According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Search of the Church in a Postmodern Age




"Nowhere in Scripture are we told to shun homosexual men and women in the work
place or to deny them our business because of their choice of sexual activity. Nowhere
in Scripture is homosexual practice the one sin that is more perverse than all
the others so we must flee from it at first chance." - Michael Bird

Introduction to Articles

I have nothing but respect for Brian Mclaren, Roger Olson, and Michael Bird, as each struggles to "re-contextualize Christian Orthodoxy" within a postmodern church age by critically re-examining its doctrines of the past 20th Century and what orthodox Christianity may mean for us today in the early stages of the 21st Century. It's globalization and social reforms. Its social medias and concentrate on "justice for all peoples." And what this may mean to a civilization or culture while balancing on the beam of cultural accommodation and biblical contextualization. As any gymnast will tell you, its no easy beam to walk.

To Mclaren's credit, he wishes to emphasize the love of Jesus into people's lives by re-expressing the value of the human touch to that of his own previous hardened bible culture that came off perhaps too cruel and judgmental to those it deemed unworthy of God and living in sin. His ministry has been to the homosexual man and woman who have been ostracized for their life choices and discriminated against for their unwillingness to bow to societal norms. When I first met Brian he had that comfortable feel of a very transparent pastor whose only wish was to speak God's love into our deepest needs and frailities of life. Obviously, his ministry to the homosexual community would disconcert any fundamentalist or conservative evangelic Christian who perceives that same community as under God's wrath and judgement. Which is exactly the polar opposite view to Brian's view of these men and women whom he sees as gifted quite differently from the mainstream of the populace.

Then along comes a questioning evangelical article by Christianity Today that wishes to blow Brian's ministry up and earmark it with the verve and dictum that too many of us have grown up with... that the homosexual man or woman is anathema to God and destined for hell. This kind of "unforgiving orthodoxy" is short-sighted to Brian's main message of God's love to all. Who wishes to prevent further ideological incursion into general Christian thinking (or Christian angst) which generally depicts Jesus' gospel ministry as exclusive to most everyone except to those whom the church "deems most worthy by God" as acceptable. Who  live lives that are not anathema to the church's stricter definitions of morality. Of course, Relevancy22 has reserved its greatest vitriol and distaste for those Christians who go about judging others as unworthy while turning a blind eye to their own lives of hypocrisy.

By recollection, I grew up in both a fundamental church, and later, a conservative evangelical church, where I saw God's love unreservedly expressed for all men and women. Without discrimination to any who came whilst making every effort to reach beyond itself to all who were unlike itself. So this leaves me with  the meandering hope that God's people can - and will - reach out with Jesus' love in a selfless, indiscriminating, and quite tolerant, fashion so that all may hear of God's love and not just those whom we think are most worthy to hear it. However, I also realize that the church has grown up these past several decades quite cynically as it has become more aware of people's lifestyles through popular and social medias, so that in corresponding fashion it has adjusted its rhetorics and dogmas accordingly. However imperfectly. However exasperatingly. Thus it is my wish here to express the view that God's love is for all men... not just some, and not just for those whom we think are worthy of God's saving grace through Jesus Christ. It is the most orthodox tenet that we can hold as Christ followers to love all men and women without discrimination. And to not hold back this ultimate expression of Christian fellowship because we deem a lifestyle that is different from our own as unworthy, or beyond God's great love.

Which of course will demand a change of attitude in our doctrine... as it must in order for good Christian doctrine to be reflective of God's grace and truth, justice and mercy, forgiveness, hope, and peace. Hence, we take here at Relevancy22 the stance of modifying Christian orthodox doctrine to reflect a more gracious, more open, and more missional gospel of Christ than the one I grew up with that was hedged in by boundary markers and cultural rigidity. And have consequently re-worked Christian doctrine so as to open up its cultural edges and boundaries to its real spiritual center of Jesus. A center which might encourage the church to re-express its rhetorics and dogmas in such a way that Jesus is raised up while relenting of our own sinfulness of pride and self-righteousness. For most of what I read against homosexual lifestyles is that of our "old man" lifted in its pride and self-righteousness wishing to show the Lord Himself how much better "we are" in comparison to the life of "another" different from ourselves. Good Christian doctrine must never lead out with ourselves... but with the paradoxical Christ of the Gospels as we behold Him in all that He is.

Third, the bigger issue is how Christians perceive their place in a pluralistic,
pansexual, and postmodern metropolis. We are not in a position to bargain and
insist that if we can’t Christianize the city then we are entitled to our own
private ghetto inside the city. - Michael Bird
Part 2

Hence, another good theologian who I respect quite a bit is Roger Olson, whose article next appears after Brian's Q&A article. I give it here so that we as the church of God might understand the degree to which Christian doctrine must contextualize human society without re-assembling its heart-and-center around our own good wishes, wants, and needs. Roger makes the point that good orthodox Christian doctrine admits to theistic realism describing historical event and doctrine without existentially removing its historical character to an egress of symbolic realism. And yet, for myself, I think of an orthodoxy that intends to be postmodern must also admit to this latter - but without the removal of the former. That is, theistic realism is what drives symbolic realism, and not the other way around. Hence, this is where people like a Peter Rollins walks in to re-describe Christian symbolism around both the historical event and then impinge upon its subsequent meaning for postmoderns today using the language of existentialism and phenomenologicalism.

So we agree with Dr. Olson that theistic realism must be held to - but not to its own exclusion which is error that the theologian Marcus Borg has been doing in his symbolic research. Without historical event we have no Jesus, no Son of God, no cross, no ministry, no death or resurrection. Without which we would enter forthrightly through the doors of symbolic mysticism and magic. However, it must be admitted, that historical events have no relevancy or import to our lives without its necessary translation of message and meaning into our own lives both existentially and symbolically. That is, those biblical events must be translated into our minds and hearts so as to form a basis of reaction within us. This is the whole essence of the study of psychology (for a person) and sociology (for a group). And for that matter, the entire area of linguistics research pertaining to language, symbolic meaning, and societal discourse. Each covering the area of existentialism and phenomenology and the translation of meaning for a person into action and belief (whether a true false-belief, or a false true-belief, is another matter for another day). Basically, it demands the hard work of distinguishing good doctrine from bad - one that distinguishes between a misleading folklore-based religion from an evolving form of fundamental orthodoxy that is progressive and relevant. And how each affects our views of God, the Bible, our ministries, and communion/being/presence/relationship in the world. Hence the purpose of this blog here has been to define terms we think we know but really don't understand beyond the sound of their fury pounding in our ears and upon our judgmental minds and hearts when hearing caricatured words like "liberal, radical, belief, religion" shouted everywhere about us. Confusing us and creating the divide of discord and strife.

At which point Dr. Olson begins to distinguish Brian Mclaren's ministry path as one moving in Borg's direction, to which judgment I can only state that Roger's real concern is his wish to hold to a fundamental, perhaps non-postmodern, context of orthodoxy that can only be described in (modern) historical terms of interpretive event. Which in itself is a can of worms when injecting the word "interpretive." However, as a good historical theologian Dr. Olson has great insight into past church history - and so, we must at the last be familiar and cognizant with his concerns  related to our postmodern, contemporary times and its meaning for today's emergent church movement. An emergent church which seems to be described by Dr. Olson in its more leftist elements rather than at its heart and soul which we have taken great pains to describe in this blog's early days of writing before more recently moving to the more general position of a post-evangelic theology and doctrine. Of course, Dr. Olson stands wary of progressive theology as judged by his historical standards, which standards have come under their own judgment when viewed through the postmodern, post-structural lenses of interpretive experience. Which is the very thing he would react too. Naturally, then, there is a concern. A concern which we must pay attention to, and interact with, if the church is to minister and preach in this generation of post-postmoderns.

For myself, the emergent church has been a God-send to a less gracious, less godly, less accepting evangelical church dogma. One behaving as a healthy, strong brother in the Lord to the beggarly one that fell to the wayside when besotted with riches and honor, power and might. It is to the emergent church that the evangelic church must thank rather than show the thanklessness that it has over this past decade of pulpiteered rhetoric and institutionalized angst. For without the emergent church movement questioning unsound evangelic doctrine, that same doctrine would've continued unchecked in its pursuit of a Christ-less Christianity, or Jesus-less core impregnated with self-righteous doctrine, misleading dogma, and a folklore-based religion. Hence, a church which is not relevant to society is simply one that is dead at is core and self-serving to the cold harness of irrelevant church tradition, endearing church customs, and a heartless faith. But a contextualized church speaking good doctrine is much to be valued whatever its roots and history, ways and paths, balance and means. Ever is the balance between cultural accommodation and doctrinal relevancy a tightrope of of fear and exasperation. And ever must we weigh out God's love song  upon the insipid gallows of man.

Conclusion

I conclude with a third article by an Australian theologian by the name of Michael Bird. For the most part, from what little I know of Dr. Bird, he travels the fine line between good Christian doctrine and the translation of its orthodoxy into relevant, meaningful terms for Christian living and grace. He understands that today's American libertarian culture is a cultural war fraught between sexual equality and religious freedom. That it is neither biblically defensible nor morally virtuous for Christians to discriminate against one group of people over another in the name of a Christian conscience (in this case, homosexual men and women).

I like what I read in him and find that in this case, he's correct in his defense of a grace-filled Christianity that is indiscriminate, wise, and missionally loving without duplicity or guile. We live in difficult times that will try our soul, and especially wear upon our garments a mosaic of church fabrics woven with the pluralistic threads and thimble wishing to do the right thing though fraught with its own stereotypes and bugaboos (as I described it in an earlier article related to evangelical movies just recently). Let us be wise. Serve the Lord. And learn to unlearn and re-learn what good orthodox postmodern doctrine is, and is not. Peace my friends. May God's grace and blessed Spirit be with you.

R.E. Slater
February 26, 2013



Icarus flying too close to the Sun


Q & R: You, Rob Bell, Don Miller, and Christianity Today



Here's the Q:

Kevin Miller wrote a piece in Christianity Today (CT) about you, Rob Bell, and Don Miller. It follows other negative articles about you, and them, in CT. Do you think the portrayal was fair, and if not, why not?"

Here's the R:

I read the article a couple times and the first thing that struck me is that Rob, Don, and I function in the article as little more than a convenient apparatus against which to leverage so the author (and CT?) can double down on 3 things:

1. Evangelicals should submit to their pastors, ministers, and elders.

2. Evangelicals should stop trying to interpret the Bible on their own, but should listen to what "the church" says the Bible means (leaving the "Which church, when?" question open).

3. Evangelicals should double down on their rejection of homosexuality and refuse to compromise, even if it means unpopularity, rejection, or persecution by others.

According to the article, I did several things wrong.

1. I flirted with universalism.

Anyone who applies the term universalism to my understanding of things hasn't read me carefully. The situation is actually much "worse" than simply switching from exclusivism to inclusivism or universalism. I think the set of assumptions that divides the world into inclusivists, exclusivists, and universalists is deeply flawed. It's not that I've answered the "who goes to heaven" question differently - it's that I've become convinced (by Scripture and by many great theologians of the church through history) that "who goes to heaven" is not the primary question Jesus (or other biblical writers) came to ask. As I understand it, he and they were asking a very different primary question: "How can God's will be done on earth as in heaven?" That primary question will result in a very different kind of Christianity.

2. I left the pastorate.

Should spending 24 years as a church planter and pastor qualify one as a quitter? Although I did leave the pastorate 8 years ago, I didn't in any way leave the church. I'm a quiet and grateful member of a congregation in the community where I now live. My years as a pastor make me deeply grateful for every sermon, song, prayer, and eucharist that I am privileged to share in when I am at my home congregation. When I'm not at home, I spend my time working with and serving clergy and emerging leaders around the world. So I hope CT readers don't see leaving the pastorate as leaving ministry or the big-C Church!

3. I became convinced that older Evangelicals were wrong on homosexuality.

That's true, but it goes much farther than that. I think significant percentages of older Evangelicals are deeply wrong on a wide range of issues - including homosexuality, our spiritual responsibility for the environment, the reality of evolution and climate change, solidarity with the poor, our role regarding peacemaking and war, equality for women, the reality of white privilege and systemic racism, and the legitimacy of torture, to name a few. So homosexuality is only one of a long list of things that I think older white Evangelicals need to rethink. Thankfully, on most if not all of these issues, younger Evangelicals are moving to a more just and wise understanding than their parents and grandparents, just as their parents and grandparents forsook much of the overt racism and anti-Semitism that were much more common among their parents and grandparents.

The article implies or states that I went wrong in these ways because:

1. I was tempted by pride and celebrity, like Icarus "flying too high" in the old fable.

I certainly don't experience my life as having much to do with celebrity. When I travel, write, and speak, I work hard, and when I'm home, I live a quiet, modest life. True, I receive large doses of heart-felt encouragement from readers, but I also receive large doses of hell-fire condemnation (often from nonreaders) and sincere critique. I would think I have lost much more than I gained in terms of readership, popularity, etc., by taking the stands I've taken. I've made my choices for conscience not convenience or celebrity, and the same would be true for Rob and Don. I'm sad the article assumes otherwise.

2. I wanted to be "accepted by the culture" and was unwilling to be persecuted or maligned, favoring applause and popularity like a "false prophet."

Perhaps someday the author will find himself required by conscience to differ with the community in which he was raised, and he will find out that the persecution that hurts the most isn't from "the culture" but from one's own tribe.

3. I interpret the Bible to mean whatever I want it to mean, ignoring the teaching of the church.

Interestingly, the more I learned about the teaching of the church in its many forms across history, the more I saw it included a wide variety of opinions and views over time and in different regions. I saw it as a living tradition that engaged in self-critique and self-correction over time. The more I grappled with biblical interpretation, the more I came to believe it carries with it an intellectual and ethical responsibility - yes, to learn from, to honor, and to respect the tradition, but also to challenge it when necessary. In fact, challenging the tradition is part of the tradition … especially for Protestants, but also for Catholics. As I blogged recently in this regard, I think that some good and needed conversation about the Bible is happening among Evangelicals.

Dealing with Conservative Evangelical Media

For today's popular speakers who wonder if CT will be writing an article like this about them in ten years, I can only say that life is wonderful when you follow your conscience and aren't afraid. I know Rob and Don would agree. As the Proverb says, "The fear of men brings a snare," and as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."

Several years ago, a respected older Evangelical theologian confided to me that if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't have let the fear of critique by Evangelical gatekeepers have such control over him. He encouraged me to follow my conscience and not trim my sails for fear of being singled out. I have tried to follow that advice, and am glad I did.

Kevin Miller is right - nobody should make choices based on pride, popularity, fear of persecution, celebrity, or selfish and stupid individualism. But Evangelicals will not be helping themselves if they assume the only reason people like us are critiqued in articles like this is because something is wrong with us. It would be good for Evangelicals, especially in places like CT, to go deeper in thinking about why they tend to lose (or drive away) so many of their promising young leaders.

The good news is that when I am among more open and hospitable Christians (Evangelical and otherwise), I find large numbers of people from a more restrictive Evangelical heritage - like Rob, Don, and myself- who were to some degree or another lost to or driven out of Evangelical circles. They are doing wonderful work in new settings, receiving a warm welcome, enjoying life, and creating space for others.

The article's subhead said, "A decade ago, [Bell, Miller, and McLaren] stood as the leading voices for our evangelical future. We all know what happened since. But do we know why?" I wonder how many people really know - or really want to know - what happened over the last decade, and I wonder how many, even after reading the article, really understand why. Maybe the article will stimulate some curiosity and some second thoughts.

[Late Addition: Someone just told me the article is on the website of Leadership Journal (where I used to be a regular columnist), not CT, but I think the 2 are still related.]


* * * * * * * * * * * *

A Good New Book: A Missional Orthodoxy: Theology and Ministry in a Post-Christian Context by Gary Tyra
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/02/a-good-new-book-a-missional-orthodoxy-theology-and-ministry-in-a-post-christian-context-by-gary-tyra/

by Roger Olson

This book is hefty but it packs a good and needed “punch.” For evangelicals interested in being both missional and orthodox at the same time, it’s a breath of fresh air. One of the book’s central theses, maybe its main thesis, is that too many especially younger evangelicals think they have to choose between being either missional or orthodox.

Tyra is associate professor of biblical and practical theology at Assemblies of God related Vanguard University of Southern California (formerly Southern California College). However, he does not promote Pentecostal theology in this book (or any other that I know of). I say this so that readers who know Tyra teaches at an AG university won’t dismiss the book as “Pentecostal theology.” Nothing in it conflicts with sound, evangelical Pentecostal theology, but its orientation is broader. I would call it progressive evangelical but rooted in biblical and ecumenical orthodoxy.

Tyra chooses two contemporary theologians as his foils or case studies for how not to be both missional and orthodox. By the end of the book it is clear that he is warning evangelicals to beware of the trajectory he perceives much of the emerging church movement to be on. His case study of this trajectory is Brian McLaren and especially his later writings (e.g., Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World).

His case study of outright, blatant unorthodox liberal theology, toward which he fears McLaren and others in the emerging church movement are moving, is Marcus Borg and especially his book The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith.

Throughout the book Tyra compares Borg and McLaren. Borg denies theistic realism, preferring a symbolic realism in which symbols and images that transform are more important and valuable for Christianity than historical events and doctrines. He embraces soteriological pluralism in which Jesus Christ is “our savior” but not “the only savior.” Borg is generally considered by all evangelicals to be one of the purest examples of classical but contemporary liberal theology—along with John Shelby Spong. (I mention them because they are scholarly popularizers of liberal theology whose books can generally be found in mainstream bookstores.)

Tyra makes clear that he does not think McLaren is yet where Borg is, but his comparisons of the two theologians demonstrate a trajectory that leads him to think McLaren will, if he keeps going in the same direction, end up where Borg is now. The difference is that McLaren does not deny key biblical and orthodox doctrines, but he does minimize their importance to almost a vanishing point (according to Tyra). Tyra’s thesis is that McLaren is flirting with the danger of throwing the baby of basic Christian orthodoxy (defined Christologically) out with the bathwater of fundamentalism (his own spiritual and theological background to which he is [over]reacting). The Borg quotes he juxtaposes with McLaren’s indicate that perhaps McLaren is overly inspired by Borg. Or perhaps he is simply thinking along the same lines so that, eventually, he may end up where Borg is.

This is one case, I think, where a slippery slope argument is couched so cautiously and demonstrated so voluminously that it carries some weight. Tyra does not say Borg and McLaren are brothers under the skin - or bedfellows theologically - but he does cautiously warn that McLaren’s movement is in Borg’s direction and that this is not healthy because, somewhere along the way, authentic Christianity gets jetissoned in favor of a bland, insipid, culturally accommodated liberalism.

Tyra’s message to young, missionally-minded evangelicals (or post-evangelicals) is to beware of following McLaren too far. He does not, in fundamentalist fashion, suggest they not read McLaren (or Borg, for that matter). He is very irenic and cautious in his warnings—making clear that he respects both men, especially McLaren, but worries about their theologies and their effects in the churches.

Tyra goes through the gamut of Christian doctrines, from methodology to eschatology, urging contextualization of the gospel without assimilation to culture. He agrees with much of what Borg and McLaren affirm while gently but firmly disagreeing with much of what they deny (orthodoxy in Borg’s case and the importance of orthodoxy in McLaren’s case).

Fundamentalists who read Tyra’s book will think he goes too far in revising what they consider biblical orthodoxy. He affirms inspiration without inerrancy (unless “inerrancy” is defined so broadly that it loses its meaning), atoning sacrifice of Christ without penal substitution, and kenotic Christology. And he argues very strenuously that Christians ought to avoid imposing Christianity on people in a totalizing manner.

Liberals who read Tyra’s book will think he is a fundamentalist because he affirms the supernatural, miracles, the unique inspiration and authority of the Bible, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ (in more than a symbolic or functional sense), Jesus’ bodily resurrection and his return in glory.

But all Tyra’s requires for “orthodoxy” is four “Christological verities”—the main one being the incarnation, that Jesus Christ was and is both truly God and truly human.

Don’t imagine, however, that Tyra’s book is all negative. He transcends critique (of Borg and McLaren) to affirmation—of the church as missional in the sense of existing for the mission of God in the world (as opposed to existing for its own maintenance and glory).

So who are Tyra’s “heroes?” He relies heavily on Lesslie Newbigin and Darrell Guder—two heroes of “missional Christianity.” Neither was/is a fundamentalist. Both argued/argue for contextualization of the gospel without assimilation to culture (especially modernity).

One strength of Tyra’s book is its cautious, often even sympathetic, critiques of Borg and McLaren and others who, with good intentions, over react to fundamentalism. There is no hint of mean-spiritedness in Tyra’s book. If anything he bends over backwards to be irenic, generous and kind.

Another strength is the book’s detailed analysis of contemporary “postmodern” Christianity in all its varieties. He demonstrates the differences as well as the similarities (mainly of concern).

I think a major strength of the book is its emphasis on - and call for - balance... not throwing babies out with bathwater but finding and holding steady to basic, broad orthodoxy while rejecting narrow fundamentalism.

One obvious weakness (for many potential readers) of the book is its size (393 pages). However, I think it’s worth it. I read it twice—the second time in one day.

Another possible weakness is the “kid gloves” with which Tyra handles Borg and McLaren. Several readers have told me they think he needed to take off the gloves and be bolder in his assertions (e.g., say that Borg is a heretic). On the other hand, some readers think he is too critical of McLaren. So the weakness may be a tendency to pull punches where a few punches might be in order and even helpful to readers in discerning the point.

I highly recommend A Missional Orthodoxy to all readers interested in the contemporary Christian theological “scene” in America—especially the “scene” on bookshelves of theologically-minded non-scholars who are being swayed and influenced by popularizers such as Borg and McLaren.


* * * * * * * * * * * *

Thoughts on Kirsten Powers, Grace, Ghettos, & Conscience

by Michael Bird
February 25, 2014

Kirsten Powers and Justin Meritt wrote a piece in The Daily Beast about How Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate. The presenting issue is [the occurence of] recent laws in [the state of] Arizona which allow individuals and businesses the right to deny service to same-sex couples. The laws came into effect in order to protect photographers, florists, and cake-makers who can be sued for refusing to provide services to same-sex weddings. In contrast, Powers and Merritt claim “Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.”

Many have regarded Powers’ and Merritt’s argument to be a sort of betrayal to the evangelical cause. My dear friend Denny Burk is frustrated and annoyed by their response, stating: “Do Powers and Merritt realize that they ratify the arguments of Christianity’s fiercest opponents when they attribute our conscientious objections to animus and bigotry?”

Now I understand that this might have a bit to do with American libertarian culture which I’m admittedly an expert on, and this issue is just one front in the culture war about sexual equality and religious freedom. That said, and with all due respect to my buddy Denny Burk, I think Powers and Meritt are basically right.

First, it does not seem biblically defensible or morally virtuous for Christians to discriminate against one group of people in the name of conscience. I do not understand why it is okay to discriminate against same-sex couples because of their unbiblical lifestyle and yet to happily provide services for straight couples who are cohabiting together, committing adultery, and then there is the entire quagmire of divorce and remarriage. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to shun homosexual men and women in the work place or to deny them our business because of their choice of sexual activity. Nowhere in Scripture is homosexual practice the one sin that is more perverse than all the others so we must flee from it at first chance. I understand if someone wants to be a Christian photographer and only do Christian weddings, then fine. That’s a niche market, operating within a particular network, and serves particular people. But there is no biblical warrant to discriminate against one particular group because it is the center of heated debates in the culture wars. So I entirely agree with Powers and Merritt:
Rather than protecting the conscience rights of Christians, this looks a lot more like randomly applying religious belief in a way that discriminates against and marginalizes one group of people, while turning a blind eye to another group. It’s hard to believe that Jesus was ever for that.

Second, I would say that refusing to serve people who are “homosexual” or “cohabiting” is actually unbiblical because it shows a failure to love one’s neighbor and inhibits our mission to be salt of the earth-people actually among the people. You cannot love your neighbor unless you are willing to talk to them, walk beside them, and work near them. The consciences of the weak – and by “weak” I mean “sensitive” not “inferior” – must not be allowed to circumvent the clear biblical command to love our neighbors and force us into some kind of Christian ghetto where gay and lesbian people are not allowed to venture. We are not Pharisees, we are not holy by separation from the world, but we are holy as we bear witness to Jesus Christ in the world. [Of note: "This is the very same world that Brian Mclaren wishes to invest his time, resources, strength, and energy - R.E. Slater]

Third, the bigger issue is how Christians perceive their place in a pluralistic, pansexual, and postmodern metropolis. We are not in a position to bargain and insist that if we can’t Christianize the city, then we are entitled to our own private ghetto inside the city. My friends, listen up, as my good friend John Dickson once said, we are not living in Jerusalem any more, we are living in Athens. We cannot barricade ourselves in one little corner of the agora and say to gays, lesbians, greenies, and left-wing academics, “You shall not pass.” We don’t have the right to a ghetto, which is actually a good thing! We need to be out and about in the agora. Me, personally, I think the best place for a Christian photographer to be is at a gay Jewish atheist wedding, doing their job, doing it well, doing it for the glory of God, and doing it in such a way as to be praised for one’s professionalism, one’s fairness, one’s graciousness, and thereby win the chance to preach what one lives: the gospel of grace!

In sum -

(1) If you want to live and work in a Christian bubble in order to protect your conscience, go ahead, but don’t expect to be able to selectively apply Christian standards to those who are not Christians in the post-Christian market place;

(2) Christians need to think less about preserving their own holiness from fear of contamination and starting working out instead how their holy-state-in-Christ might be a contagion in the work-place where God has called them (HT: Craig Blomberg); and,

(3) Its time to remember that we cannot retreat to some  ghetto to preserve our way of life and instead we should focus on being the salt and light of the world.

Look, Christians live in the market place and think in the public square, we cannot retreat because we are surrounded by non-Christian culture, so there is literally nowhere to go. Our escape route is cut off, there is no cavalry coming to save us, there are no wagons to circle. So its time to set up shop, get busy as tinkers, tailors, and candle stick makers, or  get on as journalists, academics, and pastors in the place where God has put us!








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