The Part-Time Critic

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Gay Mainstream Film - Part 3

3:26 PM 0
Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Gay Mainstream Film - Part 3
Disclaimer: This post is written from and assumes the historic Christian position on sexuality. It is not primarily interested in discussing validity of the position (for a decent overview of that position, see my summary of the book Mere Sexuality.) Rather, the focus is on how that historic position should interact with a wider culture that is increasingly challenging the historic Christian position from from outside and inside the Christian church.

Dear Christian Brothers and Sisters, 

This series of posts is designed to share my thoughts on how the inevitable gay character or story line in a major franchise blockbuster film will bring challenges to evangelical Christianity and survey the possible responses that can be made. In the first post of this series I outlined why this cultural moment is not only inevitable but will be a major cultural challenge for Christianity. In the second post I explained why I believe a retreatist reaction from most Christians would be intellectually naive and an act of hypocrisy. In this post, I will examine the second major response most Christians make - assimilation - and why it is just as disastrous as retreat. 

If I am being honest, I think the retreat response to cultural change has been increasingly marginalized within evangelical Christianity. I find that less and less, Christians have a stomach for boycotting, for getting cut off from secular culture, and for accepting art from a Christian subculture that is clearly derivative or inferior. There is still a significant impulse within evangelical Christians for a disordered and hypocritical retreat from secular culture, but that's just not the biggest threat I see going forward. The biggest threat facing evangelical Christians is assimilation. Rather than choose to fight and protest the change, the biggest threat will be for Christians to just give in and accept the change. When the disadvantages of a retreatist response are increasingly obvious and the benefits to accept cultural change are obvious and great, I believe most Christians will choose to assimilate to the new cultural norm with either vocal approval or quiet acquiescence. 

This response is just as disastrous as the retreat response. Why? The assimilation response capitulates to culture change by laying down the greatest weapons a Christian can bring to secular culture: The ability to celebrate, critique, and create art that is true, beautiful, and good.

The Failure of the Assimilation Response:
To assimilate means to adapt - to absorb what is external to you and make it internal. There has always been pressure for Christians to assimilate - to make external cultural views and practices their own. The New Testament is replete with stories of people struggling to follow the call of Christ and stay faithful to his way in the midst of cultures calling them to opposing beliefs and practices. For ancient Christians, not participating in Roman temple practices, making sacrifices to the emperor cult, and other various issues were immensely difficult. Imagine your non-Christian neighbor gets news that their son was killed in a Roman battle and word spreads that the battle was lost because there are Christians in the city who refuse to please the Gods through sacrifice. Would you bow to the pressure?

In the last 100 hundred years, American culture - accelerated by the sexual revolution of the 1960's - has massively shifted their sexual views and practices. The acceptance and rise of co-habitation, divorce, pornography, and non-traditional marriages/partnerships has been relatively quick. When I was young boy, the vocal and public support of same-sex marriage becoming the law of the land would have been laughed out of the room. Heck, even President Obama saw the idea of gay marriage as not politically worthwhile in his first term (I don't believe his change of mind - I think he always supported it - just waited for the politically right time to show it). Now, the odds are that vocal and public support of opposition to same-sex marriage is likely to get shamed out of a room. The point here is not to litigate the legitimacy of either view, the point is to emphasize the massive cultural shifts in sexuality that have taken place over the last 100 years.

I'd like to think that Christianity has responded to these shifts primarily with the truth, beauty, and goodness of the historic Christian view of sexuality. Unfortunately, it seems more of the church has adopted (assimilated) the changing views of culture than the culture has adopted the views of the church. The growing affirmation of same-sex behavior and unions within American Christianity today is not a shocking turn within the history of a pure church, but part of a long line of cultural assimilation within a severely compromised church. Sometimes the assimilation is clear, as seen in churches changing their historical doctrines on marriage and sexuality. Most of the time though the assimilation is more in practice than in doctrine. 

While holding to doctrines that uphold historic Christianity, many evangelical Christians live their lives in opposition to them. I don't mean they make mistakes, I'm not talking about that. We all make mistakes and sin. I'm talking about evangelicals who say sex should not be outside of marriage, yet continue to enjoy the secular hookup culture - of dating and enjoying multiple sexual partners. I'm talking about evangelicals that claim to uphold Christian views of sexuality yet craft disingenuous justifications so that they can support politicians who outwardly flaunt Christian views. I'm talking about evangelicals who claim biblical worldviews, yet adopt the secular view that sexual attraction defines our identity, sexual fulfillment comprises our meaning, and sexual restraint comprises an attack on freedom. Christians that uncritically consume media that celebrates infidelity, peddles sexual images for pleasure, objectifies human beings, sexualizes every aspect of life, and endorses ideologies and views about sexuality that Christ would find shameful. 

This uncritical assimilation of secular culture has caused incredible damage to the church. Because the church is the primary vehicle that God uses to bring transformation to his world, uncritical assimilation is damaging to the world as well. Assimilation, just like retreatism, is cultural capitulation - both responses have given up on any true connection with the wider world; where retreatism runs, assimilation lays down. This capitulation is disastrous because is destroys the three major cultural avenues the Christian has becoming salt and light to the secular culture: celebration, critique, and creation of art that is true, good, and beautiful.

Celebration, Critique, and Creation:
The Christian believes they have discovered and experienced the bedrock of truth, beauty, and goodness in Jesus Christ. Christians, empowered and transformed by the Spirit of Christ, are sent forth to bring the truth, beauty, and goodness of Christ into all the world. This truth, where embraced, transforms this broken and hurting world. This community of Christians fulfilling this ultimate mission is what we call the Church. As Christians go throughout the world they encounter various cultures that to varying degrees reject and embrace Christian views. 

But isn't acceptance and assimilation a form of celebration? Isn't the acceptance and enjoyment of shows like Modern Family or Stranger Things or Game of Thrones or The Bachelor a form of celebrating culture? No, not if your impulse is to uncritically assimilate to every cultural change. The ultimate issue between being faithful or unfaithful isn't the viewing of the show or the listening to the song, it's in how/why you view the show. 

What makes something worthy of celebration? In general, standards are set for what it means to be loving, meaningful, worthy, honorable, etc. When something meets that standard - like a soldier laying down his life or a film encouraging us to live a better life - we celebrate it. As noted earlier, the standards of secular culture continue to shift and change like a whirlwind - such that a progressive for its time show like Friends can now be seen to be massively offensive.  If the Christian simply assimilates to whatever the secular culture changes to then they have no real standard for celebration. All celebration becomes subjective and relative to the changing views of secular masses. Not only does the changing tides of secular culture make standards for celebration completely subjective, but it does so for standards of critique as well. A Christian that celebrates and enjoys secular culture without being rooted in the truth, beauty, and goodness of Christ is not really celebrating culture, they are merely being fashionable. 

I believe that what gives the Christian the opportunity to be salt and light to the secular culture is because they refuse to be caught up in cultural fashions. Where an outside culture embodies or embraces the truth, beauty, and goodness of our world, Christians are called to celebrate it. Where an outside culture rejects the truth, beauty, and goodness of our world, Christians are called to critique it. For example, wherever art acknowledges the truth that sin is both ugly and attractive (a duality that Martin Scorsese is particularly good at) the Christian is right to celebrate it. However, where a culture veers from truth, beauty, and goodness - critique is called for. One could simultaneously celebrate a show like Seinfeld for finding the truth, beauty, and goodness in so much of life and relationships, but also critique it for its untruthful, ugly, and impoverishing views of life and relationships. Uncritical assimilation to secular culture forfeits the power to speak transformatively through celebrating and critiquing what is and isn't true, good, and beautiful.

Remaining connected to secular culture through faithful celebration and critique also allows a Christian to create their own truthful, beautiful, and good art not just as a counter (as in the retreatist response) but as a contribution to secular culture. One of the reasons The Passion of the Christ had the impact on the wider culture that it did was because it was presented not just from a subculture of Christianity, but as a contribution to the wider secular culture. If Christians are to fulfill their ultimate mission, we must remain connected to secular culture in a way that doesn't capitulate, but celebrates, critiques and contributes in transformative ways. 

When the moment comes that Disney or Star Wars features their first main gay character, retreat or assimilation is not the faithful Christian response. So what does a faithful response look like? What should you specifically do with culture like that? That is the purpose of my final post in the series. I will outline several practical principles and steps you can take to be a faithful cultural consumer. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Mainstream Gay Film - Part 2

12:34 PM 0
Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Mainstream Gay Film - Part 2
Disclaimer: This post is written from and assumes the historic Christian position on sexuality. It is not primarily interested in discussing validity of the position (for a decent overview of that position, see my summary of the book Mere Sexuality.) Rather, the focus is on how that historic position should interact with a wider culture that is increasingly challenging the historic Christian position from from outside and inside the Christian church.

Dear Christian Brothers and Sisters,

In the first post (of a series of on this topic) I outlined why I think a major blockbuster film franchise featuring a gay character and story line is not only inevitable but will be a major cultural challenge for Christianity. In this post I will explain why I believe the foreseeable retreatist reaction from most Christians will unfortunately be disastrous, that this will be another lost opportunity for Christians to become constructive influencers of our culture – or in biblical terms, salt and light. When the headlines about the first major gay franchise film begin to show up, what will the reaction of Christianity be? Unfortunately, in our social media saturated environment where we are inundated with waves after wave of outrage and controversy, we don’t have to imagine much. I think the reaction of Christians will fall into the same two basic camps most people fall into when presented with a challenge: retreat or assimilation.

The Two Basic Reaction:
Let’s imagine the next James Bond film is confirmed to have a Bond identified as a gay man. The retreat camp will look something like Christians refusing to watch more Bond films, destroying their previous Bond films, calling vehemently for boycotts of the parent company of the franchise while others will retreat to making their own cottage industry of Christianized “James Bond” films (which is probably more of an oxymoron than Christians realize). The assimilation camp would look something like Christians applauding the milestone, changing their social media profile pics to whatever new logo supports the film, churches renting out showings of the film for “evangelistic” opportunities to show support, the purchase and proud display of the inevitable Funko Pop “Rainbow” Bond figurine, the denunciation of boycotting groups, or perhaps the most innocuous – just indifferent acceptance and viewing as if nothing has changed.

If I’m correct in my predictions, I think these reactions would reveal a deep intellectual naivete, monumental moral hypocrisy, and crippling capitulation within the wider Evangelical church. The camps “FOR” and “AGAINST” will emerge, lines will be drawn, and everyone will be forced to pick a side. Both camps, even though one seems more loving than another, will ultimately do great damage and are unfaithful as a Christian response. They both fail to honor the image of God within us, the call of Christ upon us, and the mission of the Church before us. How so? Let’s take a look at the retreat camp. 

The Failure of the Retreat Response:
The reaction of the retreat camp is in many ways understandable and relatable. For many who were outraged that the world of music and television have primarily been given over to better LGBT representation, “family-friendly” big budget franchises feel like one of the last secular “safe spaces” for those who hold to traditional Christian values. They might have stopped watching ABC due to shows like Modern Family, but Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar films were areas they could enjoy with their friends and family. The introduction (or injection in their view) of homosexuality into this safe space will feel like the last straw breaking the camel’s back to them – and they will feel forced to retreat from one of the last spaces of secular culture they felt connected to. This impulse usually manifests as a retreat from the shared secular culture into a safer Christian subculture. We’ve seen this happen with music and have begun to see it happen with film – though I think it will grow exponentially when this cultural domino falls.

The retreat camp, though understandable, is intellectually naive about how culture fits into the call of Christ. I have found that the impulse to retreat from the secular world typically stems from a mistaken view that following in the footsteps of Christ is primarily about remaining holy, clean, and righteous. On this view, withdrawing is done with the intent of removing oneself from people and culture that could dirty them. Holiness and righteousness become focused more on what and whom you keep yourself from and less about being an active follower of Christ bringing the kingdom news to all peoples and all cultures.

To be fair, there’s some truth in the retreatist view – Christians are called to keep ourselves holy and not to mingle light with darkness. There certainly are practices in the secular culture we should entirely abstain from. However, these injunctions must be balanced by the commands to go into the world, to the poor, to the weary, to the widowed, to the children, to the cultures, to the kings, and preach the good news of Jesus Christ. The two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor – they are tied together because we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. It seems simple to say, but we cannot love our neighbor if we find ourselves continually cutting off connections with them – especially common cultural connections. Unrighteousness does not primarily come in mingling with people or culture that is not “Christian” – if it did then Christ would be a deeply unrighteous man.

Creating gospel centered subcultures and inviting outsiders into them is a valid strategy that Christians must employ (think creating a family unit or church community centered around the Gospel). However, it cannot be the only method we employ. Like Christ our Lord, we must ALSO (it’s not an either/or) be willing to meet and connect with people where they are at, with the culture they know. I have typically found that the creation of Christian subcultures has been less about creating true, beautiful, and good art – and more about just creating our own “Christian” versions of entertainment. Our reason for retreat is disordered. Let me be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the creation of subcultures – we all enjoy being part of our own little bubbles within the wider culture. 

However, if we are to answer the call of Christ we must also engage with the wider culture. This means we will get dirty, there will be some negative influences on us – God understands this. As the Christian speaker Sy Rogers put it, “It doesn’t matter that you get dirty, what matters most is what you do with it. Run to God who washes you clean.” We need retreat.  Christ often retreated for peace, quiet, and filling. We also need cultural connection and engagement. Christ interacted with, healed, and befriended more than just those in his subculture. There is a balanced rhythm here that must inform our responses to secular culture.

It gets worse for the retreat camp though. Worse than intellectual naivete, the retreatist response reveals a monumental moral hypocrisy within evangelical Christianity. Let me illustrate by imagining the following conversation between two Christians:

Conversation #1
Bob: You love the Bond series right?
Tim: Oh yeah. Seen every one of them.
Bob: Okay, give me your top 5 bond girls then.
Tim: Easy, you have to start with....

Conversation #2
Bob: You love the Bond series right?
Tim: Oh yeah. Seen every one of them.
Bob: Did you hear that in the next one Bond is going to be a gay man?
Tim: That's ridiculous. Why would they go and ruin the series by injecting that kind of sex in it? I don't think I could watch a gay Bond...This ruins it.

Do you see the utter hypocrisy there? The James Bond series has always been about a man who is sexually active in a way that is clearly not supportive of historic Christian values. The Bond series over the years has been replete with the abuse and objectification of women. It revels in lust and in its rejection of sexuality as meant for a permanent, exclusive, one-flesh union. Yet, there's very few Christians who would bat an eye if I told them that Bond beds 4-5 different women in the next film. There's no way around it, it has to be said bluntly, to use the injection of a gay character in a major franchise as a pretense for cultural retreat would be a monumental act of hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy runs deep as the entertainment choices of evangelical Christians has made it clear that they are more than willing to accept characters that not just embody views outside of historic Christianity, but celebrate them. Disney animated films and Marvel superheroes are reflections of secular views of sexuality much more so than Christian ones. The biblical view of sexuality is not fixated on homosexuality (though it does speak on it). It is, however, fixated on following the good designs of God. The depiction of homosexuality in a major franchise becoming such a lightning rod for evangelical Christians demonstrates how so many Christians have accepted a warped and twisted view of biblical sexuality. American culture left the biblical view of sexuality a long time ago and to retreat now reveals not that you are protecting a biblical view of sexuality, it means you are protecting YOUR view of sexuality. Your retreat is not due to any offense to Christ, it's due to offending your own precious sense of morality.

In summary, there is certainly some truth to the retreat impulse - we are called to not love the "world", not to mingle with sin, and to be holy. However, this impulse must be rightly ordered and balanced or it becomes a position of deep naivete and monumental moral hypocrisy. I believe that as Christians we must engage with our culture, but does this mean we should just accept whatever the culture does? In the next post in this series I’ll explore the second type of response - assimilation - and why it's just as much a disaster for a faithful Christian response.

Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Mainstream Gay Film - Part 1

1:32 AM 0
Why Christians Are Not Ready for a Mainstream Gay Film - Part 1

Disclaimer: This post is written from and assumes the historic Christian position on sexuality. It is not primarily interested in discussing validity of the position (for a decent overview of that position, see my summary of the book Mere Sexuality.) Rather, the focus is on how that historic position should interact with a wider culture that is increasingly challenging the historic Christian position from from outside and inside the Christian church.

Dear Christian Brothers and Sisters,

Imagine that you log into your social media account tomorrow and see the following headline, “Confirmed: James Bond to be gay in the next film entry.” How would you react? What would you think? What if the headline was about the next animated Disney princess, Marvel superhero, or lead Star Wars character instead of James Bond? Would you be shocked? Upset? Happy? Would you immediately retweet it with an angry comment? Would you share it with a rainbow emoji and #lovehasnolabels hashtag? This cultural development is going to happen. I think it’s going to happen sooner than you think, and I’m certain we’re not ready for it.

This will be the first post in a series that will seek to share with my fellow Christian brothers and sisters why I’m worried about our inability to be cultural consumers that are faithfully Christian will be devastating for the coming cultural challenge of a mainstream franchise featuring a gay character and story. In this first post I will outline why I think a major blockbuster film franchise featuring a gay character and story line is not only inevitable, but will be a major cultural challenge for Christianity. In following posts I will explain why I believe the reaction from most Christians will unfortunately be disastrous. The reaction will be tragically stuck playing out the same two responses to every major cultural challenge: 

         1. A stance of moral outrage coupled with a withdrawal from secular culture
         2. A stance of accommodation that inevitably leads to assimilation with secular culture.

Neither of these reactions are helpful, neither live up to the calling Christ puts on us. In fact, I believe these reactions will do great damage to our churches, our communities, and ultimately, the name of Christ. In the final post I will give my own suggestions on how I think Christians can react well to this inevitable cultural development and become consumers of culture that are Christ-like.

Why write these posts now? I realize these cultural wars are not new – they are just the most current in a long line of dominoes that began way before the artistic medium of film was even created. However, I think this particular milestone, more so than others, will be a domino of great importance. Why? Because in our culture, the big budget blockbuster franchise acts as one of our great unifying cultural forces. More so than novels, songs, and even television shows (though they all play a large role too), it’s the major franchise films that provide our contemporary culture with shared stories and values we identify and define ourselves by. They give us the heroes we put on our wall, the figures on our cereal boxes, the costumes our sons and daughters dress up as, and the common experiences we pass down to future generations. Imagine our culture without franchises like the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter, Fast and the Furious, Disney/Pixar animated films, etc. That’s not just a few movies come and gone, that’s an enormous cultural black hole.

Dressing up as Goose and Maverick from Top Gun at a costume party
The 18th century Scottish writer and politician Andrew Fletcher is often quoted as saying, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” I think Fletcher is hitting on something really insightful here – it will be the arts, more so than legislative rulings, that will have the greater influence on the hearts and minds of a people. Why? Because people do not just long for truth stated in propositions and legislation, but we seek for our hearts to be captured by truth that is beautiful and good. The arts have a unique way of delivering truth, beauty, and goodness that can be seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, touched with the hands, and felt in the soul. That shouldn’t be a surprise, Christians believe this is a part of being created as an image of God - in the likeness of our creator who himself is a grand artist. No other artistic medium brings together the arts like film: writers, photographers, animators, sculptors, builders, designers, musicians, composers, actors, etc.

In the movie business these major franchises are sometimes referred to as four quadrant films because they are made appeal to all four major demographics of our society – males under 25, females under 25, males over 25, and females over 25. One of the reasons they need to appeal to such a wide demographic is because they cost so much money to make and market – hundreds of millions of dollars. With that much money on the line, these franchises aren’t just expected to be good, they are expected to reflect the commonly shared values of moviegoers. This is one of the major reasons why there really hasn’t been much LGBTQ+ representation in big budget franchises so far. This is why smaller budget films that are targeting smaller demographics for financial success are able to more prominently feature gay characters and story lines.

However, the secular culture has changed and continues to change. Our commonly shared values have changed. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land and all the other mediums of art now more prominently feature LGBTQ+ representation. We should not be shocked that our big budget franchises will begin reflecting those shared franchises. This means that Disney will have gay and lesbian relationships in their animated films and in their young teen programming. In the same way that the representation of women and minorities in major franchises has become an issue that has led major franchises like Star Wars and Marvel to change (even if it's been slow and incremental), we should expect LGBTQ+ characters to follow. Let me be clear, in as much as this reflects our wider culture, I am expecting this, understanding of this, and welcoming of this. This is the world we live in now. 

Brothers and sisters, the change is coming. This won’t be as easy as when Ellen came out in her 90’s sitcom, or Britney and Madonna kissed at the MTV Music Awards in the 2000’s – it’s easy to brush those off as just niche or just switch off a television station. It won’t be so easy when the change comes to our precious and unifying mythologies. What will you do then? Will you respond with Christ-likeness? In truth and love? How you respond to this will have a greater impact on you and the world than you think. Don't take this lightly.

In the next post in this series I’ll explore the two types of responses I foresee most Christians making and I'll outline how those responses reveal a deep intellectual naivete, monumental moral hypocrisy, and crippling capitulation within the wider Evangelical church.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Part-Time Recommendation: Mere Sexuality

11:22 PM 0
Part-Time Recommendation: Mere Sexuality

Wanting to grow in your understanding of what Christianity has to say about sexuality? I'd recommend giving Todd Wilson's Mere Sexuality a read this summer. It's short and accessible enough to be picked up by most any reading level. If Sam Allberry's Is God Anti-Gay? did a good job addressing of speaking primarily to the issue of same-sex attraction and the biblical response to it, this book does a good job of climbing higher and giving a broader perspective on the historic Christian view of sexuality.

Don't have the time to read it or would like a preview? Here's my summary of the books main points:
"The world needs the church to give more than a biblical response to the issue of sexuality; the church must cast a winsome, biblical, theological, logical, and tradition-rich vision of Christian sexuality.
It must explain that God created humans in his image, and they were created not as genderless individuals, but as sexually differentiated male and female. It must explain that sexual activity is ultimately intended for the glory and in the service of God. Whether married or celibate, all are united through the body of Christ, in service to Christ. There are no singles in the body of Christ.
Sexual activity is meant to unite a male and female in a comprehensive one-flesh union that is exclusive and permanent – this is marriage. This marriage not only unites male and female but has the power to create a new being. It also has the power for great pleasure and used wrongly, for great evil in our world. For those who act sexually, this is God’s design.
However, it is not necessary to act sexually in order to be fully human. A celibate life is not an inferior life but is a legitimate calling that brings glory to God and can be in the service of God. Celibate singles, same sex attracted or not, can find outlets for their love in deep, intimate, but non-sexual spiritual friendships. The church must do better at becoming a community where these friendships are treated on par with marriages.
This view of Christian sexuality is confirmed and embodied by the center of Christianity, Jesus Christ. He embraced sexual differentiation in his incarnation, confirmed the design of sexual differentiation in the new creation through his bodily resurrection, and embodied that while embracing our sexed bodies is essential to being fully human, sexual activity is not. For Christ shows us all that our bodies are given in service to God, through God's design, whether that is in celibacy or in marriage."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Some Thoughts On Friendship

2:39 PM 0
Some Thoughts On Friendship
Meeting up with a former student
I was chatting the other day at a local Potbelly's with a former student and I began sharing some of my observations of how friendships have helped me flourish in different ways throughout my life. They are not terribly focused, but I wanted to share them while they were still on my mind.

I loved my high school friends – we had so many great memories together. However, it wasn’t until I began making different kinds of friends in college that I realized different people brought out different aspects of who I was, who I could be. It wasn't that my high school friends weren't strong friends, they were - it's just that my college friends were different. They had different personalities, interests, styles of humor, and goals.

I’ll never forget a moment during my sophomore year of college when a campus minister pulled me aside and told me, “Kyle, just so you know, the campus staff voted and we think you’re the funniest student.” I was flabbergasted. Initially, my skeptic radar was up and I thought this just might be a misguided attempt to provide me encouragement, but in a much deeper way I was shocked because I never thought of myself as “the funny guy.” That's not something I was told throughout my high school years.

It provoked a lot of reflection in me and helped me see that it wasn’t that I had become a different person, it’s that different friends had brought out different elements of who I was and who I could be that I never thought resided in me. Throughout my college experience, different friends and roommates would see different parts of me blossom - new interests, new styles of humor, new goals, etc. I greatly enjoyed those parts of me, I hadn’t really seen them in my life before.

My housemates in 2005 during one of my costumed parties
This meant that when I left that bubble and returned home during college breaks, those parts of me weren’t coaxed out. Those parts of me were mostly reactive rather than proactive. There were times when I tried to force those parts of my personality on my parents and high school friends and it just didn’t go well. At first, I was frustrated about this, since I really liked that part of me and wanted them to like it as well. It took me a while to come to peace with it and realize that they brought out other aspects in me I lacked in my college bubble. This is just how things are.

When friends and roommates would inevitably graduate or leave I would mourn the loss of their friendship not just because I knew I would lose them – but because I knew I would be losing the part of me they brought out. Being part of campus ministry and living in multiple cities the past decade has meant I am always making and leaving friendships. Often, this means unless I make certain types of friends in certain places – I know certain parts of me will come out.

As I was sharing this reflection about friends with my former student another new insight dawned on me – one that could be lovingly labeled a Jesus Juke.” If it was true that certain parts of our personalities and potentialities lay dormant and only blossom with the right friendships and relationship, is this what Christian theology was getting at with becoming a “new creature” upon being united with Christ. If relationship with humans could make us blossom, what would relationship with our creator do for us?

Eating out with colleagues and friends - 2018
This led me to a thought that stuck with me all night: It’s only in relationship with Christ that we can overcome our old and broken selves to see the transformation into the true potentiality of what God designed us to be: images of God. If my high school friends brought out one aspect of me, my family another, my college friends another, and my work friends another – then relationship with Christ begins to bring out the full me.

In this sense, the liberating and empowering sense that friends give us is just a foretaste of the work Christ brings us. To know oneself better, you must know a variety of friends. To know oneself fully, you must know Christ. We mourn when we lose friends because we lose parts of our self. All of creation mourns when we lose Christ,  because we lose our entire selves.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Part-Time Recommendation: Is God anti-gay?

2:29 PM 0
Part-Time Recommendation: Is God anti-gay?

Sam Allberry's short book Is God anti-gay?  is a great introduction to the key questions and concerns surrounding Christianity and homosexuality. Sam is a Christian pastor, speaker, and writer who is single and openly shares that he is same-sex attracted (HERE is a great introduction to his story and his teaching). This issue is one of the most pressing of our culture and it is also one of the most difficult and tough to talk about. I think Allberry's book provides one of the most accessible, practical, and biblical Christian voices on this topic.

Allberry's book answers the somewhat shocking question in its title with a direct response "God is not anti-gay." The rest of his short book (it is less than 100 pages) lays out his biblical reasoning:  God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone: repent and believe. The Bible provides the foundation for this teaching – begun in Genesis, reinforced and expanded by Jesus and his Apostles in the New Testament. It is the same invitation to fullness of life in God, the same offer of forgiveness and deep, wonderful, life-changing love. Repenting and accepting God’s invitation is just as challenging to everyone as it is to gay people because it asks nothing less than a full-life commitment. 

Not just satisfied with an overview of the biblical teaching on sexuality and in particular homosexuality, Allberry takes time to speak to many of the practical issues as well. Much of the last third of the book takes up this project.

All of us experience fallen sexual desires, whether those desires are heterosexual or homosexual by nature. It is not un-Christian to experience same-sex attraction any more than it is un-Christian to get sick. What marks us out as Christian is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do. 

Beyond the main chapters, many readers will find the book's sidebars on the most popular objections to Christian teaching extremely helpful:
  • Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?
  • Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?
  • Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?
  • Isn’t the Christian view of sexuality dangerous and harmful?
I found these questions to be answered with a mix of pastoral care, biblical integrity, and brevity. It's hard to find a resource on this subject that is able to be brief, speak to the heart, but also provide solid biblical thinking on the topic. To that end, this is an incredible resource.

I strongly recommend this book to all lay-Christians, teachers, and the average non-believer who wants to know about the Christian teaching on sexuality. For a practical introduction and overview of this topic, the book feels remarkably comprehensive. It provides solid biblical, theological, and practical answers without getting bogged down in the weeds of anthropology, biblical studies, or theology. It's not a great resource for academics or those hoping for a deep analytical dissection, but that's kind of what makes this so helpful for the lay person.

The teaching of Jesus does two things: it restricts sex and it relativizes its importance. Jesus shows us that in its God-given context the value of sex is far greater than we might have realized – and yet even there it is not ultimate. Sex is a powerful urge, but it is not fundamental to wholeness and human flourishing. Jesus showed that both in his teaching and in his lifestyle. After all, Jesus – the most fully human of all people – remained celibate himself. The gospel shows us that there is forgiveness for all who have sinned sexually. And the gospel also liberates us from the mindset that sex is intrinsic to human fulfillment. The gospel call that no one need cast all their happiness on their sexual fortunes is not bad news, but good news It is not the path to harm but to wholeness.