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IThe Wholeness Imperative: How Christ Unifies Our Desires, Identity and Impact in the Worldf there seems to be a book needed for our times, it would appear to be The Wholeness Imperative: How Christ Unifies Our Desires, Identity and Impact in the World by Scott Redd. Redd is the president and professor of OT of the DC campus of RTS. In our current context the questions of desires and identity are at the forefront as the ecumenical parachurch group Revoice brings these questions to the forefront.

We are reckoning with God’s design in the gospel and how the already/not yet impacts that gospel design. A tension develops which is key to the Revoice controversy. Can one’s sexual orientation change? A different question is should we expect it to change in this life? The first is about possibility and the second is about likelihood of change.

Identity is about how we think about ourselves. Revoice brings up another tension for us between our identity in Christ and the reality of our on-going sinfulness. We are simul justus et peccator- at the same time just and sinner. Our ultimate identity is in Christ, but we still struggle with sin. How are we to speak of this? How are we to process this tension between the positional and personal since they are not yet unified?

In the midst of this we have a missional reality. The questions of desires and identity affect our mission. How we speak of ourselves impacts the people we bring the gospel to in evangelism. How we speak of ourselves impacts how believers who struggle with profound sin. Are they really Christians? Worthy Christians? Welcome in the church? These are big questions.

This book is not directly about this question, but has application to that question.

Redd begins his book at a the re-affirmation of his faith as a teenager. His dreams didn’t reflect his faith. He began to wonder, “If I’m not a Christian in my dreams, am I Christian?” His desires were not unified. Here Redd speaks of the soul. He speaks of being and doing. We tend to separate the two. The gospel seeks to unify them so we begin to do in accordance with our being or identity in Christ. Being precedes doing and doing flows out of being.

“This is the tension inherent in the Christian life: a tension that springs from the already-ness and the not yet-ness of the salvation we have in Christ. We live between the acute angles of what has been done and what we are awaiting to be done, what is and what will be.”

Redd brings us to the gospel logic of indicative-imperative through Herman Bavinck. Christ’s work for us is the foundation for our gospel responses and obedience. Christ’s work for us means that Christ begins to work in us to make us like He is. This begins at conversion and continues in this life.

He then addresses our wholeness by talking about the wholeness of God as revealed in the Shema (Deut. 6). God’s wholeness calls for a wholeness in our response to Him. He’s whole-hearted and calls us to be whole-hearted as well. In the gospel, Jesus provides forgiveness for our divided hearts and desires. In the gospel, Jesus provides the gift of the Spirit to transform us into His likeness. The movement is from the inside out: internal transformation => external transformation. Morality focuses on the outside while the gospel changes the inside first through a reordering of our desires. Repentance, Redd stresses, includes confessing the fragmented nature of our souls and desires, the fact that we compartmentalize and need Jesus to re-integrate our lives.

Redd then moves to the role of Scripture to provide us nourishment and power for the journey toward wholeness. He explores Psalm 119 to address the aim of our journey, aid along the way, our defense and delight. He then moves into false aims, aides, defenses and delights because our sinful hearts seeks counterfeits.

Image result for solomon's templeNext he introduces pious superstition through Jeremiah 7. They thought all would be well, despite their pursuit of sin, as long as the temple was standing. So God would remove the temple on account of their sins. Lest we think we are free from pious superstition since there is no physical temple, he notes our idol-factory hearts produce any number of talismans we think will protect us from God’s wrath and cover our sins. He mentions church attendance and participation. I’ll toss in “doctrinal integrity” which we think means we don’t have to actually love people (okay, he goes there too on page 67). God is love and the commandments hang on love to God and our neighbor. Sound doctrine matters, but the goal is not simply sound doctrine but sound living which means loving others well.

“He points to their ongoing sins, sins which infect their private lives but have also flowed into the oppression of those in their community who are lacking the social and family structures to care for themselves.”

We can see pious superstition functioning in the German church during the Third Reich, the American south when it embraced slavery and segregation. Pious superstition, Redd says, is about control. We want to control our lives instead of submitting to the lordship of Christ. As a result, we substitute the superstition for vibrant faith in Christ that focuses on His priorities and commands. For instance, we may isolate a command we “keep” which excuses the ones we don’t. He then lays out 5 diagnostic principles to identify pious superstitions in your life.

He then shifts to the exodus and conquest as two sides of the same redemption. He sets us free, sustains us in the wilderness and brings us into a new land. The exodus is a picture of our conversion and justification. The rest is our sanctification and glorification. Salvation isn’t about cheap grace but life transformation. In the gospel Jesus reveals His love for us, and what it looks like for us to love (see Philippians 2).

Image result for paralyticIn the next chapter Redd addresses our felt needs and deepest need. He begins with the story of his family’s visit to Williamsburg and his daughter’s amazement. Each experience overwhelmed her with joy, but there was more to discover. This is the chapter I wish I’d read a week before I did read it because he addressed my sermon text. The paralyzed man in Mark 2 had felt needs. He was helpless and dependent on others. He wanted to walk. Jesus addressed his deepest needs too: pardon. Like Mark’s original audience, we need to learn more about who Jesus is and what Jesus does that we may be overwhelmed with joy like Redd’s daughter.

His felt need was relieved. Don’t worry, he’d have more. But Jesus revealed that He addresses those deepest needs so we’ll bring those to him. But Jesus may not address our felt needs (difficult marriage, prodigal child, under-employment etc.). I hear the ghost of John Newton lurking in the background here. Jesus knows what we need to keep us humble, saved and set free. Those felt needs are “gifts, opportunities to encounter Christ as the answer to your deepest desire for wholeness, for the full experience of His grace.” As Paul discovered, His strength is made perfect (mature) in our weakness. In other words, we need to experience weakness in order to know/experience His strength.

Redd brings us to Mark 4 to talk about wholeness remade. He points us to Jesus who controls the natural world as seen in the calming of the storm and seas. He points us to Jesus who controls the personal in the restoration of the demoniac. Jesus is concerned about creation, and He’s concerned about us. His providence includes both nature and history as well as our lives and circumstances. He has the power to move us toward wholeness, a power we lack.

The next chapter illuminates wholeness in a discussion of light. He moves us from Genesis 1 to 1 John, Numbers 6 to Isaiah 9 and more. In this he speaks of heresy as an illegitimate claim to shed light on difficult subjects. Our lives need to come into the light. This means our disordered desires need to be brought into the light- not just in justification and sanctification. As Steve Brown told us often, “Demons die in the light.”

“Fragmentation is marked by secrecy and deceit, and it festers in the darkness.”

This is what concerns me about some aspects of our denominations response to Revoice. I fear it will drive people with SSA underground, out of the light and out of community with regard to their most pressing felt need. I’ve seen this too often, and it destroys lives and families. The false expectation of orientation change will drive those who don’t experience this underground. The shibboleths of not using the word “gay” or “homosexual” to express their sexual struggles will drive people underground. Rather than inviting people to come to us for help in their struggle, I think we are pushing them away by separating doctrinal accuracy from gospel acceptance and love. Having this nailed down doctrinally is necessary but insufficient to meaningfully serve our brothers and sisters who have these struggles.

Redd’s comments mirror this without connecting it to any particular set of circumstances.

“Light is not just about proclaiming truth; it is about being present when the darkness comes. … To be light, however, we need to be present in the places where darkness has a foothold. We need to be in the room when darkness makes its advance.”

We don’t simply expose sin, but help sinners! In defining sin, we cannnot overlook the people caught in that sin or in the process of mortifying that sin. We need to stand beside brothers and sisters struggling with racism, pornography, gluttony and greed. Yes, we all have different sins that we find disgusting and “unpardonable”. We need to see that person as Jesus sees them: redeemed, forgiven and being restored to wholeness. We are called into that mess, not simply to shout from the sideline all the ways they are wrong.

Redd concludes with the reality of glorification or wholeness everafter. I love the story he opens the chapter with about how his wife thought The Wizard of Oz ended with the death of the witch because her parents wanted to go to bed. For years she thought Dorothy never made it home.

We’ll make it home even though it doesn’t feel like it some days. The resurrection of Jesus matters as the proof of our future resurrection. Our bodies fail in the present. They don’t work right, experiencing the curse. We have birth defects or genetic disorders. As we age they waste away. We don’t seem to be moving toward wholeness but rather disintegration.

But the resurrection presents us with gospel hope that we will share in Jesus’ glory. It reminds us that we will be given new bodies fit for our inheritance. The future pulls us forward.

Redd briefly explores two tendencies in churches that take the Bible seriously. One is to focus on the intermediate state and focus on evangelism as the most important thing. We need to get people to heaven. The Christian life becomes organized around evangelism.

Another is to focus on the resurrection. Their focus is more holistic. They want to bring order to a chaotic world. They want to help people, particularly the oppressed and suffering.

We need to integrate the two tendencies, not play them against each other. We need to evangelize and care about and for the suffering. This means we embrace the intermediate state, but don’t settle for it.

“But if we don’t make it a priority to proclaim the gospel and show people the wonderful, desirable, life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, then we are neglecting our duty as the body of the Risen King to populate His kingdom. We are called to do both: we are called to build the kingdom and to populate it.”

There needs to be a wholeness to our ministry, not just our hearts. This is driven by our identity as Christ’s people, whose desires are being restored and have a mission.

This is a good book. He brings in personal anecdotes to clarify the theological points he’s making. He is clear and succinct. He brings in a breadth of biblical texts. He doesn’t lay out every possible way we should apply this, but does prime the pump for us. Stop and meditate, not just on the theology of the book but its implications in light of on-going controversies.

Wholeness is God’s gospel goal for us. Such wholeness should be the desire of our hearts, and the shape our mission. We are concerned not just for our wholeness but also the wholeness of others. We and they have not arrived yet and we must remember the reality of the already/not yet as we serve one another.

I wish he had spent more time fleshing this out. It would be the worthy subject for a book that addresses but it not tied to the issues of our day. This book is, however, a step in the right direction.

 

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In the first post, I covered the issue of temptation and sin as discussed in the Central Carolina Presbytery Committee Report on Revoice (CC). I also included reference to the North Florida Report on Same-Sex Attraction (NF). This subject took more space than I think the others will. There is more disagreement, even in the Reformed Community including the PCA, on the subject. We saw disagreement between the CC and NF reports, as well as between an older Kevin DeYoung blog post and this report he worked on.

We agree that sexual temptations arise from the remnant of sin within each of us. They are temptations to commit sin. We agree that such temptations (all temptations) should be mortified as Paul encourages in Romans 8 and Titus 2 among other places. The disagreement is about whether being tempted itself constitutes a sin.

“To conflate the two ignores the reality of God’s gracious promises of deliverance to those facing temptation (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 2:18) and the sinless obedience of Jesus Christ in the face of temptation (Mt. 4:11; Heb. 4:15). Christians can be confronted with an opportunity to sin and, by the grace of God, resist the temptation and pursue obedience.” NF, pp. 3

There is fundamental agreement but the focus seems to be on the finer distinctions made. None of these differences imply that same-sex attraction (SSA) is morally neutral or “good”. They have a pastoral application as to whether the person has in fact sinned or is tempted. Those are treated differently: repentance vs. mortification. No person should experience church discipline for being tempted, but persistent patterns of sinful action should usually be addressed.

Further, when we consider the Westminster Shorter Catechism on repentance we see:

Question 87: What is repentance unto life?
Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

Repentance properly includes a “full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” That properly describes what happens if we don’t put our temptations to death. Temptations are not a matter under our control and therefore, themselves, a matter of obedience. Obedience is about whether we entertain those temptations or mortify them.

Temptations do reveal the depths and character of our remaining corruption. In addition to mortification, they are also an occasion for lament. They also reveal to us our on-going need for Jesus so we respond much like Paul in Romans 7- O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of sin? His answer and ours is to be Jesus. That is true no matter the types of temptations, and sins (which is the context of Romans 7), we experience and commit.

I hope I’ve said enough on that topic.

The Question of Identity

Related imageCC then shifts its attention to the question of identity. At times I will appeal to sections of the Missouri Presbytery report from their investigative committee (MP). It is my opinion that this has become something as a shibboleth for some. If you don’t say it the right way, with no regard what you mean by it, you are considered wrong and should be outside the boundaries of our community of faith (see Judges 12:1-6).

Labels do matter. And what people mean by the labels matters too. Communication includes both the speaker (and their intention) and the listener.

One of the things bringing criticism to Revoice is their use of the terms “gay Christian” or “homosexual Christian.” The criticism is that these are (necessarily) terms of identity and they are therefore identifying themselves with their sinful inclinations at best, or sinful actions at worst. Revoice does, as we saw in the earlier post, affirm biblical sexuality and marriage. So theirs would presumably be a best case scenario.

The Scriptures speak of two fundamental identities: in Adam or in Christ. These can be expressed in many ways. For instance, regarding our identity in Adam, Paul refers to people in accordance with their dominant sin: the sexually immoral, idolators and adulterers among others (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Regarding our Christian identity we see Peter referring to Christians as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).

Additionally, our union and identity with Christ is to shape our thinking. We see this in Colossians 3:1-4. As the text unfolds in the following verses our actions, not just our thoughts, are to follow our new identity. Sanctification is the putting off of our old identity in Adam with its sin, and the putting on of our new identity in Christ which is righteous.

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with ChristThese ideas are developed by Rosaria Butterfield in her book Openness Unhindered. In particular in the chapters Identity (pp. 35-58) and Self-Representation: What Does It Mean to Be Gay? (pp. 113-136). Christopher Yuan offers a briefer treatment in Holy Sexuality and the Gospel (pp. 7-13).

CC recognizes that Revoice accepts at least some of the identity language of our culture. For instance, they use the term “sexual minority”. Even the terms “gay” and “homosexual” in some way bow to the Freudian origination of sexual orientation (see NF, pp. 4-5). Rosaria Butterfield also traces this development of use of orientation in Sexual Orientation: Freud’s Nineteenth Century Mistake (pp. 93-112).

Sam Allberry addresses all of this as well.

CC spends time delving into General Revelational arguments in this case. They are not ignoring Scripture (for there are plenty of quotes) but explaining and assessing the worldly theories that NF simply recognizes as worldly.

Adjectives, at times, may be helpful modifiers of the noun “Christian”. Reformed Christian differentiates me from Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Christian etc. American Christian may be used to differentiate me from an Asian or African Christian as well. Cultural background has an effect on how you tend to live out your faith.

The problem both CC and NF express is when the adjective describes a sinful inclination or action. Both reports acknowledge that due to the remnant of sin, many Christians continue to experience these sinful inclinations. Regeneration does not remove them in every instance. We don’t want to promise anyone that if they come to Jesus, they will suddenly have no more SSA. But the reports warn against using the terms “homosexual Christian” and “gay Christian”.

How and why does Revoice use those terms?

Revoice generally uses those adjectives to refer to their struggle, not their identity. In this they are following the lead of Wesley Hill, on of the keynote speakers from his earlier book, Washed and Waiting. In the introduction he explains his usage.

“I hope to send a subtle linguistic signal that being gay isn’t the most important thing about my or any other gay person’s identity. I am a Christian before I am anything else. My homosexuality is part of my makeup, a facet of my personality. One day, I believe, whether in this life or in the resurrection, it will fade away. But my identity as a Christian- someone incorporated into Christ’s body by his Spirit- will remain.” pp. 22

Later he writes:

“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. That is what this book is all about.” pp. 50

You can’t properly understand Revoice on this issue apart from this book. They should be more clear about that! They use Christian to express their identity. They use “gay” or “homosexual” to express their struggle.

In doing so they are addressing those who struggle with SSA and the gay community more than people like me and other PCA presbyters. Their audience shuts down, so the claim is made, with the terms SSA or ex-gay.

While I do not prefer their language, I seek to understand their meaning by the phrases instead of demanding they not use those terms based on how I’d use them. Instead of refusing to acknowledge how they are used and bearing false witness against them (imputing an erroneous meaning), we should faithfully express their intentions. We can criticize them for it, but we should properly interpret their intention, not the one that we think it should mean.

After her chapter on Self-Representation, Rosaria Butterfield has a chapter called Conflict: When Sisters Disagree. There she focuses on this particular disagreement. Rosaria strongly believes that the phrases not be used. Yet she wrote:

“The conservative Christian world is one of the only places where gay still means primarily an identity associated with a sociopolitical community.” pp. 139.

She focuses on the need for Christian love in these matters of disagreement. Those relationships may be complex, but we don’t cut them off. She notes:

“Friendship and neighborly proximity are necessary components to working through theological differences in Christian love. Ideas are not enough. … Ideas that divide must travel on the back of Christian life practices that allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder as we submit before our holy and loving God. This is the Christian labor of real neighbors.” (pp. 146)

I take those words to heart. I was dismayed when Rosaria responded to Revoice in a way that seemed inconsistent with those words, at least to me. She focused on her material on identity (which, I do agree with), but offered a very different tone to Revoice and the PCA than she seems to have offered her friend with whom she disagreed more profoundly.

MP offered caution to both Revoice and their detractors on this point. I find their counsel to both to be wise.

We agree that the way Revoice and Side B believers in general use terms has been confusing to many of our churches. But we reject the claim that this is because terms like “gay,” sexual orientation,” “queer,” and “sexual minorities” are always or necessarily unbiblical. These terms pose a particularly challenging problem for both the Revoice project and its critics. We encourage Revoice and those who would adopt such language to do so with great care, recognizing its potential to cause offense and division within the church. At the same time, we would encourage those who are inclined to hear such language and dismiss those who would use it, to charitably, sincerely, and carefully listen to what those people are intending to mean by it. The ongoing and evolving discussion of terminology around sexuality in the 21st century has led the committee to suggest that terminology be one area of study taken up by a General Assembly study/consensus-building committee. (pp. 61)

To one: be careful you don’t confuse or create unnecessary offense. To the other: be charitable and listen to what they actually mean. Don’t assume and accuse.

Summing Up

Revoice and the PCA (and other conservative denominations) agree that our identity is in Christ. The point of disagreement is on appropriate terms to be used to speak of professing Christians who struggle with SSA. As in many disagreements, we should define our terms so people don’t misunderstand what we are saying. We should also take those definitions at face value even if we tend to use a different definition.

Bottom Line:

Revoice is not using these terms to signify people who profess to be Christians but also embrace a gay lifestyle and/or their attraction to people of the same sex. Revoice is seeking to help them live as chaste Christians. They could clearly be more clear about that.

 

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IOut of a Far Country: A Gay Son's Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope. became familiar with Christopher Yuan’s story when my wife gave me a copy of Out of a Far Country written by Christopher and his mother Angela. It is the story of his coming out of the closet, dropping out of dental school and pursuing a gay lifestyle, his parents’ initial rejection, their conversion and subsequent pursuit of Christopher and his conversion after being imprisoned as a drug dealer.

In the course of that story he mentioned the concept he called ‘holy sexuality’. At the time, I hoped he’d develop that further. Over the years I was disappointed that he didn’t. His name would arise periodically as a wave of controversies regarding how the church is to interact with people experiencing same-sex attraction arose.

The Revoice controversy was perhaps the worst of the lot. In many ways it seemed to be an exercise in talking past one another. At least that was my experience of many of those discussions and debates. These controversies reveal that the Church still needs to talk about how to faithfully and effectively serve those who experience same-sex attractions.

Recently I discovered that he’d released Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story in the fall of 2018. I bought a copy for myself, and by faith one for the church library. It was my hope that this could be helpful in helping us work through these issues.

He tackles a number of the issues that lay at the heart of the various controversies. It is not a big book, so it sticks to the point and does not overwhelm with information. At times he interacts (briefly) with opposing views. That can be too brief at times, for instance his discussion of Matthew Vines on the issue of ‘bad fruit’.

He begins with the reality of God’s Story which is intended to help us to understand and shape our story. This refers to the history of redemption (creation ==> fall ==> redemption ==> consummation) found in Scripture intended to help us to understand life and the world. He moves into questions about identity, the image of God, and the reality of sin. He then introduces holy sexuality and dives into the issues of temptation, desire, orientation and then marriage and singleness. The book concludes with how to assist those who struggle with sexual sin in terms of sanctification, discipleship, and outreach. As you can see, the breadth of material covered is impressive.

TImage result for rosaria butterfieldhe book begins with a forward by his ‘big sister’ Rosaria Butterfield. There is some irony there. She was a lesbian professor/academic who became a Christian in the process of writing a book critical of the Religious Right due to the friendship that developed with a Presbyterian pastor and his wife. She left academia and ended up marrying a pastor. She regrets the work she did in laying the groundwork for the changes in our culture we’ve seen in the last 15 years regarding marriage and benefits.

He is a man who was gay, dropping out of dental school to basically live the party life. To support himself he became a drug dealer and ended up in prison. He saw a Bible in the trash and grabbed it because he was bored. He became a Christian and after getting out of prison went back to school and entered academia. He remains single, experiencing same-sex desires but seeking to live out a holy sexuality.

Rosaria’s forward covers some ground he will as well: union in Christ, the development of sexual orientation in the 19th century, that the real issue is not homosexuality but unbelief (which keeps us in Adam).

“The idol of our historical epoch is this: your sexual desires define you, determine you, and should always delight you.” Rosaria Butterfield

Yuan begins with discussing paradigms. Our identity shouldn’t be based on sinful practices, or what we can’t do (anymore). He expresses his frustration with the dynamics of the discussions, particularly the heterosexual-homosexual paradigm. I share his frustration. Between Christians as least, we should try to use biblical language. Too often I find people, both conservative and liberal, using cultural language for a very theological discussion.

He shares the story of Andy who was a classmate of his who was married. Eventually Andy left his wife because despite his prayers, God didn’t take those same-sex desires away. We’ve all known a guy like Andy. I know a few. Some left the faith without getting married. Others left their wives and their faith, leaving a trail of wreckage because they had to be “true to themselves”.

At some point people started to confuse their desires with their identity. Some conservatives further this despite their intentions in how they shape the gospel differently for people who practice homosexual sex. What many people with same-sex attractions hear is “If I am my desires, then who I am, not just my actions, are condemned. As I continue to feel these desires, I must still be condemned.” People like Andy are tempted to change their convictions because they confuse those desires with identity.

He notes that until the mid-1800’s, sexuality was about behavior, not orientation or identity. Carl Westphal was one of the earliest to use homosexuality to describe a person’s nature rather than behavior. Yuan does some philosophizing about the rise of identity through Romanticism and nihilism.

Sola experientia (‘experience alone’) won over sola Scripture (‘Scripture alone’).”

We do need to have a biblical anthropology, and speak consistently with that. I agree with Yuan and Butterfield that due to our union in Christ our identity is Christ. Where I ‘depart’ from them is in mandating that people speak the same way. Part of the Revoice controversy was about using the term “gay” or “homosexual Christian”. They were following Wesley Hill who says in his book Washed and Waiting that Christian refers to his identity and gay/homosexual his struggle (page 22). I don’t get bent out of shape when I understand that. Not the preferred terminology, but he’s often communicating with people who aren’t Christians and don’t typically speak about same-sex desire (they use the language of identity and orientation).

This is a practical difference, not a theological difference. In her book Openness Unhindered she has a chapter, Conflict: When Sisters Disagree, about this capacity to love people who speak differently. But her comments about the PCA and Revoice appear to have a very different approach. I’m a little frustrated with my sister. It’s okay- she’s still my sister!

YuImage result for christopher yuanan brings us back to Genesis for the imago dei and the reality of sin. These are foundational concepts that need to be addressed in these discussions. He speaks covenantally about our fall in Adam. We are guilty of our covenant head’s disobedience. We now have a fallen nature. This moves us into the reality of indwelling sin or a sinful nature. If we are off here, then the rest of the discussion will really miss the mark. If we make the wrong diagnosis, we’ll apply the wrong cure. This cuts both ways, for the culture war conservative and the progressive accommodationist.

To a sinner, sin feels natural and normal. This is because we have a darkened understanding and our thinking is futile (Rom. 1). ALL sinners have sinful distortions of our sexuality. We all want to live beyond the boundaries God has established for our sexual behavior in one way or another. Our problem is sin (the condition or state), not simply a particular sin. The person engaging in same-sex activity also sins in other ways. The issue is not simply same-sex desires and activity but sin (Adam’s and their own). Salvation is about sin, not simply sexuality. The goal is not heterosexuality but living in obedience to God through the grace of God.

Here is part of where things get murky in many debates I’ve had with people. I think Yuan is helpful. Here is some of what he says within this biblical framework:

“I’m not saying the capacity to have same-sex attractions or temptations is actual sin. However, the concept of original and indwelling sin fits every description of same-sex sexual orientation. Original sin is an unchosen condition, and indwelling sin is a persistent pattern of sinful desires or behaviors.”

He will later draw an important distinction between temptation and desire. Here is the distinction between a temptation to commit a sinful act and committing a sin. Some see the temptation itself as sin. Butterfield has a few confusing paragraphs in Openness Unhindered; confusing because they seem contradictory (first she says temptation isn’t sin but homosexual lust is- she could be using those terms to refer to temptation and inordinate desire respectively and then we’d be in agreement- see below). I wish Yuan spent time parsing John Owens seeming distinction between temptation and falling into temptation (which I think is that same distinction).

“Again: temptation is not a sin. But what you do with it may be.” Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered, pp. 83

“In addition, temptation is not a sin, but temptations to sin are never good. They are never from God. Therefore, patterns of temptation can never be sanctified.” Rosaria, pp. 123.

“Moving up the scale, homosexual or heterosexual lust is a sin- even the unintentional and persistent kind that springs up like a hiccup or a reflex.” Rosaria, pp. 123

This doesn’t make same-sex temptation okay or neutral. Nor is it ‘sanctifiable’. If acting upon such temptation is sin (it is!), then we should mortify those desires of the flesh as Paul tells us to do (Rom. 6 & 8). We are to make no provision for them because we’ve put on Christ (Rom. 13).

In some discussions I’ve brought up temptations to commit adultery or engage in pre-marital sex (heterosexual lust). Some who ardently oppose homosexuality, and are critical of organizations like Revoice say those temptations are ‘normal’, or ‘not contrary to nature’ as if one gets a pass because those are heterosexual sins. Such a view is quite unbiblical. Yuan confronts that common, faulty, view. Holy sexuality is not for homosexuals alone but for all Christians. We are to be chaste outside of marriage and faithful in marriage.

“Chastity is more than simply abstention from extra-marital sex; it conveys purity and holiness. Faithfulness is more than merely maintaining chastity and avoiding illicit sex; it conveys covenantal commitment.”

Yuan then focuses on temptation. This section could use some more work. For instance:

“As God, Jesus did not sin and in fact is incapable of sinning (this is call impeccability).”

He doesn’t address Jesus as man, who specifically obeyed as man in our place for our salvation. There is a huge mystery here that Yuan pretty much ignores. It was as man, additionally, that he may be made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). Jesus resisted sin “all the way” while we often give up well before that. We don’t really know how powerful temptation is.

But Yuan correctly reminds us that as fallen humans (despite being united to Christ) we will experience temptation. This includes same-sex temptation (something some others I know seem to reject based on their understanding of regeneration). The issue is not whether you will be tempted, but what you do with it no matter what the temptation is. We are to be vigilant and put it to death!

He then moves from James 1 to James 4 to discuss desire, or inordinate desire. For many, the same-sex desires are not primarily erotic. It is about romance and being together. He notes that in many lesbian relationships romance drives the relationship, not sexual desire. This means that the problem isn’t just about sex, but the inordinate desire for a person of the same sex: friendship gone wild. Here he draws more upon Augustine than Owen. People can fall prey to “co-dependency, relational idolatry, sinful fantasies” and more.

“Nonsexual romantic desires are essentially yearning to become one with and be permanently and exclusively united to someone we hold dear.”

His discussion of marriage is short but helpful. Sadly some take “it is not good for man to be alone” out of context and make marriage about companionship. Marriage is about far more than companionship. It is about fulfilling the creation mandate together. Yuan gets that and explains that (citing Christopher Ash in the process). When we make marriage about companionship, the end of loneliness, we more quickly make marriage idolatrous (or disposable when this primary ‘goal’ isn’t met). Marriage becomes about me and my feelings, not about covenantal union to fulfill God’s mission. It isn’t less than companionship, but far more. Marriage is about someone who is the same but different. The same creature but the opposite gender. Like but not like.

Yuan also upholds the dignity and goodness of singleness. All people are single for much of their lives. They are not less than whole people. Jesus was not less of a person because he was single. At times in this chapter he seems to display some characteristics of New Covenant Theology rather than Covenant Theology. Yes, we must be born again but we still have the truth that “this promise is for you and your children” (Gen. 17 ==> Acts 2). God works through generations as well as in individuals. I also disagree with some of his implications about 1 Corinthians 7 while agreeing with his main point. Singleness is not a lesser state or a death sentence.

Singles should be able to have vibrant relationships with their spiritual family. Couples and families need to do better in caring for single adults and inviting them into the web of relationships. Singles (and the infertile) can have spiritual descendants through evangelism and discipleship. God provides plenty of meaning in life for those who are not married. Being single is a calling all have at some point (sometimes more than once), a calling we can walk faithfully in because of the indwelling Spirit.

He then moves back to holy sexuality and the process of sanctification. Justified and sanctified Christians experience temptations. Some still experience same-sex temptations. We are already new creatures in Christ, but not yet completely new. We are in process, in part because God is humbling us and one way to humble us is the presence of temptations.

“… because of our union with Christ, we can hate our sin without hating ourselves.”

He then deals with some bad theology by Matthew Vines. Vines interprets “bad fruit” to mean physical harm or emotional despair. Theology that produces hardship and distress is false doctrine, in his view. Therefore because so many homosexuals struggle with suicide, the teaching of the church must be wrong. Yuan takes him quickly to task. “Bad fruit” is sin or the lack of repentance. There is no true discipleship without denying oneself, which is painful. He also takes on Jen Hatmaker who blames so much suicidal ideation among gay youth for the church’s historic (biblical) stance on same-sex relationships. Yuan notes studies in secular countries, quite accepting of same-sex relationships, which also have similarly high rates of suicide among homosexuals. The problem is not the church’s teaching.

He moves into reminding us to be compassionate toward those experiencing same-sex desires, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. His parents rejected him before they were Christians and then loved and pursued him after they converted. He brings us to the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminding us that the original audience were to see themselves as the beaten man. We’ve received compassion from Jesus Christ, and compassion we should show.

He also provides some guidance for outreach. Often we need to listen and ask questions. They often believe we hate them. Like his parents, we may have to love them for a long time in tangible ways. He also provides some practical advice for when someone opens up to us.

Lastly he provides some basic instruction on discipleship. He pushes that you need a mentor, not simply a friend or counselor. This means that the local church, and ordinary means of grace, are central. Yes, we need peers but we also need older more Christians speaking into our lives, challenging us and calling us to deny ourselves and follow Jesus. We need to have the right goal in mind: holiness, not heterosexuality.

At the end of the book there is an 8-session study guide to work through the material. He wants this book to be helpful to people and churches. I think it will be helpful for the Church to sort through ministry to people with same-sex desires. I hope it will help us to sit and listen to one another, understand what people mean, identify the common ground (rather than assume it or the areas of disagreement) so we can move forward helpfully. Our desire should be to see people caught in this sin come to saving faith in Christ, and then to walk faithfully in holy sexuality for their good and His glory. This is a book worth reading.

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Theology of Mark: The Dynamic between Christology and Authentic Discipleship (Explorations in Biblical Theology)I first heard of A Theology of Mark: The Dynamic between Christology and Authentic Discipleship by Hans Bayer in a Facebook thread. It sounded intersting as the comments described a theology of discipleship rooted in the identity of Jesus. I had been thinking about discipleship recently in terms of our congregation. Not many people seemed to be moving toward greater maturity in Christ (which is a very subjective thing to look for in others, I know). I decided to preach a sermon series on Mark focusing on following Jesus. To prepare for this series I bought the book and slowly made my way through it.

This book is part of the Explorations in Biblical Theology series edited by Robert Peterson. Both men teach at Covenant Theological Seminary, the PCA’s seminary. Bayer is chair of the NT department. I’m not familiar with his work.

Based on the thread I had fairly high expectations. Those were not quite met. Perhaps I was looking for something different than what his goal was.

The first major section deals with Mark as Biography and the Message of God’s Eternal Rule. In that section he deals with Mark’s genre, structure, purpose and framework. As that title of the section notes, he approaches it a biography and therefore rooted in history. He’s not denying it is a gospel account, but focused on its historical character (as opposed to myth). He also brings in its transmission as a memorized account of a witness. Rabbi’s disciples didn’t generally have libraries, they memorized the Scripture and just about everything else.

“… Mark functions within Greco-Roman and Jewish conventions of his time which intend to give reliable biographical data while not giving an exhaustive life story.”

Mark is mostly narrative which focuses on the acts of Jesus more than the discourses we find in the other gospel accounts. In this way Mark invites the reader to participate in what happens, and then challenges him with the implications.

The two main flows of thought/action are the relationships between Jesus and His disciples and then Jesus and His opponents. We see demonstrations of Jesus’ authority followed by calls to follow Him.

Bayer identified the main thematic framework as the in-breaking of God’s eternal rule. In keeping with Calvin’s observation at the beginning of the Institutes, this causes us to examine who God is and who we are. These are the two questions Bayer returns to throughout the course of the book. This is what I was interested in. I just thought it would be developed differently- don’t ask me how.

“Human independence and God’s sovereign rule cannot, in the end, coexist. One of these forces has to yield. Jesus’ call to repent and surrender is thus to be seen in the advancing messianic kingdom of God.”

The second section of the book develops the dynamic between God’s Messiah and authentic disciples. He addresses what discipleship is and what it looks like.

Bayer argues that God confronts our self-determination rather than just calling us to doing “Christian things”. He is resisting moralism at this point. Christ is offering “radical, sustained inner change.” There is a shift in identity that needs to take place, something that is at the crux of some of the current controversies today. We need to see Jesus as Messiah for who He is (His nature, authority etc.) to challenge our view of ourselves as autonomous or self-determining. The disciple is a saved sinner, not an exalted good guy. We are not perfected at conversion, or most of Paul’s letters would make no sense.

Adam’s sin brought about alienation from God, self and creation. Jesus comes to restore a proper relationship to God, self and creation. Bayer brings this reality up often. Ours is a fundamental brokenness that Christ has come to heal. This is not in the place of reconciliation and redemption from sin, but complements reconciliation and redemption. It is a more holistic approach to both sin and salvation. In light of this, Bayer identifies Jesus’ core characteristics and argues they are what Jesus is doing to reproduce in His disciples. He mentions the ordinary means of grace, particularly Scripture, used by the Spirit to transform us. He also notes that these attitudes and behaviors are “before God, toward ourselves, and others” which reminds me to Relational Wisdom 360‘s “SOG” (self-awareness, other-awareness & God-awareness). He has a chart showing how these core characteristics of discipleship are revealed in Messiah, the Twelve and all disciples.

Discipleship “involves cutting all ties and dependencies (including  idols and addictions) that inhibit our full availability to Christ and thus obedience to God’s will.”

Bayer brings us from the double crisis to the tri-fold resolution that produces the 8 core characteristics. Discipleship is not an individual affair. In addition to the vertical dimension with Jesus, there is a horizontal dimension. Jesus doesn’t train one discipleship alone, but in groups. And they “live” in groups. Discipleship is reciprocal. Jesus disciples us as we disciple one another. All of us are still growing and confronted by Jesus.

Bayer then brings this into the 21st century. He addresses contemporary spirituality and how it compares to the call to discipleship in Mark’s gospel. He helps us to make the epochal adjustment from Mark to the audience we are addressing. At times it seems a bit abstract, and at others he returns to the double crisis and the 8 core characteristic traits. As part of this he discusses self-denial, interacting with Bonhoeffer in particular (including an appendix on the subject). Self-denial is not about hating yourself or abasing yourself. It is a rejection of self-determination and control over our lives. It is about living in submission to Jesus instead of our wants and desires.

This volume is not very long. It is not exhaustive in its approach to Mark, meaning it is not intended to be an exegetical volume or commentary on Mark. He wants to help you see the big picture of Mark to help you make sense of Mark’s gospel so you can teach it more effectively. For that it is a helpful volume.

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Adam McHugh now wraps up his book Introverts in Church. In some sense this is a summary for much of it sounded familiar. This final chapter is the one that mentions postmodernism and its effects on church and worship the most.

What I think he struggles to say is that as a community, church involves compromise (in the positive sense of not needing to have your way on preferences). We are to stand firm on biblical principle (orthodox doctrine, the elements of worship, mission of the church), but any community, no matter how united on those principles will struggle with preferences as to how those principles are worked out. Often is the squeaky wheel, the loudest protesters or advocates, that may seemingly get their way. In this perspective, it may more often be the extrovert.

Perhaps his perspective is skewed. His pastoral experience seems to be in larger, multi-staff churches. The vast majority of churches in America are under 100 members. His research doesn’t seem to be thorough, but more anecdotal, even though many aspects resonate with my own experience and struggles as one who has been the pastor of average, ordinary churches.

I would say that I think the personality of our congregation is introverted: a congregation that likes to think, appreciates liturgical aspects, wants to sing and not feel like they are at a concert (when discussing music recently I was told not to have it so loud our ears hurt). But we also struggle with over-commitment. Our people are busy and pulled in many directions. They work long hours, have kids in sports or music, are involved with parachurch ministries on top of the primary responsibilities of marriage and parenting. It is hard to really grasp the primary obstacle(s) to outreach. Perhaps it is a lack of an intentional plan (we are working on one to reach a new neighborhood, and extend that to our current ‘neighbors’).

“Learn to say ‘no’. It will be of more use to you that Greek or Latin.” Martin Luther

Okay, back to the book. There are trade-offs in church life. I commonly say worship music is like the car radio on a long ride. You change the station periodically so there is something for everyone’s taste. Many people don’t like that. They want their station (be it Psalms, hymns, choruses or CCM etc.). There is a huge reason the “love chapter” is found right in the middle of Paul’s discussion of worship in 1 Corinthians. True, God-pleasing worship, requires not only love for God but also love for the rest of the Body. You consider their interests as well as your own.

Think of that! Do you consider what the person in the row in front or behind you needs in worship? Do you value their preferences, or just your own? This matters whether you are an extrovert, introvert, ambivert, non-vert, are a confessional Christian, neo-Calvinist, high church, low church, mid-church, amil, post-mil, pre-mil or prefer rock, folk, classical, jazz, blues or country. I forgot hip hop. Tough for public worship.

We could all share worship service horror stories. McHugh shares his worst which was at a church that had “quadrupled in six years” and was filled with college students and 20-somethings. (Can I say I hate the homogeneous principle?). He felt like it was entering an exclusive club where you had to get past the bouncer. Inside there was blaring music, flashing lights, rolling PowerPoint announcements, lots of chatter (and flirting, imagine young singles…). It was sensory overload for him (and anyone else who finds a need for some reflection and emotional space in worship). The 55-minute message was on sacrificial love (hmmm), and then back to the music. For him it was 2 1/2 hours of words (and loud music) that left him “feeling empty and disoriented. Never have I needed a nap so badly after church.”

This application of the homogeneous principle left him, older people (likely anyone over 30 or who has kids), and those who are nourished by more reflective worship out.

“When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first century life.”

I’m not sure about that statement as many still bring their phones and all those distractions with them.

“My point here is not that churches should coddle introverts. I do not intend to create yet another target audience for a church culture that is already marinating in consumerism. We should not cater our worship services to introverts any more than we should to extroverts. There are times when introverts should feel uncomfortable in worship, though we should be cautious as to the degree of discomfort. But if we are always comfortable, our faith goes stagnant.”

Correct, we should reject a homogeneous principle and recognize that a healthy community has different kinds of people: different ages, sexes, social standings, economic status, personalities, ethnic & cultural backgrounds. These differences require love! That whole thing upon which the Great Commandments hang. This is being a light on a hill and the salt of the earth. This is respecting the different ways our members engage with God and one another (keeping the biblical principles in mind as healthy boundaries).

Love, and such biblical boundaries, will not allow anyone to remain anonymous for long. That is not “a healthy form of belonging.” Such a ghost-like participation makes mission hard, and mission isn’t an elective.

“Through Christ we die to false identities and put away inauthentic behaviors.”

Your primary identity is always “Christian”. Not White (or other ethnic group), American (or other nation), introvert, left-handed, or another of the multitude of identities are culture seems to manufacture to create division and gain power.

Rather, we are to move towards community. We move inward toward self-understanding (not self-actualization), and outward in love. These two movements are meant to be complementary, not competitors. Understand yourself so you know who you are bringing into community: your gifts, weaknesses, priorities, preferences. Then, I think, the Body of Christ will be healthier, stronger, deeper and wider.

 

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Tim Keller says “This is the best book for laypeople on this subject.” This book is Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. I think he is right.

Union with Christ is one of the more neglected doctrines in the contemporary church. This neglect has been addressed with a few releases in the past few years like the books by J. Todd Billings and Robert Letham. These tend toward the more academic or pastoral in nature. Wilbourne’s book is written for the lay person and is easy to understand, though the topic can still stretch our minds. He provides a number of good illustrations to help us understand this rather nebulous concept. Or perhaps enchanted, for in his introduction he relates this to our disenchanted (materialistic) culture, and to understand union we need our imaginations again.

“Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses- Wow!”

He begins with reality of a gap between what the Bible says and our experience of that reality. We can often feel exhausted by our efforts and discouraged by a lack of “progress”. The gap is real and must be acknowledged. But God’s answer to all this is union with Christ.

“First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore … he had to become ours and to dwell within us.” John Calvin

Calvin, particularly his Institutes of the Christian Religion, is very present in this volume. United to Christ we have all the blessings of God (Eph. 1). Christ also dwells in us by the Spirit so we are empowered by Him to enjoy these many blessings. While this was understood by many in history (he quotes from Edwards and Goodwin, for instance) such talk is like a foreign language to many/most western Christians.

“If it ‘s true that nothing is more central or basic than union with Christ, and this book aims to show that it is, then it is fair to ask this: Why is union with Christ neither central nor basic to so many of us? Why, rather, is union with Christ, if it is talked about at all, reduced to some vague or optional aspect of Christian living…”

The only way we partake of the gospel promises is …. union with Christ. When we neglect this, the work of Christ for us is separated from the person of Christ in us and the gap between beliefs and experience begins to increasingly widen.

He moves on to what it actually is. One aspect of union is imputation: what happened to Him happened to us; what He earned we receive; and what we earned He paid the price for. Paul frequently uses the term “in Christ” to talk about how we live before God. Christ represents us so His death is our death to guilt & sin (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20). His resurrection is our newness of life (Rom. 6; Eph. 2; Gal. 2:20). His obedience becomes our obedience. We have even been seated with Him at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 2).

“Faith is how union with Christ becomes operative and powerful in your life. Faith is a God-given gift that allows you to take hold of God’s having taken hold of you. … Your life, your story, becomes enfolded by another story- Another’s story.”

As Paul says in Colossians our life is hidden with Christ in God. United to Christ, Calvin says, we receive the double grace of justification and sanctification. Though distinct they are a package deal given simultaneously. We partake of His redemption because we are united to Christ, covenantally and spiritually. We enjoy our salvation as He works in us to transform us. Our faith is not simply in Christ’s work for us, but also that Christ continues to work in us and through us. He became like us to make us like Him so we look to Him to accomplish these things that are so beyond our doing.

Union with Christ also holds together some of the tensions that tend to tear God’s people apart. For instance, he mentions extravagant grace and radical discipleship. We see them both in Calvin’s double grace, but our tendency is to separate them. Apart from discipleship extravagant grace lapses into Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace. Apart from extravagant grace discipleship degenerates into legalism. This conflict that has periodically emerged in the church is resolved in union with Christ. These two songs, as he terms them, meet in harmony in Christ. They cannot be separated because Christ cannot be separated (Ferguson makes the same argument in The Whole Christ). Wilbourne then explains and applies the “double grace”.

“Because we are relentless in trying to justify our lives, because we will use anything, even our virtue, to keep God at a distance, we can’t hear this song of grace too loudly or too often. … That hit home because that’s exactly what I had been doing- using grace as an excuse not to follow Jesus. … Undiluted grace and uncompromising obedience meet in the person of Jesus. He is always full of both.”

Rankin then spends a chapter showing us where all this is in the Scripture, a chapter on where it pops up in Church History (Augustine, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Bernard of Clairvaux, Luther, Owen and Lewis) and then what happened that we have fallen to this low estate. As mentioned, there is the disenchanted or materialistic worldview, the increase in self-centeredness (due to the eclipse of the gospel), our poor pneumatology, sound-bite culture, and pragmatism.

“Paul is saying union with Christ not only gives you a new identity; it gives you a new mindset, a new grid through which to filter everything that happens to you. For it’s not so much what happens that defines you, as how you interpret what happens to you.”

From there he delves into the problems union with Christ solves. We have a new identity, new destiny, new purpose and new hope. So many of the stories we love focus on people seeking to discover their identity. We think we have to establish our identity so we are insecure and exhausted. Many famous musicians (interviews with Madonna and John Mayer come to mind) feel the need to re-establish themselves, prove themselves. In Christ, we receive an identity we neither win or can lose. We don’t have to prove ourselves. This identity also shapes how we live, providing appropriate boundaries for us. We have a new destination too- not simply to decompose in the ground or simply cease to exist. Our destiny is to be what Adam and Eve once were, the image of God. Jesus, in His humanity, the perfect image of God restores God’s distorted image of us. We don’t lose our sense of self (just as in a healthy marriage we are one flesh but don’t lose your sense of self). You become more fully you with the unique gifts and experiences but without the sin and weakness.

“The purpose of the gospel [is] to make us sooner or later like God; indeed it is, so to speak, a kind of deification.” John Calvin

“Because love was central in the life of Christ, love is at the heart of the image of God. Your win is learning how to love. And your greatest losses are your failures to love.”

We are here for holiness, which for many of us, as he notes, is like broccoli. Good for us but …. (personally I like broccoli). Holiness is good, beautiful and attractive. It is something we only pursue properly in union with Christ (see Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification).  We are positionally holy due to our union with Christ, and dwelling in us He works to make us personally holy. These two tensions are brought together in harmony in Christ. The more holy we become the more we enjoy communion with God, in part because we now find His holiness more attractive and a greater source of joy.

“God wants us to grow in holiness, not as some sort of test or punishment, not even just as preparation for the future, but because he wants us to enjoy life with him more. The more we grow in holiness, the more we can enjoy his presence. He wants us not simply to press on but to soar. He wants holiness for us, for our joy.”

Our hope is life in the presence of God where Jesus currently is. This is unattainable for us apart from our union with Christ. He is there now, seated and interceding for us (Heb. 7:25). This means that our continuing sin does not separate us from God. We don’t have to look to our circumstances to gauge if God is pleased with us, we look to Jesus and know He is. Union with Christ holds the facts that God with for us and with us together.

“John Calvin said, ‘Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us.’ John Owen added, ‘Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ.’ And Jonathan Edwards exhorted, ‘We should labor to be continually growing in divine love.'”

Wilbourne then moves into our daily life as people united to Christ. He begins with abiding. He brings up the illustration of sailing. Sailing depends on the wind, but you still need skills to get where you want to go in the power of the wind. This is communion with Christ, the subjective or experiential aspect of our union with Christ. We cannot be more or less united to Christ. But our sense of communion with Christ grows or diminishes. Faith always precedes our sense of communion for faith lays ahold of Christ. He warns us of our tendency to drift (pride, complacency etc.). If we are not manning the sail and the tiller we will not go where we long to go. He moves into the means of abiding, or the means of grace. Our sense of communion is tied to prayer, meditation on Scripture, and worship including the sacraments (signs of our union). This does not mean all will be exciting. There will be doldrums, just like in sailing. There will be times when all seems stagnant, and no progress is made.

“Jesus lived a perfect life and terrible things still happened to him. Jesus was the only one who ever trusted and obeyed God perfectly, yet he nevertheless was made to walk the way of suffering unto death…”

We are united to the Christ who suffered. As a result we should expect to suffer (Rom. 8; Phil. 1 & 3; 1 Peter 2-4). Because He suffered, He is able to comfort us in our suffering. He also provided an example for us in suffering, to continue to do good and entrust ourselves to our Creator. Will our suffering drive us from God, or deeper into God?

He then moves into the fact that each of us is united not only to Christ individually but also to one another. In Christ we are the people of God. Here, in a footnote, he surmises, that the tension revealed by the New Perspective of Paul finds reconciliation. In Christ we are justified by the imputation of His righteousness AND we are part of the community of God; soteriology and ecclesiology are united in Christ. Another tension that tends to tear the church apart is also reconciled in Christ: we declare and demonstrate the love of God to the nations. Many conservatives so fear the social gospel that they deny the social aspects of the gospel (and throw accusations at any who do). This is because Jesus not just declared God’s love but demonstrated it (see 1 John 3-4) and calls us to do the same (see also 1 Peter 2).

I found this to be a very encouraging book. He had a number of helpful ways to explain our union and its implications. I heartily recommend it to pastors, elders and ordinary people who want to grow in grace. He makes a difficult subject understandable, interesting and practical.

 

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Openness Unhindered is Rosaria Butterfield’s second book. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely autobiographical and took the Reformed community by storm. Her story of how God worked to turn her life from that of a very liberal, lesbian professor of English and Queer Theory to a conservative, Reformed Christian who is married to a Presbyterian pastor. Her book succeeded in annoying many who are not conservative, Reformed Christians. They made some faulty assumptions, like that she think God makes every Christian a heterosexual. In many ways she was a threat to the narrative of the gay community.

Her second book really isn’t like the first. It covers some same ground as the subtitle indicates: Further Thought of an Unlikely Convert- Sexual Identity- Union with Christ. But how it covers it feels very different to the reader. There are portions that seem more like the section in the first advocating for exclusive psalmody. She’s writing much more like a professor teaching us what she used to believe and how it is incompatible with Christianity.

She steps into the sexual identity debate that is going on in the church. The concept is a “gay Christian” is becoming popular on one hand. And one the other some think that a Christian can’t even struggle with same sex attraction (SSA), confusing temptation with sin itself. This is what much of the first half of the book is about.

In the preface, she explains the title in terms of union with Christ. Paul’s union resulted in his being open and unencumbered about his life and struggles. If we are united in Christ, we can be open and unencumbered about our struggles instead of acting as if all is well though your inner life is filled with chaos.

“Even our struggles, our failures, and our suffering are redemptive in Christ. But there is blood involved. There is a cutting off and a cutting away that redemption demands. Stepping into God’s story means abandoning a deeply held desire to make meaning of our own lives on our own terms based on the preciousness of our own feelings.”

She sets up the method, so to speak, in the preface. She argues for God’s created order as one that includes norms and boundaries for life which includes sexuality and gender. They are not social constructions, but about essence. Many, however, are pragmatists and think these boundaries and norms don’t exist and can be manipulated to please ourselves.  These people deny the authority of Scripture. But there are also some who while affirming the authority of Scripture “unbiblically believe that the struggle is the sin (pp. 7).” They believe that conversion experientially restores all boundaries and norms sooner rather than later.

In other words, Christians can struggle with SSA because they are still sinners. The desires they experience are wrong, but they are not themselves sin. Those desires are not innocuous, but neither are they impossible for a Christian. The Christian, when experiencing them, is to put them to death in the power of the Spirit, as they would any other temptation. Christians can experience SSA just like opposite sex attraction, temptation to greed, revenge and any other sin.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1

There is a method as she covers conversion, identity, repentance and sexual orientation. She works through these theological categories. At times she brings us back to her story, but this book is more theological than autobiographical. As she notes, life stories, including her own, “are messy, contradictory, and humiliating. (pp. 12)”  She says she had a heterosexual adolescence. The sexual meat market of college threw her for a loop, and she felt out of control and her sexual desires became tangled and confusing. For 6 years she dated men, but fantasized about relationships with women, “especially my friends from my growing lesbian and feminist community base” (pp. 13).

Here for instance she distinguishes between homosexuality and homosociality. The latter is “an abiding and deep comfort afforded in keeping company with your own gender, and finding within your own gender your most important and cherished friendships. (pp. 31-32)” Lines get blurry at times.

She then moves into identity. So often we carve out our identity from the wrong things: vocation, past experiences, social status etc. Today people build theirs on their sexuality. We have a tendency to hold to Sola Experiencia- where our feelings and personal experience shape our identity, forming the lens through which we see life. These, for instance, judge the Scripture instead of Scripture evaluating our experience.

She argues that a homosexual identity is not removed by a heterosexual identity, but by Christ. We are converted to Christ, not heterosexuality (though that is a norm by the created order). A person may never be free from SSA until glorification, but they are to find their identity in Christ, not their desires.

One of the issues I had with the book was some of the terminology she uses for sanctification. She follows Vos’ commentary on the Westminster Confession and using “infuse”. This is idiosyncratic. Protestants typically use imparted because Roman Catholic theology talks of us being infused with grace through the sacraments. She doesn’t say this, but this former-Catholic struggles with the use of the term. Vos and Rosaria are the only Protestants I know that use it. Not sure why.

Because God gives us grace, we are able to say ‘no’ to our desires for sinful things (see Titus 2). In Christ we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. We don’t have to act on our lust, hatred, envy etc.

She ends the chapter discussing shame which leads her into the chapter on repentance. Shame is about being exposed, reveled as dirty, disgusting and disobedient. Shame for past actions refuses to stay in the past. We feel it now afraid people will discover what we did back them. She points us to confession of sin that we may be cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). She distinguishes this from admission. Confession not only admits our actions were wrong, but also appropriates God’s grace.

In all of this she talks about original sin, which she sees as the great equalizer. We all suffer under it. Sin continues to dwell in us, and produces actual sins. She is highly dependent on the Puritans such as John Owen and Anthony Burgess. Because sin dwells in us, we experience temptation internally. We can either say ‘no’ to it, or ‘yes’ to it and sin.

In the 4th chapter, Sexual Orientation, she gets into theory and the history of sexual orientation. Prior to Freud no one thought in such terms. They thought in terms of behavior: that is a homosexual act. They didn’t think of themselves in terms of identity: I am a homosexual. She argues for this precisely because many Queer theorist and postmodernists argue for this. As a former English professor and Queer theorist she talks about why words matter, building a case against terms like “gay Christian”. This continues in Self-Representation or What Does it Mean to Be Gay?.

While she is very black and white, very theoretical, and sounds dogmatic (not necessarily a bad thing), she isn’t drawing lines in the sand. The next chapter, Conflict, is about her disagreement with other Christians about this. She recognizes that while these terms find their basis in a movement in which she was a mover and shaker, younger people don’t come at it with the same theoretical underpinnings and don’t mean by it what she believes it means. They agree to disagree without consigning one another to the region of hell.

She then moves into the living of the Christian life, focusing on community and hospitality. Her understanding hospitality  “starts with adoption and ends with keeping the Lord’s Day together, because the purpose of our adoption is worship. (pp. 150)” She starts with how community begins, which is important for Christians to remember. Community begins with a group of strangers, who have different ideas, passions and interests. True community is not homogeneous. We have Christ in common, but differ in many ways. Community recognizes that it is dangerous. We are in community with people who are sinners of all kinds. We can get hurt! But the perfect love of God is intended to cast out our fear. Open and unhindered, we share life together even the unpleasant parts of life like grief.

She then talks about how they have practiced hospitality in their neighborhood. I don’t think it would work in mine. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That just means it is an example, not the only way. It is also shaped by her Covenanter convictions. In some ways it seems similar to her defense of exclusive psalmody in the first book. It all seems a bit too perfect (to this admittedly cynical soul).

She then moves into church membership, and why we should take it seriously. She is standing against the consumer approach to membership. She quotes from G. I. Williamson about how there is no perfect congregation, and no perfect denomination (oh that more people in my denomination would understand that!).

“As a pastor’s wife, I have seen the ugliest side of people when they start to believe that the sins of others in our church are intolerable, or when they pack up and leave instead of receiving the repentance of other, or sticking around long enough to work on reconciliation. The people who leave the church because they think they are too good for it have no idea that hurt that they cause- for the people who love them and miss them, and for the people hurt by the things they said and the things they didn’t say when they broke fellowship.”

This is a good book. It is not as easy to read as her first book. It does get more deeply into some very important ideas, theologically and philosophically. It gives those of us who haven’t read gay theorist a summary of sorts from a former-gay theorist.

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