Friday, July 14, 2017


Coming to terms with sin.

I almost never write a blog two days in a row. However, yesterday, a Facebook comment on my blog said
In this you said that the question he should have answered is whether or not homosexual Intercourse is a sin. And then you go on to not answer what you think either. Which irks me.
I really meant that I wanted the reporters to ask that. They ask these other questions that are leading and can get different answers. "Would you perform a same-sex marriage" is different than "do you think sex between two people of the same sex is a sin," especially, as I explained in that blog, for a committed Calvinist.

Still, that's a reasonable statement. I ask others to go on record and do not myself. I think that I certainly implied that I feel that homosexual acts are sins when I said
 I am 100% sure that there will be people in Heaven that struggled with their homosexual desires every single day of their Christian lives. Some days they did better than others, but maybe, on the day they died, it was a bad day.
But it is just an implication I never came out and said it.. There are a lot of reasons for this.
  1. I am not in the habit of telling other people what their sins are. 

    1. There are things I do that I know some people think are sins and I absolutely do not.  Sometimes I used to argue about this, but their exegesis and hermeneutic always seemed flimsy. Finally, I decided that those things are sins FOR THEM, but not for me. I don't want to argue someone into sin by telling them it's okay.
    2. There are things, cussing primarily, that I am pretty sure are sins, but lots of Christians seem to feel a freedom to engage in it. I explain to people why from scripture, but they often tell me my exegesis and hermeneutic is flimsy. Still, it is more than exegesis and hermeneutic. My conscience pricks me when I cuss. My mind goes back to when I used to cuss and the bondage I was in to cussing. So, I am pretty sure it's a sin for me. 
    3. There are lots of things where I don't think that any reasonable reading of scripture could allow the activity, but people will still argue with me that they're okay. In those cases I have a different tact. "So you don't believe X is a sin, I disagree, but lets not talk about X. Have you ever done something that YOU'D consider to be a sin? At that point we can talk about our need for Jesus. So sometimes I think that saying some particular thing is a sin gets in the way of talking about sin generally. Kind of like when the woman at the well didn't want to deal with her own problems so she decided to argue about where to worship in John 4.
  2. The tie to ontology.

    1. Somehow, the idea has gotten around that it is a sin to BE certain things. I would never tell anyone it is a sin to be gay or lesbian. 
    2. If by that they mean attraction, no one can help to whom they are attracted. Believe me, if I could only be attracted to my wife, I would be. As it is, I am attracted to probably 2/3 of the female population. I don't lust after them. I don't flirt with them. I certainly don't have sex with them. The fact of my attraction is an annoying part of life, kind of like my need for deodorant. Another person's attraction is equally not a sin, although the hopelessness might be more difficult.
    3. If they mean that they see themselves as part of a subculture, even that is not a sin. I am part of a number of subcultures, some of which define themselves in important ways by doing things I won't do. 
    4. If they mean that it is a sin to BE gay meaning a person who not only wants to engage in same sex intercourse, but who has done so, even still, past is past. It does make you who you are and action begets ontology, but it doesn't mean your continued existence is sinful. In fact, quite the opposite, it would be a sin for a person to end their existence.
    5. And that's the ultimate thing. People die because they think it is a sin to BE something that they can't help but be either because they have an attraction, are part of a subculture, or have done certain things in the past.
    6. Everyone has a right to BE, perhaps even more profoundly, everyone IS. I am many things I never should have become. I am many things I wish I weren't but I had no choice about. I am not always sure which of these are which. 
  3. I respect freewill

    1. Quite different than Peterson, mentioned in my last blog, I am not a Calvinist. I don't think that grace is irresistible. I don't believe that atonement is limited; literally anybody can be saved. I don't think that election is unconditional; you have to choose to accept the election. (I don't believe that depravity is total, for that matter; believing we retain the image of God despite our fallen states. That doesn't have anything to do with our argument here). 
    2. God gave us the right to chose to do things He doesn't want us to do. I don't think God can create a rock He can't lift, but I do think he could look at the smallest pebble and decide never to lift it. That's what he's done with our free-will. 
    3. Evil hurts people. When people make the argument that they're "not hurting anyone" or "only hurting themselves" they are acknowledging this aspect of evil. Unless God allowed people to be hurt, innocent people to be hurt, there would be no evil. 
    4. Unless people could choose evil, there would be no possibility of love because love is freely given. 
    5. So, I have to let them be hurt too. I can do what I can to protect myself and my family, but even though they are hurting themselves and others by creating a wall between themselves and God, I have to let it go.
    6. Certainly, if people have never heard that this hurts people, I can step in, but do you honestly think there's a gay person among the 1.5 million (based on the 5% stat) of them there are in America who haven't heard that it's a sin?
    7. I think enough of them have been clobbered with the "it's a sin" thing and at some point we have to let people sin. 
So, those are the reasons I think I did not mention it in addition to the fact that I was critiquing the reporters more than Peterson. 

So, Yes, I am convinced that homosexual acts are sins. 

I think this is the real conclusion of Plato's Phaedrus (although plenty of readers and NAMBLA would say differently): that love between men cannot become sexualized. I am pretty sure that if we take Aristotle's notions in  Oikonomikos regarding the necessity of fealty to a wife and his concept of law in keeping with nature, he came to the same conclusion. Cicero certainly read Aristotle that way and agreed with him in several speeches of invective against the way Romans were living. Read especially his speeches against Verres, Cataline, Cicero's defense of  Pulcher and all Cicero's Philipics. Those three men had more reason than anyone in our culture to take a fond view of homosexual activities and were certainly speaking to a culture where no one had heard it was sin. Paul was speaking to that same culture when he wrote. 
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality [οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 9-11). 
Paul used two words, just to be clear, that neither partner was okay in these situations. My opinion is that the original readers didn't need an explanation as to "why" because they had Aristotle, Plato, and especially Cicero ringing in their ears. This could have even been citing a Ciceronean phillipic. It reads like one. I wouldn't know. Lots of Paul's audience would know though and whether or not it is a direct quote, they would recognize the similarities.

Cicero explained the destructiveness of these type of relationships that are primarily physical and not for the formulation of a household. He explained that there is an inextricable tie between physicality that destroys any possibility of true friendship between men once this potentiality exists between them. He shows how these liason's eventually crushed Marc Anthony, and other individuals and even hypothesizes that it was a major factor that destroyed Greek civilization and that was destroying Rome. It is what people mean when they talk about Roman "excesses."

Early Greco-Roman Christians were watching everything Cicero said would happen happening. That's who Paul is speaking to. They were watching the "Kingdom of Rome" end and were warned that such things would not be allowed to bring down the "Kingdom of Heaven."

Nothing has changed since that time in terms of what makes us human. Nothing has changed about what makes people do the things they do and nations rise and fall.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Peterson, double-minded flip-flopper or just a plain old Calvinist

Coming to terms with Patterson on Same-Sex marriage.

Opinion One:

Two articles have come out regarding Eugene Peterson in the past two days that are getting a lot of social-media traction, so I might as well give them a little myself and put in my two cents. The first was an article by Jonathan Merritt and published by the Religion News Service entitled "Eugene Peterson on changing his mind about same-sex issues and marriage." In it, it seems that, as the title would imply, that Eugene Peterson changed his mind about same sex marriage, would perform a same sex marriage and quoted him saying:
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.
You can think what you want to about Rev. Peterson's's opinion, but it seems to be pretty clear. Homosexuality and the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman are outside the realm of argument. It's "not a right or wrong thing" as far as he's concerned. So, that's that. If you disagree with him you should just "go to another church." It's all pretty cut and  dry.

Opinion Two:

Except it isn't. Today another article came out that completely contradicted the first one. That article was written by Kate Shelllnut, was published in Christianity Today and was titled "Actually, Eugene Peterson Does Not Support Same-Sex Marriage." In it, it seems that, as the title would imply, Eugene Peterson does not support same-sex marriage. When it comes to marriage between two people of the same sex, Peterson is quoted in the article as saying "That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic Biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage." He claims that he affirms "a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything."

That is the exact opposite of what he said in the other article isn't it?


James, who most of protestants believe is Jesus' flesh and blood little brother, had some negative things to say about being double-minded. He said
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:5-8).
That doesn't seem to be a good thing and I sense a lot of double-mindedness regarding this issue in the two interviews with Peterson. The man seems to be of two opinions. However, I am not sure that means that he "is unstable in all his ways" or that "he will not receive anything from God."

James says that we ask God for wisdom if we lack it. Sometimes, we don't lack it.

We're coming up on a new semester here. I don't really need to ask God if it would be wise to start doing some lesson planning. I've been teaching for 17 years. I know that if I don't go into next week with every class period planned for every class between the first class of the semester and the last, it is going to catch up with me. I also know that by midterm my plans will be adjusted many times. I don't need to ask God for wisdom about whether or not I should plan. I do need wisdom and ask for it (In Jesus' Name) for how to plan each day. And even though God will give me that wisdom, it might be within His sovereign will for me to plan classes I don't get to teach or to be met with obstacles that He wants me to deal with at the time, not in advance. He's totally God and I am totally happy with that.

The areas where I need wisdom are these: should I do a class on the classical rhetorical canon of memory in my public speaking class? If I don't it will be the only canon I neglect. If I do, I will have to take something else out that I also want to teach. Should I talk about the narrative paradigm in my Persuasion class? If I do, I'm going to have to get some outside readings. What are some that 200 level students can  handle? Maybe it is too complicated for that level who are just now learning about the syllogism.

In other words, the only areas where we should ask for wisdom is in areas where we are double-minded. Those are the areas in which we lack wisdom. When we do, we shouldn't be double-minded about whether or not we're getting it.

Maybe he should have asked for wisdom first.

The second article says that he came to this conclusion that Peterson would not do a same-sex wedding after praying for wisdom: "When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment. But on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that." Maybe he should have reflected and prayed before the interview, but maybe he had no idea that this kind of question would be asked.

It seems strange to me that any person within Christendom in the 21st century hasn't reflected on the issues of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, but maybe Peterson legitimately had not asked himself these questions. How could he get away with not asking them?


In the Christianity Today article there is a really interesting statement:
“When I told this reporter that there are gay and lesbian people who ‘seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do,’ I meant it,” he [Peterson] stated. “But then again, the goodness of a spiritual life is functionally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

“We are saved by faith through grace that operates independent of our resolve or our good behavior,” he stated. “It operates by the hand of a loving God who desires for us to live in grace and truth and who does not tire of turning us toward both grace and truth.”
 If we look at this statement, we can see why Peterson could have lived his entire Christian life not really thinking much about one of the biggest clashes between traditional Christianity and our culture.

Calvinists espouse what they call the TULIP doctrine. TULIP is an acrostic for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Preservation of the Saints. A good explanation for these can be found by googling TULIP and Calvinism, which is what I did to get this site.

Although there are many different branches of Calvinism and some of them might be as surprised by Peterson's confused position as those of us who don't consider ourselves Calvinist, I think by looking at this basic doctrine we can understand. All human behavior is totally depraved, so people living in homosexual sin are depraved but so is everyone else. This sinful behavior is irrelevant because God's election is unconditional and irresistible. People who have faith, which comes as an arbitrarily assigned gift have it regardless of how they live their lives.

Some Calvinists I know would call this a perversion of the doctrine and they might be right. I am not qualified to argue. Still, I can see how you can get from point A to point C through point B.

And it's kind of right.

We have grace. We have grace to fall back on over and over. Thank God for His grace, his unmerited favor, his everlasting love, because you know what, I sin every single day. I am 100% sure that there will be people in Heaven that struggled with their homosexual desires every single day of their Christian lives. Some days they did better than others, but maybe, on the day they died, it was a bad day.

But to arrive from that to the point of view that behavior doesn't matter is crossing all kinds of lines. Behavior does matter. God will forgive us, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to forgive us for. And words matter; words like "marriage" have a religious context that either does or doesn't make sense. Either it means a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman with God or it means something else.

Our culture says it means something else, and I gotta be honest, there are a lot of times when I question the religious meaning of even heterosexual marriage. I question whether it's something I can continue to live up to. I question whether or not it's worth fighting for. I question whether or not I should even try. And if I do ever give up, what does it mean? The people who point out that those whose heterosexual marriages fail have done more to disrupt the sanctity of marriage than any gay person getting married are dead right.

And so he answered the wrong question.

The question isn't really about gay people or gay marriage. The question is: is sex between two people of the same sex a sin? He hasn't been pegged down on this one in either of the two articles. He seems to say, "It doesn't matter because God can forgive sin." But it does matter, even if God can forgive sin because we need to know what is forgiven and we need to struggle against behavior that does not live up to the high calling to which we are called. If gay sex is a sin, there are consequences, even if God forgives sin. If gay sex is not a sin, there are consequences, even if God forgives sin. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

They hate us for our freedoms . . . which is a reasonable position

Coming to terms with why they hate us, and I sometimes do too, on the 4th of July.

On September 20th, 2001, 

in the wake of the horrible terrorist attacks earlier that month, President George W. Bush addressed the nation. He answered a question that many of us were asking at that time:
Americans are asking ``Why do they hate us?''
They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Of course, like all statements made since the internet boom of the mid-nineties, the statement was quickly mocked.
And like all mocking, the mockers had their point. There was certainly more to it than that. American foreign policy with regard to the parts of the world in which Islam is dominant is, to say the least, fraught and complicated. Furthermore, anyone can understand the notion that if you are on the fence regarding your opinion of a country, and that country bombs your children, you will pretty quickly choose a negative position.

But make no mistake, they do hate our freedom. The Islamic Caliphate, known as ISIS, which has risen in years since
 then makes that clear. The Caliphate is worldwide. The Caliphate is the only legitimate expression of Islam. The Caliphate is opposed to any sort of Western Liberalism.

It is not just against bombings. It isn't just against Western oil companies on holy soil. It is opposed to Western Liberalism.

And I get it.

I don't care what side of the political spectrum you are on, if you went to the 4th of July parade today there was something to offend you, deeply.

I was offended. I was offended at baseball teams who were playing music on their floats, full of minor children, playing music with lyrics that were openly misogynist and graphic in their depictions of sexuality. I wasn't exactly offended by the somewhat provocative dances performed by teenage dancing crews in fairly little and fairly tight clothing, but I know how interested my 3 year old daughter is in taking dancing lessons. Will I be as calm about it in 10 years? Will she feel free to wear something other than these uniforms if she's not comfortable with it? I don't have anything against women, even young women, wearing what makes them feel comfortable and desirable, but I do not like people feeling that they must conform to the hyper-sexualized society.  There were floats from religions that I really don't want to have their message legitimized. There were floats for people whose politics disagree with mine. There were floats from groups whose lifestyles I would really prefer my daughter didn't even know existed parading their twisted views in front of everyone. There were open displays of disrespect for authorities that I see as God ordained. It made me angry.

So, I understand an impetus to dress them all in burkas, beat the ones who are disrespectful and un-submissive into respect, submission, or death, murder those who you find offensive. I really do get this. I really do hate our freedoms too.

And you get it.

Like I said, whatever your side of the political spectrum, there would have been people who you would have liked to silence too. There were showcases of American military respect, honoring veterans. There were floats arguing that you can never respect a country that uses violence. There were Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, etc. etc. etc. Think of some group who you think is dangerously nuts. They had a float in our parade.

And even though I get it, I love it.

Did my Grandpa fight at Iwo Jima for people to get up and say and do all these things that make a mockery of his values? Yeah, kind of.

See George W. Bush was right. They DO hate us for precisely the values he listed: "our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." It's not just our religion they hate, it's the freedom of religion. It's not just our speech they hate, it's our freedom of speech. It's not just that we disagree with them. It's that we have the right to disagree
And we all have that authoritarian living inside of us. There is that person who says "they shouldn't even be allowed to say that." Or "if they think that way, fine, let them think that way at home. Don't make me look at it." But that is not the American in us.

I disagree with what you say, but I hope that I would have in me to fight to the death for your right to say it.