What To Do about Homosexuality?

Now we’ve come to the final substantive chapter (the final chapter–stay tuned–is a series of concluding reflections on Jesus and Paul) in JRD Kirk‘s Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?, in which Kirk is unquestionably presenting his boldest argument in the text.  The chapter is entitled “Homosexuality under the Reign of Christ,” and in it Kirk takes a very different approach compared to the rest of the book.

Throughout JHILBP?, Kirk has mostly been content to paint the corresponding pictures of Jesus and Paul in their own contexts of the first century Mediterranean world.  Kirk’s comments on 21st century culture as it relates to Jesus and Paul are helpful and thought provoking, though they do not dominate any particular chapter–certainly not as contemporary homosexuality and the church’s response to it dominate this penultimate chapter.

It’s here that Kirk goes farther on a limb than at any other time–a risk he’s to be commended for–and I had the impression reading it that this subject must hit very close to home for him.  Kirk is very seriously considering the place of the gay or lesbian in the Christian community and the message of the Christian community, explicit or otherwise, for the homosexual community.  It is clear that Kirk is dissatisfied with the stance that both the liberal and conservative Western church has taken on this issue.

Kirk presents a double edged sword.  On the one hand, he writes, the Bible is actually very clear about homosexual activity.  It is, in Kirk’s own words, “anticreation” (176ff).  On the other hand, the Christian narrative is one of embrace of the supposed outsider.  The well of Christ is limitless in its abounding love and grace for any and all.

Further, we could put various streams of Western Christianity on either side of this aisle.  Liberal denominations have emphasized the latter at the expense of the former and conservative believers have done the opposite.  Kirk is clearly unhappy with both camps.  I admire his willingness to say so.

There is way too much that could be said about this crucial subject for a brief blog post.  But I will say that I agree with Kirk in his dissatisfaction.  In fact, I’ve written as much previously.  Though I disagree with the possible way forward he presents in JHILBP?, I admire the risk he took in putting forward an alternative.

I’ll leave it with these two primary commissions presented, really, throughout the book.

First, for any who would seek to enter the Body of Christ (or for any who already claims that allegiance), your story must match the story that God had written in the person of Jesus and is continuing to write through His renewed people toward a grand conclusion.  No one can enter the Body of Christ and remain the same.  No one.  That’s simply not how the story goes.  In the end, we will all be changed, some of us in a twinkling of an eye.  We will be transformed from our current state to a glorious incorruptible form, much like the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 15:51-53).  That process, however, must not wait until Christ’s return.  For Paul, certainly, it begins the moment you meet Jesus.

Secondly, for the church as it relates to those outside the community of Christ, we have one primary task.  We are to exhibit at all times the same love that Christ displayed.  Of course, this is part and parcel of the point above, but is especially true in our relations with those outside our body.  The only way those outside the church know Jesus (and God) is by looking at his followers.  And that means laying down our lives for the sake of the world.


Some Good News

The following has absolutely nothing to do with Paul, whom I’ve been writing about a lot lately.  Just the same, the following was exceptionally encouraging to me.  And so, it gets passed along to you.

A couple years ago I was invited to speak for a week at a Christian summer camp for teens.  I don’t often have the opportunity to connect with high school students any longer, but these are typically enjoyable experiences.  Students, when they catch a glimpse of the Lord can be so invigorating.  Their passion–for boon or bane–is unbridled.

Anyway, I looked to spend the five evenings talking through highlights in Jesus’ story–his baptism, his healing work, his death and, of course, his resurrection.  The goal, as always, was to give these young people a genuine encounter with Jesus himself.

By the way, this is what every generation of the church needs.  Long before we start talking about catchier music (We’re like a more overt Mumford!), hipper communications (Our pastors tweet!) and trendier civic engagement (Some of us are registered Democrats!), we need to set our focus on introducing people to the living Christ.  Let Jesus captivate us, and the rest falls where it should, in the style category, window dressing.

So on the second night of my time with the students, I taught through Jesus’ interaction with the bleeding woman and the official’s dying daughter (Mark 5).  As I concluded, I remarked that it would be a shame to tell this story and say, “Isn’t it nice that Jesus did this for these two desperate people?” or slightly more faith filled, “Isn’t it nice that Jesus could do this sort of thing?”

To me, Jesus is still alive.  We carry the same Spirit that empowered him.  So a story of Jesus healing a woman who was likely impoverished, in pain, and certainly a social outcast, should inspire us to faith to do the same for others.

So I invited students who were hurting physically to stand and for others to surround them with simple prayers.  I wanted them to simply invite Jesus to do the sorts of things he likes to do for people.  As they did so, we simply waited to see what God might do.  Many reported relief and substantial healing.  That was good news.

One of these students was a young man whose name wasn’t Bobby, though that’s what I’ll call him.  Bobby suffered from cerebral palsy, and I noticed when I met him at the beginning of the week that his right foot turned inward at about a 90 degree angle.  It was perpendicular to his left foot.  He also walked with a severe limp and reported constant pain.  I like Bobby.  He was a delightful kid.

Bobby told his counselors that night that he had been healed.  He looked the same.  He still limped a bit, but he claimed that all his pain was gone.  He was certain that the Lord had done something significant for him that evening.  Bobby was eager to call home and tell his parents.  His counselors were skeptical and refused.

I learned the next day that they weren’t the only ones who doubted.  Several other staffers had wondered at what I had attempted the previous night.  Few, it seemed, had encountered Christians who actually encouraged prayer for healing, let alone expected it.  They weren’t sure what to do with me or what to tell their campers.

As a result, I was asked to forego whatever teaching I had prepared for the next evening and explain what I had done.  Basically, I was being asked to backtrack in the politest way.

I was demoralized.  The rest of the week was flat.

Well, a week ago I ran into Bobby and his family for the first time since this incident.  They were so excited to see me.  Bobby is a couple years old and a lot taller (I hear that happens with teens).  Better than that, he and his parents report that everything is positive with Bobby’s health.

It’s been a journey for them, but Bobby’s feet are now straight, he walks without a limp, a bar has been removed from his torso, and Bobby remains pain-free.  Moreover, Bobby’s parents have had their faith encouraged throughout the process.  They continue to run into issues where they wonder at whether the Lord was really doing what they thought or hoped.  Yet each time God has proved faithful and thoroughly good.

I was encouraged.

The day after his cabin mates had prayed for Bobby, he didn’t look much different.  He still limped and his foot still turned drastically inward.  Though he said the pain had left him, there was no external evidence that he had changed.  But I still remember him asking me, “Why did you have to backtrack on having us pray for each other?”  “Well,” I said, “that was a new thing for some people.  I had to explain what was going on a bit.”  “Oh,” he replied, “I don’t think you had to.  God healed me.  I’m certain of it.”

Two years later, God continues to heal him.  That’s good news.

A Brief Tribute to Dallas Willard, in Memorium

via dwillard.org

Sadly, Dallas Willard died yesterday morning at age 77.

The world is the worse for this loss.  The world was made better by his life.

If you’re not familiar with Dallas Willard, he was, by day, a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California.  He is better known, however, for his tireless work in Christian spirituality.  His writings are clear, profound and dangerous for their capacity to transform a life.

His Spirit of the Disciplines is the unofficial companion piece to Richard Foster’s classic Celebration of Discipline.  If Foster tells us how to practice many of the central disciplines for accessing the grace of God, Willard tells us why they work.

Hearing God is a wonderful introduction to a conversational relationship with the living God.  If you ever had the privilege of being in Dr. Willard’s presence, you had the distinct impression that this was a man who spent ample time in the Lord’s presence and knew the voice of God.

via tomorrowsreflection.com

The Divine Conspiracy is, on its surface, a study of the Sermon on the Mount.  This belies its true purpose.  The Divine Conspiracy is a treatise on God’s invisible reality, fermenting beneath the surface of our “real” world.  Willard here opens the doors to the possibility of living the kind of life Jesus lived, living the eternal kind of life here and now.  The Divine Conspiracy is one of the few books (alongside Celebration of Discipline) I wish I could purchase for every believer in the world.  It’s that good.

Paul exhorts the Roman Christians, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2, NIV).  Dallas Willard’s work has been the critical tool to aid the renewing of my mind.  For that, I am grateful to the Lord for the life of Dallas Willard.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan: Culture of Life

Confession: My general stance is pro-life, though I’ve hardly been vocal about it.  Perhaps to my credit, I’ve been disturbed or incensed at some of the ways believers have prosecuted the pro-life campaign.  To my shame, I’ve not sought a better way forward.

A week ago, I had the privilege of attending The Colson Center‘s Wilberforce Weekend, which was inspiring in the ideas shared and in the work being done by several innovative Christians around the country.  Each year, The Colson Center bestows the Wilberforce Award to an individual “making a difference in the face of tough societal problems and injustices.”  This year, the award went to Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

Posted here is Cardinal Dolan’s acceptance speech, the meat of which begins at the 7:15 mark.  The speech centers on the culture of life, and is both challenging and inspiring.  The salient quote: “Culture is humanity’s best effort to protect the baby.”

An Appeal to Messiah College: Retain Your Heritage

Not too long ago, Messiah College (my alma mater!) tenured professor Eric Seibert posted a few guest blogs on Peter Enns’s Rethinking Biblical Christianity (#1, #2, #3).  The subject of the posts was the very difficult and disturbing images of God littered throughout the Old Testament text.  These primarily violent portraits of God have proven problematic to believers (and unbelievers, for that matter) for generations.  Such “problem texts” are among Dr. Seibert’s central research emphases and are the subject of at least two of his books.

Evidently, Seibert’s views have unsettled a handful of evangelicals in various realms, including Christianity Today, Boyce College, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  (And just today, the terms of the argument are being drawn – Owen Strachan sees two sides, Greg Boyd sees three.)  All the links are there so you can chase the threads for yourself, if this sort of thing gets your sugars up.  But the long and short of it is this: Eric Seibert’s views on the violent images of God in the Old Testament are not identical to those of traditional evangelical Christianity.  (This is not to say that other faithful believers have not taken Seibert’s tack.  Many have.)  Some who hold those traditional views are painting Dr. Seibert as a heretic and coming just short of demanding his removal from his seat as professor of Old Testament at Messiah College.

I attended Messiah from 1998-2002, left for a year, and then returned for two more to work in administration, promoting the school.  I love the place, and greatly appreciate the education and myriad experiences provided by the college.  Although I studied in the biblical studies department, I never did take a class from Eric Seibert.  If I recall correctly, he freshmen year of teaching was my senior year of study.  All this to say that I cannot really speak to Seibert’s views or teaching platform and how it may or may not align with Messiah’s statement of faith.

But I can speak to something else I experienced at Messiah for which I am eternally grateful.

I came to the college as an 18 year-old from a relatively conservative evangelical background.  My father was a Baptist pastor with (at that time) slight charismatic leanings.  That was what I knew.  That was all I knew.  I arrived on campus and soon had friends from all sorts of Christian backgrounds: Mennonite, Catholic, Reformed, Brethren in Christ, Episcopal.

Suddenly, I was taking classes and eating lunch and worshiping with young men and women who had all sorts of different ways of expressing their common conviction, that through Jesus Christ our Creator was reconciling the world to Himself.  Moreover, I was listening to lectures and engaging in dialog with professors who took differing views on aspects of the faith I had believed decided.  My eyes were opened to the profound truth that ours is not a monolithic faith, but a multi-faceted one.  There was abundant grace for all of us in God’s kingdom.

In 2006, Messiah’s Douglas Jacobsen (church history & theology) and Rodney Sawatsky (college president from 1994 until his untimely death in 2004) published Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess, a brief primer on the kind of practical theology embedded within the college’s ethos.  The book’s title accurately described the kind of atmosphere I experienced at many levels as a student and administrator.

It has not been uncommon in recent years for Christian colleges to part ways with professors whose theological research takes them to the fringes of “accepted” doctrine.  While such instances are often defended on the basis of protecting a religious institution’s theological identity, they simultaneously hinder academic integrity and, more importantly, demonstrate an institution’s unwillingness to allow for gracious conversation.

In light of all the barking surrounding Eric Seibert, my appeal to my alma mater is simple: Retain your gracious heritage; retain Dr. Seibert.

100+ Million People Watched the Super Bowl; Was God Watching Too?

via publicreligion.org

Well over 100 million people watched last night’s power outage – way more than watch a typical regular season black out.  Think about it: the Super Bowl yields the power of getting the equivalent of every living soul in Mexico to sit down and do the same thing at the same time for upwards of four hours.  That’s a ton of people.  To be more accurate, it’s probably around 10 million tons of people worldwide, all with their eyes fixed on one thing.

Prior to the big game, Peter Enns posted a speculative piece wondering whether God cared as much about the match as we do.  Dr. Enns’s short answer was No, don’t be ridiculous.  His arguments, briefly, were (1) that God has more important things to worry about than the outcomes of sporting events, (2) that God is more concerned with how people play games (if that is what they are going to do) than whether they succeed at them, and (3) that praying for results in sports is akin to magic.  Go ahead and read the blog.  Dr. Enns is characteristically playful, self-deprecating, and poignant.

I’ve been thinking about this issue off and on the last ten years or so.  I’m generally a sports fan, a bit more passionate about baseball, and, specifically, downright rabid when it comes to Buckeyes football or Reds baseball.  (Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, I’ll be actively attending a support group to keep me from drilling holes in my head during the agonizing wait until April.)

Back to the question at hand: Does God care about sports?

I believe, honestly, the answer is Yes.

I used to take Enns’s position, thinking it silly that God would have anything to do with anything so trivial as sports. And of course, you can start to go down the rabbit trails of which team has more, or more fervent, believers; whether God’s “endorsement” of one team equates to His distaste of the other; or whether, as Sports Illustrated (!) explored this week, the God of the crucified Lord could endorse anything so violent as football, or anything so purely selfish as competitive sports.

My position began to alter, however, as I watched the conclusion of the 2004 baseball season and the subsequent playoffs.  Therein, the Boston Red Sox, then lovable losers, came storming through the final two months of the season to get into the post-season.  Then, as in 2003, they found themselves matched up against their hated rivals, the New York Yankees.  In 2003, the Yankees had fought the Sox tooth and nail before utterly deflating them with one dramatic and very late home run.

In October 2004, things actually looked worse for the Sox.  Down three games to none in a best of seven series, the Red Sox rallied late in each of the next three games to even the series.  Each game seemed a miraculous victory in itself for Boston, let alone the fact that no team in the history of the Major Leagues had won a seven game series after falling behind 3-0.  Then, in game seven, the Sox poured on the offense early and never let up.  New York was blown out of the water.  History was made.  A few days later, after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, the Sox had one their first World Series in 87 years.

Did God care that the Sox had won?  Did He make them win?  I cannot answer these questions.

But I did begin to wonder: Does God speak through major sporting events?

Consider, a team called the Patriots winning Super Bowl XXXVI just five short months after 9/11; the resurgence of dominance across all major sports throughout the 2000’s in the neurotically obsessed (and, let’s face it, perennially depressed) city of Boston; miracle victories of the New York Giants in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI; the fact that the Giants of football have been winning at the same time the Giants of baseball have been taking World Series; the Japanese women’s World Cup win a few months after a devastating tsunami in 2011; or the bizarre overtime victory of Tim Tebow’s Broncos over the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which much maligned and devoutly Christian Tebow threw for 316 yards with the nation watching).  This is just to name a few “unreal” sporting coincidences in the last several years.

My point, to finally get to it, is this: with more people watching major sporting events than at any other time in the world’s history, how can God not take advantage of the opportunity to get people’s attention.  Over 100 million people saw the lights go out last night.  Was God speaking?  He certainly had a lot of people’s attention.

Does that mean that God loves the Ravens, but despises the 49ers (and every other NFL team, for that matter)?  It’s the wrong question to ask, in my opinion.  Does God care about the Super Bowl?  I think He does.  But I think He cares about it because so many of us care about it.