Mar

13

2013

Greg Forster|12:01 AM CT

We Need New Methods in the Fight for Marriage

Defenders of marriage need some entrepreneurial thinking. America has been governed by no-fault divorce, illegitimacy, and disordered desires of every kind for two generations; there are fewer and fewer people around who even remember living in a world where the Christian position was the default. We need to stop imagining real marriage is like the Apple of 2013—assuming we are the dominant entity and our opponents are upstarts trying to displace us from our position at the top. We need to realize that today, real marriage is the Apple of 1984—we're trying to break into a market completely dominated by our rivals and offer a radically different kind of product.

Successful entrepreneurs are generally defined by three core qualities. The first is a powerful desire to improve the world in some way. The second is opportunity recognition—when faced with obstacles, entrepreneurs try to think of new and different ways of doing things that open up new opportunities for success. And the third is just plain, old-fashioned guts—but you can call it "risk tolerance" and "perseverance" if you prefer. When faced with both a threat and an opportunity, most people prioritize avoiding the threat; entrepreneurs prioritize the opportunity, even if that means risk and discomfort.

Since we Christians already have the desire to improve the world, the next thing marriage advocates need is opportunity recognition. The Apple of real marriage cannot displace the IBM of disordered sexuality by following IBM's business plan. We need to be nimble and innovative.

Fantasy Worlds

Our current strategies aren't working because they describe sexuality in languages—biblical, philosophical, legal—that don't make sense to people. Therefore, without abandoning our fidelity to Christianity, philosophy, and law, we need a new description and account of sexuality that makes sense to people who have not yet discovered those truths. This will involve new verbal language, new visual language (images), new narratives, and much more. That new language should form the core of the public case for marriage, with Christianity, philosophy, and law playing supporting roles.

Our opponents are winning because they describe sex, romance, and marriage in ways people prefer to reality. They do so in verbal, visual, and narrative forms. This includes public discourse about topical issues, but their success in making movies, TV shows, and so on has been much more important to their dominance. The false reality encompasses virtually every depiction of sex, romance, and marriage in every medium.

Their power comes from the falsehood of their descriptions. They win people's loyalty and belief to their worldview by creating fantasy worlds that are more enjoyable (in the short term) than the real one. These include not only the overtly pornographic and selfish fantasies—although those have played a critical role, and not just with men—but the more mundane ones as well. Twisting our softer sentiments has been as important as exploiting raw lusts.

At the same time, falsehood is also their great weak point, and hence it provides our golden opportunity. The intrinsic incompatibility of their descriptions with real life prevents them from reaching people on any profound level. Public loyalty to their worldview is broad but shallow—and it will always be shallow, because there are no depths in that worldview.

Moreover, because their view is false, it is constantly being refuted by real life. You can teach people to live as though their romantic and sexual fantasies represent the way the world really works, but you cannot make the world actually work that way. A growing mountain of scandalous statistics demonstrates the failure of their worldview to provide a functional way of life. It ruthlessly destroys the poor, women, minorities, social equality, economic mobility—you name it.

Method to Displace

The falsehood of their narrative not only points to their vulnerability, but also to the method we can use to displace them. We know the truth about sexuality and can therefore describe it accurately. We can tell stories that make people say, "Yes, that's the truth about life." We cannot deliver the short-term comfort and pleasure they provide, but we can deliver the deep satisfaction and functional life that they cannot.

We must speak the truth about sexuality and romance in the language of sexuality and romance. This can't be a special, private sexual language for Christians that others will need to learn. It must be a language that speaks to people in terms of their everyday experiences and doesn't presuppose that you need to be Christian before you can have a humane understanding of sexuality.

This will require constructive efforts that describe how sex transcendently, metaphysically bonds husbands and wives in beautiful ways. (Note: it's not marriage that supernaturally bonds a couple, it's sex; that will be a key distinction for the new language to bring out.) It will also involve describing the monstrosity of divorce and the tragic suffering of disordered desire. And it will involve satire that exposes the conventions that maintain the fantasy world.

Hollywood already produces these kinds of narratives from time to time, and critics tend to applaud them. Consider the success of Juno a few years ago. Many advocates on our side showed their lack of cultural understanding when they interpreted Juno as a movie about abortion; it is obviously a movie about marriage and divorce. The Simpsons has mercilessly skewered divorce culture, gratuitous sex on TV, women's magazines, porn, and much more. Deconstructive parodies of romantic comedies are legion (here's a favorite example of mine). Constructive examples are rarer —that's where our movement can make its most distinctive contribution—but they do happen. Consider Pixar's UP, or Wash and Zoe on Firefly.

Here, at last, is a language our audience clearly understands. They don't know the Bible, they don't know philosophy, and they don't know public policy. But boy do they ever know sexuality.

For successful entrepreneurship we also need the guts to follow opportunities instead of avoiding threats. There's a lot to say about that point, but I think the most important thing would be to reach out to the growing body of culturally powerful and influential people who don't fully share our view on sexuality but are waking up to the horror of easy divorce. There is a new coalition against divorce just waiting to be built. This will mean making strategic alliances with people who oppose us on other issues, which is uncomfortable but necessary. We must never compromise our consciences on gay marriage, as some have done. But making gay marriage a higher priority than divorce is a classic case of threat-avoidance thinking.

Does this mean leaving behind the Bible, philosophy, and law? God forbid! It only means we stop trying to make any of those the centerpiece and organizing theme of the movement. First, define the movement in terms of a new description of sexuality—one that does not require familiarity with the Bible, philosophy, and law to understand. Then rightly relate each of those things to the movement.

You Deserve Better

If the new description of sexuality is rightly crafted, it will be in full alignment with the Bible and Christianity. Indeed, the "inside information" we get from the Bible about how the universe works will be critical to helping us see the most effective ways to expose errors and magnify the truth. Yet people will not have to be Christians to accept our description of sexuality.

That means Christian activists can give their lives to fighting for this vision with a clean conscience in all directions. Vertically, they are doing good work that glorifies God and carries out the mandate to live in the kingdom; horizontally, they are not imposing Christianity on their neighbors. Victory for real marriage is a "win" for my carrying out my mission for God, but it is not a social or civic "win" for Christianity in violation of the religious freedom of my neighbors.

Natural law philosophy, too, will have a critical role to play. It provides the organizing intellectual framework for the assault on the imagination that I'm proposing. As we develop our new description of sexuality, what are we describing? That marriage is something and we can know what it is, a comprehensive union of a man and a woman. Just as Christianity will provide the necessary spiritual grounding and energy for most of the people doing the work of the movement, natural law philosophy will provide theoretical knowledge to keep the movement honest.

As for law and policy, that's the simplest connection. The new description of sexuality will not directly speak to political questions, but it will give us new language to use in the political and legal sphere when we describe what we are defending. The content of our arguments about marriage policy need not change, but we can replace the bizarre and alienating language of "conjugal union" with a set of powerfully evocative descriptive terms. I believe such a change would have an immediate and dramatic effect on public support for our policy positions, without requiring a change in their propositional content.

One more thing we need. I've saved it for last because it's the most painful. We need to deinstitutionalize enmity. Our fellow human beings and fellow Americans who identify themselves as gay have come to believe that their dignity and equality cannot be protected without gay marriage. I think they're incorrect. But the conclusion is not irrational on their part, given the behavior of too many people on our side of the debate—even in recent years, to say nothing of the centuries before. We need to say to them, not begrudgingly but sincerely, that we want to find a shared way of life that affirms their dignity as human beings and their equality as American citizens. And we need to say that we have not done a good enough job of that. As Will Smith said in one of his movies a few years ago: "You deserve better. I will be better."

Then we need to prove it.

Greg Forster (PhD, Yale University) is the editor of Hang Together and the author of six books, including Joy for the World. His scholarly and popular writing covers theology, economics, political philosophy, and education policy.

  • Steven Leong

    With all due respect, what is the point of winning a social debate on marriage? Using rhetoric to win a "war" on marriage accomplishes little in terms of magnifying Christ.

    For one, you say that "people will not have to be Christians to accept our view of sexuality." My question would be, "What is 'our view of sexuality', then?" The purposes of God permeate every aspect of life, and marriage and sexuality are very much full of God's purposes. I mean, marriage is, in Ephesians 5, a picture of "Christ and the church." And in Mark 10:9, who joins people together in marriage? Not the government. Not the husband, not the wife, not their parents, or any other man, or even "sex," as you say in this article--God joins them in marriage. And as for sexuality, the Bible is littered with examples of why sex outside of marriage is sin--because it defiles and devalues the marriage that God ordained to portray His relationship with His church.

    I would argue then that to the Christian, marriage is irrevocably tied to God. Trying to petition for anything short of a God-centric marriage is misrepresenting Christ's view of marriage, and the world will see that.

    You say that rephrasing marriage in our terms would make it more palatable, and that it wouldn't constitute imposing religion on our non-Christian neighbors. We would, in fact, be doing worse: imposing Biblical restrictions on them without pointing them to why we obey the law joyfully.

    The law will not restrain sin. Policy cannot change hearts.

    Only God, through the preaching of His Word, can cleanse sin, renew hearts, and instill in man a desire to live in a way that honors Him.

    ---

    Sorry. If I've missed the point of this article, or if I'm misrepresenting either the author's views or The Author's views in any way, please, teach me (Proverbs 9:8). I'm young and inexperienced.

    • Greg Forster

      Let me respond in three parts:

      1) Why do we care about law when it can't change hearts or save people? Because we love our neighbors and we care about justice. Martin Luther King once said: "I know that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that is important also."

      2) So if we do care about law, what view of marriage is appropriate for the law? A distinctively Christian view? No, because God gives the institution of marriage to the whole human race, not just to the church. It is the human community at large, not the church in particular, that has been given stewardship responsibility for this institution. God reveals that marriage is an image of Christ and the church, and only Christians are capable of living into that reality intentionally and in its fullest sense. But that does not give Christians the right to use the law to forcibly "Christianize" the institution. As members of the human community, we can and must participate in the public stewardship of marriage, but we must do so in a way that does not exclude our neighbors from sharing joint stewardship of it with us.

      3) If all this is correct, it implies that there must be a view of marriage knowable by the natural revelation God has given to all humanity through reason and conscience (Romans 2) that is adequate for the human community even though it falls short of the Christian view. And this is the case. If you doubt it, I would strongly commend to you the masterpiece What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, which I discussed in part one of this article.

      • Mike

        What feels dissatisfying about this approach, as perhaps Mr. Leong will agree, is the salesmanship of the method. The problems lie more profoundly in the simple truth that we have not yet fully applied the Gospel to ourselves, especially in the white Evangelical suburban church. We want to speak truth to culture from Colorado Springs, and no one wants to listen. And it is little wonder: our houses get bigger, our cities sprawl, and we do not know our neighbors. We have a prison population over three million. Our churches have become social clubs. And presiding over it all is a soft-prosperity Gospel that equates suffering with psychological "trials," justifies lifestyle by emphasizing personal sanctification, amongst other things that have resulted in the institutional enmity that Dr. Forster points out at the close of his perspective.

        Marriage will be righted when we begin to truly apply the Gospel to our own lives. The litany of justifications must end. The hard decisions must follow.

        • Greg Forster

          Obviously I'm as much for living out the gospel in our own lives. But that by itself is not enough, just as political activism by itself is not enough, natural law philosophy by itself is not enough, etc. Holiness is not some kind of magic spell that makes everything go right; someone has to do the less sexy work of actually setting the law to right, making sure conclusions follow from premises, etc. As someone once said, the only effective place to intervene in a vicious circle is everywhere at once.

          • Mike

            I agree with your point about holiness not being a magic spell, and I'm for multi-faceted solutions to problems.

            My concern is our effort to "save marriage": are we in fact attempting to salvage an American lifestyle and culture that doesn't fully reflect the Gospel's call to radical life-realignment with God's purposes? I recently had lunch with a couple that moved into inner-city Boston in the sixties when everyone else was moving out, and the stories they told about God working in the midst of those challenges were very unlike the realities I grew up with in the suburbs. Yet now the problems are reaching the suburbs also: marriages are breaking down, drugs are increasingly rampant, etc. And the white middle-class church is waking up to the reality that our culture and society find the church to lack credibility.

            I agree it will be a multi-faceted approach. But if we want to "re-gain" marriage and godly values at the core of society, we will have to lose our lifestyles and hedges and false securities and courageously re-engage in the issues confronting all people of our nation. Many Christians are doing just that; I hope that pastors will lead the way to challenge us all to it.

  • Pingback: Part 2 of the New Fight for Marriage at TGC | Hang Together

  • Pete Gross

    I was enjoying his points on how to think like an entrepreneur with regard to winning the public debate, and I see some advantage in acting that way. But when we throw out the Bible (at least as far as the public is concerned), then what exactly have we won. It seems to me that the whole homosexual marriage debate (while important) is distracting us from the real issue. Our countrymen have rejected Jesus. And until we prioritize making disciples, they will continue to move further away from God's paradigm for living, since winning this debate apart from Christ is ultimately fruitless.

    • Greg Forster

      Nobody's talking about "winning this debate apart from Christ." As I said in Part 1, everything we do has to be for Christ. The question is, what does Christ want us to do about law in a non-Christendom culture?

      1) Drop out from practicing good citizenship until the culture comes back to Christ? That's pretty hard to square with the scripture in both the Old Testament (Joseph, Daniel, "seek the shalom of the city," etc.) and New Testament ("render unto Ceaser the things that are Ceasar's," "honor the emperor," "I am a citizen by birth," etc.).

      2) Charge in and use the law to Christianize people? No, because "faith works by love," "the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh," etc.

      3) What we're left with is the witness of Romans 2 and many other scriptures that there is a moral understanding of public institutions like marriage, business, etc. that is knowable by all and adequate for the human community even though it falls short of the fullness of God's design and revelation. Promoting that is service to Christ.

      • Kenton

        One the hardest things for me in all of this is understanding "until the culture comes back to Christ" from a biblical frame of reference. When does Christ ever anticipate a culture that embraces him prior to the Judgment? That doesn't seem to square with:

        Matthew 10:22 - and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

        Matthew 24:9 - Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.

        Mark 13:13 - And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

        Luke 21:17 - You will be hated by all for my name's sake.

    • Jonathan Leeman

      I don't think Forster is calling us to throw out the Bible with regard to the public, but to act according to it by seeking to love our neighbor and seek the good of others, whether or not the other subscribe to Christianity. 1 Kings 3:28 is instructive, where we're told the people were amazed that God had given wisdom to Solomon to pursue justice, right after the episode with the two prostitutes. All of Forster's language about entrepreneurialism, to use the biblical category, is a plea for Christians to be more wise in the pursuing of justice. And recognizing that we're in the category of wisdom means there's latitude for trying different things to convince our neighbors of what we believe is genuinely good for them. Does any of this de-prioritize the work of the church and the need for conversions? No! It's simply to say, insofar as we are at work in the affairs of the state, may God give us wisdom for doing justice.

      • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

        I agree with you entirely and you put it well. However, what Forster (and many others) seem not to understand is that justice for homosexuality is that it be criminally punished. To put it another way, in a truly Christian society, homosexual acts are illegal. Besides the OT law against it, Paul, in Romans 1, speaks of homosexuals receiving "the due penalty for their error" (apparently from diseases). Thus showing that homosexuality, as a crime against nature, has a "due penalty". A just society is in harmony with the laws of creation.

        We're not going to get back to that by convincing them that our vision of society is better for them. It will require what Pitirim Sorokin called becoming (once again) an "ideational" culture, committed to high, spiritual values.

        • Greg Forster

          Three points:

          1) Just because homosexuality is wrong, it does not follow that the civil law must punish it. Pride is generally agreed to be the worst of all sins - indeed, the paradigmatic sin - yet no one wants laws against pride.

          2) In your comment below (assuming you're the same "John Carpenter") you affirm a natural law approach. However, your standard here is "in a Christian society." What is the relevance of that standard? Is it even intrinsically possible to have such a thing as a "Christian society" in the sense you seem to mean?

          3) Continuing that line, we certainly can't get people to a fully Christian standard by convincing them that it's "better for them" in the superficial sense, because the Christian standard is to die to self. However, if we are aiming at a natural standard ordered by God's continuing common grace after the fall, there's no reason we couldn't get that by offering it on grounds that it's a more humane, functional and deeply satisfying standard.

          • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

            Hi Greg,

            Thank you for the very thoughtful and polite comments.

            1) Yes, about pride but that can't really be punished criminally because it's not generally empirically verifiable, Mohammed Ali shouting "I am the greatest", notwithstanding!

            A better example would be Sabbath keeping. It too gets the death penalty in the OT along with homosexuality and other things. Are both abrogated or are both still relevant or is one still applicable and the other not?

            In Romans 1:18ff, Paul is making a natural revelation case against both idolatry and homosexuality, saying that people have enough information from the creation, without special revelation to know that idolatry and homosexuality are wrong. He notes the tendency of homosexuals toward diseases and says that they are getting, thereby, "the due penalty for their error." Hence, punishment, according to him, is due for practicing homosexuality and that penalty is based on natural revelation, not special.

            2) I'm a student of the New England Puritans who endeavored to create a Christian society. Of course, as Calvinists, they would admit that they could never do so perfectly, as they were sinners. But they tried. By the way, they copied the Levitical code for capital crimes, including the penalty for homosexual acts although (I don't believe) they ever got to enact it because they also required two eye-witnesses which were not available in the very few cases of homosexuality they dealt with.

            3) First, I'd say that "dying to self" (which I'm unsure whether that's precisely the best term) is the best life.
            Second, I agree with you that we should be able to make a good case for the best life being spelled out in natural law, that is in creation. You're right, it's more humane and functional. However, keep in mind that not everyone will agree. Career criminals are not going to agree that our vision of a humane society is good for them because in our vision they will still go to jail (if they continue as criminals). And here is where the challenge of homosexuality is so difficult: homosexuals are criminals against natural law. They should be punished in a just society. (If they are not, the result will be the suppression and hence the punishment of those who disagree with them, including the church.) So your work of persuading people has to make a good natural law case for the suppression of homosexuality.

            Some seem to think they can halt the progress of the legitimization of homosexuality right where it currently is: short of "marriage equality" but no longer criminalized. I believe the choice is between the suppression of homosexuality or the suppression of the truth (and the church).

            • Truth Unites… and Divides

              "I believe the choice is between the suppression of homosexuality or the suppression of the truth (and the church)."

              Unfortunately, in terms of just being realistic about socio-cultural conditions, this is the choice, this is the battle, and genuine Christians will have to decide whether to refuse to be silenced (eg., Dr. Ben Carson in his speech at the National Prayer breakfast), or to capitulate to silence, and to use sophistry and excuse-making rationalizations to provide fig-leaf cover for their moral cowardice.

              The most painful thing for many Christians is to overcome their lack of courage when called to confront cultural sins that are deemed socially acceptable.

            • Phil

              John: The problem with attempting to reinstitute the death penalty for everything that called for such under the Levitical law is that so *many* things called for the death penalty, and I've never hear such advocates call for that. Thus, advocates for reinstituting OT/Levitical death penality usually seem to cherry pick their own select list of high crimes that *they* deem worthy of some such reinstituted penal system -- usually homosexuality, sometimes adultery, etc. Personally, I'll only believe that you're really committed to your own doctrine when you're seriously willing to turn in your own children for disobedience so that he/she would be put to death for disobeying you according to Deut 21:18-21. You can't pick and choose which provisions to re-implment. Also, this whole line of discussion ignores the fact that America (or any other country for that matter) is NOT God's covenental creation of which we read in the OT. Things get even more complicated when you deal with many Christians (i.e., John MacArthur, among other notables) who make the point that Sabbath was fulfillled in Christ, thus death penalty for Sabbath-keeping becomes a tough one (oh, and since lives are at stake, do you mean Saturday or Sunday?)

              Let's stop with this foolishness of making every OT death penalty case a modern death penalty case. The only OT death penalty case that was not a part of the Israeli/Levitical system was Gen. 9:6, which is not restrcited to Israel.

    • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

      Hi Pete,
      I agree with you that the fundamental problem is that people have rejected Jesus. But I'm also frustrated with Christians who seem unable to make a case against homosexuality that doesn't rest on citing the Bible. I believe the Bible but ironically, in this case, the Bible tells us that we don't need the Bible to know that homosexuality is wrong and unnatural. The point of Romans 1:18ff is that homosexuality (and idolatry) are so obviously unnatural that people without special revelation should be able to see that and because they don't see it, that is evidence that they "suppress the truth". That being the case, Christians should be able to expound on what creation says about homosexuality and so make a "natural law" case against it that is persuasive to the person who does not believe in the Bible.

  • Peter

    I think we need to promote fatherhood, motherhood, being a husband, and a wife as beautiful.

  • Nathan

    Yes Peter,

    So right! The problem with our view is people see what we are against but do not know what we are for.

    We also need more Christians who actually think and act like Christians in the Media and in film.

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    We are called to be agents of common grace who are deeply committed to the welfare of the city and it's hard to imagine a more important part of such a commitment than promoting God's good gift of marriage. We need a renewed recognition that such callings and concerns have profound theological foundations on at least three levels of shared life between redeemed and unredeemed alike.

    1. Common origin: God’s ownership and image as a universal reality.
    2. Common Concerns: stewardship of the earth as our shared dwelling place
    3. Common Connections: Universally accessible truth about God, moral order and transcendence.

    Concerns for human flourishing and the good gift of marriage are built on truth about Imago Dei. But the Imago Dei is also part of a theological case for believing that, “God has lawfully ordered his creation in a way that all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulness.” (Richard Mouw). Romans 2:15-16 appear to validate this cognitive access — even among those who don’t have access to Scripture.



    This is the realm of common grace and presupposes an ability to have rational conversations about a common good. Obviously in some political circumstances believers must accept limitations because they are not permitted to influence laws and policies. But as long as we live in a system that allows us to sit at the table to seek shared understandings of the good that leads to laws and policies, why would we neglect such a privilege? 



    The means of dialogue and persuasion do not require quotation of a biblical chapter and verse in these settings but this does not mean that truth based input is not possible.

    There are in fact many different ways to have conversations and more thought and creativity must be used. More importantly, all that we have to say should be deeply rooted in the two great commands to love God and neighbor.

    How could those who honor the Creator and care about a common good for His creatures withdraw from the table where policies and laws are formed that profoundly effect the people?

    Steve Cornell


    • Greg Forster

      Well said!

  • Justin

    Greg - I really like what you have to say. My question now is how? and who? How do we rightly craft the new description of sexuality, and who will be the leaders and proponents of this description? What does it look like to get from where we are now to where we hope to be?

    • Greg Forster

      That could be a whole other article in itself! The way I see it we need three big things:

      1) We need donors to understand this need and prioritize it.
      2) We need people with narrative gifts to organize a new movement to claim their place in the fight for marriage.
      3) We need natural law philosophers and political advocates - I am both of those - to die to self and relinquish center stage.

      You're mostly asking about the second one. I am trained as a social scientist and moral philosopher; my gifts are not narrative. You need narrative people to answer those questions. You will get that when item #1 happens; donors have to mobilize them.

  • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

    I lost interest in this article halfway through the second division and then skipped to the end to read Will Smith's quote out of context. I honestly don't understand how entrepreneurial/techno marketing lingo in an article on biblical sexuality is even meeting the intended goals of the thesis, that of putting marriage talk into a language the worldly culture can understand.

    Second, (and I'm sure I'm missing things as I didn't finish the article, I may do so later) I don't see 'product marketing' as an appropriate way to express the need for sexuality reform in our culture at all. Maybe I'm just talking semantics. I'm all for speaking in a language people can understand, but we fool people if we think the truth we have to offer is an different than it has been, or any more appealing to a godless culture. The world doesn't need the church to find ways to make biblical marriage look more appealing to darkened minds and guiltless consciences, the world needs Christ and Spirit to cleanse and renew their minds in order to bring them in alignment to what Scripture proclaims.

  • Anar

    I think this issue is deeper than just defending marriage. It is about reclaiming the creativity that we have as the Creator's image-bearers. As a body we have diverse gifts, but being syncretistic we have elevated certain gifts over others, which has set the church back a bit. The administrators have said, "I have no need of the artists," and therefore also the artists have said, "Because I am not an administrator, I do not belong to the body." Since I think this is partly do to the American church being syncretistic we can learn from the creativity coming out of the global church.

    • Greg Forster

      Right on the nose. That's the key issue here. Natural law philosophers and political activists (like myself) have to die to self and let our brothers with more narrative gifts take center stage at this juncture of history. We have our part to play, and it's not in the center. "Act well your part; there all honor lies."

      • http://peterdanieljames.com Peter Daniel James

        This article really excites me. I have been developing my craft of writing persuasive narrative over the past few months on my blog. Though I have been writing to Christians and have assumed biblical literacy in my readers, I still have been doing so with as little Christianese as possible. I want to show the Good News of God's promises for our sexuality in the language that comes most natural to us as Americans.

        1) I would be honored if you could critique some of my writing and let me know where I need to grow.
        2) How does an entrepreneurial narrator such as myself find donors? My efforts have been extremely limited by the marriage of time and money.

    • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

      I am a writer, poet, and consider myself to be an artistic person. But I'm still not sure I see how artistic expression of marriage is the key issue to changing the public's view of monogamy, or how doing so would accomplish anything outside of a more moral society which still stands in need of Christ...?

      (I finished the whole article, by the way, and apologize for the brash tone of my previous post)

      • Anar

        The great commission and the cultural mandate are not in conflict with each other, they are interconnected and feed off each other.

        • Kenton

          The way in which we have chosen to engage the culture (with a "cultural mandate" not found in scripture) has been a detriment to the spread of the gospel here. I strongly believe that, because 1) our continued culture war has so defined evangelicalism that few will actually hear the gospel without first requiring some sort of "I'm not trying to force my beliefs on you or enforce Christian laws" disclaimer; and the only people able to even get a hearing are those who've omitted the biblical truth about God's righteousness. 2) once we've successfully made a convert we immediately arm them with the weapons of our cultural warfare, fully expecting them to join in with us in changing the society. These things detract from the gospel.

          Also, tell me, when the initial persecution of the church resulted in the spread of the gospel beyond Judea, was it preceded or succeeded by cultural transformation? When Paul established churches throughout the Greek world, was he preceded or succeeded by cultural transformation? I think not. Because the gospel is not dependent upon such. In fact, it often stands in contrast to it. It is hope against hope that the gospel spreads in the midst of persecution. It just baffles me how we ever came to view persecution and being at odds with society as abnormal.

      • Greg Forster

        Mark, I would point you to my response to Pete Gross above. Cultural activity in a non-Christian culture (is there really any such thing as a "Christian culture"?) is not morally meaningless. God ordains the institutions and activities of human culture and constantly upholds them by his creative power. And even God's special redemptive activity in the church flows out into the culture, if it changes the way we participate in the culture (as it should). If you make better stories about sexuality because you're Christian, you are bringing Christ's power into the culture.

  • Meredith

    Thanks for this. We Christians all too often forget how Paul was able to so eloquently use the culture and beliefs of his time to point to God, while still remaining firmly committed to Christ and willing to call sin what it is.

    Instead, we draw lines in the sand and fool ourselves into thinking that if people will just cross over to our side (become a believer), they will see as we see and think as we think on these issues. Not only is that not true (it often takes time for people to change long-held beliefs), but the culture isn't even listening to us anymore. How can you bring people to Christ if they won't even pause to consider what you're telling them? Changing our approach to one they will listen to isn't throwing away the Bible. It is adapting our methods, not our theology. It is doing what Paul did.

    • Greg Forster

      Amen!

    • http://peterdanieljames.com Peter Daniel James

      Indeed! In fact he did this with sexuality in 1 Cor. 6:13. A common cultural phrase "food is for the stomach, the stomach for food" was used by many to say that the body is for sex. But Paul turns it around and says the body is for the Lord.

      I find it very interesting that when Paul fights promiscuity he completely skips marriage and goes straight to our Spiritual marriage to Christ. We need to start doing that within the Church. As for speaking with unbelievers, we just need to show that the hunger for sex has to be about more than sex. For if we are not satisfied by what we are eating then we are wrong about what we are hungry for. We are hungry for holistic oneness with another like us. "This at last is bone of bone..." This is ultimately fulfilled in Christ and the Church but we can also point to true death-do-us-part marriage.

  • Kenton

    not to pontificate, but it seems to me, based on the biblical approach to "social ills" of that day, that social/cultural transformation ("redemption") wasn't a huge priority to the early (first century) church. And that's something we have to wrestle with as we engage in campaigns against child-trafficking, sex-slavery, and even same-sex "marriage" and divorce. My primary objection to the above line of reasoning is simply that the New Testament doesn't seem to support our current views of society and the Christian's role in shaping or preserving it. Rather, much of how we view society, government, and the Christian's obligation to each comes from Augustine and successive Christians who inherited a Christian faith tied to the Roman state (which prompted for the first time questions of how a Christian society and Christian state enacts justice and upholds the honor of Christ). But from the beginning of the faith it wasn't the case. Evangelism was disassociated with cultural transformation (or else such would be present within the New Testament).

    So I think we should keep this in mind when lamenting or strategizing over how to "win the culture". This was never part of the Great Commission.

    • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

      That's a very fascinating position Kenton. I think the "Redeem the Culture" movement has gained popularity in large part due to Tim Keller. David Naugle of colsoncenter.org says there are 5 Main views to have regarding culture:

      "(1) against culture, or (2) of culture, or (3) above culture, or (4) in tension with culture, or (5) transformers of culture."

      Which would you most identify with?

      • Kenton

        Well, I think what each of those positions entails needs to be explained first, but if I were to make an educated guess, I'd say "in tension with". I'm not sure what "above culture" means. I will offer a disclaimer: I am a college student, so 1) not all that experienced in intellectual engagement with the cultural elite, and 2) my context is always in tension with the prevailing cultural/societal shifts.

        • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

          Kenton, you may be a college student, but you are well versed in Scripture, able to define and defend your position properly, and maintain a humble position while doing so. I agree with most of what you have to say in this thread, although I'm still learning about this issue myself and seeking to understand how Christians ought to influence and engage the world, what the definition of God's Kingdom is precisely, and figuring out what evangelical's have termed the "already not-yet" tension.

          • Kenton

            One of the things that seems to readily jump off the pages of the Gospels is that everywhere "The kingdom of God is like" is stated by Jesus, it's always connected to the preaching and reception of the word (the gospel) or the acquisition of the gospel in hope of heavenly treasure. I have never seen a clear connection between the "kingdom of God" and social transformation (except by those who tend to view Luke's Gospel uniquely in terms of social justice -- as though what he includes is different than the others -- rather than in terms of the conduct of citizens awaiting their king.)

    • Anar

      How is "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" not about winning the culture, considering Jesus commands about the Kingdom of God?

      • Kenton

        because Jesus' command is in the context of disciple-making; it's a command for instructing believers, not unbelievers. Furthermore, the kingdom of God about which Jesus speaks is not something brought into existence by Christian engagement with the culture, but by God himself when the Lord Jesus descends to overthrow every rule and authority, and to usher in new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, for all who look for his appearing. So the Great Commission is about calling people into the kingdom of God, not establishing it on earth ourselves. That's why the kingdom is something that is inherited, and reserved in heaven, not something that is spread on earth.

        • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

          You're largely right but the Kingdom of God is now here, not just waiting for the future (Luke 17:21). Yes, it only extends by God's sovereign action but it is extending even now. And God may grant that it be extended through how we engage the world.

          • Kenton

            When Jesus says that the kingdom of God is in the midst of you, he doesn't explain that as "extending the kingdom" or "the kingdom is here now". In fact, in context Jesus entirely derails the assumption that the kingdom of God is something that's observable from the outside. Rather, when Jesus says to the Pharisees, "the kingdom of God is in your midst", he's saying that 1) he is in their midst, and as they are blind to him, they are blind to the kingdom; 2) the kingdom of God is here in Christian community, in it's gathering and instruction and mutual encouragement in godliness and love and faith through the Spirit. Nothing even remotely about the kingdom, the eschatological kingdom that comes with the "coming of the Son of Man" that Jesus talks about immediately afterward, extends now. That's not the language that Jesus or any of the apostles use with regard to the kingdom of God. It's not a social movement or transformed (or Christianized) culture. It's literally the kingdom of God, the domain of the King, which He will establish on earth, which begins among those who actually are God's people through actual faith in Jesus.

            • http://www.covenantcaswell.org John Carpenter

              Hi Kenton,

              I'd suggest you read George Ladd ("The Gospel of the Kingdom") for starters.
              I agreed with you right up until the "Nothing remotely. . ."
              First, you seem to be stating that there are two different kinds of "kingdom" -- one now in the church and the other the eschatological one. There's no Biblical basis to make such a differentiation.
              Second, the Lord Jesus' most extensive teaching about the spread of the Kingdom of God is in the Kingdom parables (in Matthew 13 and Mark 4). There He shows that the Kingdom of God is indeed growing in this world, like yeast in a lump of dough; like a seed in a field. The Kingdom is not all eschalotigical. It is, in part, "realized". It is now and not yet. Again, see Ladd.
              I'm sensing some dispensationalism.

            • Kenton

              John,

              I can't respond directly to your quote so I'll respond here. I don't think that there are two types of kingdoms - one in the church and one in the new heavens and new earth. I believe that they are one kingdom, much as the eternal life we enjoy now and the eternal life we will enjoy then are one life (or much as our communion with God is the same). The way I'd explain it is this: life hidden and life revealed (following Colossians 3). Having said this, I will say that I absolutely do not believe that there is a kingdom of God under which non-believers live, or in which non-believers have a part. So that rules out social justice or "redeemed culture" as extensions of the kingdom of God. If the kingdom extends, it extends to those who enter into it through belief in the gospel. So the kingdom grows as the word grows (that is, through acceptance of the gospel) not through social transformation. The kingdom of God exists only in Christ. So it has not been realized in the world yet. Though I was raised in a dispensationalism believing church (and now attend a Southern Baptist Church holding to covenant theology),, I'm not sure how the above counts as dispensationalism.

        • Anar

          Yes, the kingdom is established by Jesus, and this is by his means. As Rev 21:26 indicates one of the means is by bringing in the cultures of the world, that which man has had dominion over.

          • Kenton

            yes. I certainly agree there. But are those nations unredeemed (as in, are they composed of and led by non-Christians)? If so, then there is a basis for "redeeming the culture", though again, the extent of our expectations should be limited by what Jesus says about the world, and what he and the apostles have to say about how Christians are to live in the world (which strikingly doesn't include changing the culture, but engaging with it peacefully as non-conformists, preaching the gospel instead).

            • Anar

              Engaging peacefully as non-conformist, preaching the gospel instead is one of the best ways to change the culture.

            • Kenton

              Anar: But Jesus never says that preaching the gospel will change the culture. That's not an expectation that we should have. Rather, we can expect that everyone will hate us because of him, and the gospel will be preached in all the world (so literally, we will be hated in every place). The fact that we haven't been hated much here says a lot about what we've been doing for the past 200 years.

    • Greg Forster

      Kenton,

      First of all, don't knock pontificating! Some of us make a living at it. :)

      If you don't think the New Testament calls us to bear witness for justice in the public square and contribute to the common good of our society, you're not reading the same New Testament I am. What was John the Baptist doing when he called out Herod for marrying his brother's wife? What did Christ mean by "render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's"? What did Paul mean when he appealed to his Roman citizenship ("I am a citizen by birth")?

      In your response to Anar you say that the Great Commission's "teach them to observe all that I commanded you" is about disciple-making among believers. You're right. But Anar is also right that it implies a need for cultural impact. We are not disciples if our everyday lives are not transformed for Christ. And what does everyday life consist of? Participation in the cultural activities of our civilization! Where do we find most of our opportunities to love our neighbors "in deed and not in talk"? In our civilization! Where do we do most of the "good works" that we were saved unto? Etc. Etc.

      "Being a disciple" is much more than being a good citizen of your civilization, but it is not less. If you don't want to be a good citizen of your civilization, you're not answering the call to discipleship.

      • Kenton

        1) John the Baptist was a prophet, speaking to one who professed to believe in the God of Israel and was ruler over Judea, who'd also built the Temple. His actions must be taken in context of his time and audience and role.

        2) Jesus was specifically talking about what Caesar owned, ie. money and coinage. That's what belongs to Caesar.

        3) Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship in order to be treated as a Roman and to gain an audience with them.

        Being a good disciple and citizen does not entail attempts to shape or determine the laws of the civilization. Where is that in the New Testament? Where do Paul or Jesus or James or Peter instruct this? Not a single place. Cultural engagement is not the same as cultural "manipulation" (I use this term in a morally-neutral way). We are called to make peace and to live peaceably with all, and not to avoid engaging with those who do not believe. But the New Testament gives absolutely no expectation that we might make society better by exerting our influence over it (whether through unilateral lawmaking or establishing a moral consensus through dialogue). That is no where commanded, though you might assume it everywhere. To engage the culture biblically is not the same as trying to convince the government to keep prayer in schools or to uphold bans on same-sex marriage. While those things may have their place, they are neither central to our mission nor obligatory for Christians. To share the gospel with our neighbors is certainly commanded and expected. But to extrapolate from that an obligation to shape the culture is to stretch Christ's mandate (again, where is this in Scripture, aside from prophets rebuking theocratic Israel -- the people of God? Isn't this only a case of what Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:12?)

        • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

          Well said Ken. I feel a little odd because I have been on both sides of this debate in my Christian journey, having been taught all through college the necessity of a "redeem the culture" view. Since then I have come to question the wisdom and accuracy of this idea, or at least the importance it plays in the activity of the Church.

          One way I am bothered by evangelicals seeking to "redeem the culture" is through political activism, something the zealots and disciples of Christ's time sought and which was in opposition to God's revealed plan. I also have doubts that the early church, persecuted under Herod, Nero, Aurelius, and others, were overly concerned with changing the political climate. I may be wrong, but it seems these things are appeals to alter a secular/godless society from without, when in fact there can be no redemption of culture until Christ rules the hearts and lives of individuals from within.

          • Kenton

            I simply don't see the biblical-historical basis. We're trying to redeem the world, the same world that Christ says hates us and hated him (John 15:18-27) and that is an enemy of God (James 4:4)? The same world that is directed by Satan (Ephesians 2:2) and can neither see nor receive the Spirit of truth (John 14:17)? The same world that will be judged with the vengeance and wrath of God? We think we can (and are called to) redeem it?

            I simply don't see where the New Testament writers instructed Christians to pursue making the world stop acting like the world. Christ was ever only said to be a sign that is opposed by the world (Luke 2:34), and his people something that is in every place spoken against (Acts 28:22). When did we begin to expect anything else? Evangelicals in America lamenting over their lost favor with the society, Copts in Egypt protesting over their "right" to dignity, 11th century European Christians marching to kill over Jerusalem. When did we abandon patience amidst persecution from and tension with the world and lose sight of the kingdom which God has prepared for us? When did we trade that for influence over and favor with the world? When did we expect the world to give us a fair hearing?

  • Kenton

    And to clarify, yes, part of being a citizen of a democracy (and sharing the gospel) involves speaking up against detrimental practices or decisions. But if the society rejects it, then it rejects it. We aren't called to struggle for cultural acceptance and implication of Christian views on law and society. That's not what Jesus commands is to do. He commands us to preach the gospel and to wipe the dust off our feet if we're rejected. How much less are we to strive for cultural acceptance?

    • Greg Forster

      What you say here negates what you say above, where you write that being a good citizen doesn't mean attempting to influence the laws. It does (and not just in a democracy!). Your suggestion that at some point the process just arbitrarily stops ("if the society rejects it, it rejects it") baffles me. That's lousy citizenship.

      • Kenton

        All that I was saying was that while part of being a good citizen in a democracy (a system of government that has the institutions of popular governance) includes speaking up against detrimental practices or decisions, that is not the same as seeking to influence and change culture and society and government. because that isn't our struggle. We can say, "What you are doing is wrong." But aside from that, there's no New Testament basis for any other course of action (not one New Testament figure, not even John the Baptist, goes beyond that). Nor is that something that Jesus indicates as central to the Christian mission (where does he indicate this?).

        But my position isn't based on what good citizenship looks like. It's based on what the practice of the New Testament was, in societies that were far more anti-Christian than our own. And I have not found any New Testament basis for pursuing cultural or societal change through political, legal, rhetorical, or even artistic means. Because the pursuit of cultural or societal change seems foreign to the New Testament's description of our relationship with the world and our engagement with it.

        That's where I stand, and perhaps I wasn't as clear. And if political change is the pursuit, then we should divorce it from evangelism, because they aren't the same. In such a case, we pursue political change as citizens of America, NOT as citizens of heaven. But we must be willing to wipe the dust off our feet when our pursuits aren't embraced, and not entertain hopes that society will eventually "come around" (what does Jesus prophesy about these days?). Such hopes aren't grounded in anything God has said, but empty optimism, and a misplaced faith, in America as still a "Christophile" [excuse the invented word] nation. That's my analysis of what it is.

        And I'm probably wrong about this, but it seems to me that a lot of the push to preserve conservative "christophile" culture has less to do with realizing the well-being of non-Christians and much more to do with preserving an ideal cultural environment for our own children. And this seems evident to me in the oft-mentioned refrain that such liberal expansions or revisions to societal norms will have the effect of derailing or undermining things such as traditional marriage and the family.

        And it's not that liberal social policy won't have this effect; rather, it's that the focus is on what it'll do to "us", more than what it'll do to "them" (as though the society in which we live hasn't already undermined the family and work ethic and marriage and religion and everything else). And this focus on trying to protect an ideal environment for our children (that will inoculate them from the realities of a fallen world) raises more questions about what exactly it is that we are trying to achieve through politics, and where our hope is placed.

  • Neil

    “The first is a powerful desire to improve the world in some way.”

    1. Make a stand for the permanency of marriage as a covenant and not as a contract. This covenant will show the world that we can be committed for a righteous cause.

    “The second is opportunity recognition—when faced with obstacles, entrepreneurs try to think of new and different ways of doing things that open up new opportunities for success.”

    2. Since this covenant marriage is between a man and a woman, it will show the world that all human kind is dependent of survival because the sexual organs of a man and woman in unison produce life. It also provides all future humankind with an example for future generations to follow. This covenant is a one-flesh union with two distinct roles (husband and wife) working to together through a bond of grace.

    “And the third is just plain, old-fashioned guts—but you can call it "risk tolerance" and "perseverance" if you prefer.”

    3. We (the church)must never ever let anyone entering this covenant break the covenant. Since the covenant is necessary for the very existence of humankind, we need to set the example to the world that once you enter this covenant only death will break this covenant…no questions asked.

    This sounds simple. Unfortunately, the church who promotes a relationship of marriage as a representation of Christ and the church does very little to make this covenant a reality. What boggles my mind is the very people pushing for same-sex marriage will one day seek for a divorce. What is the difference of a same-sex marriage and a Christian marriage that both end in divorce? Perhaps we could ask this rhetorical question…What is the point of how homosexuality defines marriage if the church fails to demonstrate marriage?

    The point I am trying to make is that the church needs represent marriage to the world. That representation must coincide with Christ’s relationship to the church.
    Unfortunately, we have made marriage anything but a covenant. Divorce is so common today that many couples do not even bother to marry. The very definition of divorce is a hard heart. Often the acceptance of grace in a “remarriage” supersedes the lack of grace within the covenant. The church needs to seek a permanency of marriage and then demonstrate that as if our very lives are at stake.

    • Greg Forster

      Well said! And of course nothing I say here takes anything away from the church's responsibility to bring a specifically theological witness. I'm just talking about how we engage the question of what American law and culture should value and why.

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  • Bryan

    Greg, Thanks for this article and the ensuing discussion. My question: In your previous article you mention the "backlash" against natural law (with a link to Hart's discussion). Although I agree that a return to explicitly Christian arguments fail and am supportive of the natural-law approach you outline here, Hart's piece still nags at me, and I'm wondering if you can more clearly address his claims that "we cannot talk intelligibly about natural law if we have not all first agreed upon what nature is and accepted in advance that there really is a necessary bond between what is and what should be." And that "belief in natural law is inseparable from the idea of nature as a realm shaped by final causes, oriented in their totality toward a single transcendent moral Good," and that "There is no logically coherent way to translate that form of cosmic moral vision into the language of modern “practical reason” or of public policy debate in a secular society." Is that disconnect really something that people with "narrative gifts" can overcome? Put another way, I really don't want to be a pessimist, but I'm finding it really hard not to be!

    • Kenton

      Also, how would we appeal to natural law, or, as you say, "that there really is a necessary bond between what is and what should be", without avoiding the very real fact that what is has been subjected to corruption. Case in point, homosexuality. While it certainly defies the "natural use" of the man towards the woman and the woman towards the man (with regard to reproduction and marriage and the family) -- and is therefore against nature -- there's no disputing that it "is", it exists, it is a present reality. Because what seems to me to be the blind spot when appealing to "natural law" is that the advocates of evolution and homosexuality already appeal to a natural law of their own, grounded in materialism and shunning the supernatural, but "natural law" nonetheless. And to a great many people, their natural law argument is superior to our own.

    • Greg Forster

      Bryan, I'd agree with all those quotes except the last one. I think it reflects too narrow a view of what kinds of arguments get accepted in today's public discourse. When arguments appealing to an intrinsic purposiveness in nature align with people's imagination and desire, they are generally accepted. Think, for example, of the success of environmentalism. As William F. Buckley once said, these days a young couple out on a boat in the middle of the lake may well smoke pot while fornicating, but they would sooner die by torture than throw their joints into the water when they're done with them.

      The problem is, we need to restore people's imaginative and emotive lives to something that is capable of hearing our arguments about marriage. I don't think a new narrative of sexuality will "translate a cosmic moral vision into the language of modern practical reason"; natural law philosophy already does that, in spite of Hart's claims to the contrary. What the new narrative will do is change the *people* we talk to into the kind of people capable of accepting such a translation when natural law philosophy provides it.

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  • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Successful entrepreneurs aren't defined by a desire to improve the world. Some are, but it's an incidental characteristic. By definition, an entrepreneur seeks to profit from an idea or invention. Hugh Hefner is one of history's most successful entrepreneurs.

    2. Our culture is defined by the freedom to pursue happiness. So all of the statistics in the world won't sway people. Most would rather make a mistake knowing it was their choice than have someone step in and prevent them from making their choice. That's what an entrepreneur would say, too: let me fail, so at least I can say I tried.

    Prohibition is a great example. You can come up with all kinds of nightmare statistics about alcohol consumption, but ultimately our society prefers to have the right to drink (and drink too much) to one where drinking is prohibited due to its consequences.

    3. It seems to me as though you're playing into the central argument against evangelicals: that ultimately political victories matter more than anything else. Divorcing political arguments from their religious foundation makes the your religion seem like a ruse used to gain political leverage.

    4. To me the biggest problem with your argument is that it assumes that the public at large agrees that Christian marriage is self-evidently the most attractive option. You have to remember that people can see behind the curtain. When they see their friends or neighbors' marriages, odds are that there's a wide mix of impressions that are defined less by the couples' beliefs and more about whether they seem happy together. One bad Christian marriage is enough to pop the balloon, and the fact that so many prominent Christian marriages have collapsed in dramatic fashion doesn't help. In other words, before you make a secular case against gay marriage, you need to make a secular case in favor of Christian marriage, and most people aren't convinced that Christian couples are happier.

    • Kenton

      I think this is the fundamental reason why natural law and other philosophical arguments just will not work. Sure, you might be able to convince intellectual elites who think in the same terms of the common good and the good of Society above the good of the Self, but our democratic society is premised on individual choice, except in cases of clear physical or emotional harm to others. And let's face it, most people do not see homosexuality or homosexual marriage resulting in clear physical or emotional harm to others. And frankly, the physical and emotional harm that would come from homosexual marriage is rather minimal ("societal harm" is a non-category when marriage and relationships have already become matters of privacy and individual benefit except in cases of abuse). This, and not any other reason, is why evangelicals are losing the culture "war" for marriage, both among non-Christians AND Christians; because fewer and fewer people are able to relate to the arguments that evangelicals make against it (the fact that homosexual relationships are accepted already means that the "culture war" has been "lost"). This is a clear case of evangelicals being out of touch with how Americans think about choices and decisions and their effects on society, and what counts as harm, and everything else. If we have any hope of convincing people of the benefit of Christian monogamous marriage [is this even a reasonable goal?], we are going to have to make arguments that actually resonate with people. So, no talk of abstract Society and the Common Good. That means absolutely nothing to the average hearer.

    • Greg Forster

      "To me the biggest problem with your argument is that it assumes that the public at large agrees that Christian marriage is self-evidently the most attractive option."

      Wow. I don't even know how to respond. Are you sure you read the right article?

      • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

        In your article you state that: "We know the truth about sexuality and can therefore describe it accurately. We can tell stories that make people say, "Yes, that's the truth about life.""

        I'm not sure where one finds these nonchristians who find truth in Christian descriptions of life and sexuality. You seem to believe that brilliantly crafted propaganda will be irresistible to the unconverted, and just as importantly, the unconverted will not be aware of articles like this one that spell out the goals and strategies that have been put in play to change their minds.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Kenton, you've written a lot of comments against Christians standing firm in the faith on Biblical Marriage.

    With genuine candor, you seem like a Pharisee with all your condemnation against faithful Christians.

    The least stipulation that one can afford you is that the stand made by Christians for Biblical Marriage is a matter of Christian liberty. As such, why are you Pharasaically condemning of Christians who are merely exercising their Christian liberty to affirm God's design for one-man, one-woman marriage?

    • Kenton

      I'm not condemning. That's certainly not my intent. I'm just questioning whether what we've focused on for the past two or three decades has actually been "standing firm in the faith." Because it's one thing to say, "As a Christian, I'm not going to recognize nor give approval to what you affirm and exalt"; it's quite another thing to say, "I'm going to make it the aim of my striving to maintain a Christian-friendly character in society", or "My primary aim is to shape and define the secular culture". Christian liberty only falls within the first statement, not the latter two. It's like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego saying, "King, we're not going to bow to your idol", and them saying, "The aim of our mission is to convince (or barring that, compel) you to destroy your idol." One has biblical precedent. The other does not.

      In the very least, I am not condemning, nor am I taking on the role of a Pharisee (and let's not throw that label around whenever someone questions certain practices).

      • Tuad

        Lets question your motive in questioning the efforts of faithful Christians in their affirmation of biblical marriage. Why are you questioning the efforts of faithful Christians who simply love God and His Word?

        • Kenton

          I think I've explained my motives quite clearly and more than once. I'm not making this discussion about me and my motives. This is about the word of God. As I made rather clear, I'm questioning the efforts because I don't see the biblical basis. This matters of course with regard to how we regard society and how we respond to society's response to us, but it matters even more so when we start talking about strategizing and building coalitions against what the world is expected to do, and making alliances with the world to do what has been said to be part of the Christian's mandate. That's when it becomes a BIG issue. I'm trying to understand the vision that we have that has led to such a different view of the world than is described in the Bible.

          And to be absolutely clear, let's go through it again. One way to affirm biblical marriage is simply to say, "I will not affirm nor endorse nor approve of homosexual relationships nor same-sex 'marriage', because my God does not approve of them and they run counter to His purposes for humanity (or any other biblical reason for not approving it)". That's the biblical standard for opposing the world and "standing firm in the faith". The other way, the way that you seem to prefer, is to say, "You will not practice that in my country, because God does not approve of it and it is detrimental to marriage culture -- and my family -- and will undermine society." That makes a whole lot of assumptions about what the world is and what the world does and what the world's fate is and what Christians are to do in the world, many of which do not seem to be biblical. My motive? To be biblical and scriptural in all things, but especially in how we interact with and engage the world. I have no authority over you, nor anyone else in this discussion. I am not pontificating, nor attempting to prescribe doctrine, nor questioning the motives of your heart, nor your salvation. I am questioning whether these aims reveal a misplaced hope. But I am doing no more than that.

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            Kenton: "As I made rather clear, I'm questioning the efforts because I don't see the biblical basis."

            The biblical basis is that God and His Word declares marriage to be one-man and one-woman.

            • Kenton

              I'd understand if you said that the biblical basis is Jesus calling out the Pharisees, or the prophets' roles in Israel (I'd disagree but regardless). But saying that God declares what is right and what is sin is not a sufficient basis. Why do I say this? Because Paul specifically says:

              9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5)

              This is my basis for saying that we have no business trying to dictate and shape the culture of the world. Because not only does Jesus not mention it as part of our mission, but Paul specifically forbids it. Notice that by saying that he has nothing to do with judging outsiders (and their sins), he's not being passive about sexual immorality, greed, swindling, or idolatry. He in the strongest terms states that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. He is however, saying that such things should not be present in the church. And this is the same logic behind why what Jesus and John the Baptist and other prophets say with regard to Israel is not necessarily applicable in the Gentile world.

    • Kenton

      And just as follow-up, the identification of "faithful Christians" requires clarification: faithful to what? and faithfulness in doing what? These are the questions that I am asking. And it is my premise that the answers to these questions must be located in Scripture, in the commands of Jesus and his apostles. Faithfulness is only meaningful if it is faithfulness to the word of God, to Jesus' instruction, to the gospel. Faithfulness to Christian culture or conservative society won't do. Otherwise, we are found to be erecting our own kingdom, our own golden calf (no matter how Christianized), when we are supposed to be waiting for (and proclaiming) the kingdom that comes with the Messiah from the presence of God. This is all I'm saying.

      • Tuad

        Faithfulness to God and His Holy Word. Which says that marriage is between one man and one woman. Why are you impugning folks who uphold and affirm that?

        • Kenton

          I'm not impugning people who affirm and uphold godly marriage. But two things:

          1) upholding and affirming godly marriage for who? For unbelievers? Since when do we judge them, or attempt to make them live as we do? The LORD has subjected the world to folly and given them over to these things (Romans 1). And do we have commandment from the Lord to rescue them out of it?

          2) Whenever we elevate individual practices or aspects of godly living above the gospel, we are undermining the gospel, which is our primary message to, and therefore our primary point of contact with, the world. All of Christian living is subsumed up under the gospel, and all our defense of Christian living is to be done with the gospel. As Peter says, in our defense *of Christian living*, we give reason for the HOPE THAT WE HAVE. That is, we give the gospel (which incidentally is about our belonging to a society that is provided for us, not one that we create). When we elevate these things, and elevate them by trying to persuade the world to adopt them, we undermine the gospel in two aspects:

          a) we relocate our hope from the kingdom that God has prepared for us to a kingdom/society that we build through all of these apologetic and human means.

          b) we tell the world, despite our intentions, that it can escape the wrath of God by mimicking Christian practice.

    • http://januaryraincomic.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

      "Kenton, you've written a lot of comments against Christians standing firm in the faith on Biblical Marriage.

      With genuine candor, you seem like a Pharisee with all your condemnation against faithful Christians."

      Truth Unites, I'm honestly baffled about this comment. Kenton has done nothing Pharisaical whatsoever, nor has he once condemned Christians for their position on marriage. He has merely taken an opposing view to the one proposed by the author and sought to back it up with Scripture. "Pharisee" is such a common phrase of slander among Christians I think it has lost all meaning. Let's not forget that the Pharisees were men who actively opposed the work of Christ and were blind guides, vipers, and white-washed tombs, who created such an ungodly system of regulations that they turned their converts into twofold sons of hell! Does that description really describe anyone in this conversation? I don't see that. Even while I disagree with a number of views presented, I respect the individuals voicing them, and would ask that you do the same.

      • Tuad

        Christians need not be passive and silent about God's design for marriage. Efforts to mischaracterize faithful Christians and their fidelity to Scripture is passive-aggressive hostility.

        • Kenton

          There are ways to be active and vocal that don't include attempts to change and shape societies. But that's not the focus. This isn't an "anti-influence-cultures" position. It's a "lets-be-true-to-our-calling" position. And the question is on the table: what is the scriptural, biblical basis? Scripture is at the heart of this discussion. At least I hope it is. There's been much talk about being on the losing side of the marriage debate/issue. This is precisely the starting point of our problem. Since when was this a contest between two different visions for society? I don't recall that being part of the package deal of evangelism that Christ and the apostles talk about. There's no talk in the New Testament of winning or losing anything, which is WHY we raise the questions we do. This is why I ask, what is it that we are being faithful to: Scripture? or an ideal Bible-based society? These are valid questions, because what the world does shouldn't influence the quality or character of Christian marriages or families. So what is it that we are trying to uphold and preserve? Valid questions that should be backed by Scripture. Alas, they haven't been answered, and Scripture has not been provided. But again, you don't answer to me. This is supposed to be a discussion by equal parties.

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            Kenton: "This is why I ask, what is it that we are being faithful to: Scripture? or an ideal Bible-based society? These are valid questions...."

            Asked and answered: Scripture.

            If faithfulness to Scripture upholds a socio-cultural good, why should that be a surprise to anyone who calls himself/herself a faithful Christian?

            Furthermore, your question borders on being a false antithesis.

            You want to ask questions. Then as "equal parties" let's ask questions about your questions.

            There are some people who want Christians to be silent and passive about upholding God's Word about marriage being one-man and one-woman. Are you one of those people, Kenton?

            • Kenton

              If we are being faithful to Scripture, let's discussion and rely upon Scripture for our arguments.

              What Scripture promotes always turns out to be a socio-cultural good. Whether that is embraced by the world as a socio-cultural good is incidental to upholding Scripture. It's not our job to make the world embrace Scripture (or the good that Scripture commands).

              Question my questions. Just don't attack my motives if I've made them clear.

              Again, simply preaching the gospel and refusing to affirm what the world approves is not passivity or silence. Upholding marriage is not the same as enforcing marriage. Upholding Scripture is not the same as forcing its acceptance by society. Therefore being a faithful Christian is not the same as trying to regulate or dictate society.

  • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/ Michael Snow

    Someone always has a new method or program to sell. Until pastors get off their duffs and equip their congregations about the very basics of love and forgiveness that have been so distorted by the Zeitgeist, no new program is going to 'save' Christian marriages.

    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/love-prayer-and-forgiveness-now-also-in-ebook-format/

  • Hodge

    Kenton,

    I agree with you when you are arguing against the idea that the job of Christians is not to change culture to look more Christian while it rejects Christ.

    However, I think you're confused on what Christ commands believers. They are to do good works in the world so that men glorify our Father who is in heaven. What is a good work? How you answer that question will determine what you think Christians should be doing in society.

    Was ending an abusive and racist slavery a good work? Is working to end, through laws or otherwise, the kidnapping and enslavement of young boys and girls a good work? Is outlawing pedophilia a good work?

    Your answer above that society outlaws what is clearly emotionally or physically harmful is convenient for your argument, but if what is clear to you to be emotionally and physically harmful is not clear to society, what should you do as a Christian? Say, "Oh well, I gave it a shot, but no biggie"?

    I think you underestimate the role of Christians in the world because you underestimate the role of the Holy Spirit in the world who restrains evil. He may not transform all evil into good, but He restrains it through law, argument, sympathy, etc. And we are His temples in the world, His vehicles through which much of the good that He does is accomplished.

    You've ignored the examples of Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon and Persia, Esther in Persia, Elisha with Naaman, etc. We do good to all men, not just believers.

    Now, you're right to say that our primary good needs to be the making of disciples, but such is not done without one knowing the holiness of God and a call to repentance (this was our argument on the other thread). When the secondary good gets in the way of the primary good, we should take a look at what we're doing. But I don't see that happening here. Law needs to restrain evil men, even if they are in the majority, when they want to storm your house and kill your family, and we need to do all that we can to make sure that law is in place because that is what doing "good works" is, and that is what the Holy Spirit is doing through us with unbelievers, even when they do not believe. In essence, you're assuming that the Holy Spirit is only with His children to affect one group in the world (i.e., present or future believers) rather than everyone on the planet.

  • Hodge

    That should read: "I agree with you when you are arguing against the idea that the job of Christians is to change culture to look more Christian while it rejects Christ."

    That's because such is only a matter of appearance but offers no effective inward or outward restraint against evil.

    • Kenton

      I'll bullet-point this.

      1) In the immediate context, good works means most immediately things such as healing the sick and casting out demons, things that could only have one explanation: God is at work. This is evident in the examples in Acts which result in such clear praise to God. But I'm certain we can apply it to social justice. I'm not certain that Jesus had politics in mind, regardless of its good.

      2)I'm not saying that opposing slavery, sex slavery, or pedophilia are not good pursuits. I'm not even saying that opposing homosexuality is not a good pursuit. But I think it must be acknowledged that homosexuality is of a different order than the former three. And that's because all of the former three involve the actions of one against another, while homosexuality is consensual (no matter how unbiblical and against God's law). So the ways in which we oppose things does depend on the nature of those things. All that said, they are, ultimately, second to the proclamation of the gospel, and therefore secondary to the express purpose to which the church has been called.

      3)When I stated that society only outlaws what it considers emotionally or physically harmful [to another I should have clarified], I was trying to explain the nature of our own society's views, and how they have a different set of assumptions when compared with evangelical arguments about the common good. My point was that homosexuality is not considered by society at large to be the same as murder, rape, theft, or even pollution, and therefore, whatever good may come from keeping marriage restricted to male-female unions is secondary to individual choice and individual happiness (not necessarily my own view). That's society's undergirding logic. To a certain extent I do agree, if only in that the effect of homosexuality is not as obvious or immediately disastrous as murder or even divorce. Of course, taken in context with the wider, bigger picture of society shunning Christianity, same-sex marriage will have the effect of widening the gap between conservative and liberal culture, and will probably create a scenario not unlike that of the first century (a more conservative society - in that case Israel - inoculating itself against liberal society - in that case Hellenist Jews and the wider Greek world). It'll also make the gospel more foreign to American ears [which actually might be a good thing]. But it also means that we'll have to resort to the simple proclamation of the gospel, keeping first things first and the most important things important.

      By this I mean the subsuming of Christian beliefs on marriage and everything else within the context of submission to Christ and within the context of discipleship and sanctification within the church. It'll change how we interact with society. And this gets to my main point about the biblical basis for Christian interaction with society. Because after all this discussion, I still haven't seen anyone provide a clear New Testament picture of Christian engagement with society of the type that you support (I'll get to the examples you provided, shortly). And let me lay out the difference that I see. Christian apologetics in the first and second centuries, though secondary to evangelism, was always principally, "This is why WE live as we do", and not, "This is why YOU should live as we do." That's the difference, and there was no expectation or even attempt to get the world to live as we do.

      4)As with everything, what we presume about the Holy Spirit's role in the world also has to be determined by Scripture. Laws are established by men, to keep order and to restrain evil. God in His sovereignty has placed it in the hearts of men to do so, which is why Paul can say that the ruler is God's instrument for the good of those who do good, and His avenger for those who do wrong. But it's another step to say that this is a major work of the Spirit (social justice not withstanding) through us. The Spirit's primary work is in the church, and again, the New Testament provides no support for saying that a significant work of Christians is to establish laws. I'm not saying that this means that we can't, but I'm saying it's not something guaranteed to us, and it's not a part of our mandate from Christ.

      5) The examples of Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Elisha are all important (even though they're Old Testament examples) because of what they do and do not do. If I were arguing against all engagement or godly stewardship in the world, then I'd be arguing for withdrawing from the world. The above examples are good for showing us how to glorify God in our work and responsibilities. Daniel, Joseph, and Esther were all in positions of influence to guide the rulers of pagan empires in matters of justice and economy. Joseph gave Pharaoh sound economic advice, Daniel was literally an advisor to the Babylonian rulers, and Esther used her influence to uphold justice for the Jews. Elisha's different, in that he just healed one of his enemies. But the first three are very important in the good that they did do. This is why it wouldn't be sinful for a Christian to serve as advisor to the president. But keep in mind the limits of their influence. Ultimately, they were not in control, and therefore they had to deal with cases in which their advice was not taken. That's just the way it worked. So if Pharaoh hadn't listened to Joseph, he could have pleaded and attempted to persuade as much as possible, but at the end of the day he would have had to leave it to God to save or judge Egypt. Same with Daniel and Esther.

      But I do want to point out what they did not do (and what Scripture doesn't indicate that they did): they did not use their influence to attempt to change Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian culture. They merely sought to ensure the protection (religious liberty) of their own people. That's very important. Not one of them sought to convince their pagan leaders to abolish their idol worship, or to restrict sexual immorality (regardless of its harm upon the individuals committing the act). Nor did they even bring up the case that their idol worship was a harmful lure to Israelite purity and worship of YHWH (which would have been a legitimate claim; it's one of the reasons why God commanded the Israelites to completely get rid of the original inhabitants of Canaan). But they didn't do that.

      You might dismiss that as speculation, but it is quite applicable to our own case. We live in a society that is increasingly opposed to Christianity, and whose ways are quite enticing. And because of the nature of our society, economy, and government, we all must be Josephs and Daniels and Esthers. How then do we engage society? As they did. We uphold justice, advise wisdom, but we recognize that we are pilgrims in exile here. We hold no expectations of cultural transformation, because not a single person in the Bible expects godless society (society outside of covenant with God) to conform to God's ways. Not one.

      6) To do good to all men is not the same as imposing the Good upon all men (for it certainly doesn't seem like the aim of this is to persuade each and every person of the merits of keeping marriage restricted, least of which persuading the actual homosexual couples who want same-sex marriage).

      7)The Holy Spirit IS only *with* the children of God. Jesus says that. "He is *with* YOU [my emphasis] and will be in you." "whom the world cannot receive..." The special work of the Holy Spirit is primary among believers. God has placed it in the hearts of men to seek the common good and to establish laws, but that's part of humanity being made in the image of God and millennia of law and justice and judgment since the Flood; I wouldn't call that the special work of the Holy Spirit in restraining evil (because the evil that law generally restricts is murder, theft, etc., while much evil goes unchecked.) I don't see any other biblical statement of the Holy Spirit having any sustained work among anyone other than God's people. Point out the Scripture if I'm wrong.

      8) I do think that we have eclipsed the primary good of evangelism with the secondary (more like tertiary) good of using politics to influence and shape culture and society. How so? What defines evangelicalism in America is not evangelism, but culture war. That's the problem. We're all about evangelizing everywhere else, but as a whole, as a collective, this, and not evangelism, has defined us. We are the ones waging campaigns to protect our families from the external threat of same-sex "marriage"; we are the ones waging campaigns to uphold the integrity of the traditional family against abortion and homosexuality (I'm not knocking the pro-life movement or opposition to homosexuality, only the framing of our stance as a defense/preservation of traditional values/marriage/the family). This is the way in which something that is tertiary (first the gospel, then social justice, THEN *maybe* societal change through legal and cultural means) has eclipsed our primary task.

      So I don't think I'm confused, or being convenient, or ignoring anything. I just have not seen the scriptural evidence for why this (building coalitions against the world's practices, and making allegiances with those in the world to do so) is something that is integral to the mission of the church. I didn't see it in the article, and I still don't see it now.

      • Tuad

        "How so? What defines evangelicalism in America is not evangelism, but culture war. That's the problem."

        No, terrible misdiagnosis stemming from a cowardly acceptance of a fallen culture's attempt to define terms.

        If affirming biblical marriage earns the christian the wrongful smear of being a culture warrior, then go and be wrongfully smeared. Don't be a coward and be passive and silent about what God has declared about marriage if you're a genuine Christian.

        • Kenton

          Last I checked, in Scripture need I remind you, the world defines itself and its own. It does not define us. It can mock and threaten and ridicule and shun and persecute all it wants, but the church has never been answerable to the world, and that's where we made our first mistake.

          We've sought to make ourselves attractive to the world and we've made ourselves its slaves, captive to all that it says that we should and shouldn't do. It led us captive with regard to social justice (while we willfully remained blind to actual social ills committed by Christians and others), when we should have been the light on the hill saying to the world, "This is how WE live", it said to us, "This is how you should live". I'm specifically talking about slavery and racism, in which the church sat on its hands until the WORLD moved. We were called to be Christ's, to live on HIS terms. But we didn't. So we followed the world, and ever since the world has been holding us accountable to itself. And this is why there is no amount of social justice or charity that Christians could possibly do to convince the world that we have true life, because the world simply says, "You do it because we do it". And it doesn't matter that it was Christian charity and care for justice that brought the Roman world to embrace Christ. Christian love, supposed to be a defining feature of our witness, was given up. Now the world has homogenized charity as "humanitarianism". Rant over.

          But if you see cowardly acceptance after ALL I've posted, then you are clearly missing my absolute and only basis. God will judge outsiders. We are not called to change the world, nor to dictate its terms. It is not cowardice to stick with what we were called to do. I simply don't have unrealistic, and frankly unbiblical, expectations of a fallen world.

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            "I simply don't have unrealistic, and frankly unbiblical, expectations of a fallen world."

            How silly. Just because faithful Christians uphold and affirm God's design for marriage doesn't merit them being characterized as having "unrealistic, and frankly unbiblical, expectations of a fallen world."

            • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

              Tuad, is it a reasonable and biblical standard to expect fallen humanity to live according to the guidelines outlined in Scripture for believers? The answer to this seems, to me, to be the crux of this debate.

              At least when it comes to homosexuality specifically, I would answer no, there is no reason Christians should impose their standard of belief upon men who have no reason to adhere to it.

            • Kenton

              Again, you have a very narrow definition of what it means to uphold God's truth. And a very high view of the world to think that it is the Christian's job to convince the world of our beliefs, and to compel them to accept the truth of God. Again, God promises two things: the world will reject you, and He will judge the world in wrath and righteousness.

        • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

          Tuad, let's not call names, please. Mr. Kenton may be a coward, or he may be the bravest man to ever live, but neither has any bearing on the validity of his claim. You made an argument ad hominem, and the first rule of any good debate is to attack the premise not the person.

    • Kenton

      And I just want to add one more thing, which I think is important in discussing the good that Christians are called to do. We are not called to uphold the societies of this fallen, sin-filled world until Christ finally comes to execute God's judgment upon them. That may sound incredibly harsh, but let's face it. That's what God has decreed; that what the wrath of God, the Day of the LORD, the judgment of God, is. Redeeming the culture is entirely a futile effort when considered in light of what Jesus himself predicts about the trajectory of the societies of the world. We are light calling people out of darkness and condemning the darkness by our light.

  • http://januaryraincomic.blogspot.com/ Mark Zellner

    To the author, I'd appreciate to know what you have in mind precisely when you say:

    "This will involve new verbal language, new visual language (images), new narratives, and much more. That new language should form the core of the public case for marriage, with Christianity, philosophy, and law playing supporting roles."

    Are you saying that the primary method of altering society's view on sexuality should come through creative media such as storytelling, movies, art, and music? If so, how would you expect this to be presented in a way that reaches culture meaningfully, and why do you expect it to work? Are we literally saying that Christians ought to produce music, movies, and literature which celebrates publicly the joy of faithful, heterosexual activity within the bounds of marriage? While such material would likely be beneficial to the Church, I doubt whether it would have the desired effect on a culture that more closely resembles the first three chapters of Romans.

    What interests me more is the second half of that statement. Christianity, philosophy, and law *cannot* take a back seat to the redemptive message of biblical marriage, namely because they form the very framework in which we understand what biblical marriage is.

    But primarily, I would argue that this idea is unnecessary because it misunderstands the nature of communication: the difference between medium and message. The Medium is the form communication takes, be it song, pictures, literature, etc. The Message can be whatever idea is communicated through the medium. You seem to be saying that the Medium through which the Message is expressed is the "core of the public case for marriage" while the message itself comes secondary. While it may be important to communicate in ways that surrounding culture understands, this in no way should diminish the importance of the idea being communicated.

    • Greg Forster

      In my article I provided several examples of cultural artifacts that have already done this and achieved success. There are many more out there. The idea that there's no audience for humane sexuality just doesn't square with the facts.

      Will it get the very highest ratings on TV? Maybe not, but you don't have to get the highest ratings to move culture. See James Hunter's book.

  • Hodge

    1. Actually, the immediate context is the Sermon on the Mount, which is talking about nothing but doing good in terms of social action, but of course, healing the sick is social action if you have that ability. Did Jesus heal people before or after they believed in Him?
    2. “But I think it must be acknowledged that homosexuality is of a different order than the former three. And that's because all of the former three involve the actions of one against another, while homosexuality is consensual (no matter how unbiblical and against God's law).”

    Pedophilia is often consensual as well. Pedophiles can convince children and those younger than themselves through a variety of means. It was many times consensual in ancient Greece. Again, if our culture became like ancient Greece in terms of the majority thinking it was legally acceptable, would you still seek to outlaw it?
    Prostitutes consent to have sex with their johns for money. Cult members consent to kill themselves for the sake of the cult. Would you argue that all of that should be outlawed even if the majority didn’t think it should be?
    It’s not consent that you’re arguing. It’s popular opinion, and that will lead to virtually an absence of any Christians doing good in culture, since they don’t want to make a stink about any issue to unbelievers beside the gospel.

    3. “To a certain extent I do agree, if only in that the effect of homosexuality is not as obvious or immediately disastrous as murder or even divorce.”

    Well, I agree that society argues this way, but you agree with it to a certain extent? Answer me this, what is the difference in the result between a man coming up and killing you with a knife and your father deciding to marry another man instead of your mother? Both result in your absence from life upon this earth. In fact, the latter seems to be worse than the former. I’d say that’s an obvious immediate effect, but it’s more of a logical one than an obvious one, since “obvious” presupposes the perceptiveness of a rather dull-minded culture.

    4. “Because after all this discussion, I still haven't seen anyone provide a clear New Testament picture of Christian engagement with society of the type that you support (I'll get to the examples you provided, shortly).”
    a) I have supported it. You just don’t know what “good works” mean in the Bible, so you don’t understand how the good works of Christians relate to social action.
    b) I’ll give you an example from the NT. Paul gets the Roman guards on the ship not to kill the prisoners. Why? That’s not the message of the gospel. Why doesn’t he stay out of Roman business and just preach Jesus to everybody?
    c) I’ve already argued, from the New Testament, that it is the Holy Spirit who restrains evil and He does so primarily by His presence which is in His people.

    5. “"This is why WE live as we do", and not, "This is why YOU should live as we do."
    Ah, this is your problem, Kenton. You don’t understand what I’m saying. Let’s use the abortion example for a moment. By attempting to institute a law against abortion, I am not attempting to make the unbelieving mother a more moral individual who acts like a Christian. Instead, I am attempting to restrain the evil of the unbelieving mother from harming a child. That’s the good work, not the making of the wicked moral, but the restraint of their evil and its effects upon others in society. That’s what you seem to be missing here.
    6. “But it's another step to say that this is a major work of the Spirit (social justice not withstanding) through us. The Spirit's primary work is in the church, and again, the New Testament provides no support for saying that a significant work of Christians is to establish laws. I'm not saying that this means that we can't, but I'm saying it's not something guaranteed to us, and it's not a part of our mandate from Christ.”

    a) The doing of good is mandated by Christ and that may include setting up laws where it is available for us to do so. Christians don’t have that ability in the First through Third Centuries, so of course they wouldn’t be doing it. When they do have the ability, they do exactly that.
    b) God’s work in the hearts and minds of unbelievers in restraining evil is through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit accomplishes God’s activity in the world in both Testaments. The question becomes, Through what vehicles does the Spirit convict the world of their sin so as to do something about it, whether they receive Christ or set up laws to restrict that evil. It seems to me that Christians function in this role (Israel did before it—hence, the prophets calling out Edom, Nineveh, Babylon, etc. for not feeding their poor, being just in their legal cases, etc.). We are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather to expose them and make all things visible by the light.
    7. “Ultimately, they were not in control, and therefore they had to deal with cases in which their advice was not taken. That's just the way it worked. So if Pharaoh hadn't listened to Joseph, he could have pleaded and attempted to persuade as much as possible, but at the end of the day he would have had to leave it to God to save or judge Egypt. Same with Daniel and Esther.”

    Yes, but you said it yourself. They weren’t in control. They didn’t have the means to argue with their leaders because they were under monarchies. All Christians are saying today is that we need to argue our case as advisors and work toward doing good in our laws in so far as it is within our control to do so. No one’s arguing for a revolution.
    8. “But I do want to point out what they did not do (and what Scripture doesn't indicate that they did): they did not use their influence to attempt to change Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian culture. They merely sought to ensure the protection (religious liberty) of their own people. That's very important. Not one of them sought to convince their pagan leaders to abolish their idol worship, or to restrict sexual immorality (regardless of its harm upon the individuals committing the act).”

    Daniel and the three boys did argue against idolatry in the book. Esther didn’t have the ability to argue against it. And Joseph wasn’t attempting to just preserve his people but to save the lives of unbelievers within the role he was given. You also leave out the prophets who did try and change unbelieving culture (Jonah being the greatest example of this) in order to get it to do good.

    Now, I wouldn’t argue for external laws against idolatry because idolatry is of the heart. My points have been concerning restraining the evil of one person toward another individual or society. Again, this is us doing good, not us making others do good.

    9. “To do good to all men is not the same as imposing the Good upon all men.”

    I agree, but this is where you’re confused in the argument. Doing good to all men means protecting them from the harm of other men, whether an unbelieving society, who cannot necessarily recognize what the good is, agrees upon what harms other men and what does not. Again, one cannot impose good upon men, because they cannot do good apart from Christ. We can only impose laws that force them to be restrained in their evil against other men. That’s the good that WE are doing.

    10. Paul argued that “in Him we move and have our being,” and that “He is not far from anyone of us.” His argument is that God’s Spirit has been working with the other nations, but passing over their idolatry until the coming of Christ. We’re told that God provides food for them and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. So He does good to all men. The question then becomes are we to do good to all men? The answer being, yes, then begs the question we’re attempting to answer, “Is the arguing for cultural transformation in terms of its laws a good work in which Christians should participate?” I think the answer is undeniably, yes. Hence, we’ve already established that the Spirit works good through Christians, and that they are to do good to unbelievers. Hence, it is the Spirit doing good to unbelievers through them, since no good belongs to the Christian apart from the Spirit of God. So is it a good to restrain evil? I would say so, and hence, that is Holy Spirit work.
    11. “So I don't think I'm confused, or being convenient, or ignoring anything. I just have not seen the scriptural evidence for why this (building coalitions against the world's practices, and making allegiances with those in the world to do so) is something that is integral to the mission of the church.”

    No, you are confused, because all of it is the doing of good, and that is the mission of God’s people (from Israel to the Church) in the world, as it displays His glory. Christ didn’t say spout off the four spiritual laws over and over again so that men can hear you preach the gospel and glorify your Father who is in heaven. He said let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Our mission is to glorify God through our doing good. The gospel is how we enter into a life of doing that. There is more to the mission of glorifying God in the world than just preaching the four spiritual laws. And a life of preaching the gospel as our primary good to the world does not in any way negate our responsibility to the lesser goods that make up our larger mission to glorify God in all that we do.

    "We are not called to uphold the societies of this fallen, sin-filled world until Christ finally comes to execute God's judgment upon them."

    No, we're called to try and uphold them, as that is a part of doing good. We won't always succeed, but success is not the goal. It is in the trying that the good is found. Again, I don't think you understand what "doing good" means biblically, and so, you end up making arguments that sound completely foreign to the biblical mission.

    • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

      A couple of thoughts, Hodge:

      1.Of course popular opinion is part of forming laws. By definition, organizing a campaign to elect a politician or pass a law is an attempt to sway popular opinion.

      2. In your "what if?" scenario, your father deciding to marry another woman would have negated your existence as effectively as marrying a man.

      3.I think rather than look at New Testament vs modern America, we should look at modern America vs modern Europe. Arguments over how early believers would react to our modern society require too much speculation to be helpful. Early Christians lived under an Empire and were just trying to survive. They had no concept of democracy or political protest, and they did not believe they would ever have power. All of their actions were at least partially framed around the idea that they had to spread the Gospel and do good works until Jesus returned, which they assumed would happen in their lifetimes.

      So instead we should look at Europe. What was Europe's major mistake regarding Christianity? It was merging the State with the Faith. American religion has thrived because we separated church from state.But now far too many evangelicals have given up on spreading the Gospel and seek to simply Christianize our laws instead, which is basically what the Catholic Church did in Europe.

    • Kenton

      Thank you for responding (with scriptural support and bullet points)

      1. Jesus certainly healed those who believed in him, but he didn't require changed behavior before he healed; and I don't think Jesus calls us to require acceptance of Christianity before we do social good. What it does mean is that social action is secondary to the preaching of the gospel, because it's only the gospel that will bring about faith in Jesus.

      2. No, pedophilia isn't consent. You might call it coerced consent, but then it isn't true consent. Either way, I was not trying to articulate my own basis for what laws we should and shouldn't push for, but what our society views as acceptable restrictions on individual liberty/choice. And let's be honest, popular opinion runs this country, from the election of lawmakers to the outcome of referendums. That's a simple fact of democracy. If you don't like that, you're in the wrong country. It's one of the reasons why all this strategizing is rather pointless. Public opinion is shifting on this issue, and it's shifting away from us. We have to relearn how to live in tension with a pagan society.

      3. Again, I'm more analyzing our society than outlining my own position. That said, I only agree so far as to say that homosexuality/same-sex marriage is not the same as murder or theft or rape. If you think it is, why aren't you trying to outlaw divorce and adultery? It's a double standard otherwise.

      4. a) I think we just have different concepts of what good works entails. The fact that no one in the New Testament applies “good works” to changing laws is telling. Ignoring the fact that there was no democratic system in which to do that, the biblical expectation runs counter to it. Let me give an example:
      11 Beloved, I urge you has sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
      13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
      18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2)

      When Peter instructs this, it is VERY clear that what he means by good deeds is righteous and honorable conduct. Personal behavior. Not using legal means to shape Gentile society. And he uses Christ’s own words here. If legal means were something that was naturally flowing out of Jesus’ commands, we should find some example of it being implemented. But we don’t.
      b) There are a number of things wrong with your example. First, it was the centurion, not Paul, who prevented his men from killing the prisoners. Second, his reason for doing it was to spare Paul’s life. Third, Paul had repeatedly said that they would all live (they had already failed to listen to his advice once). Fourth, what Paul does is no different than what Joseph or Daniel or Esther did. They advised and pleaded. Nothing more.
      c) You haven’t argued from the New Testament that the Holy Spirit works through His people to restrain evil. You might have referred to Romans 13, which states that the [non-Christian] ruler is God’s servant for good. But you haven’t really indicated a New Testament example of Christians restraining evil (such as idol crafting, temple prostitution, emperor worship, etc.)
      5. No. I indicated that abortion was of a different kind (it is murder), because it is harm inflicted upon another life. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage can’t be said to be the same. That most certainly is a case of “You should live as I do”.
      6. a) “The doing of good… may include setting up laws where it is available for us to do so. Christians don’t have that ability in the First through Third Centuries, so of course they wouldn’t be doing it.” Not only did Christians not have the ability, but Christ gives us the opposite expectations for our interactions with government.
      b) Two things here: 1) I believe that what the prophets did in Israel is not translated to what we do in the world, but what we do in the church. Both are covenant-groups, and therefore what constitutes their actions is a matter of what the covenant people should be doing. 2) Again there seems to be unrealistic expectations of what the world should do. When Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, I see nothing in there referring to forcing the world to see its sin by enforcing laws. Only the persistent witness of the proclamation of the gospel and the good conduct of Christians (whether in personal behavior or the good done to others). I certainly do not see the convicting of sin in the world as something meant to lead to the world “doing something about it”. Otherwise why don’t we expect the same in our evangelism?
      7. Except what that means is that there is no mandate in the bible to “argue with their leaders”. There’s no expectation of instituting Christian laws (for what ultimate purpose??). There’s no real basis for this course of action, this heavy focus on trying to “win the culture”.
      8. “Daniel and the three boys did argue against idolatry in the book. Esther didn’t have the ability to argue against it. And Joseph wasn’t attempting to just preserve his people but to save the lives of unbelievers within the role he was given. You also leave out the prophets who did try and change unbelieving culture (Jonah being the greatest example of this) in order to get it to do good.”
      Where did they argue against idolatry, particularly its practice BY Babylonian society? Here is what they say:
      16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3)
      Seems like their saying, “You might serve your gods, but we aren’t going to.” And the result?
      29 “Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3) The result is religious liberty. That’s it.

      In later cases, this is the charge that God makes against Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar:
      18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. 22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored. (Daniel 5)

      There is a lot going on here, but the key things are 1) Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were proud and acted wickedly in their pride (Daniel 4:27 indicates that Nebuchadnezzar had oppressed people). 2) Each though that he was God, and behaved as such, though each had been given knowledge of God, and had known that the God of Israel was in fact God. 3) Belshazzar used the gold of the Temple for his drunken parties and immorality. Notice, though, how Daniel focuses on the actions of the king, not on the action of his subjects. Even with Darius, the outcome is not the outlawing of polytheism or idolatry. As for Jonah, God commanded him to preach repentance to Nineveh. Obviously Nineveh was somewhat aware of its sins (being the capital of the oppressive Assyrian Empire). But even more obvious, its repentance was temporary, and didn’t prevent God’s judgment upon it.
      9. I think you’re simply expanding the intent of Jesus’ words. Regardless of the good that comes through lawmaking, there is a very big assumption here that our law is the sole result of Christian lawmaking. It isn’t, it hasn’t been, and it won’t be.

      10. The good that God does and the good that we do as defined here is not necessarily lawmaking. But yes, all Christian good comes about through the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that our preoccupation with making the world accept our values is good.
      11. Jesus clearly defined our mission. Yes, personally, everything we do is to glorify God. But that doesn’t mean that the church (collectively) is to do everything. The purpose of the church collectively is for the spiritual growth of its members. And neither Israel nor the early church preoccupied themselves with changing the world. Bottom line. There’s simply no precedent for it in the Bible.

      It seems rather that trying to uphold the world is foreign to the biblical mission. I’ve backed up everything I’ve said with Scripture. So my words aren’t foreign to Scripture, but to evangelical tradition.

  • Tuad

    Kenton, you're asked in a public setting, "Dd you affirm and support same-sex marriage and the legalization of same- sex marriage?"

    What do you say?

    • Kenton

      I neither affirm nor approve of homosexuality, nor do I support or approve of the recognition of same-sex unions as godly marriage. But, I will be a broken record, to refuse to approve of what the world does is not the same as trying to prevent what the world does among its own.

      3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4)

      Again, notice what is said and isn't said. Peter says that they are surprised that you don't participate in their sins. But he doesn't say that refusing to approve what they do means actively campaigning to prevent the things that they do. If they choose to live as they do (and the way our democracy works, that may happen regardless of what you say or do), they will give account to God. We are not responsible for whether they sin or not.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Me: "Kenton, you're asked in a public setting, "Do you affirm and support same-sex marriage and the legalization of same- sex marriage?"

    What do you say?"

    Kenton: "I neither affirm nor approve of homosexuality, nor do I support or approve of the recognition of same-sex unions as godly marriage."

    Do you support or approve the legalization of same-sex marriage?

    • Kenton

      Alright Mr. McCarthy. I thought my words were clear, but no I don't. Legalization is recognition. Am I Christian enough for you now?

      • Truth Unites… and Divides

        Me: "Kenton, you're asked in a public setting, "Do you affirm and support same-sex marriage and the legalization of same- sex marriage?"

        Kenton: "no I don't."

        Some folks from this public setting in which you have shared your answer then publicly state the following: "Kenton, you're a bigoted homophobe for not affirming and supporting Marriage Equality and the legalization of same-sex marriages. You're one of those right-wing culture warriors who are seeking to impose your beliefs on us loving progressives. Shame on you!"

        What do you say in response to their response about you not affirming and supporting same-sex marriage?

        • Kenton

          I would say that I cannot approve of what God disapproves, and I will not affirm same-sex marriage nor homosexuality. Does that mean that I make it my aim to prevent them from instituting their relationships? Not necessarily, but I will not affirm such lifestyles and institutions as sanctioned by God. If that makes me a bigoted homophobe, so be it, but God, who created all things, created all human beings to be His sons and daughters, to derive their life and being from Him and to live according to His ways in love and worship; therefore all people are accountable to Him, and He commands everyone to repent and turn to Him, for He has appointed a Day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet He offers mercy and forgiveness to all who repent and believe in this Jesus, because God sent him to die for our sins so that we might obtain life with God through his resurrection from the dead.

          That's what I would say, in a nutshell.

          • Truth Unites… and Divides

            Some folks from this public setting reply: "Kenton, you're a Bible-thumping Fundamentalist with an infantile attachment to your invisible imaginary friend. You're a bigoted homophobe who's a right-wing culture warrior who's imposing your religious beliefs against Marriage Equality. Sorry, but your intolerance of diversity and love is simply unacceptable and harshly divisive. You're not welcome anymore."

            • Kenton

              While I'd challenge the charge of being a right-wing culture warrior seeking to impose my religious beliefs (I neither expect the culture to "return" to Christianity, nor do I join in attempts to preserve pseudo-Christian/Christian-friendly conservative culture), I am not trying to somehow avoid a charge of bigotry. I fully realize that society is going to lay that charge on us whether or not we campaign to uphold exclusive recognition of traditional marriage between a man and a woman. But I'm not seeking to somehow gain some sort of peace with the world. That would be far more dangerous. Peter tells us that the world maligns us when we refuse to accept its practices. So be it. I do not expect the world to accept anything less than my corformation to it, and neither do I expect it to conform to me. Let me be crucified to the world, and the world to me. The Lord never says that we are to fight for our acceptance by the society at large.

            • Truth Unites… and Divides

              Kenton: "I am not trying to somehow avoid a charge of bigotry."

              Secular Liberals: "He admits to being a Hater! Bigoted homophobia in the name of his religion, in the name of his invisible imaginary friend.

              Right-wing Culture Warrior and Religious Homophobic Bigots are one and the same.

              Expel him! Expel him! Expel him!

            • Truth Unites… and Divides

              Kenton: "While I'd challenge the charge of being a right-wing culture warrior seeking to impose my religious beliefs (I neither expect the culture to "return" to Christianity, nor do I join in attempts to preserve pseudo-Christian/Christian-friendly conservative culture), I am not trying to somehow avoid a charge of bigotry."

              An apt real-life analogue from Canada:

              "In an article for Canada’s National Post at the end of February, I warned of a growing intolerance north of the border to people of faith. The prevailing mindset, I suggested, goes something like this: “If you must be religious, then for heaven’s sake do it in the privacy of your own home, where no one else has to see or hear you; religion has no place in the public sphere.” In so far as the religious “fail to conform to a set of approved public positions,” I argued, they are now “expected to be silent.”

              As if to prove my point, a group of protesters prevented pro-life MP Stephen Woodworth from giving a public lecture at the University of Waterloo this past Wednesday. Woodworth, a Christian, recently brought forward a private member’s motion in Parliament calling for a study to determine at what point a child becomes a human being.

              protesters interrupted him partway through his lecture. What about freedom of speech? Well, according to at least one of the protesters, Woodworth doesn’t get any: “That kind of speech, that kind of facts, are not acceptable,” the protester is quoted as saying in the National Post. He also shouted, “Who do you think you are, trying to impose your bigotry, your views on society through your Christian monotheistic faith?

              The implication is clear: Religious views are not welcome in the public realm. Be silent or we will silence you."

              Kenton: "If that makes me a bigoted homophobe, so be it, but God, who created all things, created all human beings to be His sons and daughters, to derive their life and being from Him and to live according to His ways in love and worship; therefore all people are accountable to Him, and He commands everyone to repent and turn to Him..."

              Secular Liberal Protester: “Who do you think you are, trying to impose your bigotry, your views on society through your Christian monotheistic faith?

            • Kenton

              Responding to your last posts:

              It is truly lamentable that Canada has degenerated to the point of this. And its becoming like that here. I realize this (I'm on the college campus where this is very much encouraged). That said, I want to reiterate that I am not saying that Christians should retreat from the public sphere. There is a way in which we can engage the public sphere without making it our expectation and hope that the world, the society at large, conforms to Christian belief. There is a way in which to make the biblical stance on marriage and abortion and any other area known without making it our aim to Christianize the world.

              And even with all of this, we have to recognize that our primary point of contact with the world, the society at large, is to be the gospel (not morality or philosophical views on this or that drawn from the gospel, but the gospel).

              With regard to the freedom of speech, and the freedom of religion and religious expression (and from these the right of religious speech): I do think that it is certainly acceptable to appeal to our freedoms under the state, and to strongly hold the government accountable for protecting such rights. There is no logical or civil basis for why we are denied a voice in the public sphere simply because our views are based upon religious belief. There is nothing unique about religion-based views; aren't views based in ideologies and philosophies the same? That's nothing short of discrimination.

              But even with this, if our freedom of religious expression is taken away, what will we do? Fight? Protest? Rail against the authorities? Or continue to proclaim the gospel, suffering for righteousness' sake if we must?

  • Hodge

    Kenton,

    You really didn't refute anything I said. You simply argued around it in a very apologetic-oriented fashion (i.e., giving excuses to explain away what's there rather than to explain it). Your scriptural examples are limited to behavior under governmental authority because early Christians have no means to argue about laws when they are subject to those authorities. BTW, I would look into how early Christians did attempt to outlaw the gladiatorial games as a good example here.

    But rather than turn this into a huge response, I just want to focus in on two things:

    The doing of good in the Bible has to do with preserving human life. If a law can do that, then it is a good work to pursue it.

    Homosexuality does not preserve human life but rather prevents its preservation. That's why it was outlawed for so many years. So whether you view it as something that is not likened to murder, the Bible does. That's why it's punishable by death. The point is that you're defining what is harmful according to what Kenton thinks, but society doesn't see abortion in the way you do, so why would you argue to outlaw it? And, just so you know, I would outlaw adultery and divorce, so I'm completely consistent (although divorce isn't considered an anticreational sin in the same way that homosexuality or murder would be).

    I realize that unbelievers will end themselves either way, but simply because a social action isn't the ultimate good doesn't mean we are not to consider it a part of our primary mission. If you don't give to the poor who represent Christ but do preach the gospel, then you're still under the judgment of Christ according to Matthew 25.

    You're dancing around Daniel and Jonah. Daniel clearly argues that the Babylonian kings should have rid their kingdoms of their gods of silver and gold and praised the God of heaven and earth instead. Jonah clearly calls for the national repentance of a people who are not Israel. The other prophets call out other nations for their national evils all the time.

    You have to argue that advising and pleading for positions among unbelievers in their laws is different than advising and pleading for positions among unbelievers apart from laws. But it's the same action. Again, you have to present it as forcing people, but all laws force people. And the crack concerning, "if you don't like democracy, leave the country" is garbage. I've been arguing for the idea that we need to convince the country to institute laws through democracy, so you're comment is nonsense. My point had to do with arguing against the majority to change their minds and institute laws. That's what the abolitionists did and that's what the advocates of gay marriage did. People's minds can be changed and so laws can be changed.

    You're waxing between extremes in order to make your argument.

    • Kenton

      I'm quite sure I addressed every point you made. I don't know what your definition of a refutation is, but I certainly directly addressed the points and references you made. Is the basis of my refutation a different interpretation of your biblical sources? Yes. But that doesn't make it any less of a refutation.

      As to your two points:

      I don't see where homosexuality is banned simply because it fails to produce life. And I certainly don't see where such failure to produce life explicitly warrants death. I see even less support for then imposing such laws upon the world. Rather, homosexuality is banned in Leviticus because it is an abomination; that is, it directly perverts God's creation and uniting of man and woman for the purpose of raising godly offspring as God's sons and daughters, in order to fulfill God's commission to Adam and Eve to "fill the earth and subdue it." I don't think that's primarily about preserving or producing life. Homosexuality (as stemming from corrupt human desires) does not prevent the preservation of life among those who would reproduce such life. Rather, it is practiced by those who would not be producing life anyway (due to their commonly corrupt, distinctly homosexual desires). And the same case exists for same-sex marriage, which is why in one sense, it won't directly undermine traditional marriage (as in do more than divorce and adultery and general excess sexuality have already done); though in the other sense, it will apply to homosexuality that which God established for the unique and clear purpose of raising up godly offspring.

      I didn't dance around Daniel and Jonah. I simply pointed out the extent of what they did, and how what they did is different than what you propose. First, while God held Nebuchadnezzar and his son accountable for their actions, it simply doesn't say that they instituted a change in Babylon's laws, nor enforced monotheism and Israelite religion upon the Babylonians. Doesn't say it. As for Jonah, it is a rather unique case that he is called to tell Nineveh of God's judgment and their need to repent. But again, I'm not dancing around the issue when I say that it doesn't say that Jonah then went and instructed them in the ways of Israel. Doesn't say it at all.

      More fundamentally however, is that there is a difference in God's former interaction among the Gentiles and His present command for all to repent (by turning to Jesus). Whereas formerly He overlooked their ignorance (with the exception of the nations that directly interacted with Israel, such as Babylon and Nineveh), now He commands all to repent and believe in the gospel, because He is going to judge the world. Again, the New Testament doesn't give evidence of extensive attempts at changing the world, while Paul explicitly refutes the idea of judging the world with regard to its behavior (I believe 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 is very clear on this): it is God who judges outsiders. By this alone you can't base your support of the death penalty for the world's sins on the New Testament. Unless Paul is simply wrong.

  • Hodge

    "1.Of course popular opinion is part of forming laws. By definition, organizing a campaign to elect a politician or pass a law is an attempt to sway popular opinion."

    Sure, but there are numerous instances when popular opinion needs to be changed through law. Slavery and racism/discriminatory issues are one example here.

    "2. In your "what if?" scenario, your father deciding to marry another woman would have negated your existence as effectively as marrying a man."

    Actually, that's speculative. My genetic makeup may be different, but as a Christian I would argue that the people God purposes to make are made through rightful sexual acts. No people can be made through the homosexual act. If my father would have married another woman, I can suppose one of two things: 1) that God decided to use the right sexual act to make someone else beside me, and hence, He has the right over life and death to do so, or 2) God decided to make me with different genetic material.

    Neither one of these is possible for God to do through the homosexual act apart from a miraculous birth. It is an act that works against the life He has decided to create, not with it. It is thus an anticreational sin as murder is an anticreational sin. That's why it called for the death penalty within the Israelite theocracy and what woman you married (since it is not within the human capacity to know what woman they are supposed to marry) is not even something to ponder as moral or immoral (aside from marrying a daughter of a foreign god).

    "3.I think rather than look at New Testament vs modern America, we should look at modern America vs modern Europe. Arguments over how early believers would react to our modern society require too much speculation to be helpful. Early Christians lived under an Empire and were just trying to survive. They had no concept of democracy or political protest, and they did not believe they would ever have power. All of their actions were at least partially framed around the idea that they had to spread the Gospel and do good works until Jesus returned, which they assumed would happen in their lifetimes.

    So instead we should look at Europe. What was Europe's major mistake regarding Christianity? It was merging the State with the Faith. American religion has thrived because we separated church from state.But now far too many evangelicals have given up on spreading the Gospel and seek to simply Christianize our laws instead, which is basically what the Catholic Church did in Europe."

    This is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc argument. There were multiple factors that led to Church and State being a bad thing and that has mainly to do with the fact that it was the State who got a hold more of the Church than the Church a hold of the State.

    But you also need a religious basis for law in our culture. It's true that in times past people just assumed they could recognize right and wrong on their own, but we are ever increasing toward a nihilistic and relativistic atheism in our law, and that has a far worse history than the Church-State situation in Europe. Instead, I would argue that the more Christian the laws are, the better the society will be. As such, I would argue that Europe's problem wasn't Christianity, but anti-Christian traditions and folk religion that took over Europe.

  • EBG

    Good Morning, Gentlemen,
    Ever spent two days on your knees in prayer for your wife and children? Or used your writing abilities to pen a multi-page, encouraging, affirming love letter to your wife? Or even a simple letter of thanks to your parents. Maybe a letter of encouragement to your daughter/son who is really lonely? Just wondering if the last two days of arguing, sat in front of a computer screen for hours, could have been better used in building-up biblical marriages and families in practical, tangible ways.
    It's Saturday....go and make your wife a cup of tea, tell her how much you love her and ask her how you can be praying for her!

    • Meredith the Air Force Wife

      EBG– speaking as a wife– thank you!!!

  • Pingback: We Need New Methods in the Fight for Marriage | the northampton seminar

  • http://ruthinstitute.org Jennifer Roback Morse

    Hi all,
    Great article Greg. I'm impressed that you got so much discussion going on this all-important topic of how to "sell" our views of marriage, family and human sexuality.
    Not to brag or anything, but this is exactly what we are trying to do at the Ruth Institute. Tell the whole story, from divorce, cohabitation, contraception, non-marital sex, the whole shooting match. There is nothing to run from in the ancient teachings of Christianity.
    Here are a couple of examples, from our podcasts. In this Q&A session with a group of college students, I urge them to be friends with their same sex attracted classmates. appropos of your point to "deinstitutionalize enmity." http://ruthinstitute.libsyn.com/catholic-cyclone-student-retreat-q-a

    and in this debate at UCLA Law school, I use your technique of trying to reach those who may be hostile, by starting with no-fault divorce, not gay marriage. It works pretty well at opening people's minds, at least a crack. I'm proud of being able to do that in the very secular law school environment. http://ruthinstitute.libsyn.com/dr-j-dr-gary-gates-ucla
    All of which is to say that I think Greg Forster is on to something important: if we really believe we have the right way to live, we ought to be able to SHOW it, not just declare it. i do this in an academic sort of way, b/c that is my particular vocation. But we definitely need those who shape people's imaginations to take up the challenge too.

    • Kenton

      I applaud your efforts. Really, I do (as one who is not to sure that this is something that should be aimed at wholesale cultural transformation). We certainly need multifaceted ways of engaging people. I do have a question, however. You mentioned that you begin with no-fault divorce and counsel students to befriend same-sex attracted classmates and we should be able to show others that our way of living is better. If we are aiming to show others, particularly those who do have same-sex attraction, a better way of living than same-sex marriage (and relationships I presume), what is the next step? How do you encourage them to live better lives than in same-sex relationships? What is a better life for them?

      • http://ruthinstitute.org Jennifer Roback Morse

        Friendship is a good in itself. It doesn't need to point to anything else. Everyone needs chaste friendship.

        • Kenton

          Yes, chaste friendship is good, but will the homosexually attracted non-Christian see the benefit in that? It's hard enough to get Christians singles (whether heterosexually attracted or homosexually attracted) to see the benefit of chastity, and usually we have to point to the surpassing benefit of having an undivided devotion to Christ and satisfaction in God. And still that is hard to instill. How do you accomplish this with the non-Christian?

  • http://thenface2face.wordpress.com Karen Butler

    I am late to the discussion, and hope you are still paying attention, Mr. Forster.

    Your SWOT analysis fails to identify a serious weakness in your strategy. Oppostion to gay marriage has caved in breathtakingly quickly.Support for it is at 81% for those between 18-29. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/03/19/why-support-for-gay-marriage-has-risen-so-quickly/

    Since we know now that it is dirty pictures that won the battle for the minds of this generation -- the minds of men,at any rate -- I am skeptical that you can come up with an equally persuasive narrative, one that can match the testosterone fueled power of porn on the brain. http://crx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/09/0093650212471558.abstract

    Your hope for a contemporary "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is simply futile. Only the unadulterated Gospel can withstand the corrupting onslaughts that lay "Behind the Green Door".

  • http://januaryrainstorm.blogspot.com/ Mark

    Kenton, I believe you would appreciate and benefit from the following article, which to some extent summarizes the history of the social gospel movement, the pros and cons of it as well :http://cityofdeception.com/the-social-gospel-part-1/#more-182

    • Kenton

      Yes, very informative and helpful, especially the analysis of what modern evangelicalism and Christianity have done with the social gospel. The above seems to be a more conservative slant on the same; instead of a focus on simply alleviating world suffering, the task is to win society over to our position on everything, whether by creative engagement with the culture, or by electing leaders and enacting laws that forcibly keep a Christian-favoring government in a Christian-rejecting society.

      With specific regard to the social justice aspect of the evangelical gospel, I find it troubling not that Christians are concerned about the poor; certainly this was a uniquely Christian distinctive, which all Christians were to be generous to the poor. What is troubling is the belief that Christians are to eradicate hunger and poverty and disease, and the belief that by doing so we "extend" or "spread" the kingdom of God.

      It is this gross misunderstanding of what the kingdom of god actually is that is most troubling; Christian campaigns to eliminate the evils of the world may be futile (they are), but a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God is even more damaging to the heart of the Christian faith. And I believe that this misunderstanding is due to the excising of the kingdom of God from the gospel message itself.

      Why do I say this? We know that there is only one gospel, and yet Jesus describes his gospel as the "gospel of the kingdom". What Jesus speaks about most often, and what Acts records to be one of the two major themes of the apostles' gospel proclamation, is the kingdom of God. And I suppose it began with a misapplication of the Christian destination (from a new earth to heaven), but what has resulted is a multitude of views on the kingdom of God, almost all of them concerned with this present age (whether the extravagant kingdom of the prosperity gospel, or the humanitarian kingdom of the social gospel). The kingdom of God is what Christ establishes when he returns. It is the overthrow of all evil and corruption and death, and the establishment of righteousness, peace, and life under the authority of Christ, in the presence of God, on a renewed and cleansed earth. This is the Christian's hope. This is why we are to preach not just a crucified Christ, but a resurrected and reigning and returning and judging and saving Christ. We exclude any of these things and we aren't preaching the full gospel. This doesn't obscure the cross, but if we only mention the cross and justification as sinners, we actually don't preach the good news part of the good news: that we are reconciled to God as sons in hope of eternal life and inheriting the kingdom of God. A proper understanding of our hope would lead us to pursue social and legal justice in a proper way; not running to the excess in vain hopes of changing the world, but putting the gospel before all else in such a way that what the world sees is not a church trying to outdo it in humanitarian work, but a church that cares for its own in a holistic way, and calls people into the same holistic fellowship, a fellowship that is rooted in Christ's propitiatory death and glorious resurrection by which he redeems a people for God's own glory, a people whose love for each other covers both physical and spiritual needs (for everything the New Testament says about love and service and the poor is first about caring for the poor who are in Christ).

      The long ramble is over, but I think we need to go back to the Scriptures and see what the priorities of the early church were, since they lived and moved in settings far more hostile to the gospel than our own.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Dr. Forster,

    Your post has been likened to Business School Language by the interlocutors at TeamPyro. It's an iron-whacking-iron critique.

  • Matt

    None of this will matter one bit if we do not first do one thing, truly give both respect, love and Christ's forgiveness to the "gay" kids in our churches who choose to follow God's commands about sexuality out of faith in Christ.

    We often hear that a high percentage of gay teen consider or attempt suicide. Around 43% have seriously considered suicide at one point or another in their high school years. What is not often mentioned is that the most dangerous time period for these kids is prior to forming a "positive gay identity." Once they "come out" and connect with other gay kids they have a support system which greatly reduces the depression and shame they feel. So the ones most at risk for depression and suicide are the kids who are doing exactly what the Church asks them to do, repent. Because that repentance is not met with a message of forgiveness and they hear only condemnation preached against homosexuality, it produces only despair, shame and guilt in these kids at age 13-16.

    If, somehow, the kid makes it through the teen years without killing himself, maintains his belief that the Bible forbids sex outside of opposite-sex marriage and does his best to live faithfully according to that Word of God, he will be privileged to enter a demographic in which suicidality is just slightly higher than what he experienced in high school. Celibate gay men have a suicidality (measured in depression and thoughts of suicide) rate of close to 50%.

    So basically, the promise from the Church is that if he repents, believes in Christ and remains faithful to God, he will spend a very large portion of his life from the time he hits puberty until the day he is laid in his grave either greatly depressed and lonely or wishing he was dead.

    Really tempting offer, isn't it?

    So, until we start talking to these kids and talking about homosexuality in a way that really shows compassion and forgiveness, we can forget about the marriage fight. It's pointless. We won't win it. Period.

    You came very close to the answer when you said, "We need to say to them, not begrudgingly but sincerely, that we want to find a shared way of life that affirms their dignity as human beings and their equality as American citizens." But dignity and equality are not enough. They are too distant and too cold. These kids need friendship, respect, hugs, and encouragement. They need to know mom and dad and their congregational family are proud of them for their efforts to obey Christ rather than ashamed of them for their temptations. Christ ate with sinners. If we do not do the same then let them marry for we will not be able to stop them from finding friendship where they can. If they can not find it in our churches, they WILL find it with other gay people.

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  • Beth

    Greg, I am FASCINATED by your ideas. My ignorant ambivalence on "the common good" leaves me uncertain about much of what you say (time for more reading), but you are totally on to something when you identify the need for plausible narratives. I'm reminded of Tim Keller's "gospel sandwich" - first, briefly showcase the beauty of the gospel in such a way that a non-believer thinks, "That sounds wonderful! I wish it were true!"; second, address the beliefs that make Christianity implausible to them; last, dig into the gospel more thoroughly. When we put the beauty of marriage on display in our stories, people may think, "Love that endures hardship? Sex that gives instead of takes? Children who make it to adulthood without abuse and addiction? I wish it were true!" Suddenly, marriage sounds attractive and valuable enough that people start examining whether it could really work.

    • Beth

      P.S. Thank you for celebrating Wash and Zoe's relationship.

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  • http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/ Nathan

    "If the new description of sexuality is rightly crafted, it will be in full alignment with the Bible and Christianity. Indeed, the "inside information" we get from the Bible about how the universe works will be critical to helping us see the most effective ways to expose errors and magnify the truth. Yet people will not have to be Christians to accept our description of sexuality."

    Greg - just discovered this post. Good thoughts. I wonder if what I did here might be a start in the direction you are thinking about:
    http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/regarding-jesus-wife-his-real-wife-that-is/

    +Nathan

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  • Steve in Toronto

    I think another issue is that Christians themselves have become disillusioned with traditional marriage and courtship (at least as its been practiced in North American evangelical circles in the last 50 or so years). It’s not hard to find very bitter 30 something single Christian women who look longingly at their secular friend who have many more romantic options or recently divorced 40 year old newly single Christian men and woman completely re-evaluating their understanding of marriage and courtship (and frankly traditional understanding of sexual morality). I wonder about the large number of christens who’s first marriages have failed (myself and my current wife are both repeat offenders). Our first marriages failed for very different reasons but we were both ill served by our preconceptions of what a “Christian” marriages would be like. I wonder if the problem is that our present understanding of marriage is not traditional at all, but some kind of traditional modern hybrid. Frankly if what we are offering doesn’t seem to working very well for us is it any wonder that our pagan friends find it unappealing?

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