Friday, April 11, 2014

Sexuality, Cultural Change, and How We Read Scripture. . . .

Every now and then I have a day that's marked by thought-provoking and anything-but-coincidental convergence. You know. . . you hear something, see something, read something . . . and it all seems to come together to spark thoughts on things that matter. Yesterday was one of those days.

I ventured out on a walk while thinking about today's "Day of Silence" and what that means for our kids, our culture, and the church. I'm still processing thoughts that I blogged the other day. Specifically, I was thinking about the complex issues related to same-sex attraction and how our views on such are emerging, morphing, and changing in both the culture and the church. I was thinking about the temptation we all face to change with the times, which leads us to believe that somehow all cultural change is a mark of progression that should be celebrated and affirmed. This creates very real tensions for those of us who follow Christ.

I reminded myself of the principles of faithful and careful Biblical interpretation and exegesis that I've learned over the years, particularly during my time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. We begin not by asking "What does this mean to me?", but "What did this mean at the time it was written?". Once we've done our interpretive exegetical work, then. . . and only then. . . can we work to make applications to our culture and our own personal lives.

While cultural change might tempt us to jettison those interpretive principles, we must always go back to our need to faithfully and responsibly interpret Scripture. . . with Scripture as our starting point for all matters of faith and life. While it's becoming more and more commonplace for Christians to view and interpret Scripture through the eyes of our culture, we need to be doing the opposite as we view, interpret, and respond to culture through the eyes of Scripture.

During my walk, I stumbled upon a podcast that I had never been aware of before, thanks to my handy TuneIn Radio app. "Issues, Etc." is a production of Lutheran Public Radio. I scrolled through some options and settled on an interview with Shane Rosenthal on "Me-Centered Bible Interpretation."  It's worth listening to. Having talked for years about how narcissism and the postmodern ethos have combined to create a way of interpreting the Bible that is more about eisogesis than exegesis, I was thrilled to hear Rosenthal's remarks. It wasn't difficult at all to connect that dots between reading the Scriptures incorrectly, and how we apply an incorrect understanding of Scripture in ways that support and encourage changing moral standards when, in fact, they should be challenged.

Then, my day continued with some reading on a flight to Wichita. I finally got around to reading a Rolling Stone magazine piece on changing sexual standards. "Tales From the Millennials' Sexual Revolution" serves as a reminder of just how much our moral standards have morphed in recent years. I found myself asking, "Will the church process and address these changing standards through the lens of Scripture? Or, will the church adjust Scripture to accommodate these changing sexual standards?"

Finally, I pulled John Stott's Balanced Christianity out of my bag and began reading. I find in Stott a balanced wisdom and maturity that is lacking in so many corners of the church today. His teaching and writing have served to shape me and keep me anchored, especially as it relates to the relationship between faith, Scripture, and culture. The fact that this book was first penned in 1975 might put some younger folks off.  After all, Stott was writing in a different time and culture. Could what he wrote then be even remotely relevant to us today? Without a doubt, yes.

I thought I would pass on some of the more provocative words from Stott's chapter on "Conservative and Radical." Stott defines "conservative" in this case as "people who are determined to conserve of preserve the past and are therefore resistant to change." "Radicals" are "people who are in rebellion against what is inherited from the past and therefore are agitating for change." Stott argues that every balanced Christian "should have a foot in both camps."

Some random, thought-provoking words from Stott. . . .

"Every Christian should be conservative because the whole church is called by God to conserve his revelation, to 'guard the deposit' . . . The church's task is not to keep inventing new gospels, new theologies, new moralities and new Christianities, but rather to be a faithful guardian of the on and only eternal Gospel. . . . The self-revelation of God is. . . . changeless in truth and authority."

"Jesus refused to be bound by human custom; his mind and conscience were bound by God's Word alone. Thus, Jesus was a unique combination of conservative and the radical, conservative toward Scripture and radical in his scrutiny (his biblical scrutiny) of everything else."

"Culture changes from age to age, and from place to place. Moreover, we Christians, who say we desire to live under the authority of God's Word, should subject our own contemporary culture to continuous biblical scrutiny. Far from resenting or resisting cultural change, we should be in the forefront of those who propose and work for its progressive modification in order to make it more truly expressive of the dignity of humanity and more pleasing to the God who created us."

"The greater danger (at least among evangelicals) is to mistake culture for Scripture, to be too conservative and traditionalist, to be blind to those things in church and society which displease God and should therefore displease us, to dig our heels and our toes deep into the status quo and to resist firmly that most uncomfortable of all experiences, change.

3 comments:

Rich: said...

For two thousand years faithful Christians have been rather adept at penetrating and impacting a myriad of cultures globally - learning how to transcend language, custom and social mores values; while at the same time keeping their foundational biblical and theological moorings.

Clearly, there have been some bumps, bruise and tragic abuses... but overall, the Church experienced tremendous success in advancing the Kingdom of God with it's primary emphasis on the Centrality of Christ on the Cross, and then secondarily being Christ's love to others, in their need, while in this world.

I am quite sure that Christians endured tremendous pressure throughout history to conform, in order to be relevant. It was certainly true for the believers in Galatia, when it came to the Judaizers. It was true in Colossae with the pressure that came from those "Belivers" who worshipped Angels and participated in mystery religions (See Hebrews on this as well). To say nothing of how Jesus was expected to conform to the Tradition of the Elders (Later known as the Mishnah), over, and even against the Mosaic Law... which is why He was ultimately killed by them, on the charge of blaspheme. But He would not surrender, nor should we...

The pressure by the world, and even fellow believers, for traditionally "conservative" Christians to conform falls under the adage: "There is nothing new under the sun."

Today, many in the church have traded a "missiological approach" for appears to be a "relevant position."

"Missiological Christianity" means taking the core Truths of the Christian faith, and faithfully learn how "in Christ" to make them living and accessible to the surrounding culture, through orthodox teaching and benevolent living. These people tend to stand UNDER the scriptures.

"Relevant Christianity" is asking the surrounding culture their advice and permission, apologizing on behalf of Christ, about what Truth's they will accept about the faith, and the best way that it can made available without the danger of offending anyone... These people tend to stand OVER, or at best BESIDE the scriptures...

I get both... To some degree I participated in both... Higher Education can do that to you... But upon reflection and more life experience... I'll take the missiological approach...

Good post Walt! Keep 'em coming!

jeff grenell said...

Bravo Walt. Just wrote a similar piece on my blog last week. If you haven't seen the article on Tolerance and Intolerance from FOX News this week, you must read.

Thanks for your work. I use your writings every semester in my courses.

Jeff Grenell
www.jeffgrenell.blogspot.com

Shoobacca said...

Great podcast! Maybe one of the culprits in all this mess is our own evangelistic efforts. Could it be that the typical North American 21st-century presentation of God's plan of salvation for mankind (incorrectly called, because of its incompleteness, "the Gospel") is feeding the narcissistic spirit of the age? Doesn't it serve to elevate self if the great story of God is reduced to being just about getting me to heaven when I die and addressing the things I care a lot about, such as my marriage, my children, my career, my self-improvement, etc.? What about God's interests? Doesn't He get anything out of all this? Because I'm so puny, the magnificent Gospel of God becomes puny when it's understood to be just about me! So maybe we shouldn't be surprised when people who've been trained to think and behave like narcissists, are actually thinking and behaving narcissistically. May God help us to turn our eyes from our own reflections and unto His Majesty.