We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

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) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

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

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, November 17, 2022

God as "Amipotent" better Describes God than as "Omnipotent"



The Death of Omnipotence

by Thomas Jay Oord
November 7, 2022

An amipotent God is active, but not a dictator. Amipotence is receptive but not overwhelmed. God engages without domineering; is generous but not pushy; and invites without monopolizing. Amipotence is divine strength working positively at all times and places. The power of an amipotent God is the power of love. - Oord, Thomas Jay. Open and Relational Theology: An Introduction to Life-Changing Ideas

I’m writing a new book. My tentative title is “The Death of Omnipotence… and Birth of Amipotence.”

As the title suggests, I’ll argue that God is not omnipotent. But instead of simply saying, “God can’t do…,” I’m also proposing a view of divine power I think is more biblically supported, philosophically coherent, and experientially justified. I call it “amipotence.” (Here’s a 3-minute ORTShort describing the word.)

Here’s how I plan to start the book…


THERE’S NOTHING THAT GOD CANNOT DO?

“My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty there’s nothing that He cannot do.”[1] These lines from a children’s song give voice to what many people believe: God can do anything.

Other song lyrics proclaim the glory of an all-powerful God. In his Messiah concerto, George Frideric Handel’s oft-repeated lines ring out:

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah![2]

Contemporary worship choruses promote omnipotence, declaring a sovereign God cannot be thwarted nor the divine will be frustrated. It’s common for believers, enraptured in praise, to lift their voices to the One they call “almighty” and proclaim, “our God reigns!”


OMNIPOTENCE

“Omnipotence” expresses in formal language the “God can do anything” view. A God with all (omni) power (potent) apparently can do anything we imagine and more. Augustine made this connection, saying the omnipotent God is “He who can do all things.”[3]

In some theologies, God actually exerts all power and is the cause of everything; call this “theological determinism” or “monergism.” In others, God could do everything but chooses not to. God so conceived controls from time to time but generally opts to allow creatures to exert power; call this view “voluntary divine self-limitation.”[4]

Among the attributes theists ascribe to God, omnipotence is likely best known. For many, it’s a placeholder for God – “the Omnipotent.” Although distinctions can be made, the term is often thought synonymous with other words and phrases describing divine power: “sovereign,” “all-powerful,” and “almighty.”[5]

These describe what many think necessary of a being worthy of worship: unlimited power. Christian creeds refer to God’s almightiness. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” begins the Apostle’s Creed. The Nicene Creed starts similarly: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…” The Westminster Confession speaks of a God who, in “sovereign” or “almighty” activity, saw fit to “ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”

Answering Divine Omnipotence with Divine Amipotence resolves questions of theodicy


THREE MEANINGS

Theists espouse various meanings of omnipotent, almighty, or all-powerful. In this book, I address three common among scholars and laity. To say God is omnipotent typically means at least one of the following:

1. God exerts all power.

2. God can do absolutely anything.

3. God can control others or circumstances.[6]

Some theists affirm one or two meanings but not all. Some reject the idea God exerts all power, for instance, but believe God can control others. Others say God can do anything but also say God doesn’t always control creatures. Many claim God can singlehandedly determine outcomes but cannot do what is illogical or self-contradictory. And it’s common for believers to say God is omnipotent but appeal to mystery when vexing questions arise.


CONCLUSION

I’d love to hear your questions, suggestions, and thoughts. Now that you know the general aim of the book, what issues should I be sure to address?

(I explain amipotence a bit in my book, Pluriform Love. Also, see this essay from Jay McDaniel.)

[1] Ruth Harms Calkin, “My God is so Big” (Permission to quote granted from Nuggets of Truth Publishing).

[2] Handel seems to be drawing from Revelation 19:6, which in Latin and in the King James Version of scripture is translated “omnipotent” but in most contemporary biblical translations is rendered “almighty.”

[3] Augustine, De Trinitate, IV 20, 27 (CChr.SL), 50, 197: “Quis est autem omnipotens, nisi qui omnia potest.” Despite this claim, Augustine also notes a number of things God cannot do.

[4] Theologians have explored the distinction between God’s potential power and the actual expression of divine power. See, for instance, Ian Robert Richardson, “Meister Eckhart’s Parisian Question of ‘Whether the omnipotence of God should be considered as potentia ordinata or potentia absoluta?” Doctoral Dissertation (King’s College London, 2002), 17.

[5] In previous writings, I’ve said we could rightly call God almighty in the senses. God is 1) the mightiest, 2) exerts might upon all, and 3) the source of might for all. Gijsbert Van Den Brink argues for “almightiness” over omnipotence in Almighty God: A Study of the Doctrine of Divine Omnipotence (Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1993).

[6] By “control,” I mean acting as the sufficient cause of some creature, circumstance, or event. To describe such control, I use phrases like “singlehandedly decide outcomes,” “unilaterally determine,” or others that depict God as the sole cause. I will argue that God never has controlled and, in fact, cannot control others.


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What does Amipotence Look Like?
It looks like the human touch of a nurse.

by Jay McDaniel
July 25, 2021
​God is neither impotent nor omnipotent but what I call “amipotent.” I coined this word by combining the Latin word for power — “potent” — with a Latin prefix for love — “ami.” From “potent” we get words like “potential” and “potency.” We find the “ami” prefix in love words like “amity,” “amigo,” and “amicable.” God’s power is the power of love: amipotence.

An amipotent God is active, but not a dictator. Amipotence is receptive but not overwhelmed. God engages without domineering; is generous but not pushy; and invites without monopolizing. Amipotence is divine strength working positively at all times and places. The power of an amipotent God is the power of love. - Oord, Thomas Jay. Open and Relational Theology: An Introduction to Life-Changing Ideas

Thomas Oord has coined the term "amipotence" to name the infinite power of divine love The term combines the Latin word for power — “potent” — with a Latin prefix for love — “ami.”

Amipotence is a verb not a noun. It is an ongoing and endless activity, always different and yet always the same. This activity is not all-powerful in the sense of being able to prevent all tragedies, but it is all-faithful and, I believe, all-beautiful. The heart of amipotence is healing and life-giving, like love itself.

What does it look like? I think it looks like the healing power of a nurturant nurse. We do not expect nurses to make everything right, but in their human touch we find life's deepest meaning. That meaning is not that all pain can be relieved. It is that noone suffers alone and that always, even in suffering, there is a healing (a solace, a togetherness, a presence, a companionship, and a hope) that is more, much more, than whatever tears must be shed. For me, the God of whom Thomas Oord speaks is a deep Nurse in whose life the universe unfolds, moment by moment. She is - he is - it is - the Nurturing: an encircling spirit beneath, behind, beyond, and (sometimes) within the happening of all that happens

- Jay McDaniel, July 25, 2021


The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage v Tradition Teachings



19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Bible Teachings

The bible's teachings were collected from a long time ago. Its words are even older within it's known stories and teachings. The views of societies have changed over the eons. Views before Christ. Views after Christ. Views of religion before Israel's covenant with God. And views of the church in a new covenant with God. Thus the question of gay marriage when several of the bible's teachings speak to one man and one woman heterosexual marriage and is mute on the question of gay marriage.

Traditional Christianity says the question of the bible's silence on gay marriage is because it is not "the ideal" of God's creation. The progressive church says its silence is there because of many other reasons and has nothing to do with God's "ideal".

As a Christian raised in traditional Christianity - as versus where I am today in my LGBTQ+ writings - my view will not come as a shock when proposing that the teachings of the bible on heterosexuality might be the "ideal" for many but it leaves plenty of room by even God's standards for allowing love to extend towards gay marriage as well. Especially so when we think of love in terms of "covenanted" (or, faithful) relationships with one's spouse, be they hetero- or homosexual.

Especially too when there are several examples in the bible of homosexual gay couples in the bible. The most prominent one which comes to mind is that of David and Jonathan (see here). Now I still think of their relationship as one between two very close friends... ut that is based on my orientation as a heterosexual... however, I must also allow as a Christian for the possibility of a close-and-healthy gay bond between David and Jonathon. In either case, the bible shares in its many stories that of a possible gay relationship between two "men of God".
And not being naive, there are as many toxic relationships between gay couples as there are between heterosexual couples; these should be abandoned unless they can be righted through love and repentance to one another.

Church Teachings and Judgments 

Traditional Christianity has also taken on a role of "sanctifying" human relationships and (mis)deeds. If reading Christian history is any kind of teacher, then one will find a wide deviation between "Christian" standards from faith-to-faith and from era-to-era - many of which are shown to be unloving, cruel, harming, and hypocritical. The church has no place in civil society in "sanctifying" anyone's relationship with anyone else. This is between the parties involved and God much like a doctor's relationship to their patients. Nor between institutions and their members. This is where the role of pastoring and counseling comes in to play. Relationships are personal and so must be the interaction of outsiders when asked in by that couple.

Which doesn't mean we might not exercise loving council to one another when situations arise; but always remember these are intensely personal matters and should be treated as such. And when offering pastoral, counseling, or friendship  advice always error on the side of wisdom and love. Exercising ethics and morality can be as beneficial as it can be harming and oppressive; making such interpersonal communications an exercise only few are qualified to enter into and make. And definitely not from the pulpit as I have observed too many times.

Further, the church itself, because of its own moving ethics and moralities, must always restrain itself from doing further damage as has been seen over the recent years in church organization's charters and policies imputed into people's lives. Not all have wisdom, and not all council is biblical, godly, or "God-ordained" as much as the church thinks it is and has instructed itself to think its own judgments into people's lives as the more righteous and holy while forgetting wisdom and love altogether.

Conclusion

Below are several articles which may help round out "biblical" approaches to human relationships. For myself, I question how-and-why people use the bible in other people's lives without looking to their own lives first. And even then, the most righteous life may be but the shallowest in comporting with those whom God dearly loves and does not judge to condemnation - as the church too many times thinks it has the right to do and preach. The God I know is a loving God and never a damning God. God is One thing and not Two things. God is love and not evil.

Blessings and Peace,

R.E. Slater
November 17, 2022

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References:




* * * * * * *


The Bible and same sex relationships:
a review article


Tim Keller,  2015

Wilson, Ken, A Letter to My Congregation, David Crum Media, 2014.


The relationship of homosexuality to Christianity is one of the main topics of discussion in our culture today. In the fall of last year I wrote a review of books by Wesley Hill and Sam Allberry that take the historic Christian view, in Hill’s words: “that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity ... and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.”

There are a number of other books that take the opposite view, namely that the Bible either allows for or supports same sex relationships. Over the last year or so I (and other pastors at Redeemer) have been regularly asked for responses to their arguments. The two most read volumes taking this position seem to be those by Matthew Vines and Ken Wilson. The review of these two books will be longer than usual because the topic is so contested today and, while I disagree with the authors’ theses, a too-brief review can’t avoid appearing cursory and dismissive. Hence the length.

I see six basic arguments that these books and others like them make.

Knowing gay people personally.

Vines and Wilson relate stories of people who were sure that the Bible condemned homosexuality. However, they were brought to a change of mind through getting to know gay people personally. It is certainly important for Christians who are not gay to hear the hearts and stories of people who are attracted to the same sex.

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.) So I say good riddance to bigotry. However, the reality of bigotry cannot itself prove that the Bible never forbids homosexuality. We have to look to the text to determine that.

Consulting historical scholarship.

Vines and Wilson claim that scholarly research into the historical background show that biblical authors were not forbidding all same sex relationships, but only exploitative ones — pederasty, prostitution, and rape. Their argument is that Paul and other biblical writers had no concept of an innate homosexual orientation, that they only knew of exploitative homosexual practices, and therefore they had no concept of mutual, loving, same-sex relationships.

These arguments were first asserted in the 1980s by John Boswell and Robin Scroggs. Vines, Wilson and others are essentially repopularizing them. However, they do not seem to be aware that the great preponderance of the best historical scholarship since the 1980s — by the full spectrum of secular, liberal and conservative researchers — has rejected that assertion. Here are two examples.

Bernadette Brooten and William Loader have presented strong evidence that homosexual orientation was known in antiquity. Aristophanes' speech in Plato's Symposium, for example, tells a story about how Zeus split the original human beings in half, creating both heterosexual and homosexual humans, each of which were seeking to be reunited to their “lost halves” — heterosexuals seeking the opposite sex and homosexuals the same sex. Whether Aristophanes believed this myth literally is not the point. It was an explanation of a phenomenon the ancients could definitely see — that some people are inherently attracted to the same sex rather than the opposite sex.

Contra Vines, et al, the ancients also knew about mutual, non-exploitative same sex relationships. In Romans 1, Paul describes homosexuality as men burning with passion “for one another” (verse 27). That is mutuality. Such a term could not represent rape, nor prostitution, nor pederasty (man/boy relationships). Paul could have used terms in Romans 1 that specifically designated those practices, but he did not. He categorically condemns all sexual relations between people of the same sex, both men and women. Paul knew about mutual same-sex relationships, and the ancients knew of homosexual orientation. Nonetheless “Nothing indicates that Paul is exempting some same-sex intercourse as acceptable.” (Loader, Making Sense of Sex, p.137).

I urge readers to familiarize themselves with this research. A good place to start is the Kindle book by William Loader Sexuality in the New Testament (2010) or his much larger The New Testament on Sexuality (2012). Loader is the most prominent expert on ancient and biblical views of sexuality, having written five large and two small volumes in his lifetime. It is worth noting that Loader himself does not personally see anything wrong with homosexual relationships; he just — rightly and definitively — proves that you can’t get the Bible itself to give them any support.

Re-categorizing same sex relations.

A third line of reasoning in these volumes and others like them involves recategorization. In the past, homosexuality was categorized by all Christian churches and theology as sin. However, many argue that homosexuality should be put in the same category as slavery and segregation. Vines writes, for example, that the Bible supported slavery and that most Christians used to believe that some form of slavery was condoned by the Bible, but we have now come to see that all slavery is wrong. Therefore, just as Christians interpreted the Bible to support segregation and slavery until times changed, so Christians should change their interpretations about homosexuality as history moves forward.

But historians such as Mark Noll (America’s God, 2005 and The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, 2006) have shown the 19th century position some people took that the Bible condoned race-based chattel slavery was highly controversial and never a consensus. Most Protestants in Canada and Britain (and many in the northern U.S. states) condemned it as being wholly against the Scripture. Rodney Stark (For the Glory of God, 2003) points out that the Catholic church also came out early against the African slave trade. David L. Chappell in his history of the Civil Rights Movement (A Stone of Hope, 2003) went further. He proves that even before the Supreme Court decisions of the mid-50s, almost no one was promoting the slender and forced biblical justifications for racial superiority and segregation. Even otherwise racist theologians and ministers could not find a basis for white supremacy in the Bible.

So we see the analogy between the church’s view of slavery and its view of homosexuality breaks down. Up until very recently, all Christian churches and theologians unanimously read the Bible as condemning homosexuality. By contrast, there was never any consensus or even a majority of churches that thought slavery and segregation were supported by the Bible. David Chappell shows that even within the segregationist South, efforts to support racial separation from the Bible collapsed within a few years. Does anyone really think that within a few years from now there will be no one willing to defend the traditional view of sexuality from biblical texts? The answer is surely no. This negates the claim that the number, strength, and clarity of those biblical texts supposedly supporting slavery and those texts condemning homosexuality are equal, and equally open to changed interpretations.

Wilson puts forward a different form of the recategorization argument when he says the issue of same-sex relations in the church is like issues of divorce and remarriage, Christian participation in war, or the use of in vitro fertilization. We can extend that list to include matters such as women’s roles in ministry and society, as well as views of baptism, charismatic gifts, and so on. These are “issues where good Christians differ.” We may believe that another Christian with a different view of divorce is seriously wrong, but we don’t say this means his or her view undermines orthodox Christian faith. Wilson, Vines, and many others argue that same-sex relations must now be put into this category. Since we see that there are sincere Christians who disagree over this, it is said, we should “agree to disagree” on this.

However history shows that same-sex relations do not belong in this category, either. Around each of the other items on Wilson’s list there are long-standing and historical divisions within the church. There have always been substantial parts of the church that came to different positions on these issues. But until very, very recently, there had been complete unanimity about homosexuality in the church across all centuries, cultures, and even across major divisions of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant traditions. So homosexuality is categorically different. One has to ask, then, why is it the case that literally no church, theologian, or Christian thinker or movement ever thought that any kind of same sex relationships was allowable until now?

One answer to the question is an ironic one. During the Civil War, British Presbyterian biblical scholars told their southern American colleagues who supported slavery that they were reading the Scriptural texts through cultural blinders. They wanted to find evidence for their views in the Bible and voila — they found it. If no Christian reading the Bible — across diverse cultures and times — ever previously discovered support for same-sex relationships in the Bible until today, it is hard not to wonder if many now have new cultural spectacles on, having a strong predisposition to find in these texts evidence for the views they already hold.

What are those cultural spectacles? The reason that homosexual relationships make so much more sense to people today than in previous times is because they have absorbed late modern western culture’s narratives about the human life. Our society presses its members to believe “you have to be yourself,” that sexual desires are crucial to personal identity, that any curbing of strong sexual desires leads to psychological damage, and that individuals should be free to live as they alone see fit.

These narratives have been well analyzed by scholars such as Robert Bellah and Charles Taylor. They are beliefs about the nature of reality that are not self-evident to most societies and they carry no more empirical proof than any other religious beliefs. They are also filled with inconsistencies and problems. Both Vines and Wilson largely assume these cultural narratives. It is these faith assumptions about identity and freedom that make the straightforward reading of the biblical texts seem so wrong to them. They are the underlying reason for their views, but they are never identified or discussed.

Revising biblical authority.

Vines and Wilson claim that they continue to hold to a high view of biblical authority, and that they believe the Bible is completely true, but that they don’t think it teaches all same-sex relations are wrong. Vines argues that while the Levitical code forbids homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22) it also forbids eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-12). Yet, he says, Christians no longer regard eating shellfish as wrong — so why can’t we change our minds on homosexuality? Here Vines is rejecting the New Testament understanding that the ceremonial laws of Moses around the sacrificial system and ritual purity were fulfilled in Christ and no longer binding, but that the moral law of the Old Testament is still in force. Hebrews 10:16, for example, tells us that the Holy Spirit writes “God’s laws” on Christians’ hearts (so they are obviously still in force), even though that same book of the Bible tells us that some of those Mosaic laws — the ceremonial — are no longer in binding on us. This view has been accepted by all branches of the church since New Testament times.

When Vines refuses to accept this ancient distinction between the ceremonial and moral law, he is doing much more than simply giving us an alternative interpretation of the Old Testament — he is radically revising what biblical authority means. When he says “Christians no longer regard eating shellfish as wrong,” and then applies this to homosexuality (though assuming that Leviticus 19:18 — the Golden Rule — is still in force), he is assuming that it is Christians themselves, not the Bible, who have the right to decide which parts of the Bible are essentially now out of date. That decisively shifts the ultimate authority to define right and wrong onto the individual Christian and away from the biblical text.

The traditional view is this: Yes, there are things in the Bible that Christians no longer have to follow but, if the Scripture is our final authority, it is only the Bible itself that can tell us what those things are. The prohibitions against homosexuality are re-stated in the New Testament (Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1) but Jesus himself (Mark 7), as well as the rest of the New Testament, tells us that the clean laws and ceremonial code is no longer in force.

Vines asserts that he maintains a belief in biblical authority, but with arguments like this one he is actually undermining it. This represents a massive shift in historic Christian theology and life.

Being on the wrong side of history.

More explicit in Wilson’s volume than Vines' is the common argument that history is moving toward greater freedom and equality for individuals, and so refusing to accept same-sex relationships is a futile attempt to stop inevitable historical development. Wilson says that the “complex forces” of history showed Christians that they were wrong about slavery and something like that is happening now with homosexuality.

Charles Taylor, however, explains how this idea of inevitable historical progress developed out of the Enlightenment optimism about human nature and reason. It is another place where these writers seem to uncritically adopt background understandings that are foreign to the Bible. If we believe in the Bible’s authority, then shifts in public opinion should not matter. The Christian faith will always be offensive to every culture at some points.

And besides, if you read Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? (2010) and follow the latest demographic research, you will know that the world is not inevitably becoming more secular. The percentage of the world’s population that are non-religious, and that put emphasis on individuals determining their own moral values, is shrinking. The more conservative religious faiths are growing very fast. No one studying these trends believes that history is moving in the direction of more secular societies.

Missing the biblical vision.

The saddest thing for me as a reader was how, in books on the Bible and sex, Vines and Wilson concentrated almost wholly on the biblical negatives, the prohibitions against homosexual practice, instead of giving sustained attention to the high, (yes) glorious Scriptural vision of sexuality. Both authors rightly say that the Bible calls for mutual loving relationships in marriage, but it points to far more than that.

In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N.T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.

That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories — they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a life-long covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together.

Therefore, in one of the great ironies of late modern times, when we celebrate diversity in so many other cultural sectors, we have truncated the ultimate unity-in-diversity: inter-gendered marriage.

Without understanding this vision, the sexual prohibitions in the Bible make no sense. Homosexuality does not honor the need for this rich diversity of perspective and gendered humanity in sexual relationships. Same-sex relationships not only cannot provide this for each spouse, they can’t provide children with a deep connection to each half of humanity through a parent of each gender.

This review has been too brief to give these authors the credit they are due for maintaining a respectful and gracious tone throughout. We live in a time in which civility and love in these discussions is fast going away, and I am thankful the authors are not part of the angry, caustic flow. In this regard they are being good examples, but because I think their main points are wrong, I have had to concentrate on them as I have in this review. I hope I have done so with equal civility.


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How I Was Moved To Support Same-Sex
Marriage In The Church

by Julie Rodgers | Feb 4, 2016


Your beliefs don’t shift in an instant. We research and agonize, bouncing between hope and despair, until one day we hear ourselves say something a former version of ourselves never would have said. That’s how I came to support same-sex marriage in the church. When I came out as a teenager in Baptist circles in the Bible Belt, I never would’ve imagined God would still like me if I married a woman one day. And I want to try to explain, in theological(ish) terms, how I ended up here.

It seemed reasonable to be taken to an ex-gay ministry within days of coming out to my family my junior year in high school. At that point, gay people were hardly mentioned in the church, and when we were, we were told God thought gay people were gross. The main message from conservative Christians was that the Gospel would transform sexual minorities who sought the face of God, washing us, sanctifying us, and eventually making us straight.

A little lesbian who wanted so badly to be good, I abandoned my skepticism and latched onto the hope for “freedom from homosexuality.” I stuck around for almost a decade, hopeful that God would show up and surprise me if I remained committed to the process. When Exodus International asked if I would join their speaking team, I jumped in with a message of hope in what God would likely do in the future.

Eventually, we learned that even the most dedicated wouldn’t be able to change their orientation. Evangelical Christians shifted their theology a little at that point. Pastors and leaders decided that perhaps God’s transforming work would not result in orientation change, but it would result in the grace to pursue lifelong celibacy. Initially, Christian leaders were troubled when those of us committed to lifelong celibacy referred to ourselves as gay. They insisted we refer to ourselves as “same-sex attracted,” which implied we were basically straight people whose attractions happened to misfire from time to time. Then they realized it’s a bit much to demand lifelong celibacy from this one group of people and to define the terms of how we were allowed to talk about it, so it became more acceptable for us to say we were gay.

Some of this made me uneasy but I tried to be a sport about it, assuming those in leadership were more theologically sound than me and that their intentions were likely holier than mine. When Evangelical leaders said their views were rooted in sincere theological beliefs rather than homophobia, I believed them. In their minds, that is true. In my mind, that was true.

Thoughtful Christians have taught that all of Scripture points to a theology of marriage that involves one man and one woman in a lifelong commitment with a green light for sex in that context alone. This is based on the idea that the Bible is our ultimate authority, but it’s complicated by the fact that we bring an interpretive lens to the Bible. When we support women’s equality in all areas of leadership in the church, we trust one interpretive lens over another. Both sides are sincere Christians and both view the Bible as authoritative––they just differ on how the Bible, which was written in a patriarchal context in the 1st century, should apply to empowered women in the 21st century.

Since we interpret in community, we ultimately choose to trust one group of leaders in their interpretive endeavor over another. There’s safety in numbers, right? So I stuck with the crowd and assumed conservative pastors and Christian leaders probably brought a trustworthy lens to Scripture. Throughout my twenties I was committed to lifelong celibacy.

As the debate raged, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the way the arguments shifted. Initially we were told we should become straight, so I tried to become straight. Then we were told a traditional theology meant lifelong celibacy, so I was on the celibate track. We were taught that a marriage between a man and a woman is primarily about sanctification: a place to learn how selfish we are in a sort of lifelong mini-monastery. We were taught that marriage is also about companionship because God said it’s not good for humans to be alone. We heard that the marital bond creates an energizing love that overflows into the kind of hospitality that helps us to welcome the hurting into our homes.

As more LGBT people came out and more theologians said a Christian marriage could actually extend to same-sex couples, traditionalists grew anxious. Pastors realized there is no reason two gay or lesbian Christians could not live into the kind of marriage they’ve taught all along: one that’s about sacrifice, sanctification, companionship, and reflecting God’s faithful commitment to the church. So they scrambled for some sort of explanation for why we should continue to apply the text in a way that excludes same-sex couples from marriage, and many now say it’s because the capacity for procreation is central to a traditional understanding of marriage.

The problem is that Protestants have never taught that procreation is central to marriage and we don’t actually believe that or we wouldn’t be cool with birth control. We suddenly adopted a quasi-Catholic view of sex and marriage but only when it comes to gay people––not when it might burden straight people.

For 13 years I was mostly on board with leaders who maintained that marriage was between a man and a woman, assuming they were onto something I was missing. I’ve been on board with this at a great cost––a cost that’s been worth it because I deeply love the community I’ve come from, the community that I still consider my family. But I watched many people use their power to protect themselves rather than using it to protect the most vulnerable. I saw them make decisions about LGBT people while excluding us from the community of interpretation. Over the course of hundreds of conversations, with tears and prayers and vulnerable pleas, my heart was broken. Many Christian leaders have scrutinized the people they could’ve learned from all along, anxiously creating new arguments that kept sexual minorities from pursuing calls to ministry, playing the piano in the church, or building a home with someone they loved.

When you put that example next to someone like Eugene Rogers, you start to feel like there’s something very life-giving and very Christian in the affirming view of marriage. He sees marriage as a school of virtue that nurtures generosity in gay and straight couples alike: “For marriage is an example of the concrete discipline that most of us (liberal and conservative) lack: in marriage we practice common discernment over self-interest. Marriage cultivates concern for one another: it offers lifelong hospitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the church need, not only with respect to the Bridegroom, but with respect to one another.”

He goes on to say: “The married know that they have learned moral virtues––patience or temperance or courage, fidelity, hopefulness, and charity­––because of a vulnerability to their spouse that they could not learn from any other person. Eros makes a way to the heart; without the vulnerability it brings, charity grows cold. This is not a lesson of “sexual liberation,” if sexual liberation involves evading commitment and discipline. This is a lesson of the incarnation.”

He says marriage exposes our faults in order to heal them and the grace cultivated in a lifelong commitment nurtures moral growth. When I considered the fruit of that kind of teaching over and against the fruit of one that views LGBT people with suspicion, relegating us to lifelong singleness with very little tenderness, I came to believe that we should celebrate same-sex marriage. It became hard for me to understand what exactly was driving traditional teaching on marriage if it was not fear of change––a very particular kind of fear that’s often expressed through homophobia.

But we don’t have to live in fear any longer. Same-sex couples are getting married, and many of these couples are decisively Christian, and these Christian couples are a witness to a watching world that’s been disillusioned by the hypocrisy they’ve seen in the church. No amount of disagreement with these marriages will invalidate their Christ-like example of love and faithfulness. It will not diminish the power of their testimony when their love creates an energy that welcomes in the hurting, the lonely, and the forgotten. These couples exemplify a vibrant faith fueled by a man from Nazareth who embodied love and forgiveness in the way He lived and died. That is, after all, what a Christian marriage is all about.