Results tagged “identity” from Reformation21 Blog

When Calling Yourself a "Christian" Isn't Enough

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As a new Christian, I was very interested in studying cults. I studied the nuances of Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarianism, and so on. When we think of cults, we tend to think of groups that not only pervert what the Bible says about salvation, but especially that depart from what Christianity has long taught since the very beginning. One of the other interesting features of cults is that they desperately want to be seen as in the mainstream of Christianity. When the Mormons come to my house, they insist that they're "Christians" - in fact the last ones that came to my house told me they're evangelicals.

Recently, I was reflecting on an important point that Dr. Trueman has been making for a number of years--namely, that the term "evangelical" has not only lost its meaning, but that it probably needs to be abandoned altogether.

Is it possible that the term "Christian," like "Evangelical," isn't enough? Since the Nashville Statement was released this past week we have seen a number of negative responses from people also wanting to claim the name of Christian. I have seen many people claiming that suicides among the LGBTQ community will skyrocket every time Christians reaffirm what they've always said on these issues. I have seen nobody try to argue that what is in the Nashville Statement is innovative or foreign to what Christianity has always taught.

Truthfully I don't see engagement from the dissenters when it comes to the text. I do see the modern shaming, naming, and bullying tactics of the crowd being employed in full-force. I don't see anyone carrying the flag for historic Christianity who is opposing the Nashville Statement. There is no effort on the part of the dissenters to make any connections with the teachings that have been part of the catholic (universal) church since Christ established it.

In this regard, one of the most important books that have been released in the last year was the book Unchanging Witness, by Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Unchanging Witness approaches the theological question of human sexuality from two fronts--the historical front and the exegetical front. Fortson and Grams spend most of the book examining every biblical text that refers to human sexuality, and especially to homosexual behavior. They spend about a quarter of the book surveying direct quotations from the early Church Fathers, the church during the Middle Ages, and the church during the renaissance/Reformation period. Their overall argument is that not only do the Scriptures teach with unanimity and clarity that homosexual behavior is sinful, but their larger point is that the church in history has spoken with one unanimous and unchanging voice on this specific question. Lutherans and Calvinists may differ on the Lord's Supper. Methodists and Baptists may disagree over how to baptize. Baptists may disagree with Baptists over the five points of Calvinism (the list goes on). No Christian church or denomination ever disagreed on the morality of homosexuality.

Here's the real money quote from Unchanging Witness

"On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because...both Scripture and the church have clearly and consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church's teaching" (Fortson and Grams, pg. 5).

This is precisely where I wish to come back around to the question of whether it's enough to just claim the name "Christian." The people who are spearheading the 'Gay Christian' movement are innovators in the extreme. They must argue that there is no relevance to the church's teaching on the subject of sexual behavior, because there is no argument to be made in that regard. Can someone really claim to be Christian while enjoying the church's teaching (perhaps) on the doctrine of God while they at the same time willfully jettison its interpretation of what the Bible says about human sexual behavior? They can, perhaps, but they would be 'Christian' in name only. It is our relationship to the history of the church that makes our claim to be Christians meaningful. Wolfhart Pannenburg said this:

"If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norms, and recognized homosexual unions as personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical grounds but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, pg. 37).

Whatever you think of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood... whatever you think of the helpfulness of issuing public statements signed by hundreds of professors and pastors... whatever you think about the CBMW's willingness or unwillingness to deal with the errors that they put forth during the ESS controversy... an objective reading of the Nashville Statement ought to ring true to all people who are Christians in any sense that our forefathers would have recognized. Those who belong to the cult of Evangelical Libertinism are howling in pain right now, but they should be recognized for what they are: a fringe cult masquerading as Christians, just like the Mormons and Watchtower folks.

 

The Intricacies of Interracial Marriage (Part 2)

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In light of current discussions regarding racial reconciliation, we thought that it might be a benefit to our readers to run a series of videos from a longtime contributor, Rob Ventura, and his wife, Vanessa, concerning a variety of subjects related to interracial marriage. Rob is the pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Providence, RI. Rob and Vanessa have been married 20 years and have three children.

The interviewer, Suhylah Claudio, has provided the following rationale for this series of interviews:

"To share the varying perspectives on race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality from various ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to dispel myths and stereotypes and expose points of view from those whom we may not feel are 'like us' and ultimately to think about what Scripture says about these things. My goal is to help unite us as one race of Christians who are aware of the perceptions and experiences of one another so that we can be more sensitive and loving as brethren in Christ."

In this second video, Rob and Vanessa talk about their thoughts on the racial identity of the children of an interracial marriage, as well as about the opportunities we have in light of our backgrounds for the spread of the Gospel.

Identity, Affinity and Christ

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So many of the controversies surrounding the church at present center on concepts related to identity and affinity. Whether these issues are sexual, ethnic, biological or political in nature, one cannot escape the seemingly ubiquitous existential clamor with which we are daily inundated. Bombarded by a steady stream of headlines about scandal, social injustice, political policy and manufactured pandemonium, the Christian is ever in danger of losing a sense of who he or she is in Christ. When we enter into debates in which emotional hijacking tends to be par for the course, we must guard against the temptation to abandon the center of gravity of the Gospel and to trade our identity and affinity for something other than Christ and His people.

This danger is not foreign to the pages of the New Testament. Many of the pervasive issues that the Apostles tackled in the foundational days of the New Covenant church were those having to do with identity and affinity. Whether it was the Judaizers tempting Jewish converts to forfeit their fellowship with their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ or the Corinthian error of picking and choosing which of the teachers in the church would represent their particular affinity group, the fledgling churches were constantly in danger of departing from Christ in order to settle in with another identity or affinity group. The potency of the Judaizing heresy lay in the fact that false brethren appealed to the heritage of a select portion of the believers in the body. These false teachers baited the newly converted Jewish believers with their past, saying, "This is your heritage. Don't abandon your heritage. Don't betray us." In Corinth, members of the church were vying for particular teachers to lead their affinity groups. The deleterious subtlety of this error was seen in the fact that the teachers with whom they aligned themselves were men who had been appointed by God to be ministers in the church. New forms of these pernicious errors can and will most certainly surface in the church today. When they do, they inevitably threaten our Gospel identity in Christ and affinity with His people.   

For the Christian, nothing short of knowing Christ and who we are in Christ will suffice. When we remember that Jesus stood in our place, for our sin, and took the wrath that we deserve in order to forgive us, cleanse us and reconcile us to God (as well as to unite us to all of His blood bought people), we come to understand that our past doesn't identify us any longer. In turn, we start to recognize that we don't have to search for a particular affinity group--we've already been placed in one, namely, the Church. The Apostle Paul labored tirelessly to establish this principle in the minds of God's people. He gave the Galatians the remedy to their misplaced identity when he explained, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26-29). 

A tangible loss of real spiritual joy will always accompany our misplaced quests for identity and affinity. There is a deep seated joy that flows from realizing the newness of life that we have in Christ in the Gospel. So much of what we read or hear online today lacks this sense of Gospel joy. When we allow psychological constructs, social agendas, party spirits and cultural identities to take the place of the good news of Christ crucified for sinners, we invariably forfeit the benefit and implications of the good news. When I was a new convert, many in the church would tell me, "Nick, you've got to remind yourself that you'll always be a drug addict." I'll never forget the inner freedom and joy that I finally came to experience when I realized that I was a new creation in Christ. The Apostle reminded the Corinthians of this very thing when he wrote, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). A new name, a new identity, a new experience, a new community, a new life in Christ--these were the truths that caused joy inexpressible and full of glory to well up deep within in my heart. 

These are the truths which are meant to shape our minds so that we will be able to navigate our way through a world that tells us our past, our desires or our preferences are what ultimately define us. Then, and only then, will we be able to speak helpfully to the issues of the day without derailing or disenfranchising our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our union with Christ in His death and resurrection means that we are defined by who He is, what He has done and what we have become in Him (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As this truth grips our hearts, we will find that our affinity group consists of all those who--no matter their moral, socio-economic, ethnic or political background--have also been raised to newness of life together with us in Him. 

As strange as it may sound, one of the more insightful discussions of Trump's political success is offered by "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams. Trump is a "master persuader," he argues, who knows and uses human psychology to far greater effect than anyone else in the field, either party. Trump will be America's next president, he predicts, since "psychology is the only necessary skill for running for president."

Adams's blogging about persuasion, (ir)rationality, and identity is quite interesting. Like me, he's not concerned about Trump as a candidate so much as he is about him as a cultural phenomenon. Michael Cavna, Comic Riffs author at the Washington Post, helpfully summarizes Adams's explanation of the Trump phenomenon in six points:

1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.
2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.
3. By running on emotion, facts don't matter.
4. If facts don't matter, you can't really be "wrong."
5. With fewer facts in play, it's easier to bend reality.
6. To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics--and identity is the strongest persuader.

Madison Avenue types and sharp political advisers long ago figured out the priority of identity over reason, wisdom, judgment, and whatever else one might think pertinent to being President. (Similar statements can be made about the products we buy or services we hire or society we keep--everything is branding and branding is about identity.) Sadly, this is the way things work in our post-Freudian world. Still, it's difficult for us to believe that identity actually does trump all else, which may be why even our most cynical politicians seldom play this card as brazenly as Trump does.

We are living through a time when reason is being reimagined in terms of psychological identity. Things that were thought to be mad not long ago are now viewed as necessary consequences of our fundamental principles not because those principles have changed on the page but because they are now being read through this lens. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the Obergeffel v. Hodges case is a rather clear instance of this in law.

In the arguably more pragmatic domains of American business, politics, education, and religion, what counts as reasonable or a rational course of action will be whatever works. If identity politics, business, education or religion works (not just as a complement to sobriety, decency, gravitas, judgment, competency, and so on--as Clinton seems to be betting--but even in fairly open defiance of most of these qualities) then it will become quite rational to be as irrational a candidate as Trump.

But can this be? Postmoderns insist reason itself is culturally construed and evolves along with everything else. Adams, however, continues to diagnose the Trump phenomenon more as an escape from reason rather than as a redefining of reason. Still, his analysis suggests that irrationality is the new reason. Either way, here is Cavna's annotation on the first point: 

"If you see voters as rational you'll be a terrible politician," Adams writes on his blog. "People are not wired to be rational. Our brains simply evolved to keep us alive. Brains did not evolve to give us truth. Brains merely give us movies in our minds that keep us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence."

That's a basic point of contemporary evolutionary psychology (often used to criticize religious belief). If this critique is true of anything, however, then we have no good reason to believe that any of the things we believe are true (including this critique), "except maybe sometimes by coincidence"--and this is no minor point. This popular strand of evolutionary psychology may free Trump and all the rest of us from a sense of obligation to truth but it does so at the expense of the very possibility of knowing anything or at least of being able to know that we know anything. It's ultimately self-defeating.

Fortunately for knowers and speakers of truth everywhere, reality is a very stubborn thing. We can believe what we like about what is reasonable and right and true and we may be dead wrong in what we believe and do about it too. Madness is possible and our madness, however widely shared, does not bend reality or define reason or redefine truth--only our psychological state. There are limits to our revolt against reality including the truth about our personal identities. Reality always wins in the end; the only question, as Carl Trueman recently pointed out, is how much damage we will do to ourselves in the meantime?

'Who do I say that I am?'

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"Be holy, for I am holy" ~ 1 Peter 1:16

One of the most difficult things to do is tell the truth...about ourselves. The church prides itself on being a bastion of truth in a world of lies, yet her members often forget that they cannot preserve the truth unless they first preserve it about themselves. One of the ways we can discern whether we are preserving the truth about ourselves is by taking note of our verbal habits, those patterns of speech we adopt that describe who we are - especially in relation to God and each other. These patterns of speech about ourselves reveal our hearts and whether we are primarily seeking affirmation of where we are - by others and by God - or whether we are seeking to become more like God.

I took note of these patterns of speech in a video that recently received a lot of attention on the internet called "We are the Church" (watch here: http://vimeo.com/109153388). It was noteworthy for many because it deals with those professing to be 'the Church' who self-identify as 'gay', 'queer', and 'trans'. Those combinations alone will always stir discussion. But beyond the self-applied labels drawn from our current sexual lexicon, the way the individuals in the video described (rather than labeled) themselves, in relation to God and others, is reflective of certain verbal tics that many church-goers - whether liberal or conservative - have adopted. 

If you watch the video you will note the tenor of the descriptions: "I am received"; "I experience grace and community"; "I am loved"; "I am fed"; "I am...the Church." These are good things, of course, but can become toxic when not held together with other, equally good things. Noticeably absent are Christian notions of sacrifice, repentance and hope for change. In fact, in the tone of these men and women is a tinge of 'I dare you' to consider it even appropriate to talk about change and what that might entail, other than change from societal and ecclesiastical constraints that we can smirk at in light of the "freedom" of the Gospel. 

The contemporary philosopher Charles Taylor has been keen to point out the shrinking frames of reference we employ to understand and articulate our identity. Having abandoned more universal notions of "human nature", we seem satisfied to describe ourselves only in terms of ourselves and our chosen tribe (see his Sources of the Self). Taylor calls this "the flattening of modern consciousness". The modern self is the expressed self, Taylor says, where we describe ourselves based upon what we find significant. This is usually done by a personal disentanglement from the sticky webs of birth and historic communities, and a conscious re-entanglement with like-minded souls who will accept and affirm us as we express ourselves. I would suggest we often do the same while speaking with a Christian accent. 

Accordingly, the Gospel becomes about receiving forgiveness for all the ways society, the church, and I beat myself up, so that I can better live my authentic self in community with other authentic selves in the name of Christ. Or, the Gospel becomes about a "hamster wheel" of personal sin and forgiveness that never draws us out into considering what life might be like "in Christ", where we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to crucify our "fleshly selves" (Galatians 5:24) and sacrifice an immediate sense of personal meaningfulness for the greater goal of strengthening the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). 

The tragedy of layering over our expressive self with Christianese is we cut ourselves off from the hope for change we find in God. Hope can only be found when we talk about ourselves in light of God. 

The ability to speak the truth about ourselves is fundamental to our ability to worship God. This is the wisdom behind frontloading a worship liturgy with confession of sin, because before we lift high the name of God we must hold low the name of our self. In the presence of God we must forsake our self-imposed expressions of who we think we are, and let Scripture 'read' us and define our state. When the Spirit presses the Word on our hearts, we are led to genuine repentance of our sin where we are able to consider the good news of the Gospel and our exclusive identity in Christ. 

Calvin famously wrote that the knowledge of self and knowledge of God are intertwined to the point that sometimes we do not know where the one begins and the other ends. Knowing ourselves to be sinners opens us up to knowing the grace of God that rushes into our sin, even flowing down into and softening the hardened trenches dug deep in our hearts by the force of sexual habit. Knowing God to be a forgiving God encourages us to know ourselves as sinners - yet with hope. The intertwined knowledge of which Calvin speaks is an ever deepening knowledge that, rather than leaving us in a state of complacency or despair, charges us with hope in the midst of our sin - hope that the same grace which announces our forgiveness will change us into the image of the Holy One we worship.

As we learn to tell the truth about ourselves as Christians we need to infuse our words with such knowledge. When we do so together, as the Church, we become a place of truth as well as hope. Instead of affirming ourselves into a standstill, our descriptions become doorways through which the work of the Holy Spirit draws us up to God through Christ. 

Rev. D. Blair Smith is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a doctoral student in patristics at Durham University. He's currently a research visitor at the University of Notre Dame