A friend of mine recently posted the following quote from Carl Trueman to Facebook:
“The beautiful young things of the reformed renaissance have a hard choice to make in the next decade. You really do kid only yourselves if you think you can be an orthodox Christian and be at the same time cool enough and hip enough to cut it in the wider world. Frankly, in a couple of years it will not matter how much urban ink you sport, how much fair trade coffee you drink, how many craft brews you can name, how much urban gibberish you spout, how many art house movies you can find that redeemer figure in, and how much money you divert from gospel preaching to social justice: maintaining biblical sexual ethics will be the equivalent in our culture of being a white supremacist.”
Trueman is spot-on here with his main point. Everything is going to come down to one’s sexual ethic – not because Christians are insistent on making it the primary issue, but because the world is. This is the favorite cause of the left-leaning segment of American society right now, with perhaps abortion rights coming in at a close second. (And one might say those two issues overlap.) But far less ground has been gained on the issue of sexual ethics than abortion rights. Those in the pro-life camp have been the obvious underdogs for decades. But the tide has also turned decidedly in favor of the more liberal, secular sexual ethic as of late, especially on the issue of homosexuality. Consequently, there is much more passion, more vigor on the part of the world in championing this cause than there is about previous liberal favorites.
Amanda Marcotte perfectly demonstrated Trueman’s point in her recent post on Salon, 5 Christian “hipsters” trying to make fundamentalism look cool. There, she scoffed at the notion of “cool conservative Christians” as a ruse, an absurd oxymoron. And as Derek Rishmawy pointed out on this post on his blog, Reformedish, the one and only issue that made all of the so-called “hipster Christians” uncool was their traditional sex ethic (or as Marcotte calls it, sex-negativity). I’d say Trueman was speaking prophetically, but I somehow think he’d take issue with the terminology. And after Strange Fire, I’m a little sensitive.
And now, for a little bit of introspection:
I’ve been thinking about what this all means for me. I do not, nor have I ever considered myself a hipster, and that’s in no small part because it was a sort of byword in the circles I found myself in back in small-town Georgia. (And also because I’m just not one.) But what can I say? I do love my coffee. I enjoy craft brews. I happen to appreciate the occasional art house film, and I absolutely think that social justice is vitally important (although not in lieu of gospel-preaching.) So, while young and beautiful are relative terms, I certainly am one of those “things” of the reformed renaissance. And I know that while I may be able to reach people that my parents’ generation can’t, and even people who many of my peers back in rural South Georgia can’t, there’s still a cosmic divide between the message of the world and the message that I proclaim. And am I prepared for what that means?
And here’s where it gets even more complicated. If I’m honest with myself, I’m a bit double-minded. You see, I’m very theologically conservative. I believe, not just in a traditional sex ethic, but in traditional, complementarian gender roles, in a literal young-earth creation, and so forth. And my belief in all of those things can be traced back to one primary conservative theological stance: that the Word of God is inerrant and authoritative. But what if I told you that my heart wasn’t completely in it?
I read the bible, and I see complementarianism, plain as day. And I understand the reason behind it. God created men and women to relate in a way that demonstrates Christ’s relationship to the church, thus he gave us complementary roles. Any deviation from that distorts the image that God intended to display. So I see it in the Word, and the Word is the authority, so I stand by that position. But honestly, what I’m feeling on the inside is: who cares about someone’s gender? Do you have the ability to communicate effectively, and do you have valuable things to teach? Then what sense does it make not to share it with the wider church body, and have somebody else who may be less apt to teach do it in your stead, simply because of his gender? It seems so archaic to me.
The scriptural argument for complementarianism is the exact same one for the traditional sex ethic. And let’s not mince words here: while this “ethic” encompasses more than just the issue of homosexuality, I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the term. It’s simply the overarching issue right now in contemporary society. And I believe the clear teaching of the Bible, as has been understood for the overwhelming majority of Christian history, by every tradition within orthodoxy, is that gay sex, and by extension, gay marriage, is not compatible with obedience to Christ. I believe that, not primarily because of Leviticus, or because of the Genesis account of Sodom and Gomorrah, or even because of Romans 1. I believe that, primarily because of Ephesians 5. Here, it is expressly stated that the purpose of marriage, the purpose of romantic relationships between two people, is to display an image of Christ and His church. Men have been designed by God as a type of Christ, and women as a type of the Church. There are clearly defined roles and ways in which we make that display. And just as egalitarianism, adultery, polygamy, polyandry, extramarital and premarital sex distort that image and bring dishonor to God, so do homosexual relationships and homosexual activity. But as clear as that is to me intellectually, what I sometimes feel is: why can’t we all just love whomever we want and be who we are and leave each other alone for crying out loud?
Why does all of this have to matter so much anyway?
Now my conservative friends who may fear at this point that I’m teetering on the edge of apostasy, please be comforted: I recognize the truth. I know that, as Lewis said, it is futile to argue with God, because it is He who has given me an intellect with which to argue. Obviously, if He and I are at odds, He is in the right! On the one hand, this disunity between my head and my heart often leaves me feeling like a bit of a hypocrite. On the other, I see even in this, the renewing power of God’s Spirit. A heart that is willing to submit to God’s way, even when it makes no sense to it, is a gift from God. I assure you, I possess no such ability on my own. Sanctification is a process, and the renewal of my mind is something that will take time. After all, if not for God’s sovereign grace, I would’ve probably beaten Marcotte to the punch with my own scathing blog post about“hipster Christians.” So I think God’s brought me a long way.
Still, in the here and now, I’ve got to deal with this head/heart dichotomy of mine. And while my submission to God’s Word takes precedence over my emotions and human wisdom, this discrepancy along with my tendency to question everything does make my stance on many issues rather anemic. And that’s not what the world needs right now. The world needs unashamed, grace-filled lovers of Jesus fully convinced in their own minds. It needs unwavering truth-bearers with bold humility. It doesn’t need flaky semi-hipsters going through existential crises.