Christianity,  Culture

Ryken’s Defining Challenge for Evangelicals

Christianity Today asked Philip Ryken last week what he expects “to be Wheaton’s greatest ‘identity challenge’ in relating to trends in American culture?” His answer:

“I think the issue of homosexuality will for the foreseeable future be a defining challenge for the evangelical church generally, and, therefore, also for the college.”

He calls homosexuality a “defining challenge” not just for Wheaton, but for all of evangelicalism. There are a number of reasons that I agree with this assessment, but let me just give you a few thoughts to consider.

1. As we approach the inevitable legalization of gay “marriage,” this issue is being cast more and more as a civil rights issue. Christians are increasingly painted as bigots before the wider culture. Jesus’ teaching on human sexuality is becoming more and more reviled in our culture, and to the degree that we are faithful to His teaching we will be too.

2. Those in the progressive wing of the evangelical movement are already conceiving of ways to revise Christianity’s 2,000 year old ethic on human sexuality. Think of Brian McLaren and others in the Emergent wing, for instance, who are reading the Bible in ways that allow for the normalization of homosexuality. Evangelicalism will divide over this issue. Those who want to submit to biblical authority will go one way, and those who don’t will go another.

3. Homosexual practice represents a fundamentally flawed view of manhood and womanhood. As the culture embraces flawed views of gender, the Bible’s teaching on gender complementarity is going to become more and more strange and intolerable.

As I said, these are just a few thoughts. We haven’t even mentioned how evangelicals will deal with public accommodations and workplace discrimination. These all stand as huge challenges on the horizon, and it will be interesting to see how things unfold.

I’m interested to know from you. How many of you readers would agree with Ryken on this one? Why or why not?


  • Mike Bird

    In the UK the govt. has officially warned churches to be prepared to fight their case in court and the law of the land will decide in they still have the right to discriminate against persons on the basis of sexual orientation. The future does not look good for evangelicals in the secular west.

  • Charlie

    I have had the same thoughts.

    We are already seen as weird and mean for believing what we do.

    And with the “hate crime” bills which will probably be passes more and more in the future we can expect our freedom of speech to get less and less. Thus, there will be laws coming that will prohibit us from proclaim what we believe on this issue.

    This is already a partially defining issue, will we stand by the Word of God when it is unpopular?

    And it will be more of a defining issue when it comes to the question, will we be willing to under go persecution because we believe in the Word of God?

  • Nathan

    IMO, there is a huge difference between just saying that something is a sin and taking it a step further and mandating that those around you refrain from that sin. For example, I can say that spanking your children is a sin. I can also take it a step further and force you to comply with that belief.

    I consider that the church has lost the culture war, but I think the church can (and should) pull off a slick balance of allowing those outside the church to live safe and sane lives while demanding that only its membership adhere to all Biblical precepts. If the church can pull that off, then the culture that is, by the way, not on the church’s side anymore, will regard the church as a group that can coexist with them.

  • Donald Johnson

    I think the defining challenge of any follower of Jesus or group of same is to obey the great commission.

    I do think that the homosexual issue is a big one.

  • Brian D

    I agree wholeheartedly with point 1. In the past week, I have been treated as a “bigot” who encourages hate speech by (just to mention one) a friend who is bi-sexual. My “hate speech” was calmly stating that Scripture teaches that those who do not repent and trust Jesus as Lord will be judged.

    I agree with the overall point that evangelicals are currently faced with a major identity crisis related to what Scripture teaches with respect to sexuality.

  • Randall

    I think your thoughts are accurate and I am thankful for how you have articulated them. This revolution will undermine the traditional family and it is growing exponentially in terms of “civil rights.” This is even a hot topic among Christians, showing that we desperately need guidance from the pulpits, and those pulpits need guidance from leaders like Ryken. This is a new inquisition, and it is an inquisition of worldview and values. I think the culture is constantly attacking Christianity. Praise the Lord for this, but we need to be careful that we are caring for those inside as we constantly try to find a place here in this alien world.

  • Kelly

    Charlie, people will one be treated as if they are mean and weird only if they are. Treat people and their loving relationships/marriage/family the way you would want your relationshipmarriage/family treated and all will be well with you Charlie. Make life hard legally for the gay couple with two kids down the street (or in the next state for that matter)that are popular with their neighbors and coworkers, and no, you can’t expect to be treated well. Common sense.

    Nathan in Post 3 is correct in his assessment by the way.

    Brian D, you were out of line, and your friend (who deserves kudos for his or her patience with you) was correct in her or his correction of you. Otherwise, how will you learn? Such comments as yours could be construed by people, such as fanatics in Uganda, who are heavily influenced by American ‘evangelical’s to put gay people in PRISON, and even state sponsored murder in some cases. In Kenya, crowds riled up by both Christian and Islamic ‘conservatives’ “Just Quoting Scripture” are going door to door hunting for people rumrored to be gay. Some of whom are now dead. So, YES, he was correct to point out that ther are some things that are not to be said among decent people now. And that is the way the vast majority of this society will be addressing this issue going forward (which it is at least refreshing to see most posters here are aware of).

    Many of the denominations have changed their theological position on this issue. The Southern Baptists took well over a century + to change on certain issues, but, in a few generations, it will on this one also. The question is how quickly, and in what manner, and by what percentage in each generation.

  • Charlie

    Kelly, you are right. If I just follow what the dominate culture tells me I will not be rejected by them. if I never say that person having sexual relations outside marriage is wrong (or any other sexually immoral action), then then the world will smile on me and I will be accepted.

    (But let me make a point before I get further into this. For me to say something someone is doing is wrong in no way necessitates that I am doing it from a hatred of the person. If that was the case I would understand that you hate me. Because you told me that what I believe is wrong. You seem to fall into that fallacy in your post.)

    Okay, back to the main point. The thing is, the dominate culture is not God. God is God. And I need to follow what He says

    And yes, those that are not of God (not believing and following Jesus Christ) will mock my obedience. “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;” (1 Peter 4:3-4)

    and you are already fulfilling this word. According to you we are haters of people that have not progressed as far along as most of the world has. And we are this way because we are born again to a living hope! You malign us for our faithfulness. But take heed, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:5).

  • Kelly

    Charlie, there is no maligning of you in my post. Just an attempt to remind of coming change, and, I would add, that your understanidng of Gods will on this subject is not the only Christian one, nor the only one that society will hear.

    There is no fallacy in my thinking, simply because I am correct, and you are incorrect. My actions are not hateful towards you and how you choose to live with the person you love. Your actions on the other hand would allow people to be 1) fired/not hired, for the sad excuse of someone elses comfort with their own prejudices 2) make life a misery for couples just trying to live their lives (ask the lesbian couple who went through alal the trouble of getting and TRAVELING with the now necessary power of attorney, medical decision paperwork, etc, and one party and her kids were STILL not allowed access to her wife/their mother as she was dying. Similar examples abound. etc. etc. etc. So, your accusation holds no water.
    You want to live a life where my gay and lesbian family members and their families will have no legal recognition as families couples whatsoever…they just want to have what you have and they deserve, so there is no fallacy here. Just understandable indignation on our part.

    Most of the gay couples with families I know are the most boring people on earth. Do I know party boys (and girls)? Yeah. I know some heterosexual ones to. Thats of no consequence when you think about it. “Some gay people are bad!” has no bearing on my cousin, her wife, and their three kids, who are not living in sensuality (more like the PTA), have a passion mainly for their kids, family and community, do not drink, and as one is a deaconess, I am pretty sure have never been to an orgy, or a drinking party.

    They are a good couple, and a good family, full of much love. They are active in their church and their nieghborhood association. You know nothing of them. They are good and goodly people who, yes, make sure their kids are in church each Sunday (Presbyterian).

    They, and I, are not haters of people who have not progressed towards showing others the same respect, grace and hope for the best that they, I and you all deserve. We just wonder why a faith that leads some to love justice and walk humbly with their God also leads some no doubt well intentioned people to focus so much on OUR lives, causing us real harm, when their own lives are often such a mess.

    It is a fair question.

    Happily, fewer and fewer people wish to cause such families as my cousins such pain while blithly ignoring the damage they do to real flesh and blood people and familes by ensuring they do not get legal recognition.

    When people see you doing things (working to prevent legal recognition of gay couples, their families, keeping it legal to fire someone for being gay, etc.) that hurt, really hurt, decent loving people couples and familes, then no, society will no longer smile on you. Nor should it. And a lot of Christians don’t think God is smiling on you actions either. Please remember that.

    The question, as I said, is how, and over what time frame (probably generational) will the conservative denominations come to this new understanding of the respect due to all. It took centuries for some things…money lending (which we don’t even bat an eye at anymore) racism, the role of women (some are still working on that, but there is great progress even among conservatives) and many other issues.

    I am not mocking your obedience….I am pointing out that your actions have painful results for other people who suffer because of them. The society that see this is becomming less and less impressed, and many devout Christians in many denominations think you are both wring and hurtful.

    And you need to know that. To not do so would be unfair to you, because I hope that, like a lot of people I know who used to hold your opinions, you will realize just how hurtful you have been. Will you? God alone knows. But, I am hopeful, for I have seen many a miracle in my life. I hope for one here.

  • Nate

    Kelly, your exact argumentation could be used by polygamists and those who want to be in incestuous relationships as well. MANBLA basically uses your logic to attempt to support their case. The same painful results exists for these illegal situations. According to your logic we should be ashamed that we are causing them pain.

  • Darius

    Just so we don’t spend 30 comments retreading old ground, let the record show that Kelly’s arguments are always and consistently hypocritical. She will not apply her standard to herself. Nor does she view the Bible as a standard to live by. Let her emotionally-based sentiments (one dare not call them arguments, for that would imply logic) waft away into the dust bin of moral history. I long for the day when this postmodernism dies the death it so richly deserves.

  • Darius

    Nate, you make a fair point. Unfortunately, that point has been made repeatedly in the past to Kelly and she has yet to admit that she is controlled by her bigotry against polygamy and incest than by a consistent moral standard.

  • Nathan

    The post is about challenges that will either make or break evangelical groups.

    Even though Kelly said that she agreed with me, I do not agree with her entirely. Evangelical groups need to stick to what God wants them to do. This includes a lot of things. It seems to me though that conservative churches robotically spout off the party line regarding what Genesis, Leviticus and Romans say about homosexuality. If that is all God has required, the church has done a fantastic job.

    The Bible instructs Christians to tell the truth in love.

    Love is patient and kind.
    Love keeps no record of wrongs, rejoices in truth, protects (always), trusts (always), hopes (always) and perseveres (always).
    Love does not delight in evil, self-seek, boast or envy.
    Love is not proud, rude or easily angered.

    Take this list, one-by-one, and come up with a list of specific things that you can do to love homosexuals. Then do them, over and over as many times as you can. Do the list with as many homosexuals that you can. Only then will you help your conservative, evangelical church be defined the best way — the right way — God’s way — regarding homosexuality.

    Sure, you can politicize the situation and make sure that you check a certain box when you vote, have the right bumper sticker and tell people what the Bible clearly says in 10 (or so) specific verses, but leaving out the rest is a huge mistake! That is the way the church has been defined on this topic up to this point, hasn’t it?

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