I received many responses to last week’s article, Marriage Survives! Can it Endure? Some revealed the very problem I was addressing: the next generation, including many Christians, are either confused or compromised on the issue of homosexuality and, by implication, biblical authority.
One young college student wrote:
I have been a Christian all my life. I am ashamed at the way you put down homosexuals. You should educate yourself about the culture you are attacking. If Jesus was as exclusive as you how would the Gospel message have been spread? Love all God's children and learn something about a social group before you attack all of them as immoral sex freaks. Closed minded Christians like yourself are what is pushing us youth away from the church in the first place. Shame on you!
After several lengthy e-mails back and forth, this central theme emerged:
I think a lot of what this argument boils down to is our interpretations of Scripture. It seems to me that you are arguing that homosexuality is a sin because the Bible says so. Now I am no minister, and I’m sure you could provide more examples, but as far as I know the only book in the entire Bible that EXPLICITLY describes homosexuality as a sin is the Book of Leviticus. It seems that all your other scriptural evidence comes from verses concerning heterosexual marriage, to which you are reading in condemnations of homosexuality. The point here is that you seem to interpret the Bible very literally. But if you adhere to the Law as defined in the Old Testament then shouldn’t all Christians be kosher? Should we all stop eating pork, wearing clothes with more than one fabric, etc.? So if Christians can in fact break the Law of Moses then by what authority do you condemn homosexuality? Isn’t it the Law of Moses that gives you your position on homosexuality?
Finally, here is my biggest problem with your position. You act as though your opinion of scripture is God’s. … Is your notion of truth not based on your own interpretation of scripture? And aren’t you a human? And if those two things are true, then isn’t your interpretation of scripture subject to the flaw that marks all humans? … A certain aspect of Christianity is left to mystery because none of us can ever fully understand God. Thus we are left to make the best decisions with what information we have. We are all unique so our decisions will be different, that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. ONLY GOD gets to decide that. And you sir, are not God.
The following is a portion of my response:
I really appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you have responded (despite your occasional jabs). You have obviously thought deeply about this and I think we, as Christians, should consider these matters carefully. Also, Christian love compels us to reason together when we disagree in a way that does not undermine the unity we share in Christ. Clearly we are dealing with a complex issue that ultimately involves people who are precious to God. So I am in no way offering a reproach to those people living the homosexual lifestyle; I am instead addressing the behavior and testing—against Scripture—the proposition: is it morally right or wrong? This is, after all, our final authority for such determinations.
That being the case, it is not fair to simply reduce our disagreement to the matter of interpretation. To do so, comes perilously close to the deconstructive approach to reading put forth by Jacques Derrida. While there is some truth to the postmodern claim that interpretations necessarily vary, it is incorrect to assume that because of this condition there is no possibility for ever discovering the truth. The truth is not found in interpretation but rather in the meaning of the text itself as established by the author. The proper approach to biblical interpretation is one in which the whole of Scripture is considered and what the Scriptures reveal to us about God and his moral character. In this way we are given a clearer picture. Certainly not complete in some cases, but neither incomplete in every instance.
We may, for example, deduce different interpretations of the Bible’s intent regarding baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or eschatology, but this is only because the Scriptures are not exhaustive on these subjects. Good Christians can disagree on these matters and remain within orthodoxy.
Furthermore, you are correct in asserting that we are “flawed” human beings and thus limited in our understanding. Our mind, along with every other aspect of our nature, is adversely affected by sin. This certainly hinders our ability to perfectly interpret God’s revelation. As the apostle Paul said, “We see through a glass darkly.” However, this is not true of everything in Scripture and it does not mean that we cannot know the truth about anything. This is where tradition and the collective wisdom of the Christian community are invaluable.
For example, are the commandments against murder, adultery, and lying subject to interpretation beyond their implicit intent? Is the divinity of Jesus subject to interpretation? What about salvation through Christ alone? Certainly not, and I think you would likely agree. We understand these as absolutes. To venture beyond what are the accepted dogma, creeds, and doctrine of the church based solely on one’s own interpretation is to regard yourself as the ultimate and final authority. Suffice it to say that such an approach is fraught with peril and often leads to error.
Suffice it to say, I went on to share numerous arguments that most of you have read before, including the New Testament passages (Romans 1: 24–28, 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 and 1 Timothy 1:8–11) that directly condemn homosexual acts. This dialogue clearly illustrates the problem within the church. However, as you can see here, the real problem is not rooted in the issue of same-sex marriage but biblical knowledge and authority. This young believer, like so many of his peers, has suffered far greater influence from the culture than discipleship from the church. It is in the church first that we must begin to create culture.
Thankfully, this young man responded with grace and humility, writing, “I must first apologize … clearly I’ve over-estimated my own knowledge …” demonstrating that being prepared with an answer given with gentleness in love can persuade or at least encourage someone to reconsider his position, which is often a starting point.
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of discipleship and Church renewal that works to equip Christians with an intelligent, thoroughly Christian and missional approach to culture. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources, and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org