This little note is for all of those who get tired of hearing about the whole gay Christian, same-sex marriage issue. If you are one of those who is asking, “Why do we have to talk about this all the time?” let me ask you a question: If you walked out of your house on your way to dinner and you looked over and saw your next door neighbor’s house engulfed in flames, what would you do? Would you continue on to dinner? Would you call the fire department and then continue on to dinner, irritated at the interruption? Or would you call the fire department and immediately move into crisis management mode?
Obviously a four-alarm fire at the house next door is a threat to the family who lives in that house, but it is also a threat to your house and your family. Right now, the evangelical church is being threatened not by a four-alarm fire at the house next door, but a four-alarm fire in the living room! The fire is in our house! The legalization of same-sex marriage in America has proven to be a juggernaut that has immersed evangelicalism in a doctrinal, theological, social debate of historical proportions. Daily the lines of division are being clarified. The line of demarcation threatens to run straight through our jobs, our churches, and our families. It isn’t adultery, or lying, or thievery, or tax evasion, or pornography, or gambling that is dividing evangelicalism! It’s the debate over whether or not one can live righteously as a Christian and affirm and embrace a homosexual lifestyle! The question is, “Can you be a Christian and be gay?” Answer that and the other questions will solve themselves.
Here comes more of what we are going to see a whole lot of: Christian ministries, organizations, publishers, and business leaders trying to thread the needle of compartmentalization between what they say they believe and what they are actually practicing or willing to endorse. In the last three weeks, there have been three notable instances demonstrating the struggle that is coming and which, in fact, is already here.
First it was the World Vision fiasco when the decision was made to hire same-sex couples for the U.S. World Vision staff (See the Christianity Today article). Though the decision was reversed, it revealed some startling logic from its president, Richard Stearns. After “the World Vision board had prayed for years about how to handle the issue” of “recognizing same-sex relationships,” World Vision decides to look the other way and hire same-sex couples saying, “We have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue,” as though that was a good thing. Not only does such logic fail to realize that by making the choice to hire same-sex couples, World Vision was siding with particular churches, but it also demonstrated World Vision’s willingness to check its spiritual and theological integrity at the door for the sake of the operation of its mission.
Chic Fil A and Dan Cathy
Then, it was Dan Cathy who, in the midst of a campaign to promote his new food line and push his business ventures into the gay-rights holy ground of New York, who told USA Today,
All of us become more wise as time goes by . . . .We sincerely care about all people. . . . I’m going to leave it to politicians
and others to discuss social issues.
Convergent Books, a publishing imprint under the same corporate umbrella and leadership as the evangelical WaterBrook
Multnomah Publishing Group, is scheduled to release God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines next Tuesday. Vines, a
24-year-old former Harvard student, attempts to refute biblical passages that declare homosexuality a sin (Can a divided
publishing house stand?).
Waterbrook Multnomah publishes such authors as John Piper, David Jeremiah, Kay Arthur, and David Platt. Steven Cobb heads up both Waterbrook Multnomah and Convergent. In fact, according to The Christian Post, the two publishers or imprints are virtually the same: same leader (Cobb), same staff, same everything. Just a different name. The CP also reports from an inside source that
Multnomah is now consciously trying to hide from NRB [National Religious Broadcasters] and its members the fact that it is putting out this new project. Insiders are reporting threats should they release any such information outside the company…
Essentially, Steve Cobb is asking traditional evangelicals to ignore the fact that he is also willing to publish titles that are pro-gay Christianity. More compartmentalization. It is hard to imagine that someone in a board room did not at one point say, “Wow! There’s a whole new market with gay Christianity! Evangelicals aren’t going to like it if we publish gay Christian material but there is too much money at stake if we don’t. So, let’s publish the material under a different name. Maybe no one will notice.” We noticed!
Yet Another Example: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Last year, I expressed concern to the Thomas Nelson Publishing company my concerns about an author they endorse, Rachel Held Evans. (Not that they had published a pro-gay Christian book, but that an author they publish also endorses gay Christianity, and by implication, Thomas Nelson.) Just visit Evans’ website and soon you will realize that she is a liberal Christian trying to reform traditional evangelicalism. In part I wrote,
I have always held Thomas Nelson in high regard, assuming it to be a trustworthy publisher upholding evangelical beliefs and values, I am greatly disturbed that you have chosen to stand with an author who openly supports gay Christianity, the Gay community, and by association at least, same sex marriage. . . . The issue is not about the church’s need to lovingly embrace those who are struggling and need the love of God. The issue is that she accepts gay Christianity on its own terms and thereby the whole “Christian LGBT” agenda and perspective. She directs her audience to the Gay Christian Network and others who support the gay “Christian” lifestyle. Am I to assume, by association, that Thomas Nelson also supports the same?
A rep. from Thomas Nelson replied, in part,
The personal opinions and political views expressed by an author are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect that of the company. Thomas Nelson publishes products written from a Christian worldview, and we respect our author’s right to express their personal opinion. We cannot comment on anything concerning Ms. Evans other than the book that she has published through us.
In other words, We only want to be responsible for what we publish. If one of our authors stands against traditional Christian values, we kindly ask you to forget that while you are reading her books that we publish.
Failing The Smell Test
Back when Bill Clinton was elected the first time, he astutely realized that if he would focus on the economy (“It’s the economy, stupid!”), Americans would look the other way and ignore his Jennifer Flowers discretion if they thought it would help their pocketbooks. He was right. Then, after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he was able to stay in office, even though he was impeached by the House. Is this where the country began to get comfortable with compartmentalizing personal indiscretions as long as publicly the job gets done? Maybe. But when did the Church get comfortable with turning a blind eye to a person’s character or beliefs just so long as they don’t sin around us? It’s like saying to someone who is accusing a man for beating his children, “Hey, he’s never beaten his children around me so it’s none of my business.” Whether it is raising money for the needy, selling chicken , or selling books, it seems that some of the leaders and influencers looked up to by traditional evangelicals are willing to suspend or table their convictions for the sake of business.
Here is a little window into the mind and logic of Rachel Held Evans. Who is she? Well, she is described by herself and others as evangelical, but she does not fit into that category as it is traditionally understood.
Now this is close to discovering her true identity. She has realized she doesn’t belong at the evangelical table.
That’s good. It was far too long in coming, but better late than never.
But her reasoning has still not quite reached the level of good therapy. So let me dialogue with her for a minute:
RHE: For many years, I felt that part of my call as a writer and blogger of faith was to be a different sort of evangelical, to advocate for things like gender equality, respect for LGBT people. . . .
JM: Rachel, that’s not “a different sort of evangelical.” That’s “a liberal.”
Doesn’t that just clear up so much?
She recognizes that “The response to World Vision revealed some major fault lines in the Church.” Yeah, they are fault lines that have been there for over a hundred years. Rachel just woke up and realized she’s standing on the wrong side of the line for what she’s been calling herself.
Now she finds herself standing in the “wilderness” and thinking she’s starting afresh. Rachel, you’ve been in the liberal wilderness the whole time.
Now she thinks she’ll start a new ministry, friendly to all people—a great big love tent with no labels and no divisions “where everyone is welcome.”
The problem is, and always has been, RHE wants the church on her liberal terms, suppressing the voices of conservative values, squashing God’s law in many places, and yet advancing the old liberal line of “diversity” and “tolerance.” It is anything but tolerant of those she disagrees with.
You see, when the conservative evangelical world bends RHE’s liberal way, she calls it “community”:
I want this community to be a place where the churched and un-churched, Republicans and Democrats, American citizens and people from around the world, can come together to dream big dreams for the future.
When it doesn’t bend that way, however—for example, like World Vision’s recent decision—she cries, pouts, and stomps out of the room in her own little Exodus.
Problem is, this is no real Exodus. She’s been wandering in that wilderness bearing the name of the chosen, but she rebels against Moses and promises to stay in the desert.
Not to be unkind, but someone is going to have to leave evangelicalism. Why? Because the truth matters. Doctrine matters. Theology matters. And they are not negotiable for the sake of some “hyper-enlightened, swaying-for-world-peace” approach to Christianity in which the Bible is subject to our approval and God is pressed into our image.
Read two articles by Rachel Held Evans that show her stance on the World Vision flap and her style of evangelicalism.
John Mayer, the popular guitar player and singer, has a song called “Who Did You Think I Was?” Part of the lyrics go like this:
Every mornin when the day begins
I make up my mind but change it back again
I’m a shifter of the shape I’m in
Who did you think I was?
This article asks this question of World Vision and its leadership.
In his article, How World Vision Can Regain Trust, Dr. Michael Brown’s perspective is right on. We must accept World Vision’s statement of repentance. I also think his list of questions for President Stearns are essential to answer moving forward. But there is something else we should ask of ourselves: What is World Vision? Does it claim to be evangelical? Who did we think they were before all of this happened? Were we accurate? I am fully aware that there are genuine evangelicals working in the midst of World Vision but are they in the minority? I personally never assumed World Vision was evangelical. Yet we find that evangelicals are holding World Vision to an evangelical standard. Who did we think they were?
I have read World Vision’s statement expressing its core values. It is a laudable expression of Christian faith and compassion. But we have made certain assumptions. We have assumed that we define Christianity the same. We have assumed that we share the same definition of sin. Do we?
While I agree with Dr. Brown that we should accept World Vision’s statement of repentance, I believe it is fair to ask of Wolrd Vision and its leadership, “Are you repenting of causing displeasure to your evangelical supporters or are you repenting that you slipped into a compromised view of homosexuality? How is it possible that after praying for years about this issue you can make such a decision only to reverse it just two days later? When you made the initial decision to hire same-sex couples was it because you decided that homosexuality was normative? Yes, you said you were deferring to the authority of the local churches, but it seems that you deferred to the authority of local churches that accept same-sex marriage and embrace gay Christianity! Did you decide that it just didn’t matter in the face of doing good deeds unto humanity? If so, isn’t that the definition of a social gospel?
After reading Mr. Stearns’ interview with Sarah Pulliam Baily in the Huffington Post given after the reversal, I have concerns that cause me again to ask, “What do we think World Vision is?” In response to the question:
“Did anyone come out in the time between the announced decision and the reversal? In other words, are there any employees in same-sex marriages currently?”
Mr. Stearns answered, “
As far as we know, we don’t have any World Vision U.S. employees involved in a same-sex marriage. With a population of 1,100 employees, I’m sure we have people with a same-sex orientation on our staff. But I think it’s important to say that we respect the privacy of our employees. We don’t ask about sexual orientation in the interview or in hiring because we do welcome people regardless of their sexual orientation if they can affirm the Apostle’s Creed and the statement of faith, and if they can abide by our conduct policy. The conduct policy applies to heterosexuals and homosexuals. We’re not trying to exclude someone because they have a same-sex orientation, but we do have a conduct standard that governs all employees.
So, World Vision has no problem with gay Christianity.
“What kind of church do you attend, and has that informed your personal view on same-sex marriage?
“It’s a Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Seattle area, but I don’t want to drag them into this. I’m not telling people where I stand on same-sex marriage because I don’t think it’s relevant.“
Even the Huffington Post recognizes that a person’s church affiliation affects one’s opinions and that those opinions affect one’s decisions!
When asked about his opinion concerning the emphasis evangelicals put on sexual morality, Stearn, in part, said,
“But we all have to admit that issues like this distract us and take up more time than they should or than they ought to. We’re trying to call people to our mission and let’s come together and change the world. I wrote a whole book called “Unfinished” that’s about the kingdom mission that was given to Christ is unfinished 2,000 years later, and we need to finish the job, working across differences. That’s not saying we shouldn’t violate core principles of our faith in various faith communities, but we have to come together to finish this kingdom mission.”
As far as I can see from World Vision’s statement of their core values, their mission is to relieve human suffering among the poorest of the poor. Who doesn’t applaud that? But that is not the kingdom mission! The mission is to go into all the world, preach the gospel, teach people to obey Jesus commands, baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to make disciples. In the process of fulfilling that great commission, yes we meet human need, regardless of our success at converting those in need. BUT, we can’t compromise the biblical truth and principles of the spiritual mission for the sake of completing the social aspect of the mission.
Some will say this article is mean-spirited. It is not meant to be. But we must answer the most fundamental questions concerning where we stand on gay Christianity. If we don’t, the same thing that happened to World Vision is going to happen to churches and ministries all across America. Genuine evangelicals must consider their endorsements and ask themselves, “Who did we think they were?”
It is time to re-frame the discussion going on in evangelical Christianity concerning homosexuality. For a very long time now we have allowed the discussion to be couched in terms of same-sex marriage. But the elephant in the room is gay Christianity! The reason true evangelicals can’t support a ministry willing to hire same-sex couples is that we can’t support gay Christianity! It is as simple as that! It’s not about hate. It’s not about politics. It’s not that we don’t care about hungry children. It’s about the fact that biblical Christianity does not endorse same-sex attraction, same-sex relationships or for that matter, celibate homosexuals who embrace homosexuality as normative and God created! Genuine Christianity cannot embrace homosexuality. And we cannot support a ministry that operates in Jesus’ name but rejects His commandments.
Two Typical Responses
The responses to the forgoing statements will be predictable. From inside the church will come those who say, “We support Christians who have committed adultery or who have been guilty of lying and stealing! Why do we single out the sin of homosexuality?” Anyone with this response simply isn’t paying attention to the flow of logic and reason. First of all, this response is an apple to my statement about oranges. Gays and lesbians are not showing up at our churches and asking us to accept them in the midst of their sin of homosexuality. If they were we would embrace them (don’t judge all Christians by the few who would not embrace repentant homosexuals). On the contrary, gays and lesbians are showing up to our churches and saying, “Accept our lifestyle as godly.” (By the way, we don’t embrace adulterers and thieves, we embrace people who have fallen into those sins and we call them to repentance!)
Others from inside and outside the gay community will ask, “How can you reject gay Christians simply because they have a different interpretation of Scripture and a different theology?” There are some issues where Christians can differ and remain in fellowship with one another: predictions about the Rapture, whether or not it’s ok to drink, sprinkling or immersion, even speaking in tongues. But no serious Christian would suggest that a community of Christians embracing open sex among their families should be accepted into fellowship! We would point out the error of their ways and if they did not repent we would distance ourselves from them and expose them because adultery and promiscuous sexual activity are sins! So, how can we embrace homosexuality as simply a different theology when we believe it is a sin before God? We can’t! We can preach and teach the truth. We can share with the gay community the error of their ways. But if they do not agree and cannot repent, we cannot embrace them and fellowship with them as Christians.
Rights and Double Standards
A gay person can certainly reject my perspective on this matter and embrace homosexuality and even proceed to embrace Christianity as well. Likewise, I have the right to reject homosexuality as a lifestyle and walk according to my convictions. But this is not good enough for the gay community because it demands that all people accept them as normal. Biblical Christianity simply cannot do this!
Here’s an example…
Typical evangelical churches are being asked to accept gay Christianity in the same way we would ask a Baptist Christian to fellowship with a Pentecostal: put away your non-essential differences and rally around your profession of Christ or around your desire to feed children. We can’t do it. Our differences are essential! But do you imagine for one minute that a congregation of gay Christians would hire a pastor for their staff who rejects homosexuality as normative? No way! Because they too believe that acceptance of homosexuality is essential!
Gays can be gay. They can marry where it’s legal (coming to a state near year if it hasn’t already arrived). They can form unofficial marital bonds if they like. They can live together. They can promote whatever they want to promote. It’s America. But I am free to stand by my convictions and preach and teach biblical truth exactly as I see it. The reason this is increasingly hard for the culture and the gay community in particular to accept is that homosexuality has been elevated to the level of a civil right.
The Impasse and the Hate Card
Finally, we are at a fundamental, immovable, insurmountable impasse. Okay, that happens. But it is childish for the gay community to continually characterize Christians as haters and murderers simply because we disagree. Disagreement is not hate. It is not murder. And I have to wonder what kind of arrested emotional development identifies disagreement in such a way?
Genuine Christians will love people regardless of their sins or even their wrong beliefs and views, but we cannot compromise our convictions.
As any who are following the story have already heard by now, World Vision reversed its decision to hire same-sex married couples. Unfortunately, this situation is a lose-lose-lose situation.
The first loss came when the initial decision was made. According to an Associated Press article report (Major Evangelical Charity To Hire Married Gay Christians), Richard Stearns, President of World Vision indicated that “the World Vision board had prayed for years about how to handle the issue as Christian denominations took different stands on recognizing same-sex relationships.” Initial response to World Vision’s decision from traditional evangelicals was sadness, disappointment, dismay, even rebuke. It’s decision to hire same-sex married couples in order to avoid division thereby shirking its responsibility to stand behind its own statement of faith in some attempt to remain neutral by deferring to the authority of local churches all while claiming that it was not compromising but holding true to Scripture was a ludicrous attempt at a balancing act that was doomed to fail. And fail it did, setting up the second loss.
The second loss came two days later when the decision that came after years of prayer was reversed and labeled a mistake. Okay. It’s a tough spot to be in for World Vision. By their own admission they “failed to seek enough counsel” from their own Christian partners (World Vision Reverses Gay Marriage Decision). It is possible to become myopic when we allow ourselves to become too isolated. It happens. But the problem now is that we are left to surmise that if the leadership at World Vision had felt no negative feedback it would have stood by its decision to hire married same-sex couples. The current leadership at World Vision is capable of making this kind of decision when left to its own counsel. So, even though their decision has been reversed and a sincere apology has been given, it seems that we now know where the leadership of World Vision really stands on the issue. This is a demonstration of its biblical hermeneutic.
The third loss is felt by true evangelicalism as a whole. It is just one more prominent ministry that has demonstrated that it does not understand the full seriousness of the battle that is engulfing evangelicalism and the believing Church. One by one ministries, leaders, politicians, and families are succumbing to the pressure of the culture and their own subjective experiences to compromise in their beliefs causing the Church’s cultured despisers to question just how deep our convictions go.
And the hits just keep on coming! World Vision, a ministry that I would have considered to be more of a mainline, social gospel relief agency than any genuine evangelistic outreach, has decided to hire “Christians in same-sex marriages.” (Click on this link for the article Major Evangelical Charity to Hire Married Gay Christians – NBC News.com) Why? Because they are trying to
“prevent this divisive issue from tearing World Vision apart and potentially crippling our ability to accomplish our vital kingdom mission of living and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ.”
Two very interesting pieces of logic come with this report: First, the motivation for this move is to keep World Vision from being torn apart so that it can keep doing what it is doing in the name of Christ. Once again, a subjective need or concern (which amounts to a financial issue) trumps integrity. I would suggest that what we do in the name of Christ cannot be separated from what we choose to ignore. I would also suggest that World Vision is hiring same-sex Christians (a term that is actually an oxymoron) in the name of Christ.
Second, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, tries to thread the needle by saying they are not endorsing same-sex marriage “but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue.” So, following this logic, you can do whatever you want or abstain from operating with integrity just so long as you are not a local church. I suppose pro-abortion Christians are ok as well.
But, finally, a word of encouragement comes! Stearns assures us that World Vision is “not sliding down some slippery slope of compromise, nor are we diminishing the authority of Scripture in our work. . . . We are the same World Vision you have always believed in.” Whew! Thank goodness! In reality, this is yet another attempt to demonstrate how we can try to claim allegiance to Scripture while at the same time not following its instruction.
Last week I attended the Evangelical Theological Society‘s (ETS) annual meeting. I am a new member of the society and this was my first time to attend the meeting. Around 2,200 people were in attendance and, essentially, the three days are spent listening to theological and philosophical papers prepared and read by various presenters.
Odd Man Out
In a couple of ways I was the odd man out last week. First of all, the ETS is apparently almost totally made up of Baptists, i.e., those who have a Reformed theology. I, being a classical Pentecostal, would not call myself Armenian, but I am certainly not a Calvinist. But that’s not what the week was about and I was not made to feel like an odd man out. I didn’t feel connected either, but I wasn’t there for the warm fuzzies.
Second, I would say everyone there was a professor or a theological student looking to become a professor. I was not intimidated by that. I wasn’t lost or over my head or unable to follow the conversations or presentations. I am an academic as well; I have just chosen to teach in the local church rather than pursue the academy.
Occasionally, I hear Pentecostals express confusion when I group Pentecostals in with Evangelicals. I think the confusion stems from the tendency of Pentecostals to separate themselves from the rest of the church. No one loves Pentecost any more than I do, but Pentecostal scholarship tends to lean toward liberation theology, as if for some reason that would give us more credibility with non-Pentecostal, even non-Christian intellectuals. It’s as though we are always trying to prove that we are not from the other side of the tracks (more about all of this some other time). And, of course, we have been separated from others by the others because we speak in tongues.
The point is, while many Evangelicals are not Pentecostal, it is pretty rare to find a Pentecostal that is not an evangelical. So, what is an Evangelical? David Bebbington, Professor of History at the University of Stirling in Scotland, is known for his “quadrilateral” definition of Evangelicalism. For Bebbington, the defining marks of an Evangelical are Biblicism (particular reverence for the Bible), crucicentrism (focus on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), conversionism (the belief that people need to be born again), and activism (the conviction that we should actively share the gospel). Of course, all of these things apply to Pentecostals.
The Take Away
I enjoyed the week because I love theology and theological philosophy. I also enjoyed it because there were excellent resources available from every major Christian book publisher at excellent prices (I couldn’t resist!). I enjoyed the city of Baltimore (or what I saw of it). But, as enjoyable these things were, they were not the most important aspects of the week. I joined the ETS and attended the annual meeting because Evangelicalism is under attack from without and within and, as an evangelical Pentecostal, I have an interest in that. The theme for this year’s meeting was, “Evangelicalism, Inerrancy, and ETS.” And when it comes to the issues that surround inerrancy and the theological defense of the Bible and the gospel, those issues have a home in the ETS.
The ETS Annual meeting was not simply a rehearsal of what everyone present believed. The presence of Peter Enns guaranteed that! There was room for some dissent and diversity as evidenced by the panel discussions. It was, I think, and atmosphere of vigorous discussion and debate, though the society seems to project a vivid recollection of those who have either left their number or were asked to leave based on their inability to agree upon the Bible’s inerrancy.
All in all, I was challenged by the various sessions I participated in and I am looking forward to next year’s meeting.
So, how is it that I have become focused on Phyllis Tickle and, more specifically, her theology and approach to Scripture? Her claim to fame is that she is the founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Her pedigree is long and you can read more about her on her website. But, more importantly for our interests, she is one of the very public representatives of emergence Christianity and it is in this capacity that she has made several statements that are of concern to me and, in my estimation, to the believing Church.
It was because of my concerns, and because I was beginning to write about her and reference her in my classes, that I decided to contact her through email, asking several pointed questions, to which she graciously and generously responded.
This article will chronicle my early exposure to Tickle’s theology, begin to share her answers to my questions, and thus begin a series of articles reflecting on Tickle, her theology (and more particularly her hermeneutical approach to Scripture), and emergence Christianity. She is quite prolific, having written many books and given many interviews, etc., and while I will not be able to master all of the material pertinent to my concerns, I believe we can get a genuine idea of where she stands and why her views might be of concern to those of us who have defined evangelical Christianity in a different way than she has.
I had heard about Phyllis Tickle a few years ago but only in passing. Then, a colleague showed me a video of her being interviewed by Gabe Lyons. It didn’t take me long to realize that Tickle was saying things that concerned me and that should be of concern to the believing Church. Lyons’ first question went like this:
Lyons: “Recently in the news we hear this discussion about Christian America somehow coming to an end. There’s been a lot of news articles even written about it called ‘The end of Christian America.’ What would be your perspective on even what this idea of Christian America really even is?”
Tickle: “Well, I think my perspective to some extent is, ‘How quickly can we hold the services?’”1
Tickle immediately admitted that her response was “perhaps not the right answer and maybe a smart one” as in smart aleck I think. It would seem she has quite a sense of humor. Still, her quip signaled to me that some kind of “deconstructionist” approach to the church was present and that it warranted further investigation.
In this interview, Tickle sounds very evangelical. In The Sinking Ship of Evangelicalism2 I claimed that she did not want to be called evangelical. I was apparently wrong about that. In my correspondence with her, I pointed out that I had been writing about her and invited her to read it and correct what she thought was wrong. She responded by saying,
“The web sites you sent me were, and are, interesting. Yours made me chuckle right off the bat when you defined me as not an evangelical. One of the things I routinely say to audiences by way of defining who and what I am before they commence listening to what I have to say, is that I am an evangelical Episcopalian. There really is such a thing, and I really am one.”3
While my statement was incorrect on its face, I was writing less from a perspective of a reporter and more from a deductive standpoint. If I were to reword my statement it might go something like this:
“Based on what I am hearing from Phyllis Tickle through her writings, her sermons, and her video interviews, she is obviously abandoning the title evangelical as well, if she ever thought of herself as one.”
To borrow a phrase coined by Tickle herself, I think my sentiments are actually true if not factually true. If I am allowed further opportunity to question Ms. Tickle, I would like to ask her to define evangelical. Perhaps we will be able to answer that question fairly accurately ourselves before we’re done here.
Some further statements in the interview added to my concerns. Asked about how the church should go about being effective in a post-Christendom American context, she said:
“Now we don’t have to say, ‘Please come to church with me.’ Yuck! You know, uh, we can say, ‘Let’s go have a beer, or let’s go have Starbucks, or let’s do something, and let’s talk and let me tell you [about God].’”4
For Tickle, this is a communal, more relational, more humble approach. She labeled it “missional,” “pub theology,” and “water cooler theology.” She also characterized this new way of doing church by saying, “Unscrew the pews, open the space, and let’s dance.”5
It’s not that I don’t see value in much of what Tickle said, and you have to remember, at this point I was unaware of her stance on Gay Christianity, or her unique hermeneutical approach to Scripture. I was just hearing someone I did not know speak in deconstructive terms about the Church and the pastor in me heard an alarm go off.
Part of my concern here is that I hear in her words strains of something that George Barna wrote years ago in his book Revolution. Though the book is replete with problems and what I consider to be troubling statements, three stand out from the rest and paint a picture of disdain for the local church.
Barna Statement #1
“Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and within boundaries, to God). What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e., a local church), but who you are.”6
Barna Statement #2
“But, as the research data clearly show, churches are not doing the job. If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.”7
Barna Statement #3
“Ultimately, we expect to see believers choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.”8
Now, Phyllis Tickle is not George Barna and, as far as I know, Barna does not figure into emergence Christianity in any official way. But, in general, I am leery of the “abandon the local church” model, which I did detect, wrong or right, in Tickle.
The Andrew Marin Interview
Next was an interview with Andrew Marin, the founder of The Marin Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to build bridges between the LGBT community and, among other groups, the Church. Here, we get an idea of Tickle’s hermeneutic. Two things stand out: her support of Gay Christianity and her view of absolute Sola Scriptura: Scripture only and only Scripture.
Andrew Marin: “As a representative of the church, capital ‘C’ church here, what would you like to say to the broader church about the Gay or Lesbian community?”
Tickle: I would like to say first of all . . . yes I am Episcopalian . . .but my assignment . . . is the Holy Trinity Community Church, United Church of Christ Community Church, which is an all-inclusive, Bi, Gay, Trans, Lesbian church, and about 80% of our members are in that category and about 20% are not. So, I come with some personal experience and obviously, I’ve been a member of that communion for ten years now, and serve them as a Lector, Reader, and also as a lay Eucharistic minister. So, I’m not sure I can be called a representative of the Church capital ‘C’ without some prejudice . . . to it. But, the Church itself is gonna have to come to grips with the fact that we have changed over the years, we have evolved, the law. We now admit divorce. Our Lord does not speak much about sexuality, but He’s very clear about divorce. It’s the only thing He’s really clear about. [As concerns sexuality?] And we have managed because out of compassion, and I certainly am for that change, out of compassion and out of common sense and out of a recognition that our times and ways of being are different from those. We have managed to get around the divorce issue and now even ordain divorced clergy, and that kind of thing. The same thing is going to happen with the gay issue. It’s in process. But you can look right from the 1850’s you can see a progression of change. In the 1850’s Churches split over the slavery question and it was true, honest, it was religious difference, it was Scriptural differences of opinion. The Bible doesn’t say ‘Go own people,’ but it certainly recognizes slavery as a possibility and it even provides for it and sort of condones it if you will. We got over that cause it didn’t make sense. We got over feminism or we got over the need for equality of the genders. And again the Bible’s pretty clear, Paul is certainly clear about the role of the genders, and it didn’t work in our society. So, this is the last . . . and so there’s a sort of progression if you will of sociological shifts over the last hundred and fifty years, hundred and sixty years, and this is the last, I tell audiences, it’s the last puck in a deadly game, the last playing piece, if you will, in a deadly game, and if anybody on either side of the issue fails to understand what really is the issue and the issue really is absolute sola Scriptura, Scripture only and only Scripture. Did God put a period at the end of Revelation or did He put a comma? And once you understand that when we make this change, and we will make it, there’s no question, I mean it’s essentially a dead issue . . . . but the truth of it is we’re gonna get over this. We just have to understand that when we do, it’s the last, it is the last playing piece. It’s the last stance if you will for sola Scriptura . . . and you know if we’re bright we will recognize that divorce wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to the human race or to the human home but it was a necessary adjustment and we’ve paid a price for it but we probably would have paid a greater price if we’d not had it, I think the same thing is true here.”9
It still strikes me as odd to hear someone saying out loud what Tickle says in the Marin interview.
The Bart Gingerich Article
This article, written as a report of sorts on the national gathering of the proponents of emergence Christianity which happened earlier this year (Jan. 11-12 ) in Memphis, TN. The article reports Tickle as having “foretold a ‘coming age of the Spirit,’ in which dogmatic orthodoxy and claims to absolute truth (outdated artifacts from the ages of the Father and the Son) would melt before a loving communion of uncertainty.”
In the area of authority, Gingerich reported that Tickle said, “We need to address the authority issue, and we don’t know [sic] have that answer yet . . . . Scripture will play a part. The Holy Spirit will have a role in establishing authority in emergence Christianity . . . . Emergents . . . believe the Scripture is actually true. Most people in the pews want it to be factually true.”
Then, we get a glimpse into Tickle’s hermeneutic when, according to Gingerich, Tickle “commended the group for avoiding the ‘arrogance…that God can be trapped in our understanding,’ labeled the Bible as ‘patriarchal’ (‘only a fool’ would think otherwise), condemned the concept of a closed canon of Scripture, and still supports homosexuality even though ‘the Bible is not in favor of homosexuality—it just isn’t. The approval is not there.’”
Finally, as pertains to the Doctrine of the Atonement, Gingerich reports:
“The noted speaker also contended, ‘We need to devise a new doctrine of the atonement.’ Informing the audience that there are at least six kinds of atonement theory, she excoriated the penal substitutionary view of redemption. This ‘bloody sacrifice’ approach is the evangelical staple, teaching that Christ took upon God’s wrath against Law-breaking sinners upon himself as a substitute, thus purchasing grace and mercy for believers. ‘It won’t play anymore,’ Tickle stated. She traced this view back to the broader satisfaction theory of St. Anselm of Canterbury. According to her revision, after failing to stave off the First Crusade, Anselm decided to write his Cur Deos Homo to comfort soldiers doomed to die in the Holy Land. She audaciously analogized, ‘It was like the way some radical imams tell suicide bombers that, if they strap twenty grenades on and blow themselves up, they’ll get twenty virgins in paradise.’
These three sources launched me on an investigation of sorts, and ultimately led me to reach out to Ms. Tickle in an effort to hear from her directly on the issues raised in these sources.
In the next article, I will share the questions I asked Ms. Tickle and begin to share some of what she communicated back to me. After summarizing the sources for this article, I am even more interested to hear from Tickle her definition of evangelical.
According to Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (Resident Aliens), Christendom, having begun with Constantine in 313 AD, ended in 1963.1 I can still remember the inner conflict I experienced the first time I heard that Christendom was dead or that we were living in a post-Christian era. It was well after 1963 when the news came to me. I was young and rather uninitiated into mainstream theological discussions, but even after I heard and understood those statements, I encountered many others who had not heard either. In fact, I am sure that I could still find many even today who do not understand what is meant by post-Christendom or for that matter what Christendom means. My point? The average evangelical normally runs at least twenty to forty years behind the times. With that said, there is another seismic shift happening in the church today. Perhaps it is more like an implosion or, better yet, a radiation accident that everyone is trying to escape before it gets lethal.
It is not often that one is afforded the opportunity to witness the end of an era. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Not all at once, to be sure, but it fell. Those of us alive at that time witnessed the end of an era. Today, we are witnessing the end of an era in the Church—the end of evangelicalism. But once again, most of us are late getting the message.
The seeds for the demise of evangelicalism have been in the sod for quite some time. I only began to be aware of it last year, though I have been cognizant of its problems for longer than that. For me, the concept of post-evangelicalism came when I recently heard an interview Phyllis Tickle gave to Gabe Lyons for the Next Christians video series. I was alarmed, did further research on Phyllis Tickle, and was yet more alarmed. So, I read her book, The Great Emergence. That’s when I realized that I did not want to be labeled by the word evangelical anymore.
Now, consequently, Phyllis Tickle doesn’t want to be called an evangelical either. In fact, it would seem that the term evangelical is being abandoned like a sinking ship leaving nothing but an empty hull behind. Where it gets interesting is deciding what we are abandoning evangelicalism for. But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .
Some are abandoning evangelicalism for political reasons. The fabled evangelical block of power failed conservatives in the last two major elections. Now, with evangelicals being more and more labeled as extremists, I expect to see the Republican Party begin moving away from evangelicals and moving to the left—at least far enough to get back in the game.2
Some are abandoning evangelicalism because they feel that they are part of a historically significant movement, namely emergence Christianity. Among two of the disturbing claims made by Tickle in her interviews and books is that the concept sola Scriptura (Scripture only as our final source of authority) is all but dead, and that the Church will “get over” its rejection of homosexuality and, presumably, will make room for gay Christianity (not a surprising perspective coming from a lay Eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church).3 Though Tickle has an uncanny ability to speak articulately and yet leave you wondering if she has answered the question, she nevertheless does not seem to be a reporter for the “sans-sola-Scriptura/pro-homosexual” brand of emergence Christianity but rather a strong advocate for and participant in it. All of this is coupled with a staunch reinvigoration within emergence Christianity of a bottom-up, social gospel.
Some are abandoning evangelicalism by virtue of their errant doctrines as can be witnessed at biologos.org where there is strong advocacy for embracing theistic evolution by self-proclaimed Bible-believing, Christians. The issue here is not a quibbling over age/day theories, but whether or not humanity sprung from one original mated pair (Adam and Eve), etc.
The Antagonistic “Insiders”
Some are abandoning evangelicalism by virtue of their rejection of its tenets. In other words, their complaints about evangelicals seem to have led them into being something else, though they do not admit it. In many ways these could be characterized as “bullies” who have an “insider’s” axe to grind against evangelicals. These people present themselves (and in some cases are represented by the media) as evangelicals, but when they speak they don’t sound like evangelicals.4 At least they don’t sound like we used to. So, the Church gets saddled with “experts” who seem more like Trojan horses than true arbiters of wisdom coming from within genuine evangelical spirituality.
Along with a reinvigorated secular push towards the nation-wide acceptance of same-sex marriage (helped along in no small way by the fact that, in his second inaugural address, President Barrack Obama decided to elevate a bar fight in New York City to the same level as the fight for racial equality when he mentioned Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall all in the same breath),5 there is an astonishing tide of momentum gathering behind the idea of gay Christianity. As mentioned above, proponents from the orthonomic branch of emergence Christianity6 are helping to lead the way. But, other lesser known influences are cropping up all over the place. Sandra Turnbull,7 a Assemblies of God-raised and educated8 lesbian pastor of the Glory Tabernacle Christian Center, has written a book titled God’s Gay Agenda in which she declares,
Today, I know who I am. I am a eunuch born this way from my mother’s womb. I have a destiny in God. I have a high-calling that I am pursuing along with my life partner. Love fills my life. I have a wonderful family and a great Church. And to think that all of this was made possible because my life was turned upside down many years ago when I found myself in the eye of a storm— a storm about my sexuality.9
Turnbull is not alone. A perusal of Rachel Held Evans’ blog site (an author published by Thomas Nelson) reveals her support of gay Christianity as this quote, written concerning the infamous Chick-Fil-A boycott:
I am especially sorry to my LGBT friends who have been bullied in the name of Christ—many of you as Christians yourself—and I long for the Church to become a more welcoming home to all who want to follow Jesus, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. . . . As Christians—conservative and progressive, gay and straight, activists and slacktivists—we must direct our efforts instead toward bridging this divide, which is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of disappointment, a lot of tears, a lot of compromise, a lot of honesty, a lot of mistakes, a lot of apologies, a lot of listening, a lot of forgiveness, a lot of meal sharing, a lot of gospel.10
The personal opinions and political views expressed by an author are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect that of the company. Thomas Nelson publishes products written from a Christian worldview, and we respect our author’s right to express their personal opinion. We cannot comment on anything concerning Ms. Evans other than the book that she has published through us.11
There are so many more examples like the recent article in the Atlantic, Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University. Forgetting for now the question of how any Christian should respond when put in the situation of the author’s professors at Liberty University, you can’t help but anticipate the coming battle when you read,
Eventually, though, I decided that if Jesus met me some time, and if he got to know me, and hear my ideas, and listen to me laugh, then he would like me. What made me come to that conclusion? Meeting people like Dr. Prior and Dr. Reeves. All these people—including Jerry Falwell—helped teach me about Jesus, and I figured that if they liked me, then maybe Jesus might, too. Gandhi once said that he liked Christ, but not Christians because they were so unlike their leader. But the people I met at Liberty… well, Gandhi would have liked them.12
Well, it’s nice to be liked. Jesus more than likes us, He loves us with an everlasting love (Psalm 100:5; John 3:16). But what does that mean to the author? If Jesus “likes” you does that mean He accepts you? Does that mean that you were created to be a homosexual? Sandra Turnbull thinks so.
What about the youth pastor from Texas who writes in his blog,
I have homosexuals who come to my youth ministry regularly. Some of them passionately love Jesus. I have seen their lives and their hearts, and I know that they have a real relationships with God. Do homosexuals who loves [sic] God go to heaven? I know it. Do they have real relationships with God? Undeniably. . . . If you are a homosexual (teen) and have felt judged, criticized and hurt by church, come to [my youth group]. If you’re afraid to step into church because you’ve experienced alienation in the past… come to [my youth group].
I hope I am wrong about this young pastor, but I think he just planted the seeds for a gay church!
The Believing Church
Evangelical doesn’t seem to mean what it used to mean. More accurately, it is being co-opted by many groups that do not hold to what used to be known as traditional evangelical values. OK. I am not married to the term evangelical but I am concerned that the believing Church identify itself in an ever-changing atmosphere of heresy and compromise.
1 This is a tongue-in-cheek general reference by H & W.
2 In the lapse of time since this was written several articles have been written documenting the movement of Republicans towards the left of center for the sake of remaining viable politically, particularly on the subject of gay marriage. To be clear, my main issue with public support of same-sex marriage is that it places homosexuality in the category of normal behavior and as a Bible believing Christian I cannot endorse that. The question of human rights is a separate issue. For that reason, I do not say to the LGBT community that they cannot practice whatever sexual behavior they may desire. I don’t agree with it and I reserve the right to say so and to warn against such behavior. But asking me to endorse it, support it, normalize it, even Christianize it goes beyond what the true meaning of tolerance calls for.
4 Simply read the writings of Mark Noll, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Dudley and others.
5 Selma, Alabama played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, Seneca Falls was the birthplace of the Women’s Rights movement, and Stonewall is a Greenwich Village gay bar in Manhattan where it is said “gay pride began.”
6 In her book The Great Emergence (pages 149-150), Phyllis Tickle describes two approaches or views of authority happening within emergence Christianity. One is “orthonomy” which is “the tendency . . . [to allow] aesthetic response and/or emotionally or spiritually moving experience to become bases for authority. The other is “theonomy” meaning that “only God can be the source of perfection in action and thought.” Now, presumably this means using the Bible as the final authority. Tickle, however, says “neither is sufficient by itself.”
8 The Amazon site for her book contains a short bio of Turnbull which claims she was educated at Evangel College and Claremont School of theology. Her website mentions her Assemblies of God missionary parents. I confess that I am assuming that Evangel College must refer to what is today called Evangel University, an Assemblies of God school which began as Evangel College in 1955 (see previous footnote for these websites).
11 My concern at the time was that Evans is being presented as an evangelical Christian and being endorsed by a leading evangelical Christian publishing house, yet holding views that are inconsistent with an evangelical Christian worldview. Thomas Nelson’s claim that they publish products written from a Christian worldview while showing no interest in any personal opinion expressed outside of what was being published reflects either that Thomas Nelson thinks gay Christianity is part of the Christian worldview or that somehow it is excusable to compartmentalize what we sell separately from what we say or think personally. My view is that one’s everyday worldview needs to agree with our “sales pitch.”