Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical's Change of Heart

The Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical's Change of HeartThe Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical's Change of Heart by Mark Achtemeier
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a book that is going to ruffle quite a few feathers.  “The Bible’s Yes to Same Sex Marriage” touches on some hot-button issues that I believe are much too often hot-button simply out of a cultural, rejection-of-different, impulse rather than any genuine concern over the Word of God.  I am a rather sympathetic ear to most things “liberal” and have close relationships with homosexuals and homosexuals who profess faith in Christ.  This was a book I was interested to read and somewhat hesitant to read for the same reason.  Achtemeier makes the claim that this work is going to show why the Bible does not simply allow for same sex relationships but even supports them.  That proves to be rather ambitious endeavor, one to which it inevitably falls well short.

First off, this work, while proclaiming itself as focused on God’s word, is firmly rooted in personal experience.  For the first few chapters there is barely more than a few cursory interactions with the word of God.  Achtemeier sets out to elicit empathy from his reader by presenting multiple heart breaking cases he encountered of Christians suffering due to their sexual orientation.  This is in the hopes that the reader be brought to the same point where Achtemeier found himself after interacting with many who suffered through the struggle of same-sex attraction and Scriptural fidelity.  When he reaches the apex of all these experiences and emotions and whatnot, Achtemeier declares that, “(t)he combined weight of all this evidence forced me to conclude that the traditional condemnations were wrong.”  After determining what was true, based on his own criteria of what the Christian life should be and based on the experience of people he encountered, Achtemeier then went to the Scriptures to work on making them fit his presuppositions.  And, not too surprisingly, he found exactly what he was looking for.

One of those presuppositions that proved most debilitating to any search for truth in this matter was a basic prosperity mentality attached to his worldview.  Now, this was not the insidious prosperity preaching that fills Housewives spin-offs and TBN telethons.  It is the more subversive prosperity teaching that fills the pulpits of conservative churches and the minds of many, many Christians.  It is the mindset that God simply wants good (translation: comfortable, suffering and sacrifice free) for his people.  It is the mindset that God would never allow anything difficult to befall his children.  It is Christianized-karma based on an over-realized eschatology that sees no place for suffering in the life of believers, and it filled these pages.

Nowhere was suffering even a genuine option.  In fact, if suffering is involved then it is obviously not of God.  Nowhere in these pages was there any room for a God would refuse to remove a thorn from the flesh of his child while simultaneously assuring him that “my grace is sufficient.”  Nowhere in these pages was there room for a God who would say, “Have you considered my servant Job?”  Nowhere in these pages was there room for a God who would listen to the cries of his beloved Son to “let this cup pass” and answer him with silence.   For this reason, when we do reach suffering in these pages it must not be of God.  When someone is suffering in their struggle against embracing same sex attraction the automatic answer becomes that they must be doing wrong in resisting.  Not only that but we, as loving and empathetic imitators of Christ, must then make a way for them to embrace their same-sex attractions and be relieved of their suffer-filled resistance.   There is no room in this work for the refining fires of suffering so the dross of sinful lives must instead be counted as gold.

It is an easy step for Achtemeier  to remove the impetus from much of Scripture because throughout this work the he presumptuously sits in judgment over Scripture.  This is clear in his first principle of examining Scripture. Achtemeier presents the primary means of determining the meaning (and the cultural relativity) of a passage as whether or not it makes “good, coherent sense.”  “My ways are higher” does not fly in the realm of autonomous, ultimate Reason.  Achtemeier could have called this the Jefferson Method or the Jesus Seminar Principle where the primary factor in determining the veracity of a passage is what the sovereign Self thinks about it.  This relative, self-centered hermeneutic fits well in a world full of relativistic, self-centered people but it ignores the objective, God-centered truth of Scripture.  In this same vein, Achtemeier lays an early foundation of a “cultural” defense against anything that the modern mind might find objectionable and follows it through to the end.  He aids this by implicitly and then explicitly tying those who reject same sex relationships with the neo-Nazis, those who support slavery, and those who oppress women.  I would say “well done”… but it wasn’t.  It was cliché and unoriginal.  As far as inflammatory rhetoric and poisoning the well goes, it was rather weak.

Achtemeier does engage Paul’s teaching on singleness but he never, to my recollection, addresses Paul’s contention about eunuchs, specifically those who are eunuchs “by nature”.  Based on how he conflates the physical and the spiritual in his argument about “nature”, Achtemeier would have to concede that when Paul says some are “by nature” eunuchs, this would not just be limited to physical disabilities but could also be due to same sex attraction coupled with a biblical and/or cultural rejection of same-sex relationships.  So, it is not only possible but probable that Paul could be referencing those with same-sex attraction as those who are “eunuchs by nature.”(i.e. celibate due to same-sex attraction)

This work severely minimizes the sufficiency of God, in the Scriptures and in himself.  The Scriptures are not sufficient to base our life and beliefs.  We must submit the Word of God to our experience, our logic, our opinions.  This is not a new teaching.  Achtemeier follows well in the 19th century Schleiermachian German liberalism through the gates of the Union Seminaries of the world to the mainline Protestantism he now finds himself championing.  This is the wide and easy path of elevating experience and feeling over the objective truth of Scripture.

It also minimizes the sufficiency of Christ himself.  It leaves the reader with the understanding that there is no possible way that Christ is enough.  If people are not allowed to marry and/or to pursue their attractions then they cannot have joy.  They cannot have peace.  They will never be happy. This might be true but, if so, it just more clearly portrays Paul’s argument in Romans 1 about the idolatrous nature of sexual sin.  Much of this work feels like a mantra of “I love my idol” followed by “I can serve God and my sexual orientation too!”

Achtemeier fails at proving that the Bible endorses same sex marriage for the same reason I would fail to prove Lebron James plays professional baseball with an issue of Sports Illustrated—it says the exact opposite because the opposite is true.  Beyond his failure to make his point, the underlying premise that this work is based on love is shown faulty.  This work does not arise out of a love of Scripture because it denies its sufficiency and authority (while giving lip service to both).  It does not arise out of a love of God because it says that which God calls evil is good and questions his authority and goodness because he does not act in the manner that Achtemeier would see fit.  And it does not arise out of love for those who suffer with same sex attraction, no matter how much Achtemeier might claim otherwise.  Simply put, it is not loving to set out to convince people that their sin is ok with God.  It is hateful and damning.  Homosexuals, just like heterosexuals, need the Gospel, not an affirmation of their sins.

Instead of lamenting the fact that there is no way for homosexuals to enjoy an earthly marriage relationship, why not present Christ as the all-sufficient one who exceeds every desire we have?  Instead of twisting and manipulating Scripture in order to alleviate good, biblical suffering, why not echo our Lord’s wonderful words to his cherished Paul when he said clearly that “my grace is sufficient for you?”  Instead of encouraging those with serious, persistent sin to simply embrace it and call it good, why not encourage them to heed the words of our Savior to repent and believe the Gospel.

“Anecdotal theology is rarely helpful.”—Douglas Bond.  This work could stand as a case-study to support that claim.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

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