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InterVarsity made headlines this week for requiring their staff to affirm the historic Christian position that all sexual expression is reserved for male-female marriage.

Critics claimed that same-sex marriage should not be a litmus test for staff members. IVCF should, instead, model a more inclusive approach that recognizes a diversity of views within the organization. By requiring employees to agree with IVCF's doctrinal stance on marriage, the organization had lifted marriage to a non-negotiable. Since IVCF does not treat other issues this way (baptism, speaking in tongues, women in ministry), it is problematic for the organization to lift marriage to this level, alienate longtime supporters, and marginalize LGBT-affirming voices.

I've written before why marriage is not an "agree to disagree" issue but an architectural doctrine of the Christian faith.

Just a Place at the Table

But I want to focus on another idea here - the idea that "affirming" and "traditional" positions can coexist peacefully in the same evangelical organization. This is an idea promoted by many of the "progressives." (I prefer to use the term "revisionists" because I find the notion of 'progress' in the 'progressive' indicates that theirs is the way forward. It's not. "Revisionist" better describes the "revising" of classic Christian teaching.)

This idea is also promoted by some Christians who affirm historic teaching, but don't think we should divide over it. It's to that latter group - traditional Christians who don't think this issue should divide us - who I want to address.

Now, I know the revisionists say that all they really want right now is just space. They long for a diversity of opinions on sexuality to coexist. They just want a place at the table. They think theirs is a valid Christian viewpoint and should be treated right alongside the traditional one. No one should get ostracized - neither traditionalists nor revisionists.

That's what they say. But that's not how they see this playing out over time.

Right and Wrong Sides of History

Most of the revisionists I dialogue with think history is on their side. They look into the fog of the future and think they are on the vanguard of massive social change, leading the church into a more open and inclusive future. They like the fog of the future rather than the fire of the past, where the entire witness of the Christian Church stands in judgment over their innovative doctrine.

Because they see themselves as "progressing" toward the future, the revisionists think that eventually everyone will come around to see their perspective as correct. Those who disagree with them today may agree with them tomorrow.

This is why we see breathless celebration any time a well-known church leader or pastor comes out as "affirming." It's also why we see outrage when organizations or denominations reaffirm traditional teaching. The actions of the United Methodist Church, Intervarsity, the global Anglican Communion (which suspended the Episcopal Church), or the about-face of World Vision frustrate revisionists, in part, because these actions mess with their narrative.

The revisionists are convinced their cause is righteous and that the whole Church will one day agree with them. And so, whenever Christians reaffirm the historic teaching, they see us as "hold-outs." They say we are "digging in." (Actually, it's called "standing." We're just standing where we've always been, no shovel required.)

Why Peaceful Coexistence is Impossible

It sounds appealing to think that Christians can "agree to disagree" on marriage and coexist peacefully. But it's the rhetoric of the revisionists that betrays this reality.

It is painfully clear that revisionists believe the traditional teaching of the Church is actually responsible for great pain, even death. The New Testament's prohibition against homosexuality, as interpreted by Christians for two thousand years, kills people. The stakes are that high. The Church's position accepted "everywhere, always, and by all" is wrong and flat-out dangerous.

I do not understand how anyone who sees gay marriage as that essential to human flourishing would willingly partner with and walk hand-in-hand with traditional Christians who retain Jesus' definition of marriage as male-female for life. Which leads me to think they don't ultimately want just a space at the table. They want the table.

Ideological Colonization

Pope Francis often speaks of gender theory as "ideological colonization" when he warns against the Sexual Revolution. I believe there is ideological colonization going on with marriage and sexuality within our own denominations and parachurch ministries. This movement takes the values of the Sexual Revolution, lines them up with our society's expressive individualism, and baptizes them in religious lingo. What we have is not historic Christianity, but a mutation of classic Liberalism, only now the emphasis has shifted from denying or downplaying Christian miracles to denying or downplaying Christian morality.

Here's the reality. The revisionist view, if it becomes acceptable within the ranks of an organization, will colonize and dominate the entire group. Eventually, the traditional view will be cast to the side as a harmful relic of the past.

Of course, this overthrow of the consistent Christian witness cannot happen outright. It will only happen when the authority of Scripture, the tradition, and influential theologians and pastors, are set side by side with many voices and perspectives, all claiming different positions that are "valid."

After decades of seeing this tactic in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Robert Benne lamented:

“There is no authoritative biblical or theological guidance in the church. There are only many voices. The 2009 Assembly legitimated those many voices by adapting a 'bound-conscience' principle, according to which anyone claiming a sincerely-held conviction about any doctrine must be respected. The truth of the Bible has been reduced to sincerely-held opinion."

As the Sexual Revolution takes over, the traditional perspective will be cast aside as egregious. This has already happened in some quarters, to the point that even a luminary like J. I. Packer has been suspended by the Anglican Church in Canada.

Traditionalists as Sex Rebels and Cultural Heretics

Jesus' brother tells us to "contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all" (Jude 3) Why? Because "some people... have come in by stealth... turning the grace of our God into a license for immorality" (Jude 4).

The Church will always face challenges from the inside and outside. In this case, for the Church in the West, the pressure is mounting from both sides.

In the 1960's and 70's, the sexual rebels were the hippies who wanted to throw off moral restraints in favor of "free love." In the 21st century, the sexual rebels will be Christians who dissent from Sexual Revolution dogma.

Revisionists think they are saving the Church's witness for this generation. They are doing the opposite.

As the Sexual Revolution wreaks havoc in the lives of people around us, Christians have the opportunity to proclaim the Scripture's moral clarity-not as a barrier to the faith, but as the beacon of light in a morally chaotic world. To be faithful in this time, the Church must be a haven of hope, a refuge in the midst of sexual chaos. We won't be able to do that if we think the way forward is "agreeing to disagree."

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12 thoughts on “InterVarsity and the Revisionist Hope For a Place at the Table”

  1. Doug says:

    Well said! Joseph Bellamy once pointed out that the primary reason we have so many disagreements is not because we can’t see things clearly, but because we are rebels at heart, not committed to God’s Word. We don’t want to see things clearly. He pointed out that Galatians 5:19-21 specifically listed factions and divisions as a work of the flesh. Why were there so many divisions in the time of the apostles, he asked, when they could have easily consulted with them and got things straight? It is because they did not want to get things straight. No doubt we must leave room for disagreements on some things because they are not substantially spelled out, and we are all at differing stages in our understanding, but we must distinguish this from simple infidelity. Kudos to Intervarsity.

  2. Phillip says:

    The one rotten apple in the barrel applies.

  3. David says:

    It really ought to be obvious to everyone now that progressive secularists will accept nothing less than your full, 100% affirmation of whatever became their orthodoxy yesterday. And in a way, that ought to be freeing to us. There is NO POINT in trying to adopt some sort of midway position in order to placate progressives because that actually won’t shield you from their wrath anyway. So if you don’t plan to surrender entirely, you may as well stand for Christian orthodoxy.

  4. Neil Pratt says:

    So we (affirming evangelical Christians) cannot have a place at the table because you (non-affirming Christians) imagine us in your own image, that is the image of one who needs dominance over the whole table? Can you for one moment think us as humans who are doing the best we can to follow Christ and the teachings of the Holy Bible? As a gay man, I would happily and joyfully commit myself to celibacy or marriage to a woman if He gave me any indication whatsoever that such a life is what He is calling me to. I wish He would, because then I would have a home in the church. But He has not. Do you think I really choose the life of spiritual homelessness where liberal churches are too liberal in their disregard for the scriptures and conservative churches reject me as soon as they find out I’m gay?

  5. Elia Murray says:

    You are confusing two issues. Just because your first premise is true, it doesn’t follow that the second will always be true.

    We don’t stone parents for the sins of their children. We don’t stone anyone for another person’s sin. Why are you willing to destroy another human being – take away their livelihood – for not disowning their CHILD?

    And, of course, Jesus told us to love people. Never to stone them in the first place.

  6. SteveInDC says:

    So I guess the theologians 150 years ago who thought slavery was immoral, despite hundreds of years of church acceptance, were wrong. You can’t deny that we have expanded our consciousness, and that this is a good thing. Stop using your dogma to hurt and exclude people. I can’t wait for 50 years from now.

  7. Curt Day says:

    The problem I see with the article above is that it lacks a precise definition of who the progressives and revisionists are. Myself and others believe in what the Scriptures teach about marriage. But we also believe that SSM should be legally allowed in society. After all, society is not the Church and there are already some beliefs and behaviors we allow in society that we don’t allow in the Church. We don’t allow Muslims who adhere to their faith to become Church members. The same goes with followers of other religions. And yet, we do allow such people to practice their faith in society.

    Now the question becomes this: According to Trevin and others like him, should Christians be allowed to agree to disagree on whether SSM should be allowed in the society?

    As for Trevin’s statement:

    It is painfully clear that revisionists believe the traditional teaching of the Church is actually responsible for great pain, even death. The New Testament’s prohibition against homosexuality, as interpreted by Christians for two thousand years, kills people. The stakes are that high. The Church’s position accepted “everywhere, always, and by all” is wrong and flat-out dangerous.

    Yes, the Church is responsible for a great deal of pain and death over homosexuality. But it isn’t because of its adherence to the Biblical definition of marriage per se; it is because of the intolerance people in the Church have shown toward those in the LGBT community because their behaviors and beliefs are different. This can’t be denied. In fact, we could point to other examples of intolerance as well. We can’t say that believing that Jesus is the only way is responsible for the religious intolerance that has, from time to time, plagued the Church throughout history. And yet, many in the Church have persecuted and even killed people because of their religious beliefs. Think about heretics were put to death and the same goes for witches. Think about what Martin Luther instructed both German society and its princes to do to the Jews because of their persistent unbelief? And what followed his teachings on the matter? Or think about how the Puritans persecuted and even martyred Quakers.

    Can anyone deny that individuals from the LGBT community have been attacked and even put to death because of what the Church teaches about homosexuality? Such a question is not a call us to revise the Church doctrines on marriage and sexuality. Such a question challenges us regarding how tolerant the Church has been and should be toward those who believe and behave differently.

    As for the following quote from Trevin:

    I do not understand how anyone who sees gay marriage as that essential to human flourishing would willingly partner with and walk hand-in-hand with traditional Christians who retain Jesus’ definition of marriage as male-female for life. Which leads me to think they don’t ultimately want just a space at the table. They want the table.

    I would like to ask Trevin how many people from the LGBT community has he discussed this issue with. I have discussed it with quite a few including friends from the LGBT community. I have found a diversity of answers. But with that diversity, there is a tendency for those from the LGBT community to respect and tolerate those views that differ from their own provided that that respect and tolerance is mutual. And that is the perspective that goes unrecognized in Trevin’s article. Also, why is an assumed definition of human flourishing being used canon hers regarding what we should allow and what we should not tolerate? The problem with that is the assumed definition.

  8. senecagriggs says:

    “Which leads me to think they don’t ultimately want just a space at the table. They want the table.”


  9. Carol Reed says:

    You correctly describe my experience when you write, “revisionists believe the traditional teaching of the Church is actually responsible for great pain, even death.” Faith and church involvement have always been central in my life. Having a gay child and networking with thousands of Christian parents of LGBT kids for the last few years, I don’t even flinch anymore when parents tell about their child’s suicide attempts, depression, self-harm, or belief that God “made a mistake with me” or “hates me.” The stories are too numerous to count, and they’re coming from pastors’ families, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, church staff, professors at Christian colleges, etc. I can’t pretend the fruit of the traditional Christian teaching is good for LGBT kids or their families; for me to do so would be to walk around the man lying beaten in the path.

    I agree that many who embrace a Third Way (“big tent”) approach do hope for an eventual shift toward inclusion, rather than dividing our churches over how we respond to LGBT people. You clearly see that potential shift as unacceptable, and would dismiss affirming churches as theologically irresponsible.

    A growing number of Christians are in my shoes, facing an ethical and theological dilemma. We’re there in the “Nones” category, and we’re still in your pews, quietly disengaging. Please advise: Is it better for us to stop going to church entirely than to look for a Third Way or affirming church? Or is it necessary to frame LGBT lives as inherently tragic (i.e., disposable) in the Church’s pursuit of holiness, regardless of our conscience? I’m not being snarky here. Sincerely interested in your thoughts.

    1. Carol Reed says:

      To clarify: Among those who acknowledge serious harm done to LGBT individuals, there is disagreement whether the harm is inherent to the traditional biblical reading or whether the harm is simply a result of living out our orthodoxy poorly.

      I understand the hope that if we “do better” within orthodoxy, the problem of harm will go away. But I would ask traditionalists to carefully consider what “doing better” looks like in real life from the point of view of an LGBT person. The psychological, relational, spiritual, and emotional consequences of being categorized as either celibate-for-life or depraved cannot be taken lightly. Roughly 5% of our children in churches will bear that burden through critical stages in their development. And if Third Way is not an acceptable compromise, those kids will know that their acceptance by family and church are at stake. Simply being nicer to the gay people does nothing to remove that unimaginable pressure. It’s naive to think outcomes will be any better, though it might make us straight people feel better about ourselves.

      As long as our frame of reference is only theological correctness without also a practical regard for the well-being of our LGBT children–and I have yet to see this–then the traditional approach is patently irresponsible, given the statistics for suicide and homelessness. I need to see the work in this area before I can take this approach seriously.

  10. Paula says:

    My son is on staff with IV. He said it has been a hard hard week on his very liberal university campus. We need to pray for these staff workers as they are on the front lines in this cultural battle. It will only become more difficult.

  11. Philmonomer says:

    It will be fascinating to see what InterVarsity looks like in 5 years.

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​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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