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Denny: I just listened to your interview on the FireAway! podcast. I have not read the book yet, though I have read a good chunk of your “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” essay (JETS 58/1 2015 p. 95-115). First, let me say that I appreciate the pastoral tone of your writings and the interview, and how you have made it a point to question reparative therapy.
Nevertheless, I feel like I need to push back a bit, as the interview (as well as the followup dialogue) came across as muddled. Your critique appears to focus on the idea being discussed in many quarters of the church, that there is a distinction to be made between same-sex orientation and same-sex behavior, or same-sex “desire” and acting on that desire, the former being NOT sinful and the latter being sinful.
I would agree that the language that perspective entails requires some clarification, as for some it appears to provide some sort of excuse for same-sex lust, placing lust in the “desire” category. It is really difficult to place a modern concept like same-sex attraction or orientation into biblical categories. So to that end, the discussion you raise is needed.
However, here is where it sounds muddled to me. I will pick on your interviewers on the podcast. They attempt to take on the old advice regarding lust, which argues that “the first look is not sin, but if you turn around and look again, then that is sin.” One of your interviewers sought to dismantle that by saying that “you should not have been looking in the first place.” Okay, so I guess the way to solve that is to never, ever go out in public ever again? Or should the Christian who struggles with lust blind themselves? …. Without better exposition, it borders on the ridiculous.
I get the point being made by the critique, but it really misses the point of the illustration. It is very important that we make the distinction between temptation and sin. Sure, the first-look-second-look illustration is a bit crude, but if we do not get the point that temptation and sin are different, we risk serious theological disaster.
My initial reaction is that by calling same-sex orientation itself as being sinful threatens to muddle the distinction between Augustinian concupiscence and temptation. If we do not clearly make the distinction up front, we threaten to undo the whole of our christology. For in doing so, it places us in the position of saying that when Christ was tempted, that he also had a desire for sin; i.e. concupiscence, so that when offered to turned the stones into bread, his hunger was somehow sinful. At that point, the salvific meaning of the incarnation falls apart, and we are still stuck in our sins.
On the other hand, I was encouraged in your JETS article (p. 105) where you quoted John Owen to actually make the distinction between temptation that arises outside of our desire and temptation that arises from within the human heart. This is the type of analysis that needs more exploration.
Frankly, as I have read folks like Preston Sprinkle and Wesley Hill on this, who follow the “same-sex orientation is not sinful vs. behavior (I include lust) is sinful” category, they would probably agree with you about Owen. Would they not?
Is my pushback making sense? I agree that the discussion highlights the need for a more robust theological anthropology, but I am just not convinced yet that your proposal nails it down clearly. Perhaps the details of your book do indeed accomplish what you set out to do, but your leading argument does not come off as best as it could. It would have been better if you had simply set out to write a theological anthropology that addresses concupiscence, temptation, etc., and THEN use the whole sexual orientation discussion taking place within the church as your exhibit A.
Thank you for your work in this important area that touches the lives of so many, and that still remains difficult for many Christians to know how to respond.
Clarke: Following are two posts I made last week on a related topic. I believe that they address at least part of your concern.
Paul: As I’ve heard Dr. Burk, Dr. Lambert, and others teach about homosexuality it has helped me to understand my own struggle with sin. We have long said/thought that temptation is not sin if not acted on and we rely on Jesus was tempted and did not sin to support that idea. But is that true?
Jesus was tempted by Satan and not by his own sinful heart. When I am tempted although there may be a demonic component my first cause of temptation is my own sinful, lustful heart that wants to be lord of my life – thus the temptation itself is sinful.
Also, we tend to look only at the surface/fruit sin and not the root/motive sin of the heart. I would suggest that this is a primary reason we fail repeatedly in areas of habitual sin. We seek to control the action without addressing the heart.
This is why Jesus could say in the Sermon on the Mount that to be angry is equal to murder and to lust is equal to adultery. Jesus was speaking of the root/heart level sin being equal and/or the same even when the actual actions are vastly different.
Hi Christine: Jesus was fully human but born of a virgin. Adam’s sin, the sin nature, original sin, is passed to children through the seed of the father.
Jesus was fully human like Adam before the fall whereas we are Adam’s children after the fall and are born with a nature to sin.
True, Jesus could have chosen to sin as Adam chose to sin, but that is somewhat different from we since the fall with the inborn propensity to sin.
Clarke: Your idea about the first look is not sin but the second look is sin would fit with this if the cause of the first look is due to the world/devil/environment and not our own lustful hearts and then the second look is indeed our own lustful heart. However, if the first look and the second look both derive from our own hearts then both are sinful. In other words, we need to repent of our lustful desires whatever they may be in addition to our meditations and actions.
Thank you, Lynn, for your thoughtful response.
I have never heard the “first-look-second-look” teaching (for lack of a better designation), put in the way you have expressed it. The way I have always heard it is that if I, as a male, were to look “first” upon a woman as being attractive, I should consider two things: (1) recognize that there could be temptation, and therefore, I should flee from it, and not consider giving a second look (Denny’s emphasis), and (2) recognize that the attraction itself is not inherently sinful. It is perfectly fine to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation as found in the female body. Such an appreciation need not lead to sin. In fact, such a recognition is an opportunity to praise God that He created a universe where beauty can be apprehended by us mere humans.
Now, I have heard this teaching turned in such a way as the “first look” should also be an opportunity to thank God for me NOT having a same-sex attraction, which in my mind, only marginalizes the same-sex attracted person even more, which is not helpful. But the point here is that we should be able to find some redemptive perspective regarding “temptation,” if that is the right language , and not simply focus on the “avoiding sin” part.
I am grasping for words here, because it seems like the church needs a way to gain some type of vocabulary for talking about this. My concern about Denny’s view is that it threatens to separate the humanity of Christ from our humanity. If Hebrews 4:15 is correct, in that ” For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” then we should be careful with such language that implies that the temptation that Jesus faced was unlike the temptation we face.
When Jesus in the desert was tempted by the devil with His hunger, what sense is it to say, “Well, Jesus, may have been hungry in the desert, but because he was the God-Man, he was not hungry like other humans are hungry?” The fact that Jesus was hungry in no way requires us to think that his hunger sprang from the sinful human heart. He simply had a desire common to all humans who have not eaten for a long period of time. The devil did tempt Jesus, but was there really anything wrong with Jesus’ desire to eat, other than the fact that the Spirit had led Him to fast for a reason?
Bottom line: whatever we make of the contemporary language of “same-sex attraction” or “same-sex orientation,” there must be some way to think of it redemptively. Sure, SSA/SSO can lead to sin, but it can also provide an opportunity for God to bring a gift to the SSA/SSO person. As Preston Sprinkle concluded in his paper that he gave at the Evangelical Theology Society meeting last year where he sat on a panel with Denny:
“God could hijack a person’s SSA and bend it to cultivate a better way of seeing and experiencing the world.”
Preston Sprinkle has some wrinkles on this, but he is onto something that I do not see clearly in what Denny is trying to say, though I am open to be corrected.
Here is Sprinkle’s paper:
Clarke: In response to the article you linked: All people since the fall are born with a sin nature, their sins of preference vary as do the degree to which said sin controls them, but it is innate to the unredeemed human nature to sin. However, this is different from saying God created someone with SSO any more than God created a drug addict, wife beater, or glutton.
In response to your comments: Simply seeing a woman is not a sin but I question your explanation of “first look, second look” because it would have to apply to seeing one’s beautiful mother, or beautiful sister, or beautiful daughter which hopefully does not pose a temptation to sexual lust. A believing man wants to avoid that second look only when there is a temptation/desire to lust and that very desire is sin.
Jesus WAS tempted in all ways, as we are tempted, but likely, that refers to root sins and not the fruit sins. We really are not thinking rightly, when we are not speaking/thinking of the root sin when we speak of our sin, “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” There is nothing sinful about desiring to eat when one is hungry, be it Jesus or you and me, unless we desire to eat what God forbids or in a way that God forbids. There is nothing sinful about hunger, the desire to eat was not Jesus’ temptation. You cannot compare that to SSO, which by its definition is sinful.
All sin is born out or rebellion against God and unless our repentance begins at that level it is incomplete and we will struggle in our obedience. Usually there is a sin of the heart between the base rebellion against God and the fruit sin, something like pride, selfishness, desire for pleasure, etc., and then there is the fruit sin – the sexual sin, the substance sin, etc. We need to repent at each level and at each level submit to God remembering that the ultimate goal is to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls and to love others as we love ourselves – and not to change sexual orientation or even to abstain from a substance, etc.
“All sin is born out OF rebellion against God and unless our repentance begins at that level it is incomplete and we will struggle in our obedience.”
Sorry for the typo. For some reason I proofread better after making a post. We need an edit feature!
Lynn: Without digging more into Denny’s work on the topic, I do not think I can adequately address the distinction between root and fruit sins right now, and its relationship to Scripture. So you have succeeded in giving me more to consider.
Nevertheless, while I can concur with your rejoinders based on your a priori definition of SSO as being sinful, my essential difficulty is that I question that assumption, because of what I see as the harmful implications that could be drawn from it.
Kevin DeYoung offers a wise caution here:
SSO/SSA can properly be called “disordered,” but we should hesitate before we rush in and call it “sin,” without qualification. Otherwise, we risk giving the SSO/SSA struggler over to an ungodly despair. I personally know of too many suicides and suicide attempts associated with such unqualified approaches to SSO/SSA in the church, so I am compelled to speak out against such teaching, even when well-intentioned.
To his credit, my impression is that Denny Burk is fully sensitive to this concern. I am just not convinced yet that the present articulation of his thesis adequately addresses what he sees as being a wrong trend in evangelical theology, while adequately protesting against any and all abuses of his thesis. Perhaps once I read him more, I can be persuaded. But my initial reaction based on this podcast interview was not promising.
Clarke: I came into a fuller understanding of reformed theology about the same time I was introduced to the ACBC biblical counseling model and it is difficult for me to separate the two in my mind. But suffice it to say that prior to that time, I had a very deficient understanding of my own sin and my own struggle with sin and I believe that to be true of much of American Christendom. For 50 years I was part of a church where nobody had any idea they were supposed to be actively mortifying the flesh and putting to death sin all the days of their lives. If they did not smoke, drink, dance, beat their spouse, etc. they thought they were good to go and were just hanging on until eternity and glorification. In that type of circle, those who struggle with the sin of homosexuality may despair. In a fellowship where all are in the battle against sin, they will be embraced and they will have comradery in their struggle and have no more cause to despair than the next person has.
I believe that Kevin is saying the same thing when he says, “there are many desires we may have in the Christian life that are disordered and ALL OF US NEED TO COME DAILY TO GOD IN REPENTANCE FOR ALL SORTS OF DESIRES.” I question his use of the word “disordered” but he is saying we need to repent of our desires and we have no need to repent of that which is not sinful. Note especially that he says that we ALL need to repent DAILY of our (sinful) DESIRES.
I actually question the use of the term same sex “orientation,” as opposed to same sex “attraction.” The sin nature we inherited from Adam is orientated towards sin to be sure and homosexual activity is only one of a multitude of sins one might desire.
Kevin asks, “So is homosexual orientation sinful?” And responds with, “I wouldn’t want somebody watching this who has a struggle with same sex attraction to think that they are beyond the pale of God’s mercy or forgiveness.” OF COURSE NOT, BUT THAT IS BESIDE THE POINT OF THE QUESTION. DeYoung continues, “At the same time, I want them to know that Scripture clearly says that to act upon those attractions and to engage in that behavior is sinful.” THAT IS A TRUE AS FAR AS IT GOES, BUT JESUS SAID TO LUST/DESIRE IS EQUAL TO THE ACT.
This is the bottom line; the problem is not so much how the church views the sin of homosexuality but how they view all other sin, their own sin. When we train to counsel one of the first things we learn is that we must identify with the counselee’s sin and we must share with them how we are like them in their struggle. I would suggest that most of American Christendom would be hard pressed to identify with the sin of homosexuality and know nothing of the idolatries in their own lives.
I hope you read Denny’s and Heath Lambert’s book, “Transforming Homosexuality.” I have not read it yet, I have limited funds and wait to buy my books used, but I am fairly certain it will address these things.
Jay R. Walker
Lynn and Clarke, great discussion! As a reformed counselor, I’m in sync with Lynn’s theological frame of reference. I agree completely with Denny and Heath’s new book on this issue of sin and the problem being one of our own heart’s desires.
“This is the bottom line; the problem is not so much how the church views the sin of homosexuality but how they view all other sin, their own sin…. I would suggest that most of American Christendom would be hard pressed to identify with the sin of homosexuality and know nothing of the idolatries in their own lives.”
I have also found this to be true for many Christians today whenever talk of sin arises to the level of heart issues/root sins.