Book Review: Single, Gay, Christian

Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual IdentitySingle, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This type of book is becoming more common: a professing Christian struggles with gay/homosexual desires, etc. He comes to realize after some study that gay sex is wrong (for them), but gay desires are not. They chose to remain celibate, but admit that others might disagree and pursue homosexual/lesbian relationships and even marriage in some cases.

Several things stuck out as I read.

First, gay, celibate Christians regularly discount the homosexual agenda in the world as not worth worrying about and even downplay same-sex relations in general. Reading them it is difficult to believe they take I Corinthians 6:9-11, the threat homosexuality presents to Biblical sexuality, or the threat it presents to society seriously. Preston Sprinkle tries in his book, but qualifies it to death so that it is hard to imagine he would ever say a gay (not-celibate) Christian is outside the Kingdom.

Second, they often create two ways when there are more than two. For example this author gives the illustration of two lesbians who love Jesus and get married and a straight Christian girl who struggles with fornication, as if these are the only two options. He says while his theology might line up with latter he believes the lesbians are actually loving Jesus better. He also brings up hetero porn as proof that heterosexual desires are twisted. But this is like saying drunkenness makes the desire for wine twisted. The idea that “we are all sinners” and therefore we needn’t be too hard on gay folks is an underlying assumption

Third, I know this is not intentional, but these guys come off condescending. Sprinkle’s book gave me the same vibe. For example the author basically says that gay Christians have to struggle while hetero Christians can get married, “join a country club,” go to a church that welcomes them, and live a comfortable middle-class life. Really? All of us hetero Christians are just out here living the dream? There is a subtle sense you get reading these guys that they have unique insight into following Christ that us “normal” Christians don’t and that their path is more difficult than the path others have to take.

Fourth, they live in the land of “unanswered questions,” “we can’t really know,” and “there are no easy answers.” It is all so vague. For some reason Christians for 2,000 years knew exactly what the Bible taught, but now we don’t anymore. It hard to see this as anything other than a capitulation to post-modern thinking.

Fifth, another assumption in these books is that gay desires are not sinful. This is at the center of the whole debate and I don’t have time to go into it now. But the idea that gay desires are neutral while gay lust and gay sex is sinful must be challenged.

Finally, the story is really what matters. There is little discussion of what the Bible, natural law, or the Church teaches. Instead the focus is on his journey, how he felt, who helped him, who didn’t, and what God said to him when he prayed. In other words, it is highly subjective. He says at one point, “If you really love someone you would find a way of expressing that love that they would recognize as love.” In other words, “I must feel loved in order for it to be love.” An action is not either loving or unloving. It loving or unloving based on how I feel about it. Autobiography of course is not inherently bad. But when it is used to shape truth and emotional stories are used to tip you one direction or the other without reference to Truth then it becomes deadly. Of course, it is hard to fault Coles for this. Christians have been doing this for quite some time.

I am sure this review makes me sound mean and cruel. However, I have sympathy for his struggle. It is the struggle we all have against indwelling sin and God not answering all our prayers. But that is nothing special to those who struggle with gay desires. It is what all faithful Christians should be doing.

I got this book free from Netgalley for an honest review.

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Book Review: Jesus and Pacifism

Jesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical InvestigationJesus and Pacifism: An Exegetical and Historical Investigation by Andrew a Fulford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I rate a book based on its stated aim. I do not expect a book of 100 pages to accomplish what a book of 500 pages will. If the book is about Calvin, I do not critique it for failing to adequately discuss Luther or the Westminster Assembly. Fulford’s brief, but clear and precise critique of pacifism is excellent and accomplishes perfectly its stated aim. Three things stick out.

First, the initial chapter is a brief lesson on hermeneutics or how to read the Bible charitably. So many authors refuse to look at the Biblical, historical, and social context thus they end up reading Paul, Moses, and Jesus in ways that are directly at odds with how their contemporaries would have read them. Fulford begins by laying out the context in which Jesus spoke. Once this is done pacifistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount become less plausible.

Second, Fulford lists the six key arguments pacifists use and refers to these throughout the book. This is helpful in keeping up with the various arguments as well as his own refutation of them.

Third, he does a good job with his analogies between war, police work, excommunication, and even parenting. In other words, coercive force of various kinds is necessary and commanded by God in a world of sin. Once this premise is granted pacifism becomes untenable.

For a book of so few pages it does the job. The foundations on which pacifism are built slowly erode through careful exegesis and logical thought. I would highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a short introduction to the subject. He said he is writing a full length treatment. I am looking forward to that.

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Joel Beeke on Homosexuality & Same Sex Relations

Gay MarriageJoel Beeke’s little book One Man and One Woman: Marriage and Same-Sex Relations is an excellent, short (96 pages) introduction to the classic, Christian perspective on marriage and homosexuality. Here is his final summary statement on sodomy. It does not say all that needs to be said, but it is a solid list of what the Bible teaches on the subject. He addresses homosexual acts, same-sex desires, and transgenderism.

Being committed to the Bible as the Word of Christ, we and our churches must confess that the Holy Scriptures teach the following:

• God created mankind in His image, with two distinct and equally valuable genders, male and female, in accordance with their biological sex (Gen. 1:27). It is against God’s will to identify one’s gender in a manner contrary to biology (Deut. 22:5).

• God instituted marriage as the union of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24), outside of which all other sexual activity is condemned by God (Ex. 20:14; Eph. 5:5–6).

• God condemns homosexuality as a sin that offends Him. This is evident in the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19; Jude 7), the Old Testament law of holiness (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the New Testament affirmation of that law (1 Tim. 1:9–10).

• God’s condemnation extends to all homosexual desires and acts, by males or females, for it is against God’s created order (Rom. 1:26–27).

• Spontaneous attractions or perceived sexual orientation in any way contrary to God’s Word are sinful, for the inclinations or first motions of original corruption in the soul are sin and evil, even apart from a conscious choice (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 7:20–21).

• Unrepentant sinners, including fornicators, adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality, have no place in God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10). All who refuse to repent will face the righteous judgment of God on the day of His wrath (Rom. 2:5).

• In His sovereign, electing love, God loves sinners of all kinds, including those who practice homosexuality (Matt. 5:45; John 3:16). He forgives and changes those whom He saves so that they have a new identity in Christ as saints sanctified to God by His amazing grace (1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11).

• True Christians experience an inner conflict between sinful and holy desires (Gal. 5:17), but sin no longer defines who they are, nor does it rule them (Rom. 6:11, 14). Their calling is to hope in Christ and fight against every evil desire (Col. 3:1, 5).

In making this statement, we do not endorse any injustice, violence, or self-righteousness toward people regardless of their identity or manner of life. We highly value all human beings, and are committed to treating them with honor and kindness even if they persist in sin (1 Peter 2:17; 3:9–11). We commit ourselves to welcoming all who are willing to hear the preaching of God’s Word, to embracing as brothers and sisters in Christ all who repent and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, and to enfolding in our compassionate spiritual care all who join us in seeking grace and strength to flee from lust, pursue peace and holiness, and live as pilgrims on the way to Christ’s kingdom.

Christ comes with grace and truth for sinners (Luke 5:32; John 1:14). Homosexual desires and acts are not the only sins, nor the worst sin, for it is not the unpardonable sin. Since it can be repented of by grace, it need not inevitably lead to damnation. We confess our own sinfulness and worthiness of hell. Christ died for sinners and rose again—and He is our only hope. Our call to men and women who rejoice in same-sex erotic desires or who participate in same-sex erotic activity is the same as our call to all sinners: repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31).

 

Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in Calvin’s Geneva

Kingdon and WitteI am going to repost, with some revisions, my blog series on Kingdon and Witte’s excellent work: Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva: Vol 1.  There were supposed to be two more volumes, but Robert Kingdon died. I am not sure the status of the next two books. We cannot nor should we adopt all the specifics of pastoral care in Geneva. However, in our age where moral formation through pastoral care is an afterthought, books like these are of great value. The sheep wander off cliffs regularly while pastors waste their time or better yet push them. This books gives a way godly shepherds cared for their sheep in the a specific time and place. And while we cannot adopt all the particulars, the principles do not change.  And the subject of marriage, children, and sex is never boring and always relevant. 

What pops in your mind when you think of John Calvin? Austere reformer? Man who had Servetus killed? A man who taught that evil, black doctrine of predestination? Or do you think of a man who protected women and children and sought to reform marriage? This latter picture is the one painted by this book. I think most people will find me weird for loving this book so much. But I did. As a pastor I am always looking for different perspectives on pastoral care. This book is a great picture of pastoral theology and care in action during a specific time period. This book is supposed to be the first of three volumes on Sex, Marriage, and Family in John Calvin’s Geneva. I sincerely hope they get the other two written. This one focused on pastoral counsel up to and including the wedding. The next volume will focus on marriage and children. The final volume will focus on divorce, desertion, abuse, and widows/widowers.

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Dr. Packer on Inerrancy

JIPACKEROne of the great benefits of reading older churchmen is the experiential knowledge they can bring to bear on various topics. Dr. J.I. Packer has been around a long time and has seen a lot. In his book Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life, he writes about some of the changes he has seen in his lifetime toward God’s Word. In the midst of this he gives an apologetic for why he uses the word “inerrancy.” I have friends who believe the term “infallibility” is enough. I sympathize with this position. It should be. But unfortunately men are twisted and therefore precision is often necessary.  He wrote this in 1996.

Once I too avoided the word inerrancy as much as I could, partly because I no wish myself to endorse the tendencies mentioned, and partly because the word has a negative form and I like to sound positive. But I find that nowadays I need the word. Verbal currency, as we know, can be devalued. Any word may have some of its meaning rubbed off, and this has happened to all my preferred terms for stating my belief about the Bible. I hear folk declare Scripture inspired and in the next breath say that it misleads from time to time. I hear them call it infallible and authoritative, and find they mean only that its impact on us and the commitment to which it leads us will keep us in God’s grace, not that it is all true.

This is not enough for me. I want to safeguard the historic evangelical meaning  of these three words and to make clear my intention, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to receive as from the Father and the Son all that Scripture when properly interpreted, that is, understood from within, in terms of its own frame of reference, proves to be affirming. So assert inerrancy after all. I think this is a clarifying thing to do, since it shows what I mean when I call Scripture inspired, infallible, and authoritative. In an era of linguistic devaluation and double-talk we owe this kind of honesty to each other.

Too Many Christian Misfires

One final set of quotes from David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant before I put it back on the shelf. In this section of the book he is discussing the lack of discipleship in the church. He uses the parable of the seed and sower in Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23 to illustrate his point. Here is Matthew 13:18-23 for reference.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

He notes that the different categories of “Christians” are always represented in the church, but in 21st century America

The first two [actually categories 2& 3]-the stone in the heart and the weeds that choke the seed-are so abundant and so disproportionately represented. They are the exemplars of “Christianity Lite” that so many evangelical churches are propagating. What catches our attention-and our breath-are the vast numbers of Christian misfires Almost half of America is claiming to be born again, but fewer than one in ten has even the foggiest notion of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in biblical terms.

Wells goes on to blame two things: the love of affluence and comfort and the business model that pervades evangelical Christianity. Here are two quotes that address both of these.

In the West we have not the slightest inkling that, in reveling in affluence as we do, we are playing with fire. This affluence so easily becomes an alternative Way, Truth, and Life, a counterfeit gospel in which to have is to be saved and to have not is to be damned. Unfortunately, la dolce vita, is not itself satisfying, not in an enduring way. It tends to make us shallow, self-absorbed people who give ourselves to chasing what is superficial by way of styles, fads, and what is pleasurable provided there are no demands for commitments. The styles quickly become obsolete, the fads are forgotten, and the pleasures fad like the morning mist so that this kind of life constantly has to be reinventing itself. Those who fashion their lives around these things die of emptiness. The pains that linger in the soul like  a bad headache stay for a long, long time.

Later:

The church has been like a shortsighted business CEO who goes for quick profit and puts off the long-term considerations of these business decisions.So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, the instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria,  the numbers to be boasted about-“my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!”-the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term interest  of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut rate products bring a cut-rate future.

Our failure to disciple, love of numbers, love for affluence, adaptation of the business model of church, and general worldliness have left us impoverished and unable to pass on the faith in any substantial way to those sitting in the pews.

Paging Peter Enns

Perhaps there is no greater sin in our culture than certainty. You can be many things, but you can’t be certain and therefore you cannot judge my choices. I was pondering this idea when I found that Peter Enns, a liberal theologian who has abandoned much of the Christian faith, had written a book called The Sin of Certainty. It is certainly appropriate for our age. I have not read it, but I have read Enns and no doubt his drift towards apostasy continues.  I also recently read David Wells’ The Courage to Be Protestant. Here are some quotes from the chapter title “Truth.”

What we a hear from any of the emergent church leaders who are most aware of the (post)modern ethos, therefore is a studied uncertainty: “We do not know.” We cannot know for sure.” No one can know certainly.” “We should not make judgments.” “Knowing beyond doubt is not what Christianity is all about.” “We need to be more modest.” “We need to be more honest.” “Christianity is about the search, not about the discovery.” They forget that Scripture is divine revelation. It is not a collection of opinions about how different people see things that tells us more about the people than the things. No. It gives us God’s perfect knowledge of himself and of all reality. It is given to us in a form we can understand. The reason God gave it to us is that he wants us to know. Not to guess. Not to have vague impressions. And certainly not to be misled. He wants us to know. It is not immodest, nor arrogant, to claim that we know when what we know is what God has given us to know through his Word.

Later he says this:

The (post)modern mentality mistakenly assumes that “truth” is rather like the set of traffic rules our authorities have constructed. No one really thinks a serious moral breach has occurred when a thirty-five-mile-per-hour limit is exceeded by one mile per hour. The speed limit was, in the first place, just an approximation devised by someone who thought the posted speed would  be safe. It is somewhat arbitrary. There is no inherent reason why it should not have been forty miles per hour, or thirty. So it is with all truth statements, they contend. These statements are only approximations made up by someone else.  They are arbitrary rules that do not correspond to anything that is actually “there.”

Later Wells takes some well-earned shots at conservative Christians.

When we listen to the church today, at least in the West, we are often left with the impression that Christianity actually has very little to do with the truth. Christianity is only about feeling better about ourselves, about leaping over difficulties, about being more satisfied, about having better relationships, about getting on with our mothers-in-law, about understanding teenage rebellion, about coping with our unreasonable bosses, about finding greater sexual satisfaction, about getting rich, about receiving our own private miracles, and much else besides. It is about everything except truth. And yet this truth, personally embodied in Christ, gives us a place to stand in order to deal with the complexities of life, such as broken relationships, teenage rebellion, and job insecurities.

All in all the Western church has lost her way because she has rejected doctrine and in many quarters she has rejected truth/certainty all together. We strive for meaning divorced from any authority outside of ourselves and we strive for better lives, communities, and churches divorced from who Christ is, what the Scriptures teach, and all the theology that flows from Scripture.