A fine statement on social justice and gospel issues came out yesterday, and so I signed it. I would encourage all of you to head over there and sign it as well. On top of that, another edifying exercise might be for someone to keep track of who does not sign it, particularly among those that you might expect would sign it.
Now there will be critics of the statement, particularly from the soft left of evangelicalism, and the criticism will come in the form of “not comprehensive enough,” “didn’t go far enough,” “a reasonable start but,” and so on. The take on the gospel that is offered is too “Baptist” and “reductionistic.” This is the kind of criticism that will come from Kuyperian-thin college professors, men who teach film classes worldviewishly, but never reductionistically, but who, alas, are also busy boinking dudes of an evening.
Compare this to a Kuyperian-thick approach, from Kuyper himself. In his great lectures on Calvinism, Kuyper said (about a century ago) that modernism, his mortal foe, would not rest content until they had made men women and women men. He read the bottom line on the eye chart from a century away, and his Kuyperian heirs have their noses on the big E and still can’t make it out.
Perhaps the “reductionists” are like the son who said he wouldn’t go work in the fields, but then goes. Perhaps the comprehensive types are like the son who says he will work every square inch of the field (Kuyper reference!), but then spends the day watching daytime television with a bag of Cheetos on his lap. Perhaps the comprehensive types don’t comprehend anything. Perhaps the reductionists know more than all their teachers because they know God’s law (Ps. 119:99).
What Lies Beneath
I am going to appear to be changing the subject here, but this is only an appearance. What the evangelical world needs right now is a bracing sea breeze, a brisk 20 mph encounter with something called truth-off-the-bay, something that will clear away all this kultursmog that envelops us. We are being lied to, and we are being lied to in numerous ways. We are being lied to all the time, and about virtually everything.
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).
The simplicity that is in Christ. Remember that. We have not become a subtle people, as we think. We have become prey to a subtle serpent, as Paul warned.
I want to address why evangelical Christians, many of them dear people, are falling for these subtleties. Why was the Revoice conference even a thing? Why and how is it possible for Living Out to release an audit that seeks to shame any Christian who recoils from loathsome desires? What are we thinking?
Allow me to have a shot at explaining it. We too often focus on the spectacular sin at the end, and pay little or no attention to the run-up to that sin. We lament the fact that a man wound up in bed with the wrong person, and ignore the preconditions—the evening of drinking and flirting in a bar he shouldn’t have been frequenting in the first place. We draw the line at actual homosexual copulations, but shout down anyone who dares suggest that such copulations are encouraged, enabled, and advanced by the effeminate lisp. Anyone who dares suggest that this might be a factor is denounced as a dangerous legalist, because the apostle Paul says nothing whatever about lisping.
Now no responsible person ever would say that sanctification is a cakewalk. No sensible teacher in the church would ever say that holiness is a breeze. And this is particularly the case with regard to sexual sanctification. And this difficulty belongs to everybody, hetero-sinners and homo-sinners alike.
One Puritan lamented the ape that was “gibbering in his loins.” The apostle Peter said to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (1 Pet. 2:11). The apostle Paul said that we needed to be engaged in mortal combat with inordinate desires (Col. 3:5). John Owen said that a man should not think that he makes any progress in godliness “who walks not daily over the bellies of his lusts.” And C.S. Lewis said that our battle was ongoing. “We may never, this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government.”
Now how is it possible to be enlisted wholeheartedly in this kind of fierce battle against your own degraded and degrading lusts, and still feel good about yourself? I will slip you the answer here—it is not.
But we live in a time when the central imperative is that everyone, absolutely everyone, has an ongoing right to feel good about themselves. This is an axiom (from the world, straight from the pit) that has been almost entirely adopted by the evangelical world. God don’t make no junk. We call it biblical self-assessment, but it is actually a crucial part of the gospel of therapeutic Deism.
And so now suppose we have an evangelical Christian who is afflicted with same-sex desires. Accepting the teaching of Scripture, he knows that he must not get it on with a member of the same sex. But he has this recurring desire, this recurring temptation, and this constant draw in that direction. In addition, there is the cultural imperative that he must not think of his lusts (ever present) as degraded and degrading.
Reapply What Chesterton Said . . .
Chesterton was once asked why he had joined the Church of Rome. His reply was “to get rid of my sins.” Leave out the Church of Rome part, and this kind of motivation for coming to God makes a lot of sense.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28–29).
This rest is, like everything else for us in this vale of tears, an already/not yet sort of thing. We are given rest, and we yearn for rest. We are cleansed, and we look forward to our final cleansing. We are justified—setting us free to do battle in the realm of sanctification without a sense of doom or condemnation. But make no mistake—one sign of this justification is that the forgiven saint does in fact do battle against his lusts. He signs no armistice with them. He makes no agreement with himself to rest contentedly alongside his corruptions. Lewis again:
“Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularised presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own.”
And so here is a recent example of not working through this clearly. What Jackie Hill Perry says in this article alternates between the commonplace and the confused.
“What the gay community needs to hear is not that God will make them straight, but that Christ can make them his. In this age, they may never be ‘straight’ (for lack of better words), but they can be holy (1 Corinthians 1:30). We must remind others (and ourselves) that Christ is ultimately calling them to himself—to know Christ, love Christ, serve Christ, honor Christ, and exalt Christ forever.”
There is a world of difference between a converted homosexual who testifies that he is still afflicted with degrading temptations, which he hates, and against which he has sworn constant total war, and someone who talks to us about what the gay community needs to hear. There is no such thing as a gay community—communities are made out of lovemaking and babies.
The former gent is fighting his desire for toy boys in just the same way that a hetero-brother is fighting his lust for long-legged blondes. Good on both of them. That is the Christian’s warfare. But the latter soft-peddler is doing something else, something that is foundational to the fatal acquiescence that Lewis refers to. Drop any other sin into that statement and see how it works.
“What the den-of-thieves community needs to hear is not that God will make them honest, but that Christ can make them his. In this age, they may never be ‘honest’ (for lack of better words), but they can be holy (1 Corinthians 1:30). We must remind others (and ourselves) that Christ is ultimately calling them to himself—to know Christ, love Christ, serve Christ, honor Christ, and exalt Christ forever.”
I said that some of Hill’s observations were commonplace, not confused. Of course it is true that we are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8-9). In that sense, there is no gospel of honesty, or heterosexuality, or law-keeping. There is no gospel of goodness. Bramble bushes do not become apple trees by producing apples. But when God transforms a bramble bush into an apple tree, you can be assured that He has apples in view. That doesn’t make it easy—sometimes the keeper of the orchard might have to do a lot of cutting and pruning. But it is an apple orchard, and He always has apples in view.
Hill has this complaint about the “heterosexual gospel”—“primarily because it assumes that coming to Christ means you will be automatically straight.” Now if she is rejecting the idea that in every case of true conversion, when the amen to the sinner’s prayer is said—ta da!—normal heterosexual desires will be seen coming around the corner, hands in pockets, and wasn’t that a breeze?—well, of course not. But when God truly converts a man, the process of straightening has begun. And when it comes to our feelings of self-worth, and our demand to hang on to our feelings of self-worth, it has to be said that God’s process of straightening doesn’t give a damn. In fact, that is precisely what He is not giving.
So the process of sanctification includes what Tim Bayly calls the grace of shame. Real Christians start to understand the maggot bed that we used to lie in. We start to understand it for the first time. And such an understanding is something that your shrink will try to give you medications for. Because, after all, everyone must feel good about themselves.