Over at The Calvinist International, Alastair Roberts responds to Peter Leithart’s response to my debate with Andrew Sullivan. Still with me? Now I shall respond! The merry-go-round has come full circle. That tree sure looks familiar.
Actually, this should be relatively quick. The comments are closed over there, and this might be more of a comment than a post. We’ll see how it goes. Most of this will simply be clarifying my own position on a few matters. Late notice: no, it is more of a post than a comment.
First, I do believe in natural revelation, and I believe that this revelation is sufficiently clear on the subject of same sex attraction and activity. There are places where special revelation provides us with an answer key for the natural revelation textbook, and it tells us that male/female relations are the “natural use” and that same sex activity is “against nature.” So there you go.
I do believe that polygamous marriage is deficient form of marriage and contrary to God’s creation design, but I do not believe the natural order is insulted by it the same way and to the same extent that homosexuality does. Polygamy falls short of the Edenic order, it falls short of the gospel declaration of Christ and His one bride, and it falls short in such a way as to exclude any polygamist from church leadership. So, not at all good. I don’t think Jacob ever woke up in the morning, stretched, had his coffee, and then wished he had a couple more women pleading with him for more babies. Nevertheless, polygamous marriages are still recognizably marriages. They are seriously deficient, but not perverted the same way homosexual unions are.
Second, this means I am not using polygamy as a scarecrow — rather, I want to use it as a foil to help everyone get clear on what those pushing this debate are actually maintaining. To reduce the definition of marriage to intense emotional commitment, as Andrew Sullivan wants to do, introduces chaos with no consistent stopping point. My argument was simply a reductio — he who says A must say B. And if he refuses to say B, as Sullivan did, then this reveals that he is either being dishonest, or that he is not following out the implications of his own argument. In Andrew’s case, I think it is the latter. With plenty of others it is the former. And they won’t be satisfied until the institution of marriage is a smoking crater.
As Roberts points out, a simplistic scarecrow use of polygamy makes no sense. This would be like threatening people by saying that heroin use might lead to pot-smoking. I agree with that point, but with one proviso. Polygamy by itself is often found in pre-Christian cultures. The forms that polygamy will take in a post-Christian one, alongside everything else that our lusts have demanded, will likely prove to be a great deal more toxic. Pagan polygamy was comparatively more innocent than apostate polygamy will be.
And for the time being, we shall leave out of this the prospect of Abdul putting all four wives on Medicaid. That would only complicate matters, and we were having enough trouble with the math already.
And last, the fact that I believe in the “two books” of natural revelation and special revelation does not mean that I reject information flow between them. The two books harmonize perfectly. Just as systematic theology is nothing more than remembering what you learned in Romans while reading Nahum, so also an integrated worldview includes remembering what you learned in Romans while looking at two guys trying to get it on. Nature tells them what they are trying to do is impossible (and vile) and Romans tells me that when they deny that nature is saying any such thing to them, that they are lying and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. There is information flow, and the two books of God are cross-indexed.
I am not sure I agree with Roberts at the point I just made, and we may need to discuss it more, but I emphatically agree with this statement found in his penultimate paragraph.
“In the minds of our Christian brothers and sisters whose case against same-sex marriage rests solely upon divine will, if you surrender this divinely imposed will upon the creation, there is no order left to which to appeal, and so all positions become open possibilities.”
A hundred amens. If there are two books, and there are, there is still only one Author. We cannot appeal to one book as a way of getting Him to disavow the other book — and it doesn’t much matter at this point which book we are trying to do without. Neither book can be turned into a blank copy book with nothing in it. The divine will is embedded in all things — in Him we live, and move and have our being. In Him we read the Bible, and in Him we look at the sun, moon and stars.
This point bears repeating again. We are a culture in the midst of apostasy, and an apostate culture is not a pagan one. We are a culture that accepted the lessons of natural revelation for more than a millennium. We are a culture that accepted the authority of holy Scripture for about the same length of time. To abandon that and to fall away is not to go back to the status quo ante. Something else is happening. Not only so, but something unexpected, God willing, may avert it.
So if I tell unbelievers what God has said, whether He said it in the stars or in the apostle Paul, I am not to calculate my effectiveness by their response. They are not in charge of this. Let God be true and every man a liar. If I am debating the mob on the front porch of Lot’s house, I dare say that my arguments both from nature and from Romans will leave them cold. They have other things on their mind. But their blind response does not tell me whether my arguments were appropriate, cogent, or reasonable.
Only the Holy Spirit can make it happen. I do not want us to mince like liturgists, or parse like scribes, or argue like pedants. I want us to preach like men who would charge Hell with a bucket of water.