Friday, July 14, 2017

A Brief Reply to Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson, author of the popular Message Bible, recently came out in support of same-sex marriage. A few days later he retracted his statements. Nevertheless, the initial argument he gave is one that many Christians have found compelling, and thus it is worth examining here.

Peterson states,
I have been in churches when I was an associate pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal about it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up for them. They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church. ... I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned. 
[Now it is perhaps possible to read Peterson's statement as a reference to Christian homosexuals living a life of celibacy. However, his words were given in the context of affirming same-sex marriage, so it certainly appears that Peterson is speaking of sexually active homosexuals.]

The basic theological assumption undergirding this argument can be stated as follows:
If a Christian has a vibrant relationship with God and is engaged in the life of the church, he or she is not living in sin. 
This claim is obviously not true, and we could think of any number of counter examples. On the same day I read Peterson's comments, I happened to stumble across a brand new book by American historian R. David Cox entitled, "The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee." A brief perusal of the book was enough to reveal that Lee was a man of deep religious conviction who loved God and honestly sought to please him. However, it hardly follows that Lee was not sinning when he took up arms against his country.

Sin certainly damages the believer's relationship with God. Nevertheless, God is merciful, and thus he condescends to live with us even though we are so often blinded and deceived by our own sin. Because of this one cannot conclude, as Peterson has, that a practicing homosexual who loves God is somehow evidence that homosexual acts are not sinful.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Brief Reply to David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh, an outspoken Christian and brother of Rush Limbaugh, recently wrote a piece defending Trump supporters and firing back at Trump's conservative critics. Limbaugh expresses his views well, but I believe he makes at least two mistakes.

1) The Big Picture 

Concerning those "elitist" and "snobbish" conservatives who view Trump supporters as "frauds and sellouts," Limbaugh writes,
They attack our character instead of considering that our calculus is that Trump may advance a conservative agenda more successfully than presidents ostensibly more conservative than he. ... Trump supporters see a bigger picture here — greater stakes, bigger hills to die on. ... They're behind him because they believe he is attempting to turn the country around and, in many cases, succeeding. They are ecstatic that he is standing up to the political left and firing back — so they aren't going to be overly exercised over his every fault. 
I agree with Limbaugh that conservatives need to look at the big picture. But I would argue that this is precisely what Trump supporters have failed to do. As I stated prior to the election, I am concerned about the long-term damage that Trump will do to the conservative movement. What good are a few executive orders and judicial appointments if we are left with a generation who considers Milo Yiannopoulos a spokesperson for conservatism?

2) Moral Anarchy

Concerning Trump supporters, Limbaugh writes,
For them, politics is not a Beltway parlor game or a matter of petty partisanship. It's about saving the nation for themselves and their children. They see the urgency, and no amount of highhanded judgmentalism from smug conservative elites about their alleged hyperbole and hysteria is going to shame them into denial. When parents in this country refuse to specify their newborn babies' gender on their birth certificates, we know that postmodernism and moral relativism have made their marks. We recognize intellectual and moral anarchy. Dismiss this as anecdotal irrelevancy if you will, but honest observers of the American scene witness such absurdity every day. 
Again, I agree that moral relativism is unraveling the fabric of our society. But I believe the damage is much worse than Limbaugh realizes. Limbaugh writes, "When parents in this country refuse to specify their newborn babies' gender on their birth certificates, we know that postmodernism and moral relativism have made their marks." I agree, but reply, "When pastors dismiss sexual assault as 'locker-room talk,' we know that postmodernism and moral relativism have made their marks." President Trump is not the solution to the "intellectual and moral anarchy" which has descended on our society; he is a symptom of this anarchy.

In conclusion, Limbaugh is right to insist that the problems facing our nation are urgent and severe. But this is precisely why we need wise, principled, and virtuous leaders.