April 22, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, April 22, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question.
That’s the opening paragraph from an article I published today at albertmohler.com, entitled “God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge—A Response to Matthew Vines.” That article and a free e-book we are releasing comes in response to a book that is released today, entitled God and the Gay Christian, by Matthew Vines. Some of you are aware of the fact that it was Matthew Vines, who was then a young Harvard student who just about a couple of years ago released a lecture on homosexuality and the gospel, homosexuality and the Bible, that went viral on the Internet, and it also sparked a great deal of conversation even where that conversation had not yet occurred. You see, Matthew Vines makes a startling claim. He argues that there is nothing in the Bible that explicitly condemns monogamous, committed, same-sex sexual behavior or relationships.
Now that’s the kind of argument that has been running rampant in the world of liberal Protestantism. That’s where the secular world has been and is now taking itself, in terms of majority opinion. In other places, they are getting there as fast as they can. But now Matthew Vines is out with a book in which he makes his case and he seeks to be as persuasive as he possibly can. It is a book that is likely to spark a good deal of conversation and it’s a book that’s likely to give some evangelicals, or those who count themselves as evangelicals or are considered within the larger evangelical movement, what they’ve been looking for, which is an off-ramp out of this public controversy.
As I write in my article, the question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and to the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over 2,000 years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage. By the way, in my article I cite the fact that there are non-evangelicals who understand that this moment of decision is fast arriving. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University has said, “It is clear to an observer like me that evangelical Christianity is at a crossroad.” What crossroad? She says, “The question of whether gay Christians should be married within the church.” Journalist Terry Mattingly sees the same thing. He has said, “There is no way to avoid the showdown that is coming.” And Matthew Vines’ new book is going to play into that context, the showdown, in terms of the fact that everyone is going to be declared on this position and the fact that there is an incredibly large number of evangelicals who are trying to find a way out of this predicament; the predicament of holding to a set of moral judgments that are so devastatingly at odds with the larger secular community. As one young evangelical put it, “I’m in a vice and I need to get out of it.” But there’s no way out of it for faithful Christians. And one of the things that becomes abundantly apparent as one reads this book is that it is a very desperate attempt to prove what is simply unprovable because it’s implausible, and that is that the Bible in condemning same-sex behaviors is not talking about what we now talk about as homosexuality. But in order to accept that thesis, you to buy the argument that when the Bible condemns same-sex sexual behaviors it’s not talking but anything that we now talk about as homosexuality, but rather it is merely condemning sex acts that would exploit one human being by another, that would be nonconsensual, that would be an adult with a child, in terms of Greco-Roman pederasty, or similar kinds of sociological moral objections.
But any honest reading of the New Testament or of the Old Testament brings to our immediate understanding the fact that the Bible is rooting its understanding of the wrongness, indeed the unnaturalness, of same-sex acts in the fact that God has created us not only in His image, but as male and female; created us in terms of sexual complementarity, and He has made us for each other. He’s given us the picture of a one-flesh relationship that requires a male and a female in order to provide the picture. Just as in the New Testament, you have the picture of Christ and the church in which Christ is incarnate in human flesh, He has become like us, but He is not just like us; otherwise we would not be saved. And so when you start looking at this, you realize these are not new arguments. As a matter fact, these arguments are largely imported from the world of very liberal biblical scholarship, but he has taken them, and Matthew Vines claims to hold to what he calls a high view of Scripture. He says about Scripture, “I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life.” But that doesn’t hold because when he speaks of all Scripture being authoritative, he then denies the authority of Scripture to speak to what it clearly addresses and he claims that the human authors of Scripture were limited in terms of their moral vision to the moral concepts that were available to them at the time, and thus what we now know as a sexual orientation, a same-sex sexual orientation, was unknown to them and he then trumps all these Biblical passages in terms of their authority by using that category of sexual orientation.
As I made very clear in the article I posted today and in the e-book we released this morning, the real issue here is always the authority of Scripture. And it’s one thing to say that you affirm the authority of Scripture; it’s another thing actually to accept and to obey the authority of Scripture, to confirm it and to operate within a hermeneutic or system interpreting Scripture that fully accepts that every single word of the Bible is true, is God’s revealed truth; that, indeed, what we have in the Bible is a perfect testimony, a perfect Revelation of God to us. If we don’t believe that, then we may call our view of Scripture a high view of Scripture, but it’s one thing to assert that you hold to a high view of the authority of Scripture; it’s a very different thing to demonstrate, in terms of your theological method and argument, that you’re actually obeying the Scripture; in other words, operating under your affirmation of that biblical authority. You simply can’t relativize the text of the Scripture and claim that you’re accepting and affirming its authority.
Again and again, Matthew Vines comes back to sexual orientation as the key issue. He writes, “The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue of same-sex orientation.” The concept of sexual orientation “didn’t exist in the ancient world.” Amazingly, he then concedes that the Bible’s six references—he wants to limit the discussion to those six—six references to same-sex behavior are negative, he says. But he goes on to say, “The concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation.” Now that is not only an argument that is untenable, it is an argument that falls flat on its face. And yet we can understand why he has to make the argument because if he, indeed, wants to normalize homosexual relationships, same-sex behaviors, and same-sex marriage within the church, he’s going to have to convince an awful lot of Christians that the Bible is not an impediment to accepting these things.
There are many things to say about his book and his argument, and we address many of those in the book that was released this morning and I did also in the article that I released also today. I want to point out, however, a wedge argument because this is a very important aspect of this. Matthew Vines makes the argument that those who accept what we would basically call an egalitarian position, in terms of erasing or minimizing, perhaps even relativizing, the distinctions made in Scripture between the roles of men and women, the Christian who have already moved in that direction are going be hard-pressed not to move to the second step; in other words, to take the next logical step in that interpretive direction and go ahead and normalize homosexuality by relativizing those biblical texts as well. He makes that point emphatically and clearly and it’s going to be very interesting to see if those who have accepted the egalitarian position have theological defenses in order to prevent them from taking this next step. As I have argued many times over the last several years, it is the same kind of interpretive method that allows you to eliminate those gender distinctions as are now used by those who are arguing for eliminating or relativizing the Bible’s clear condemnation of same-sex sexual behaviors.
But the biggest problem with the book and with its argument is the fact that we lose not only biblical authority if we accept his proposal, we also lose our understanding of what the gospel is. Because if we can’t trust the Bible to tell us what sin is and accurately and understandably to tell us how we are to understand sin in ourselves and in others, we can’t possibly know why Christ died. For what sins did He die? If this is not a sin, then I do not need a Savior in order to be safe from the judgment that would fall upon that sin. We lose the storyline of the Bible, we lose the entire possibility of biblical theology, and we lose our understanding of sin and the gospel if we accept these proposals. Now just consider those costs, and consider those when you look to see how many of those who may claim an evangelical identity, who are looking for an off-ramp in order to find a way to endorse homosexuality are going to look to a book like this and say, “There’s a plausible argument. It’s irrefutable. We’re going to go with it.”
As I conclude in my article released this morning, the church has often failed people with same-sex attractions and failed them horribly. We must not fail them now by forfeiting the only message that leads to salvation. That is the real question before us. You can find that article and a link to the free e-book that I wrote along with several colleagues released this morning at albertmohler.com.
A very revealing controversy is taking place in Great Britain, and at the center that controversy is the nation’s Prime Minister David Cameron. Just before Easter, speaking to the British media, he began talking about his own Christian identity, his Christian convictions, and of the fact that Britain is, in his estimation, a Christian country. Now you might think that this would be an undebatable issue. After all, Britain has a state church. The Church of England is not just the church that is located in England; it is the official church of the nation. It has a state church. The Queen herself is identified as defender of the faith and she is the supreme head of the Church of England. And so, at least in terms of historical reference, it’s hard to imagine how the Prime Minister could be in hot water for saying that Britain is a Christian country. You could certainly argue that Britain is a Christian country in a way you could not argue that the United States is a Christian country because the United States doesn’t have a state church. It has no establishment of religion—Christian or otherwise. Great Britain does. So how in the world can his detractors argue that there is no truth when he says that Britain is a Christian nation?
Alastair Campbell, the spin doctor to Tony Blair, the former prime minister—he was his media adviser. He famously said decades ago that in Britain they don’t “do God,” in saying that politicians there don’t make reference to their Christian faith the way that politicians in the United States customarily do. By the way, the problem with that is that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister he worked for, did indeed “do God” in terms of references. And so does David Cameron. Just before Easter, he said, “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country.” He insisted that Christianity should transform the “spiritual, physical, and moral state of Britain and even the world.” This comes in the background, by the way, of the fact that Britain’s church attendance is at the lowest state ever recorded and that indeed those who are the detractors of the British Prime Minister have everything to point to in terms of surveys and polls of the British people. The British culture has been pervasively secularized, leaving Britain in the rather embarrassing position of having a state church that almost no one attends.
But as The Telegraph in London reports, the really fascinating part of this entire situation is the fact that so many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and humanists responded to the British Prime Minister’s statement with outrage, as if he’d somehow offended the state of affairs in Great Britain by claiming that Britain was a Christian nation. They said, “We object to his characterization of Britain as a Christian country and the negative consequences for policy and society that this engenders.” In other words, Britain, this fine, new secular nation, in a post-Christian age, these atheists are arguing its endangered by having a Prime Minister who even says—and they would argue says falsely—that Britain is a Christian nation. How dare he say something that is simultaneously so false, meaningless, and threatening at the same time? A list of very prominent cultural secularists in Great Britain released a letter in which they said:
Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives and we are largely nonreligious society.
Here’s what makes this story just so interesting. How is it that secularists can be so nervous about the triumph of secularism that they’re troubled when the British Prime Minister makes a statement about their nation being a Christian nation and they say that it’s false, but it’s deadly dangerous that he says it? Why would it be dangerous if no one takes it seriously? If Britain is indeed a secular nation to the extent that they argue that it is, if indeed most people don’t pay any attention to religion at all, as they say openly in this letter, then what difference would it make whatever the Prime Minister would say?
Well from a Christian analysis, perhaps what this story tells us more than anything else is the insecurity of the worldview held by atheists and agnostics. They seem to be so insecure that they are out to argue that something is wrong and not only wrong, but dangerous when someone claims that a nation was a Christian nation, in terms even of its historical identity. And that’s why, for instance, the European Union turned down a statement in its own draft constitution that acknowledged that Western European civilization had once been shaped by Christianity, an irrefutable fact, an undeniable reality, but something that was considered so hurtful to contemporary atheists that they couldn’t abide even the historical reference.
But if you think that’s strange in Great Britain, consider in the United States a study just released by psychologists at the University of Kentucky. The headline in Pacific Standard reads this way: “Americans Intuitively Judge Atheists as Immoral.” It turns out, as this research makes very clear, Americans believe that if you don’t believe in God, you’re going to find it very, very difficult to remain committed to a moral code, to a moral law, to a set of understood, consensual moral principles. And so Americans indicate by this study—again, it was undertaken by Will Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky. He wrote, “After reading a description of someone committing an immoral act, participants in five experiments readily and intuitively assume that the person committing the immoral act was an atheist.” But, as I said just a moment ago, we have compelling evidence that the worldview of atheists and agnostics is quite shaky. It’s incredibly insecure on intellectual terms. But if you need proof for that, you don’t have to look at the controversy over David Cameron in Great Britain; you just have to look to this study from the University of Kentucky because, as Will Gervais reports—and remember, what he’s reporting is that Americans assume that an immoral act is far more likely to be committed by an atheist than a believer in God. Consider this sentence from his press release: “Even atheist participants judged immoral acts as more representative of atheists than of other groups.” In other words, his research indicates that not only do people who aren’t atheists think that an immoral act is more likely to be committed by an atheist than by a believer in God; atheists themselves represent the very same pattern of thinking. In other words, it’s atheists along with everyone else who say than an atheist is more likely to commit an immoral act than someone who believes in God.
Now does this prove, by the way, that an atheist is more likely to commit an immoral act than someone who believes in God? That isn’t actually what the study indicates. That would be an entirely different set of scientific experiments. This is about perception, but it does point to the perception that is a reality, and that is that atheists are insecure in their worldview, so insecure that they say, in terms of this kind of research project, that even they believe that failing to believe in God or rejecting belief in God leads inevitably to a minimization or a relativization of moral principles.
One last insight from this study from the University of Kentucky and Will Gervais: it turns out that one of the issues that he studied was how this understanding of atheism and morality comes about. And here is the keyword: intuition. As he says, “People intuitively judge immorality as representative of atheists.” In other words, it doesn’t actually take cognitive work to come to this analysis. People overwhelmingly come to it by intuition, even atheists. And our intuition tells us a great deal about centuries and generations of moral wisdom and that’s a lot to overcome, as atheists and agnostics are discovering when they look to their neighbors or, evidently, when they look in the mirror.
Finally, the psalmist says that we as human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made. The very composition of our bodies, our anatomy, our physiology, all point to the wonder of the Creator. We know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but we continue to learn new things about what it means to be a human being and, indeed, to be a human body. A human body consists of 30 trillion cells. That’s 30 trillion cells. But the average human body includes within its body form 100 trillion microbes, little tiny critters, little organisms, living on us and inside us—100 trillion of them. These microbes, as it turns out, are absolutely necessary for everything from making our saliva work to making our digestive systems work, and, as it turns out, one of the problems than can lead to ill health is the fact that our microbes either aren’t working or have decided to flee. In any event, God made us so fearfully and wonderfully that He made us to be accompanied by 100 trillion microbes inside us and upon us, without which life itself would be impossible.
By the way, these new books by Nicholas Money and Martin Blaser, they are entitled The Amoeba in the Room and Missing Microbes. They point to the fact that we don’t know—even in all of our medical and scientific sophistication—we don’t know exactly what many if not most of these microbes actually do.
And, by the way, we don’t even have the technology to identify the 100 trillion different microbes within the average human being, but we do know this, they are necessary, and as one of these scientists says, the Nobel prize awaits the one who can figure out what these microbes are and what they’re doing, but in the meantime, most of us will simply ponder the reality that David pondered long before the CAT scan and the x-ray: we are fearfully and wonderfully made., and as this study tells us, perhaps a little weirdly too—all to the glory of God.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. Remember the release this morning of the article of “God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge.” Remember also the free e-book you can get by going to my website. That e-book is entitled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines. It’s available free at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.