Gushee will allow no one to challenge him

David Gushee has written a piece for the Washington Post today explaining his recent shift away from a biblical view on sexuality (which I wrote about here). He also singles-out me and Robert Gagnon as being inappropriately focused on biblical interpretation. He writes:

Evangelical Christians, such as Denny Burk and Robert Gagnon, are criticizing me because I’m now “pro-LGBT.” They want to shift the discussion immediately to the debate on same-sex relationships and the proper interpretation of those six or seven most cited Bible passages.

I would not presume to speak for Gagnon. I haven’t even read his entire post. For my part, I didn’t really address “the proper interpretation” of the key texts. Rather, I simply observed that Gushee’s “shift” on this issue is not the bombshell that it has been made out to be. Gushee has been moving toward the theological left for a long time. He’s already endorsed at least one pro-gay marriage book. In other words, his recent remarks and his new book affirming gay relationships do not measure on the evangelical Richter Scale.

Even though he mischaracterizes my post, Gushee is keen to criticize those who are hassling too much over the interpretation of biblical texts. And that is the real news here. The key issue for Gushee is not what the Bible says but what experiences have led him to have more sympathy for gay people. To that end, the line that stuck out to me most is the one underlined below:

It is hard to describe exactly why my moral vision shifted in this way. But undoubtedly, it had much to do with my move to Atlanta in 2007 and my growing contact with LGBT people, especially fellow Christians. I hardly knew anyone who was gay before that move, but afterward, they seemed to be everywhere, and a few became very dear friends. It became clear to me — in a deeply spiritual place that I will allow no one to challenge — that God was sending LGBT people to me. The fact that one of these LGBT Christians is my dear youngest sister, Katey, has made this issue even more deeply personal for me than it would have been.

This is why I said in my previous post that Gushee is an example of an ex-evangelical. It is very clear that the decisive influence over his change of heart was not scripture but his experiences. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the norm that is not normed by any other norm. Nevertheless, Gushee says that his relationships with gay people–especially with his sister–normed his view of the Bible. In fact, he even says that he will allow no one–not even someone bearing a biblical message–to challenge his newfound beliefs.

This is a profound departure from the evangelical tradition, which has always held that everything we believe must be tested by the light of scripture. Apparently, Gushee is no longer open to that light–at least not if it’s coming from someone who might challenge his new orthodoxy.


  • Lauren Law

    This may be the BEST blog I’ve read on this issue. When we allow relationships and circumstances to determine biblical interpretation, we are most certainly putting the cart before the horse. Examining EVERYTHING in light of what the Scriptures teach is the only way to apply the belt of truth. Thank you, Denny, for continuing to be a light in the darkness.

  • Alex Osbourne

    I admire his conviction and the obvious love he has for his family and friends. I certainly respect that much more than orthodoxy.

    As an outsider to the culture I’m really puzzled by the strident policing of the ‘evangelical’ label. Christians are certainly capable of looking past labels to critically examine what a person actually has to say, so why fight about who gets called what?

  • Jane Dunn

    Under Denny’s analysis even Christian luminaries such as John Wesley would have been kicked off the evangelical island. In Wesley’s Quadrilateral “experience” and “reason,” along with “tradition,” are to help us understand scripture. We are taught the list of the fruits of the Spirit, but what are we supposed to make of them if we can’t use our experience to see them (or not) in fellow believers? When Gushee got to know some LGBT folks personally, he saw that LGBT Christians can exhibit the fruits of the Spirit and it opened his eyes to the possibility that he may have previously misunderstood the oft-cited biblical passages. One doesn’t have to necessarily agree with the Quadrilateral approach to at least acknowledge that it is well within the historic Christian and evangelical traditions.

  • Robert Karl

    If each person interprets their own scripture and is their own authority then why criticize another. Who died and made you Pope.

  • Roy Fuller

    I am impressed that Gushee, who “doesn’t measure on the evangelical Richter Scale” (and is now the subject of a second post on this blog) is getting so much attention from evangelicals who disagree with him. Hmmm.

  • Christiane Smith

    perhaps there is some misunderstanding?

    for me, as a person from another branch of the family, when evangelicals use the terms ‘the bible’ and ‘the gospel’, I OFTEN cannot fathom what it is they ARE meaning by those terms without some contextual settings . . .

    my point is that it is easy to misunderstand one another, and maybe before ‘challenging’, there might be an effort at respectful ‘dialogue’ made instead
    . . . sometimes, for a Christian, it is so much better to understand than to be understood . . . REASON: when understanding occurs, it brings light into the room where before there was a lack of clarity between people, and this helps to open the way forward for them

    • Ryan Davidson


      I’ve never quite understood the need for evangelicals to obsess over determining who’s in the club and who’s not. The parable of the wheat and tares suggests that this isn’t really the kind of thing we should be doing.

      I sometimes feel like evangelical churches attract too many people who are strong Js on the J-P index of the MBI. By contrast, I’m a strong P, and am quite content to have flexible, ambiguous boundaries.

  • Ryan Davidson

    It strikes me that this is more of a debate over what “evangelical” means. Typically, the term refers to the theology that grew out of the various revivals in the US and UK that spanned the period from the 1730s to the 1880s. While the movement has generally promoted a high view of Scripture, Scripture was never accepted as the sole authority of truth. After all, even the Reformers taught us that we cannot read Scripture properly apart from our experience of the world around us. To the Reformers, “sola scriptura” merely meant that the Bible alone provides sufficient knowledge for salvation and holiness. The Reformers never suggested that we shouldn’t consider additional input.

    It’s the neo-evangelicals who sought to make Biblical literalism a litmus test of orthodoxy, and who suggested that “sola scriptura” be redefined so as make the Bible the sole source of all reliable human knowledge.

    Gushee is probably not a neo-evangelical, but he is certainly an evangelical.

    Lastly, if we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that our current evangelical practice of marriage and family owes far more to Freud than it does to St. Paul. When our current practice of opposite-sex marriage is cast against how Protestants have historically viewed marriage, it’s hard to see how same-sex marriage is that big of a deal. In fact, its logic is largely consistent with a marital logic that American evangelicals accepted many decades ago. That’s not to say that I agree with Gushee. I don’t. But once you accept a hyper-sexualized view of marriage–and evangelicals largely have–same-sex marriage becomes an inevitability. Unless we’re prepared to recover something that looks a bit more like marriage in the day of Jane Austen, our arguments against same-sex marriage are on shaky ground. It appears that Gushee has merely accepted that we’ve moved too far away to go back, and that we should therefore accept what can be necessarily deduced from the premises we’ve accepted.

  • Shaun Little

    @ Robert, No one is claiming papal infallibility here. Anyone that has the ability to read and comprehend on a 3rd-4th grade level can see plainly what the text says on the matter… unless, you know… they are deliberately trying to subvert the scriptures to take away those terrible barbs of TRUTH that tend to run throughout the whole of the bible? The Word is it’s own authority, and its crystal clear what it says.

    @ Roy, hmmm… perhaps if you believed with all of your heart in a God that has spoken and plainly made known His will and his word, and understood the indispensable importance of that will and word to all of creation, then when someone (claiming to be His follower) comes along and takes a position contrary to what God has plainly spoken and begins teaching others to do the same, wouldn’t you want to make it known to all professing believers that there is someone amongst them attempting to sow discord?

    No?, Okay, maybe an analogy will help. If there was a bake goods potluck at the local recreation center and everyone was supposed to bring delicious “baked” goods. Then this one guy decided he was going to show up handing out brownies filled with weed but just not tell anyone about the “special” ingredient. I would think it pretty important to let EVERYONE at the potluck know that this guy is handing out magic brownies (to children and old ladies mind you) and send him packing. He seriously doesn’t belong at the recreation center potluck at all and he should probably take himself and his brownies to the marijuana dispensary down the street where people are into that sort of thing and aren’t even really interested in the baked goods as much as they are into getting baked.

  • Christiane Smith

    Hi SHAUN,
    ” those terrible barbs of TRUTH that tend to run throughout the whole of the bible”

    the ‘truth’ the Bible reveals to us is fully revealed to us in this verse:
    ” . . . I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life . . . ” which is found in the Holy Gospel of St. John 14:6;
    and I don’t understand the description you gave of ‘terrible barbs’, no;
    as I’m sure you didn’t mean it to refer to Our Lord Himself.

    Is there some kind of DIFFERENCE that you see between ‘the truth of the Bible’ and Person of Jesus Christ?
    If so, how do you understand this to be ? Thanks for helping.

    • Shaun Little

      It was sarcasm my friend. You totally misunderstood me. Terrible barbs of truth are certainly a good thing seeing as they tend to prick at the flesh. 😉

  • Johnathan Youngs

    “It became clear to me — in a deeply spiritual place that I will allow no one to challenge — that God was sending LGBT people to me.”

    That sentence says that Gushee will not allow anyone to challenge his belief that God is sending LGBT people to him. That belief may flow from his belief system, but that in and of itself is not a system of belief. If you wish to demonstrate that Gushee refuses to have his belief SYSTEM challenged, you’ll have to do better than that.

    Despite his theological flaws, Gushee may be better equipped to spread the gospel to LGBTs than most of Christendom. Most Christians are too hypocritical. They practice gluttony three times a day, lust heterosexually five times a day and cheat on their taxes every tax day. Then they turn around and say that LGBTs must stop practicing their sin or they can’t be true believers.

    Biblical standards are right. The Law is right. Even Burk is (mostly) right (most of the time) about the Law. And what does the Bible say about the Law? It says that the strength of sin is the Law. It says that the Law is a ministry of death. And it says that the Letter kills. Those who rely on the Law, on the Letter, are doomed to hellfire. Those who preach the Law to the unsaved within the LGBT community are strengthening sin, ministering death and spreading hellfire.

    The Spirit of Grace gives life apart from the Law. All who rely on grace – theologically incorrect LGBTs and hypocritical heteros alike – will be saved. Pure grace acquired purely by faith saves the best and worst of us.

    Gushee’s apparent grace may be a false grace. However, reliance on the Law is just as false a hope.

    • Daryl Little


      No one here (I don’t think), is relying on the law to do anything other than what it was intended to do.
      The intent of the law is to drive us to Christ, to kill us. Providing false grace to homosexuals by telling them that Scripture affirms them in that lifestyle is to undermine the law and render the gospel useless.

      Why, if homosexuality is not a sin, repent? And if there is no repentance, then what role will the gospel play?

      None at all.

      We do not hope in the law, we allow it to tell us the truth about ourselves. Gushee is standing in the way of that truth, thereby preventing the homosexuals he comes in contact with from seeing their need for a gospel. Effectively condemning them to hell.

      That’s the real issue here. And that’s why he cannot be considered an evangelical.

      • Johnathan Youngs


        I agree with what you say about the purpose of the Law. Theologians seem preoccupied with that Law. They correct bad LGBT related doctrine at every turn. They might be right, but that rightness doesn’t save souls – even when it’s used against someone like Gushee. In my opinion all it does is turn us to what the Bible calls the weak and beggarly elements.

        As you know, Christ pounded the religious elite AND many of His own disciples with Law. Many of His disciples thought they could be taught how to be good. They looked to Him as an example to follow. So He taught an impossible Law to keep and demonstrated an impossible example to follow. They were stipped of hope in themselves, leaving only hope in Him. On that much I think we agree.

        Where we may disagree is that Christ never taught Law to the sinners that came to Him. Had Christ shoved Law in their face, they would’ve run from Him no different than a Pharisee. But instead Christ shoved unconditional love and grace in their face. The Bible tells us that it’s the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Sinners repented because He showed them goodness, not because the Law showed them their badness.

        Gushee attracts LGBTs with the *appearance* of Christ-like love. Meanwhile, mainstream Christendom attracts them with what? Good doctrine? They don’t need it now any more than sinners did 2,000 years ago. Shove doctrine in their face and they’re rightly condemned. So much better to shove God’s goodness in their face that they might rightly repent and be saved.

        • Ryan Davidson

          The bottom line is that theological criticisms to the errors of Gushee, Vines, Brownson, et al., are going to fall on deaf ears unless we’re willing to apply those same criticisms to opposite-sex marriages. For example, our recent tendency to valorize heterosexual desire as “natural” and as a measure of virtue lies squarely counter to Paul’s overwhelmingly negative views of it. In fact, Paul commends sex within marriage as a means of avoiding sexual desire rather than as a fulfillment of it.

          Further, more and more researchers are beginning to study asexuality, i.e., the phenomenon of feeling little or no sexual attraction to anyone. I suppose it says something about our culture’s current state when asexuality (and the concomitant practice of celibacy) is gaining popularity as a Foucauldian critique of our sex-obsessed culture. I’ve long wondered whether many who identify as gay aren’t merely closeted asexuals. After all, our sex-obsessed culture would view asexuality as a far worse curse than homosexuality. And, sadly, the church’s abysmal treatment of single adults suggests that the church too views it as a curse (although not one worse than homosexuality). It strikes me that many of those who experienced “success” in reparative therapy were those who were originally misdiagnosed as homosexuals, who then came to accept that misdiagnosis, and who then came to recognize the misdiagnosis. Oddly enough, it was the church’s improper valorization of heterosexual desire, coupled with a stigmatizing of those who lacked heterosexual desire, that likely led to this misdiagnosis.

        • Daryl Little

          “Where we may disagree is that Christ never taught Law to the sinners that came to Him.”

          Ummm…he did say “go and sin no more”.

          But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that Gushee is encouraging those who want to say they are coming to Jesus, but aren’t actually, by telling them that the law has nothing to say about their chosen lifestyle.

          What Gushee is clearly not doing, is “attracting LGBT’s with the ‘appearance’ of Christ-like love” he is attracting them with devilish hate and condemnation, assigning them to certain damnation by telling them that their sin is not sin.

          Yes, unbelievers and believers alike need Christ-like love, but we also both need correct doctrine. Otherwise how will we even know if the love we claim really is Christ-like.

          Gushee’s certainly is not.

  • Don Johnson

    I recently discovered what I think is “A” faithful interpretation of the so-called “clobber verses” or key texts that does not condemn all homosex. However, I then went to the hospital and so have not yet been able to finish writing it up.

  • dr. james willingham

    In addition to being a minister and a historian, I have also been Licensed Professional Counselor. The one issue that is never raised by the LGBT people and those that take their part, as least within my purview of dealing with sexual problems and sins is that of the positions of people who advocate pedophilia and incest. And, having dealt with the children, both as children and as adult survivors of the same, I can say that the same arguments that are used to justify the LGBT practices are the same used to justify pedophilia and incest> In fact, I have seen signs in the Gay Parades with the term NAMBLA on them, meaning, North American Man Boy Love Association, so I have been told. I can also say the effects on children, depending upon what stage in life the molestation occurred, is traumatic and effects the child throughout childhood and into adulthood. Among the problems in adulthood are promiscuity, inability to maintain employment, poor impulse control, fits of rage, etc. There is more I could say, but the point I wish to make is the use of the same arguments to justify the one or the other. That does suggest to my thinking that there is something wrong, something flawed, about such a way of thinking, and it would follow that the justification for such practices needs to be reconsidered. Ideas have consequences. My researches in Intellectual history suggest that the symmetrical and asymmetrical, both/and, positive and negative, the rule and the exceptions (which together constitute the truth), male and female, the masculine and feminine, are the means by which the child coming to maturity becomes balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. In other words, a mature adult capable of accomplishment. I do recognize the wherewithal of some to survive and become accomplished, but there are those who cannot stand the strain of a one-sided, polarized approach. And at the end of life, for those who have done their own thing and gone their own way, there is the moral issue and judgment to come. Cornel Wilde, as Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it, called for a priest before his death, having realized that he like his love could not say they had ever cared for one of the young boys they had seduced. There is also the issue of violence and trauma which I have already mentioned above.

    • Lauren Bertrand

      If you actually can claim here to have seen NAMBLA signs at a gay pride parade, then you have essentially admitted to us that you haven’t ever been to a gay pride parade. Everybody here knows what NAMBLA stands for; it isn’t a novelty anymore. NAMBLA is roundly rejected by every other LGBT group, not only because they recognize that NAMBLA victimizes a population that cannot give consent, but it is political poison for all who come in contact with it. They would be run out of town. Nonetheless, the religious right frequently pull it out as a cudgel, though one that is more of a red herring each day, as even social conservatives recognize you cannot lump all alternative sexualities into the same box.

      • Daryl Little

        “you cannot lump all alternative sexualities into the same box.”

        Ahh…but there’s the rub. On what basis do you say this? On what objective principle wan you make that judgement?

        What is your standard and who came up with it?

        Scripture is plain. There is one acceptable location for sexual activity. Marriage between one man and one woman.

        That is my standard and it’s source.

        What’s yours?

    • Ryan Davidson


      You’re actually costing your cause credibility here. Comparing the sexual activity of consenting adults–albeit sinful–to child rape is ridiculous. In my view, whatever organization has licensed you as a counselor should revoke that license.

      Also, why are you not equally as bothered by the culture’s rather anti-Pauline approach to opposite-sex marriage. After all, it’s fairly difficult to square our prevailing practice of “traditional marriage” with what Paul commends in I Corinthians 7. Moreover, the logic underlies the departure is roughly the same logic that justifies same-sex marriage.

      And please stop touting your alleged credentials as an expert in some range of topics unless you’re willing to support that with some citation to professional credentials (e.g., a PhD or equivalent from a respected graduate program and at least a handful of recent publications in peer-reviewed academic journals). Otherwise, your averments are little more than self-serving.

  • Mike Dunger (@ModernEzra)

    It seems to me that we are watching a new sect of Christian mysticism arise.

    This has been going on for a while, apart from the homosexual movement. Often you will hear someone speak about what a verse or passage says to them or means to them. Scripture is Scripture, and the Holy Spirit may use the same passage to speak to different circumstances in our lives at different times in our lives, but the meaning and message of Scripture does not change.

    Christians have debated how a disciple of Jesus is involved with civil society, war, personal pacifism, slavery and many other issues over the past 2000 years. Only in the past 10 years has the idea become popular that faith in Jesus and the practice of homosexuality are compatible.

    As with Gushee, it often seems that when someone walks away from biblical truth, they do so because a friend or family member announces that they are homosexual.

    Scripture makes it clear that we must value Jesus and obedience to Him above anything or anyone else.

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