Ever since the Reformation of the Western Church, Christ’s body has been torn asunder and the ruler of this world has been at a great advantage when it comes to influencing culture and society.
That said, I think its basically indisputable that the Reformation was a necessary tragedy.
Martin Luther and his followers, at bottom, rightly pilloried Rome for essentially saying that Christians could not know they were Christians (see Romans 5:1 and I John 5), and yet the Thomist wing of the Roman Church also was on target when they pointed to William of Ockham’s theology, adopted in part by Luther, as a major problem…
It is the contention of this 3-part series that while we must continue to be divided until we find true unity in doctrine (see I Cor. 11:9), there is nevertheless common ground that can be found using the Bible that has, largely, hitherto remained “unsystematized” – and hence, not been able to be effectively used.
With a little work however, this common ground can be readily identified and used in promoting a feasible cultural and political program that all Christians can get behind (something that I had already began to explore here 3 years ago).
First of all, whether one cares to try and unite Christians in a common “cultural and political program” or not, I maintain that the things I will speak about in this article are critical for the church in any case.
Let me illustrate this with the help of a recent post titled “Dallas Theological Seminary Profs Say Transgenderism is Given by God, Not a Sin,” from the popular and controversial conservative Baptist blog, Pulpit and Pen.
The post maintains that the DTS professors show “a stunning display of bad theology,” going on to point out the following:
First, the desire for sin is still sin (Matthew 5:28) whether or not its acted upon.
Secondly, a sinful proclivity resulting from the Fall of Man does not absolve anyone of sin but rather condemns us (Romans 5:12-17).
Third, claiming that transgenderism is a gift from God is horrific, because God tempts no one to sin (James 1:13).
Fifth, claiming that something must be a “choice” in order for it to be sinful is denial of the historic understanding of Original Sin. The professors seem to grasp the fallenness of mankind, but then use it to absolve from sin rather than condemn.
Having watched the entirety of both of the videos these professors did on the transgender issue (see them here and here), I think the writer of the Pulpit and Pen article misinterprets and misrepresents their discussion — and yet, I can also understand why he might, operating from his own understanding, respond the way he does.
The situation is surely difficult to understand, and for that reason, I really don’t see a good reason to assume that any misrepresentation there is intentional.
I worked hard myself to write a careful and helpful article on this topic a few years ago, and while I make some arguments similar to the DTS professors, I don’t think that overall, my article is as open to attack from Bible-respecting Christians as is their discussion (granted, the title alone might assure that!)
So, how have even seemingly very conservative Baptist professors like those from Dallas Theological Seminary gotten to this point where what they say can provoke such a reaction?
I think that the genesis of the problems we are now facing is readily explained.
We know that the kinds of questions that we are now finding ourselves facing—particularly from LGBTQ+ proponents—have certainly come to the forefront and will not be going away. Why, however, is this the case? These issues have become the issue that they are largely in part because of the church’s own failure to be clear about them, both in their internal and external communications (something I also argued in a recent sermon about the “man of lawlessness”).
We simply do not have the kind of basic, easily-understood frameworks at hand which we would need in order to effectively address these issues in ways that could be readily apprehended by ourselves and others (admittedly, conservative Roman Catholics like Edward Feser have a better framework here than most, but I argue that even Feser’s approach could perhaps benefit from and be challenged by the one I offer below).
The core problem is that we have an underdeveloped biblical doctrine of goodness. Of the goodness that comes from the only One who is good, God (Mark 10:18 ; Luke 18:19).
If we look at the freight that the modern conceptions of goodness carry in conservative American Christianity in general, from Roman Catholics to Evangelicals to conservative Lutherans, we see that there are a couple basic kinds of goodness that they like to talk and think about.
The first has to do with the goodness that is unique to God and His character. We like how God ultimately uses everything – even the things Satan and others might mean for evil – for our good. As I heard the popular evangelical Christian author Phillip Yancey put it years ago, “nothing is beyond God’s redemption.” This is a truly wonderful and powerful thought for human beings to ponder, even as one also notes that the fallen angels are never told to repent!
We also appreciate a peculiar kind of goodness that we see in creation, namely, the heart of the believer who loves the Lord with all His heart, soul, strength and mind! (seen, for example, in the great Lutheran hymn: “Lord, Thee I Love With All My Heart”). In other words, these persons show us that submission to God and His commandments is something that should be done freely.
Such free consent is undoubtedly beautiful and good!
Now, of course, speaking in terms of historic biblical Christianity, to say this does not mean that one denies that in the end, every knee will bow, whether one likes it or not. Rather, it means precisely this: ideally, it is God’s will that all of our devotion and love should come from a place deep within, being wholly un-coerced!
And since it is true that Christians can begin to freely express themselves and become the way they wish to be such that it also harmonizes with God’s desires, it is hard for us, especially as American Christians, to not wish for others to feel so liberated in their own self-expression! A corollary of this then is that in our minds the idea of freedom and goodness go hand in hand not just for Christians – but for others as well.
What could be more beautiful and good than such freedom?
This, however, is to go down an unfruitful and ultimately destructive path, something we have been doing for some 350 years now.
The problem is ultimately with our overly philosophical and yet very human-centered idea of goodness, which—since it is not sufficiently informed by the biblical text—cannot carry the necessary freight and leaves us unsatisfied on the one hand, and unproductive (in the 2 Peter 1:8 sense) as well.
When we speak philosophically about the desires of human beings—and, when it comes to goodness, put the focus on this aspect of the equation—we minimize the importance of all the kinds of created and uncreated goodness that exist in the ways they exist whether we like them or not.
This is the problem with, for example, giving too much credance to notions like social constructivism, social constructionism, or even “worldview”!
Christians need to stick with theological dogmatics – and its relevance for everyone.
I hope you’ll stick with me as I take a stab at pointing out–and systematizing–the goodness that we are missing. I’ll launch part 2 in 3-5 days.