Answering frequently asked questions about The Nashville Statement

Last week, I answered a range of questions about the Nashville Statement from the guys at the Apologetics Canada podcast. These brothers had really great queries—many that I have been asked from others over the last few weeks. The interview is only a little over twenty minutes, but we ended up covering a lot of ground. You can download the interview here or listen below:


Here are the questions that they asked:

  1. Why did you issue The Nashville Statement?
  2. Why does The Nashville Statement not include scripture references?
  3. Why was a broader coalition of people not included in drafting the statement?
  4. How many people have signed The Nashville Statement? And how important is it for people to sign it?
  5. Why was this published during the Hurricane Harvey crisis in Houston?
  6. Weren’t there more important things to talk about? Like immigration issues, Charlottesville, neo-Nazis, etc.?
  7. Did you include complementarian theology in The Nashville Statement?
  8. How do you respond to people who say The Nashville Statement wasn’t gracious enough?
  9. Is Article 10 trying to be harsh toward people who identify as gay or transgender?
  10. Why not make a more vigorous public defense of The Nashville Statement?
  11. How do you respond to the criticism that teaching God’s truth about sexuality is harmful to people?
  12. What surprised you the most about the feedback you’ve gotten?

Design, teleology, and the Nashville Statement

Many conservative critiques of the Nashville Statement boil down to a complaint about its scope. Critics acknowledge that the statement’s affirmations and denials are basically sound, but they complain that the statement should have covered more ground. That is a legitimate line of critique, even though it should not be confused with a refutation of what the statement does in fact say.

I suspect that every one of the Nashville Statement‘s signatories would affirm much more than is included in the document but that none of them would want to affirm less than what is in the document. And one of the key concepts included in the statement is the idea that God’s design for his creation discloses to us his will for our lives as male and female. The Nashville Statement refers to God’s design no less than nine times:

  • “The beauty of God’s design for human life”
  • “God created human beings for his glory, and… his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female.”
  • “The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures…”
  • “We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good”
  • “WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
    WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.”
  • “WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.”
  • “WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.”
  • “WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.”

Why the accent on God’s design? Because God’s design is integral to any faithful account of Christian sexual ethics. God’s design in creation is foundational for understanding what God requires of us. We must test every moral claim not only by the specific statements of scripture but also by whether they conform to God’s design for us as sexual beings. Oliver O’Donovan puts it this way:

The order of things that God has made is there. It is objective, and mankind has a place within it. Christian ethics, therefore, has an objective reference because it is concerned with man’s life in accordance with this order. . . Thus Christian moral judgments in principle address every man (Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 17).

God has designed his creatures to live and move and have their being within the order that he has established. To believe or to act contrary to that order is not only self-destructive but also sinful.

God designed everything with a purpose, including our sexual lives. His design reveals the purposes for which he made us and helps us to distinguish that which is good and true from that which is errant and false. As I have argued elsewhere,

We ought to evaluate the ethics of any sexual act on the basis of its ability to encompass the four purposes [of sex]: consummation, procreation, love, and pleasure. In addition to that, we ought to consider how the act in question relates to the overall purpose of marriage and to the ultimate end of glorifying God. Christian ethical reflection has to take into account the whole counsel of God. Ethical decision making can fall short of that ideal when Christians are quick to label something a matter of Christian freedom simply because there is no explicit prohibition in Scripture. Even without an explicit prohibition, an act may fall short of the glory of God because it does not achieve His purposes for human sexuality (What Is the Meaning of Sex, pp. 117-118).

God’s design in nature and his revelation in scripture are not at odds. On the contrary, they are perfectly congruent, and they both reveal his will for us sexually. God’s design for male and female, therefore, is not arbitrary. It is the revelation of his will for our lives.

Are there many other helpful and necessary things to say about sexual ethics not included in the Nashville Statement? Of course there are. But that doesn’t render the items that are covered any less essential. And that includes our personal and physical design as male and female.

On the Scandal of Divorce

Ron Belgau is one of the founders of the Spiritual Friendship blog, and he has released a long letter on Rod Dreher’s blog expressing his disapproval of The Nashville Statement. Over the years, Ron and I have had many back-and-forths over these issues, and I have always found him to be a really powerful and generous interlocutor. His remarks deserve a fuller response than I am going to give right here, so some of the engagement will have to wait until later.

But before getting into disagreement, I would highlight one part of Ron’s letter that I completely agree with. Ron points out that many Southern Baptists have totally capitulated to the divorce culture and have a really bad track record here. He also argues that conservative evangelicals writ large have allowed and tolerated this moral collapse for decades.

I completely agree with him about that. The widespread acceptance of no-fault divorce shows that our culture and capitulating Christians were redefining marriage long before gay marriage was on anyone’s radar screen. That is in part why the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution in 2010 “On the Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce.” It’s also why I wrote this in my 2013 book on sexual ethics:

There may be no greater blight on the testimony of Christianity in our culture than the church’s near total capitulation to the divorce culture… What is perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that so many Christian marriages seem to have accommodated themselves to American divorce culture. Not only did churches say very little when no-fault divorce became the legal reality of our land, but they also said very little when no-fault divorce became the practical reality of the people sitting in our pews. Though practicing Christians tend to have lower divorce rates than the general population, the numbers are still very concerning… Perhaps there is some consolation in the knowledge that church-attending Evangelicals seem to fare better than those who are less devout. Nevertheless, it is a spiritual crisis that more than one-third of the more committed evangelicals report having been divorced or separated. The numbers are still far too high for those who confess to believe what the Bible teaches about the sanctity of marriage. John Calvin’s admonition is one that more people could stand to hear:

“They who, for slight causes, rashly allow of divorces, violate, in one single particular, all the laws of nature, and reduce them to nothing. If we should make it a point of conscience not to separate a father from his son, it is still greater wickedness to dissolve the bond which God has preferred to all others.”

Denny Burk, What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013)

So I think we are agreed on this point. I think where we disagree is whether The Nashville Statement addresses the fact that evangelical churches are already woefully compromised on the issue of marriage. I think it does. He believes that it doesn’t. Our difference is over this paragraph in the preamble:

Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

Ron reads this paragraph to mean that the church may become compromised but is not compromised yet. I understand this paragraph to mean that although many among us have already bowed the knee to Baal, there are many who have not. This paragraph frames the document, in my view, as a statement for a compromised church. The question is who is going to win out? The ones who have bowed the knee or the ones who have not?

One of the most important things to understand about The Nashville Statement is that it was not primarily aimed at the outside world. It is aimed at the evangelical Christian world where so much confusion on these questions seems to remain. As I said in my opinion piece for The Hill over the weekend:

The Nashville Statement is not a culture-war document. It is a church document. It stakes out no public policy positions. It advocates for no particular piece of legislation or political program. Rather, it was drafted by churchmen from a variety of evangelical traditions who aim to catechize God’s people about their place in the true story of the world. And fundamental to that storyline is our “personal and physical design as male and female.”

The Bible begins in Genesis with a marriage and ends in Revelation with a marriage, and that is why the nature of marriage is fundamental to our story as well.

You may be asking, “If the Nashville Statement is simply a Christian confessional statement, then why has it dominated headlines this past week? What’s so newsworthy about that?” Truthfully, we too have been astonished by the amount of attention this has gotten in the press. It does not seem all that newsworthy to reassert what the church everywhere has confessed for the last 2,000 years.

But we are okay with the attention because we believe that God’s design for his world and his people is not bad news but good news. We all stand in need of grace. This story of sin and repentance, faith and forgiveness is my story too. It is our hope and prayer that everyone who reads The Nashville Statement will find it to be their story as well.

I hope to have some more interaction later on other items Ron raises.

 

 

Ten ways to show truth and love to your gay neighbor

No doubt you have already read the news about the release of The Nashville Statement earlier this week. My staff at CBMW and I have been working hard on this effort for many months now, and we are grateful to the Lord to see it finally come to fruition. It is a statement that is faithful to scripture and, hopefully, one that may serve as a standard and guide for many years to come.

In light of the statement’s release, I thought it might be helpful to review ten practical ways that Christians can show love to their gay neighbors.

1. Be a friend.

And by that, I mean be a real friend. Don’t make changing your gay neighbor a condition of your friendship.

“A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).

2. Listen.

Your gay neighbor may have a story to tell, and you need to hear it. Not just for their sake, but for yours. There is nothing better to wipe away erroneous caricatures than to listen to someone else’s story. Listening does not equal approving an unbiblical ideology. It just means that you care and are open to learning.

“He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).

3. Feel compassion.

Understand that your gay neighbor often feels distress over unwanted same-sex attraction. There can be a real sense of alienation that they feel from their own sexual desires. For some, the experience is quite agonizing. How would you feel if you had to walk a mile in their shoes? We all experience some measure of brokenness due to the fallenness of creation. So we too know what it means to groan (Rom. 8:23). If this is true, it ought to summon forth a compassionate response to our gay neighbors.

“And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).

4. Share the gospel.

The gospel is good news for sinners. It is the true story about a Creator God who loves sinners and who has made a way to reconcile them to Himself through the death and resurrection of His own Son. It’s the best news in the world. How could we possibly withhold that from any friend?

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

5. Speak the truth.

You don’t have to be mean, angry, or haughty to speak truthfully. You can do it in a way that is winsome and that shows concern but does not disdain. In short, you can speak the truth in love.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

6. Be candid about differences.

This is a necessary corollary to speaking the truth. A true friend will always find a way to communicate differences that matter. A friendship that glosses over such things can degenerate into flattery and superficiality. Sometimes the truth about God’s word brings a confrontation no matter how nice and compassionate you try to be in delivering it. But don’t let the fear of confrontation keep you from being candid.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).

7. Oppose bullying.

Christians must lead the charge to condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against our gay neighbors. Take your stand with the oppressed. Speak up for them. Do it even if it costs you social capital or risks subjecting yourself to the same bullying. This is the kind of sacrificial love that bears witness to the way Christ has loved us.

“My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause…” My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, For their feet run to evil, And they hasten to shed blood” (Prov. 1:10-16).

8. Receive your brothers and sisters.

We should befriend our gay neighbors including, of course, those who are not Christians. Perhaps some will repent of their sin, trust Christ, and become Christians. When they do, be prepared to rejoice and to receive them with open arms as brothers and sisters in Christ. Make sure they know that they are received as full members into the body of Christ even if they have ongoing struggles with same-sex attraction.

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13).

9. Strengthen your brothers and sisters.

Some new converts may experience a complete deliverance from same-sex attraction. Others may continue to struggle. Be prepared to walk with the strugglers and to strengthen them for what may be a very difficult obedience. God has given them everything that they need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), and a part of God’s provision for them is your friendship and encouragement.

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13)

10. Pray.

The Devil wants to destroy. Jesus wants to save (John 10:10). Pray for your gay neighbor that Jesus might have his way. In his own prayer for wayward Peter, Jesus modelled how we might intercede:

“Behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32).

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*These ten items are adapted from the final chapter of Heath Lambert’s and my book Transforming Homosexuality.

Best Pictures of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

We did not witness totality where I live, but we did get 96% of a total eclipse of the sun. It was fantastic, even if not total.

Because I missed totality, I’m soaking-up footage of those who captured it on video or in photos. I am going to post those images here, updating as I come across the really good ones. I’m starting with a stunning compilation from The Washington Post (see above). I will update with more pics and videos below. Continue Reading →

God and the Transgender Debate

Andrew Walker’s important new book has just released today. It is titled God and the Transgender Debate, and it is a must-read. That is in fact what I wrote in my endorsement for the publisher:

The post-Christian West says that we are what we think we are, not what our bodies reveal us to be and this is one of the chief challenges to Christianity today. That is why God and the Transgender Debate is so important. It is a countercultural, compassionate, must-read book.
Denny Burk, President, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

The transgender challenge is at the leading edge of Christianity’s interface with secular culture. If you want to understand this challenge, then you need to read this book. Highly recommended.

Seminaries across the country are shutting down

Ian Lovett at The Wall Street Journal tells the story of what is happening to theological education in the mainlines. The schools are going the way of the dodo.

Mainline Protestant seminaries are facing an existential crisis after a decade of mounting red ink.

Enrollment has fallen by nearly 25% over the past decade, according to the Association of Theological Schools, an accrediting agency.

Mainline churches, where membership has been falling for decades, can support fewer full-time pastors than in the past. Denominations are pulling back their financial support for seminaries, while the cost of educating students is still going up.

As a result, some of the oldest and most celebrated seminaries in the country—institutions that helped shape both Christianity and higher education in the U.S.—are on the brink of financial collapse.

The crisis in the mainline seminaries is real. And the institutional crisis cannot be understood rightly apart from the slide into theological liberalism, which is the death knell of vitality and life in Christian institutions. As a result, these schools do not train their students for pastoral ministry. Then what are they training for? As WSJ reports,

Until recent years, seminaries largely focused on training young college graduates to become full-time church pastors… But as the nation has grown more secular, the role of clergy, and seminaries, has shifted…

“We take seriously our role in training religious leaders. But we also take seriously our role in training leaders for nonprofit organizations and other institutions,” said the Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, president of Claremont School of Theology.

Lisa Devine, who graduated from EDS in May, is typical of many mainline seminary students these days. At 36, she lived in California most of the time she attended EDS.

She said she doesn’t “feel called to parish ministry.” Instead, her family plans to start a “therapeutic farm.”

I don’t even know what a “therapeutic farm” is, but it is not pastoral ministry in a church. What do you need a seminary for if it is not training pastors of churches?

Theological education is indeed in crisis, but make no mistake. The crisis was theological before it was institutional. Now it is both.

A time for moral clarity

Like you, I’ve been watching with dismay and disgust as events have unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. There has been a naked display of racism and white supremacy. If ever there were a time for evangelical Christians to speak with biblical conviction and moral clarity, now is the time.

In doing so, no one should be taking their cues from the president of the United States on how to do this. Both this weekend and in his campaign, he has not shown moral clarity or leadership in this area (although as I write, there is an update). Rather, we should be taking our cues from scripture, which is absolutely and unequivocally clear that white supremacy, racism, and violence are grave sins which God himself will judge.

Why will God judge such racism? Because all people are created in God’s image, and as image-bearers we all have inestimable worth and dignity. To assault an image-bearer is to assault the One whose image they bear. Thus racism, white supremacy, and violence are incalculably heinous sins.

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” –Genesis 1:27

“Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves.” –Psalm 100:3

“From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth.” –Acts 17:26

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” –John 3:16

“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” –1 John 4:8

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” –1 John 4:20

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” –1 John 3:15

The first fruit of the spirit is love (Gal. 5:21). Anyone who refuses to love is showing that he does not have the Spirit and stands condemned.

The racism and white supremacy on display in Charlottesville are damnable errors and are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who wave the banner of racism in the name of Christianity are no Christians at all. If they do not repent, they stand condemned.

This is the message that we must communicate, and we must do so in a way the matches the urgency of our moment. God’s word is clear on this, and so must we be.


UPDATE – 8/15/17: Today, President Trump addressed the nation in a press conference in which he said that the white supremacist protestors were “very fine people.” His full remarks were more than disappointing. They were morally bankrupt and completely unacceptable. People who protest while chanting Nazi slogans are not “very fine people.” I agree with David French’s assessment:

The most pernicious forms of evil always mix truth and lies. So, yes, there were kernels of truth in some of Trump’s statements. No question there were hateful, violent leftists in Charlottesville this weekend. And on the question of monuments, Trump is right to point out the lack of a limiting principle. We already know that some on the Left have their eyes set on demolishing or removing monuments and memorials that have nothing to do with the Confederacy, but all that pales in importance compared to his stubborn and angry attempts not just at moral equivalence (after all, no one on the Left committed murder this weekend) but at actually whitewashing evil…

Donald Trump loves people who love him, and the vile and vicious alt-right has loved him from the beginning. Today, he loved them right back.

The President again failed to show moral clarity and leadership. It was a sad, disgraceful display.


POSTSCRIPT: I am grateful to see so many evangelical leaders who have already spoken with conviction and clarity. The following list is only a sample of the many who have spoken up. I am grateful for all of them.

Albert Mohler comments on North Korea and Just War

On Friday’s episode of “The Briefing,” Albert Mohler offered comments on Just War theory and how it applies to the President’s authority to wage war against North Korea. Mohler argues,

The comments made by Dr. Robert Jeffress have engendered a lot of conversation. But without just looking at those comments let’s look at the larger questions and how Christians have fought through these issues consistent with Scripture throughout the centuries. In the first place we need to understand that the Bible is clear about the role of government. In Romans chapter 13, government, as established by God, is one of God’s gift to humanity in order to establish order in uphold justice and righteousness. is given what is described as the power of the sword. Inspired by the Holy Spirit the apostle Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 13 that the state, the government,

“does not hold the sword in vain.”

It has a purpose. It has a legitimate purpose. And among those purposes is the establishment and maintenance of justice and righteousness and the protection of human life. The most important responsibility of any government is the protection of the lives of its own citizens.

So the Scripture, not only in Romans 13, but in other passages — as we think of this in terms of biblical theology — makes clear that God has established government and given government rightful authority; not authority that’s a blank check, but a rightful, legitimate authority that must be exercised in accordance with right principles of justice and righteousness. When the pastor said that,

“God has given President Trump the authority to take out Kim Jong-Un,”

at this point what we need to consider is that indeed God has invested government with authority, the power of the sword is part of that authority, but it’s not an authority that comes with a blank check, it comes in a moral context…

With heavy hearts thoughtful and biblical Christians recognize that military action is sometimes absolutely called for, but it’s never called for for Christians to be bellicose, that is in any way to celebrate war. These are clearly very dangerous times and it calls forth the most careful Christian thinking. We can hope and pray that some years hence we’ll look back and just have to be reminded of the fact that this kind of moment had existed between United States and North Korea. We can hope that it comes down to that, rather than the alternative, which is almost too horrible to contemplate.

Read the rest or download audio here.

Poll: Is it ever right to be angry at God?

Last Spring, I posted a tweet and a blog that turned out to be more controversial than I ever anticipated. In both postings, I made the case that it is always wrong to be angry at God. Many readers disagreed. I am conducting an informal poll to find out how controversial this question really is among readers. Please weigh-in above.

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