May 23, 2013 by Matthew Mason
More Roger Scruton: a perceptive and sensitive analysis of what our pervasive sense of loneliness reveals about us. Remarkable words from someone who, until very recently, was at best agnostic about God’s existence:
Human beings suffer from loneliness in every circumstance of their earthly lives. They can be lonely on their own, or lonely in company; they can enter a crowded room of friendly people only to find their loneliness deepened by it; they can be lonely even in the company of a friend or spouse. There is a human loneliness that stems from some other source than the lack of companionship, and I have no doubt that the mystics who have meditated on this fact are right to see it in metaphysical terms. The separation between the self-conscious being and his world is not to be overcome by any natural process. It is a supernatural defect, which can be remedied only by grace.
And so, for Scruton, “the existential loneliness of man” is “a longing to be dissolved in the subjectivity of God.”
 The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures 2010 (London; New York: Continuum, 2012), 153.
May 22, 2013 by Matthew Mason
As I’ve read, thought, and written about same-sex sexuality over the past few months, these are some of resources I’ve found helpful, and which I think will be particularly helpful for pastors. I don’t agree with all of them (some of them contradict each other), but they’ve all helped me to clarify my thinking and to understand the issues better. I’ve rated them for ease of reading on a scale of  to , where  is simple and accessible and  is highly technical. This is by no means a comment on which books are better or worse.
If, with a gun to my head, I had to recommend just three, they’d be Gagnon, Hill, Ash, and the Q&A on same-sex marriage by Alastair Roberts. Okay, that’s four, but one of them isn’t specifically about this issue.
Biblical and Theological Considerations
Robert A. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practise: Texts and Hermeneutics. This is surely the definitive treatment of the biblical materials. 
Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to Christian Ethics. This is far wider ranging than simply issues of sexuality, but it covers the key texts and places them in the biblical-theological context in much briefer compass than Gagnon. Between Gagnon and Hays, I regard the biblical case against same-sex sex as clearly established. 
Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God. Not a book about same-sex sexuality, but the best book I’ve encountered on marriage. It provides the essential framework for thinking about the Bible’s teaching on all aspects of sex and sexuality. Scholarly and pastoral: the work of a true pastor-theologian. 
Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Hill describes himself as “gay,” Christian,” and “celibate.” In this beautifully written, moving book, he describes his experiences and offers helpful theological reflection. He romanticizes marriage, and is wrong to see it as God’s solution to loneliness, but with that caveat, this is the best book I’ve read on the topic, and the one I frequently recommend and lend to people. 
Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Butterfield was tenured professor of queer theory at Syracuse, an LGBT activist, and a lesbian in a long-term relationship, until she met a conservative presbyterian pastor called Ken Smith. This is a stunning account of her “train-wreck” conversion, which offers tremendous insight into the virtues of the LGBT community, and pain of conversion, and the importance of simple Christian hospitality coupled with the truth and power of the Scriptures. It’s slightly marred by later chapters in which she unnecessarily moves on to arguing rather forcefully for some quirky distinctives like exclusive unaccompanied psalmody, and classical Christian homeschooling. Marvin Olasky has a wonderful interview with her that gives the highlights of the book. [1-2]
Andrew Sullivan, Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival. In these very personal essays, Sullivan, a leading advocate of gay marriage, writes movingly about his sexuality, the plague of AIDS and its devastating effects on the gay community, and the virtues of friendship. I disagree with much of what he writes about sexuality, but the book provides a valuable insight into the struggles, pains, longings, and joys of many gay men, and reminds us that in talking about sexuality we aren’t just addressing an “issue,” but are seeking to love and serve real people. 
Roger Scruton, Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation. Scruton is an English philosopher and perhaps our most important public intellectual. This is a lengthy, penetrating, and lucid philosophical discussion of sexual desire from a personalist perspective. He is reluctant to condemn same-sex sex, but nevertheless offers an insightful interpretation of the ways in which it is different from desire for someone of the opposite sex. 
Michel Foucault, A History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. This is his dense, provocative, and game-changing exploration of the the way power, knowledge, and discourse have related to shape our sexual understandings and practices since the seventeenth century. Whatever you make of his arguments, he’s undeniably brilliant with immense analytical gifts. He’s also hugely influential, not least on later queer theorists. I’m still absorbing it, and hope to blog more about it in due course. 
Jenell Williams Paris, The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sexuality is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Paris is a Christian anthropologist, and in this short book she brings her anthropological training to bear, exposing the way in which contemporary western understandings of sexual identity are cultural constructs, not biblical categories. 
Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. A lucid defense of the traditional definition of marriage as a comprehensive conjugal partnership, a union between a man and a women. The writers avoid “religious” or moral arguments, focussing on philosophical arguments concerning the definition of marriage, not on same-sex relationships more broadly. 
Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson, “What is Marriage?” This article from the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy contains the core arguments that make up their later book. 
Alastair Roberts, “Questions and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage.” and “The Institution of Marriage, Same-Sex Unions and Procreation.” Alastair has written some of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read on this issue. These two lengthy blog posts are the best place to start in thinking about how to address this issue rigorously and winsomely.
Finally, one of the important questions tied up with how Christians address the issue of same-sex marriage in the public square is the question of the usefulness and validity of arguments based on natural law. David Bentley Hart had a stimulating piece in March’s First Things arguing that natural law arguments will prove unpersuasive for those who do not share the metaphysics that undergird them: “Is, Ought, and Nature’s Laws.” Edward Feser responded with “A Christian Hart, a Humean Head.” Peter Leithart and Alastair Roberts have also had a stimulating back and forth on the issue, Leithart denying the usefulness of natural law arguments, Roberts insisting on them. Leithart begins with “Gay Marriage and Christian Imagination.”Roberts responds with, “Why Arguments Against Gay Marriage are Usually Bad.” Leithart responds by saying, “The World Can’t Hear Us on Marriage.” And Roberts responds again by asking, “Can Arguments Against Gay Marriage Be Persuasive?” Judge for yourself.
May 20, 2013 by Matthew Mason
In his fascinating and wide-ranging The Face of God, the English philosopher Roger Scruton argues, against popular materialist conceptions of humans, that we must be considered in two distinct ways. We are animals, objects within the world of objects, susceptible to investigation by means of scientific inquiry. But we are also far more. A purely scientific account of what we are overlooks something vital about us. We are not simply objects; we are subjects. We are not only things within the world; we are persons with a perspective on the world. And, as persons, we are distinguished by, and constituted in, I-You relations: personhood is relational. The human world “is ordered by concepts that are rooted in dialogue, and therefore in the first person perspective.”
If we consider humans only from the perspective of science, this personal perspective disappears. We are not simply animals with brains, hard-wired to behave in certain ways. We are persons with minds, who make choices for which we are accountable to one another. In order fully to account for human persons, we cannot simply analyse our behaviour from the perspective of neuroscience. This may help us understand some of the causes for our behaviour. But it will never help us understand the reasons we behaved that way, because reasons are inherently personal. Without this (inter)personal perspective, our behaviour is reduced to something less complex than it is; and we are reduced from subjects to mere objects.
Therefore, if I look for myself solely within the world of objects, solely from a scientific perspective, I may discover many things about my biology. But I will disappear. I will be unable to see myself from a first person perspective. Similarly, I will no longer see you from a second person perspective, as a “you”. Rather we will be reduced simply to objects, known only from a third person perspective.
Now, if this is true of us, asks Scruton, what of God? If we investigate the question of God’s existence and presence in the world with the eyes of science, “it is impossible to find the place, the time, or the particular sequence of events that can be interpreted as showing God’s presence. God disappears from the world, as soon as we address it with the ‘why?’ of explanation, just as the human person disappears from the world when we look for the neurological explanation of his acts.” (45)
But, what if God is a person like us? What if the new atheists materialist worldview has rendered him invisible in the same way it has rendered us invisible, by asking the wrong questions? Perhaps God is present in our world in the same way we are, as a person. But, if that is the case, the way to know his existence is personal, via an I-You relationship. Says Scruton, “The God of the philosophers disappeared behind the world, because he was described in the third person, and not addressed in the second.” (45). And, we might add, he never addressed us from his perspective in the first.0 Comments
 The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures 2010 (London; New York: Continuum, 2012).
May 16, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
Tim Challies has a nice review of our book, Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach (Crossway). He does a great job of summarizing our basic argument as it relates to premarital sexual ethics.0 Comments
May 16, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
The good folks over at the Henry Center have issued a call for papers to mark Carl Henry’s centennial birthday celebration. The Henry Center is a great organization, and in many ways, is trying to accomplish the same mission as the SAET, but from the academic side of things. Information below:
January 22, 2013, marks the centennial of the birth of the late Carl F. H. Henry. An architect of the modern evangelical movement in the U.S., Henry was involved in the inception of Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and the Evangelical Theological Society. He was also a professor, friend, and supporter of TEDS, leaving us both his single largest gift and his personal archives. This centennial moment offers a marvelous opportunity not only to commemorate and celebrate Carl Henry’s life of ministry and love of God, but also to rekindle the enduring significance of his theological vision for a new generation of evangelical scholarship, continuing the spirit of philosophical, theological, and social engagement that Henry envisioned.
Please consider sharing your research paper or project at this year’s Henry celebration and in the Spring 2014 edition of Trinity Journal. Some examples of potential research papers to be presented at the conference might include:
- Carl Henry’s Theology of Revelation and Scripture
- Evangelicalism and Social Engagement
- Carl Henry’s place in twentieth-century theology
- Carl Henry on Mercy and Justice
- Carl Henry’s Theological Interpretation of Scripture
- Evangelicalism and Theological Education
Proposals should include a title of no more than 100 characters and an abstract not to exceed 250 words. They should also include name, email address, and place of employment/study. The proposals are due by July 1, 2013, and should be submitted to Geoffrey Fulkerson: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six essays will be accepted and announced by July 15. The selected essayists, in addition to having their travel expenses covered to the Remembering Carl Henry Conference, will be given a $500 honorarium, and the selected essays will appear in the spring edition of Trinity Journal.
May 15, 2013 by Matthew Mason
Would that the Church of England’s bishops spoke publicly with the clarity and insight of Matthew Parris.
[T]his, in summary, is my charge against the Anglican modernists. Can they point to biblical authority for what, on any estimate, amounts to a disturbing challenge to the values assumed in both Testaments? No. Can they point to any divinely inspired religious leader since to whom has been revealed God’s benevolent intentions towards homosexuals? I know of no such saint or holy man. Most have taught the opposite.
Can they honestly say that they would have drawn from Christ’s teaching the same lessons of sexual tolerance in 1000, or 1590, or indeed 1950? Surely not, for almost no such voices were heard then.
In which case, to what does this “reform” amount? Like changes to Church teaching on divorce or Sunday observance, the new tolerance gains its force within the Anglican Communion from a fear of becoming isolated from changing public morals. Is that a reason for a Christian to modify his own morality? I cannot recall that Moses took this view of golden calf worship. Whispering beneath the modernisers’ soft aspirational language of love and tolerance, I hear an insistent “when in Rome, we must do as the Romans do. Times have changed.” Gays in particular should be very wary of that message; some of us remember when it was used against us, and such a time may come again.
A religion needs a compass. Logic alone does not point the way and religion adds to the general stick of human reasonableness a new directional needle – if it adds anything at all. I cannot read the Gospels in any way other than as declaring that this was revealed to man by God through Jesus. Revelation, therefore, not logic, must lie at the core of the Church message. You cannot pick and choose from revealed truth.
Matthew Parris, ‘No God would not have approved of Gay Bishops’ in The Times, 9th August 2003. HT: Ed Shaw0 Comments
April 29, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” 1 Corinthians 11:3
“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man,” 1 Corinthians 11:7.
Feminine head coverings in the ancient world were a sign of chastity, and thus respect toward the male benefactor in a woman’s life (i.e., a husband, father, or brother). In both pagan and sacred culture, a woman who rejected the head covering was making a statement about her own independence, and was thus rejecting the traditional norms of chastity that her society expected of a woman. So for the early church, the matter of head coverings carried significant cultural freight. It appears, reading into the context of 1 Corinthians 11, that some of the Corinthian women converting to Christianity, perhaps independent of their husbands or fathers, where using the occasion of their conversion as a context for forgoing the traditional use of head coverings. This would have been seen by the wider ancient culture as somewhat scandalous. Hence the context for Paul’s comments.
But Paul doesn’t address the issue with a merely cultural argument; rather he offers a theological argument. For Paul, in the divinely appointed drama that is the man and the woman, the husband typologically represents Christ, and the woman typologically represents the church (see Ephesians 5:21-33, esp. vs. 32). Paul is following this same basic framework in 1 Corinthians 11, tweaking it slightly, whereby the man represents the divine (i.e., God/Christ), and the woman represents humanity (i.e. man).
The man must not cover his head when he prays, because he is the image of God. The woman must cover her head when she prays, because she is the image of man (i.e. humanity). Paul is talking here about literal heads, but it’s important to keep in mind the typology he’s just established in the 11:3. The head of the man typologically represents Christ, and the head of the woman typologically represents humanity. Thus, when a man prays with his head covered, the head that he dishonors is not his own literal head, but Christ, who is his head. Thus the man must not cover his head whey he prays, which would imply humility and creaturehood in Christ, since the man’s head typologically represents Christ. But inasmuch as the woman’s head is an image of humanity, who is a creature, it is proper that her head be covered. So the woman’s “humility” is really a statement about humanity’s humility. Thus the woman’s head covering is not, for Paul, a statement about the man’s superior worth viz a viz the woman, but quite the opposite; it is a statement about humanity’s humility.
But why can’t the man, as representative of humanity, image forth humanity’s creaturehood? Paul doesn’t answer this question directly, but we can piece together a response along the following lines: God, in the incarnation, is both divine and human, and thus it is incumbent that his image (i.e., humanity) show forth this reality. As in Ephesians 5, Paul sees the man as an image of the divine, and the woman as an image of humanity. The two together constitute the essence of redeemed (deified) humanity, and reflect the dual nature of God in Christ.
Having established the typological relationship between the man and the woman, viz a viz humanity and God, Paul evens the whole thing out by showing the interdependence of the man and the woman in vs. 11 ff. Here again the typology holds: the woman is made by (lit. ek) the man, just as humanity is made by Christ. And yet in the unfolding of human history, Christ is not independent of humanity, for he is subsequently born from the humanity which he himself created, just as the man, who is the originator of the woman, is subsequently born from the woman he himself originated. In this way the reciprocal relationship between the man and the woman mirrors the reciprocal relationship between Christ and humanity.
Which still leaves unanswered the question, “To what extent does this Pauline command still apply today?” In as much as head coverings have no contemporary cultural currency, it seems better to find other culturally relevant ways of expressing the underlying principles of feminine respect and chastity. In other words, the theological and moral aspects of Paul’s argument retain their relevance, but it is necessary to find other culturally relevant means of expressing this.2 Comments
April 27, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
A few thoughts from John 21…
In John 21 we are given an account of Peter’s restoration to public ministry. Jesus’ three questions are an opportunity for Peter to recapitulate the occasion of his three denials. Three denials, offset by three affirmations. But what’s important to see here, and what I think Jesus is keen to show Peter, is that Peter’s denial of Christ was not merely the denial of a cause; it was the denial of love —- the denial of a relationship. (The relational weight of Peter’s denial is poignantly seen in Luke’s gospel, when, after Peter’s third and final denial in the courtyard, Jesus turns and looks at Peter, and Peter goes out and weeps.) Thus Jesus’ restoration of Peter is not merely, or even primarily, a restoration to a mission or a vocation, but a restoration to a person —- to him -— to Jesus. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Only in this context is Peter restored to his ministry.
And we see that Peter is primed for this restoration. When Peter is first encountered by Christ it is on the occasion of a similar miraculous catch. And at that time, Peter recoils from the Lord saying, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But now, on this second occasion of a miraculous catch, Peter’s response is the opposite. He does not desire to depart from Christ, but leaps from the boat to be more quickly near him. He has met the precondition for restoration.0 Comments
April 26, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
“Yet such a man is reputed to be voluntarily wicked and not diseased; although, in truth, this sexual incontinence, which is due for the most part to the abundance and fluidity of one substance because of the porosity of the bones, constitutes a disease of the soul. And indeed almost all those affections which are called by way of reproach “incontinence in pleasure,” as though the wicked acted voluntarily, are wrongly so reproached; for no one is voluntarily wicked, but the wicked man becomes wicked by reason of some evil condition of body and unskilled nurture, and these are experiences which are hateful to everyone and involuntary. And again, in respect of pains likewise the soul acquires much evil because of the body,” (Timaeus, 86e).
Here Plato anticipates modern psychology’s strictly biological explanations for behavior. We are not evil by choice, but by bodily necessity. Our sexual overindulgence is not something we should be rebuked for, since it is the result of disorder in the body. Yet Plato in other places clearly imagines that men should control themselves sexually (see end of Phaedrus, for example), and that the capacity to do so is within one’s power. See also Timaeus, 92 b-c, where the most base souls “no longer deserve” to breath pure air and are thus turned into fish, where they receive their “justly due reward.”0 Comments
April 25, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
“For let me tell you, Socrates,” he said, “that when a man begins to realize that he is going to die, he is filled with apprehensions and concern about matters that before did not occur to him. The tales that are told of the world below and how the men who have done wrong here must pay the penalty there, though he may have laughed them down hitherto, then begin to torture his soul with the doubt that there may be some truth in them. And apart from that the man himself either from the weakness of old age or possibly as being now nearer to the things beyond has a somewhat clearer view of them. Be that as it may, he is filled with doubt, surmises, and alarms and begins to reckon up and consider whether he has ever wronged anyone. Now he to whom the ledger of his life shows an account of many evil deeds starts up even from his dreams like children again and again in affright and his days are haunted by anticipations of worse to come,” (Plato’s Republic, 330d).
Even the ancient agnostics feared judgment when it finally confronted them face to face. True still today; it is easy to scoff at judgment when it seems far away, but not so easy when there is little space left between us and the grave.2 Comments