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.

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