Why the Debate on Homosexual Relationships Matters: The Elevation of Personal Experience Over Scripture

Controversial author and former pastor Rob Bell did a radio interview/discussion about a year ago with Pastor Andrew Wilson over the topic of homosexuality.  Bell affirms that homosexual relationships can be blessed by God while Wilson holds to the traditional view.  Bell, when pressed on his position and his orthodoxy, gets heated and even curses in his frustration:

I’d recommend watching the whole thing because it is a good example of how people like Bell think.  In any case, what he calls “bull****” is the fact that many Christians have come to view the issue of homosexual relationships as a defining sign of orthodoxy.  Bell complains that the radio host never asked Andrew Wilson about his orthodoxy or if he had turned “liberal,” but Bell’s own orthodoxy is constantly questioned.  Can’t we just agree to disagree?  Can’t we just look at those disputed passages in Scripture and say, “You view it this way, and I view it that way” without getting overly combative, like we do for so many other issues?  After all, Christians differ on many things: Calvinism vs. Arminianism (and everything in between), paedobaptism vs. believer’s baptism, divorce and remarriage, eschatology, the perpetual virginity of Mary, cessationism vs. continuationism, etc.  Normally, even if we feel strongly about such issues, we don’t view them as defining issues for Christians.  For example, I may disagree strongly with conservative Presbyterians like Tim Keller in their Calvinism and their practice of paedobaptism, but that does not mean that I consider them outside the umbrella of orthodoxy and examples of dangerous teachers.  Why then do so many conservative Christians draw the line at homosexual relationships?

To be sure, Christians differ on many issues, and many texts in the Bible are difficult to understand.  However, this does not mean the entirety of Scripture is cryptic, for many passages are also pretty straightforward, and it takes a great deal of effort to try to make them say something different than they do.  Particularly when it comes to a variety of ethical issues, Christians from disparate traditions have agreed upon certain principles due to the clarity of the Bible.  No conservative Christian who has a high view of Scripture, for example, can read the Bible and then conclude that adultery is permissible.  If we were to run into a Christian who believes this, then that would be an obvious sign that this person, no matter how much he says otherwise, really does not have a high view of the Bible at all.  Likewise, the scriptural case against homosexual relationships is so clear (as I show here and here) that it is obvious that a person who doubts it is motivated by something else besides obeying the Bible.  This is why this issue has become a sort of litmus test for one’s attitude of the Bible.  Scripture is so clear in this area that rejecting such commands is a telltale sign that someone is elevating his own experience over the authority of Scripture.

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How to Critique a Sermon With Humility and Discernment

This past Sunday, my church hosted a guest speaker, and he preached a sermon that was, well, unfortunate.  I don’t mean that he merely said things that I disagree with; though I have strong opinions and convictions, I’m a laid back guy and don’t normally sweat about hearing things that don’t align perfectly with what I think.  Indeed, it is rare for me to react to a sermon like this such that I feel the need to say something.  What I mean by “unfortunate” is that his sermon would have failed any good preaching class because he was surprisingly rude while his message completely lacked biblical content.  If Billy Graham or George Whitefield in their heydays preached that sermon, it would remain a bad one.

I have no interest in summarizing the entire sermon here, and due to that, this post will be for the benefit of the people at my church, particularly the college students I teach.  If that’s not you, you may want to just skip this post because you don’t know what happened.  Nor do I have any interest in attacking this man’s character or ministry.  He is an older preacher who has a good reputation and a wealth of experience.  I’ve only heard him preach once and I do not know him, but I have no reason to doubt the testimony of others that he is a godly man.  Furthermore, I know preaching is difficult, and since I know I’ve made many mistakes in teaching, I certainly can’t expect perfection from someone else.  Maybe if we took a sample size of 100 sermons from this guy, all 100 would be biblical and powerful messages.  That wouldn’t change the fact that this one was not good, and it was a bad enough that I will address it with the permission of the pastoral staff.

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Theological Determinism’s Problem With the Problem of Evil: The Compatibilist Objection

In the previous post, I discussed why the theological determinist/Calvinist could not rely on Plantinga’s solution to the logical problem of evil due to the fact that the idea of “proper” elimination of evil and the idea of free will in his argument grate against determinism.  I first addressed why compatibilism is an inadequate theory of human freedom because it fails to ground moral responsibility in created creatures and transfers that responsibility to God.  Now I’ll reproduce another section of my paper, which discusses another problem for the theological determinist: Given a compatibilistic view of freedom, there is no good reason why God would not have created a world without evil.

One of the most common objections to Plantinga’s Free Will Defense is called the “compatibilist objection,” which goes like this: If compatiblism is true, then God could have created free creatures and yet also determine that they always do good without violating their freedom.  If so, then God could have had his cake and eaten it too: He could have had free creatures, allegedly a good in itself, as well as free creatures who didn’t choose evil.[1]  Thus, there is no good reason why God would allow or cause evil.

Now, as should be clear from the previous post, for a theist who rejects compatibilism, this would not be much of a problem.  He would simply disagree that God could have created free creatures and yet determine all of their actions.  For the theological determinist, however, this criticism hits home, and is yet another reason why the Free Will Defense is unavailable to them.  If compatibilism is true, then God could have preserved human freedom (and angelic freedom) while determining that they do not fall into sin.  There would therefore be no evil, but that is clearly not the case in the real world.

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Theological Determinism’s Problem with the Problem of Evil: The Inadequacy of Compatibilism

At seminary, I wrote a philosophical paper titled, “Theological Determinism’s Problem with the Problem of Evil.”  I noted that while Alvin Plantinga’s work on the logical problem of evil and the free will defense has largely eliminated the problem for general Christian theism, I argued that his solutions do not completely work for the theological determinist (most Calvinists), something that Calvinist John Feinberg readily admitted.  I discussed why this is so briefly in a previous post.  Essentially, I argued in the paper that if one adds in certain beliefs on God’s sovereignty as “all-determining” and “omnicausal” to the general framework Plantinga uses, it would create a new logical problem of evil unique to them.  I will reproduce the section on compatibilism below and perhaps add in other sections in the future.  I will also try to make the content as accessible as possible to laypersons.


Theological Determinism Shifts Blame From Creatures to God

A general definition of theological determinism is in order, or at least, what is generally accepted as theological determinism to describe Calvinists: Theological determinism is the belief that God determines all things to come to pass as they do, either through direct or instrumental causation.  It is important to see that this is intentional and unilateral on God’s part.  This definition, by the way, encompasses views of “hard” or “soft” determinism.

Theological determinism suffers from at least two problems with regards to the problem of evil:  It implicates God as the main cause of every evil act, and it gives no good reason as to why God, if compatibilism is an adequate enough theory for moral responsibility, could not have created a world with compatibilistic free creatures who never sinned.  Therefore, theological determinists have a hard time absolving God of any moral blame, often punting to appeals to mystery,[1] especially when their logic is applied to particularly tricky matters such as the Fall of Man.  For example, R.C. Sproul—a theological determinist who argues that if God does not directly control even just one molecule, it could possibly lay waste to creation[2]—struggles mightily with the problem of evil, the Fall, and determinism.  He admits that to say that God is the author of sin is “unthinkable,” yet he refuses to let go of his conception of God’s sovereignty as all-causing.[3]

I will consider the first problem, which is that theological determinism makes it difficult to see how an all-good God and evil can coexist.  It is important for theological determinists to affirm some form of free will for created creatures, or else there is no other agent but God to pin moral responsibility on.  They turn to an account of free will that is still causally determined yet still, in their estimation, satisfies basic philosophical and intuitive standards for moral responsibility (compatiblism).  I will argue two related things within this issue:  One, that compatibilism fails to ground moral responsibility in contingent agents, and two, that God’s unilateral and causal determination of evil would make him responsible for that evil.

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The Temptation of Power and Authority: The Tumble of Mark Driscoll

With Christians facing unspeakable persecution in the Middle East right now, it seems utterly trivial to write about the fall of a megachurch pastor in America.  Indeed, that consideration adds to the sadness of this event: Christians are facing horrors beyond our imagination in Iraq, and America gets to see yet another Christian scandal.  Great.

The current scandal involves Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and he is no stranger to controversy.  This controversy, however, is far more serious than his past ones, or rather, the accusations have piled onto past grievances so much so that nobody is ignoring them anymore.  The denomination 😉 church-planting network he helped found, Acts 29, just recently removed him and his church from membership, telling him to step down from the pastorate and seek help.  One of the co-signers of that letter was none other than his friend and current Acts 29 president Matt Chandler (perhaps that will make for awkward dinner conversations later).  In addition, Lifeway just decided to remove all of his books from their stores.  Driscoll is under more fire than he has ever seen.

The allegations are numerous.  To summarize:

-Mars Hill hired a marketing firm, paying them over $200,000, to ensure Driscoll’s book Real Marriage made it into the New York Times Bestseller list by buying copies of the book at select locations, a rather under-handed way to artificially inflate book sales just for publicity.

-Money that was collected for the purpose of charity was used for “general church expenses” instead.  Some accuse Mars Hill of sending only a fraction of the money they were supposed to towards those charities.

-Recently, Driscoll was accused of plagiarism, though he apologized for it and tried to amend the offending part of his book.

-Fourteen year-old comments of Driscoll, under the username William Wallace II, trolling the Mars Hill message boards were made public.  Driscoll made several inappropriate remarks many describe as crude, homophobic, and misogynistic.

-More testimonies from both ex-members and especially ex-staff members are emerging about the toxic, bullying culture of Mars Hill that stems from the bullying character of Driscoll.  Some of these testimonies are actually a few years old, but more have surfaced recently.

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The “Either-or” Fallacy of the Blame Game: Criticizing Someone’s Wisdom is Not the Same as Victim-Blaming

Recently, ESPN sports commentator Stephen A. Smith was suspended by ESPN for his comments regarding the Ray Rice domestic violence case.  Rice, a runningback for the Baltimore Ravens, only received a two-game suspension after plea-bargaining and agreeing to go to anger management classes.  Here is what Smith says:

What I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family — some of who you all met and talked to and what have you — is that … let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come — or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know — if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you.

Many in media exploded in anger over his comments, accusing Smith of blaming victims for being beaten.  Goldie Taylor, for example, of MSNBC tweeted a series of emotional descriptions of her own experience of domestic abuse where she received amazingly little support from her family, who instead chose to blame her.  It is indeed a sad story of how victims of abuse can feel trapped.

However, I cannot believe I’m going to defend Stephen A. Smith here, who, along with Skip Bayless, is one of the silliest, loudest, and most irrational national sports broadcasters out there: While he could have used more nuance (some insane guys can be set off by any little thing, so it’s unreasonable to tell women with those men to not “do anything” to provoke them), what he says has some general wisdom to it.  People can indeed provoke wrong actions, and sometimes the provoking itself is not justified or wise.  This isn’t actually hard to understand (we teach this to children all the time), and blowing his comments out of proportion isn’t going to change the logic of it.

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The Power of Plain Ol’ Testimony at a Youth Camp

For those familiar with apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15 is a common verse supporting the practice of it:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

I would enthusiastically affirm that apologetics is a great way to apply this verse, and I have written elsewhere about how many Western Christians have largely ignored their intellectual responsibilities in engaging the culture.  Still, while the word apologia does appear in this text, I do not think the verse is primarily about studying so that we can answer every question or objection.  The context of the verse is about how Christians should live righteously despite persecution so that naysayers will be ashamed, and the verse itself is about giving the positive reason why Christians believe, not so much negating every critique.  In other words, I think testimony is at the heart of this verse: Why do you believe?  Sure, Christians can bring up a host of arguments regarding the historical reliability of the New Testament and the existence of God, and such arguments are important.  However, ultimately what Christians should share is their relationship and experience with the Risen Savior and the Living God.

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What Christians Can Learn From Dr. Parker’s “Abortion Ministry”

Recently, I was alerted to an article from Esquire that follows Dr. Willie Parker, who runs what he calls a “ministry” of abortion in the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, The Pink House.  Dr. Parker proclaims to be a Christian who performs abortions because he’s a Christian, believing that what he is doing is in service of women.  Coming from Esquire, of course, the article has a strong pro-abortion lean and presents Dr. Parker as a heroic figure who saves women from death and persecution and champions their rights.

Many may think that a blog post titled “What Christians Can Learn From Dr. Parker’s ‘Abortion Ministry'” from a conservative Christian like me will be exclusively negative towards Dr. Parker, and indeed it is easy to blow holes through his and the Esquire article’s logic.  There is, however, one area that the article focuses on that can help Christians realize our mistakes and improve how we approach women who are facing this choice.

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