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.