Friday, October 06, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Not Going to Nashville [Part 5]

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 final installment we’re discussing why, here at ComingUntrue, we’re Not Going to Nashville.

Tom: On to the ante-penultimate Article then.

Article 12: It’s Not Who I Am

Perhaps this is an attempt to head off or stand up to secular criticism of reorientation programs or “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” that has been offered through some churches:

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
It may be that “power for holiness” involves different solutions for different people struggling with desire, in some cases abstinence, and in some cases a change of sinful habits and patterns of thinking that eventually leads to heterosexual marriage. Either way, I think we can agree the answer is in Christ. That probably sounds too simple …

Immanuel Can: I think this one is a build-on to the previous point, that homosexuality is a sin. The comeback against this is always “Well, people can’t help it” or “I was born this way”, so it’s not something that can be helped. In a sense the corollary is “God made me like this, so if it’s a sin, it’s his fault.” And the corollary of that is probably “It’s not really a sin anyway.” But of course, the appropriate response to that is “You were born in sin, as were we all; so even if it were true that homosexuality is genetic (a thing which has zero science behind it, by the way), it would not be a good argument for you to think it wasn’t a sin. Some people are born more susceptible to alcohol and drugs — that may explain their desires, but doesn’t go one step toward making their addiction good.

So here, the Nashville people say, “God says it IS a sin, and the appropriate remedy is repentance.” It’s just a flat “no” to the excuses offered above.

Tom: The apostle Paul takes it for granted that those who have been truly raised with Christ possess the power to “put to death” sinful desires. In fact, he bluntly instructs the Colossians to do just that. That’s more than just “stop sinning”, it is the desire itself that is put to death, and it’s done by setting our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Now, liberal Christians may not like that, but they can’t deny the Bible teaches it. If the power to be changed is there, then it is possible to feel desires and not let them rule you.

Article 13: It’s Not Who I Am, Part II

The same principle applies to the second-last Article, I’d say, which deals with self-conception rather than desire:

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.
IC: Yes. Here they seem to be denying the old “Grace means being tolerant of everything” kind of argument.

Tom: And good for them. There’s a verse in Romans that reads, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” Another very legitimate possible rendering of that is, essentially, “to think more ABOUT himself than he ought to think”: about what I want, about what I think, about who I am. In the end, our “self-conception” is not only irrelevant but a big time-waster. What matters is what God thinks of us, not how we envision ourselves. After all, we did not bring ourselves into being and we do not sustain ourselves, so how exactly is it that we think we are the only ones who know ourselves? That’s just silly.

IC: Well, the idea that a transgender person knows himself/herself is just absurd, really, and the language the liberals use demonstrates their lunacy. They say both that the “self” is entirely plastic and changeable at the whim of the individual, with no preset or defined shape; and yet at the same time they want us all to believe that we owe it to people to support them in becoming a particular kind of (what they call) an “authentic self”, meaning … not what they were given at birth. But if the self is so malleable, then what’s “authentic” about something that has no solidity at all? And if there is no “authentic self”, it’s hard to imagine we owe anyone’s entirely-malleable self-conceptions anything: they might well be delusions, and they’ll change in the next minute anyway. The kind thing is to encourage them to choose a “self” that involves less self-mutilation and misery. Since “self” is infinitely malleable, they should be fine doing that.

But if there IS an authentic self into which a person wants to change and must change (or risk having to live as “unauthentic”) then how exactly does that work? To be authentic means to be genuine, or true to some necessary or given pattern. So where’s the pattern? To what is a sexually ambiguous person being genuine? And how can such a transient, amorphous thing be judged as authentic?

Either our identity is already given to us, or there is no such thing as “authentic” identity at all. But you can’t have it both ways.

Tom: Good reasons not to “overthink” of ourselves. One final Article:

Article 14: Whosoever Will May Come

Here’s where the Nashville Statement gets good and inclusive, whether or not its critics agree.

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.

WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.
There’s no Bible reference in the part about the Lord’s arm, but if you’ve ever Googled anything in your life you quickly realize where this comes from. Nobody is beyond God’s reach and nobody can legitimately say, “I’m too wicked to be saved.”

IC: I like that. I’ll sign that part.

Tom: Yeah, it’s too bad you can’t do it on individual clauses … looks like the last bit may be the best bit. I can absolutely get with the “Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure” stuff.

The Big Wrap-Up

So tell me, IC: Does having considered The Nashville Statement now in some detail change your opinion at all about the general value of what’s being stated?

IC: Well, I still can’t see what the value of it is supposed to be. Some of it, I agree with. But what’s the general utility of this document? It’s not at all clear to me. I wish they’d said.

Tom: Well, it has certainly stirred the pot. Some reactions follow
“I’m afraid the Nashville Statement, perhaps out of a desire to establish the parameters for orthodoxy on gender identity concerns, gets ahead of evangelicals because it doesn’t reflect the careful, nuanced reflection needed to guide Christians toward critical engagement of gender theory …”
— Michael Yarhouse

“The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.”
— Chris Gehrz

“A statement like this is unlikely to move the needle with those who aren’t already in agreement. It is all head and no heart. It speaks to your mind but fails to look you in the eyes. It is intellectual, but not pastoral.”
— Jonathan Merritt
So while we’re complaining that the Statement doesn’t engage sufficiently with the scriptures, the liberals are complaining that it doesn’t engage sufficiently with gender dysphoria research.

It Merritt right? Will this matter at all in ten years, or even five?

IC: I do think that it’s past time that Christians clarified their understanding of gender issues and their commitments to truth: but from the evidence, hard facts and the enlightening wisdom of God’s Word, not from Gender Studies propaganda. And I think it’s really to themselves that they need to clarify it first. Maybe what the timing of something like Nashville really points out to us is that many Christians have vague and poorly-formed convictions about these issues, and that having opinions that are ungrounded in God’s truth just won’t be good enough anymore. The propaganda’s too intense; and the pressure to compromise and to give in to sexual deviation is just too strong today.

But rather than resorting to sclerotic creeds that intone for us what “we affirm” or “we deny”, I think that the “we” in question really need to start thinking carefully and reading our Bibles again.

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