Skip to content

Denying the gospel

I’ve already mentioned Mohler’s recent vocalization of a common evangelical predilection for despising and distrusting single people in positions of church ministry. As I’ve also noted, this whole evangelical (and in some ways more broadly Protestant) obsession with getting all ministers “safely” married and childrened is decidedly anti-biblical. The universal testimony of Jesus and Paul in the NT accounts is that, while marriage isn’t wrong, its decidedly disadvantageous to the life of discipleship. So there’s that.

But more pointedly for me is the fact that the belief that marriage is somehow safer, more adult, and more responsible for Christian ministers seems to me to deny the truth of Gospel. I don’t mean to put too fine a point on this, but is it not true that the Gospel declares that, in Christ, old “natural” divisions and restrictions are no longer sovereign? Does it not proclaim that it is the Holy Spirit who distributes gifts to the body just as God desires, irrespective of social location?

To say that there is any inherent superiority — in any way — in Christian ministers being married is not only to contradict the scriptural witness; it is also to deny that the reality of God’s work in Jesus Christ really happens the way the Gospel claims it does. To argue, as folks like Mohler do, that a social-cultural institution (however good it may be in many ways) is the dominant norm for those who would proclaim the Gospel is to deny what the Gospel proclaims, namely that in Christ social-cultural divisions, whatever they might be no longer “are.” What is something, the Gospel says, is “a new creation.”

To say that pastors need to be married is to say that there is no new creation, no presence and action of the Spirit, and indeed, that Christ is not truly Lord. It is to deny that “the form of this world is passing away” and claim instead that “all things continue as from the beginning” and therefore we cannot believe the Gospel in a way that calls forth actual action and faith. Instead we are left to simply defend cultural status quos and the various forms of domination they propagate. That is what Mohler and his ilk peddle and proclaim: The denial of the Gospel and its replacement with a project of cultural conservatism. It is idolatry of the worst sort and should be repudiated by all Christians.

 

27 Comments

  1. Isaiah wrote:

    I once tried to make sure that every writer, leader or voice I came upon I would treat with respect and listen to what they had to say – even if it seemed ridiculous and wrong. I would be “quick to listen, slow to speak” as James says.

    But then I happened to run into Al Mohler. I read something of his where he said it is ok for Christians to torture and less than a week later I read a separate article where he basically said if you practice Yoga it is without question evil.

    There you hae Al Mohler says Torture Good, Yoga Bad.

    Sorry I can’t reference those links for you, by the way.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    And in heaven, there is neither giving nor taking in marriage.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  3. Aric Clark wrote:

    Good stuff Halden. We can’t repeat this refrain enough.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  4. Jason Oliver wrote:

    As a committed single and celibate man going into Christian ministry, I appreciate this sharp criticism of this erroneous view circulating within American evangelicalism. Thanks, Halden, for laying the hammer down!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  5. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Might it be the same denial of new creation to insist the pastors must be heterosexual in terms of “orientation” (whatever that means)?

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Absolutely yes.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  7. Chris Donato wrote:

    We’re just not at the point where we can handle a celibate homosexual “orientation” in our ministers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a denial of new creation to look askance at a minister who wants to minister and who still is deeply struggling with a homosexual orientation, however. For starters, the minister would have to see his/her homosexual orientation as a “struggle,” precisely b/c of the biblical and ecclesial witness regarding homosexuality (and so commit to celibacy—just like a single heterosexual minister would).

    Now, suggesting otherwise is a denial of new creation, precisely b/c it is an attempt to simply defend cultural status quos, albeit not in a conservative direction.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  8. roger flyer wrote:

    Halden is The Hammer

    …and I don’t mean that in WWE parlance.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  9. Mike Gibson wrote:

    Chris, I find your comment bewildering. What you are suggesting is, in fact, a resubscription of the dualism and antipodal binaries that are done away with in Christ. To argue that a minister must perceive her orientation, whatever it may be, as a ‘struggle’ is to deny the new creation inaugurated in Christ and resubmit to the old orders, to the Law. And, frankly, I don’t see how conservatives are not simply defending reigning cultural constructions given that their interpretations of scripture and understanding of sexuality in general is entirely dependent on Western modernity. To understand the biblical narratives in such a fashion is completely to misunderstand not only what the narratives refer to within their ancient near eastern contexts but it is to privilege modern cultural perceptions as the interpretative arbiter.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Mike is right about this.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  11. Mike Gibson wrote:

    It seems to me that the theological attitude subtending conservative religious discourse on homosexuality is analogous to that which Paul confronted Peter about when Peter refused to eat with Gentiles.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    I once would have resisted that idea, but honestly I don’t think its possible to anymore. It really does come back to the issue of new creation and whether or not there really is one.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  13. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Rock on, Mike.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Permalink
  14. Mike Gibson wrote:

    Yes, I think many would be troubled by the analogy. But, in my mind, particularly in reference to the issue vis-a-vis Mohler (and the issue of homosexuality is never far from Mohler), it is the temptation to guard ‘purity’ via the reification of practices and distinctions that are part of old order done away with in Christ. The analogy is fitting, I think, because many of the terms Paul uses regarding sexual practices had a particular freight in the ancient Greco-Roman world that had to do with bodily practices that reinforced social and economic class hierarchies. (For instance, it was cultural acceptable in Greek and Roman societies for men of a particular class to penetrate men of a lower class; it was not, however, acceptable for an upper class man to be penetrated by someone of an inferior class). In other words, the sexual practices that were a common part of the cultural fabric were ones that re-enacted the economic, social and class power dynamics and distinctions. To me, Paul’s indictment, when speaking to a Greek audience, of certain sexual practices relates directly to the relationships of power, division and hierarchy that they were carrying out with their bodies as an ordinary, acceptable part of their social beings. (There are religious parallels too, in Greco-Roman cultic practices). But, my point here is that the issue of sexuality, in this regard, is for Paul of a piece with his critique of Peter’s reinforcing of Jewish-Gentile distinctions through resubmission to the food laws. Paul, in both cases, repudiated these kinds of divisions, distinctions, hierarchies and power dynamics as the constitutive of the fallen order and as undone in the new creation.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  15. Jason Oliver wrote:

    I don’t understand the logic behind this argument, primarily because in my reading of the Scriptures, the Gentiles who were accepted into the new covenant community were still required to abstain from porneia, which Paul dealt with regarding the Corinthian man carrying on an affair with his father’s wife. Further, The modern concept of sexual orientation is complex and at times convoluted because of the theories floating around the academy and larger society.

    Moreover, I fail to understand how homosexuality or any so-called alternative sexualities fit into the idea or reality of ‘new creation’ in Christ. I say this as someone who has comes to terms that my sexual orientation is primarily homosexual yet who, after much study, prayer, and reflection, affirms the so-called traditional view. I don’t understand where the dualism comes in. Also, I find the analogy of Gentile ‘inclusion’ in Acts 15 to the current debates regarding homosexuality in the Church bewildering and, at times, trite. Your idea of ‘new creation’ has to be fleshed out further for me to get where you are coming from.

    Having said that, I also believe that many conservative evangelical arguments and vision for monogamous heterosexual marriage is filtered through with Victorian ideals. Mohler’s view of singleness and celibacy is deeply problematic. Protestant evangelicalism fails to reconsider the Scriptures and Christian tradition to see how singles contribute to the life of the Church.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  16. Chris Donato wrote:

    I think I’m basically where Jason is. And let’s just assume for the sake of argument that we’re all wearing our little ANE context hats here. So, there’s no real disagreement as to what Paul had in mind when writing of these specific issues, but there is, apparently, with how the trajectory of scripture speaks to this issue, not least as it has come down to us through the traditions of the church.

    The fact is, Halden’s crit—with respect to sexual orientations—cuts both ways.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink
  17. Mike Gibson wrote:

    I will flesh out a more robust reply when I have a few more minutes because I think you raise some points that warrant clear discussion.

    I would say to both you and Chris, though, that it makes a significant difference when you take the realism of Paul’s argument in Gal 2-3 seriously and as axial.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink
  18. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Mike,
    I look forward to it. I caution that we don’t take Paul’s view of law to an antinomian extreme.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  19. Mike Gibson wrote:

    Several issues are raised here that are critically important and I doubt I can address them all adequately in a comment. But, I will try to clarify a few things.

    1. In regard to Chris’s last comment, I don’t presume we’re in agreement as what Paul had in mind nor do I think we’re all ‘wearing our ANE context hats,’ especially those who are the subject of the original post by Halden, precisely because the conservative position is premised upon a *modern* construction of sexual identity and activity conflated with, yes, a Victorian sexual ethic being read into ANE texts. The ANE context is critically important because their (ANE’ers) notions of sexual identity (an anchorism admittedly) and practices are radically different. Recognising those differences, and coming to terms with *what* Paul prohibits in those contexts, is critically important. There is not an easy correlation or constructive application. It requires, I think, reading Paul’s prohibitions in light of a wider theological matrix. (This also applies to the early church and the fluctuations of ‘sexual ethics’ in the church’s perambulations across diverse cultures within and beyond the RE).

    2. My earlier point regarding the analogy between the Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles and and the contemporary refusal of homosexuality rests upon an important Pauline argument. Paul’s re-narration of his confrontation with Peter (in Gal 2), which has to do with Peter’s capitulation to Jewish food laws that draw religious, social and ethnic ritual boundaries, climaxes in Gal 3, wherein Paul argues that *all* distinctions and divisions are obliterated in Christ. What is at issue here is the notion that Christ *is* the new creation and the kingdom is inaugurated in his person, in his death and resurrection. The kingdom that is inaugurated is one in which there are no distinctions or divisions (a ‘brokerless’ kingdom, to borrow a phrase from Dominic Crossan) based upon social, economic, ethnic, religious or sexual ‘identities’, markers or so on. (This is, of course, not an exhaustive list). I think this is why the Acts 15/Gal 2 issue is decidedly relevant because Paul confronts Peter’s lapse in light of this reality (i.e., Christ’s apocalyptic body), such that being ritually ‘unclean’ no longer has any real reality. To reify the division is to ‘undo,’ so to speak, what is real in Christ. This can take many forms. I think the refusal of people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender (the latter is still a grievous issue in the Catholic tradition, to which I belong).

    3. There is much more that needs to be said about new creation itself. I don’t have enough room here to unpack this with the nuance it deserves. But, in relation to this issue, it has to do with the question what the in-breaking of the new creation in Christ means for a whole nexus of things, including our identities. To take new creation seriously as a reality reconfigures the notion of identity itself.

    4. Dualism — this is a significant theological problem and is not strictly related to the question of sexuality but is certainly integral to problem of distinctions. I think, in fact, if there is a singular problem in evangelical theology it is the problem of theological dualism. One need look no further than the theology of John Piper, where dualism is inherent even (or grounded in) in his doctrine of God. But that’s something for another time…

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  20. Evan wrote:

    Mike, I’m not clear on why you think the perception of an orientation of any sort (sexual or otherwise) as ‘struggle’ implies a resubmission to old orders. Surely struggles with inclinations, nature, appetite, etc. are present in the embrace of the new creation? Or do disciples just serenely come to a gentle and smiling Jesus? The rejection of such basic conflict strikes me as uncharacteristic of the old/new rupture that is being articulated here.

    Also, to point out that conservatives are defending reigning cultural constructions as well doesn’t (as far as I can tell) magically discount Chris’s point that other cultural status quos oppose requirements of celibacy outside of marriage. Rather, both of your points strike me as neutralizing one another to a certain extent… that is, any view on sexuality and marriage (at least within the limited binaries that everyone is dealing with here) could be reasonably understood as aligned with prominent cultural status quos. For that reason, it hardly seems plausible to say that such an alignment obviously indicates any sort of stance one way or the other with regard to the old/new law.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  21. Mike Gibson wrote:

    It is the *requirement* to see one’s orientation as a struggle precisely on the basis of being homosexual as such (per Chris’s remark) that was the target of my remark. I did not say that there *is* lack of struggle qua new creation, but to require only a single group of people to understand their identity as struggle is to reify the old within the rupture.

    I don’t find your second point compelling at all because I was not under the illusion that I had magically discounted Chris’s point vis-a-vis other cultural status quos. In fact, the problem *is* the limited binaries of the whole discussion.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink
  22. Evan wrote:

    Perhaps this is a flat-footed reading of your discussion of Gal. 3, Mike… but I don’t see how your speaking of “seriousness” concerning Paul’s “realism” (above and as it is fleshed out in your pt. 2) is anything other than a euphemism for the same sort of wooden literalism that one might condemn in a person like Mohler (literalism, of course, until your interpolation of “all” distinctions being obliterated in Christ from the few that are actually mentioned by Paul). How would one even conceptualize anything without making use of distinctions? Or is concept use another rejection of the new creation? Is an ecstatic state what is being called for? The idea that Christ condemns all distinctions and divisions just seems bizarre, and I think such an assertion runs much further than your current application of it acknowledges.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  23. Mike Gibson wrote:

    Evan,
    I’ll have to think about this. I can see how you read what I said in the way you have, though that is not what I meant. I’m not a literalist of that sort in any sense nor am I a Christomonist (which is what I assume is behind you question of an ecstatic state).

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink
  24. Evan wrote:

    I suppose what I’m identifying in you would end up being “christomonist” (had to google that one… and actually turned up an old post of Halden’s in the process!). But I’m also saying that severe problems present themselves even before one gets to the positive theological content of the assertion. To say that all distinctions and divisions are done away with (by Christ or anything else) just seems nonsensical. How could one even employ your language of old/new under such circumstances? Or of the Gospel and its denial? The idea of a distinctionless new creation doesn’t even get off the ground in its own right, let alone do any useful work in explaining why certain notions of sexuality or eroticism are a denial of the Gospel.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
  25. Mike Gibson wrote:

    It is only nonsensical if new creation/the future state is dependent on concepts, ideas or conceptual distinctions.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  26. Evan wrote:

    Right… but I take it that sexual relations in some future state aren’t the point of contention in the present discussion. Even if one sees the eschaton as entirely distinctionless (and what would this mean? A return to some world soul?), I’m not sure why its inbreaking today would imply a breaking down of certain sexual distinctions and not, say, a breaking down of distinctions between left and right or up and down. The unhelpful aspect of a Gospel of broken dualisms (one taken to this extreme of “all” distinctions being abolished) is that it seems entirely contentless. What leads one to reject binaries here and not elsewhere? What leads Paul to reject the male/female distinction in Galatians but then speak about women being silent in 1 Corinthians? It’s not that these dilemmas aren’t explainable… but I’m not sure one can explain them based simply on the fact that the future state is distinctionless.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink
  27. Brad A. wrote:

    I would very much like to see this spelled out in specifics and with biblical references. I think this argument is part of the hinge of this discussion.

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site