Bald-faced mysticism

Without Purpose

“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision’, which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” –Ephesians 2:12

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to review a book written to parents about raising sons that happen to be gay.  It hasn’t been released as yet.  Though it’s relatively short and very beautifully written, I’m only halfway through it.  Emotionally, I found it too much to read in one sitting.

In one chapter, it details all the psychological dangers faced by gay teenagers.  I had never seen them listed so concisely in one place before.  It brought up and explained a lot about my high school years.

Without “giving the plot away”, I’ll say the book made me realize how I “disconnected” from myself and life (some people would say I still am) I was.  I couldn’t feel a continuity between the world I was presented with and the world within myself. The world I was presented with was very heterocentric.  I therefore lived on its social fringes.  It worshiped a heteropatriarchal discourse on power.  I was useless to that world.

The world I have uncovered within myself, on the other hand, is very much about God and beauty, colours and design, numbers and elegant music notes, justice and prosperity, salvation and divinization, Christ and glory – I love that word – redemption and grace.  It’s about biblical dispensations and unexpected “But now” Pauline turn of phrases especially in Romans.  It’s about election to salvation, the eternal purposes of God, creation and the high, holy mystery of existence.

And somehow or another, it’s gay.  It’s very gay.  The sight of a good-looking man or the sound of some men’s voices can send shudders reverberating through me from the pit of my stomach.  It reminds me of my creatureliness; of my being called-from-nothing, hewn from dust into some exquisitely sensitive musical instrument that plays silent but oh-so-poignant notes of longing.  And I’ve never been able to help the feeling that it’s all part of the same mysterious pattern that resonates with themes like crucifixion and burial; regeneration and resurrection.  The pattern I experience as my inescapable identity, hewn together by the hand of a God bigger than I can understand.

More beautiful was the helplessness of not knowing what I would do with that good-looking man, if it turned out (as it sometimes does) that the feeling is mutual.  Would I kiss him?  Did men kiss romantically?  Was such a thing even possible?  Was it wrong?  Would masculinity get lost?  What if it wasn’t wrong?  What if society has denied and repressed something holy and healing?  Would we then be in the cross-hairs of its judgmental ignorance?  These questions, their accompanying wistful longing, the feeling of heaven brought so near only to be denied or its moral permissibility left unexplained – all of it felt, oddly, like an enigmatic divine message to only be understood upon death or a long, courageous existence.  Like a cruel hoax played by a cosmic genius who can best make my heart sing when it’s piqued to the brink of unbearable agony and aching desire.

Not knowing what it all meant amplified the helpless, beautiful, pathetic weakness of being thusly attracted to other men.  These feelings didn’t just feel human, but deeper than human.  They made me feel like I’d assembled with angels in a former existence.  They were the terrifying, beautiful colours of my soul.

At that time, they had no correspondence with anything external except disdain in the social world I grew up in.  So I suppressed and repressed them though I knew they were there.  I lived with bullying and scorn both from people who knew and people who didn’t know.  When I came out to my mother at twelve, she told me that she already knew and said to just do or be whatever I needed to do or be in order to get through life in one piece.  She also assured me that God loved me. For this I am eternally grateful.  My father only had his suspicions confirmed very recently but he doesn’t seem keen to discuss any of it.

I reached a point growing up where I wasn’t living but existing.  I was on and off antidepressants.  I remember someone asking me what I wanted to do after school.  I cringed at the question.  If life was that much of an answered question then, I didn’t want more of it beyond high school.  I had pat answers about what I would do, and I gave those answers to people who asked, but deep inside I was convinced that I didn’t need plans for the future because I had none.  It was all a big, blank nothing ahead of me.

But to my surprise, time didn’t – and wouldn’t – stop as life went on.  I’m still here, and I’m still at the same place most people are in life when they’re fresh out of school, just coming out of my paralysis.  I’ve always been fairly disciplined in some facets of my life but I’ve never been committed to anything long term.  It’s very recently that I’ve sensed a calling to add my voice to those working to shift the perceptions of Christians about lesbians and gays.  That, I am committed to doing.

I remember at the end of school when the dreaded prom came.  Everyone encouraged me to go.  So profoundly did I fail to see its point that I didn’t go.  “But you’ll have so many amazing memories when you’re older” they said.  That’s exactly what I didn’t want to hear.  Being not-grown-up was safer for me.  School was like the womb, and I didn’t want to leave.  Ghosts – even ghosts that look alive – don’t go to proms.  Ghosts are memories, shadows, of people that once existed or never lived, and memories don’t need memories.b I was a memory.  I didn’t need more memories.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus often speaks about himself as though he, too, were about to become an invisible memory.  He speaks of himself in the past tense and in the third person.  He speaks about the Holy Spirit, whom the world doesn’t know because the world had never seen him.

The first time I read the Gospel, I felt like I’d been caught out.  That someone had seen everything I was, and written a story about someone else, and that there was an intimate connection between his story and mine.

It is ultimately only in Jesus that I have been known, given an identity, an existence, a meaning, a purpose and a life.

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“Can Gay Relationships Reveal God’s Love?”

A brother in Christ often brings this question to me.  I believe the answer is, “Why not?”  I also believe that this matter is not my business until the Spirit brings a greater understanding of it to my conscious surface awareness.  For me to presume otherwise, I would have to be like the Jewish apostles who, having worked only within Israel with Christ, assumed upfront that the Holy Spirit could not live in Gentiles.  God isn’t contained in our theological systems but vice-versa (Rom 3:29).

Before Adam and Eve learned to pontificate over good and evil, they were naked in God’s presence, never troubled about whether they were within his plan for them or not.  The plan worked well enough on auto-pilot as long as they remained without the knowledge of good and evil.  They were not self-conscious.  Neither am I.  I experience creation as a glorious given, a wonderful surprise, and an existential dance.  Every moment flows seamlessly into the next.  I observe and participate without judgment.  This is what it means to rest.

Every question comes with a hidden assumption.  The assumption behind the question of whether to end slavery in America was that white people had the right to own back people.  The choice to set them free presupposes they were theirs to set free (“Do you refuse to speak to me?  Don’t you realize I have the power to release you or crucify you?”). The assumption behind the question of whether to end segregation and apartheid and many sexist policies was that certain ways of being in the world are intrinsically more righteousness or entitled than others.  Right-handedness versus left handedness.  Heterosexual versus homosexual.  Etc.

Galatians 3:28 says that “There is no longer Greek or Jew, nor is there slave or free, nor is there male and female, for you are one in Christ Jesus”.  In Greek, the conjunction switches from Or, Or, to And.  It’s a reference to the first creation order and its foundation on the first heterosexual union.  In other words, the first creation based on the design of the male and female is like a good book: the story takes you where you need to go, and, once you’re there, you can put the book down and revisit it whenever you wish, much like early Christians visited synagogues without partaking of sacrifices.  Gender is a grace note, an absurd and beautiful given of creation.  It’s not a rule or standard.  Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed.  They just were.  There isn’t room to contextualize every conceivable verse in the New Testament that discusses marriage right now, but we must remember that Adam and Eve were made of dust.  This is crucial, for it begins to explain why Adam and Eve were not the pattern of righteousness but its prophetic foreshadower and its fallen reason.

Much is made of the fall and how it shattered God’s perfect plan for humanity and sexuality.  But for that to be true, Adam would have had to have been created perfect.  Was he?  It is said that any idiot can count the number of seeds in an apple but only God the number of apples in a seed.  When God looked at Adam, there was never a time when he didn’t see in him not only his transgression, but every transgression of his every descendant.  I know this because God’s raising up a Pharaoh as a clay vessel of destruction in Exodus/Romans 9 is impossible unless Adam was the original vessel in which was contained every future destructiveness of every future clay vessel that in Adam dies.  Adam was the eye of the needle through which the whole thread of humanity’s sin would be passed down to every man as God went about weaving the tapestry of time.  History was contained in Adam even before he took his first God-given breath.

If you read 1 Corinthians 15 or Romans 9, you will realize that not one thing in the redemption drama has been out of God’s hands.  Including Adam’s choice.  God saw it in Adam’s make-up from the start.  Paul repeatedly refers to the earthly man of dust as though there never had been any hope in him.  In Adam all die.

And that’s why we cannot look to him and Eve for righteousness.

This is precisely what Christian heterosexism does.

And heterosexism, judging from its effects (email me for the ugly details, or spend a few hours reading on the topic on Google) is what is not of God.  Love is.  Love is primary.  Love God and love neighbor.  Everything else will fall in place and hang on this.

This has not been a 10th of the explanation it could be, and in fact is no explanation at all.  Still, I am naked and I am not ashamed.  I am loved unconditionally.  I couldn’t be more righteous in his sight: for Jesus’ sake he has done it for me.

You cannot be God for as long as the Trinity has been, and still be phased by anything inside or outside creation.  There will be a judgement.  Moses’ Law, and not anyone in the Godhead, will be accusing the sons of the slave woman.  And we know from Paul quoting the Law to exile the Law out of its own mouth in Sarah’s abolishing Haggai and her son, that the Law is not just limited to the 613 rules, but reaches as far back as Genesis.  Moses’s Law is the Pentateuch.  It’s instructive.  God’s creation of them as male and female is binding even over Moses’ precepts on divorce for them that are under the Law.  In this area, Catholicism is far more consistent in its administration of the Law than Protestants are, but they’ve neglected the weightier matters of the Law: this is why they need Christ crucified afresh each Mass and for adherents to reform and be born again each Communion.  I think both Protestantism and Catholicism are doomed for having trifled with the Law in the first place.

The Father and the Son have called out of religion those that belong to them.  The cryptic Spirit calmly saves and rebirth humans while religion scrambles around trying to reform them by a rule that was given to impart death.

Some of the elect just happen to be gay.  Some happen to be in gay relationships.  Without ruminating on the Greco-Roman context and motifs of this passage –

I tell you, in that night,
there shall be two men in one bed;
the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
Two women shall be grinding together;
the one shall be taken, and the other left.
(Luke 17:34-35, KJV)

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To Put It Lovingly, Reparative Therapy Is An Affront To God’s Cross

Position Precedes Performance

Each Christian needs to get clear about where he stands with God.  Any theology that says, “You ought to ___ in order to be holy”, persuading us to do anything other than “believe in the Lord Jesus”, or stay in faith from start, middle through to finish (Rom 1:17) is not from the One who called us (Gal 5:8).

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Anything other than Christ and him crucified is not the gospel but an immediate death sentence.  It leaves the responsibility for defining and achieving holiness to the flesh.  It really ought to begin and end in the Spirit.  That Spirit comes and works miracles among us by the hearing of the Word concerning Christ who was clearly portrayed among us as crucified, once-for-all perfecting those who are being made holy.

Hebrews 9:14 reminds us that the gift Christ gave, he offered up through the eternal Spirit.  Though an infinite person, the Spirit is synonymous with the infinitely valuable gift that was given because it is by his presence and ministry that we meet the God who gave the gift.  Christians walk by this Spirit when they just rely on the gift of righteousness instead of the works of the flesh for righteousness.

For God to advocate anything else as justifying or sanctifying us before him is for God to appeal to our flesh instead of the gift that was offered once and for all through the Spirit.  When we “walk in the flesh”, or think anything we do can earn God’s approval, we employ the flesh.

When the flesh is employed, it looks for a reason to either boast or be condemned.  That seeking a reason to either be condemned or to boast is the “Contrary Law” that is at work among our members, but it only works when there is something to contradict.  If the flesh understands itself as called upon to yield itself before God for your righteousness, it is more than happy to “contradict” this commandment or obey it to its own credit.  Either way, it is operating from a separated identity instead of an at-one-d identity.

This is how the commandment that was supposed to produce life instead exposes our death.  This is true for the impeccable Pharisee as well as the half-breed Samaritan.  Insofar as Father God only had their deeds to look at when judging them, he can find nothing – not one thing – to commend them to him.  This was why righteousness had to be a gift from God apart from any deed or trait of the recipient.  Even faith comes from God.  Regeneration precedes belief.

When one walks in the Spirit – that is, when one hopes that the gift of righteousness received by faith start to finish is all there is to commend him before God – there is no boasting except in the Lord and there is no condemnation because Jesus was made into a curse for us.  The flesh is therefore unemployed; consequently, it has nothing to gain from working the works of the flesh.  In our passivity, the Spirit has room to produce his fruit in us instead.  Our position before God was established spiritually by Christ apart from works.  “Walk in the Spirit [only believe in the unceasing, uninterrupted, undiluted sufficiency, infinite grace and unconditional love of the One who called you] and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” – because you will no longer be appealing to the flesh for anything, lest of all, “good behavior”.  The Gospel is a Gospel of “done”, never an instruction to “do”.

“Mortify your flesh; crucify your flesh”, Paul writes. Whatever does he mean? He means, “Believe in the Lord Jesus” because in Jesus, the flesh was crucified, the flesh was mortified, the body of sin was done away with, the heart was circumcised and the Law was fulfilled.

God refuses to give into the taunts of the flesh that says, “Look at me, I’m ___” – whatever it is that the flesh is doing or refusing to do, whether it’s an act of self-originated righteousness or sin.  No flesh will boast in his presence or disturb his divine equanimity.

People break rules because the flesh carries – and revels in – the fear of getting caught.  But perfect love casts out fear because the rules were fulfilled on our behalf as a forever gift.  The flesh holds to the wantonness of flaunting rules.  Fearing rejection and hardening itself in advance for the punishment it anticipates, it kicks into rebellion or dehumanized slave mode and re-represents us as slaves to something other than the love God has shed abroad our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

But the Gospel has no rules so the flesh has nothing to hold to.  Bring me the verses if you think you’ve found them, and I’ll pull you a history and theology lesson to help contextualize them.

A God who polices or judges human performance (which is what the Law does), counting, cataloging, recording and remembering men’s sins (four things the New Covenant promises wouldn’t happen) is an omnipotent and irresistible inflamer of sin.  In fact, “the Law was added to increase transgressions”.  Show me someone who worships that God, and I’ll show you someone who is utterly, helplessly dead in his sins without the slightest hope of rescue from the God he has imagined – no hope, of course, other than a realer God, a stronger God, a wiser God: that is the God who put the cross forward and with whom mortals may enjoy friendship.

The cross was an instrument of execution and torture.  It enforced man’s power over man.  It also represented the divine curse, for it is written, “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree”.  It therefore was the perfect altar upon which God’s sacrifice could be offered whereby God subverted and destroyed the temple system and its religious domination over the overtaxed poor that could not buy righteousness that was for sale (or works).  With it, God disarmed any Sword of Damocles over even above the religious Powers, for they also needed to be rescued from themselves.  They had judged, and therefore were in danger of being judged by the same measure – a fate none but God could withstand.  At a high price to himself, God chose mercy instead of retaliation.

Here, even the conscience has no room before God’s complete work. For the conscience to visit us again about sin is for it to equate the blood of Jesus to the blood of bulls and goats.  This is a tremendous mistake.  The blood of bulls and goats was offered several times over to atone for unconscious and accidental sins committed only in the past tense.  The ceremonial Law had no provision for deliberate sin, and if three witnesses were willing to out you you’d be killed without mercy.

But the blood of Christ was offered once to take away all sin.  What Jesus did cannot be improved upon or undone.  And this is what transforms souls.

“The Holy Spirit convicts believers of sin”, religion likes to say in order to get us to buy into its temple sacrificial systems.  But that’s a misunderstanding of John 16:8.  “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me”.  If we break it down, we find that the Holy Spirit will convict the world (those who walk in the flesh – religious people) concerning sin, because they don’t believe in the Lamb who has taken away the sin of the world.  Instead of relying on this truth, they continue walking in the flesh to earn a righteousness that is only found freely in Christ.  The Spirit convicts them concerning righteousness, because they don’t believe in the only One in whom it can be found and so continue producing dead works by obeying rules.  He has returned to the Father which proves that his person was worthy for the task of purging sin.

The NIV says, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment”.  The world that walks in the flesh was wrong about slavery, racism, interracial marriage, and this time, what it means to be attracted to someone of the same gender.  The world that regards according to the flesh has always been wrong and will continue to be wrong until the day it collapses from outward appearances and performances into nothing but God’s ability to justify the ungodly.

God’s righteousness, his justification and justice, is his choice to place the sinner smack-bang at the center of his unconditional love for Christ’s sake without regard for what that sinner does.  This effectively circumcises that sinner’s flesh nature into the death that Christ died.

NET Bible reads: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment”.  The world was dead wrong about sin and judgment; hence, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.  The world is blind, but says it sees.  Those that were blind do see.  Thusly does God judge religion.

The subjective awareness of assurance is not necessary for salvation, but it is necessary for victorious living.  You want to see victory in your Christian walk?  Believe that no matter what your flesh decides to do, it is no longer included in the equation of how you stack up before God; Christ alone is and has secured your salvation.  In believing this, you fire the flesh.  But for that to happen, you have to simultaneously fire all expectations and rules, whether they come from society, the Law of Moses, the rules of decency – all of them, without one exception – because God abolished the Law in its totality.  He didn’t merely say that Christ was his method for getting you to fulfill the Law, for that would turn Christ into little more than a hagiographed psychological gimmick.  Rather, God called Christ the Law fulfilled when he called his blood the ratification of the New Covenant, making the other one Old.  Why, then, serve the Law?  The Law was added because of transgressions and at every point, it presupposes the very sinful nature it is given to subdue.  It is impotent to transform that nature or ransom the Law-keeper.  The blood of Christ, alone, presents this hope; this hope is frustrated when it’s Jesus plus something of the flesh.  It must be Christ, he must be crucified, and, like the High Priest, he must be alone.

People will accuse you of antinomianism.  Now before you get scared and run back into the Law in order to impress men or find a secure footing instead of being established in grace, ask yourself one thing.  What Law applies to God or to someone who, by nature, possesses God’s righteousness?  What Law applies to people who are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus?  Whatever Law is applied to believers has to be applied to God.  However believers are bound, God, too, must be bound.  For they partake in the same righteousness.  Jesus ate with people that decent society regarded as sinners.  And if any Letter-Law applies, then Christ was lying when he said, “It is accomplished”: it wasn’t accomplished for there still exists a handwritten debt.

Christ is risen above all power and principality and rule.  In this ascended nature, God is a Law unto himself.  God only and always acts out of his nature.  God’s nature is love.  Your nature, if you’re a believer, is love.  You are therefore free to only and always act out of your nature, for it is identical with God’s.  You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  You are not under the Law.  If they accuse you of antinomianism, rejoice greatly and be exceedingly glad!  For so did they persecute and revile the prophets that testified of the gift of righteousness apart from the Law before you.  Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  But you possess the kingdom of heaven and God’s righteousness, that is, God’s choice to love you by sheer gift, which you never worked for.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Christ your righteousness.  Blessed are you when they make caricatures of who you are as you fight for marriage equality – a basic civil right – or the separation of church and State (what the hell has Satan’s world bound under Moses’ Law got to do with God’s Kingdom?) or pray against your convictions.  God’s already won the battles he’s interested in winning and religion is on the wrong side of the culture war by being at war with flesh and blood to begin with.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you when they testified of God’s gift of righteousness apart from observation of the Law.

And this is where reparative therapy to “cure” homosexuality comes from a fundamental, and fundamentalist, misunderstanding of both the Gospel and the bible (notice how I’ve distinguished them).  The Judaisers (reparative therapists that claim to work for God) want to boast in “the flesh” of “cured” gay Christians: they want to prove that some human technique can get human beings to conform to human standards of righteousness instead of letting those humans submit to the righteous that was given by God as a free gift.  It shows lack of faith in what God has declared – that is, that the corpus of justification’s work has been accomplished in Christ.  This ministry of righteousness sounds correct, and it seems to make perfect sense – the Law is against homosexuality; therefore, to save homosexuals, we need to get them to observe the Law through the power of the cross, presto – but one cannot observe the Law and work from the power of the cross at the same time.  In fact, no one can be justified in God’s sight by observing the Law; Moses and his Law exist to stir up and accuse of sin and will do nothing else, ever, even as one goes about marrying heterosexually as expected by the Law.  So this business of working for sanctification through the power of the cross is a contradiction in terms.  “What, then?  Leave them in their sins?”  No!  The church needs to engage with same-sex attracted believers in their righteousness, talk to them, and watch what God does.  They are not the same creatures that the Law presupposed when it made its demands because they were transformed by gazing upon the glory of the Lord; by looking upon the bronze serpent.  When believers look into the mirror, they see the glory of the Lord (James 1:25; 2 Cor 3:18) and our proper response is to be in communion with them.

If an accusation could be brought against God’s chosen ones, an accusation causing God to revoke his free gift of imputed righteousness, then the chosen one was under the Law all along – for his performance has caused God to cease loving him – and the free gift of righteousness never was a free gift of righteousness from God in the first place.  The genius of the cross would have been thwarted by God’s partiality.  But there is no partiality with God, for there is no difference: he consigned all to disobedience so that he may show mercy to all that trust on God who justifies the ungodly.  In a passage sometimes titled, “God works in all things”, Romans 8 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us”.  Over the next few blog posts, I will explain why the Law made the demands that it made.  Those instructions are perfect, holy and good for someone who knows not Christ.  But Christ is the end of the Law for them that believe.

Christ Abolished The Law

The cross judged the temple system as a scheme of thieves.  See, the priesthood knew in theory that God alone forgave sin.  But the moment he did offer forgiveness aside from the temple system, the priests would cry, “Where’s our cut?”  Oh, they’d disguise it as concern for ecclesiastical protocol but God called bullshit on the whole farce.  He sent prophets to rail against it and they were stoned.  He shut his mouth for four centuries and eventually stepped in to cut that system away because of its sky-high corruption (“I hate…detest…abhor…your sacred feasts and new moons…).  God undercut the system by offering sinners unconditional acceptance substantiated by Christ’s sacrificing himself as a ransom on the altar of the idols of religion and State – idols and altars, paradoxically, that were supplied by the priests themselves.  The cross was God’s supreme checkmate, silencing every religious mouth and crushing Satan’s head, stuffing the accusation back in their faces with a price too high not to ransom sinners out of the system – exposing its spiritual bankruptcy and parasitism.  God thwarted and unmasked the impostor that pretended to be God: religion.

Jesus is God’s verdict, an absolute “vindicated”, on behalf of those religion deemed beyond God’s grace.  God, by sheer fiat explained in his self-sacrifice which he condescended to offer on the altar of our idols – disarming our Powers and Principalities of religion and empire – may justify whomever he damn well pleases without checking even the character or attitude of the one justified.  Read Romans 9 again and again until it sinks in.

For the danger with leaving the cause of his choice down here on earth as though it were something offered by the elect, is that we or the Powers and Principalities may make an entire industry out of buying God’s favour – we may erect a new temple system, replete with our moneychangers’ “cut” and bragging rights as we glory in the flesh of those we’ve healed on any day except the Sabbath and into any condition except for Sabbath rest – and in our temple system of human-originated righteousness, we may only proclaim people forgiven once they’ve paid us indulgences to escape our imagined Purgatory, or shown, through enough straining at reparative therapy, religion and reformation, that they’re awfully contrite for the terrible sin of loving members of the same sex.  Hence Romans 9’s emphasis on the unilaterality of God’s election into justification.  Through the cross, God took the monopoly of righteousness – the whole discourse of who is forgiven and who isn’t, who is in and who is out – back from religion, back from the Law, back from the rules of common decency, back from social norms and normality, culture, back from even our blessed conscience with its dismally low understanding of purity and righteousness, back from the unspoken “bro code” that flunks gay men at gender 101, back, back, back to justification entirely and forever as and by the gift of God’s love, given in a dirty, scandalous criminal’s death on an oppressor’s cross.

Which is where salvation actually belongs.  It is of the Lord.

Church.

Remember the height from which you have fallen.  You have fallen from grace.  He is at the door.  He is coming quickly.

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Does Hellfire And Brimstone Preaching Actually Inflame Sin?

legalism

You do know what happened after this was put up, right?

After they saw this, hundreds of girls subconsciously thought, “That must have been one helluva kiss” and went out to try it.

Lesson?

Whatever you do…whatever you use…make sure it’s not the Law.  The urge to self-assertion through rebellion will just take advantage of the prohibition, and, deceiving the person, send him spiraling out of control.  was catchy

Not that I think people go to hell for sexual experimentation.

 

i0kissed-a-girl-and-i-liked-it-then-i-went-to-hell

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1 Corinthians 6, Sexual Purity And Gay Christians

The first rule of sexual purity is that it isn’t so much something believers give God as it is something God gives believers. As with the entirety of righteousness, sexual purity is a reality for the believer from the moment that living faith in Christ is present.

1 John 3:20 teaches that even if our hearts condemn us, God is bigger than our hearts and “knows all things”. The divine knowledge spoken of here is not merely God’s factual knowledge of all things; rather, it’s the essence of his character as love commended towards us through all and in spite of all things (Rom 8:38, 39) as they work together for the good of those that love God (v28).  God has always known believers, and he has always known their hearts as his.  This is the knowledge to which Peter appealed when Christ, whom he had betrayed, asked three times whether Peter loved him.  It was in that knowledge that Peter would not be condemned even if his heart condemned him.  It’s the knowledge by which God in Romans 8:28-30 glorifies those whom he did foreknow, and by which he predestines them to be conformed to the image of his Son of his love.  It’s a kind of knowledge only accessible to the infinite mind of God, which, in 1 Corinthians 2:10, we’re told God has revealed to us by his Spirit.  From it, we know not just God’s factual knowledge of all things but something more precious: the essence of his character as love commended towards us.  And we cry out in response, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:16).

No matter what a person does, God “knows” who that person is in Christ.  That person is “hidden” with Christ.  That’s the fundamental reality of who believers are and it’s the basis of their sexual purity as well as our boldness in declaring it.

Sexual purity is imputed as a gift of God and then lived out by believers.  It is the new reality into which God has re-created the believer through faith in Christ.

This is not a righteousness that can be strained for any more than someone could, hypothetically, reverse an unchangeable divine decree made in eternity past.  Religion is an attempt to repaint the sky or reinvent the wheel or sell ice to Eskimos.

This sexual purity is the first truth concerning all believers.  This doesn’t mean that believers are without sexual appetites – voracious ones, in some cases – but it does mean that the defilement of lust is gone.  The implications for our sexual ethics are huge.  Consider two men, Romeo and John (not Apostle John, just a John Doe).  Romeo is regenerate.  John isn’t.

Sexual desire is the reason Romeo realizes that Juliet is probably the girl he wants to be with and marry.  But sexual lust would be the reason John definitely shouldn’t marry Jane: at any rate, it’s the reason Jane, if she’s a believer, shouldn’t yoke herself unequally with John.  And even if John does marry her, as permitted by the Law he is under, it’s because the Law supervises all those that are under sin’s death sentence.  But the Law cannot redeem ransom or sanctify them – it “brought nothing to perfection” whereas Christ, by once offering his life, has sanctified those that are being made holy.  And once they’re holy, they no longer are under the Law.

Apostle Paul Preaching Upon The Ruins By Giovanni Paolo Panini 1744

Apostle Paul Preaching Upon The Ruins By Giovanni Paolo Panini 1744

This is why, for example, the rule concerning sex within marriage is powerless to end rape within marriage and other forms of domestic abuse within marriage.  Lust is still there.  The issue isn’t that a marriage certificate has the power to make bad men good or make dead souls alive; the issue is that the Law as a whole presupposes the nature of father Adam, so it can only supervise what’s there.  If John struggles with lust and can’t distinguish it from desire, it’s because he sees everything through the eyes he inherited from his spiritual dad, Adam, and cannot imagine a reality in which he’d see everything through the eyes of the other spiritual father, Daddy God.  He’s never been declared righteous, he’s never been unconditionally embraced by God or seen as pure so he cannot possibly give fellow men the benefit of that doubt.  He cannot give what he’s never received.  His conscience is seared through and cannot tell real-bad from nit-picky-law-bad.

He thinks the Law exists to tell him something about God when it exists to tell him how spiritually dead he is and how he must be guarded.  To John, all sexual desire is lust.  If he becomes religious (not believing), he’ll become a Pharisee and will never be able to give people anything other than religion.  Strangely, most people go to Pharisee John to hear the Gospel.  But his is a Gospel of rules which is no Gospel at all.  If he hadn’t already been caught out by 1 Timothy 4:3, he would even go so far as to “forbid people to marry” and maybe “order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth”.  He would subject believers to regulations like “touch not” and “taste not” even while knowing instinctively that they are powerless at subduing the flesh.

Yet to them that are pure, all things are pure.  This has got nothing to do with what the person does but who the person is, or, more accurately, whose the person is. Even if our hearts condemn us, God is bigger than our hearts and knows all things.  He knew us from before we were born, and he whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.  If it were the other way around – if what you did could define who you are in God – the Gospel would be no Gospel at all.  It would devolve to endless sin-management and nobody would ever “arrive” at holiness.  Read Romans 7 in order not to live through it before realizing that victory has already been declared and we’re more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The struggle for the new believer isn’t to become different or to act differently; it’s to be himself. Who this new self is will be found in the love Christ showed him by dying for him on the cross, and the life Christ raised him in when rising from the dead.  It is the identity of one loved and animated by God.  What does this identity do?  It loves and gives life to others because it too has been loved and given life.  This is the character of God, and it’s the real identity of the believer.  If you think a man having sex outside of marriage or in love with someone of the same sex is inherently the antithesis of that identity (and not just scandalizing the sensibilities of his religious, uptight society), then you have missed the Gospel altogether.  You also won’t understand how it’s possible for Jesus to have been friends with prostitutes and tax collectors while his church strongly repels “sinners”.

If getting the identity of Christ is so difficult, why does God speak about it as though it were as simple as looking and believing?  1 John 3:3-10 says, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure”.  In Matthew 21:31, Jesus tells the respectable people of his age, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you”.  In Mark 5:34 he told the woman with the issue of blood, “Your faith has made you whole” but we know that even faith is a gift from God (Rom 5:1; Rom 4:5) as is the sexual wholeness and purity towards which so many strive and labour.

There’s nothing wrong with celibacy when it’s a gift.  But there is a problem when it’s a work that we give to God in order to give him sexual purity when he’s already given that as part of our identity in Christ.  That problem is that the Gospel is being denied left, right and center.  What do we do with verses that seem to contradict this simplicity that is in Christ Jesus?

1 Corinthians 6:9 New International Version (NIV) reads “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

At this moment, I won’t go into the history of how and why the translations and readings of certain words have become something other than what Paul wrote in the original manuscripts – reliable copies of which are available, I’m sure – except to say that Pharisee John, whom we’ve described above, has been translating some of your bibles.  He’s been translating them to protect the interests of the Pope, and of certain States that don’t know whether they’re theocracies or democracies, as well as the interests of religions and fear-mongers as well.  He’s been translating them to protect anything and everything except the clarity and simplicity of God’s Gospel.

A fornicator is revealed in 1 Corinthians 6:15 to be someone who sleeps with a temple harlot acting as conduit to another god.  This is why Paul uses the word-play around the concepts of “temple” and “body”.  If the harlot shrine embodied a god, which God do Christians embody, and why will they join their bodies – which represent their God – with bodies that represent other gods, especially under such dehumanizing circumstances?  I could go into further detail about all the steps that the word “fornication” took to reach a point where it’s synonymous with “sex outside of marriage” and “Law-keeping” but to do so, I’d have to hang out the dirty laundry of the greatest sectors of the visible church currently in existence.  At any rate, the NIV and NKJV, as translations, interpretations and cultural artifacts, fail to intuit boundaries that are organic to the Gospel of God’s grace.  These translations make a deadly mistake that is visible to the naked, untrained eye: they make the Gospel a matter of doing instead of being.

As for the translation into “men who have sex with men”, I don’t want to bore you too much about the original terms, which can also be translated “man-bedder”, nor bore you with stories about the value, significance and commoditization of bodies in the first century, or the bearing that this has on the NIV’s very clumsy translation, the import and nuance of which the translators ignored.  It’s enough to ask whether the reader would like to be under the Letter that crushes, or under the Spirit that gives life.  The key difference between these two is that the Letter is the approach of believing that from acts we can infer standing before God.  The Spirit is the approach of believing that from standing before God we are free to act.

For freedom Christ has set you free.

Stand firm in the freedom wherein Christ has made you free.

A Simple Reason Romans 1:26-27 Can’t Be Used To Condemn Even One (Gay) Person

God accepts gays by divine fiat.

v-Honthorst-Christ-Crowned-w-Tho

The Letter to the Romans has material for two sermons. The first sermon is the most popular sermon on earth and it is summarized between Romans 1:18-32.  The second is found in Romans 9:10, and it hardly ever gets preached.

Both are straight from the bible but they are in direct contradiction to each other because they represent two different perspectives, the first one being a human perspective.  The true Gospel is found in only the second perspective.  And no wonder, for man can only originate bad news and God alone can declare a Gospel – and he has, but it is a Gospel that no human mind could have conceived of and few can truly grasp.  For the sake of brevity I have not discussed the material between or around these two sermons.  It is enough to note that the inspiration of the bible does not preclude it’s accurately stating a mistaken perspective in order to later reveal the truth.

The first sermon reads as follows:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

According to this immensely popular sermon in all its manifestations, God looked down at the world and what he saw shocked him. It’s evident that God is indeed angry with the world and this anger has resulted in the compounding and multiplication of sin in it.  And for everything we’re told about tolerance, some cultures, diets, lifestyles and moral codes – more like amoral codes – are simply disgusting.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.  Amen.  Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.  Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.  Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

It’s the most popular sermon on earth and it condemns everyone on earth.  It condemns the abortion clinicians, those who have sex-changes, the pork-eater, money-changer and tax-collector.  It condemns even those who keep their sons’ foreskins intact – the list is endless, and there is little or no room for trying to find the humanity of these people.  They are just a list of (allegedly) evil acts.

This is every sermon on every sin God has ever counted, and he is counting.  He has a list, and like Santa he knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice – but if you’ve been naughty nobody can spare you from the horrendous penalty.  The wrath of God is continuously being revealed from heaven against this ungodliness of men, and because of their idolatrous hearts God compounds their sinfulness and hands them over to keep sinking deeper into this cesspool of filth.

Now let’s listen to the other sermon.  God’s sermon:

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac.  Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  What then shall we say?  Is God unjust?  Not at all!  For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort (bold mine), but on God’s mercy.  For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us?  For who is able to resist his will?”  But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?  What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?  As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”
and,

“In the very place where it was said to them,
‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”

Before there was time, space, culture, society, respectability, normality – before anyone could impress or depress or anger God with their behavior – God made a choice to save some, not out of anything he anticipated or foresaw in them but entirely because he chose to.  This doctrine is defended and explained in the blog series on predestination.

Nothing in the behavior, nature or disposition of those so chosen actually changes God’s view on the matter.  In principle, these people have always been and shall always be perfect in his eyes.  And if they were not so even for one moment, God would have no power to realize in “real life” or in time what he knows to be true of them in eternity.

Corresponding with this choice was his choice to set his love, blessing, approval, infinite patience and grace on them.

This choice was not, nor could have been, a response to anything God saw in the chosen, nor in their nature, nor in the relationship between the chosen and nature, or anything at all under heaven.

Nor was this choice dependent on how well these people fit in, or conformed to the expectations of any person or society in the world.

For if it had been such a response, God would have been acting beneath his sovereignty as God by waiting for some or other circumstance to condition his sentiments and resolve.

But God is not a creature, and God is conditioned by nothing outside himself.

Nobody can make God happy, nor delighted with them, or anything else like that.  God, who is before and beyond the world, does not love in accordance with the beloved’s diet, sexuality, naturalness, normalcy – nothing like that – but rather, imparts love as a gift to his beloved in Christ.

So no amount of gold-star behavior can justify anyone before God.

Rather, certain people have been the recipients of God’s justification, love, sanctification, grace and glory from eternity and will learn of it in time.  If anyone brings a charge against these people, fingering them as the source of God’s wrath revealed from heaven, God just isn’t listening.  God’s joy and wrath are not responses to something he learns in creation but are expressions of his sovereign choices over creation.

Therefore, the glory of the first sermon is completely eclipsed and outshone by the glory of the second just as the glory of the First Covenant is completely outshone by the glory of the Second as it glows brighter every passing moment.

The implications for gay believers will take a while and a few blog posts to flesh out.  Please stick around.  It could make all the difference to the way you understand God or relate with gay people, as people.  This is a conversation that the Reformed tradition needs to have if it is to remain true to its roots.

@badasstheology
#badasstheology
badasstheology@gmail.com

Reformed Theology And Gay Believers – Third Post

The doctrine of unconditional election (absolute foreordination) is an important aspect of my theological forecast that heterocentrism will be deposed as an intruder in Christianity, the way racism and slavery were.  Heterosexism is the systemic privileging of straight relationships, perspectives and people to the marginalization of non-straight relationships, perspectives and people.  But this series is not primarily about refuting anti-gay theology or proving the moral innocence of same-sex love under some or other circumstances.  Rather, its purpose is to establish the backbone of a more fundamental biblical reality, a biblical reality on which stands and falls every other: the righteousness of God.  Relative to that indescribably high mark, defending the innocence of some same-sex activities and those that participate in them is like Job’s insistence on defending his innocence before his accusers.  Job’s focus on God’s goodness was so eclipsed by his his fixation on establishing and defending his own righteousness, he didn’t realize that he’d been prepared to sacrifice God’s righteousness on the altar of his defended innocence.  The righteousness of God is fundamental and primary.  So the relevance of this series to the struggles, experiences and perspectives of same-sex attracted Christians will be sprinkled throughout the series very much in passing.

This is the last post in this series on Calvinism.  You can read the first post here and the second post here

The typical Christian’s understanding of judgment is at odds with the biblical revelation on God’s judgment.  Most people think that at some point in the future, each individual will stand before God, and that God will assess the actions of those individuals against the standard of the Law and from this assessment determine how the person will spend eternity.  There are verses that indicate that this is how judgment works.  Hebrews 9:27, for example, says, “It is appointed unto man to die once and after this, the judgment.”

But based on many other verses, I think Hebrews 9:27 isn’t talking so much about a judgment as it is discussing a verdict.  The judgment is long settled by then.  I’ve blogged at length about why I think the bible is fundamentally Calvinistic so I won’t roll out the individual scriptures behind the view I’m about to flesh out.  This view would be true even if unconditional election weren’t true, simply because salvation by grace is.  If salvation is by grace, then God will not be using anyone’s works to determine whether he’s saved or not.  “Judgement” would have happened already at the cross.

Not based on anything that was in those people themselves, God in eternity appointed some to eternal life and excluded others.  As a result of that, those who have thusly been appointed will, at some point in their lives, receive the free gift of eternal life from God and produce fruit that reflects that new life as a testimony of God’s judgement – which happened in God’s choice to appoint them to eternal life.

The resultant fruit may or may not be in accordance with the prevailing culture’s idea of what righteousness is, even if the culture calls itself Christian.  The fruit may or may not be in line with righteousness as per the Law.  There are other posts where I show that it just isn’t.  The obsession with measuring fruit is the essence of legalism.  When Jesus healed on the Sabbath he argued for mercy over legalism.  At any rate, the foreseen fruit of salvation or their greater disposition towards producing more fruit is not what made God pick those people over others; rather, the fact of being elected produces the fruit in the elect.  If a person has to strain to act like the elect he may already be an eternity too late to change anything, and if he’s elect he has all eternity to catch up to what God has already done for him.

Being God, God will not wait for creatures to impress him with their gold-star behavior or sincere desire to be “good” before he makes a decision about their fate; his decision precedes their actions.  God has already issued the judgment.  We show up for the verdict and sentencing.  Here, the Law is footnote, and anyone who bothers to appeal to it will only prove his sinfulness.  Yet the greater part of Christendom trifles with this approach every day, and Christianity is culturally understood to be in the business of creating “good” people.  Where is the Reformed Church?

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel

John 3:18 seems to present Christ as the sole touchstone for assessing what God’s judgement on each person is:

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

There stands the judgement in its entirety.  There was a judgement, but it never was against anyone who believes in him.  He who does not believe has already been judged.

It literally happened before we were born.  Listen to Romans 9 again, bearing in mind that any distinction between any Pauline discourse on nations’ election to service and individuals’ election to salvation is entirely man-made; an imaginary boundary, wonderful, pretty, forced into the text and foreign to it like the cherished – and fictional – distinction between the ceremonial law that Christ abolished and the moral law that he supposedly didn’t:

“Yet, before the twins were born (bold mine) or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’.  Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’  What then shall we say?  Is God unjust?  Not at all!  For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’.  It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.  For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’  Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.  One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’  But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?  What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?  What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?  As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them “my people” who are not my people; and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved one’, and, ‘In the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “children of the living God”.’

Notice Paul’s total emphasis not on anything promised or produced by any human being, but on God’s unilateral decision to love and shape the vessel into what he wants.

I’ve seen it argued that Romans 9 makes an allusion to a Jeremiah imagery of the Potter and the Pot.  The Potter is flexible in that passage, responding to changes in the pot’s attitude.  Therefore, the argument goes, when reading Romans we must import the idea of divine flexibility into this passage.  This argument belongs in the same category as objections addressed in the previous post.

Judgment Has Already Come

Spiritual self-sufficiency breeds godlessness – that is, the absence of any felt need for God, the absence of any appeal to God for mercy, and, therefore, the absence of God himself.  Many of us don’t think we’re as bad as the Pharisee in Luke 18 who says,

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector”

but in stories, attitudes are sharpened, made more vivid, more graphic, for emphasis.  In “real life” those attitudes, and their opposite despairs (“God could never love me – I’m too bad!”) are entirely human, humanistic and presuppose that God’s love is a response to something in or about the elect.  So even trying to correct this attitude is entirely for people’s benefit and not God’s.  Correcting it may just be further proof that we think we will grow worthier of God’s love if we rid ourselves of pride.  The strange and wonderful truth of God’s love, along with his whole-hearted approval of his people, is that they can never be “good enough” or “too bad” to receive it entirely as a gift.  If they were given an expectation instead of grace, his people would cease to grow in his love and remain in a state of failure.

Grace is the divine power whereby God freely delights in his children and as an indirect consequence of so delighting in them, makes them delightful.  Harboring expectations wouldn’t only strip the cross of its power but also God of his.  It’s one and the same power, of course.  Also, it doesn’t make sense for God to expect when he has already ordained.  In other words, we’ve spent so long creating God in our image that we wouldn’t know him if he revealed himself in scripture, in Christ or in the resilient faith of those we think he has written off as not-his-children, not-his-people and not-his-beloved.  Christ didn’t get crucified by people who were spectacularly more evil than we are; he was killed by us in a different age.  The being Christians worship who loves some believers less infinitely than others until they live up to some whitewashed expectation, is not the biblical God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.

Yet in churches, I meet an atmosphere thick with expectations.  Oh well, I guess…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” Jesus taught.  Most of us don’t have enough awareness of our existential poverty to realize that before we were born or had done anything good or bad, God elected.  At the judgment, many of those people will discover that in spite of life-long professions of Christianity and external signs of Christianity (as our culture understands it), God never knew them.  He knew about them, certainly.  But he never elected them.  And this showed itself in their failure to love, though they got everything else “right”.

There is nothing more off-putting than this self-righteous religiosity.  “Your righteous works are as filthy rags before me!” God said, because framed in this self-sufficient worldview, even goodness looks hideous because it always gets dispensed as a wage and not as a gift.  The person giving it has never known himself as being entirely graced by love and so cannot give to others what he ha never known.  Even his tender mercies, then, are just plain cruelty.  “I just love you so much that I feel the need to bash you with this bible and tell you that you’re an abomination in God’s eyes” may be an exaggeration given for emphasis, but it’s still true.  We forget this.  If Christ is the end of the Law for them that believe, then in the very place where it was said of them, “Abomination”, it can be said, “Beloved Children”.

Conditional goodness is hideous because it is void of one essential ingredient – agape – without which even the tongues of angels are nails on a chalkboard.  This sort of Christianity is water that doesn’t wet the tongue; it’s a blanket that doesn’t keep in any warmth.  It is why most atheists of good conscience can’t stand churches and often accuse us Christians of hypocrisy.  Unless we know ourselves to have been loved for nothing that resides in us, we cannot help holding out on humbly loving others the same way.

Phil Drysdale is probably correct about this

Phil Drysdale is probably correct about this

#badasstheology

@badasstheology

badasstheology@gmail.com

Reformed Theology And Gay Believers – First Post

The doctrine of unconditional election (absolute foreordination) is an important aspect of my theological forecast that heterocentrism will be deposed as an intruder in Christianity, the way racism and slavery were.  Heterosexism is the systemic privileging of straight relationships, perspectives and people to the marginalization of non-straight relationships, perspectives and people.  But this series is not primarily about refuting anti-gay theology or proving the moral innocence of same-sex love under some or other circumstances.  Rather, its purpose is to establish the backbone of a more fundamental biblical reality,a biblical reality on which stands and falls every other: the righteousness of God.  Relative to that indescribably high mark, defending the innocence of some same-sex activities and those that participate in them is like Job’s insistence on defending his innocence before his accusers.  Job’s focus on God’s goodness was so eclipsed by his his fixation on establishing and defending his own righteousness, he didn’t realize that he’d been prepared to sacrifice God’s righteousness on the altar of his defended innocence.  The righteousness of God is fundamental and primary.  So the relevance of this series to the struggles, experiences and perspectives of same-sex attracted Christians will be sprinkled throughout the series very much in passing.

This series is not on whether I agree with or like Calvinism; rather, it is my attempt to explain why Reformed hermeneutics will prove to be heterosexism’s greatest weakness.  For that to happen, we have to prove that the bible discusses unconditional election.

So What Is Calvinism?

We come very close to grasping the idea behind predestination when we listen to a story or watch a movie.  At those times we immediately, instinctively and inexplicably grasp three counter-rational truths:

1.) Each character is entirely himself and will act as s/he freely chooses
2.) Each character is entirely a creation of the author that wrote the story and will do exactly as ordained by the author

3.) Each character is morally responsible for his choices even if they are exactly what has been ordained by the author, because they were the character’s choices

When we hear a story or watch a movie, we suspend disbelief and do not question that these three truths, though seeming to work against one another, all occupy the same “space”.

Whenever we read the bible, I believe its narrators (inspired or not) are telling us three very similar things:

1.) Each biblical figure is entirely himself and will act as s/he freely chooses
2.) Each biblical figure is entirely a creation of God and will act exactly as ordained by God
3.) Each biblical figure is morally responsible for his or her choices even if they are exactly what has been ordained by God, because they were that biblical figure’s choices

Romans 9: 17 – 24 lays this idea out very simply:

“For Scripture says to Pharaoh: I raised you up for this very purpose (bold mine), that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’  Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.  One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’  But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?  ‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this”?’  Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?  What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?”

Apostle Paul’s argument is no argument at all, of course.  He simply presents God’s sovereignty as an incontestable given; it is as inexplicable as the creation of everything from nothing.  It isn’t a point to be argued in or out of rationality.  Like any other settled fact, it already is and though they live in its immediate implications, it is far beyond the grasp of human beings.  To debate or resist the bible at this point requires the intellectual honesty to ignore the scriptures in toto.  Paul doesn’t even present the idea as a rhetorical question; if that’s what he’s doing, I haven’t discovered the point he was making with that rhetorical question.  I have had no choice, based on Romans 9 and many other scriptures, to conclude that the bible sees God as having foreordained all that comes to pass in the world.

Phil Drysdale is probably correct about this

Phil Drysdale is probably correct about this

Doesn’t Calvinism make God the source of evil?

Both the bible and Calvinism go to great lengths to protect the doctrine of God’s holiness.

The holiness of God is that property of God whereby he remains above, separate from, transcendent to and untainted by all corruption.  The holiness of God is God’s hostility to evil.

brillianceHow does a holy God control evil without being its sponsor?

A perfect understanding of this concept is beyond human reach.  I’d like to give explaining it a shot, though.  Theoretically, God could control the amount of darkness in the universe merely by controlling the amount, concentration, movement and permeation of light throughout the universe.  By this I mean moral as well as every other kind of light.

The darkness would simply be the opposite and absence of God’s light, then.  Evil would be present in people as the opposite of and absence (or limitedness) of God’s influence.  By withholding light or by withdrawing his influence and presence, God opens space up for sin.  In the absence of light, the darkness turns on and devours itself and those around it.

None of this nullifies God’s right to then return – as conscience, or as an angel or a theophany – to ask, “What is this that you have done?”  “Who told you that you were naked?  “Have you eaten from the tree of which I said not to eat?”  The action commissioned in the space where God has withdrawn his influence originates in the creature, and not from God, though the “shape” of the withdrawal is of God and is measured to leave a moral vacuum equal to the sin that will then come forth from the creature.

Note that: From the creature.  Not from God.

Light

Light And Dark

Someone may argue that Habakkuk 1:13 says that God’s eyes are “too pure to behold evil”.  Very well, then: God doesn’t behold evil:  he beholds the absence of the good, which he himself has withdrawn.  That’s how it’s possible for the God who is light (1 John 1:5) and in whom there is no darkness nor the shadow of turning (James 1:17) to “form” light and “create” darkness (Isaiah 45:7).  Think I’m messing with you?  In Genesis 1, God creates light and separates it from darkness, but nowhere in Genesis 1 are we told of God creating the darkness from which he withdraws that light he has created.  The darkness simply was where the light was withheld.  An artist doesn’t draw the negative spaces between the pencil marks except by negation.  God ordains evil by ordaining the absence of the good that would have prevented that evil.  Being God, he owes it to no one to ensure that this preventative good is present at that time and place, but he may demand an account from the creature that has failed to resist his will.  Read Romans 9 for yourself.

summer

A Skyline

Calvinism does not stand in conflict with free will or with the idea that God genuinely relates to each creature as a free agent. When we speak of God foreordaining something from all eternity, we tend to forget that “from all eternity” is a dimension of time now and not in “the past”.  At any rate, this helps us understand why the Westminster Confession condenses scripture thusly:

“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.”

We’re also told that,

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

“Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

“These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

“As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation.  Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

“The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.

“The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election.  So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel.”

You don’t have to even be a Christian to understand that reformed Calvinist theology will prove to be heterocentrism’s downfall.  But this series is mostly on defending Calvinism as a completely biblical concept.

The next post looks at some common objections to the doctrine of predestination and answers them from the bible.

Reformed Theology And Gay Believers – Second Post

The doctrine of unconditional election (absolute foreordination) is an important aspect of my theological forecast that heterocentrism will be deposed as an intruder in Christianity, the way racism and slavery were.  Heterosexism is the systemic privileging of straight relationships, perspectives and people to the marginalization of non-straight relationships, perspectives and people.  But this series is not primarily about refuting anti-gay theology or proving the moral innocence of same-sex love under some or other circumstances.  Rather, its purpose is to establish the backbone of a more fundamental biblical reality, a biblical reality on which stands and falls every other: the righteousness of God.  Relative to that indescribably high mark, defending the innocence of some same-sex activities and those that participate in them is like Job’s insistence on defending his innocence before his accusers.  Job’s focus on God’s goodness was so eclipsed by his his fixation on establishing and defending his own righteousness, he didn’t realize that he’d been prepared to sacrifice God’s righteousness on the altar of his defended innocence.  The righteousness of God is fundamental and primary.  So the relevance of this series to the struggles, experiences and perspectives of same-sex attracted Christians will be sprinkled throughout the series very much in passing.

This is the second post on Calvinism.  Click here for the first one.

Whenever the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty is discussed, people resort to very familiar arguments to squelch the point.  I’m going to address some of those arguments here and any others that appear in the comments’ section.

I don’t take it personally if people disagree: it’s not my doctrine.  It’s the bible’s doctrine.  And the bible’s truthfulness or lack thereof has nothing to do with me.

People Add Middlemen To Help Soften The Biblical Teaching On Divine Providence 

Satan is a popular one.  God doesn’t foreordain evil, they say, because it’s by Satan’s doing that evil occurs.

The problem with this argument is that there is no comparison between the creature and the creator.  No amount of middlemen between God and us is sufficient to wash away the fact that God is not only sovereign over all things and outcomes but discloses the fact of this sovereignty throughout scripture.  Even Satan’s evil, then, is ultimately a result of God’s decree.

The middlemen argument assumes that the biblical God needs help with his PR or should feel guilty for some of the things that have transpired in history under his sovereignty.  It forces God’s hands into a bowl to be washed of things God never asked anyone to wash his hands for.  The boldness with which divine sovereignty is revealed in the bible in the face of its implications should show us that the biblical God has far bigger issues to ponder than the popularity of the divine decree amongst the human beings that live its effects.  We simply do not have God’s perspective on things.  We worship God not because he is a vending machine that responds as we wish but because he is God no matter what happens.

In theory, God could have created a cosmos of open possibilities.  There is no disputing Greg Boyd’s open theism is very coherent and logical.  In fact, I’d say it makes for compulsory reading.  But while it stretches our minds, it requires that we explain away far too many verses – so many, in fact, that I end up wondering why read the bible at all.

Satan Made Job Sick

Satan is the source of suffering, people argue; God is not.  And while they have a point about the biblical God being nothing but light as discussed in the previous post, they overlook how in the book of Job, it is God that offers Job to Satan as though Job were a racehorse that could be tested.  Consider Job 1 verses 6-11:

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.  The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”  Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”  Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?  You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Notice what happened here.  Satan didn’t taunt God, or do anything at all to make God offer Job.  Rather, it was God who offered Job, and Satan who took the bait.  To argue otherwise, we have to read things into the conversation that aren’t in it.

And God thereafter doesn’t trouble himself with telling Job about Satan’s role in his suffering.  Rather, like the whirlwind out of which God speaks, God is presented as power itself.  None can deliver from his hand.  Whoever questions the justice of his actions is simply “darkening counsel” by “multiplying words without wisdom”.  So Job is the worst possible biblical book anyone could argue from if arguing against Calvinism.  It’s best to leave the book in the genre of epic poetry and not read it literally.

The Sincerity Of God’s Call To Repentance Is Called Into Question If Unconditional Predestination Is A Reality

Many will then say that the many verses that presuppose free choice and divine flexibility are proof that unconditional predestination isn’t real.  God’s free call to salvation isn’t sincere if only some are elected to salvation, they say.

This argument looks very sound but it isn’t.  Calvinism doesn’t require that God be inflexible or insincere in his call.  If one person who isn’t predestined to come to Christ does actually come to him, God will save that person.  The non-elect have this choice their whole lives and God would respond to it with salvation even if they accepted Christ partially to call God’s bluff.  Turn ye, turn ye, God says, because he is willing and able to save those that put their faith in him.

But the dead would raise themselves on the same day.

Faith isn’t something we give to God: like life, faith is something God gives to us.

Nothing in Calvinism makes God’s call to repentance insincere.  God sincerely sent his Son, who sincerely disclosed his identity, and sincerely performed miracles, and sincerely offered salvation to whoever would receive it with sincere freedom.

Christ’s whole earthly ministry was a sincere call to salvation but he also knew, and taught, that nobody except those chosen by the Father would accept this free offer.  He made no bones of this open secret.  It’s printed in millions of bibles around the world.  Romans 10 is very clear that salvation is not up in heaven to be retrieved by supernatural power, nor in the abyss to be dug up.  The word is in each person’s mouth.  So why aren’t more mouths and hearts confessing and believing?

God has never – in all eternity – been as blatant about anything as he was about Christ’s messiahship.  Under interrogation and on pain of death, Christ spilled every bean in the bag.  As did Paul and the other witnesses to Christ.  Nothing was more sincere than Christ’s ministry of calling people to salvation.  “All day I have held my hands out to a stubborn and stiff-necked people”, he says.  Because he did.  There was no want of sincerity in the execution of that aspect of the divine scheme.

But there was no secret on the fact of predestination either.  There are many mysteries concerning how it’s possible for free choice to coexist with foreordination, but there is no mystery on this truth’s factuality.

Why else was Agrippa only “almost persuaded” (Acts 26:28) to become a Christian?  What was this great hoop that God demanded humanity jump through in order to go through the open door (John 10:9)?  What’s the problem?  Isn’t this what we’ve always wanted – heaven, for free?  Salvation as a grace (free gift) is a biblical axiom.  In Titus we’re told that the grace of God has appeared to save all men.  Again, note how the grace of God appeared to save all.  Nothing stood between salvation and sinners.   There was no lack of willingness to give salvation on God’s part.

So why was there overwhelming reluctance – reluctance, in fact, to the point of crucifixion (which also was foreordained by God) – on people’s part?

This mystery is also accounted for in the bible: “Many are called,” Jesus said, “But few are chosen.”

And the sincerity of the call cannot be measured by the choseness of the choosing whereby God elects some.  The sincerity of the call is dependent on its clarity, accessibility and truthfulness.  If one non-elected person chose Christ, salvation would happen because the offer was sincere.  Christ was accessible and remains accessible until the last breath.  Christ’s power to save is entirely available to any who’ll have it.  But even Jesus admitted that it would only be given to some to receive it.  Even before Pilate, Jesus made no secret of the divine behind-the-scenes operations whereby Pilate had been delegated temporal power over Christ’s life.  Jesus made no secret of the fact that there was an off-stage Director with whom he collaborated, and in whose hands the choices, actions and words of men rested.  Remarkable, this biblical proposition concerning free will and divine sovereignty, that two seemingly irreconcilable truths should coexist so closely together.

The sincerity of the call and the chosenness of the elect are two different categories though they may overlap.  The universality of the call is not dependent on the universality of God’s election.  In other words, God was sincere when he called even those who didn’t respond to the call.  And isn’t it the strangest thing, how we insist that we’re truthful, intellectually and philosophically honest, but deny the truth when it’s right before us?  John 8:47 says, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.  The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God”.  The reason people don’t hear isn’t that God is less than honest or sincere in his disclosure; the reason is that many are called but few are chosen as God’s.  In John 18, Pilate is shown to be among those to whom the truth was clearly disclosed but wasn’t given to loving it.  “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”  In spite of many illusions he may have entertained in his lifetime about being a sincere and virtuous seeker of the truth, he simply wasn’t.  When the truth showed up, Pilate didn’t like it.  “Pilate was merciful until it became risky”, observed C. S Lewis.  And isn’t that just a fact of being human?  We’re dust.  We each have a breaking point, even if that point is death.  We’re mortal.

We are what we were created to be.

Created.

Predestined.

Fashioned as clay vessels.

Nothing good dwells in us.  Even the humility we are sometimes humbled to is from God.  Righteousness is from God.

Consider Romans 3’s argument against the idea that being Abraham’s circumcised offspring is sufficient for salvation:

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?  Much in every way!  First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.  What if some were unfaithful?  Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?  Not at all!  Let God be true, and every human being a liar.  As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge’.  But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?  That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.)  Certainly not!  If that were so, how could God judge the world?”

The Jews, to whom Paul wrote, were the first people that were supposed to recognize the Messiah.  The Messiah went to them before he went to everybody else.  So why didn’t they accept him?  God chose to graft Gentiles in, that’s why.  Doesn’t this call God’s sincerity (faithfulness) into question?  No!  God is true – God told the whole truth, authenticating it with more miraculous works than could be recorded, works that if done in other cities would have roused repentance – and every man, having lied to himself, having pretended that if presented with truth he’d accept it, did not do so unless he was first drawn to do so by God.  And when God judges or is judged by the human argument that resists the divine right to inflict wrath or judge the world, he will be proven right and prevail.  So far from undermining God’s sincerity, righteousness or faithfulness, the doctrine of predestination highlights it by setting it against the backdrop of human insincerity, unrighteousness and faithlessness.  Let God be true and every man a liar.

God’s sincerity in the call to repentance and in his disclosure of Christ as the embodied truth underscores the uniqueness of his power to save set over and against people’s professed power or will to save themselves.  Romans 9:16 says, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy”.  God’s sincerity in Christ’s ministry exposes the moral vacuity of human beings.  Those who are offered this salvation and refuse it will be proof-positive that the insincerity lies not with God but with man; as for God, he has not only sincerely disclosed the whole truth but will also sincerely succeed in saving every last one of the Elect whom he unilaterally and unconditionally chose to save – he alone will succeed where everyone else fails.  This is not because of anything in the elect, but because God alone, contrary to this particular argument against the doctrine of unconditional predestination, is the only wholly and holy sincere being in existence and therefore the only one with the moral resolve to bring to pass the salvation of those on whom he has set his mercy.  Salvation is entirely of God.  “Let God be true and every man a liar.  As it is written: ‘So you may be proved right when you speak and overcome when you are judged”.

The Doctrine Of Predestination Makes God Out To Be An Actor

In the bible, we see God in many conversations and encounters that indicate that the future consists of possibilities and probabilities along with certainties.  If God has indeed foreordained whatsoever will come to pass, then why was he in those conversations with humans and angels?

In Genesis 3, we see God play dumb about whether Adam had eaten of the forbidden fruit.  Far later on in the bible, we learn that God sees everything.  So God accommodates himself to the limitations of the creature he is dealing with and then gradually expands that creature’s understanding of who he really is.  We absorb the truth of predestination when we’re ready for it, and this readiness is not always just our intellectual readiness but whatever level of readiness fits God’s plan for us.  Notice that in that plan, we were born without agreeing to be born, became human without signing up for it, and experienced many other realities simply as givens.

The alternative to God accommodating himself to our limitations by acting along and speaking to us first within our paradigm, is him just overwhelming us with mind-boggling realities that we could never understand anyway.  To learn of predestination is to come of age spiritually.  To insist on going back to a former worldview that was borne of an older conversation – a conversation in which God accommodated himself to the limitations of that developmental stage – is an attempt to grow younger.  The bible’s hints about predestination become clear revelations by Paul’s time because more people had matured to the point of accepting this mode of understanding and speaking about God.

There is much to learn in pondering a universe of open possibilities.  There is much to learn from exploring varying interpretations of reality.

But those lessons have no bearing on the universe the bible actually describes.

And if unconditional election is true, then the church speaks from a position of utter confusion and theological darkness whenever it tries to work out the salvation status of a believer by looking at his sexual orientation.  It’s very human to suppose that something in the way a person conforms to cultural morality impresses God.  But God is not society and society is not God.  God is not the Christian community and the Christian community is not God.  God is not in creation nor is his decision about people influenced by anything that happens in creation.  If God is sovereign then the believer in question is gay, or straight, or whatever, in accordance with God’s wise schedule.  The church may be more familiar with straight people than it is with gay people but God is only familiar with those whom he foreknew (literally, “fore-loved”) and foreordained to salvation without one look at their lifestyles or what people would think of their lifestyles.  The sexual orientation controversy is a decoy, a distraction, that sends the human community scurrying about while God, with infinite, inscrutable serenity, perfectly works out the counsel of his will.  Reformed church, get back to TULIP and the 5 solas: it’s very, very solid ground.  Everything else is a distraction.

Creatures are weirded out by difference and panic about it.  Enjoying a wholly different emotional life undergirded by his sovereign control of all things, the creator isn’t weirded out and doesn’t doesn’t panic.  And if anyone brings a charge about God’s elect, God simply doesn’t listen.

Phil Drysdale is correct about this

Phil Drysdale is correct about this

God is not like us.

The next post is on how the judgement of God is one of the most misunderstood of biblical concepts.