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In the past week we’ve seen a prominent Christian philosopher and a prominent Christian author state publicly that they no longer hold to the historic understanding of biblical sexuality. A number of excellent responses have already been written--most significantly, Wesley Hill challenging Nicholas Wolterstorff’s shallow exegesis and lack of charity, and Rosaria Butterfield reminding Jen Hatmaker that we must love our neighbors enough to speak the truth.

I’ve written before about gay marriage and about why the church can’t simply agree to disagree on this issue. And if you want more in depth discussion, I wrote a book entitled What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?. No doubt, you can find even better stuff out there from other men and women defending the historic understanding of biblical marriage and sexuality. I won’t repeat those arguments here.

But I do want to offer a few quick thoughts about the Facebook post from Brandon Hatmaker (Jen’s husband). While I commend the Hatmakers for what seems to be a serious process of reading, reflection, and prayer, I find the logic of their position unconvincing. Most of Brandon’s post is about the work they did to come to their new position. The defense of the position itself comes in these two paragraphs:

Every verse in the bible that is used to condemn a "homosexual" act is written in the context of rape, prostitution, idolatry, pederasty, military dominance, an affair, or adultery. It was always a destructive act. It was always a sin committed against a person. And each type of sexual interaction listed was an abuse of God's gift of sex and completely against His dream for marriage to be a lifelong commitment of two individuals increasingly and completely giving themselves to one another as Christ did for the church.

But not one of these scriptures was written in the context of marriage or civil union (which simply did not exist at this time). Each act mentioned in the bible was sin, no doubt. In context, we believe the same today. Just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sin for obvious reasons, whether consensual or not, we still believe homosexual sex outside of marriage is a sin.

Three quick thoughts:

1. The “not that kind of homosexuality” argument has been refuted by a number of conservative exegetes and by a host of LGBT-affirming scholars. If Paul only meant to talk about pederasty, why didn’t he use the Greek word for pederasty? If he wanted to spare committed homosexual partnerships from his condemnation in Romans 1, why did he echo the language of creation and talk broadly about “exchanging” natural functions for those that are unnatural? If the New Testament only had “bad” homosexuality in mind, why do sources from the Greco-Roman world demonstrate that every kind of homosexual relationship was known in the first century, from lesbianism, to orgiastic behavior, to gender-bending "marriage," to lifelong same-sex companionship (see Thomas Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents)? Non-Christian scholars know better than to try to “rescue” the New Testament from itself. Which is why Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, could write: “Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian” (Homosexuality and Civilization, 14).

2. I fail to see how the logic for monogamy and against fornication is obvious according to Hatmaker’s hermeneutic. I appreciate that they don’t want to completely jettison orthodox Christian teaching when it comes to sex and marriage. But the flimsiness of the hermeneutic cannot support the weight of the tradition. Once you’ve concluded that the creation of Adam and Eve has nothing to do with a procreative telos (Mal. 2:15), or the fittedness of male with female (Gen. 2:18), or the joining of two complementary sexes into one organic union (Gen. 2:23-24), what’s left to insist that marriage must be limited to two persons, or that the two persons must be faithful to each other? Sure, both partners may agree that they want fidelity, but there is no longer anything inherent to the ontology and the telos of marriage to insist that sexual fidelity is a must. Likewise, why is it obvious that sex outside of marriage is wrong? Perhaps those verses were only dealing with oppressive situations too. Most foundationally, once stripped of the biological orientation toward children, by what internal logic can we say that consensual sex between two adults is wrong? And on that score, by what measure can we condemn a biological brother and sister getting married if they truly love each other (and use contraceptives, just to take the possibility of genetic abnormalities out of the equation)? When marriage is redefined to include persons of the same sex, we may think we are expanding the institution to make it more inclusive, but in fact we are diminishing it to the point where it is something other than marriage.

3. The appeal to Christ and the church does not support Hatmaker’s argument; it emphatically undermines it. Paul’s reference to the mystery of Christ and the church only works if there is differentiation in the marital union. The man loves and leads and sacrifices as Christ; the woman submits and respects as the church. However that plays out in practice, the irreducible minimum is that the two are not interchangeable. Hatmaker can say that in marriage “two individuals increasingly and completely giving themselves to one another as Christ did for the church,” but that was positively not Paul’s argument. He did not foresee two individuals acting as Christ, but one (the husband) cherishing like Christ and the other (the wife) following like the church. We cannot insert two men (or two women) into the logic of Ephesians 5 and get the same mystery, let alone a full-orbed picture of the gospel.

The biblical teaching about marriage is not an oh-by-the-way piece of ethical advice that can be easily swapped out for other arrangements. I know these are difficult, painful issues. But we have to prayerfully and rigorously think these things through. We are bound to hear more stories in the years to come about other Christian leaders and other Christian institutions celebrated for their new-found enlightenment. What we won’t hear about–though there will be plenty of examples--are the stories of all those who will continue to hold to historic orthodoxy, and do so with winsomeness and without wavering. Neither will we hear the stories of those whose Christianity ends up looking very different on the other side of their theological change of heart. If we tug at the Bible’s teaching on sex, family, and marriage–the basics of which have been affirmed for two millennia and are still affirmed by almost all Christians outside the West--we will lose more than logical and hermeneutical consistency. We lose important elements of the gospel itself.


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25 thoughts on “A Few Brief Thoughts on the Hatmaker Hermeneutic”

  1. Paul Carter says:

    Thanks Kevin! Very well written. P.S. I like it when you write blogs that I wanted to write and didn’t have time to. Keep it up!!!

  2. Sandra says:

    Jesus treated hypocrasy as sin. Right? And guess what is a gay person.? An hypocrite. Yes, because he or she wants to make people beleive on what they are not. Simply as that.

  3. Jeremy Legg says:

    Good writing, Kevin! FWIW another argument that superficially appears convincing is the Peter’s roof-top” vision of the sheet full of animals, of which the Spirit says, “Do not call unclean that which God has made clean.” (Acts 10)

    Of course, that requires God to have declared something “clean”. We are washed and made clean by the blood of Jesus and the water of the Word, but our sins have not been transformed into approved acts.

    Also worth knowing: Thomas E. Schmidt points out (in his excellent book “Straight and Narrow?”) that Paul’s coining of the word arsenokoites comes straight from the Greek translation of the prohibitions of homosexuality in Leviticus – thus making it quite clear what he was talking about.

  4. Alb says:

    Thank you for this. I agree with you. A brief explanation of “telos” would be very helpful as most readers may not know what you mean and you lose a good piece of the argument.

  5. David Mapes says:

    Kevin,

    I agree with you and am so glad that you wrote this piece. Thanks also for providing your excellent resource and commending of other good, or even better ones for those who need ammo for discussions and debates or education for themselves to be well versed on the topic from a Biblical standpoint.

    It is often for wrong reasons that somehow the right conclusion is, even against logic, reached anyway. I am a bit puzzled over the Hatmaker methodology. They ought to do better.

    Thanks again.

  6. Curt Day says:

    I believe that the current move of professed Christians to try to reconcile homosexuality with the Christian life is due to what has been associated with past Christian teachings on sexuality and law and the following treatment of those from the LGBT community. Previously, homosexuality was criminalized so that homosexual acts were criminal offenses. After that, and this still exists in the majority of states, a person can lose or be harassed at their job based on sexual orientation. Same sex marriage until recently, was legally prohibited. And now, a number of Christians are pushing for laws that allow themselves to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against the LGBT community and their way of life.

    But perhaps the biggest offense a number of Christians have committed has been to insist on denying the hardships and marginalization our actions have caused those in the LGBT community. Now some Christians are seeing those hardships and are given an exclusive choice between accepting homosexuality as a biblically supported practice or continue the marginalizing of those in the LGBT community. And that choice has come about because too many religiously conservative Christian leaders drew a line in the sand regarding whether homosexuality should be punished by society. Martin Luther did the same thing regarding Jews who refused to believe in Jesus. He called on German society and princes to punish the Jews lest German Christians be complicit in that unbelief. So too many religiously conservative Christians said to fellow believers that unless society continues to marginalize the LGBT community, we will all be complicit in their sin. And at the root of all of this is the merging of what it takes to be a person in good standing in society from what it takes to be a person in good standing in the Church. Thus, when many talk about Christians who believe that homosexuality should be acceptable, they fail to distinguish those who believe that homosexuality, including SSM, should be acceptable in society only from those who believe it should be acceptable in the Church as well. And at this point, we might want to note the influence of post modern thinking in the changing attitudes of some Christians. That is because post modernism holds to an outcome-based truth system that says if what one regards as truth can be used to abuse others, then what is believed cannot be true.

    I do want to challenge a point made in point #2. There is no reason to believe that the acceptance of SSM will lead to the acceptance of polygamy. At this point, all one needs to ask is this question: Is SSM more similar to heterosexual marriage or polygamous marriage? What I see here with Kevin’s contention is a “sky is falling” or slippery slope mentality simply because the Christian beliefs about sexuality and male and female relationships have been rejected. Marital relationships are about far more than sexual union between complementary partners. Marital unions are about the complete joining of two people together and such is not possible in polygamy simply because one cannot voluntarily give what is not theirs to someone else. And nothing illustrates this more than breakups do. In addition, polygamy must include a hierarchy between partners and thus the elimination of equality between partners, which is something that is not necessarily a party in monogamous marriages. Despite the fact that a man is the head of the woman in a Christian marriage, there is an equality between the two partners as well. And whether that equality exists depends on how a given marriage is lived out.

    Yes, because of recent events, it is appropriate to talk about what the Bible says about homosexuality and SSM. But there are also fish that are as big, if not bigger, to fry. At some point, we have to look beyond the filtered statistics used to rationalize our acceptance of neoliberal capitalism and neoconservative foreign policies to look at the injustices being visited on what could be called the invisible stakeholders of our economic system and foreign policies. The Hunger Games movies would refer to these stakeholders as residents of the districts. For a failure to pay adequate attention to the full picture of neoliberal capitalism and neoconservative foreign policies could only serve assign the role to the Church that the report The Crisis of Democracy did in 1975 to the Trilateral Commission. That the Church is just another institution of indoctrination that teach the young how to fit in to society and obey those in authority. And this fitting in and submitting would be regardless of the injustices practiced in society and the abuses practiced by those in authority.

  7. Scott Garrity says:

    Thank you for a respectful and thoughtful response to Brandon Hatmaker. As I read Brandon’s post, it jumped out to me that his starting point for researching this topic was a heart that felt the pain and anguish that many who are gay or lesbian have experienced. So it seems to me that his heart was already inclined to reach a certain conclusion – and that is a powerful force to then reach that conclusion. You end with this “Neither will we hear the stories of those whose Christianity ends up looking very different on the other side of their theological change of heart. ” Actually, I predict we will hear stories of this and that at some point, the Hatmakers will go down the road of Rob Bell because they won’t be able to live with ” a God who could send anybody to hell.”

  8. ChadW says:

    Kevin, do you believe any of the logic behind this “alternate” position stems from the feminist desire to become equal in function to men? It seems to me, that if feminists can begin to point to same-sex relationships to support a non-complimentarian view of marriage (like in the case you’ve mentioned above) they will be more “justified” in rebelling against God’s standard of function within traditional marriages. I’m in no way accusing Jen of being a feminist (maybe she is) but, destroying the picture of Christ and the Church in marriage by deviating from opposite sex unions certainly promotes feminism within the church as normal in my opinion.

  9. Ryan Phelps says:

    “Likewise, why is it obvious that sex outside of marriage is wrong? Perhaps those verses were only dealing with oppressive situations too.”

    This is exactly the argument I am hearing these days *for* pre-marital sex (largely from millennials).

  10. matt says:

    Excellent article. Although you may have mentioned this in previous articles, our response to the Hatmakers is quite clear in the Word.

    1 Corinthians 5:10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. 11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

    To be a witness to the world, we will have non-Christian friends that we should accept and love who “indulge in” obvious sin. We are commanded to go into all the world, not just to people who share our values. However, if they claim to be a believer yet indulge in or by extension encourage others to indulge in obvious sin, we have to respond. In fact, we are told to break fellowship with them. It may seem harsh and judgmental, but the bad witness they present to the rest of the Church is a danger to new or weak believers. Even more, “anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in …” strongly infers that they aren’t a believer at all. A believer would understand that God is holy and just by association with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we instinctively know right from wrong.

    “Fundamentalist” cultural Christians hate non-believing sinners. Just as liberal cultural Christians accept non-believing behavior in the Church. In both cases, cultural values are at work dictating what is acceptable, neither being biblical behavior. People who claim to be Christians, yet allow cultural values to form their opinions instead of the Bible are quite common and as old as Paul’s letters. Believers, on the other hand, go to the what the Word clearly teaches and being led by the Spirit, happily accept it.

    Thanks for multiple biblical responses to constant demands to prefer cultural over biblical values. As the gap between cultural and biblical values widens, this phenomenon will continue in the American church.

  11. David Kuen Bit Lee says:

    Yes. This is EXACTLY what was going thru my mind as I was reading the Hatmakers’ comments.
    The only thing we CAN do is just pray for those people who have come to that unfortunate conclusion

  12. Ryan Fishel says:

    Thanks too for adding links to a variety of resources, Kevin! Very helpful.

  13. Linda says:

    Curiously Brandon did not cite any of the “every verse in the Bible that condemns a ‘homosexual act’.” I suspect because if he would have cited them, his premise would be without a leg to stand on.

  14. Don says:

    You may have written in the past that Christians can’t “agree to disagree” on this issue, but we’ve already reached that point. Game over. Hatmaker did more than his due diligence in studying, praying, and seeking counsel on this issue. He likely read many of the books you cite above. And yet he came to a different conclusion. You finished your article with the classic “the very Gospel is at stake!” argument. Just Google that phrase and you’ll see that the same thing has been said about old earth vs. young earth, infant baptism vs. believers baptism, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and heck, even hymns vs. praise music. And yet somehow all of these folks can fit in the evangelical tent. Affirming vs non-affirming is soon going to be seen as another distinctive, if it isn’t already.

  15. Marie says:

    Thank you Kevin. I’ve read this and other articles and the one written by Rosaria Butterfield earlier this week. Her story is beautiful and I appreciate her courage to speak and write from her experience. I’m deeply saddened by Brandon and Jen Hatmaker’s comments. Saddened because it seems as if some want to make God’s Word say what we want it to say…….saddened because how we feel about something is more important than what God says about it. We need Bible teachers, preachers, speakers and writers that teach the truth from God’s Word. We need teachers that teach us the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. Let me taste and see that the Lord is good. Teach me to take up my cross. Remind me that nothing this world offers comes close to the indescribable joy of knowing Christ now and being with him in the age to come. Call me to the hard work of obedience. Teach me to love and give sacrificially and not to make peace with sin. We need teachers that believe God is good…..that His Word gives life and that the Gospel will do what it’s supposed to do.
    Thank you for being that kind of teacher Kevin. I’m truly grateful for you and Rosaria and The Gospel Coalition team.

  16. Lori says:

    I am very, very concerned that there is much more zeal to get the theology right on this than to teach and encourage people in how to actually live out that theology in a wise, loving, and appropriate way. The comments on Rosaria’s piece, in particular, are very concerning. Having a right theology of marriage and family is very, very important, as is being able to defend it. But, even more important is how we live out those beliefs. Christians created much of the animosity the LGBT community has towards them by, for many decades, deciding that being right was a separate and more important thing than being loving.

    I hope that TGC will compensate for this lack of balance in the recent spate of articles by having some articles about how to relate to LGBT friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and acquaintances in the near future. Because, again, something saying the “right” thing at the wrong time and in the wrong way is just as bad as saying the wrong thing.

  17. Satty says:

    // teach and encourage people in how to actually live out that theology in a wise, loving, and appropriate way. //

    to Lori above: Orthodoxy begets Orthopraxy. Right belief must precede right living or action. Ultimately, we have to get at the truth of Scripture in what it is teaching about reality BEFORE we can even have the discussion about how to live it out. This is the fundamental problem with this discussion. There is no 11th Commandment which says, “Thou shalt be nice.” Its helpful at times, but not always prudent or necessary. Paul tells Titus to rebuke false teachers sharply (among other texts).

  18. Connie Kirk says:

    Thank you.

  19. Lori says:

    Satty, no, there is no commandment that says “Thou shalt be nice,” but there is a bigger one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

    We may at some point find ourselves in a situation or situations where we have the privilege of having loved an LGBT person long and well enough that discussing their sexuality as sin with them would indeed be the most loving thing we could do for them. However, simply telling an LGBT person that their sexuality is a sin is NOT in and of itself loving. Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking it is.

    To use an example from an advice column on the web I saw recently, if your nephew, who you have barely spoken to in the last decade, invites you to his same-sex wedding, it may indeed be the right thing for you to politely decline. However, sending him (as was the case in the situation in this column) a letter describing how sinful you think his lifestyle is while you decline is not wise, loving, or appropriate. If you want the right to speak that kind of truth into somebody’s life, you need to earn it, and you earn it by loving them well and long. There’s no such thing as drive-by love. You don’t get to simply condemn people for their sins and then claim that, in doing so, you were loving them. That is not what speaking truth in love means, and it seems very clear that Christians need much more information about love than truth.

  20. Dean says:

    If it was God honouring then you would have thought that God would have made provision for that in the commandments. Honour your Fathers and Mothers etc. You just cant get around Romans 1 either no matter how many times you pray or read etc. There are natural relationships & un-natural relationships that go with or against the created order in all its wonderful design. Man & woman were made for each other in a way that reflects God’s wisdom and insight.

    If you cant get Scripture to say what you want then bend it as much as you can seems to be the justification plan B. The only problem with that is that God, The Alpha & Omega has plan A and its not going to change.

    Yes there are things that we can disagree on regarding Salvation & holiness but this is not one of them.

  21. greg rogers says:

    Good article. I am a simple man who is not super smart but nevertheless sometimes looks for simple solutions to problems…like the simplistic minded (but in his case really smart) marketing rep hired by Johnson and Johnson on how to sell more Baby Powder who got paid many thousands to suggest to them to make the holes in the bottle bigger and thus more waste and thus better profits…So for me, when I see a church flounder I ask, how are the Pastors of that church thinking in their leadership? What are their motives? Are they temped to build a larger group of pew warmers that will artificially lead to a better paycheck or fame? And who makes that rule? Shouldn’t we assume that “God in heaven” – mindedness gushing through the holes of the pulpit the thng that creates more good fruit in the sheep? American culture does not make it easy for any of us. Likewise on this issue at hand, if we are to believe the large portion of books in the front section of the Christian bookstore that “heaven is on earth, now grab it by the horns and enjoy for this is your destiny” (I have begun to hate the word destiny as it has been hijacked) then of course there are going to be folks who will find more leeway away from the obvious principles of Scripture as well as the obvious design of the human male and female bodies and twist it to fulfill the heaven on earth experience and destiny of ecstatic homosexual practice (even as it is so reverently practiced in the confines of monogamous relationships.) This misses the entire point of Christianity and that is God and longing to know Him and to be where He is one day!…I completely agree with Kevin too that the gospel is union between the groom who is Christ who is as different from His Bride the church as the builder of a house is as different from the house itself (Hebrews) A couple of recent reflections of all of this that may sound like I am developing a conspiracy or becoming so simple minded that I am stupid…but would instead suggest may be one of the ways that God could be getting our attention through this matter…Visiting a church recently where the worship leader led in a song that confused Christ as the bride and the church as being called by her or waiting for her…something of the sort…woops. The music was so heartwarming and captivating but the writer had some misinterpretation issues…probably innocent but could it have been ordained by God to capture our attention maybe? Then there are those benevolent towards and accepting of “seeker sensitive” church practice…some who will even use the semantic ” Peoples” to describe the church in name. I am sure that they are well meaning and all, but isn’t both this semantic that describes this church and a seeker philosophy where the church makes attempts to attract people to itself instead of to God who is holy and outstanding and was gracious to us to describe Himself in His Word well represented by the very homosexual relationship? The people’s church could be re-translated as the “Bride’s Bride” A supposed bride seeking to be clever enough to attract other “bride” members to the likes of itself and all the entertaining factors therein is also a bride after a bride. I know, I am pushing the boundaries of intelligent discussion a bit here but am just sayin’. I am a simple person anyway and many times not really very smart…by the grace of our Great God go I! Thanks Pastor Kevin for your Biblical accuracy in even these touchy topics.

  22. Perry Brown says:

    Fortson and Grams’ book (“Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition”) is also quite good in addressing these issues. From them: “The world needs to know that it is not the church….[and] parts of the church in the West now need to realize that the church is not the world.” (p. 372)

  23. glenn says:

    Gay marriage is old news. What evangelicals fail to recognize is the LGBT community, as far as I can tell, now fully accepts sexual fluidity. Will evangelicals also now embrace this?

  24. neville briggs says:

    The criminal community accepts moral and legal fluidity, I think we kinda hope that the justice system will not.

  25. John Byde says:

    Scriptural references to the sinfulness of homosexuality are utterly clear and unambiguous in the Bible. There is just no getting around that. Saying that Christians have often been unpleasant to homosexuals in the past – true and deeply regretable – does not justify pretending these references are now irrelevant or “outdated”.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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