Friday, December 6, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, December 6, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
New Demands to Remake Christianity: Understanding the Challenge We Face
One of the things that Christians must recognize, honestly, in this day is that there are those who are arguing that Christianity has to be remade in this generation if it is going to be relevant, indeed, if Christian influence is going to survive in the larger culture.
You see this argument being made over and over again with different contexts and pretext, but most importantly these days, it is being made with reference to issues of sexuality and gender, and sexual morality. Just this week, an important article making this argument emerged at Religion News Service by David P. Gushee, the headline in the article by RNS, “Christian Higher Ed Can't Win The LGBTQ Debate Unless It Transforms.”
Now, just looking at the headline alone, as we so often do, the implication of the headline is that Christian higher education isn't winning what's identified as the LGBTQ debate, but the implication is that Christian higher education can win that debate only if it were to transform. Well, what exactly does all this mean? David Gushee makes clear what he means when he writes, "Evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries have erupted in recent days with LGBTQ related drama."
He speaks of three different institutions. He then goes on to say, "In my speaking rounds at Christian schools across the country, I find some version of the same problem pretty much everywhere I go. The school may not have reached a crisis point yet. It may not have made national headlines, but teachers and administrators everywhere, tremble in the knowledge that an eruption over its LGBTQ policy may be only a day away." If that statement's wrong, it's in the chronological reference because, actually, that eruption could be just a minute or an hour away.
David Gushee wrote his article with an agenda. The headline reveals that agenda. It is rather faithful to the article itself. The agenda that David Gushee brings is that Christian higher education, evangelical colleges and universities and seminaries are going to have to change the historic Christian understanding of sexuality and gender and accept the new definitions, the new worldview, and the new morality of the LGBTQ revolution or be hopelessly left behind — to use the language of the headline, to lose the debate, to lose the argument, to lose public voice, to lose public credibility. And it's also clear that David Gushee thinks he knows who is going to win and it's not those holding to historic Christian and biblical understandings of these issues.
He writes, "It's a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object." He continues, "The irresistible force is generational change. LGBTQ Christians who go to Christian colleges and seminaries today are unwilling to accept some straight guy declaring to them that they can't be both Christian and gay. They won't tolerate second-class status on campus and they're not okay with being permanently closeted."
He summarizes his insight with these words, "Increasingly, Christian students, gay and straight, have spent time outside of deeply conservative Christian subcultures. They arrive on campus having been exposed to a message of tolerance, inclusion, and full acceptance of LGBTQ students by school authorities. When Christian college authorities offer a different message, it is not necessarily heard as the voice of God. It might just be someone's old opinion."
Gushee continues to build his case. He says that that opinion that would be historic biblical Christianity is an isolated opinion. He dates it going back to the Supreme Court's decision on same sex marriage in 2015. He also makes another crucial and insightful statement, "LGBTQ equality is also a core value for the entire higher education establishment outside of traditionalist religious schools, which may be reflected in the values of many faculty members who end up in Christian colleges and who chafe semi-publicly against rules they don't necessarily accept." As he says, "LGBTQ equality has become part of an unquestioned progressive agenda along with environmentalism and racial equality."
So, the irresistible force that Gushee is talking about here is the force of the larger culture. That direction is very clear, this force is very powerful. The force and authority of the entire higher education establishment, that's also very clear. And furthermore, the force of a younger generation that has been largely formed in that culture of tolerance and acceptance, and the entire LGBTQ revolution. And thus finds that when they arrive on Christian colleges and university campuses, they are entering a moral universe different than the one they already believe to be not only normal, but right.
So that's what David Gushee sees as the irresistible force, and in a very real sociological and moral sense at this point, it appears to be a largely irresistible force in the larger culture. But when he talks about the immovable object, he's talking about administrators, trustees, and some faculty members he allows at Christian colleges and universities who aren't ready to join this LGBTQ revolution, or at least, they're not ready yet.
As he writes, "Yet it is those traditionalist understandings of sexuality still held in portions of the power structure of many evangelical Christian schools that are the immovable object. Sometimes,” he writes, "the center of resistance to change is found in the faculty, but most often, it is trustees, donors, and certain alumni where colleges and seminaries are still linked to traditionalist denominations and churches, these institutional often hold considerable sway."
Now, there's much more to his argument, but we need to stop right here and understand that this is an amazingly honest argument, and we need to take it very straightforwardly. David Gushee here is writing after having had experience in teaching in multiple Christian institutions, at least two of those institutions held to a very clear traditionalist Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality, sexual morality and gender. And at least for some of that time, David Gushee tells us in his own record of his change of mind, he held to those same positions, he held to those positions until he didn't. And his own conversion, so to speak, on those issues towards the acceptance of the LGBTQ revolution is now one of the facts of the modern American Christian world. David Gushee, it's fair to say, was determined that he would end up on — well, you know that argument now so well — the right side of history, assuming that history is this irresistible force, that is moving towards ever greater acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ revolution and honestly, whatever will follow.
And Gushee's writing an article that he expects will be widely celebrated amongst those who are calling for the complete remaking of Christianity in this generation. This is an argument for that kind of remaking that is amazingly candid and frankly, it is amazingly forceful if you accept the premise of his article. And when you look at the article, again, he's not wrong about the larger culture as this irresistible force. It is moving in exactly those directions. All the mechanisms of social control and cultural change are doing exactly what he says they are doing. Perceptively, he's very honest in saying that many of the people who are teaching in at least some Christian colleges and universities, those faculty members are actually mentally and attitudinally, if not in terms of worldview and theology, already in that new world that Gushee wants to see take place replacing that old world of biblical Christianity.
And Gushee is also right, that there are many students who are on the campuses of institutions that claim a Christian identity of one sort or another, but those students, even as they may or may not claim a Christian identity, are not claiming an identity or an allegiance to the historic Christian teachings on sexuality and gender that the schools, at least, say they believe and say that they teach.
All that to say at this point in his article, if there is a persuasive case for the necessary remaking of Christianity, this is exactly the case that one would need to make. This is a very powerful case made by someone who knows how to make that case. Of course, for biblically committed Christians, there's only one problem, this case is not going to be persuasive. It's not persuasive because we do not believe that Christianity can be remade and it must not be remade, and that anything that is remade and called Christianity isn't actually Christianity. It's a new religion that is claiming Christianity, but it's actually replacing biblical Christianity with something very different.
Now, that project has been going on rather explicitly now for nearly 200 years. This is the project of liberal Protestantism. It is the project of those who want to revise, and in their own words, restructure evangelicalism. It's the pressure of the so called Evangelical Left, which is basically just taking up the arguments of the modernists and liberals of the early 20th century and bringing them up to date with new social media energy in the 21st century.
But I want to draw attention to another parallel here. If you were to go to Germany to the intellectual classes of the late 19th century or you were to go in the early 20th century to a city like New York or to a campus like Harvard University, the fact is that you would find there and then the overt demand that Christianity must be utterly transformed if it is to be considered intellectually and morally acceptable. The answer of the Protestant liberals of the late 19th century and the early 20th century was, "Okay then, we will remake Christianity." As if we're talking about a delayed fuse, that is exactly the pattern that is taking place now with so many on the Evangelical Left saying there is no way that we can survive with intellectual and moral respect in this world unless we remake Christianity. And thus, their prescription is to do just that, to remake Christianity.
Christian Colleges and the LGBTQ Revolution: The Pattern of Disaster Looms Before Us
And so, before we leave the first part of his article, let's just nail down these issues very clearly. He is right. The larger culture is moving aggressively towards the coerced normalization and celebration of the entire LGBTQ agenda. Second, the culture of higher education is all of that on steroids. You're looking at the secular energy towards this normalization and celebration being absolutely institutionalized, so much so that it's going to be hard to find a single graduate of many of those programs who is not absolutely committed to the moral revolution or they wouldn't have graduated from those schools in the first place.
The third point he makes is of generational change and there is no doubt that that kind of generational change is taking place. But on that last point, there's a really interesting and alarming dimension for Christians, Christian churches, and Christian parents to consider very, very carefully. He writes about the fact that by the time many students from Christian homes arrive on the campuses of Christian colleges and universities, they have, in his words, spent time outside of deeply conservative Christian subcultures and their moral horizon has already been shaped.
Now, I'm going to be honest, that is an alarm bell when it comes to the fact that so many Christian parents have their kids in the public schools or other educational establishments where they are being entirely incubated in a non-Christian, if not absolutely, anti-Christian moral universe, and then they are surprised when their own kids begin to answer questions in ways that indicate they are the very products of that indoctrination. And it is happening often with such subtlety and at such a deep level, that those kids are extremely resistant to biblical truth by the time they hear it.
But that's just the first part of Dr. Gushee's article. Later in the article, he talks about the distinction between administrators and trustees and faculty and students in so many evangelical, or supposedly evangelical, institutions. The students, he's already said, are already trending on so many of these campuses toward the direction of acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ array. When it comes to many teachers, well, he's already told us about the prevailing power and influence of the educational establishment. He's right about that. And then when it comes to administrators, he suggests that many of them are simply doing the bidding of those who are the donors and others paying the bills. Sadly, that's often the case. And then he talks about trustees and he suggests that many of those trustees are themselves deeply committed to an historic biblical understanding of sexuality. But the implication is: don't worry, they probably won't be around for long.
But there's actually even more here, perhaps even than Professor Gushee recognized he was acknowledging in his writing. For instance, in that sentence I read in which he talked about the higher education establishment influencing so many of the faculty members who would teach in these evangelical colleges and schools, he speaks of, "Many faculty members who end up in Christian colleges." He goes on to say, "They chafe semi-publicly against rules they don't necessarily accept."
Now, let's be really honest here. What we are talking about is a direct challenge to the very idea of a genuinely Christian education and a genuinely evangelical institution, be it a college or a university or a seminary. And the language here is so important, I hope you caught it. He spoke of faculty who end up in Christian colleges. Well, that in itself is a huge problem.
The problem we're talking about here is at least in large part the failure of administrators to hire rightly, for schools to be adequately confessional and convictional about their commitment to a biblical sexual morality, which only makes sense if you're committed to the authority of Scripture, which only makes sense if you are committed to historic Christian Orthodox theology. And no faculty member should ever end up teaching on any of our campuses ever. Period. End up means they aren't necessarily committed, but this is the job they settled for. End up means that sloppy and irresponsible evangelical academic administrators are hiring people on the basis of their resumes and what might be very impressive academic qualifications rather than on their theological convictions. If any evangelical institution has a faculty made up of people who “ended up” teaching there, you can count on the fact that that school has already ended up not being authentically Christian.
Speaking of the stereotypical academic administrator, Gushee writes, "Caught between the force and the object are the poor school administrators. Christian college presidents and provosts are almost universally conflict averse. Often very poorly equipped to deal with the theological, biblical ethical issues at stake, all they really want to do is keep everyone happy."
Well, that's absolutely the wrong motivation, but good luck with it anyway, because we are talking about what is a force and an object. There is no way to keep the force and the object happy. But it is also very revealing that he speaks about so many of these presidents and provosts as being not only universally conflict averse, but also poorly equipped to deal with the theological, biblical, ethical issues at stake.
Well, here's the problem: Trustees and search committees who elect academic administrators who are poorly equipped to deal with biblical theological and ethical issues have basically committed the suicide of their own institutions. And they do so, again, because they are looking for the wrong qualifications. They're impressed primarily with fundraising. That's not irrelevant, but it is not a first importance for a Christian institution. They are concerned with team building and all the rest, but the only team worth building is a team committed to historic biblical Christianity, otherwise, they're playing for the wrong team.
But then he goes on. Again, there's amazing insight here coming from someone whose hope and agenda is exactly the opposite of my own. He is right in understanding the predicament of the spineless. He writes, "Navigating their hard paths, administrators tend to offer very, very gradual change in the direction of students' safety and a measure of inclusion, permitting a campus support group for LGBTQ students is a common first step as is communicating to students that the school is a safe place to wrestle with their sexuality. Next, the school may hire sympathetic student life staff. A bit more difficult is altering campus behavior codes to reduce the comparative stigma of straight versus gay sex. The school may even host campus events or classes to deal honestly with the contemporary LGBTQ conversation." But then the point he makes is that that is not enough. But before we go on to not enough, let's consider what he has talked about here.
This is the temptation we see so many evangelical schools succumbing to, and that is you allow the formation of an LGBTQ student group. Well, here's the problem, once you do that, you have already bought into the identity construct and you have just invited a group of your own students to oppose the most deeply held convictions that are supposed to establish the identity and character of the school in the first place.
Notice that in this part before the, “It won't be enough,” he talks about altering campus behavior codes to reduce, note this language, “the comparative stigma of straight versus gay sex." Well, if you can overcome that stigma, you've got to overcome the Old and New Testaments, but that's really what's going on on so many of these campuses.
But then again, it won't be enough and Dr. Gushee makes that point when he writes, "This is all a start, but from the perspective of those committed to inclusion, it is not nearly enough. LGBTQ students eventually demand more than safety, dialogue, and a friendly campus life staff. They want their existence and selfhood de-stigmatized. They want to be fully accepted for who they are. Ultimately, most want Christian colleges and seminaries to abandon traditionalist Christian teaching that harms them deeply."
Well, there it is. There is the demand, you're going to have to remake Christianity. And I'm stating it in just that form because there are some who would like to say, no, it is only remaking Christian morality. But let's be really clear, Christian morality as revealed in Scripture, is an essential structure of the Christian gospel, of the entirety of the biblical story: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. You can't undo historic biblical Christian morality without undoing historic biblical Christianity. Period.
There's even more in Dr. Gushee's article and he concludes by giving an exhortation to those activist students. He says, "Here's your job, these administrators won't move without more pressure. Keep it up young folks. Your leaders need your leadership." Well, that's exactly the kind of cheerleading you should expect.
But I want to speak from the experience of one who's been working in Christian higher education for many decades now. A school that is not both privately and publicly, absolutely committed to historic biblical Christianity when it comes to sexual morality, gender, sexual identity, and everything else, it is a school that is accepting the terms of the sexual revolution and is surrendering perhaps in what appears to be a slow surrender, but it's only going to be slow in the beginning. It's going to be very quick in the end.
And that also means that trustees and administrators and faculty and eventually students have to be on the same page. That means secondly, advertising the school's identity and conforming its hiring and its admissions policies in order to make very clear that acceptance of employment or acceptance of admission means acceptance of the moral worldview of the host institution. If you accept the status of being a student or if you accept, even more so, the status of being a professor, then you had better be saying heart, mind, and soul, "I'm all in on the theological commitments of the institution."
Another essential point here is that the overarching theological commitments have to be just as clear. The school can't just be clear on gender and sexual identity, and sexual morality. It has to be clear on the atonement. It has to be clear on a biblical understanding of Scripture and the authority of Scripture, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. It has to be clear about the exclusivity of the saving work of Christ. It has to be extremely clear about all of these things because none of them can exist alone, and that includes Christian sexual morality. But this also means that denominations and others, including boards of trustees and donors, have to hold institutions absolutely accountable to these convictions.
For example, in the late 20th century, the Southern Baptist Convention had to learn this lesson the hard way and it had to undergo a process of denominational change and re-confessionalism in order to make very clear that the Southern Baptist Convention expects those schools under its control — and the most importantly, that means six theological seminaries — to hold to these doctrines, to hold to this comprehensive truth without hesitation and to do so eagerly. Not only because the institutions are willing to teach within these confines, but because the schools are only going to hire those who are eager to teach in this confessional home.
I'm thankful that on these issues, the Southern Baptist Convention has been very clear, as are the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. And I'm also thankful that there are some Christian colleges and universities that have made this commitment very clear and they are seeking to be consistent in every way. But I want to go on to say that is a declining number.
The Christian Mandate of Clarity: For Christian Institutions, There Is No Chance of Faithfulness Without Clear Convictions
And one example of the context that we should seek to avoid was made very clear in a headline article that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The headline was this: “Expelled Student Sues Seminary.” The subhead in the article says that the woman was ousted after the school learned of her same sex marriage.
Alexandra Reyes-Velarde reports, "Joanna Maxon, a 53-year-old Christian mother of two, was searching for ways to advance in her career as a supervisor and began looking into graduate schools. She decided on a seminary, in this case, Fuller Theological Seminary, ‘a religious graduate school based and Pasadena,’ because it combined things she valued, her faith and her studies."
So we're told she began taking studies first, online and then through an extension center in Texas. But the story picks up, "Three years into her program and just a few classes away from graduating, Maxon received a letter notifying her that she had been expelled. The reason: she's married to a woman." The story continues, "Now, Maxon who lives with her wife, Tanya Minton in Fort Worth, is suing Fuller, alleging the college violated Title IX rules that forbid educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating against students on the basis of sex."
The article seems to say that this student was married to a man when she enrolled, but sometime in her studies, she divorced from the man and married a woman. When the school came to that knowledge, it expelled her. She's now suing under the Unruh Act in California and arguing that the school is in violation of Title IX because it receives federal educational funding. That again, as I've said so often, is a problem in and of itself.
But the most interesting part of the article is where the woman who is suing the school says that fellow students and some faculty had been fully aware of her sexual identity and of her marriage, and had been supportive and encouraging. And this is why, at least as she told the Los Angeles Times, that she was shocked when she was expelled and has now filed suit.
But then there's a paragraph in the article that reads, "The Fuller Theological Seminary doesn't prohibit same sex relationships or require students to adhere to a statement of faith like some other Christian schools in California." And then we read, "About the same time that Maxon was expelled, Azusa Pacific University students were incensed when the university announced it had reinstated a ban on same sex relationships after quietly removing the prohibition from its policies."
Another paragraph, "Though, the college does allow same sex relationships, it does not allow 'homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct.'" And the Times says, "It has made clear that it believes sexual intimacy is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman."
Now, a couple of very important points. This is an article in the Los Angeles Times about a lawsuit filed by one individual against an educational institution. In reality, we have to note that that means that the claims are coming from one side, the representation is coming from one side and this is just one news report, albeit in a very credible newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. But we need to abstract this issue away from this one student and this one seminary. The truth is likely to come out in the legal proceedings following to the point and the reason why I have cited this article in the first place. It follows the article by Dr. David Gushee.
It follows because it indicates at least here, the public perception of a school that says, “We don't allow persons to be actively engaged in homosexual relationships or in same sex marriages.” But at least according to the newspaper, it doesn't prohibit same sex relationships. If you're confused, I'm confused.
And again, trying to abstract the issues away from the particulars of this court case, it is also very telling that at least the woman who has filed the lawsuit says that she was encouraged and she was supported by, at least, many students and some faculty during the time that she was a student.
That is exactly the pattern that I have seen in so many other situations in which you have the school that says, "We believe this," but on the other hand, you have faculty who appeared to wink or blink in a different direction, and you have students who are ardently opposed to the convictional position of the school. To put the matter bluntly, that should not be possible.
Clarity is a central Christian responsibility and it is particularly the responsibility of a Christian academic institution of a college or a university, especially of a seminary that would train those who are going to teach and preach the Word of God. Calls for the remaking of Christianity leave us with a real dilemma. You can remake something, but you actually can't remake Christianity. You're creating a new belief system, whatever you may call it, but it isn't biblical Christianity.
The believing church must always be ready to be corrected by Scripture, but we have no right or authority to correct Scripture. It is, after all, the Word of God. And the Christian Church has not misread the Scriptures for 2,000 years. It has read the Scriptures rightly when it comes to the crucial issues here at stake.
But as a final thought, it's not enough to read the Scriptures rightly. We must read the Scriptures obediently.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.