Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Willard’

TWashed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexualityhe controversy over the Revoice Conference is producing plenty of heat. For me it is a frustrating conversation because of the heightened emotions, quotes that may or may not be taken out of context, a lack of civility and the presence of shibboleths. It is hard to work through the maze of opinions to identify actual facts.

One of the key note speakers is Wesley Hill. This seemed like a good time to take his book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality off of my shelf and read it. It is only about 150 pages, and slightly larger than mass market paperback pages at that. Therefore the book reads quickly. I read it in my spare time over about 3 days.

He lays out the book like this:

Prelude: Washed and Waiting

1. A Story-Shaped Life

Interlude: The Beautiful Incision

2. The End of Loneliness

Postlude: “Thou Art Lightning and Love”

3. The Divine Accolade

Wesley grew up in the Church. As a member of the Anglican communion, he holds to general biblical orthodoxy. Wesley also struggles with same sex attraction, and has as long as he remembers.

“I have never found a book I could resonate with that tries to put into words some of the confusion and sorrow and triumph and grief and joy of the struggle to live faithfully before God, in Christ, with others, as a gay person.”

Wesley notes that his homosexuality has hindered his life and flourishing spiritually. It has not helped him. If I could put words into his mouth, he wishes God would flip a switch so he would no longer be a homosexual. Homosexuality is one of the many ways human nature has been distorted by sin “and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially for those who trust in Christ.”

“So this book is neither about how to live faithfully as a practicing homosexual person nor about how to live faithfully as a fully healed or former homosexual man or woman.”

He has concluded that it is healthier to live as one whose struggles are known to close friends than to live in the dark. He admits that he is young (late twenties at the time of writing it). He is in need of growth, knowledge and wisdom. He is writing as a homosexual Christian to homosexual Christians about being a homosexual Christian.

And here we come to one of the shibboleths! Some disagree with the use of that term. Rosaria Butterfield, for instances, argues against using it in her book on the basis of the fact that our identity is in Christ. Our identity shouldn’t be in our sin. Others have put forward “sexual sufferers” as a suitable option in light of that. This too, however, focuses on our sin or at least the thorn in our side.

A novel idea might be to ask people what they mean by the phrase before we jump to conclusions and indicate we are not a safe person to talk to. Hill offers what he means by this phrase. In the introduction he mentions that “gay” or “homosexual” is an adjective because the main idea is the noun, Christian. That is his identity. Homosexuality is part of his life. A stubborn, painful part of his life.

In his prelude he focuses on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6.

“Washed and waiting. That is my life- my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do.”

He’s a Christian with a struggle. We all have a struggle. His makes him feel like “damaged goods”, something he mentions periodically in this book. I want to take this seriously as a pastor. To continually remind someone who feels like damaged goods that they need to repent for this disordered desires is like rubbing salt in the wound. They already feel damaged, broken, like a misfit. Some seem to want to exacerbate this loneliness and isolation even more. They know they are messed up- they need to know they are loved by a holy God.

It is hard to think that all your life will be an attempt to struggle well, not to actually succeed. Most homosexuals don’t experience a change of sexual attraction. This is due to the remnant of sin. Hill paints a picture of this struggle as he tells his story throughout the book. Many of us conservative Christians would be wise to listen. Not to excuse, but to exercise empathy. Too often we act like we’ll catch a disease.

Image result for island of misfit toysAt times it would be easy to dismiss him. Some of us have also felt profound loneliness for extended periods of time. Some of us have felt like misfits for most of our lives. We identify with the Island of Misfit Toys. He’s not saying only homosexuals experience this profound loneliness. Only that they do in fact experience it.

In A Story-Shaped Life he explains why he resists his same sex desires. He accepts the Story, not just some texts. I mean the Story of creation, fall, redemption and consummation. Those texts reflect the creation. We were not designed for same sex relationships. They are part of the fall brought about by sin. We all have disordered desires, and disordered sexual desires. Sin is living out of accord with how God made us to live. The Story includes redemption too. He’s a forgiven sinner, not a condemned sinner. He was washed, justified as Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6. It is not our sin that defines us, but Christ in our justification.

“I abstain from homosexual behavior because of the power of that scriptural story.”

And so should we abstain from our deviant sexual desires. This story is a balm for our often raw soul.

“The gospel resists the fallen inclinations of Christian believers.”

While not explicitly calling his same sex desires sin (actual), he frequently uses similar phrases. He doesn’t delight in them, or ask others to delight in them. He groans because it is difficult to be faithful in the face of such desires. But this is his goal, and the purpose of the community. These desires are an unwanted burden.

He explores Lewis’ comments on temptation from Mere Christianity.

“Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. … A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know that it would have been like an hour later.” C.S. Lewis

Before his extended reflection on loneliness, he has an intermission focused on Henri Nouwen. He kept his homosexuality a secret shared only with a few of his closest friends. He lived faithfully to the biblical sexual ethic. He was wracked with self-doubt, despair, loneliness and insecurity. In desperate need of intimate relationships, he seemed to also keep them at arms length fearing they would turn into something they shouldn’t. Here is one of the push-pulls of homosexuality: the need for healthy same sex relationships but the fear of sinful attraction. Like Nouwen, Hill longs to feel at home in the Father’s embrace.

In The End of Loneliness Hill focuses on the need for community. This is the very thing most people with sexual disorders fear. They don’t want to be exposed, revealed. In the gay community there is no need to keep your attractions and desires secret. This is part of the big attraction- feeling like you fit in. The Christian community feels threatening to homosexuals, and I fear we don’t help ease this fear. It is often a place of hardship, particularly since you likely can’t find someone to share the rest of your life with. It’s not just that you haven’t found a spouse, but that your desires run in the wrong direction.

The longing for love is human. But in this case it is disordered, bent and twisted. One can begin to curse the longing that reflects our humanity.

“They are trading what seems to be the only satisfying relationships they have or could have for ones that will prove to be at once more painful (because of all the myriad effects of sin) and most life giving.”

In Thou Art Lightning and Love Hill introduces us to Gerard Manley Hopkins. This section included a rather uncomfortable quote from Frederick Buechner about Hopkins. A quote about “a beautiful boy in the choir” and “some street child” when moves closer to pedophilia. Yet Hopkins struggled to remain faithful despite his isolation and despair. Hopkins eventually saw this struggle as part of God’s loving purposes.

There is also a quote from Dallas Willard which distinguishes between temptation and sin: “But temptation also is not wrong, though it should not be willfully entered.” This seems out of place with the rest of his comments on same sex desire, so I’m a bit confused. It is temptation to sin, and must be rejected. We are tempted by our inordinate desire, or desire for something inherently sinful. Jesus was also tempted, though not by inordinate desire. He was tempted by others to commit sin. This is the splitting of a theological hair: is it sinful to have a sinful desire? Or is the sin in letting the desire bear fruit? This is not a topic Hill takes up, which is unfortunate.

At the end he refers to Martin Hallett, a celibate homosexual Christian. Hallett speaks of his sexual orientation as a “gift”. Not that homosexuality is a gift in itself, but that the struggle was a gift “because, under God’s sovereignty, it can lead to blessings.” In other words, God works good out of it that He couldn’t work in any other way. As John Newton noted, there is nothing given that is not needful and nothing needful that is withheld. God uses this struggle to humble, and to reveal the greatness of His grace and redemption.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. Ps. 119

Because this is a book, and a short one, of reflections it is not a book of theological exposition. Some may criticize it for that. There are other books for that. This is a book explaining why & how Wesley Hill struggles against his desire rather than following his desire. It is a window into the struggle for those of us who are heterosexual. You could treat this as the conversation you need to have but don’t have a friend with whom you feel comfortable having it.

CavWife and I both have had friends who punted on the faith to live in homosexual relationships. We have friends who left families too, to satisfy the sexual desire they told practically no one about. Some of us may have suspected, but there were no conversations about the struggle until they gave it up. I wish they’d shared this with friends. Maybe it would have turned out differently. But maybe it isn’t too late, God may grant repentance.

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In 1984 the SBC passed a resolution restricting the office of pastor to men.  Al Mohler, at the time a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was “hurt, outraged and stunned.”

To put this in context- there was no Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at the time.  The seminary he attended taught that women were qualified to be pastors.  He was young and it can be difficult to see that all the professors you respect are not handling the Scriptures correctly on such a matter (especially when the culture affirms them).  Mohler led a protest of the resolution, buying an ad in the local newspaper.

A year and a half later, Mohler would be a campus host to visiting theologian Carl Henry.  Mohler had read a number of Henry’s books and admired him.  While showing him the campus, they discussed theology.

“With the insouciance of youth and with the stupidity of speaking more quickly than one ought, I gave him my position,” Mohler recalled. “He looked at me with a look that surprised me, and he simply said to me, ‘One day this will be a matter of great embarrassment to you.'”

Mohler reports quickly heading to the library and reading every book he could find on the topic.  In studying the Scriptures, he discovered he was wrong and Carl Henry was right.

“I had to come face to face with the fact that I had just picked this up,” he said. “I had just breathed this in, and I just capitulated it out without checking it according to the Scriptures. By the way, going to the Scriptures, it doesn’t take long. It wasn’t like I embarked on a lifelong study to discover what Scripture says on this. It didn’t take long at all.

“And I realized that Carl Henry was right, that one day I would be very embarrassed about this. When I saw him the next morning, well, I was already in a different world.”

Mohler today is a committed complementarian.

And now, the rest of the story.


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I’m slowly plugging my way through Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy.  After all the hype, I thought I’d love this book.  As my intern noted, this book is listed by nearly every emerging leader as one of THE books.  But I’m not really loving it.  I think I figured out why.

I am not a dispensationalist, having left that camp in the early 90’s.  It isn’t that he is either.  It is that he is often arguing against many mistaken dispensational notions (without calling them what they are).  He belabors the folly of trying to park the teaching of Jesus in the earthly millennium.  So… I’m not tracking with him, even though, in large part, I agree with him.

But rather than seek to communicate Covenant Theology and/or a Reformed perspective, he seems to be trying to create his own thing.  And that ‘novelty’ sounds alot like the New Perspectives on Paul, which sound alot like the Roman Catholicism of my youth, which I fled for the purity of the Gospel of Jesus.

Hopefully I will change my viewpoint of this book by the time I’m done.  I want for him to affirm the distinctions between justification, sanctification & glorification.  What I see him doing is noticing how dispensational thought often separates them.  He seems to move to the opposite error rather than say they are distinct blessings of the Gospel, but also connected blessings of the Gospel.  They come as a package, but they are not the same.

Or am I just completely missing something here?

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I’m currently reading The Divine Conspiracy.  I’m not too familiar with Willard.  I had read the chapter on Sin Management before, but this caught my eye this time through:

On a recent radio program a prominent minister spent fifteen minutes enforcing the point that ‘justification,’ the forgiveness of sins, involves no change at all in the heart or personality of the one forgiven.  It is, he insisted, something entirely external to you, located wholly in God himself.  His intent was to emphasize the familiar Protestant point that salvation is by God’s grace only and is totally independent of what we may do.  But what in fact he said was that being a Christian has nothing to do with the kind of person you are.  The implications of this teaching are stunning.

Okay… First, the minister misunderstands the doctrine of justification.  But Willard seems to misunderstand justification, and what the minister said.

He claims the minister said being a Christian has nothing to do with what kind of person you are.  False!  Becoming a Christian has nothing to do with that.  Justification is about becoming a Christian.

The internal changes occur through regeneration and sanctification.  It sounds to me like Willard conflates them into one (much like Catholicism does).  Justification is only part of salvation (which includes regeneration and sanctification. Or am I missing something?)

I appreciate his call to recognize the present day and daily life relevance of Jesus.  I appreciate his call to living out you faith daily.  I appreciate his emphasis on the fact that we have been regenerated and the Spirit works in us to produce obedience (Eph. 2:10; Philippians 2:13; Titus 2:12).  But in many places he equates salvation with justification, as though they were synonymous.  He does not distinguish the aspects of salvation (regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification).  He laments that the contemporary evangelical scene is woefully ignorant of the fullness of the Gospel (it is).  But he seems woefully ignorant of how the Reformers, and their descendants, saw the richness of salvation, expressing it in such creeds as the Westminster Confession.

As I read this book, he comes off sounding like a New Perspective on Paul.  Again, am I missing something?  Let’s discuss (no hyperbole or strawmen please).

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A review of this book by Sarah Sumner is long overdue.  I have hesitated in doing this even now.  But with all the talk of the complementarian-egalitarian conflict resulting from the Together For the Gospel conference and statement, this seems like a good time.

At first glace one might think “This must be a well-written and well-argued position”.  Afterall, it has a forward by Phillip Johnson, and blurbs by Dallas Willard, Harold O.J. Brown and such an evangelical legend as Carl Henry for Pete’s sake. 

I was given my copy by a person who wanted to justify her theological shift and practice.  I guess sometimes we see what we want to see, because I don’t think this book delivered the goods.  My copy has tons of red ink.  I am tempted to say that she benefitted from evangelical affirmative action because the scholarship found in this book is questionable to say the least.  I could not disagree more with the blurbs on the back or the content within the binding.

What’s wrong?  It is not (just) that I disagree with her.  Her exegetical work is weak.  Very weak.  She seems ignorant of basic things: using the historical-grammatical method to develop the original meaning to the original audience and then make the adjustments for changes in time, circumstance and audience.  She blanketly applies instructions to a young pastor to all Christians.  She is focused more on the ‘meaning of a word’ than the grammer and how it is used in the context.  For instance, “head’ is used earlier in Ephesians in the context of authority, not source.  She must provide a solid reason for the meaning to change in a similar context (since submission is a matter of authority, not source).  She does not offer a compelling rationale.

She also seems ignorant of the basic Reformational principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, using the clear texts to interpret the unclear texts.  And just as frustrating is her refusal to apply “good and necessary inference”.  Actually, that is quite convenient to her case because she can write that a man is never commanded to lead his wife.  That would be a good and necessary inference of both the command to the wife to submit to her husband, and more importantly, the husband imaging Jesus who surely leads His bride, the Church.

She also relies heavily on strawpeople (I’ll be gender neutral for a moment).  She does not paint complementarians fairly, but they come off sounding like ignorant, controlling beasts.  She uses extreme arguments: “unless we believe that all women are subject to the authority of all men.”  The text flatly denies such a contention, and all complementarians I know (including me) deny such a contention.  A woman/wife is to be subject to her own man/husband.

All in all, I found this to be a poorly researched, poorly reasoned and poorly argued book that somehow tries to be neither complementarian nor feminist.  In fact, it misrepresents the teaching of Scripture.  I don’t know her heart, but I do know the human tendency to argue in such a way as to justify our own practice.  This is a book to justify the Willowcreek Association’s position on women in pastoral ministry, from which she benefitted.  But Men and Women in the Church does the Body a disservice.

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