I don't get to or that needs more space, I'll address on my own blog, Crumbs from the Communion Table.

Now, on to the questions!

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From (reader) Justin B.: Before you came to peace with your sexual orientation, did you ever try to "cure" your homosexuality, whether through prayer or some type of program? I'd also be interested in hearing more about your story, such as when you first discovered you were gay, how long you waited before you told people, that kind of thing.

This is the perfect question to ask, and it's a question I think we Christians should be more in the habit of asking the people we encounter in our lives: "Tell me your story."

Why was the woman at the well so impressed with Jesus? It was because he knew her story. That alone made her eager to listen to him and bring others to do the same.

Our God is a personal God, and as the Body of Christ, we have an obligation to represent God by taking an interest in people's lives and stories. Right now, the church's reputation (especially in the gay community) is that we're a bunch of holier-than-thou jerks who are quick to preach and dole out advice but slow to take an interest in people. That's a reputation we need to reverse. Yes, we are called to take moral stands on issues, but we ought to be known first and foremost for our love.

My story is long, but here's the short(ish) version.

I grew up in a loving Christian home, accepted Christ at a young age, attended a Southern Baptist church, and generally had a pretty awesome upbringing.

From the time I was young, Jesus Christ was—and continues to be—#1 in my life. My relationship with Him was life-giving in every sense of the word, and that's why I considered it so important to live out my faith. I got the nickname "God Boy" in high school because I was the Bible-toting goody two-shoes Christian who didn't smoke, drink, curse, have sex, or shut up about God!

My view of homosexuality was this: God created male and female for each other. Our bodies were designed to fit together in that way, and the Bible made it clear that while sexuality was a gift from God, using our sexuality in ways that were outside of God's design for it was a sin—whether that meant premarital sex, adultery, or homosexuality. My pro-gay friends called me a "homophobe" for this view, but I didn't hate or fear gay people; I simply believed that they were making a sinful choice with their lives, and that by speaking out in a loving way, I could call their attention to it and help bring them back to God. That's what we're supposed to do as Christians, right?


I, of course, wasn't gay. At least, that's what I thought.

But I did have a secret I was going to take to my grave.

Like other guys my age, when I'd hit puberty, I had begun to experience sexual attractions. No surprise there. But one thing was different: while all of my guy friends were starting to notice girls for the first time, I was starting to notice guys.

At first, I didn't worry about it. I figured this was just part of the process and that my attractions would eventually switch to girls. But they didn't. Instead, the feelings just kept getting stronger and stronger. Even if I could make it through the school day without thinking about guys, I'd go to bed at night and dream about guys. I'd wake up each morning feeling dirty and disgusted with myself.

Straight guys, do you remember what it was like to be 16 years old with raging hormones, completely unable to get your mind off of girls no matter what you did? Well, that was my life too, except it was my male classmates who made my hormones go wild, not my female classmates.

As you might expect, I was horrified by this. I couldn't tell anyone, and I didn't know what was wrong with me. It got to the point that I was crying myself to sleep, night after night, begging God to take away these feelings.

It wasn't until I was 18 (and dating a beautiful girl I had no attraction to whatsoever) that I finally realized there was a word for people like me: "gay."

Even then, though, I was convinced it was a phase. I was sure that God didn't design me to be gay, so I looked into every Christian ministry I could find that offered to help gay people become straight. I was completely convinced that an "ex-gay" ministry, combined with therapy and prayer, would help me become attracted to women and put these other feelings behind me. After all, God can do anything!


The hard truth was that it doesn't work that way. Yes, God can do anything, but that doesn't mean God does do what we expect. I met so many people who had faith to move mountains and who had prayed and struggled their whole lives to become straight, but their attractions had still never changed. Even the national leaders and "success stories" of these change ministries privately admitted to me that they hadn't become straight. Yes, some of them had married a member of the opposite sex, but the "happily heterosexual" face they showed to the world was not the reality. I heard more tragic stories behind closed doors than I can possibly convey.

As I turned to my church and the Christians I respected most to get their support, things only got worse. Christian groups kicked me out or turned their backs on me when they learned that I was gay, even though I told them that I didn't want to be and that I hadn't even acted on my feelings! I learned that that one magic word, "gay," had the power to make Christians turn unkind and uncompassionate without even realizing they were doing it. That was the realization that led me to create a safe space on the internet for people who want to live out their faith and explore these difficult questions, even if they come to conclusions that are different from my own. That's where The Gay Christian Network came from.

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From KMR: When you first realized you were gay, what verses in the Bible did you struggle with the most? And how did you reconcile them in order to find peace?

There are a handful of passages in the Bible that directly address homosexuality in some form, and all of them are pretty negative.

In Genesis 19, the residents of the wicked city of Sodom threaten to gang rape two foreigners (actually angels in disguise). They don't succeed, but that threat of male-male rape is why we have the term "sodomy" today.

In Judges 19, an almost identical story takes place in the town of Gibeah. Again, a (male) foreigner is threatened with gang rape, but in the end, the crowd rapes and murders his (female) concubine instead. The ending and other context suggests that Sodom and Gibeah probably weren't gay cities, but did use threats and violence to intimidate foreigners.

'Grandaddy's Bible' photo (c) 2010, Valerie - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/In Leviticus 18-20, the death penalty is prescribed for a man who "lies with a man as with a woman." This is part of a set of rules given by God to Moses to keep the Israelites set apart. Some of the rules we Christians still follow today; others we don't.

In Romans 1, Paul is making an argument that all of us are sinners in need of grace. As an example of the folly of turning from God, Paul references a group of people who turned from God to worship idols and engage in "shameful" and "unnatural" behavior including gay sex. Some scholars view this as an indictment on cultures that fail to condemn homosexuality in any form; others argue that Paul is making an obvious allusion to the orgy-like rites practiced by the fertility cults of his day.

Finally, in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10, Paul offhandedly uses an obscure Greek term when listing groups of sinners. Some scholars have translated it as "men who have sex with men," but others scholars dispute that translation. Adding to the confusion is a second term that appears in only one of those passages. The new NIV argues that these two terms should be taken together to refer to active and passive partners in male anal sex; the 1980s NIV translated the word as "male prostitutes"; and other Bibles and scholars have all sorts of different opinions.

All of these passages address sexual behavior, so when I first realized I was gay, none of them seemed relevant to me. I was attracted to the same sex, but I wasn't sexually active and I didn't have any plans to be. My plan was just to find a way to become straight so that I could be attracted to a woman and get married.

Once I discovered that it was unlikely I would ever become attracted to women, I realized with despair that this meant I would have to be celibate and alone for the rest of my life. I was willing to do it if that was God's call for me, but the idea of being alone my whole life was a scary, sobering thought. Some people deal well with that; I'm not one of those people.

It made me wonder: what was God actually condemning in these passages? Was it the relationship itself that aroused God's anger, or was it just the sex? Could God approve of a loving, non-sexual but committed relationship between two people? As I studied these passages, another question arose I was almost afraid to even ask: Was it even possible that these passages were condemning issues of the day like idolatrous orgies and temple prostitution, and not loving, Christ-centered relationships at all?

I wrestled with that question for a very long time. On one hand, it's easy to see how each of those passages actually addresses an issue other than committed relationships. On the other hand, I couldn't deny that all of the passages that explicitly mentioned homosexuality did so in a negative light. Then again, if we say that commandments for women to wear head coverings or be silent in church are culture-bound and don't apply anymore, isn't it possible the same could be true in this case? If so, how do we know? If not, how do we know? Are we all just reading the Bible to confirm what we already believe?

In the end, I decided that I needed to be consistent in my approach to the Bible: whatever standards I used for deciding this needed to be the same standards I would take to other issues. I spent years prayerfully studying how Jesus and the New Testament writers used Scripture, what the Bible has to say about the nature of sin in general, Jesus' teachings about the law and the Sabbath, Paul's teachings on sexual morality and marriage, and how the early church resolved controversial issues of their day. The more I studied, the more convinced I became that we Christians had applied a different standard to the homosexuality texts than we had to other Scriptural texts, and that condemning Christ-centered relationships solely based on gender was actually inconsistent with biblical teaching.

This conclusion shocked me, and I recognize I'm still in the minority, albeit a rapidly growing one. Some of my very close friends have prayerfully come to the opposite conclusion, so I don't pretend this debate is at all settled. I can honestly say, though, that after all this prayer and study, I am fully convinced of my position, and I believe that my approach to Scripture now is far more consistent than it was before.

I suspect that this will point spark hundreds more questions: What about Adam and Eve? What biblical passages support gay relationships? Couldn't this approach be used to justify any sexual sin? There's way more to talk about than I have space for! A few years ago, I wrote some initial thoughts on the subject, and I'll be writing more about this on my blog, so hang onto those questions!

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From Karl: Is it possible in your view for someone to disagree with you - to believe that the Bible consistently teaches sexual activity is intended for heterosexual marriage only - and for that person to not be a bigot, homophobe, motivated by ignorance or fear?

Absolutely! Some of my best friends disagree with me on this issue. I recognize that we are all fallible human beings, which means that either (or both) of us could be wrong, but that doesn't mean we aren't sincerely trying to seek the truth.

There are bigots who use religious language to justify their hatred, but that doesn't mean that anyone who has a view I disagree with is a bigot. There are also many compassionate, loving Christians who sincerely want to be able to give their blessing to their gay friends' relationships but are unable to because they believe the Bible forbids those relationships. I absolutely respect that.

The same is true on the other side. There are many people who claim they believe the Bible but haven't really made any attempt to see what it has to say on the subject; they're just content to have any excuse to do what they want. But I'd hope that anyone who knows me can see that I am not one of those people. I am sincerely seeking to do God's will with all my heart. If I am wrong, I am sincerely wrong. I'm not just looking for excuses.

All of us, on both sides, need to be willing to assume good motives for those we disagree with. We don't have to agree with each other to make a genuine attempt to understand each other.

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From Laura: As a theology student, I often have real problems with the theology I find in gay-affirming writing, teaching, and churches. Phrases like "I deserve to be happy" and "If God made me this way why should I be ashamed?" really don't jive with my theological convictions. Do you feel any major theological tensions between orthodox faith and the rhetoric of the community of gay Christians? And if so, how do you go about correcting theological error in a community that is already so wounded and vulnerable because they have grown up battered by "biblical" teaching?

This is a really great question.

I, too, get frustrated with a lot of gay-affirming theology. A lot of it is poorly thought-through and doesn't reflect a Christian outlook.

For example, I hate the argument that "God made me this way [attracted to the same sex] so it can't be a sin [to have a same-sex relationship]."

That's a terrible argument. As Christians, we believe that we have all kinds of inborn temptations and desires that are wrong for us to act on. Just because someone is born with a certain desire doesn't mean it's automatically okay for them to follow through on it.

I actually do believe that there are great Bible-based arguments for the church to support people in committed same-sex relationships. This, however, is not one of them.

(By the way, I should point out that there are many, many gay Christians out there with really strong Christian theology, so the theology you've read doesn't reflect us all.)

The reverse is also true, of course. I hear lots of people on the other side make equally poor arguments, such as, "People can't be born gay, because the Bible says homosexuality is a sin." That's just the same terrible argument in reverse, and it ends up with well-meaning Christians accusing gay people of being liars when we say we didn't choose to be gay. That only pushes people further away from the gospel and makes the church look like it's in denial.

Your second question is where it gets especially tricky. You're absolutely right that a lot of gay people are incredibly wounded, having been theologically "battered" over and over by misguided Christians. I cannot possibly convey how much damage Christians have done to our own cause by approaching the gay community in hurtful ways.

This damage, then, makes it very difficult for churches to offer even appropriate and loving correction—the kind we all need. Have you ever seen a dog that's been abused its whole life? They run and cower in the corner if you even try to approach them to pet them. A lot of us feel like that when dealing with conservative Christians, frankly.

At this point, the best solution is for Christians to err on the side of being loving when dealing with people who have been abused by the church. Often, you'll have to bite your tongue on the theological error and focus on building relationships. That correction may be necessary, but it will have to come from people who have built the necessary trust first.

As a gay Christian leader, I view it as part of my responsibility to talk about those hard things our community doesn't want to face. People can accept those challenges from me in a way that they might not from someone else. But we still have a long way to go, and the only long-term solution is for the church to get its act together and learn to approach this issue far more lovingly than we have.

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From Katy: My cousin, whom I love, is a gay Christian…He flaunts his sexuality. His Facebook profile oftentimes has pictures from parties or Halloween where he is in underwear or something else skimpy. If I posted pics of myself dressed that way, it would be considered raunchy and inappropriate, but it's accepted for him to present himself that way. When I have brought this distinction up with people, I have been told it's part of the "gay culture" but I don't buy that. So what’s your view, as a Christian gay, of sexuality? Is sex just for "marriage" because you are a Christian?

You didn't say how old your cousin is, but my guess is that this is something he'll grow out of.

I don't believe that the standards for sexual behavior should be any different for gay Christians than they are for straight Christians.

I grew up believing that sex is something you save for marriage, so even after I realized I was gay and came to a gay-affirming conclusion from the Bible, I still decided I would wait until I met the right person and got married before having sex. Not all Christians (gay or straight) believe in waiting until marriage, and studies show that even those who do believe in it, usually fail to live up to their own standards. But my point is that the standards ought to be the same.

(By "marriage," by the way, I'm referring to a commitment before God, whether or not the government recognizes it. C.S. Lewis said that there should be a distinction between civil marriage and church marriage, and I agree.)

Of course, I know a lot of gay and straight Christians who behave in ways I wouldn't approve of. I do think this is a bigger issue in the gay world, though, and I believe that just shows how important the church is in our lives.

Let me explain what I mean.

'Gay pride 396 - Marche des fiertés Toulouse 2011.jpg' photo (c) 2011, Guillaume Paumier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/One of the church's functions in society is to offer boundaries. Why don't we just go around having sex with anyone we want to? Partly because of the influence of the church. When it functions as it should, the church offers us reasonable boundaries to help us live holy lives. We say to young men, for instance, "The sex drive you feel is normal, and I know at times it can feel overwhelming, but don't let it control you. It may be tempting to have sex with pretty girls now, but it's far more fulfilling to wait."

Do all the straight young men wait? No. But the church sets the expectation.

Sometimes, though, the church gets it really wrong. When a young man is gay, the message he gets isn't to wait until the right time; it's that there will never be a right time. Not only that; he's told that his sex drive itself—not even lust but just the temptation he feels—is a horrible sin, something that may condemn him to hell even if he never acts on it.

Kids who hear these messages feel trapped. They've been made to feel that they're condemned even if they follow all the rules, and many grow to hate themselves.

What often happens, then, is one of two things. Either they internalize the shame and become depressed and withdrawn, or they rebel against the shame, coming out and in many cases making their sexuality the core of their identity for a while.

You know those gay people who can't stop talking about being gay? The ones who always have to be front and center in the pride parade wearing a hyper-sexualized outfit and shouting loudly about how proud they are of their sexuality? Often, this is their way of rebelling against [their] many years shame. The good Christian boy who comes out and suddenly is on Facebook in his underwear may well be trying to escape from the years of shame you never even knew he felt. That's not always the case, but it often is. Once people have fully reconciled themselves and grown confident with who they are, they rarely post underwear pictures on Facebook.

There is, though, a very sex-obsessed gay culture out there, and it grew largely out of that kind of rebellion in the 60s and 70s. Just like straight Christians need the church to offer moral guidance about sex that is different from what the world offers, gay Christians need that too. If most churches won't welcome them, some gay Christians end up turning to a secular gay culture to see how they should live, and that really needs to be the church's responsibility.

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From Ellie: Do you know any homosexual Christians that have chosen to remain single and celibate? How well do they seem to cope with that? What would you advise a person who is gay but believes that homosexual relationships and activity would be wrong?

Yes! I know plenty of them!

The organization I run, The Gay Christian Network, has two theological "sides." We call them "Side A" and "Side B." One side supports gay Christian marriage, while the other side encourages gay Christians to remain celibate.

My friend Wesley Hill has written a wonderful book about being a celibate gay Christian called Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.

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[Amazon Editorial Review:]

'Gay,' 'Christian,' and 'celibate' don't often appear in the same sentence. Yet many who sit next to us in the pew at church fit that description, says author Wesley Hill. As a celibate gay Christian, Hill gives us a glimpse of what it looks like to wrestle firsthand with God's 'No' to same-sex relationships. What does it mean for gay Christians to live faithful to God while struggling with the challenge of their homosexuality? What is God's will for believers who experience same-sex desires? Those who choose celibacy are often left to deal with loneliness and the hunger for relationships. How can gay Christians experience God's favor and blessing in the midst of a struggle that for many brings a crippling sense of shame and guilt? Weaving together reflections from his own life and the lives of other Christians, such as Henri Nouwen and Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hill offers a fresh perspective on these questions. He advocates neither unqualified 'healing' for those who struggle, nor their accommodation to temptation, but rather faithfulness in the midst of brokenness. 'I hope this book may encourage other homosexual Christians to take the risky step of opening up their lives to others in the body of Christ,' Hill writes. 'In so doing, they may find, as I have, by grace, that being known is spiritually healthier than remaining behind closed doors, that the light is better than the darkness.'

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It's an incredibly challenging path. Incredibly, incredibly challenging. But it is, of course, the best option for a gay person who believes the Bible condemns gay relationships, and I know people who are committed to it and thriving.

We at GCN believe it's vital that we welcome those people and offer them support and fellowship so they don't have to endure the journey alone. The broader church, sadly, has all too often failed to offer any kind of support for them. I would like to see that change.

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From Dawn: Given all the nasty rhetoric that has been aimed at the LGBT community -- and in that sense, at you personally -- by Christian and Christian political leaders, what is it about Christianity itself that's so compelling that you haven't been turned off completely by so many of its messengers?

One word: Jesus.

The church is human, and we make mistakes. Sometimes we don't represent God very well at all. But Jesus represented God perfectly as the incarnation of God. He loved the people his culture didn't love, he interacted with people he wasn't supposed to interact with, and he refused to distance himself from the people others called "sinners." Jesus' harsh words were aimed at the religious leaders of his day who, in their zeal for correct doctrine, were pushing people away from God. He didn't run for office or yell at sinners through a bullhorn. He loved, healed, and fed people, and then he let them beat him and hang him on a cross.

That's my God.

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From Alise: Hi Justin! Been a fan for a while, since my best friend Tina turned me onto your site. Thank you for the safe place that you have for LGBTQ Christians. Your site was part of my journey toward gay affirming and I'm thankful to you for that as well. My question: Can a church that is not affirming still be welcoming to an LGBTQ Christian? What kinds of actions would make you feel more welcome, even if the church still believed/taught that gay relationships are sinful?

'Jesus, Stained Glass Detail Of The Church St Etienne Fecamp, Normandy, France' photo (c) 2008, MAMJODH - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Thanks for the kind words, Alise!

I think whether a church feels "welcoming" depends a lot on the person being welcomed. I can say whether I feel welcome in a particular church, but that doesn't mean someone else will.

Personally, I would not feel welcome in a church that teaches that I chose to be gay (I didn't!) or that condemns me simply for admitting I'm attracted to guys. However, I have felt welcomed in so-called "Side B" churches that condemn gay relationships but still welcome gay people and encourage them to remain celibate. Many gay people would not feel welcome there.

I disagree with the "Side B" viewpoint, but I used to agree with it, so I totally understand where it's coming from. Since I'm single at the moment, it doesn't really affect me whether or not a church I'm attending condemns gay relationships. What I care about the most is whether I agree with the church's theology on major issues and whether the church understands that I didn't choose to be gay and is ready to fully welcome me as a gay Christian.

However, suppose I meet an amazing guy, fall in love, and want to commit my life to him? Then it would be a lot trickier. Would I continue attending a church that teaches that the most important relationship in my life is an abomination to God? Would they even want me there? I know many gay couples in that situation, and many others who wouldn't even consider a church like that out of respect for their own relationship.

Even the church I've described, though, is rarer than I'd like. Many, many churches still teach or imply that gay people choose to be gay or that we could become straight if we just prayed enough or had the right therapy. That's the quickest way to make me feel unwelcome.

The quickest way to make me feel welcome? Listen to my story and be my friend.

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Terry asks: As the parent of gay son who has left the church, what advice can you offer me as to how I can encourage him to relook at his beliefs in Jesus and the church?

Tami has a son in a similar situation, adding: At this point, he has returned to a faith of sorts, but has no use for "the church." We are at a loss for how to encourage him in this area because "the church" varies from un-accepting to just plain mean. Would you have advice for how we can better love and support our son in the area of growing in his faith?

This is a really tough one because of the battering problem I mentioned earlier. I find that most Christians are totally unaware of how mean the church can be to gay people, and so they don't know that they need to do anything to fix it. As long as it's not fixed, it's going to be hard to give gay people a reason to come back to the church.

(Incidentally, if you would like to know more about why I say the church is so mean to gay people, check out this documentary (below). I promise you won't look at the issue the same way again.)


Through My Eyes - Trailer
Dec 2011

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One possibility is to consider getting involved with a group of gay Christians. My organization has a conference each January that brings a number of gay Christians along with their parents and/or friends together in a nonthreatening atmosphere of worship and fellowship. People tell us every year that it helps re-energize their faith, and there are lots of 20- and 30-somethings, so Tami, your son should feel right at home. (You didn't say how old your son is, Terry, but I'm sure he'd feel right at home too!)
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There may also be groups of gay and affirming Christians in your area. GCN has local groups you can connect with through our message board, but there may be other groups and/or affirming churches in your area where he might feel welcome. Feel free to call our office and someone on our staff can help you find something in your area if you can't find it online. If your son is resistant to any kind of Christian fellowship right now, my advice is not to push it. Give him time, and keep him in prayer. He may need time to process his frustration with the church, and God doesn't stop pursuing us just because we're not in a church on Sunday morning.
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As a parent, you might even decide to get connected with an online or offline fellowship of gay Christians yourself, just to better understand the community; this would surely get your son's attention! In the end, of course, he'll have to make his own decisions, but we can do our best to make the church a more welcoming place for when he's ready......
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From Adam: Will you accept our sincere apology?.
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You mean for asking so many tough questions? Only if you'll accept mine for writing such long answers! Seriously, I appreciate the question, though I'd be hypocritical to say "yes" and not acknowledge that I, too, said the very same things in the past. I hurt people with my words when I thought I was being loving, so now that I have a new perspective on it all, I completely understand when others say the things to me that I used to say to the gay people I met. (I guess I deserved it!) I owe an apology to all the people I've hurt, and I of course offer my unconditional forgiveness to anyone who may have hurt me. We all make mistakes, and we're all trying to stand for what's right. It's just that sometimes we don't have all the facts even when we think we do.
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So let's stay in conversation even though we don't all agree. There are many more things I could say, and I know there are many more questions out there. I'll do my best to answer them here and on my blog over the coming days and weeks. Thanks, everyone, for your fantastic questions! And please, keep in touch! In addition to the blog, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I get to do this kind of stuff for a living, so I'm happy to help any way that I can.
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