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
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Biblical Story of Inclusion of Who Belongs As God's People

Gay Christians: Should Relationships Matter?

by Daniel Kirk
June 9, 2015

Certain kinds of people simply cannot be part of the people of God.
Making such a judgment is not based on bigotry. It is simply based on the story of God in which the people of God are defined in particular ways. These definitions demand that some are out while others are in.

Canaanite Transformation

Take the Canaanites.

This is a blanket term for the people living in the land that God gave to the people of Israel through the wars of Joshua. They are excluded from participation in the people of God.

One way they were so excluded is in multiple warnings not to allow daughters and sons to intermarry with these indigenous peoples. Such liaisons might lead the Israelites astray to worship gods other than Yahweh (YHWH).

But there is only one way to make sure that no such commingling occurs: kill them all:

“You must devote them to complete destruction,” says
Deuteronomy 7:2. Make no covenant. Show no mercy.

So when a Canaanite woman from the hill country comes up to Jesus, a woman evocative of the remnant of the Canaanites that Israel couldn’t quite seem to root out–he rightly rejects her.

Jesus rejects her not because of bigotry, but because the Word of God has assigned her a place in the story. She cannot belong.

She wants an exorcism: “Lord! Son of David! My daughter is badly demon possessed!”

Jesus rebuffs her: “I was only sent to the sheep. To the House of Israel.”

She continues, “Lord, help me!”

Jesus rebuffs her again, “Look, dog. It is not right take bread from the children and throw it to such as you.”

Ouch. Jesus knows her place. And so, it would seem, does she.

"Yes Lord. And, even the dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from the tables of their masters.”

And then, finally, he relents. Finally he is willing to extend transgressive grace. Finally he is willing to allow that this woman who by all biblical rights should be excluded and even killed, might be embraced in the onslaught of the kingdom of which Jesus, Son of David, is king.

“Oh woman! Great is your faith! Let it be as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.

You see, the strangest things happen when we actually know real people. We start to discover that those whom we thought were beyond the pale of God’s grace and mercy might actually be entrusting themselves to it at that very moment. And that relationship has the power to change us.
Yes, I would say it had the power to change Jesus. As Jesus was in the midst of inaugurating the reign of God, and discovering in the process who would and who would not be a part, he found rather against his will that the grace of God could not be cordoned off from even the Canaanites.
Jesus was changed, not because he had been a bigot, but because a relationship showed him that the kingdom of God was not contained as he had previously imagined.
The story had changed.

The Embrace of the Gentiles
Of course, if Jesus can be at the center of this kind of transformation, his followers certainly can as well.
When God made covenant with Abraham, God was quite clear: the only way, at all, ever, to be part of the people of God is to be circumcised.

If anyone remains uncircumcised?

He “will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant.”
— God

But this was only for a time, right?

“My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.”


You don’t get to eat the defining meal of the people, Passover, without being circumcised.

So Jewish people might be excused for thinking that their exclusion of uncircumcised Gentiles is not a matter of bigotry. It’s a matter of principled adherence to the Word of God.

But then… the kingdom of God bursts beyond the bounds of the circumcised.

Peter has a vision, yes. But it is when he musters the courage to go, to relate to a Gentile, and then observes that God has accepted them through the gift of the Spirit that Peter is finally converted.

In that personal interaction, Peter sees that God has worked. And he no longer can hold to his own position. Not because he was a bigot, but because a new moment has arrived in the story.

Paul will say a similar thing in Galatians. “You received the Spirit. God worked miracles among you.” Their experience tells them that they don’t have to be circumcised, don’t have to keep food laws, to be part of the people of God.

In the unfolding narrative of God and [of] who belongs to God’s people, the move from exclusion to [becoming] embraced has been marked by the inclusion of those who had previously been excluded due to the theology, principles, and narrative of scripture.

[What About] Homosexuality?

In his review of two books that argue for full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the people of God, Tim Keller asserts that if a person’s position on inclusion is influenced by relationships then their opposition was based on bigotry.
And when I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry. They could not have been based on theological or ethical principles, or on an understanding of historical biblical teaching. They must have been grounded instead on a stereotype of gay people as worse sinners than others (which is itself a shallow theology of sin.)
This is simply untrue.

The history of God’s people is one in which we have cultivated deep and rich theological positions based on the principles and teachings of scripture, only to have God demonstrate that those principles have to be abandoned because it is a new moment in the story.

Opposition to inclusion of Canaanites and the uncircumcised isn’t based on bigotry, theologically–God underscores that Israel is no better than the rest, but God chose them anyway.

And yet these theological and ethical principles were overcome by the grace of God and the surprising eruption of the Kingdom of God.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Experience Matters (i.e. The Wesleyans are Right)

We should never imagine that the fact that relationships change our theology indicates a weakness in our theology or ethics.

On the contrary, we should question any theology or ethics that does not change in the face of relationships. This is what it means to be both human in general and a part of the body of Christ in particular.

It is easy to hold forth unwavering strength as the sign of integrity and correctness, but such strength has sometimes been the strong pillar around which the unstoppable flow of the kingdom has poured forth.

Keller makes five or so arguments against the books he is reviewing. I will probably touch on his review a bit more, because it’s getting some good traffic, makes a couple of good points, and makes a couple of points that perhaps enable people to too quickly find relief in their cherished position being upheld.

The argument against experience falls into this latter category. It is precisely the experience of gay Christians, loving, faithful, and full of the Spirit, that should make us wonder if we have been wrongly continuing to draw lines of demarcation that God has begun to take down. Experience alone cannot answer this question (here, too, the Wesleyans are right!).

But we cannot allow a pious-sounding appeal to a theology or ethics that lies, allegedly, outside of experience to keep us from exploring the significance of what we have learned in relationship with those who, alongside us, address Jesus as the promised son of David and Lord of heaven and earth.

* * * * * * * * *

Select Comments

Don Bromley says:
June 9, 2015 at 10:21 am

I’ve seen this argument offered before, by Ken Wilson and others, that they are following the way of Wesley in valuing Experience along with Tradition, Scripture, and Reason. But John Wesley was always absolutely clear that the foundation of his religious discernment resided in Scripture. John Wesley wrote:

“This is a lantern unto a Christian’s feet, and a light in all his paths. This alone he receives as his rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. He esteems nothing good, but what is here enjoined, either directly or by plain consequence, he accounts nothing evil but what is here forbidden, either in terms, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor conjoins, either directly or by plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature; to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.”

— From the Sermon #12 “The Witness of Our Own Spirit.”

J. R. Daniel Kirk says:
June 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

No doubt. That’s why the first 2/3 of the post are scriptural exegesis! But it is quite easy for folks committed to scripture to be dismissive of narratives that begin with a person’s experience of gay Christians, and it’s important for those of us who hold scripture in such high esteem to recognize the place that experience always has in our theologizing, and has always held in the church’s assessments of right and wrong.


Don Bromley says:
June 9, 2015 at 10:30 am
N. T. Wright wrote an excellent essay that relates very much to this discussion:

He specifically addresses the comparison of the gay/straight distinction to the Gentile/Jew distinction:

“We need to make a clear distinction between the aspects of a culture which Paul regards as morally neutral and those which he regards as morally, or immorally, loaded. And we need to note carefully what Paul’s reaction is when someone disagrees at either side of his balance. When Peter and the others tried to insist on keeping their Jewish distinctives, i.e. only eating with other circumcised people, in Antioch, Paul resisted him to his face. The word ‘tolerance’ runs out of steam at this point. What mattered was the gospel, the message of the cross, the doctrine of justification by faith, the promises to Abraham, the single family God intended to create in the Spirit. Like a great chess player, Paul saw all those pieces on the board threatened by this one move of Peter’s to insist on maintaining Jewish boundary-markers, and he moved at once to head it off. And when someone disagreed with Paul’s clear rules on immorality or angry disputes, the matters he deals with in Colossians 3.5-10, he is equally firm, as we see dramatically in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. There is no place in the Christian fellowship for such practices and for such a person. Not for one minute does he contemplate saying, ‘some of us believe in maintaining traditional taboos on sexual relations within prescribed family limits, others think these are now irrelevant in Christ, so both sides must respect the other.’ He says, ‘throw him out’.”

J. R. Daniel Kirk says:
June 9, 2015 at 10:35 am

Yes, I do think Wright onto something. But it is also important to note that the inclusion of Gentiles meant a redefinition of what it meant to be a “sinner”: “We are Jews by nature, not sinners from among the Gentiles.” Inclusion in the people of God changed how you knew a sinner when you saw one. In this case, paradoxically, it meant upholding Torah.

As I’ve written about in the past, I do think that upholding sexual standards is a huge component of Christian ethics / morality. And I do think that inclusion of homosexuals in the church has, at times, come with the abandonment of all but the most pedestrian of sexual mores. That’s a problem.

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