Thoughts On What To Do After The Nashville Statement

God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation in and thru the person and work of Jesus Christ.

When addressing controversial topics I think it is important to assume very little, err on the side of empathy, and practice humility. For these reasons, the first statement of this blog is a summation of the gospel. As Paul says, this is of first importance and once we can agree on the gospel we will begin working out the rest of the Christian worldview. There is absolute truth. To shy away from such reality actually hinders human flourishing.

Over the last week, there has been controversy regarding “The Nashville Statement.” I am not entirely sure of the statement’s impact over the long haul, but it has brought more polarization to the already tumultuous evangelical world. The statement takes a strict philosophical stance on sexual identity and sexual ethics. The goal of the NS was to make a traditional biblical stance explicitly clear in an age which questions all. There have been many good articles written about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the statement. I will link a few of the best at the end. The biggest questions in response to the NS have been: Is it helpful or is it hurtful? And even, why now? Before I dismiss these questions let me say there has been no consensus on the goodness or necessity of the NS.

Personally, I have a hard time with the helpful/hurtful questions. They appear purely pragmatic and mostly qualitative. We will always get highly conflicting answers regarding such questions. Neither question gets us to the core of the issue. At the end of the day, helpful/hurtful does little to answer the questions about accuracy and Christ-likeness. We need a better conversation led with compassion toward issues which need to be addressed.

I do think the issue of identity and sexual ethics needed to be addressed. The church cannot ignore the complex topic anymore. It is complex. We need better education. To speak of such an issue with outdated terminology undermines the ultimate goal. However, to publish a statement on doctrine apart from diversity and discussion provides a flawed message.

Is the NS accurate in its assessment of the boundary markers of faith and fellowship, humble in tone, and demonstrative of biblical compassion to those whom the statement singles out? My answer: No.

Does the NS articulate something better in exchange for a worldview which seeks to provide meaning apart from God’s design?

The NS neglects theological inclusivity of egalitarians and pastoral inclusivity of those in the LGBT+ community. Before I go much further, let me clearly state: I adhere to the orthodox view of marriage and gender as they are. I do think that Christians who affirm same-sex marriage and deny the biological link between sex and gender are at odds with some basic tenets of a Christian worldview.

The NS forces us to analyze our worldview and become self-aware of our response to such blanket statements. Most of us do not become aware of our worldviews until they clash with the ones held by other people, like this present issue, usually in contexts of moral debate and cross-cultural exchange. Then we really notice them—or we might, at any rate, if we struggle to understand why intellectual foreigners seem so strange to us. To seek to understand would require resilient listening and a commitment to the value of the other person.

At the end of the day, our world is broken. There is brokenness all around us–even in our sexual ethics. To single out someone who LGBT+ is unfair because sin also includes lust and pornography. The church has struggled to publically recognize the pervasiveness of other sexual sins which are not part of God’s good design. The church has also struggled to consistently model grace and yet hold to truth. I am just as guilty as the broader church in modeling grace and maintaining truth. I need God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s guidance in daily living.

We all have varying identities which displace the identity God has given us. The brokenness which exists does not mean there is an absence of beauty, meaning, or satisfaction. However, the most fulfilling beauty, meaning, and satisfaction only come through the lens Jesus provides. Any identity, except for the one God gives us, is ultimately flawed. All things need rescuing and renewal. Only through Jesus can all creation be returned to God’s design. To be fair, the Preamble of the NS does attempt to frame the statement around God’s design by citing Psalm 100:3. Before I digress too far from the purpose of the blog, Christians need to rediscover the art of compassion and conversation. If we have rightfully been shaped by the gospel then we have no fear in leading with compassion and conversation.

Because the Son was sent to save us by grace and adopt us into God’s family, in our gratitude, we want to resemble our heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit creates in us a desire not to live lives pleasing ourselves or as if belong to ourselves, but as if we belong to God. Neither moralistic religion (which sees obedience as necessary drudgery in order to put God in our debt) nor modern self-determination (which sees the loss of independence as a kind of death) can grasp this. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”

The first question of the New City Catechism truthfully asks and answers:

Q: What is our only hope in life and death?

A: That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God.

We will only be able to discuss such questions and worldviews when those whom the church has once ostracized feel welcome. We will only be able to have productive conversations when we stop ignoring the reality of all sexual sin. We will only be able to discuss such questions and worldviews when we lead with compassion.

 


Here are some helpful articles for the ongoing discussion:

  1. My Nashville Statement by Preston Sprinkle
  2. On The Nashville Statement and My Signing of It by Alistair Roberts
  3. Reflections on the Nashville Statement by Michael Bird
  4. Al Mohler’s Statement
  5. Why I Won’t Sign the Nashville Statement by Matthew Lee Anderson

Winds of Social Change

I am extremely thankful for these past several weeks. Already in my new position I have gathered much data and feedback from recent bible college graduates who are beginning a life in ministry or who have been in ministry now for several years. Sadly, some are struggling. Really struggling. Why? I’ve not dug deep into answers, but as we catch up, chat, and begin to discuss what we see God doing in the world around us, I’ve noticed something. The path they thought they would follow and discover is not what they found. Some have switched from several jobs. Some are out of ministry. Some cannot believe the dysfunction that exists within the churches they work in. Some are in great situations. Some are really seeing God move. Some are even experiencing what they had hoped for.

Wherever they are, or are not, it seems there is one constant. Ministry is changing. It looks different. It’s not as it once was. People are no longer showing up to the church. As it relates to my current position, churches are not seeing students to bible colleges any more. Honestly, this is confusing and a shocking to many who work in church and university leadership. They cannot fathom the disconnect. Often, blame is placed on the local churches for not sending. Or, churches blame the universities for not putting out ministers and preachers and abandoning the historic traditions. Sometimes churches blame culture or youth sports. The buck is always passed and blame is always shifted. History details that technology always improves and there is advancement. Progress is progress because it moves forward, not backward.

Here’s the reality: we live in a digital society. New media values are already ingrained into this new generation. It takes a minute for a three year old to figure out when they touch a tv why it won’t respond to their touch. Everything is a tap away on a computer, smartphone, or voice command. No one needs to show up to church to listen to a sermon anymore. It’s available via podcast. No one needs to attend bible college to get practical ministry tools and training. It’s available for free via YouTube. Available via the internet allows for innovation, experimentation, and participation. But, there is still need for churches and bible colleges even with all the present accessibility. However, because their is so much information, churches must transform and universities must transform. People want a church and university where they are participating members of a flexible community that has a deep abiding cause. In reality, isn’t that the hope and prayer of every human’s heart? Isn’t that why the church is so vitally important? It was originally designed as a flexible adapting loving transformative community with a deep cause and purpose.

Frank Underwood in House of Cards on Netflix is a captivating character. I find the show so riveting because he understands people; therefore, he knows how to manipulate them. Challenge them. Rule them. I don’t advocate for the methods or his reasoning. But, one thing I think his character understands more than anything is the culture, or at least he did. The new season specifically shows the tension between what was effective and what will be effective and how a digital age can either strengthen someone or cripple them. I suppose that’s what successful and effective politicians know how to do–take advantage of the cultural changes. They adapt. Look at today’s real life politicians. Trump is playing on people’s emotions. Sanders is playing on people’s dreams. Cruz is playing on people’s fears. Still, they are capturing the social winds and using them to their advantage. I have always found its easier to use sails to capture the power of the wind and harness the direction it blows, rather than row against it. Some politicians understand adapt and survive. Let’s hope the our churches and bible colleges start getting it too. Not for the sake of personal gain or as a result of fear. Instead, driven by a mission to effectively send transformed kingdom disciples into the world who can adapt to the winds of social and technological change for the sake of the gospel.

Practically speaking, missionaries adapt to their culture and context. They do not sacrifice the gospel. They simply indigenize, not compromise. They become one with their surrounding to communicate the most valuable truth to all–that the God of the universe is on a mission to rescue and renew all of creation, specifically mankind, through the person and work of Jesus. That’s the good news. Salvation. Restoration. Redemption. For individual people. For families. For communities. For this world.

“Good missionaries understand the culture they’re called to serve. If you’re reading this [blog post], you are called to serve a digital culture. This culture operates differently than the one you might have grown up in. It’s different from the one of just a few short years ago. This culture thinks, believes, buys, behaves, and speaks differently than any other culture you may be familiar with. This cannot be overstated. We need to rethink the way we interact with this digital culture. Sharing is a new way of life. There are no more one way streets. Everything is participatory. A new media culture is not content to sit idly by.” – Justin Wise, The Social Church

My hope and prayer is that the church no longer be reactionary, rather get ahead of the social change, or at least in stride. With no compromise of the gospel, but for its sake. Too much is at stake.