Archive | Theology/Bible

Pastors, be ready for questions about abortion and homosexuality

The Federalist ran a story yesterday about a certain pastor’s appearance on The View. One of the hosts asked him what his church teaches about homosexuality and abortion. The pastor dodged the question. Another host, Joy Behar, followed up by asking very specifically whether abortion is a sin. Still, the pastor could not bring himself to say that abortion is a sin. Rather, he said that each person has to “live to their own convictions” and that God would be the judge.

A few thoughts on this:

1. His answer is not sufficient. As a pastor, you have a responsibility to speak the truth in love, and it is not loving to fail to speak the truth (1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:15). One can do both at once, but it was not done here.

“We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).

2. The questions are not surprising. Any pastor should know and be prepared to answer these questions–especially if one is going on a show like The View, where there is no mystery about how the hosts view abortion and homosexuality. The hosts are for abortion and for homosexuality. It is pastoral malpractice to leave the impression that abortion is just an individual choice and might be right for some and wrong for others. Be ready, pastors. You’re not gonna have to go on The View to get asked these questions, and you shouldn’t be caught by surprise when they come your way.

“Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you” (1 Pet. 3:15).

3. His answers are not consistent. The pastor is willing to speak with moral clarity about racism. He condemns it outright and is congratulated by the hosts for doing so. But when asked for the same kind of moral clarity about abortion and homosexuality, he backs down. Why? Clearly the hosts approve his condemnation of racism but would not have approved a condemnation of abortion or homosexuality. A pastor must never stick his finger to the wind to determine when and where to offer moral clarity. No, he must be morally serious at all times and has no right to pick and choose when he’ll speak the truth and when he won’t. If he is God’s man, then he must always be completely truthful.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

4. This kind of evasion is a real temptation for every Christian, and that includes me. It is hard to stand when the world and the devil stand against you. There is a cost to moral courage, and only a test can reveal who is willing to pay it. We need to pray for each other to be faithful and not to falter when the tide turns against us. That tide is turning now, and we need grace to meet it.

“The Lord stood with me and strengthened me… and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:17-18).


UPDATE: The pastor has released a statement on Twitter clarifying his stance on abortion.

Woman who lived as a transgender male for nearly a decade shares conversion to Christ

The Baptist Messenger has posted an interview with Laura Perry, a woman who spent nearly a decade living as a transgender male. She describes years of male hormones and a sex change surgery and how she came to faith in Christ. You can watch above, listen below, or download the audio here.

Church Clarity ought to be about biblical and theological clarity

On Wednesday, the website ChurchClarity.org appeared online. Its stated mission: to pressure churches to make clear on their websites whether or not they affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. The leadership team that runs the website is comprised exclusively of those who affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. And they seem to be focused on forcing evangelical megachurch pastors to clarify where their churches stand on the issue.

I looked through the website and found a number of problems with it. Here are several of them in no particular order:

1. The website claims that it merely wants clarity and that people on all sides of the issue ought to agree about that. That sounds reasonable until you read the fine print. It turns out that this group does not want theological or biblical clarity but only clarity about a church’s policies. The site says:

Church Clarity is not interested in evaluating theology or doctrine, but rather organizational policy. Policies are much more straightforward and have clear impact on people. Will your church let a trans woman join a women’s group? Will your pastoral team officiate a wedding for a gay couple? These are the policy questions we are seeking to clarify. What we’re not interested in: A church’s theological position on whether queer Christians go to heaven, whether same-sex attraction is natural or chosen, how gender plays out in the story of Adam and Eve, etc. You get the point. Conversations around LGBTQ+ issues often drift needlessly into theological debate. That is why we painstakingly emphasize our laser focus on evaluating the level of clarity in regards to a church’s actively enforced policy.

The problem with this is obvious. The clarity that this group calls for falls short of the clarity that Jesus requires (2 Cor. 4:2). Being clear about policies is fine. But even more central is being clear about what a church believes. A church’s policies ought to be grounded in clear biblical teaching, but “Church Clarity” does not aim at “evaluating theology or doctrine.” And yet this is precisely what the Lord expects churches to do. Followers of Christ will recognize that no one is served by putting theology and Bible on the backburner. In fact, that is a recipe for falling into the same kind of error that the founders of “Church Clarity” are into.

2. “Church Clarity” believes that churches have to earn their tax exempt status. A lack of clarity on LGBT issues could be grounds for denying churches tax exempt status:

Churches are unique organizations in America. They enjoy tremendous public subsidies, as they are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are expected to play a vital role of serving their communities. But there is very little accountability to demonstrate that they are earning that subsidy. In fact, many churches fail to uphold the basic standards of transparency that we, as a society, expect from most other organizations.

“Church Clarity” seems unaware that churches don’t “earn” tax exemptions. The United States government does not give tax exempt status to churches because they meet some minimum threshold of usefulness to a community. They are given because of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Supreme Court has held that tax exemptions are not subsidies, that they help to uphold the separation between church and state, and that they are based on the first amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion (see Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York). Is “Church Clarity” really suggesting that churches should lose their tax exemptions based on their website content? If their websites don’t meet Church Clarity’s standard of clarity? Do we really want the federal government policing church websites to determine whether their policies on LGBT issues are clear enough? This is absurd.

3. “Church Clarity” seems particularly concerned about churches “where ambiguity and misleading practices have become normalized.” They write,

Many churches have avoided fully or clearly disclosing their church policies out of a desire to be “seeker sensitive,” that is, a desire to attract “seekers” and convert them into loyal “customers.” This capitalist mindset is particularly dangerous in a spiritual context. It means that pastors will preach about “welcoming” and “loving” all people, no matter who they are, while quietly refusing to officiate weddings or grant full membership to LGBTQ+ people.

There are clear laws and regulations in the for-profit world that protect us from “false advertising” and “bait and switch” tactics. But while we hold the marketplace accountable for such violations, we rarely insist that churches abide by these basic norms. Are the stakes not much higher when it comes to spiritual matters? Is a clearly communicated policy on a church’s website an unreasonable expectation? We don’t believe so.

“Church Clarity” claims to be targeting “seeker sensitive” churches, but they do not seem to realize that they implicate non-seeker sensitive churches as well. What they call “false advertising” and “bait and switch” may not be those things at all. It is not false advertising when a traditional church welcomes all sinners to visit the church, to hear the message, and to come to Jesus. That’s what every faithful church teaches, and it is in no way at odds with upholding the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality. Perhaps if “Church Clarity” were a little more interested in theology and Bible they would recognize that.

Again, keep in mind that “Church Clarity” doesn’t want theological or biblical clarity. They only want churches to advertise whether or not sexually immoral people can participate in every level of a church’s membership and leadership. It doesn’t matter to them whether the church’s website is theologically or biblically clear.

4. “Church Clarity” focuses on megachurches. There is a reason for that. There really are pastors of megachurches who have been evasive and silent on this issue. Some of them are suspected of being “affirming” but of being too cowardly to admit it. “Church Clarity” seems intent on blowing up their evasions and forcing the issue. I agree that the evasions are unhelpful and cowardly. I do not agree with Church Clarity’s suggested remedy.

Pastors who have been evasive need to repent, but they don’t need to follow the agenda of “Church Clarity” to do that. They need to make plain their commitment to biblical orthodoxy. They need to make plain their church’s convictions in a doctrinal statement (I recommend the Nashville Statement). And they need to set forth a biblical and theological vision of human sexuality in the teaching ministry of the church. How an unorthodox, apostate group rates them on these efforts should be of no concern at all. How God rates them should be of utmost concern (1 Cor. 4:2-5).

Spurgeon on the “reproach” of believer’s baptism

“If I thought it wrong to be a Baptist, I should give it up, and become what I believed to be right… If we could find infant baptism in the word of God, we should adopt it. It would help us out of a great difficulty, for it would take away from us that reproach which is attached to us,—that we are odd, and do not as other people do. But we have looked well through the Bible, and cannot find it, and do not believe that it is there; nor do we believe that others can find infant baptism in the Scriptures, unless they themselves first put it there.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, et al., The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Chicago: F.H. Revell, 1898), 155.

Book Review of “Single Gay Christian”

I just finished reading Gregory Coles’ moving memoir Single Gay Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (IVP, 2017). In many ways, there is much to admire about this book. Coles is a great writer and has put together a real page-turner. This is not a boring book. Coles’ honesty and vulnerability come through in just about every page. Coles is telling his own story—warts and all—and he’s gut-wrenchingly honest about his emerging awareness of himself as a same-sex attracted man.

Coles’s story is a very human story, and just about anyone (same-sex attracted or not) can resonate with the humor and the pathos that he narrates. By the end of it, you feel like you know the man. And this is a man who embraces the Bible’s prohibitions on same-sex immorality. Because of that, he has dedicated himself to a life of celibacy out of faithfulness to Christ. As hard as it is, Coles has concluded that faithfulness to Jesus on this point is more important than pursuing a gay relationship.

So there is much that I resonate with in Coles’s story. In the end, however, I share the same concerns about the book that Rachel Gilson expressed in her review at TGC.

First, this book falls squarely within the celibate gay identity genre, in which the author rejects gay sexual behavior and gay marriage but embraces a gay identity. Coles argues that being gay is “central to my identity” (p. 37). He resists referring to himself simply as one who experiences same-sex attraction. Coles believes that describing himself as same-sex attracted might imply that the experience is merely a “phase” he is going through (p. 63). He maintains that being gay is something that defines him at the core of his being. His sexual attractions are not just how he is but who he is. Coles writes:

I began to realize that my sexual orientation was an inextricable part of the bigger story God was telling over my life. My interests, my passions, my abilities, my temperament, my calling—there was no way to sever those things completely from the gay desires and mannerisms and attitudes that had developed alongside them. For the first time in my life, I felt free to celebrate the beautiful mess I had become (p. 43).

Coles not only argues that homosexuality is core to his identity, he even suggests that it may be a part of God’s good design.

Is it too dangerous, too unorthodox, to believe that I am uniquely designed to reflect the glory of God? That my orientation, before the fall, was meant to be a gift in appreciating the beauty of my own sex as I celebrated the friendship of the opposite sex? That perhaps within God’s flawless original design there might have been eunuchs, people called to lives of holy singleness?

We in the church recoil from the word gay, from the very notion of same-sex orientation, because we know what it looks like only outside of Eden, where everything has gone wrong. But what if there’s goodness hiding within the ruins? What if the calling to gay Christian celibacy is more than just a failure of straightness? What if God dreamed it for me, wove it into the fabric of my being as he knit be together and sang life into me? (pp. 46-47)

Coles suggests that same-sex orientation may be a part of God’s original creation design and that homosexual orientation within Eden is an ideal that exceeds that which people experience outside of Eden.

I do not know how to reconcile this perspective with scripture or with the natural law. Same-sex orientation is not simply a “creational variance” (as Nicholas Wolterstorff has described it). Scripture teaches explicitly that homosexual desire and behavior are “against nature”—meaning against God’s original creation design (Rom. 1:26-27). Nor can I reconcile this perspective with what Coles says elsewhere about same-sex orientation being a “thorn in the flesh,” which suggests that same-sex orientation is not a part of God’s original design. Which is it? A thorn in the flesh or something God “dreamed” for people as a part of his original design?

The answer to this question is not clear in this book, and that omission has enormous pastoral implications in the lives of people who experience same-sex attraction. Should they embrace their attraction as a “gift” from God that is a part of his original design for them? Or should they recognize those attractions as a part of what has gone wrong in creation? Should they try to find something holy in those desires, or should they flee from them? I am concerned that readers will not find a clear answer in this book. And there can be soul-crushing consequences for answering those questions incorrectly.

Second, Coles says that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality and same-sex marriage is not as clear as conservative Christians suggest. After studying the issue and really digging into it for himself, he concludes that the Bible does not support same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior. Nevertheless, because the Bible is less straightforward on the matter than he previously was led to believe, he ends up treating the issue as one that faithful Christians may agree to disagree about. He writes,

The Bible’s treatment of homosexuality was complicated. More complicated than the well-meaning conservative preachers and ex-gay ministers were ready to admit. But the fact that it was complicated didn’t make every interpretation equally valid. There was still a best way of reading the text, still a truth that deserved to be pursued.

And when I pursued it, I got the answer I feared, not the answer I wanted. More and more, I found myself believing the Bible’s call to me was a call to self-denial through celibacy (pp. 36-37).

Coles goes on to explain that even though he embraced a conservative stance on the issue, the Bible’s lack of clarity continued to affect his views.

I was still sympathetic to the revisionist argument that affirmed the possibility of same-sex marriage. Part of me still wanted to believe it, and I understood at the most visceral level why some sincere Christians might choose to adopt this view (p. 37).

Even though Coles disagrees with those living in homosexual relationships, he nevertheless identifies some who do as “sincere Christians.” Near the end of the book, he elaborates even further:

And yet if I’m honest, there are issues I consider more theologically straightforward than gay marriage that sincere Christians have disagreed on for centuries. Limited atonement? “Once saved always saved”? Infant baptism?… If we can’t share pews with people whose understanding of God differs from ours, we’ll spend our whole lives worshiping alone (pp. 108-109).

Coles says that he does not wish to be the judge on such matters and says that judging other people’s hearts is “none of my business” (p. 110). He adds that the issue falls under the warning of Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall” (p. 110).

Coles seems to equate differences about homosexual immorality with differences that Christians have about second order doctrines. But how can homosexual immorality be treated in this way when the Bible says that those who commit such deeds do not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11)? In scripture, sexual immorality is not compatible with following Christ (Eph. 5:5-6). How then can “sincere Christians” engage in such activity and still be considered followers of Christ? Coles does not seriously engage this question. He simply says that “sincere Christians” may come to different conclusions.

So much of the evangelical conversation on these issues has been colonized by secular identity theories. Those theories are premised on an unbiblical anthropology which defines human identity as “what I feel myself to be” rather than “what God designed me to be.” If there is to be a recovery and renewal of Christian conscience on sexuality issues, secular identity theories must give way to God’s design as revealed in nature and scripture. Gay identity proposals, in my view, are not bringing us any closer to that renewal.

I really enjoyed getting to know Coles’s story. I can’t help but admire his continuing commitment to celibacy and traditional marriage. I want to cheer him on in that and say “amen.” Still, I am concerned that the celibate gay identity perspective he represents is not biblically faithful or pastorally helpful. And the issue is important enough to flag in a review like this one. Evangelicals need to think their way through to biblical clarity on sexuality and gender issues, but the celibate gay identity view is muddying the waters.

Should intersex infants be subject to “corrective” surgeries?

The Washington Post has published a long-form piece featuring a number of heart-rending stories about intersex persons. For those unfamiliar with intersex, it is term used to describe a variety of conditions which involve some physical disorder of sex development.

The Post article focuses on the debate about “corrective” surgeries for intersex infants. An older protocol pioneered by John Money favors such surgeries. Intersex activists are against them.

The thing that comes out so very clearly in the article is the emotional turmoil and uncertainty often suffered by intersex persons—especially those who underwent surgeries as infants that permanently impaired them in some way.

Our thinking about the intersex experience is ultimately a theological question. What the Bible teaches about our special creation as male and female, about the Fall, and about the new creation all figure into how Christians think about these things. Articles 5 and 6 in The Nashville Statement offer some guidance:

Article 5
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 that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

Article 6
WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

LGBT activists will often point to intersex conditions as evidence to disprove the male/female norm of scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; Matt. 19:4), and Article 5 rebuts that argument. Article 6, however, focuses on the fact that no disorder of sex development diminishes the dignity and worth of any person. All are special creations of God and are his image-bearers. Jesus knows them, loves them, and invites them to follow him.

But what about the surgeries that are the focus of The Washington Post piece? Although the issue is complicated, I agree with those who lean against such surgical interventions. I have a long section in my sexual ethics book about intersex. Here is an excerpt of my conclusions:

The phenomenon of intersex should call forth our compassion and our love for our neighbors who carry in their persons a painful reminder of the groaning creation. It should not call forth from us a revision of the binary ideal of Scripture…

How should parents deal with a child born with an intersex condition? There is no once-size-fits-all strategy, given the complexity of the possible conditions. Nevertheless, here are some guiding principles I would suggest for parents caring for a child with this condition. The first set of principles I would recommend are more theologically oriented. First, everyone needs know what the creation ideal of Scripture is. According to Genesis 1-2, man’s unfallen state is a clearly gendered state, and this is the norm. Second, the entrance of sin into the world and God’s subsequent curse means that all kinds of physical difficulties afflict the human condition. Disorders of sex development would be included in that. Third, the gospel of Jesus Christ not only frees from the penalty and power of sin in the present, it also promises eternal life in the future. That life involves the resurrection of our physical bodies. It means a renewal and restoration of what was lost in the Garden of Eden. In the resurrection, all disorders of sex development will be swept away, and intersex people will be healed and made whole. That hope of restoration should be held out to the child throughout his life even if some ambiguities about his condition remain unresolved.

Here are some principles I would suggest with respect to medical treatments. First, parents should be extremely reluctant about—if not altogether against—corrective surgery when the child is an infant. This is especially the case when the surgery would involve the modification of the child’s genitals or reproductive organs. Perhaps surgical procedures would be in order at some point during the child’s life, but do not rush a child into surgery simply out of a desire to make the child “normal.” Second, try to determine as soon as possible the chromosomal make-up of the child. If there is a Y chromosome present, that would strongly militate against raising the child as a female, regardless of the appearance of the genitals and other secondary sex characteristics. It would also suggest that medical treatments designed to make the child into a female are out of line. Third, understand that not all doctors and medical professionals share your biblical convictions. Worldviews affect the treatment of intersex conditions. Some doctors may view gender as a social construct and therefore would not let biological markers (such as a Y chromosome) determine the child’s gender. Fourth, parents need to take an active role in understanding the condition and pursuing treatment options in keeping with their biblical convictions.

What Is the Meaning of Sex?, pp. 180-82

If you are an intersex person and feel estranged from your own body, you need not feel estranged from Jesus. Jesus loves intersex persons. He knows what it is like for a person to suffer for no fault of his own. And he offers you hope and life. His powerful death and resurrection address not only your condition but the human condition and provides forgiveness and reconciliation to every sinner who receives Christ by faith. This message brings with it a promise of the renewal of all things in the age to come, which means that all of our broken bodies will one day be what God intended them to be. He knows every one of your tears and offers to wipe away every last one of them (Rev. 21:4). If you have felt your body to be a barrier to life and joy, it is no barrier to Jesus and to real life and real joy. They can be yours because of him.

Alastair Roberts: “Hugh Hefner, the Logic of Porn, and the Homosexualization of Sex”

Alastair Roberts has written long form piece about an article that Christianity Today reprinted some years ago. The original article included some countercultural salvos against pornography. Roberts says that the CT version seems to have downplayed those details:

The striking thing about the CT version is the way in which it reworks the original article in a way that removes much of the bite of Prof. Schuchardt’s thesis on two fronts: carefully downplaying his masculinization of women and feminization of men claims and also his claims about the homosexual character of the culture of porn. Both claims make some appearance in the CT article, but in a form that are radically weakened from their form in the original piece.

Yet Schuchardt’s original thesis, though overstated at points, is an important one. Our society, in whose construction Hefner has played no small part, depends upon the feminization of men, the masculinization of women, and the homosexualization of their approach to sex. Such assertions violate all of our culture’s sensitivities, but they are important.

The rest of Roberts’ article is a must-read because he defends the thesis that our culture’s fixation on pornography relies upon the “feminization of men, the masculinization of women, and the homosexualization of their approach to sex.” In the conclusion, Roberts writes:

Speaking forthrightly about these issues jeopardizes the respectability that Christians so covet. It will even provoke outrage from a great many modern Christians, who have a great deal invested in the neutralization of sexual difference and pretending that men and women are largely interchangeable in the family, in the church, in society, in politics, and in the economy. It will deeply offend those whose extreme concern not to say anything remotely insensitive about homosexual persons prevents them from speaking forthrightly about the intrinsically disordered and destructive character of the acts they are drawn to. It will anger people who have made their peace with the extremely elevated levels of porn’s background radiation within our society and within their own lives and will rationalize or excuse the effects that it is having upon us.

However, our desire for respectability and the approval of men shouldn’t lead us to defang the teeth of truths that will pierce our thin skins. The issues Prof. Schuchardt’s original article highlight are very real and are effecting us all. We must speak candidly about them and address them unflinchingly both in our own lives and within the society at large.

Read the rest of this very insightful article here.

Jimmy Scroggins: “Jesus Is the Multiplier”

Yesterday was unusual for me in Southern Seminary’s chapel. I sat in my seat on the verge of tears for nearly the entire sermon. The preached word is always powerful and transforming in ways that we do not always detect. But sometimes the Lord lands in special power in ways that we can quite clearly detect. That is how Jimmy Scroggins’s message landed on me yesterday.

The message is titled “Jesus Is the Multiplier,” and the text is the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6:30-44. There are four simple points: (1) Start where you are, (2) Use what you have, (3) Do what you can, and (3) Trust Jesus as the multiplier.

I think it is worth your time to give a listen. You can watch it above, listen below, or download here.

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.

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