This is in response to the flood of articles I see at The Gospel Coalition about gay marriage. This is a response to John Starke, the Upper West Side Pastor of Apostles Church in New York City. Yes the Bible talks about homosexuality, but it talks about a host of other issues as well. Why do some people seem to be stuck on this issue? This also points out the problems Neo-Calvinism has with how they define Christian which comes back to hurt John Starke and The Gospel Coalition in this article. As always I welcome push back or differing views.
There is a discernment quiz here for you to look at and analyze. It is from the membership page of a local Evangelical Free Church in the D.C. area called Ambassador Bible Church. How would you analyze their membership requirements? By practicing your discernment, would you get involved in Ambassador? After giving people an opportunity to review then I will write a post and discuss Ambassador Bible Church’s membership requirements.
“Going to the darkest place you can to make yourself really upset and adding that with the physicality and running around, you can work yourself into hysteria that way.”
“When you live in hysteria, people start thinking emotionally.”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Matthew 19:4-0 NIV
When I was in my faith crisis for half my thirties I consumed a lot of atheist material. In my writing you will see me drop in stuff for the sake of discussion or to get people to think. That is the reason why I am starting this post with a video from Mrs. Betty Bowers. This is atheism satire, it still gives me a laugh, and it will pop up from time to time in these posts. Now that is stated let’s move into the post. When I was younger I watched the History Channel rabidly. I love history and consumed a lot of on TV in addition to books. One thing I noticed is this gradual shift in the History channel to more programs, more shows about Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. That stayed with me. When I was in grad school I remember sitting in a class and someone noticed the same thing with the History Channel. He in turn refused to call it the History Channel and instead referred to it as the Hitler Channel due to all the programs about Hitler. I juts remember all of us grad students laughing at the description. Now I am not drawing any parallels with Hitler, I am talking about how programs, networks or theological organizations can shift, that’s what I am trying to explain. In writing this blog I scan a lot of articles and sources for stuff to write about. When I scan the Gospel Coalition it seems as if most of what I see are articles about gay marriage. It seems like there is a shift, like I noticed when I was younger with the History Channel taking place at the Gospel Coalition. However, due to the subject nature at hand I would call The Gospel Coalition, The Marriage Coalition instead.
Recently on top of all the articles that scream about how the sky is falling (Remember this is Neo-Calvinism we’re talking about so that sky falling is foreordained by God!) I read a post by John Starke. John is the Upper West Side congregational pastor at Apostles Church in New York City. (Quick side note…one of these days I need to take a few days and head up to NYC…it’s not far from D.C., and see the city. Having grown up on the West Coast its something I’ve wanted to do for a long time) John Starke wrote an article at The Gospel Coalition called “3 Existential Reasons Against Affirming Homosexuality.” I then decided after reading this article that it needs a response. This is not the first time I have tackled this topic. In this post I wrote about how the single greatest threat to the Gospel is not from a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Instead the single greatest threat to the Gospel is internal corruption that comes from men like Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, etc… I have lifted and transcribed this article by John Starke, and from here on out, my comments will be in red.
Like most Christians who haven’t made the shift to affirm the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the church, I’m persuaded to hold the traditional view by regular textual evidences. I’m a Christian and stand accountable to God and his revelation. I’m judged by it, not the other way around.
But an increasing number of Christians wish to accept the authority of the Bible while affirming homosexuality in the church. I’m not convinced of their reasons. The new books don’t have new arguments, just old ones already addressed. And the acceptance of homosexuality in the church seems to be read back into the Scriptures through cultural narrative and personal experience.
John up above you talk about an increasing number of Christians who affirm homosexuality. I need to comment on this and make sure that you understand that while there are many Christians moving in this direction, there is also a growing number of Christians who have no problem with society defining and allowing gay marriage in a secular context. They have no problem with civil marriage – which is very different than religious marriage – and support that movement. I don’t see that being differentiated which it should be. There is a major difference between the two. You can be opposed to religious marriage in the church and a strong supporter for civil marriage in society. The one problem I see is that there is a group of Christians who can’t see the difference between the two and made this topic a hill to die on. Is the Gospel going to rise or fall on the issue of gay marriage? I am not convinced it is, instead what I see is a theological movement wrapped up in the culture wars that seems to crave conflict and lacking love. Now for the record I am not saying love means you approve whatever comes down the pike. But I see Christians so boxing themselves in the corner that they are missing opportunities to show love and communicate The Gospel in the process.
Faith’s Existential Side
As emotional creatures, we must admit our experiences shape how we think about and approach God and his world. More often than not, this can be a good thing. Experiences with orphans and widows may not change what we believe about how the church should care for orphans and widows, but it does give us more wisdom, empathy, and even greater love. We can gain a different “perspective” through personal relationships and encounters.
We ought not downplay how experiences, temperament, and even pain shape the conclusions we draw about God and his world. This reality exists, and to deny it is self-delusional and naïve. There is an existential side to our faith.
On the one hand, I don’t believe the Bible allows us to make the conclusions “affirming Christians” have made. I won’t give an account for these reasons; they can easily be found in other resources. (Kevin DeYoung has an excellent book on the topic [review], as does Sam Allberry [review]. Tim Keller also has a good response to some recent books affirming homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the church.) All these reasons are my governing reasons. Even if I wanted to reject them, I don’t have the right as a creature of God. He governs, I don’t.
Nor am I convinced on an existential level. There are variables that simply won’t allow me to be at ease with “affirming” conclusions. Here are the three reasons why I can’t be comfortably make the leap.
Okay John Starke….here is the problem. I need to address this since you raised Kevin DeYoung. On May 24, 2013 Kevin DeYoung did one of the lowest things a person could do – especially a pastor. On May 24, Kevin DeYoung rallied to support CJ Mahaney and in the process attacked a rape victim in Sovereign Grace with this bastardized statement. You see John the Neo-Calvinist movement can’t talk about homosexuality, gay marriage and sin and then simultaneously ignore child sex abuse, which is also sin. You can’t talk about the Gospel and support such blatant and overwhelming corruption. Because of Kevin DeYoung’s behavior I would suggest that he has forfeited the right to preach, teach, or write books at all. After all why listen a pastor who ignores the pleas of the crushed and broken when you’re publishing significant works (cough, cough, cough….) called “Crazy Busy?” Do you know John some of the people hurt in Sovereign Grace have written people like Kevin DeYoung and others and they have been routinely dismissed? That is not the Gospel that Jesus preached. So already right now when you make this push by stressing a work by Kevin DeYoung you have lost me. Now when Kevin DeYoung repents of that statement, along with D.A. Carson, and Justin Taylor and they reach out to the people in Soveriegn Grace who they dismissed, then I will consider what he says. If that actually happens I would pay attention and be open to learning from him. Right now that isn’t going to happen. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and is entirely inappropriate. It would be like seeing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who engaged in cannibalism in Milwaukee having a cooking show on the Food network. The thought of that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That wouldn’t be a good idea either.
1. Leaping Means Breaking with Orthodoxy
First I’s have to adopt the term heterodox for myself. The word orthodox means to have the same theological and religious beliefs and standards of Christians throughout time; a faith that’s been once for all handed down. These are the conclusions that Christians, with their Bibles open and hearts filled with the Holy Spirit, have consistently reached throughout history.
This doesn’t mean Christians have to come to the same conclusions about all things. There are differences and variances on many different matters. I’m a part of a Protestant tradition that says the church got some fundamental things wrong along the way and needed to see reform. However, the Protestant Reformation was an effort to bring the church back to her roots: Scripture and the apostles. When the Reformers made arguments, they didn’t say, “We’ve advanced as Christians and no longer believe what we’ve always believed.” No, they went back to the text and used the early church fathers as witnesses to their reforms. Whether you agreed with their reforms or not, they only advanced by returning.
John here’s the problem you mention how Christians can have differing views on different matters. Yet the reality is that in many parts of Neo-Calvinism many secondary issues have been made primary. Heck there are people in Neo-Calvinism who wouldn’t even accept me for being a Christian because I don’t believe Neo-Calvinism at all. Then you have others making issues like a literal 6 day creationism a make or break issue. Al Mohler has done this in the past. So the reality John is that many parts of Neo-Calvinism because they are entrenched in fundamentalism don’t accept other conclusions on secondary or “B” issues. Its a major problem today, so I must ask…where are you coming from? Actually John one more point I know Reformation Day happened recently as its held on October 31. I want you to know that if you’re preaching an expository sermon and you hear someone hammering something to your church door, that will be me with my list of 95 theses calling out the corruption of Neo-Calvinism and calling for a new reformation. The corruption and deviance of the YRR movement is hard for many people to swallow. I just want to give you a head’s up so you know what to expect if your sermon is interrupted by someone hammering a list of questions to your front door. 😛
Affirming Christians have come to conclusions no Christian tradition – whether Protestant, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic – have ever made until recent decades. This isn’t merely something Christians can disagree over; it’s something Christians have fundamentally agreed on completely until a small contemporary minority came to different conclusions.
As a Christian, that doesn’t just seem like a difficult pill to swallow; it seems like an impossible one. Only a radically individualistic culture can make the leap that “2,000 years of Spirit-filled Christians got it completely wrong and I, along with a few others, have finally got it right.” Not only that, but it also seems to be startlingly arrogant. A humble Christian posture would be if I’ve come up with a conclusion that no other Christian in history has come up with, I’m probably wrong.
John homosexuality is a really hard issue and science is changing fast. However, I don’t wrap myself up in this movement or moment and let it define me. By the way I am pretty conservative in many ways, but let’s remember in the 2,000 years of history of the church there have been a number of issues that some people thought were make or break. Those issues varied from differing forms of grace, to whether or not the sun revolved around the earth, and differing views of atonement which some people have been split on. Oh and by the way…speaking of a humble Christian posture. You want to know what I would consider humility? If the author of Humility actually repented of his alleged blackmail of Larry Tomczak and his alleged cover up of child sex abuse. John, I don’t know if you can have that conversation with CJ but someone in that camp needs to discuss this issue with him. instead of this dragging on continuously.
2. Leaping Means Abandoning the Global Church
Second I’d have to separate myself from the poorest of the global church. Mark Galli recently observed that in current polls of Christians in Asia, Africa, and pretty much anywhere else beyond Western Europe and the United States, there is a “resounding ‘no’ to gay marriage.” As noted above, history makes the same conclusion.
Affirming Christians would have to say by evidence that the missing element is that these cultures or traditions aren’t enlightened, or educated, or wealthy enough to come to these right ethical conclusions. I don’t think that affirming Christians would want to say that, but I don’t know how you can’t. There simply isn’t a reason, other that cultural advances, why some in the Western church have come to an affirming conclusion, while others, especially the Majority World, have not.
John, again brother we need to have this talk about abandoning the global church. The reality is that many Neo-Calvinists and The Gospel Coalition have abandoned the global church and has kicked it to the side. Let me illustrate this clearly. Recently I wrote a post about the church membership statement from a 9 Marks church in my backyard called Del Ray Baptist Church led by Garrett Keel. In an article at The Gospel Coalition the following is stated about how a Christian is defined. “Everyone who bears the name of Christ—as affirmed by a local church calling them a “member”—yet who willingly chooses to live their lives apart from the covenanted community of believers is practicing identity theft. They’ve taken Christ’s name, but they don’t honestly identify with his body, the local church. Living unaccountable lives, they make evangelism harder for other Christians because, often, they aren’t living like Christians.” There are a number of posts that I can snag from The Gospel Coalition or 9 Marks that echo that sentiment, but I’ll work with this one. So here’s the problem, you have a theological movement such as Neo-Calvinism that has basically abandoned the Global church in this one way. Many members of the global church are not 9 Marks, covenant Christians who have signed a church covenant. In the eyes of how organizations like 9 Marks, and The Gospel Coalition define Christians that would mean the following are not Christians. It would include Christians in underground house churches in China, to the Christian being starved to death in an internment camp in North Korea. The Christians you hear about on the news caught up in the violence in Iraq or Syria due to ISIL would not count as they are not covenant members. Any Christian who is not a member of a 9 Marks church is not a Christian. The point of this part is to illustrate that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have parts of The Gospel Coalition and Neo-Calvinist crowd state that a Christian is one who has signed a covenant in a 9 Marks church which would ignore an overwhelming amount of the global Christian community and then say you’re opposed to gay marriage because of the leap you would have to make and how in the process abandon the global church in places like Africa, Asia, etc.. . It has to be one or the other.
3. Leaping Means Ignoring Scripture
Finally, even if you believe in the authority of Scripture, but think the prohibitions in Scripture against homosexual activity pertain to abusive or promiscuous acts rather than monogamous, committed relationships, you still have a significant problem. You have no positive affirmations of homosexual relationships to hang your hat on. None. You only have strong affirmations of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. And those strong affirmations are anchored in the beauty of diversity between the sexes (male and female) rather than merely in the level of commitment.
You’d not only have to come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Paul couldn’t imagine or foresee monogamous same-sex relationships, but you’d have to say that neither did Jesus or God the Father, the ultimate authors of the Bible’s affirmations and prohibitions. This position doesn’t provide much comfort or ease in accepting an affirming position.
From where I stand, it seems affirming Christians must not only make exegetical leaps to come to their conclusions, they must ignore a lot of emotional and existential reasons not to as well.
John in the above section you state the following. “Finally, even if you believe in the authority of Scripture, but think the prohibitions in Scripture against homosexual activity pertain to abusive or promiscuous acts rather than monogamous, committed relationships, you still have a significant problem. You have no positive affirmations of homosexual relationships to hang your hat on. None. You only have strong affirmations of monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. You know what John…you’re correct. Scripture does talk about prohibition on homosexual activity. So I see where you come from, and that is correct. However, here is the problem that the Neo-Calvinism movement has staring it down. You have instructions on how to take care of the least of these, and what to do if you cause a little one to stumble. Those teachings come straight from the mouth of Jesus John…and yet despite those clear teachings, Neo-Calvinism ignores them. Those teachings are just as clear as the homosexual ones you write about, and yes you can hang your hat on what Jesus says about the least of these and causing one to stumble. Despite that John, much of the Neo-Calvinism movement ignores those teachings when they ignore child sex abuse, or choose to promote CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace at conferences, events, and book deals. T4G is coming up and these allegations are still dogging CJ Mahaney. He’s scheduled to speak almost like nothing has happened. Here’s the problem John…CJ issued a denial which you can read in this statement here, that was contested by one of the families involved here. Now on top of that here is the other factor…scripture also talks about Elders being above reproach. Now is a man who is at the center of allegedly covering up child sex abuse above reproach? The reason why I raise all this John is because the Neo-Calvinists can’t talk about The Gospel, gay marriage, and morality and then turn the other way and ignore child sex abuse.
Hey really quickly if you read my story up above you will see that the problem of evil is what drove me intensely in my faith crisis. Up above you state, “You’d not only have to come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Paul couldn’t imagine or foresee monogamous same-sex relationships, but you’d have to say that neither did Jesus or God the Father, the ultimate authors of the Bible’s affirmations and prohibitions. “ Can I ask you something John? Where does the problem of evil fit in that paradigm? Since you’re making the case that God can’t foresee where the gay marriage issue went…what about the problem of evil? Could God foresee and know that a person would get cancer, a woman would be raped, a terrorist would fly a 767 into a Manhattan skyscraper, or a gunman would go on a rampage in a school in Connecticut? I mean…it’s an honest question John. What undermines Neo-Calvinist theology in the end is the problem of evil.
But getting back to the issue at hand, here’s what troubles me when I read all these articles about gay marriage on The Gospel Coalition. I get the vibe in reading these articles as if the church of Jesus is at death’s door and teetering on survival. That the issue of gay marriage poses such a threat that the church can’t survive or move forward. I honestly think that when I look at the rhetoric coming out of the Neo-Calvinist crowd. Forgive me for saying this but I believe watching these cries about gay marriage shows a deep lack of immaturity and a shallowness in the faith of many Neo-Calvinists. I want to ask…have you read your history? Have you looked at what the church has survived over the last two thousand years? It’s survived differing heresies, the advance of science, and so much more. Why then can’t it survive the issue of gay marriage? As I said above there are two issues when it comes to gay marriage…there is the secular side and the religious side. The religious side is completely different. I don’t think you have to worry about two gays approaching you John and asking to get married. Why should the evangelical church interfere in the lives of those people who are not Christians and want nothing to do with God? Why should the evangelical Christian church issue dire warnings about two secular gay men or women who live in our nation’s capital who want to get married? As I have said before the evangelical church has its own issues that it needs to clean house and focus on. The issue of child sex abuse and the way The Gospel Coalition has conducted itself amidst the SGM lawsuit should be the first place to start. But I see this rhetoric out of The Gospel Coalition and I wonder….if you guys think you are being persecuted now, how would you survive in Emperor Nero’s Rome? I am not trying to be difficult I am trying to ask some questions and point out issues on where you stand. By all means feel free to poke back as I have no problem with someone asking hard questions in return. If you ever make it down to Washington, D.C. I would be happy to meet you and chat over this in person. But when I saw this article in the context of all the other articles that keep coming I knew I had to address this issue again. No hard feelings John, you’re a grown boy I hope you can absorb a differing point of view. I will leave you with a Twila Paris song. Feel free to comment below and as always I love you guys!