When I take the TGV—the super-fast train from Strasbourg to Paris—on legal business, I always buy a copy of the weekly Officiel des spéctacles to see what is going on in the City of Light. On my latest trip, as I examined the list of films playing, what did I find? Amazingly, tucked away among the listings was “Jésus: L’enquête” (The Case for Christ)—described as the story of an atheist converted to Christianity.
Of course I could not resist. The film was not playing at the major theatres to which I ordinarily go; in fact, it was listed as playing in only three cinemas. I picked the one that was most centrally located, near the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées. As it turned out, I constituted 50% of the audience (2 persons total in attendance).
The film is biographical: the conversion of American journalist Lee Strobel. What are the pluses and what are the minuses?
Technically, “The Case for Christ” could hardly be bettered. The acting, the photography, the direction are all at the level of the best of Hollywood standards. The French subtitling was impeccable (though voice-dubbing would have been more effective). The producers were smart enough to enlist in a cameo role a known (though now long-in-the-tooth) Hollywood star, Faye Dunaway, in an obvious effort to capture an audience of non-religious film buffs.
There is much valuable apologetics material included in the film. Brief interviews occur with actors representing defenders of the faith such as Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig. (Habermas is a personal friend, and I was Craig’s first apologetics professor—though I am never mentioned in the credits or otherwise.) The important Journal of the American Medical Association article confirming the death of Christ from crucifixion, over against “swoon theories”—an article I introduced into the apologetics arena years ago—plays a significant role.
The film is obviously the product of Baptists, and they cannot resist pushing their doctrinal orientation. Thus Strobel’s wife goes through a full-scale, down-by-the riverside immersion baptism, and Strobel’s post-conversion professorship at a Baptist institution is emphasized in the credits at the end of the film. Of course, we cannot object to Baptist money, and the film obviously cost someone an arm and a leg; but wouldn’t it be nice if classical denominations, such as the Lutherans, spent money doing the same thing, only better? Problem is that the Lutherans are far more concerned with the internal life of their churches than with evangelism to a secular public—and have little interest in apologetics (doubts are apparently supposed to evaporate through preaching and liturgy).
The main problem with the film is that it is Strobel-Strobel-Strobel rather than Jesus-Jesus-Jesus. Strobel’s real problem is not so much in the area of evidence as in the psychological sphere. He has a bad relationship with his father—and a psychologist whom he interviews points out that the great atheists such as Freud (who held that God is a projection of the father image) have all had bad relations with their fathers. Strobel’s central concern is with his marriage: he believes that his wife’s conversion somehow substitutes Jesus as husband for Strobel himself.
The contrast with the conversion of St Paul is striking. The account of that archetypical occurrence in the Book of Acts is thoroughly Christ-centered. Saul/Paul himself is a minor figure in the drama: “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9:3-5).
It couldn’t hurt our Baptist converts and filmmakers to read a little Luther. We suggest as a start—even though Baptists are not prone to the use of Creeds or Catechisms–the Reformer’s explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, from Luther’s Small Catechism:
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
Should you see The Case for Christ? In our time of pagan film production, very definitely. Should you take unbelievers to see it? Absolutely. There is enough good apologetics material there to assist the non-Christian to a conviction of the factuality of our Lord’s historical existence, resurrection, and divine claims.
But be sure to refocus from Lee Strobel, his family, his accomplishments and those of his children, together with his Baptist connections—to Jesus Christ. Every conversion should be Christ-centered and should be presented as such. Anything else creates the tremendous danger that we will be substituting our human experiences for the work of the Holy Spirit, the sole source of a genuine passage from death to life.
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Readers of the Global Journal will certainly be acquainted with Francis Collins, who, unlike many scientists today, has made clear that his scholarship operates from a Christian perspective. But that commitment does not exempt him from responsible criticism, and the present issue features a serious critique of Collins’ position by Dr Hendrik van der Breggen, of Providence University College, Manitoba, Canada (http://apologiabyhendrikvanderbreggen.blogspot.ca/). Vol. 15, No. 1 of the Global Journal also contains a trenchant analysis by Dr Andrew Hollingsworth of the semantic theory of the late Italian uomo universale Umberto Eco, best known for his novel and film The Name of the Rose.
John Warwick Montgomery
When my wife and I are in London, we generally attend the church of my Inn of Court. Barristers must be members of at least one of four “Inns”—medieval guilds of lawyers. I am a member of both Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn. (I was called to the bar at Middle, and subsequently joined Lincoln’s in part because of its superior wine cellar; but that is another story.) Each Inn has its own church or chapel; they are “Royal Peculiars,” that is, directly responsible to the Queen and not under the authority of the local bishop (in this instance, the Bishop of London). Traditionally, they are—like the barristers themselves—conservative in temperament, using the 17th-century Book of Common Prayer’s magnificent liturgies.
During the so-called legal “long vacation” in the summer months, one needs to find another worship location. Close to Ludgate Circus is St Bride’s Church, designed by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666, and traditionally the church of the journalists (when they inhabited Fleet Street). On the Ninth Sunday after Trinity (13 August 2017) we attended service there, especially because of the wonderful Choral Eucharist.
The downside was the preacher: The Revd Canon Alison Joyce, rector of St Bride’s. After it was too late to go elsewhere, I remembered a sermon she had preached some time ago on death, arguing, with no mention of the biblical teaching that death is the product of sin (Rom. 3:23) or that Christ is the answer (Rom. 6:23), that death is essential to the human race since otherwise the world would be overpopulated and people would still be forced to live even though suffering from the dreadful diseases and pain of extreme old age.
Joyce’s sermon on this occasion was an interpretation of Matthew 14: 22-33, where our Lord walks on water.
She began—encouragingly—debunking a Florida university professor who claimed that a rational explanation for the event was the extreme climate at the time: ice formations on the Sea of Galilee would have given the impression that Jesus was walking on water.
The rector then followed this with her own brand of rationalism (a rationalism picked up, to be sure, from the literary critics of the New Testament). Said she: We must understand what the Gospel writers were actually doing: They wrote to show how special Jesus was. The feeding of the 5,000 was to show that Jesus was infinitely more important than the Old Testament prophet Elisha, who had miraculously fed a small number of people (II Kings 4: 42-44)—and the walking on the water was so much more effective than Old Testament parallels—that those hearing the story would have seen the merits of believing in Jesus (cf. Job 9: 8).
Moreover, said she, what good would Jesus’ actually walking on water be to us today? Whereas Jesus’ message to Peter and the other disciples, “Fear not,” is available to us right now in our difficulties. The miracle of calming fear and giving us hope takes place all the time in the church and in the lives of believers.
What is going on here?
1) The text is being dehistoricized, in flat disregard of what the Gospel writers say they are doing, namely, presenting the precise facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 1: 1-4; cf. II Peter 1: 16).
2) A new, unhistorical meaning is being given to the text on the basis of Old Testament parallels. These parallels are, of course, genuine and function as “types” of Christ, but they hardly suggest that the New Testament writers redid the events of Jesus’ life in defiance of what actually occurred–to show that he was greater than what one finds in the Old Testament. Moreover, how could they have gotten away with it? The Gospel materials were in circulation when hostile witnesses of Jesus’ ministry were still alive; they would surely have blown the whistle on such falsifications—they had means, motive, and opportunity.
3) If the miraculous event did not in fact occur, why should one accept the spiritual lesson the preacher draws from it? Jesus said, notably, “If I have told you earthly things and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3: 12).
4) The obvious reason for handling the text as Joyce did is to avoid having to assert and defend the miraculous. But isn’t a miraculous Resurrection the very heart of Christian faith, and would we not potentially lose even that if such an interpretive method were forced on the New Testament? Maybe there wasn’t a historical, bodily Resurrection at all—maybe the important thing is to see that Jesus is more life affirming than Old Testament prophets?
Conclusion: The preacher’s rationalism is no better, and no more justifiable, than the Florida professor’s appeal to ice formations. Indeed, it is far more dangerous, for it provides the ideal opportunity to disabuse ourselves of the factual reality of the saving biblical message—of the factuality of the very Incarnation itself. A God who miraculously created the cosmos out of nothing is surely capable not only of de facto Virgin Births and Resurrections, but also of de facto walkings upon water.
John Warwick Montgomery
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Even Christians with little or no knowledge of legal apologetics have heard of Frank Morison’s classic, Who Moved the Stone?—a powerful case for the facticity of the resurrection of our Lord. This issue of the Global Journal features Australian legal scholar Philip Johnson’s fine essay on that great Christian writer and his contributions. Also, and appropriately, Boyd Pehrson, another non-lawyer (Morison was a layman), refutes a lawyer-skeptic who has endeavoured to deep-six the Editor’s legal apologetic for the truth of the Faith.
Film buffs appalled by Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ may well have vowed to ignore anything else he does. But in the case of his latest epic film, Silence, this would be a mistake. It is clear that Scorsese, whatever bizarre personal take he has on the nature of the Christian gospel, has been bitten by the Hound of Heaven and understands well the difficulties Christian believers face in a secular, pluralistic world.
The film is the third adaptation of a novel by famed Japanese Christian writer Shûsaku Endô (1923-1996). Set in the 17th century, it tells the story of two Portuguese priests who persuade their superior to let them go to Japan to find their mentor, a missionary who is reported to have apostacized during the extreme wave of Buddhist and nationalist persecution of Christians taking place there. Once in Japan, they find the persecution far more extensive and terrible than imagined; one is killed, and the other discovers that their mentor has indeed left the faith and become a Buddhist scholar. The government Inquisitor has perceptively learned from experience that “martyrdom is the seed of the church” and now employs another method to stamp out Christianity: until a missionary recants, his flock are subjected, one by one, to horrible and excruciatingly painful deaths. The argument is presented: didn’t your Jesus do everything to save you—so you must recant your faith to save the remaining members of your flock. The young priest apparently does so recant, but seems to have remained a secret Christian, since a tiny crucifix is hidden on him as his body is burned in Buddhist fashion.
The theme of the novel and the film is particularly relevant today, when Christians around the world are being persecuted as never before—particularly by Muslim fundamentalism.
We offer seven—the perfect number— of lessons from the film:
- In the Western context today, Buddhism is presented—by way of the Dalai Lama, Christmas Humphreys, et al.—as a religion of sweetness and light, in stark contrast to supposedly persecutorial, imperialistic, missionizing western Christianity. The film illustrates the utter fallacy of such interpretations. Novelist Arthur Koestler, who flirted briefly with Eastern religions, rightly rejected Buddhism for its lack of any meaningful ethic (cf. the Buddhist kamikaze pilots in World War II).
- The film should finish off any naïveté that “all religions teach the same thing.” The horrible cruelties inflicted on the Christians by the Buddhist Inquisitor do not bother him at all. (The Roman Catholic inquisitions of the medieval period offer no analogy: they were contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ and New Testement Christianity, whilst the Buddhist treatment of Christian missionaries could not be condemned by anything within that religious tradition.)
- The arguments of the apostate mentor and former missionary against Christian truth show just how silly such arguments are. He denies any genuine Japanese conversions to Christianity—the martyrs are not dying for Christ but out of commitment to the missionaries. He even denies the possibility of translating biblical truth into Japanese (Francis Xavier is supposed to have accepted a Japanese translation of “Son of God” that was actually “Sun of God”—so instead of Christ’s rising on the third day, he rises every morning).
- The young priest correctly asserts that “truth is universal”—so Christianity is as true in Japan as in Europe or anywhere else. The reason for its lack of success in Japan is not the “soil”—the Japanese character and culture—but the fact that the soil has been “poisoned”—by Buddhist and other false religious teaching and by the persecution conducted by the opponents of the gospel.
- Naturally, the Inquisitor sees the issues nationalistically and politically. He tells the story of a lord who had four mistresses who were continually fighting with each other—so he got rid of all of them and had peace. They represented European powers (Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and England) wanting economic advantages in Japan. The young priest said: “We Christians are monogamous; the ruler should have just one wife.” The Inquisitior replied, “The Portuguese?” The priest: “Christianity.” The priest saw clearly that the problem—and the solution— was not political but religious.
- The indifference to cruelty on the part of the Inquisitor and his minions reminds one of the Eastern theatre in World War II. A non-Christian culture has no foundation for or respect for human rights. The Burma railway and the Japanese prisoner camps of the Second World War should remind us that what one believes directly influences what one does. Did generations without Christ create an inherently dangerous Japanese personality, particularly in the political realm where totalitarianism could easily be justified?
- The most difficult question posed in the film is surely the following: Is there ever a justification for apostasy—as here, where it was the only way to save lives? God is not going to intervene; He is going to remain silent (note the film and book title) in a world where we sinners have corrupted everything. So what is to be done when facing such an ethical dilemma?
Note that the problem is not the Corrie Ten Boom “hiding place” dilemma: it is not a question of lying to the Nazis to protect Jewish lives. The issue is the priest’s denying the faith publicly to save the lives of people who have already denied the faith or who must also deny it to survive.
As a lesser-of-evils situation, what is the greater evil—the loss of other people’s lives through horrible torture, or the public denial of Christianity by its representative, thus telling the world that the faith is not worth dying for? Of course, the ideal is a heroic martyr’s death on the part of all concerned, but suppose one simply does not have the personal strength to choose that route?
In general, the fundamental theological principle is that evangelism trumps all moral issues except right-to-life (the qualification is due to the fact that once people are dead neither evangelism nor moral values are relevant). Keeping the flock alive at least takes into account the possibility that the totalitarian Buddhist government may weaken and that returning to the faith may ultimately be possible.
More importantly, saving faith in Christ is a matter of one’s inner commitment. The Reformation theologians insisted that saving faith is present only if one goes beyond notitia (doctrinal knowedge) and assensus (public affirmation) so as to arrive at fiducia (personal, heart commitment). If assensus is no longer possible, surely fiducia is still an option. This seems to be the film’s lesson: In a world of sin, where believers do not always have the strength to withstand the individual and societal pressures of evil, outward conformity may sometimes be the lesser-of-evils. Faith in Christ should not properly exist only within the heart, but history has provided examples of such inner faith as the only humanly acceptable alternative.
John Warwick Montgomery
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The present issue of the Global Journal contains another fine piece by one of our regular contributors: Donald T. Williams obtained from his publisher permission to include a chapter from his just-published book on C. S. Lewis. Readers of the Global Journal will thus have the opportunity to revisit Lewis on the Holy Trinity—and will have no excuse for not obtaining the entire volume in which that essay originally appeared. Then, against the background of United Kingdom politics and BREXIT, Ross Maidment analyzes the pluses and the minuses of the late Margaret Thatcher’s individualistic, Methodistic take on Christian faith.
This issue of the Global Journal features your editor’s presentation at the historic Kloha-Montgomery debate at Concordia University Chicago on 15 October 2016. There Dr Montgomery dealt with the implications of textual criticism for biblical inerrancy—and the dangers of Dr Kloha’s approach to it. This issue includes the complete texts of Dr Montgomery’s debate presentation and rebuttal to Dr Kloha, together with a detailed review of the debate by the Revd Jack Cassione. Unfortunately, Dr Kloha has refused to allow third parties to publish his presentation as a whole or in part, but we understand that his material can be obtained from the Concordia Seminary, St Louis, where he teaches.
Shortly after the debate, one of Professor Kloha’s seminary colleagues defended him in a blog in the following terms: “Kloha is not disingenuous or contradictory. He simply does not need to detail every step of his work to those in his field in the same way that he does for the person who does not work in that field.”
I replied: “Pace Professor Herrmann, this is not a matter of Kloha’s simplifying for Lutherans the views he has espoused in a more technical manner in European scholarly Festschriften. There, before audiences of non-confessional academics, Kloha presents views incompatible with biblical stability and reliability – and then avoids saying the same thing to the Christian laity in his own church body. Egregious example: he argues, on the basis of poor MS sources and thoroughgoing eclecticism’s principle of choosing variant readings according to subjective, literary fit, that Elizabeth and not Mary spoke the Magnificat. Then, teaching in church on the very same Lucan passage, he never even refers to the question – giving his audience the obvious message that he goes along with the Marian reading as do all the standard translations based on solid Greek texts. This is simply dishonest. If that is the kind of scholarship and churchmanship practiced at the Concordia Seminary, St Louis, I tremble for the future of the LCMS.”
John Warwick Montgomery
Vol. 14, No. 2 will contain another fine piece by one of our regular contributors: Donald T. Williams obtained from his publisher permission to include a chapter from his just-published book on C. S. Lewis. Readers of the Global Journal will thus have the opportunity to revisit Lewis on the Holy Trinity—and will have no excuse for not obtaining the entire volume in which that essay originally appeared. Then, against the background of United Kingdom politics and BREXIT, Ross Maidment analyzes the pluses and the minuses of the late Margaret Thatcher’s individualistic, Methodistic take on Christian faith.
Richard Dawkins continually rants against Intelligent Design as being faith-based and therefore “irrational.” Let us briefly examine some recent research in his field and see where the logic really lies.
Le Figaro—one of France’s most influential national newspapers—ran a lengthy article in its 28 May 2012 issue, titled “How Man Acquired Intelligence” (our translation, as throughout this diatribe). The article was based in large part on research reported in the May 11 issue of the journal Cell, with analysis by French specialists in neuroscience. We number the essential arguments in the article to facilitate comment on the “logic” of each.
- After the successful sequencing of the human genome in 2003, followed by that of the chimpanzee in 2005, it has been concluded that some six million years ago, when a separation of the two primates from their common ancestor allegedly occurred, hundreds of additional genes appeared by duplication in the humans and the proteins issuing from these copies were able to acquire new functions—specifically the augmentation of nerve connections in the prefrontal neo-cortex.
- At California’s Scripps Institute, Francis Franck Polleux discovered that the gene SRGAP2 in mammals facilitates the migration and extension of nerve cells in brain development. A copy of this gene (SRGAP2C), unique to the human being, appears to provide the ability to amplify the number of cellular surface contact points (“dendritic spines”). These pyramidal neuron cells of the prefrontal cortex relate directly to our most complex mental functions, each having 10,000 dendritic spines capable of connecting with other neurons. When SRGAP2C was introduced into mice [our italics], the number of their spines increased two to three times!
- According to researchers at the University of Washington, SRGAP2C appeared on the scene some 2.5 million years ago, at the same time as a massive enlargement of the human neo-cortex over against that of the Australopithecus (an extinct genus of hominoids). It was at this point that the genus Homo came on the scene.
- To be sure, more was involved. As Alain Prochiantz, professor at the prestigious Collège de France, admits: “Many genomic modifications must have contributed to the humanization of the brain—not only with the appearance of these newly discovered proteins but also with mutations [our italics] affecting the regulating of the genetic expression.”
- Does similarity between the human brain and the chimpanzee brain signify a common origin—six million years ago or yesterday? The medieval logicians identified the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc: the confusion of similarity with causation. Their analogy: “If two clocks strike the hour at the same time, does this mean that one has caused the other to strike?”
- Suppose mice do acquire an impressive increase in dendritic spines as a result of the (rather Frankensteinish) introduction of human SRGAP2C into their little brains. What does this prove as to human intelligence—unless one assumes gratuitously and a priori that the two species are inherently interlocked. But that assumption is what the evolutionist holds as his unshakeable starting-point—yet, ironically, it is supposed to be justified by such arguments as this one! Do we not find ourselves here in the logical quagmire of petitio principii—hoary old circular reasoning?
- If SRGAP2C and impressive enlargement of the human neo-cortex appeared at more-or-less the same time, did the one cause the other? Has the evolutionary biologist not again fallen into the rabbit hole of post hoc, ergo propter hoc? Moreover: even if we agree that SRGAP2C is unique to the human being, amplifies cellular contact points, and thus the potentiality of connecting with other neurons, does this explain human intelligence? A computer makes complex interconnections among applications, but it does not think—as philosopher John Searle has definitively shown by way of his classic Chinese Room argument.
- Ah, And what are they? “Sudden, unexplained, but transmissible, changes in genetic structure”—i.e., we have no idea why all at once something new appears on the genetic scene. This of course offers no rational explanation whatever. “Mutation” claims often function in science as no more than a form of Word Magic—giving a name to something the scientist simply does not understand. Parallel example: Why do the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano and the storks return to the Alsace on almost the same day each year? Answer: instinct (i.e., it’s something built into to the birds, but we don’t know what ultimately explains it).
Well, what’s to be said of all this?
Conclusion in brief: Intelligence cannot be reduced to proteins. And even if it could be, one would have to account for the origin of the proteins, and, far more important, why they are programmed to contribute to the incredible complexity of human thinking. The evolutionary biologist builds his inadequate theories without respect for the underlying logic of a house built on the rock of intelligent Creation.
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This—our final issue of Vol. 13—is wide-ranging—from the Palestine of Jesus’ day to the China of our time. Professor Emir Phillips treats in detail the Samaritan factor—how the existence and beliefs of the Samaritans related to our Lord’s approach to evangelism. Then Jacob Buday poses the question: “China: A Marxist Utopia?”
Vol. 14, No. 1 features your editor’s presentation at the historic Kloha-Montgomery debate at Concordia University Chicago on 15 October 2016. There Dr. Montgomery dealt with the implications of textual criticism for biblical inerrancy—and the dangers of Dr. Kloha’s approach to it. This issue will include the complete texts of Dr. Montgomery’s debate presentation and rebuttal to Dr. Kloha, together with a detailed review of the debate by the Rev’d Jack Cassione. Unfortunately, Dr. Kloha has refused to allow third parties to publish his presentation as a whole or in part, but we understand that his material can be obtained from the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where he teaches.
Protestantism in eastern France is an interesting phenomenon. The Lutheran Church (as well as the Reformed, the Roman Catholic, and the Jewish faith) is state-supported—in diametric contrast to the rest of France, where the separation of church and state goes back to 1905. (The reason is historical: the Alsace was then part of the German Second Reich and an ancient Concordat protected established religions there and continued in force after the Alsace was returned to France following the First World War; the French Constitutional Council has recently affirmed the continuing validity of this special Alsatian religious situation.)
In the rest of France—referred to in the Alsace somewhat depreciatingly as “la France intérieure”—the Lutheran and Reformed churches united in 2013 to form a single Protestant church body. In the Alsace, the Lutheran and Reformed denominations continue to exist in order to benefit from the Concordat protections—but an umbrella organization (the “Union des Eglises Protestantes d’Alsace et de Lorraine”) has been formed to demonstrate commitment to ecumenicity. (There also exists in Alsace the tiny confessional Eglise Libre Luthérienne de France et de Belgique—an independent church body in doctrinal fellowship with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod in the United States, but this body does not enter into the discussion to follow.)
This year the big concern among Lutherans and Reformed in the mainline churches is whether to bless same-sex unions. In France, since the Revolution and the Napoleonic era, no church has been able to perform legal marriages: that is a prerogative of the state alone. Religions may, however, once the state ceremony has taken place, conduct a religious rite of blessing of their own—regarded by the faithful, but not the state, as the “real” marriage. (My wife and I thus went through two ceremonies—a fairly perfunctory civil ceremony at the Mayor’s office, and the substantial service at the historic, Reformation Lutheran church of St Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasbourg.) Now, with same-sex unions having been legalized by the current Socialist government, the thorny question has arisen: should a similar (or perhaps modified) service of “blessing” be performed for same-sex couples desiring it?
On Sunday, 12 January 2014, a most interesting public discussion of the issue took place at the Protestant Temple Neuf in Strasbourg. A religions professor (Reformed) who is serving on the committee to examine the question in the “France of the interior” preached an essentially neutral, non-committal sermon, followed by the presentation of arguments pro and con by two local pastors, and finally group and plenary discussion involving both clergy and laity. The viewpoints offered are worthy of more than a cursory glance.
On the pro side, there was of course the claim that same-sex union was genetically natural—a product of God’s creation—and should therefore be blessed by the church. It was also argued that homosexuals are outcasts, like gypsies and the homeless (the “SDFs”—those “sans domicile fixe”) and must not be rejected by the Christian community as they are by secular society.
The logic here was doubtful, to say the least, and discussion mercifully did not focus at that level. Thus, for example, criminals are generally societal outcasts, but we would not expect the church to hold ceremonies blessing criminal activity. And the genetic argument hardly holds water, being an illustration of what philosophical ethicist G. E. Moore termed the “naturalistic fallacy”—the fallacious notion that what in fact does go on is what should go on. Even if homosexuality were genetic (and this is surely disputable), that fact would not make it morally right or justify its practice. Analogously, American Indians are said to have a genetic predilection for alcoholic inebriation. Even if true, it would hardly justify—legally or morally—an Indian’s getting drunk and claiming that he should not be arrested for drunken driving because of his genetic makeup. For the Indian, alcohol would function as a powerful temptation, but he or she need not give in to it, thereby (in theological terms) transforming a temptation into a sin. On the distinction between temptation and sin, Luther put it nicely: “You can’t prevent the birds from flying over your head, but you can certainly prevent them from making nests in your hair.”
The more significant discussion centred on what the Bible does or does not teach. The preacher had noted that Protestants, unlike other religious believers, are obsédés par le texte (“text obsessed”). It was generally agreed, on the basis of both Old and New Testament passages (especially Romans 1) that homosexual activity is considered sinful throughout the sacred text. But the proponents of same-sex blessings took the view that even though homosexual activity is a prime illustration of idolatry in the biblical passages dealing with it, there are other illustrations as well: love of money, adultery, etc.—so, presumably, a Christian church, whose members are all sinners in one respect or another, must not rule out blessing one kind of sin and not others.
Again, logic seemed to have been lost in the scuffle. For the proposed blessing is for a specific purpose—a same-sex union; it does not function as a general acceptance of two people as sinners. Suppose, for example (I myself brought up this point) a bank robber wanted to be blessed for his activity as a bank robber. We would clearly distinguish that from blessing him personally as a creature of God and as a sinner like ourselves—and therefore refuse to do it as an ecclesiastical act. Likewise, we would certainly object to providing a church blessing for two adulterers who sought that blessing for their adulterous relationship.
The point often lost in such discussions of the subject is that a church blessing is a church act and inevitably will be seen as the church’s approval of the object of the blessing. It will be interpreted, and quite rightly, as the church’s assertion that same-sex unions are quite all right and consonant with the will of God. But if the Holy Scriptures are to be taken seriously, this cannot be right and the church must have the courage to say so—even in the face of a hostile secular society and the fact that such a position suffers from political incorrectness.
A particularly telling point was that raised by two of the pro-blessing pastors: in the Lutheran and Reformed churches of the Alsace, they pointed out, we now ordain women pastors. Since Paul clearly condemns that (1 Corinthians 14) but we do it anyway, the same can be the case with Paul’s condemnation of homosexual practices (Romans 1)! In response, one might attempt casuistically to distinguish (distinguo) the two passages (1 Corinthians seen as reflecting the sociology of the time, whilst Romans 1 deals with a universal moral issue). But it would surely be far more productive to think more carefully about the legitimacy or non-legitimacy of women pastors in light of biblical teaching.
Do we not have here an egregious instance of the phenomenon of the slippery slope? If the church rationalizes away the clear teaching of biblical revelation at one point, lo! no passage of Holy Writ (including those texts concerning our Lord’s teachings—plus His life, death, resurrection!) is preserved from interpretations that can evacuate the message of its natural sense and meaning. Thus perhaps the same-sex blessing issue is not limited in its significance to France or even to the homosexual question—but turns out to have great importance for the way we treat Scripture in general. If Christian believers want to maintain sola Scriptura as the Reformers insisted, the church must (as our Lord put it to the devil in the wilderness) observe “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Finally, a consideration of similarly wide application to churches and denominations in general—wherever they may be located. In his remarks summing up the occasion, the preacher argued that whatever the differences in viewpoint as to whether and as to how same-sex unions should be blessed, the most important consideration was to maintain unity within the church. He said that where matters did not rise to the level of confessional subscription there could legitimately be differences of opinion among the clergy and among the laity within the same church body.
The problem, as we have been at pains to point out, is that the issue at stake here far transcends whether and how to bless same-sex unions: it concerns at root the diverse and contradictory understandings of biblical teaching as revealed by the protagonists in the discussion. Surely, it is a matter of overarching doctrinal importance whether one takes Scripture in its natural sense and obeys it or sets it aside in favour of the current sociological climate. To allow such diversity of approach on the “formal principle of all theology” (the Holy Scriptures) is ipso facto to give up the unity of the church. Anglicans have long permitted unity to trump the biblical requirement of consistent doctrinal fidelity. What a shame if Lutherans and Reformed, who have historically insisted on quia, not mere quatenus, subscription to creeds and confessions, allow themselves to fall into the trap of valuing church unity above agreement on the clear, perspicuous teaching of the Word of God.
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Vol. 13, No. 2 of the Global Journal features two articles dealing with a much-the-same thorny apologetics issue: whether the world and the facts in it can be understood and employed per se in defense of classic Christian faith—or whether the meaning of the external world and its factual content lies with the presuppositional orientation of the individual seeker. Hendrik van der Breggen argues that “It’s Not Interpretation All the Way Down: A Defense of Simple Seeing”; and John M. DePoe answers the question, “What’s (Not) Wrong with Evidentialism?” If these gentlemen are on the wrong track, perhaps the Global Journal (and your wife) are really not there at all . . .
This issue also features a book review of Why God Allows Us to Suffer: The Definitive Solution to the Problem of Pain and the Problem of Evil by Kevin Tewes. The reviewer, Gregory Schulz, has published on the topic of suffering.