Friday, September 08, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Not Going to Nashville [Part 1]

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

The Nashville Statement is a significant evangelical document. It’s an attempt by big names such as John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Russell Moore, James Dobson and others to formulate a written response to Western culture’s post-Christian “massive revision of what it means to be a human being”, especially as that revision relates to sexuality and marriage.

Significant though it may be, in our next few installments we’ll be discussing why, here at ComingUntrue, we’re Not Going to Nashville.

Tom: Anyone who reads here regularly will be well aware how much I dislike creeds, statements of faith and formal declarations. I won’t be signing this one, IC (big surprise there). All the same, I think a bunch of the usual suspects have done a passable job of distilling the convictions of a large swath of Western Christians into as few words as possible, whether or not we agree with everything they’re saying or precisely the way they expressed it. For that reason alone, it might be an interesting exercise to work our way through it and discuss what we like about the way it’s been framed, and what we don’t.

Sound like a plan?

Choosing the Right Words

Immanuel Can: For a start, Tom, I have to acknowledge how tough it is to choose the right words to make a statement that is clear, concise and unambiguous. It’s like writing a legal document … very hard.

Tom: Especially when you’re doing it by committee in the hope that a large number of Christians whose convictions don’t entirely align with yours (or with each other’s) will sign off on your end-product. Very tough, and a good reason I’ll never write one. They’re almost always politicized or otherwise mucked-up to one degree or another.

IC: For that reason, I don’t want to be too nit-picky with the designers about their wording; and anyway, I generally agree with most of what they’re trying to declare here. If I’m not signing, I trust it’s not because of a nit.

Tom: I may be pickier than you then, so you may have to rein me in a bit. My reasons are as follows: (i) even though it only concerns itself with a single subject, the Nashville Statement’s audience is vastly larger than that of any local confession; (ii) it has a whole lot of spiritual brainpower working on it; (iii) it’s only 785 words (not including the Preamble), and it should not be an impossible task to get such a short statement right; and (iv) it’s walking into a cultural and spiritual firestorm.

For all those reasons it should not contain loose ends, obvious faux pas or bald misstatements of fact. It’s going to be attacked vigorously, and it would be better to be attacked for being a faithful representation of what the Bible says than for getting it half-wrong.

Purpose, Purpose

IC: I’d like to know what they hope to make of this thing. They surely cannot think that it will dissuade the gay-transsexual lobby, and it won’t change government policy, I think, so it must be for Christians.

Tom: It’s definitely NOT going down well with liberal Christians (or “so-called Christians”, if you agree with this liberal’s agitated and possibly deliberate misreading of Article 10). But it seems to me that confronting the extreme social justice elements of Christendom with a bold declaration of orthodoxy is one of the points of doing this in the first place, not just for their own good but for that of the next generation looking on. In response to the negative feedback from liberals, Rod Dreher has said this:
“Young Christians — and even not so young Christians — need the bigger picture of why male and female matter so much, and why traditional marriage is inseparable from orthodox Christianity. You cannot excise these things from the Christian religion without it collapsing, in part (but not wholly) because the theological contortions one has to do to justify these things so radically opposed to the Bible’s revelation fatally compromises its authority.”
I think he’s identified a real problem there. The question to my mind is whether a formal public restatement of the orthodox Christian position on marriage and sexuality that draws this sort of line in the sand is the optimal way to address that problem. Rod Dreher thinks it is, and maybe he’s right. We’ll see.

First, any thoughts on the Preamble, IC?

Parsing the Preamble

IC: Preambly-wise. Yes. Well, let’s start off with a fragment from Kerry Connolly’s Patheos response:
“I know and love and care about far too many people who happen to love people of the same sex, and I’m tired of people who are so obsessed with the sex my friends might be having that they have to have a bunch of meetings and create a whole statement about it.”
I cannot fail to notice that Connolly simply evades any responsibility to make a moral judgment on homosexuality — as either good or bad — and simply positions it as something that “happens” to happen. That’s a dishonest way to set up, for sure, since she pretends that this is not a real issue with moral or social implications, that the Lord cannot possibly care about it (other than to let it “happen” I suppose), and positions herself as neutral, even though she is clearly pro. She’s just assumed — not proved — the conclusion she wants, and tried to slide it by us. So let that be said first.

Tom: Connolly’s is a bog-standard progressive screed, I thought; all emotion and noise. It accuses the drafters of the Statement of obsessing about other people’s sex lives and ignores the glaring fact that the New Testament itself has quite a bit to say about the sex lives of anyone who presumes to claim a relationship with Jesus Christ.

IC: But at the same time, she does raise a good question here: why is this issue, of all issues, the one that needs declaring in terms of a formal creed? The Nashville Statement Preamble is certainly high on declaring things, but low on biblical context.

Tom: I do find that to be a problem. I’m sure they had their reasons, but severing belief statements from their God-given authority seems a tad counterintuitive. Other than Psalm 100:3, there’s not much here beyond bald assertions.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

IC: And why do they want signatures? Is it a petition to the government?

Tom: No, I don’t think so at all.

IC: Is it that a list of celebrity names is going to convince less-aware Christians to change their minds?

Tom: I haven’t ruled that out, and it does seem a likely potential result.

IC: Or is it that having signed on, people are supposedly going to be more firm on their beliefs than they already are — in spite of the absence of reference to scripture?

Tom: Maybe, but it seems a shaky place to stand without some scriptural substance.

IC: I don’t get what the game is here, and the Preamble doesn’t help me with that.

Witnessing Publicly to ... Something or Other

Tom: Nor me. The intended point of the exercise is expressed in the last paragraph, as I read it: “The hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture.” I think churches might be better served by a series of expositions on the relevant passages of the Bible published in one place. We’re not lacking for those kinds of online and published resources, but pulling them together and affirming them might have been useful.

That leaves the bit about “witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality.” I suppose there’s some value in that, but it’s not the gospel, is it?

IC: How is it “witnessing”? Is there some virtue in having a blunt declaration of a position on sexual conduct (or misconduct), with signatures attached? Is that a “witness” to anything?

Tom: Not anything that matters to anyone’s eternal condition, in my humble estimation. On the other hand, if you are Post-Millennial and determined to knock the entire planet into shape before the Lord returns, you may be looking at a different value metric.

Article 1: The Purpose and Nature of Marriage

Let’s see if we can get through at least one of the Articles:

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.
Anything jump out at you there, IC, either positively or negatively?

IC: Essentially I find myself agreeing with its claims. But I wonder who “we” are, and why the fact that we strenuously “deny” a thing is supposed to carry weight with the unregenerate world.

Tom: Yeah, there is that. Well, the “we” is the signatories, I suppose, which is a broad range of Reform-type big names. You can have a look at the website. There are maybe four pages of them ...

IC: I did look. I just don’t know why the signatures of these people are supposed to matter. It’s not a government petition. Are we supposed to think, “Well, if Piper and Dobson signed it, it must be the truth”? Really?

Tom Goes to Town

Tom: Now, you’re going to tell me to quit carping, but here’s my beef. I don’t have any problem with marriage being a covenant, or the appropriate outlet for godly sex, or primarily to produce offspring, or to last for our entire lives. But I balk at the words “and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” Really, if they’re not going to cover everything marriage signifies in the word of God, I’d rather they not try to only partially explain its meaning. I understand that in the Reform view of the Bible, the Church is absolutely everything and there can be nothing else, especially national Israel. Still, we cannot reasonably ignore the fact that in the Old Testament, marriage is also a picture of the covenant relationship between Jehovah and Israel. That’s a pretty big thing to leave out.

Further, I dislike the expression “covenant love”. Yes, there IS a covenant in marriage. Yes, there is love. This is true both of the picture (human marriage) and the spiritual reality (Christ/Church or Jehovah/Israel). But it’s not just love that human marriage depicts. It’s also the submission of one party to the other (and I know this is not going to be trendy); in marriage, the wife to the husband, and in the spiritual situation, the church to Christ. It’s the entire mode of relationship that is in view, not just “covenant love”.

To be less annoying for a moment, I do agree with the general point the CBMW is making. But I wish they’d have made it in some way I could remotely sign off on, assuming I wanted to.

IC: I saw the “covenant” word, but it was one of those nits I wasn’t going to pick. It is, as you point out, not an unbiblical word … it just calls for a whole lot of theological explanation that isn’t in the Nashville document.

Tom: Indeed. Until next time, IC.

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