The Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting is different for everyone, as we attend different sessions and meet or miss (sorry, Jim!) different people. Here are a few highlights for me.
On Tuesday I attended Ligon Duncan’s session on “Recent Aspects of the Complementarian-Egalitarian Discussion.” Ligon noted that our present cultural moment has changed the dynamics of this conversation within the church. The culture says that gender no longer matters for marriage, egalitarians say the same thing about gender roles, while complementarians say both gender and roles matter. Complementarians face the challenge of looking like medieval bigots, as they are now two steps removed from the culture’s position. Egalitarians face the challenge of appearing unstable, as they oppose gender roles in marriage while still saying that gender matters.
Ligon noted that many are looking for a third way between the Bible and culture, but there are only two possible positions on each of the same sex marriage and the complementarian/egalitarian debates. He said it’s better to be honest with each other and live with the awkwardness than to be ambiguous about our positions and be perceived as disingenuous.
I then gave my talk, “Ordinary or Radical: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?” I explained that though well-intentioned, the radical desire to not waste your life can lead to devastating effects on both ethics and doctrine. It can piously destroy the faith of Christians and also piously destroy the Christian faith. I discovered there is an echo effect to having a session on the first day. Throughout the rest of the conference I had the opportunity to meet people who were there and to talk further with them about what it means for their lives and ministries.
The Tuesday night plenary featured Wesley Hill arguing that the church must recover the value of celibacy and hospitality. If we’re going to tell Christians who are struggling with homosexual desires to remain single, then we must treat them as people with a special calling and give them a church home for the natural family they will never have.
Wednesday morning I attended a three hour session, “Theology of Work and Economics.” Lots of interesting stuff, including why poor people tend to be more generous than those with wealth. The rich tend to identify their self-worth with their wealth, which makes it more difficult to give it away.
Wednesday afternoon I attended another three hour session. This one was on the theology of marriage, and counts as my most disturbing moment at ETS. Out of five panelists, only one argued for the traditional view of marriage. Three of the four who were for gay marriage (or in the case of one, refused to say that homosexuals must remain celibate) are members of ETS. So apparently it is now acceptable to believe in biblical inerrancy and gay marriage. As one of the panelists said, “the Bible is our starting point,” but of course theology must account also for cultural advances. A couple panelists blamed the church for the high suicide rate among gay and transgender people, and said that it is abusive to list homosexuality among other sins, such as lying and stealing.
My first thought was, “But God does.” Are they saying it would be cruel to read 1 Corinthians 6 out loud? Why wasn’t Paul concerned about his listeners becoming suicidal when he wrote that? Is our problem the Word of God, or have modern people become too fragile? If modern fragility is the problem, how should that influence how we talk to people? I would never muzzle the Bible, but neither do I want to say “Like it or Lump it” to someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Here is the bottom line question. Given that Jesus would not condone same sex activity, what would he do and say to people struggling with homosexual desires? How would he communicate God’s grace and truth without pushing them over the edge? Don’t tell me that my views are hateful bigotry unless you can answer that question, especially if you’re leading a session at ETS.
I have seen the next fault line that will divide evangelicals, and it’s already here.
Photo by Steigenberger Hotels via Flickr. Used by permission.