One of the reasons conservative Christians are doing poorly in the public square debates over human sexuality is that the philosophical ground has shifted under our feet over the course of the last generation or two. We are trying to fight for a different conclusion from the same ground that our adversaries have defined for us, and that is hard to do. And here is what I mean.
The apostle Paul says that homosexual behavior is contrary to nature. The words seem plain enough, but what is nature? That is where we find ourselves wandering in a labyrinth. We wander because we are refusing to read nature in the light of Scripture.
If I may make the problem stark, what is the difference between a man shaving his head, or a woman dying her hair, or a teen-ager getting braces on her teeth, or a man getting a sex change operation? All four can be cast as examples of us “tinkering with” nature. Nature wants the hair to grow, he wants it shaved. Nature wants her hair to gray, she wants it not to. Nature wants her to be snaggle-toothed, she wants a straight smile. And he wants his body to conform to his “inner woman.” Why is this last one a travesty, and the others not?
Some Christians have fought this problem by swallowing the reductio, and saying that we ought to simply “receive” whatever God gives us naturally. No make-up, no cosmetic surgery, no braces, etc. All natural. And incidentally, the fact that this can actually be used as a generic term of praise for food products shows how we are not thinking the issues through. There are natural poisons and there are artificial happy things.
Neither can we make the instrument used the issue. The same surgeon’s scalpel can be used to remove a cancer (which wants to naturally grow) and to remove male genitalia (which nature gave). The difference cannot be found in the knife. The same goes for genetic modifications. If genetic engineering could be used to correct Downs’ syndrome in the womb, would it be lawful to do that? Of course. If they figured out (using the same technology) how to change a boy into a girl, would it be lawful? Of course not. We are making a fundamental distinction, and it cannot be derived from the instrument. Neither can it be derived from Scripture “raw,” which never prohibits sex change operations. It says that men can’t have sex with men, but it never says that one of them can’t cut himself in the pretense of becoming a woman, in order to have sex with another man. If we limit ourselves to black letter Bible alone, we will be faced with the prospect of it being an abomination for these two people to have sex in 2013, but the same two people (thanks to the surgeon and the hormone guy) can enter into holy matrimony in 2015.
But if we make the only standard “nature” (sola natura) we are going to have other big time problems. Advocates of same-sex mirages (HT: American Vision) point out that homosexuality occurs in the animal kingdom. Sure it does, but so does cannibalism. We need more than monkey see, monkey do. We have to have a personal God who reveals His will — in His Word, and in His world. Not only do we have special revelation and natural revelation, but we also have components of each revelation which make no sense apart from the other component.
So if we make the ultimate standard Scripture, we have clear instances of the charge given to humans to “take dominion” over the earth, messing around with it as they go. A man plows a field, plants it with wheat, and God gives him a (monocultural, yay) crop. But then others mess around too much, and they transgress — and they transgress in a big way, hauling down terrible judgments upon themselves.
For examples of the former, God adorns Israel with jewelry (Eze. 16:11-13). A master gardener cuts off perfectly good branches (John 15:2). The cultural mandate called for man, among other things, to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28).
For an example of the latter, the angels who rebelled against their assigned estate (Jude 6) gave themselves up to sexual uncleanness in the same way that Sodom and Gomorrha had, in their lust going after “strange flesh” (Jude 7). They provided a pattern for filthy dreamers everywhere (Jude 8). And it is not possible to arrange a surgical procedure that turns strange flesh into anything other than a technique for fulfilling the filthy dream.
So even through a hair cut and a sex change operation can be described in identical terms (modifying the body with sharp instruments), one of them is routine and normal and the other is creeptastic.
But what this means is that obedience to Scripture requires us to obey nature, and we must obey it in such a way as to honor the fixed givens within it. There are some places where nature invites us to exercise our lordship, and there are other clear places where nature posts no trespassing signs. As Jonathan Edwards pointed out, God’s special revelation is a primer, teaching us how to read. When we have learned how to read the Word, we have been equipped to read the world. It is possible, true enough, to read some things in nature without any contact with special revelation (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-3). But these two forms of revelation were designed to be read together, not in isolation. God lets us check both books out of His library at the same time. Actually, He insists on it.
And this is why any theology that rejects the idea of a fixed natural given, as Scripture plainly indicates we need, has no answer when confronted with the latest filthy dream. The brave new world is arriving, and is unpacking its bags. Christians need to look for the answers to these challenges in the two places where God has placed those answers.