Tag Archives: gay and lesbian

Is the Word “Homosexual” in the Bible?

October 11, in a number of circles, is known as “National Coming Out Day.” Many Christians are confused, as to how to engage with others about this. A good place to start is to consider the following question: Is the word “homosexual” in the Bible? Well, the answer is “yes” and “no,” and the reason for this is really, super important.

Merriam-Webster actually lists two different definitions for the word “homosexual,” which could be an adjective or a noun:

1: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex: GAY// homosexual man, was involved in a homosexual relationship
2: of, relating to, or involving sexual activity between persons of the same sex // homosexual acts

Those two definitions can be overlapping, but technically, they are not the same.

Actually, this distinction is profound, having a major ramification on how Christians can best love their neighbor with the Gospel.

How do we go about having helpful conversations about “LGBTQ” questions, in evangelical, Bible-believing churches, who desire to hold to a traditional view of marriage, while trying to figure out how to better love others? Perhaps we should start by talking about what IS and what is NOT in the Bible. (credit: Christianity Today).

Now, before I jump in any further, it bears emphasizing that when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, we are not simply quibbling over the meaning of words. Ultimately, we are talking about real people, with real lives, with real stories, that need to be heard. Yet part of hearing those stories about real people includes understanding what people mean when they use certain words. So, it really becomes important that we do not front load incorrect thoughts into our minds when we let people tell their stories, when they use certain words.

That being said, let us dig deeper into this….

On the Meaning of the Word “Homosexual,” and How it is Used in the Bible

In that Merriam Webster definition, they go onto say that the word homosexual entered the English vocabulary, in about 1891, in the sense of definition number 1. Definition number 1 refers to what we might call “same-sex attraction” today. It did not specifically mean someone who acted on their same-sex attraction, in the sense of actually being sexually active with another person of the same sex, which is the second sense of the word. However, it could mean that. But it does not necessarily imply definition number 2.

That definition number 2, or the second sense of the word, came later in English usage, eventually carrying the sense of embracing a particular identity, being actively involved in some type of sexual relationship. In other words, it is more than just “same-sex attraction.” It means acting upon that attraction, in terms of behavior. Today, the meaning has expanded, assuming that sexual activity with someone of the same sex is within a morally justifiable category.

Furthermore, definition number 1 could mean actively engaging in lustful fantasy, for another person of the same-sex. But it does not necessarily mean that.

Think about the alternative word, heterosexual, that appeared in the English language, at the same time homosexual did. Do heterosexuals engage in lustful fantasies, for members of the opposite sex? Sometimes, yes. But not 24×7.

In the language of modern psychology, someone is a heterosexual, even if they are sound asleep, or mentally absorbed in a baseball game. To be heterosexual does not implicitly mean that such a person is always acting on their opposite-sex attraction, in the sense of having a sexual relationship, or lusting after someone.

Likewise, the word homosexual, as in definition number 1, generally refers to having a “same-sex attraction,” but it does not require the idea of actually acting upon that desire, whether that be physically, or just mentally. In other words, a homosexual has a “same-sex attraction,” 24×7, everyday of the week, but they do not always act on that attraction, either physically or mentally.

The lateness of the word entering the English vocabulary explains why the King James Version of the Bible, translated in 1611, does not have the word homosexual, in its text. Following on from a previous post on this topic, let us consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankindNor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (KJV)

All of the moral categories that the Apostle Pauls mentions, such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, etc., all refer to repeated, unrepentant patterns of sinful human behavior. These are not mere inclinations, dispositions, or orientations, that suggest some potential or possibility of sinning, brought on by situations where such temptations arise. We all have these, to varying degrees. Rather, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul has in mind those sinful, unrepentant patterns of human activity that are unbecoming of truly committed followers of Jesus Christ.

The highlighted phrase above, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind , goes back to two interesting Greek words, malakoi, which the KJV takes to be “effeminate,” or the one who is the passive partner in a same-sex, male sexual relationship, and arsenokoitai, which the KJV renders as “abusers of themselves with mankind,” or a man who beds with another man. Technically, malakoi means “soft,” by itself, but it was also used in the Greek language in the same-sex partnered sense, in the manner that the KJV most probably alludes to.

 

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. I highly recommend this book for those who wrestle with same-sex attraction themselves, or who have loved ones who wrestle with such questions.

Digging Into Bible Translations, About “Homosexuality”

The point here is that the Apostle Paul is designating an actively engaged upon sexual activity, with respect to homosexuality. In the words of the Apostle Paul, in the Bible, there is no strict parallel to “same-sex attraction,” as a type of orientation, inclination, or internal disposition, which originally led to the coining of the word homosexual, in the late 19th century, by the psychologists of the day.

This distinction is vitally important, in how we read Scripture. Simply put, this non-behavioral sense of homosexuality, commonly described today as having a “same-sex attraction,” has no direct correlation to any particular word that we can find in the Bible. In other words, Paul’s teaching here in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is reflective of other related passages of Scripture, refers to a behavior, not an orientation or inclination.

Some might find the notion of homosexuality, as an orientation or inclination to be objectionable, as it is not found in the Bible. Such critics contend that this psychological category of “same-sex attraction,” should be rejected by Christians, as a result.

But we have terms that Christians use all of the time, that do not find a direct correlation in Scripture. Take just one example, where we use the word “Trinity” to describe the nature of the Godhead, “one God in three persons.” Few Christians realize that the term “Trinity,never appears in the Bible. Nevertheless, describing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as distinct persons within the singular Godhead is an incredibly significant theological concept, that most Christians take for granted.

You can do tons of research on the concepts of same-sex attraction or same-sex relations in the Bible yourself, to verify, but technically, there is no mention of homosexual in the Bible, as it was originally introduced into the English vocabulary.

Nevertheless, the meaning of words changes over time. What typically happens in this situation, a confusion of terminology often results. When the translators of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible sought to update the language of the KJV, in 1946, the old KJV phrase “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind ,” was replaced with the word, “homosexual.”

That Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible essentially became the “de facto” accepted translation of the Bible, used throughout hundreds of English-speaking, Protestant mainline churches, during the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, the confused use of the word homosexual became ingrained in the minds of many, among multiple generations of Bible readers.

Critics of a traditional Christian view of marriage, as being between a man and a woman, contend (rightly) that the word homosexual was therefore never originally in the Bible.

But the conclusion that is often drawn from this goes beyond what the meaning of the Scriptural text can bear. Therefore, such critics argue, the traditional Christian sexual ethic was and is too restrictive, implying that sexual relations between members of the same-sex, should be allowed to be morally permissible, among followers of Jesus. But this oversimplified approach to the Bible is highly misleading, and ignores a more complex, albeit intricate story.

The RSV was later updated to read as:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.(RSV)

This substituted the previous 1946 RSV translation of homosexual(s) with sexual perverts, in the 1970s update to the RSV. But the trend towards using the word homosexual, in a more explicitly behavioral manner, was underway.

When we get to The Living Bible, in 1971, we see the word appear again:

Don’t you know that those doing such things have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who are idol worshipers, adulterers or homosexuals—will have no share in his Kingdom. Neither will thieves or greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, or robbers.(TLB)

The popular New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, in 1984, sought to be a bit more accurate here, but still comes up short:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.(NIV 1984)

Rendering the phrase as homosexual offenders (prepended with male prostitutes) was an improvement over what the RSV did in the late 1940s. By describing such homosexuals as offenders, it implied that some distinction could be made between homosexuality as an orientation, and homosexuality as a repeated, unrepentant form of behavior. But it was still confusing for some readers.

Here is the difficulty: Is the offense actually limited to being a type of sinful behavior? Or is it possibly that possessing a same-sex attraction, not acted upon, is nevertheless, still a type of offense before God?

Let us frame the difficulty this way: Is a celibate homosexual still a type of offender before God? Is such a homosexual, … who day after day seeks to mortify the flesh, and say “NO” to such sexual temptation, who resists putting themselves in situations that might cause them to give into temptation, … still, somehow, nevertheless, continues to exist as an offender, … a mere stench in God’s nostrils?

The ambiguity of the NIV 1984 translation is wholly intolerable today, in an age when same-sex relations and same-sex marriage in particular, occupy a large percentage of the public, cultural conversation.

Thankfully, when the NIV translators worked on the most recent update, in 2011, they made the distinction much clearer, and more precise, in terms specifying that the Apostle Paul had an activity, or behavior, in mind:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with mennor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.(NIV 2011)

The English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible, as of the last update in 2016, renders these verses like this:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (ESV 2016)

Here the ESV more accurately associates homosexuality with its practice, not with the mere presence of a disposition or orientation, thus showing that Paul had a behavior in mind, in this passage. Both the NIV 2011 and ESV have the following footnote, regarding this phrase in the Bible:

The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.

The 2017 Christian Standard Bible (CSB), likewise, is very careful:

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom (CSB 2017)

 

How You Read Your Bible Translation Matters

Why bother with parsing through these various translations so carefully?

Because it makes a difference. Three points are in order:

First, as briefly noted above, it demonstrates that the Apostle Paul had behaviors in mind, patterns of repeated, sinful activity, that are not becoming of a disciple of Jesus Christ. With respect to homosexuality, this follows the same pattern as idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy people, etc.

Despite the great debate today going on in the wider culture, this has been the historic teaching of the Christian church for 2,000 years. Attempts by those to revise or dispose of a traditional sexual ethic, regarding God’s intent and purpose for marriage, by allowing for active, same-sex relations, whether that be in a “same-sex marriage,” or otherwise, have a serious obstacle in dealing with the Apostle Paul, in the New Testament.

Secondly, traditionally minded Christians need to rethink the importance of making a subtle, yet ultimately highly significant differentiation between homosexuality as a behavior (including lust), and homosexuality as an inward disposition or orientation of some sort, that is not necessarily acted upon.

Thirdly, it is important to drill down on the difference between homosexuality as a disposition or orientation, and homosexuality as lust. The two are not identical. This may sound controversial, but it need not be.

Think of it as the difference between noticing an attractive member of the opposite sex, for a heterosexual, and actually lusting after that person. The latter is the sin. The former is not sinful, for if it were, then it would be a sin for a man to compliment a woman on the nice dress she is wearing. Even more absurd, it would be like a mother complimenting her son on how handsome he looks, and then somehow treating even that as sin. Confusing noticing an attractive person, together with actual lust, creates a rather absurd view of sin.

Likewise, for a homosexual, noticing an attractive member of the same sex, is not the same as actually lusting after that person. True, having a homosexual orientation is an indicator that something is not right, a consequence of the Fall of humanity. But the same-sex orientation is no more sinful than for a single, heterosexual person, who notices an attractive member of the opposite sex, or a married, heterosexual person, who notices an attractive member of the opposite sex, who is not their spouse.

I am not aware of any contemporary, modern English translation that fails to provide some linguistic framework, for making a distinction between homosexuality as a behavior, and homosexuality as disposition or orientation.

Questions about sexuality and gender are the most theologically provocative issues of our day, just as the very nature of the Triune Godhead threatened to split the Christian church, in the great controversies over Jesus’ divinity and humanity, in the 4th through 5th centuries of the Christian movement.

So, on “National Coming Out Day,” having conversations about what the Bible does NOT say, and what the Bible actually DOES say, is really important. With all of the talk today in 2019 about Christians in “hate groups,” reparative therapy, and the like, it would behoove Christians to take a closer look at how Bible translations, over the years, have created confusion. Thankfully, most modern Bible translations are more accurate these days. Christians who love their Bible, and who seek to love others, as Christ loves us, would do well to follow their Bibles in guiding how they carefully think about this most sensitive and difficult topic.

For more information of this topic, I highly recommend Preston Sprinkle’s People To Be Loved. For other posts on this topic see “Is the Temptation to Sin, Itself a Sin?,” “Single, Gay and Christian: A Review of the Book and Its Criticism,” “What Was the Sin of Sodom? (Taking a Closer Look),” “Statements: What Does Nashville Have to Do With Chicago?,” and “Such Were Some of You: The Language of Christian Identity.


Verbicide

I might step on some toes here.

I am just as guilty here as the next person, but in C.S. Lewis’ masterful work, Studies in Words, p.7-8, the great Oxford don nails it:

“Verbicide, the murder of a word, happens in many ways. Inflation is one of the commonest; those who taught us to say awfully for ‘very,’ tremendous for ‘great,’ sadism for ‘cruelty,’ and unthinkable for ‘undesirable’ were verbicides. Another way is verbiage, by which I here mean the use of a word as a promise to pay which is never going to be kept. The use of significant as if it were an absolute, and with no intention of ever telling us what the thing is significant of, is an example. So is diametrically when it is used merely to put opposite into the superlative. Men often commit verbicide because they want to snatch a word as a party banner, to appropriate its ‘selling quality.’ Verbicide was committed when we exchanged Whig and Tory for Liberal and Conservative. But the greatest cause of verbicide is the fact that most people are obviously far more anxious to express their approval and disapproval of things than to describe them. Hence the tendency of words to become less descriptive and more evaluative. . . . and to end up by being purely evaluative– useless synonyms for good or for bad.”

I see this type of verbicide happening all of the time among Christians, including myself. I will use a word like awesome, simply to say that I like something, which is hardly what awesome meant some thirty years ago, in normal speech. To create a sense of awe, or reverence, about something or someone, is what awesome has typically meant for years. Nowadays, awesome has become almost a throw-away word, used to describe how good that hamburger tasted, that you just ate for lunch.

But among fellow Christians, the problem seems like an epidemic. Some believers insist on the literal interpretation of Scripture, when it is clear that literal merely has an inflationary characteristic, that Lewis identifies back in 1960, when he wrote Studies in Words. It is found in the common colloquialism of “it is literally raining cats and dogs out there!” Surely, no one believes that your neighbor’s siamese cat and yellow labrador just landed on your front lawn. No, it simply means that it is raining really, really, really hard.

Verbicide. We have killed the word literally.

We have turned the word literally into something not literal at all. Or to recall the previous blog post, whereby we discovery that metaphors can become so stable, that they can actually become new words. Just think of the word concrete, which in construction lingo, refers to a mixture of cement and sand, and other materials. But it could also have a metaphorical meaning, abstracted away from its construction context, to mean something that is firm or stable itself….. You know, something concrete.

Then there is that old discussion about inerrancy. For some, inerrancy is an affirmation that Scripture is the Christian’s authority. Why would you submit to something as your authority, if you lack the confidence that it is without error? A humble posture of obedience to the teachings of Scripture is predicated on the assumption that you accept the Bible to be true. This is the reason why inerrancy, which affirms the truthfulness of Scripture, is so important.

However, often inerrancy gets spun around to say, “My interpretation of the Bible is inerrant, and your interpretation is not!” So, two Christians can both hold to the inerrancy of the Bible, but if one Christian does not agree with an interpretation of a particular passage, that another Christian holds to, in good conscience, sometimes they might pull out the charge that the other Christian is denying the inerrancy of the Bible.

Yet what they really are doing is arguing for the inerrancy of their own, particular interpretation of a Bible passage. When thought poorly, in this manner, biblical “inerrancy” has less to do with describing and affirming the authority of Scripture, and more to do with evaluating the acceptability or non-acceptability of someone’s interpretation of the Scriptures. Not all interpretations of the Bible are created equal, but when we do stuff like this with words, then the word inerrancy becomes almost useless.

Note, however, I am not saying that inerrancy is not a useful word. I still firmly believe that it is. You can have a correct interpretation of a particular Bible passage, but still refuse to submit to it, if you fail to trust the Bible as God’s True Word. Affirming the inerrancy of Scripture is the first step, but not the last step. We still need to learn how to interpret Scripture correctly. Hopefully, this makes sense and is clear.

So, what I am saying is that when a word like inerrancy gets transformed from Lewis’ descriptive sense; that is, describing the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture, as in the classic usage, to Lewis’ more evaluative sense; that is, “your interpretation of the Bible is bad; therefore, you must be denying the inerrancy of the Bible,” then we have pretty much committed verbicide, thus rendering inerrancy as being an ineffective word.

And that is not good. It is not helpful. But that is what we do.

People of the Word can do some crazy things with words.

If you poke around on social media, whether it be following Twitter, reading Facebook posts, or in the worst possible case, that absolute scourge of the online era, reading YouTube video comments…. I find it to be a terribly depressing display of how Christians can commit verbicide, without much reflective thought. Why some people, even followers of Christ, would resort to such incoherent and even vitriolic language you find online, that they would never-ever-ever use in face-to-face to conversation, is simply appalling. But as the era of using social media has now pretty much become the norm, I am now starting to hear to such abusive talk, by the murder of words, ranging from comments given at a Bible study, to everyday face-to-face conversation with another believer…. And much of this we pick up from the world around us, particularly from our social media habits.

If I were the Pope, and we still had one organized church body, I would instigate a ban on all Christians writing on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube video comments, or at least impose a 24-hour cooling off period, before a Christian types out a response to something they have seen or read online, with threats of immediate excommunication, in order to stop the madness.

If I was smart enough, I would just stop right here….. But please indulge me a few more paragraphs to gripe a bit more about the problem with verbicide….. Otherwise, you can stop now, and enjoy the rest of your day….

Here is a classic example as to why I never simply assume what someone means anymore when they use particular words, particularly when it comes to social media: What grieves me these days is watching what has happened to something like the word gay. In the 1890s, it meant describing someone who was “happy.” Any sexual flavor to the word was simply unknown.

In popular culture, this meaning was preserved even in the opening credits of the 1960s Flintstones cartoon, “we’ll have a gay old time!”

That practice shifted, however, somewhere in my lifetime.

Thirty years ago, and for some of us, still today, gay means to describe the experience of persons, who find themselves with some sort of disposition of being sexually attracted to another person of the same sex. To be gay does not necessarily mean being sexually active, though that is possible. It generally applies to describing someone’s sexual orientation, which may or may not be immutable, but that typically does not change for most people, who think of themselves as gay.

Sure, there are reports that one’s sexual orientation may change over time, but such reports are rarely common. Being gay is more of an internal struggle, as indicating that one’s experience of sexual attraction, is outside of the norm. To be gay, in this sense, is a product of the Fall, but it is not an indication of any particular moral failure, on the part of the person who has this disposition, if they do not act on this disposition, either in thought or deed. To be gay, therefore, only becomes sin when one is tempted to act upon such desire, and succumb to that temptation, either through imaginative lust, or by actually participating in a sexual relationship.

Sadly, over the past few decades, much of the church’s response towards those who say that they are gay has been to try to get them to become heterosexual. But the goal of sanctification is not heterosexuality. Rather, the goal is holiness.

As a result of this misstep in the church, over time, the language of being gay has evolved for some, to be a type of descriptor of someone’s ontological identity. This shift has become sharply pronounced and accelerated in the era of Facebook and Twitter. Instead of merely describing a person’s experience of sexual attraction, the use of the word gay goes deeper than describing personal experience of sexual attraction, as it has come to describe “who I am, as a person,” for someone who thinks of themselves as gay.

A shocking example of this is the same-sex couple in Colorado, who took Jack Phillips, a master cake decorator, to court, for claiming that Phillip’s refusal to endorse a same-sex wedding, using Phillip’s skills as a artist, contrary to Phillip’s evangelical theological beliefs, was actually an attack on who they were as persons. This same-sex couple, and others like them, make the surprising leap that a failure to approve of a particular behavior, by not using socially approved forms of speech, is somehow a violation of someone’s else’s personal identity.

I do not personally know of anyone who consciously thinks of themselves as being gay like this, but clearly I do hear about it. Surely, as contemporary culture continues to raise awareness of “LGBTQ” concerns, the word gay is more and more used, in the media, as indicating a type of social or political identity, implying the active expression of same-sex erotic activity.

My concern is that in response, many Christians then take this word, gay, also in a morally evaluative sense. To be gay, therefore, has no place in God’s divine purposes, even indirect, and therefore not good, in any way, shape, or form. If someone’s experience of same-sex attraction persists, then many Christians believe that there must be something awfully wrong with that person’s faith.

What a shift from the 1890s, the 1960s, or even the 1980s.

So, when a Christian describes themselves as a “single gay Christian,” or a “celibate gay Christian,” they must be careful to define what they mean. But for a growing number of Christians, because of the morally evaluative sense, so prevalently attached to that word, “gay,” any attempt to define what the word means, in any merely descriptive sense, arouses deep suspicion.

Acknowledging the experience of being gay, as a product of the Fall, is insufficient, for some Christians. To the one who holds such deep suspicions, the language of gay must be rejected at every point, for the believing Christian. “Gay” and “celibate” are inherently contradictory, despite any effort at explanation and precise definition.

In other words, we have killed the word “gay.”

As a result, some Christians over the years, have cast aside the wholly negative language of gay, and then, in the most neutral sense possible, as so many of us think, and now speak exclusively of being “same-sex attracted.” In other words, to be same-sex attracted is to have such a disposition, or orientation, towards finding a member of the same sex attractive. This sense of being same-sex attracted can be characterized as allowing for a presentation of a temptation, that could lead to sin, either in thought, as in lust, or in deed, engaging in sexual relations. The same-sex attracted Christian then wrestles with their condition, seeking to resist temptation, that they might not succumb to sin, if they wish to be faithful to the classic teaching of the Scriptures.  Interestingly, the very language Christians use here has become a topic of intense debate, within the evangelical church.

A excellent example of this type of preference of one term, “same-sex attracted” against another similar term, “gay,” to describe the experience of some Christians, who nevertheless hold to the traditional view of marriage, as being exclusively between a man and a woman, can be found in a 2019 resolution among Southern Baptists.

In other words, for Southern Baptists in 2019, it is permissible to “identify” as being “same-sex attracted,” while still affirming celibacy. But it is NOT permissible to “identify” as being “gay,” while still affirming celibacy. Why? Because presumably being “same-sex attracted” carries no morally evaluative stigma with it, whereas “gay” does.

According to C.S. Lewis, this is how we go about murdering words.

But just within the last couple of years, I am seeing that same language of “same-sex attracted” being cast under the same, morally evaluative scrutiny as gay once was. Now even some Christians are calling on others to reject the language of same-sex attracted, as inherently being a damnable sin, by the mere presentation of a Fallen desire.

I am an advocate for ministries, like Celebrate Recovery, where Christian people gather together, and confide with one another that they are “recovering or sober alcoholics,” and the like. Granted, there is a danger here. For it might be misconstrued, that to describe one’s self as a “recovering or sober alcoholicis an unfortunate means of “identifying” with your sin, instead of trusting fully with Christ, as the very center and grounding of one’s identity. All sin is sin, so we should not major on the particularities. Christ and Christ alone is and should be our sole identity. I totally get that.

However, there is also an equally important danger going too far in the other direction. The aversion to using the language of a “recovering or sober alcoholicmight lead one to think that one’s particular experience, wrestling against a particular tendency towards a particular sin, might cause us to downplay the particularities of a person’s struggle. In other words, I am concerned that there might come a day when is it no longer permissible to self-describe oneself as an “alcoholic,” in this manner, because it inherently implies a morally evaluative status.

But this would be wrong-headed. For the best way for an “alcoholic” to make their journey towards recovery, is by finding support among other “recovering alcoholics.” There can be some overlap with “recovering pornography addicts” or “recovering gambling addicts,” but the experiences are nevertheless still different. Someone with a gambling addiction is not always the best person to help someone with an alcohol problem. A recovering alcoholic can only offer limited assistance to someone who suffers from chronic overeating.

I suggest, we should not shy away from talking about the unique aspects of one’s experience with unique sanctification struggles, for fear of “over-identifying” with something apart from Christ. Sadly, I believe that the Southern Baptist 2019 resolution can lead some towards this type of unhealthy shyness.

What makes the 2019 resolution so bizarre is that Celebrate Recovery, with its goal of helping people with their “hurts, habits, and hang-ups,” had its genesis in a Southern Baptist church.

Theologically, it is like it is becoming more impossible to carefully distinguish temptation from sin, without collapsing the latter onto the former. It reminds of me of playing tag football as a kid, when my neighbor would move the goalposts, right in the middle of the play. I thought I was getting to the touchdown zone, only to discover that the touchdown zone had moved down the field, another few yards away.

What a frustrating thing it is, to have a conversation with someone, thinking you are talking about the same thing, only to realize that the goalposts have been moved on you, and you discover that you can not even agree on the basic terms of the conversation.

Perhaps it is because I do not watch television any more, on a regular basis, that I notice these things. Perhaps it is due to the way Facebook, and other means of social media exchange, take place in an online world. But it really bothers me to see so many, otherwise earnest Christians falling into these changing patterns of thinking and expression. And, if I am honest, it probably influences me in such subtle ways that I am not even aware of it.

Alas. We as Christians follow the ways of the world without thinking carefully and clearly, just as Lewis observed.

Or perhaps a better way to put it is this: language is changing, and these days, in the era of social media, it is changing more rapidly than ever before. But sadly, Christians can easily get stuck in certain language patterns, without realizing it, that can make effective communication exceedingly difficult.

We live in strange times.

Lord help us.


Rosaria Butterfield – Hospitality and the Unlikely Convert

Rosaria Butterfield - An unlikely convert to Christian faith, touched by the art of hospitality.

Rosaria Butterfield – An unlikely convert to Christian faith, touched by the art of hospitality.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past fifteen years, you probably know that American public opinion has been shifting dramatically within the past few years to support same-sex marriage.

Given the current cultural trajectory, many observers remark that it is inevitable that gay and lesbian marriages will become widely accepted, at least legally, across large sections of America. Many critics of a traditional reading of Scripture regarding homosexuality argue that  finally “the train has left the station” regarding same-sex marriage. Many would say that Evangelical Christians should join in and affirm the trend as a matter of promoting civil rights, as was the case with racial issues in the 1950’s and 1960’s. How does someone who holds to a high view of the authority of Scripture respond to these challenges in a Christ-like way?

Enter in Rosario Butterfield. She was a lesbian professor at Syracuse University, who was for years convinced that Christians publicly supporting an exclusive approach to traditional marriage were a threat to democracy and human rights.  She was an activist who was horrified by what she saw as “homophobia” and worked aggressively to try to stamp it out. But something unlikely happened along the way.
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