Introducing the Abolition of Sex

It is obvious now that waves of young Evangelicals (not to mention everyone else) swarm to modern ideas (or ideologies) of sexuality and marriage. This is a sad reality, one made even more unfortunate because these people rarely seem to understand the vision their leaving behind. They know the obvious features of the boringly named “traditional view”—e.g. anti-LGBT stuff—but as far as I can tell are completely unfamiliar with the deep issues.

This is in part simply a tragedy of the age. We live in a time when people think that your big ideas about the world (i.e. philosophy or doctrine or worldview) don’t really matter. All that matters are the flash points on controversial issues. Do you agree with abortion? Gay marriage? #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, or #AllLivesMatter? No one cares whether all of your beliefs fit together into a big picture. Big pictures are for nerds, or academics, or people who don’t get the real world. All that matters is what you think individually about all the issues. As G. K. Chesterton put it, everything that you believe matters except for what you believe about everything.

This very sad and very unchristian perspective has been bad for the Church. It’s led us to focus on the specific issues, whether gay marriage or divorce or transgenderism, and neglect the big picture so much that most people both inside and outside the Church have no idea what the big picture might be. They know some specific arguments against gay marriage, or divorce, or whatever, but they’re mostly unconnected. There is no simple and complete vision of marriage and sexuality holding it all together.

Because of this, it is much easier for people to see the “rules” as arbitrary, just pointless restrictions imposed by God because He said so. Even some Christians willingly take this route. They may happily tell you, “There is no reason to say homosexuality is wrong except that  God said so.” This is, I strongly believe, terribly wrong. It is a great way to destroy the “traditional view” if we wish to do so, of course. It is also a great way to create frustration and antagonism with those who disagree with us. But it is an awful way of understanding Scripture and the Christian worldview.

To an extent, I want to make reversing this situation a lifelong project of mine. As I see it, the flashpoint questions about sexuality are symptoms of much deeper issues that cut to the heart of a Christian view of life, the universe, and everything. Getting these wrong will ripple into waves which will wreak havoc on wider issues of morality, ethics, and the future of the human race. I would like to safeguard against that if at all possible.

Toward this end, I will be making a series of posts addressing the threat and laying out as simply as I can the big picture of the Christian “traditional view” of sexuality as a solution. Some people who have been particularly beneficial to my understanding of these things are C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Alastair Roberts, Peter Leithart, N. T. Wright, and even Alice Linsley. I will not quote them much because I’m not aiming to show off my reading or sound smart. My goal is to present and persuade for the average Joe and Jill, and so almost everything will be in my own words, except for the best lines that I can’t beat. Even so, I want to refer all my readers to these people. They’re smarter, better read, and usually more clear, witty, and/or eloquent than myself, so they’re worth it.

In the first post, having raised the question, I will also give a very brief outline of my argument, which will work from the everyday ground up.

  1. Rightness is real: There is such a thing as right and wrong, even a right and wrong that transcends all cultures. It matters what we think about right, how we decide what is right, what we think right means, and how we are supposed to know anything about it.
  2. Mating is moral: Sexuality is a moral issue. Even though some people think it’s purely preference or neutral, almost everyone draws a moral line somewhere. This line is more important than people realize, and it makes all the difference where and how we draw it.
  3. Choice isn’t the center: Whether they know it or not, most people today center their beliefs about sexuality around the concept of “choice,” the two big components being consent and individual expressions or preferences. Logic will show that while consent is necessary, it’s never enough, and that expressions and preferences are prone to twisting in ways that make them unhelpful as guides to sexual morality.
  4. Creation is the cornerstone: In contrast to the paradigm of choice, the Christian understanding of sexuality is based on a theology of creation in the context of Trinity, communion, covenant, redemption, and Christ. A beautiful glory arising from unity made of difference is at the heart of a Christian worldview, one which begins within God Himself and moves outward and downward into every sphere of human relationships, most fully and beautifully in what has been called “Christian marriage.”
  5. Deconstruction is destruction: If we continue on the route of taking down all classical moral sexual norms in favor a paradigm based on human self-liberation, sex itself will fall apart. Sexuality and marriage will both die, leaving something new and hardly human in their wake. The individual human is the god of the new sexuality, but once humans are gods they cease to be human. The abolition of sex will be the abolition of man.
  6. Faithfulness is the future: The new paradigm won’t work, but the old Christian view is time-tested. Our world today may not like it, but it never stopped working. If human sexuality, and therefore sexual humanity, is to have a future, it will be a future of faithfulness to the “traditional view.” Some things may change, but the one core, creational vision of sex shared from Moses to myself will stand at the heart of any positive future.

This is the sketch of my argument. I don’t know if it will persuade anyone, but I will be developing it in detail, and I hope it will be helpful. The next six posts will give the full arguments of each point.

If The Shack isn’t heresy, it might be worse

I argued earlier today that the charges of heresy leveled at The Shack really don’t hold up. This was, of course, a rather controversial claim. But what I’d like to add to the previous post is that The Shack being non-heretical doesn’t make it okay at all. In fact, it might make it much worse.  How do I mean?

The most insidious lies often look a lot like truth. The most dangerous scams are the ones that have some genuine credentials. And in this case, a Christian book can cause more damage if its overall project is deeply flawed while nonetheless at a technical level skating past the charge of heresy.

Make no mistake: even if I’m right that Young’s sketchy-looking theology can mostly all be classified as muddy represenations of some orthodoxy traditions, that doesn’t mean his overall project is okay. It is skewed toward a progressive perception of God as essentially toothless love, as egalitarian relationality with no concept of standard or holiness. These are framed in a way so as to not technically violate any orthodox doctrines, but create a bizarre and deficient view of God. Tim Keller put it well in his reflections on The Shack:

But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible. In the prophets the reader will find a God who is constantly condemning and vowing judgment on his enemies, while the Persons of the Triune-God of The Shack repeatedly deny that sin is any offense to them. The reader of Psalm 119 is filled with delight at God’s statutes, decrees, and laws, yet the God of The Shack insists that he doesn’t give us any rules or even have any expectations of human beings. All he wants is relationship. The reader of the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Isaiah will learn that the holiness of God makes his immediate presence dangerous or fatal to us. Someone may counter (as Young seems to do, on p.192) that because of Jesus, God is now only a God of love, making all talk of holiness, wrath, and law obsolete. But when John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, long after the crucifixion sees the risen Christ in person on the isle of Patmos, John ‘fell at his feet as dead.’ (Rev.1:17.)

All of this is far more dangerous and insidious when heresy is technically lacking. Where heresy is clear and obviously present, people can far more easily avoid danger. But when the danger hides behind orthdoxy, attempting to introduce a heterodox worldview behind technically orthodox doctrines, much more damage can be done.

This is the problem with The Shack. It takes the cover of acceptable doctrines in order to promote an imagination and worldview for Christian thought that funds modern progressive theology, the kind that leads to the dissolution of Christian beliefs on all sorts of important issues. So bear that in mind as a qualifer on my last post.

A reluctant defense of The Shack

One of the few things as bad as heresy is accusing people of heresy when it’s not justified.

Unfortunately, a lot of conservative Christians spend a lot of time doing just that. Especially the ones who get into Reformed theology, for whatever reason. This is a shame, and I wish we as a whole would repent.

This most recently has come to my attention with the hubbub surrounding the movie adaptation of The Shack. The heresy hunt has come out full-force, warning Christians not to go see what might just be the most theologically awful movie since The Da Vinci Code (but even more dangerous since it pretends to be Christian).

The problem for me is this: I think we’re dealing with mass hysteria caused by reactionary impulses rather than reasoned reflection. Some of the charges escape this fault, to be sure, but many of them have other problems (such as insisting that everyone but Calvinism is terrible theology, etc.).

Now, that said, I would not point to The Shack as good theology. That would be a stretch. I wouldn’t even use it as a Sunday school illustration because I think much of it is muddled and problematic. But to say something has bad theology is one thing. To call it heretical is on another plane altogether. I have no sympathy for this latter move in this particular case. We must always seek to give people the benefit of the doubt, read charitably, and interpret anything which can be interpreted non-heretically as non-heretical. Sometimes after doing all of these things we will still find heresy, but from what  I can tell this is not the case in The Shack.

This brings me to my reluctant defense. I want to address the most common criticisms, and I will do this with reference to an image I saw on Facebook from Presbyterian Memes listing 13 heresies:

Phew, that’s a list. Here are my issues with it:

  1. This is not what is says. Though Papa does say, “We were all there,” and bears scars, this does not imply the heresy of patripassionism to which the point refers. Instead, it really only implies the orthodox and biblical doctrine of perichoresis, mutual indwelling, where the Father is in the Son, the Son is in the Father, etc., as John 14 and 17 mention.
  2. That’s not really what it says, so I’m not sure how to counter it. I am curious, though, how this is different from the popular view that God is required to damn people according to His justice (limited by His justice) and therefore cannot practice love without the atonement first.
  3. God did forgive all of humanity, regardless of whether they repent or not. That’s just universal atonement, which is the true and correct doctrine of the atonement despite Calvinist eisegesis and protest. In any case, how is this heretical unless Arminians and most Baptists and whatnot are all heretics?
  4. That’s just not what it said.
  5. That’s a superficial reading. Young is basically going with a more Eastern (in the sense of Eastern Orthodoxy and many early church fathers, not Buddhism and Hinduism) conception of God’s wrath/judgment which is based on the organic relationship between sin and death or non-being. Is this the normal Western framework behind most of Protestantism? No. Is it heretical? No.
  6. That is the correct, orthodox understanding of the Trinity, unlike the Eternal Functional Subordinationism being touted these days by people like Wayne Grudem and others.
  7. Meh, that’s a criticism which could be thrown at any Arminian, or C. S. Lewis’ “Thy will be done” view of Hell, etc. Calvinists may disagree, but it’s not heresy.
  8. That’s not really what it says, either.
  9. Again, while Young probably leans (or leaned) that way, the book does not make this explicit. Even then, whether universalism is truly heresy or not is a controversial and questionable issue.
  10. That’s a bit of a caricature, and what is actually in The Shack is no worse than the view of inclusivism (explained here), held by C. S. Lewis, the Reformer Ulrich Zwingli (kind of) who invented the purely symbolic views of the sacraments which most evangelicals these days seem to hold, and the great early church apologist Justin Martyr, among others. May be wrong, but still not heresy.
  11. I don’t remember what this is in reference to, sadly, so I can’t really comment on it.
  12. That’s also not explicitly taught in The Shack.
  13. It does not at all say, “The Bible is not true,” so this is silly. It certainly subordinates the Bible to Christ, but that’s just orthodoxy. It also does hint at a more progressive view of Scripture, but your view of biblical inspiration is not a matter of heresy one way or the other.

So, that concludes it. For these reasons I don’t think The Shack is heretical. Does it have problems? Yes. Does it lean towards social Trinitarianism? Yes. Is it very, very non-Calvinist? Yes. Does it have progressive and Eastern (in the sense of Eastern Christianity, again, not Buddism) tendencies? Yes. But are any of these things heresy? No.

I wish we as conservatives could start using charity, stop being contentious, and overall use prudence in how we throw around the term “heresy.” Human beings are at stake here, and they’re in as much danger from contentious heresy-hunting as they are from actual heretics.