Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (V)
Someone put an article in my hand on Rob Bell that appeared in the December 17, 2007 issue of Time. Rob Bell was touted by the Chicago Sun-Times as an heir to Billy Graham. Rob is also very hip. Whereas Bri likes Starbucks and Birkenstocks, Rob has geeky-hip glasses and a polyester white belt. The author of the article, Saverio Truglia, describes Bell heading off “to give a sermon on parenting that starts with a soccer-dad riff and ends with a recording of Bruce Springsteen talking about the Virgin Mary (p. 60). Hearing the Boss theologize about the Virgin Mary is hip and when you’re the pop-culture’s heir apparent to Billy Graham it helps to have such well-known theologians helping you.
Robert Wuthnow, who teaches sociology at Princeton, describes “today’s young adults as spiritual ‘tinkerers,’” which is an apt description (Ibid.) This is probably true and is actually better than the unbiblical concept of “seekers” (cf. Rom. 3:9-18). In case you missed Andy Crouch’s interview with Rob and his wife, Kristen, in Christianity Today, (November 2004) let me remind you of what turns the tinkerers on.
In keeping with the ECM mode of talking, wife Kristen remains vague about her feelings of being uncomfortable. Here is her description: “Life in the church had become so small. It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.” What in the world is that supposed to mean? It worked? You got a good feeling, high, or your self-esteemed skyrocketed off the charts? How did it work? This is one of those modern terms that smacks of pragmatism. At best, the term as used by Kristen Bell is vague; at worst, it’s useless. What happened to church? Did it go on strike? Whatever happened, the Bells did the unthinkable: They “started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself.” Uh-oh. This is like playing the
But I really want to focus on Dan Kimball’s chapter “The Church is Homophobic” in his book, They Like Jesus But Not the Church. Once again, the good folks over at Zondervan have published this foray into emergent excellence. Interestingly—symbolically—, the cover contains a number of church buildings all crossed out with a red “x.” There are also quite a few images of Jesus (apparently no one got a good snapshot of what he looked like) that are not crossed out along with a torso shot of a red T-shirt that bear the words, “Jesus is my homeboy.” These are great insights from emerging generations. From the back jacket cover it also looks like someone has been tinkering with Dan’s haircut, but at least he doesn’t have Rob’s geeky-hip glasses. Hey man, I saw the Arctic Monkeys.
Dan informs us that “those of us who are respectful of Jesus” should not want to be stereotyped as homophobic or angry at the gay community. It’s getting to be such a normal part of our emerging culture that Dan visited a high school classroom recently proclaiming it as a “Homophobia-Free Zone.” See? That’s all it takes. Put up a sign and your problems are over. It’s a bit like the sign on Virginia Tech’s campus that read “Gun Free Zone.” In reality it wasn’t, but it was cool to put the sign up to give the impression that there were no guns around. Is the “emerging culture”—whatever that is; Dan hasn’t bothered to define “culture” yet—so naïve that they believe that putting up a dumb sign will solve the problem? It seems so.
Anyway, Dan believes that it is important “for church leaders to be thinking clearly about this issue.” I agree, but wouldn’t it have been a little more helpful for Dan as a church leader himself to have said something to the effect that it is important for church leaders to be thinking biblically about this issue. Biblically, clearly, I guess it’s all the same or not. Dan’s unclear about being clear. One thing is certain in all this clarity and that is that we can no longer just regurgitate what we have been taught about homosexuality. Actually, he doesn’t bother to explain why we can no longer regurgitate what we have been taught. Apparently, barfing—or emesis—isn’t part of the emerging culture.
Dan thinks that in the past “the teaching on homosexuality in many churches has been somewhat shallow, quoting a few verses and no questions or discussion allowed.” We must be prepared to look into the Hebrew and Greek texts in their historical contexts. Wow! There’s a new idea! The homophobic Church has never thought of that before! No wonder Zondervan was chomping at the bit to release such an insightful book! Look at the Hebrew and Greek texts in their contexts. That simply changes the whole course of Church History. Perhaps Dan and N.T. Wright could co-author a book entitled What the Hebrew and Greek Contexts Really Said.
One of the techniques of the emergent “conversation” is to trot out folks who have been wounded by the Church, even if they have rarely attended it. Some of these I call the “Coumadin” people because they are so thin-skinned. One such person is an English woman named Penny who was, at best, a nominal Anglican (For non-emergents, Anglicans are Roman Catholics who failed their Latin). We need to hold Penny in high esteem because “She has always respected and admired the wisdom of Jesus.” That must really impress the second Person of the Trinity. Moreover, according to Penny “Jesus was inspirational and pure. He was a wonderful man with great lessons to teach about love, acceptance, and peace.” Pure as in sinless, or pure as in something else? Not only was Jesus inspirational and pure—tinker, tinker—but Penny was open to Jesus and his teachings, respecting him as an honorable and wise historical figure. Nice, Penny. Close, but no cigar, even if you share passionately with Dan “how she feels he is unique.”
This inspirational and pure Jesus didn’t have a lot to say to Penny when she began exploring her homosexuality. Sometimes respected and wise historical figures don’t have a lot to say about homosexuality. What is also fascinating is the way that Dan the Sensitive gives Penny every benefit of the doubt, but portrays his fellow-Christians as a bunch of narrow-minded, bigoted rednecks. Some of the folks in the Church that Penny encountered called male homosexual bars “where all the faggots go to rot.” No prejudice there, Dan. Anyway, what is a girl to do? Penny came out of the closet and volunteered at the gay center in Santa Cruz, CA, where the Christian Redneck Society sniffed her out and placed mindless tracts on her windshield. Some of these tracts even quoted Scripture.
Here is Penny “on the phone talking to teenagers in trouble and feeling” that she was “making a positive difference in the world.” “Right. Hm. I wonder what she was saying to these teenagers in trouble? Yes, well, I know how you feel. I came out of the closet too. You should try it. It’s wonderful. Oh, by the way, I’d also like to introduce you to a wonderful wise man named Jesus, who is inspirational and pure. He is a really neat, unique, honorable, and wise historical figure. He makes no demands on your life and gives you no direction either. What is Kimball’s assessment of Penny? She “is really mature.” Indeed, she really sounds like it. Scripture calls us to mature manhood and womanhood, but I’m not certain Penny fits the scriptural requirement. (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Eph. 4:13; 5:10; Phil. 1:9; 3:15; Col. 1:28; 4:12; Heb. 5:14.) But this is the kind of thing that impresses the emerging generation and Dan and Rob are right there to help them along.
Now Dan’s fair and balanced analysis also contains cartoons, which were used with permission to portray the impression that people have of the church today—especially the emerging chit-chat folks. These are pretty sophisticated cartoons that are, in no way slanted or biased. No, that is reserved for the Christian Redneck Society. One features a man with a crown of thorns (for those who are mature like Penny, this figure represents that wise historical figure. He is saying “Love Thy Neighbor!” to those exiting the church. It is interesting that every church member has his or her nose raised in the air. Get the picture? A man and woman are standing by the pure and inspirational one and the man says, “Hippie freak!” and the woman says, “That sounds like something a queer would say!” The sermon topic announced on the marquis reads, “Sunday Services. ‘Power of Love.’ All welcome…except gays!” Yeah, I see that kind of thing all the time. Isn’t it amazing how the PC crowd can get it right so often? There’s nothing to compare with unbiased reporting.
That’s nothing compared to the interview of a well-known Christian leader that Dan saw on CNN. Frankly, he tells us, he was “embarrassed by how he responded when the issue of homosexuality came up.” Kimball goes on to say the following: “He was speaking to a national audience and didn’t come across as compassionate and understanding. He spoke about homosexuals in a technical way, as though they were inanimate objects, not people. I wonder if the interview did more harm than good, keeping people from wanting to know more about Jesus and Christianity.” Let’s begin with the last sentence: No. People are not seekers and pagans do not want to know more about Jesus and Christianity, this interview notwithstanding.
It’s always dicey talking about Christianity with a radio or TV host, even a conservative one. The expectation is that if you’re a Christian you’re going to check all of your Christian principles at the door. If you mention anything about what the Old Testament says, the commentator almost invariably says something really pertinent like, “Oh, so you’re in favor of stoning infants like they did in the Old Testament.” Isn’t that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard? They’re referring, of course, to Deuteronomy 21:18-21. The son in question is a drunkard. How many infants do you know that are heavy on the sauce? So I don’t know what the Christian leader on CNN said, but given Kimball’s penchant to defend the non-Christian and pooh-pooh Christians it’s at least possible that the Christian leader in question did an admirable job of presenting the biblical case against male and female homosexuality.
We’re treated to a bit of autobiography on how Dan the Sensitive entered the Christian subculture by way of a circuitous route through England. His opening statement is really funny. Coming from a background where he hung out, shot pool, and listened to progressive music from England and Europe (in the PCA we call that “networking”) he “entered evangelical subculture and was pretty amazed at most Christians’ lack of understanding of homosexuality.” I’m not exactly certain what he means, are you? It would seem to be the case that most Christians have some inkling into what homosexuality is even though they might not have tried it or known people who have.
It would behoove Dan the Sensitive to balance his approach by reading the excellent book by the non-Christian, Bill Gairdner, The War Against the Family, or the section by my favorite lesbian, Tammy Bruce, in her book, The Death of Right and Wrong. Ms. Bruce is also not a Christian. Her fourth chapter (First the Culture, Then the Children) could prove to be invaluable for Dan the Sensitive. From a common grace perspective, Ms. Bruce offers more cogent and sentient explanation than Kimball does. It’s possible that if he read Bruce’s book that he might come to a better understanding of why some of these rednecks are opposed to homosexuality. Bruce describes the homosexual world as morally decadent, lacking in self-restraint, and embracing moral relativism. If you really have a strong stomach you can read my work entitled, What Homosexuals Do. A Parent Speaks Out. It’s not as if all Christians are homophobic and bigoted. Some of us have seen the devastating effects of the male and female homosexuality in people we’ve counseled and want to warn others—from Scripture—that this is not a lifestyle you want to embrace, even though we might know homosexuals who are “nice.”
Poor old Dan the Sensitive, being the observant dude that he is tells us this: “One of the first things I noticed was the church consistently made a big deal about homosexuality and sex outside of marriage.” Unlike our friend Bri, who only heard one sermon in his life—hellfire and damnation—Dan’s church home apparently preached on homosexuals and those who were shacking up. We can certainly understand why anyone would want to leave such a pack of bigoted rednecks. The next thing you know that same church might start preaching against taking illegal drugs and you never know where the preaching will go from there!
I’m going to stop for now. I’m getting so depressed that Dan the Sensitive had to listen to hours and hours of sermons biased against homosexuals who never were in drag or wore bondage leather. You would think that if you attended a church where the pastor pounded the homosexual and shacking up drum every week you’d either leave or conclude that there is a major problem in the congregation that the pastor is addressing. Here’s what Mr. Genius concluded though: “From what I have experienced, most gays are regular folks, living normal lives just like straight folks, and aren’t bent on converting children or anyone else to their sexual orientation.”We’re back to experience, which trumps almost everything in the emergent chit-chat. But Kimball’s statement begs the question: Do male and female homosexuals—as nice as they might be—live “normal” lifestyles? If they do, why did God insist on calling homosexual practices an “abomination” or “contrary to nature” (cf. Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Jude 7; Rom. 1:26-27)?
 Ibid., 3. Italics mine.
 Both Scripture and key confessional statements make this clear. See, for example, Romans 3:9-10; 1 John 1:10 and Q/A 2 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
 Ibid. Italics mine.
 Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church, (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 2007).
 Ibid., 136
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 140.
 Ibid., 141.
 Ibid., 145.
 I have noted this same approach in other pastors. I had lunch with a colleague once who told me of what he was doing in his church to analyze movies. He was disgruntled because the Christians in his congregation kept showing up to the event “and ruining it for the non-Christians.” What?
 Kimball, Jesus, 146.
 William Gairdner, The War Against the Family, (Toronto: Stoddard, 1992).
 Tammy Bruce, The Death of Right and Wrong. Exposing the Left’s Assault on Our Culture and Values, (Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing, 2003).
 Ibid., 80.
 Kimball, Jesus, 146.
 Ibid., 147. Italics mine.
Labels: Emergent Church