Lets be like Thomas; doubt and certainty in one

I wasn’t always a Christian. I first came to know Christ at age 14 and was heavily involved in the church, eventually assisting the vicar with the services and I also did a lot of Bible readings for the services. But something happened when I was about 18 that led to a lot of questions but very few answers, and I was in quite major financial trouble. By 22 I made a decision to sort out the problems and eventually walked away from the Christian faith. But I never stopped questioning and challenging and after moving to Oxford in 2008, I got to know a Christian couple who went on to become very good friends of mine and came back to Christ in their front room. My whole faith journey has been built on asking questions, expressing doubts, challenging views, getting answers then repeat. So it will come as no surprise that my favourite character in the Bible is Thomas.

I like Thomas but I was being taught that we don’t want to be like Thomas, because Thomas doubted Jesus and that doubt is the enemy of faith. How much of that is actually true though? Did Thomas really doubt Jesus and are we really expected to have no doubts at all in order to have faith?

The main story that seems to have earned Thomas his reputation is in Johns gospel, specifically chapter 20 verses 19-31, but this isn’t the only passage where Thomas is asking questions. In John 14, when Jesus is telling the disciples he’s off to prepare a place for them, Thomas pipes up “Uh, Lord? We don’t know where you’re going so how can we know which way?” Jesus gave him an answer,

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him

Now, when Phillip, one of the other disciples chimes in with “Show us the Father that will be enough for us” Jesus reacts very differently; Phillip is given a serious rebuke, “How can you ask such a question? Don’t you know me? Believe me when I say I am with the Father, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves” Keep that last bit in mind “believe on the evidence of the works themselves” because we’re going to come back to it.

Thomas also makes an appearance in John 11 which covers the death of Lazarus; Jesus is telling the disciples that he needs to go back to Judea. The disciples are like “You’re joking right? They tried to kill you last time and now you want to go back?” This is a justified reaction to be fair but Thomas, the doubter, the one we’re not supposed to be like, steps up and says “Come on guys, let’s go with him so that if he dies, we’ll all die with him”. It seems that Thomas was going to make sure that Jesus didn’t die alone. These 2 events capture Thomas perfectly; expressing doubts and asking questions but also showing complete faith by being willing to stand with Jesus no matter what.

So lets bring all this together as we look at John chapter 20. Verses 19-20 says;

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord

So Jesus shows the disciples his hands and his side and then they believed. Now, we know from verse 24 that Thomas was not with the other disciples so he’s not seen Jesus since he died on the cross. We pick the story up at verse 25:

The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Who is Thomas doubting at this point? He’s doubting what he’s being told by the other disciples and again, you can’t really blame him. Living in the first century under the rule of the Roman Empire, he’s know enough about crucifixion to know that unless they get a pardon, whoever goes up on that cross isn’t coming down alive. He has enough knowledge of biology and experience of life to know that dead people stay dead. So what has he asked for? Nothing more than the other disciples got; to see Jesus, to see the marks in his side and his hands.

So verses 26-28:

A week later, Jesus’ disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

What an affirmation from Thomas; my Lord, my God!. Thomas didn’t come to that place despite his doubts, he got there because of them. He was honest about his doubts and Jesus let him face them, allowing him to believe on the evidence of the works themselves as Jesus said back in John 14. The evidence that Christ had risen was him standing in front of them. Now, we don’t have that, we don’t have Christ physically standing before us which brings me onto verse 29:

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”

We haven’t seen Jesus physically risen as I said, but what do we have? The Gospels. John tells us in verses 30 and 31:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Luke says something very similar in the opening of his account. Now this can lead to the question “how do we know the Gospels are reliable”, and my response is “Yes, great question. Let’s look at that and have a discussion”. This leads onto other questions about the Bible because there are so many translations and interpretations, and we need to check what we are being told. This brings us onto the last passage I want to look at briefly which is Mark 16 verse 14:

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Now, this passage is slightly contentious because it is part of verses 9-20 which don’t appear in early manuscripts and pretty much all Bibles have a footnote or some disclaimer saying as such, so that raises a set of its own questions. But who is Jesus referring to specifically when he said ‘those who had seen him’? The other disciples? The women at the tomb? All of the above? Does this mean we should automatically accept what we’re told regardless? This seems very dangerous as one US pastor found out when he took verse 18 and went with it without question;

they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

The pastor was ultimately bitten by the snake and died from the poison. We humans are flawed, our understanding is never 100% correct 100% of the time. We have to question things, otherwise we can end up doing things that are incredibly harmful to ourselves and others. It can also lead to great social changes. It was doubting the then current understanding of scripture that led William Wilberforce to lead cry’s for the slavery laws to be abolished. It was his expression of those doubts that caused others to take another look at scripture and then join the cause.

So what is Jesus talking about in that passage in Mark? I don’t know, it’s one of those things I wrestle with and what is our journey with God if not a wrestling match? Plus, it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘I don’t know’ because faith is not an expression of certainty, it’s an expression of vulnerability. It says ‘I don’t know if I can do this, but I know you’re with me Lord.’ It says ‘I can see all the pain, all the injustice, but I’m holding on.’ Too often we’re told questions and doubts are signs of spiritual weakness. They really aren’t, they lead to a richer spiritual experience and understanding as we explore and walk closer with God. Certainty is no guarantee that you’re with Jesus. Peter was certain in John 13:37; he said “I’ll lay down my life for you” and Jesus said “Really? When it’s all said and done you’re going to deny me 3 times.”

I found a quote from Archibald Macleish, who was an American poet and Librarian of Congress which says, “Religion is at it’s best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at it’s worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.” When Jesus said, “how can you take the speck out of someone’s eye when you have a plank in yours”, he was about asking us to take a long hard look at ourselves and our faults. How can we start doing something as huge as looking at our faults if we’re not even willing to start the process of doubting what we currently believe about certain things? Doubt is an inevitable part of that process. To quote Claus Westermann;

Where God’s words penetrate a man’s life and are taken seriously there are certain to be struggles and remonstrations and defeat; doubt and temptation also inevitably occur.

There are always things we are going to be certain of though. I’m certain in what I’ve said to you today and that doubting is not wrong and that nothing is beyond reproach. But doubt is not the same as unbelief, it’s a state between beliefs; so if you find yourself doubting, know that you are in good company and that it’s perfectly fine to be there. Jesus will be in there too, as he was with Thomas and as you walk with him with your doubts; and God is not going to be angry with you. Be ready to go places you were never expecting to go and be prepared for some conflict as you end up somewhere different to someone else. Doubts are only dangerous if we make them something to be ashamed of and we insist upon remaining distant from those who doubt and hold different beliefs. Like a splinter, pretending it doesn’t exist or thinking you are wrong for having one isn’t going to solve the problem and it can become infected if not treated.  Making people ashamed is the easiest way to get them to leave their doubts unchecked.

One final thing before I wrap this up; Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit before ascending. How can it be allowed to move, work, guide, show us something new, if we cling so tightly so our certainties and reject anything that contradicts them? It is through doubting that we grow, that we can walk closer with Jesus. Doubts are what make our faith our own, are what lead us closer to truth. It is impossible to be concerned with truth unless you’re genuinely open to the possibility that what you currently believe is wrong. There’s no 2 ways about it.

There’s so much more I want to say but I will end with this. I had my doubts, I still do and if I hadn’t explored them and wrestled with them, and still do so, I wouldn’t be a Christian now. We saw with Thomas that yes, he had his doubts but he was still willing to die with Jesus and that’s what ultimately happened to him when he was killed in India spreading the gospel. This is what we are supposed to be willing to do. I think we could do a lot worse than to be like Thomas. His doubts didn’t get in the way of following Jesus, and neither did they go away afterwards, indeed they were part of what allowed him to make such sacrifices because he explored, he doubted, he learned, he grew through those doubts and ultimately came closer to Jesus as a result.

 

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How a tattoo showed we need to put our bibles down

So at the weekend I went and got this done:

IMAG0379

Many thanks to Darryl at Infinity Tattoos in Gloucester for doing it. Anyway, as I was immensely happy with it given the pain I went through to get it, I shared it over various social media platforms and forums. The response was largely positive but inevitably there was going to be one who didn’t approve and it didn’t take long for the Bible verses to come out;

Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD – Leviticus 19:28

This was followed up with yet more inevitability with comments of me disobeying God including this gem; “Guess people don’t understand the many verses about not being like the world. Then to top it off, they brag about it.” Yep, straight in with the Bible and how I’m bragging about my disobedience; and you know what that felt like?

index

Now I did have people support my decision and defended me, but what stood out is that no one asked me why I got it done. They might have thought that it was probably the wrong question to ask and worse than jumping in with the Bible. Maybe it’s obvious why I got it but the story of why I got it says something about me, it’s important to me and it felt like that was not important. What seemed to be important was getting straight into debating whether it’s right or wrong and if you thought I was wrong, ensuring I knew about it from whatever Bible verse seems vaguely relevant. I was asked what I thought the Bible said that was the closest it came to people wanting to get to know me. It’s just a little thing but asking about something as (relatively) trivial as a tattoo shows you’re interested in getting know someone; but if you can’t do that with a tattoo, how are you going to do that with something much more fundamental to someone’s life?

I don’t mind discussions over what the Bible says, they’re important, but it should not be at the ignorance of everything else. We need to look up from our Bibles to see what impact our use of scripture has and is having. Better yet, we need to put our Bibles away and engage with the world in which we live. All too often the verses we chuck out end up hurting people because we haven’t thought about the context of the passage or the context of the situation the person is in because we haven’t bothered to take the time to. We may not be of it but we’re certainly in it. Before we even think about finding verses to throw, we need to get to know people and walk with them. Jesus didn’t respond to every question with scripture straight away and some he didn’t respond with scripture at all. But he got to know the situations people were in because he got to know them and we need to the same.

So next time you’re tempted to throw the scriptures at people we should take a pause, put the Bible down and get know the person because after all, God didn’t send a book he sent a person and there’s probably good reason for that.

Maybe we deserve to be treated with suspicion

So in a recent article on Premier, Andrea Williams from the Christian Legal Centre is quoted as saying “We are seeing a worrying trend, whereby Christian parents are being treated with suspicion because of their faith” and my immediate thought was “well, maybe we deserve to be”

Looking through the articles I’ve shared on the Facebook page, the majority have been along the theme of the mind bogglingly stupid things Christians have done and come out with. From trying to restrict the rights of same-sex couples by banning them from marrying or adopting children and then disciplining churches who stand for equality, to completely ignoring modern science and history regarding…..well, everything pretty much and trying to get our religious views into law to force onto everyone, topped off with details on disciplining your wife and covering abuse claims; and these are just the ones I can remember. Is it really a surprise Christians are treated with such suspicion?

Now I know there are many instances of Christians not doing these and it’s unfair to tar everyone with the same brush, but maybe we’ve reached the tipping point where our lunacy is outweighing any good we are doing. Even if it hasn’t, things can’t simply be swept under the carpet simply because they’re inconvenient and/or we don’t want to listen.

Maybe we deserve the contempt we get and if that isn’t sobering then perhaps we deserve even more.

Quick thoughts on this banned prayer ad

So unless you’ve been hidden under a rock or in a country where the internet really is censored, you’ve probably heard of the decision by Digital Cinema Media (DCM) refusing permission for the Lords Prayer advert to be screened in cinemas.

Claims of pandering to political correctness and rampant secularism to claims of violating freedom of speech and the crowd favourite, persecution have been plenty in Christian media. Now admittedly the way DCM have handled this has not helped. Claiming the ban is because “it could cause offense” is just petrol on the fire for those who already feel marginalized because they think they’re banned from saying Merry Christmas.

But the simple fact is, it’s nothing of the kind. First off, they’re not banned from making the video in the first place. Secondly, they’re not banned from distributing the video freely on the internet which has a far bigger audience than all the cinemas in the world combined. Third, no one is now calling for them to be arrested or worse. Fourth, DCM reserve the right to decline any advert on the grounds of if they feel the video is pushing  political or religious agenda. Fifth, Christians are free to complain about the decision and indeed appeal it.

So there’s no freedom of speech issues, no persecution. An authority governing aspects of cinema has made a decision regarding a piece of marketing material and deemed it inappropriate. If Muslims or atheists tried to make a similar video I’d expect the decision to be the same. But the biggest thing for me is that it’s a video advertising prayer and as soon as I saw that, the below popped into my mind:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:5-6

We don’t need to advertise prayer in an entertainment venue, I think everyone knows that Christians and people of many other faiths pray. There’s a lot of confusion over why people pray but the website seems geared towards helping people pray. I don’t know for sure but my experience is that if atheists are interested in prayer, they’re going to go to a Christian they know and if Christians are struggling to pray, they’re going to go to Christians they know. Now the site does offer some advice on what prayer is (how good the advice is is another matter) but if someone is having questions about prayer, chances are they’ll know someone who they can speak to and besides, the above passage is probably the best advice. But sadly it has once again shown Christians completely backward priorities. With many homeless this winter, refugees seeking asylum plus numerous other issues afflicting millions (which Churches do a great job with by the way), we’re up in arms over the fact an ad won’t be shown in a cinema.

So whilst I get the reason behind the campaign, I think it’s very misguided to try and put it in cinemas even though it is actually very good and the DCM could have handled it much better. It’s certainly isn’t a restriction on freedom of speech and because I’m free to do so, I’ve pasted the video below.

Lords Prayer Ad

If it is a war, Jesus has given us our orders

“When you spend everyday fighting a war, you learn to demonize your attackers. To you they’re evil, they’re sub-human. Because if they weren’t, then what would that make you?” – General Vanessa Kimble, Red Vs Blue

So I’ve been attending a new church for a couple of weeks and I spend most of the time at the back reading a book on my Kindle and making notes on various things. One of the things I note down are anything that stands out to me during the sermon and this has been the case over the last couple of weeks. The passage that has been the subject has been the “armor of God” passage (Ephesians 6:10-17) which, just for ease of reference, is below:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Now, the way the vicar went with this passage was about Christians being in a war with the world. We are in a war with the world and it’s ways; we are either on the worlds side or God’s side, that we need to go on the attack for the best form of defence, all wrapped up in ‘Jesus took the punishment due to us for us on the cross’ and we need to be prepared. Sufficed to say this left me very uncomfortable and not because it was particularly challenging. It was the overall narrative of conflict of Christians should be effectively be raging a war. Now I kind of agree to a point, and I will hopefully elaborate more during this blog, but I think the vicar has the wrong target in their sights, not to mention very questionable tactics which when brought together, results in things that not only don’t seem to be of Jesus, but are actually creating more problems, if not create the very problem it’s trying to solve.

Let’s start with the target and for that, lets go right back to Genesis. God created this world and He declared it good. Then a serpent came in, convinced Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the world went wrong. Now, the concept of original sin and what Genesis is about is a subject of lengthy debates, and admittedly God did seem to wipe it all out and start again, but God has never stopped loving the world. He hated what it had become, He hated what it was doing and He hated what caused it, but He never stopped loving it. Arguably one of the most famous passages, John 3:16, states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” and Jesus was quite clear about the 2 greatest commands; Love God and love your neighbour. We are not called to hate the world, we are not called to be at war with it, we are called to care for the sick, the dying, and the poor (James 2:14-17), but I’m going to come back to this.

So, who is the enemy, who is the target? The one who came in and wreaked havoc, the one that Paul refers to in Ephesians; the devil. The devil doesn’t want the focus to be on God but on ourselves and serving our selves at the individual level. It’s easy to stand on a pedestal and say “yes, the world has adopted the devils ways”, and that would probably be true, but so have many churches and Christians which is why when you speak out for equality and peace, the biggest firestorm comes from Christians. It seems that the ways of the Church and the ways of the devil are now so closely entwined that they’re virtually indistinguishable from each other. We now see enemies at every corner that we fight ourselves more than we fight the devil. Paul is very explicit, our war is not against flesh and blood and our readiness comes from a gospel of peace. Yet from a pulpit I heard “Jesus wasn’t interested in/here for world peace but our relationship with God”. First off, there still seems to be the individual self serving nature (“our” relationship with God is meant as “mine”) but a relationship with God and world peace are not 2 mutually exclusive options. To follow God means to serve others because that’s what Jesus did, and serving others instead of fighting means world peace.

So we seem to have the wrong target, what about the tactics? Well, Jesus was not slow to go on the attack against the Pharisees regarding their attitude towards those who they deemed to be unworthy (a theme to which I will return), but he was also equally as quick to show love to people. His attack was against the ways of the devil the Pharisees adopted that resulted in people being hurt was love and healing. But people see attacking as that, an attack to hurt and defeat an opponent and the vicar used actual war examples where that was the aim to show “this works and is good and what we should do”. Peter showed though that when you adopt that strategy as an attack, people get very hurt. Jesus not only rebuked him for it though, he healed the soldier to repair the damage, (Matthew 26:51-52). Jesus used his ‘attacks’ to defend others, Peter used his ‘attacks’ to harm others and this distinction has got very lost and was missing from these sermons. It seems to be a very important distinction because passages like Ephesians get used to support Christians owning (and using) guns and authors like Ben Corey and Derek Flood do an excellent job in showing this distinction; Flood has written an entire book dedicated to this subject. I put some of my views in “Should I defend myself

When we bring these 2 together and add in “you can only be on God’s side or the worlds side”, that’s when things start getting really quite off track. Obviously any Christian would want to be on God’s side and the world is God’s enemy, so the world is therefore our enemy and we must defend ourselves and attack is the best form of defence. The end result is Christians attacking anyone who don’t deem to be on God’s side and that’s what we’re seeing today. People leaving church because they don’t feel welcome, people being asked to leave the church because they disagree with the church’s stance on a certain doctrine, countries saying they’d prefer Christian refugees, LGBT youth getting kicked out of their home and much worse. I started with a quote about what happens when you fight a war, what can be argued has to happen to fight a war and when you start using a war-like message, it’s the mindset that people will enter into. To wage a war against an enemy is not loving them and Jesus was extremely clear on how highly he rates that command (Mark 12:30-31).

This wasn’t meant to turn into another rant against the church. It should be said that this church does a lot of work with the homeless, particularly homeless young people and they should absolutely be applauded for that. I also know that my perspective does follow a very similar conflict model which in itself may be problematic. I’m also not saying this church is causing this harm directly, but the message that got preached certainly is. Preaching this kind of conflict narrative is only going to result in a tighter circling of the wagons to protect “our own” which is going to disconnect the church from the world more than it already is. Now, there are some Christians who believe it should be disconnected, “in the world but not of it”, but Jesus came to this world, made himself part of that worldly suffering. Even if we are in a war, it’s not against the world, it’s for it and Jesus has given us our orders; love your neighbour, care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter the poor; that’s how you win. or as Ben Corey puts it:

Corey

Update: I sent this to the vicar in question and he responded by saying he didn’t say we were at war with the world, and has offered to chat about what he actually said/meant. When and if that happens, I will update further.

Undoing everything in one swipe

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Professor N.T Wright is the world’s foremost and influential New Testament scholar at the moment. His work on the resurrection and Paul are probably among the most quoted books in apologetics and scholarship. Like many, he has influenced my thinking regarding many topics, his ability to explain complex theological ideas so everyone can understand and I have a huge amount of respect for him and his scholarship.

Well, at least I did. It was quite a punch to hear his views on marriage equality; in short he’s not in favour for it and his argument seems to be based around the dangers of redefinition of marriage. He goes as far as dismissing same-sex marriage as “nonsense”. Now I’m not going to address his views on marriage equality, that’s not the point of this piece, but what this has done has raised a very interesting conundrum for me and many others which was every eloquently stated by Samantha Field on Twitter:

Indeed on a private Facebook group I am a part of, Professor Wright was summarily dismissed on not just this issue but on pretty much everything he had written. They had lost so much respect for him that nothing else he had said on anything seemed to matter. So the question is, should this be the case? Should someones life’s work be dismissed on the basis of their view on one subject?

On the one hand it’s completely understandable. This isn’t a mere disagreement on which flavor of juice is best, this is about whether the LGBT community are entitled to the same legal rights as the straight community and N.T Wright is firmly in the “No” camp. The fact that he is using the scholarship and history (2 subjects he is famous for) to do it just leads to people think that he can’t be trusted on anything regarding those subjects; at the very least the trust has been broken. It’s hard to listen to someone on anything when you see them as de-humanizing people with their views.

On the other hand, Professor Wright has spent his entire life studying the Bible and reflecting on many subjects associated with it. It is completely possible to be wrong on one subject and be completely correct on another; at the very least still be taken seriously on those subjects. Plus when discussing subjects you should be debating the points that are actually being made, not on what was said on another subject.

Professor Wrights view on this has sort of come out of nowhere since he’s been staunch supporter of women in ministry, and I’m extremely unlikely to dismiss his views on that; and in a video a few years ago he said he didn’t know enough about homosexuality to comment and there was nothing to suggest he was against it. I have no idea what has changed in the meantime. To me, the reason the question of whether you should dismiss someones work because of other views comes up is because of what holding those views involves. There will be many that will regard N.T. Wright as a homophobic bigot and it’s kinda hard to argue against that. So anytime someone quotes Professor. Wright, it will be seen as quoting a homophobic bigot. Steve Chalke was seen as quoting an abuser in a recent book and this caused a lot of controversy. Steve Chalke’s example is slightly different  as he was holding John Yoder up as an example of espousing good pacifist theology which is the complete opposite of an abuser, however as I said above Professor Wright is a big supporter of women in ministry. We would be holding Professor Wright up as an example of espousing good equality theology when he uses the same theology to deny another group legal rights (not just rights within the church) Would we be doing the same if we’re quoting him on the doctrine of Hell for example? (a subject he believes we have got very wrong)

When I sit down and think about it, I am uncomfortable with dismissing Professor Wright on other subjects, or indeed a scholar as a whole, because of his stance on marriage equality; but I certainly have lost respect for him as a person. Whether I like it or admit it, this has likely had an impact on how I see him as a scholar, but he’s not the only one. Ravi Zacharias, Michael Ramsden, Michael Licona; I’ve found I’ve lost a degree of respect for them as I find out their views on various subjects. But like with Professor Wright, those subjects are related to how people are treated, their use of the Bible to justify them.  They are still excellent scholars, and it seems a little silly to dismiss their knowledge and research because of their views, but I just don’t see them the same way I once did and that makes me reluctant to listen to them on anything else.

(Not my) Answers to Kevin DeYoung

So Kevin DeYoung over at The Gospel Coalition posted an article titled 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags. As the title suggests, he asks 40 questions that “are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying“. There have been some excellent responses posted on various blogs, the Google doc I set up to gather answers and other social media outlets. So below are the responses that were given on my document as well links to the other excellent responses to these questions. Some chose not to answer all the questions which is why you won’t see the same number of answers to each question.

So without further delay:

1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

  • About 2 years
  • Almost a year
  • Since my step-daughter and her wife were married in a church four years ago, and I had to face the Christians who somehow believed that going to that celebration was sending the wrong message.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

  • Gen 19, Lev 18-20, Matthew 7:15-20, Acts 10:1-11+18, Romans 1, 1 Cor 6:9-10, 1 Tim 1:9-10, Jude 1:7
  • Matt 12:1-14, Mark 2:27-28, Luke 6:43-45
  • Comparing Genesis 19:1-9 against Judges 19:18-25 conclusively demonstrated two things: 1) The judgement against Sodom was NOT about homosexuality; 2) The Bible is not inerrant.

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

  • Genesis 2:23-25, Song of Solomon (entire book)
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22. As I have seen these fruits in the lives of my GAY friends, including my step-daughter, I cannot conclude that gay is harmful. Admittedly, this is not a positive argument, except that the POSITIVE fruits evident in the lives of gay people nullify the condemnations often leveled

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

  • The same ones that show straight marriage as a depiction of Christ & the church
  • Does it have to? Can your marriage depict something that someonelse’s doesn’t? Lets list all the straight marriages we know of that do not depict Christ and the church
  • Read the Song of Solomon.

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

  • Yes
  • Yes, I do, and there is evidence in those times that Jesus WAS OK with the centurion and his eunuch servant, which may well have carried sexual overtones

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

  • Because he was answering a question about divorce between a man and woman
  • When did he do this?
  • In Matt 19, He was reflecting the cultural norm. But you cannot argue from this verse that the norm was exclusive.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

  • Lust
  • Need to look up my notes on porneia, but my general view, in light of the Jewish understanding of “sin” as “disorder” is that the sinful part of porneia lay in the excess, or misdirection, or lascivious cruelty it can inspire. Merely HAVING an attraction to a naked body is not wrong, and responding to that attraction is not necessarily wrong, but that depends on response.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

  • The exploitative homoerotic behavior common at that time; masters/slaves, pederastry, temple prostitution
  • In Romans 1, Paul would be talking about men and woman who go out side the bonds of their EXISTING marriage, or of their heterosexual nature — either or both

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

  • No. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone
  • I think Paul is not looking at things they way Jesus would. (Paul was, after all, NOT Jesus, and did not perfectly understand Jesus’ spirit, no matter what the inerrantists might claim.)

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

  • 1 Cor 6 – exploitative behavior & its explanation common at the time; masters/slaves pederasty, temple male prostitution stemming from excess of lust
  • They were referring to the sexually immoral, the idolaters, the adulterers, the men who practice homosexuality (malakoi)

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

  • They failed to appreciate sexual orientation itself, as well as Greco-Roman sexual mores & system of Pater Familias
  • That slavery is bad, women are dignified human beings or worth, and the world is bigger than my little bubble
  • The presumption of this question is faulty. But I’ll bite. Augustine did not take a literal view of Genesis. What do fundamentalists understand that Augustine failed to grasp? Luther famously felt uncomfortable with the Epistle of James and would have excised it. But it’s included. The Protestants in general accept 66 books of the Bible, where Catholics accept 70. Yet protestants are the upstarts, having been around only 500 years, where Catholics existed for 1500 years before that. The presumption of this question is that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Luther, cannot be corrected by a simpleton such as myself. Christianity itself is a grand dialog where no one has the entire truth, but only God.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

  • I’m not familiar with their understanding, so I don’t know. Probably the same arguments that convinced me
  • Ask the homosexuals in those countries
  • I don’t see much need to explain to anyone “What the Bible says”, because I think the idea that the Bible delivers just one specific message on all matters of which it speaks is erroneous. But if there IS a message, it would be “Love God, Love Neighbor” upon which hangs ALL the law and the Prophets.

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

  • No. I think they were motivated primarily by political expediency and lust for power
  • They were motivated by societal trends and political pressures just like everyone else
  • No. They were motivated by personal aspirations informed by political realities. As is every politician

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

  • I think children do best with parents who love them in stable household
  • Some children do better with a great mother and a great father. Many children have one or both of a terrible mother and terrible father. Many children have great or terrible single parents. Many children have no parents. This is a red herring
  • Mother and Father, are not the only influencers in life. There are aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, ministers and priests, and friends. Children do best surrounded by a community of people with influencers who are able to teach healthy responses to situations as they arise. The number of unhealthy mothers and fathers out there implies that motherhood and fatherhood are not guarantors of success. This question is tailored too narrowly

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

  • Current sociological research shows that when controlling family stability, income, etc. children of LGBT parents are no different than those with straight parents
  • Let’s locate national census data on households with single parents, on orphans and foster children, on academic performance relative to SES, etc A childs ability to thrive depends on so much more than their parents gender
  • There is no valid research to support your implied conclusion. And I don’t have a list of valid studies showing the opposite memorized. But as for the health of gay men in general, I would point to the seminal study done by Evelyn Hooker in her 1957 paper “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

  • N/A
  • This is a loaded question. Society does privilege children from two parent households (gender aside) because by and large, they tend to have more many, live in better neighbourhoods, access better schools etc. We privilege the wealthy, not those deemed by a church to be “moral” Does the church have a role to play in promoting its view of morality on all families in the country or world? Absolutely not. Or, maybe, if promoting doesn’t mean imposing

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

  • Yes it does, but the suggestion that sexual fulfillment is the only reason LGBT people want to marry is offensive

18. How would you define marriage?

  • A union of two people to one, intended to be life long

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

  • Define “close” I would restrict immediate family members, grandparent/grandchild/aunt/uncle/nephew/niece/1st cousin due to concerns of exploitation and genetic diseases
  • No

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

  • I have no in-principle objection to polygamous marriage. Lots of practical problems, though

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

  • Lack of legal clarity for practical issues, property rights, parental rights & custody, estate & inheritance issues, etc

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

  • Yes, either age of majority or legal age of consent

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

  • No
  • No

24. If not, why not?

  • Marriage is still a unique relationship; not just any relationship qualifies. But I don’t think it’s exclusively 1 man-1 woman
  • Another red herring. Nobody is born a polygamist. People are not born with a desire to marry their relatives. Gay people are born gay. Minorities are born minorities. Neither should be robbed of basic societal privileges and norms and rights because of how they were born

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

  • To the extent that their beliefs do not harm or infringe on the rights of others, yes
  • Depends. They are free to exercise their beliefs by not engaging in a homosexual relationship or certain kinds of sexual activity. They are not free to deny others’ basic human dignity. Such denial, in fact, should also go against their religious belief. Particularly if they believe in an inerrant Bible which teaches love thy neighbor and to obey the authorities God hath put in place

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

  • To the extent that their beliefs do not harm or infringe upon the rights of others yes
  • Not if they are being jerks
  • In the same way Christians have spoken up for Daniel Kirk?

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

  • Yes
  • Yes but not if doing so equates to protecting someone’s right to bully someone else

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

  • The same steps as I do for straight marriages
  • What does this mean? Since we haven’t cared in the past, how can we start interfering with marriages now?

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

  • Yes, as should straight couples in open relationships. But LGBT couples should not be singled out
  • Nobody should be subject to church discipline

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

  • Yes, just like it is for straight persons engaging in sexual activity outside marriage. But because marriage was withheld from them until now, LGBT folk should not be condemned for previous activity
  • Yes

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

  • I don’t know. Probably similar to the way they speak against any other sin and injustice
  • Have you asked them?

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

  • See 1 Corinthians 13
  • 1 Cor 13:4-8

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

  • 1 Corinthians 13
  • 1 Cor 13:4-8

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

  • Given that love is the operative verb in the two greatest commands, the question is circular
  • Love others as you love yourself. Turn the other cheek. Be a peacemaker

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

  • Yes
  • Yes

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

  • Yes
  • Yes

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

  • It allows me to actually focus on those issues
  • 1) These questions are labelled as being for Christians, not all of whom are evangelicals. 2) Supporting gay marriage is not inherently at odds with substitution atonement or pursuing the lost. 3) What?

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

  • Too many to list. If you’re not aware of any, that’s on you

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

  • Yes
  • These are listed as three equals. Christ, the church, the Bible. This is not the trinity in which I place my faith
  • I only follow one of them (hint; there’s a reason why we’re called Christians)

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

  • Every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, inventing new ways to do evil, disobedience to parents, lack of understanding, infidelity, loveless, merciless

Links to the blogs of other fantastic people who have written some great responses are below:

40 answers for Kevin DeYoung by Ben Irwin

40 responses to 40 questions by Jeff Carter

40 questions for Kevin DeYoung; Now stomping the rainbow flag by John Shore

“40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags” by Buzz Dixon

40 answers for Christians now fearing rainbow flag by Ryan Stollar

40 questions for Christians who oppose marriage equality by Matthew Vines

Response to 40 questions by a rainbow flag waving Christian by Dwight Welch

A response to 40 questions for Christians now waiving rainbow flags by Kimberly Knight

40 Answers from a Queer, Rainbow-flag-waving-Christian by Alan Hooker

1 Question for People who won’t wave the Rainbow flag by Alise

To pre-empt the question of whether I will be writing a response to these questions, the answer is no. I was going to, but I’ve been thinking about it and I lack the grace of some my fellow Christians. For me, Kevin DeYoungs questions are neither thought provoking or sincere. They are pointed I’ll grant him that but there’s nothing new here, there’s nothing that those who support marriage equality haven’t thought, studied and prayed long and hard about and if Kevin knew about a small website called Google he’d know that already. I’m not going to play his game.  I will say this though. I don’t wave the rainbow flag because society thinks I must, I do it because my faith doesn’t allow me to do anything else.