What does a Christian life look like?

In a recent discussion Kullervo mentioned: “[T]he traditions of Christians who agree that salvation by faith produces a transformed life in Christ are pretty unanimous on what that kind of life looks like.

Is this true? Is the picture of a Christian life the same for all traditions?  Is it simply a non-Christian life governed by Christian law?

Before I recognized the fact of Christ, I believed that Mormonism was the reductio ad absurdum of traditional Christianity.  Traditional Christians believe that recognizing the truth of the message of the New Testament is essential to living the Christian life, and that belief in and adherence to orthodoxy is a requirement to being part of the catholic church of all believers.  However, I saw that many Mormons, by living as Latter-day Saints, were living lives that could only reasonably be called both “good” and “Christian”. Many Mormons seemed to have a found authentic Christian lives, even when they can’t explain Christ authentically.

Now I see that recognizing Christ and being in Christ is a significant advantage in the effort to appear to be Christian, but I am not sure that it is either a necessary or sufficient condition to live the Christian life.  Any thoughts?

 

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88 thoughts on “What does a Christian life look like?

  1. By whose power are people living a Christian life? I think the answer to that question ultimately determines the success any particular person has in living out a “Christian life”.

  2. I would love a definition of the life that Christ empowers someone to live. Especially with the claim that people would be “unanimous” on what that kind of life would look like. It just doesn’t look like a lot of people are so empowered — even people who call themselves Christian.

  3. “Now I see that recognizing Christ and being in Christ is a significant advantage in the effort to appear to be Christian, but I am not sure that it is either a necessary or sufficient condition to live the Christian life. Any thoughts?”

    Yes, its not about appearances. If one does things to appear to be Christian, or lives in a way to appear Christian, he or she is missing the boat entirely.

  4. Andrew S, a lot of that discussion has already happened today in the comments to a previous post, starting here. Just to avoid having the same discussion in two places at once.

  5. Jared – What do you mean by “recogniz[ing] the fact of Christ”? How did this differ from your experience in Mormonism? In what ways did you recognize Christ/be in Christ that were new?

    I realize you have probably detailed this somewhere. Feel free to simply point me to it.

  6. If you’re talking about what a Christian life “looks like”, in other words its outward appearance, it looks like obeying the commandments and doing works of charity. I think that’s pretty much the same for all traditions, excepting specific things that the traditions disagree on, such as divorce and birth control.

    Theoretically, anyone can do these things. But in reality it would be hard to want to do them without a very strong reason, i.e. genuine faith.

    If you’re talking about what a Christian life is, in its fullness, i.e. not just its outward appearance, then it would include so many things that it would be hard to list them, since it transforms one’s outlook, attitudes, feelings, intentions, values, and so forth, in quite a comprehensive way.

    I find your last paragraph a little puzzling: Did you really mean to say that “recognizing Christ and being in Christ” are not necessary to living the Christian life?

  7. Thanks, Kullervo. I don’t know if that actually clarified things so much as created a “no true Scotsman” argument via which (theologically, politically) liberal Christians were ejected from the equation.

  8. Andrew writes, “It just doesn’t look like a lot of people are so empowered — even people who call themselves Christian.”

    True. Many are called but few are chosen. The road to destruction is broad and easy, whereas the road to life is narrow and hard. Mt. 7:13-14. Also “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Mt. 7:21.

  9. Eh, I mean, I don’t know that it’s a No True Scotsman argument. The issue is whether Christians who believe in justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone and sanctification in the life of the believer agree on what sanctification in the life of the believer entails. Liberal Christians by and large reject the whole theological contruct of which justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone and sanctification in the life of the believer are a part, so their changing moral teachings are sort of by definition not evidence of disagreement about what justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone and sanctification in the life of the believer looks like.

  10. Kullervo,

    I dunno. When Jared quoted the line “Christians who believe in justification by faith in Jesus alone,” I didn’t realize how much was pending on what followed after “Christians” until I read that other topic. In the other topic, you go on to talk about how conservative Christians definitely don’t move away from this (regardless of political agendas that certainly might make others think that). And by defining things this way, you can dismiss theological liberal Christians because they don’t believe in justification by faith in Jesus alone (regardless of what happens when you go on their webpage).

  11. But sanctification in the life of the believer–at least in the context we were discussing on the other thread–is a specific theological doctrine. We weren’t defining terms idiosyncratically in order to exclude; we were only ever talking about the subset in the first place.

    That said, where Jared is talking about “the Christian life,” I will grant that he is not necessarily meaning it in the specific sense we were talking about over there.

  12. I don’t know. Can’t we agree that this will look different from person to person? It’s really easy to say, this is the kind of thing you do when you’re “in” but honestly, only God sees the heart. Maybe I don’t seem all that great from the outside, but maybe I’d be 100 times worst without Christ’s transforming work in my life.

    And then there’s that favorite CS Lewis quote of mine: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of him that millions and millions of ‘little christs,’ all different, would still be too few to express Him fully.”

  13. Kullervo said, “Christ doesn’t empower everyone to live a sanctified life.”

    He only empowers those who have Christ in them.

  14. Katie,

    Certainly, we should embrace that the Christian life will not only look different from person to person, but that the Christian life will look different throughout a person’s life.

  15. Andrew S said, “I would love a definition of the life that Christ empowers someone to live.”

    “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). On this, even Mormon Christians and non-Mormon Christians agree.

  16. i guess the thing in that post is that the guy is talking like, “we come as racists to be purged from our racism” but the question is whether or not certain things established as sin are more of the -ism than of the purgation of the -ism.

    “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” are vague terms that don’t necessarily imply husband + father + 2.5 kids railing against, say, gay marriage.

  17. Kullervo from the other thread:

    “These are the two statements that reveal the inconsistency here. On the one hand, you are trying to affirm that God as the creator and lawgiver sets the standards for human behavior. But on the other hand, you are rejecting what God has actually revealed about human sexuality in creation on the basis of fallen humans’ felt needs.”

    I feel the need to point out that there’s only an inconsistency, *if you hold to a traditional/conservative interpretation of the Bible* – which Katie and other theologically liberal Christians obviously don’t . And you (the traditional) may be the vast majority of Christians and have hundreds of years at your back, but your still employing an interpretation.

    In other words, liberal Christians certainly don’t say to themselves, “God clearly says this about X issue, but F-it.”

  18. In other words, liberal Christians certainly don’t say to themselves, “God clearly says this about X issue, but F-it.”

    They don’t?!? I’ve seen liberal Christians say that sort of thing.

  19. cowboy, I don’t personally believe that Paul – as a Jew trying to bring gentiles into the fold of Israel – really thought homosexuality was totally fine. But, I think he’s also pretty explicitly not promoting traditional modern notions of gender, marriage and sexuality or romance (which did not exist in the ancient world) as what God wants for everyone either. The OT does seem a lot more clear about homosexuality (not about modern marriage of course), but the NT challenging the OT is kind of the point right? Essentially there’s enough ambiguity around early Christian notions of sexual norms that make me open to the idea of a new, progressive interpretation. Even if I think it stretches things. I’ve seen conservative stretch many other things. I think its only fair.

  20. “They don’t?!? I’ve seen liberal Christians say that sort of thing.”

    🙂 I don’t doubt that many self proclaimed Christians do this. I was thinking of theologies, not individuals.

  21. Nope cowboy. I just have a hard time privileging one theological interpretation outright – over another. Taking the Bible seriously does not have to be the same as your particular interpretation seriously. For me, being honest about the complexity found in the different books does that more than trying cran it all into one tradition or theology.

  22. I don’t think Paul would be ok with it today – as I said in my previous comment.

  23. cowboy, I really don’t like to play this game, but what are your thoughts on divorce or head coverings for women?

  24. It really bothers me how affirming committed, lifelong gay partnerships as something God can bless, *because we have literally seen God bless those relationships,* becomes “zomg liberal Christians are saying YOU CAN SCREW ANYONE ANYTIME FOR ANY REASON AND IT’S TOTES FINE!!!!!!!”

    Not cool.

  25. I think the main problem I have with liberals is that they are not religiously conservative. I think liberalism is reasonable only in the context of the most enduring sort of religion. It stands to reason that more liberal you are with you own behavior, the closer you better stay to the heart of religion.

  26. “I think liberalism is reasonable only in the context of the most enduring sort of religion.”

    I’m not sure I understand what that means. By “liberal” do you mean “permissive”?

  27. “The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
    Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
    The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
    Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.” ~ Karl Marx

  28. Katie, “TOTES FINE” is still making me smile. Thanks.

    The lived reality you see working in the lives of committed SS couples should mean something IMO. If it produces good fruit, in other words, it should cause us to re examine previously held interpretations. Especially when we take serious the many ways that modern Christian interpretations have inserted western/american assumptions into the text.

  29. Cal,

    So, from Tim’s link is this point that the big thing about being a Christian is repenting from sin — and that, although people aren’t going to be perfect at it, at least they try. There is a statement that “we come as racists to be purged from our racism” for example.

    But to a lot of people, the sort of moral values a lot of Christians advocate for publicly don’t look very moral — they look more like the racism than the purgation thereof. This calls into question whether Christianity really produces good fruit at all.

  30. I wrote about this three years ago. All the other sins–that Christians of every stripe agree on, by the way–adultery, abuse of power, theft, lying, exploitation, selfishness, hatred, violence, etc., are self-evidently bad. They are inherently unloving. They produce visibly bad fruit.

    But people who are gay, in loving, committed, lifelong relationships, experience the same kind of benefits from their unions that straight people do. So either you’re going to have to argue that there is some special pleading that makes homosexuality its own special category of sin that produces good fruit but is still wrong…or maybe it’s time to re-examine our conclusions in light of the evidence of God working in the lives of gay and lesbian families, the same as God des in straight families.

  31. Christian, homosexual acts are listed in a series of grievous and detestable sins, whereas wearing head coverings is a list of things to do in church and a symbolic gesture. One is clearly a thing not to do, and the other is something that can be accomplished by having hair.

    Surely you can see how I don’t find your ‘game’ worthwhile and weak. I don’t see anything ambiguous about the Bible’s position on homosexuality.

    That said, I fully embrace the cliche that we are to love the sinner, hate the sin. I don’t know of another way to express that, and it fully applies to the LGBT movement. We ARE to respect them and love them, and embrace them even. However, we cannot excuse their behavior just because they say we should.

  32. Katie, you said:

    “But people who are gay, in loving, committed, lifelong relationships, experience the same kind of benefits from their unions that straight people do. So either you’re going to have to argue that there is some special pleading that makes homosexuality its own special category of sin that produces good fruit but is still wrong…or maybe it’s time to re-examine our conclusions in light of the evidence of God working in the lives of gay and lesbian families, the same as God des in straight families.”

    The case is before God, not us. I would also argue that good fruit can be produced from things outside of God, so producing good fruit is not evidence that something is of God. Sin is not about producing fruit of any sort, its separation from God. Sin can be positive in human terms, so I am not sure that just because something seems good to us that can be used as an argument that there is no sin that activity.

  33. “Surely you can see how I don’t find your ‘game’ worthwhile and weak. I don’t see anything ambiguous about the Bible’s position on homosexuality.”

    OK, let’s try this again: a certain brand of slavery was an accepted part of the Greco-Roman world of the early Church. More than one NT author speaks of this societal hierarchy as though it were a completely normal (even if flawed) part of the world they lived in. And it was, and I don’t blame them for that. But Christians in 2015 would not use the counsel of the author of 1 Peter, for example, as weighing on modern Christians who find themselves in real slavery. But it took time for that interpretation to develop – through reason and experience. And over time, Christians decided that these passages were directed at specific people in a certain time and place. From what I read, that’s a big art of the progressive interpretation regarding homosexuality.

    To be clear, I don’t totally buy it, but I’m open to listening. And I don’t think its as simple as gays wanting to justify an evil lust.

  34. And I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t give us counsel to live our lives by. I’m just observing that Christians of all stripes use (in their view) human reason to decipher the meanings of this very ancient group of texts.

  35. I would also argue that good fruit can be produced from things outside of God, so producing good fruit is not evidence that something is of God

    Except “fruit” is how Jesus said you would recognize a Christian life. All Christian lives are embroiled in sin, those sinful lives that produce good fruit are inherently more sanctified than those that don’t, No?

  36. @Katie L

    RE: Liberalism

    By liberalism I mean it in the classical sense: i.e. governing human life by reason toward liberty, individual property, and individual human prospering. I think liberalism rightly allows for all kinds of ways that humans can validly express themselves, use their property, and endeavor to live a good life. However, liberalism can merge into the most bizarre and irrational forms of paganism and pseudo-Christianity when people idolize their values. Liberal values may foster better society, but liberal theology will never get to the heart of the matter.

  37. Jared, you just identified a big reason why we can’t justify our standing before God based on works. Yes, we will bear God fruits but so can those not in Christ. Good works and feeds are not limited to followers of Jesus. Just the same, neither are sins.

  38. Ok, we agree that works do not save us and no sin can condemn us in Christ. . . are we then free to govern our sinful lives by reason and love focused on human flourishing?

  39. As soon as we decouple a sinless life or a transformed life in Christ away from human flourishing (as seems to be what is happening — basically), then the question of what a transformed life in Christ looks like becomes murky again.

    Because “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” seem like elements of human flourishing, so if they have a different term in Christianity, then recognizing and identifying those elements will need further description and explanation.

  40. The case is before God, not us. I would also argue that good fruit can be produced from things outside of God, so producing good fruit is not evidence that something is of God. Sin is not about producing fruit of any sort, its separation from God. Sin can be positive in human terms, so I am not sure that just because something seems good to us that can be used as an argument that there is no sin that activity.

    I come from a denomination that says, “Disobeying these arbitrary rules means you are in sin because God says so” (i.e. drinking coffee, wearing 1 vs 2 earrings in your ear, etc. etc.). Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. “Because God says so” has been used to justify a lot of awful things over the course of human history. It’s just never going to be a persuasive argument to me to say, “Sure, it LOOKS GOOD because people are genuinely at peace and flourish in their connections to God and others and find true spiritual refreshment there, BUT IT’S ACTUALLY BAD, because I say God says so.” If you can’t look at the fruits, there’s no way to discern.

  41. By liberalism I mean it in the classical sense: i.e. governing human life by reason toward liberty, individual property, and individual human prospering. I think liberalism rightly allows for all kinds of ways that humans can validly express themselves, use their property, and endeavor to live a good life. However, liberalism can merge into the most bizarre and irrational forms of paganism and pseudo-Christianity when people idolize their values. Liberal values may foster better society, but liberal theology will never get to the heart of the matter.

    I think I see what you’re saying. I see this in a lot of “conservative” American Christianity as well, then, to be fair.

  42. As soon as we decouple a sinless life or a transformed life in Christ away from human flourishing (as seems to be what is happening — basically), then the question of what a transformed life in Christ looks like becomes murky again.

    Agree. It has no meaning.

  43. I haven’t. I am a Christian, I believe in God, I take the Bible seriously, I take my walk with Christ very seriously. Maybe don’t mistake the bathwater for the baby. 😉

  44. Andrew S,

    You said, “But to a lot of people, the sort of moral values a lot of Christians advocate for publicly don’t look very moral — they look more like the racism than the purgation thereof. This calls into question whether Christianity really produces good fruit at all.”

    Are you referring to homosexuality? When people are deceived by the devil, good can look bad and bad can look good. The Islamic extremists who killed many innocents on 9-11 thought they were doing a good thing—if my information is correct. Joyce Meyer’s dad, who played with her sexually for so many years, probably didn’t see any harm in it. Sin is almost always accompanied by deception. Though God never deceives anyone, I believe he allows the devil to deceive us so that we can live in our sin for some time before death overtakes us. If we know we are sinning when we sin and we continue in it, we’re guilty of intentional sin as well as violation of God’s ways (which are for our protection), and we don’t last very long before destruction and death overtake us. This is because intentional sin is worse—I think it’s a lot worse—than sin committed in ignorance, so the consequences catch up with us quicker. So I think God allows the devil to deceive us so he can have mercy on us some time later when we come to our senses. Romans 11:32 says, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
    This is a deep truth that you don’t hear many talk about. I hope I haven’t lost you.

    Concerning homosexuality, there’s more I’d like to say but I think it fits better in response to something Katie said so I’ll switch to responding to Katie.

    Have a good evening. . . . P.S.: Are you a Christian?

  45. Katie said,

    “But people who are gay, in loving, committed, lifelong relationships, experience the same kind of benefits from their unions that straight people do. So either you’re going to have to argue that there is some special pleading that makes homosexuality its own special category of sin that produces good fruit but is still wrong…or maybe it’s time to re-examine our conclusions in light of the evidence of God working in the lives of gay and lesbian families, the same as God des in straight families.”

    First, I want to say I do not believe for one second that it is impossible to be gay and a Christian at the same time. Some believe that and it saddens me. All Christians are on a journey, being transformed daily into the image of Christ but a long way from home. Homosexuality isn’t any different than other sins like gossip, cowardice, stealing, lusting, worrying. We’re all guilty though we’re sincerely following Jesus as far as we know how and as far as we have the power of Christ in us to enable us.

    In response to your paragraph above, I understand where you’re coming from. What comes to mind is a relationship I had with a girl-friend before I became a Christian. We had sex almost every time we got together. We weren’t married. We were fornicating, violating God’s instructions. But we had fun. We weren’t committed for life and yet did stuff that is best left to a couple who are committed for life. But we enjoyed not only the sex but we enjoyed the companionship we shared, we enjoyed saving ourselves just for each other, we loved being loved. It was great. It was fulfilling. It was fulfilling, no doubt, in the same types of ways that a loving, committed, lifelong relationship between two gay people is. That’s because God created sex and commitment and romantic love and all that good stuff. God gets the credit for it; not the devil. BUT all that stuff would be even better if it was done exactly as God planned for it to be—heterosexual—or in my case, after marriage. God, who is love, knows what he’s doing and I trust him.

    I’m not trying to change your mind. I just love you and Andrew S. enough to tell you the truth because I want the best God has for you. You may know the Proverb that says a rebuke from a friend is better than a compliment from an enemy.

    Thanks for hearing me out.

  46. Cal,

    Are you referring to homosexuality? When people are deceived by the devil, good can look bad and bad can look good.

    Homosexuality is a good example. Because basically, what you’re arguing is that people cannot really rely upon their own moral intuitions. That what people may think is good may actually not be. (This of course really throws everything in a religious worldview for a bind — because now, saying, “God is good” means nothing. I mean, I have to appeal to my own intuitions about what is good or not.)

    I mean, your basic argument is that there has to be some sin lurking within any committed homosexual relationship, which just isn’t going to fit with a lot of people’s lived experiences. This is the *same* thing Christians in the South did when they were advocating for slavery, the same thing Christians do today when they advocate against women’s equality. There are things determined theologically that just won’t fit with a lot of people’s lived experience. If you want to say that’s what God said, then that’s your prerogative, but there are going to be plenty of people — Christian and not — who will question whether that’s what God said, or whether that’s just what some people said and then attributed to God because they saw, through a glass, darkly.

    P.S.: Are you a Christian?

    Nope.

    Homosexuality isn’t any different than other sins like gossip, cowardice, stealing, lusting, worrying.

    Your saying that homosexuality isn’t any different than other sins is just something that self-evidently isn’t true in any sense. To many people, it’s obvious that homosexuality is quite a different thing, and it just seems incredulous that someone would put homosexuality in a list along with gossip, cowardice, stealing, lusting, and worrying. Things like gossip, cowardice, stealing, lusting, worrying are things that in and of themselves diminish human flourishing. As Katie wrote earlier, they are “self-evidently unloving.” Things that produce visibly bad fruit. But you can’t say the same thing about homosexuality in and of itself. (Or, really, any sexual sin — and I think Katie’s linked blogged post really gets at this). But then again, if your argument is that we can’t really use what is “self-evidently” true anyway, because our moral intuitions may be deceptions from the devil, then that throws this entire discussion into disorder.

    I mean, I’ll just quote a part of her post:

    We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways. But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal. The list goes on.

    Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to? Dead serious question. Because I can’t find one.

    You talk about a relationship you had with a girlfriend before you were Christian. But keep in mind that never would you say that the relationship itself was wrong. You would never say that sexuality itself is wrong. You would never say that heterosexuality was wrong. Rather, what was wrong (if anything) was that you weren’t “committed for life.” It was employed properly.

    So, then, the relevant comparison to homosexuality should be that gay couples should commit for life. In other words, that just as straight people “wait for marriage,” then perhaps gay people should “wait for marriage.” But you know, lots of Christians aren’t even about trying to advocate for that. Instead, they want to say that homosexuality in any sense is sinful.

    You say:

    BUT all that stuff would be even better if it was done exactly as God planned for it to be—heterosexual—or in my case, after marriage.

    I would argue that it would not be better for a homosexual to marry heterosexually. Lots of gay dudes have done that (mixed orientation marriages) and it usually ends poorly for everyone. Plus, I think that one could argue that mixed orientation marriages include the sort of things that are self-evidently unloving (e.g., deceit if one doesn’t tell the spouse…dehumanization if one takes one’s spouse simply as a way to “check the box” of fulfilling heteronormative standards.)

  47. What Andrew said.

    The things that you listed, Cal, are self-evidently sinful, because they produce obviously bad fruits. Homosexuality is *not* self-evidently sinful. Your fornication was sinful because it employed sexuality prematurely, outside the bonds of a lifelong, committed relationship; gay people can fornicate, too, and I’d discourage that.

    But as Andrew has said, and as I have said elsewhere on this thread, if you have to throw out our human moral intuition in order to decide what’s “good” and “bad” and instead rely on “this is what some human is saying God said” you can get away with some seriously heinous crap. Slavery, blood atonement, and honor killings are some examples that come to mind.

    God gives us moral intuition as a way to discern right from wrong. Telling people they have to check that at the door of the church is not only foolish, it’s dangerous.

  48. Katie L said:

    I come from a denomination that says, “Disobeying these arbitrary rules means you are in sin because God says so” (i.e. drinking coffee, wearing 1 vs 2 earrings in your ear, etc. etc.) … It’s just never going to be a persuasive argument to me to say, “Sure, it LOOKS GOOD because people are genuinely at peace and flourish in their connections to God and others and find true spiritual refreshment there, BUT IT’S ACTUALLY BAD, because I say God says so.”

    Once upon a time, somewhere back in my evangelical days, I came to the conclusion that sinful actions aren’t sinful simply because God says they are, but God warns us against sinful actions because they’re bad for us (that’s what makes them sinful). I think that’s pretty close to what Katie is saying.

    I still believe that (so obviously I don’t see drinking coffee and punching holes in your ears as sinful). I don’t see God as someone who is creating arbitrary rules simply to test our obedience or whatever (although people like to do that).

    Anyway — and I don’t remember the time or place but I do remember the reaction — I recall sharing my insight in some sort of (evangelical) church setting, and all I got was blank stares. It seems to be that’s kind of what is happening here. I find Katie’s argument reasonably persuasive, but I don’t see anybody who disagrees with her conclusion engaging with it. In fact, her argument is the first time I’ve heard an argument coming from a Christian perspective in defense of some homosexual relationships that makes sense to me.

    It just doesn’t make sense to me to fall back on “the Bible says so.” That’s partly because I don’t see the Bible’s admonitions on the matter clear at all. The Old Testament prohibitions are scattered among various commands most Christians pay no attention to these days, and the New Testament interpretations rely on debatable translations of obscure Greek words or (in Romans) the description of a sequence of events that seems inconsistent with the type of relationship that Katie is talking about. (And, in case it matters to someone, the LDS scriptures are silent on the matter.)

    For what it’s worth, I don’t have a conclusion on the issue, partly because I haven’t needed to have one. I’m just thinking out loud with my keyboard.

  49. A few years ago I attended a Tuesday evening Bible study class at an evangelical church with a friend. The pastor there said, “The commandments are God’s way of showing us how to live in loving relationships. So, for example, adultery isn’t wrong because it’s against the commandments; it is against the commandments because it’s unloving.”

    That is the only way I can make sense of the world, without resorting to a worldview that turns God into a tyrant of arbitrary, nonsensical rules and purity tests. *I* can do tyrannical, arbitrary, nonsensical rules and purity tests. Human beings have been doing it for millennia. I believe God to be better than that.

  50. Katie, you ignorant sack of rhinoceros puss. The only thing more apparent than your lack of education is the stench that surrounds you.

    ..er. . .oops. . . sorry. Wrong blog post. 😉

    What you and Eric are describing are virtue ethics and I absolutely agree that the Bible teaches a virtue ethic rather than an arbitrary rubric of commandments to see if we can pass a test.

    The things that you listed, Cal, are self-evidently sinful, because they produce obviously bad fruits. Homosexuality is *not* self-evidently sinful.

    Self-evidently sinful to whom? College educated, American, tax payers? You? There are lots of different values in the world and it’s absurd to say that everyone agree with the Bible on every moral issue except homosexuality. There are cultures that value betrayal and treachery. There are cultures that condone and celebrate adultery. Even murder is not a no-brainer for some cultures. I reject the notion that every good virtue can be discerned through self-evidence. We are corrupt and self-deceptive. We look for evidence that supports our desired outcome. There are very few people who aren’t smart enough to find the justification to do what they want. In this regard, the Bible stands against us and provides a light on us to expose those blind spots.

    We live in a culture that values sexual expression and sexual fulfillment over almost everything. So of course homosexuality doesn’t appear self-evidently destructive to us. Even when sexual expression fails us (as a culture) we choose to reject the definition of failure. Only bigots challenge our gods.

    Andrew said:

    I would argue that it would not be better for a homosexual to marry heterosexually. Lots of gay dudes have done that (mixed orientation marriages) and it usually ends poorly for everyone. Plus, I think that one could argue that mixed orientation marriages include the sort of things that are self-evidently unloving (e.g., deceit if one doesn’t tell the spouse…dehumanization if one takes one’s spouse simply as a way to “check the box” of fulfilling heteronormative standards.)

    I probably reject the notion that “orientation” is a static way to define someone but aside from that I agree with everything you’re saying. No one should argue that the Bible encourages everyone to enter into marriage.

  51. Tim said:

    We live in a culture that values sexual expression and sexual fulfillment over almost everything. So of course homosexuality doesn’t appear self-evidently destructive to us. Even when sexual expression fails us (as a culture) we choose to reject the definition of failure.

    I see your point, and I may not even disagree. (“Virtue ethics” is a new term for me, so I’ll have to look it up.)

    There’s a lot I don’t know about sexual identify formation and that sort of thing, and in fact there’s a lot that the experts don’t know. Unlike some people in this conversation, I’m old enough to remember when the best scientific minds out there viewed homosexual orientation (if that word was even used) as a mental disorder, and I’m not sure the evidence for or against that has changed so much as social attitudes. (I’m not saying I want to go back to those days, just pointing out how quickly, remarkably quickly to me, attitudes have changed.)

    So in some ways, I think that we (meaning Western civilization, I suppose) are embarking on a social experiment. I don’t think we’ll know for at least a generation or two or three what effect acceptance/recognition of gay relationships as normative will have on families and children. And even if we did know, would that matter?

    The only thing I can say with reasonable certainty is that I am obligated to love all people, regardless of where they are on the sexual spectrum. (I don’t think I’ll find disagreement there.) Beyond that, I’m still trying to figure things out.

  52. I get what you’re saying, and to a certain extent I agree that it’s impossible to separate oneself from one’s culture. At the same time, I believe there are transcendent experiences like peace, love, kindness, tolerance, joy, etc., that are universally the fruits of a godly life–and that these experiences are inherently incompatible with “values” of murder, treachery, betrayal, and adultery. And yes, I believe that’s self-evident. Are you really saying that morality can’t be discerned through any other means than the Bible? That’s really the argument?

    I agree that sexual fulfillment/expression is an idol in contemporary western culture. But again, I would argue that has little to do with homosexuality. Gay people and straight people alike are guilty of making sexual fulfillment their idol. But that doesn’t mean the kinds of meaningful, lifelong relationships that represent the best of what marriage has to offer can’t be experienced by gay people and straight people alike. You objectify homosexual people by identifying them by the kind of sex they have. They are people, and are as guilty and susceptible to sin as anyone. You don’t have to invent special pleading categories of sin to make that true.

  53. Katie, from the other thread, socially progressive Christians were described as loose on a faith alone emphasis, thus making it easier to dismiss them from the body of Christ. I would appreciate hearing your response to this. It’s also been said(elsewhere) that LGBTQ affirming Christians will not hold to a serious view of hell for non Christians. How would you respond to this?

  54. As someone in the mental health field (well, in grad school for my MFT, anyway), I can speak a little bit to how/why homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder.

    There are lots of ways to look at pathology. Some of the things we consider when creating case formulations and making diagnoses include…

    -how does it affect the quality of life of the individual experiencing the problem (e.g. someone who is depressed finds it difficult to be motivated to get out of bed, has a very low self-concept, and suicidal ideation, resulting in a very low quality of life–this is problematic)

    -how does it affect the quality of life of those around the individual experiencing the problem (e.g. someone with narcissistic personality disorder won’t recognize his own behavior as a problem, yet he makes life hell for everyone else)

    -how connected to reality is the person (e.g. you can be happy and not bothering anyone else, but you can be literally hallucinating or delusional)

    -how normative/natural/proportionate is the response (e.g. there is a diagnostic difference between grief caused by death and Major Depressive Disorder, even though there are often many similarities in how both situations present)

    As more research and understanding about homosexuality has been done over the years, we’ve realized that it just doesn’t fit any of the categories of pathology. Gay people run the same spectrum of quality of life as straight people, especially when they’re not subjected to abuse and oppression. Their existence does not adversely affect the quality of life of those around them. Their experiences are grounded in reality–they’re not having psychotic episodes. It is a natural occurrence, as homosexuality exists all throughout the animal kingdom and has existed naturally throughout human history. LGBT people tell us their own stories about their own experiences, and we recognize the commonality in their experiences–they’re regular people.

    So, yeah. It was declassified as a mental disorder because it doesn’t even remotely meet any criteria for pathology. The fact that it was considered a mental disorder tells you more about the kind of oppression LGBT folks have lived with for a long time than anything about the experience of being gay.

  55. Katie, from the other thread, socially progressive Christians were described as loose on a faith alone emphasis, thus making it easier to dismiss them from the body of Christ. I would appreciate hearing your response to this. It’s also been said(elsewhere) that LGBTQ affirming Christians will not hold to a serious view of hell for non Christians. How would you respond to this?

    I think what you’ll find is that socially progressive Christians don’t see the gospel as being about “getting in” as much as conservative Christians do. I believe that framework is flawed and misses the heart of the gospel, which is about transformation in Christ, and being actively involved in the work of extending heaven to Earth. I also don’t know exactly what is meant by a “faith alone” emphasis. Does that mean saying the magic words so that you get into heaven? If so, okay, I’m not sold. If it means believing mind, body, and soul in the transformative, saving power of the grace of Christ as THE force that changes lives and creates peace on Earth, then I’m all in. Even if everyone involved doesn’t know that it’s Christ doing the work. 🙂

    I think it’s true that LGBTQ affirming Christians don’t hold to a serious view of hell for non-Christians. I think it’s super dangerous to assume we know where anyone else is going to “end up” in the next life. I wouldn’t say there’s no hell, but if it’s there, I’m with CS Lewis that the gates of hell are locked from the inside.

  56. I understand the desire and virtue in treating people involved in homosexuality “as people.” But I think it’s worth asking what level of humanity are we losing when we divorce sex/gender from sexuality? Is our culture fully respecting people’s humanity?

  57. Good evening Andrew S.

    I appreciate your tolerance of my faith, and that you weren’t nasty with me for saying homosexuality is sinful and harmful. I’ve had people get nasty with me about that.

    Have you ever considered becoming a Christian? It’s really neat and it gets even neater in the next life. God and Jesus are really neat.

  58. The idea that acknowledging the reality of homosexuality means that we are divorcing sex/gender from sexuality is literally the most nonsensical thing I’ve ever heard. Sorry.

  59. Katie,

    You said, “The things that you listed, Cal, are self-evidently sinful, because they produce obviously bad fruits.” Homosexuality is *not* self-evidently sinful. Your fornication was sinful because it employed sexuality prematurely, outside the bonds of a lifelong, committed relationship; gay people can fornicate, too, and I’d discourage that.”

    I respect the fact that you at least believe gay sex should occur only in the context of a lifetime commitment. Certainly that is much less harmful than other ways of practicing it. You remind me of a gay pastor I once talked to. Are you yourself lesbian?

    Someone might say that homosexuality produces the bad fruit of AIDS. I’m sure if we talked to an experienced Christian counselor, he or she could could list a bunch of other stuff. But I won’t argue about that if you’re set on it.

    To me, “intuition” is like the term “heart.” Like the heart, it can be right but isn’t necessarily (1 John 3:19-20). The Holy Spirit is always right. I wasn’t saying we should “rely on what some human is saying God said.” I’m going by what the Bible says, mainly. Also, there are ex-gay people who say God helped them change. If it’s not wrong, why would God help them change? I might ask you if you’ve ever asked God about this?

    Anyway, if you’re determined to feel the way you do, I’ll let it go and love you as my sister in the Lord, anyway.

  60. Seriously? This conversation just passed the point of being even remotely coherent.

    The last thing I’ll say is that if you are determined to reduce LGBTQ people to their sexuality, you objectify them and fail to acknowledge their humanity in ways that I believe grieve God deeply. This isn’t the gospel.

    I’m out.

  61. Have you ever considered becoming a Christian? It’s really neat and it gets even neater in the next life. God and Jesus are really neat.

    There are times I’m convinced we have a Poe in the comments section here.

  62. We confess today that we do not live with resurrection hope. In our anxiety, our worry, our fear, and our doubt, we plan and scheme as though this life is all there is. We have given ourselves to drunkenness, gluttony, and laziness. Yet we have also allowed our hearts to enter into bitterness and contempt towards those whom we judge to be more sinful than we are. Forgive us for our failure to embody the hope that you establish for us. O Lord and giver of life, give us faith, hope, and trust in you to save us from out sins.

    -Corporate Confession of Sin-

  63. Anyway, if you’re determined to feel the way you do, I’ll let it go and love you as my sister in the Lord, anyway.

    Do you have any idea how condescending that sounds?

  64. Tim,

    I don’t know what a Poe is and I don’t care to know because it’s probably not a compliment.

    Eric,

    I asked my wife if my comment sounds condescending. She doesn’t see how it is—and she would be honest with me. On one occasion, on some other blog, someone told me they felt judged. In that case, my wife agreed with the offended person. (Fortunately, I was able to apologize and mend the ill feelings.)
    To be honest, when I made the comment you think was condescending, I imagined Katie was a lesbian. That was a mistake because she never actually said she is.
    In any case, if I was condescending, it wasn’t on purpose and God will cover me with the same mercy I have for others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

    Gundek,

    I like your quote.

    Christian J.,

    FYI, I don’t know what a Flanders is, either!

    I’m out.

  65. Cal, Edgar Allen Poe is possibly the greatest American poet of all time. Ned Flanders is a cartoon character on the Simpsons who is both a Christian and incredibly nice, using words like neat and Okiley-Dokiley.

  66. What does a Christian life look like?

    Charity, kindness, love, patience, hope, respect, empathy, understanding and all the things we typically with goodness. However, the kicker is that one not be a Christian to demonstrate these traits.

    So, we have to add a dedication to Jesus as Christ, as a member of the Trinity, as a trait. We have to add that the person living a Christian life lives to serve Jesus as well as his fellow man. This person need not be in church all the time fulfilling ritual requirements, or following a set of rules. This person can drink coffee and occasionally get angry or frustrated. This person might sin, but should quickly realize his sin and turn away from it, even if it happens again tomorrow– this person hates that repetition but always asks God for help through it. This person is always worshiping, always thankful for what he has no matter how much or how little. This person puts himself third, after God and others. This person may not be easily discernible and can blend into the crowd. But this person will have a draw to him that does differentiate him from others, even if not spectacularly.

    The Christian lives his life to serve God, not others. Others may live to serve others above themselves, too, but they lack the dedication to God.

    For this, we are not to judge others based on outward appearance and what they do and their service to others or their kindness and patience. Certainly, such traits deserve praise, but they are not only Christian traits. Only dedication to Jesus can be adequately called a Christian trait alone.

    To those that find this troublesome, ie why is a dedication to this Jesus needed, I would only ask how much have you given up if you retain control over your sacrifice to others? You ask why that matters? I respond that it is this element of control that makes all the difference, and I don’t mean acting a slave might to serve others, but the complete submission to something, someone, greater than yourself, and the joy one finds in such submission, leading one to a change in heart and life.

  67. Pingback: The Lost Opportunity to Preach Homonormativity | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  68. slowcowboy, very good, I like that.
    You know what they said back in the old days, though. I slow cowboy is a dead cowboy; you gotta be quick on the draw. 😉

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