Defining Orthodoxy in Our Modern World
This is the oddest time for me to be writing a book that warns the church that the affirmation of homosexuality will lead many Evangelicals into liberalism. The recent Nashville Statement on Sexuality (made public August 25, 2017), has, oddly enough, provoked an embarrassment of riches for my research into the decline of evangelicalism.
The internet is rocking with responses of “Christians” denouncing with righteous anger the Scripture-honoring Nashville Statement. Written and endorsed by leading evangelical theologians (such as J. I. Packer and Al Mohler) this statement is dismissed by “Christian” movements as a hateful attack on people with variant sexual identities. So the Nashville Statement raises two crucial questions: 1. What is God-honoring sexuality? and 2. Who is truly Christian?
A Sojourners Magazine article has the title: “Thousands of Christians Respond to Nashville Statement with Emphatic ‘No.’” Sojourners’ own president, Jim Wallis, declares: Nashville Statement Damaging to People and to the Evangelical Witness.
Pastor and writer Nadia Bolz-Weber and her Colorado congregation offer a point-by-point refutation called the “Denver Statement.”
The Liturgists drafted a statement called “God is Love”, signed by Christian writers Rachel Held Evans and Nish Weiseth, among others. They affirm: “We can no longer project first-century notions of sex and sexuality on people today.” They further state: “We believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are fearfully and wonderfully made, holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are. We believe all people have full autonomy over their bodies, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and the diversity of identities reflects the creative power of a loving God. We believe that God is love, and that ‘anyone who loves is born of God and knows God’.” (I John 4:7)
The group, Christians United in Support of LGBTQ+ Inclusion in the Church immediately proposed its own statement that begins: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to bear witness to the love, grace, and truth of God in every generation…So it is that we, like each generation before us, are called to reflect, repent, and reform our teachings and practices to be ever more closely aligned with the heart and will of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.” See http://www.christiansunitedstatement.org/
This group not only claims to be Christian, but claims to be the most Christian expression of what God is now doing. It goes so far as to state that Evangelical orthodoxy is “resist[ing] the Spirit’s leading in various ways and cling[ing] to the dogmas and traditions that God is calling us to rethink and reform.” For these “Christians”, “Evangelical orthodoxy” is a heresy.
One of the signers of the Christians United document, Colby Martin, in his book, UNclobber, tells how he left conservative Evangelical orthodoxy over the issue of homosexuality. Eventually, he founded a welcoming community that was “uniquely Christian” but “not exclusively,” a community that gives space to people “regardless of ethnicity, orientation, age, creed or socioeconomic status.” (UNclobber, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, 142–3)
One can only wonder what the 16th century Scottish reformer John Knox would have said of a church that was multi-creedal, and thus not exclusively Christian. What does it mean to be Christian in today’s world? In the final pages of his book, Colby Martin. [UnClobber, 178]. acknowledges the important influence on his thinking of the following people:
- Glennon Doyle Melton, a popular “evangelical” author and social media speaker, who divorced her husband in 2016 and, in 2017, married the famous female soccer star, Abby Wambach;
- Rob Bell, who has abandoned orthodoxy and the sufficiency of Scripture;
- Brian McLaren, who champions interfaith spirituality;
- Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis that sees Christianity as an evolving system and has no doctrinal statement. The church is attended by Tony Jones who was once the national coordinator of Emergent Village.
At the 500th anniversary of Protestantism, some protestant churches reject the “five solas” of the Reformation: Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone. As in the time of the Reformation, the church today is being asked once more to define orthodoxy.
At the Reformation the question was, “Can I save myself by my good deeds”? Today the issue of sexuality has emerged as a key issue, because it raises three questions: 1. What defines each individual’s deep personal identity? 2. How does sexuality relate to the heart of the Gospel, and 3. Who is faithful to Christianity? Because these questions are so controversial, many pastors, even orthodox pastors, do not want to or do not know how to touch the issue. But silence is deadly. The flames of this current apostasy are raging through our churches.
We must find a discourse that avoids emotionalism, moralism, hatred or bigotry, while reaching to the heart of the issue. Many Millennial Christians need a clear statement of the truth. If we are to understand sexuality, we need to hear all that the Bible says about it. Of paramount importance is a focus on biblical cosmology and the being of God. Sexuality must be seen in the context of the way God structured the cosmos.
In a recent article entitled “Why I, Peter Jones, Signed the Nashville statement,” I stated that “the cosmos is structured on the principle of unity within genuine distinctions. The Bible presents a world of distinctions: a heterocosmology not a homocosmology. The created universe is based on “otherness,” not “sameness.” This is true for everyone. In that sense, the Bible’s view of sexuality is not small-minded, unloving moralism, discrimination, violence, or bullying, as much criticism claims. It is, rather, a theistic understanding of the universe, deeply founded on the being of God Himself. This is ground zero for everyone. We are made in His image, male and female, to reflect His image of unity in distinctions, as ultimately expressed in the Trinity. Homosexuality is not only immoral but “unnatural,” as Paul says in Romans 1:26. It is out of order with the physical cosmos and thus a rejection of the natural world, and of God, who is both the moral judge and also the intelligent Creator of all things.
This essential aspect of the biblical revelation must be an important element that defines what it means to be an Evangelical Christian who honors the Scripture and Christian orthodoxy. We must pray for courageous theologian-pastors who will take up the challenge of defining orthodoxy in our modern world and of training the next generation in a full understanding of the Christian faith for the difficult days ahead.