One of the hidden drivers in our public debates about homosexual lust and practice is that a widespread and presupposed Pelagianism has riddled the church. I am happy to explain myself here, but I would like to ask you to walk with me for a piece.
Ability and Obligation
Pelagianism holds, among other things, that a man cannot be blamed for what cannot be helped. In this system, sin is defined in accordance with our ability to meet the standard. If we cannot meet the standard, then it would obviously be unjust to hold us to the standard. Ability limits obligation. If I have no ability to jump over the ocean to Hawaii, then clearly I can have no moral obligation to do so. Makes sense, right?
Except that this muddles the difference between natural inability and moral inability. Natural inability answers every moral accusation that might be brought against a man. I can have no moral obligation to pick up rocks in my driveway and bounce them off the moon, because I have absolutely no physical ability to do so. This kind of inability really does limit obligation. I do not feel guilty for my inability to fly like a bird, or swim like a dolphin, or burrow like a mole. Neither do I feel guilty over my inability to publish in staid and responsible journals. The metaphorical adjectives have to go somewhere, and I can’t just keep them in my head. They just crowd in. Where was I?
But if my inability is a moral inability, then that inability excuses nothing. In fact, this kind of inability compounds the sin, making it worse. The Lord does not call the Pharisees a nest of vipers, but then go on to make the crucial point that vipers can’t help being what they are, having been “born that way” to viper parents. Not at all. Nor did the Lord hasten to add that we should be building bridges not walls. Little narrow snake bridges. See what I mean?
A man can have the natural ability to do something that he has no moral ability to do. For example, I have the physical ability to walk down to our main city square, and to stand on a bench, and yell slanderous and malicious accusations about my deceased mother. I have the feet, I have the lungs, I know the words, and no one has a gun pointed at me to prevent this from happening. But while I have the natural ability to do it, I do not have the moral capacity to do it. My point is considerably stronger than I would rather not. My point is that I couldn’t. Natural ability to do “this or that” and moral ability to do “this or that” are clearly two different things.
Sin According to Scripture
Now all this is because sin is defined by Scripture, and not by our inability to do what Scripture requires. The fact that we have no moral ability to do what God requires of us compounds our guilt, and does not remove it. We have the natural ability to do what God requires—a true statement does not require more of us physically than a lie—but we do not have the moral desire. Our hearts do not desire holiness. This kind of inability, created by the shackles of what sinners want, cannot be compared to an innocent inability.
Consider this short litany. Before conversion, we are all objects of wrath by nature (Eph. 2:3). We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We were slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). Slaves can’t run free, dead men can’t go their own way, and the one central thing that not one of us can run away from is our own nature. All of this language demonstrates a radical inability, and all of it points to blame resting on the one exhibiting that inability.
So Scripture has the authority to wrap personal responsibility around our dirty necks, and the world has sought to fight this authority by resorting to the language of “disease” or “addiction” or “genetic programming.” Those are the spoken words, but the Pelagian confusion is lurking in the background. If alcoholism is a disease instead of being the habit of drunkenness, which is a behavior, then we shouldn’t blame anyone for it. We don’t blame them for catching other diseases, do we? And if addiction zeros out ability, then it also zeros out obligation, which means that someone who kicks their habit can be treated as some kind of paragon. Moral philosophers of previous ages who watched any of the ticker tape parades we give to celebrate the heroism involved in breaking a vile habit would be, to use a favorite term of theirs, bumfuzzled.
Make no mistake: there is an important place for celebration over repentance. See the prodigal son (Luke 15:22-24). See the Lord’s statement about joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). But celebrating repentance is a very different thing from celebrating the innate goodness of someone who had a really tough time making it back into common decency. There are two mistakes to avoid here. One is that of the older brother, who wasn’t going to celebrate anything. The other is the mistake of the libertines back at the tavern who aren’t going to celebrate anything either, now that they had to pay for the hookers and drinks with their own money.
The Nature of Scriptural Blame
When speaking of the sexual sin that characterized false teachers, writers of the New Testament compared them to rutting animals who do what they do by instinct. Does this justify their behavior? Not even a little bit.
“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction” (2 Peter 2:12, ESV).
“But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude 10, ESV).
So then, the hunt for a “gay gene” was a hunt for a Pelagian get-out-of-jail free card. That is because, if they ever found it, they could wave it under the nose of the modern evangelical church, which is chockablock with Pelagianism and not-so-semi-Pelagianism, and they would all say, “Whoa. Can’t argue with the science.”
Right. Suppose the science to be good, for the sake of discussion. We can still argue with the implicit Pelagian assumption that moral inability limits obligation because it is just like natural inability, which, of course, it isn’t. Sin is defined by the God who made us, and not by our rationalizations, which have unmade us.
Because I am loath to leave any ambiguity, this is because Scripture does not just fault us for what we do. It faults us for what we are. The corrupt fruit we produce is blameworthy, and God will judge us for such filthy deeds. But the fruit reveals the nature of the tree, and a corrupt tree can do nothing but produce corrupt fruit.
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matt. 12:34–35).
How can you, being evil, speak good? The answer is that you can’t. The words that come from the mouth reveal the nature of the heart’s abundance.
Scientists Find the Viper Gene
So suppose that after dint of much federal funding, our scientists finally found “the viper gene.” This is the gene that makes us love ourselves, hate our neighbors, despise God, and cultivate our precious lusts. There it is, under the microscope. There, that little twisted black one.
If we are thinking biblically, we would not capitulate to this evidence on the basis of a shared Pelagianism. We would never say, “Well, then I guess that you all can’t help being vipers.” No. What we would actually say is something like, “Look at that! Proof that the Bible is correct! We are sinful by nature!”
Why would finding a genetic basis for homosexual lust ever excuse anybody? We know that heterosexual lust has a genetic basis, and Scripture still condemns it. A young boy is enjoying life, and all his waking thoughts are occupied with cultivating an honest work ethic by means of his paper route, and enjoying the simple pleasures of his baseball card collection. Then one day his body floods with testosterone—which he did not in any way request or ask for—and blam. Breasts and legs everywhere.
Bottom line: We are to submit ourselves to the standard set by Scripture. We are not to concoct some tomfool standard, assembled from the shards of our own moral helplessness. Otherwise, what is a gospel for?
Now as Van Til noted, unbelief oscillates between rationalism and irrationalism. A great deal of the groundwork for the homosex revolution was laid in a rationalistic application of the principles of this Pelagianism. If a man or woman “was born this way,” then it would be obviously unjust to blame them for what they could not help. So the argument has gone, and it has been pretty effective on Christians who have, unbeknownst to themselves, been quietly assuming a Pelagian rationalism that made them vulnerable to the argument.
But once the church was cowed by this Pelagian rationalism, once we were frozen in place by it, the world meantime has raucously careened over to the irrational end of the pendulum swing, now telling us that gender orientation is a social construct.
The world has given us an argument which, given our assumptions, “should hold us for a while,” and they have scampered off to find more genders than will ever be found under anyone’s microscope. The source for all these is not in the DNA, but rather in the fevered imaginations of our horny seers. Good luck cataloging the genome of the pornified mind—57 genders and counting.
But—and I shouldn’t have to go over this—if it is a social construct, then it is not a genetic construct. And if it is a genetic construct, then it isn’t a social construct. If it is a social construct, then you weren’t born this way because you weren’t born any way. And if it is a genetic construct, then the rebels are still constrained by the limits of a world God “tyrannically” imposed on them.
Instead of answering this conundrum, the revolutionaries have settled for telling us ignorant haters to shut up. “If you can’t tell the difference between sex and gender, there is no sense talking to you bigots.”
“They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return” (Jer 8:5).
“Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?” (Jer. 8:19).