Porn and the Law of Love

Last week I got embroiled in a discussion on Patheos, that an evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) had written, concerning the growing belief among Americans that pornography was morally acceptable (43%). Among his findings was that Democrats are “strongly pro-porn” (53%), while Republicans, God bless ‘em, are only 27% approving. As well as the 22% of people for whom religion is “very important” who also find pornography morally acceptable. (1) Lutherans, as a whole, are a fairly diverse group, ranging from fundamentalist to liberal in their views. This particular author was pretty moderate and evangelical.

But while I shared his concern that the growing acceptance of pornography is not a positive sign, I found the overall take away from his article unpersuasive. It seemed to me to be more of the same evangelical hand wringing over sexual impurities, while the vast majority of white evangelicals seem to ignore more important social injustices. I tend to think it is far easier to point out what’s wrong with people’s sex lives than to take personal responsibility for injustices in our society. And the irony of evangelicals pointing out the evils of pornography in light of the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump affair underscores the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

What I found particularly confusing was the way he jumped back and forth between the Law of scripture and the gospel:

“But God’s moral standards are objective and absolute, and we will be judged by them.  The only cure for a seared conscience is a strong, undiluted, 100 proof, dose of God’s Law.  If that can burn through the seared conscience and break through the hardness of the heart, so can the Gospel.” (2)

He seemed to be saying the Law (God’s moral standards) and the Gospel were one in the same. I took exception to this and sought clarification. What followed ended up muddying the water further and I was finally accused of being antinomian, rejecting the Law. Accusing non evangelicals of heresy seems to be a popular trend lately, the marcionite accusation leveled at popular preacher Andy Stanley is a good example.

What I think evangelicals miss in their understanding and explanation of God’s moral law and the gospel is that the gospel is not primarily a legal transaction. It is a love transaction. While the Decalogue and the Laws of Moses do indeed spell out some particulars, both Jesus and the apostle Paul anchor God’s attitude towards us, and our response to him, as one of love. As I tried to explain, the Law as legal contract, does not go far enough and is helpless to change us. So a “100 proof, dose of God’s Law” will not change our hearts. It is the love of God, administered by the Holy Spirit that brings change. This is technically known as sanctification.

Every time I bring this up with evangelicals, they get upset. Having clear cut rules seems very important to them. And it is about the rules, and keeping them, and more importantly, pointing out when others are not keeping them. And again, one of the reasons conservatives are so adamant about legalism, is that it is far easier than practicing love. It is black and white, clear cut. You’re either sinning or your not. It is why ultra conservative evangelicals like the Southern Baptists can be so legalistic while withholding love from people of color, women and gays. Godly love is far messier. It requires love of even our enemies. Love the LGBTQ community, check. Love foreigners among us, check. Love people of color, check. Love refugees, check. Love their children, check.

True, cruciform love is far more demanding than a list of sins can ever be, and that is why Jesus and Paul put such an emphasis on it. It is why Jesus broke with Sabbath tradition and came in conflict with the keepers of the Law. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” tells us all we need to know about keeping the Law of Moses…it’s not enough.

But my main concern with Dr. Veith’s article was that it was impractical. Evangelicals can no longer claim moral high ground in society. People want to see your faith in action. Moral platitudes are worthless if not backed by those who “walk the walk.” Society is no longer motivated by threats of hell and damnation. Sin, as breaking what many see as anachronistic sexual mores, carries little weight. The conservative church is giving answers to questions society is no longer asking, nor cares about. Unconditional, extravagant Godly love, though…that would be a game changer for the church and society. It is odd that so many evangelicals I talk to find that objectionable. After all, wasn’t that the summation that Jesus gave to the Law in the first place? “Love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself?”

“Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.”

― Thomas Merton

Gallop Poll

Patheos Blog Post

Bondage to Doctrinal Purity

One of the bondages Jesus came to set us free from was bondage to a legalistic, weaponized use of the Law of Moses. He hung out with those deemed undesirable by religious folks, especially religious leaders who used the Law as a means of excluding people. In opposition to the Laws of Moses he healed on the Sabbath, touched lepers, worked on the Sabbath, shared God’s love with a Samaritan woman, healed a Roman officer’s young manslave, “pais,” (probably meant in the common context of male lover), included eunuchs (sexually other) in the kingdom of God, and showed a profound interest in the spirituality of women. His sermon on the mount, and “you have heard it said, but I say unto you,” shows a midrash style of reinterpretation at odds with the Saducees and Pharisees.

So here’s the problem I see, and the recent flack over Andy Stanley’s series on the OT is a good example, when Christians try to make Christianity about following rules, you don’t end up with more loving Christians, just legalistic ones. Take male headship for example. Instead of seeing the Pauline example to be taken from Christ’s self-sacrificing servant attitude, men only see “rulership” over women. One can read that into the narrative, but only by ignoring Christ’s example. When you do so, the SBC and Paige Patterson is what you get.

Evangelicalism has always tended to get lost in the weeds. Rather than seeing the overarching trajectory of scripture as pointing to Jesus and his twofold commandment, they heap on as many laws as possible, not trusting the work of the Holy Spirit. It becomes more about excluding others than letting others in. Christians become defined by who they are not, rather than who they should be emulating. It reduces Christianity to a scorecard, with their particular statement of faith as the standard by which to score others.

Currently the UMC, United Methodist Church, is struggling over what type of Jesus and what type of Gospel they wish to represent. Things do not look good for the health of the denomination. A rather large faction within the church wishes to return to the good old days when Gays were excluded. When the law of love is supplanted by an obsession with doctrinal purity, everyone loses. How many more denominations and church splits do we need before we realize this?

What do You do When Scripture gets it Wrong?

So I have been dealing this week online with the outpouring of vitriol and jubilation by my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ over the SCOTUS reversal on the Colorado Commission’s decision against the Christian baker. As you know, SCOTUS decided the baker did not receive a fair hearing. BTW, we should stop referring to these people as “Christian bakers” but rather as “Christians who bake.” Different meaning altogether, catch my drift? The SCOTUS decision, unfortunately will embolden more divisive and hateful behavior from the Religious Right who seem more invested in their perceived unjust treatment by society than any concern for the rights of others who have been marginalized and vilified for centuries, much of it stemming from the misapplication of their religion. 

I have waded into the fray and tried to reason with people, tried to bring God’s love into the equation, tried to get them to see what science shows us…but they will have none of it. When you have an inerrant scripture, no amount of facts to the contrary matter. Frankly, I am deeply discouraged. It is like watching a train wreck in slow motion and being helpless to stop it. As a nation we have not seen this level of divisiveness and hatred since the Jim Crow South, which conservative Christians were also deeply complicit in.

To simply say, “I believe the Bible,” reflects an incredible amount of self deception, as no one, no matter how fundamentalist, approaches scripture that way. It is dishonest to claim otherwise. So what do you do when scripture seems to accept slavery as a given in society? Or that killing your enemies or the families of one’s enemies is God-ordained? What do you do when the Bible tells you killing children is a blessed or fortunate event under certain circumstances? What do you do when scripture says sex outside of marriage warrants stoning? Or that when a man lay with a man, they both shall be put to death?

Accepting that slavery was morally wrong was a hard sell to conservatives in the South. The Bible “clearly” supported it. In fact, Southern Christians really didn’t concede defeat in the matter but sought ways to circumvent the abolition of slavery, and felt doing so was upholding scripture. The result was a simmering hatred of Blacks that resulted in 4000 lynchings and a continued animus that still plagues the Southern church. That anti-gay “scholars” such as Robert Gagnon don’t see a connection between the slavery issue and the Gay issue is a tragedy of self deception and spiritual blindness.

I am afraid the lesson of slavery was not learned by conservatives. Scripture is still being used to diminish the worth of the “others” that are hated and feared for their difference. It is as though the conservative Christian’s self-worth is determined by comparing themselves to the supposed debauchery of Gays. Just as a White male could feel superior by lynching Blacks and controlling them, today’s conservative wants to regain control over Gays via legislation that marginalizes them and allows for discrimination against them.

Southerners gave dozens of reasons, besides scripture, why Blacks were inferior or dangerous, none of which were true or scientifically supportable, but that didn’t stop them from treating them as “truths.” It is the same with the conservative arguments against allowing Gays to be Gays. When the conservative understanding of scripture conflicts with reason, science, psychology and the law of love, their small minded views take precedent over all else. To further bolster their hatred numerous untruths about Gays were presented by conservative leadership to lead the faithful into believing Gays were dangerous and would lead to the destruction of the American family. The SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage reflected the fact that the justices were not convinced of the truthfulness of those claims by the Religious Right.

Unfortunately, conservatives still struggle with how to be Christlike. Rather than seeing the trajectory of scripture leading away from legalism and a judgmental spirit, they cherry-pick scriptures that can be weaponized and used to exclude others from a seat at the table. If you’ve listened to any of Franklin Graham’s pronouncements it is clear that the gospel is, for many evangelicals, more about exclusion than inclusion. All a part of the delusion of the Pharisee that prides himself that he is not like other sinners. While the Colorado baker thought he was upholding God’s laws against same sex relations he was unfortunately breaking the greater commandment to love others, to serve others whether we approve of them or not.

So does scripture get same sex relations wrong? Does scripture get human sexuality wrong in general? It depends on what we are referring to. Many evangelicals seem to think the Bible has all the answers. It does not. The Bible is first and foremost a sort of “diary” of human thoughts and the progression of those thoughts, about God. It is not God talking about himself, but man talking about God, and what man perceives with his limited understanding about God. To assert otherwise misrepresents what scripture is actually. It is not a marriage manual. Many of the sexual mores presented in scripture are simply no longer applicable. They are culturally bound, and sometimes immoral in and of themselves. They’re based on ancient assumptions of male superiority and women as a reflection of man’s authority. They are also based on prescientific assumptions of biology.

Most evangelicals I have talked to and argued with have no interest in educating themselves or of learning empathy. The reliance on authority figures for their directives and a literal use of scripture to the exclusion of outside sources that may temper their views is disturbing. It displays a remarkable laziness in attempting to come to grips with a complex issue: human sexuality. You would think that the adamant declaration that all same sex activity is immoral and the resulting wish to exclude them would warrant a more thoughtful and thorough study. But it has not.

When presented with these objections, conservatives double down and revert to outdated sexual mores designed to keep heterosexual males at the top of the food chain. Let’s be honest. Few conservatives would claim having multiple wives glorifies God. Yet that is supported by an uncritical reading of scripture. Yet many of those same Christians would declare a woman cannot teach a man, and should not work outside the home. While polygamy is almost universally recognized as demeaning to women, Christian men for centuries have sought ways to circumvent this and still control women for their pleasure.

When it comes to scripture, it must be remembered that male dominance is the backstory. When talking about same sex relations it is necessary to keep that in mind. And that the backstory is over 2000 years old, that we cannot take an ancient culture, uproot it, and simply plop it down in the 21st century and expect it to fit unadjusted. Male dominance is still the backstory, some things apparently do not change.

““But let’s just remember it’s not about the cake. It was never about the cake, and it was never about this one case.

The larger takeaway here is that it’s not only PRIDE month … it is PRIDE month in 2018, FFS, and here we are still talking about this. Still in a fight about whether or not people who love each other are allowed to live together and have all the rights that implies; whether or not they are allowed to have cake; whether or not they are allowed to show up at church and have bread at the table. Here we are, Church, still in a squabble about who’s in and who’s out, who Jesus loves more, and who’s allowed to sleep with who.

This is not about the Courts, and it’s not about the cake. It’s about the Body of Christ needing to get its shit together and love people. All the people. 

“Maybe it was never about the cake, but you know what? We’re here for the cake. We’re here for whatever thing you have to fight for today, because we are in this thing with you until you don’t have to fight for it anymore. And also, we’re here for the cake because we just like cake. And we would love to have a piece at your wedding. But more than that, we’d love to have you at our table.” (Erin Wathen)

God, Country and Guns

This article on Sojourners got me thinking.  What we think about guns…While there is a definite “God, Country and guns” crowd, the dialogue needs, IMO, to center around how we as a society have historically seen violence as the best means of resolving conflict. America was founded on this principal. “Freedom” for men fleeing tyrannical political and religious systems in Europe meant coming to the New World and achieving freedom by taking freedom from those here before us. And how did we achieve that “freedom,” violently, by using guns.

As Americans we have a nostalgia for the simplistic “good old days,” when America was great and conflict could be resolved, not through a lengthy discussion, but quickly, and decisively by consulting Smith and Wesson. It was and is the ultimate male fantasy. We have seen, in the “heroic” portrayals of the dime store novels of the 19th century, to the propagandistic movies of war in the 40’s and in today’s video games, violence as a conflict solver is pushed on society from every corner. Think about movies you’ve recently seen. How many start with the good guy trying to reason with the “bad guy,” which inevitably fails and the bad guy has to be killed by movies end? There are some remarkable exceptions, see Gran Torino for example, but the trend is otherwise.

So some of the problem comes from our entertainment industry that perpetuates the myth that guns solve problems. The industry needs to be more responsible and less concerned with their bottom line. The other angle involves taking a realistic look at other democratic societies that have reduced gun violence. Ironically, you will find that they are some of the most progressive, secular and non-religious democratic countries, again underlying the fact that when conservatism and fundamentalism combine, the result is more gun violence. No doubt having less to do with being religious than seeing issues totally as binary, without nuance.

The current stalemate with the NRA is troubling. It is difficult to resolve because there is no financial incentive for the organization becoming more responsible. Nor an incentive for politicians on the right to resist the $$ coming from the NRA. We are talking a large amount of money! And of course, the gun industry profits from gun violence. So we need to go around them. One way to do so is through education. While right wing adults may be largely unpersuadable, children are more easily swayed. We need school curriculum to counter 200 years of gun culture. This will take time, but children are our future.

Parents too, have a responsibility. When I was growing up their was Bonanza, Combat and a few other gun centered shows. I played “cowboys and Indians” with the neighbor boys, but there wasn’t a constant barrage of violence on TV, video games and smart phones. I have seen these things become surrogate “parents” for our children and grandchildren. Parents, monitor your children’s digital recreation. A constant input of violence for entertainment is not healthy!

In the end, while we need to look at realistic and fair legal enactment, lasting results will best be achieved through better parenting, a responsible, more balanced entertainment industry and education in our schools.

When Society Acts More Christlike Than the Church

In my last post I discussed Andy Stanley’s controversial take on the Old Testament and the church’s long historic struggle with it’s appropriation of Jewish Law. In that article I attempted to show that the church’s understanding of “inspiration,” as meaning an inerrant text, has resulted in unethical behavior, following the pattern set in the OT. In other words, inerrancy doctrine blinds the church to unethical behavior and has been used as an excuse for some pretty awful actions over the centuries. It continues to do so.

Historically the church has prided itself as a bulwark against immoral behavior and against the relativism of society as a whole. While there is a degree of truth to the claim; the church has had a stabilizing influence on society, and has been responsible for some good in terms of its ministries, but its successes need to be honestly assessed in terms if its misses as well. In my studies at an evangelical college and later at Fuller Seminary, Pasadena CA, the church’s failures were never much of an emphasis. Church history tended to center around the development of and arguments about Biblical doctrine. To put it another way, sound doctrine was more of a priority than “doing unto the least of these.”

This is not to say students and faculty were uninterested in ministering to those in need, helping the poor, practicing peace and fighting racial inequality. These were focal points of the evangelical, as opposed to fundamentalist agenda. Fuller, in particular, had a diverse faculty and student body, but what I don’t recall was a broad sense of the social impact the church has had on society for better or worse. While I think Fuller has changed of late in that regard, it has been, in my opinion, a shortcoming of the church as a whole.

To better understand what I am taking about we need to go back to the 19th century. America was growing in leaps and bounds, technological advances were making life easier and Americans wealthier. It was a time of manifest destiny, as America became the most powerful nation on earth. Science was telling us more about ourselves, medicine was finding cures for diseases and social barriers were eroding. And in the midst of all this positivity the American church was more “evangelical” than at any other point in history. Unfortunately, the church squandered its opportunity to lead.

The American civil war was the church’s defining moment, and its failure to come to a consensus on the evils of slavery would ultimately would allow society as a whole to take the lead in social reform, while the church would become less and less relevant to social reform and in many cases, resistant to reform. That evangelicals in the South could not understand the evils of slavery while those in the North did, was one of the greatest moral failures of the church in America. Eventually the insistence on an inerrant scripture that supported slavery would divide the biggest denomination in two. Theology took precedence over ethical concerns.

Following the civil war many Southern Christians refused to concede defeat, but allowed a simmering cancer of racism and bigotry to eat away at Southern society, resulting in the Jim Crow South, lynchings, black poverty and eventually civil unrest and rioting. Where the church was during this time is a tale of two cities. Eventually the church would divide along liberal and conservative lines, with liberals following the general trajectory of reform held by society as a whole, and conservatives resisting that trajectory as “conforming to the world.”

Rather than learning a lesson from the civil war, conservatives became merely more entrenched in their unmitigated opposition to change in society. They became nostalgic rather than progressive. This backward thinking, this longing for a imaginary better past, hampered the church from moving forward. Again and again, doctrinal certitude has taken precedence over meaningful social interaction and reform. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, still struggles with racism, white nationalism and misogyny.

As the progressive church (mainline denominations) shrunk in membership, the Moral Majority surged in numbers in the 70s and 80s. What fueled the growth of a largely white conservative church was a fear of the rapid changes to society: feminism, equal rights, gay rights, and a racial blending of America that had once been controlled solely by white males. And, again, the nostalgia for the good old days was largely influenced by Southern evangelical leadership as it is still to this day. Conservatives circled their wagons, and ensconced themselves in megachurches, protecting the faithful while decrying the dangers of communism, the sexual revolution and liberal Christianity.

While hot button issues such as feminism, abortion, illegal aliens and Gay marriage are a constant source of energy and consternation for the conservative church in America, the church has become more and more reactionary and less and less revolutionary. With the hypocrisy and White nationalist tendencies clearly on display the last election cycle, the Religious Right has lost any ability they once had to lead in American society. Instead, their merger with a white, patriotic world view borders on idolatry. And sadly, they are losing their youth. Without a younger generation to pick up the torch, evangelicalism will eventually die. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.

What we are seeing in America is not a healthy, vibrant church leading social reform, but a reclusive church more concerned with infighting and doctrinal purity than meaningful change. As long as the American church is convinced they are morally superior to society they will be largely oblivious to their own sins and will end up hurting others rather than healing. Ironically society, in its inclusion of people regardless of race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation and religion, is becoming more Christlike and the conservative church less so, at least when it comes to accepting the “others” who look or act differently. When the church focuses narrowly on doctrine, sexual mores and control of women as more important than larger ethical concerns, society moves on without them and rejects the church and its mission. This is sad.

Recommended Reading:

Mark A Noll, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis”

Bishop Curry and the Power of Love

Like many Americans my wife and I watched the royal wedding Saturday sharing with millions of Americans in what is usually a sort of detached curiosity as to what goes on “over there across the pond.” But this time it was different. We had enjoyed Will and Kate’s wedding and greatly admire their modernity, graciousness, and of course, their children. But the wife and I had merely tuned into their wedding, content with savoring bits and pieces of it at that time. Harry and Meghan’s wedding was different. We devoured it in an all day feast, engorging ourselves in every little detail, every side story. But what surprised me the most was how moving both of us found it.

From the outset it was so apparent how much in love the couple were. Not a young, sappy sentimental love, but a mature, calculated love. A love that saw in each other a dedication to serving others, and that together they could more effectively work for change than each could do on their own. It was no wonder, then, that the couple chose Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, to deliver the wedding sermon. Although the Episcopal Church is an offshoot of Anglican Church of England, this was anything but a typical Anglican homily.

It was rousing, inspiring and evangelical in the broadest sense of the term. He talked about the love of God and how different the world would be if we all realized it and practiced it. It was the core message of Jesus, given in the most inclusive, nonjudgemental way. I was a bit nervous, as it was more emotional and a tad longer than I envisioned the Royal family and the British guests were accustomed to, but they got through it none the worse for wear. Harry and Meghan seemed touched by it.

I was curious how Franklin Graham, the son of the late Rev. Billy Graham, would react. His father was on good terms with the Queen. Graham tweeted and Facebooked his congratulations, but couldn’t leave it at that. He commented that although he wasn’t invited to this particular wedding, he was invited to the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” Then asked if the reader was invited to that marriage in heaven. Salvation invitation aside, I did feel like I had been invited to the Royal wedding. I related to the young couple on many levels and definitely felt like I “had been to church,” a comment I heard a number of commentators share.

You see, I think Graham didn’t see Jesus in the wedding, because he wasn’t looking for him. We can find Jesus at work in many unexpected places, if we expect it, if we don’t box God in expecting him to only work one way. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex exemplify the love of God in an unexpected way. Their love overcame so many barriers, as does Christ’s love. Race, nationality, social class, religion, culture…it is why I felt so overcome at times watching it unfold. While the Religious Right leadership, like Franklin Graham see the world falling apart and headed to perdition, this couple, in their understated way, represent hope. I hope you saw it too.

Andy Stanley and Our Problem with the Old Testament

Wesley Hill’s Post

Andy Stanley

Wesley Hill’s response to Andy Stanley’s sermon about “unhitching ourselves from the OT” is emblematic of a larger, systemic and long standing problem in the church. In order to understand the nature of the problem, one needs to be able to step back from the historical investment the church has placed in the OT canon, and try to look at church history more objectively. The problem, as I will describe, is not uniquely evangelical, but has marred the church’s understanding of Christ’s teaching for over 2 millennia. I apologize for perhaps over estimating the evangelical responsibility in the matter.

What Andy Stanley, in this sermon has done, is attempt to bring to our attention a certain problem within the church, that has historically hindered the church from truly grasping the nature of the Heavenly Father that Jesus introduces us to. Wesley Hill’s response that the various councils, the church Fathers, the Anglican Church, etc., have all revered the Decalogue is true. He is stating the obvious. But when you understand that the Decalogue is symbolic of and integral to the Jewish covenant alone, as Christians we must be careful how we appropriate it for ourselves.

Stanley has used the Ten Commandments as a sort of code word for the church’s attitude towards the OT as a whole. Marcion was not the only Christian leader to be troubled by the apparent dichotomy between the OT Jewish understanding of God and the new revelation of God’s character presented in Jesus’ teaching and in Paul’s theology. Origen and others in the early church tended to smooth over the difference by the use of allegory, that the Bible had spiritual meanings that superseded the literal meanings of the text. Unfortunately, the grace and unmerited forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ has been muddied by a literal appropriation of much of the legalism of the OT.

For Augustine of Hippo, AD 354-430, there was a “veil” over the OT. One had to get past it to understand the spiritual sense of the passages, even the more scurrilous ones. As a Manichaean, Augustine had spurned the OT scriptures as rather crass and uninspired, but with the influence of Ambrose, and his subsequent re-conversion to Christianity, he changed his mind. It is important to note that, like Origen, Augustine and other church Fathers were not unaware of the ethical problems inherent to the OT. They dealt with the tension by spiritualizing the passages. 

With the collapse of the Roman Empire and increasing pressure from Islam, the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity grew further apart, until Catholicism, the Western branch, became dominant. During the Middle Ages, survival of the church relied on support from various monarchs, and the success of the monarchies relied, in part, on the approval of the Pope. While there were various reforms, and good Popes, there was a growing unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the secular state and the church. While technically not a theocracy, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate between the secular and the divine.

The state’s use of violence, war and coercion had a parallel in the OT, and the church’s collusion with the state implicated the church increasingly with that same coercive, violent mindset. Abandoning the more allegorical interpretive understanding of the OT, treating the enemies of the church violently became a way of treating heresy, following the similar pattern of ancient Israel.

The die was cast. According to the Catholic Catechism, the church was the new Israel. Protestantism had similar parallels. As a result, what we have seen historically in the church, is a gradual departure from the Sermon on the Mount as descriptive of the Kingdom of God, to a church that uses much of the same playbook as earthly kingdoms do. Ask any atheist about the church’s ethical shortcomings. We ignore the past to our own peril.

Frankly, I am a bit shocked that a scholar such as Wesley Hill does not seem to understand, that for Paul the Law leads to death and failure. That you can never have enough laws, nor follow enough laws to merit favor. Stanley’s point that we do not “need” the Ten Commandments as Christians, while certainly controversial, is, at root, true. We have something better, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the example of Christ and the teaching of the apostles. The Decalogue is so incredibly obvious, why should we need it as a reminder? Does anyone here need to be reminded that murder, lying or sleeping with the neighbor’s wife is a bad thing?

Instead the author of John and the apostle Paul, repeatedly remind us to LOVE others. Why? Because it is far harder than keeping the Law of Moses. The Pharisees kept the Law fastidiously yet failed being loving. This is the draw of legalism. It lets you off the hook in the love department. This is why the church, in its efforts to keep doctrinal, legalistic purity, could burn people at the stake, or torture them to get them to convert. In their perversion of love, they saw it as a way of saving souls.

While we no longer burn people at the stake for heresy, witchcraft or being Gay (except in Africa), the same obsession with legalism and doctrinal purity ostracizes people and turns people away from Christ. It is the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra that fails so miserably. Like Paul in Romans 2, people instantly know hypocrisy when they hear it.

While Origen and Augustine may have understood the OT in allegorical terms or spiritualized difficult passages, today’s evangelical is not so sure. With the rise of the Princeton School of Theology and the pushback on Christian liberalism and the historical critical method, inerrancy and literal interpretation has become the defecto evangelical methodology of understanding scripture. In effect, it mires scripture down to the understanding of scholastics like Aquinas and legalists like Calvin. Unintended side affects are a gospel that is irrelevant today and a rigid doctrinal system that cannot be reformed. It cannot be reformed because in the declaration of an inerrant scripture, the defender becomes inerrant himself. Check out Roger E. Olson, “Reformed and Always Reforming, The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology,” for more on this matter.

The danger with understanding scripture this way concerns us most when coming to the OT. While the Decalogue is certainly a wonderful document, Christian appropriation of certain Levitical laws generally ends up backfiring by creating legalistic Christians. Instead of manifesting God’s love and forgiveness, they become harsh and judgmental. This, of course, can happen when using the NT as well. I think Wesley Hill’s comment are illuminating:

It is striking how frequently flirtations with Marcionism are aimed at revising Christian teaching on sexual morality. Though he doesn’t walk through it himself, Stanley’s sermon opens the door to this revisionism. He says that Paul tied sexual behavior not to the old covenant, not to the Ten Commandments, but to “one commandment that Jesus gave us: that you are to treat others as God in Christ has treated you.

For Hill this is simply not enough. The example that Jesus showed us in his life. The forgiveness he showed his tormentors on the cross, the admonition to love greatly by Paul and John…not enough. As he further states:

we Christians so often fail to discern what real love amounts to, and we need the Old Testament’s commandments to shine a spotlight on our slippery self-justifications. We may intend to treat a sexual partner as God in Christ has treated us, we may try to act toward them out of self-giving love, but the distorting effects of sin mean that we must be told what love looks like in action if we’re not to get it wrong. That divine telling, sadly, is what Andy Stanley’s sermon would keep us from hearing.”

So here we have the real reason behind the uproar: the need for Christians to monitor others sexual behavior. This is the slippery slope conservatives fear if the church “unhitches” itself from following certain OT “moral laws.” Heavens! Some one might interpret that as freedom to love someone else of the same sex! And as Hill has pointed out, the OT is such a stellar example of marriage and sexual relations, come on Wesley Hill! Really? We’ve all seen the Facebook mimes. OT marriage looked nothing like marriage today, even among Southern Baptists!

So here’s the deal. The human tendency to legalism, is a universal. We gravitate towards laws. When they are used to protect us from each other, they are useful. When used to exclude, marginalize or persecute others…not so good. When treated as absolute inerrant codes of conduct, and end up hurting people, it’s time to step back and reassess things. It is my personal opinion that the doctrine of inerrancy actually produces unethical behavior in the church. One of the things that has come out of the battle for marriage equality, that SS relations would destroy the family, the nation, would result in pedophilia, that it was immoral, were false. The claims were disingenuous, misleading and were fear mongering. In Biblical parlance, it was bearing false witness.

A rigid inerrant view of scripture “unhinges” the church from the love of Christ unconditionally for others and replaces it with a “performance minded” conditional Christianity, something Stanley obviously was critiquing. As Robert Farrar Capon puts it:

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase, ‘cheap grace.’ As far as I’m concerned, nobody can make God’s grace in Jesus any cheaper than it already is: it’s free”. “…But what I really object to is people who use the so-called danger of cheap grace as a way of browbeating others into thinking there’s some level of performance they have to achieve before they can be worthy of grace.”

“…I guess what I really don’t like is the way people start out by defining sin as ‘moral failure’ and then go on to think that if they commit ‘sins’ they will cut themselves off from grace. That’s all nonsense of course: ‘sinners’ are the very thing God gives his grace to —lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons. As a matter of fact, the true New Testament opposite of sin isn’t virtue, or moral success, or getting your act together: it’s faith in the grace that takes away all the sins of the world. Paul says, ‘all that is not of faith is sin.’ And Jesus says, ‘the one who believes is not judged.’ We’re not on trial: ‘there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’”

“The Mystery of Christ and why We Don’t Get it.” p. 171-172.

I just don’t think Wesley Hill understands this, nor unfortunately, do many Christians.

Peace