What does the tenth commandment teach about desire?

This is the last post I will write in response to readers who have asked questions about a piece that I co-wrote with Rosaria Butterfield for The Public Discourse titled “Learning to Hate our Sin without Hating Ourselves.” You can read my answers to the first two questions here and here.

The third question is about the tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17. Here is the reader’s question in his own words:

In your reference to the desire of the 10th commandment (different than the action of the 7th), isn’t the sin desiring something that another person has?  I could desire a piece of cake, and that would be fine, gluttony aside… But if I want your piece of cake, that’s sin.  Or, to change the object, if I desire my wife – no problem.  If I desire your wife, that’s the 10th commandment.  The real question is what if I desire an unmarried woman.  Either way, that’s not breaking the 10th commandment, which is about desiring something another person has.  It seems that Exodus 20 doesn’t contribute to the argument of whether or not desire itself is sinful.

I think this is a great question. After all, weren’t we all taught that coveting is basically a synonym for envying? On that understanding, coveting seems to be more concerned with wanting other people’s stuff than with desiring evil in general. If that were so it may not tell us much about the ethics of desire, much less same-sex desire. Continue Reading →

Theologian wants to take the Bible out of the hands of Christians

I just read a jaw-dropping section from Stanley Hauerwas’ book Unleashing Scripture. Keep in mind that even though Hauerwas is not an evangelical, many evangelicals hang on his every word. He writes:

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own… Continue Reading →

What is “desire” in James 1:15? Sin or temptation?

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been getting a number of questions from readers about a piece that I co-wrote with Rosaria Butterfield for The Public Discourse titled “Learning to Hate our Sin without Hating Ourselves.” Rather than trying to answer each reader individually, I am addressing these questions individually in a series of blog posts. I answered the first question yesterday.

The second question is about the interpretation of James 1:14-15. Here is the reader’s question in his own words:

I had a question about James 1:14-15. You referenced this verse in one of the essays and commented, “If we do not drive a fresh nail daily into this aspect of original sin, sinful desire will eventually give birth to sinful deed.” I tend to agree with your conclusion, but in pointing this out to others they have objected by saying James 1:14-15 says that desire gives birth to sin. That is, desire exists prior to sins conception and birth and therefore isn’t to be considered sin itself… My question then is how would you respond to the person who raises the objection that James 1:14-15 separates desire from sin, such that the former is not itself sin but a temptation to sin? Continue Reading →

Is temptation sinful?

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers about a piece that I co-wrote with Rosaria Butterfield for The Public Discourse titled “Learning to Hate our Sin without Hating Ourselves.” Rather than trying to answer each reader individually, I am going to try and address these questions individually in a series of blog posts.

The first question is this: Is temptation sinful? Some readers wonder how temptation fits into a paradigm in which desire for sin is itself sin. They object that such a framework makes temptation into a sin. Since we know that not all temptation equals sin (e.g., Heb. 4:15), the thesis of our article fails because we effectively make temptation into a sin.

Before answering the question, let me begin with some caveats. One, the thesis of our Public Discourse piece doesn’t rely at all on an answer to this question about temptation. Two, I can only speak for myself in answering this question. Other people who share my view that same-sex sexual desire is sinful may express themselves differently than I will below. And that’s okay. I expect some give and take on these matters as we all think our way through to biblical clarity. Three, nothing that you read below is new. In fact, it is an adaptation of what already appears in my book Transforming Homosexuality. For the full argument, I encourage you to get the book. Continue Reading →

The Difference between Protestants and Catholics concerning “Concupiscence”

Rosaria Butterfield and I have published an essay dealing with controversy surrounding the Revoice conference and the Spiritual Friendship project. Among other things, we try to show that a great deal of this controversy is due to conflicting theological commitments between Protestants and Catholics. To that end, we write:

The current debate about gay Christianity traces back to a centuries-old dispute between Protestants and Catholics about the doctrine of man and the doctrine of sin. Roman Catholics do not regard involuntary desire for sin (i.e., “concupiscence”) to be sinful. Reformed Protestants do.

We go on to state that the differences between Protestants and Catholics on these points go back for half a millennium. Today, a friend wrote to me and pointed out a stark example of this from The Council of Trent (1563). The Council of Trent was a Roman Catholic ecumenical council that sought to counteract the Protestant Reformation. In section 5 of the fifth session, the Council says this:

This holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, can not injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin. And if any one is of a contrary sentiment, let him be anathema.1

Notice the underlined portion. This Roman Catholic council acknowledges that the Apostle Paul calls concupiscence sin, and yet the Council ends up disagreeing with the apostle! It is really astonishing, but it does illustrate why Protestants have disagreed with Roman Catholics on this for so long. No one has the right or authority to gainsay the words of holy scripture, and yet that is what we think is happening on this important issue.

For the rest of the argument that Rosaria and I make, please read the article at The Public Discourse: “Learning To Hate Sin without Hating Ourselves.” Many thanks to Ryan Anderson for hosting this important debate at The Public Discourse.

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1 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Greek and Latin Creeds, with Translations, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1890), 88.

Mystic Patriotism

About a year ago, I read G. K. Chesterton’s reflections on what it means to be a Christian patriot. If you have never read it, I encourage you to read “The Flag of the World” in his classic work Orthodoxy. Chesterton contends that love of one’s homeland is not like house-hunting—an experience in which you weigh the pros and cons of a place and choose accordingly. He writes:

A man belongs to this world before he begins to ask if it is nice to belong to it. He has fought for the flag, and often won heroic victories for the flag long before he has ever enlisted. To put shortly what seems the essential matter, he has a loyalty long before he has any admiration.

We do not choose our homeland. It is something that we are born into. Thus our acceptance of our home is not like a house that we can leave when we tire of it. It is like the love we have for our family: Continue Reading →

Why “same-sex attraction” may be more confusing than clarifying in our debates about sexuality

One of the besetting difficulties surrounding discussions of sexuality is terminology. Many of us are simply not on the same page when it comes to the meaning of the terms we use to frame the discussion. Also, many of the terms we use are loaded with baggage from secular theory that does more to confuse than to illuminate.

I’ve been thinking recently about one of these terms and how its current usage does indeed confuse rather than clarify. That term is attraction. Many people who write about sexuality tend to use “attraction” and “desire” as synonyms. Thus to say that someone experiences “same-sex attraction” is just another way of saying that they experience “same-sex desire.” I think this usage is a demonstrable fact in both theological and non-theological literature. I give a number of examples in my book, but I will provide one here to illustrate the point. In their book Sexuality and Sex Therapy (InterVarsity, 2014), Mark Yarhouse and Erica Tan write this (p. 296): Continue Reading →

Is there a constitutional right to life?

Mary Ziegler has an article in The Atlantic talking about the future of abortion jurisprudence in light of Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court. Among other things, she speculates that overturning Roe is now a probability. Furthermore, she writes:

It is even possible that abortion foes will ask the justices to go further, recognizing a constitutional right to life that would mean the criminalization of abortion nationwide. Certainly, abortion opponents have always wanted more than just the end of Roe.

But even without Kennedy, the odds of such a ruling seem remote. The kind of strict-constructionist judge Trump promises is usually skeptical about the recognition of rights not spelled out in the text of the Constitution. Antonin Scalia, the model for Trump’s new selection, famously criticized decisions identifying unenumerated rights, including ones that conservatives might support, like protections for parents. Even on a reconfigured Court, the right to life might be a hard sell. [underline mine]

The underlined portions jumped off the page at me. What a rare, candid statement. This author apparently believes that the Constitution contains no guaranteed right to life. Furthermore, she thinks that it would be a “hard sell” even for originalist justices to recognize such in the Constitution. Continue Reading →

Are Southern Baptists turning into feminists?

Margaret Bendroth has a provocative op-ed in the New York Times today titled “Could Southern Baptists Actually Become Feminists?” In short, she is reflecting on recent events in SBC life and what they might mean for Southern Baptists going forward. She focuses on what happened at the SBC annual meeting last week with the passage of a resolution on abuse and the election of J. D. Greear to the presidency of the SBC.

Her observations lead her to wonder aloud whether the SBC might be moving in a feminist direction. I think the answer to that questions is a resounding “no,” especially based on what I observed at the meeting last week.

It is true that J. D. Greear represents a younger generation of SBC leadership, but he is not a feminist. In fact, he has stated in no uncertain terms that he is a complementarian and fully affirms CBMW’s Danvers Statement. Greear writes, “The Summit Church is unashamedly and uncompromisingly complementarian. We affirm without qualification the Danvers Statement on gender roles in the kingdom of God.” Elsewhere, he has written: “Women are not to occupy that special, authoritative role of teacher in the church, either formally or functionally. That’s why Paul’s distinction of ‘teaching’ and ‘authority’ as two distinct things in 1 Tim 2:12 is significant.” Whatever one wants to call this, I don’t think it can be called feminism.

It is also true that the SBC passed a really strong statement against abuse, but this resolution can in no way be construed as a move toward feminism. As Bendroth notes, the resolution affirms “biblical headship.” But it is also important to note that the resolution affirms headship as that which “blesses, honors, and protects wives and children and does not require them to submit to sin or to abuse.” What does this mean? It means that complementarianism is not to blame for abuse. It’s the failure of complementarianism that is to blame for abuse. There’s no question that some people have tried to use good theology as a cover for abuse. But make no mistake. Abuse is a perversion and betrayal of biblical headship, not an expression of it. That’s what Southern Baptists affirmed last week.

Complementarianism is written into the confessional statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000. And that commitment was reaffirmed by messengers in a spontaneous way during Albert Mohler’s report on Southern Seminary. Dr. Mohler was asked about women teaching men in seminaries, and Dr. Mohler reaffirmed Southern’s complementarian commitments and explained that only men who are qualified to be pastors are allowed to teach in the school of theology. The response from the messengers in the hall was a rousing applause of affirmation (watch it here at 1:27:56). Again, there was no sign of some underlying feminist disapproval. The messengers liked what Mohler had to say on these points.

Is there diversity of opinion in the SBC about how complemenarian principles should be applied? Certainly there is. But the fundamental commitment to complementarian principle as outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message is not in question. On the contrary, the leadership and messengers reaffirmed it at every opportunity. And as long as Southern Baptists remain steadfast in their commitment to the authority of scripture, that is not going to change.

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