SAF-e1346289593322The recent controversy surrounding World Vision USA’s decision to open employment to same-sex couples and the organization’s subsequent reversal reveals the fault lines in evangelicalism today.

For the evangelicals distraught by World Vision’s initial decision, the controversy was never about the legitimacy or worthiness of people with differing views of marriage doing good work around the world. We should applaud good deeds of relief and compassion wherever we see them and wherever they come from. No, this particular controversy was about the meaning of evangelical.

Can an institution with an historic evangelical identity be divided on an issue as central as marriage and family and still be evangelical? Related to this discussion are questions about the authority and interpretation of Scripture, cultural engagement, and institutional power. All sides of the debate recognize that the definition of evangelical is at stake, which is why some are now publicly casting off the term altogether.

The World Vision decision was a tremor that warns us of a coming earthquake in which churches and leaders historically identified with evangelicalism will divide along all-too-familiar fault lines.

Here are the three camps I see right now:

Revisionists 

“The Church’s interpretation of Scripture and our consensus on Christian sexual ethics have been wrong and unjust. Just as we made adjustments in our treatment of women or in our position on slavery, Christians must be willing to revise our beliefs in light of ongoing Scriptural reflection and personal experience. Faithful Christians can and must celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships; otherwise, Christianity will lose its influence in the culture and bring disgrace to Jesus.”

Moderates 

“One’s position on homosexuality or gay marriage is not an essential point of theology. There are faithful Christians who disagree on these matters, just as faithful Christians disagree on baptism, the Holy Spirit, church structure, etc. The gospel is not at stake in whichever position you take. What is at stake is our unity before the world and how we love each other. We can agree to disagree on these issues and still partner in missions and relief work.”

Evangelicals

“The Bible is clear in its teaching that (1) homosexuals are created in the image of God and have innate worth and value and (2) homosexual practice is condemned as sin, one of many sins from which humanity needs deliverance. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Any other arrangement is not marriage at all, but a distortion of one of Scripture’s most beautiful pictures of the gospel. To abandon Christianity’s distinctive sexual ethic is to bow before the prevailing idol of our time and dismiss the authority of Scripture.”

Other Issues 

Same-sex marriage is just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface are a number of issues related to traditional Christian belief and practice. The same fault lines find people divided over issues such as the authority and interpretation of Scripture, the exclusivity of the gospel, the reality of hell, and the nature of truth.

Sometimes I wonder if we are watching a replay of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that took place a century ago. Last time, the revisionists wanted to hold on to the essence of Christian morality while minimizing the cultural embarrassment of the Bible’s miracles. The moderates believed they could be personally conservative and yet forge a middle way and partner with people on both sides. The fundamentalists separated and withdrew from Protestant denominations, paving the way for neo-evangelicalism to rise in the middle of the 20th century. This century, the revisionists want to hold on to the essence of Christian miracles while minimizing the cultural embarrassment of the Bible’s morality.

What’s Next

Learning from history, what will be next for each of these groups?

The Revisionists will continue to shrink and lose influence over time. There are three reasons why.

1. The converts to revisionism are typically disaffected evangelical churchgoers who find cultural accommodation appealing, not lost people finding salvation through Christ. Because of this pattern, it will be challenging to sustain consistent growth over time.

2. Those who revise Christianity’s sexual ethics are often the same people who deny that Jesus is the only way to God, that there is a hell, that the Bible is fully inspired and trustworthy, etc. A liberal doctrine is never an only child.

3. Revisionists are culturally captive to the demands of a shrinking subset of affluent, Western churches. Though global evangelicalism is much more united on the authority of Scripture and the distinctiveness of Christianity’s sexual ethic, revisionists lecture global churches on why they should adopt the same beliefs and practices that emptied their own.

The Moderates hold to an unsustainable position. They uphold a traditional understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, and yet they downplay the significance of these issues by taking the “agree to disagree” posture or a quiet agnosticism (“since people disagree on this, who can really know?”). I sympathize with those who feel like the culture has thrust upon us an issue we didn’t ask for and those who are weary of the constant cultural clashes between evangelicals and revisionists. That said, this category will shrink the fastest. The revisionists will challenge moderates to stop linking arms with people who affirm traditional marriage because they are “hateful” and “bigoted.” The evangelicals will challenge moderates to recognize the underlying authority of Scripture issues that accompany this debate. Moderates today will be forced to choose sides tomorrow. Those who remain on the fence will see their children, or the next generation, move steadily into the revisionist camp in response to increasing cultural pressure. “If marriage isn’t a big deal, Mom, then why are we holding the line on this?”

Among Evangelicals we can see two subsets:

  • Combative
    Some evangelicals speak to the issue of homosexuality in ways that are needlessly inflammatory. They look primarily to political action as the strategy for bringing culture change in these areas and overlook the flesh-and-blood people in their congregations who are struggling with this sin. The combatives are the minority, but they routinely make headlines.
  • Conciliatory
    Other evangelicals speak to this issue more pastorally, not shying away from Christianity’s distinctiveness but utilizing a tone that takes into consideration the common sinfulness and brokenness of all humanity. They are often publicly silent on the issue because of their desire to not be lumped in with their combative counterparts.

It is possible that evangelicals could repeat the mistake of last century’s fundamentalists by choosing to withdraw from societal and cultural engagement in order to preserve purity of identity. The result would be the inevitable downplaying of the public implications of the gospel we preach. Our kids will then be the ones with the “uneasy conscience” of last century’s Carl Henry, urging us out of our ghettos and back into the public square.

Another possibility would be that this issue paralyzes the church, leaving people to fear cultural backlash to the point we are silent in our witness.

There is also a third way: as society’s marriage culture crumbles further, we witness to the world, not only in our stated positions but also in our families to the beauty of God’s original design.

Loving People, Not Positions

Twenty years ago, the pro-life movement was derided for caring only about babies and not about women in distress. Since the rise of crisis pregnancy centers, few say such things anymore, and when they do, the slander doesn’t stick. It’s clear that evangelical opposition to abortion is coupled with acts of love and compassion toward women facing an awful choice.

Today, evangelicals are derided for caring more about marriage laws than gay and lesbian people. There’s a kernel of truth in this assertion. Too often, we’ve turned people into positions that volley back and forth as a political football – even sometimes trying to protect our rights so much that we fail to call out true discrimination when we should. We can do better. Indeed, we must not only do better, but be better.

What can evangelicals do to show that our belief in the sanctity of true marriage is just as uncompromising and unwavering as our love for gay and lesbian people created in the image of God? How can we be simultaneously committed to upholding biblical marriage and loving our gay and lesbian neighbors? I don’t know all the answers to that question. Nor am I sure of the best way forward, but I do know that we stand in a long line of Christians who often stood against the world for the good of the world. May it be said of us that our opposition to certain cultural developments is always motivated for the good of the world we’ve been called to reach.

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162 thoughts on “The Fault Lines Before the Evangelical Earthquake”

  1. The redefinition of the terms “evangelical” and “evangelicalism” is not confined to evangelical denominations. In the Anglican Church in North America, a denomination that was largely formed from congregations and clergy which broke with the Episcopal Church over the issue of homosexuality, there is concerted effort to redefine as “evangelical” unreformed Catholic beliefs and practices that Anglican evangelicals have historically viewed as not consistent with the teaching of Scripture and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies.

  2. mike wittmer says:

    This is a very helpful summary, Trevin. It reminds me of Faulkner’s quote, “History isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

    You may be right here, but I wonder about this line, “This century, the revisionists want to hold on to the essence of Christian miracles while minimizing the cultural embarrassment of the Bible’s morality.”

    I catch more than a whiff of naturalism in the revisionists’ writings, and I wonder if all of them would insist on an empty tomb. They may, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the miracles go next.

  3. Susanna says:

    Thank you for this post. It is really helpful. The question I keep wondering about as I read everyone’s views on the WorldVision decision is: Why don’t evangelicals treat remarriage after no-fault divorce as seriously as they do homosexuality?

    1. Susanna, the people who are concerned with the issue of gay marriage are not the same people treating divorce and remarriage lightly.

      1. Charlie says:

        Sarah – I don’t think that is true. I don’t know of any evangelical church that will refuse to marry someone whose been divorced. These churches may treat divorce as a serious matter, but I don’t see any of these churches acting on Jesus’ teaching that “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

        1. Rick Wilson says:

          Charlie, I’m sorry that this has been your experience, but there are many churches that treat divorce very seriously. I am in the neo-reformed/new-calvinist movement and of the many churches I am in contact with, all treat divorce very seriously.

      2. Anon says:

        (anonymous to protect others’ identities). I’m an evangelical pastor who had to refuse to remarry a young lady whom I personally like and whose mom is a significant member of our congregation. The daughter had gotten married young, decided they’d made a bad decision and parted ways. It was a hard and painful conversation, but there are evangelicals who hold to scriptural authority over divorce and remarriage.

        1. Mary Gray Moser says:

          Anon, You are my kind of pastor.

    2. Jakob says:

      Susanna-Evangelicals treat the issues of homosexuality and divorce/remarriage differently because they fall into different categories. In the case of homosexuality, the evangelical position is that a “same-sex marriage” is no marriage at all. A marriage between a man and woman in which one or both were previously divorced, however, is in fact a legitimate marriage. It may be a marriage born out of disobedience, but it is still a real union.

      1. Joe says:

        God calls it adultery. There’s no reason a person in such an adulterous relationship cannot separate, repent and live a chaste single life (if their first spouse won’t have them back).

        In the real world, do any churches insist on this?

      2. Brian Jose says:

        Jakob, The niggling question remains for those who are making (homo)sexuality the dividing line for who is “evangelical” and who isn’t: Do you take Scripture authoritatively and if so, why do you do it inconsistently? Those who raise the question of divorce and the authority of Scripture often (not always) have a fair point. Many churches turn a blind eye to this one. (I’m old enough to remember when evangelicals did not do so, by the way.) Not to mention materialism, gluttony, etc as other issues that are overlooked by evangelicals. This article has labels those who disagree on this issue (and even those who agree but are happy to not exclude those who disagree) as not evangelical – if you disagree on this, you are, by definition, something other than evangelical. OK, then, if we’re going to be consistent, we have to start calling out every “evangelical” church that doesn’t take an equally strict stance on, for example, divorce and remarriage. Otherwise, we are singling out one issue (homosexual practice), and which is not, in itself, the Gospel, as a defining measure of who is evangelical. Anyone who disagrees “bow(s) before the prevailing idol of our time and dismiss(es) the authority of Scripture”. Really? Just saying, but the prevailing idol of our time in America is surely up for debate: greedy, covetous materialism, with militarism (which “preserves our (materialistic) way of life” as a closely intertwined partner surely deserves discussion, for a start. So the assurance of the exclusion — over one issue — is a troubling trend, in my opinion, and I would question the consistency in handling Scripture of some who espouse it.

    3. rockscryout says:

      Probably because the divorced people aren’t parading around proudly flaunting their sin, displaying public disdain for the Bible’s teaching, and demanding the normalization of their behavior.

      1. Bob Wilson says:

        They are not? Newt Gingrich asked to be elevated to the presidency and won the Republican primary in South Carolina.

    4. Rick Gibson says:

      Susana:

      I have two replies for you. First, in my Evangelical church, we take divorce very seriously. A great deal of the ministry, and of work in small groups, is dedicated to strengthening marriages and to avoiding divorce. The teaching is very clear that divorce is wrong, and there is a great deal of emphasis upon avoiding it. (As a practical matter, avoiding divorce comes up much more frequently than homosexuality, because divorce is a much more common problem among our members.)

      Second, you seem to want some sort of church punishment directed at those who have been divorced. You seem to want them thrown out of the church. That position is not biblical. Yes, divorce is a sin, but the Bible teaches us to forgive those who repent. The difference between divorce and gays is precisely that a divorced person can repent, remarry and stay true to their spouse, whereas a gay person cannot repent of their sin, and remain actively gay.

      1. Joe says:

        A divorced person has not repented if they remarry!!! Why is there no church discipline directed at those who have been divorced? Pure hypocrisy!

  4. Tad Hampton says:

    I think that World Vision’s issue may be its own identity crisis. A couple years back, serving as a missionary in Africa, I listened to the director of World Vision for our country explain to a gathering of evangelical church and mission leaders that her organization was a “generally Christian” one. Not an evangelical one. I was surprised by her openness about it. The practice of World Vision over the decades in our area certainly reflected such a perspective, in my view. Not that there haven’t been some fine evangelicals on staff, but their real corporate concern was “doing good”, or more recently refocused to “helping children.” Who they worked with and who they hired were driven by that pragmatic goal.

    But in American evangelical circles World Vision is seen as one of our own. Somewhere there is a disconnect. Perhaps too much money is involved. From where I sit it looks like the YMCA all over again.

  5. Mark says:

    Add “evangelical celebrity machine” to your list of fault lines. It’s waiting to bust out seismic waves of epic proportions.

    But I don’t fear because I know God’s Church can withstand any size quake.

    1. Angela says:

      truth

  6. Douglas says:

    Since I’ve lived in Mexico for a year and a half, I can speak for the global church. Mexicans would see revisionists as outside orthodoxy and standard Christian belief. When I tell my wife – who is a Mexican national – about “progressive Christians”, she doesn’t understand. I could never see them influencing the church in Mexico.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      I’ve had similar responses in Romania. The Parliament recently voted 97-2 (I think) against same-sex marriage. One quote (I paraphrase) saw the idea as an imposition of foreign values on Romanian society (and that they’d been through that with Marxism before, and it didn’t end well). The Church worldwide simply isn’t divided on this issue; it’s the progressive wing of the Western Church that is pushing the agenda and causing division.

      1. Brian Jose says:

        Douglas and Trevin – I live in Albania, and have worked in many cross-cultural settings dating back into the communist time in Europe (but can’t speak for the global church — who can?). Of course your example, Douglas, illustrates the views of many cultures, who don’t “get” this whole Western “thing” about homosexuality. That’s not because these cultures are somehow wonderfully through-and-through Biblical, though. There are also big issues about being ashamed of their disabled children and domestic abuse, just to name two. As for the imposition of foreign values, satellite TV and social media (even blogs!) are doing a great job of exporting American values — much more effective than Marxist propaganda ever was. And 500 years of the Ottomans shaped SE Europe more than the blip of Marxism, not to deny how tragic that was for many. This is a lesson to each of us — how much of our theology is shaped by our own experience? Does any of us read the Bible apart from cultural bias? Trevin, I’d suggest that to blame what you label the progressive wing of the church for “causing division” is a bit disingenuous. It seems to me we’re only beginning to see widespread helpful thinking from evangelicals now. (Sadly, 20+ years too late to hope to win the debate.) I’d blame our myopia and inertia, as well. We’ve finally woken up to the issue when confronted by a changed society, and we can’t blame “progressives” for causing that.

  7. stevenkopp says:

    That’s a very nice summary, thanks.

    While I’m pretty solidly in the “evangelical” camp, as you describe it above, I wonder a little about your prediction of the “moderates”. You say that this group will shrink because it’s an unsustainable position. I don’t disagree that it’s unsustainable but historically, it seems as though these kinds of controversies still leave room for a large group of moderates.

    Two examples I’ve experienced in my still relatively short lifetime.
    #1: The question of origins, creation vs. evolution. In the church I grew up in literal creationism was practically a criteria for salvation and at least a criteria for believing in the fidelity of Scripture. Today, at least in my current environment, there are a large number of “moderates” who only feel they need to say that God’s Word is true and that he is the Creator, but are content to say they don’t really know how long it took God to create the world. And, they are far less likely to say that “old-earth creationists” don’t believe the Bible. In this case, it looks like the “moderates” group is increasing and the more classically “evangelical” position is shrinking.
    #2: Women in ministry. Again, in my Southern Baptist church it was believed that people who thought women could be ministers didn’t really believe the Bible was true. Again, while I am still complementarian, and I work in a complementarian church, positions seem to have softened quite a bit. As a church, we’re not going to call a woman minister, but I think we would, in the right context, partner with a church who does.

    There are differences between each of these issues. I don’t intend to say there is a direct correlation. I just want to observe that in some cases the “moderate” position, while it appears initially untenable, turns out to still attract wide appeal.

    1. UncleM says:

      Perhaps the problem is that young earth creationism and biblical infallibility are ridiculous concepts.

      1. John K says:

        I Corinthians 1:18-31.

        1. rockscryout says:

          Amen, John K. Amen.

  8. Keith Kraska says:

    When I comes to various contentious issues, I think the key factor is motivation. Why do we believe what we believe?
    If someone does not believe homosexuality is sinful, is it because they’ve done a careful, submissive exegesis of Scripture and honestly believe that’s what the Word of God teaches … or is it because they just don’t want to believe that? Is it because they read the general teachings on loving others and assume that must include affirming their choices, regardless of what else the Bible has to say?
    Since the Bible has nothing good to say about same-sex couplings, any support of it must be read into it. One cannot objectively conclude Biblical affirmation; there must be a bias to it.
    And that’s the issue. It’s rebellion. It’s thinking, “I know better. I decide what’s right and wrong.” That’s the undercurrent of their “interpretation.” Scripture must conform to their beliefs, or else it’s invalid.
    Trevin makes a crucial point: “Those who revise Christianity’s sexual ethics are often the same people who deny that Jesus is the only way to God, that there is a hell, that the Bible is fully inspired and trustworthy, etc. A liberal doctrine is never an only child.” Obviously, the less one likes what the Bible has to say, the less likely they are to believe in inerrancy.

  9. Sean says:

    This is my first time commenting on a TGC blog.

    Thanks, Trevin for posting this. I’ve followed the World Vision story (Actually, reading “The Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns now), and I was deeply troubled by what I saw this week. If I had to put myself in a category, I’d say a conciliatory evangelical, maybe even a moderate. I think homosexuality is a sin. However, I do believe that, without realizing it, we’ve elevated homosexuality to “special sin” status, and seen them as simply “The enemy” or “The other side” in the culture wars of the past few decades. It makes me wonder how many people, who struggled with same sex attraction, have embraced homosexuality full on because they thought that they were worse than other sinners? The thought makes me incredibly sad.

    We all say “Hate the sin, love the sinner”, but how do we do that without condoning the sin, and letting them know that God loves them as much as any other sinner? Liberals just want to “love” the sinner, and conservatives just want to “hate” the sin. Not quite sure how to practice that, personally, but I’ll have to work that one out. Again, good article.

    1. Robert says:

      This is an issue I struggle with deeply as well–and I have never discussed it openly on a blog like this before either. I welcome anyone’s thoughts.

      I want to be faithful to God, I believe I am a sinner in need of God’s grace, and I believe that salvation came through Jesus–that my actions and/or “faithfulness” really IS nothing. That is where I have turned–it is where I tell others to turn. That being said though, I used to be much more conservative in my beliefs as I began to apply them to others’ lives, but now I’m definitely less so.

      I’m 41 years old, and I personally know and interact regularly with many gay and lesbian people–both at church and in some of my community volunteer activities. I do see this as a “justice” issue. I can’t think of one of them that “has never heard” that Christians “in general” think that homosexual acts are sinful, and don’t know that “the Bible speaks against it.”

      I also agree that it appears that there is a “special recognition” for this sin. I’ve known men and women who have struggled all their lives–since before adolescence–and I personally minister with children and youth who have been adopted by gay parents. Whether any of the youth themselves are currently questioning those things for themselves, I do NOT know–we talk about sex, and even homosexuality, but nobody has admitted to that struggle. And we do preach “marriage is one man and one woman.” But I don’t spend a lot of time talking about that.

      Especially in my situation, I seem to have the choice of either encouraging children and youth to view these people that have adopted them and are raising them and loving them as “unrepentant sinners,” OR encouraging them (and the others in the youth group) to “honor their parents,” and to trust that the Holy Spirit is actually working in those that have given their hearts to Jesus.

      I can’t and won’t deny that the Bible says what it does. That would be foolish. It’s there whether I call attention to it or not, and most people these days can read well enough to find it on their own even if I don’t say anything (but I would be neglecting my responsibility if I didn’t say anything at all).

      I know that people (homosexual or not) have to know and feel patronized by the idea of “loving them, but hating their sin.” I would feel that same way. That was a phrase I used to use a lot–I’ve known it for at least 20 years, so I’m sure that almost everyone is familiar with it.

      A previous commenter described the idea that “moderates” will likely continue to exist–I think that some form of “moderation” is always going to be a comfortable position for people, so it will always be a natural draw–for any issue, but definitely for this one. I think that the idea that it’s going to go away somehow is unrealistic.

      I have also spent time being ridiculed by evangelicals for not believing in things like “young Earth” because “the Bible clearly says…” And I think that these sorts of things point to reasons why “the Bible clearly says…” isn’t as convincing of an argument for many as it used to be (it’s obviously part of why I struggle myself), and why the “revisionist” position may be appealing to some as well.

      Whether or not that “revisionist” camp lasts as a segment of accepted Christianity…I don’t know either. But I would be willing to bet that some of them are people who are genuinely trying to do the right thing, trying to honor God by serving others, and trying to live out the life that they genuinely think that Jesus wants them to.

    2. Geoff says:

      This is the issue I have with some moderates. This issue isn’t being highlighted for fun or some obsession. It’s being hit hard because the culture is making it an issue and it has become a test of overall fidelity.

    3. It’s a “special sin” status because it tends to be the canary in the coal mine for tossing scriptural authority out of the window. With divorce, it’s a “hardness of your heart” issue, in which no one promotes it or argues Jesus was wrong in saying it. But same sex marriage directly argues against scriptural authority and the authority of tradition, and usually a person willing to do that for one cause will do it for the rest.

  10. Jono Hall says:

    Trevin – good post. I fall squarely within the Evangelical camp. However I was wondering if I could appeal to you over your language. You may think I am splitting hairs, but I think it matters. You stated “homosexuals are created in the image of God and have innate worth and value”. I think part of the battle that is being lost at the moment is that homosexuality is no longer an action that is sinful as defined by the Bible, but rather it is an identity of a person and a people group. This leads straight into civil rights arguments, for which there will be no victory. The truth is that all humanity is created in the image of God and has innate worth and value AND all humanity is weak and corrupted by the state of sin and the actions of sin (of which homosexuality is simply one).

    1. Corey Pacillo says:

      I think that is a great clarification, Jono. Although people maybe born with homosexual tendencies, they are not to associate their sexual preference for their identity. God alone defines who we are, not the impulses we choose to act upon.

  11. In an effort at full disclosure, I will say up front that not only am I a Catholic, but a convert from Protestantism to the Catholic Church (of seven years ago), the type I lightheartedly refer to as “Ex-Smoker Catholics” since, like ex-smokers who are often more “strident” about not smoking than non-smokers who never did start smoking in the first place, they tend to be extremely exuberant their Catholic Faith (I have made jokes about “ex-smoker Catholics” railing about the side-effects of Protestant Theology’s “second-hand smoke”). But of course I love my Protestant brothers and sisters and only make this admission because, although I think my comments below are valid “independent” of my Catholic Faith, I recognize that they rely on what is seen as primarily a “Catholic” issue.

    In any case, my comment is that I think, as wise and commendable as the author’s reasonings and divisions into groups may be, he is missing an essential ingredient in the issue that, I’m sorry to say, in my opinion invalidates or nullifies most of his conclusions. That essential ingredient is the connection between sex and life — in current social terms, I am of course referring to contraception. I applaud those Protestant and Evangelical churches that stand firm against abortion and gay “marriage,” and I hope they continue to do so. But I must say that though particular individuals within those churches may be able to hold their position “to the end”, my strong belief is that without the “support” of a belief that contraception thwarts God’s will for marriage (along with, of course, the dissolubility of marriage and the rejection of Divorce), the positions against abortion and particularly against gay “marriage” cannot stand for long, at least in terms of denomination-wide positions. I think the “logical” conclusion, if sex is “divorced” from life via contraception, can only be acceptance of any definition of “marriage” that one likes, since it is then only confined to mere “feelings” of what love might be construed as.

    Again, I realize that contraception is an issue that is seen primarily (though not exclusively, certainly) as a “Catholic” issue, so it may be hard for non-Catholics to separate my comments above from my Catholic Faith. But I think they are separate, though obviously connected by a desire for truth. And as separate, I think it can be argued in this manner even by non-Catholics.

    So my point is that Trevin Wax’s article is well-written and well-taken and certainly valuable to an extent. But without the foundation of the recognition of the perils of contraception, his conclusions, in the end, will not matter terribly.

    1. Ellen says:

      Not Catholic, but I agree with you. These issues are all of a piece, and giving on one, which Protestants did years ago, means ultimately giving on all of them.

    2. Alli says:

      Stanley, there are churches I’ve gone to where Protestants taught that birth control is ungodly. But, as do Catholics, they also used Natural Family Planning to “space” their kiddos. I’ve been through Nat. Fam. Planning classes and listened to all the reasons it’s “not birth control” and came to the conclusion that it is an euphemism for- contraception! Biblically, the reason for a man and wife to not have sex is to devote themselves to prayer for a short time. The reason people practice NFP is so they don’t have babies at an incinvenuent

      1. NFS is not for everyone (Catholic or no) and can certainly be abused, as can anything. But if someone tried to equate avoiding overeating and limiting oneself to healthy foods with bulimia and said, “they’re all just forms of dieting”, I would suggest that there is something wrong in their assessment.

        “The reason people practice healthy eating habits is so they don’t gain weight at an inconvenient rate” is an “ok” way to put it I suppose, but it is a rather intentionally negative way of putting an otherwise positive thing — i.e., to let the food digest and be used by your body in a healthy manner (that bulimia definitely is NOT).

        Some people can eat exactly the same foods as others and still have problems, so various “dieting” methods may be appropriate for some that are not appropriate for others. But outright denying the purpose of food as nourishment by getting to enjoy the taste and then vomiting it back up (which is essentially what “contraception” as we know it in the popular sense is) is not appropriate.

        And even from a secondary aspect apart from nourishment, the very enjoyment of tasting the food eventually becomes distorted and corrupted under such conditions (although the person operating under such conditions may not recognize the change that has occurred in their ability to even enjoy healthy pursuits).

        Sin is like that in general. As C. S. Lewis suggests in The Screwtape Letters, Satan only allows the “pleasure” of sin in order to capture the sinner in the first place — he would much rather the sinner eventually engage in committing the sin without any subsequent “enjoyment” at all. And that is in fact what eventually happens. A nasty thing, that.

        In any case, NFP or no, my point (and it is my opinion as a prediction only — though it does reflect what Pope Paul VI wrote and predicted in his encyclical “Humanae Vita” in 1968) was that the complete separation of sex from life for enjoyment purposes only (again, the sexual equivalent of bulimia) WILL eventually lead “logically” to an acceptance of just about any definition of “marriage” that we want to concoct. If it is only tied to “feelings” and “enjoyments” and “love” of any definition, eventually “anything goes”.

        I love my car. I can hardly wait for the day when society allows me to marry it.

  12. Joseph says:

    I see a similar crisis of definition emerging with the use of the term “Gospel.” The regular phrase I tend to here in church singles is “_______ is a gospel issue, referring to any number of things.

    Does “gospel issue” meant to be synonymous with the word “non-negotiable” or does the phrase mean “an issue that affects the good news of the kingdom.” And with NT Wrights new book on Paul – I don’t even think “evangelicals” are going to necessarily agree on what that good news is.

  13. Ryan says:

    I will go on record as a proud, unwavering, moderate – as oxymoronic a position as that may seem. I have indeed felt the pressures Trevin mentioned in his post, but I would like to see some clarification on one issue.

    Certain elements of the “Revisionist” camp do indeed give me flak for refusing to sever ties with my more conservative friends, but that I can understand. What I struggle to understand is the conservative’s constant assertion that there are underlying issues of Biblical authority. Yes, there are some instances where this is the case – but not every Christian who believes that homosexuality is not a sin has arrived at that conclusion by saying “Well, the Bible’s just outdated and shouldn’t be taken seriously.” There are many Christians who believe that the prohibitions of homosexuality in Scripture are either referring to specific practices (i.e. sodomy or heterosexuals “experimenting”) or that they are contextually specific (i.e. Corinthian men not sleeping with male temple prostitutes), or that they are the result of a mistranslation of some sort (i.e. the ever-controversial arsenokoites).

    Now, I don’t agree with those arguments. However, I also can’t look at someone who holds to them and say “They are undermining the authority of Scripture.” These Christians have arrived at their conclusion that homosexuality is not sinful through careful study of the Bible, tempered by historical, theological, and linguistic context. Does that mean their position is automatically equal to any other position that involves careful study of the Bible? No, of course not. However, I really don’t understand the logic behind the mentality that this sort of approach is a threat to Scriptural authority.

    If we were to be consistent about that sort of thing, we would have to conclude that any position that differs from what we believe is a threat to Scriptural authority (actually, to be honest, on some days it feels as though that’s the direction we’re going in anyway).

    1. Rick Wilson says:

      Ryan,
      I think one of the answers for you is because Christians have historically never believed that homosexuality is not a sin, or that the Bible is not clear on this. This is why we can be so sure to say “They are undermining the authority of Scripture.” We have church history and orthodoxy to stand on, and Protestants (I am one, and a baptist church history teacher) need to learn to be more comfortable playing that card. It matters.

      1. Ryan says:

        To be perfectly frank, what Christians have historically believed is pretty shaky ground for Protestants in general, and Baptists in particular.

        Four hundred years ago, people were saying that historically, Christians never believed that only believers should be baptized, or that the Bible wasn’t clear on that. It was only when certain groups pointed out that perhaps the Bible wasn’t as clear on it as everyone thought, and that maybe some of the earlier Christians were doing it after all, that credobaptism really started to pick up.

        Is this to say that homosexuality and baptism are similar or even comparable issues? Of course not. However, I am trying to point out that Protestants (and, let’s face it, us Baptists in particular) have a tendency to only appeal to the historic views of the church when it suits our purposes.

        Again, if we’re going to do this, we have to be consistent. And if we’re to be consistent about it, then we need to consider that most of the Baptist distinctives run contrary to what Christians throughout history have believed, and how those Christians have read the Bible.

        Like I said in my other post, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t stand on history and orthodoxy only when it is convenient to do so.

        1. Rick Wilson says:

          You give away too much, history is not nearly as shaky as you concede. It’s absolutely not true that most Baptist distinctives run contrary to what Christians throughout history have believed. If you’re going to nitpick secondary issues we can be here all night, but I’m talking about the basics of the faith and obviously discounting Roman Catholic Papal heresy.

          But anyway, as I said, you give away far too much, and I don’t know what the motive is. The thing is, if Scripture is clear on something as it is on homosexuality AND almost all Christians throughout history have had the same views on homosexuality, then you have something and you are not being disingenuous. That was the point, it was both of those things.

          Weak knees disguised as humility is not going to do the job. You have ground to stand on, stand.

          1. Ryan says:

            “It’s absolutely not true that most Baptist distinctives run contrary to what Christians throughout history have believed.”

            So you mean to tell me that the majority of Christians throughout history have been credobaptist congregationalists?

            “I’m talking about the basics of the faith”

            No you’re not. You’re talking about homosexuality.

            “obviously discounting Roman Catholic Papal heresy”

            Ah, now the pieces come together. However, discounting the first fifteen hundred years of church history does not make for a particularly compelling approach.

            Since you are unclear as to my motive, my motive is this: The notion that Scriptural infallibility, and the Gospel in general (and, yes, some people have made this into a Gospel issue) rests upon a theological concept as secondary – nay, tertiary – as the sinfulness of homosexuality is an absurdity. Both Scripture and the Gospel are more resilient than that.

            At the end of the day, it’s fearmongering, plain and simple. It’s not presenting cogent argumentation, it’s not thinking carefully about the issues, it’s saying “Oh, you’d better agree with me on this, otherwise you’re attacking the Bible!” It is anti-intellectual foolishness. If people feel that homosexuality – or any other issue, for that matter – is important, then provide argumentation about why it’s important and why your position is accurate. Banging on about how it’s undermining the core of Christianity is categorically reprehensible and entirely unproductive.

            It puts me in mind of a few decades back where no one would shut up about how premillenialism was a Gospel issue. Emotional manipulation and fearmongering, that’s all it is. And I don’t have to disagree with their theology to call them out on their bogus practices.

          2. Rick Wilson says:

            You’re the one throwing out terms like Gospel issue, that’s not what I mean to say. However, what is a Gospel issue is questioning something that God has clearly said. That’s the point of me bringing history in to it. Not only is Scripture clear (you don’t seem to be debating this), but also history is clear. This is a settled issue. Why are you so willing to compromise on this? It must be a desire to bend to cultural whims and not be seen as a bigot. That must be your motivation.

            Basic sexual ethic is NOT the same thing as millennial views or baptism views. That’s just historical not so. It really is this cut and dry, and you need to defend the sexual ethics of the Bible. That’s all there is to it.

            If you are just unwilling to do so then yes, I do question if you are a Christian or not. You’re either very foolish or unregenerate. This is where we are.

            As an aside, goodness, Roman Catholic Papal heresy is not nearly the first 1500 years of church history. Goodness.

          3. Ryan says:

            Ugh, I was wondering when the whole “YOU DISAGREE WITH ME ON THIS POSITION THEREFORE YOUR SALVATION IS IN QUESTION” nonsense would come out. Like I said – fearmongering nonsense. Rather than attempting to make an argument, you beat people with the spiritual stick until they submit to your position. It’s the same thing with gender roles (“EGALITARIANISM IS A SLIPPERY SLOPE TO UNDERMINING THE CROSS”) and creationism (“IF YOU DENY A SIX DAY CREATION YOU DENY THE GOSPEL”) and whatever other theological kerfuffle du jour evangelical leaders have decided to center their faith around.

            Have you ever heard people say that they leave the church because the church won’t let them ask questions? This is why. Because when they ask questions, they’re told “DON’T QUESTION THAT IT WILL LEAD YOU AWAY FROM THE GOSPEL.” I mean, I even believe that homosexuality is sinful and I still feel like you’re questioning my regeneration just because I’m not excommunicating my brothers and sisters who feel differently.

            And I’m not sure what you mean by Roman Catholic Papal heresy. I assume you mean the existence of the papacy, in which case, yes, since the first century of Christianity. If you mean something else by that, then please elaborate.

          4. Rick Wilson says:

            There is no valid reason for questioning whether or not homosexuality is a sin. Any reason for questioning that will indeed lead you away from the Gospel. I just don’t get where you are coming from our what your baggage is that is leading to this nonsense.

            The Papacy didn’t really develop till the late 300s and not really in the form we know now until Leo in the later 400s.

          5. Ryan says:

            I’m not sure what you’re talking about with the papacy. We know for sure that the papacy was at least in place by ~70-80 AD when Anacletus came on the scene; probably earlier with Linus, and possibly even earlier with Peter, though that last one contains no small controversy.

            While I will acknowledge that we certainly saw a consolidation of power in the 5th century and the authority of the Pope elevated above what it had been, the office of the Pope has been around since the earliest days of the church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Papist myself, but I see no reason to pretend that the first couple centuries of Popes didn’t exist. I would say that they perhaps had more in common with the EO’s Patriarch of Constantinople as “First among equals” than later imaginings of the Papal Office, however.

            As for the rest of it – if you truly and honestly believe that this is a foundational issue, that if homosexuality becomes accepted the Scriptures will unravel and the Gospel will collapse – then hold to what you believe. I wish you all sundry luck and prosperity, but it is a road I shall not travel down.

          6. Rick Wilson says:

            Nonsense and insanity.

          7. Ryan says:

            Well, that convinced me.

        2. Frank says:

          Ryan,

          Here is why you can’t compare baptism to homosexuality:

          1) There is some degree of ambiguity when it comes to what Scripture teaches about baptism. Infant baptism is not mentioned explicitly in the Bible. Christians on both sides of that issue would argue that Scripture IMPLIES their position is the correct one. But neither side can point to EXPLICIT teaching on the issue. That’s why there has NEVER been 100% unanimity in the Christian church when it comes certain beliefs about baptism. The same can NOT be said for homosexuality. Up until very recently, there WAS 100% unanimity in Christianity that homosexual acts were sinful. Can you point to any other important doctrine where 100% of Christianity was wrong for almost 2,000 years?? You can’t. After 2,000 years it’s pretty easy to separate doubtful matters from certain ones. Doubtful matters have a history of controversy….theologians and bible scholars have disagreed for centuries over issues like baptism, divorce, millenial views, etc. No Christian theologian or bible scholar ever proposed the idea that homosexuality was OK until the sexual revolution took place resulting in CULTURAL PRESSURE to change positions.

          2) More importantly, Scripture tells us that unrepentant homosexuals will NOT inherit the kingdom of God:

          “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10)

          That’s why this issue is CRITICAL, not secondary. If what 100% of Christians believed for almost 2,000 years is correct, then anyone who teaches that homosexuality is OK with God is leading others to perdition. Jesus said it would be better for such persons to be drowned in the sea with a millstone tied around their neck. There is no middle ground on this matter because souls are at stake.

          Obviously some Christians are wrong about things like baptism. But nowhere does Paul say that those who practice infant baptism (or don’t practice it) will not inherit the kingdom of God. For that reason alone, we can’t put homosexuality and baptism in the same category.

          It’s shocking to me how cavalierly the pro-gay revisionists dismiss almost 2,000 years of unanimous Christian belief on homosexuality. I’m not saying it’s IMPOSSIBLE that all Christians could have been wrong for so long. But to go against 2,000 years of Christian witness, you would think the arguments of the revisionists were overwhelming. They are not. They are lame. And even if you could explain away EVERY verse in the Bible that condemns homosexuality, you are still left with NO verse that actively supports it. Genesis and Jesus still say marriage is for a man and a woman. And they also teach that all sex outside of marriage is sinful. That leaves no room for the acceptable practice of homosexuality, even if all those passages which condemn homosexuality were absent or misinterpreted for 2,000 years. Besides that, there is NOTHING in the human anatomy that even HINTS at the idea that God intended people of the same gender to interact sexually.

          No one who takes the Bible seriously can claim that it’s teaching on homosexuality is ambiguous or unclear. The reason this issue is so controversial is NOT because the Bible doesn’t speak clearly on the issue. It’s because the Bible’s teaching on sexuality goes against the grain of our pornified Western culture that has made an idol out of sexual fulfillment, and sadly there are some Christians who are more eager to make peace with the culture than be counted fools for Christ by this world. So they seek cover by pretending that the Bible is unclear on the issue but it’s not.

          1. Ryan says:

            I dunno, Frank, that sounds a little circular to me. If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying that baptism differs from homosexuality because even though most of church history was united against credobaptism, the Scriptures have always been a little unclear on the issue – however, even if Scripture were shown to be unclear about homosexuality, it wouldn’t matter because most of church history has been united against homosexuality.

            Let me know if I’ve misunderstood something here.

            Also, the notion that the only reason anyone could disagree with you on this issue is because they’ve been corrupted by cultural influence is an old and tired caricature that ought to be put out to pasture – on all issues, not just this one. If you disagree with someone’s assertion that Scripture is not clear on this issue, refute that with Biblical evidence, don’t bang on about their character and how they’ve obviously been corrupted. That is the opposite of constructive.

          2. Frank says:

            Ryan,

            “If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying that baptism differs from homosexuality because even though most of church history was united against credobaptism, the Scriptures have always been a little unclear on the issue – however, even if Scripture were shown to be unclear about homosexuality, it wouldn’t matter because most of church history has been united against homosexuality. Let me know if I’ve misunderstood something here”

            No, I’m saying that comparing homosexuality to credobaptism is apples to oranges. The idea that God approves of homosexuality was 100% COMPLETELY UNHEARD OF for the entire history of the church up until the past couple of decades (right after the West launched a sexual revolution). Credobaptism may have been a distinct minority view historically, but it was not unheard of. I’m saying that the utter absence of a single pro-homosexuality voice among Christendom for 2,000 years might be an indicator that the Bible is pretty clear about the matter.

            “Also, the notion that the only reason anyone could disagree with you on this issue is because they’ve been corrupted by cultural influence is an old and tired caricature that ought to be put out to pasture”

            You honestly believe cultural pressure has no effect on the views of professing Christians on matters like this? Let’s look at the past 50 years. Do you think it’s a mere coincidence that the push to ordain women to the clergy in the mainline denominations occurred right AFTER the feminist movement got under way in the secular culture during the 60s and 70s? Is it a mere coincidence that these same denominations moderated their views on divorce right AFTER the divorce revolution and the introduction of no fault divorce laws somewhere around 1970? Is it also a coincidence that some of these same liberal denominations passed resolutions saying that premarital sex was ok for leadership…once again this happening right AFTER our culture’s sexual revolution got under way? You honestly believe that all these liberal scholars and theologians came to the new liberal views on these sexual /social matters and it had NOTHING to do with the cultural climate? It was all just a wild coincidence that they “saw the light” after the culture started pressuring them to change? And here we are now a few more decades into the sexual revolution which is now focused on homosexuality, and you think it’s an “old and tired caricature” for me to propose that we’ve got the same thing happening now that we already saw happen with female ordination, divorce and fornication….”scholars” finding new interpretations on these matters that conveniently fall in line with what the culture is demanding at the moment?

            “If you disagree with someone’s assertion that Scripture is not clear on this issue, refute that with Biblical evidence”

            Romans 1:26-27
            Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error

            This is not talking about “experimenting heterosexuals”. Paul talks about men burning with lust for other men. A man who lusts after another man is not a “heterosexual”. In any case, neither the word “heterosexual” nor any simile to it is used in this passage. It’s being foisted onto the text to make it say something revisionists want it to say.

            Also, all revisionist attempts to explain this passage away by saying it was all about ritual prostitution are ignoring the precise language. Paul’s complaint is that humans sexually abandoned the opposite gender for the same gender. Most prostitution is heterosexual, so if prostitution is the only thing that Paul was trying to condemn, why would he only talk about homosexual prostitution? In any case, the word prostitution isn’t even there. It’s another word being foisted onto the passage.

            I could go and on. But like I said, even if all these passages in Paul have been misinterpreted for 2,000 years you are still stuck with Jesus word’s in Matt 19:

            “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’a and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”

            According to the pro same sex marriage side of the argument, gender is utterly meaningless to marriage. They say that marriage is merely a covenant of love and it doesn’t matter what the gender of either party is. Jesus says the exact opposite. He said that God’s plan for marriage was the very reason He decided to create two genders…male and female. Jesus ties gender and marriage together as part of God’s initial purposes at the time of Creation. This modern idea that God doesn’t care about gender when it comes to marriage completely contradicts Jesus’ argument.

          3. Bob Wilcox says:

            There actually were heretical Christian sects that practiced homosexuality (the Bogomils and Cathars were accused by their opponents of doing such).

            Ironically, both the Bogomils and Cathars are considered by some Baptists (the ones who adhere to the Trail of Blood nonsense, as I suspect Rick Wilson above does) to be examples of “true” Christian groups in opposition to the established “false” Church.

          4. Simon says:

            The Corinthians verse is interesting. It mentions greed. Given that most of us here are from wealthy countries (US, UK, Australia etc.) we’re all in the greed camp from a worldwide perspective. Most of us have money in the bank, or put aside “for a rainy day” or pension plans etc. Meanwhile the number of deaths per day that are easily fixed go on and on. Actual deaths. This is one of the reasons that I find the boat missed on homosexuality. Let’s deal with the camel, then strain the gnats.

            (And you can look at the other terms there too, since Jesus said that looking lustfully at a woman is equivalent to adultery, we’re all (well, assuming we’re honest) in trouble there too.)

    2. Nathan Smith says:

      This is spot on Ryan. It is difficult to entertain what the author is suggesting and if falls in to the camp of:

      1. Attempting to put labels on a cultural shift faster than everyone else to mimic a race to the moon. These categories were actually first suggested by Ed Stetzer in the Emerging Church debate of last decade, but are being newly applied to this debate.

      2. The author has a goal of leading us to choose the one of the more extreme positions, claiming that the moderate position is untenable. It actually be that it is the best position for many given that this issue still isn’t full-blown. There are still some things to work out.

      3. The comparison of this issue with the modernist-fundamentalist debate is not as apt as the author would like to claim. The Neo-evangelicals were actually trying to distance themselves from the Fundamentalists because they disagreed with their extremes. In many ways, they represented a moderate position in the modernist-fundamentalist debate, but were a johnny-come-lately to the scene. That tends to be the case because moderates tend to be non-reactionary and wait for the dust to settle to forge a way forward. The author doesn’t acknowledge that.

      4. Moderates also are misrepresented because their positions aren’t as clarified as immediately as the others have been historically because they need time to do so, but don’t dismiss this process. It might actually be wisdom at work.

      5. Lastly, this may not be a cultural shift that mimics the politics of a century ago. It might actually be a much larger shift than that. There have been major shifts in the past that happen on a larger scale within the Western tradition and this may be the build-up to one of those rather than one the author is assuming. On top of that the author’s assumptions fall within church history’s life in the Americas, but similar situations have played out differently at different times in history and locations leading me to believe that we aren’t beholden to the by-gone conclusions of a century ago. Something new and better could actually happen, and I am hoping and praying for that.

      1. Caleb says:

        Nathan,

        Good points. Wax’s post is just political posturing.

    3. Joe M says:

      “Something new and better could actually happen…”

      Only if you tilt towards the progressive side. In which case talk of being a moderate is a bit misleading.

      1. Nathan Smith says:

        Joe M,

        I am anticipating that the New Creation of which we will belong to has as its goal, the equipping of those that follow Jesus in this era for the new era of reality. We aren’t equipped to exist in the New Creation because our bodies, thoughts, injurious attitudes, immaturity, sin nature, etc. are not able to experience what God has prepared for us in the age to come.

        I have a hard time believing that you would not want what is coming and that we shouldn’t be at least hoping for a taste of that in the present. The miracle of unity, and it is a miracle, will be in full color then and it something that we can at least assume for our future and live into during the present. If that’s the case, then we have to assume that the categories Trevin has postulated here all fall short of what we are meant to experience in the true reality of God’s renewed creation. Until then, we have to deal with all the shortcomings of what it means to be a human being in community with other humans, but our anticipation of the coming reality should be the presiding factor that draws us together – thereby nullifying these categories as all, including being in the Evangelical category (as he’s identified), as incomplete and unsatisfactory. None of us, nor our representative constituents are experiencing the kind of communal relationships we are meant to experience.

        That doesn’t mean we ignore the present issues or how Trevin has drawn categories around expressions of people’s convictions, but it does mean that we are not to totalize any of these positions as if they were God-breathed, fully sanctified or presently perfect or even completely correct. All of them are missing the mark.

        The problem is that each believes themselves and their cohorts be at the center of what God holds as the purest and truest form of Christianity and any communal interaction with the other groups is us and God deigning to their distortion, impurity, etc. I can’t accept that any of these designations is doing it well or correct to the standard that God holds and that the weights by which we measure each other’s fidelity to God are all weighted in our favor. This will be my contention with my brothers at TGC and has been since they began as an organization (as well as before).

        Anyway, I’m longing for the day when we sit at the table of the final feast and celebrate the Lamb that was slain for us and put all of this behind us. In some way, I’m hoping that we can experience some of that reality in the here and now even though we can’t in its fullness.

    4. John K says:

      It’s not enough that people say they believe the Bible. Lots of people misinterpret the Bible to support unbiblical positions. They have to believe what the Bible actually teaches, which calls for lucid, proper translation (while I don’t mean it this way, if you think this is condescending or patronizing for me to say, so be it). When people believe the issues about homosexuality being mistranslanted in I Cor. 6, Sodom not being punished for homosexuality, but for rape, that Paul was talking about sex with temple prostitutes, not homosexuality, and the business about the centurion’s servant being gay, etc., they are misinterpreting the Bible, and it’s not out of complete ignorance, but by consciously listening to gay “Christians” and/or their arguments, and by thus consciously rejecting the conservative arguments. Its a capitulation on some level to the spirit of the age. And there’s plenty of pressure to capitulate. If the conservative position is right, non-celibate gays who claim to be Christians and are members of churches have to be dealt with via Matt. 18 and I Corinthians 5 (yes, other sexual sinners have to be dealt with this way). Because per I Corinthians 6, they have to repent. Has the church failed in its duties this way. Many times, I’m sure (I did have a teacher who was pastor of a church where they did go Matt. 18 on a gay person, even breaking all meaningful fellowship with him, and he did eventually repent). But the answer is to repent of that too, not use that as an argument against gay marriage being sinful. Overall, it is an important issue, and it’s also a litmus test. Usually (if not always) people who will say that gay marriage is OK biblically have other problems.

      1. Ryan says:

        “they are misinterpreting the Bible, and it’s not out of complete ignorance, but by consciously listening to gay “Christians” and/or their arguments, and by thus consciously rejecting the conservative arguments.”

        With all due respect, this is an absurdity. You’re not even articulating why they’re wrong, or why their arguments are flawed. All you’re saying is “Well obviously we’re right and they’re wrong. Anyone with a brain can see that. They need to stop listening to the gays who are trying to corrupt them and instead listen to the conservative Christians who have the truth!” Do I really need to point out how logically fallacious that argument is? You’re not addressing their points, you’re saying “I dislike the company you keep, ergo you are wrong.” It is mere posturing and bravado – bully-boy tactics to attempt to coerce others into accepting your position.

        “If the conservative position is right”

        Yes indeed. Your entire position hinges upon these words. What if it’s wrong? What if it’s partially right, but incomplete?

        “Usually (if not always) people who will say that gay marriage is OK biblically have other problems.”

        And what might those other problems be?

        1. John K says:

          “You’re not even articulating why they’re wrong, or why their arguments are flawed.”

          I wasn’t attempting to. And I’m not giving a detailed argument here. I will give extremely brief answers: the arguments are deconstructionist, add things to Scripture that aren’t there, and smack of people trying to work around the clock to find a way to get around what Scripture plainly says. Since you said in an above comment that you don’t agree with those arguments either, I don’t think I need to elaborate to you in any more detail.

          ““If the position is right”

          Yes indeed. Your entire position hinges upon these words. What if it’s wrong? What if it’s partially right, but incomplete?”

          No, it doesn’t hinge entirely on those words. And I don’t believe everything that the evangelicals have done is 100% right on this issue. But I believe the theologically conservative position on gay marriage from scripture is right.

          “It is mere posturing and bravado – bully-boy tactics to attempt to coerce others into accepting your position.”

          Name calling is a bully tactic. By basically calling me a bully, you’re the one using bullying tactics. Look in the mirror. And as far as accusing me of coercing, is it even possible to coerce someone in a blog comments section? If someone threatens someone personally, maybe I could see that, but I certainly never did that.

  14. Ryan says:

    I wanted to make this point in a separate comment, as it’s entirely unrelated to what I posted above:

    I think the real issue here is that we are still struggling to come to grips with what it means to be “low church.” There is no central evangelical authority. There is no council of evangelicalism. There is no evangelical statement of faith that everyone has to hold to. There is no authoritative definition of what evangelicalism is. These are just the realities of church in a non-magisterial setting.

    If I embrace or reject the LGBT community, and you tell me that I’m not an evangelical as a result, why should I care? You haven’t got the authority to dictate what an evangelical is and isn’t, and you haven’t got the authority to demand I conform to your definition. If you say “Ryan, you’re not an evangelical” and I were to say “Well, I think I am an evangelical. What now?” and there really is no answer. You’ve got no obligation to view me as an evangelical just because I said I am, and I’ve got no obligation to stop viewing myself as an evangelical just because you said I’m not.

    In order to have a meaningful definition of what evangelicalism is – which is a prerequisite for being able to determine whether someone is or isn’t an evangelical – you would have to assemble a council of evangelical leaders, and have all evangelical churches agree to submit to the leadership of that council. You would then need to have some sort of general, overarching collection of your theology so that everyone knows what it is you stand for – a catechism. Then, of course, your council of evangelical leaders have a disagreement on a particular issue, and suddenly you realize that the council needs to elect one person to chair that council…

    Do you see where I’m going with this? We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t reject any sort of centralized church authority, then attempt to draw up concrete, authoritative definitions of “evangelicalism” and excommunicate anyone who doesn’t align with them. The latter depends on the former. Without some sort of “Evangelical Council” – that we’ve all submitted to – ratifying your statements, no one has any obligation to adhere to any sort of definition or standard of evangelicalism.

    Again: we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We may either accept that evangelicalism is a very hazy and nebulous concept and that if someone calls themselves an evangelical, we haven’t really got any grounds on which to dispute that; or we may develop an objective and concrete notion of evangelicalism by abandoning our low church mentality and instead centralizing the evangelical church until we’re all under one banner. There really is no middle ground on this one.

    (I already know someone will say: But we need to have a definition of evangelicalism, otherwise it will just be a meaningless word! Yes, but who among us has the authority or the wisdom to arbitrate that definition?”

    1. Ellen says:

      Yes … I no longer have any idea what evangelical means.

    2. JohnM says:

      Ryan, do you hold that because there is no evangelical council the word does not and never did have any meaning? That really no one should ever have used the term in the first place? Would it better be expunged from our dictionaries (where Evangelical and evangelicalism are in fact assigned meanings)? If you choose to respond I’d appreciate you thinking about those questions. I won’t presume what your answer would be.

      1. Ryan says:

        I don’t think I’d say they have no meaning, but I would say that the meaning has always been very ambiguous and fairly open to interpretation. I would also go so far as to say that this is the case with many Protestant camps in general – consider the spectrum of Calvinist theologians: John Knox to Jonathan Edwards to Karl Barth.

        I suppose the point I’m getting at is this: No evangelical leader has authority over me or any other evangelical unless they willingly choose to submit to it. John Piper, for example, is not my pastor, so he has absolutely no authority over me and he can excommunicate me or declaim me as a heretic all he likes – it carries no clout. I’m not going to care, my church isn’t going to care – why? Because, again, he has no authority.

        See, this is our great challenge. I’m not proposing a sort of relativistic church where everything is equal, but I am saying that we need to come to grips with the fact that we have no real method of ratifying what we believe the definition of evangelicalism to be. No individual has any particular reason to adhere to what someone else says evangelicalism is, or even what the majority of evangelicals say evangelicalism is.

        Does this mean that evangelicalism is a bit of a free-for-all? Yes, it does, and personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If someone wants authoritative definitions that have been laid out by the church for everyone to either accept or reject, congregational Christianity (which is what evangelicalism is, despite the involvement of the occasional presbyterian or episcopalian churches) is simply not what they’re looking for.

        I pose you the question: If evangelical leaders were to decide that I am no longer an evangelical, what impetus have I to listen to them? Why would I acknowledge their statement and cease to refer to myself as an evangelical? What prevents me from saying “No, I am an evangelical, it’s you who’ve gotten the definition wrong?”

        It has been argued that low-church Protestantism is inherently post-modern, and while I’m not sure that I’d go that far, I think we do need to understand that many concepts such as heresy, excommunication, and catechism make no sense unless everyone involved has submitted to the authority of the people who uphold them.

        1. JohnM says:

          Thanks Ryan.

          Let’s start with this: “If evangelical leaders were to decide that I am no longer an evangelical, what impetus have I to listen to them?” There are evangelical leaders? Who said anyone was that? Well, you just did. :) Apparently there are people you define as evangelical, and leaders at that. I think it indicates you do recognize the meaning is not entirely ambiguous or entirely open to interpretation. I’d also note, it does not take formal authority to speak authoritatively.

          Then let’s consider: “congregational Christianity (which is what evangelicalism is…)”. Well now. :)

          The thing is, I don’t believe all the many Christian scholars who have researched and written on the history and characteristics of what they labeled evangelicalism really didn’t know what they were talking about. For that matter, I don’t think the many journalists and commentators who have reported on evangelicalism over the years were really confused, at least not all of them all the time. I don’t think the dictionaries get it all wrong. The term has long had a generally understood meaning even if there is disagreement over the details.

          1. Ryan says:

            I hear what you’re saying, and I certainly agree with you to an extent – if someone said “I’m a non-practicing Buddhist who doesn’t believe in any sort of gods at all, so I think of myself as an evangelical Christian,” even I would be forced to say “Yeah, I don’t think you are.” So I would affirm that there are some boundaries.

            However, I maintain that those boundaries are very ambiguously defined – and even more ambiguously enforced.

            Hahaha, as soon as I posted the comment I’d realized I’d phrased the part about congregationalism poorly. There are certainly many evangelical churches that are presbyterian or even episcopalian (lower case letters because I’m referring to the system of polity, not the denomination). Evangelicalism, as a highly decentralized concept, is in that sense deeply congregationalist, but of course it is not necessary to be part of a congregationalist denomination in order to be evangelical.

            Finally, I wouldn’t say that the people who have written on evangelicalism have misunderstood it, but rather that their understanding is not binding. After all, the movement has shifted and changed an awful lot in the three hundred-odd years since it began.

            Where I could consider drawing the line, I think, is that evangelicalism is a movement based around salvation through faith alone through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is obviously incomplete, as there are many outside of evangelicalism who would still hold to that, but I think it’s a decent working boundary. We can poke and prod at it a bit but by and large I suspect it gets the job done.

            The problem, however, is that many of the controversies that are today being held up as “standards” of evangelicalism haven’t really got anything to do with that boundary, or really any other boundary. I think what we’re seeing happening today is that a variety of people are upset with the boundaries of evangelicalism and as a result they are trying to shift them, in one direction or the other. My point is that I don’t really feel any obligation to acknowledge those shifts, and don’t see why anyone else should, either – if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and discover that the definition of evangelicalism has changed and that I am now either too liberal or too conservative to fit in, I would go on my merry way and continue to refer to myself as an evangelical Christian anyway, because why not?

            I realize that I’m resting on a very thin middle ground that rejects both an objective understanding and a relativistic appropriation of evangelicalism, but to me its the only way I can see to navigate the tension here. Evangelicalism obviously means something, but what does that entail?

          2. Ryan says:

            In any case, I appreciate your questions, John. It’s good to think through these things. I’ve got to go to bed, but I leave off with a slightly glib but in some ways rather rather apt definition of evangelicalism that my friend is fond of: “An evangelical is anyone who spends their time arguing about what evangelicalism is” ;)

          3. Robert says:

            Ryan,

            As someone who is genuinely trying to sort through this issue in a way that I believe would honor God, I deeply appreciate your engagement in these conversations.

          4. Rick Wilson says:

            What on earth is there to sort through! God HAS said. The Church has been unified. There is nothing to sort through here, guys please just believe what God has said.

          5. Ryan says:

            Rick:

            What I’ve been getting from you throughout all this is that you refuse to acknowledge that people can have differing convictions over what God has spoken.

            There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your guns and holding to what you believe God has said – indeed, after all, is that not the task of all Christians? But I believe we need to hold this truth with an open hand, and I’m just not seeing that from you. You’re not saying “While I realize that there are some arguments for reading the Bible as pro-homosexual, I believe that such readings are flawed because of x, y, and z” you’re saying “Don’t even consider it. Why are you people asking this question. If you even think that maybe there’s a possibility of Scripture not being as harsh on homosexuality as what I say, then you’re being led away from the Gospel and I have to question whether you’re even a Christian.” (And yes, for anyone wondering, this is his position. See his comments above)

            To be perfectly honest, your comments here are indicative of an attitude that is not interested in dialogue about the truth of Scripture, but instead is interested in plugging your ears and shouting at people until they go away. I realize I’m being more than a little uncharitable here, and I apologize for that, but I really don’t see anything more to your position.

          6. Rick Wilson says:

            Ryan,

            No, just no. Not everything is debatable. We’re not supposed to dialogue about what Scripture has clearly said. To be blunt, you think you are being clever and intellectual and having a dialogue – Ryan, you are just a simple fool. And we are not supposed to dialogue with and plead with people like you. We are to warn you and speak clearly and then in the end, be done with it. There is no disagreement here, and your protestations will not make that anymore so. God’s Word is clear, the Church is unified, and dissenters are NOT welcome. The Fault Lines are clear indeed.

          7. Ryan says:

            Isn’t he great, folks? Let’s give him a big hand.

  15. JohnM says:

    Trevin, I have to wonder how much daylight there really is between the Moderates and the Conciliatory subset of Evangelicals, as you describe the latter. Before we talk about a conciliatory approach we should ask: Is conciliatory an option 1)the culture will even allow in the first place 2) an stance the church may ever rightfully take toward sin?

    A few questions regarding fundamentalists occur to me. Did the fundamentalists really make an unmitigated mistake given the options before them at the time? Without fundamentalism are we sure there would have been an ongoing evangelical movement? Did fundamentalists truly withdraw from any interaction with the world?

    I have my own criticism of fundamentalism, but it doesn’t necessarily include that fundamentalists took a somewhat less expansive view of the public implications of the gospel than did, say, your Combative evangelicals, or the mainline churches.

  16. JoshK says:

    I can’t help but think that your overall analysis of the conflict makes me feel even WORSE about the whole thing. You write,

    “…the controversy was never about the legitimacy or worthiness of people with differing views of marriage doing good work around the world…No, this particular controversy was about the meaning of evangelical.”

    So people pulled support of kids over the (re)definition of an English word coined centuries after the Bible? I know you don’t mean that, and I’m not accusing you of believing that, but I actually think you’re accurate in this assessment, and it’s profoundly unsettling for me.

  17. How convenient that, after such thoroughly objective thoughtfulness, you happen to land in the only category that is on Jesus’ side and has any hope of surviving the future.

    The longer I observe evangelicalism (I say this as an evangelical), the shorter and darker its future looks. Evangelicalism is collapsing in on itself. Pretty soon, its leaders will have to “farewell” themselves because it is simply impossible to measure up to the perfection demanded by its leaders. Maybe, they’ll realize that they need grace along with those immoral “moderates” and “liberals.” Or maybe they’ll just continue to keep the gates closed and gleefully kick people out for not adhering to ridiculously narrow tenets. We’ll see.

  18. ty says:

    Unfortunately I feel as though the Churches influence and overall strength in America is coming to and end at a very high rate of speed and will look much like Europe’s Christian Church within 20 years. When major pastors and Christian leaders are going out of their way to stay away from these issues the writing is on the wall. Couple this with media and 95% of TV shows promoting a liberal message, the only way to reach people is with direct interaction of sharing the Gospel. I mean one can’t watch ESPN or have your kids watch Sesame Street without hearing a secular, wordily message. People are losing their jobs and getting sued because of their Christian beliefs. This is today’s America and has really accelerated to this level over the last 5 or 6 years. Christian values are immoral values by Americas standards now. It hurts to think about how everything has changed so quickly but I’m going to put my hope in Jesus and His plan for my life and His plan for America.

    1. David Shane says:

      That is one of the most amazing things to be ty – how QUICKLY this change has happened. Gives me a tiny, but only a tiny, bit of hope that it could quickly change back. But I think a lot of mistakes have come together to allow this quick descent into error – a culture that values sentiment over reason, a media that lives in 140 characters or less, niche media that means you never need to listen to anyone who disagrees with you, and much more.

  19. ken stewart says:

    I am feeling chagrin at the line of analysis taken and the range of choices provided in this article. After all, World Vision _did_ back down in response to donor concerns and even so, you can be sure that they realize that they have permanently shaken the confidence of part of their donor base. Other loosely-evangelical organizations, just as capable of ‘wobbling’ on this issue, can take note of World Vision’s self-inflicted wounds.

    My caution is that we need to be aware of embracing a self-fulfilling prophecy about evangelicalism’s inevitable doom. If you believe that this is how it will inevitably unfold, it becomes that much more likely to happen — inasmuch as we will do less to reason and plead with the type of folks who wavered this time around. American evangelicalism has always had an abundance of loose ends; it has always been an uneasy coalition. What’s new?

    If we look around in American culture, there are not a few evidences that Christians are standing up to resist this apparently inevitable ‘collapse’. People are streaming out of the concessive Episcopal Church US over this issue and re-affiliating with groups that take a firm stand. PCUSA evangelicals, similarly, are re-affiliating with newer denominations and networks which have taken a stand over this issue. Meanwhile, to their very great credit, the Assemblies of God (to which evangelical Americans do not give enough credence)took a strong lead in calling World Vision to account. This glass is at least half full.

    Keep the evangelical coalition functioning. Its demise is not inevitable and those who are certain that it is need to guard against slipping into a new fundamentalism, which draws the circle too tightly.

  20. Big Mike says:

    As usual, Trevin, you’ve nailed it. Thanks for standing for the truth.

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  22. Mark Pertuit says:

    Trevin, you put yourself firmly in the “combative” category by reserving the “evangelical” label for those who agree with you on sexual ethics. I am in agreement with you re: sexual ethics, but your approach is very tendentious. This is the essence of inflammatory. Did it occur to you that some people are in process re: these matters, and that slapping a pejorative label on them is not helpful?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      We live in interesting times. Any line-drawing is seen as automatically combative and inflammatory. It must be difficult to read the apostles, with all the line-drawing that goes on there.

      I recognize and agree with you that there are people in process in all of these categories, and labels do not capture the complexity of human thought and practice. They are generalizations intended to help people see where they are or where they think they are.

      When it comes to evangelical, however, there’s no historical doubt that evangelicals have been united on the question of marriage and homosexuality. It is only the recent decade where people who have identified with evangelicalism have departed from the traditional view. Globally, this is not in dispute. “Evangelical” has not included differing views on a doctrine as fundamental as marriage. It could be that the future definition of evangelical will incorporate this revision, but I suggest the word by that point will have lost its helpfulness. One of the reason many of the revisionists are disavowing the term “evangelical” this week is because they recognize the lines, however implicitly.

      Moderate is not a perjorative label. Many of these folks are peace-makers who hate conflict and are tired of this debate. I get that. It’s possible to be in the moderate camp and still identify as evangelical, but I think this possibility is shrinking due to pressure on both sides.

      1. Caleb says:

        You’re not an apostle, fyi.

      2. Mark Pertuit says:

        Hi, Trevin —

        A. Yes, as Caleb said. And, no, I don’t a problem with line-drawing.

        B. What I take issue with is your concern over the “word” Evangelical, which is very clear in your article. What’s less clear is concern over persons. I say that because you’re combatting for the definition. Yes, “moderate” is absolutely pejorative when you use it over against “evangelical.” It’d be a fine word if you’d written “moderate evangelical.” Those are very different terms. You’re basically acting like (to use Frame’s term) one of “Machen’s warrior children”: either you’re with us or we throw you out of the boat.

        C. Maybe you should be less concerned about being a self-appointed Evangelical gate-keeper. If, in fact, you care about the proper definition of marriage, then make your arguments winsome. As it stands, this one is very hostile to people who may be wrestling with admittedly difficult cultural issues. Like I said, I agree w/ your sexual ethics. But you’re throwing your red-meat conservatism around, which is sure to please TGC regulars, and equally sure to insult Evangelicals who are moderate or progressive. If they believe that Christ is the only way to the Father, then I think you should be very slow indeed to strip them of the name “Evangelical.”

        1. Nate says:

          It feels like even classifying sexual ethics or the definition of marriage as “admittedly difficult cultural issues” is giving away far too much. Difficult for whom? Not for Christians in terms of what we are to believe about these things, and what Christians have always believed about these things. Perhaps these are difficult issues in terms of what our approach and relationship should be to the culture at large re: sexual ethics and marriage, but that is not the context of this discussion, I don’t think. I don’t think we should concede to those who want to say we are “wrestling” with issues that God has spoken clearly on.

          1. Mark Pertuit says:

            Nate, if you have someone in your family or circle of friends who’s self-identifying as a gay Christian, and who believes there’s nothing wrong with same-sex unions, then yes, it is a very difficult cultural issue. The difficulty is for us, in holding to a certain set of moral teachings, w/o compromise, and yet making sure that our leading edge is love and compassion. Pastorally, this makes all the difference in the world. It means we don’t rush people to decide “yes or no” on our moral position; we give them time and space to work through things. If we just announce our sexual ethics, that is easy — and it will surely drive people away fast. But who cares about sexual ethics, if they never learned *from us* that Jesus wants to relate to them? If we can’t be in relationship w/ homosexuals w/o reading them verses about their behavior (which we are much slower to do w/ heterosexual sinners), then we will be useless in terms of witness. That’s much easier, though, than sticking w/ people and giving them truth in the much broader context of grace and love, and giving them time to reconsider their lives.

        2. Trevin Wax says:

          Mark,

          I believe I made it clear that we need to be concerned about persons, not just positions (see the last paragraphs).

          I have no power or authority to strip anyone of the name evangelical. I’m just a millennial who is seeking to interpret current trends within the bigger picture of global evangelicalism and historical precedent. I don’t think that makes me a gate-keeper. And I have a hard time seeing anything in my article that could be represented as “hostile” or belittling to people. Disagreeing with a group, or thinking one position is unsustainable over the long haul, is just my opinion. It doesn’t mean I’m being hostile to the group. If others want to make a case as to why evangelicalism should broaden the tent to accept different views of biblical authority, sexual morality, etc. then they should make that case.

          I’m puzzled by the end of your comment. “If they believe that Christ is the only way to the Father, then I think you should be very slow indeed to strip them of the name ‘evangelical.'” Are you saying that only those who believe Jesus is the only way to God can be considered evangelical? If so, then what do you say to those who think we should have a bigger tent in evangelicalism than that? It appears you are drawing lines too. We all do. The question is – are the lines helpful, are they accurate, and how can we best move forward when competing visions are in conflict?

          Like you, I want evangelicalism to thrive in the next century.

          1. Mark Pertuit says:

            Trevin — I’m saying that you’re drawing lines based on sexual ethics. When you define things as you have, at a blog hosted by TGC, it gives the impression that you’re gate-keeping — whatever your motives may be (I don’t claim to know). So, you’re drawing lines, and I’m saying that if people are confessing Christ, then surely that confession is an important identity-marker (you seem to trump it w/ stances on sexual ethics). I’m not personally interested in the business of defining who is and who is not “evangelical” — that’s what seem to be up to. That’s how it reads. I gave an example.

  23. Darren Whitehead says:

    This is a helpful summary. This frame work actually helps to bring a little order out of the emotional chaos and conflict that is defining this issue right now. My only thought to add is that the title “Evangelical” as the third group is probably unhelpful. Many who subscribe to one of the first two positions may not be ready to surrender that title. My suggestion for a revision would be:
    1. Revisionists
    2. Moderates
    3. Traditionalists
    My 2 cents…

  24. Rick M says:

    I’m moderate and don’t see that position as unsustainable. Occultists get married; violent men get married to abused women; polygamists get married and are rewarded with their own TV shows. But gay marriage will harm the institution more than these others? Please. The ending assertion — that pro-lifers opened up a few CPC’s and thus put to bed the assertion that they aren’t holistic in their approach — is absolutely ridiculous as well, but it does explain the logic leaps in the rest of this article.

  25. Rick M says:

    World Vision USA is reporting today that 10,000 child sponsorships were dumped as a result of the organization’s “announcement which it promptly reversed.” So Wax’s call for church folk to be “uncompromising” and “unwavering” on this issue will likely be readily accepted by those who have no problem ditching their commitments to the world’s poor in order to win a little ground in the culture wars.

    1. Nate says:

      Unacceptably uncharitable commentary, Rick. First, when an organization is chartered to feed the poor in both body and soul, and then announces they will no longer be feeding the soul – it is good and right to withdraw support. We must be committed to both body and soul, and an organization that says that gay marriage is real marriage can help no one’s soul. But second, it is preposterous and an outright lie to say that this means support for the poor has been withdrawn. Every person I know who withdrew support immediately redirected those funds to faithful organizations doing the same kind of work. Every. Single. Person. Stop it, Rick.

      1. Rick M says:

        Nate: The child who is sponsored sends letters to his/her supporter, as well as a photo. There is an investment in the life of an individual. How do you explain to the child that Mr. Smith in the USA will no longer be writing letters? If you want to ferociously defend the pulled sponsorship as no biggie, go ahead, but I’m not buying it. A sponsorship is a long-term commitment to one person, and shouldn’t be dropped lightly.

        1. Nate says:

          Dropped lightly!! World Vision violated a sacred trust with the Church, and the ones burned are the aggressors?! Your thinking is bizarre. The hands of the faithful are tied, one cannot support an organization that calls holy things that God says lead to eternal damnations. There is no wiggle room.

          1. Rick M says:

            Actually, the “ones burned” are the kids, whose sponsorship evaporated before their eyes.

          2. Nate says:

            So I guess in your mind then (seriously) the kids who were alternatively sponsored in both body and soul do not matter? Is it not better to feed both the body and the soul, if a choice must be made? How do you square with that?

          3. John K says:

            This is actually to Rick. 10,000 kids is a big hit, though WV might have an emergency fund to deal with losses of donors so children aren’t immediately hurt (I knew that Compassion Int. had that sort of thing years ago), but if so, maybe not for 10,000. Personally, if I was with WV, I wouldn’t have immediately dropped them, but would’ve informed WV within 1-3 months I would end it. Personally, I don’t think it’s right to instantly drop it for no other reason than their announcement, because of the children. However, some of those dropping it might have had other issues prior and this was the last straw. I don’t know.

    2. Nate says:

      To Rick M, to Ryan above – http://www.dennyburk.com/god-has-his-winnowing-fork-in-his-hand-pleithart/. There is nothing moderate about you all, and the lines are indeed being drawn. Be on your way please and find something else to call yourselves, we’ve no need of you here. We have too much work to do in this age. Winnowing Fork, indeed.

      1. Rick M says:

        Thanks, Nate. This conversation has warmed my heart.

        1. Nate says:

          It wasn’t supposed to tickle.

  26. Ryan says:

    “Be on your way please and find something else to call yourselves, we’ve no need of you here.”

    Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll stick around anyway.

    1. Nate says:

      Right, Ryan, you’ll just stay and cause division and chaos, as wolves always do. Beautiful.

      1. Trevin Wax says:

        Guys, if you can’t elevate this conversation, please take it elsewhere.

        Thanks.

        1. Nate says:

          Trevin, I know what you’re saying, and sorry. But I also don’t know what to say anymore to the Rick Ms and the Ryans. Not just here, but all over, the conversation seems to be ending and there is only fighting now.

          1. Trevin Wax says:

            Well then it’s best to disengage. This blog is for civil conversation, not fighting.

      2. Ryan says:

        Well, I don’t know if I’ll stay forever. I mean, this sheep’s clothing is pretty scratchy.

  27. Nate says:

    Sorry for the contentiousness earlier. I appreciate Trevin because he’s writing about on-the-ground realities that are developing quickly. My biggest concern is that the American church at large (the only one I know) is not awake to these massive divisions forming, and the coming chaos is going to hit many like a freight train. Some churches are aware and preparing behind the scenes, but also largely remaining silent with their people. The average lay person needs to know that massive divisions are coming, and that this is not wolf-crying of a “culture going to hell in a hand basket” variety, but honest warning about a situation critical to our time and place in church history.

  28. Colin says:

    Another possible long-range outcome. Trevin, I know you wouldn’t want this to happen, but where would you put in the ballpark of possibilities?

    Liberal revisionists shrink as they tend to do historically. However, some of the revisionist theology on accepting same-sex relationships is absorbed into the greater evangelical camp over the next fifty years.

    What’s the precedent? A good number, if the not the majority of abolitionists and civil rights leaders, were liberal revisionists of varying sorts. Ultimately, their social justice emphasis overwhelmed their commitment to the Gospel and they shrank, but they did the countercultural and theological trailblazing necessary for more cautious evangelicals to eventually embrace their new ideas (so much so that many evangelicals now retroactively try to show they were always against slavery and segregation).

    Granted, this would technically have no bearing on the ultimate morality around same-sex relationships, but given that the majority of Millennial evangelical Christians now support same-sex relationships (or don’t view as sinful)–could this prediction turn out to be true? What factors do you feel would make it more or less likely to be correct? Thanks.

  29. JC says:

    Count me as a revisionist. The issue of gay marriage is already decided but its going to take conservative evangelicals years to catch up and accept it. There are many people still privately uncomfortable with interracial marriage yet they never speak about it because the issue is resolved. Similarly church goers will continue to hold contempt for gay people but feel confined by culture to keep their bias to themselves.

    1. rockscryout says:

      The issue of gay marriage decided? By the society, maybe. By the legal system, probably. By the culture, indubitably.

      Truly conservative evangelicals, however, will not “catch up” as you suggest because our standards are not determined via societies conclusions, culture’s vapidity, OR the legal system’s trends. Many will defect because they never were “conservative evangelicals” in the first place. But we who remain true to the Bible and its teachings will cling to them as to a life raft in the rising tide of syncretism around us. True Christians will return to their counter-culture roots as the world’s salt and light in this respect. It will be a cleansing of the Church and a healthy development for the Body of Christ.

      Trevin Wax aptly asks, “What can evangelicals do to show that our belief in the sanctity of true marriage is just as uncompromising and unwavering as our love for gay and lesbian people created in the image of God? How can we be simultaneously committed to upholding biblical marriage and loving our gay and lesbian neighbors?”

      These are questions we will answer just as we addressed our shortfalls in caring for un-supported pregnant women, for example. Our distinctions will survive and the Church will be strengthened through the process.

      1. Rick M says:

        The church had an opportunity to be salt and light last week. But when 10,000 church members canceled their child sponsorships on a moments’ notice, they shamefully squandered that opportunity, and revealed themselves as moralizing hypocrites.

        1. rockscryout says:

          The Southern Baptist Convention suggested that sponsors pull their support, yes. But the advice was to re-direct those funds to an organization that still upholds Biblical values, such as Compassion International. If a sponsor took that money and went shopping at the mall then I would agree with you. However those sponsors were the victims of a bait-and-switch; everyone has the right to put their money in a place where they feel their values are being upheld, as many did. I’m sure you would do the some thing if an organization you were donating to suddenly made a drastic change to their policies that went against your beliefs. And that would be your right.

          1. Rick M says:

            If I had been communicating with an actual child for years, and that child viewed me as his/her WV sponsor, I would hope that I would not be in a hurry to tell that child I’m no longer going to help out due to my instant cultural outrage. WV’s child sponsorship model is part of the equation here, because it creates a relationship that you don’t see in more traditional forms of fundraising. If “truth” trumps all other variables, I guess you sacrifice sponsorships, relationships, children in developing countries, hunger relief, etc.

        2. They “had the opportunity to be salt and light”? No. Sorry, but they WERE being salt and light — that is, up until the point that World Vision itself unsalted the provisions and flipped the light switch off while they were in the middle of working.

          “Oh, I’m sorry. Did flipping that switch off cause you to bump into something in the dark? Well, don’t worry. I’ve turned it back on now — so don’t blame me about anything that might have happened in the interim. If you can’t see in the dark, it’s your own moralizing hypocritical fault.”

          Talk about redirecting blame somewhere else…

          1. Rick M says:

            They were being salt and light, until more important matters — homosexuality, an issue which Christ doesn’t even bother to address or mention in the Gospels — took over. No soup for you, kids; since we have reduced the list of sins to two things (abortion and being gay, both of which give us political leverage), this issue is more dear to us than feeding you.

          2. Stanley Anderson says:

            (I have to reply to my own post above since there is not a “reply” link to Rick M’s post)

            It’s a pretty amazing ability you have there to know what is happening with those cancellations. And also the ability to reduce a complex issue into two alternatives. If, as rockscryout wrote, those people didn’t redirect properly, then they have added to the problem WV created. But we don’t really know about that part, do we.

          3. Rick M says:

            I’m simply taking people at their word. Many of them readily admitted that they were pulling their WV sponsorships over WV’s hiring policies. There’s a direct line between the publication of the CT article – outrage – mass cancellations. It happened in the span of a few days, so we can assume most of the 10,000 cancelled over that issue. World Vision USA, in their conference call this week, certainly sees the cause-and-effect.

          4. Stanley Anderson says:

            Of course they are related (i.e., the cancellations and the hiring policy news). I wasn’t questioning that when I wrote “we don’t really know about that part, do we”. I was referring to (and sorry, but I think it was pretty obvious what I was referring to, but maybe not?) knowing what the cancelling parties did AFTER cancelling. If they just “went shopping” afterward as rockscryout mentioned and condemned, then of course the cancel-ors were behaving wrongly.

            But do you really think someone who would go to the effort to engage in that sort of sponsorship in the first place would be that negligent? Perhaps, but that is a pretty negative and pessimistic attitude to assume about them on your part. How about assuming instead, “we don’t know, but it’s probably safe to assume that people concerned about starving children enough to sponsor them in the first place would find other means of offering support”? There is such a thing as hoping for the best and at the worst simply saying that we don’t know yet.

            Tell me, if you found out that a charity you supported was suddenly discovered to be doing things you strongly objected to, would you not try to find a better way? I believe, for instance, that marriage is a binding thing. But contributions to a charity that reveals itself to be contrary to my ethics? — not so much. Do you think it is possible (and indeed responsible) that people are doing good to try to find the best manner of donating their time and money to charitable causes (whether you agree with their particular beliefs or not)?

          5. Rick M says:

            You are conveniently leaving out the sponsorship part, which complicates everything. If I decide to stop giving Prison Fellowship $200 this year and instead give it to the Salvation Army, I don’t think I’ve let anyone down. But when I pledged to sponsor little Anna in Peru — and then suddenly decide I’ve changed my mind — that seems far different than simply shifting dollars between organizations.

          6. Stanley Anderson says:

            “…when I pledged to sponsor little Anna in Peru — and then suddenly decide I’ve changed my mind — that seems far different than simply shifting dollars between organizations.”

            It would seem so, wouldn’t it? Do you think that maybe “sponsorships” might be a bit different and less “personal” than how you are portraying them for that reason? Or if not, that perhaps (again) your assumption of the cold-heartedness (“moralizing hypocrites” I think was your phrase) of the person who was engaging in such generous sponsorships might be misplaced, since neither you nor I know what the subsequent action was on that person’s part, who up to this point was engaging in a pretty personal “relationship” in the sponsorship? Do you think WV has any of that cold-heartedness you so glibly foist onto the people who have been trying to do good things in the world?

            Look, I think you and I both (and all the rest of the people here, I’m sure) want good things to happen. This is a tricky world — and getting trickier every minute these days, it seems — to try to do good without inadvertently doing something unintended. Some (long-ish) time ago, I had a person (in an online forum no unlike this one) chastise me for being against abortion because, you know how it is, “those anti-abortion people don’t care at all about the child once it is born — they just want to punish the pregnant girl” sort of thing.

            I pointed out to that person that not only did we support centers that helped pregnant women in hard situations, but that in fact, my wife and I have adopted two babies — one of a fourteen-year-old-girl and the other from a drug addict, and asked if that counted for anything. Surprisingly, it did not count for anything in this person’s opinion, who subsequently said that unless I could take care of all babies of pregnant girls in the world who were in trouble that I should shut up about the issue.

            At that point I suddenly realized that there was not much point in reasoning anymore.

            (I recently gave up Facebook for Lent. I hate to say, but I am probably in danger of nullifying that Lenten sacrifice by spending an undue amount of time on this thread. So I should probably relent on my replies here. I will read and think on any replies you might want to make in return of course. Again, I am sure that you want good things to happen at least as much as I do. We probably have different outlooks on how that is best accomplished. But I wouldn’t discount an equal desire to “do good” by those 10,000 — or however many they are — people in question over the WV “decision”. I might say of WV’s actions, “He chose…poorly”, as I think the line was in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. YMMV. In any case, God bless you and Lord have mercy on us all. We are desperately in need of it.)

  30. For those who may not have read back that far, see the opening paragraph of my first post to this article way earlier in the comments section for the caveat about my being not only a Catholic, but a Catholic convert – a “doubly” (sorry, cheap Spinal Tap ref there) sided sword of Catholic enthusiasm.

    In any case, the article’s subject(s?) of the reception of the idea of gay “marriage” and the analysis of that reception in terms of the definition and grouping of “evangelical” categories, along with the (and frankly, the more pertinent) ensuing contentious discussion about evangelicalism, strikes me as a very apt metaphor for the very subject of the article.

    For the homosexual community “pretends” with the idea of marriage, not unlike children playing house : “Here: you be the daddy and I’ll be the mommy, and my doll will be the baby” (except that the children at least have the form correct, even if they are missing certain aspects that they obviously cannot be aware of at that age). Likewise, it seems to me that the evangelical community has a similar idea about “playing” at Scriptural Authority – i.e., “Here: I’ll be the arbiter and you be the various congregations, and this issue (i.e. gay ‘marriage’) is the baby and we have to decide how best to raise it.” If the children playing house are a boy and a girl, it is pretty clear to them who the daddy should be and who the mommy should be, but in the evangelical community (as in gay “marriage”) the decision about who should be the “arbiter”? Well, not so much…

    Anyway, I hope this is not seen as being inflammatory or trollish. It is my honest opinion, and though it may seem to stem from a Catholic vantage point, I have tried to frame it (as I did the “contraception” issue in my previous post) as an issue “independent” of Catholicism per se (though it obviously “points to” certain Catholic issues about authority and all).

  31. Harry says:

    You people sound insane. So called “Christianity” in the U.S. in particular has become an abomination of right wing fundamentalists who would rather bicker for hours over one sin (homosexuality) while 10,000 poor children go hungry!! The scriptures warned us of this great “falling away” and the more articles I read from advocates of this son called “New Calvinism” the more I am convinced we are entering the final stages of that “falling away”. While “Christianity” in America and elsewhere have many sects that are more obviously off base or completely loony (for example Word of Faith and Prosperity) what worries me even more is this resurgence of Calvinism that seems on the outside oh so intellectual and scriptural but on the inside feels like it could be a sinister form of religious fascism.

    1. Rick M says:

      I totally agree with you, Harry.

    2. Alli says:

      Falling away from what, Harry? Proclaiming the Truth as well as feeding the hungry? World Vision is not the only way to feed hungry people. There are other relief groups that don’t compromise what God says in the Bible, AND spend less on overhead. I didn’t hear any of the World Vision people offer to make up any short fall in donations by donating any of their huge paychecks temporarily. They made a big mistake in ignoring God’s word, as they claim to be followers of Christian doctrine. If they have a shortfall in money, they can show they care by transferring the kids whose donations fall off to the other ministries whose donations increase. Everyone invoved in the decision should resign and clear-thinking christians committed to Biblical doctrine should replace them.

  32. Nate Johnson says:

    One thing missing in this piece when comparing the prior fundamentalist controversy. The old controversy was ‘safe’ for the individual within society. This is not the case here. By safe I mean you can forget about being a CEO if you have any trail of support for traditional marriage, e.g., Fire Fox. In the older fight it was ‘in-house'; now it is the power structures and their hegemony. We’re going to have know something of our call to suffering.

  33. Doyle Theimer says:

    Commenting on, “How can we be simultaneously committed to upholding biblical marriage and loving our gay and lesbian neighbors?” When churches face the larger issue of sexual indiscretion among believers–adultery, pornography use, co-dependence and addiction in our own ranks–and as we discover God’s help in the face of our powerlessness over our own desires and compulsions, I believe we will be in a position to respond to the LBGT agenda humbly, graciously, and without compromise. All Christians are called to abstain from desires of the flesh that war against the soul. All Christians are called to find their identity in the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ–that we through faith in him first and foremost identify as children of God, no matter the particular sinful tendencies we struggle with.

  34. Gary Cass says:

    Upholding truth and preaching Soli Christus is not confrontational as much as it is simply loving God and neighbor enough to speak the truth. The fact that the world sees it as some kind of attack on them personally is further proof of their need of Christ. Christ was Prophet, Priest and King and the church ought to reflect all of Christ in all his offices, prophetically by bold declaration of the truth, priestly byoffering mercy to the penitent and Kingly by advancing biblical justice under God.

    1. Rick M says:

      If you are known for speaking the truth, and not much else, you more resemble a Pharisee than you do Jesus. I could slap a “Fornicators Shall Never See the Kingdom of God” bumper sticker on my car and content myself that I’m certainly expressing a truth. But I can’t see how that message reflects the graciousness of the Christ I read about in the Gospels.

      1. Wong Wie Khiong says:

        Must truth be devoid of grace, or grace, devoid of truth? Someone once said, “Truth without grace is misleading; grace without truth is condemning,” recalling that our Lord Jesus Christ is described as “full of grace and truth.” From this World Vision saga, perhaps we Christians should be asking whether we are gracefully truthful and truthfully graceful.

        1. Wong Wie Khiong says:

          Sorry, there’s a typo (logical error). It should have been “Truth without grace is condemning; grace without truth is misleading.”

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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